I was out in the Broads for a day, catching up on a few birds I haven’t seen yet this year and checking on a few sites. It was a great day, with some really good birds – it is always good to visit the Broads at this time of year. Here are some of the highlights.
First stop was a quick look for the regular wintering flock of wild swans. First a small group of 6 Whooper Swans were in a field where the group had been a week ago. It didn’t take long then to locate the main flock – over 200 white shapes in a field really stand out! What a sight. I spent some time watching them, a rough count produced at least 180 Bewick’s Swans and close to 20 Whoopers, before the other 6 Whoopers flew in to join them.
Round to Horsey and I arrived just in time to see the farmer rounding up his sheep with a quad bike. All the noise and activity flushed 4 Common Cranes which had been in a field nearby and they flew lazily across the road in front of me and away towards Heigham Holmes.
Up at Horsey Corner, I walked out to check on the Grey Seals. There were still quite a few hauled out on the beach and some pups – a new one had just been born. As of 8th Jan, still over 100 pups had been counted, though numbers are now dropping. Over 700 have apparently been counted this year.
On the drive back, two Common Cranes had returned to the field by the road and where the sheep had been previously was now a flock of well over 1,000 Pink-footed Geese. A careful scan through revealed 5 Tundra Bean Geese, their orange legs and bill patterns giving them away, as well as several other more subtle plumage differences. A nearby Pink-footed Goose with orange, rather than Pink, feet (& legs) highlighted a pitfall for the unwary.
From there, I drove round to Strumpshaw Fen. The RSPB reserve had flooded over the weekend, as the river overtopped on a high tide, and I wanted to check on the state of the trails. The answer was very muddy and likely to remain so for a few days. However, a bonus came in the form of a Bittern visible in the reeds from Reception Hide.
A quick look at Buckenham and Cantley revealed a complete lack of any wild geese and relatively few other wildfowl. The marshes here have been slightly disappointing this winter, whether due to the mild weather or increased wildfowl shooting on the neighbouring marshes or a combination of the two.
Down the road at Halvergate, the regular Rough-legged Buzzard was to be found sitting on a post on the marshes. It did a quick fly round, showing off its pale tail base. However, the highlight was a Short-eared Owl hunting over the marshes. I watched it for about half an hour, quartering back and forth, occasionally chasing off the local Kestrel, and even managing to catch a couple of voles. It was great to watch how it dealt with its prey – mantling over it initially, constantly on alert and looking round between bending down to it repeatedly, several bites appeared to kill it, before picking it up in its bill and swallowing it whole.
I finished the day with a visit to the harrier roost at Stubb Mill. I confess that I didn’t stay to the bitter end, with the weather having deteriorated from the earlier sunshine and some squally wintery showers now passing through, but there were at least 25 Marsh Harriers, two ringtail Hen Harriers (and a male that I had just missed), a brief Merlin, two Stonechats, a Chinese Water Deer and a pair of Common Cranes feeding in the fields before flying off towards Hickling Broad. Not a bad way to spend an hour in the late afternoon!
Broads Tours will run until the end of February, if you are interested in coming to enjoy some of this for yourself please let me know.
Marcus Nash http://www.birdtour.co.uk