Norfolk Bird & Wildlife Report – May-September 2008

Norfolk bird & wildlife report for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust for May-September 2008

A male Red-backed Shrike spent the summer at Sea Palling. The species used to known as the ‘butcher’ bird. Named from its habit of stock piling prey items, such as large insects, on thorns in a ‘larder’, to which it could return at leisure to consume. The Red-backed Shrike has become extinct, during my lifetime, as a regular UK breeding bird. The last pair to breed in Norfolk was in 1988 in the Brecklands at Santon Downham. It is still a regular, but scarce, spring and autumn migrant, simply passing through Norfolk to other pastures. For one to find Sea Palling so attractive that it couldn’t bear to leave is at least interesting.

Red-backed Shrike is a Norfolk BAP species meaning that it is listed on the Norfolk Biodiversity Action Plan. The plan provides a legal framework to conserve, protect and enhance biodiversity. The idea is to focus the energy of conservation organisations on those species that make it on the list. So perhaps in the future we can hope for this species to return as a regular breeder.

Nearby and even more unusual in the UK was a female Lesser Grey Shrike that spent a few days at Hickling in June. This species breeds in Eastern Europe, in such areas as the Hortobagy in Hungary. What was more amazing though, was that the same bird was re-found near Middlebere Heath in Dorset in August. This bird had unique mark by its bill enabling the finders of the Dorset bird to determine it was the Hickling bird. Where it was between dates will have to remain a mystery.

Honey Buzzards are rare breeding birds in Norfolk and Natural England have two locations where anyone can go to lookout for the species. Both are east of Fakenham, one at the Wensum Valley Watchpoint near Great Ryburgh and the other at the Swanton Novers watchpoint. Birdwatchers were treated to a spectacular arrival of the species in mid-September. Weather conditions were such that a few hundred birds migrating south in mainland Europe were pushed across the North Sea. As a result many were seen to fly in off the sea at numerous locations around Norfolk on 13th September. Those on the north Norfolk coast appeared to filter inland as there were sightings over Attleborough, Cringleford and Norwich, whereas those on the east coast continued south resulting in record counts at Minsmere RSPB.

The next day hardly any Honey Buzzards were seen coming in off the sea and their distribution had more westerly bias, with for instance eight over Welney WWT. It seems likely that these birds had arrived on 13th in northern England and were making their way south. The movement continued with lower numbers until nearly the end of the month. Associated with the movement were Common Buzzards and Ospreys. Their arrival coincided with large falls of Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, Wheatears and Whinchats. Redstarts were found along the entire length of the Norfolk coastline. The highest count was eighty-six on Blakeney Point.

Highlights from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves from May onwards included a Great Reed Warbler, Temminck’s Stints, Lesser Yellowlegs White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpipers, Dotterel and Barred Warbler at Cley NWT. A Cattle Egret was also seen there. This species has bred in south-west England for the first time this year. Could it be about to do the same as the Little Egret, which has successfully colonised southern England and is now a familiar bird on estuaries and saltings. At Upton Broad NWT were two Red-footed Falcons, but surprisingly none were seen at Hickling Broad NWT where it is normally occurs annually. Hickling Broad NWT had a juvenile Marsh Sandpiper, White-winged Black Tern and two Pectoral Sandpipers.

There was a ‘new’ bird for Norfolk. Normally found in desert habitats a Trumpeter Finch spent a few days at the end of May and beginning of June in the desert like habitat on Blakeney Point.

Surprise mammals of the month goes to the two Long-finned Pilot Whales seen off Holme 5th and a rare migrant bat, the Parti-coloured Bat, was seen to fly off the sea at Kelling 13th and was apparently the first Norfolk record.

This article was written by Robin Chittenden from Birdline East Anglia.

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