Field Trips in 2019

Annual Bird Count Sunday 6th January

Organiser: Lin Pateman

As always, this event was very popular, but with 12 teams participating, this was the biggest yet. Congratulations are due to the joint winning teams – The Italian Nutjob and the Red-faced Cake Eaters, with an excellent score of 77 species seen between 8am and 4.30pm all within our Wensum Valley recording area. Many thanks are due to Lin’s hard work in organising the count, and for baking all those delicious cakes. We should also thank her helpers in the kitchen serving us all well-earned cups of tea and coffee at the end of a tiring day. Several teams have written reports of this splendid day:-

Barry’s Boys (Alan Nobbs, Ian Doble, Barry Pummel)
Well the 2019 WVBS Bird count was hard work for us this year. We had 40 on the list after about an hour and half and then it took another seven hours to find 24! We did not even see or hear a Wren.
We started along the A47 corridor from North Tuddenham then into the Taverham Ski Lake before making a figure of eight route out to East/West Raynham church and back, taking in all the likely spots, bumping into other “racers” along the way. Perhaps there is an opportunity to change the way the bird count is tackled. How about splitting the area up into say zones then “draw” which team will search which zone, then any extra teams could be roving and go where they want. Each year the teams could rotate around to a different zone. Suggested zones have been sent to the editor – food for thought?:-
We spent a significant amount of time scanning flocks of gulls in the pig fields for something unusual, a Great Black-backed Gull perhaps, but no luck.
Like others we tried hard to find one of the more “difficult” birds which entailed traipsing through some roadside woodland to flush a Woodcock, and I’m sure other teams tried similar tactics for some of the more enigmatic species, which does raise the question of how ethical this is? Perhaps we should not be encouraging this method for finding a few extra species, but without it then we would not have a full picture of the birds in the valley – another “grown up” debate required, I think?
Nevertheless, the dull day had a silver lining as we watched two Otters chasing and eating fish at Elsing bridge and understandably watching them took priority over trying to find more birds.

Dereham Dippers (Paul Riley, Ian Brittain, Chris Stone & Steve Connor)
An 08.00 start at Hoe got us most of the woodland species by their call, although we did glimpse two Woodcocks and the posing Tawny Owl.

Keeping to a confined area within the WVBS recording area didn’t prove as fruitful as last year and hoping to find a recent Green Sandpiper in Dereham was unsuccessful and cost us time. However seeing eleven Red Kites at their roost and a very close Barn Owl certainly did boost our spirits.
Were we fortunate in ticking Kingfisher and Whooper Swan at 16.10 or just unlucky missing Redwing, Green Woodpecker and House Sparrow??
Coming in third with 75 species was just about good enough though to redeem ourselves after coming bottom in the WVBS Christmas Quiz.
Great event as always and congratulations to the joint winning teams!!

The Italian Nutjob (Sacha Barbato and Joe Harkness)
The day started in my back garden (SB) at the strike of 8am. Armed with a cup of coffee myself and Joe managed to get the day started with Meadow Pipit, Siskin, Great-spotted Woodpecker, but not the hoped for resident Little Owls.
A quick drive to a ‘guaranteed’ Stock Dove location at the end of my road and we were then off to Haveringland Hall to get the day started properly.
Here we got the hoped-for wildfowl, including Pochard. Then alarm calls alerted us to a hunting Sparrowhawk and a flock of Pink-footed Geese low over were the only ones of the day. The resident Reed Bunting seemed to have moved on but, surely, we would see these elsewhere?
We then stopped at Horsford Woods in the hope that Crossbills were present but it was so quiet we quickly moved on.
We headed into Norwich and saw the Peregrine, on its usual spot on the cathedral spire, without the need to leave the car. We checked the river here where I had seen Kingfisher and Grey Wagtails just a few days prior, but no luck on the day.
As we headed back out of the city to better birding spots we had fantastic views of not one but two Red Kites low over the car.
We headed into the valley proper, first swinging up the hill in Lyng Easthaugh to the slurry pit where our first Yellowhammer of the day was added. Then we headed back along the Lyng Easthaugh Rd, where a chance look through the hedge at the Catch 22 fishing lakes, added GC Grebe and Egyptian Goose. Further along the road towards Sparham, we checked a stubble field which had, on Friday, held myriad finches and a flock of 50+ Skylark – no birds today but we chanced upon a few later in the day.
Sparham was our first real ‘blanker’ of the day. Friday had seen the long-staying Whooper Swan on the main pools but there was no sign today. A Little Egret over on the boggy ground by the NACA lakes, helped assuage all disappointment – but was merely a similarly coloured consolation prize.
We drove along the Fakenham Road with a change of plan, to check Bintree Mill. A quick stop off added Wigeon to the day list before we headed back ‘inland’ to North Elmham. First we stopped at County School Station, where Cetti’s Warblers weren’t singing. However, a luscious lemony Grey Wagtail added some light to the situation. The day-roosting Tawny Owl was kindly viewable from the chapel car-park, meaning we could move on quickly.

Beetley next, where at least 10 Snipe flushed at School Pit – but alas – no Jack. We stupidly avoided Bittering, where we later learnt we could have racked up some additional birds. Compounded further when out next spot, Scarning Fen, left a Green Sandpiper shaped void in our count list.
Decisions… we opted to head back towards our patches and see if we could pick up some of the desirables that were left. Marsham was eerily quiet, but as we despondently headed back to the car, c40 Redpoll chattered their way above and over us, into a nearby alder top. Three Mealy’s stood out from the flock, adding us two species on the cusp of leaving.
On to Buxton Heath, where, armed with Joe’s knowledge of the boggy areas, we were lucky enough to see a Jack Snipe. A real highlight of the day, I’m so pleased that these cryptic waders reside at my patch. We finished at Haveringland, where we tried, but failed to add any new species. We were hoping to hear a Water Rail and perhaps see some finches, Reed Buntings preferably, arriving to roost but to no avail.

Connecting through competition by Joe Harkness
Every year at the start of January, my local area birdwatching group orchestrates an annual bird count – often referred to as their bird ‘race’. The boundaries are set to the confines of the recording area the group operates in; and the count itself begins at 8am – ending at 4:30pm I noted to utilise all of the available hours of daylight. Shorter in these early days of the year.
In principle, the idea of a bird race jars with my overall approach to birdwatching. I champion a backto-basics approach and often find that adding these unnecessary layers to any interest, starts to make it complicated and more difficult to emotionally regulate. That said, I also champion the connective power of birdwatching and an inclusive activity, like the bird race, radiates with it.
Mainly though, in these shorter and darker days, when our moods and tempers fray with the loose ends of rising and falling in blackness – the bird race is a respite and a reason, to spend a day outdoors and invigorated, with a sense of purpose. An aim.
In the lead up to the day of the race, my teammate and I were in regular contact as we tried to narrow down the places we were going to visit. I have a decent grasp of the local area and have spent lots of time, alone at various sites, looking for and enjoying the resident and visiting birds. In-fact, my connection with the local area is a tangible force.
It’s a bit like licking your finger and sticking it in the air to determine the wind direction; just being out there, in the measured wilderness, I know. A lot of it comes down to the innate calendar of winter – a rhythm – that beats through me in these colder and more static times. A constancy in their presence. The Pochard on the lake. The Jack Snipe in the mire. I know what’s going to be there because I can feel it in the air.
He trusted my intuition and we were rewarded, my friend and I. The day was frenetic. It rushed and darted, paced and paused. From site-to-site, lake to field and hedgerow to mill-pool – we checked and noted every new species until we reached 77. Ducks and finches, tits and grebes, to thrushes and geese. A plethora of birds, variety bringing wonder and consistency as it does to every nature experience and nuance of exploring a local area. A place.

Wee Three (Cath Robinson, Alan & Janet Hughes)

2 novices and 1 with just one race under his belt: we were just aiming not to be humiliated….and we weren’t! Well, not in our eyes anyway.
What was memorable? Best bird has to be the sleepy Tawny Owl spotted roosting on Hoe Common, an otherwise relatively disappointing tick venue. Most frustrating would be Great Spotted Woodpecker that frequents the Hughes’ bird feeders but of course not while we were there on the race day and not spotted (sorry!) anywhere else. Most annoying would be Grey Wagtail known to be in several locations we visited but not on show. Most surprising might be missing any Partridge anywhere. Luckiest might be the flying Green Woodpecker spotted from the car window by the 2 non- drivers as we whizzed by. Most satisfying would be the Nuthatch which we tracked down from a occasional hammering from the depths of a huge ivy encrusted oak tree as we were getting to the end of the day and were light on woodland birds. Stand out fact might be the number of Buzzards that we saw; at least 7. How times have changed from the buzzard free East Anglian desert of years ago.
I found some new good places to go and we all enjoyed a different mode of birding involving much jumping in and out of the car and are full of ideas of how to carve up the day next year.

The MillStreeters (Charles and Fran Neale and Carole and Alwyn Jackson)

Four go in Search of Birds – with apologies to Raymond Briggs.
Sunday 6th January – 6.15am. “Bleep! Bleep! Bleep! Bleep! What’s that? Oh, the bloomin’ alarm! What day is it? Sunday. What’s happening today? Oh, the bloomin’ Bird Count! It’s at times like this that I wish I had a Wallace & Gromit fully automated system to get me out of bed, dressed and downstairs for breakfast!
7.40am Carole and I stagger down the road to meet up with our fellow team members, Charles and Fran Neale. We are soon on our way to our first stop, the NWT Sparham Pools Reserve. A walk down the footpath towards Lenwade as far as the entrance to the fishing lakes and then round the reserve produces 32 species, a reasonable start. Where have all the bloomin’ Teal and Wigeon gone though?
For the rest of the day we search the valley as far as Sculthorpe airfield and the outer reaches of the upper Wensum valley. Our three Little Owl stake-outs draw a blank, but Charles’s keen eyes pick out a wintering Chiffchaff at Bylaugh Sewage Works. Our Kingfisher sites also have something missing – a Kingfisher! Undaunted, we press on. Great Crested Grebes at Swanton Morley Gravel Pits, viewed from afar but no bloomin’ Little Grebes.
At Broom Green we find a species we didn’t really want to find – a dead Tawny Owl at the side of the road. After a quick inspection of the corpse we return to the fray. Our journey is interspersed with calls of, “What’s that? Of another bloomin’ Blue Tit” or, “Oh – another bloomin’ Buzzard.”

A large flock of migrant thrushes attract our attention and after close inspection find Skylarks creeping along the ground. It takes a little while to get everybody onto them. Imagine the scene – a car parked at the side of the road with four adults inside wrapped up in winter coats, woolly hats and in some cases gloves. The car windows are wound down and the occupants of the car have binoculars to their eyes trying to follow some instructions.
“Looking at one o’clock can you see a white object like a large stone on the field about thirty feet away?”. “Er…yes”. “If you look straight beyond it there is a large dark clump of muck, have you got that?” “Whereabouts?” “Straight back from the white stone.” “Er… yes.” “Well the skylarks are just to the right walking towards the big clump of muck. Have you got them?” “No I can’t see them.” “Keep watching the clump of muck. There’s one walking to the left of it now!” “Ah..got it!”
That’s 57 species we’ve seen so far so we move on to Great Ryburgh and at last we find Teal and Wigeon. As we approach Pudding Norton I notice two partridges on the field across from the road junction. We decide to take a closer look so Charles drives the car a short way up the farm track. Peering through the windscreen in the gathering gloom we are pleased to discover that they are Grey Partridges. These prove to be our final species for the day despite searching well known areas for Barn and Tawny Owl.
We rapidly return to Great Witchingham and are welcomed back with a glorious cup of tea and a piece of Lin’s homemade cake. The four of us had thoroughly enjoyed the day despite only finding 63 species, four short of our target. What a delightful way of spending a bloomin’ day – birdwatching with friends.

The Newbee (Paul Jeffery)
As a WVBS winter bird race debutant, I did a recce the day before and scored 73, but was back indoors by 15:00 but felt certain I could improve on that the following day. It also seemed apt to call myself “The Newbee”. Come the big day, I was at Castle Acre water meadows for 08:00. The Barn Owl was hunting the meadow as it was yesterday. Also, here were fellow Narvos members Allan Hale and Ian Black; Ian soon pointed at the river, Little Grebe and Moorhen. The surprise here was a Water Rail lurking in the cress. A Little Egret landed in the river and a Kingfisher sped up stream under the bridge we were standing on, cracking start. Allan had given me a couple of tips which I would utilise later if need be, at 08:10 I bid them farewell.
I decided I had spare time so I popped into West Raynham Church and Lake. I was greeted by a rather noisy Nuthatch and a singing Song Thrush, I had failed on Song Thrush yesterday. Also here Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare all were tricky yesterday and on the lake Mallard and Teal. I checked the farm yard out but Pied Wagtail was not forthcoming.
Moving on swiftly Sculthorpe Mill is as good as place as any for Grey Wagtail, on arrival I checked all riverine vegetation and exposed muddy fringes upstream and downstream of the mill, no bird! I failed yesterday and I was firing blanks here again today, I made my way back to the car park and my car. There was a small puddle in the middle of the car park playing host to the Grey Wagtail, why didn’t I look there first?

Sculthorpe Moor has an abundance of well stocked bird feeders in the woodland there. Brambling, Bullfinch and all the Tit species including Marsh Tit was seen in no time at all. Chaffinch and Goldfinch were plentiful, Jay, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker were added too. The vast expanse of reed bed was seemingly devoid of Reed Bunting despite my best efforts. Yesterday I had had Siskin, Redpoll and Treecreeper, despite my protracted stay here I cut my losses at 10:15 and departed without seeing any of them. The highlight here was three Otters but I couldn’t put them on my bird list. Walking back to the car a Red Kite was a welcome tonic.
Fakenham STW was the next port of call, to my horror Anglian Water staff were working here on a Sunday!! Didn’t they know there was a bird race on? Needless to say all the filter beds were devoid of birds, luckily all the Pied Wagtails had taken to a nearby field but there was no sign of yesterday’s Meadow Pipit, there was no sign of the small Lapwing flock in an adjacent field either.
Cursing my luck I continued to Bintree Mill, here a pair of Shoveller was on the flood water along with a few Wigeon. Along the approach road I had noticed a good flock of birds which I decided was worth a look. They were mostly Brambling and Chaffinch but here were several Linnet and in the hedgerow a Goldcrest too. It was about noon and I checked my score and found I had a score of 62 which was very pleasing, perhaps 80 was attainable?
I now utilised one of Allan Hale’s tips and visited the wee church at Worthing. Searching the trees there was no sign of any Little Owl though there was a Kestrel here. I found the twin story nest box but was anyone in? A wee stick was found to tickle the front door with to see if any Little Owl was in and to see if it would peer out at the irritating nerk at his front door, there was no one in!
I felt Bittering GP was my last trump card of the day. The shooting fraternity was out in force yesterday, I was hoping they were not here today. Thankfully they were not. On the western pit a huge flock of Lapwing but not a Goldie in sight. The lone Whooper Swan had moved onto this pit too but little else. On the middle pit the Greylag Goose flock took off and flew east before I could get to scan through them. In the trees here I finally caught up with Treecreeper here. Scampering round to the eastern pit the Greylags had settled, I patiently scanned through them until the lone Pink-footed Goose came into view. On the rough ground to the south of the pits there was an extensive area of weed growth and cover crop. Skylark, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and Shelduck was here. In the hedgerow eventually I caught up with Greenfinch, I had seen over 70 species before seeing a Greenfinch perhaps a sad sign of the times? I had seen several Meadow Pipits here yesterday but no amount of walking about was going to flush one today.
The afternoon had seemingly slipped by quicker than the morning and on 75 I felt I had hit a wall especially with the elusive Meadow Pipit. I was also aware I was a long way from the finishing line in Lenwade. In Lenwade Great-crested Grebe was my final species on the fishing lake. I felt the trees here could offer a Siskin or Redpoll, but it wasn’t to be and I eventually settled for 76 my final total. It had been a great day out despite the hard work.

King?shers Team (David Knight and Bernie Marsham)
When we met up at Bernie’s the sun was just rising in a pink/red sky and a promise of a good, ?ne day. Shortly after the sun disappeared for the rest of the day.Standing by the cars we picked up the usual corvids and a lovely Green Woodpecker ?ew over into a nearby tree. Swanton Morley ?shing lakes was next with all the usual common ducks and geese and a lone Meadow Pipit. Our total was now 30 and we were feeling quietly satis?ed. Apart from Pied Wagtail and Buzzard there was little to add at the nearby pig farm but a co?ee break at Bernie’s was more fruitful. The Little Owl was seen brie?y appearing only when Bernie called out his name! On the feeders we had a pair of Nuthatch along with Coal Tit, and Gold?nch, Buzzard, House Sparrow, Mistle Thrush and Herring Gull were added locally. Suitably refreshed we headed for Worthing and onto Hoe Common. The Tawny Owl we recorded at our last Hoe Bird Walk in December was waiting for us
in the same tree and then disappeared from view. There was a nice ?ock of Redwing in the meadow and Little Egret and Song Thrush were seen. We were now on 46 and the morning was still young. On the way to Bylaugh we added Red-legged Partridge and after a struggle a Grey Wagtail appeared at the sewage works together with 20+ Pied.
A quick stop at Three Bridges Farm added Egyptian and Canada geese. Then onto Sparham Pools where we spent the best part of an hour to only add Shoveler and Teal. No Siskins! No Whooper Swan! Not happy!. We grabbed a quick lunch there and moved on. It was nearly one o’clock. Still time? Great Ryburgh added nothing new. At Gateley a Sparrowhawk ?ew over the car. That’s 53 species.
Sculthorpe next where we judged we had a good 1 ½ hours to bring our list to a record-breaking total!. Bull?nch a- plenty, Green?nch, Marsh Tits Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Bunting but, sadly no Brambling. This brought our total to 58. It had been a struggle on a dark, dull, grey day Were we in with a chance of victory? Not con?dent as it proved later. At least we were not last on the list but a good way o? the joint ?rsts. Well done them. How did they see all those birds? More importantly we had had a very enjoyable day in good company. Fourteen teams had entered, the most I can ever remember. What a great turn-out. What a great day.

Red-faced Cake-eaters (Glenn Collier, Lucy Topsom and Lin Pateman)
Our names were down for the WVBS Winter Bird Count on Sunday 6 January. As we hadn’t been birding in the WVBS Area since this time last year Lin joined our team and we named ourselves the Red Faced Cake Eaters. Tactic for this Year’s Race – I could concentrate on directing, navigating and completing the bird list allowing the more able to run around looking for the birds. I’d join in as much or as little as I felt able to cope with knowing that only 2 out of the 3 needed to either hear or see each bird. Our route was along the lines of previous years and as we hadn’t birded in the area since the previous Bird Count had to take pot luck as to where to find birds rather than knowing the up to date situation . We did however know that the Peregrines were still at Norwich Cathedral so we made sure we were in Norwich for 8am. High fives as both peregrines seen on spire at 7.55 only to see the male flying off and the female go round the other side of the spire immediately afterwards. Quick jump into car to get a different angle of spire to start off our list for 8am. That was a sticky start and certainly got the adrenaline pumping.
Off to Easton, showground and surrounding areas. Lot of stops, leaping out of the car and yays as birds were gradually ticked off the list. Blast along the A47 towards Bittering. Yep, good, more to tick off the list. On to Beetley, Hoe, Ling, Lenwade, Guist, Sparham to gradually tick off the list.
The day went so quickly with the light failing we managed to get back to Lenwade Village Hall with 10 minutes to spare. There were certainly a few birds that eluded us. No stonechat at Guist, but other groups counted it. Not even a lucky barn owl flying over the road or Bernie’s little owl. The Tawny Owl at Hoe was a real show stopper. Tea, cakes and the lists counted and verified! Joint first – Wow, it was a really good day out, lots of excitement, laughs, camaraderie and cake. What a combination.
Thanks for a really smashing day and lets hope it can be repeated next year.
Lucy

What a lovely day out, searching for bird species in the Valley never knowing what you’ll see on the day.
Thanks Lin for your help with our birds, your cakes and as results co-ordinator. Well done Lucy for doing well, so soon after your operation.
Thanks Chris for all the work in the tea room. Life saver!
Glenn

Team PISA (Philip, Ian, Stewart, Allan)
‘West of WVBS, East of NarVOS’

NarVOS no longer runs a bird race but does encourage a Winter Bird Count which, by coincidence, falls on the same day as the WVBS Bird Race. The PISA Team started on the River Nar in Castle Acre, where we spotted the first of several sightings of WVBS Racers (this one came 3rd in the WVBS Race), and by 07.30 we had Kingfisher, Water Rail (out in the open), Little Egret and Barn Owl. Moving on through the Lexhams, we added ducks, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal and other water fowl including Grey Heron and Moorhen, together with Greylag and Egyptian Geese. Litcham Common gave us some woodland species, Nuthatch, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits and the first of our sightings of Bramblings.

Attracted by various bodies of water around the Raynhams, Creaking Gate and Bittering Pits, we picked up more species Shoveller, Tufted, Wigeon, together with our first Coot. A rather ambitious sortie into one area of diggings, saw our vehicle up to its axles in soft mud but low-range, 4WD extricated us from this potentially embarrassing situation.

By now we were encountering more WVBS groups and, by the time we called it a day, we’d ticked at least five of these teams. Our raptors included, Tawny (as well as Barn) Owl, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Common Buzzard and our thrushes comprised Song, Mistle, Redwing and Fieldfare. A point picked up by several of the NarVOS teams was the relatively high numbers of Jays. As usual, we all commented on the fact that we’d ‘failed’ on a number of supposedly common species but this happens every year. A thoroughly good day was enjoyed by Team PISA which spent 99% of its time in the joint NarVOSWVBS territory and came up with 64 species, against a total for NarVOS of 88 (Given the WVBS total of 89, there has been a call for a re-count!).

Postcript
This event was clearly a very enjoyable and successful day. Since then, the committee have had some discussion as to whether, in running it as a “bird race”, we have actually moved away from the original intention of holding a comprehensive count of all the species that we, as a club, could record in the Wensum Valley area in one day. Some of the reports suggest that there were other participants that have had similar thoughts too. Should we drop the competitive nature of this event, and in future use it as a strictly scientific recording exercise? What do you think? If we were to revert to an annual count only, with no competition between teams, would you be more or less inclined to attend? Please let your committee know.
Many thanks to everyone who wrote a report, and to Cath Robinson for the lovely photos (including the Pale Morph Common Buzzard at Sculthorpe Moor).
Alan Hughes

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