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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 ...

25th – 31st May

Starting off with a beautiful starlit night sky, the week’s weather soon deteriorated, the NE’ly wind picked up with cloud building to 8 oktas and heavy enough to give us some light rain. This scenario continued with occasional brighter spells and the wind direction veering through SE to SW-S midweek. There was a fantastic thunderstorm before dawn on the 28th, the sky lighting up every few seconds and almost continuous loud claps and deep rumblings. The wind became rather variable for the rest of the week but had moved to the NE by the weekend.

Stopping by the fen at East Ruston I could see that the light rain had forced Swifts to fly low but warblers were for the most part undeterred and Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow, Reed and Sedge Warblers all continued to sing. The rain cleared after lunch so I took Oswald for a walk in the direction of Lessingham. Rounding a bend I could see a Great Tit on the road feeding one of its young. Two fluffy balls beside them were another pair of hungry mouths. A car approaching me from behind slowed down and fortunately for the young Great Tits, the considerate driver gave them a wide berth. Thinking they wouldn’t stand much chance of seeing out the day where they were sitting I kept a very interested dog on a short lead and easily picked them up, releasing them into the relative safety of a nearby thick hedge where I could hear at least one other sibling calling. As I got home, another danger to Great Tits was sitting on my garden fence in the form of a Sparrowhawk.

A hedgerow near the paddocks, with a couple of strands of taut barbed wire adjacent on the sheltered side, had been looking a likely place for something interesting to turn up and sure enough, on the 26th a Robin gave chase to a small bird that flashed a rufous tail. It was a female Common Redstart. Not a spectacularly colourful bird like the males, she still had the tail-quivering charisma of the species. Like many quite northerly breeding migrant birds, the females appear a few weeks after the males who need to have established their breeding territory before prospective mates arrive. Later that evening I watched the sea for half an hour in the hope of catching up with a Manx Shearwater as a few had been reported in the recent blustery conditions. None passed while I was there but I did see 18 Gannets and 6 Fulmars moved through to the east. My first Happisburgh Common Tern of the year was also slowly passing offshore, trying to fish occasionally in the choppy swell.

Most Common Terns from the UK spend the winter off Western Africa and many won't return to breed until their 4th year.
© Arthur Grosset

18th – 24th May

The long run of east to northerly winds was broken on the 22nd with a gentle SE’ly warming us. It was short lived though as NE’lies had returned by the end of the week. We saw plenty of sunshine throughout although temperatures were down a bit at times due to the wind direction. There was a sharp shower on the 23rd and dark, foreboding clouds loomed offshore on the 24th.

A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers has been very busy of late, flying backwards and forwards over the garden many times each day; it’s obvious from the raucous calling of young woodpeckers that a successful breeding attempt is underway. Hopefully any passing Grey Squirrels will leave them well alone.

It could be shaping into a better year than of late for Turtle Doves as having made several sightings already this year, another flew northward at Whimpwell Green on the 21st. As well as the environmental pressures that all our birds have to endure, the humble Turtle Dove has to face a barrage of guns at various places in the Mediterranean each spring and autumn. Little Tern was added to the 2008 tally on Friday 23rd when 7 were noted offshore from the old Decca site. All were heading south along the coast in a loose flock and were probably birds from one of the colonies along the east Norfolk coast that had ventured up here on a feeding foray. Back at the Cart Gap ‘pay & display’ a pair of rather tired looking Dunnocks was busily feeding 2 very recently fledged offspring, several straggly filaments of down still obvious around the perpetually hungry youngsters’ heads. An endless task, there may be little respite for them as a second brood may follow closely…

11th – 17th May

Each day saw the wind between north and east and light in strength. With the exception of Sunday 11th, which was sunny and very warm, it remained rather cool and cloudy with only occasional periods of sunshine. Some light rain on 16th was followed by a heavy morning shower on 17th.

Making the most of the glorious conditions of the Sunday morning, I took Oswald over to the track that leads to the Coast Watch and we spent an hour or so walking the circuit to the clifftop, the church and back to the cricket ground. A party of 6 Oystercatchers flew east and looking down onto the beach I could see that a couple walking a dog had triggered a defensive display from one of a pair of Ringed Plover there. If ‘danger’ approaches too close to the nest, Ringed Plovers try to lure the perpetrator away by feigning a broken wing, calling plaintively; an ‘injured’ bird would surely make an irresistible target for a hungry predator. When sufficient distance has opened up between the plover’s precious eggs and the marauder, the bird takes flight and loops back landing in the general area of its nest. I’m sure the dog and his friends meant no harm but the threat of danger was very real to the plover. Hopefully the beach will remain quiet enough along this stretch for them to breed successfully. Arriving home a Turtle Dove eating grit outside the garden was a welcome sight and Swift numbers had increased to 8 birds wheeling around the houses, the screaming and rapid chasing flight indicative of their intention to breed.

Ringed Plovers find sandy beaches to their liking and thankfully Norfolk has plenty of well managed coastal reserves where they can nest in relative safety from the threat of human disturbance © Arthur Grosset

The rest of the week passed rather quietly and the only sightings of note were a Siskin calling in flight over the lane near Lessingham Church on the 14th and a female Marsh Harrier which headed northwards low over the grass fields opposite our house the following morning. A Turtle Dove that has taken to singing from the wires near the paddocks near here was probably the same as the one I saw on Sunday and I’ve got my fingers crossed for him in his quest for a mate…

4th – 10th May

Apart from some light rain early on the 4th we enjoyed a generally warm, dry week with light winds from between the south-east and just north of east. Lots of sunshine prevailed and the 5th in particular was very warm.

Having seen just the one during the spring of 2007 I was pleased with my recent successes with Ring Ouzels and a suspicious looking ‘Blackbird’ which flushed from a field edge along School Common Road on the Sunday morning proved to be another; a female. Oswald didn’t seem particularly impressed so we pushed on and walked a circuit down the Cart Gap road, along Doggetts Lane, across the green lanes towards the lighthouse and back to the coast road then home. We started off with the wind a light SE’ly and a light rain which was not at all troublesome. These conditions gave an air of expectation and I was hopeful of seeing some migrants. Checking the field on the right as we reached the ‘S’ bend towards Cart Gap a male Wheatear drew my attention. It was rather large and pot bellied, longer winged and much more richly coloured than the Wheatears of mid-March to mid-April which indicated that it belonged to the race ‘leucorhoa’, commonly known as Greenland Wheatear. These pass through the UK later on average than the British and Northern European breeding race and continue their migration north-westward across the Atlantic to nest in Iceland, Greenland and Canada. A female perched on wires along Doggetts Lane appeared to be a standard, nominate race bird. A male Lesser Whitethroat appeared a little further along, briefly breaking into song, and there were several closely related Common Whitethroats in the brambles and nettles again. Movement overhead included 4 Yellow Wagtails, c.10 Swallows and 6 Swifts all flying southward whilst a clear, ringing ‘tew, tew, tew’ call from above gave away the presence of a Greenshank flying northward. At the Sand Martin colony the number of birds present had doubled from when I counted them almost a month previously and c.70 were busily swirling around the cliff edge. Casting my eye out to sea a party of 5 Common Scoter flew west, these surprisingly being the first I’d seen this year. Last autumn a flock numbering up to 1,200 spent several weeks offshore between Happisburgh and Eccles but they’d disappeared by the year end. Walking back through Whimpwell Green a male Blackcap was singing and at close range I noticed that the very beginning of his song sounded like small pebbles being rattled together, a sound that probably goes un-noticed at any distance. A Cuckoo then sang; a song that everyone knows. He was quite distant and not in sight, but I thought “I’ll have a bit of fun with you...”. Employing a trick my Dad had taught me many years ago, I blew into my cupped hands so that the sound made was a good impression of the Cuckoo’s song. Sure enough, within a few seconds there was a Cuckoo flying over my head giving a low, scolding note of displeasure. I wasn’t a rival but I’d succeeded in fooling him into thinking so. “Works every time” I smiled to myself. Arriving home 3 Swifts were silently hawking over the gardens, interest in breeding not yet evident. It was a lovely day by now and looking up late morning, a large raptor soaring to the south-east was nothing more than a female Marsh Harrier. What was conceivably the same bird was gaining height just to the east of the garden with 2 Sparrowhawks as the air warmed early the following morning. Not exactly a species to get my pulse racing, but like all of the larger raptors I can’t help but give them a second look. Swifts had seemingly arrived in force too, as 22 in a feeding flock busied themselves over cereal fields at Happisburgh Common.

Early on Thursday I stopped by the lakes at East Ruston, the sun was rising above the trees and the wind was light from the south-east. A Common Sandpiper flew around the near margins before disappearing over the reed fringe at the back of the southern fen but it was the number of singing Reed Warblers that amazed me; there were at least 8 singing from close to the road. Who knows how many more were further over out of range of my hearing. Later, a male Turtle Dove was singing on wires near College Farm along School Common Road. This species has declined incredibly in the last decade so I was pleased to see another bird the next day between Corner House and the old Victoria.

The gentle purring song of the Turtle Dove along with the screaming of Swifts is, for me, the essence of a summer evening.

© Arthur Grosset

Out and about before the crowds on Saturday morning Os and I shared the beach with a lone fisherman. Oswald loves puddles, so I had a feeling that he would be unable to resist the North Sea and within seconds of being let off the lead for the first time on the beach, he was up to the top of his long legs trying to drink it. He had a whale of a time! On the bird front I managed to see a single Fulmar offshore, 4 Turnstones were looking resplendent as their summer plumage developed, a Curlew flew south calling and 2 Common Sandpipers flew low along the shoreline. Inland from the beach was a lone male Wheatear and a light southward passage of Swallows was evident.

27th April – 3rd May

South-westerlies continued for the first couple of days then an easterly element returned once again bringing with it cooler temperatures, particularly after dark. Several showers and longer periods of rain in between sunshine ensured that the grass kept growing. May opened with overnight rain on the 1st followed by some heavy thunderstorms.

Oswald and I kicked off the week with a late morning walk towards the village from the pay and display at Cart Gap. Birds weren’t obviously visibly moving through but there were several
Linnets on the ground and amongst c.10 scattered Pied Wagtails I finally chanced upon a nice male White Wagtail. This race, the nominate of the species, is widespread across continental Europe and is a regular spring passage visitor to East Anglia in small numbers. A female Yellow Wagtail accompanied a male Pied on the sugar beet field immediately south of Doggetts Lane and at least 6 male Common Whitethroats were singing from the hedgerows and chalet gardens; it’s looking like a good year for them so far. Wheatears were at the most numerous I have seen them this spring and I tallied 8 in total along the track. A few large immature gulls were loafing on the groynes off the old Decca site and with them were 2 Sandwich Terns. These posts, quite close to the beach, are a favourite resting place for terns in between fishing forays and close views can be had. To rest awhile on the soft sand here on a warm sunny day, close your eyes and listen to their raucous grating calls is a wonderfully relaxing experience.

Sandwich Terns are a regular summer time sight on the remains of sea defences offshore from south of the village.

I had to run an errand up to Walcott during the early evening and took the minor road north which rejoins the coast road via Ostend. Scanning the field behind The Chimneys were another 2 Wheatears, a male and female. Rare as a breeder in NE Norfolk this pair had probably just stopped off to rest and feed en route to more northerly nesting grounds. Returning home from Walcott I decided to check along the narrow lane that runs between Rookery Farm and the telephone exchange. It turned out to be a good move, for a brief flight view of a silvery-winged thrush which prompted further investigation ended up with me watching no less than 6 Ring Ouzels in the hedge surrounding the lush pasture there. It was my second encounter with the species this year and a reasonable sized flock too.

The first three days of May were rather quiet on the bird front but I did hear my first Cuckoo, from the garden on the 3rd, and Holly Blue butterflies appeared locally. Once again the male Marsh Harrier appeared hunting over the fields near College Farm and some second-hand info left me feeling rather envious of one of Happisburgh’s sons and birder Mick Hannant, who had heard a Stone Curlew calling from cropped fields at Cart Gap during the morning of May 3rd. The Stone Curlew is a summer visiting specialist bird of heaths and stony arable land, the Brecks and close surrounds being its stronghold in Norfolk. To find one on passage is quite fortunate and I’d missed a rare opportunity to add it to the list of birds I’ve seen in Happisburgh…