Tag Archives: Broads

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

18th February 2015 – The Broads at their Best

A Private Tour to the Norfolk Broads today. We were blessed with a glorious, bright and sunny day and we made the most of it, enjoying the sights, and sounds, that the Broads has to offer.

We started with a drive through the area where the Cranes sometimes like to feed. For such large birds, they can be remarkably difficult to pick up, they seem to blend into the landscape at times. Today, we had no such difficulty – two tall, grey shapes appeared in a marshy field close to the road, actually very close to the road! A pair of Common Cranes. We pulled up quietly and sat in the car watching them. They were clearly aware of our presence, but seemingly unconcerned, walking back and forth, mostly with heads down, looking for food, picking at the ground. The slightly larger male occasionally raised his head to look around, checking on our presence, and the small spot of red on his crown caught the light. We had absolutely stunning views.

P1110770P1110779P1110781Common Cranes – this pair were feeding next to the road this morning

Our presence attracted the attention of another car and the Cranes started to work their way further back, clearly now a little more nervous of the increased activity. As they did so, they stopped a few times, heads raised, and broke into bouts of calling, the male starting and the female joining in. The bugling of Cranes is such an amazing sound – the video below shows them feeding and calling.

There were plenty of other things to see on our drive. We pulled up by a short-cropped grassy field which was alive with birds. A huge flock of Golden Plover, some feeding, others sleeping, was interspersed with lots of Lapwing, Fieldfares and Starlings. There are fewer geese along the coast now – a large number of the wintering Pinkfeet appear to have departed already in the last couple of weeks, on their way back north. However, we managed to find a small group of Pink-footed Geese feeding along the edge of a drainage ditch. We stopped to admire them, their pink legs and small pink-banded bills. As the heads were raised occasionally from the long grass, we could see some different birds amongst them, a few of the geese flashing a very bright white blaze around the base of the bill. A small group of White-fronted Geese were mixed in with them and we could even see the distinctive black belly bars of a couple of them.

IMG_2720White-fronted Geese – a few were mixed in with a small group of Pinkfeet

Our next stop was further inland. The herd of wintering wild swans has been rather more mobile in recent weeks, and it is getting to the time when they too may start to depart. We had a quick look at the fields where they have been in recent weeks, but there was no sign, so we headed down to the levels, another favoured area. A tightly packed line of large white shapes quickly revealed itself to be a group of about 35 Bewick’s Swans, the small yellow patch at the base of their bills catching the sun and their distinctive calls carrying to us on the breeze. A little further on, we found another little group of Bewick’s Swans. One in particular was right next to a Mute Swan giving us a great side-by-side comparison, the Bewick’s looking almost goose-like in comparison, much smaller and with a much shorter neck. Whether the flock was just scattered today, or whether some have left, we couldn’t tell. However, we couldn’t find any Whoopers amongst the swans we did manage to locate today.

There is a magical spot just a short drive away and on such a beautiful day, and with the time our own to do with as we pleased today, we decided to divert for a bit of local history. All that remains of St Benet’s Abbey are a few ruins, but it was once one of the richest abbeys in England and was unique in that it was the only abbey not closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The view from the high ground, amongst the ruins of the great church, looking to the levels all around, is particularly spectacular.

P1110810St Benet’s Abbey – the remains of the gatehouse and the levels beyond

From there, we headed over to the Yare Valley and a break for lunch. We had not even got out of the car at Strumpshaw Fen when we were greeted by a pair of Marsh Tits calling in the hedge in front of us. We stopped to admire one of them, feeding on something, possibly a seed grabbed from the feeders by the Reception Hide. It looked very smart, in buff and pale brown, with black cap and bright white cheeks. After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve for a quick look at Fen Hide. There were lots of visitors today, presumably with it being half term, and it was rather noisy. Consequently, there was not so much non-human activity on the reserve. A single Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbed, pursued by a crow. We didn’t linger too long.

P1110816Robin – enjoying the sunshine at Strumpshaw Fen

It is only a short hop from there to Buckenham Marshes. As usual this winter, there were few geese here, other than several large groups of Canada Geese and a few Greylags. A helicopter flying up the valley even managed to flush those. We saw it coming from some distance, as it put up all the geese from Cantley first – seemingly a nice little flock of Pink-footed Geese still there, though they circled round and appeared to drop down again the other side of the river. As a small group of the Canada Geese flew back later they held a much smaller goose amongst them. A single White-fronted Goose dropped down onto the grass with them, presumably it had been separated from the rest of its kind.

There were still plenty of ducks at Buckenham – still lots of Wigeon feeding on the grass, at least until they were spooked and made for the water in a scramble. Amongst them, we could pick out a pair of Shoveler and several Teal. There were flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing out on the marshes, but another couple of waders flying in were a couple of Ruff, one a classic winter male and the other a strikingly white-headed bird. Unfortunately, the only Water Pipit we could find flew over our heads calling, and disappeared straight over the river, dropping down over the other side out of view before we could properly get everyone onto it. Otherwise, there were several Meadow Pipits out in the grass. A lone Great Crested Grebe on the river was looking particularly smart in its spring finery.

P1110822Wigeon – still good numbers at Buckenham today

Halvergate has been a favourite destination this winter, and we headed over there next for an afternoon coffee break. A quick scan as we got out of the car immediately revealed the resident (for the winter) Rough-legged Buzzard perched on one of its favourite posts. We had a good look at it through the scope, – we could see its blackish belly patch and just about even the feathered legs from which it gets its name – but it wasn’t doing much, only lazily flying from one post to the next. We really wanted to see it fly properly. Thankfully, after a short wait, just enough to whet the appetite, it obliged. It flew straight towards us and proceeded to hover several times, holding its position long enough to allow us to get great views of it through the scope, flashing its white tail base as it went. After showing off for a few minutes, it obviously figured it had given us what we were waiting for and went straight back to its post again!

IMG_2732Rough-legged Buzzard – on one of its usual posts

A little further along was another small group of 44 Bewick’s Swans. Several of these were really close to the road, so we stopped and got out to admire them. They were totally unconcerned with our presence and we were able to study them closely through the scope.

IMG_2762IMG_2749Bewick’s Swans – our second group of the day

A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the marshes and one smart male came alongside us as we stopped by the road. A pair of Kestrels perched in the hawthorns as we turned round in a gateway. A Chinese Water Deer was trying to hide in a ditch. However, it was possibly still too bright for the Short-eared Owls to come out and we faced a difficult choice – whether to hang on here for them or head back for the harrier roost. In the end, reluctantly, we chose the latter.

The sky was just starting to turn a delicate pink hue as we arrived at Stubb Mill. There were only a couple of Marsh Harriers already out over the reeds, with the others presumably taking advantage of the weather to stay out hunting for as long as possible. They started to drift in, in ones and twos, as we watched. Then a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared low over the marsh in front of us, flashing its white uppertail patch, as it swept past towards the roost. It was followed shortly after by a second ringtail Hen Harrier, this one quite a pale bird, possibly a young (2cy) male. As the light started to fade, the ghostly grey shape of a male Hen Harrier appeared, but unfortunately he was much more distant, trying to slip in through the trees unnoticed. A small shape perched up in one of the trees was surely a Merlin, but it was getting late by that stage.

P1110844The view from the Stubb Mill watchpoint

There were other things to see here as well, as well as the raptors. A pale shape out in the bushes turned out to be a Barn Owl on closer inspection. It sat for some time preening, before eventually setting off for an evening’s hunting. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. As the dark descended, the Woodcock started to emerge. Flying fast, they swept out of the trees in ones and twos, swerving low round the bushes before dropping out towards the marshes.

Earlier, a couple of long necks had appeared above the reeds, their black and white faces revealing another pair of Cranes feeding out across the marshes. However, it was almost dark before the other Cranes flew in to roost, some distant bugling alerting us to their setting off – perhaps they were also taking advantage of the lovely bright evening to feed as long as possible. A line of about 20 shapes appeared through the gloom, but most of them appeared to drop down before they got to us, only 5 of them flew on and across past the trees in front. We had been rather spoilt by our views of the Cranes this morning, but as we walked back to the car with the last of the sun’s orange glow on the horizon, we were serenaded by the sound of bugling from across the landscape. An unforgettable end to a glorious day in the Broads.

7th February 2015 – Chasing Cranes & More

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today and it was off down to the Broads.

We started out looking for the herd of wild swans which has been wintering in the Ludham area. The swans have not been out on the old airfield so much recently, so we made for the levels first. On the way, we could see a small group of what from a distance looked like Whooper Swans out on the fields, but decided we would look for the large mixed group. However, they were not where they should have been! We headed back and had a good look at the 20 Whooper Swans. They were in a ploughed former beet field, where the larger herd had been feeding a few weeks ago, but looked nervous and there was obviously little food left there for them. While we were watching, they flew off towards the levels, calling loudly.

P1110504Whooper Swans – 20 looking lost in a ploughed field

P1110507Whooper Swans – then flew off towards the levels

What we really wanted to see was Whooper and Bewick’s Swans together. The fact that the Whoopers had flown off towards the river, and not to another field, suggested that the big herd was not out on the old airfield. So we headed out through the village to the west to an area which the swans sometimes use. Not far beyond Ludham, we came across a ploughed field with a very large white mass in the middle, visible from some distance. We found a convenient place to stop the car and got the scopes out. The vast majority of the herd, some 200+, were Bewick’s Swans and amongst them were just a handful of Whoopers. It was great to see them alongside each other.

IMG_2587Bewick’s Swans – 200+ were in the fields west of Ludham

IMG_2588Whooper Swans – a few were amongst the Bewick’s

P1110508Bewick’s Swans – in flight, check out the shorter necks than the Whoopers

With great views of the swans in the bag, we headed over to the coast. There was an enormous flock of Pink-footed Geese, which we could see in the air as we drove, but the birds were feeding out of view from the road. The fields held large numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing. Several Fieldfare were feeding out on the grass. A couple of Common Buzzards were standing on the telegraph poles and a number of Marsh Harriers were hunting either side of the road.

The fields in the Horsey area often hold small numbers of Common Cranes during the day, but we struggled to find them today. We picked up one Crane, but it was distant and no sooner had we turned the scopes onto it than it took off, flew a few yards and dropped down into a cover strip of tall maize. We decided on a change of plan and headed to another favoured area. We stopped the car by the road and a quick scan immediately produced two Cranes out across the fields. Finally – success. We watched them walking back and forth, feeding.

IMG_2593Common Cranes – two were feeding in the fields today

Our next stop was at Strumpshaw Fen. The feeders by the visitor centre held lots of birds – Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Marsh Tits. The pool in front of Reception Hide held no more than Coot, Mallard and Gadwall. We walked out to Fen Hide – a Cetti’s Warbler was calling from deep in the scrub and a pair of Marsh Harriers was flying over the reeds. The highlight was a Chinese Water Deer, the first of many today, which emerged into one of the cut areas. However, we couldn’t find anything more interesting. The river bank was very muddy, so we headed back to the car for lunch.

P1110512Chinese Water Deer – in the cut reeds at Strumpshaw Fen

The Taiga Bean Geese which winter in the Yare Valley have been very hard to see this winter – they seem to have spent most of their stay somewhere else. However, two were reported again yesterday from Buckenham, so we though it was worth a quick look. Unfortunately, once again, they were nowhere to be found – in fact, Buckenham was all but devoid of geese (except for a few feral Greylag and a white ‘farmyard’ goose). However, there were more Wigeon out on the grazing marshes today, though still not as many as in previous years.

P1110516Wigeon – there were more on the marshes today

We didn’t stay and drove over to Halvergate. As we pulled off the road, before we had even stopped, we picked up a large bird with a big dark belly patch on a post nearby – the Rough-legged Buzzard. Unfortunately it took to the air just as we pulled up, but we had a fantastic view of it as it flew past close by. It spent a few minutes hovering over the grazing marshes, flashing its dark-banded white tail, before crossing the road and flying to one of its favourite posts. We got great another good look at it through the scope as it sat there.

IMG_2605P1110520Rough-legged Buzzard – on a post and hovering over the marshes

There are always lots of raptors at Halvergate – we picked up a female Sparrowhawk sitting low on a gate, a couple of Marsh Harriers over the reeds, including an interesting very dark juvenile with just a small white spot on the back of its nape, and a Peregrine (a lovely petite adult male!) on a gatepost. A small flock of Dunlin and lots of Lapwings were feeding around the pools in front of us. Two other waders appeared out of the wet grass behind us, calling. One was a grunting Snipe, the other was more of a surprise – the distinctive high-pitched call of a Green Sandpiper. Small numbers do spend the winter in Norfolk, often inland in farm ditches, though more head further south.  This one circled overhead calling, before flying off towards the main road.

A little further along the road, a lot of white shapes out on the marshes were a mixture of Mute Swans and another group of about 40 Bewick’s Swans – interesting to see the size difference between those two. A little group of thrushes on a hawthorn bush consisted of a mixture of Fieldfare and several Redwing. With the cloud thickening and a little drizzle starting to fall, we decided to move on. We headed for our last destination of the day. On the way, another 3 Common Cranes flew up from the fields and across the road just behind us.

P1110527Stubb Mill – the view over the marshes from the watchpoint

We arrived at Stubb Mill just after 3.30pm. It was cold and slightly damp initially, but gradually the weather improved a little. The Marsh Harriers started to drift in to the reedbed from all angles, sitting around low down in the bushes. At one point we had almost 20 circling in the air together, and still more arrived thereafter. By the end, there were at least 30 in total went into the roost, and probably many more. Then a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared, flying low across in front of us, through the bushes out over the reeds at the back, a smaller and slimmer beast altogether, flashing its white uppertail coverts. Then a second ringtail Hen Harrier flew in, closer than the first. Finally a ghostly grey male drifted in, low above the reeds, appearing and disappearing between the bushes. We watched it for some time as it circled its way through the trees. Always a majestic sight.

There are normally a couple of Common Cranes feeding out on the grass but they were nowhere to be seen at first today. Suddenly, they appeared and flew across in front of the watchpoint – a great sight. They landed on the grass out amongst the bushes and walked in to feed. As some cars drove down the road, they stretched their necks in alarm and then took off, flying off towards the reserve. A short while later, they appeared again, walking back to where they had previously been. There were other things to see here as well. A Sparrowhawk flashed across in front of us. A Kingfisher called from the depths of the ditch and flew over towards the mill. A Tawny Owl started hooting. A couple of Woodcock flew past in the gathering gloom.

That might have been the end of it, but the Cranes often leave the best ’til last. We had heard some bugling, which sounded like it was coming from birds already on the reserve. Then we heard some more bugling from somewhere to the north. Finally, as it was just getting dark, the calling picked up in intensity as they took flight. They were hard to see at first, then a long line, several small groups of these giant birds flew out of the dark. Twenty Cranes flew across in front of us, and another five flew into the glorious sunset behind us and out onto the reserve. What a great way to end the day.

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

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

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

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

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

P1100222Mediterranean Gulls – 3 winter adults, with different head patterns

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

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

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

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

P1100136Pink-footed Geese – we saw several large flocks today

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1100337Sunset at Stubb Mill