Upper image: Bee-eater (Library photograph)
Lower photo: Black-winged Stilt NWT Hickling Broad Norfolk May 2022
'Wildlife roundup' published in the 'Tern' magazine by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust covering period May-August 2022 by Robin Chittenden
When a well-known Norfolk birder spotted four European Bee-eaters on the Isles of Scilly, early this spring, little did he imagine that, the very same flock would end up summering at Trimingham, near his home. What were the chances of that? One of the flock could be identified, as it had a missing feather or two from one wing. The gang of four were spotted as they made their way round Norfolk, first being seen over Heacham, Holme and Titchwell, before turning up at Trimingham.
European Bee-eaters are a charismatic multi-coloured bird, which as the name suggests love to eat bees. But in truth many flying insects will do, including quite large dragonflies. European Bee-eaters used to be classified in the UK as, ‘an overshooting summer visitor from southern Europe’. That is they would migrate north from Africa for the summer in the Med, but sometimes a few of them would keep going and end up here. In recent years they have become regular but scarce visitors. This is a direct result of the man-made climate crisis. As global warming has ramped up, the climate has become hotter especially in summer, and is now more akin to a southern Mediterranean climate than a temperate one. Perfect for European Bee-eaters. Balancing this plus for European Bee-eaters is a negative, in that the number of insects, has sharply declined. There must have been enough prey at Trimingham though. They settled down, scooped out a couple of tunnels in the former sand quarry there. After what seemed like an age, two pairs successfully bred. Proof was provided by the sight of at least three that emerged from their nesting chambers. You may have heard. There was much publicity and fan-fare made of the event, as this was the first time they have bred in Norfolk. Once fledged the families quickly departed the area before heading back to Africa for winter.
To add to the evidence of our changing climates were several species that are extending their range northwards from southern Europe. This summer it included Black-winged Stilts, that ridiculously long legged wader, which again checked out various localities including NWT Hickling Broad to breed. A pair presumably ended up breeding somewhere not that far away from Welney as a family party were seen there in June. A male Great Reed Warbler set up territory for the whole summer at Snettisham Coastal Park on Ken Hill Marshes. But despite its loud dinosaur like croaking apparently failed to attract a mate. It’s only a matter of time before this larger brown bird successfully hatches some chicks somewhere in the UK.
Some seabirds did well this summer but others succumbed to bird flu. At Winterton the Little Tern colony did exceptionally well. About three hundred pairs raised around seven hundred chicks. The large roped off area with helpful staff, and signs recommending that dog walkers should be leashed to their dogs, obviously did the trick . Despite this I have several photos of dogs off their leads. When the dog owners spotted my camera their dogs were hurriedly attached. In contrast Scolt Head Island had a bad case of avian bird flu with several hundred Sandwich Terns dying. Its warden posed the question: "Are we witnessing the collapse of seabird colonies around the North Sea?" A casual walk along beaches in North Norfolk was still turning up dead seabirds in September. A kilometre stretch along Blakeney Point from NWT Cley Marshes beach car, had two freshly dead Gannets, plus a Fulmar, a Sandwich Tern and a Guillemot.
NWT Hickling Broad became one of THE places to see good birds this spring and summer in Norfolk. Rarest was a White-tailed Lapwing. A wader that breeds from Iraq eastwards. The huge red-billed Caspian Tern which should be breeding in the Baltic seemed to be seen there on and off for the whole summer. Another Mediterranean species whose records are increasing is the Eleonora’s Falcon. This species is known for breeding on rocky cliffs like those, for instance on Majorca, and then heads back to of all places Madagascar for winter. One was seen in the area of NWT Hickling Broad, Horsey, Winterton and Sea Palling at the end of August. This is the third record of Eleonora’s Falcon for Norfolk and all three were found in this area of Norfolk. This species is only likely to become more regular.
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