Tuesday 17 January 2023

The Norfolk Broads - Day 2 - 15th January 2023

Sunday was meant to be the better day with no rain but I awoke to the sound of howling wind rattling the house instead!  At least our drive north was in some semblance of daylight this time and we quickly arrived at our first meet point at Filby Broad with small skeins of Pink-feet ‘winking’ overhead.  The wind was thrashing the Alders and once we had assembled we walked back down the road to the boardwalk viewing area.  Another bird with a tiny amount of shelter had seen a Ferruginous Duck and Ring-necked Duck with the flock but we were forced out into the open and you could barely hold a scope still in the icy blasting wind that was into our faces.  The Tufted and Pochard flock bobbed merrily in the distance and with time I would have found both rarities but getting any of the party on to them would have been nigh on impossible.  Thirteen dapper Goldeneye were a lot closer and the males were even doing the head throwing display in the wonderful light! 


I decided to abandon Filby and head for St Benet’s Abbey which I had not heard of till the other day.  I was hoping for wild Swans and possibly Cranes and raptors but was pleased yesterday evening to hear that four Taiga Bean Geese had also been seen there. Our convoy did a great job of sticking together but suffice to say the lazy birder parking at jaunty angles in the verge adjacent to the geese saw us drive half a mile further on to the official car park at the end.

The wind had not let up but the light was still great as we walked back up. We had not gone too far when I picked up the Bean Geese in flight as they conducted a lazy circuit revealing their darker forewings with well marked covert bars, long necks, orange legs and heavy orange bills. This was a great start and hopefully we would refind them on the deck too.

Taiga Bean Geese

A family party of six Whooper Swans flew in too (thanks Angie) and another pair were in the next flooded field while three adult Common Cranes fed in a stately manner in some more distant pasture. The Beans were soon picked up again and I reckon that they are the best and closest views I have ever had of this enigmatic species. They are a true rarity nowadays and it was unsurprising that quite a few birders had travelled to see them.  They were not even remotely on my radar for this weekend.

Taiga Bean Geese

Taiga Bean Geese

Whooper Swan

Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and Kestrels hunted but I think it was just too windy for the Short-eared Owls and small birds were limited to a couple of Wrens, Stonechat and small roving Starling flocks.

Kate extolling the importance of rescuing a bottle of roadside Lambrini to Roger 

Pleased with our success we retraced our steps to the cars but as some numpty birder in a grey tour bus had completely blocked in my car and another, we continued down to the Abbey itself.  It is a quite remarkable place and I would recommend a visit regardless of the local birding!  The 11th century gatehouse remains now partly sit within an 18th century windpump with the two conjoined architectures comingled with surprising finesse.  Carved graffiti into the sandstone elements certainly go back over 200 years.

Faced flint rectangle in the wall - so neat (AW)

Sheltering (above three shots all AW)

Looking up through the old Mill with the wall of the Abbey cutting through

We used the buildings as shelter from the wind to scan the marshes and found another six Whooper Swans but the Cranes had moved out of view. Back at the car park we were free to leave and with all my timings for the day somewhat jumbled we prioritised a toilet stop at Ludham Bridge.  Now, public toilets are not normally a topic for discussion but a) they were clean and got a thumbs up from the whole party and b) I got a Moth tick in the sublime shape of a Mottled Umber.

Mottled Umber (AW)

Ludham old airfield for the Wild Swans revealed a complete lack of any waterbirds of any description so after a look at some Fieldfares and Redwings we wiggle through to Hickling for lunch before the afternoon session. Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Siskin and Great Spotted Woodpecker were all around the car park and a Song Thrush was feeding on the picnic site lawn.  A bit of leave mining produced a few regulars and Phyllonorycter leucographella on a little lone Pyracantha!

 Phyllonorycter leucographella (AW)

We started with a short circuit to the Cadbury Hide where Sparrowhawk became a new trip bird while Marsh Harriers were quite literally everywhere across the reedscape.  Antony found Endothenia gentianaeana in the Teasel heads and showed some of the party how to check for the lack of anal cones – on the larva of course! The wind was dropping slightly but the light seemed to be dwindling so I looped us back to the car park (passing a couple of Jays) so that wellies and extra layers could be put on.

We took the inside path alongside the pools and found a foraging party of Redwings in the paddock before the vista opened up.  A scan from the first gate added Little Grebe amongst some Mallard and Shoveler while on the gate itself was an interesting pellet that seemed to include the legs and elytra of a Silver Water Beetle. 

A raft of Teal ‘plipped’ from the next flash and were regularly spooked by the hunting Marsh Harriers where their white secondary bars flashed prominently in flight.  A Great White Egret walked out of the reed margin and that too was put to flight by a low flying yellow wing tagged female Harrier.  A distant Barn Owl got blown towards the coast – never seen one move so fast but we could not find any Peregrines on the usual dead trees.  They certainly did not like us this weekend.

Great White Egret (AW)

Great White Egret



Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier

White Park Cattle (I think) were in the Konik field and the muddy track was a feast of animal tracks with Roe, Red, Chinese Water Deer and Reeve’s Muntjac all identifiable (thanks Simon). Down at the viewing bank we commandeered the far end and settled in for what I hoped would be a spectacular evening.  Over time the wind dropped completely and the sun even illuminated the view across to Horsey Mill. 

Red Deer slots with hind toe indents (AW)

 and some mini Muntjac slots too (AW)

We had not been there long when five Cranes flew in from the south with two more not far behind them; all seven continuing north and out of our view. Possibly as many as three Great White Egrets popped up now and then and three Little Egrets were also seen moving around.  It would have felt odd to have a trip without either of these species.




Great White Egret at dusk

Marsh Harriers were always on view and seemed to be constantly heading left to right across our view but a ring-tail Hen Harrier (a female I reckon as she was chunky) slinked across the marsh, barely above grass level before landing in a field where she sat largely obscured until the end of the day. A second one was seen at the every end as it flew past two more Cranes, a Buzzard and a Chinese Water Deer in the same view.  Three Barn Owls criss-crossed the area with one coming close and two Kingfishers were performing circuits around us before dropping into the channel to successfully fish.  We must have seen them at least a dozen times.  The wood behind held the missing Koniks and a Muntjac and two huge Red Deer were out grazing with their buff bums being the almost only visible areas.

There were small birds too with a male Bullfinch that actually perched up long enough to get a scope onto for everyone and six Yellowhammers that dropped into the Hawthorns to roost although they were very obscured when they landed.  The London ladies headed off a little early to catch trains but they did not miss anything much after they left bar the traditional last gasp Woodcock that rocketed out of the hedges and out to feed.

Bullfinch (AW)

We sauntered back to the car park in the gloom with Sue Cowie– an original Boozy Birder from the days long ago when I first started taking people out which was nice as I had not seen her for ten years despite living in the Broads and a last Barn Owl ghosted over us and off into the reedbeds.

We bid our collective fairwells in the calm of a winter night with the Pleiades twinkling overhead, hurtling satellites and the eerie bark of a Muntjac.

I was somewhat tired and Antony insisted on another night in Lowestoft which was much appreciated but our journey home the next day began with torrential rain and wind that precluded any second attempts at Purps or Waxwings but I did scramble in half an hour in the dry at Abberton Reservoir where I picked up two Caspian Gulls, four Great White Egrets, four Scaup, Black-necked Grebe, 14 Goosander and two Bewick’s Swans from the Layer de le Haye causeway.  It was bitterly cold and I was not unhappy to be back in the car and on the road for the last bit of the journey.

Three Scaup & a Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck, Coot & the odd Pochard

Great White Egret



  1. It was fantastic that we were able to squeeze so much into the two days. A fabulous weekend that I would thoroughly recommend. Eagerly waiting for the next two days in North Norfolk. Cheers Howard.