This website is best viewed using Firefox v.3

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 ...

19th - 25th October

We had a dry start to the week with winds light and from the SW. Wind strength then picked up slightly, easing again on Friday, which led to a touch of frost the following morning. Plenty of bright periods were interspersed with more cloudy spells and Monday saw rain from late pm as did overnight from Thursday to Friday.

Passing through East Ruston early Monday afternoon, a birder was looking for the Osprey but I didn't have time to stop. Reaching Honing, I had to make time to stop as a 'ringtail' Harrier flew across the road in front of the car. I quickly got onto it, could see that it was a Hen Harrier, and I watched it reach Honing Hall woods where it flipped
over the treetops, drawing attention from a couple of Carrion Crows as it did so. Returning home by the same route I stopped at the fen where there was no sign of the Osprey, although a Common Buzzard appeared and a Kingfisher called, unseen. Two Marsh Tits were close to the road within quite a sizeable flock of mixed Blue, Great and at least 15 Long-tailed Tits. There seems to have been quite an influx of Tits this autumn, most noticeable from higher than usual encounters with parties of Long-tails. The next three days passed rather quietly but there were plenty of the common Thrushes in hedgerows whilst several flocks of Starlings and a few Chaffinches were noted westward on 23rd.

Friday morning after the school run saw me returning to East Ruston, where the Osprey was perched on a favourite tree and Bob was taking some more photos. It was totally at ease with our prescence and flew to other perch
es during our stay as it looked for fish, eventually flying to the body of water to the north of School Road. We followed it over, and on reaching the trees met Richard Rowe and Andrew from Cley Spy, who were also enjoying good views of it perched close by. We stopped awhile, chatting and soaking up the common's distinguished guest, noting 3 Marsh Harriers, c50 Siskins in the Alders and a secretive Water Rail close to the road. At 11:30 the Osprey flew low across the fen and directly overhead, giving us that remained fantastic views before it headed northwards. As far as I know, it wasn't seen here again; if anyone reading this knows any different I'd be glad to know. I'd noted a Chiffchaff feeding in the hedge as I left my car first thing, and following a walk around the west of the fen and back along Weavers Way with Richard, noted that it was still there. I had to pay another visit the following day, around noon, as we needed to make the monthly visit for Matilda's school project. It was quite chilly but we wandered around wrapped up warm. A single Redpoll flew over and a Little Grebe, or Dabchick, was on the open water. Heading back, a large brown bird appeared over the reeds, and my immediate reaction was that it was perhaps the Hen Harrier from earlier in the week. The girls were taken aback by my excitement when I soon realised it was a Bittern! It flew to our left and landed in the reed edge at the west end, where it soon disappeared into the reeds and out of sight. Bittern is a very rare breeding bird in the UK, nesting only in extensive reedbeds, and is afforded special protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Recent years have seen an increase in breeders though, and up to date information can be found in this informative 'Birdwatch' article. The habitat at East Ruston Fen has been recreated in recent years with the purpose of attracting and supporting Bitterns during the winter months, and with two other recent records prior to this one, it seems that the project is proving to be successful.

Bittern numbers are boosted each winter by birds from Europe, some of which will hopefully remain to expand the UK breeding range and population. This bird was photographed at Strumpshaw RSPB. © Ron McIntyre

12th - 18th October

Visibility was very poor to begin with, a dense fog enveloping this part of the county on Sunday morning. Light W to SW'lies followed although Thursday saw the wind veer to the NW for a time. It was generally fine and dry throughout with the exception of Wednesday/early Thursday when drizzly conditions turned to more persistent rain then showers.

Pink-footed Geese heralded the start to the week as many could be heard flying towards Lessingham and beyond above the thick, cold fog. It was clear above I know, for one skein directly overhead could just be made out, picked out by the sun which made them look rather ghostly through the gloom. Continuing the Goose theme, 20 'grey' Geese flying NW along the southern edge of the parish and seen from my garden on Tuesday, caught my attention initially with their calling which was unlike the higher pitched call of Pinks, being a noticeably more powerful, deeper 'honking'. I could see the birds in question, 20 in all, and they appeared quite large and stocky with long looking necks, large heads and quite dark upperwings. They weren't close, but my feeling is that they were possibly Bean Geese, probably birds of the Taiga breeding race fabalis. This subspecies visits the Yare valley in small numbers to overwinter (where they usually arrive quite late in the autumn), leaving the area in January/February. Scope views would have perhaps enabled me to be sure of their identification, so these had to go down, rather frustratingly, as possibles. I'd hoped they may have been picked up elsewhere but I heard no further reports.

Wednesday morning, and Ossie and I had a walk around the 'lighthouse fields' early on before the wet weather set in for the day. We soon found a party of 10 Snow Buntings, their rippling call advertising their prescence before we saw them. A Reed Bunting was also along the lane there and in the garden of Halcholm, just SW of the Decca site, were a pair of Stonechats. Two Wheatears fed in a field nearby too. I noticed that there wasn't a great deal of stubble left on the fields, most of it being ploughed in and redrilled with winter cereal. However, the large field towards the Cart Gap Road was still old stubble and several flights of Pink-footed Geese were whiffling down there so I drove around for a closer look. This was my first good look at Pinks on the ground this autumn, and they nervously watched back as I remained in the car.

With the wind shifting NW'ly on Thursday I managed 30 minutes watching the sea from the shelter of the RNLI building at the end of Beach Road. The wind strength was only light although I did manage to pick up 2 distant, unidentified Skua species, 3 Red-throated Divers, a few Gannets and singleton Mallard and Red-breasted Merganser. The best bird though was an adult or subadult Pomarine Skua which headed south quite a way offshore, the pale breast and dark rear end coupled with the characteristic lumbering, broad-winged jizz this species displays when cruising through on a light tail wind allowing a straightforward identification. East Ruston Common provided the interest at the end of the week for an Osprey had taken up residence, giving tremendous views as it either sat perched in dead trees, often looking for fish, or flying around the lake. It seems likely to be the same bird I saw here at the end of September and close inspection revealed it to be a juvenile bird bearing a metal ring on it's right leg. A Cetti's Warbler was again giving bursts of song from the dense vegetation and c.12 Siskins flew overhead; probably not too far as there is a good food source for them in the stands of Alders there. Bob spent several hours photographing the Osprey and whilst there on Saturday morning he was fortunate to see a family party of 2 adult and 5 young Whooper Swans drop in for a short while. Back at Happisburgh on Friday, a small flock of 15 Redwings were feeding along the edge of a hedge bordering the meadow behind Lower Farm and an immature Marsh Harrier passed through being mobbed by a Carrion Crow...

A superb portrait shot of the juvenile Osprey at East Ruston ~ Bob Cobbold.

This family party of Whooper Swans chose to stop off at East Ruston on their journey between Arctic breeding grounds and more temperate winter haunts in the UK ~ Bob Cobbold.

5th - 11th October

Sunday morning greeted us with heavy rain, torrential at times it seemed, before it cleared during the afternoon. Apart from some more, lighter, rain on Tuesday it remained dry. A light N-NE'ly wind opened the week, this soon backing round to SW for the most part. From the 9th, which was a lovely 'classic' autumnal day, it became a bit cooler.

It was so wet on Sunday morning that Oswald really wasn't bothered about staying indoors, but with the sun coming out during the afternoon he was more than pleased to venture out. We walked the lane to the paddocks, noting that the Redstart from last week was still present by the ditch, and insects disturbed by the cattle at Lower Farm were providing a source of food for a family party of 5 Swallows. These were present until at least the Wednesday and at one point they ventured over our garden where they hawked with a House Martin. A Monday morning walk to the village and along the cliffs to the Decca site and back was initially accompanied by several skeins of Pink-footed Geese, somewhere in excess of 1,500 all heading down towards east Norfolk. Cloud was slowly breaking as time passed and I took a favourite route off Beach Road and along the edge of the small field behind the RNLI towards St. Mary's to check for migrant birds that may have stopped off to feed. The habitat at Happisburgh village really is quite superb for small birds and, being situated atop the cliffs, must make a welcome sight visible from well out to sea to tired birds that have just flown perhaps many hundreds of kilometres. Today a Pied Flycatcher was living up to it's name in the treetops there and the hedge down to the lifeboat shed was providing shelter to another Redstart. Overhead were small numbers of Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches heading south and amongst the latter I heard the distinctive 'wheeze' call of Brambling. Heading south along the cliff, 2 Grey Plover landed briefly on the beach and a male Snow Bunting on the beach may well have been the bird reported to me last week. A Wheatear was also along this clifftop stretch and it was nice to catch up with Robin Abel, the finder of last years Buff-breasted Sanpiper that attracted many birders to the lighthouse field, who informed me he had seen two.

Tuesday saw our walk lead us away from the coast and follow the circuit towards Lessingham and along the footpath that leads back up to Whimpwell Green. Approaching the paddocks a small bird flew out of the mature hedgerow and across the field. It looked interesting and a closer look revealed it to be a Coal Tit, a bird which I seldom see in the parish although I'm sure more time spent watching around the village would turn them up more regularly. The SE facing side of the copse was sheltered and a real suntrap so I carefully approached as there was every chance a Warbler or similar insectivorous bird would be feeding there. A Chiffchaff was quite low down in the Hawthorns and soon joined by another but in the top of a Sycamore was something that was too small to be another and not behaving how I would normally expect a Goldcrest to. I suspected a rarer Phylloscopus and eventually saw enough to realise that it was another Yellow-browed Warbler, my third sighting in the area this autumn. It gave me several brief but decent views as it actively fed and then flew into the more dense foliage of an Oak where I lost sight of it. Also benefitting from the insects that were obviously abundant here was a Pied Flycatcher.

Quite a small warbler, the Yellow-browed has distinct supercilia and usually two obvious wing bars. They will often accompany Tit flocks when they reach our shores. © Ron McIntyre

Wednesday night through to Thursday saw the wind shift to NW, light in strength, and this was probably the reason behind a noticeable influx of Blackbirds. A few Song Thrushes were also involved but no 'winter' Thrushes yet. Saturday morning called for a change in location and I headed up to the cricket ground planning to walk out to the Coast Watch buildings. The highlight here occurred as I was getting Ossie on his lead when 5 Tree Sparrows flew over. Again, it was the call that alerted me and they continued flying towards the village. The field east of the track which had been a splendid sight in the spring, when full of Daffodils in bloom, now has a good covering of weeds and played host to c100 Meadow Pipits and c120 Linnets, the latter often wheeling around in a busy, twittering flock. Two Wheatears seemed to favour the heap of manure by the clifftop and the old pill box by the Coastwatch was being used by a pair of Stonechats to sight insect prey, the male often launching himself then hovering above the rank grasses as he searched. A male Reed Bunting looked at home along the track, one spent some time along here last winter, and 5 Siskins flew westward overhead as we headed back...

28th September - 4th October

In comparison to the previous seven days, the wind had a westerly element to it all week, and from Tuesday it was quite windy at times during daylight hours. Conversely, the air was still enough overnight to give us the first frost of the autumn on Friday morning. Most days saw some rain, albeit patchy at times, and the week ended with heavy rain after dark on Saturday.

As a part of her school curriculum, Matilda has to keep a nature diary, visiting her chosen site at least once a month and writing about what she sees there and accounting the changes she notices. For this project, we chose the part of East Ruston Common to the north of School Road where some of the scrub has been cleared to encourage heathland and a lake and reedbed habitat has been created to hopefully serve as a wintering ground for Bitterns. We visited on Sunday morning as cloud steadily built up, armed with notebook and camera to see how things had changed from September. Siskins were evident, with c.60 zipping around in between time spent feeding in Alder stands and we recorded Marsh Tit, Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler too. But it was birds of prey that were the main feature for we saw single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier, 2 Common Buzzards and best of all, I glanced up as an Osprey drifted low down, directly overhead. I was hoping it may fish in front of us but it flew beyond the lake, where a Buzzard 'buzzed' it, before gaining a bit of height and heading towards Honing. Oswald's walk didn't take place until mid-afternoon; after patiently waiting in he was more than pleased to be going out. We only did the lane as far as the paddocks, and in the light breeze small birds were easier to find. Because the wind was generally W-NW, the migrants we did see had undoubtedly made landfall last week and were either still feeding up before moving on or were gradually reorientating south-eastwards. Where a ditch had recently been cleared was proving to be attractive habitat for 3 Redstarts and along the lane were 2 Stonechats, a Whinchat, 2+ Chiffchaffs, 6+ Song Thrushes and several Robins and Dunnocks. A 'spizzik' call from above was given by a Grey Wagtail which appeared to drop down somewhere by the paddocks, perhaps in the water filled ditch there. At least 1 Redstart was still present at the end of the week.

Since the creation of the open water areas at East Ruston, passage Ospreys have stopped by to feed on several occasions.
© Ron McIntyre

On Thursday, the pager reported Great Northern Diver and 27 Shags past Walcott in a stiff NW'ly but the highlight of my day was 3 House Martins over the garden, and whilst driving home from work I had seen my first returning Redwings as a flock of c.10 went over at Beeston St. Lawrence. The wind was stronger the following day and had a bit more north to it, but being at work until 5:30pm meant I couldn't get to seawatch until past 6 c'clock. In the half hour I was there I saw a Great Skua, 2 Arctic Skuas, 5 distant 'Commic' Terns (not specifically identified but either Common or Arctic Tern), a few Gannets and 30 Kittiwakes and on the sea sat a female Eider. As I stood there a chap stopped to question me about a bird he had seen earlier on the grass between the RNLI and the caravan site. Describing a Thrush sized bird with white wings and black wingtips, he had me stumped, but the following day I bumped into him again and he told me he had seen two more of the same bird that morning on the beach at Eccles. He showed me a photo he had taken on his camera and, zooming in on the brown blobs, I realised that yesterday's bird was obviously a Snow Bunting...