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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 ...

21st - 27th September

No cloud and no wind is how the week commenced, although a light E-NE on Monday had increasedto force 5 by Tuesday, easing to a light in strength by Friday and reverting to a gentle W'ly for the weekend. Cloud was variable throughout, it remained dry and we saw plenty of sunshine.

Tuesday, with a brisk NE'ly, tempted me twice to the sea to watch for seabirds. My first session was only for 30 mins and I came away having noted just 3 Arctic Skuas and a single Great Skua. Back again at 10:45 I stayed for an hour and fared slightly better. It was looking like a good day for Great Skua passage was underway and no fewer than 25 passed southwards. One Arctic and 4 very distant, unidentified Skua species also passed south, as well as c.50 Sandwich Terns whilst one of my favourite seabirds, a Sooty Shearwater headed north. Wildfowl was poorly represented with just 20 Common Scoter, 2 Wigeon, 20 Teal and a single Brent Goose moving by.

With the air still originating from the continent, good numbers of small migrant birds were still arriving. During the week, wherever I went, there were birds that had drifted in from northern Europe and perhaps further east. Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Redstarts were all present in good numbers along with a few each of Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. Wheatears, Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats were also noted and from 26th, Robins were most abundant with over 100 seen locally that day. Also during the week were the autumn's first Bramblings, 2 in the garden of Briar Lodge, and Song Thrushes 'dropping out of the sky' was indicative of birds making landfall. Siskins, that brightly coloured green and black finch often seen on garden feeders, were on the move and seen or heard most days as were occasional Reed Buntings and Redpolls. A southerly passage of Meadow Pipits was especially evident on Saturday when the Dunnock population seemed to have increased too.

With NE'lies in September, birders thoughts turn to birds with a more distant origin, and most are eagerly anticipating the arrival of birds that breed in Siberia and normally winter in the Indian subcontinent or south-east Asia. I'm no different, and on Wednesday morning as I took Ossie for his daily exercise, a Warbler flew from a Hawthorn and away into a short stretch of Sycamore hedge. I was struck by it's small size and my suspicions were soon confirmed when a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared amongst the slowly turning Sycamore leaves. This species is one of the more regular 'Sibes' that turn up in the UK and with their nearest breeding grounds are some 3,000 km distant, this little fellow had made quite a journey. Two days later I was walking along the drain that borders the meadows behind Lower Farm, checking for migrants in any available cover. Reaching the row of Poplars I paused and began 'pishing' to attract any small birds that may be sheltering nearby when, lo and behold, the first bird to investigate was another Yellow-browed Warbler. As it was only about 500m and 2 days from the first, it could possibly have been the same bird, but that is something that will remain a mystery. Shortly after, a sharp piercing whistle heard was the call of a Kingfisher and this one most likely was the same bird I recorded nearby earlier in August...

14th - 20th September

'Wind in the east, dry at least'. And so it was. By the end of the week southerlies had established, remaining light in strength as it had been all week.

Although Happisburgh lacks suitable habitat for it to breed, the Reed Warbler still doubtless passes through the parish in small numbers on it's migrations each year. Seemingly not as common on passage as they used to be, the nearest reedbeds at East Ruston seemed to be thronging with singing males this summer, and one in the thorny thicket in the SW corner of the Decca site on Sunday morning was a welcome local record. Yellow Wagtail, 3 Wheatears and a Common Whitethroat were also around the general area and when I looked out of our living room window later in the day, a flash of a red tail dropping out of the Eucalyptus alerted me to a Common Redstart which spent the remainder of the day in local gardens. This individual may have been the forerunner of events to come, for the following day when I arrived home early afternoon, the rear gardens held Spotted Flycatcher, 1+ Pied Flycatcher, 2 Redstarts and single Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. It felt almost as if my garden was a coastal bird observatory! The Scandinavian high pressure and associated easterlies had worked their magic and a huge fall of migrants had taken place. Ossies walk along the lane turned up at least 2 more Pied Fly's, 4+ Redstarts and 2 Willow Warblers. Over the next few days, birds continued to arrive and many coastal Norfolk locations scored some good double figure counts of such commoner migrants as well as small numbers of scarcer ones such as Wryneck and Red-backed Shrike. Wheatear was another bird involved and at least 11 were in clifftop fields south of the village on Tuesday afternoon.

Once again this week, the Hobby showed over the garden and there was still a Redstart, perhaps the same, frequenting mine and neighbouring gardens throughout. Friday 19th saw an event that all Happisburgh residents can't fail to become aware of each autumn; the first Pink-footed Geese returning from their summer away. I was in the back garden when at 5:45pm I became aware of the distinctive sound of Pinks and looked up to see c.100 just south of School Common Road flying not SE towards the broads, but NW up county. I'd not seen any previously this autumn, nor heard of any other sightings, and naturally expected that the first birds would be moving down the coast. Perhaps these ones had migrated into continental Europe before relocating across the southern North Sea into East Anglia and were heading on to one of their favoured roosts along the north coast. I saw two more small parties the following day heading 'the proper way' towards east Norfolk.

Pleased at the previous week's raptor sightings, a larger bird of prey than the more usual Kestrel, Sparrowhawk or Hobby was spotted from the garden on Saturday afternoon. Circling just south of the village, I managed to get it through my binoculars before it disappeared. It was a typically plumaged Common Buzzard, a probable continental migrant utilising the same favourable weather conditions that were bringing the smaller birds across and several others had been seen in recent days across the eastern counties. Shortly after 2 Swifts slowly but purposefully headed over southwards, the shortening daylight hours urging them to seek warmer climes.

7th - 13th September

The wind had swung overnight through 180˚ and was from the NW on Sunday morning. It remained rather variable and never went much over beaufort force 3 throughout the week, settling into a light E-NE on Saturday. It was mostly dry too apart from a heavy shower on Sunday morning and up until mid afternoon on Friday.

Although from the right direction, the wind on Sunday was only a breeze at best, but the passage across the central UK of an area of low pressure worked like magic regarding good quality seabirds around the Norfolk coast. And I was otherwise engaged! These things happen from time to time, and on the day it's almost gruelling hearing of events unfolding at sea watching points along t
he coast and with the sea just a few hundred yards away. In the garden that morning, a distinct 'tlip, tlip' call had me exclaiming "Tree Sparrow?" to no-one other than the dog. Quite a scarcity these days, it had been a long time since I'd heard them but somewhere deep in my memory a past experience must have been recalled. Looking up, a sparrow type bird was flying towards the bottom of the garden where it landed in a large Oak. I grabbed my 'bins' and could see it in the treetop, mostly obscured and partly silhouetted by the morning sun but still giving the call. Willing it to reveal itself more I kept watch and it eventually flew, this time towards me. My immediate neighbours always feed the birds at the back of their house and quite a flock of House Sparrows builds up at times. This morning they were mostly settled in a large shrub and my probable soon became a definite Tree Sparrow when it joined it's closer, commoner cousins allowing me to see the chestnut cap, neat black bib and black cheek spot that readily identifies them. As with many of our smaller farmland birds, Tree Sparrow numbers have declined steeply over the last few years and this one came as a welcome addition to my garden list. It was also the first time in many years that I had seen the species in Happisburgh. Given the timing of the sighting, this one was perhaps a passing migrant taking an opportunity to refuel rather than a bird from a local population unknown to me.

Tuesday morning saw me
walking Ossie up to Cart gap and along Doggetts Lane looking for migrants. Several Chiffchaffs and the odd Willow Warbler were encountered along the way as well as a family party of Whitethroats, 2 Wheatears and a female type Redstart which gave fleeting glimpses in the small fenced off garden near the pay and display. A Sparrowhawk flew steadily and low northward and may have been a passage bird. Checking the sea from time to time was generally fruitless with 3 Red-throated Divers, a few Common and Sandwich Terns, 4 Teal, 10 Gannets and singles of Arctic Skua, Dunlin and Common Scoter noted. Reaching the Decca site a Barn Owl was sitting on one of the fence posts looking rather tired and closer inspection revealed a distinct, buff breast band. It also showed rather dark upperparts and more richly coloured primary coverts than is usually seen in British Barn Owls. Although variable, the further east you look through Euope, the darker Barn Owls tend to be to the extent that the entire underparts can be almost rusty-orange. Such birds very occasionally occur in the UK although generally later in the year and ringing studies have shown that there is interchange both ways between British ringed and European ringed birds. Perhaps this bird was of near continental origin or was the offspring of a pairing between a British and a more distant, darker European bird. There was no sign of it the following day and I hoped it had managed to recover enough strength to move on and thrive.

Barn Owls aren't that unusual in NE Norfolk but this resting bird may well have journeyed from mainland Europe.

Saturday morning dawned with a mist which later turning into weak, scuddy cloud blown inland on a light NE'ly. By the time I'd walked half way to the paddocks along School Common Road my pager had delivered news of 4 Honey Buzzards seen coming in from the North Sea at points north and south of Happisburgh. I had been scanning all around anyway, but this new information changed my luck for as I looked back, a large raptor appeared from behind the cover near Laurel Lodge. It was circling and slowly gaining height and instantly recognisable as a Honey Buzzard with its long, flat to downcurved wing profile and comparatively long and almost constantly flexed tail. Against the sunlight it also showed a pale patch in the primary feathers on each wing, a good distinguishing feature of Honeys. The upperparts appeared quite dark and the dark trailing edge to the flight feathers suggested that it was probably an adult female. It began to drop so I moved out into the field a little and soon got onto it again to watch it continue southwards where it joined up with another; 2 Honey Buzzards now, and I could see my house in the same field of view! It was a great start to the morning and by the end of the day a maximum of 54 had been reported on the pager through the county, the huge Scandinavian high pressure and weak weather fronts over the southern North Sea producing the conditions to direct them to our shores. A Grey Heron south over the clifftop fields may also have come in from the sea and later that afternoon, when I nipped outside yet again to look for big birds, a superb Osprey was flapping southwards just east of the garden, perhaps having detected either Hickling or Barton Broad. A truly memorable raptor day indeed.

Other sightings during this excellent week pale somewhat into insignificance but include 2 Common Swifts south over the garden on Thursday afternoon and a Hobby getting seen off by a Jackdaw at the same place but earlier the same day...

31st August - 6th September

The start of the week looked promising with a light SE'ly wind and hazy sunshine which was broken by a heavy shower during the afternoon. Several spells of rain and heavy showers followed almost daily until late on Friday from when it remained dry through to the weekend. Apart from a brief time in the NW onTuesday, the wind remained off the land, returning to the SE during Friday where it stayed. Monday to Wednesday were rather breezy.

Optimistically, I set off along the track to the Coastwatch early on Sunday morning. It was the last day of August and the wind was a light SE'ly; there ought to be something about, even if only some common migrants having arrived overnight from mainland Europe. As I reached the cottages half way along the track some movement in the large Willow there drew my attention. My suspicions were soon confirmed when a young Pied Flycatcher flitted back into view. Moving my position slightly, two more darted out of the tree onto the roof of the first cottage where they perched briefly before seeking out the safety of more foliage. A classic drift migrant in such weather conditions at this time of year Pied Fly's, as they are referred to by most birders, are captivating little birds with their dark eye staring out from a rather plain face as they flick their wings and tails before sallying off to snatch an unsuspecting flying insect. The males in spring are striking black and white birds but are, sadly, infrequent visitors. The gardens and hedgerow along here were quite productive and by the time I had continued along the clifftop and back through the caravan site and churchyard I had seen 2+ Willow Warblers, 5+ Chiffchaffs and 3 Wheatears to add to the tally. On the ground behind the Cricket Club were 5 Yellow Wagtails whilst another 2 flew over head to the south-east. A Hobby shot through too; not the usual bird I see around for this was a juvenile bird. Calling from overhead, but unseen, were single Golden Plover and Common Sandpiper, their positions high in the hazy sky impossible to locate. A text from Andy told me he had been up to the Decca site during the morning where he had seen 2 Whinchats and a Tree Pipit.

During the week Wheatears were seen on several days, peaking at 5 on Friday morning, the same day that a dark juvenile Arctic Skua was chasing Terns right over the beach. It was also this day I became aware that the number of Swallows around the houses at home had increased quite dramatically and in the region of 50 birds were present, spending time sitting on the wires and rooftops as well as noisily flying around. It's a wonderful sound to behold and one I revelled in for a while, wholly aware that they would soon be gone and only stragglers would be seen until their return next spring.

Classically an English association with summer, Swallows are most numerous in early autumn as birds flock up in preparation for the long, hazardous journey south.

An early seawatch until 8am on Saturday produced a Manx Shearwater south and 2 returning Fulmars offshore as well as 3 Shags and 4 Golden Plovers north, with 2 Sanderlings and a single Grey Plover south. Letting the cat out after her breakfast coincided with the adult Hobby patrolling the lane and 5 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler were around the paddocks when I ventured out with Ossie...