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013 Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) Winterton Norfolk November 2023 ccp2 crs 130dpi.jpg
741 Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) brown or Ino pigmantation Norwich November 2023 ccp2 c

Upper photo: Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) Winterton Norfolk November 2023 

Lower photo: Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) brown or Ino pigmentation Norwich November 2023

'Wildlife roundup published in the Spring issue of 'Tern' magazine by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust covering period October-December 2023 by Robin Chittenden


The warm late Autumn saw the arrival of several Swifts, which mostly turned out to be Pallid Swifts. These normally breed in eastern and southern Europe, but in recent years have become a late Autumn feature but only in tiny numbers. As their name suggests they are paler than ‘our’ summering Common Swifts, but only subtly so, and when seeing them from below as silhouettes the differences are hard to detect, especially on dull days. Here photography can help as you can adjust the exposure levels so that you can ‘see’ the true colours of the bird. Most Pallid Swifts spend a day or less where they are initially spotted, before moving on, but one at Winterton stayed for week. Although Swifts are renowned non-stop flying, only coming to land to breed, in roof spaces, this one roosted in the church bell tower.

During late Autumn there was an unusual gathering of seabirds off the Norfolk coast particularly between Blakeney Point and Weybourne. For some reason the Sprats, a small white fish that go around in shoals, were particularly close to the shore. They were probably ‘persuaded’ there by predatory fish, such as Sea Bass. The large numbers of Sprats also attracted seabird predators. There were several species but perhaps the most dramatic were the Gannets. Most were young birds, which seemed to be honing their skill at plunge diving, to get the fish close in offshore. Flocks of Terns; mostly Common and Sandwich Terns, but also a few Arctic Terns, but even more unusually up to six Roseate Terns joined in the melee. Add to that several Manx Shearwaters and many Auks (that is Razorbills and a few Guillemots) all intent on catching Sprats, you would not want to be a small fish there. I’ve never seen Razorbills in Norfolk hunting in gangs by cruising along close to the beach. When they spot the shoal by sticking their heads in the water, under they all go, even porpoising out of the water in their enthusiasm to catch the Sprats. (Missed that photo by the way). There is speculation that the no fishing zones around the offshore wind turbines have resulted in the recovery of some fish populations, so maybe this unusual event will become the new norm.

There have been a few pale-coloured variants of what would normally be dark birds seen in Norfolk this year. On The Wash there was an Oystercatcher hatched there that was particularly pale. What’s more this was the second year in a row that this has happened. Its thought one of the parents have passed on some DNA which has resulted in this aberrant plumage. And in Norwich there has been a pale Cormorant, seen anywhere between Whitlingham CP and the UEA and the stretch of the River Wensum as far as the ‘new’ soon to be created NWT reserve at Sweet Briar Marsh. Photographs of the bird have shown plumage differences, which either means there is more than one bird involved or there has been some rapid moulting. Birders have in the past referred to virtually any pale birds, as leucistic. There are several reasons why some birds may have paler feathers and depending on the cause each has been given a classification name. In the case of the Cormorant, and probably the Oystercatcher, this has rather unexcitingly been termed ‘brown’ or possibly of another type called ‘ino’. I know that was a new word for me too.


After a break of a few years exciting numbers of Waxwings have returned to the UK this winter. You may be aware that their plumage and scarcity make them one of the UK's favourite birds with birdwatchers, wildlife photographers and shoppers. Their habit of being unconcerned by humans and feeding on berries in conurbations, especially at supermarket car parks helps. They arrive here when they run out of food in Scandinavia and Siberia. This could be because the berry crop was not that good there, or perhaps their breeding was so successful this year that any berries that were there didn’t last long.

The largest flock so far in Norfolk was in New Costessey with up to 81 birds. They last visited these very same berry trees six years ago. The fact they went straight there and were not distracted by the numerous other berry trees on offer in Norwich could be explained by the fact that some of the mature adults had been there before and were leading birds born in the last six years straight to this spot. As a side six years ago a group of the berry trees were being guarded by a Mistle Thrush (who wanted the berries all to him/herself) and now these trees have three bunches of mature Mistletoe growing on the branches. These weren’t there six years ago so it’s highly likely the Mistletoe seeds were secreted on the branches within the poo of that very Mistle Thrush.

The Waxwings, as usual, would spend most of the day at the tops of the tall trees next to the berry trees. Here they spent their time digesting berries, preening and contemplating life.  Every twenty minute or so hunger, and the desire for the delicious berries, would persuade one bird to tentatively fly down to the berry tree, and once it was apparent there was no danger, the rest would swoop down, en mass and all would frantically gobble away. Having stored a load of berries in their cheeks, almost Hamster like, they would then rush back up to the taller trees. With slightly warmer weather a few would fly out every now and then to nab a passing insect.

In other bird news returning rarities this winter include the Pallid Harrier at Warham Greens and the Long-billed Dowitcher at NWT Cley Marshes (for a bit).

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