Category Archives: Broads

12th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was rather cloudy all day and very breezy again, but at least it stayed dry. With birds we wanted to try to see in the Brecks and down in the Broads, we decided to venture further afield today.

Our first target for the day was Stone Curlew. At the end of the summer, they gather together in big post breeding flocks in the Brecks. Numbers typically peak in September and start to decline in October as birds move off for the winter, but we figured we should still be able to find some of them here.

As we drove down the road, we could see several birds in the field the other side of the hedge and a glance over confirmed that there was a mixture of Stone Curlews and Lapwings. Unfortunately there is nowhere to stop here, so we continued on to try another site, in the knowledge that we could always come back if need be.

Stopping at a gate overlooking a large area of open fields, we quickly located two Stone Curlews. They were some distance over and facing away from us, into the wind, sheltering behind a line of green vegetation. Still it was a good start and we had a look at them through the scopes, so we could make out their staring yellow irises and short, black-tipped yellow bills.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – we found two at the first place we stopped to scan

As we stood here watching the Stone Curlew, several small flocks of Song Thrushes, Redwings and Skylarks flew over our heads. As we had seen yesterday, birds were on the move again today – with their migration visible even down here in the Brecks.

With Stone Curlew in the bag, we decided to have a go and see if we could find a closer one. We drove over to another field they have been favouring this autumn. The weedy vegetation here has grown up in recent weeks and there are more places to hide, but it didn’t take long to find another Stone Curlew, this one much closer than the two we had seen earlier. We edged along the path beside the field so as not to disturb it, to where we could set up all the scopes and admire it.

While everyone had a good look at this Stone Curlew in the scope, we scanned the vegetation more carefully. On each sweep, we located another one hiding in the weeds until we had found at least four Stone Curlews here. Looking out to the bare stony ground beyond, we spotted another four Stone Curlews hiding up against a small ridge of earth.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – we found several closer ones at the next place we stopped

After getting great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to scan the pig fields nearby. In the first field, several Egyptian Geese were walking around the pig troughs in the middle. A Stock Dove flew in and dropped down out of view with the Woodpigeons in the middle.

At the second set of pig fields, we could see a very large flock of gulls asleep in the middle. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with a few Black-headed Gulls and a single Common Gull. Scanning through them more carefully, we could see a larger gull asleep, half hidden in with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. It had a paler mantle, a bit too dark for a Herring Gull, and through the scope we could see its comparatively plain white head, with just a few pencil streaks,  When it opened its eye, it had a pale iris and a noticeable reddish orbital ring. It was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull – asleep in with the Lesser Black-backeds

It felt like it was brightening up and for a second we could feel a bit of the sun’s warmth in the air. Combined with the brisk wind, we thought it might be a good day to try to see a Goshawk up enjoying the breeze. On our way round, we stopped briefly to look at a flock of Chaffinches in some small bushes by the road and found two Bramblings in with them.

By the time we got round to a high spot overlooking the forest, the warmth in the air had disappeared again and it was back to cold, grey and windy. As we got out of the car, it was clear there was very little aerial activity over the trees and it didn’t help that there was a pheasant shoot under way a couple of fields over which was very noisy and causing a lot of disturbance, with vehicles and dogs along the edge of the trees.

A Mistle Thrush flew across over the edge of the trees in front of us, and two unseasonal House Martins circled over – most of them have already left, off to Africa for the winter. We stood and watched for a few minutes and a few Common Buzzards circled up over the trees but never gained much height. A Sparrowhawk shot across, skimming above the treetops. We had a lot of ground we wanted to cover today, so we decided to move on and get away from the noise!

There has been a Rose-coloured Starling lingering on a housing estate on the outskirts of Norwich for the last few days, so on our way across to the Broads, we decided to call in for a quick look. It turned out it had been hiding in the back garden of one of the houses today, not visible from outside, but the homeowner was very kindly letting people in for a quick look whenever it appeared on the lawn. Unfortunately, it was only coming down to feed every 20-30 minutes and then only lingering there very briefly.

When we arrived, there were already several people waiting. Not long afterwards, the Rose-coloured Starling reappeared down on the lawn, the front door opened and everyone rushed in for a look. Unfortunately, due to the viewing angle, only the first few people inside could see the lawn where the bird was feeding. Only half the group got a quick look at the Rose-coloured Starling, before it flew up and disappeared into the hedge again.

We filed back outside and waited to see if there might be another showing, but it looked like the homeowner had taken a break for lunch and was no longer keeping an eye on the garden, so we decided to head on elsewhere instead.

Gadwall

Gadwall – the connoisseur’s duck, on the pool by Reception Hide

It wasn’t too far from here to Strumpshaw Fen, where we stopped for our lunch on the picnic tables by Reception Hide. The front of the pool was packed with ducks, mostly Gadwall which we stopped to admire, along with a few Mallard and a couple of Teal. The resident feral Black Swan eventually appeared with the Mute Swans, before swimming over to the front and climbing out onto the bank to preen. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds beyond.

A steady stream of Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming in to the feeders. A sharper call alerted us to a Marsh Tit which shot in, grabbed a sunflower seed and flew over to an elder bush nearby to eat it. It came in several times over lunch, at one point joined by a second Marsh Tit, giving us a chance to get a good look at them. A Siskin flew over calling too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – two kept coming in to the feeders over lunch time

After lunch, we headed round to Buckenham Marshes. As we drove down the road, a Red Kite was hanging over one of the fields and was we crossed the railway line, two more appeared over the grazing marsh right in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – one of two, over the grazing marshes

Scanning from the gate, we could see a few geese out on the grazing marsh and through the scopes we could see there were several groups of Canada Geese and Pink-footed Geese, along with a smaller number of Greylags. There had been a report of White-fronted Geese here this morning, but we couldn’t see them at first.

As we walked down the track towards the river, we could hear them calling and looked across to see a family of three White-fronted Geese out on the grass. They were presumably just returned here for the winter, as they were calling regularly and very mobile, flying round between the different patches of marsh. Through the scope we could see there were two adults, with white surrounding the base of their bills and black bars on their grey bellied, and a juvenile which lacked those.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – a family of three, just returned for the winter

These were the first White-fronted Geese we have seen this autumn, and should be the first of many to return to the marshes here, where a few hundred normally spend the winter.

A flock of Barnacle Geese flew in next, circling round over the marshes before dropping down to feed with the Canada Geese. These are feral birds, which also spend the winter here. Despite their non-wild origins, they are still beautiful geese, so we did have an admiring look at them through the scopes.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – this flock flew in and landed with the Canada Geese

While we were watching the geese, a Common Snipe flew up from the edge of the ditch in front of us and zig-zagged off away over the marshes. There were a couple of Chinese Water Deer out in the grass too.

Continuing on along the track, we stopped to scan the pools over towards the river bank. There were lots of ducks here, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. This is a very important site for wintering Wigeon, but there are still a lot yet to return here from their Russian breeding grounds.

We had really come here to look for waders, and in particular two Pectoral Sandpipers which have been on the pools here for the last few days. We could see a little group of Ruff, including a winter satellite male with a striking white head, and several Dunlin. Through the scopes, it didn’t take long to find first one and then the second of the Pectoral Sandpipers, feeding on the mud along the edge of the vegetation just behind the water.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – one of the two juveniles at Buckenham

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the gate on the edge of the marshes. It was a bit windy out here, but we could see they were both juveniles, with neatly pale-fringed dark feathers in the upperparts. We could see there distinctive streaked breasts, sharply demarcated against their white bellies in a neat pectoral band. They were abot the same size as the Dunlin, but with shorted bills. There were several more Common Snipe feeding on the edge of the vegetation near them too.

Continuing on to the river bank, we had another quick look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the shelter of the hide. It was a bit further away, but out of the wind. Then it was time to head back, with a long drive ahead of us.

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14th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a nice bright and sunny start, and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon it stayed dry all day. With reports of a couple of interesting birds down in East Norfolk yesterday, and a few more migrants around there, we headed down to the Broads.

As we drove down towards Winterton, which was to be our first destination for the day, we scanned the fields for any sign of Cranes, but we couldn’t see any this morning. They are not so easy to find at this time of year.

When we got to Winterton, we headed straight off into the South Dunes. As we got to the first trees, we could see Blue Tits in the sycamores, but there didn’t appear to be anything else with them. Just beyond, some movement in the dense brambles on the slope turned out to be a Lesser Whitethroat, once it came out enough for us to see it. Probably a migrant, stopped here to feed on its journey south.

A little further along, there was lots of activity in the bushes. A big flock of House Sparrows was chattering away in the white flowers of old man’s beard. A Chiffchaff flew out and darted into the brambles and then a Common Whitethroat appeared there too. Another bird flew up and perched on the top of the bushes next to the sparrows – a Whinchat. It flew again, into some thick elders, where it thought we couldn’t see it. But from the right angle, we could get a clear look at it in the scope.

Whinchat

Whinchat – perched in the elders, thinking we couldn’t see it

The trees just beyond held more Blue Tits and a Blackcap. Another Chiffchaff showed nicely in a birch tree, fluttering around in the leaves looking for insects. Another bird flew out and landed in the trees higher up the slope. A Redstart – another migrant breaking its journey here. It was quite hard to see, perched motionless in the leaves, until it flew again, darting across the path and disappearing round the back of some oaks the other side.

We walked round to the other side of the trees, but there was no further sign of the Redstart. However, we could see two crows feeding on the grassy slope of the dunes across the valley. They were noticeably grey around the nape and through the scope we could see they were Hooded Crow hybrids. One had more grey on it than the other, but neither had enough, in the right places to be a pure Hooded Crow. They intergrade fairly commonly with Carrion Crows, which was clearly the case with these two. Interesting birds to see anyway.

Hooded Crow hybrids

Hooded Crow hybrids – feeding in the dunes

As we carried on south, there were several more warblers in the bushes – it was nice to see a few migrants here, despite the SW winds. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling, possibly on their way south.

There had been a Barred Warbler here yesterday, but when we got to the bushes where it was last seen we found several people looking, but no sign of the bird. Our second Lesser Whitethroat of the morning showed nicely on the outside of the hawthorns, eating blackberries, and while we were watching it a Sparrowhawk circled up over the houses at the top of the ridge. Another Chiffchaff was flitting about in the bushes too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – feeding up, in the birches

When we heard Swallows alarm calling, we looked up to see a flock flying over followed a few seconds later by a Hobby. It was a lovely clear view as it flew past at eye level, before climbing up and disappearing over the ridge. As it banked, we could see its orange-red trousers.

There were quite a few butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, mostly various whites. On the walk back, a Grayling basked on the brambles, angling itself to catch the sun and a Small Copper landed nearby, down in the grass.

Grayling

Grayling – basking in the brambles

A Reeve’s Muntjac was feeding in the bushes half way up the slope. It stopped eating, stared at us for a minute or so, and then resumed its lunch. It seemed completely unconcerned by us passing close by.

Muntjac

Reeve’s Muntjac – stood and stared at us

As we got back to the road, it had clouded over and it felt like the wind had picked up a little, although we had been sheltered from it in the valley. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to continue on into the North Dunes, to see if we could find a Wheatear. However, as we walked through the dunes, we were surprised to find almost no birds at all, not even a Meadow Pipit or a Linnet!

We got as far as the ‘east pond’, but it was cool and breezy here now and there were no signs of any Willow Emerald around the single small sallow. These damselflies are only very recent colonists in the UK and this can be a good place to see them. Up at the top of the dunes just beyond, we had a great panoramic view, but once again there was a surprising lack of  birds. We decided to head back.

On our way back past the ‘east pond’, we at least had a brief view of two Willow Emerald damselflies around the sallow, although they quickly disappeared back in. There were several Common Darters which were more obliging, one or two Migrant Hawkers buzzing round, and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly down in the rushes in the edge of the water.

When we got back to the car park, it was time for lunch. As we ate, looking out to sea next to the boat sheds, a damselfly flew in and landed right at our feet. It was a Willow Emerald! It narrowly avoided being trodden on and flew up to bask on one of the sheds where we had a much better view of it than the two we had seen briefly earlier.

Willow Emerald

Willow Emerald – basked briefly on one of the boat sheds

There were a few Mediterranean Gulls moving offshore, flying north along the coast. Two landed on the sea, an adult with bright red bill, black bandit mask and clean white wing tips, and a more subtle first winter.

After lunch, we headed inland to Potter Heigham to look for wildfowl and any waders. There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing meadows as we made our way in, accompanied by a pair of Egyptian Geese.

From up on the bank, we could scan the pools and we immediately spotted several Ruff out on the mud and a good number of Common Snipe around the edges of the reeds. Two Common Sandpipers were working their way round different parts of the shore. A flock of Golden Plover flew up and circled round calling and another group of smaller waders flew in and landed on the mud in the middle – nine Ringed Plover accompanied by a single Dunlin.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – flying round over the pools

There were plenty of ducks here too, though the majority of the drakes are currently in their dull eclipse plumage, so they are not looking their best. Still, we could see a nice selection of Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon.

As we continued round on the bank, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the back of the grazing marshes in the distance, the other side of the channel. Their high pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese high overhead. Flocks of these geese have been seen along the coast, returning from Iceland for the winter, in the last few days. These might well have just been returning here too, as this area is a regular roost site for Pink-footed Geese in the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – likely fresh arrivals just back from Iceland

When we got to the river bank over the far side of the pools, we looked back to see a Hobby over hanging in the air over the grazing marshes the other side. It kept swooping down behind the trees before flying up again, presumably catching dragonflies low over the wet grass.

The pools over on this side have dried out a lot over the summer, but there are still some nice areas of water. When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to find one asleep in some small tufts of grass on the edge of the mud. Three Green Sandpipers were feeding in one of the pools, along with a Ruff.

Otherwise, there were also more geese and ducks on this side, including a smart drake Wigeon back in breeding plumage already. A large group of Cormorants were sleeping on one of the islands.

The cloud had thickened progressively through the afternoon and the sky was now rather grey. We decided to walk back. On the way, we found two more Green Sandpipers on one of the other pools. A smart grey-winged male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the drier areas of the marshes.

With a long journey ahead of us, we decided to head for home. More again tomorrow…

26th Aug 2018 – Late Summer Broads

A Private Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. Given all the good weather this summer, it was disappointing that the day we were to go out was one of the few with rain forecast. Still it stayed dry all morning and the heavy rain helpfully held off until we had almost finished. It didn’t put us off getting out anyway, and we had a nice day out.

Having met in Wroxham, we headed over to Potter Heigham marshes to start the morning. Several of the pools have largely dried out over the summer, but some still have water in them. We headed straight down to the corner and up onto the bank so we could see over the reeds.

On the first pool we checked, there were several Ruff feeding around the muddy edges of the water, all in grey-brown non-breeding plumage now. A Green Sandpiper flew in calling and dropped down on the mud too.

There were lots of ducks, mostly asleep on the drier islands, mainly Mallard and Gadwall plus a few Teal, all in drab eclipse plumage now, as well as several Greylags and Egyptian Geese. We checked through the ducks carefully, but there was no sign of any Garganey with these ones. This is a good site for Garganey and they probably breed here, although it is very hard to prove for sure. Several Little Grebes were out on the water.

Moving on to the next pool round, there were more waders here, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. We could hear a Greenshank calling in the distance, and we found another one feeding here. It was joined by a Spotted Redshank, a dusky grey-brown juvenile. Through the scope, we could see its long needle-fine bill.

Greenshank

Greenshank – one of several at Potter Heigham today

Two Ringed Plovers dropped in on one of the muddy islands. A Common Snipe was feeding at the back, against the reeds, probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, and a Water Rail appeared just behind it from out of the reeds. Two Sedge Warblers were working their way along the back edge of the reeds too – we could see their bold white superciliums through the scope.

As we carried on round, we looked across to see two Kestrels hovering over the grazing marshes, with a third perched in a dead tree nearby. A young Marsh Harrier circled low over the reeds beyond, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting golden orange head, and two Common Buzzards appeared above the wood in the distance.

There were lots of hirundines feeding out over the pools, Swallows and House Martins, presumably gathering to feed up before they look to depart for Africa for the winter. As we walked along the river bank, we heard some of the Swallows alarm calling and looked up to see a Hobby shooting past, before heading away over the river.

There were more waders on the pools on this side. We found several more Spotted Redshanks, all juveniles, and Green Sandpipers. Two more Greenshanks flew off calling. A single Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the deeper water on one of the pools.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – two juveniles with a single Ruff

Several Tufted Duck and a Common Pochard were nice additions for the day’s list. A couple of Cormorants were drying their wings on one of the islands. Two Yellow Wagtails flew up from behind reeds but dropped down again quickly, before everyone could get onto them.

When we got to the last of the pools, we turned to walk back. We still hadn’t found a Garganey, so we stopped to have another look through the ducks on the way. Three smaller ducks were asleep on the bank at the back of one of the pools. Two were Teal, but the third was a bit larger and even though it had its bill tucked in we could see it had a bolder pale supercilium stretching behind the eye, a Garganey.

Even though it was dry this morning, it was still rather cool and breezy. There were not many insects to see today, given the weather, but we did find a nice male Ruddy Darter basking on the path out of the wind on our way back.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – basking on the path, out of the wind

Our next destination was Buckenham Marshes, over in the Yare Valley. When we got out of the car, it was now starting to spit with rain, though thankfully not enough to stop us exploring.

The walk down along the access track towards the river was fairly quiet until we got nearer to the far end. A young Chinese Water Deer appeared in the middle of the grazing marsh. It ran a short distance, then stopped to look around. When it set off again, it ran straight towards us, stopping just the other side of the ditch and looking at us from behind some vegetation, before speeding away across the grass. Two Red Kites circled up over the wood on the other side of the river.

Chinese Water Deer

Chinese Water Deer – ran straight towards us across the grazing marshes

As we carried on towards the river, we stopped several times to scan the pool at far end. There were lots of Lapwings hiding in the vegetation around the edges and several Ruff feeding in the shallows. Two juvenile Dunlin, with black-spotted belly patches, were picking around on a muddy strip in the middle. A careful scan revealed several Common Snipe around the margins, but we couldn’t find the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days.

There have been some Whinchats here too, but we couldn’t find those either as we walked out, and we presumed they were keeping down out of the wind. We found a sheltered spot in the lee of the hide at the end and quickly located one of the Whinchats on the fence below the river bank. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, noting its bold pale supercilium, before it dropped down out into the grass out of view.

Whinchat

Whinchat – 1 of the 3 at Buckenham today

While we were scanning the pool from here, one of the group spotted some small birds down in the short vegetation out in the middle of the grazing marsh, where it had been mown. A smart male Stonechat was perched on a small stem and eventually two streaky juvenile Stonechats appeared out of the grass close to it.

The birds were feeding down on the ground in a damp depression in the field, so they were hard to see, but at least one Whinchat eventually appeared in the vegetation with the Stonechats. Eventually they all flew up out of the grass and landed on the taller thistles on the next block of grazing marsh which had not been cut. Now we could see there were actually three Whinchats here.

While we were watching the Whinchats, a small wader appeared down at the front corner of the pool. Through the scope, we could see it was the Wood Sandpiper – it had presumably been feeding behind the taller vegetation along the front edge, where we couldn’t see it. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its pale spangled upperparts and bold pale supercilium, before it disappeared again.

We made our way back to the car and headed round to the reserve at Strumpshaw Fen for lunch next. We could hear Long-tailed Tits and a Chiffchaff calling in the car park when we arrived. On our way to Reception Hide, we stopped to look at the Feeders. A steady stream of tits were coming and going constantly, including one or two Marsh Tits and a Coal Tit too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to the feeders by the reception hide

We ate our lunch in Reception Hide, looking out over the pool in front. There were lots of ducks here, once again all in eclipse, and the resident Black Swan was feeding out in the middle. After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was spitting with rain now, but it was thankfully still light.

There was not much to see immediately from Fen Hide when we arrived. Two Grey Herons flew in and a lone Teal landed in the middle of the water, standing motionless for a couple of minutes looking nervous, before flying off again. Scanning the cut reeds below the hide carefully, we found three Common Snipe hiding in the vegetation. They were very well camouflaged and hard to see until two of them started feeding.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – very well camouflaged in the cut reed

As we carried on round to Tower Hide, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming on the river, still looking smart in breeding plumage. Looking out over the pools in the reeds on the way, we spooked several large flocks of mainly Gadwall. A Green Sandpiper flew off with one group.

There were lots more ducks from the hide, particularly a good number of Shoveler. Even though they are all in brown eclipse plumage, their distinctive large bills still give them away instantly. There were several Ruff feeding around the muddy edges, and a few Lapwings.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding in front of Tower Hide

Three juvenile Marsh Harriers circled up out in the reedbed, despite the rain. They seemed to be playing, chasing each other.

There were several Grey Herons around the pool and we had literally just remarked that we had not seen any sign of one the Great White Egrets which have been here in recent days when one of them flew up out of the reeds. It flew back away from us at first, then circled round, giving us a good view of its long yellow bill, before it dropped down into the reeds again.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew round before landing back in the reeds

With a couple more places we wanted to visit this afternoon, we headed back to the car and drove round to Ormesby Little Broad. The rain was picking up now, and as we walked out along the nature trail towards the broad it was all quiet in the trees. We had a quick look out at the broad from the platform at the end, which held several large rafts of Coot and a few Great Crested Grebes. We didn’t linger here though and on the walk back a Treecreeper was calling from somewhere in the trees.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – a common bird on the Broads

Our last stop was at Rollesby Broad. Thankfully we didn’t have far to walk here – we could see the broad from the car park – but unfortunately it was now drizzling harder, blowing towards us, and visibility out across the water was poor.

We could see several terns in the mist right at the far end, but they were very hard to make out clearly against the reeds and trees. Two or three pale silvery grey Common Terns stood out, but there seemed to be two or three smaller, darker birds with them. At one point, two of them circled up above the tree line and we were able to confirm they were Black Terns, but they were still not easy for everyone to see.

Thankfully one of the Black Terns then came up to our end of the broad, and we could see it properly. It was a juvenile – with sooty grey upperparts, darker on the mantle, and a black cap. Despite the weather, we could see it was flying much more buoyantly, dipping down to the water’s surface to pick for food. When it made its way back down the broad, we headed back to the car.

It was time to call it a day now – we had enjoyed a very successful day in the Broads and the weather could do its worst now.

24th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 4

Day 4 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. After three days up on the North Norfolk coast, we headed down to the Broads – not least because there were several good birds to see down there. It was thankfully less windy than yesterday but, after spitting on and off from late morning, it finally started to rain around 3pm, unusually around the time it was forecast!

It was a long drive down to the Broads this morning. A Pallid Harrier had been found on the coast between Horsey and Winterton yesterday and was reported to be still around today, so we headed straight over there first. We parked in the car park at Winterton and set off north through the dunes.

We could see four or five people standing on the top of a tall dune in the distance and we met one of the locals coming back who told us that was the best place to head for first, even though the bird had headed off north. As we made our way over the dunes, there were Wheatears everywhere, flying off in all directions ahead of us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were lots in the North Dunes today

When we got up onto the top of the tall dune, the message was the same as we had heard earlier – the Pallid Harrier had been seen flying off north and lost to view. Still, it had been back once or twice already, so this seemed like the best place to stand for now.

There were several dog walkers out this morning and one of them flushed a small group of Ring Ouzels, which flew off ahead of them and landed in the tops of a small group of scrubby trees down in the bottom of the dunes. We just got them in the scope before they were flushed again and flew off further north.

While we were all watching the Ring Ouzels, one of the group asked ‘what’s this bird over here?’. We turned around to see the Pallid Harrier a short distance away! It was chasing a Skylark over the dunes, twisting and turning. The Skylark got away and the Pallid Harrier turned towards the dune where we were standing and flew right past just below us. Wow!

Pallid Harrier 2

Pallid Harrier – came right past just below where we were standing

We could see the Pallid Harrier‘s pale collar, set off by the dark ‘boa’ just behind. It was much slimmer winged and more streamlined than a Hen Harrier too. It headed off south towards the car park, then turned and started to make its way back, along the seaward edge of the dunes. It came past us again, a bit more distant this time, and we watched as it disappeared away to the north. It was clearly doing a regular circuit of the dunes, between the beach car park and Horsey to the north.

Having enjoyed such fantastic views of the Pallid Harrier, we set off down into the dunes to try to get a better look at the Ring Ouzels now. There were more Wheatears here and a male Stonechat, which perched up obligingly in the top of a small tree next to the path.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male perched up obligingly near the path

Before we even got to where we thought the Ring Ouzels had gone, we flushed one from a bramble clump ahead of us. It flew off over the crest of the dune calling. When we got to the top, we saw three Ring Ouzels fly again, from a ridge further over. They seemed to be very flighty today. We swung round in a wide arc to the north, to try to find somewhere to try to view them from a safe distance, but they were off again.

This time the Ring Ouzels, now four of them, flew across and landed in front of a large dune where some people were sitting looking for the Pallid Harrier. We made our way round to the back of the dune and crept up the side. When we looked over the edge we could see the Ring Ouzels on the next dune ridge over. They were feeding happily and we had a good look at them through the scope, several males and at least one female, before they dropped down the other side of the ridge out of view.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – at least four of them showed very well from a discrete distance

As we walked up to join the others on the top of the dune, they alerted us to the fact that the Pallid Harrier was doing another pass behind us. We followed it as it disappeared off to the south again, down to the car park. A few minutes later, it was back and we watched as the Pallid Harrier headed off north low over the dunes. Great views again! We had been spoiled now, with the performance the Pallid Harrier had put on for us, so we decided to move on and see what else we could find.

Pallid Harrier 1

Pallid Harrier – we watched it do another couple of passes through the dunes

As we made our way back south through the dunes, there didn’t seem to be as many birds as on our way up earlier, particularly we didn’t see any more Wheatears. Probably they had all been flushed out of this part of the dunes by all the people walking through. There were lots of Skylarks singing and we did come across a smart male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a small tree.

We carried on south, over the road and on into the south dunes. As we got up to the first trees, we could see a small warbler flitting around in the bare branches and picking at the leaf buds which were just starting to open. It was a Lesser Whitethroat and we watched it for a couple of minutes as it worked its way through the branches. A Chiffchaff flew in and started singing from higher up in the same tree.

A little further on, we found a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap. The Willow Warbler was singing from time to time, a beautiful, sweet descending scale, and showed well in some low hawthorns. The Blackcap kept low in the brambles, subsinging.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – we saw several in the south dunes

As we continued on south, there were more warblers in the trees and bushes. Another Lesser Whitethroat, another couple of Willow Warblers, another Blackcap. A Common Whitethroat started singing but disappeared off ahead of us.

There were not many birds moving today. We did see a small number of Swallows, but only about 4-5, heading north through the dunes, and next to nothing else. There were plenty of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits in the dunes.

Linnet

Linnet – still quite common in the dunes

As we turned to head back, a male Stonechat was singing from the brambles in the middle of the Valley. A particularly bright, lemon-yellow breasted Willow Warbler was flitting around in one of the small oaks in the next clump of trees. We made our way slowly back to the car.

News had come through that the Black-winged Stilt, which had been found at Potter Heigham yesterday, was still present today. So we made our way over there next. When we got there, it was time for lunch. As we ate, a male Marsh Harrier was displaying high over our heads, calling.

Scanning the first pool we passed, we spotted a very smart drake Garganey out in the middle, so we stopped to have a look at it through the scope. There were lots of other ducks on here too – Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Plus both Little and Great Crested Grebes, both in breeding plumage.

We had just started to walk on when we received a phone call to say the Black-winged Stilt had just flown over our way. Sure enough, we found it on the next pool, quite close, down towards the front. We got it in the scope, noting its black mantle and black markings on the head, suggesting it is a male.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt – this lone male was very mobile around the pools today

The water levels are quite high here at the moment, so there are not that many places for it to feed and it appears to be very mobile. The Black-winged Stilt made its way along the edge of a flooded grassy island, then flew over to the next pool. We watched it on there for a few minutes before it was off again, and flew over to the pools at the back by the river.

From here we could see two more Garganey on the bank at the back of this pool. A flock of hirundines was hawking over the water, mainly Swallows and House Martins. One Common Swift was in with them.

We were told that a couple of Spoonbills had flown in and landed on one of the other pools, along the access track. We walked back there but couldn’t see them at first – they were not where they had been earlier. Then we picked them up, feeding with their heads down half hidden behind a line of reeds. Eventually they put their heads up briefly and we could just about see them properly.

There were lots more duck on these pools and a group of five Garganey were down towards the front. There were four smart drakes, with bold white stripes on their heads, and a single browner female. It is great to see groups of Garganey like this – a scene more like spring in the Mediterranean than the UK. There was also a single drake Pintail lingering here.

Garganey

Garganey – a flock of five, including four drakes

It was starting to rain now, but we wanted to see if we could find any Cranes. We headed back past the car park. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing from the reeds and then we heard a Reed Warbler too – much more structured and rhythmical.

Continuing on, we came to an open area where we could scan a large expanse of grazing marsh. The first thing we set eyes on was a pair of Cranes over in the distance. We got them in the scope and there was no mistaking them. As it was raining harder now, we made our way back to the car. A Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly from deep in the bushes out in the reeds.

Having achieved all our targets here, we decided to head back towards North Norfolk and stop to see if we could find anything from the car on the way. We made our way up to Cromer and turned west along the coast road.

Our first detour was at West Runton where we had a quick look in the paddocks along the road down to the beach. A single Wheatear was perched on one of the fence posts, looking decidedly soggy. It was too wet to have a look at Beeston Bump now, so we continued on to Salthouse and drove up the Beach Road. A single Wheatear was out in the grass just north of the main drain.

Our last detour was at Cley, where once again we headed down along the road to the beach. We stopped at the bend and scanned out along the fence line. The first bird we set eyes on was a cracking male Whinchat, preening in the wet. A great bonus at the end of the day! There were also dozens of Swallows here too, perching on the fence or hawking low over the reeds, along with several Sand Martins and one or two House Martins.

Hirundines

Hirundines – gathered on the fence in the rain

We had a quick look at the sea from the beach shelter, but there was not much happening offshore. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past calling.

We had enjoyed a great day out, despite the rain setting in later, and see a really good selection of birds. We decided to call time and head for home.

10th Feb 2018 – Winter, Broads & Brecks #2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours, and it was down to the Norfolk Broads today. It was a lovely sunny start to the day, although it clouded over late morning and then tried to rain on and off in the afternoon. Thankfully the rain was only light, just spitting with drizzle at times, so it didn’t stop us getting out.

Our first destination saw us driving along the coast road past Horsey. We had hoped we might find some Cranes along here, particularly on a lovely bright morning, but there was no sign of any today. We found a convenient layby to park and stretch our legs. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadows but they were very jumpy, constantly flying up and landing again. A light aircraft flew round over the fields, possibly the source of some of the nervousness.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – flying round, very nervous today

There were also lots of Lapwings and a few Fieldfares out on the grass. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling over the reeds behind us. A couple of large herds of Mute Swans were out in the fields. With all the disturbance, there were not as many birds out here as there often are, so we moved quickly on.

Our next stop was round at Ludham. As we climbed up onto the river bank, we could see a small group of swans out on the grazing marshes. A closer look with the scope confirmed there were six Whooper Swans with a similar number of Mute Swans. We could see the prominent yellow wedge running down the bills to a sharp point on the Whooper Swans, and they were not much smaller than the accompanying Mutes.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – 4 of the 6 out on the grazing marshes again today

Three Stock Doves were out in the field next to the cow barn and a couple of Pied Wagtails were picking around the muddy farm yard. Scanning the grass, we could see lots of Lapwing and Golden Plover and several Chinese Water Deer too. Looking along the river, a pair of Gadwall were swimming with a few Coot. But there were no Cranes here today either. It was a lovely morning and the footpath along the river bank was very busy with dog walkers, which meant there was presumably too much disturbance. Were we destined to miss out on the Cranes everywhere today?

We moved on again and headed south. Looking out of the window as we were driving along the road, we finally found our first Cranes of the day, standing in the field where we had seen a big group the other day. At first we could only see five together, on the edge of the maize strip. Then we looked round behind us, just in time to see another 14 Cranes circling in the sky. They disappeared off towards the river, dropping down behind some trees. We didn’t see where they had come from but someone was shooting pigeons a couple of fields over, so may have flushed them.

Common Cranes 1

Common Cranes – this flock of 14 flew round and headed off towards the river

Looking back at the original group, more Cranes started to emerge from the maize strip. Scanning the surrounding fields, we also found another pair nearby. The more we looked, the more we found and by the end we had 15 Cranes together in the field, and there could easily have still been some hiding in the crop. It was quite a sight!

Common Cranes 2

Common Cranes – several of the 15 which were still left down in the fields

There was even some more action. At one point, six of the Cranes flew up and circled round. There was lots of bugling, the calls echoing across the fields. Two flew off, but four of the Cranes dropped back down with the others again. Great stuff!

Common Cranes 3

Common Cranes – six of the group flew round bugling

Having finally found some Cranes – and enjoyed cracking views of a really good number to boot (it is not often we see large flocks such as this here, a significant proportion of the total Broadland population!), we headed on, down to the Yare valley. As we walked down to the gate and scanned the marshes at Cantley, it was rather disappointing. There were almost no geese here today – just a single Egyptian Goose which doesn’t really count! Otherwise, all we could see were Rooks, Lapwings and a few Mute Swans.

Darker clouds were gathering to the south, so we didn’t hang around here too long and made our way back to the car. As we were loading up, we looked across to the nearby sugar beet processing factory and noticed a small shape on the side of the tall steaming chimney. It was a Peregrine. Presumably it had found somewhere to keep warm?

Peregrine

Peregrine – finding a warm spot on the chimney of Cantley Beet Factory

At this point it started to spit with rain. We decided it would be a good moment for an early lunch, so we made our way round to Strumpshaw Fen. As we walked out to the Reception Hide, we stopped to look at all the tits coming down to the feeders A Marsh Tit made several visits as we watched, mostly dropping down to the ground where some seed had been sprinkled. A Jay came up from the path too as we arrived, and a Siskin flew over calling.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – making regular visits down to the ground below the feeders

Looking out across the Reception Hide pool, there were lots of Gadwall and Coot on the water today. A little group of Shoveler didn’t linger and a couple of flocks of Teal flew over without landing. The Black Swan was in hiding today. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds. As well as providing a very welcome hot drink, the Reception Hide also gave us great views of a very well camouflaged Common Snipe feeding in the cut reeds in front.

After lunch, the rain had stopped, so we headed back out towards the coast. A quick detour off the Acle Straight towards Halvergate produced four Bewick’s Swans out on the grazing marshes. This is a traditional stop off point for swans heading back towards the continent in late winter, so can often be a good place to look late in the season, when the wintering birds have departed. We could see immediately that they were small and short-necked compared to the Mute and Whooper Swans we had seen earlier and through the scope we could see the more restricted, squared off yellow patch on their bills.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – these four were on the grazing marshes near Halvergate

Continuing on to Great Yarmouth, we quickly located the Glossy Ibis in its usual field at Bure Park. It was very busy feeding down in the wet grass, finding a few worms while we watched. A wet grassy park in Great Yarmouth in winter must be a far cry from the marshes of southern Spain, but it seemed to be doing OK with a few Moorhens and Black-headed Gulls for company.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis – feeding in the wet grassy fields in front of the car park

After a quick stop to catch up with the Glossy Ibis, we made our way on further south again, down to Waveney Forest. It was spitting with rain now but it was relatively sheltered from the wind in the trees. Looking out across Haddiscoe Island from ‘the mound’, it appeared rather desolate at first. The gates and posts where the Buzzards like to perch were conspicuously empty but scanning more carefully, we quickly found our target. The Rough-legged Buzzard was standing down in the grass today, out in the middle.

It was rather distant, and a bit misty now, but we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard’s pale crown and white spotting in the upperparts, contrasting with its black throat and upper breast and black patches either side of its belly. This is a returning adult, which comes back to these grazing marshes each winter, from its breeding grounds in the arctic.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – out in the mist on Haddiscoe Island

The cherry on the cake was duly provided when the Rough-legged Buzzard took off and flew low across the grass, flashing its distinctive white tail with a contrasting black terminal band. It turned into the wind and started hovering, like a giant Kestrel in slow motion. It repeated this several times – Rough-legged Buzzards are habitual hoverers when they hunt, unlike the more familiar Common Buzzard which will hover only occasionally. After hunting for a few minutes, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew back across and landed again down on the grass close to where it had been earlier.

We took that as our cue to leave. We weren’t sure whether we would make it out to Stubb Mill tonight, given the weather, but by the time we got to the car park at Hickling the rain had eased off again. We decided to give it a go. We took the direct route out today, along the road. Two Egyptian Geese were in one of the fields and four Cormorants flew over.

When we got to Stubb Mill, we immediately spotted two Cranes out on the grass. We had a good look at them through the scope, walking round, before they eventually flew round and dropped down in the reeds at the back. Shortly afterwards, someone spotted another pair, out in one of the meadows further over. And we could hear more Cranes bugling over towards the reserve – based on the noise, another two pairs at least.

Common Cranes 4

Common Crane – one of two pairs out at Stubb Mill this evening

We had already amassed quite a total of Cranes on our travels today. Then another five flew in, low over the grass in front of the watchpoint, and disappeared over towards the reserve. That took us to a massive 38 seen and several more Cranes heard today!

Common Cranes 5

Common Crane – another five flew in to roost at dusk

There were at least 5-6 Marsh Harriers in already, perched out in the bushes in the middle of the reeds or circling round overhead, but others were probably keeping down given the weather. Several more flew in while we were watching. A male Merlin shot across very low, only briefly breaking above the reeds, unfortunately too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A ghostly grey male Hen Harrier appeared in the distance, flying round above the bushes in the reeds where the Marsh Harriers were gathered for a couple of minutes, visible in the scope despite the gathering gloom.

Given the weather, the light was fading fast tonight. We had fared far better than we thought we might at Stubb Mill this evening, it was well worth coming out here. We decided to call it a night and head for home.

7th Feb 2018 – Wintry Broads

A Private Tour down in the Norfolk Broads today. After snow overnight, the wintry showers were supposed to die out through the morning and it was meant to brighten up. It never really happened that way, remaining mostly cloudy all day. but at least we were able to largely dodge the showers until late in the day. And it didn’t stop us seeing some good birds.

After meeting in Hickling, we headed round towards the coast. A slow drive stopping to scan some of the fields which the Cranes favour failed to yield the hoped for reward, but it was still cold and cloudy so they were probably hiding somewhere sheltered. We stopped in a convenient layby and got out to scan the fields.

There were a couple of large herds of Mute Swans here, on either side of the road, but nothing else with them. Further over, we could see a hundred or so Pink-footed Geese at the back of the grazing marshes, which were covered in Lapwing and Golden Plover. A Green Sandpiper called over towards the reeds, but we couldn’t see it. A Common Snipe flew up from the grass. We had a good look through the scope at one of the Fieldfares feeding among the molehills.

There were a few raptors too, starting to wake up. Three Marsh Harriers circled up out of the reeds and a Common Buzzard perched on the bank, trying to warm itself. A couple of Kestrels were perched on the wires.

Continuing on our way, we headed inland in search of more swans. As we parked at our next stop and got out of the car, we could see a little group of no more than half a dozen out on the grazing marshes. A quick look through the scope confirmed they were a mixture of Mute Swans together with a couple of Whooper Swans. There were a few more down out of view in a ditch, so we decided to walk round on the river bank to try to get a better look.

From up on the bank, we scanned the grazing marshes the other side of the river and immediately spotted a Common Crane out on the grass. A second Crane was nearby, but they were half hidden behind the reeds. We had to find a gap we could see over, but we eventually got a good look at one of the Cranes through the scope.

Common Crane 1

Common Crane – one of a pair, our first of the day

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but couldn’t see them. It was cold and there was a fresh breeze, so they were keeping well tucked down this morning. A Reed Bunting called and showed itself briefly. A Cetti’s Warbler was more typically elusive. However, we had great views of a Grey Wagtail which flew in and landed in a nearby farmyard, picking around the edge of a muddy puddle.

There was a better view across to the swans from up here and now we could see there were actually five Whooper Swans here. Through the scope, we could see the wedge-shaped yellow patch on their bills.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – a small mixed group with Mute Swans

We could see a number of Chinese Water Deer out on the grass too, which once again was liberally sprinkled with Lapwings and Golden Plover. Suddenly all the birds erupted, taking to the air and whirling round. There are often Marsh Harriers here, but we couldn’t see any likely culprits until one of the group spotted a couple of raptors circling high over the marshes.

It was immediately clear there was a small bird of prey and a much larger one. The smaller bird was a Sparrowhawk, which was mobbing the bigger one, but it was only as the latter turned that we could see it was not one of the usual harriers or buzzards. It was another hawk, but a really huge one, a Goshawk.

Goshawk

Goshawk – a rare bird indeed in the Broads, a real surprise

Once all the group were on it, we had a closer look at the Goshawk. As it circled, we could see it was a young bird, born last year, rather brownish. As well as the huge size, we could see the distinctive long wings with bulging secondaries, broad-based and rounded tail and protruding head.

The Sparrohawk lost interest and flew off, while the Goshawk continued to circle and drift further away. At one point, it straightened up and flew a short distance, with deep, heavy wingbeats, very different from the fast bursts of flapping of the Sparrowhawk. While we do have Goshawks in Norfolk, they are very rare in the Broads, so this was a complete surprise.Young birds are very prone to wandering though and it was apparently a good breeding season for them in 2017. A real bonus for the day!

It was cold up on the river bank, so once the Goshawk had drifted away, we headed back to the car and a chance to warm up as we drove to our next stop. The stockman was just going in to feed the cattle in the barn next to where we had parked and as he did so he flushed out a Barn Owl, which flew across in front of us, over the bank, and disappeared down on the other side of the river.

We pulled up next on the edge of some overgrown fields, sown with a seed cover crop. Here we spotted a small group of finches fly up into an oak in the hedge and quickly got the scope on one, a smart male Brambling. Unfortunately, the birds flew again before everyone got onto it.

We spent a few minutes trying to get a better look at the finches. We walked up the footpath on the edge of the field and back again, but a lot of the birds were either in the trees above our heads or had flown off over the back of the field. We could hear the nasal call of more Bramblings and the hard calls of Linnets flying over, as well as plenty of Chaffinches and a few Goldfinches. Finally, they all flew across and landed in a tree on the edge of the field, where we could all get a good look at them.

Back in the car, we had another opportunity to warm up as we drove south. A quick glance out of the window though and we spotted some dark shapes in a field in the distance. We turned round and found a convenient place to stop. Once out of the car, we could see they were Cranes, and plenty of them!

Common Crane 2

Common Cranes – feeding in a cover strip on the edge of a field

The Cranes were hard to count. A few were standing around on the edge of the field, but more were feeding in the vegetation in a tall cover strip. Through the scope, we could see some of them ripping at the tall stems, but there were several more deep in the crop – we could just see bits of grey shapes moving around inside.

As we scanned across, we could see several more Cranes around the edge of the next field. An attempt to count them all got to 26 in total, but it is very possible there were more than that, given we struggled to see how many were deep in the cover strip. This is a very impressive flock by UK standards, a significant proportion of the Broadland total in one group, great to see.

Common Crane 3

Common Cranes – we counted at least 26 in the flock, a great sight

Unfortunately, it had started to spit with wintry rain now, so we didn’t linger as long as we might have done with the Cranes, but got back in the car and moved on.

Having not found any Bewick’s Swans earlier, we headed round to Halvergate next to see if we could find any here, another regular site for them. At first, we saw several groups of Mute Swans before we spotted four smaller birds on their own on the grazing marsh. Stopping in a convenient gateway, we got out to confirm they were four Bewick’s Swans.

Bewick's Swan

Bewick’s Swan – one of four at Halvergate today

Through the scope, we could see the smaller, squared off yellow patch on the bill of the Bewick’s Swans, very different from the more extensive, wedge shaped yellow on the Whooper Swans we had seen earlier. The Bewick’s Swans were also noticeably smaller and shorter-necked.

There was now a request to find somewhere warm to have lunch or a hot drink, so after an abortive attempt to visit the pub in Halvergate, which was closed, we headed back to Acle. The hot chocolate was especially welcome today!

After a break, we resumed our quest for more birds. There has been a Glossy Ibis on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth for the last week so, as it was just about on our way, we headed over to see if we could see it. There was no sign if it in its favourite wet field, just a few Moorhens. A Kingfisher zipped low across the grass and disappeared into a ditch, unfortunately too quickly for most of the group to get onto it.

Another birder was just leaving, and helpfully pointed us a little further along the road as he passed. There was the Glossy Ibis out on the back of the grass, with a few more Moorhens for company. It promptly went to sleep, but thankfully only for a couple of minutes before waking up, preening and resuming feeding in a flooded patch in the grass. Through the scope, we could see its long, downcurved bill.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis – showing off its long, curlew-like bill when it woke up

Glossy Ibises are still quite rare but increasingly regular visitors to the UK, with ringed birds seen here in recent years known to have originated from the expanding Spanish population.

Having enjoyed nice views of the Glossy Ibis, we set off on our way again. Our next destination was Waveney Forest. As we walked in through the trees, there were several Great Tits and a single Coal Tit coming to the feeders at the cottage. A Siskin flew over calling. Deeper in the trees, a Green Woodpecker called and flew across the path in front of us, up into the trees.

We made our way over to ‘the mound’ which overlooks Haddiscoe Island. The regular returning Rough-legged Buzzard has been here for a while now, and this is generally the best place to see it from. Scanning the posts and gates out on the Island, we could see several Common Buzzards and Kestrels. What looked like the Rough-legged Buzzard was unfortunately right over the far side of the island with its back to us, and even through the scope it was hard to make out much detail. We could see a pale off white crown and pale whitish spots in the mantle and scapulars. We waited a while to see if it would turn round, or even better fly, but it didn’t.

While we waited we did spot a group of about 15 Bearded Tits swinging in the tops of the reeds, feeding on the seedheads. The sun had come out and they had found a sheltered spot which was catching some warmth in the afternoon light. We had a great look at them through the scope, and could see the grey heads and black moustaches on the males.

It was time to move on again, before we got too cold. On our way back north, we stopped on the south shore of Breydon Water. It was about an hour and a half after high tide and the water was now starting to go out. There were thousands of birds gathered on the mud on the far side – ducks, waders and gulls.

Breydon Water

Breydon Water – thousands of ducks, waders and gulls were gathered on the mud

Through the scope, we could see the birds were neatly sorted into groups. Over to the right were mostly Lapwing and Golden Plover. In the middle, shining bright white in the afternoon sun, were loads of gulls, mainly Black-headed and Common Gulls. To the left, was more of a mixture, thousands of Wigeon with waders scattered through them including Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and on the end a number of Avocets. A Great Crested Grebe swam past.

It was already getting late by the time we left Breydon Water. Given the weather, we were not planning to spend too long at Stubb Mill this evening, but we thought we would try to call in for the last half hour. Unfortunately, as we drove back north we could see dark clouds gathering and by the time we got back to Hickling, it was starting to rain. We sat in the car for a couple of minutes trying to work out whether it would clear, before deciding to call it a day.

It was a wise call, as the rain turned to sleet on the short drive back to where we had started. But despite the weather at the end, we had enjoyed a very successful if rather chilly day today. Well worth going out for!

25th Jan 2018 – Cranes, Swans & Raptors

A Winter Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. It was a glorious, sunny winter’s day, with blue skies and mostly light winds. Perfect weather to be out birding!

Our first destination was Ludham. This is a regular wintering area for Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, and we hoped to catch up with some here this morning. Numbers are lower than normal this winter, with mild weather on the continent meaning the majority of the swans have opted to remain further east this year. Still, there are a few around to see.

As we parked and got out of the car, a Chinese Water Deer was feeding out on the grazing marsh opposite, the first of many of this increasingly widespread non-native deer we would see today. A flock of Fieldfare flew up ‘tchacking’ and landed behind some barns and a Redwing called from the trees before flying down and landing on a fence where we could get a good look at it in the scope. We would see lots of these winter thrushes on our travels today too.

Chinese Water Deer

Chinese Water Deer – the first of many we would see today

As we walked up onto the river bank, a Bearded Tit called from the reeds below us and we had a quick glimpse of it as it flew a short distance over the tops of the reeds before darting back in. It did the same thing a couple more times, but you had to be really quick to see it. Several Reed Buntings flew up from the reeds too.

Suddenly we picked up the sound of swans approaching, their honking calls getting steadily louder until we picked up a flock of about thirty birds flying in over the trees. It is a wonderful sound, to hear wild swans calling as they fly in, particularly on a bright sunny winter’s morning like today. They appeared to be all Bewick’s Swans – we could see the more restricted, squared-off yellow patches on their bills as they caught the light.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – flying in to the Levels this morning

The Bewick’s Swans circled over the Levels calling, before dropping down to the grass. There were a few Mute Swans scattered over the grazing meadows, but they dropped down to join a small group of feral white geese on the edge of a small pool. The Bewick’s Swans started feeding on the grass or bathing in the pool beyond.

Scanning carefully through the Bewick’s Swans, we noticed a larger bird with them, longer-necked, and with a long wedge-shaped yellow patch on its bill, which tapered to a finer point. It was a single Whooper Swan. It didn’t appear to have come in with the Bewick’s Swans, so perhaps it was in the pool when they arrived. It was good to see the two species side by side in the scope.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – with the smaller Bewick’s Swans in the pool behind

We stood on the bank for a few minutes scanning the marshes. There were lots of Lapwings scattered about the damp grass, along with a smaller flock of Golden Plover which flushed from the field beyond and whirled round in a tight group. A smart male Marsh Harrier was hunting along the line of reeds at  the back of the grass.

With both the swans in the bag, we decided to head down to the coast next. The short drive over was fairly uneventful, but when we got down to the coast road we started to see more birds. A large herd of Mute Swans was feeding in the water-logged fields and there were loads of Lapwings and Golden Plover hiding in the young oilseed rape nearby.

We stopped in a convenient layby and got out to scan the fields. A few hundred Pink-footed Geese flew in and landed out on a grassy field opposite, with smaller groups flying in every few minutes to join them. A Red Kite circled lazily overhead and a Sparrowhawk zipped low and fast across the stubble field behind us. This is often a very good area for Common Cranes, but there were none visible feeding out in the fields here this morning.

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Common Cranes – flying round over us, bugling

Then, turning to look behind us, we noticed two huge birds flying over the trees, long necks stretched out in front and long legs trailing behind, a pair of Cranes. At first it looked like they would drop back down behind the trees, but then they turned and flew straight towards us, turning in front of us and gliding across the road. A great view and wonderful to listen to these majestic birds, their loud bugling calls are a real sound of the Broads at this time of year.

The Cranes headed out towards the coast and dropped down out of view in the distance, but a few seconds later they reappeared flying back towards us. They appeared to land on the other side of the road, a short way further north behind some reeds, so we started to pack up, intending to drive along to try to see them there. But as we turned we noticed another pair of Cranes had circled up right behind us. They started bugling too and we watched as they dropped away behind some trees.

It was all action – we didn’t know where to look! The Cranes in the Broads are getting territorial again now, reclaiming their grounds, and we appeared to be in the middle of a territorial dispute between two rival pairs. The first pair of Cranes took off again and flew back across the road, heading for the area where the second pair had just landed, with both pairs bugling. But as they approached the trees they gained height and turned away, back in the direction they had originally come from.

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Common Cranes – two pairs were flying round bugling

It is one of the great sights and sounds of the Norfolk Broads at this time of the year – watching and listening to the Cranes. These birds are part of a population which re-established itself naturally, with the first birds arriving probably as wanderers from the continent right here in 1979. They first bred successfully in 1982, after an absence from the UK of around 400 years, and have grown steadily in number since the 1990s, spreading to other parts of the country. They are not part of the ‘Great Crane Project’ which released large quantities of captive-raised Cranes onto the Somerset Levels.

After being treated to a magnificent display from the Cranes, we popped in at Waxham next. There had been a Hume’s Warbler here for several weeks and, with such good weather, we thought it worth a quick look to see if it is still hiding somewhere. We didn’t spend very long here, but there was no immediate sign of it and the trees were otherwise pretty quiet, as was the sea, so we moved swiftly on.

Our next destination was the Yare Valley. We stopped at Cantley and walked down to scan the grazing marshes. There were good numbers of Pink-footed Geese out on the grass and with careful scanning we found a small number of White-fronted Geese too, though they were mostly keeping down in the low-lying wetter patches. There was no sign of any Taiga Bean Geese here today – these birds seem to have deserted the Yare Valley already this year, having not been seen here since the very start of January.

There were lots of waders out on the grass too, mainly Lapwing. Scanning carefully through them, we found a small number of Ruff too, though they were rather distant and hard to see from here. The waders were rather jumpy anyway, but when they all took off in unison we scanned the sky and quickly found the cause – a Peregrine. It was some way off, over towards the river, and it quickly lost interest and powered off towards Buckenham.

Peregrine

Peregrine – flew past right over our heads

As well as being distant, that Peregrine was hard to see in the melee of birds which it had successfully induced. Thankfully, just a minute or so later, either that Peregrine or possibly a different appeared right over our heads, flying off towards the nearby beet factory. A much better view! We also had a good look at a female Marsh Harrier from here, standing down in the grass.

It was time for lunch, so we headed round to Strumpshaw Fen to make use of the facilities. A Mistle Thrush was singing from the top of the trees by Reception Hide, another sign that spring is on its way! With only peanuts and niger seed feeders out here at the moment, the Marsh Tits seem to have lost interest and didn’t come in today, just a steady succession of Blue and Great Tits while we ate.

There were not so many ducks on the pool here today – a few Gadwall and Mallard. The Coot were starting to squabble and fight and the resident feral Black Swan was preening itself right in front of the screen. A Marsh Harrier or two quartered the reedbed beyond periodically.

After lunch, we headed round to nearby Buckenham Marshes. It was a lovely sunny afternoon to walk out here, down towards the river, but at first sight it appeared rather quiet. The only geese on view were the local Canada Geese and feral flock of Barnacle Geese. The latter are very smart bird and got a deserved look through the scope. A handful of Greylags were asleep over the other side.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – several of the feral flock at Buckenham

On closer inspection, there were lots of Lapwing out on the grass and when they flew round at one point we noticed a good number of Ruff with them too. They landed closer to us and we managed to get a better look at them than the ones we had seen at Cantley earlier. Two much smaller Dunlin flew in land landed on a pool in the grass too.

As we got out towards the river, we found the ducks. Several Shoveler were swimming around in one of the drainage ditches, along with a couple of Wigeon and a few sleeping Teal on the bank. Further along, we could see several hundred Wigeon asleep on the main pool, with a scattering of the other two species mixed in.

Numbers of Wigeon in Norfolk appear to be down this winter too, with many of these remaining on the continent like the swans this year. We did however get a really good look at some which were feeding right next to the path as we walked out – smart ducks!

Wigeon

Wigeon – good views by the path out towards the river

There was nothing much happening down at the river, so we decided to head quickly back to the car and move on.

The last few winters, there has been an adult Rough-legged Buzzard which returns each year to Haddiscoe Island. There was no sign of it at the end of last year, but in the last few days it has reappeared. We headed down to a suitable vantage point overlooking the area it favours and scanned the posts and gates where it likes to stand.

It didn’t take long to find it. The Rough-legged Buzzard was perched on a post out in the middle. It was rather distant and face on to us at first, but we could see its rather blackish throat and upper breast, contrasting with a whitish top to the head, and black patches on either side of its belly, set off by a bold whitish band across the lower breast and down through the middle.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – the returning adult on Haddiscoe Island

The Rough-legged Buzzard then helpfully turned round and we could see the pale top to the head and liberal white speckling to the dark upperparts. At one point, it preened and we got a quick flash of the white base to its tail. Unfortunately, we were looking elsewhere when it moved to another post!

There were several Common Buzzards here too, giving us an opportunity to compare the two species. A nice pale one had extensive off-white head and underparts, lacking the contrasting dark patches underneath of the Rough-legged Buzzard. A more typical darker Common Buzzard had noticeably rich brown on breast and belly in the sunlight, not the blackish colour of the Rough-legged Buzzard.

A female Marsh Harrier passed by just in front of us and there were several Kestrels out on the posts in the middle of the island too. But we were probably still a bit too early today for any owls and we had a long journey to get back for our last stop of the day.

As we walked out along the track towards Stubb Mill, several more Redwings and Fieldfares flew out of the hedges calling, a real theme of the day. A small flock of Linnets perched in the top of a tree in the afternoon sunlight. We heard the dulcet tones of a quad bike heading out over the marshes and saw a pair of Cranes fly up. The landowner was heading out to put some feed down on his duck flight pond. The Cranes circled round and appeared to go down in front of the raptor watchpoint the other side of the old mill, so we hurried round to try to see them.

The watchpoint was unbelievably busy this evening, the busiest we have ever seen it – probably everyone was out because of the good weather. They had all spread themselves out along the bank (even leaving space for a stool to sit on), and not left anywhere for the late arrivals like us to stand, so we made ourselves rather unpopular by asking people to shuffle along and make some room. There was plenty of space for everyone, but the process involved a surprising amount of grumbling from sections of the crowd! Our apologies if we upset anyone unduly!!

When we eventually got a space to stand and set up the scope, we discovered there were two pairs of Cranes on view out on the grass this evening. We had a nice view of them on the ground, to compliment the ones we had seen flying round earlier.  Striking birds, with their long black and white necks and bustle of feathers over the tail.

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Common Cranes – one of the two pairs in front of the watchpoint this evening

When the quad bike returned, the landowner got off and came over for a chat with us about the birds and what else we had seen. We watched as several Shelduck flew in and dropped down behind the reeds to the duck pond to feed on the newly delivered grain. They were followed shortly after by one of the pairs of Cranes, the one which had left there earlier and which flew back to take advantage of the food provided.

There were raptors too. A steady stream of Marsh Harriers flew in from all directions and out to the reedbed to roost. We could see several perched in the bushes in the distance, getting ready to go in. A ringtail Hen Harrier flew in along the back of the grazing marshes and, a little later, we spotted a ghostly grey male Hen Harrier in the distance, weaving in and out of the bushes out where they roost.

There was more Crane action as birds started to fly in to roost. First a pair flew across slowly in front of us, then another pair came in over the trees just behind the watchpoint. It is always a great way to end the day, watching the Cranes flying in,  listening to them bugling and others answering from the marshes.

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Common Crane – one of the pairs, flying in at dusk

A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees by the old mill, which was the cue for us to start thinking about heading back. As we walked back, another group of eight Cranes came in over the trees, over the road, and dropped down towards the marshes beyond. It was quite a sight, against the last of the pink and orange sunset. As we got back to the car park, a Woodcock shot over, heading out to feed on the marshes. It was time for us to head for home.