Friday, June 27, 2014

Norfolk Road trip pt3 - unspoilt Wheatfen, stunning Marsh Harriers and oriental deers

So here's the final part of my road trip to Norfolk.

With just a few days to spare in this most wonderful part of the world and after out forays on the coast. it was important not to try and do too much and end up spending more time driving than out in the field, so we decided to concentrate our efforts around a small but habitat rich area around Surlingham and the Yare Valley. We took in 3 reserves - Wheatfen, Rockland Broad and Strumpshaw Fen.

First port of call was the delightfully unspoilt nature reserve that is Wheatfen. The famous Norfolk naturalist and broadcaster Ted Ellis lived near here, revered the place and its wildlife, and after his death in 1986 the Ted Ellis Trust was founded to preserve this area of outstanding beauty.

I'd picked this place out as a likely place for the elusive Swallowtail Butterfly but although 1 had been seen the day before, predictably they remained elusive!

Lots of Cuckoos, several Marsh Harriers, Reed & Sedge Warblers, Common Terns flying down the River Yare and common butterflies, and yet with 2 cameras and 2 pairs of eyes we somehow conspired not to capture much! Terrific place if you're a fenland purist though.

Common Blue, Wheatfen


Just across the river Yare is RSPB reserve Strumpshaw Fen. Its bigger and higher profile but in my opinion not necessarily better than unspoilt Wheatfen. It does however have raised hides and crucially some nearby birds to point the lens at! Marsh Harriers breed in good numbers here as they do right across Norfolk and this was a pleasing series of shots of a passing male.

Male Marsh Harrier, Strumpshaw

Male Marsh Harrier, Strumpshaw

Male Marsh Harrier, Strumpshaw

Male Marsh Harrier, Strumpshaw

Male Marsh Harrier, Strumpshaw

Whinchat, Strumpshaw
Less obvious and something of a lucky sighting as I scanned across the lagoon was this Whinchat perched in the reeds. Fully expected it to be a Reed or Sedge Warbler ... goes to show its always worth scanning and checking every bird in such places!

Whinchat, Strumpshaw

Somewhat more 'showy' this Common Tern was one of several pairs on the reserve.
Common Tern, Strumpshaw

Rockland Broad is a fairly typical area of wet meadow / fenland but we didn't get much here ... good pub next to the nature reserve though and a free berth for the van in the car park!

Great Crested Grebe, Rockland Broad
 Not sure how common these are in Norfolk but this is the first Chinese Water Deer I've ever seen
Chinese Water Deer, Rockland Broad


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Norfolk road trip pt2 - Dashing Hobbies, feisty Avocets and a new Bog!

Cley Marshes

I saw my first ever Avocets at Cley Marshes, back in the 1980s when they were still a relatively rare sight in the UK. Thrilled as I was to see these, at the time, exotic looking waders actually nesting on these shores, my strongest memories of that time were of the place itself. Along with Titchwell and Blakeney Point this stretch of Norfolk coastline, a watery land of reedbed, dune and shingle had a remote and timeless feel then that thankfully still persists today.

The Avocets are still there of course and in much bigger numbers, back in the late 70s a nesting Avocet in the UK was big news - now there are 1500 pairs and increasing still. Climate change has undoubtedly propelled this dainty wader northwards as a breeding bird but let's not forget the role played by the RSPB in creating and managing the habitat they like.

I say 'dainty' but Avocets are feisty too. We saw several 'mobbing' episodes during our time at Cley and nearly all of them involved Avocets!

Avocets, nest prospecting, Cley.


Avocets mobbing a Grey Heron, Cley


Avocet mobbing a Marsh Harrier
Both Marsh Harrier and Grey Heron will gladly pluck a young Avocet from the ground so the attacks are worthy ones, though sometimes the harried fights back and we almost had feathers flying at the end of this one!

We spent an evening and an early morning here ...thus avoiding having to pay Norfolk Wildlife Trust and a little protest to NWT about them being the only county that charges Wildlife Trust members for visiting their reserves (come on Norfolk ... get with the programme!)

Reed Bunting - lovely singing male, great early morning sunlight!
Every picture tells a story so they say, and I do believe that - there's a tale to be had behind just about every picture I take. As I mentioned last time though, with so many pictures taken between the two of us, in the main the raconteur in me will have to take a back seat to make this a digestible post! So here's a few Cley highlights. As you will see we were blessed with some good early morning and evening sunshine ......

Male Linnet - same gorgeous light and beautifully posed! 
Sedge Warbler - so many chattering in the reeds I would have gutted if I didn't get a half decent shot!

Reed Warbler - distant shot across one of the lagoons; just as many around but I was disappointed not to get a better shot.


Male Shoveller - caught in that 'golden light' evening sunshine

That's me probably photographing that Shoveller!

The viewing at Cley is second to none, several good hides and of course the boardwalks themselves often provide discreet photo opportunities.
Me again - taking advantage of another man's equipment and seeing what a Wood Sandpiper looks like through £1500 worth of telescope!
Sadly the Wood Sandpiper (best bird of the day!) flew off before anyone had a chance to photograph it but I did get a distant shot of some of the Little Stints that were also present from this hide. 
Grainy old zoom crop but enough to id them as Little Stints!
Very 'bird laden' this post I know but Cley is after all a mecca for birdwatchers and has been for decades and still is. The same tidal surge that hit Spurn Point and various other coastal spots on the east coast last December also did a fair amount of damage here, but nothing irreversible, its looking great and as wetland sites go this has to rank up there with the UK finest.
Here's the rest of the Cley pics ....

Black Headed Gull in tip top breeding condition!

Black Tailed Godwit

Grey Heron stalking something or other - out of one of the hides

Goldfinch in the last few rays of sunlight - never appreciated that pink bill before!!

Lapwing - the light was almost too bright to catch that lovely green/blue sheen on its wing feathers

A couple of Cley landscapes taken with the Samsung during a lovely 'golden light' moment during an evening stroll around the boardwalks. The first is looking back towards the delightful village of Cley itself.


Hobby, one of two circling above the beach at Cley

and here's my Cley finale ... walking along the coastal shingle that borders the reserve and a chance look up in the sky revealed not one but 2 Hobbies circling on high. All of a sudden one of them put back its wings and pelted hell for leather out to sea, the other one followed and although in a matter of seconds they were mere specks against the sea, we could clearly see them through binoculars harrying a smaller bird. There was a lot of swooping and twisting as they worked as a pair and whether they got their bird I don't know, they faded out of sight but it was certainly a moment!

Dersingham Bog

Just inland and a few miles south west of Cley we found a nice little heathland reserve called Dersingham Bog. Very close to the Sandringham estate, it was just a destination berth for the evening but it turned out to be a little gem of a place.

We had another Hobby here and heard a Nightjar churring briefly, in the drier areas there were several Stonechats, Tree Pipits and Cuckoo whilst in the boggier parts there were 4 Spotted Chaser dragonflies and many damselflies of both red and blue variety.

4 Spotted Chaser, Dersingham

Large Red Damselflies, Dersingham. One of Rob's and a smashing picture.

Male Stonechat with what appear to be colour rings on both legs.

Male Stonechat, Dersingham

Singing Tree Pipit
Dersingham Bog is a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and managed by Natural England. It wasn't surprising to hear a Nightjar there - the site is of  national importance with currently around 20 churring males recorded there. There are also many scarce bog loving plants here including Round & Oblong leaved Sundew, Cranberry and Bog Myrtle. For more info click here, its a great little spot to visit if you're ever down there.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Norfolk road trip Pt1 - White blobs on the Wash and scarce butterflies at Snettisham

So after the trials and tribulations of my aborted trip to the Somerset Levels and all the domestic 'busyness' surrounding my house sale, it was time to take a breather and head off in the new van.
My good friend Robin was free and came along for the ride and good news about my regular walkabout pal Mark .. he's gonna walk again!

The new van!

I Haven't  been to Norfolk for nigh on 15 years so reckoned it was time to revisit and the plan was to split 5 days (Mon - Fri) between the North Norfolk coast and the Broads, chill out with my guitar, Rob's cahon, the local flora n fauna and test drive the van that will be my roving home for a while once my house is sold.

Thankfully, large chunks of Norfolk are still a relative backwater in the UK (and I mean that in the nicest possible way)... few major access roads and lots of narrow winding ones - perfect! In short we had a cracking few days and with both of us snapping away far too much material for one post so here's the first of 3 or 4, starting bizarrely with our last port of call on the way back .... who needs order in the natural world!

Snettisham & The Wash
One of the largest estuaries in the UK with Norfolk on one side and Lincolnshire on the other, this is more than just a vast expanse of mud. Its a designated SPA (special protected area) and home to countless wading birds, ducks and geese, especially during the winter when its estimated that some 400,000 may be present at any one time (more info here - The Wash ).

Greylag Geese with chicks, Snettisham

The few hours we spent at Snettisham RSPB reserve were bathed in sunshine and the wet and wonderfully lush meadows that border the reserve were teeming with bird and insect life with many chicks taking their first steps.

The bushes were full of the sound of scratchy Common Whitethroats plus at least 2 Lesser Whitethroats, Reed Buntings and pleasingly good numbers of Linnets.

Female Linnet, Snettisham

Female Reed Bunting with bugs in its beak, Snettisham

Cuckoo calling from a way off, Snettisham

Cuckoos seem to me to have made a mini revival this year, we heard and saw many in Norfolk and back on my own patch one has been calling from my neighbourhood for the past week. This was a distant shot but came out ok and typical 'wings down' pose is shown off a treat here.

Brown Argus, Snettisham

The sun brought out the butterflies and amongst the brilliant Common Blues we spotted a handful of the locally scarce Brown Argus ... rubbish pic but hey it was a first for me so had to include it as a record!

The Blues were far easier, nonetheless this isn't far off as good as it gets of a nice bright male ... corker of a shot Rob!

Common Blue, Snettisham (pic by Robin Marrs)

Snettisham is renowned for the huge gatherings of migrating waders that gather there to feed on the mud and perform their spectacular aerial displays as they follow the tides .... this mighty fine pic, one of Chris Gomersall's (RSPB), gives you a fair idea!

We weren't blessed with such numbers!

Oystercatchers, Snettisham

...... but we were treated to some spectacular views across the Wash at low tide with a heat haze making distant Lincolnshire look rather more interesting than it actually is!
The Wash, from Snettisham towards the Lincolnshire coast.

Common Shelduck, Snettisham
and in the foreground those little white blobs you can just about make out are lots of these - we estimated close on 800 Shelduck resting up on the mudflats! Also spied a couple of summer plumage Grey Plovers when I zoomed in on some of these pics.
The vistas here are big and bold, typical 'estuary meets saltmarsh' you see around our coast I suppose, but here in Norfolk the surrounding fields seem more natural, lusher, less intensively farmed maybe, more 'hay rich' certainly and the consequent abundance of wildlife was very very obvious.
Young bucks (Roe deer?) with Greylag Geese, fields around Snettisham.

Next and coming up soon is Sandringham / Dersingham Bog and Cley Marshes