Monday 16 January 2023

The Norfolk Broads - Day 1 - 14th January 2023

There is something about me driving up to Lowestoft for the weekend that precludes me actually seeing anything at all on that particular day and Friday was no exception with Waxwings in Ipswich and Carlton Colville and the Purple Sandpiper flock at Ness Point eluding me. Hey ho.

Saturday dawned very wet and windy and we headed to the group rendezvous at Strumpshaw Fen.  You could barely see the road for the driving rain but just before the reserve we found a ploughed up sugarbeet field covered with a seething mass of Pink-footed Geese. Several thousand must have been present and we wound down the window a smidge to have a look.  Their pearly grey bodies blended seamlessly with the wet shiny soil leaving their warm almost chocolatey necks and heads floating above its surface.  Two walkers with their dogs off the lead soon put paid to our viewing as they skirted down the field edge sending a blizzard of yapping geese into the air.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

The actual pile of sugarbeet was being poked around by a few Pheasants and Chinese Water Deer.  The puddles on the final approach were quite impressive but thankfully the precipitation had begun to leave off and by the time the rest of the crew had gathered it was only spitting.

Chinese Water Deer (AW)

We crossed the railway and spent a some time watching the feeders and cottage garden and picked up Lesser Redpolls, Goldfinches, Great Spotted Woodpecker and all the expected Tits which included several sneezing Marsh with their glossy caps.

The view from the first screen was somewhat quiet but Marsh Harriers were on patrol and three Mute Swans were the only birds at all on the actual pool.

The Fen Hide was similarly quiet with just some Lapwing drifting over and with absolutely nothing on the marsh to the east bar a single Meadow Pipit, we opted for the squelchy trail along to the tower hide.  It was not quite a bad as I expected but you could see where the Yare had recently overflowed its banks depositing quite a few curious Snail shells that we later identified as the aquatic species Viviparus viviparus which none of us had ever come across before.

Viviparus viviparus - a large aquatic Snail

Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tits and a Chiffchaff were heard and the odd Wood Pigeon was disturbed from feeding on Ivy berries. The view from the hide gave us elevation but only a few Greylags, Black-headed Gulls and a Shelduck were on the lagoon.  There was not even a Coot and the only ducks were flyover Gadwall and Mallard. It was very odd.

 Ivy berries (AW)

Jelly Ear (AW)

Marsh Harriers were constantly on view with the odd distant Buzzard and a brief Red Kite while a Bittern had a good fly round at the back was difficult for people to pick up on.  Several Queen Common Wasps were lazily stirring in the hide and just outside the little red anemone-like flowers of Hazel could be seen amongst the catkins if you got close enough to have a look. Towering dead stems of Marsh Sow Thistle were found along the Yare banks.

As the circuit was not open we retraced ourselves hearing a brief Cetti’s Warbler on the way and the Marsh Tits followed us back to the visitor hut.  Most ambled to the loos but Tammi spotted the Otter just out front as it speedily porpoised across the pool and into the reed! It was superb to see it energetically leaping from the water!

Quite an Earthworm!

Stigmella aurella (AW)

Chinese Water Deer tracks (AW)

We had lunch back at the cars with a few spots of rain beginning to fall before attempting to drive the short distance to Buckenham which became a little longer after I went the wrong way with our little convoy!

As we drove the short distance the heavens opened as we were all actually grateful for the slight delay!  Extra layers were applied and we headed across the railway where two ‘Little Egrets’ in the field revealed themselves to in fact be two white Pheasants

Pheasants (AW)

Buckenham Marshes was covered in birds as our walk down to the river bank saw us surrounded but constant swarms of birds with, I suspect at least 5000 Lapwing, 2000 Golden Plover, 2000 Wigeon and possibly as many as 10,000 Pink-feet.  The Geese were constantly on the move and seemed to be commuting from beyond Cantley to the fields we had seen them in earlier but they were frequently spooked and we would suddenly become aware of the background hum of yips and yaps.  

Golden Plover & Lapwing







A few smaller groups came and landed on the marshes but unlike previous years we could find no Russian White-fronts or Barnacle Geese and just a few Canadas and Greylags. I fear that the days of Taiga Bean Geese here are long gone and I can remember my first visit way back in 1986 when there were at least 300 of this imposing species as well as countless White-fronts and a Lesser White-front too.

Teal, Shoveler and Mallard were also seen in smaller numbers and two Dunlin, 30 Ruff and just four Snipe were the only other waders.  Chinese Water Deer dotted the marshscape and seemed particularly fond of the large Juncus beds where their tusked almost Wombat-like faces were appreciated.

Chinese Water Deer 

Wigeon in the temporary sunshine

The group were mesmerised by the different swirling masses of birds, each with their own particular means of sticking together as a coherent flock. Ragged flickering flocks of Lapwings, tight shimmering lozenges of Golden Plover that climbed quickly before splitting into inevitable ‘V’ shapes, low whizzing flocks of dark Teal, erratic clouds of Wigeon that seem to lack any symmetry and long snaky skeins and groups of Pink-feet stretched across the sky.

Make it look like the weather was lovely - it did not last! (AW)

Arty Antony image

Despite Antony’s assurances that we would see a ‘glorious sunset’, the view to the south-west looked very foreboding with a huge bank of imposing black cloud heading our way.  We wisely took shelter around the solitary hide and waited for it to pass.  It was not actually that heavy but the wind had got up too and it would have been very unpleasant in the open! Some small Barn Owl pellets were discovered in the outside shelter but we never saw the hoped for pellet producer.

There were a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits out on the marsh and I heard a Water Pipit a couple of times.  Buzzards were dotted around on suitable posts and gates but we could not find a Peregrine anywhere while Marsh Harriers constantly kept the birds on the move with their low quartering.

Rooks chilling (AW)

Rooks probing

It was starting to feel like Corvid Time so we headed back for a cup of coffee before the short walk up the road to the huge majestic Holm Oak where we would stand and wait. The light had faded very fast and the sun may have set but we never actually saw the fiery orb and had to be content with a residual peachy, salmon glow.  There was not one Rook or Jackdaw in the fields and I was beginning to think that it would not actually happen which would have been seriously unfair given that it has been a feature since the times of the Doomsday Book…

The sun had set (AW)

Fieldfares and Redwings headed off to roost and, then as if by magic a huge ball of vociferous Jackdaws rolled into view from the west.  It was still quite windy and they seemed to roll across the sky towards us like some sort of amorphous Megadaw with the Jack diminutive well and truly quashed!  There were only a few Rooks in with them and just when we thought they had gone somewhere else, they arrived en masse from the other side of the roost copse and, with the Jackdaws, spent the next 20 enthralling minutes pulsing too and fro across the view, buffeted by the wind and somehow avoiding flying into the tens of thousands of their neighbours.

At times the cacophony of caws, croaks, jacks and other wonderous squeaky Rooky sounds was almost overwhelming and I got the group to stand with their with hands cupped behind their ears to augment the sonic experience in front of them.  I have seen this a few times now and it never ceases to fill me with wonderment.

And suddenly they began to spiral and surge into the trees by the church just like the reedbed roosting Starlings at Ham Wall last week and as if on some magic cue, silence fell across the landscape. It was almost too dark to see each other but I could tell from the chatter on the way back to the cars that everyone else was as moved by the experience as me.

                                                            Volume up (AW)

Antony and I were the last leave and out on the marsh you could hear the individual Lapwings and some late Rooks drifting in along with the occasional honk of some Greylags.  We listened for Owls but heard none and so hit the road back to Lowestoft adding Winter Moth and a Bank Vole to the species seen on a memorable day.


  1. It was a fantastic day. The Corvids roosting at the end of the day was just a stunning way to end a fabulous day.

  2. Ahh Buckenham - never changes!!! Great place - cut my RSPB teeth here - glad you all had a good trip -CB