Observations of the birdlife of Burt’s Farm and the North Wootton Marsh
Ten years from 2006 to 2017
This report stems from many observations recorded on the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Birdtrack from 2006 to 2016. The area comprises the whole of the farm, stretching from the mouth of the Babingley River in the south, to the Sandringham estate in the north. The area is approximately 2km in length north to south and 1 km from east to west. The Babingley River, which was diverted from its original course in the 19th century, runs south along the east side of the farm. Near its mouth it is dammed, creating above the dam a section of the river with little flow. This is a regular haunt for Little Grebes and Tufted Ducks. Below the dam is an area which is flooded at high tide and at low tide provides a rich source of food for waders, herons, egrets and ducks. The boundary of the farm at the west side ends at the sea wall and beyond this is the salt marsh abutting the Wash. The open water of the Wash is visible beyond the sea wall, but each year is further from the sea wall as vegetated land pushes further out into the Wash. There are several house boats on the salt marsh belonging to members of the King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Wildfowlers and the marsh is regularly shot over during the season. In earlier years there was a regular Partridge shoot on the farm but this was discontinued around 2011. During this time cover strips were planted which provided winter food for several passerines. There are two barn complexes on the farm which attract a variety of birds. South of the farm is an active heronry which in recent years has also attracted Little Egrets. There is a grazed field, managed by the Department of the Environment (Natural England (NE)), which contained a small pond which had a small Avocet colony around it. The pond was filled by a windmill on the sea wall. After the windmill broke down, the pond gradually dried up and the Avocets left. I usually visited the farm on a Sunday morning to avoid interfering with the wildfowlers, several of whom would often tell me of the birds they had seen. When doing the surveys I always included those species seen en route, after I had passed the abandoned railway station in North Wootton. This route took me along an area with an extensive set of hedgerows, several farm fields where geese are sometimes found and past a branch of the Babingley River, known as the Pinch Cut.
One or two pairs of Mute Swan nest or attempt to nest in the area each year and a larger group, from 10-30, winter and forage on the farm fields. This wintering group has increased over the years, with an average of11.9 per visit in the first 5 years and 21.7 in the next 5 years. In counting the wild swans (Bewick’s and Whooper) we did not always differentiate between grazing birds and birds migrating through the area. However, a few Bewick’s Swans (up to 11) have joined the wintering Mute Swans in most (8/10) winters with numbers increasing from November to February. Similarly a few Whooper Swans occasionally join the wintering Mutes (up to 6). This has occurred in 6 of the 10 years.
A lone Taiga race Bean Goose was present on the marsh on the 26th October 2014. Others have been reported by the wildfowlers. Pink-footed Geese are regular winter visitors to the farmland and marsh but are most often seen flying over the area. They usually arrive in late September or early October and leave in late March, although a pricked (injured, particularly by being shot) bird was present on 8 May 2009. As Pink-feet flocks are highly mobile their appearances on the marsh and farmland are irregular. The maximum number recorded was 5,500. On average there were 10 sightings per winter period with a maximum count of 5,500. They are regularly shot on the marsh.
A pair of White-fronted Geese was seen among the Pink-feet on December 1st 2013. This was my only sighting, although the species has also been reported by the wildfowlers. Grey-lag Geese are year round residents on the farm and marsh, much more commonly seen from March to May and usually absent during the winter. They breed on the site, usually near to the Babingley River outflow, and can be seen during their annual moult. One all white bird suggested a domestic origin. Canada Geese very occasionally nest on the marsh and are usually seen in small numbers from January to June. Occasionally much larger groups (up to 165) have appeared late in the year after the annual moult. A rare Cackling Goose, of the form now known as Richardson’s Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii) from Arctic Canada was present among a flock of c250 Pink-feet on 6th February 2013, and was seen by several observers. Barnacle Geese occasionally appear in the area and may be remnants of formerly captive birds. Two were seen in mid July 2011, a group of 7 in mid-December 2012 and a single bird on 6 dates from December 12th 2012 to March 3rd 2013. Brent Geese on the other hand were regular winter visitors to the area, arriving in late September or early October and leaving during April with all but the occasional pricked bird leaving by the 20th of May. The maximum count recorded was 2000 birds but precise numbers were not recorded. Almost all the birds were Dark-bellied Brent but occasionally when close views were possible (when they grazed on the NE field on the farm itself) both Pale-bellied Brent and Black Brant could be picked out. Single Pale-bellied birds were seen on 3 occasions in 2013 and a pair in each of 2007, 2008 and 2013 and a single Black Brant was seen in the late winter of both 2012/13 and 2013/14. Two Red-breasted Geese were among a small group of Brent on March 26th 2007. The introduced Egyptian Goose has increased during the course of the study. It was sometimes seen as a visitor in winter, with occasional large groups (60 on 28th August 2007) but usually only a pair. However in 2012 it became much more regular with a pair being seen regularly throughout the year and groups of up to 90 appearing during the winter months. There was no evidence of successful nesting.
A pair of Ruddy Shelduck were seen on 20th Sept 2009 and a single bird was present from 29th May 2011 to 12th June, and another single on 22nd Apr 2013. Shelduck are common in the area, but their patterns of usage are complex. In winter they are regular inhabitants of the salt marsh, particularly by the tidal streams. Counts of up to 100 birds have been recorded, though more recent winter counts have been lower. Counts during the 4 winter months (November to March) averaged 13 birds per visit but this is clearly an underestimate, since most birds would be invisible among meandering streams of the salt marsh. A few birds also nest on or near the farm, with a nest having been found in a rabbit warren on May 18th 2011 and recently hatched ducklings seen on several occasions between late June and early August. According to the Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa this species ‘leaves nesting grounds in Britain ..... for annual moult in German Waddensee area, leaving ducklings in care of small number of adults which moult locally. However it is precisely during this moulting period (June through September) when the highest numbers of Shelduck are seen at the farm. The above reference also states “Flock prior to moult migration, which probably undertaken in single flight, passing across land in their path, e.g. England or Jutland. First move June, probably mostly immature, adults following in July’. At the marsh; from April to June numbers increase dramatically with average counts of Shelduck peaking at an average of 78.9 per visit in June. This is a little prior to the peak moult period in Germany and suggests that some of these birds are en route to their moulting grounds. Taylor et al. (1999) however records that a recent trend has been for some Shelduck to moult in the Wash region itself, although the birds reported here are not flightless. They occur, not on the saltmarsh but on the farm fields and are usually in groups of 20 -30 birds. Numbers decline by the end of June but increase again in August, perhaps indicating a return migration. There is no evidence for a local decline in numbers.
One Cape Shelduck (Tadorna cana) presumably an escape from a collection, was present on the farmland on Feb 5 2009.
The salt marsh attracts large numbers of dabbling ducks and is a favoured location for wildfowlers. Assessing numbers and trends is difficult for two reasons. Firstly, the salt marsh is expanding its range over time and grows further into the Wash each year, by approximately 6 metres. The water’s edge where the Wigeon are commonly found is much further from the sea wall than it was at the beginning of the survey. Secondly my eyesight is not as good as at the beginning of the survey period and I seldom attempt to use a telescope now. Any apparent declines in numbers must therefore be treated with caution. Wigeon are a common bird of the edges of the Wash and as many as 500 birds have been seen at a single sighting. Usually they appear in numbers much lower than this and I have seen none during the past two winters. They have however been commonly reported by the wildfowlers. There was an extremely early record on 2nd of July in 2009 but usually birds arrive in late September. By mid-April they have usually left. Gadwall are uncommon breeders on the area, with usually a single pair breeding, although proof of nesting was not found until 12th July 2007 when a duck with recently hatched ducklings was seen. Apart from rare appearances in August and September in 2007 and 2015, this species has not been seen after the end of May. The Teal is a common winter visitor to the area, usually arriving in late August and leaving in mid-April. Their favourite location is at the mouth of the Babingley River where a flock of up to 60 birds can be seen. There is no evidence of nesting although a mated pair was seen on 30th April 2011 and birds are occasionally seen in June and July. There may have been a slight decline over the 10 year period, but numbers are still good. An adult drake Green-winged Teal was seen at the Babingley outflow on the 20th of April 2009 and viewed by Alan Hale and Ashley Banwell. Pintail are regular but seldom seen visitors to the marsh in winter. They usually stay far out on the tide line and may often be missed by a viewer from the sea wall. The wildfowlers are more aware of their presence than I am and several are shot. Apart from one bird which was seen twice during the summer of 2009, they usually arrive in September with the earliest record on 8th September 2006 and leave in April with the last recorded sighting on 22nd April 2011. A single Garganey was present on a tidal lagoon on 19th May 2007, presumably a migrating bird. Ian Branford reported a group of 11 on the marsh on 6th Sept. 2015. Another common dabbling duck of the area is the Shoveler. It has been recorded as breeding on one occasion in early July 2011. The presence of mainly male birds particularly near the NE pond suggests that nesting is not infrequent nearby. It is usually seen only from late March until the second half of May although there are occasional January records. A rare duck in the area is the Pochard. Only two have been sighted during the study period; one, a male in eclipse plumage, on 7th September 2007 and the other on the 2nd of January 2013 during a cold spell when the farm was covered in snow. Both appeared on the dammed section of the Babingley River. Tufted Duck are seen regularly in the area, mainly on the Babingley River. They nest locally and a nest with 7 eggs was found on the salt marsh on May 20th 2012 by Shaun Beardsley. Also broods of ducklings are occasionally seen on the river. Numbers vary seasonally and increase from February until May and then slowly decline until January perhaps due to the birds moving to larger bodies of water during this period. None have been seen during any of the November visits and I have seen no evidence of moulting birds. The maximum count was 45, though peak numbers of 20- 30 are more common. There is no evidence of a long term decline.
A single adult male Scaup appeared among the Tufted Ducks on the lower Babingley River on 4th April 2012. Common Scoter is uncommon with the only record being three birds flying along the shoreline on 19th April 2008. Although common in flocks along the North Norfolk coast, and reported during surveys by boat on the Wash (Cooke 2016), it is rarely seen from the shore as the paucity of records illustrate.
Goldeneye have been seen on four occasions only, as single birds or pairs flying along the tide edge, all midwinter records. Sightings occurred on 16th December 2007, January 8th 2008, 16th December 2012 and 5th January 2014. Three Smew were reported on 14th February 2012 by Whip Appleton on the lower reaches of the Babingley River. This was on a day when there were widespread sightings in Norfolk following a period of easterly winds from Scandinavia. Red-breasted Merganser have been seen, mainly flying south either singly or in pairs along the Wash coast, on one or two days during 5 of the 10 years of the study, as they are at other sections of the Norfolk coast. A male and female were actively courting on the Natural England pond on 31 March 2013. This species often indulges in courtship activity during the spring migration north to the breeding grounds and in no way suggests local breeding. Goosander were seen only once during the study. A pair flew past on the 25th November 2007. They are regular winter visitors to the lower stretches of the Great Ouse River.
Quail were detected in the area on three occasions during evening visits, which occurred seldom during this study. Presumably they are much commoner than has been recorded. Ashley Banwell heard one at the NE field on 10th May 2008. Another was heard during the Quail invasion year of 2011 on 29th May and during an evening visit 3 were heard on 3rd July. Red-legged Partridge were a common sight in the area, particularly in the earlier years of the study when there was an annual autumn shoot on the farm. Reared young birds are released in the area and in nearby estates prior to each shooting season, which explains average counts of 100 birds at the beginning of the season and around 20 at the end of the season. Even after the shoot on the farm itself was abandoned in 2011, birds of this species were still frequent, mostly I did not attempt to estimate total numbers of this species. However, when estimates of numbers were carried out, there were on average 50 birds per count during the first five years of the study, and only 7 birds per survey in the more recent five years. During summer, pairs are occasionally seen with chicks. The native Grey Partridge is much less common in the area, but is still seen with some regularity. Birds are occasionally shot on the farm but the neighbouring shooting estate of Sandringham is noted for having one of the highest densities of Grey Partridge in the UK. Breeding has been detected during three of the years but was probably more frequent. There is some evidence of a decline with the species having been seen on an average of 6 counts per year in the first five years of the study and only 3 during the second five. Maximum count during the first five years was 14 and during the second five was 8. Pheasant are usually present in considerable numbers in the area throughout the year, even in unsuitable habitats, such as the salt marsh itself. This is not surprising given the high level at which young birds are released into the general area prior to the shooting season, not only in the farm itself but by the adjacent Rising and Sandringham estates. Breeding has been noted on several occasions.
Red-throated Diver has been seen on two occasions, flying offshore on the waters of the Wash. Both were winter sightings, one on 21st January 2007 and the other on 16 December 2012. Fulmar are rarely seen in the Wash, despite the breeding colony at the mouth on the cliffs at Hunstanton. I have not seen them during my several boat trips on the Wash and have only had four sightings from the farm. One was seen on the 8th Sept. 2007 and one on 19th Mar 2009. On 26th May 2008 two birds were seen during a strong northerly gale which also brought several gannets. Four birds were seen on 31st January2016. It is clear that the Fulmar which breed locally do not feed on the Wash but travel out to the North Sea for their nutrient. Gannet are more frequent seabird visitors. They appear mainly in the autumn migration during strong northerly gales, sometimes in large numbers. There are also two spring records. There was a major influx on 26 September 2010 when 74 were counted during 2 hours and numbers were even seen flying over the farm fields. On 21st November 2010 an injured juvenile bird was found on a ploughed field and taken to the RSPCA. However it subsequently died. Gannets have been recorded during eight of the ten years of observation and on 23 occasions.
Cormorant are year round residents of the Wash area and are seen on most of my visits to the area. They are often seen flying along the Wash shore or feeding on the lower reaches of the Babingley River. There has been only one sighting of a Shag. It was seen in the middle of a ploughed field on 6th February 2013. Surprisingly it was ringed with a red colour ring. The origin of the ring is not known.
Little Egret are ubiquitous residents of the area. Recent invaders from continental Europe, they have adapted readily to the salt marshes surrounding the Wash, and usually 2-5 birds can be seen feeding beyond the sea wall. In 2015 they were discovered nesting in the Grey Heron colony located some 400 metres south of the farm. The highest count on a single visit was 29. In addition to sightings on the salt marsh, they were also seen regularly at the Avocet pool and at the mouth of the Babingley River. Numbers seen were much lower in 2017. Great Egret another species which is expanding from continental Europe, has been seen with increasing frequency with 23 recorded during the survey period. The first was observed on 26th June 2011 flying along the Babingley River but that was the only summer record. Other sightings were: a wintering bird which was present intermittently from 29th December 2013 until 19th April; a second wintering bird which was seen on three occasions between 5th October 2014 and 11th January 2015. There were sightings of a further individual on 7 occasions from 16th September 2015 to 27th Mar. 2016. Shaun Beardsley reported that a bird has returned again in the September 2016 but I did not see it until December 5th of that year. Grey Heron is another year round resident of the farm area. I first became aware that there was an active heronry some 400m from the south edge of the area in 2009 and it has persisted at least until 2015. There appears to have been no nesting there in 2016, although I had no access to the wood itself.
There have been only 4 Spoonbill records during the study. This is perhaps surprising given that there is now a breeding colony within 100 km of the area. This species used to nest near Hunstanton in the 17th century and may one day return to the area. The sightings, all of single birds, were 2nd June 2013, 2nd March 2014 and 3rd August 2014. A further bird was seen on 23rd April 2017.
Little Grebe or Dabchick are mainly winter visitors to the area with numbers building up from October until March and with maximum counts of 14 birds. They are seen at the lower parts of the Babingley River and the Eel Pond. Sometimes they nest in the area although proof was obtained only on 2nd July 2009 when fledged young were seen at the Eel Pond. Great Crested Grebe are seen occasionally out on the Wash where they are winter visitors. There are 8 records between November 2009 and March 2014 of 1-3 birds flying along the Wash shore or feeding on the open water. They are mainly winter visitors to the coast, although there are three May records. They also breed nearby on the River Ouse.
Honey Buzzard has only been recorded on one occasion with a probable bird seen flying south with 2 Common Buzzards on 14th September 2008. Black Kite (lineatus race) is a rare Asiatic race of the Black Kite and had been detected earlier by local birders in the Snettisham region, north of this area. It was soon detected in the area itself, mainly overlooking the woods or flying over the open fields of the Sandringham estate. It was seen on six occasions between 21st February and 9th April 2007. Red Kite have been seen on 7 occasions during the study period by myself, Shaun Beardsley or Whip Appleton. All were single birds and seen in summer or early autumn. The earliest record was on 26th July 2008 by Shaun and the most recent record was on 2nd August 2015. The latest record was on 7th October 2012.
Marsh Harrier use the area in three different ways. Each year there are up to six nests in the area or in nearby properties, usually in the cereal fields but also in the extensive reed bed at a bend in the Babingley River. This is a remarkable number given that Marsh Harriers only re-established themselves as breeding birds in Norfolk in 1967. The birds are not popular with the local farmers, but there is little evidence of a negative impact by the birds. Prior to nesting, they can often be seen in aerial display. They are also year round residents but in smaller numbers than during the summer months. An average count during my visits during most of the year is 4-5, but in the winter months is only 2-3. In December 2014, a winter roost was discovered in the salt marsh grasses at the edge of the Wash. Since most of our survey visits are carried out in the morning, it is difficult to say how long the roost had been there, but when Shaun and I made evening visits, it attracted up to 34 Marsh Harriers and 9 Hen Harriers. Regular visits to monitor the roost were not carried out, so unfortunately I do not know much of its history, but I detected no sign of the roost on a recent visit (late in 2016).
Hen Harrier were regular winter visitors to the area, arriving generally in late September and leaving in April. However occasionally, a bird over summers in the area. Most birds were ringtails, but adult plumaged males were not uncommon. The maximum count was nine, when birds were counted entering the roost on 21st December 2014. Pallid Harrier is a vagrant species from Asia and had been observed occasionally by the birding community in the winter of 2016. It had been seen regularly at Roydon Common where it occasionally roosted. When it was not seen there, it would often appear at the North Wootton Harrier roost. Although seen on several occasions there by Shaun Beardsley, I saw it only once on 28th February 2016.
Montagu’s Harrier had been occasionally reported as breeding on the site in earlier years and a watch point had been established to allow birders distant views of this rare species. In 2005, just prior to the start of these surveys, I had had access to the farm and was aware of two nests of this species, one in a wheat field and the other on the marsh itself. The former was successful but the latter failed. No birds were recorded in 2006, but in 2007 a pair again nested on the marsh, in a patch of grass that had been left unploughed close to a farm track. This nest produced four fledged young on 24th August 2007 and the last bird was seen on 7th September. Single birds have been seen on 15 occasions since then, but there has been no further evidence of nesting. Earliest date was 26th April 2011 and latest 30th August 2009 but there were records in each of the summer months. No birds of this species have been seen since August 2013.
Sparrowhawk are usually seen singly while passing through the area. There is no suggestion of changes in number over time, nor of any particular time of year when they are more likely to be seen. No suitable breeding habitat occurs in the area. A Goshawk had been seen in the area prior to study period, but none during the study itself. A Red-tailed Hawk flew over the area from north to south on 16th August 2015, during a period when there was also a movement of Common Buzzards, presumably an escape from captivity. Common Buzzard have increased considerably during the course of this study. From an average of ten sightings per year in the early years of the study, now more than twenty visits per year have yielded this species. Occasionally groups of up to 6 migrating birds are seen passing through during March and September, when appropriate winds occur, but most birds are local residents. They probably currently breed in nearby woods, although no actual nest has been found. There are rumours that some local birds have been shot prior to the annual shoot. Rough-legged Buzzard are frequent winter visitors to the area, having been seen in 7 of the 8 winters of observation. In the winter of 2008/09, there were 2 distinct birds and again in the winter of 2010/11. A second bird also appeared on 1st April 2012, but this was probably a transient. They tended to appear late in the winter, with most records from March or April. The earliest arrival was on 19th October 2014 and the latest departure on 8th April 2011.
Water Rail is undoubtedly much more frequent than it is recorded. Shaun Beardsley, who has a cabin on the marsh, occasionally reports them calling nearby on the upper salt marsh. I have recorded them on only 3 visits, once by the Babingley River where there is a large extent of reeds at a bend in the river. Moorhen are seen on almost every count. They frequent the Babingley River particularly at the area above the sluice and at the Eel Pond. They breed commonly in the area. They do appear to have declined in number however. In a sample of 19 counts in 2006, I recorded an average of 13 birds per count. A similar sample in 2015 yielded only 2.5 birds per count. During the intermediate years I tended not to record numbers so it is difficult to determine whether this apparent decline is genuine or not, and if so, what may have caused it. Coot are similar to Moorhen, common throughout the period and often found breeding along the Babingley River and the Eel Pond. They too seem to have been seen in larger numbers in the earlier years.
Avocet have benefitted from an artificial pond close to the sea wall which was on land leased by NE This land of approximately 20 acres was grazed but not used for crops and always has a surface of rough grasses. d. The pond was created by pumping sea water from the salt marsh into a pond landward of the sea wall, and was presumably created to assist the successful breeding of this rare species. A wind pump had been erected on the sea wall. Each year the Avocets arrived, usually in the third week of March and set up nesting territories around the pond, producing several young. The colony comprised 20 -30 pairs. As mentioned earlier, in the winter of 2013/14, the wind pump ceased working and has not functioned since. As a result the pond seems to be no longer usable as a nest site and the Avocets have dispersed, some nests having been found on the less suitable salt marsh itself. This species is also now seen occasionally at the mouth of the Babingley River. Although birds usually depart in mid-July they have been seen as late as 22nd November in 2009. Occasionally, as many as 150 birds have been recorded. Oystercatcher occur both as breeding birds and in large non-breeding flocks. They often nest on the farm fields but also on the salt marsh itself. Nests have been located in 7 of the 10 years of the study. Non-breeding flocks can be seen at any time of year, but only far out on the mudflats of the Wash. These are seen mainly from April to June, but a flock estimated at 500 birds was seen on 10th December 2006.
American Golden Plover is a rare visitor which appeared on 8th May 2008. I found it in the morning. It was alone and close to the Avocet pool. I was uncertain of its specific identification so invited Allan Hale and Ashley Banwell, two of the region’s best birders, to help with the identification. The record was sent to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who felt that our notes were insufficient to completely rule out a Pacific Golden Plover, but we were convinced of our identification. It was a bird still in winter or first year plumage. It was present the following day, but not seen subsequently. Golden Plover are regular winter visitors to the farm, foraging on the ploughed fields. Maximum counts of 1000 birds have been recorded, but flocks of 50 to 100 are more frequent. First arrivals usually appear in mid-July and have left by mid-April, mostly showing summer plumage by this time. Latest date was a single bird on 3rd May 2015. They often associate with Lapwings. Grey Plover are seen either as large flocks (up to 800 birds) close to the Wash edge or as single birds at the mouth of the Babingley River or near the sea wall on the salt marsh. They are most commonly seen in May and again in August, presumably during times when they are on migration. The latest spring record is 24th May 2013 and earliest returning birds were recorded on 26th July 2009. Lapwing are present both as breeding birds and winter visitors. Up to four pairs nest in the area, often in the NE field, but also in adjacent farm fields. Although I have found a nest with eggs on one occasion, I have never seen pre-fledged birds. The area is used much more frequently outside the breeding season and from mid-July onwards flocks of birds can be seen arriving from the east. At their peak as many as 5000 birds have been estimated in the region of the Great Ouse River mouth. From mid-February they begin to depart and by mid-March most have left. On one occasion (3rd Feb 2013) a leucistic bird was among a large group of wintering birds. Little Ringed Plover has only been recorded on one occasion. A group of three birds appeared on the muddy area of the pond on the NE field on 3rd Aug 2012. It is unlikely that they nested there but may have dispersed to the site post breeding. Ringed Plover is regularly encountered and there is one pattern of behaviour which used to be seen occasionally in the early days of the study, but which I have not observed since 2013. Occasionally, on very high tides, large numbers of small waders could be seen roosting on the farm fields. Ringed Plovers and Dunlin were the usual species seen with the largest numbers of Ringed Plover seen in May and August suggesting that they were of the tundrae race. Counts of more than 300 were estimated on 31st August 2007; 100 on 10th August 2010; 200 on 28th August 2009 and 400 on 27th May 2013, but no large groups since that date. Dotterel is a rare passage migrant being seen on two occasions in the area. The first was before the official surveys began and involved a bird first detected through its call which I did not recognise at the time. It was on a ploughed field on the north end of the farm and was watched for several minutes on 25th September 2005. A second bird, an adult female, presumably on its northward migration was seen on 13th May 2009 on a small area of mown grass close to the Babingley River and near the entrance to the farm where microlight planes used to land. This small piece of mown grass often attracted birds to it, but is no longer used by the aeronauts and has disappeared as a suitable habitat.
Whimbrel are uncommon passage migrants to the area, with a maximum count of 20 birds. They are seen from 21st April to 21st May in the spring and 2nd July to 17th September in the autumn. Usually seen or heard on the salt marsh, they occasionally occurred on the NE field. None has been seen since 2013. Curlew are much more frequent, although there is no evidence of breeding. They occur on the salt marsh or at the mouth of the Babingley River. They can be found throughout the year, although fewer are seen during the breeding season, and there are large increases during the autumn migration. There have been major changes in the number of Curlew during the period of the study. Up to 2010, flocks of up to 400 birds could often be found during the autumn passage, but no flocks of greater than 30 have been seen since that year. Whether this reflects a general decline or a change in their local behaviour is not known, but the change is dramatic. Similar declines have been reported throughout the UK. The average count for the first 5 years of the study was 27.4, but in the last five years was only 4.2. Largest flocks are seen during July and August, although small numbers are seen throughout the year. There is no evidence of breeding, although they occasionally breed on nearby Roydon Common and small groups can be found foraging in the Babingley valley in the winter months. Just before sunset, small groups of Curlew pass over the village of Castle Rising as they go inland to their nocturnal roosts.
Black-tailed Godwit are seen regularly but infrequently. Large flocks of up to 400 birds are occasionally seen distantly on the Wash sands, but they sometimes occurred in smaller flocks near the pond which had been created for the nesting Avocets. Apart from single wintering birds in 2013 and 2015, all records are from March to September, with most sightings in July and August, presumably post breeding birds. This species too was less frequent than in the earlier years of the survey. The first arriving birds were seen on 1st March 2010. A colour ringed bird was seen on 19th April 2007, suggesting an Icelandic origin. Bar-tailed Godwit, known as a Spowe by the wildfowlers of Norfolk in the 17th century, is seen rarely in the area and only at considerable distance. Occasional flocks of up to 80 birds with most observations occurring in the winter months, although spring records are not unknown. The species may at times have been confused with the former species.
Turnstone was occasionally attracted onto the farm paths by the practice of strengthening the farm road system with shells brought from the docks, after having been discarded by the fishermen. After the winter of 2011/12 this practice was discontinued, so it is unlikely that Turnstones will be seen again on the farm. Mostly they appeared as ones or twos but up to 7 birds have been seen together. They regularly winter at the nearby docks in King’s Lynn. Knot is a species seen only at great distances, but they are one of the commonest wading birds on the Wash sands. Not surprisingly most sightings occurred in the winter months, and occurred either just prior to the high tide as birds were pushed off the mudflats or after the tide had dropped slightly allowing the birds to return. It was difficult to estimate numbers, but there is no evidence from these sightings that they have changed in numbers. Ruff were rarely seen in the area, despite apparently suitable salt marsh pools near the sea wall. They were seen as single birds or pairs. Most observations occurred in May, August or September suggesting only passage birds occurred. During a snow storm on 5th February 2009, two birds were attracted to a pile of sea shells set aside for spreading over the farm paths. There is only one record of Sanderling and despite it being a common winter visitor along the North Norfolk coast, I have only a single record of this species. This presumably reflects the lack of a sandy beach habitat in the area. A single group of 5 birds flew along the Wash shoreline on 27th May 2013. Dunlin is also common on the sandbanks of the Wash, but seldom seen from the sea wall. Exceptions occurred, when there was an extreme high tide during which large flocks occasionally roosted on the ploughed fields of the farm. This usually occurred in August and September. Groups of up to 1000 birds could occasionally be seen, but this seems to be a thing of the past, none having been seen since December 2013. Common Sandpiper are relatively common passage migrants seen near the mouth of the Babingley River, where the river is tidal and muddy river banks abound. They are seen on an average of 5 visits per year, from 27th April until 10th May and again from 24th July to 3rd October. They were never seen outside the typical periods for the spring and autumn migration. This was in contrast to the Green Sandpiper although also mainly a passage migrant, was seen more irregularly appearance. It was regular in the period from late June until mid-September, but seldom seen on the spring migration. It was also more likely to be seen outside the migration period with sightings on 21st February 2009, 11th June 2008 and 16th November 2008. During the fall migration it was seen between the dates of 2nd July and 5th October. Its major habitat was also the mouth of the Babingley River. Spotted Redshank has been recorded on four occasions. This infrequent passage migrant was seen on 8th September 2006; one recorded by Steve West on 11th July 2010; one by Carl Donner on 13th August 2010 and one by Shaun Beardsley on 2nd August 2015. I suspect that I am not familiar enough with the call of this species and may have overlooked it. Greenshank are also passage migrants more common in the autumn than in the spring. Of the 75 sightings over the years, only eight have been in the spring. They can be heard over the salt marsh or along the lower reaches of the Babingley River. They return to the area around mid-to late July and have not been seen later than the first week of October. I personally have not seen Wood Sandpiper in the area but one was recorded by Shaun Beardsley on 2nd August 2015. Redshank are common throughout the year. A few breed on the salt marsh itself and two chicks were seen on 3rd June 2010. Sometimes large flocks of up to 200 birds can be seen particularly during the fall migration period. There is no evidence of population changes during the period. Jack Snipe occur on the marsh in the winter months but are seldom recorded. Shaun Beardsley says that his dog occasionally flushes birds from the salt marsh area itself, but it is an area which I seldom enter. There are two positive records; one on 30th October 2010, which was flushed by the dog and the other on 28th December 2014. Woodcock is a largely nocturnal species and since almost all visits are during daylight hours and I seldom walk in the wooded parts of the area, it is not surprising that it is seldom recorded, despite being common in the Babingley valley as a whole. There are two records however: One was seen during an evening visit on 23rd December 2009 and a second bird was reported by Whip Appleton on 14th Feb 2012. Common Snipe is probably more common than sightings would suggest. It is occasionally flushed, or flies from close to the sea wall from the salt marsh. There are usually 4 to 5 sightings per year and there is no evidence of change during the years of the study. With sightings from August to April, this would suggest it is a winter visitor to the salt marsh.
Skuas are seldom seen in the area, occurring largely after or during storms in the North Sea when northerly winds blow them into the Wash. Pomarine Skua are the latest to migrate along the east coast. There are two sightings of this species and both were in November 2007; two birds on the 9th and a single on the 25th. Arctic Skua are more common, having been seen on nine occasions, mainly during the early years of the study. All sightings were between the dates of 20th August and 6th October. Great Skua Has been sighted offshore on four occasions, also under conditions of strong northerly winds. One was reported by Simon Cooter on 4th October 2009; a second by Carl Donner on 13th August 2010, a third bird was present on 12th September 2010 and a fourth bird later the same year on 26th September. A single Guillemot in poor condition was seen on the tideline during a strong northerly gale on 24th August 2013. It died soon after. Auks are occasionally seen during bird surveys on the Wash, but usually only close to the mouth where the water is more saline.
Terns are usually difficult to pick out and identify from the sea wall. However they are seen during the summer months in small numbers. There are two definite records of Little Tern in August 2013 with ten birds on the 20th and a single on the 22nd. There is a single record of Black Tern when three were seen close to the water’s edge on 12th September 2010. There are 6 records of Sandwich Tern mainly during the early years of the study and during dates from late July to early September. Most sightings were of small groups of birds. The closest breeding colony is nearby on the North Norfolk coast. The most frequently seen tern is the Common Tern. Unlike the other species, they occasionally can be seen feeding on the lower stretches of the Babingley River, below the sluice. They are seen on both spring and autumn passage, with most records in the second half of May and again in July and August. The earliest record is 8th May 2008 and the latest 10th September 2006. Because terns are usually far from the sea wall, making identification difficult, it is not surprising that Arctic Tern is rarely identified. We have two definite records; one on the 20th August 2007 and the other on 4th August 2011, both of single birds. It seems that the Wash is not a good feeding environment for sea birds. I suspect that small fish are not abundant in the water column and this may partly explain the paucity of terns. Boat trips during the IFCA surveys during the summer months also reveal few terns feeding the Wash at least in the southerly half.
Black-headed Gull are common birds in the area throughout the year, but there are changes in their use of the area through the seasons. Usually seen on the marsh and the sea during the summer, they often loaf on the ploughed fields in the winter months. Few birds of this species are noted in January but numbers build up as the nesting season approaches. Flying juveniles from nearby nesting sites appear in late June and July, and in 2014 around 200 pairs nested within the area itself in a colony close to the water’s edge on the salt marsh. Sean and I visited the colony which had nests with both eggs and newly hatched young on 11th May. The colony re-located in the following year. After extremely high tides many Black-headed Gulls feed on the marsh, presumably taking insects and other creatures that have been displaced by the waters of the tide. Mediterranean Gull are occasionally seen amongst the Black-headed Gulls, often following the ploughs. Sightings occurred in six of the ten years of the study, all in the spring and summer months. In 2014, when the Black-headed Gull colony established itself, 3-4 pairs of this species also nested in the colony. Common Gull are common visitors to the area, outside the breeding season. Most have left by early April and begin to return in early August. They loaf on the farm fields in numbers of up to 200 birds, often in multi-species groups. Lesser Black-backed Gull nest locally, though in declining numbers. This is reflected in the observations from the farm. Numbers up to 50 were seen in the early days of the study, but in recent years numbers seldom exceed double figures. The species leaves during the winter months, with departure dates quite variable. Little Gull was seen prior to the start of the survey period but not during the study itself. A bird was seen feeding on the marsh, immediately after an extremely high tide, which had resulted in extra food being available to the gulls. Herring Gull are also local nesters and have occasionally been found nesting on the salt marsh itself. Unlike the previous species, they are year-round residents and can be seen on almost every visit, and particularly outside the nesting season, when they are often seen in flocks on the ploughed fields. During the breeding season, these flocks comprise mainly immature birds. The largest flock recorded comprised 660 birds. Yellow-legged Gull occasionally appear among the flocks of Herring and other gulls which loaf in the farm fields in late August and September. Records of up to 3 birds occur from 14th July to 5th September. They have been recorded in most years. Glaucous Gull is a visitor from the Arctic regions and has been recorded on two occasions, with a third bird having been seen by Shaun Beardsley at the time of writing (January 2017). One was seen, and later photographed by Allan Hale, on the unusual date of 10th June 2012. It was in 3rd summer plumage. A second bird, also a sub-adult, was seen on 29th November 2015. Great black-backed Gull do not breed in the area, but arrive in large numbers after the breeding season. With the first arrivals in some numbers in August, they peak in September, with numbers on occasion of more than 250 birds. Thereafter, numbers decline and few are seen after January. They too loaf on the farm fields.
Feral Pigeon is a term used for domestic pigeons, originally bred from the wild rock dove, that have returned to the wild. Domesticated Rock Doves have been kept in the area for almost a thousand years. The Norman owners of the castle at Castle Rising kept pigeons in their dovecote in the Babingley valley at least as early as the twelfth century. It was located near the river where it could be readily seen by the aristocratic visitors to the castle. It was a status symbol but also valuable as a source of food and fertiliser. Presumed lost racing pigeons occasionally appear at the farm, usually near to the barns. There have been sightings each year, either of lost or flying birds. Stock Dove are year round residents in the area, with an average of 10 to 20 birds seen on each visit. They use the nest boxes, set out for the Barn Owls, and perhaps other places on the farm. They seem to prefer the barn yard areas and in the winter months can often be seen in small flocks. There was no evidence of changes in numbers during the ten year period. Wood Pigeon is the commonest bird in the region, which, despite attempts at local control, continues to increase in numbers. Little attempt has been made during this study to monitor population changes of this species, but large numbers can often be seen feeding on the farm fields. Collared Dove is a species which first appeared in England when I was a teenager and is now one of the commonest birds in the area. It is less common in the farm itself but is frequently seen on the road, during my drive into the area, usually associated with houses on the roadside. Turtle Dove used to be seen during the first 3 years of the study with a single bird or occasionally two recorded but none since. Apart from a pair seen on 17th May 2008, all the other records were of birds in the autumn migration, with singles on 20th August 2007, 12th and 16th September 2009 and pairs on 10th and 26th August 2007 and 11th July 2009, Whip Appleton told me that Turtle Doves, which he said were called Sandies, were regularly shot on the area in earlier years.
Cuckoo are regular but infrequent visitors to the area. They are particularly attracted to the Reed Warblers which nest in the reedbeds adjacent to the Babingley River. They usually arrive in late April or early May, although there is an extremely early record of 10th April 2011. Records from spring are less frequent than those of returning birds, with the latest record from 13th September 2015. We have twice as many sightings of returning birds than of arriving ones (28 to 14). There is one record of a bird with the rufous colour phase. There is some evidence of a decline in numbers. The average number of birds seen annually in the first five years of the study was 5.6, whereas in the latest 5 years it was only 2.8.
Barn Owl are common nesters in the area. There are two or three nest boxes erected by the Hawk and Owl Trust and birds also nest in the barns. They can be seen throughout the year and are recorded on approximately 50% of the visits. Successful nesting has been observed on several occasions. Little Owl are also regular nesters on the farm, although seen much less often, with on average two sightings per year. They are seen near the two barns on the property. Two recently fledged birds were seen on 22nd July 2007. Tawny Owl are much less frequently detected, but this is partly due to the fact that the site is seldom visited at night. On the rare nocturnal visits there is a good chance that one may be heard, although there are no obvious nesting sites on the farm itself.
Long-eared Owl has been recorded on three occasions. Two in August (2nd August 2009 and 8th August 2010) and one in May (30th May2010) suggest that these must be migrant birds, perhaps coming in from the North Sea. One of the birds was sitting on the sea wall and reluctant to fly.
Short-eared Owl are commonly seen flying over the salt marsh or along the sea walls which occur on several parts of the farm. In 50% of the years they occurred throughout the year and nested or attempted to nest on the salt marsh during at least 5 of the summers.
Swift do not nest in the area, but can be seen migrating through, often following the shore of the Wash or the Babingley River. Occasionally large movements of up to 100 birds may be observed. They arrive in early to mid-May and have usually left by the first week of August, but one bird was seen in 2011 on the 25th September.
Kingfisher are regular residents on the Babingley River and can often be seen flying along the stream or perched nearby. Occasionally they occur on the salt marsh. A nest with young was found along the riverbank by Peter Prior on 3rd June 2010. There was an average of 5 sightings per year, with up to 3 birds having been seen. They occur throughout the year. Green Woodpecker is a common resident in the Babingley valley as a whole but is unusual on the farm and salt marsh itself. During the ten years of the study, there have been only ten sightings and all of single birds. Most records were during the winter months. There are no large trees which would act as potential nesting areas. There are even fewer records of Great Spotted Woodpecker than the previous species. It has been seen on twelve occasions throughout the year during the ten years of the study. There is no suitable habitat for woodpeckers and the birds seem to have been in transit.
Kestrel are the commonest birds of prey in the area. They occur throughout the year and nest in the boxes provided for the Barn Owls. They can be seen regularly feeding on the salt marsh, particularly after high tides. The highest count was of 17 birds on 9th August 2015, a count that clearly comprised several birds of the year. Average counts were 2-3 birds per visit. Merlin are winter visitors to the area, and all sightings have been of single birds. They are usually seen flying over the salt marsh. The earliest sighting was 23rd August 2013 and the latest 26th April 2010. Hobby by contrast are summer visitors. There is no evidence that they have bred in the area but are occasional visitors. There have been 13 sightings in all, either in May, prior to nesting or in July/August after the breeding season. All sightings have been of single birds. Earliest record was on 27th April 2014 by Shaun Beardsley, and latest was on 21st September 2009. A Saker Falcon was seen on 16th December 2007. It was clearly an escape as it was still carrying its jesses. Peregrine Falcon is also largely a winter visitor, although there has been a breeding pair nesting in the King’s Lynn grain elevator since, I believe 2010. There have been between 3 and 9 sightings per year throughout the study with little change after 2010.There is little evidence therefore that the presence of a breeding pair in the area affected the number of sightings on the farm and marsh area, although there was a slight increase in April sightings after 2009. A juvenile bird thought to have been from the King’s Lynn nest was seen on the marsh with a parent on 13th August 2010. Most records are of birds flying over the salt marsh during the winter months.
A female Red-backed Shrike was found on a patch of unploughed set aside during spring migration on 27th May 2013. It was seen by myself, Ashley Banwell and Shaun Beardsley. It was absent the following day. On 29th September 2007 a single Great Grey Shrike was found perched on a lilac bush which was growing on the sea wall. Due to a clearing programme, shrubs on the sea wall have now all been removed.
Magpie are intermittent birds into the area, with seldom more than a single bird or pair seen. On average they were seen on c20 visits per year. During the years when there was a shoot on the farm, the area was occasionally keepered, but this seems to have had little or no impact on Magpie numbers. On average they were seen on about 20 visits per year. Jay were seen less often than Magpies, probably due to the shortage of suitable habitat. They were seen singly or in pairs. Jackdaw breed on the farm, usually in the nest boxes provided for the owls, but are often seen in larger mixed flocks with Rooks outside the breeding season. Rook has its closest Rookery just outside the study area, close to the North Wootton Church. It contains on average about 20 nests. Rooks are seen only outside the breeding season in the farm itself when groups of up to 150 birds may be found, usually associated with Jackdaws. Carrion Crow occasionally nests in the area in the small coppices of taller trees that occur on the farm. Usually seen in pairs apart from after the breeding seasons when small, probable family, groups can be encountered. A single Hooded Crow which is a species which occasionally hybridizes with the previous species was seen over a 4 week period in 2011. It was first seen among a small group of Carrion Crows on 13th March and remained until 11th April. A bird of this species had been seen earlier on the North Norfolk coast, and may have been the same bird.
Surprisingly I have only 4 records of Goldcrest but this may be partly explained by my increasing inability to hear the species as I have aged. One location where it could be found was in the branches of a large Cypress tree at the entrance to the Kilham farm. Blue Tit occur occasionally in the small wooded areas around the two farm barns, and may also be seen along the road leading into the farm. There are around 60 records. Great Tit is less commonly recorded than the previous species, with 20 sightings. For Bearded Tit there is a single record. It was seen at the Eel Pond on 4th November 2012. The habitat was a reed bed at the side of the pond and it was presumably a bird dispersing from its North Norfolk breeding grounds. Skylark is perhaps the commonest nesting passerine bird on the farm. It is found both as a nesting species and in October and November as a passage bird travelling in a southerly direction. One of its favourite nesting habitats is the grassy field set aside by Natural England, but now sadly neglected, with several pairs usually nesting in these fields. Numbers have declined over the course of this study with the first five years averaging 7.1 birds per visit but in the later five years the average was only 4.7. Migrating birds, which pass through the area during October and November, also seem to have declined. In the first five years 472 birds were recorded on the 29 October and November visits, while in the second 5 year period 198 were seen on 17 visits. This translates to an average of 16.3 in the first period and 11.6 for the second. Sand Martin is a passage migrant through the area in small numbers but not seen in all years. The earliest sighting was 13th April 2014 and the latest on 30th August 2009. Its favourite haunt seems to be the weir at the mouth of the Babingley River, where feeding opportunities are good. Swallow is mainly a passage migrant through the area, but has nested among the farm buildings occasionally. A nest with fledglings was recorded on 23rd June 2010. Large numbers of migrating birds are occasionally seen travelling along the coast or the Babingley River during spring and autumn passage. House Martin do not nest on the farm itself, although there is a small colony on a house beside the road close to the entrance to the farm. They are occasionally seen in larger numbers during migration, although the highest number recorded was 40. They arrive later than the Swallows with average arrival date the 9th of May. They can often be found hawking insects close to the waters of the Babingley River. They have usually departed by the end of September with the latest report on 23rd September 2013. Cetti’s Warbler is a species that was unknown in the UK when I first birded in the UK as a boy. It expanded rapidly over the years and was already established in East Norfolk when we moved here in 2000. Its first appearance in this part of West Norfolk was on 2nd November 2008 when a single bird was heard on the study area by the Babingley River. Another was detected two weeks later and one appeared the following year, on 4th of October. No more were recorded until 14th September 2014, but after that a singing male was heard regularly during the breeding season in 2015 and probably two in 2016. To date none has been detected in 2017. The area does not offer much suitable habitat for Long-tailed Tit but it has visited the area during at least seven of the years of the study. A family of recently fledged young was recorded on 24th May 2009.
Apart from an unusual winter record on 16th December 2007 and a summer sighting on 2nd August 2009, the other three records of Willow Warbler have been during the spring migration, between the dates of 20th April and 30th May. There seems to be little suitable habitat for this species. Blackcap is also an infrequent visitor to the area, with only 10 recorded observations. The earliest sighting was a single bird heard on 13th Apr 2014. Garden Warbler is even more uncommon, but this may be partly due to my uncertainty about picking up its song. There is a single record of a bird seen on 8th May 2016. The habitat on the farm is suitable for neither of the above species. There are three records of Lesser Whitethroat all from the spring. Two were seen in May 2009 and a third on 30th April 2010. Whitethroat are much more frequent, being attracted to the shrubs that used to grow along the dykes scattered around the farm. Many of these bushes have been eliminated by those who maintain the sea walls. This perhaps reflects the fact that an average of 9.4 sightings per year was recorded in the first 5 years of the study but only 5.6 during the second. The total numbers have declined too. First arrivals usually occurred in the third week of April, with the earliest recorded on 15th April 2011. Most had gone by the end of July with the latest recorded on 11th Aug. 2013. Sedge Warbler is a summer resident, nesting among the Phragmites reeds which abound along the banks of the Babingley River. I have positive evidence of only one successful breeding, when some recently fledged young were seen on 1st July 2011. There have been fewer records in recent years. This may represent a genuine decline, since no such trend was evident in the following species. Usually first seen in the last week of April, with the earliest record on 10th April 2010. Latest record of a bird on 11th August 2012 but usually none seen after mid-July. Reed Warbler is more common than the previous species, with average maxima of 4 to 6 birds each year. Recently fledged young have been seen on several occasions. There is a reedy bend in the Babingley River where they are particularly prevalent. It is also where cuckoos are most likely to occur. Occasionally they share this section with a nesting Marsh Harrier. Earliest sighting was on 19th April 2015 and latest 26th August 2012.
There is a single record of Waxwing when 3 birds were detected feeding on Viburnum berries on 2nd December 2012. Waxwings had also been seen, earlier in the same season by Shaun Beardsley, but I have no record of the date. Wren is a common resident on the farm, usually associated with the barnyard areas, but also regular in scrubland near the Babingley River. Starling are mainly present in the area as passage migrants. I have no record of nesting, although it may have been overlooked as suitable sites are available in the region of the barns. Hardly any birds are seen during May and June, but soon afterwards, increasing numbers are seen flying south along the coastal marshes usually in flocks of up to 200 birds per group. On one occasion, 20,000 birds were seen on a single visit. Migration peaks in October, with birds arriving from as far away as Russia. There is also evidence of a small reverse migration in February, March and early April.
Blackbird is a common resident in the general area, but no evidence of breeding on the farm itself. It is usually recorded from the hedgerows alongside the road to the farm. On average 2 birds per visit are recorded but there is an increase to more than 5 during November, probably reflecting an influx of birds from Scandinavia. Fieldfare are infrequent visitors to the area, usually seen in large groups as they pass through. There are few suitable food trees or shrubs which would encourage a longer stay. They have been seen every winter of the study, usually 4-8 times per season. The earliest arrival noted was of 50 birds on 7th October 2007 and the latest departure on 23rd March 2014. The largest flock recorded was an estimated flock of 200 birds. Song Thrush is an uncommon visitor to the area with 3-5 sightings per year and mostly single birds recorded. Sightings were scattered throughout the year, apart from the months of August and September. Redwing is less common than the Fieldfare and in smaller groups. It has been seen in 8 of the 11 winters observed, with some evidence of a recent decline, having been seen in all the first 5 years of the study, but only two of the last six. Most records were in the late months of the year, perhaps suggesting arriving birds, and indicating that little suitable food was available for them on the farm. The earliest record was of a group of 7 on 29th September 2007. The largest group seen was 30 birds on two occasions. Mistle Thrush has an average of 4 sightings per year, but there is no evidence that this species breeds in the study area. Most are seen from August until December, which may indicate that they are birds arriving from continental Europe. In this species too, there is an indication of a decline in recent years. Robin is a common bird in the area throughout the year, most usually seen close to the barns. It presumably nests though no nest has been found. Black Redstart is a species that was seen prior to my recording on a regular basis. It frequented the northern barn area and was the first unusual bird that I saw on the site. There were two further periods when this species was observed being one on the 2nd and 3rd March 2010 by Shaun Beardsley and another, a female, seen by several observers in 2014. It too frequented the barn area. It was first seen on 12th January and finally on the 9th March.
Whinchat is a rarely seen passage migrant, having been seen by me on only four occasions, although Shaun Beardsley who often overnights on the marsh, reports it more frequently. Dates seen are: - 9th May 2008, 27th July 2008 and 11th and 25th September 2011. Stonechat is more frequent than the previous species and a winter visitor. It often occurred in the cover strips that were planted in the early years when there was an autumn shoot on the land and regularly seen in the early years of the study, but none seen between 2009 and2015 apart from a single bird on 31st Mar 2013. A pair wintered again near the sea wall in the winters of 2014/15 and 2015/16. Wheatear is unlike the previous species and is a passage migrant appearing in both spring and autumn, usually the first to arrive in the spring. One of the most reliable places to see Wheatears was in the vicinity of the wildfowlers’ cabins on the marsh, but they could also be found on the farm fields. Some were birds which nest in the UK and others moving on to North America. Numbers have declined during the study with the species being seen on an average of 8 visits per year, during the first 6 years of the study, but only on an average of 3 per year during the next five. Maximum counts during the early years averaged 8, but only 3 during the later period. Earliest sightings on spring migration were on 21st March 2010 and latest on 10th May 2008. For autumn migration the dates were 26th July 2009 and latest date 16th October 2011. Dunnock is occasionally seen on the road leading to the farm, or occasionally near the barns. An average of 5 sightings a year suggest that it does not breed on the farm itself. House Sparrow is surprisingly rare. There are birds nesting at one of the farms near the entrance to the farm, but this area is rarely visited during the survey. Yellow Wagtail is one of the few breeding species which has disappeared during the course of this study. Most sightings occur in May and August, with occasionally counts of more than ten birds. There have been one or two successful nesting pairs during each of the years from 2008 to 2012, but no definite evidence of breeding since then. They were particularly attracted to a small piece of regularly mown grass, close to the entrance to the farm, which was kept cut for several years in order to facilitate the landing of para gliders. The earliest arrival date was 21st April 2009 and the latest departure was 20th September 2016. Grey Wagtail is a transient species that nests nearby at the Mill on the Babingley River and occurs at the farm only occasionally. There are only three sightings, all late in the year, and all of single birds. These were on 3rd December 2006; 6th November 2007 and 1st December 2008. There have been no recent records. Pied Wagtail is a common nester on the farm, usually associated with the barn areas, and a few birds also migrate through the area. Occasionally, birds showing the continental plumage have been noted. Meadow Pipit breeds regularly on the salt marsh and its song flight can be heard regularly in spring. There are also regular small groups of passage birds during the months of August and September. Nests have been found occasionally, for example one found with eggs by Shaun Beardsley on June 10th 2012. Rock Pipit by contrast are winter visitors, arriving in late October and leaving by early March. A colour ringed bird seen in the winter of 2013/14 had been ringed earlier that year north of Bergen in Norway. It re-appeared in the following winter. The earliest were 18th October 2009 and the latest on 3rd March 2014. Water Pipit has only been recorded on two occasions, but this may reflect my inability generally to discriminate between this and the previous species. When the colour ringed Rock Pipit was present, two Water Pipits were also present on one occasion and another group of four were seen on 29th March 2007.
The winter of 2007/08 saw a massive influx of Brambling to the farm and flocks of up to 150 birds were seen. Otherwise it is only an occasional winter visitor to the area with sighting in 2006/07 and 2010/11. Chaffinch was a regular visitor to the farm or more frequently to the roadway leading to the farm. No nests were found but recently fledged birds were seen occasionally. A maximum of 30 birds was recorded. A feeder at a farm on the roadway to the farm was a regular location. Bullfinch were seen rarely and only on the road leading to the farm. Single birds or occasionally a pair occurred on a section of the road just beyond the Red Cat in North Wootton, where there are high hedges. Goldfinch were usually seen in a small flock feeding on the numerous thistle patches along the farm paths, but I never saw any signs of nesting in the area. A single Siskin was seen on only two occasions, one on 1st May 2007 and the second on 1st October 2010. Suitable habitat is absent in the area and the two birds seen were presumably on passage. Snow Bunting were seen only during two winters and only rarely, despite being not uncommon less than 20km along the coast near Hunstanton. Two birds were seen on 22nd January 2011 and again on 19th February. In the following year a much larger group (c20 birds) was seen on 22nd December and a single bird on 22nd January of the following year. Yellowhammer were never seen on the farm itself but on the lane just west of North Wootton. Occasionally more than two birds were seen, suggesting successful nesting. No birds have been seen after June 2015, although they still occur in the parish of Castle Rising at the time of writing. Reed Bunting were frequent residents of the marsh, common on the salt marsh and among the reeds by the Babingley River. They occasionally nested among the rape crop. Corn Bunting were seen only during one winter, the extremely snowy one of 2010-2011. Clearly there was an influx from elsewhere. The first birds were seen on 19th December 2010 and the last definite sighting on 7th April 2011. These birds had not necessarily come from far, as Corn Buntings are occasionally seen at Lynn Point.
This survey will continue until March 2018, when Sylvia and I plan to move to Wymondham.