I managed three days out birding in Norfolk, providing a nice contrast to my daily patching. My day on the North Norfolk Coast will be accounted in a separate post from this one, which accounts days out birding that I had in the Brecks (sites around Thetford Forest) and on the Broads/East Coast respectively.
The Brecks (Thursday 5th April 2012):
It had been a year since I last birded the Breckland area for its numerous speciality species, so I was keen to do another day’s birding there. My mum ferried me around the different sites during the day as Thetford and its surrounds were no more than a 30 mile drive from the house. I attempted to start the day at an undisclosed site for Goshawk. The military however use this area as a firing range and the red flag was up to signal that they were practicing, so we had to abandon this. I didn’t leave disappointed though. More or less as soon as I got out the car and progressed a little way up thee path a pair of Woodlarks flew right overhead, their beautiful descending song filling the air as they went. I watched them through the bins for about a minute before they become distant dots; what a piece of luck! What with Woodlark being my top target speciality species for the day – and arguably the most difficult – I was absolutely delighted to have connected, let alone to have seen them so quickly. With this ridiculous slice of luck, I was fine with sacrificing going for Goshawk.
I arrived at Weeting Heath earlier than expected, where I hoped to see Stone Curlew and continue the day on a high. The visitor board indicated that one had been seen from West Hide that morning but was typically elusive. I soon arrived at West Hide where it seemed the bird in question had not been seen for some time. However, I managed to pick up the bird after about 10 minutes, distantly towards the fence at the right hand edge of the heath. Only its head and manic eyes were visible above a dip in the heath, and it was soon joined by another to its right. The 2 Stone Curlews were only seen together briefly, with the second bird soon popping its head below the dip in the field after briefly running into full view. We were thus left with the head of the first bird on show for about 15 minutes – far from the best views I’ve had but still fantastic. I love the enigmatic nature of these birds, its always special to see them there with the knowledge that it’s basically the only reliable spot for them in the UK.
Lakenheath RSPB was next, which proved to be both productive and extensive. With plenty of time to kill I decided to walk the entire reserve, something I hadn’t done before.From the first viewpoint it was touching to see a pair of Great Crested Grebes nest-building. A pair of Marsh Harriers gave fantastic views from here, just two of 12+ Marsh Harriers throughout the reserve, with the majority of birds quartering the reeds at the reserves western edge at Joist Fen viewpoint. It was an amazing spectacle to watch so many of these amazing raptors gracing the reeds; numbers you just wouldn’t get here in Aberdeenshire. As I walked past the poplars, a Water Rail let out a squeal from the reeds and a Cetti’s Warbler was repeatedly singing. My first Sedge Warbler of the year was also in song and showing itself here and a gorgeous male Bearded Tit briefly appeared nearby, a valuable year tick. Back at the car park a birder looking onto the Hockwold Washes was clearly on something. I joined him and was directed to 4 Garganey (2 pairs). These ornate ducks were with a group of Teal in the middle of the washes. The drakes were of course particularly delightful and I revelled in watching these fine birds for over half an hour before they disappeared into cover. The wind was strong and the birds were distant, so I had to suffice with this crappy digiscoped shots. My first of the year, they are always such brilliant birds to see and were a great bonus. A late Whooper Swan was also seen distantly from here.
Our final stop was a shortish visit to Lynford Arboretum, where I had vague hopes of connecting with Hawfinch. Siskins were everywhere whilst several Crossbills were also around, with 10+ seen including a party of 8 overhead by the paddocks. Two Marsh Tits showed beautifully in the woods by the river, and a Treecreeper was also present here. I didn’t manage to do locate any Hawfinches, but nonetheless it was a enjoyable way to end a very productive day in which I went home afterwards suitably contented.
The Broads/East Coast (Saturday 7th April):
An afternoon’s birding was spent in the Broads/East Coast with a family friend. We started off at the North Beach in Great Yarmouth where I hoped to connect with the famed Med Gulls here. Disappointingly I didn’t manage any and the weather wasn’t pleasant enough for walking far, so we moved northwards to Winterton Dunes with the hope of connecting with some early passerine migrants. Ring Ouzel and Yellow Wagtail were in mind, but an extensive check of the bushes and dunes revealed no passerine migs at all. It was an afternoon that seemed destined to be very quiet, and a check of Horsey Mere continued on this theme, although it did provide 5 Marsh Harriers and my first singing Willow Warbler of the year. We headed back towards Norwich having seen very little. As we passed over the bridge near Acle, however, excitement levels rose as I picked up 2 Short-eared Owls hunting by the side of the road. We managed to pull over briefly to admire these mangificent birds as they elegantly patrolled the marshland not far apart from one another, but with pressures to get back on the road we had to leave them to it after no more than a minute. Thus the final leg of the journey was completed with the feeling that our afternoon was worthwhile despite earlier disappointments.
Thanks for reading,