Sunday, 5 May 2013

Patch of the Day, Costessey House Private Estate, Joseph Nichols

Costessey House Private Estate, Joseph Nichols

When my mum moved down to Norwich in autumn 2011, I had not anticipated she’d live by an area of unspoilt meadows and deciduous woodland on the Wensum Valley. It was begging to be patched, and on my first walk up the lane I knew straight away that it was worthy of patch status.
Costessey House Private Estate is situated between the villages of Drayton and Old Costessey on the western outskirts of Norwich.  One of the most rewarding things about it from a patching perspective is that it’s more or less entirely private land, so I have its beauty, its tranquillity, and its birds to myself. As the only birder allowed on site, I’m left with the responsibility to record everything there, which is a challenge I embrace and one that Patchwork inspires me to take on even further this year and beyond.  
The patch itself is only accessible to residents of the cottages via ‘Mill Lane’, which runs all the way to the largest area of meadows (Drayton Meadows). The cottages, where the patch starts, are based around a barn and some paddocks which were lucky enough to hold up to 3 Little Owls last summer and were viewable from the comfort of the living room.  Owls are definitely one of the patch’s consistent strong points, with all 3 of the regular species available and seen on my first visit this year. A pair of Barn Owls are easy over Drayton Meadows and near to the cottage at Mill Meadow, which sometimes results in them passing over the front lawn; the perfect antidote to normally owl-less birding up in Aberdeenshire.

Another winning factor for me about Costessey House Private Estate is what Alastair Forsyth perfectly describes in his POTD post as relative rarity. As the sole birder on a private patch, I have independently established what is locally common or rare on site and discovered its breeding birds, its every nook and cranny, and by doing so have shaped and given it its birding ‘identity’. Frankly I’ve found this process more gratifying than any other previous birding I’ve done and something which has let me form a unique bond with the area and its birds.  As the patch is basically lacks of pools and water – minus the diverse River Wensum – the vast majority of ducks and geese are uncommon, as well as all waders. Ironically I have had more wader species than either of the other two families, with 4 Greenshank over Mill Field and 2 Green Sandpipers over Fishermen’s Field last year the highlights of  5 species and amongst the better birds I’ve had on site. Geese are confined to the wintering pair of Egyptians, a couple of records of Greylags and a single skein of Pinkfeets last October, whilst ridiculously enough I only scored my second duck species this month, with 30 Teal being a relieving patch first at Drayton Meadows.  Being able to relish deeply in those first patch Teal or Pinkfeets is something that makes the birding here lastingly special for me, and equally the thought of when that Wigeon or that Redshank will finally reveal itself. That lack of expectation for some of the broadly common species you’d simply take for granted at a stereotypically decent coastal or inland site, have become a novelty thanks to the patch.
Habitat wise the patch is surprisingly diverse, mostly owing to the River Wensum. The most productive areas on site have proven to be Drayton Meadows, Fishermen’s Trail and Mill Field (opposite the cottages), each which have the Wensum running through it. Drayton Meadows is the largest area of habitat on site, consisting of low lying meadows and boggy ground and a relatively large area of reedbeds and woodland at the back.  This is home to most of the patch residents, as well as a few pairs of Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers in the summer, whilst flooded conditions regularly produce Snipe and Hobby was noted last August. Fishermen’s Trail can be equally productive; a small path running alongside the Wensum opposite a small area of reedbeds which held Cetti’s Warbler last spring and is reliable for Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail. Mill Field is far more conditions dependent, but is susceptible to flooding and can produce good numbers of Larus when this happens, including a patch highlight in the form of an adult Yellow-legged Gull last July, as well as the odd wader species. Dense cover elsewhere on site can potentially hold 7+ species of warbler in the spring and summer months, with Lesser Whitethroat and Reed Warbler following close behind Cetti’s as highlights.

To be honest the patch has easily exceeded my expectations, as the surprising number of waders and highlights such as Yellow-legged Gull and a total of nearly 90 species have proved. During my two week stay this month, it really did kick above its weight...

6 Cranes; patch gold! Picked up over Drayton Meadows on my first day (2nd Feb) they flew languidly NW over Marriot’s Way, their silhouettes set against the sombre sky as they continually gained height. Filled with an adrenaline unknown to me, I hared it down the meadows to try and keep on them. Luckily, they wheeled around over Old Costessey village, allowing for some distant photos such as the above, before heading roughly over the cottage in the direction of Taverham at 12:15pm. By 1:30 they had made it to Lynford; surprisingly slow!

I couldn’t ask much more of the patch after that, but the quality kept on going that week. Flushing a Bittern on 5th February (again from Drayton Meadows) was quite frankly a patch dream come true. It landed pretty quickly into the reeds at the far edge so the joy was short lived, and it seemed to have gone the next day. This was well off the radar, considering there are only two areas of reedbeds on site, but it proves that the meadows are capable of holding any number of marshland species and is testimony to the diverse array of species that the Costessey House Private Estate can hold. Other highlights during my stay were a first patch Little Grebe at Fishermen’s Trail, a Little Owl on the paddocks and more regular occurrences of uncommon patch species such as Little Egret due to flooding.

All that, an untouched, productive little nook, accessible simply through walking out the front door. Unfortunately I can only work Costessey House Private Estate occasionally as I live up in Aberdeenshire (I could’ve chosen Girdle Ness, but Mark is the stalwart there so deserve it far more than me!). Sporadic patching may well put me at a disadvantage in the mammoth inland East Anglia mini league, but I’ll work hard to make up for lost time on site when I can, especially after my Advanced Higher exams when I should be able to give it a bit of extra welly. In some ways the limited periods that I have to work the patch will provide the extra motivation needed to make up for lost time on site, thanks to this challenge. I am glad for now though with the 60 species I had this time round.  For more information/accounts from Costessey House Private Estate, see here.
Good luck to everyone involved,
Joseph Nichols 

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