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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 July

As high pressure built the wind shifted from the north-west through a rather variable phase to easterly and remained rather light in strength. Monday saw a small amount of rain during the morning but its effects were soon gone. Tuesday onwards was warm and dry and harvesting of winter barley started here midweek. By the end of the week we were enjoying some hot, sunny English summertime.

A 2½ hour, early morning stint in the dunes at Cart Gap in a light NW’ly on Sunday was surprisingly productive and I enjoyed some good summer seawatching. There seems to have been good numbers of Arctic Skuas in the North Sea this summer, perhaps reflective of a poor breeding season, and I had some excellent views of both pale and dark morph adults passing north and south at close range, one individual almost along the beach. My notebook shows 16 logged but with possible duplication of birds I put the actual total seen at nearer 7 or 8 individuals. The Terns present on the groynes nearby seemed to be attracting them inshore as some appeared to be making a beeline for them from quite a distance. A few Gannets headed north but the southward count finished at 170 and other species noted moving up the coast included 5 Curlew, 10 Knot, 2 Turnstones, 2 Sanderling, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, single Dunlin, Golden Plover and Ringed Plover, along with single Fulmar and 4 Common Scoter. One of the Shags was again resting on a groyne north of the gap and 7 Manx Shearwaters, one of my favourites, flew south at just over half distance.

Manx Shearwaters visit the North Sea during late summer and autumn. They are magnificent to watch as they shear past at speed on a strong tail wind.

© Arthur Grosset

At the horizon was an almost continuous line of what was almost certainly a large feeding flock of Kittiwakes and several Guillemots and Razorbills were dotted on the sea, some with ¾ grown young. Several Common and Sandwich Terns were up and down and some, it was encouraging to note following the stock depletion of recent years, were carrying sizeable Sand Eels in their bills. From about 7.15 it was Terns that livened things up, starting with good close views of an adult Arctic Tern slowly passing/fishing northwards; a scarce breeder in Norfolk, they are hugely outnumbered by their close relative the Common Tern. I had my fill and continued scanning when, a few minutes later, I picked up 2 more passing south slightly further out. Five minutes after this I got onto another small group of Terns, most of which were Sandwich, one a Common, another being one of the recently present Roseates. It had suddenly turned into a ‘Tern fest’! Within the next ten minutes, amongst the close birds, were another Arctic Tern north and then (presumably the same) south. I went home more than satisfied with my tally. That afternoon as I walked out of the gate a Sparrowhawk soared over and about 100 yards down the road I looked up to see a Common Buzzard directly overhead. I watched it as it circled southward and over towards Brumstead, receiving some unwanted attention from a Carrion Crow on the way. It was quite a pale plumaged bird and in heavy wing moult, its shed outer primary feathers replaced with not yet fully grown new ones lending an unusual shape to its wings. It was also carrying a small, unidentifiable prey item.

Oswald had an afternoon walk on Wednesday when we parked up near the Cart Gap road and walked across the fields to the beach. Three juvenile Yellow Wagtails were flitting about the wheat field ahead of us, hopefully indicative of successful local breeding; I had noted a female of the species here at the end of June so felt that this was highly likely. The ‘seven-whistle’ call of Whimbrel had me searching the sky and I eventually saw them, a group of four, anxiously looking for a suitable patch of beach on which to land. They did so but only for a few minutes before flying off out to sea. We walked to the waters edge to get close to the Terns just in time to see 3 beautiful summer plumaged Little Gulls flying south just beyond the end of the groynes.

The following day a message on the pager told of a Roseate Tern on the sea defences at Walcott and I was pleased when I later found out it was Bob who had seen it. He managed to get some good photos too, much better than mine, which he kindly forwarded to me, one of which appears below.

The Roseate Tern at Walcott (right) with a Sandwich Tern (centre) and Common Terns ~ Bob Cobbold

I took my bike out for a spin on the Saturday evening, ending up with a fish supper at Walcott sea front. I’d put my binoculars into the tank bag but had left my camera at home, a decision I came to regret as on the beach here, and at close range, was a juvenile Mediterranean Gull, one of very few juveniles I have seen. Like the Arctic Tern, they are a scarce county breeder and this was a missed opportunity to photograph one...

13th - 19th July

The wind at the beginning of the week had an element of north in it but from Tuesday they shifted back to west then south-west, finishing a touch north of west at the end of Saturday. Temperatures were good to start with, cooling slightly from the middle of the week and the period ended with frequent showers.

The sea again provided most interest with lots of Terns to look through, the most interesting of which was a 1st or possibly 2nd summer Common Tern, the likes of which should be much further south than the UK still. The 2 Shags remained for the week and on Sunday 3 adult Arctic Skuas were offshore; two dark and one pale phase birds. From midweek a dark phase Arctic Skua was offshore most days, often sitting on the sea waiting for a Tern to pass with a fish. Skuas feed mostly through parasitising other seabirds, usually Terns, and these ‘pirates of the seabird world’ have a terrific turn of speed when they spot a victim. They are fascinating to watch and can often be seen during the late summer as they chase a hapless Sandwich Tern over the sea. Auks started to appear offshore too, both Razorbill and Guillemot often accompanied by their slightly smaller young, having left the breeding colonies in Yorkshire and further north. A small number of Gannets were also seen passing by, 2 adult and a 1st summer Kittiwake were seen and a couple of Curlew flew north.

Amongst other sightings worthy of mention were Hobby on the 16th and 19th, causing panic amongst the House Martins, a Sparrowhawk through the garden with an unfortunate, small passerine in its talons and at nearby Bacton Wood, a party of c.30 Common Crossbills were seen in flight only.

This Hobby frequently harassed the House Martins here. If unsuccessful it would head for the Sand Martin colony along the cliffs.

6th - 12th July

A SW’ly airflow prevailed although by Saturday a moderate NW’ly breeze had developed. Plenty of sunny spells were offset by some heavy showers and from mid afternoon into the night on Wednesday we had some continuous steady rain.

The undoubted highlight of the week was the discovery on the 9th of an adult Roseate Tern fishing and resting on the sea defences between Cart Gap and the village. Up to 5 had been seen recently at Cley NWT and hoping to find one at Happisburgh was the main reason behind my recent frequent visits to the groynes viewable from the end of Doggetts Lane, so when I chanced upon this one I was well pleased. I’ve seen a few Roseates before but this was only the second one I’d found and it was an addition to my Happisburgh list. The species is a rare but annual visitor to Norfolk; in fact with c.100 nesting in the UK, and perhaps less than 2000 pairs breeding in the rest of Europe, it’s not at all common in this part of the world. The following evening and on the morning of the 11th, it was on groynes closer to the village and was seen well and enjoyed by all who saw it. On the latter date the immature Shag was joined by another and the Herring Gulls that have been building in number recently peaked at 77, all sat on the beach.

Its scarcity and graceful beauty make the Roseate Tern perhaps the most sought after of our regular visiting sea Terns.

Again I saw the same species of raptor as last week but with the additional sighting of a Common Buzzard which was overflying the rookery at Brumstead church. Hunting Marsh Harrier was noted on the 9th and 11th but this time a male bird was involved, and what I feel is increasingly likely to be the same Hobby flew over on the 10th and 12th. Other notable flyover birds were a party of 11 Cormorants that were heading high NW one morning and 6 Lapwing over the garden on a SE’ly bearing. A Crossbill, part of the late spring influx, flew over at Lessingham on Wednesday morning and continued inland; again, this was picked up on its call before the bird was sighted.

29th June - 5th July

Again we enjoyed a mostly dry, fine week due to the anticyclonic conditions with just some light overnight rain in the middle of the week. Winds were generally rather light and at times variable.

Individuals and small parties of Swifts were passing westward along the coast as Oswald and I took our Sunday morning walk and offshore 2 medium rather slow, steadily flying birds were Curlews perhaps returning from the continent. A squabble ‘kicking off’ on the beach amongst 4 Ringed Plovers was no doubt territorially inspired. Several almost daily visits to scan the sea saw the usual Sandwich and Common Terns in varying numbers, including a juvenile Sandwich on the 1st July, but an immature Shag on a groyne on the 30th was mildly surprising. Almost exclusively a marine species, Shags are annual in the county, mostly as winter wanderers and I wasn’t really expecting to see one until the autumn. Like any bird species though, non-breeders can be prone to unseasonal wanderings. 2 female Eider also appeared here at the same time and could be seen feeding close in around the groynes. A distant small raft of c.30 duck on the sea south of Cart Gap, but viewed from Happisburgh, had disappeared when I had driven there and were most likely to have been Common Scoter. I also watched a Porpoise determinedly heading southwards down the coast quite close inshore the same morning.

Immature Shag just north of Cart Gap. Breeding adults are much more resplendent with green glossed black plumage, a bright yellow gape and a crest on the forehead.

I saw Turtle Dove again on three occasions this week, a singleton then a pair near Whimpwell Green. The third sighting was of a pair flying up over the cliff and inland and I wondered if this was the same pair, having perhaps been after grit on the beach in the same way other Pigeons will often do. Slightly unexpected, at least during the summer, was a female Reed Bunting along the green lane by the lighthouse for two days. Reed Buntings probably don’t breed within the parish so are therefore most likely to be encountered either in winter or as passage migrants, so why this one was here is a bit puzzling. The numbers of Starlings are noticeably increasing as summer progresses and several small flocks containing many greyer looking birds of the year have been evident of late too.

Bird of prey sightings were represented by Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Hobby and Marsh Harrier; the Hobby soaring amongst totally unconcerned Swifts and Hirundines on June 30th and female Marsh Harriers through the same day and July 3rd when another flew through from west to east causing pandemonium amongst the Jackdaws and Rooks…