Tag Archives: Hickling Broad

5th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, including a Nightjar Evening. After a grey and cloudy start, it gradually brightened up and then the skies cleared from the west around midday, producing a lovely sunny afternoon. We spent the day down in the Norfolk Broads, then the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We started the day with the long drive down to the Broads. There had been a 1st summer male Red-footed Falcon at Hickling Broad reported yesterday and we were hoping to see that and some Swallowtails too. As we got out of the minibus at the NWT car park, several Willow Warblers were singing in the trees nearby and the Peacocks at the next door animal rescue charity were calling too (unfortunately that one doesn’t count!).

We set off down towards the track to Stubb Mill, which was where the falcon had been, stopping on the corner for our first scan. We could immediately see several distant Hobbys in the dead trees out in the reedbed. As we had hoped, the falcons were yet to really get going, with the cloudy start to the day. We could see a small group of other birders further up Whiteslea track, on the bank, looking for the Red-footed Falcon.

We were just debating which way to go, when we noticed a local birder walking back along the track towards us, so we asked him for an update. He told us there was no sign of the Red-footed Falcon this morning and he also suggested that most of the later reports yesterday related to misidentified Hobbys. So it looked increasingly like it hadn’t roosted in the trees here with the Hobbys overnight as we had thought it might have done, and had probably moved swiftly through yesterday. He did tell us about some Garganey on the pools, and we figured we would continue on down the track towards Stubb Mill to see what else we could see.

A couple of Common Whitethroats were flitting around in the bushes by the track ahead of us as we walked along. We had just stopped opposite the second of the pools to scan for the Garganey, when one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying in over the fields behind us. It disappeared behind the trees then reappeared over the track ahead of us, flying out over the pools, before circling round and dropping down into reedbed beyond. A nice start.

Common Crane – flew in

There were lots of hirundines and Swifts hawking low over the pools, including several Sand Martins. It was a good opportunity to compare them with the House Martins. A Common Buzzard and a Marsh Harrier circled high over the trees behind us now. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were roosting on the short grass by the water. Several Lapwings were flying round calling, and there were a few Avocets out here too.

Most of the ducks were asleep, mainly Gadwall and a few Mallard, plus a single Wigeon and a couple of Teal out on the water beyond. Scanning carefully, we finally found the Garganey, two exclipse drakes in their drabber, female-like plumage, also asleep. For no apparent reason, one of the Avocet decided to run at them, and they woke up briefly, then moving further towards the bank where we couldn’t really get a clear view of them any more. Very helpful of the Avocet!

One of the group was looking at four distant Greylags flying over the back of the reedbed and noticed a large brown bird below. It was a Bittern flying across. Unfortunately it quickly dropped back down into the reeds before all the rest of the group could get on it.

We continued on to where track goes up onto the bank. We were a bit closer to the dead trees and had better views of the Hobbys from here, although it was starting to brighten up and the Hobbys were becoming more active, flying up hawking for insects.

We could see a pair of Ringed Plovers on one of the islands on the pool in front of us, one of which looked to be incubating. They were noticeably paler above than the tundrae Ringed Plovers we had seen at Titchwell yesterday. There were also a couple of Redshank on here and a couple of Common Terns flew over. A Bittern appeared again, from behind the dead trees over the reeds at the back, but again it was distant and hard to pick up against the trees.

We decided to walk back and up the track towards Bittern Hide, hoping for a better view of its namesake. There were several dragonflies flying around now – Four-spotted Chasers – and more damselflies in the vegetation by the path, including Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Blue-tailed Damselfly – warming up

We walked up Whiteslea Track now, and a Treecreeper was singing in the trees as we passed. We took the path up onto the bank and scanned the pool, picking up an Egyptian Goose from round on this side. Then we continued on towards the hide. A Bittern flew up again, but again was only up for couple of seconds and some of the group still hadn’t seen one, so we stood for a while on the corner before Bittern Hide. We scanned the reeds, but it didn’t reappear. Four more Cranes circled up slowly in the distance. Behind us, we could see the edge of the front which had brought all the cloud and the skies slowly cleared from the west to sunshine.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging and turned to see a couple fly across the ditch in front of us. A female perched in the edge for a few seconds. Some more Bearded Tits were calling further along, in the reeds by the path, and the male climbed up briefly into the tops, before flying and dropping back in. It seemed like they might have young in here. A couple of times the male flew out across the track and then back in with food.

Bearded Tit – the female in the reeds

It was time to head back for lunch now. We had seen an adult Black-headed Gull walking around on the top of the bank earlier, which seemed odd, and now we realised why. A fluffy Black-headed Gull chick had walked out of the long grass on the edge of the path. We waited for it to go back in before we walked on. A female Common Blue butterfly was nectaring on a buttercup.

Common Blue butterfly – a female

We cut across on the path through the wood, back to the Visitor Centre. There were several Four-spotted Chasers warming themselves on the brambles here in the sunshine. A male Reed Bunting was gathering food and flew across into a dead tree. A Common Whitethroat flitted in and out of the trees ahead of us.

Four-spotted Chaser – basking in the sunshine

We had our lunch in the picnic area in the sunshine. A Garden Warbler was singing in the trees nearby briefly. Our initial plan was to go somewhere different after lunch, but we had to be back early and didn’t have much time now, and figured we could look for Swallowtails here and maybe have another chance for the members of the group who had not caught any of the Bittern flights earlier.

It was warm now, as we set off again. We walked the other way round the reserve this time, out past the hides, towards the Broad, following the Covid one-way system. A couple of Reed Warblers showed well in the young reeds next to path. When we stopped to look at a male Reed Bunting singing in the top of a dead tree, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of the trees behind and overhead.

We stopped to scan one of the overgrown ditches. There were several more dragonflies here, including a Hairy Dragonfly as well as more Four-spotted Chasers. A small shoal of Common Rudd was in the open water amongst the marestail.

Common Rudd – in one of the ditches

We stopped again at the first viewpoint overlooking the Broad. There were lots of Mute Swans out on the water, but not much else – often the way with the actual Broads themselves. A Marsh Harrier circled over in the sunshine. Continuing along the path, several Willow Warblers were calling in the sallows, collecting food, and one perched right in the top of an alder, singing.

Willow Warbler – in the sallows

We were struggling at first to find any Swallowtails or any flowers out for them to nectar on. Everything is very late this year after the cold spring. Finally, along the path towards the Observation Hide a Swallowtail flew in. But it carried on straight past us, flying very quickly ahead of us along the path. We tried to follow to see if it might land, but then it turned behind some sallows out of view and by the time we got there we had lost track of it.

We had yet another brief glimpse of a Bittern flying over the reeds, over by Bittern Hide, so we decided to head straight round that way. We popped into the hide. The reeds which had been cut in front of the hide are now growing up fast and making it harder to see anything on there. We were running out of time slightly, as we had to be back early today ahead of our evening foray later, but we decided to have a quick rest in the hide, before heading back to car park.

Scanning the dead trees in the distance through binoculars, there were still one or two Hobbys around. When a falcon flew out head on towards us we assumed it was just another Hobby, but it looked to have a rather pale crown and head which appeared to catch the sun, unlike the dark hood of a Hobby or a male Red-footed Falcon (like yesterday’s). But there was a lot of heat haze now and it was a long way off, so we figured we were imagining it. It turned and landed back in the dead trees out of view behind a branch.

It flew out again, another short sally after insects, and it really did look to have a pale head. As it turned to head back to the trees, it looked to have pale orangey underparts too. It couldn’t be though could it? Yesterday’s Red-footed Falcon was a 1st summer male and this one looked like a female. It lLanded again, and this time we realised we needed to get it in the scope quickly. Now we could confirm what we thought we had seen – it was a female Red-footed Falcon!

Red-footed Falcon – we found a female

The Red-footed Falcon was distant and there was a lot of heat haze, but we could see it did have a pale head, orange on top, whiter on the cheeks, with a thin black mask and small moustache. The back and wings looked rather dark grey and the underparts pale orangey-buff. It kept doing little sallies from the trees, shorter flights than the Hobbys, with more gliding, and quick bursts of wingbeats when chasing prey. It even did a brief hover. At one point it landed in the same tree as one of the Hobbys, and was noticeably a little smaller, more compact.

We had come to see someone else’s Red-footed Falcon, been disappointed to find it gone, but then found our own. Hickling is a good site for them and hosted multiple birds just last year, presumably the gathering of Hobbys helping to pull in passing birds. We put the news out – but when we went outside and onto the bank we could see everyone else had long since given up and gone. We were thinking it might be a bit closer from bank, but there was still lots of heat haze. Still what a great bird!

Unfortunately it was really time to go now, or we would be late for our early evening meal. As we set off to walk back, another Swallowtail flew past. This time it turned in front of us and looked like it might land on the flowers growing on the bank. It meant we had a better view, but it changed it’s mind and flew off rather than land. Then it was a quick walk back to the car park and a long drive back home, albeit with a spring in our steps!

Nightjar Evening

After a break and something to eat, we met again early evening. We went looking for Little Owls first. We checked out some barns by the road, but there was no sign. So we tried another site and immediately spotted one perched on the roof half way down one of the barns, enjoying the evening sunshine. We got it in the scope.

While we were watching it, another Little Owl flew across in front, disappearing into the trees nearby. After a few seconds it came back out and landed on the ground by the barns, running around looking for food on the concrete. It then flew up again, then across to the other side, perching on the near edge of the roof the other side. Great views.

Little Owl – hunting around the barns

We dropped down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. It was a lovely evening, and we heard several Yellowhammers singing through the open windows as we drove down the country lanes. We drove a quick circuit round via some meadows where they like to hunt, without any success, so we parked up nearby and walked up onto the seawall to scan the marshes. At first, we couldn’t find any owls – but we did see several Brown Hares and a pair of Grey Partridge down in the grass. A Song Thrush was singing from the trees on the far side.

Then a Barn Owl appeared out of the trees, the regular very white one, nicknamed ‘Casper’, which is well known here. It started hunting around a recently cut grass field, we watched it fly round, drop into the grass a couple of times, then come back up. It disappeared behind some trees and looked like it had gone off in the other direction, but then reappeared and flew back towards us. It came much closer, flying past us over the reeds and out along the bank across the marshes. It landed briefly, and we thought about going out for a closer look, but it quickly too off again as some people walked past and we watched it head out away from us.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the white one

It was time to head up to the heath. The sun had already gone down and the temperature was dropping when we arrived and got out of the minibus. We set off out onto the middle of the heath, and we were not even already in position when we heard our first Nightjar churring. We got out of the edge of the trees just in time to hear it stop and take off wing-clapping. We could see it flying round over the gorse further up, and watched it drop down behind the vegetation ahead of us. We walked quickly on down the path but when we got to the area it had seemed to drop, it had disappeared.

Another Nightjar started churring now, right out in the middle. We stopped to listen to it, such an evocative sound, of summer evenings on the heaths. For some time we could only hear one. It flew round at one point – the churring stopped and we heard it wing-clapping as it took off. Then it flew back to the trees where it had been and resumed churring.

When another Nightjar started up behind us, it sounded closer. We walked on to see if we locate this one, but it was still too far from path to give us a chance to find it. A fourth male then started churring in the distance, and we stood and listened to the two of them for a couple of minutes. A Woodcock flew over roding – we could hear its squeaky call, and looked up to see it fly over with exaggerated slow wingbeats. A Tawny Owl called from the trees.

The first male Nightjar we had seen earlier started churring again, so we walked back. It was getting darker now, so we couldn’t see where it was perched on the edge of the trees. It took off and we watched two Nightjars chasing each other through the tops, silhouetted against the last of the light in the sky. One came back down into the gorse not far from us, and we had a quick view of it flying round lower as it broke the skyline. Then it went quiet again.

One of the other Nightjars was still churring out in the middle. We stood and listened to that for a couple more minutes, a lovely way to while away a summer’s evening. Then it was time to head back – it had been a long day, and we had another busy one ahead tomorrow. As we walked off the heath, we were serenaded by another of the Nightjars churring. It was in a tree above the path but too dark to see it perched now. As we walked underneath, we watched it fly out, dropping down out across the Heath.

19th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. Mostly warm in the long sunny spells, there were some cloudier periods when it felt a bit cooler. Some very dark clouds early afternoon were accompanied by some long rolls of thunder, but thankfully passed well to the south of us, and it wasn’t until we were on our way home that we drove into one of the forecast showers.

With a Caspian Tern over in the Broads for its second day this morning, we decided to head east for the day. It was a long drive over to Potter Heigham, but we left in good time and it was still early when we got to the car park. As we crossed the road and set off down the track, we heard a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it flying away over the river. It was a cloudy start, and our first Common Swifts off the tour were chasing overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker came out of the small copse of trees and flew ahead of us, landing on a low gatepost by the track – an odd place to see one.

A pair of Egyptian Geese were close to the path on the grazing marshes. Further out, among the horses, was a lone Oystercatcher. Several Lapwings were flying round too. We could hear distant Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler singing in the bushes and trees the other side of the marshes. Closer to us, both Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing from the reedy margins of the ditch, but were typically hard to see. Never mind, we would see lots later. A couple of Reed Buntings flew across the track. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Common Buzzard – circled overhead

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the fields which flushed as a local farmer drove past in his truck. They flew across to the pools. At the first pool, as well as the geese, we could see a few Mallard and one or two Gadwall. A Little Egret was out in the shallow water in the far corner.

It’s yelping call alerted us to a Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the Greylags, dwarfed by its much larger cousins. Through the scope, we could see the white blaze extending up its forehead and the golden yellow eye-ring. This would be a rare bird here if it were wild, but unfortunately it is a known escapee which has been hanging around here for the last year or so, presumably having hopped the fence from a wildfowl collection somewhere.

The Caspian Tern had flown off once this morning, but thankfully returned, so we were keen to get round to the other side to see it, while making sure we didn’t miss anything this side on the way. Moving on to the next pool, a quick scan revealed two Common Pochard with more Greylags and a couple of distant Common Terns. The cloud was breaking now and it was warming up nicely as the sun was coming out. Having planned for the risk of rain which was forecast, we had to shed our coats.

Up to the corner, we climbed up onto the bank for a better view. On the corner pool we could see more Pochard, a couple of Tufted Ducks, and three late lingering Wigeon. Looking across to the other side, we could just see the Caspian Tern through the reeds, between some Cormorants roosting on one of the islands. A little further up, we got clear of the reeds and had a better if still distant view – we could see its huge red bill. It was standing in the shallow water next to a Herring Gull and didn’t look much smaller – Caspian Tern is the largest tern, like an enormous oversize Sandwich Tern with a massive red dagger for a bill.

With the Caspian Tern in the bag, we could relax a little, but we continued on round more slowly, for a closer view. A Willow Warbler was signing from the top of an oak across the other side of Candle Dyke. A Common Sandpiper was flushed from a mooring by a passing boat a little further along and a Common Tern flew past, looking much daintier than its cousin on the pools, with a much less threatening bill!

Common Tern – flew past over Candle Dyke

Walking round towards the river, there was lots of activity in the reeds. We finally got to see both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warblers here. We caught a quick glimpse of a Bearded Tit which zipped over the reeds and dropped down. It was carrying food in its bill, so we waited to see if it would come back out. Before it did, a second Bearded Tit flew in, this time the female, also carrying food in her bill. She perched for a few seconds in the reeds, allowing us all to get on her, before she dropped in, as the male flew out and disappeared back away. Obviously they are feeding a hungry brood in the reeds there.

Bearded Tit – the female, carrying food

Walking up beside the river, we arrived opposite the pool where the Caspian Tern was standing. But we had only just put up the scopes before it took off, before everyone could get a look. We watched it fly off east, circling over the reeds for a while, gaining height, before it disappeared from view. We were very pleased we had stopped to look at it distantly on the way round!

Caspian Tern – flew off just as we arrived on the river bank

The Caspian Tern had flown off earlier and returned, so we figured it was probably just heading off to fish somewhere and would most likely be back here again at some point. The only question was how long, but we thought we would have a more leisurely look around now and see what happened. There were two Shoveler out on this pool. A Great Crested Grebe was over in the far corner and then another appeared from behind the reeds at the front. Another male Bearded Tit was chasing a rival round and round over the reeds.

Walking up to the last pool from the river bank, we could see a single Avocet on one of the islands. A pair of Teal nearby would be the only ones we would see – most have left already, heading off to northern Europe for the breeding season. We hadn’t been here long though, before we turned to see the Caspian Tern flying back in behind us. It landed back down on the pool where it had been before, so we walked straight back. Now we all had a really good view of it through the scopes.

Caspian Tern – flew back in and landed on the same pool

Caspian Tern is a rare visitor to the UK, with just a few records most years. They breed in small numbers around the Baltic, as well as further over in SE Europe, wintering down in West Africa. Potter Heigham seems to be a good site for them – there was one here last year too.

We could see dark clouds way off west, so we decided to walk slowly back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes by the river, and we had a quick flash of a rounded chestnut-red tail as it flew past. Two different male Marsh Harriers flew past over the reeds. A couple of Common Whitethroats were in the trees, three Reed Warblers chased round and a Chiffchaff was singing in the old orchard by the mill.

Marsh Harrier – one of two males over the reeds

We headed round to Hickling Broad to use the facilities and as the sun was out now, we decided to have an early lunch in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve. A juvenile Robin was calling in the trees behind the Visitor Centre – good to see some early broods are proving productive, despite the cool spring we are having. As we sat down to eat, a Hobby circled high over the trees beyond. A pair of Great Tits were flying in and out of a nearby nest box. Two Bullfinch called, and we looked over to see them fly across the far end of the picnic area.

There were some dark clouds to the south of us, and we heard some long and rather ominous rolls of thunder from that direction, but it looked like they would probably miss us, so we headed out onto the reserve. As we set off down the track, there were House Martins overhead calling and we found a couple of Sand Martins with them.

As we got to the corner with the Stubb Mill track, one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying over high in the distance – the first of many, as it would prove later. There were lots of Hobbys out over the reedbed beyond the water, flying back and forth, hawking for insects, some low, some circling up much higher. Further over, there were more perched in the tops of the dead trees, probably around 15 Hobbys in all, always great to watch these spring gatherings. A Cuckoo flew over the back of the pool, up over the bank, and disappeared behind the trees towards the Visitor Centre.

We walked down the track towards Stubb Mill. There had been a Wood Sandpiper on the marsh here yesterday, so we scanned the islands and the margins of the water. A small flock of seven Ringed Plovers flew up and disappeared off west, presumably of the Tundra race, which are always late migrants through here. Again we heard a Lesser White-fronted Goose calling and looked over on the island to see it in with the Greylags. Presumably the same bird we had seen earlier at Potter Heigham, as it is only a short distance away as the goose flies.

Lesser White-fronted Goose – unfortunately an escapee

A much closer Hobby flew in over the water and over the track behind us. While everyone was watching it, we turned to see a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds beyond the pool and noticed a Common Crane in the reeds too, a little further back. We got it in the scope and watched it for some time, preening, then walking around through the reeds. Then it took off and flew towards us, unfortunately attracting the attention of one of the Shelduck, which decided to mob it as it flew over the water. As the Shelduck finally gave up, we watched as the Common Crane disappeared away over the fields to the north.

Common Crane – pursued by a Shelduck

As we continued on down the track, we could hear a Bittern booming from somewhere deep in the reeds now. We scanned the pools on the way, but the only other waders we could find were Redshanks. When we got to the end, there were more Hobbys zooming about low over the reeds and we looked past them to the east and noticed four Common Cranes circling low over the bushes.

Another four Cranes circled up nearby and all eight then turned and started to fly towards us. They stopped to circle again, giving us a great view, then started calling and drifted away to the north over Stubb Mill, where we lost sight of them behind the trees.

Common Crane – another eight, near Stubb Mill

After watching the Cranes, we turned our attention back to the pools, looking back parallel with the track. It was a better view from up on the top of the bank. There were two Little Grebes diving in the blanket weed here, more Redshanks and several juvenile Lapwings which teased us into thinking they might be a different small wader before we saw them clearly. Then we did find a different small wader right up at the far end, walking in and out of a line of thick reeds and rushes. It was the Wood Sandpiper we had been searching for – a distant view, but better than nothing!

The dark clouds had remained off to the south as we had hoped and the sun had come out again now, encouraging a flush of insects. A Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly was drying its still papery wings on the bank in the sunshine, with several also freshly emerged Azure Damselflies fluttering around nearby. A Small Copper butterfly was trying to find flowers to feed on, our first of the year.

Four-spotted Chaser – drying its wings on the bank

We had been intending to walk up to Bittern Hide, but we met someone here who had just come back from there and had seen nothing we hadn’t already seen. A Great Reed Warbler had been found at Breydon Water this morning and after being very elusive, it now seemed to be showing on and off. As it was just a short drive from here, we decided to go over there to see if we could see it.

As we arrived in the car park, a friendly face walking back confirmed the Great Reed Warbler was still present, so we set off out along the north wall. We could see six people standing on the path on the first corner, looking down across the railway line to the bushes beyond. As we walked up, we could immediately hear the Great Reed Warbler singing.

The Great Reed Warbler was singing from inside the bush and looking in, we could just see it. We got it in the scopes and had various views of different parts of it as it moved around. Great Reed Warblers are scarce visitors from continental Europe, overshooting in spring as they fly back from Africa and ending up in the UK. Normally a bird of reedbeds, like a much larger version of our Reed Warbler, this one had probably been attracted down by the sight of Breydon Water and found the best habitat it could to feed.

After a while it stopped singing and went quiet, disappeared into the bushes. It had earlier come out into the open when it stopped singing, but all we could see now were a couple of Blackcaps, male & female. A regular Reed Warbler appeared too, in the same bush. People were getting tired now so we decided it was time to walk back.

Breydon Water – looking out from the north wall

Some of the group were a little too keen to get back to the minibus and sit down, as they disappeared over the horizon before we the rest of us had packed away our tripods. Those who had brought their scopes out stopped on the way back to scan Breydon Water for waders. The islands of vegetation at the edge of the saltmarsh are a regular roosting site for waders.

We had already seen a flock of Curlews out there, and stopping to scan now we found a group of at least 19 Whimbrel too, tucked down in the vegetation a little further over. A lone wader on the end of a vegetated spit a bit further round was a single Greenshank.

It was a long drive back and time was getting on, so the rest of us headed back to join the others in the minibus. As we cut round past Norwich we drove into a heavy rain shower – we had been very lucky with the weather today. A great start to our three day tour, with two new birds for most of the group.

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.

12th February 2016 – Cranes, Swans & Owls

Day 1 of a three-day long weekend of tour today. We started with a trip down to the Norfolk Broads.

It was a gloriously crisp, frosty, sunny winter’s morning – perfect weather for owls to be out hunting. As we meandered along the coast road, a shape on a post caused us to stop and a quick look confirmed it was a Short-eared Owl. We had a good look at it from the shelter of the car, but when we tried to get the scope out it flew. Thankfully, it was just to start hunting, and it worked its way back and forth across the field.

P1160749Short-eared Owl – hunting by the coast road

It looked stunning in the morning light as it flew round on stiff wings, focused intently on the ground below. Then it flew back over and landed on one of the posts again.

IMG_6948Short-eared Owl – landed back on one of the posts

While we were watching the Short-eared Owl, another owl appeared over the same field, this time a Barn Owl. It was also hunting intently round and round over the rough grass. We didn’t know where to look. Across the other side of the road, a second Barn Owl appeared as well, a couple of fields over. It really was a good morning for owls! We could hear the distant sound of Cranes calling beyond.

P1160752Barn Owl – over the same field as the Short-eared Owl

Continuing along the coast road, we came across several groups of Pink-footed Geese in the roadside fields. We stopped to scan through them, in the hope that we might find something else in amongst them, but there was nothing with them today. Another field of winter wheat was full of Fieldfares instead, with a single Mistle Thrush in with them.

P1160701Pink-footed Geese – there were several flocks by the road today

We eventually stopped in a convenient layby to scan the fields. We immediately latched on to a pair of Cranes, but they were very distant. We could see them well enough through the scope, although they kept disappearing out of view behind some reeds. A good start, our first Cranes of the morning, but we would hope for some a bit nearer.

There were several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed and a Buzzard perched up in a bush catching the morning sun. There were lots of Lapwing out on the grazing meadows and a Turnstone in with them was a bit of a surprise. A flock of Golden Plover were in one of the fields across the road. A good number of Snipe were out in the fields as well this morning, presumably encouraged out to the damper patches in the short grass by the frost.

While we were scanning through all the waders, we were surprised to see two Red Deer stags walk out into the middle of one of the fields. They stood there for a while, steam coming from their nostrils. They seemed to be stranded on the wrong side of one of the ditches, and walked along beside it before finally running off back across the field.

IMG_6979Red Deer – 2 stags appeared in the fields

Our next stop was at Winterton. We parked by the beach and walked out onto the sand. There were lots of dog walkers out this morning, presumably taking advantage of the sunny start to the day. As we walked north along the beach, a couple of Ringed Plovers flew past going the other way. A Skylark was singing over the dunes.

The beach itself seemed very quiet today, apart from all the dogs, and there was no sign at first of the Snow Buntings. We got as far as their favourite area and just as we were wondering where they might be, they flew in, about 40 of them, flashing the white in their wings and twittering. They settled just long enough for us to get the scope on them and then they were flushed again. We saw where they had landed and this time we waited for all the dog walkers to go past before we approached. The Snow Buntings were picking around on the edge of the dunes, and we got a much better look at them, until they flew again, back the way they had come.

IMG_7004

IMG_7011Snow Buntings – very mobile today, with lots of disturbance on the beach

We made our way back along the beach and stopped to scan the sea. A small party of Gannets were circling offshore. There were also lots of Cormorants, flying past both ways or circling over the sea. As we looked through them, we started to see Red-throated Divers, first a single one, then a couple more, then some small groups. They were all flying north – we must have seen 40-50 go past in the short time we were looking out to sea. A smaller number of Guillemots went past us as well. Seabirds were clearly on the move today.

While we were looking out to sea, we could see some dark clouds in the sky heading our way. We were almost back when it started to rain, but thankfully it was only light. As we drove back inland, we passed through the middle of it and were much happier to be in the car!

We weaved our way inland looking for Cranes. It was hard scanning some of the more distant fields in the rain, but that didn’t matter when we finally got lucky and found a pair of Cranes not too far from the road. We parked in a layby and walked back to where we could see them. The rain had stopped now and they were busy preening at first, presumably having just got wet! Then the smaller female started preening and the male stood with his neck up, giving us a great view of his head pattern.

IMG_7046Crane – we finally found a pair not too far from the road

We made our way over to Strumpshaw Fen next, in the hope that the frosty weather might have tempted something out of the reeds. The pool by Reception Hide was still half frozen, and all the ducks were out in the middle – Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler – plus a lot of Coots and the resident Black Swan, asleep.

P1160784Stumpshaw Fen – the Reception Hide pool was half frozen still

The walk out through the trees was rather quiet, although we did come across a flock of rather flightly Siskin in the alders. There was not much life from Fen Hide either, apart from a single Coot and a rather noisy Carrion Crow. We heard some Bearded Tits calling and a male flew across and landed in the top of the reeds briefly, before dropping down out of sight. A Cetti’s Warbler called from the reeds in front of us, but did not show itself. There was no sign of the hoped-for Bittern, so we decided to move on.

The walk back was a little more productive. Three Bullfinches flew out of the brambles as we approached, flashing their white rumps as they went. A Marsh Tit was picking about in the bushes. A Treecreeper or two were climbing up the trees and a Goldcrest was in the conifers. A couple of Song Thrushes were feasting on ivy berries.

We had enough time for one more site before we needed to be making our way back north, and it was a choice between Buckenham or Cantley. As the former was distinctly quiet and all the geese were at the latter during the week, we headed for Cantley. Unfortunately, the geese were not there today – apart from a few Canada Geese – so we moved swiftly on.

Our next stop was back up at Ludham. The swans were in their usual place, or at least some of them were. Numbers were well down on earlier in the week, particularly of Bewick’s Swans. We could only see 8 Bewick’s Swans today (compared with c65 on Tuesday) with less than 40 Whooper Swans. Bewick’s Swans have been on the move across the county this week, with small groups seen flying towards the coast, so it is possible that a number of them have gone back to the continent already.

IMG_7062Bewick’s Swans – only 8 today, in with the Whoopers

Still it was nice to see them side by side, the Bewick’s Swans noticeably smaller in direct comparison. We also admired their bill patterns, with the yellow squared off on Bewick’s Swan compared to the longer, pointed extension of yellow down the bill on Whooper Swan.

IMG_7065Whooper Swan – still up to 40 today

Our final stop of the day was at Hickling Broad, where we parked and walked out to Stubb Mill. The walk itself was quiet at first, until we got almost to the mill, when a Short-eared Owl appeared from round the trees. We thought it would do its usual and disappear back round in front of the mill, but today it flew straight towards us and started hunting backwards and forwards over the wet grassland in front of us. Cracking stuff!

P1160837Short-eared Owl – hunting around the back of Stubb Mill

Round at the watchpoint, there was no sign of the two regular Cranes when we arrived. We contented ourselves with watching the Marsh Harriers out in the trees in the reedbed. A ringtail Hen Harrier came in through the trees at the back, but it was a little distant. Two Red Deer, hinds this time, were feeding out on the grass and a third appeared through the reeds further over. A couple of Chinese Water Deer came out of the ditches to graze.

The Short-eared Owl appeared again, this time out in front of the watchpoint. It was hunting at the back of the grazing meadows at first, until suddenly it appeared in the top of one of the bushes quite close to us. We got it in the scope and got some stunning views of it as it looked around. We could really see its bright yellow iris. It stayed in the same place for an age – every time we looked back, it was still perched in the bush. A Barn Owl was also out hunting, at the back of the fields.

IMG_7091Short-eared Owl – perched in one of the bushes in front of the watchpoint

While we were watching the Short-eared Owl, three Cranes appeared overhead, flying past. We didn’t know which way to look! They called as they flew. Then another pair of Cranes flew in from the back and dropped down into the reeds.

P1160865Cranes – flew past the watchpoint calling

While we were watching the pair of Cranes, another ringtail Hen Harrier flew across the scope view in the foreground. This one was much closer than the one we had seen earlier and we got a much better look at it, flashing its square white rump patch as it went. Finally the normally resident pair of Cranes flew in from the left (taking the total to 11 Cranes for the day) and across in front of us, as the light started to fade. They were calling all the way, as they dropped down onto the ground, a beautiful sound and a fitting way to end the day.

9th February 2016 – Calling Cranes

A Private Tour for the day down to the Broads today. It was a glorious day to be out – the wind was light and after high cloud in the morning, we were treated to a wonderfully clear, sunny winter’s afternoon.

Our first target was Cranes. We set off along the coast road, checking out various of their regular spots. At first, all seemed quiet, but little did we know what was around the next corner. Scanning the sky, two large birds appeared way off in the distance but heading straight towards us, a pair of Cranes. We pulled off into a convenient layby and watched them as they flew in, turning north across in front of us before circling low over the trees.

P1160478Cranes – we watched our first of the morning fly in

They were clearly trying to land, but took a couple of attempts to do so, circling up again in between. Eventually the two Cranes dropped down out of view behind the trees. A great start to the morning. Over the other side of the road, small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying in and landing on the meadows. Ahead of us on the wires, a Fieldfare perched precariously.

P1160491Fieldfare – perched on the wires above the road

We drove on a little further and pulled in again off the road. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed behind and a Barn Owl was perched on a distant fence post. The grazing meadows looked rather quiet at first, apart from a liberal scattering of Lapwings, but a careful scan revealed more Cranes. This time, a pair were standing out on the grass, busy preening. We got them in the scope this time and had a really good look at them – noting the red crown patch particularly on the larger of the two birds, the male.

IMG_6865Cranes – our second pair of the day, preening in a field

A helicopter flew overhead and the Cranes seemed to take little notice as it did so. It did spook all the Pink-footed Geese which then took flight from the fields beyond. The Cranes seemed to be more concerned with the actions of the geese, and now raised their heads and looked round to see what was happening.

P1160492Pink-footed Geese – spooked by a passing helicopter

Out at the back of the meadows, we picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier out hunting. It was flying round and repeatedly dropping down onto the ground. We managed to get it in the scope, before it flew off strongly and over behind a hedge, pursued by a couple of Crows.

While we were watching the Hen Harrier, another pair of Cranes appeared over the meadows flying straight towards us. We had to check at first, but the other pair were still standing on the grass. They flew steadily in our direction, across the road a short distance back the way we had just come, and dropped down out of view behind the trees. An amazing start to the day – three pairs of Cranes in such a small area.

P1160500Cranes – our third pair of the morning, flew across the road

By this time, we figured that we deserved a coffee break, so we drove back to where we could park. We were within earshot of where we had seen the two pairs of Cranes land earlier and we could hear them bugling to each other – quite a way to spend your morning break, listening to the sound of calling Cranes!

After such a successful start to the morning, and being so spoilt with Cranes (or so we thought!), we decided to head off and do something different. We made our way along to Winterton and parked by the beach. Snow Bunting had been mentioned as a bird on the wish list to see, so a walk along the beach here made sense. It was nice to get out for a bracing stroll along the sand.

There were lots of dog walkers out on the beach and we had to get past them before we found the Snow Buntings. Eleven flew down the beach towards us and landed on the shingle behind us, where we had just walked. We made our way back and got the scope on them, but just as the dogs caught us up and they flew again. Thankfully the Snow Buntings landed up on the ridge further out on the beach and watched from there as the dogs passed. Once the danger was gone, we got much better views as they picked about for seeds on the stones.

IMG_6881Snow Bunting – looking for seeds out on the beach

Several of the Snow Buntings settled down for a rest, tucking themselves down in little depressions in the shingle so that only their heads were showing. At this point they were remarkably well camouflaged, shades of brown, russet, grey and off white matching the colours of the stones. It was only because we knew where they were that we could see them.

IMG_6878Snow Bunting – very well camouflaged among the stones

A couple of Skylarks were picking about on the beach as well, among the sandier places on the edge of the dunes. Two Sanderlings appeared on the ridge and a Ringed Plover flew along ahead of us. There were lots of Cormorants flying past offshore, presumably commuting between their fishing grounds and the favoured roosting place on Scroby Sands further south. A distant Gannet flew past casually, overtaken by the Cormorants. A Red-throated Diver in winter plumage was on the sea just offshore, drifting with the tide.

IMG_6903Ringed Plover – on the beach at Winterton

We meandered our way inland through Crane country from here. Scanning some favoured meadows revealed another three Cranes, but they were rather distant. It was a challenge to pick them out, as they were working their way through a deep bed of rushes. The road was busy and there was nowhere convenient to stop. Having done so well for Cranes already this morning, we had a quick look through binoculars from the car and moved on.

Little did we realise what might be around the next corner. It is always worth keeping your eyes peeled on the fields around here and a shout from the eagle-eyed spotter on the passenger side went up as we almost drove past another pair of Cranes. They were tucked down in the corner of a field right next to the road, behind a hedge! A quick u-turn in a convenient gateway and we drove back slowly past on the other side of the road. We carried on a little further past them, where we thought we wouldn’t disturb them and stayed in the car.

P1160526Crane – we surprised a pair in a field right next to the road

The two Cranes were clearly a little nervous and walked slowly out into the middle of the field, treating us to fantastic close-up views as they did so. Unfortunately, there was a lot of traffic on the road and a large lorry went past at that moment which spooked them. They took off – necks down, walking at first, then running with huge wings beating to get them airborne – and dropped down again a little further over. Wow! What a treat to see Cranes like that. And that took us to a total of 11 for the day!

We made our way over to Strumpshaw Fen for lunch. We had a couple of different options for the early afternoon, but the choice was made to walk out onto the reserve here. There were lots of ducks on the area of open water in front of Reception Hide – Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler. And a good number of Coots. A Marsh Harrier circled over the trees out in the middle of the reedbed.

P1160545Shoveler – catching the winter sun at Strumpshaw Fen

As we walked through the trees, we could hear a Song Thrush singing ahead of us. Such a beautiful song and so sad that it is a species in decline, but we are still blessed with a number here. A little party of Siskins were feeding in the alders above our heads, hanging upside down to pick at the cones for the seeds.

P1160554Siskin – feeding in the alders above the path

As we walked out along Sandy Wall, we could hear a Marsh Tit calling and just caught a couple of glimpses of it as it disappeared away through the trees. It was really beautiful in the crisp afternoon sun, with the light catching the reeds as they rustled in the light winds. We sat in Fen Hide for a short while, but it was rather quiet here again today, so we didn’t linger too long. We didn’t have time to explore the whole of the reserve, so we made our way slowly back. The Song Thrush was still singing from the trees and this time the Marsh Tits gave themselves up properly – a pair picking about in the oak trees above the path.

Our next appointment was with the swans, so we made our way back north through the Broads to Ludham. Thankfully, they are still in their usual fields at the moment. Most of the Whooper Swans were in a separate group, picking at the remains of the sugar beet tops in the field which was harvested some time ago and very close to the road. There are still around 40 here at the moment. A tractor was in the process of ploughing the field, pursued by a throng of Black-headed Gulls, so the Whooper Swans were probably making the most of the sugar beet remains while they still can. We had a good look at them from the car as we drove past towards our usual parking spot.

P1160604Whooper Swans – feeding on the remains of the sugar beet tops

The Bewick’s Swans were out in the winter wheat next door, and a lot of them asleep again this afternoon. Six of them were very close, so we pulled up and got out very slowly and quietly, giving them a chance to walk away slowly to a safe distance, back towards the main herd. They settled down again and we got a really good look at them through the scope.

IMG_6911Bewick’s Swan – two white adults and a greyer juvenile

There were two Whooper Swans feeding in with the Bewick’s Swans, which gave us a great opportunity to compare the two species side by side. The Whooper Swans were noticeably bigger and with more yellow on the longer bill, extending further down in a wedge shape.

Our final stop of the day was at Hickling Broad. We parked in the car park and set off towards Stubb Mill for the harrier roost. A Barn Owl was hunting around the meadow behind the visitor centre, perching on the fence posts in the late afternoon sunshine.

IMG_6926Barn Owl – hunting around the meadows at Hickling Broad

A large flock of Fieldfares were feeding further along the path ahead of us. Some of them were looking particularly bright yellow-orange breasted as they caught the light. Something spooked them and they all flew up into the trees, ‘tchacking’ as they went. As we turned the corner at Stubb Mill, another Barn Owl flew across right in front of us and disappeared out towards the grazing meadows.

There were only about 5-6 Marsh Harriers around the trees when we arrived, but a steady trickle continued to arrive while we were there. There were probably close to 20 by the time we left, with more still arriving, but numbers have started to drop now as the birds start to head off back to their breeding territories. A ringtail Hen Harrier came through low over the meadows in front of us, flashing the white square at the base of its tail as it did so.

A Short-eared Owl flew in from the back and landed on a woodpile in the low sunshine. It perched there preening for the rest of the time we were there – it had obviously enjoyed a successful afternoon’s hunting already. A second Short-eared Owl circled up very distantly over the back of the trees. There were more Barn Owls too – it was hard to know how many we saw altogether here this evening. One was hunting along the field edge behind us and another far off over the reeds in front.

A Chinese Water Deer appeared out in the grass and we got it in the scope. Then it ran across in front of us, before dropping down into one of the ditches, flashing its tusks as it went past. A couple of Red Deer were grazing further over again, and at one point we could see them in the same view as the Short-eared Owl!

A Wildlife Trust van had driven across the marshes as we walked out and there were several people walking around behind Stubb Mill by the time we got there. The two resident Cranes had flown off before we arrived – presumably flushed by all the people and activity. We weren’t too concerned today, as we had enjoyed so many and such good views of Cranes this morning. However, we could hear a number of Cranes bugling from away behind the wood while we stood scanning the marshes – there is a lot of vocal activity from all the Cranes now. It was a lovely evocative way to end the day, listening to Cranes calling as we admired the traditional Broadland landscape.

P1160630The view from Stubb Mill in the afternoon sun