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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 ...

2nd - 8th November

The wind continued generally from the E until Friday, when it veered S'ly and onto a SW'ly for Saturday. Wind strength remained low throughout and it was cloudy, often drizzly and there wasn't really any brighter weather until the change in wind as the weekend neared.

Sunday morning was an opportunity for me to get an early start and see what was happening over the sea for a while. Driving along the lane in the dawn gloom, a Woodcock flew up from a gateway and off across the fields heading for a more secluded daytime roost site. They will often feed in daylight during a prolonged cold spell, but are generally a bird that become active at dusk. I saw this sighting as a good omen and continued on to the RNLI station on the clifftop. Light levels were still quite low but a few duck were passing and a dark shape on the sea, close in, was an immature Shag which soon flew north. A slightly unusual call drew my attention and I soon traced it to a female or immature Black Redstart which was finding the remains of the slipway to it's liking. A Chiffchaff was in the end of the lovely scrubby hedge here too and a streamlined Grey Wagtail flew overhead. During my watch Gannets (60) and Kittiwakes (41) were heading south and 8 Little Gulls passed the same way as did a party of 5 Dunlin. Another 4 Little Gulls flew north, a distant and poorly seen Great or Pomarine Skua flew south and 5 Starlings came straight 'in off'. It was, however, wildfowl that were most evident and my totals were Wigeon (N70, S12), Teal (N45, S22), Gadwall S2, Common Scoter (N2, S13), Eider S14, Shoveler N1, Goldeneye N1, Mallard S2 and Brent Goose N5. The star bird though was initially picked up at 07:30 approching from the NE and flying just above the horizon. It's airy, light manner of flight was reminiscent of that of a Tern and it's dark smudgy head had me thinking "This could be a Sabs!" I was still not seeing it well enough though, any other features were difficult to pick out against the sky and I willed it to lose altitude so I could try and look for other features against the darker background of the sea. The outer flight feathers gave a strong impression of being very dark compared to the rest of the upperparts but the view was still inconclusive and I continued hoping for a change in flight direction. The bird was slowly becoming closer and all of a sudden it turned head on and then went into a twisting dive as if chasing some unseen object. This was enough for me to see the distinctive upperpart pattern of blackish outer primary feathers, a clean white inner wing and dark grey-brown wing covert and mantle feathering that only belongs to an immature Sabine's Gull. The blackish tip to the forked white tail was also obvious, especially when spread as the bird was twisting and turning. After several seconds of this behaviour, it continued flying north and what was presumably the same bird was seen on the beach at Mundesley some time later. Nesting in the high Arctic and highly pelagic outside the breeding season, Sabine's Gull is a regular passage visitor to the UK, although it remains rather scarce on the east coast. Ossie still needed his walk despite my desire to continue watching the sea, so I left for home shortly after my 'highlight' and walked him along the lane to the paddocks. As we left the house 83 Fieldfares dropped into one of the large Oaks at the bottom of the garden, and all along the lane were Blackbirds (I recorded 'Lots!' in my notebook), Redwings and Song Thrushes whilst Skylarks and several Chaffinches passed overhead. Goldcrests were everywhere again, 30+ in the hedgerows along the lane and around the paddocks, these accompanied by numerous Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. A Stonechat was also present along a grassy field edge, utilising a farm implement as a vantage point, and with Waxwing, Long-eared Owl and Great Northern Diver seen by visiting birders, the village probably experienced one of it's best bird days of the autumn. Incidentally Jim, who saw the latter two species, also saw the Twite flock along the cliffs, noting that a sixth bird had joined them and that two had been colour ringed as part of a Twite study project somewhere. Details hopefully to follow later.

Returning home past East Ruston Common after dark on Monday I chanced upon a Woodcock lying in the road, a victim of a collision with the car that I had passed seconds earlier I expect. I stopped and picked it up, the poor thing unmarked and still just clinging to life but soon dying in my supporting hands. A sad end for such an intriguing bird that quite possibly may have ventured here from Northern Europe, a journey which would have involved a perilous crossing of the North Sea. Feeling saddened I continued homeward but the sight of another Woodcock, picked out in my headlights as it walked the verge along our lane, lifted my spirit somewhat and I felt a sense of wonder musing what it might be like to experience life as a wild bird does without a humans sentimentality. I managed to walk the clifftop a few times throughout the week noting the Snow Bunting flock on more than one date, the flock peaking at 17 birds. An Arctic Skua flew lazily northwards on Monday afternoon and as I walked through the Decca site on Wednesday a Short-eared Owl flushed from close range. It only flew as far as Halcholm where it dropped to the ground beneath the west facing hedge, gaining shelter from the chill breeze. The following morning I took Oswald as far as the top of our lane and scanned the paddocks noticing a male Ring Ouzel feeding with some Blackbirds there. Ring Ouzels pass through in varying numbers each autumn but in my experience they are much more frequent in spring, so I was a little surprised to find this one. Saturday 8th was sunny with clear skies and a couple of low flying flocks of Pink-feet passing overhead had me stop and look more closely. I never tire of seeing them and there is always the chance of picking out a different species if you are really lucky, which is exactly what happened here as the second skein contained 5-6 White-fronted Geese, the white facial blaze and black belly barring of the adult bird an easily seen identification mark. Having missed White-front here early in the year, I was pleased to be able to add it to my parish year list...

Numerous Short-eared Owls join us each autumn, the sight of one flying in from the sea always special, more so if eye contact is made with their wonderful yellow eyes. © Arthur Grosset

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