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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 ...

23rd - 29th November

The wintry theme continued and the snow kept falling giving up to 3" settled by late Sunday morning. The wind shifted NE'ly where it remained, apart from a rather variable few hours on Wednesday. Some showers of sleet and snow featured at times throughout the week but although it didn't feel much like it, the air temperature must have risen slightly, as the week ended with some light rain.

For me, the week passed rather quietly and my notebook looks rather bare. Monday's weather was conducive to some good sea-watching and by all accounts good numbers of wildfowl were passing offshore. A friend, Robin, watched from Walcott for a while noting a good passage of Common Scoter, Wigeon and Eider but his sighting of 8 Velvet Scoter was the pick of the crop. My highlight, apart from a good view of a perched Tawny Owl in my headlights as I took the back roads to Stalham one night, was a flock of Pink-footed Geese just outside the parish in Lessingham which contained a bird bearing a numbered plastic collar. As I was in my car the flock wasn't too bothered about my prescence, and with the aid of a telescope the collar number was easily read. Submitting the details, a grey collar marked LNI, I soon received a reply detailing sightings since the bird was first caught and marked in Aberdeenshire in April 2006. It was next seen in April 2007, much further south in Scotland at Loch Leven, followed by an October 16th 2007 sighting back in Aberdeenshire at Loch of Strathbeg. It had moved south to Nether Terryvale to the west of Aberdeen by mid December 2007 and was not recorded any more until my sighting here. Any sightings detailing birds marked with collars or colour rings can be reported via the British Trust for Ornithology here.

A collar marked Pink-footed Goose. An excellent article about this scheme can be read on the website of the Lancashire based Fylde Bird Club from where this photo originates.

16th - 22nd November

A generally wintry flavour to the weather from the outset this week with a N'ly element to the wind direction most days, giving a keen edge to the breeze. Although the wind came from the south on Monday it remained cold, and despite some sunshine at times midweek 'real feel' temperatures remained low. Friday saw near gale force gusts bearing frequent showers of sleet and snow and enough fell overnight to give a dusting by the morning.

I was fortunate this week in that I added two species of bird to my Happisburgh and garden lists. The first came in the shape of a Water Rail which laid lifeless on the drive below some overhead cables. Although capable of migrating quite long distances, Rails are rather ungainly in flight and are prone to colliding with such man-made obstacles. However we have a cat, and I feel that she was most likely to have been the cause of the demise of this particular individual, perhaps catching it in one of the damp ditches close by. The second addition was added as I approached the gate returning from one of Ossie's walks when a very distinctive ringing trill triggered an almost involuntarily exclamation of "Waxwing!". It was aimed at no-one, I was alone, and I don't suppose for one minute poor Ossie understood, but on the whole birders are prone to do this when they chance upon a half decent bird. Looking up, ten of these most handsome northern wanderers flew over and headed westward over the fields. I presumed that these were the same birds that had spent a few days between Ingham and Sea Palling in recent days but it was nice that I had connected with them in the home parish.

Curious birds are Water Rails. Their bodies are strangely flat, designed for a life walking through reeds and they make a squealing sound rather like a pig.

The RNLI station in the village provides some shelter from the elements and I stopped by a few times in the week to see what was happening at sea. A flock of Common Scoter was starting to build offshore and numbered c.50 on most visits. Their larger, scarcer cousin, the Velvet Scoter was a nice sight to behold on Monday when 4 flew westwards quite close inshore over a relatively calm sea, a second individual passing by on Friday. Scoters are, by and large, dark brown or black sea ducks but the Velvet's dark monotone is relieved by vivid white inner wing patches that instantly seperate the two species in flight. Seawatch tallies were rather lean during my visits with a few Gannets, Guillemots and occasional Red-throated Divers passing, small numbers of waders and wildfowl too, two Red-breasted Mergansers being second best to the Velvets. Passerines noted whilst watching from here included an 'in off' Fieldfare, a single overhead Rock Pipit and a male Snow Bunting.

A keen eye can occasionally pick out the odd Velvet Scoter associating with larger numbers of Common Scoter. Here is a pair, the male in the foreground. © Arthur Grosset

At least two different Marsh Harriers visited the parish during the week, I had four sightings in all, and a Woodcock burst out from under a hedge by the paddocks as I walked past one day. Blackbirds were again around in good numbers and as I walked from the paddocks homeward, at least 80 moved along the hedgerow in front of me enabling me to count them as they flew from the end of the hedge across to the mature cottage garden opposite College Farm. Golden Plover had gathered on a clifftop field one morning but nowhere near the numbers that I had seen over this way last week, as the party numbered just 57. The final two species worthy of mention were another Snow Bunting near the Decca site, perhaps one of the two seen last week, and a nice wintering flock of 24 Skylarks which I saw from the green lane near the border with Lessingham...

9th - 15th November

The SW'lies continued all week, nudging more W'ly on Wednesday and Thursday for a while. It was breezy too, more so on Sunday night, rather cold and with some rain at times during the first few days. By the end of Saturday the wind had eased and veered to the NW.

More Woodpigeons than is usual appeared in fields just north of home on Sunday morning when in excess of 1,200 were 'guesstimated' on the dog walk. Also, largish flock of Golden Plover, c200 strong, appeared to be coming in to land in the vicinity of the lighthouse but a hopefully closer scrutiny of them would have to wait for another day as time would allow. A few Song Thrushes, Redwings, Chaffinches and Skylarks appeared to be on the move too, albeit locally perhaps. Redpolls were noted twice in the week, 3 birds overflying the garden giving their metallic 'chit-chit-chit' call on Monday with a single over the following morning. Either the Lesser or Common species, the calls are similar so these birds had to go down as either/or. The small party of Twite were still around too being seen by Bob in their usual haunt on Thursday.

Pink-footed Geese flying over in the week often gave the impression that they weren't actually going very far and I soon sussed that they were dropping down in fields west of the village. A party of c100 flying west on Wednesday had an adult White-fronted Goose amongst them, easily picked out by it's much browner colouration and white forehead blaze showing up easily in the sunshine. After the morning school run on Friday I detoured to the water tower in East Ruston with the intention of using the height there to look for exactly where the geese may be. Luckily they were in fields between my location and the road that runs west from Happisburgh and although rather distant, I was able to get a reasonable view looking down on them. Two 'Tundra' Bean Geese were easily picked out, their bright orange legs an excellent field mark in the good morning sunlight and the following day, when part of the flock was nearer to the top end of Grubb Street and more closely approachable, I had good views of 3 of them. From here, I took Ossie to stretch his legs along the cliffs bumping into Andy along the way. He couldn't find the Twite but had seen 2 Snow Buntings at the base of the cliffs which were still there as we walked past. Stopping at the Decca site for a quick scan over the sea Andy called "What's this!?" as a dark looking Falcon appeared. It was a Peregrine, the awkward angle of the light making it appear unusually almost dark grey as it soon disappeared south-eastwards inland from the cliffs.

Peregrines are an increasingly regular visitor to the county, birds particularly favouring Broadland and the north coast. This is a juvenile bird. © Arthur Grosset

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

26th October - 1st November

Wet weather from the SW opened the week, clearing by early afternoon. Overnight rain Monday continued into Tuesday, eventually clearing eastwards. Dry and frosty followed but rain returned for Thursday and a heavy, wintry shower struck on Friday evening by which time the wind was NE'ly. It was a cold, cloudy end to the week with the wind now in the east.

My shift pattern only allowed me to get to the clifftop fields for afternoon dog walking this week and on Tuesday, as we reached Upton Way, a flock of 13 Snow Buntings dropped in close to the footpath. Casting my eyes out to sea as we walked the clifftop, a single Shag flew south whilst 7 Shelduck and 2 Brent Geese headed north. An actively hunting Barn Owl at the Decca site may have been the same tired looking bird there in September, as it sported the distinct, buff breast-band of that bird. It kept dropping to the ground from the post and rail fencing along the southern edge, perhaps taking earthworms. The next day as we walked the same route, c.1000 Pink-footed Geese flew over to the NW and Starlings were flying in from the sea in several flocks. A Grey Heron appeared over the clifftop and flew quite high inland, perhaps a bird that had just crossed the North Sea or had finished the journey after a stop off on a gas rig. Out to sea, a Great Black-backed Gull was chasing a small, dark looking passerine over the waves. By the time I had my telescope trained on it the gull had knocked down and, I assume, drowned the unfortunate bird, for it's lifeless body could be seen floating in the water. I've witnessed this several times before and one wonders just how often this scenario takes place each autumn as 1000's of small birds struggle to reach our shores. Several Meadow Pipits along the base of the cliff prompted me to check the beach every few yards and it wasn't long before a late Wheatear appeared. A party of 5 'presumed' Linnets flew past, landing at the base of the cliff and on closer inspection I was surprised to see the yellowish bill and buffy face of a Twite looking back at me. Twite are quite a scarce winter visitor to Norfolk, favouring the saltmarshes of the north coast, so they were a rather unusual find at Happisburgh. The birds soon flew out of sight as they were disturbed by several people on the beach. Returning homeward, the Snow Buntings appeared, the flock size having increased to 14.

An easterly force 3-4 encouraged me to look at the sea before returning home on Thursday in the hope of some wildfowl passage. I watched for 25 minutes, logging a Teal, 40 Wigeon, 18 Eider, 60 Brent Geese and 5 Red-throated Divers all heading north. Southward passage was restricted to 4 Gannets. A shorter dog walk was called for today, so we walked the lane and back. Winter Thrushes had obviously been arriving as the paddocks and surrounding hedgerows contained a Fieldfare, c40 Redwings and at least 120 Blackbirds. It was quite astounding to see so many Blackbirds in a small area; how many more had arrived in the rest of the village I wondered. I heard the call of a Goldcrest from the trees behind the Anglian Water pumping station and a search revealed at least 2, along with 2 Chiffchaffs and a Pied Flycatcher that should really have been much further south by now.

The Thrush arrival prompted me to have a quick look near the church and cricket ground the following day, but I saw nothing more there than 10+ Goldcrests. I stopped near the paddocks to see if yesterday's Flycatcher was still there and was pleasantly surprised to see my 4th parish Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn. A Chiffchaff was with it and a Brambling called from somewhere close by but the Pied Fly wasn't to be seen. I tried here again on Saturday, there were 2 Chiffchaffs again, as well as several Goldcrests and Song Thrushes. A flyover Grey Wagtail as I walked home may have landed on the paddocks.

Grey Wagtails nest quite close by but are only seen in Happisburgh on passage.
© Arthur Grosset