Tag Archives: Crane

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

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

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

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – flying round, very nervous today

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

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

Whooper Swans

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

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

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

Common Cranes 1

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

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

Common Cranes 2

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

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

Common Cranes 3

Common Cranes – six of the group flew round bugling

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

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

Peregrine

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

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

Bewick's Swans

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

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

Glossy Ibis

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

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

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

Rough-legged Buzzard

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

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

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

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

Common Cranes 4

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

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

Common Cranes 5

Common Crane – another five flew in to roost at dusk

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

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

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7th Feb 2018 – Wintry Broads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Crane 1

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

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

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

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – a small mixed group with Mute Swans

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

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

Goshawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Crane 2

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

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

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

Common Crane 3

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

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

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

Bewick's Swan

Bewick’s Swan – one of four at Halvergate today

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

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

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

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

Glossy Ibis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breydon Water

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

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

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

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

25th Jan 2018 – Cranes, Swans & Raptors

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

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

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

Chinese Water Deer

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

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

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

Bewick's Swans

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

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

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

Whooper Swan

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

25th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 2

The second day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, as well as the more regular species we can see here at this time of year. It was mostly cloudy but pleasantly warm and bright, and we managed for the most part to dodge the showers in the afternoon, at least until we had finished for the day.

On the drive down to the Brecks, we saw several Red Kites today, hanging in the air by the road. We took a meandering route, looking for Stone Curlews and other birds on the way down. The pig fields in the northern Brecks were full of Rooks, Jackdaws and gulls. We stopped to look through a particularly large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and were rewarded with a single adult Yellow-legged Gull with them – larger, bulkier and with a much paler grey back and custard yellow legs.

The first couple of fields where we looked for Stone Curlew, we drew a blank. The vegetation is getting very tall now and the birds are getting much harder to see. But on our third stop, we found one Stone Curlew out in the open on rather bare and stony ground. Even though we remained at some considerable distance, it was a little nervous at first, running in a couple of short bursts across towards the edge of the field. We stood still behind the car and it quickly settled down, standing and preening.

Stone Curlew

In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and left the Stone Curlew still standing out in the open in the field. With one of our main target species for the day already in the bag, we decided to head straight over to Lakenheath Fen next.

As we walked out onto the reserve at Lakenheath, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the bushes. There were lots of Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds and weedy vegetation by the path. There were lots of butterflies too – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a smart Large Skipper.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – on the walk out by the main path

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint for a scan across the reeds. There were just a few Coots on the pool today, adults and juveniles of varying ages. A Common Tern flew in and started hovering out over the water. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across, and we saw a brief Hobby which was chasing a Magpie over the back of the reeds. A very distant pair of Kestrels circled over West Wood.

A Cuckoo was singing from the poplars as we walked out and, while we stood at the viewpoint, one came out of the trees behind us and flew out across over the reeds. It disappeared into the poplars along the other side. There were several Reed Warblers zipping about in the reeds around the water.

There is only one pair of Common Cranes breeding here this year and they are not in an accessible part of the reserve, so we had assumed we would not see any here today. We had been told by the warden in the visitor centre that six Cranes had been reported earlier, but as they had been flying around we were not sure if they had gone. At this point however they circled up over West Wood, and we watched as they circled across to the river and started drifting east.

Common Crane 1Common Crane – six flew over New Fen while we were there today

It looked like the Cranes would continue east over the river but when they got level with us they turned, and started coming straight towards us over edge of trees. They were not far away when they finally banked over the wood and started to circle up, before drifting back east. A real bonus!

Common Crane 2Common Crane – four of the six circling over East Wood

Continuing out along the main path, we stopped from time to time to look at the various dragonflies. These included good numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters now, although still comparatively few mature red males of the latter species, plus a few Brown Hawkers and plenty of Four-Spotted Chasers still.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – a maturing male, gradually turning red

There was an excellent selection of blue damselflies here too – including several of the regular Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies. The highlight was a single Variable Damselfly – a subtly marked one, with rather full blue antehumeral stripes.

Variable DamselflyVariable Damselfly – with rather complete black antehumeral stripes

Another, this time avian, highlight was the Great Crested Grebe on one of the pools by path near West Wood. On closer inspection, we could see it was carrying two small, stripy juvenile grebes on its back. We could just see their black and white heads sticking out from their parent’s feathers. Why swim when you can ride in comfort!

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – with two juveniles riding on its back

When we got out to Joist Fen Viewpoint, we sat down to rest after the walk out and had a look over the reeds in front. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reedbed and lots of Reed Warblers around the pool in front. A Hobby shot across low over the reeds, giving us much better views than we had of the one earlier.

We had seen a pair of Bearded Tits in the edge of the reeds just as we approached the Joist Fen Viewpoint, but they had flown up and over the bank ahead of us. Sitting on the benches we found ourselves watching non-stop Bearded Tit action. Birds were zipping back and forth over the pool and feeding low around the base of the reeds on the edge of the water.

One pair of Bearded Tits, possibly the one we had seen flying over this way on the way out, was feeding some juveniles hidden down in the reeds right in front of us. The youngsters would occasionally perch up in the reeds begging when one of the adults returned. We had great views of them.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – great views of adults feeding young in front of the viewpoint

This is a great time of year to see Bitterns at Lakenheath Fen, with adults busy feeding growing young in the nest, and so flying back and forth from their favoured feeding areas regularly. But they kept us waiting today. We had one eye on the clock, aiming to get back for lunch, and time was ticking. There was just one tantalising glimpse, which was too quick for anyone to get onto. Eventually, we had nice views when a Bittern flew out of the bushes beside the viewpoint and away across the reeds in front of us, before dropping down into the vegetation. It was perhaps not the best view of Bittern we have had here, but it was good enough and would have to do as we needed to get back.

It seems Bitterns are like buses. Having had to wait to see the first at Joist Fen, we were walking back when one flew up from the reeds in front of us, right next to the path, flushed by someone walking along the path towards us. It was very close, and we had a fantastic look at it as it flew out across the pool, turning to fly past us before dropping back into the reeds. As if that wasn’t good enough, as we were walking past Mere Hide, another Bittern flew towards us low over the reeds beside the path, and carried on straight past us. Fantastic views!

BitternBittern – we were treated to fantastic views of two on the walk back

With a spring in our step, we walked back to the visitor centre, for a later than planned lunch outside at the picnic tables. After lunch, we had a quick look at the Washland. It is getting rather dry now, but still we managed to add a few waders to the day’s list – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a single Redshank. There were a few Mallard and Gadwall with ducklings, and a couple of Common Terns too.

We drove back to Thetford Forest for the rest of the afternoon, to try to catch up with some woodland birds. The little clump of trees where the male Redstart was singing a couple of weeks ago is now quiet. However, as we walked round into the clearing, we caught a glimpse of a Woodlark in the corner drop down into the grass. We walked round there to try to get a closer look.

As we made our way over, a Tree Pipit started singing. We watched as it fluttered up and then parachuted down across in front of us, landing again in the back of a large hawthorn bush. We could just see bits of it in the scope. Then, a second Tree Pipit flew over calling, and dropped into the top of another bush further back. This one was out in the open and facing us, so we got a much better look at it in the scope, although it was rather distant.

Carrying on around the clearing, we flushed a Woodlark from the long grass beside the path, possibly the one we had seen earlier. It flew round past us, showing off its short tail, and landed in a nearby pine tree briefly. We got a good look through binoculars, but it dropped down into the thicker branches before we could get it in the scope. A little further on along the path, we flushed another three Woodlarks from the grass, presumably a family party.

Continuing up to the far end of the clearing, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing again. We didn’t see where it came from, but we looked round to see it fly up into the edge of the pines and land on a branch. We got it in the scope and had a proper look at it, much closer this time. It had started spitting with rain as we walked round, and now it started to rain harder. It was still only light, but we made our way quickly back to the car just in case.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – this one perched up nicely for us in the trees

Thankfully the rain stopped almost immediately, as we drove round to Lynford Arboretum for the last hour of the day. We had already seen all our main target species, but we hoped we might be able to catch up with a few commoner woodland species here for our trip list.

As we walked across the road and into the Aboretum, we could hear a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew over the trees above our head, but we couldn’t see it. Several Goldcrests were singing from the fir trees. We stopped to watch a pair of Treecreepers, chasing each other around the trunk of a tree just before the gates to the new cottages. Suddenly a Spotted Flycatcher appeared in the same tree right next to them.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – showed really well as we walked in to the Arboretum

We got a great look at it, but the Spotted Flycatcher quickly flicked back over the other side of the garden wall behind. We walked up to the gates and could see it flitting around the roofs of the cottages. They are very subtle but very smart birds, and full of character. Spotted Flycatchers are getting much scarcer now, so it is always a pleasure to see one, especially as well as this.

Continuing on along the path, we stopped to admire the new wildflower meadow. It is looking really good this year, a riot of colour, and chock full of insects and butterflies. Several Emperor Dragonflies were hawking around over the vegetation. A female Kestrel was perched on a telegraph post in the field, and kept dropping down into the flowers, presumably after something tasty it had seen.

We had only gone a little further when we heard a bird calling from the trees across the field. It was a Hawfinch. We hurried along to a point from where we could scan over the trees and found it perched in the top of a fir tree. We all got a look at it through binoculars, but unfortunately it dropped down before we could get the scope onto it. We walked in along the path where it seemed to drop, but we couldn’t find it again. Hawfinches are regular here in the winter but are as rare as hens’ teeth here in the summer, and difficult to see when there are leaves on the trees too, so this was a real and most unexpected bonus!

Down over the bridge, we too the path along the side of the lake. There were a few tits in the trees and Swallows hawking for insects low over the paddocks. A Little Grebe was diving among the lily pads on the lake. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a juvenile Grey Wagtail lurking on the mud on the edge of the island.

It had been a very productive stop at Lynford and it made a really nice way to end the day and the weekend. We walked back up to the car – arriving just in time, as a heavy shower blew in. Our luck had certainly been in today!

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.

5th Mar 2017 – Winter & Brecks, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Winter & Brecks Tour, aiming to catch up with some of our wintering birds in North Norfolk, as well as the specialities of early spring in the Brecks, our final day. The weather forecast was not great again, with a band of heavy rain expected to move in quickly this morning and last for several hours, but as we have seen repeatedly over the last couple of days, it would be very foolish to rely on the forecast!

Having missed the Pallid Harrier over the last couple of days, the news that it was back early this morning was too tempting to miss. A quick visit by this correspondent on the way to collect the group confirmed where it was and soon we were all back watching this great bird.

img_1298Pallid Harrier – we finally caught up with the juvenile at New Holkham

It was nice and sunny first thing this morning in North Norfolk and excellent light. The Pallid Harrier was hunting over a more distant wheat field at first, flying low over the ground or down the hedge lines looking for food, trying to flush small birds or find small mammals. It was very narrow winged compared to the other harriers we had seen over the weekend, with a pointed ‘hand’, and an agile flight action.

Gradually the Pallid Harrier worked its way back towards us, at times disappearing behind a ridge. When it worked its way back along a hedge at one point, a Merlin appeared with it. The Merlin perched up on the hedge while the Pallid Harrier flew over the verge beside. The Merlin was probably looking for small birds flushed by the harrier, which it could chase after itself.

Finally the Pallid Harrier came in over a stubble field, just across from us. As it banked and turned, the morning sun caught on its underparts, which glowed orange, typical of a juvenile. Its upperparts were contrastingly dark brown, with a white square at the base of the tail and a pale creamy patch across the coverts. Through the scope, it was possible to see the Pallid Harrier‘s diagnostic pale collar and dark ‘boa’, the brown patches on the side of the neck behind the collar.

It flew back and forth over the stubble field for a while, allowing us all to get a great look at it, then the Pallid Harrier flew across to one side, had a quick stoop at an unsuspecting female Pheasant, and disappeared across the road. Wow!

It had been well worth the stop. Although we were intending to head back down to the Brecks this morning, this was just about on our way. As we finally got underway again and headed south, it started to rain. It was a bit earlier than expected, so it was good that we had been able to make the most of the early sunshine.

Our first stop in the Brecks was at Santon Downham. When we got out of the cars, yes it was raining, but it wasn’t exactly raining hard. The conditions were a long way from ideal, but we decided to give it a go and have a walk along the river. Our real target here was going to be Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but that was going to be a real challenge to find now. As we walked along, a couple of Green Woodpeckers laughed at us from the trees. It didn’t sound like they thought much of our prospects! A sharp ‘kik’ call alerted us to the presence of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and we looked up to see it flying through the tops and landing high in a bare tree.

There were other birds along here too. A Crossbill flew over calling and landed in the top of a tall poplar. Through binoculars we could see that it was a red male and it then started singing, a jumbled mixture of call notes and quiet wheezes and trills, not much to write home about as birdsong goes but interesting to hear. A couple of Marsh Tits called from further back in the undergrowth. A Nuthatch was piping from somewhere in the trees too.

When we got to the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers‘ favourite trees, all was quiet. We stood listening for a few minutes, and while we were standing there we turned to look across at the alders the other side. There was a lot of activity in the trees. A pair of Treecreepers were chasing each other round and round between the trunks. A couple of Siskins were swinging in the branches. There were several tits there too and a Nuthatch.

One of the group caught sight of a woodpecker and as we turned to look, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flicked across onto a tree. Then a much smaller bird appeared on the trunk of the tree behind. Rather than the bold white shoulder patches of the Great Spotted Woodpecker, it was densely barred with white on its black back and wings. It was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

img_1302Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – barred with white on its back and wings

It was a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, lacking the red crown of the male. It was hard to get onto at first, as it kept flitting between trees, climbing up the trunks and sometimes disappearing round the back or behind other trees. With a bit of perseverance, we managed to get it in the scope and everyone had a great look at it. What an unexpected result!

When it disappeared deeper into the trees, we decided not to push our luck and headed back the way we had come. We stopped to look at a large flock of Siskins in the alders and found at least one Lesser Redpoll in with them. There were a few Bramblings in the trees too and a large flock of Redwings flew up from the meadows as we passed.

It stopped raining as we walked back, which was a most welcome surprise! It seemed like the band of rain had passed over much more quickly than expected and without raining as hard. It was still grey and damp though. We had a quick look up around the churchyard to see if we could find any Firecrests, but that was pushing our luck too far.

Before lunch, we had a quick drive over to Thetford, to the delights of a recycling centre on an industrial estate – there is nothing if not a variety in our choice of venues! This has been a very good spot for gulls in recent weeks. A Sunday is never the best day to look for them here, as the recycling centre is closed, although they often loaf around on the roofs anyway. Perhaps because of the earlier rain, there were very few today, just a few Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, so we didn’t stop long.

Lakenheath Fen was our destination for the afternoon. We ate our lunch in the visitor centre, looking out at the feeders. A steady stream of birds came in and out – mainly Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and tits. One of the volunteers kindly drew our attention to a Water Rail which was lurking in the cut reeds below the balcony, before it scuttled back into cover.

6o0a9043Reed Bunting – a variety came in to feed by the visitor centre

It had started to brighten up from the west over lunch, so we set off to explore the reserve. It was still cool and damp as we walked down the path to New Fen. A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds – it was a young bird and was carrying green wings tags on its wings. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts with scopes, we were unable to read the code, however it had most likely been ringed here.

There were several ducks on the water in front of the viewpoint, mainly Gadwall plus a few Mallard and Teal. Gadwall are one of the most under-rated of ducks, the male’s apparently grey plumage actually being a variety of different patterns – barring, scalloping, streaking – so we had a good look at one through the scope. A Common Snipe flew up and landed back down on the edge of the reeds briefly before scuttling back into cover. A Cetti’s Warbler sang half-heartedly from deep in the reeds.

img_1316Gadwall – the most under-rated of ducks

We pressed on west. There was no sign of any Common Cranes from Joist Fen viewpoint. A Cormorant was on a post, drying its wings. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds. A Common Buzzard was standing on a fence post at the edge of the paddocks. There were still some dark clouds coming in on the brisk wind, so we waited while they passed over, even though it did nothing more than spit with rain for a few seconds. Once they were gone, we headed up to the river bank.

Scanning the fields north of the river, we spotted a pair of Common Cranes some way over. We got them in the scope, and we could see they were two adults, with well-marked black and white heads and a red patch on the top. We presumed they were one of the two regular breeding pairs from the reserve.

img_1324Common Crane – one of the breeding pairs, in a field north of the river

While we were watching this pair, we could hear more Cranes bugling further over, which prompted the ones we were observing to respond. Then a second pair of Cranes flew in and landed right next to the first. This second pair started to display, duetting with their heads pointing skywards.This was all slightly perplexing, as it would be odd for the other resident pair to trespass in the other’s territory.

The original pair then took off and it looked like they would land again a couple of fields over, but instead they flushed a fifth Crane which took off too. Now we knew already from one of the wardens that one of the resident Crane pairs had just today been trying to kick their juvenile born last year out of their territory. In the last few days it had still been accompanying the two adults everywhere, but it had been seen on its own earlier. It quickly became clear that this was the juvenile we were seeing take off, chased by its parents.

These three Cranes flew off over the reserve and disappeared over the trees way to the south, and they were soon followed by the other pair. However, after a few seconds they came back and the three landed down in the edge of the reedbed. Through the scope, we could see it was the pair and the juvenile. Then the other pair flew over and they took off again.

All five Cranes flew up and landed on the river bank. At this stage, we were still assuming that we were watching the two resident pairs with the one remaining juvenile from 2016. However, while they were standing on the bank, another pair of Cranes walked up to join them, duetting as they did so. We could now see seven Cranes standing on the bank together, in a line!

img_1351Common Crane – seven birds in a line, on the river bank

The juvenile Crane was still with what we believed were its parents at this stage, but they were clearly not happy with it. The next thing we knew they started to chase after it. The poor juvenile scrambled down along the bank and back up the other side of the other two pairs of adults, where it was out of reach. It was all action  – it was like watching a Crane soap opera!

It was rather hard to keep track of them for a while. Different Cranes were bickering, two flew off down to the edge of the river beyond, but it seemed we were missing one of the adults and the juvenile. The next thing we knew, three Cranes took off again – one of the pairs and the juvenile. We wondered whether the juvenile was being chased at first, but by the end it was not clear whether it was just trying to follow its parents. The three flew round over the reserve, turned back to the river, and then came straight over and past us along the river. Stunning! They disappeared off east, beyond the poplars and were lost to view.

6o0a9122Common Cranes – two adults, followed by a juvenile

While we were watching the Cranes flying right past us, one of the group spotted a Great White Egret flying away along the river. All very confusing, we didn’t know where to look! After the Cranes had disappeared, we walked along the river to see if we could find it. A Little Egret flew off ahead of us and disappeared behind a bush. As we walked past, two egrets took off from behind it and we could see they were very different sizes. The Great White Egret dwarfed the Little Egret.

6o0a9143Great White Egret and Little Egret – one big, one much smaller

The two egrets landed out of view in a channel in the wet meadows north of the river. But almost immediately, a male Marsh Harrier flew right over, flushing all the ducks and the egrets. We got a good look at the Great White Egret as it flew slowly away.

There were some more dark clouds approaching, so we made our way back to Joist Fen Viewpoint and sheltered as a brief shower passed over. Then we walked back across the reserve, with the dark clouds moving away ahead of us, the low sun lighting up the trees in front, and a double rainbow across the sky. Quite a view!

It had been a great way to end the day, and draw a very exciting weekend to a close, watching all the action with the Cranes. We made our way back to Mundord where part of the group left to head off south, while the rest of us continued on to North Norfolk.

POSTSCRIPT – as we drove through Swaffham, we could see an enormous flock of Starlings already starting to gather – we had thought we might be heading back too early to catch them, now the nights are drawing out. We couldn’t resist stopping.

The number of Starlings here still seems to be growing – there were at least 20,000 the last time we came but it looked to be much more than that now. The sky was black with birds. They were mostly flying round in a loose flock at first, a vast cloud covering the sky, rather than making tight shapes. But it was mesmerising standing underneath them, even if we were in danger of being spattered! The flock was composed of different layers, circling in different directions, it was enough to make you feel dizzy. We just stood and watched in awe.

img_1367Starlings – a huge cloud over Swaffham

Gradually, as it started to get dark, the groups started to coalesce. The point before they actually go into roost is when the Starlings are at their most nervous. Now we started to see them making some shapes, swirling around. Finally, they started to drop into the trees. It was like someone had turned on a vacuum cleaner – the flocks circled lower and suddenly a stream of birds would drop like a stone and dive headlong into the bushes. It is amazing they don’t crash into each other.

The swirling flocks were remarkably quiet, apart from the hum from the beating of thousands wings, but once they get into the roost trees the Starlings start to chatter and their was a remarkable cacophony building as the sky emptied. Now it really was time to head for home.