A Private Tour today, the first day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Given the planned itinerary for the regular weekend tours, we headed down to the Broads today.
We started at Hickling Broad. The car park was alive with tits, finches and warblers – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A nice gentle introduction to birding in Europe.
Rather than head to the hides first, we decided to see if the family of Eurasian Cranes was in their usual fields. We could see a head briefly, distantly in the taller reeds at the back, but they were not really playing ball today. So we decided to walk on and come back later in the morning. As we headed out across the reserve, suddenly two Cranes appeared over the path ahead of us and we watched them fly and glide slowly towards the Broad. We got great flight views, and we could hear them bugling as they disappeared.
The trees along the side of the track were alive with birds. A big mixed tit flock passed through – lots of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, together with Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. As we walked up to the oak tree they had gone into, we discovered that in their place was a pair of Yellowhammers, looking for caterpillars in the foliage. We could hear a Whitethroat alarm calling in the trees as well – a female carrying food was too wary of our presence at first to fly down to its nest in some brambles.
We had not gone much further when three Brown Hares ran out of the grass and proceeded to chase each other around on the track in front of us. One disappeared again but, even though it is now the end of June, the other two started ‘boxing’. Quite a sight – mad as a June hare!?
We spent a bit of time in Bittern Hide, but unfortunately there was no sign of its namesake today. We did see several Eurasian Hobbys hawking for insects over the reedbed. There were also several Marsh Harriers up, and we saw both a food-pass and a male displaying, sky-dancing and calling. Great action. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and saw the back end of a couple of birds disappearing into the reeds.
Along the bank by the Broad, there were lots of warblers singing. We could hear both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers and it was good to note the differences in song between the two. We also heard our first Cetti’s Warblers, shouting from the bushes beside us but doing their usual playing hard to get. The Sedge Warblers were most obliging, perching up in full view and songflighting. We heard more Bearded Tits as well and saw one come up out of the reeds.
We had seen a few Swallowtails already, on our walk round, but as we got back almost to the Cadbury Hide the Marsh Thistles were alive with them, we lost count of how many. Such stunning butterflies and such a privilege to see them, particularly as the Broads is the only place Swallowtails are found in the UK (and the only place the British subspecies is found).
There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the reserve as well today. We saw several of the other local speciality, Norfolk Hawker, lots of Four-spotted Chasers, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a single Hairy Dragonfly. Amongst the many Azure Damselflies, we picked out a few Variable Damselflies as well.
It had been quite an action-packed morning, the sun was shining and it was starting to get quite warm, so we made use of one of the picnic tables for an early lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk back along the track to see if the family of Cranes had come out onto the wet meadows. We couldn’t see any sign of them, but while we were walking along two heads appeared in the wheat field on the other side of the road, two Cranes looking slightly incongruous in such a setting. We got a good look at them in the scope, but they were already looking nervous. After a couple of minutes they took off and flew away over the trees, bugling as they went. They were obviously a pair, but presumably not the nesting pair as there was no sign of any juveniles.
After that, we headed over to Upton Fen. The birds were a little quiet today, in the muggy early afternoon. We did add a few species to the day’s list – Eurasian Jay, Marsh Tit and a Song Thrush heard singing. However, there was lots of dragonfly action – especially more Norfolk Hawkers. And a few butterflies, including couple of Ringlets which were new for the day.
There were also lots of orchids as usual. Mostly they were Southern Marsh Orchids in various shades of purple, but we found a small group of Common Spotted Orchids, and several of intermediate appearance (not a surprise, given the propensity of these species to hybridise). We also saw several Fen Orchids, the real speciality here, though a rather under-stated little yellow flower.
Our final stop of the day was at Ranworth. We stopped to look at the first Great Crested Grebes of the day on Malthouse Broad and a pair of Treecreepers appeared in the trees beside us. They were feeding very quietly, climbing up the tree trunks before spiralling down and starting again on the neighbouring tree. House Martins over the village were new for the day and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were hopping around in the grass in the boatyard.
Out at Ranworth Broad, the nesting Black-headed Gulls were being very noisy, but we were more interested in the Common Terns. At first, they refused to come near us, flying in and out overhead. However, when it clouded over just a little they suddenly started to land on the posts in front of us. One in particular had caught a rather large fish – for a Common Tern – and spent several minutes trying to swallow it whole.
The Great Crested Grebes stole the show. One particular family group was swimming about right by the staithe, including three large stripy-headed juveniles. While small young are often carried on their parents’ backs, these birds had obviously outgrown that privilege. However, that didn’t stop them chasing after one of the adult Great Crested Grebes and trying their luck to see if they could climb aboard. The adult did not seem very impressed.
There were a few other birds around as well. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes, but would not show itself. Amongst the masses of Greylag Geese, we found a few Egyptian Geese as well. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned round just in time to see it disappear over the trees. Then, with time running out, we headed back to the car.
There was still one last surprise left in the day. As we approached the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders in a garden. Suddenly, next to it in the tree, a Spotted Flycatcher appeared. We watched it swooping out, sallying forth after insects before wheeling back and landing in the tree again. After a little while, we realised that there were actually two Spotted Flycatchers in the same tree, presumably a pair. It was great to stand and watch them feeding, and a lovely way to wrap up the day.