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Rare bird pays winter visit to Norfolk canal

PUBLISHED: 16:58 03 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 03 January 2019

The black-bellied dipper on a tyre fender attached to a pontoon in Ebridge Lock. Picture: JAMES APPLETON

The black-bellied dipper on a tyre fender attached to a pontoon in Ebridge Lock. Picture: JAMES APPLETON

J R Appleton 2018

A rare visitor is attracting birdwatchers to a north-east Norfolk beauty spot.

The black-bellied dipper on the remains of the lock gates in Ebridge Lock. Picture: JAMES APPLETONThe black-bellied dipper on the remains of the lock gates in Ebridge Lock. Picture: JAMES APPLETON

A rare visitor is attracting birdwatchers to a north-east Norfolk beauty spot.

Eagle-eyed bird enthusiast Robert Cobbold, from North Walsham, first spotted the black-bellied dipper on the North Walsham and Dilham Canal at Ebridge on December 28.

Since then birdwatchers have been flocking to the area and the dipper has been seen dozens of times along the canal between Ebridge Lock and Briggate, one-and-a-half miles away.

The bird, which has probably come from Scandinavia, is a rare visitor to Norfolk. The last confirmed county record is believed to be one seen on the River Thet in Thetford from early November 2012 until late March 2013. It was joined by a second bird towards the end of its stay.

Birders hoping to catch sight of the black bellied dipper on the road bridge at Ebridge Mill. Picture: JO WAITEBirders hoping to catch sight of the black bellied dipper on the road bridge at Ebridge Mill. Picture: JO WAITE

Local birding expert James Appleton is especially delighted at the dipper’s arrival on the canal as it has family connections for him dating back more than 40 years.

His late father Claude spent much of his childhood living in a cottage at Ebridge Mill. In 1974, when the mill was still working, Claude, alerted by a mill worker, saw his first Ebridge black-bellied dipper and James, then aged eight, remembers watching it through a window.

Then, almost exactly 20 years ago, on New Year’s Day 1999, his father found another black-bellied dipper on Ebridge Mill Lock.

Mr Appleton said: “Just like the current bird, it would feed at Briggate as well as Ebridge Mill and stayed until late February/early March delighting hundreds of birdwatchers.

The black-bellied dipper. Picture: Malcolm DuckerThe black-bellied dipper. Picture: Malcolm Ducker

“The canal is pretty much the habitat a wintering dipper requires - it’s certainly finding lots of food.”

Britain has its own resident dippers, with chestnut underparts below a white bib, chiefly found west of a line drawn south along the Welsh border and north of the Peak District National Park in areas with clean, usually quite fast-flowing water, weirs and waterfalls. The black-bellied dipper is a subspecies and a rare visitor to the UK.

Jo Waite, who lives in an apartment in the now-converted Ebridge Mill, said that there had even been three birders in position before 8am on New Year’s Day, anxious to spot the foreign visitor.

“We have a family of teal which spend the winter on the canal here. Also kingfisher, egret, dabchick, mallard, mute swan, coot and moorhen,” she added.

The black-bellied dipper. Picture: Malcolm DuckerThe black-bellied dipper. Picture: Malcolm Ducker

“In addition we see water voles and otters. The range of wildlife to which we are treated is growing all the time. If you can take your eyes off the water and look up you may see buzzards, red kite and skeins of beautiful geese passing by.”

-Have you seen a rare bird? Email your stories and photos to stuart.anderson@archant.co.uk

The black-bellied dipper. Picture: Malcolm DuckerThe black-bellied dipper. Picture: Malcolm Ducker

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