Tag Archives: Stubb Mill

4th January 2016 – New Year in the Broads

Another Private Tour today, this time down in the Broads. The target today was specifically to find some of the unusual species we are fortunate to have here. Quality not quantity was the order of the day. It was a glorious day to be out – after the early mist burnt off, it was beautifully sunny at times in the morning.

We met at the NWT reserve at Hickling Broad. We did not have time to explore the whole reserve today, but it did seem like it might be worth a quick look out on the grazing meadows. Common Crane was a particular target species for the day. Our luck was in – we had not gone very far when we spotted a family of Cranes out on the grass, two adults and a fully grown juvenile from last summer. What a start!

IMG_4807Common Crane – two adults with their 2015 juvenile (to the right)

We watched the Cranes for some time, walking slowly around the field and picking down at the grass looking for food. The juvenile was obvious – lacking the adults’ black and white striped head and neck. At times, the adults stood and preened while the youngster carried on feeding.

IMG_4822Common Crane – one of the adults, preening

Eventually something seemed to spook them and they started bugling, before taking off and flying off across the reserve. We turned to head back and a sharp call caught our attention. On one of the gateposts by the ditch across the marshes was a Kingfisher. It sat for a while as we had a quick look at it, before flying off quickly across the water away from us.

We were not intending to go looking for the swans today – they were not on the target list for the day – but as they were visible from the road as we drove past it would have been churlish not to just pull off for a quick look. In the group nearest to us, we could see 20+ Whooper Swans and a smaller number of Bewick’s Swans. The latter were noticeably smaller and the yellow on their bills was squared off rather than extending down the bill in a point as it did on the Whoopers.

P1140335Whooper & Bewick’s Swans – feeding in the fields at Ludham today

We could see more swans further over in another field beyond, making about 60 in total. There was also a small group of Golden Plover in the same field. A couple of Skylarks flew overhead calling in the sunshine.

IMG_4834Whooper Swans – with the yellow extending down the bill into a point

A Rough-legged Buzzard has been seen at Burgh Castle for the last few days and the Lesser Yellowlegs was reported there this morning. The latter, a rare wader from North America related to a Redshank, has been hanging around Breydon Water for a few weeks now, but has been very mobile and hard to see. Still, with the target to find some scarce birds, this seemed like a good place to try next.

Unfortunately, when we arrived on site the Lesser Yellowlegs was nowhere to be found. There were lots of Common Redshank and a careful scan of the banks of the river channel revealed a single Spotted Redshank as well. In winter plumage now, it stood out with its silvery grey upperparts, bright white underparts and longer needle-fine bill. Out on the mud, there were also several Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds behind us.

P1140337Breydon Water – looking across the estuary in the morning sun

We walked a short way along the bank so that we could get a better view of the estuary. There were thousands of birds out on the mud – waders including lots of Golden Plover and Lapwing, and a wide variety of dabbling ducks, particularly Wigeon and Shoveler plus a few Gadwall and Pintail.

We then made our way back and climbed up the steps to Burgh Castle itself, the remains of a 3rd Century Roman fort. From the high ground here, there is a fantastic view across the low-lying marshes – all the better to scan for birds. It was truly glorious looking out from here in the sunshine.

P1140341Burgh Castle – the view across to Berney Marshes

This is where the Rough-legged Buzzard had been seen, but unfortunately we could find no sign of it here today. There were several Common Buzzards and Kestrels perched on various gate posts scattered across the marshes, and a number of Marsh Harriers patrolling overhead. We had turned and started to make our way back to the car when a last scan revealed a smaller bird perched on one of the bushes. Putting the scope back up, we could see that it was a Merlin, before it flew off across the marshes.

We had other targets for the day, so we beat a retreat and drove on to Cantley Marshes. We particularly wanted to catch up with the Taiga Bean Geese, but they have been somewhat elusive at times this winter and there are not many here now – only two have been reported in recent weeks. We thought we would try Cantley first, but as we walked down to the gate from which we could scan across the grass there seemed to be rather fewer geese than normal present. A small group of geese were round to one side and the first two that we looked at seemed to have orange legs and bills. Putting the scope up, we confirmed our suspicions – the first geese we had found were the two Taiga Bean Geese. Result!

IMG_4848Taiga Bean Goose – one of the two at Cantley this afternoon

There were a few Pink-footed Geese nearby and they gradually worked their way over until they were just behind the Bean Geese. It was great to see the two species side by side – the Taiga Beans were noticeably larger, longer necked and longer billed, as well as having orange not pink bill bands and legs. We had thought the Taiga Bean Geese might be harder to find, but the White-fronted Geese are normally much easier to see here. Today it was the other way round, and we couldn’t find any Whitefronts. As this was another species on the target list, we decided to head round to Buckenham Marshes for a look there.

We stopped just the other side of the railway crossing at Buckenham and scanned across the marshes. It was immediately obvious that more geese were over on this side today, with a much larger group of Pink-footed Geese here than at Cantley. The White-fronted Geese were not with them, but eventually we found them in the opposite corner – when they put their heads up we could see the white surround to their bills. The usual group of feral Barnacle Geese were also here, accompanied as usual by a Ross’s x Barnacle Goose hybrid.

We wanted to allow ourselves enough time at our final stop of the day, so we didn’t linger too long at Buckenham. Driving back towards the Cantley road, we stopped to admire a large flock of Fieldfares in a stubble field. Despite being so well-patterned, they were remarkably hard to see when they weren’t moving, melting away into the background. Only when they flew round could we see that there were loads of them there.

P1140366Fieldfare – we came across a huge flock in a stubble field

We arrived at good time back at Hickling and took the scenic route out towards Stubb Mill. A large flock of Long-tailed Tits was making its way along the hedgerow, accompanied by a Goldcrest. Several Marsh Harriers were already quartering the marshes.

We were almost at Stubb Mill when a bird appeared above the bank ahead of us, with long stiff wings beating in a distinctive rowing action – a Short-eared Owl. We only got onto it for a couple of seconds before it dropped down out of view. Thankfully, once we got round to the watchpoint, it reappeared round that side from behind the trees. We were treated to a prolonged display as it flew round and round the marshes in front of us.

P1140384Short-eared Owl – out quartering the marshes for ages this afternoon

At one point, it disappeared back behind the trees and the next thing we knew we could hear a Kestrel calling loudly. The Short-eared Owl then circled up high into the sky, with the Kestrel initially in pursuit, before losing interest. We could see that the Short-eared Owl was holding something in its talons, presumably a vole. It clearly didn’t want to be robbed of its catch and after a couple of attempts it transferred the vole to its bill and promptly swallowed it whole as it circled high up into the sky. It then landed for a while in the bushes to digest – where we could get in the scope – before resuming hunting.

Even better, then a Barn Owl appeared as well and the two proceeded to hunt over the same area, in the same view at times. They seemed to ignore each other completely. In the end, we saw two different Barn Owls over the marshes in front of us, with another two further over.

IMG_4853Barn Owl – one of two hunting the same field as the Short-eared Owl

There were also a couple of Cranes out on the marshes in front of the watchpoint – we had heard them bugling as we walked out. They were round behind the Mill at first and harder to see, but after a while they flew round and landed at the back of the fields directly in front. Just as we had started the day, so it was nice to see another two Cranes at the close. The sound of Cranes bugling is a real treat on a winter’s evening in Broadland.

IMG_4860Crane – another two this evening at Stubb Mill

What we had really come to see were the harriers coming in to roost. There were already a good number of Marsh Harriers out in the bushes in the reeds when we arrived, but there was a steady stream drifting in from all directions. At one point we had around 15 perched in a long line. Only when most of them took to the air could we appreciate just how many there were – 35 in view at the same time. And still they kept coming in. We estimated that there were probably 55-60 Marsh Harrier in the roost this evening.

Dusk was already descending when the first Hen Harrier appeared, making its way in towards the roost through the bushes in front of us. It was hard to pick up but we got it in the scope and you could see the white patch at the base of the tail. Then more Hen Harriers arrived in a little flurry of activity, so that it was hard to estimate how many there were, probably three ringtails (females or juveniles) and one smart grey male which ghosted across.

As the light faded, we decided to start walking back to the car park. Just as we got onto the path, a plump shape shot across over the hedge in front of us and out across the marshes – a Woodcock coming out of the woods where it had been roosting to feed out in the fields at night.

It had been a great day – with all the main target species seen which you would hope to come across on such a glorious winter’s day in the Broads.

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