July 2018 - Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatchers are summer visitors, arriving here in May from their African wintering grounds. After breeding, they fly back to Africa in August. They are about the size of House Sparrows, slim with grey-brown upper-parts, whitish under-parts with dark streaks on the crown, breast and throat. Both male, female and juveniles are similar, although the latter have pale spots on upper-parts. Jenny Press was exceedingly lucky to have a pair nest in her garden at Bridgefoot about 25 years ago - evidenced by the photo of the youngster about to take its first flight, shown here. She then saw one this year catching insects in mid-air over the river! - Spotted flycatchers are particularly fond of damselflies and mayflies, among other flying insects although they will eat berries in autumn when insect populations decline. Usually when they are hunting, they sit on an exposed branch, flicking their tails as they watch for prey to fly past. They then dart out to catch the insect in mid-flight, flying back to their roost to wait for another.
They usually breed in open woodland, parks, cemeteries and gardens that have trees or walls covered in ivy. They will nest in open-fronted nest boxes, as in Jenny's case. Both male and female build the nest, which is made like a cup of grass, thin twigs, lichen and spiders webs, lined with feathers and hair. The female alone incubates the eggs, youngsters being fed by both parents.
The Spotted Flycatcher population has undergone a dramatic decline in Norfolk since the 1960s, and between 1968-1998 the population fell by 79%. It is now spread thinly throughout our county. It is on the RSPB Red List for endangered species.
Reading through the archive Bawburgh News articles recently for our History Group, I came across an article, June Issue no. 21, 1985, by Richard Hobbs, then Conservation Officer for the Norfolk Naturalists Trust. He wrote of the 'Bawburgh Dipper'. Richard lived at the Mill and wrote that in 1983 they returned from holiday in mid-August to find a Dipper of the chestnut-bellied British race in residence, feeding daily from the gravel shoals of the river and at night roosting on the rafters in the garage. From mid-January 1984, it was joined by another Dipper, although this was the transient north European race. They were rarely seen together before the other departed after a month. The Bawburgh Dipper sang its heart out in 1984, presumably trying to attract a mate. The Hobbs were heart broken when they found it dead on the garage floor one morning in November 1984.
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