Tag Archives: Grey Seal

16th January 2015 – Broads Bonanza

The first day of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. We headed down to the Broads to catch up on a few of the local specialities. We picked up a couple of participants on the way, in Aylsham, and were rewarded with a Barn Owl hunting down by the river. A good start to the day.

The first stop proper was at Ludham. We could already see the swans from a good mile away. One collective noun for them is a “whiteness of swans” and this seemed particularly apt as 200 large white birds in a flat open landscape really stand out! We stopped nearby and spent some time studying them in the scopes. The majority (175+) were Bewick’s Swans and amongst them were a smaller number (25+) of Whooper Swans. It is always great to be able to see them side-by-side, to see the differences in size and structure, and the pattern of yellow on their respective bills.

P1100961IMG_2269Bewick’s & Whooper Swans – a herd of around 200 was at Ludham today

From there we moved on to Horsey. A drive along the coast road quickly yielded our next target – a pair of Common Cranes in their ‘usual’ field close to the road. We pulled over and watched them feeding for a while before they suddenly took flight and dropped down over a bank of reeds. Fantastic views! While we were still standing there, yet another Crane flew over. Unfortunately this one seemed to be injured – one of its legs was dangling beneath. It landed on the other side of the road and, whilst still able to move about and probably feed, it was clearly unsteady and would frequently raise its wings to steady itself. Such a great shame to see such a majestic bird in this state.

P1100966Common Cranes – these two were feeding close to the road

P1100969P1100973Common Crane – this poor bird unfortunately appeared to have an injured leg

With Cranes all around, we spent some time surveying the surrounding fields. Lots of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Fieldfare, Starling and even a Common Buzzard were out on the open grass. There were also quite a few Pink-footed Geese on view, but the bulk of the flock today were feeding further away. As we left and drove on up the road, we could see all three Cranes, two on one side and the injured bird on the other.

P1100981P1100985Grey Seals – the rookery at Horsey has had a record year

We stopped further on at Horsey Corner and walked behind the dunes out to the viewpoint for the Grey Seals. The rookery here has had another successful breeding season, with over 800 pups now recorded. Numbers have now dropped from the peak in November/December, but there were still a few pups out on the sand, as well as a selection of adults loafing on the beach.

While we there, we spent a while scanning the sea, which produced a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe for the day’s list, as well as a single Sanderling running along the beach and plenty of gulls taking advantage of the remains of those pups which didn’t make it to sea. Both on the walk out, and the way back, we were accompanied for part of the journey by a pair of Stonechats perching along the fence posts in front of us.

P1100977Stonechat – a pair was along the fence at Horsey

Due to roadworks, we had been forced to drive round via Hemsby to get to and from Horsey today. This should have been to our advantage, as several Tundra Bean Geese have been in with Pink-footed Geese at Hemsby recently. Unfortunately a metal detecting enthusiast had chosen today to prospect the fields they had been in, so the geese had moved on. So did we – we headed round to Strumpshaw for lunch. While we ate, we enjoyed a good selection of tits coming to the feeders, including a couple of Marsh Tits.

The Taiga Bean Geese which normally winter in the Yare Valley have been feeding somewhere other than their regular sites this year. With 7 reported from Cantley Marshes this morning, it seemed worth a look. However, in keeping with recent form they were nowhere to be found, so we moved swiftly on.

IMG_2274IMG_2275Rough-legged Buzzard – put on a good display this afternoon

A short drive to Halvergate and no sooner had we got out of the car than we were wondering where to look. On one side of the road, a Short-eared Owl was hunting back and forth across the grazing marshes. On the other,  the Rough-legged Buzzard was sat on a fence post. What a dilemma! We watched the Short-eared Owl for a while, as it was putting on by far and away the best performance initially. It looked stunning in the late afternoon sun.

Finally, as if in recognition of the fact that its lack of activity was costing it the attention it deserved, the Rough-legged Buzzard took to the air and spent a while hunting, hovering over the marshes. Through the scope, we could get a great look at its black-banded white tail and white underparts with contrasting black belly and carpal patches. At one point, it was even pursued by a second Short-eared Owl.

P1100988Short-eared Owl – 2 were hunting at Halvergate this afternoon

With the afternoon drawing on, we made for Hickling and walked out to Stubb Mill for the evening roost. The Marsh Harriers were already starting to gather and yet another two Common Cranes were feeding out across the marshes. As we scanned the fields, a steady stream of Marsh Harriers were drifting in to roost (we counted at least 30) and eventually we managed to pick up our first ringtail Hen Harrier briefly. Then a male Hen Harrier appeared, an ghostly apparition in pale grey, it flew in and dropped down behind the reeds. Then another ringtail appeared and spent some time circling over the reeds. A Merlin shot through, all too briefly before anyone could get onto it. A Kingfisher flew round in front of us and dropped into the ditch behind – it perched up on the bank for a while where we could get it in the scope. A Chinese Water Deer walked across the marsh.

However the day undoubtedly belonged to the Cranes. After the three we had seen so well earlier, it seemed like we couldn’t hope for better, but as the light faded a flock (herd?) of 8 flew lazily across in front of the watchpoint – quite a sight. Thinking that was a fitting end to the day, we set off back to the car. But as we walked yet three more Cranes appeared over the trees and, as we stood silently on the road they flew right over our heads and off over to Hickling Broad to roost. Simply awesome.

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13th January 2015 – Highlights of the Broads

I was out in the Broads for a day, catching up on a few birds I haven’t seen yet this year and checking on a few sites. It was a great day, with some really good birds – it is always good to visit the Broads at this time of year. Here are some of the highlights.

First stop was a quick look for the regular wintering flock of wild swans. First a small group of 6 Whooper Swans were in a field where the group had been a week ago. It didn’t take long then to locate the main flock – over 200 white shapes in a field really stand out! What a sight. I spent some time watching them, a rough count produced at least 180 Bewick’s Swans and close to 20 Whoopers, before the other 6 Whoopers flew in to join them.

P1100867Bewick’s & Whooper Swans – part of the flock of over 200 present today

Round to Horsey and I arrived just in time to see the farmer rounding up his sheep with a quad bike. All the noise and activity flushed 4 Common Cranes which had been in a field nearby and they flew lazily across the road in front of me and away towards Heigham Holmes.

P1100879Common Cranes – 3 of the 4 at Horsey this morning

Up at Horsey Corner, I walked out to check on the Grey Seals. There were still quite a few hauled out on the beach and some pups – a new one had just been born. As of 8th Jan, still over 100 pups had been counted, though numbers are now dropping. Over 700 have apparently been counted this year.

P1100883P1100885Grey Seals at Horsey

On the drive back, two Common Cranes had returned to the field by the road and where the sheep had been previously was now a flock of well over 1,000 Pink-footed Geese. A careful scan through revealed 5 Tundra Bean Geese, their orange legs and bill patterns giving them away, as well as several other more subtle plumage differences. A nearby Pink-footed Goose with orange, rather than Pink, feet (& legs) highlighted a pitfall for the unwary.

IMG_2245Tundra Bean Goose – one of a group of five at Horsey

From there, I drove round to Strumpshaw Fen. The RSPB reserve had flooded over the weekend, as the river overtopped on a high tide, and I wanted to check on the state of the trails. The answer was very muddy and likely to remain so for a few days. However, a bonus came in the form of a Bittern visible in the reeds from Reception Hide.

P1100892Bittern – hiding in the reeds at Strumpshaw Fen

A quick look at Buckenham and Cantley revealed a complete lack of any wild geese and relatively few other wildfowl. The marshes here have been slightly disappointing this winter, whether due to the mild weather or increased wildfowl shooting on the neighbouring marshes or a combination of the two.

Down the road at Halvergate, the regular Rough-legged Buzzard was to be found sitting on a post on the marshes. It did a quick fly round, showing off its pale tail base. However, the highlight was a Short-eared Owl hunting over the marshes. I watched it for about half an hour, quartering back and forth, occasionally chasing off the local Kestrel, and even managing to catch a couple of voles. It was great to watch how it dealt with its prey – mantling over it initially, constantly on alert and looking round between bending down to it repeatedly, several bites appeared to kill it, before picking it up in its bill and swallowing it whole.

P1100922Short-eared Owl – hunting the marshes at Halvergate

I finished the day with a visit to the harrier roost at Stubb Mill. I confess that I didn’t stay to the bitter end, with the weather having deteriorated from the earlier sunshine and some squally wintery showers now passing through, but there were at least 25 Marsh Harriers, two ringtail Hen Harriers (and a male that I had just missed), a brief Merlin, two Stonechats, a Chinese Water Deer and a pair of Common Cranes feeding in the fields before flying off towards Hickling Broad. Not a bad way to spend an hour in the late afternoon!

Broads Tours will run until the end of February, if you are interested in coming to enjoy some of this for yourself please let me know.

Marcus Nash http://www.birdtour.co.uk