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Thanks for taking time to visit the 2008 Happisburgh Bird Diary, we hope you enjoyed reading it. To find out what Ossie and I see this year please visit the Happisburgh Parish Bird List 2009 ...

20th - 26th April

As the week progressed we found temperatures picking up with the wind direction re-orienting to the south-west. Sunday commenced very murkily with a cold, wet E’ly and poor visibility before it cleared out after lunch. The week then gave us some periods of complete cloud and others where there wasn't a cloud in the sky at all and the 20th, 23rd and 24th saw some light rain. On the 23rd we were treated to a beautiful misty dawn.

It turned out to be a good week bird wise and one that was especially notable for large birds of prey, none of the scarcer ones seen in the parish by myself unfortunately. I had chanced on an Osprey at Hickling Broad NWT on Sunday morning as it circled to the north-west in quite grim conditions but was a little disappointed to miss the one that Bob Cobbold saw flying east at Trimingham which was later seen passing south at Eccles by keen local birder Andy Kane. It certainly passed through Happisburgh and would have been an addition to my parish list. One of the now regular Marsh Harriers put in an appearance at Lessingham on the 23rd but the accolade of rarest raptor goes to Black Kite on the 24th. Originally seen in the Bacton area early morning it headed south along the coast and was watched passing through south of Happisburgh at Sea Palling by Andy Kane and Tim Allwood. It was a bird appearing to show characters of the eastern race ‘lineatus’ with more obvious whiter wing patches and a pale rufous tail, features similar to those shown in Red Kite. What was apparently the same bird reappeared at Bacton later that afternoon and once more headed down the coast, being seen to pass through the parish at the Lighthouse Inn and watched from East Ruston water tower gaining height and heading towards the sea over Happisburgh. Although not seen in Happisburgh, another apparently nominate race Black Kite spent the afternoon in the Sea Palling/Waxham area. What seemed to be an incredible Kite fest was perhaps marred slightly by the fact that, following high wind damage to an enclosure at London Zoo in late March, 4 free-flying Black Kites escaped and were at large somewhere in the UK. One of these was a pure Black, the other 3 being hybrid Black x Red Kites, colloquially known as Cape Verde Kite. Perhaps the Kites this week were those very birds. Shortly after the original Kite sighting Tim and Andy watched a Hooded Crow fly south near the lighthouse. Once classified as sub-specific to Carrion Crow the more handsome grey and black ‘Hoodie’ has now been afforded full specific status but has sadly become a scarce visitor in recent years. As a boy, I would often pay winter visits with my father to the tip at East Ruston where sometimes up to double figures of these northern visitors could be watched scavenging amongst the rubbish.

No longer recorded as frequently as a few years ago Hooded Crows are occasionally seen on spring passage amongst Rooks and Carrion Crows. © Arthur Grosset

Summer visitors continued to arrive in good numbers and Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were all seen and heard singing with more regularity during the week. The first Lesser Whitethroat, my favourite warbler, could be heard from the garden giving its rattling song on the 22nd with another at Lessingham the following day and the reeling song of a rather distant Grasshopper Warbler emanated from the hedgerow behind Moat farm on the 25th. I was pleased to record the latter as the parish doesn’t really hold the type of habitat to encourage this species to breed and they are usually very hard to find as migrants. Yellow Wagtail was new on the 22nd with one west over the village and it or another in the fields between the Wenn-Evans Centre and the Coast Watch later on. Wheatears remained thin on the ground; a single at the end of Doggetts Lane being the only one I saw in what is one of the peak weeks for their passage. My first Swift was one that sped north over Cart Gap on the 26th.

Birds were not only arriving; some of our winter visitors stopped by as they prepared to leave our shores. A female Brambling was in the Sallows surrounding the tiny pond at Whimpwell Green on the 21st and 2 flew south (the wrong way!) over my garden on the 24th. A neighbour had enjoyed the presence of a bright green, black and yellow male Siskin on his bird feeder all day on the 21st and I picked out a party of 7 by their calls as they flew north-eastwards over our garden the following day. Fieldfares were seen on three days and included a group of 4 flying north-westward over the garden on the Saturday evening and 2 Redwings were noted on the 25th. Song Thrushes seemed particularly conspicuous on the 24th and I wondered if they formed part of an exodus to the continent.

The meadow behind Lower Farm has a tiny stream crossing it, bordered by posts and fencing to prevent the lovely Gloucestershire cattle from falling in. Walking past with Oswald on the Saturday morning I glanced across, thinking that a particular post had an angled top such as I’d not noticed before. “It could conceivably be a Shrike perched atop...” I mused to myself… And it was! A superb Great Grey Shrike, feeding along the fence line, dropping onto the ground after beetles and the like. I'd found one of these predatory passerines about 300m from here in September last and wondered if it was the very same individual heading back to mainland Europe to breed. I watched it for 30 minutes or so until I felt poor Ossie had waited long enough, his occasional whines remindful of the fact that we were actually on his walk. But I’m sure he’s used to my frequent stops now…

When self-found, a Great Grey Shrike will always be one of the days highlights. This distant record shot is of an autumn migrant at Mundesley in early October 2005.

13th – 19th April

With the wind from the south-west the week began much milder than of late. Cloud built up during the 13th and the rise in temperature triggered a heavy thunderstorm late in the afternoon. Showers continued through the night and the wind veered to the NE’ly quarter where it became stuck for the rest of the week. Wind strength was never more than a light breeze and there was some overnight rain on the 16th. Cloud cover was mostly 7 oktas or above from then and this, coupled with the wind direction, kept temperatures down.

Following on from last weeks Swallow and Sand Martins a familiar buzzing sound heard along the lane on the 14th drew my attention to my first House Martin of the year. It flew northward towards Happisburgh village, perhaps returning to familiar eaves there. Another spring arrival was heard during the morning of the 16th. A walk along the footpath beside Moat Farm’s weedy cabbage field revealed a flock of c.40 Linnets and close by were 18 Meadow Pipits but the new arrival was singing from some Sallows just behind the farm itself; I could hear the gentle cascading song of a male Willow Warbler. It was too far away to see amongst the foliage but the song is unmistakable. 5 Fieldfares were at the paddocks this morning too; there were 2 here on Monday 14th along with a single Redwing.

Returning home from the morning school run on the 17th I could see 2 Oystercatchers feeding on a dry, ploughed field almost opposite our house in company with some Jackdaws. The latter are always present here but the Oystercatchers are more unusual. Not exclusively a bird of the immediate coast they often feed a few miles inland and will nest on larger, open fields, preferably those cropped with sugar beet or similar. I’ve only seen them from the garden as flyovers until now. Glancing up, 2 thrush like birds with quite long wings and tails headed towards the sea; Ring Ouzels! A 3rd bird flying over a bit further away turned towards the original two and I guessed which group of trees they were heading for. Grabbing my binoculars, I jumped into the car and drove about 200m towards the village (this may seem lazy but cars are quicker than walking and make a good ‘bird hide’!) and sure enough, all 3 Ouzels were in the top of a taller Oak in the hedge. Pleased with my find I drove home and shortly after walked up the lane with Os. There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels, but on reaching the paddocks I bumped into another local birder who had cycled over to see them and was watching them, with a 4th bird, on the short cropped grass there. Two more birding friends came along and we all enjoyed good views of them.

Ring Ouzels are regular spring migrants in varying numbers each year. Coastal fields, heathland and dunes as well as grassland tend to be favoured. This male was photographed at Salthouse in 2007 by Bob Cobbold.

Although it was cold on the coast, sheltered spots further inland were comparatively warmer and driving homeward through East Ruston on the 19th I stopped to watch a mixed flock of over 50 Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins which were feeding over the fen near the water pumping station. A loud burst of song from close to the road was given by an unseen Cetti’s Warbler, a species that hadn’t been recorded in Norfolk until 1973 when a Belgian ringed bird was picked up dead in Norwich. Since then they have increased dramatically in number and have spread from their Broadland/Yare Valley stronghold to the north and east coasts. Resident all year round, harsh winters can decimate their numbers, but such weather has, to their fortune, been scarce recently…

6th – 12th April

Weather-wise, it remained cold with wintry showers, the wind still blowing from a N’ly quarter. Overnight frosts occurred from 7th–11th and the wind had backed off to the south-west by mid-week. After an almost still day on 10th, the wind strength picked up and it remained chilly but from the south-east. The rest of the week saw the occasional shower pass by with a thunderstorm mid afternoon on 12th, and the wind shifting round to the south-west.

A Redwing was looking a little forlorn at the nearby paddocks on the 7th, the northerly wind persuading him to stay close to the sheltering hedges and put on fat reserves. He was gone the next day, the now W’ly breeze perhaps urging him to begin the next leg of his homeward journey. Indeed, the conditions that day were obviously suited to travel as visible migration was quite evident. Several Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Linnets were heading westward along the coast, Woodpigeons too in small parties of 2-3, one larger group numbering 7. A group of 3 Magpies also headed purposefully west along the clifftop and 2 Curlew flew southwards just offshore. Later that day, a flock of 42 Golden Plover passed over the garden, heading inland and a nice surprise came in the form of 2 male Bramblings. They were present in a tall poplar for about 45 minutes, disappearing just before dusk. A close relative of the Chaffinch, Bramblings are a winter visitor from more northern clines and they can often be found feeding beneath Beech on fallen mast, as well as on farmland mixed in with other finches. The feathers on these 2 were wearing nicely to reveal the beautiful orange of the breast and black of the head.

A colourful male Brambling.

SE’lies on the 10th saw more W’ly passage and along with
finches, Meadow Pipits and 10 Stock Doves passed through. I also saw my first hirundines of the spring; a Swallow was along the cliff by the old Decca site and walking Oswald homeward I picked up 4 Sand Martins hawking behind Moat Farm. One Swallow doesn’t make a summer but seeing the first one always gives a lift.

06:30 the next morning saw me walking along Doggetts Lane with the rising sun behind me. Things were rather quiet until a plain clear ‘zeet, zeet’ call coming from a dense bramble patch stopped me in my tracks. After a bit of patient stalking I was watching my 2nd Firecrest of the spring, a bird that you can never really tire of watching as they creep, flit and hover in a seemingly endless hunt for insects. A familiar shape atop one of the close-by chalets turned out to be my 2nd Black Redstart of the spring, albeit a dull female type. She soon disappeared and scanning up the beach from Cart Gap later on, I could see her on one of the wooden revetments, sheltered from the chilly breeze but in the warming sunshine. Further on, c.35 Sand Martins buzzed busily around the cliff edge, their summer nesting colony nearby. They have nested here for as long as I can remember, their eggs and chicks relatively safe from predation in the steep cliff face. A birding colleague passed this way later on noting that the Firecrest was still present (also present on the 12th) and finding 2 Wheatears. 40 Siskins he saw flying south were reflected later on by a singleton south, calling, over my garden…

30th March - 5th April

March, in contrast to the beginning of the month, ‘went out like a lamb’. Fine and sunny weather ensued with the wind light in strength and from a SE’ly direction. From the middle of the week the wind veered round to north or even NE’ly at times, it’s strength increasing and the air temperature dropping. The cloud cover tended to be rather variable and brighter spells were interspersed with the odd shower.

unday 30th was a truly glorious day and we visited friends at Ludham for the day. Walking our dogs to How Hill we noted several butterflies along the way; Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma were all on the wing in the warm sunshine and Marsh Harriers courted over the reed beds.

Chiffchaffs continued to arrive during the spell of fine weather and a male spent the Monday afternoon singing from the hedgerow that runs along the bottom of our garden. It was such a lovely afternoon that I thought Oswald deserved a short car ride and a walk out to the Coastwatch and along the clifftop. My decision also revolved around the fact that the timing, weather and location would collectively give me a good chance of finding one of a birders favourite early spring migrants; Black Redstart. And I wasn’t disappointed. Initially the area appeared pretty much devoid of anything interesting but on the way back, a familiar shape on top of the old shelter proved to be a male Black Redstart. More often than not, the rather dull and sooty females are seen but this one was a real stunner with a jet black face and upper breast and a white wedge on the closed wing as well as a nice rufous tail. He was quite happy catching insects around the buildings and eventually disappeared over the cliff edge.

A male Black Redstart. Regular along the Norfolk coast on spring passage and an irregular breeder in towns and cities. They like old, large buildings. © Arthur Grosset

I chanced upon another species that excites birders early in the spring on April 2nd. Walking the footpath behind Laurel Lodge a sharp ‘zeet’ call alerted me. Not many seconds passed before a Firecrest appeared in the hedgerow just a few feet away. Firecrests share the title of Britain’s smallest bird with their cousin the Goldcrest. Given a fleeting view they are very similar but when seen properly the Firecrest is a much brighter green bird with a striking black and white stripy head pattern and often a bronze patch on each side of the neck. They really are a jewel of a bird and always a welcome sight.

Three distant Plovers on a large field near the lighthouse on April 3rd had me going initially but on closer inspection they were just
Golden Plovers, albeit birds starting to show the black breast and belly feathering of summer plumage. They didn't stay for too long and soon departed westward. The following day a male Blackcap was in a roadside hedge at Brumstead, my first of the spring. It seems that several sites recorded them today for the first time too. Later, as I walked the dog out, my ears picked out a single Snow Bunting calling softly ‘pyuu’ followed by a gentle, soft trill as it flew over the Cart Gap road and away towards Eccles. Another local birder has been putting out seed for some Snow Buntings at Eccles over the winter so perhaps this was one of his well fed guests stretching it's wings.