15th December 2014 – The Broads for Gulls, Cranes, Swans & more

A private tour today to the Broads. The specific request was to photograph Mediterranean Gulls, and then to try to see some of the other local specialities. A relaxed start to the day was required, which meant we were battling slightly against the limited daylight hours at this time of year.

On the way, we stopped off briefly at Halvergate. We immediately located the Rough-legged Buzzard, perched in a bush out on the grazing marsh. It was looking particularly stunning in the morning light. It flew round a couple of times, hovering out over the grass for long periods and flashing its white tail base. Great views.

IMG_1981 IMG_1997Rough-legged Buzzard – this juvenile showed particularly well this morning

From there, we drove in to Great Yarmouth and down to the beach. Armed with two loaves of bread, we walked out onto the sand. There were already a few gulls loafing and sleeping, and we could immediately pick out several adult Mediterranean Gulls alongside the Black-headed Gulls. As soon as the bread started to be thrown, more gulls appeared from all directions. We could pick out all ages of Mediterranean Gull in the crowd -1st, 2nd and adult winters, the latter with a variety of different amounts of black on the head, and some birds which were probably in between. Many of the birds were colour-ringed – birds from various parts of Europe have been identified here based on their rings. We counted a bare minimum of 25 birds simultaneously at any one time, but there were far more present given the variety of individuals we could identify.

P1100222Mediterranean Gulls – 3 winter adults, with different head patterns

P1100166Mediterranean Gull – an adult winter, with pure white wing tips

P1100225Mediterranean Gull – 2nd winter, with duller bill and black in the wing tip

P1100179Mediterranean Gull – 1st winter, with black & brown in wings & tail

As it was the main target for the day, we spent most of the morning with the Mediterranean Gulls. From there, we made a detour via Cantley. We had not planned to go looking for the Taiga Bean Geese, as they have been rather elusive in recent days, but they were reported as present during the morning. Unfortunately, when we got there, two people were surveying out on the marshes exactly where the birds had been and only a small group of Pink-footed Geese were out on the marshes. We moved swiftly on.

P1100136Pink-footed Geese – we saw several large flocks today

We drove round via Horsey, stopping to check out the various flocks of geese. Two tall grey shapes on a bank close to the road required a rapid stop – a pair of Common Cranes. They are rarely as close to the road as this. We spent some time watching them (from the confines of the car – so as not to disturb them), feeding quietly and walking along the bank.

P1100305Common Crane – these two birds were close to the road at Horsey today

We left them as we found them. A little further on, beyond Sea Palling, we located the small group of wild swans which have been present for some days. There were more Bewick’s Swans than have been reported in previous days, 12 in all, along with 17 Whooper Swans, including a fair number of juveniles. It was great to see these two species side-by-side – to see the size difference between the much larger Whoopers and smaller Bewick’s, look closely at the structural differences and the amount of yellow on their respective bills. A really good ID exercise.

P1100333Whooper & Bewick’s Swans – this small mixed flock was near Sea Palling

By this stage, the light was starting to fade, so we decided to drive round to Hickling and walk out to see the roost at Stubb Mill. As we walked out, a Brambling called from the hedgerow. There were already a lot of Marsh Harriers sitting around in the bushes amongst the reeds. At one point, the majority of them took to the air and we counted at least 25 birds, but with a lot more arriving after that, we saw at least 35-40 birds go in to the roost.We also watched a ringtail Hen Harrier fly in, and later a male and the same or another ringtail. A Merlin flashed through, stopping briefly to interact with a Kestrel, before disappearing into the bushes. A Barn Owl spent much of the evening hunting back and forth over the grazing marsh in front of us.

We could hear Common Cranes bugling shortly after we arrived, but it took us a while to find them – a pair were out on the grazing marshes, and eventually stepped out from behind the bushes. They stood out in the fields for some time, allowing us to watch them through the scopes, before flying off. It was not until it started to get dark that birds started to fly in to roost – we saw 5 birds fly past before we left. The way back was accompanied by more bugling – a fantastic backdrop to the walk. When we got back, a couple of Woodcock flew over the car park to round off an excellent day.

P1100337Sunset at Stubb Mill

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