Tag Archives: Great Yarmouth

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.

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