Tag Archives: Broads

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.

Common Cranes 1

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.

Common Cranes 2

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.

Common Cranes 3

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.

Common Cranes 4

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.

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13th Jan 2018 – Norfolk Winter & Owls #2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today, and we headed off down to the Broads. We were back to rather grey and cloudy weather today, after the clear skies of yesterday morning, but it was not foggy and it was dry all day.

Our first destination was Ludham. When we climbed out of the car, the first birds we could see were two Mute Swans by the car park. We could see their orange bills with a prominent black knob. We had come here to look for swans, but not these ones.

We walked up onto the bank and a short distance along the path. From here, we could see more swans out on the grazing meadows behind the barns. They looked smaller than the Mute Swans we had just been looking at and through the scope we could see they had square yellow patches on their bills. They were Bewick’s Swans, about 40 of them.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – some of the 40 at Ludham today

Bewick’s Swan numbers in the Broads are well down this winter, so far. It appears that many of the swans have decided to stay on the continent, given mild conditions and plenty of food still there, so it was nice to see this many today. It we get a cold snap on the continent, more may well yet come here. There are often Whooper Swans with the Bewick’s Swans too, but they are rather mobile and come and go during the day, and there were none here this morning.

There were several Marsh Harriers quartering the marshes behind the swans. A small flock of Wigeon flew over along the river. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the bank but they remained tucked well down out of view. We had a quick drive round to St Benet’s but there were no more swans there, so we decided to make our way down to the coast.

Round at Horsey, we found a much larger herd of swans. This used to be the best place to find the Bewick’s Swans but these days they seem to prefer the Ludham area. Sure enough, the vast majority of birds here were Mute Swans, as is usually the case these days. However, a careful scan through the herd did reveal a couple of Bewick’s Swans with them.

A little further on up the coast, we stopped again. A quick scan of the grazing marshes before we even got out of the car revealed two Common Cranes walking about on the grass nearby. We disembarked and were soon enjoying great views of them through the scope.

Crane

Common Crane – we had great views of a pair by the road this morning

The Cranes were walking around in a wet grassy field, with lots of rushy tussocks, occasionally bending down to peck at something in the vegetation. We could see their black necks with bold white stripes behind the eye meeting on the back of the neck, and the bustle of ornamental feathers at the rear of their bodies. For birds which stand about a metre or more tall, they can be remarkably unobtrusive.

There were a couple of Egyptian Geese here too and lots of Lapwings out on the shorter grass. A small flock of Golden Plover got up and wheeled round before landing back down out in the middle. A little group of Fieldfares flew in and landed in front of us on the grass.

Fieldfare

Fieldfares – flew in and started feeding on the short grass

After a quick pitstop, we made our way up to Waxham next. There is a Hume’s Warbler here at the moment – a rare visitor here which breeds in Russia and Central Asia and should normally be found wintering on the Indian subcontinent. It can be very elusive at times, but we thought we would have a quick look for it, as we were in the area.

As we walked in along the sandy track that leads to the beach, a Goldcrest flew down the hedge towards us and landed right beside us. It was flitting around in the ivy oblivious to our presence. There was a large crowd of people gathered by the bushes on the edge of the dunes. We assumed at first they were watching the Hume’s Warbler, but it turned out they had not seen it for over an hour and were simply waiting for it to reappear.

Rather than just stand around where the Hume’s Warbler was obviously not, we decided to walk south along the path below dunes and try our luck along there. We hadn’t gone very far when we saw a couple of people who waved us over – the Hume’s Warbler had just been seen here. It seemed to have disappeared again, but as we stood on the path scanning the bushes, one of the group spotted some movement down on the ground in the Alexanders only a few metres in front of us and out it hopped.

Hume's Warbler

Hume’s Warbler – taken a few days ago at Waxham

The Hume’s Warbler was constantly on the move and difficult to see well unless you were quick. Eventually, everyone got a look at it and most of the group had good views as it flitted around in the ivy covering a hawthorn by the path. When it disappeared again behind a thick clump of brambles, we started to make our way back to the car.

We had only walked a short distance back up the path, and had just stopped to look at a picture of Hume’s Warbler in the book, when it flew out again, right over our heads and landed in top of the hawthorn right in front of us calling. The call is one of the best ways to tell Hume’s Warbler from the rather similar and more common Yellow-browed Warbler, so this was great to hear. It flew back into some ivy covered trees beyond and we left it to it.

Back in the car, we headed south along the coast road, scanning the fields on the way. We quickly found three more Cranes. These were more distant than the ones we had seen earlier, and we had seen those so well, so we didn’t stop. A big flock of Fieldfares in a rape field next to the road had a few Redwings with them.

A little further along, we noticed a large pale bird flying over the field beside the road – a stunning male Hen Harrier, ghostly grey with black wing tips. It was hunting, moving fast and low over the fields, but managed to follow alongside it in the car, enjoying a great view of it before it turned inland.

Gadwall

Gadwall – lots were on the pool in front of Recepion Hide at Strumpshaw

We made our way over to Strumpshaw Fen for lunch. At the pool in front of reception hide, there were lots of ducks out on the water, mainly Mallard & Gadwall. A single young drake Shoveler swam out of the reeds. There were a couple of Mute Swans, and after a while the resident feral Black Swan swam out from behind the reeds.

There was a steady stream of tits coming into the feeders by the picnic tables. They were mainly Blue Tits and Great Tits, but a Coal Tit came down and spent some time attacking the peanuts. Two or three Marsh Tits made a brief visit too. At first we only caught sight of them as they were leaving, when we heard them calling in the trees above our heads. A little later we heard another Marsh Tit approaching through the sallows and this time we watched it darting in and grabbing sunflower hearts.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – attacking the peanuts at Strumpshaw Fen

When we arrived in the car park at Strumpshaw, we could hear a Mistle Thrush singing. While we were eating lunch, a Great Spotted Woodpecker started drumming in the trees. It felt like spring might be on its way, despite the grey and gloomy weather! A flock of Siskin flew over calling and we heard a Redpoll overhead too.

After lunch, as we walked back to the car across the level crossing, we saw some movement in the ivy beside the track. We looked across and the head of a Redwing appeared. It was hidden at first, but it gradually clambered out to get a better angle to attack the berries. We could see the rusty orange (rather than ‘red’) patch on its flanks, under its wings.

Redwing

Redwing – feeding on ivy berries

The cloud had thickened noticeably while we were eating lunch, and it was already getting very dull, so we decided to head straight round to Hickling and out to the raptor roost watchpoint at Stubb Mill. As we made our way down the path, a couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds.

When we arrived at the watchpoint, the resident pair of Cranes was already on view. It was not as good a view as the ones we had seen earlier, but we could see their heads and necks above the reeds. As well as raptors, this is a great place to see Cranes coming in to roost and as we stood and watched, more flew past. First three Cranes flew across in front of us, then another two came over the trees behind us, followed by 3 more in front. All dropped down towards the reserve and we could heard them bugling in the distance.

Cranes

Common Cranes – 3 of the total of 35 we saw this evening!

There was not a huge number of Marsh Harriers into the roost tonight. There were perhaps around ten or more scattered around in the bushes in the reeds when we arrived, including one carrying green wings tags but unfortunately it was too far away for us to reed the code. A trickle more flew in while we were standing at the watchpoint tonight.

A smart male Hen Harrier flew across, low over the fields in front of us, before heading off round behind the wood, possibly for some late hunting before going in to the roost. A while later, two male Hen Harriers could be seen with the Marsh Harriers, very distantly over the reeds by the ruined mill.

There were a few other things to see while we waited. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese flew up from the fields in the distance, over towards the road, and headed off to roost. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. A couple of Chinese Water Deer appeared out on the grass. A Sparrowhawk flew across low over the grass and finally a Merlin appeared at the back, zipping across and up into a low bush on the edge of the reeds. The light was going fast now, so it was hard to see.

It was time to walk back. As we made our way along the road, we heard more bugling behind us, and looked back to see a large flock of 19 Cranes flying in over trees, closely  followed by another 6. The Cranes dropped down towards the reserve, where we could hear them bugling. It was an impressive sight – and took our total count of Cranes for the evening to a massive 35!

There were no Barn Owls out hunting at Stubb Mill this evening, but once it was dark, on our way home, we came across two in the headlights – one which flew across in front of us and one perched on a post by the road.

8th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour today. We were planning to travel further afield, a day of twitching, to try to see some of the more unusual birds lingering around East Anglia at the moment. It was a cloudy but dry day, still very windy but thankfully not quite as strong as it was yesterday.

The drive down to Minsmere was a slow one this morning. We hit rush hour around Norwich, which was not too bad, but then were held up behind a Highways Agency van which seemed to just be trying to build up as large a queue of traffic as possible as it drove along very slowly with lights flashing. When it finally pulled over, there was no sign of what might have required that sort of action. A couple of Red Kites were the only highlights of the journey.

When we eventually got down to the reserve, we walked straight out to Bittern Hide. There has been a Purple Heron here for several days now, but it spends a lot of time down in the reedbed out of view. It had been seen about one and a half hours before we arrived, but nothing since. We sat down and prepared for a vigil.

There were other things to see while we waited. A female Marsh Harrier spent ages diving repeatedly at something hidden down in reeds. A Bittern had flown in and landed in that very spot earlier, before we arrived, which was probably what it was trying to chase off. Apparently the Marsh Harrier had a nest nearby. A smart male Marsh Harrier spent some time quartering over the reeds in front of the hide – unfortunately not close enough to flush the Purple Heron!

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – quartering the reeds in front of the hide

There were several reserve volunteers in the hide today, with radios and clipboards. It turned out they were doing a co-ordinated Bittern survey, which meant we were quickly alerted to any Bittern flights. We got a very brief glimpse of one at first, just as it dropped back in to the reeds. A little later, another Bittern came up and we watched it for several seconds as it flew from us away over the reeds.

A Grey Heron flew in and landed exactly where the Purple Heron was last seen, but even that didn’t flush it out. Several Little Egrets flew past, there were lots of Swifts and Sand Martins zipping back and forth over the reeds in the wind, and two Common Terns drifted past calling.

Finally the Purple Heron appeared – we only had to wait about an hour. It flew up briefly and dropped down again, behind the reeds in front of the hide, where we could just see its head. Then it was up again and off, in a long flight across over the reedbed, before dropping down over towards the main scrape hides. It was great to see it.

Purple Heron 1

Purple Heron 2Purple Heron – finally came out of hiding and flew away over the reeds

Purple Herons are rare visitors here from southern Europe. This is a young bird, a 1st summer, which has presumably overshot on its way north. It will probably drift round the UK for a while before making its way back to the continent.

It was time to move on, so we made our way round to the scrapes and the Wildlife Lookout. There were lots of gulls out on the islands in front of the hide. As well as lots of Black-headed Gulls there were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls too. Having got great views of them in flight over the last few days, it was nice to get a couple of birds in the scope on the ground today, admiring their jet black heads and white wing tips. Otherwise, there were just a few big gulls here, Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gulls – nice to see some birds on the ground this time

It looks like Minsmere is a good place for feral wildfowl these days. There were lots of feral Barnacle Geese on the scrapes – we saw several pairs with juveniles today, presumably having bred here. Another four more Barnacle Geese flew in calling. There had been a pair of feral Bar-headed Geese here yesterday with a single gosling, but we couldn’t find them today.

Apart from the gulls and the geese, there were just a few waders – Avocets and Lapwings – and a couple of Little Egrets. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, we had other plans, so we made our way back towards the visitor centre. We took a quick detour round to see if we could see any Stone Curlew, but the vegetation was too high and no birds were out in view. That was really a target for tomorrow, so we didn’t stop here long.

As we made our way out of the reserve, we made a quick stop to to look at a mob of roosting gulls in a field. There were lots of Herring Gulls of various ages, plus a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and one or two young Great Black-backed Gulls. The one interesting looking gull we could find was mostly hidden from view behind the throng, with its head down preening. It looked like a 1st summer Yellow-legged Gull, but before we could get a good look at it a Herring Gull landed in front and it sat down and was lost to view. We continued on our journey.

It was a slow journey back up to the Broads. We were heading for Potter Heigham, but news came through of a White-winged Black Tern on the beach at Winterton. It  had actually been seen a couple of times flying past offshore in the morning, but had finally settled down on the sand with the Little Terns. We took a quick diversion down to the beach at Winterton, but when we got there, we found the White-winged Black Tern had been disturbed by dog walker and flown off south.

We had a late lunch on the beach, looking out to sea. A small raft of Common Scoter were diving offshore, and we could see a few distant Little Terns and Sandwich Terns. We thought about walking up the beach to the Little Tern colony to look anyway, but one of the local birders called another person who was up at the colony and it was confirmed there was still no sign of the White-winged Black Tern. We decided to revert to Plan A, and head for Potter Heigham. It was only later we found out that the White-winged Black Tern was relocated in the Little Tern colony just 5 minutes after we left, but then had flown off out to sea!!

It was our intention to visit Potter Heigham today anyway, as we knew there were some Black-winged Stilts nesting there. A rare but increasing visitor from southern Europe, their presence was being kept quiet to protect them from egg thieves. A quick phone call to check on them earlier this morning had revealed the eggs had hatched yesterday, so we were even keener to see them today. On our way there, the news was finally released that the Black-winged Stilts had successfully hatched 4 young and they were still all present and correct.

When we got to the site, we walked straight round to look for them. First we found a lone female Black-winged Stilt on one of the islands preening. Looking further back, there was the male Black-winged Stilt crouched on its knees. It took a bit of looking for them as they were so tiny and hard to see in the vegetation on the muddy island, but we eventually found the four tiny fluffy bundles, the four one day old juvenile Black-winged Stilts. A fantastic sight!

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the proud parents, with the 4 juveniles hiding nearby

The adult Black-winged Stilts were largely ignoring the young ones, leaving them to wander some distance away among the nesting Black-headed Gulls. The adults would fly occasionally to chase off large gulls or any other potential predator flying over. Young Black-winged Stilts are very vulnerable to predation, so fingers crossed they survive.

Scanning across the scrape, we noticed another Black-winged Stilt nearby. Were there three adults? Unfortunately we never managed to see all of them at the same time, and the new bird was chased off by the male before we could see the female of the pair again. There had been two adults reported earlier, but it was only later, talking to another local birder, that we confirmed that he too had seen three adults and all at the same time.

We watched the Black-winged Stilts for a bit, before walking further up to check out the other pools. A Spoonbill was standing out on the mud by the reeds on one of them and for once it was awake! We got it in the scope and could see it was a young one, born last summer, with a still largely flesh-coloured bill and no crest.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – a 1st summer bird on one of the pools

There were plenty of Little Egrets here too, but we couldn’t find the waders which had been reported yesterday. There were three Ringed Plovers on the mud and the usual Avocets, Lapwings and Redshank, but no other waders today (not forgetting the Stilts, of course!).

A Wigeon and a few Teal were the most notable ducks here. Otherwise, it was back to looking at escaped wildfowl. The female Bufflehead has been here for a while now, but is sporting a green ring so has got out from a cage somewhere. A White-cheeked Pintail was never a candidate for a genuine vagrant, unfortunately.

There were not many butterflies or dragonflies out in the wind today, but on the walk back to the car, a Norfolk Hawker dragonfly was flying around the bushes by the path. This is a particular speciality of this part of the country, so always nice to see. There were also numerous caterpillars out now, all crossing the path one way or the other. Most were Garden Tiger moth caterpillars, but there was also one Drinker moth caterpillar too.

Garden Tiger moth caterpillarGarden Tiger moth caterpillar – there were loads on the path on the way back

The other highlight of the walk back to the car was a Crane. We had scanned the marshes quickly on the walk out without success, but looked more carefully on the way back. It was looking like we might be out of luck until we picked one up flying low across the marshes in the distance. It gained height and flew past one of the old windpumps – a typical Broadland scene these days – before dropping down out of view again. Not a close view, but always nice to see anyway.

We had just stopped to scan the pools along the approach road when news came through that the White-winged Black Tern was back on the beach at Winterton. Even though it was getting late in the day and we would be cutting it fine to get back in time for dinner, we decided to head round for another go. It was a nervous drive round, after our experience earlier.

As we walked quickly up the beach, it was reassuring that there were not so many dog walkers out now. A couple of local birders were just walking back and kindly pointed the White-winged Black Tern out to us, quite a distance further up the beach in the Little Tern colony. We had a very quick look, before hurrying up to where it was. But before we got there, all the terns took off and we didn’t see the White-winged Black Tern go. When we arrived, there was no further sign of it at first.

Little TernLittle Tern – nice to see and hear all the terns in the colony here

After our experience earlier, we were convinced the White-winged Black Tern would return, so we stood and waited, watching all the Little Terns coming and going as we did so. Thankfully after just a few nervous minutes scanning, we picked it up coming back in off the sea. We were then treated to stunning views as it flew all round us, circling overhead, before heading back out to the sea again.

White-winged Black Tern 2

White-winged Black Tern 1

White-winged Black Tern 3White-winged Black Tern – stunning views as it circled all around us

White-winged Black Tern is a rare visitor to the UK from Eastern Europe. A few are seen here every year, but they can be hard to catch up with and often don’t hang around, so this one was great to see. It was also an adult in full summer plumage, one of the most stunning of all terns.

Having had great views of it in flight, we wanted to see the White-winged Black Tern perched too. Thankfully we only had to wait a couple of minutes before it flew back in to the beach again and landed on the sand with a group of Little Terns. We got a great look at it as it stood there preening for a couple of minutes. Than it was off again, back out to the sea. We stood for a while watching it dip feeding just offshore, reluctant to tear ourselves away.

White-winged Black Tern 4White-winged Black Tern – landed on the beach with all the Little Terns

It was a great way to end the day, watching this fantastic bird. Eventually we made our way back to the car and headed for home. Even better, we were back in time for dinner, and we had seen the White-winged Black Tern!

4th May 2017 – Breezy Broads

A Private Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. The weather seemed promising early on, with some brightness first thing, but it clouded over. A cold north-easterly wind, gusting to 30mph plus all day, meant that it was hard going at times, but at least it stayed dry.

After a slightly later than expected departure, due to an alarm clock malfunction for one of the tour participants, we headed over to Potter Heigham. Hickling Broad was our first destination for the morning, or more precisely the Weavers’ Way footpath which runs along the south side and overlooks Rush Hill Scrape.

As we walked out across the fields, a male Yellowhammer sang from the hedge and a female flew across to join it. Making our way through the trees, we could hear Blackcap, Chiffchaff and all singing. From up on the bank, there were lots of Sedge Warblers songflighting up from the reedbed, and a couple of Reed Warblers singing too.

There has been a Savi’s Warbler here for the last couple of weeks, and we were hoping to see it again today. Unfortunately, when we got to the bushes from which it has been reeling, the wind was lashing through them. We waited a while, but there was no sign of it this morning. Over the Broad beyond, we could see lots of Common Swifts and a few House Martins. Both have been in short supply so far this spring, so it was nice to see both species in numbers today. There were several Common Terns hawking over the water too.

We wandered along to the hide overlooking Rush Hill Scrape to see if there was anything on there today.  Apart from a lone Redshank, there were no other waders on here, until a pair of Avocet flew in. A single Wigeon was the highlight of the ducks. While we sat in the hide for a few minutes, to escape from the wind, we could just hear snatches of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling nearby.

Given the windy conditions, we decided to cut our losses and head round to Potter Heigham Marshes. It was well worth it. A quick stop overlooking the first pools revealed a very nice selection of birds to get us started. A Wood Sandpiper appeared from behind the reeds at the front, quickly followed by a second. Further back, we could see about fifteen Ringed Plovers, migrants waiting to continue their journey north, and several Ruff, including a male coming into breeding plumage.

IMG_3806Wood Sandpiper – one of two on the first pool we looked at

On the next pool along, a smart male Garganey swam out from the front and disappeared behind some reeds. There were also three Grey Plover on here, including one looking very smart in full summer plumage, with black face and belly and white spangled upperparts.

6O0A9553Garganey – swam out from the front of one of the pools

The pools at the far end were rather deeper, with just a few ducks and geese. We climbed up onto the bank to make our way round to the river bank and the pools the other side. As we did so, we had a quick look at the grazing marshes beyond and spotted a single Common Crane feeding in the damp grass. We had a great look at it through the scope, looking through the reeds. They were herding cows in the field beyond, and all the activity seemed to unsettle it. The Crane took off and flew over the trees towards Hickling.

IMG_3813Common Crane – feeding on the grazing marshes

There were loads of hirundines hawking over the reedbed this side, mostly House Martins but also a few Swallows. Down at the river, a pair of Great Crested Grebes were out on the water. We made our way along the bank, round past the various pools on that side. The first couple held a few ducks and geese, plus a couple of Little Egrets. A single Common Snipe on a grassy island was a nice bonus.

6O0A9577Great Crested Grebe – a pair were on the river today

There have been several Spoonbills here in recent days, and we were disappointed we had not managed to find them so far. As we approached the last pool, we still hadn’t seen them until we got past the reeds along its near edge. There they were! Four Spoonbills were sleeping in the lee of the reeds, out of the wind, quite close to the bank where we were walking. We stopped where we were but they were surprised by our sudden appearance and walked out into the pool before taking off.

6O0A9582Spoonbills – we surprised them, hiding asleep in the lee of the reeds

The four Spoonbills flew round for a couple of minutes, giving us a great view as they did so, before landing again on one of the other pools, further back from the river bank. Here they quickly settled down to feed.

6O0A9605Spoonbills – flew round and landed back down on the pools to feed

There were more waders on this last pool. Another 20 or so Ringed Plover were accompanied by around 10 Dunlin. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find two diminutive Little Stints, looking very smart in summer plumage, with rusty-tinged upperparts fringed with frosty edges.

A Greenshank flew in and landed out of view. While we were scanning for it, we found a Common Sandpiper creeping around on the far bank. From a little further along, we were able to see the Greenshank where it had landed. Along with a few Avocet, Lapwing and Redshank, that meant this site had provided us with a great haul of waders today, including some nice scarce spring migrants.

We made our way back to the car and drove round to Cantley next. The young (2cy) White-tailed Eagle which has been roaming Norfolk and Suffolk for the last couple of weeks had been refound at Buckenham yesterday afternoon. After spending the night in trees nearby, earlier this morning it had flown over to Cantley Marshes, which was where we were hoping we might catch up with it.

Apparently the White-tailed Eagle had just been sitting on a gatepost for about three hours, but when we arrived it had just had a fly round and landed again down in the grass. We could see it very distantly through the scope, from the car park, being mobbed by a couple of the local Lapwings. It was clearly enormous – it completely dwarfed a couple of Canada Geese nearby! It flew again and landed on a gatepost a bit nearer to us, where we could get a better look at it.

IMG_3824White-tailed Eagle – perched on a gatepost out on the marshes

When the White-tailed Eagle took off again, we watched as it flew low across the marshes, scattering everything as it went. It gained height and seemed to be headed for the trees back at Buckenham, before we lost sight of it.

IMG_3834White-tailed Eagle – took off and flew towards Buckenham

After a short drive round there, we had a quick look out on the marshes at Buckenham, There was no sign of the White-tailed Eagle here – it was not on any of the gates, nor obviously sat out on the grass, and none of the local birds seemed particularly agitated. We figured it must have gone back into the trees somewhere.

The Cattle Egret was reported again at Halvergate earlier, so we drove round there next, but we couldn’t find it. We ate a late lunch overlooking the grazing marshes and scanning for it amongst the hooves of the various herds of cattle. It had probably had the good sense to find somewhere more sheltered, out of the wind which was whistling across the grass. A sharp call alerted us to a single bright male Yellow Wagtail which was feeding around the feet of the cows the other side of the road.

After lunch, we drove over to Winterton. It was even windier out on the coast. We walked up through the dunes and out onto the beach to see the Little Terns. There were lots of people here, busy erecting the electric fence to protect the Little Tern colony for the breeding season. We could see hordes of Little Terns flying round over the fence workers.

We then continued north through the dunes. It was rather quiet here today, with no obvious migrants on show. A Green Woodpecker flew up from the ground ahead of us and disappeared off round behind us. A male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead bush calling. We also flushed several Linnets from the dunes along the way.

6O0A9662Stonechat – one of the few birds perching up in the dunes in the wind

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling from the brambles by the concrete blocks. We made our way into the trees along the track, hoping to find some birds in the more sheltered conditions here. There had been a few Garden Warblers here in recent days, but we couldn’t hear any today. A single Blackcap was singing intermittently, but a couple of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were more vocal.

We walked inland a short distance. A Brown Hare disappeared ahead of us down the track. Four Stock Doves were feeding in a ploughed field. But there was nothing else of note in the lee of the trees. We decided to make our way back to the car, and with a long drive back up to North Norfolk, we headed for home.

There was one final treat in store. As we were almost back to our starting point, we noticed a small shape perched on the end of the roof of an old barn. It was a Little Owl. As we pulled up alongside, it stopped to stare at us. A nice way to end the day.

21st March 2016 -Broads Bound

A Private Tour today in the Norfolk Broads. Although many of the wintering birds have now departed, and the summer breeders have yet to arrive, there are still plenty of things to see on a day out in the Broads, and some fantastic scenery to enjoy.

P1190024Peacock – greeting your arrival at NWT Hickling Broad

Our first stop of the day was the NWT reserve at Hickling Broad, once we had negotiated our way past the Peacock on the entrance track.! We met in the car park and set off down the track behind the visitor centre. There were a few geese on the grazing meadows, Greylags and Canada Geese, with a pair of Tufted Duck on the water and a lone female Pochard standing on the bank nearby. We were just scanning the reedbed when we heard a Common Crane call and turned round to see two flying towards us from the direction of the Broad.

P1190028Common Crane – two flew overhead this morning

It was as if they felt the need to announce their imminent arrival to us, as they did not call again once we had seen them. The two Cranes flew slowly past, head and legs outstretched fore and aft, and disappeared off towards Stubb Mill. It was a great way to start the day.

As we approached Bittern Hide we could hear Marsh Harriers calling. We had already seen several on the way there, and we sat in the hide and watched more of them flying back and forth over the reeds. A pair at the back engaged in a short bout of talon-grappling. There didn’t seem to be much else in front of the hide at first, but when a Common Snipe dropped into the cut reeds along the side, a closer look revealed a Water Pipit creeping back into the vegetation.

At first, we could just make it out through the scope. It was preening and it had its back to us. But then the Water Pipit walked back to the water’s edge and came out into full view. At this point we could see that it was moulting into summer plumage, mostly now lacking streaking on its underparts and with a delicate pink flush across its breast instead. It picked around on the little patches of exposed mud for a couple of minutes before something spooked it. As it flew off calling, a second Water Pipit came up from the cut reeds to follow it.

IMG_0594Water Pipit – moulting into summer plumage

IMG_0551Water Pipit – its breast now mostly unstreaked and washed with pink

We took our leave and continued on, round towards the edge of the Broad. A male Marsh Harrier was calling high overhead and we watched it start to display, tumbling and swooping, gradually losing height until it dropped down into the reeds. A second Marsh Harrier, a young male, started to display nearby and the next thing we knew three were circling up together calling. The sun had just broken through the clouds and there as a bit of warmth in the air, just enough to get them all going.

Hickling Broad itself appeared fairly quiet at first, but we stopped at the screen for a closer look. A small group of Common Pochard were preening along the edge of the reeds, including three smart drakes. Further out, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming in amongst a small group of Coot. We were just looking at the Grebe when we spotted a different duck further back still and through the scope we could see it was a Common Scoter. More normally found out on the sea, this was a bit of a surprise out here but they do occasionally wander inland.

We made our way back round to the car park and drove on. Just out of the village, we heard Redwings call as they flew out of the hedge beside the road. A little further on, we could see into the field beyond and the short-cropped grass eaten down by the sheep was covered in Redwings and Fieldfares. There have been good numbers of Fieldfares particularly around here all winter, but our winter thrushes are now getting ready to fly back to the continent and feeding up near the coast.

The drive around the coast road south from Sea Palling was rather quiet today. Gone are most of the winter geese, though we did manage to find a couple of Pink-footed Geese still. One of them looked to be injured, with a drooping wing, which might explain why it was still here. There was still some standing water in the fields the other side and a little flock of Dunlin was flying round between the patches of exposed mud. The Golden Plover further over were hunkered down and looked to all intents and purposes like clods of earth themselves. We meandered our way round, with no sign of more Cranes in any of the fields where we have seen regularly them over the winter.

Our next destination was Filby Broad. We had just walked across the road to start scanning the open water when we noticed a large bird fly up across the road ahead of us. This was then followed by a second and then a third. They were White Storks and normally the sight of three White Storks circling up into the sky would be a source of much excitement. However, these are free flying birds from a local wildfowl collection which are often seen around the area here.

P1190060White Stork – a free flying bird from the local wildfowl collection

We turned our attention back to the Broad and started to scan the water from the boardwalk. There were quite a few Tufted Duck and a handful of Goldeneye out on the water, as well as lots of gulls and Coots. Working our way through them all methodically, we managed to find the Red-necked Grebe which has been here now for some time. It was a long way over, but through the scope we could see that it was starting to come into summer plumage, looking very bright now with white cheeks and a rusty red foreneck and breast.

IMG_0618Red-necked Grebe – looking smart in summer plumage, though rather distant

The Great Crested Grebes were much more obliging. There were several pairs out on the Broad and one swam right past in front of us. They too are looking stunning in their summer plumage now. A Kingfisher kept zooming back and forth from one edge of the Broad to the other, flashing electric blue as it went.

IMG_0637Great Crested Grebe – there are always lots on the Broads

With our key target here achieved, we made our way on to Strumpshaw Fen next. There are not so many ducks on the pool in front of Reception Hide now, although still a nice selection of Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler.

P1190070Shoveler – a nice selection of ducks was visible from Reception Hide

By this stage of the day, the cloud had thickened again and it was rather cool and grey. As a consequence, the walk out to Fen Hide was rather quiet. We did hear a Water Rail squeal from the reeds and several Cetti’s Warblers shouting at each other. There has been a Jack Snipe seen from the hide on and off in recent weeks and we had hoped we might be able to find it today. It was not to be and all we could locate here were two Common Snipe instead.

IMG_0647Common Snipe – two were hiding in the reeds in front of Fen Hide

There are so many places for Snipe of any variety to hide here, and even the two which were initially in view eventually flew off and dropped back into the reeds out of sight. Two Coot decided to have a fight out on the water, leaning back and flapping their feet at each other, with two others in close attendance. A Chinese Water Deer was picking quietly around at the edge of the reeds.

We decided to carry on down to the river bank and make our way along to Tower Hide. There has been a Penduline Tit around the reserve for almost a month now, but it seems to have been seen or even just heard on only 3-4 occasions in all that time. It had been reported again early this morning, but had apparently flown over the river at that point. We scanned the heads of reedmace around the edges of the reedbed as we walked along, but we didn’t hold out much hope of coming across it given the history of its appearances.

We were almost at Tower Hide and had pretty much given up when we heard the Penduline Tit call twice, a rather thin, drawn out ‘tseeeu’. Unfortunately we were in just the spot where the trees are thickest between the path and the reeds and we simply couldn’t see through to where the call was coming from. It seemed to have stopped calling now, but we made our way the short distance further to Tower Hide and from the end window there we could look back across the reeds the other side of the trees. There was lots of reedmace down there, but no sign of the Penduline Tit. We waited a while to see if it might reappear, entertained by the local Marsh Harriers displaying over the reeds, but there was no further sight or sound of it.

As we walked back along the river bank, a Treecreeper flew past us and started working its way up the trunk of a nearby tree. There had been a few Chiffchaffs singing this morning apparently, although they had gone quiet now, but we found one feeding in the top of a willow. As we made our way back along Sandy Wall, a Marsh Tit was singing on the edge of the wood and we saw it flitting around in an oak.

We still had one more place we wanted to visit. There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard around Haddiscoe Island over the winter and it had been reported again in the last couple of days. We drove round to one of the places from which it is possible to look over the site and we were just getting into position when we spotted a bird flying away from us, low over the grass, flashing a white tail – the Rough-legged Buzzard. It perched briefly on a gatepost, before flying off even further and disappearing out of view.

IMG_0650Rough-legged Buzzard – perched briefly on a gatepost

We walked round to where we could get a different angle across the grazing marshes. There were several Common Buzzards of various shades in view, on gateposts or standing around on the ground. One in particular was strikingly white underneath. Everywhere we looked there were also Chinese Water Deer out on the grass.

We had hoped we might get another look at the Rough-legged Buzzard, but just when we least expected it it flew back in across the grass in front of us, landing briefly on another post behind the reeds. When it took off again, it started to hover, flashing its mostly white tail with a couple of black bands towards the tip. It hung there in the air for ages, allowing us to get a great look at it, before it turned and flew back out to the gatepost it had been on earlier.

P1190140Rough-legged Buzzard – hovered close by, flashing its mostly white tail

There several enormous flocks of Starlings out in the grass – we could see them occasionally fly up and move across. At one point a male Marsh Harrier had a go at them, dipping down into the group and scattering them, before flying off. The Starlings all immediately resumed what they had been doing. Then suddenly they all took to the air and the flock started to make amazing shifting shapes as they twisted and turned. A few seconds later and we could see why as a Peregrine stooped down through the murmuration, splitting it instantaneously into two.

The Peregrine turned and climbed through the flock before stooping again. This time a single Starling stupidly split off and started flying towards us. The Peregrine set off after it and was immediately joined by a Marsh Harrier, the two of them taking turns to have a go at the poor Starling. It looked like it was certainly a goner until it dropped sharply into a small patch of reeds. The Peregrine immediately lost interest, but the Marsh Harrier tried a couple of times to continue the chase, dropping down as if it was going to land into the reeds.

P1190090Starlings – pursued by Peregrine (at bottom of flock here)

The flocks of Starlings had now disappeared and the Peregrine landed on a gatepost out in the grass where it perched looking round for several minutes. Then it took off and flew away from us, climbing high up, over towards Breydon Water. It had gone some way before we could see why, as the Starling murmuration appeared again from behind a bank, way off in the distance. The Peregrine began a shallow dive, powering down hard, towards the Starlings again, scything through the flock once more.

We watched the Peregrine for a while, attacking first one flock. Then, when it had scattered, flying up high and back across to find another group to stoop at. It was great stuff, all action, even if the Peregrine did look as if it wasn’t going to get any supper. Eventually we lost sight of it and a look at the time confirmed we would have to call it a day. Still it was a great way to end.

29th January 2016 – Breezy Broads

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today, and it was down to the Norfolk Broads. We were ready for anything – Storm Gertrude was on its way and it was forecast to be rather windy!

We started with a drive along the coast south of Sea Palling, scanning the fields for Cranes as we went. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese circled over the trees inland and dropped down out of view. Otherwise it seemed rather quiet here, with many birds presumably hunkered down out of the wind. South of Horsey Mill, we pulled over and got out of the car – getting knocked sideways by the wind in the process (we later discovered it was gusting to 52+mph!). There was a small herd of Mute Swans in the fields here, but not much else – this area is normally alive with birds but there were very few today. A Kingfisher skimmed away from us along a ditch, low over the water, flashing electric blue as it went.

We turned around and headed back towards the Mill, and this time picked up two Cranes. They were tucked down in a wet meadow behind a hedge and initially obscured almost completely from view. Only by repositioning ourselves so we were looking through a gap in the hedge could we see them properly, feeding mostly with heads down but occasionally raising their necks up to look around. Surprisingly hard to see for a bird which stands around a metre tall!

IMG_5683Cranes – a record shot, it was hard to keep the tripod steady in the wind!

That was a good start, but it was clear we needed to try to keep out of the wind as much as possible. We decided to drive inland to look for the wild swans next. We didn’t have to look very hard – before we had even left the main road we could see the smear of white across the field in the distance. We drove round to where they were and found they were actually too close to the road – we didn’t want to get out and disturb them. So we made our way down a track until we were far enough away and only then got out.

IMG_5689Bewick’s & Whooper Swans – at least 160 today

We could immediately see that there were both Bewick’s and Whooper Swans there, as usual here. The subtle difference in size and shape is noticeable from a distance and, through the scope particularly, we could see the differences in bill pattern too. The Whooper Swans have a longer bill with a large area of yellow extending down towards the tip in a point, whereas the yellow on the smaller bill of a Bewick’s Swan is more squared-off. It is always great to see the two species side by side like this, to really appreciate the differences.

IMG_5701Whooper & Bewick’s Swans – showing the size and bill differences well

We did a quick count of the herd – there were at least 160, possibly 170 swans in total today. It was too windy to spend too long trying to work out how many of each though, but there have been only 20-25 Whooper Swans for most of the winter and the remainder have been Bewick’s Swans.

Again, we wanted to try to keep out of the worst of the wind, so we made our way down to Great Yarmouth. There has been a juvenile Glaucous Gull hanging around close to the seafront for a week or two. It is a slightly incongruous setting for an arctic gull, in amongst the seaside hotels and tourist attractions shuttered for the winter. We couldn’t find it at first around any of its favourite haunts. We amused ourselves watching a Common Gull doing a ‘rain dance’ on the grass, stomping its feet rapidly up and down on the spot, trying to tempt the worms into thinking it’s raining.

P1150575Common Gull – doing a ‘rain dance’

We didn’t think the Glaucous Gull was around and were just getting into the car to leave when it suddenly appeared overhead with all the Black-headed Gulls. We got a good look at it as it circled over the road, before drifting over the houses towards the playing fields. However, round at the playing fields there was no sign of it. A quick visit to the corner shop was called for and a few minutes later, after the strategic deployment of half a loaf of sliced white, it reappeared with a large throng of other gulls.

P1150606Glaucous Gull – tempted in with some bread

The Glaucous Gull flew around just overhead, giving us some stunning views. Rather plain, mealy, biscuit coloured all over its body, apart from its wing tips which are plain off-white, lighter than the rest of its wings. It kept swooping down with the hordes for a bit, before landing a short distance away on the grass. Its huge size was now obvious, much bigger than the local Herring Gulls, and it was sporting a massive bill, pinkish at the base with a contrasting black tip. It stood there for a few minutes before deciding it had had enough and there wasn’t going to be any more bread, so flew off.

P1150645Glaucous Gull – big and pale, with a massive two-tone bill

We still had half a loaf left, so we made our way a little further along the seafront and walked out onto the beach opposite all the amusement arcades, between the two piers. Further along the beach, a huddle of smaller gulls were braving the wind and as soon as we walked onto the prom they realised what was about to happen and flew to the beach in front of us. We kept them waiting for a bit while we had a good look at them.

They were mainly Mediterranean Gulls, at least ten of them. This is a well-known spot for them in winter and there are often a lot more than this – the rest must have been hiding from the wind somewhere. They were mostly adults with pure white wing tips, but in amongst them were a couple of 2nd winters, with paler bills and black spots in their wings. Only once we had enjoyed a really good look at them did they get the bread.

IMG_5703Mediterranean Gull – an adult starting to get its black summer hood

IMG_5712Mediterranean Gull – a 2nd winter

While we had been feeding the gulls, news had come through of a Green-winged Teal at Ranworth Broad. It seemed like their might be some shelter from the wind there, so we decided to drive over there to try to see it. We parked in the village and had our lunch overlooking Malthouse Broad. There were lots of Tufted Duck and Coot out on the water, along with a couple of Great Crested Grebes. Several of the Coot came out to feed on the grass in front of us.

P1150679Coot – feeding on the grass at lunchtime

A flock of Long-tailed Tits had passed us a couple of times while we were eating, and once we had finished we looked up into the alders nearby to see if we could see anything else with them. Feeding on the cones, we could see several Goldfinches and with them a few Siskin. We had a good look at one of the latter in the scope. A Treecreeper came to the front of the trees as well and proceeded to climb up one in front of us.

IMG_5756Siskin – in the alders by the car park

We walked round and out to Ranworth Broad itself along the boardwalk. It was only when we got out there that we realised the scale of the task. A small crowd had gathered but they had lost sight of the Green-winged Teal in a vast flock of ducks out on the water towards the back of the Broad. There were hundreds and hundreds of birds – mainly Wigeon and Teal, with a smaller number of Shoveler and a few Gadwall and Pintail. Even worse, they were all constantly on the move, swimming around or just drifting in the wind.

Green-winged Teal is the American cousin of our (Eurasian) Teal and it looks very similar, apart mainly from a bold white vertical stripe on the sides of the drake’s breast. We eventually found it again, but it was an impossible task to get all the group onto it. As soon as somebody else took over the scope, it had drifted or swum out of view again and had to be refound. After trying in vain for some time, in the end we had to give it up.

We walked back along the boardwalk, where a Marsh Tit was calling from the trees. A Goldcrest was singing and more Siskins were in the alders over the road.

We wanted to get back in time for the raptor roost at Stubb Mill, so we started to make our way round there. We stopped off several times to look for Cranes, but we couldn’t find any more at any of their favoured sites this afternoon. A tractor was ploughing a field beside the road, pursued by a mass of gulls. Nearby, a Common Buzzard was perched on a large clod of earth, watching, mobbed by a couple of Carrion Crows.

Out at Stubb Mill, we immediately spotted the two Cranes which are regular here, in pretty much their usual spot. They spent most of the time we were there standing behind the reeds, with their necks up, looking round. Unfortunately, only when the light started to fade and it was too dull for photos did they fly round and land directly in front of the viewpoint. Still, it was a great flight view.

IMG_5771Crane – the usual two suspects at Stubb Mill

There were lots of Marsh Harriers already flying in and out among the trees in the reeds when we arrived. They didn’t seem to want to settle in the trees today, possibly due to the wind. At one point, they all circled up high into the air – we could see around 50 Marsh Harriers all up in the sky together. A stunning spectacle. Still they kept on coming, and there must have been at least 60 Marsh Harriers in the roost by the time we left.

P1150709Marsh Harriers – about 50 were in the sky together this evening

We didn’t see the Hen Harriers come in this evening, but the next thing we knew there were two ringtails flying around the ruined mill with the Marsh Harriers. We got them in the scope and you could just make out the white square at the base of their tails and they circled round.

Then the dark clouds rolled in, just as the wind seemed to ease a little and we lost the best of the light. We had already seen what we had come to see, so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

21st February 2015 – Back to the Broads

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. We headed down to the Broads for the day, to look for some of the local specialities.

We started off on a search for the Cranes. It didn’t take us long. There was no sign of any around the first of the favoured fields we visited, but a short drive further and a glance out of the side window revealed two large birds flying past in the opposite direction – unmistakeable with long necks held outstretched in front and long legs trailing behind – two Common (or Eurasian) Cranes. We turned round and followed them and they dropped towards the area we had just been searching. As most of us were watching the two, one member of the party announced “there’s four”. A quick scan showed he was right – but there were actually six. We watched them all dropping down to the fields, but unfortunately they landed out of view. Still, a great start with six Cranes already.

P1110900Cranes – these two flew past the car first thing this morning

Round at Horsey, we stopped to admire a couple of short-cropped grass fields which were positively chock full of birds. There were lots of Golden Plover, Lapwings, Fieldfares and Starlings. A couple of Common Buzzards sat around on the neighbouring bushes and fenceposts in the morning sun, occasionally flapping across the field lazily. The throng seemed to ignore them completely. Then suddenly, the whole lot took to the air, separating instantly into species flocks – the Golden Plover whirling high in the air in an amorphous group, changing shape all the time; the Lapwings flapping off more sedately below; and the Fieldfares flying away strongly calling as they went, leaving a few bemused birds in the field left wondering what the commotion was all about. Then we spotted the culprit, as a Sparrowhawk swept low over the road and away across the fields the other side.

P1110902Golden Plover – part of the flock that took fright and whirled round

Most of the Pink-footed Geese appear to have departed north already, but there were still a hundred or so out on the grass. Scanning through the flock, a couple of heads appeared from a dip in the ground behind and their white foreheads caught the sun. A small group of White-fronted Geese still lingering and taking advantage of the company of the Pinkfeet.

While we were admiring the array of birds spread out in front of us, another Crane appeared in the sky at the back of the field. As it flew past us, we could see that one of its legs was dangling below, not held out straight as it should be. We had seen this injured bird near here back in mid-January (and it had apparently been present in the area for a couple of weeks before that). Then, it appeared to be struggling on the ground, but today it landed in the distance and appeared to be a little more steady on its feet. Sad to see it still suffering, but good that it appears to be surviving and possibly even adapting to its injury.

From there, we headed inland towards Ludham. The wild swans used to winter in the fields on the coast, but these days they favour a different area. We drove straight out onto the levels and had not gone far when we spotted a line of swans – mostly Bewick’s Swans with several Mute Swans as well. A quick scan revealed four birds with the Bewick’s which were larger, with more yellow on the bill. Looking through the scope confirmed they were four Whooper Swans – nice to see them still here, and to be able to compare the two species side by side. A little further on, a small, low-slung shape ran across the road – a Weasel. We pulled up alongside it and watched it darting around in the grass right beside the car, before it realised we were there and shot off into the trees.

IMG_2812Bewick’s Swans – around 44 still on St Benet’s levels today

IMG_2808Whooper Swans – just 4 still lurking in amongst the Bewick’s

Next stop was over in the Yare valley, but the journey there takes us through more Crane country. Out of the corner of an eye, as we were driving past, an odd shape amongst the clods of ploughed earth and maize stubble caught the attention. A quick turn into a conveniently positioned gateway and we were able to scan the field. Surely it had just been another large lump of ploughed soil? No, our initial suspicions were confirmed, it was the tail of another Crane feeding head down! We positioned ourselves carefully amongst some farm buildings and had a great views of it in the scope, especially once it finally lifted its head up. It seemed fairly unconcerned by our presence, and we left it feeding by itself.

IMG_2825Crane – the bushy black tail caught our attention as we drove past…

IMG_2819Crane – … but we got much better views when it lifted its head

Down at Buckenham Marshes, we walked out to the riverbank. There were lots of ducks – mostly Wigeon, some of them proving very tame and performing for the cameras, but amongst them a smattering of Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall. A small group of Tufted Ducks was swimming in one of the flooded channels. Several Shelduck were out on the grazing marshes, but the only geese we could find today were Canada and Greylag Geese.

P1110912Wigeon – performed for the cameras

There are usually large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing out on the grass, but today when they spooked they seemed to do so with added urgency, swirling round in a frenzy. Everything took off at once – waders, ducks, geese. Looking through the swirling flocks, we could see why – an adult Peregrine was scything through, repeatedly turning and going back through the middle of the horde. Suddenly it slammed into something, possibly a Teal, but it couldn’t hold onto it and the victim appeared to drop like a stone straight into one of the flooded ditches. The Peregrine circled overhead, but seemed resigned to having lost its prey and dropped down onto a gatepost nearby to reflect on its misfortune.

IMG_2828Peregrine – hunting at Buckenham Marshes

While the Peregrine was busy putting everything up, we could see there were more waders over on some flooded flashes out on the grass by the old windpump. We walked along the bank and through our scopes we could see a nice group of Ruff, including a couple of very white-headed males, plus a good flock of Dunlin running around amongst the Starlings and, over at the back,  twenty or so Black-tailed Godwits.

We stopped at Strumpshaw Fen for lunch. The car park was very full again, but that didn’t put off the Marsh Tits and Long-tailed Tits around the bushes. A quick visit to Reception Hide confirmed that the reserve was very quiet again bird-wise, and with staff worries about flooding along the river on the rapidly approaching high tide, we decided to move on.

Down at Halvergate, the Rough-legged Buzzard was rather annoyingly not on its usual line of fenceposts – it had taken off and was hovering further out over the grazing marshes. It landed on a gatepost in the distance, and stood there for some time, showing no inclination to move. So we decided to leave it for a short while and explore further out across the levels. Just down the road, a stop to scan the marshes produced another flock of 43 Bewick’s Swans, a single Chinese Water Deer and a noisy flock of Fieldfares which wanted to land back in the hawthorns beside us but wouldn’t settle while we were standing there.

IMG_2834Bewick’s Swans – a tight group of 43 was still at Halvergate today

Further out on the levels, we stopped and went for a walk. As soon as we got out of the car, a Barn Owl ghosted towards us, spotting us at the last minute and wheeled away over the fields. A ringtail Hen Harrier appeared over a bank, but turned and dropped down just out of view. We had just positioned ourselves to be able to see it through the reeds, standing on the ground, when it took off again and continued quartering out across the marshes. But it was a great view as it went, and it appeared to be a young bird with yellow-tinged streaked underparts and dark under-secondaries. Then the Short-eared Owls started to appear, first one, then  a second, then a third, all out hunting over the fields, though unfortunately all rather distant. Still, it is a magical place and we eventually had to tear ourselves away.

Back where we had been earlier, the Rough-legged Buzzard had finally decided to return to its usual fenceposts so we stopped again for another look. We had a much better view of it now, noting it’s dark-streaked but very pale head and its strikingly blackish belly patch as it stood facing us. It took off and flew a couple of times, just a short distance between posts, flashing its bright white tail base as it turned to land each time. There was another Barn Owl out hunting here now, but no sign yet of the hoped for closer Short-eared. We were already running out of time to get back to the roost at Stubb Mill, so unfortunately we had to drag ourselves away again.

IMG_2845Rough-legged Buzzard – back on one of its usual fenceposts

We arrived at Stubb Mill a bit later than planned, after our distraction at Halvergate. It had looked like we might get away with our slightly tardy arrival, but the beautiful winter sunshine we had enjoyed most of the day just failed us at the last, as a patch of dark cloud on the horizon moved in front of the setting sun. The watchpoint was unbelievably busy today, and we were lucky that a few people had started to drift off for an early bath which left a space for us to stand.

P1110919Stubb Mill – the approach to the watchpoint

Several Marsh Harriers were already in, perched up in the bushes or circling over the reeds. As we scanned the marshes ahead of us, we could see more birds drifting in, in ones and twos. There were probably close to thirty at the roost again tonight. Another Barn Owl was out hunting over the grass in front of us. A Stonechat on the bushes was a new bird for the day’s list. Then a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared, coming in fast and low at the back of the grazing marsh ahead of us. The male was less accommodating today, and we just glimpsed him briefly tonight flying round amongst the bushes in the distance – he had clearly sneaked into the roost via a different route! A small falcon perched up in the bushes was most likely a Merlin, but it was getting hard to see clearly by that stage.

As the light faded we could hear Cranes constantly bugling away to the north, much more noisy than they have been in recent weeks. Each time, it seemed like they had to be on their way, but the big group didn’t appear before it was getting a bit too gloomy. Two birds did come over – coming from the other direction, they were probably the pair which regularly feeds out from the watchpoint, and they gave us a good flypast before they dropped down into the reeds across the marshes. It seemed like a good way to bookend the day – a mirror of the start, watching two Cranes flying past. We headed back to the car, with a glorious sunset fading in the sky.

P1110924Sunset – the stunning sky as we walked back this evening