Tag Archives: Hickling

24th June 2015 – Broads Birds & Butterflies

A Private Tour today, the first day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Given the planned itinerary for the regular weekend tours, we headed down to the Broads today.

We started at Hickling Broad. The car park was alive with tits, finches and warblers – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A nice gentle introduction to birding in Europe.

Rather than head to the hides first, we decided to see if the family of Eurasian Cranes was in their usual fields. We could see a head briefly, distantly in the taller reeds at the back, but they were not really playing ball today. So we decided to walk on and come back later in the morning. As we headed out across the reserve, suddenly two Cranes appeared over the path ahead of us and we watched them fly and glide slowly towards the Broad. We got great flight views, and we could hear them bugling as they disappeared.

P1030144Crane – these two flew over in front of us today

The trees along the side of the track were alive with birds. A big mixed tit flock passed through – lots of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, together with Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. As we walked up to the oak tree they had gone into, we discovered that in their place was a pair of Yellowhammers, looking for caterpillars in the foliage. We could hear a Whitethroat alarm calling in the trees as well – a female carrying food was too wary of our presence at first to fly down to its nest in some brambles.

P1030162Yellowhammer – a pair were feeding in an oak tree

We had not gone much further when three Brown Hares ran out of the grass and proceeded to chase each other around on the track in front of us. One disappeared again but, even though it is now the end of June, the other two started ‘boxing’. Quite a sight – mad as a June hare!?

P1030167Brown Hares – boxing in June

We spent a bit of time in Bittern Hide, but unfortunately there was no sign of its namesake today. We did see several Eurasian Hobbys hawking for insects over the reedbed. There were also several Marsh Harriers up, and we saw both a food-pass and a male displaying, sky-dancing and calling. Great action. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and saw the back end of a couple of birds disappearing into the reeds.

Along the bank by the Broad, there were lots of warblers singing. We could hear both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers and it was good to note the differences in song between the two. We also heard our first Cetti’s Warblers, shouting from the bushes beside us but doing their usual playing hard to get. The Sedge Warblers were most obliging, perching up in full view and songflighting. We heard more Bearded Tits as well and saw one come up out of the reeds.

IMG_6085Sedge Warbler – singing from a nice obvious perch in the reedbed

We had seen a few Swallowtails already, on our walk round, but as we got back almost to the Cadbury Hide the Marsh Thistles were alive with them, we lost count of how many. Such stunning butterflies and such a privilege to see them, particularly as the Broads is the only place Swallowtails are found in the UK (and the only place the British subspecies is found).

P1030282P1030261Swallowtail butterflies – put on a great display again today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the reserve as well today. We saw several of the other local speciality, Norfolk Hawker, lots of Four-spotted Chasers, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a single Hairy Dragonfly. Amongst the many Azure Damselflies, we picked out a few Variable Damselflies as well.

P1030140Variable Damselfly – we found a few amongst the more common Azures

It had been quite an action-packed morning, the sun was shining and it was starting to get quite warm, so we made use of one of the picnic tables for an early lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk back along the track to see if the family of Cranes had come out onto the wet meadows. We couldn’t see any sign of them, but while we were walking along two heads appeared in the wheat field on the other side of the road, two Cranes looking slightly incongruous in such a setting. We got a good look at them in the scope, but they were already looking nervous. After a couple of minutes they took off and flew away over the trees, bugling as they went. They were obviously a pair, but presumably not the nesting pair as there was no sign of any juveniles.

IMG_6092Crane – one of two heads which appeared in a wheat field by the track

After that, we headed over to Upton Fen. The birds were a little quiet today, in the muggy early afternoon. We did add a few species to the day’s list – Eurasian Jay, Marsh Tit and a Song Thrush heard singing. However, there was lots of dragonfly action – especially more Norfolk Hawkers. And a few butterflies, including couple of Ringlets which were new for the day.

P1030311Ringlet – we saw a couple at Upton Fen today

There were also lots of orchids as usual. Mostly they were Southern Marsh Orchids in various shades of purple, but we found a small group of Common Spotted Orchids, and several of intermediate appearance (not a surprise, given the propensity of these species to hybridise). We also saw several Fen Orchids, the real speciality here, though a rather under-stated little yellow flower.

P1030319Fen Orchid – not the most striking of the orchids in flower at the moment

Our final stop of the day was at Ranworth. We stopped to look at the first Great Crested Grebes of the day on Malthouse Broad and a pair of Treecreepers appeared in the trees beside us. They were feeding very quietly, climbing up the tree trunks before spiralling down and starting again on the neighbouring tree. House Martins over the village were new for the day and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were hopping around in the grass in the boatyard.

P1030334Treecreeper – a pair were in the trees by Malthouse Broad

Out at Ranworth Broad, the nesting Black-headed Gulls were being very noisy, but we were more interested in the Common Terns. At first, they refused to come near us, flying in and out overhead. However, when it clouded over just a little they suddenly started to land on the posts in front of us. One in particular had caught a rather large fish – for a Common Tern – and spent several minutes trying to swallow it whole.

IMG_6140Common Tern – eventually landed on the posts so we could get a good look

The Great Crested Grebes stole the show. One particular family group was swimming about right by the staithe, including three large stripy-headed juveniles. While small young are often carried on their parents’ backs, these birds had obviously outgrown that privilege. However, that didn’t stop them chasing after one of the adult Great Crested Grebes and trying their luck to see if they could climb aboard. The adult did not seem very impressed.

P1030357Great Crested Grebe – the young too big to ride on mum’s back

There were a few other birds around as well. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes, but would not show itself. Amongst the masses of Greylag Geese, we found a few Egyptian Geese as well. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned round just in time to see it disappear over the trees. Then, with time running out, we headed back to the car.

There was still one last surprise left in the day. As we approached the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders in a garden. Suddenly, next to it in the tree, a Spotted Flycatcher appeared. We watched it swooping out, sallying forth after insects before wheeling back and landing in the tree again. After a little while, we realised that there were actually two Spotted Flycatchers in the same tree, presumably a pair. It was great to stand and watch them feeding, and a lovely way to wrap up the day.

P1030458Spotted Flycatcher – a pair were feeding in a garden today

21st February 2015 – Back to the Broads

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. We headed down to the Broads for the day, to look for some of the local specialities.

We started off on a search for the Cranes. It didn’t take us long. There was no sign of any around the first of the favoured fields we visited, but a short drive further and a glance out of the side window revealed two large birds flying past in the opposite direction – unmistakeable with long necks held outstretched in front and long legs trailing behind – two Common (or Eurasian) Cranes. We turned round and followed them and they dropped towards the area we had just been searching. As most of us were watching the two, one member of the party announced “there’s four”. A quick scan showed he was right – but there were actually six. We watched them all dropping down to the fields, but unfortunately they landed out of view. Still, a great start with six Cranes already.

P1110900Cranes – these two flew past the car first thing this morning

Round at Horsey, we stopped to admire a couple of short-cropped grass fields which were positively chock full of birds. There were lots of Golden Plover, Lapwings, Fieldfares and Starlings. A couple of Common Buzzards sat around on the neighbouring bushes and fenceposts in the morning sun, occasionally flapping across the field lazily. The throng seemed to ignore them completely. Then suddenly, the whole lot took to the air, separating instantly into species flocks – the Golden Plover whirling high in the air in an amorphous group, changing shape all the time; the Lapwings flapping off more sedately below; and the Fieldfares flying away strongly calling as they went, leaving a few bemused birds in the field left wondering what the commotion was all about. Then we spotted the culprit, as a Sparrowhawk swept low over the road and away across the fields the other side.

P1110902Golden Plover – part of the flock that took fright and whirled round

Most of the Pink-footed Geese appear to have departed north already, but there were still a hundred or so out on the grass. Scanning through the flock, a couple of heads appeared from a dip in the ground behind and their white foreheads caught the sun. A small group of White-fronted Geese still lingering and taking advantage of the company of the Pinkfeet.

While we were admiring the array of birds spread out in front of us, another Crane appeared in the sky at the back of the field. As it flew past us, we could see that one of its legs was dangling below, not held out straight as it should be. We had seen this injured bird near here back in mid-January (and it had apparently been present in the area for a couple of weeks before that). Then, it appeared to be struggling on the ground, but today it landed in the distance and appeared to be a little more steady on its feet. Sad to see it still suffering, but good that it appears to be surviving and possibly even adapting to its injury.

From there, we headed inland towards Ludham. The wild swans used to winter in the fields on the coast, but these days they favour a different area. We drove straight out onto the levels and had not gone far when we spotted a line of swans – mostly Bewick’s Swans with several Mute Swans as well. A quick scan revealed four birds with the Bewick’s which were larger, with more yellow on the bill. Looking through the scope confirmed they were four Whooper Swans – nice to see them still here, and to be able to compare the two species side by side. A little further on, a small, low-slung shape ran across the road – a Weasel. We pulled up alongside it and watched it darting around in the grass right beside the car, before it realised we were there and shot off into the trees.

IMG_2812Bewick’s Swans – around 44 still on St Benet’s levels today

IMG_2808Whooper Swans – just 4 still lurking in amongst the Bewick’s

Next stop was over in the Yare valley, but the journey there takes us through more Crane country. Out of the corner of an eye, as we were driving past, an odd shape amongst the clods of ploughed earth and maize stubble caught the attention. A quick turn into a conveniently positioned gateway and we were able to scan the field. Surely it had just been another large lump of ploughed soil? No, our initial suspicions were confirmed, it was the tail of another Crane feeding head down! We positioned ourselves carefully amongst some farm buildings and had a great views of it in the scope, especially once it finally lifted its head up. It seemed fairly unconcerned by our presence, and we left it feeding by itself.

IMG_2825Crane – the bushy black tail caught our attention as we drove past…

IMG_2819Crane – … but we got much better views when it lifted its head

Down at Buckenham Marshes, we walked out to the riverbank. There were lots of ducks – mostly Wigeon, some of them proving very tame and performing for the cameras, but amongst them a smattering of Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall. A small group of Tufted Ducks was swimming in one of the flooded channels. Several Shelduck were out on the grazing marshes, but the only geese we could find today were Canada and Greylag Geese.

P1110912Wigeon – performed for the cameras

There are usually large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing out on the grass, but today when they spooked they seemed to do so with added urgency, swirling round in a frenzy. Everything took off at once – waders, ducks, geese. Looking through the swirling flocks, we could see why – an adult Peregrine was scything through, repeatedly turning and going back through the middle of the horde. Suddenly it slammed into something, possibly a Teal, but it couldn’t hold onto it and the victim appeared to drop like a stone straight into one of the flooded ditches. The Peregrine circled overhead, but seemed resigned to having lost its prey and dropped down onto a gatepost nearby to reflect on its misfortune.

IMG_2828Peregrine – hunting at Buckenham Marshes

While the Peregrine was busy putting everything up, we could see there were more waders over on some flooded flashes out on the grass by the old windpump. We walked along the bank and through our scopes we could see a nice group of Ruff, including a couple of very white-headed males, plus a good flock of Dunlin running around amongst the Starlings and, over at the back,  twenty or so Black-tailed Godwits.

We stopped at Strumpshaw Fen for lunch. The car park was very full again, but that didn’t put off the Marsh Tits and Long-tailed Tits around the bushes. A quick visit to Reception Hide confirmed that the reserve was very quiet again bird-wise, and with staff worries about flooding along the river on the rapidly approaching high tide, we decided to move on.

Down at Halvergate, the Rough-legged Buzzard was rather annoyingly not on its usual line of fenceposts – it had taken off and was hovering further out over the grazing marshes. It landed on a gatepost in the distance, and stood there for some time, showing no inclination to move. So we decided to leave it for a short while and explore further out across the levels. Just down the road, a stop to scan the marshes produced another flock of 43 Bewick’s Swans, a single Chinese Water Deer and a noisy flock of Fieldfares which wanted to land back in the hawthorns beside us but wouldn’t settle while we were standing there.

IMG_2834Bewick’s Swans – a tight group of 43 was still at Halvergate today

Further out on the levels, we stopped and went for a walk. As soon as we got out of the car, a Barn Owl ghosted towards us, spotting us at the last minute and wheeled away over the fields. A ringtail Hen Harrier appeared over a bank, but turned and dropped down just out of view. We had just positioned ourselves to be able to see it through the reeds, standing on the ground, when it took off again and continued quartering out across the marshes. But it was a great view as it went, and it appeared to be a young bird with yellow-tinged streaked underparts and dark under-secondaries. Then the Short-eared Owls started to appear, first one, then  a second, then a third, all out hunting over the fields, though unfortunately all rather distant. Still, it is a magical place and we eventually had to tear ourselves away.

Back where we had been earlier, the Rough-legged Buzzard had finally decided to return to its usual fenceposts so we stopped again for another look. We had a much better view of it now, noting it’s dark-streaked but very pale head and its strikingly blackish belly patch as it stood facing us. It took off and flew a couple of times, just a short distance between posts, flashing its bright white tail base as it turned to land each time. There was another Barn Owl out hunting here now, but no sign yet of the hoped for closer Short-eared. We were already running out of time to get back to the roost at Stubb Mill, so unfortunately we had to drag ourselves away again.

IMG_2845Rough-legged Buzzard – back on one of its usual fenceposts

We arrived at Stubb Mill a bit later than planned, after our distraction at Halvergate. It had looked like we might get away with our slightly tardy arrival, but the beautiful winter sunshine we had enjoyed most of the day just failed us at the last, as a patch of dark cloud on the horizon moved in front of the setting sun. The watchpoint was unbelievably busy today, and we were lucky that a few people had started to drift off for an early bath which left a space for us to stand.

P1110919Stubb Mill – the approach to the watchpoint

Several Marsh Harriers were already in, perched up in the bushes or circling over the reeds. As we scanned the marshes ahead of us, we could see more birds drifting in, in ones and twos. There were probably close to thirty at the roost again tonight. Another Barn Owl was out hunting over the grass in front of us. A Stonechat on the bushes was a new bird for the day’s list. Then a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared, coming in fast and low at the back of the grazing marsh ahead of us. The male was less accommodating today, and we just glimpsed him briefly tonight flying round amongst the bushes in the distance – he had clearly sneaked into the roost via a different route! A small falcon perched up in the bushes was most likely a Merlin, but it was getting hard to see clearly by that stage.

As the light faded we could hear Cranes constantly bugling away to the north, much more noisy than they have been in recent weeks. Each time, it seemed like they had to be on their way, but the big group didn’t appear before it was getting a bit too gloomy. Two birds did come over – coming from the other direction, they were probably the pair which regularly feeds out from the watchpoint, and they gave us a good flypast before they dropped down into the reeds across the marshes. It seemed like a good way to bookend the day – a mirror of the start, watching two Cranes flying past. We headed back to the car, with a glorious sunset fading in the sky.

P1110924Sunset – the stunning sky as we walked back this evening

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