Wednesday 31 May 2023

A Norfolk Weekender - Day 2 - 21st May 2023

A adventure: 

The Sunday dawned grey but the prospect was for some warmth later in the day but still with that pesky north-easterly so with the north coast somewhat quiet I opted for a day in the Broads and so we met at Hickling at 8am for a walk with the vague hope that the Caspian Tern would still be around.  I have a terrible track record with this species in Norfolk and was in no way anticipating seeing it.

No sooner than we were alongside Brenden’s Marsh that the beast flew in and landed in front of us! Result! It was clearly a 1st summer bird with a patchy cap and black tipped monster bill and when it got up and flew you could see the hint of dark in the tail and hindwing but its age did not detract from the spectacle of this huge Tern languidly cruising around in front of us before departing towards Horsey after twenty minutes! It looked Mallard sized when on the deck and the two closest ducks were trying the pluck up the courage to get it to move off the little island it was sitting on but were somewhat intimidated by that bill.

Caspian Tern

An immature Spoonbill sieved the waters and two adult Cranes slowly flew low across the pools.  We walked on and soon had more Crane views as birds moved across the landscape and one posed in a flooded run while a Bittern moved between pools before dropping back in.  It was a magical spell that had a very non British feel to it but the biting wind that got tis between the shelter of the hedges soon reminded us of where we were.



Retracing our steps we continued around the trails which were fairly quiet in the cool conditions but I was surprised to discover 'more' Spoonbills that I anticipated… A Hobby went through but at this stage there were only a few low level Damselflies about but there were Swifts for it to go after if it was feeling energetic.  Marsh Harriers were a constant and the odd Reed Bunting and Reed and Sedge Warbler were heard before finding a pocket of Willow Warblers nearer to the visitors centre.  Two Kingfishers did not stop though.

Lipara lucens - again

Azure Damselfly

Sentinel father

This fly was keeping a very close eye on the Garden Tiger cat below...

Garden Tiger cat 

Four Spotted Chasers started to emerge as we reached the final section but were lethargic and Blue Tailed damselflies were also noted but I could not find any Variables.

Four Spotted Chaser

Blue Tailed Damselfly

Time for coffee and cake and then off to the coast to look for Little Terns off Waxham.  We slogged up through the sand but the sea was rough and the wind and sun in our faces and a single Cormorant was the only bird seen!  A singing Lesser Whitethroat was the only passerine heard as we marvelled at the cost of renting Shangri-la for four nights.

Inland now to Strumpshaw hoping that inland the wind would be less and the insect life more prolific.  I had high hopes of finding the first Swallowtail of the season.  Lunch in the car park with Orange Tips and Brimstones flying around was a good start and just past the visitors centre we found a spot with the three Damselfly species actively hunting around a Nettle and Bramble patch while a Hairy Hawker, as usual, almost but did not quite land for better views.

Large Red Damselfly

Azure Damselfly

Azure Damselfly

Pyrochroa serraticornis

Merodon equestris

Phyllobius sp Weevil

A Glow-worm crossed the path and was helped on its way before we popped out into the meadow where some very fine Highland Cattle grazed.  It was too breezy for Butterflies but we did see Broad-bodied and Scarce Chasers along with a couple of Chiffchaffs before 

Sand Wasp sp - happy to have help please 15mm long


Yellow Flag

Angie suggested that we need to walk the other way entirely.  So it was back out onto the road and down to the next lane and as if by magic in the nettley paddock just before the last cottage there was a gleaming fresh as can be Swallowtail.

It’s chosen spot was sheltered and it allowed a close approach and we were afford the most amazing views possible of this most tropical looking of native butterflies.  I had only ever seen them briefly in the UK and not for about 30 years I think, so it was a doubly special moment.

British Swallowtail

A family of Marsh Tits were encountered on the way back to the cars before we moved just around the block to Buckenham to look for Garganey and Yellow Wagtails.  We may have seen neither but it was a pleasant spot to spent the end of our day out with the Chinese Water Deer looking all svelte in their summer coats and two late Pink-footed Geese grazing out with the Greylags. 

A chunky boy...

The following day I was meant to be up in Norfolk again but I think the recent exertions had got the better of me and I had to bail on the plans.  We were meant to be at the Wrens that evening and so went there early where I then just slept.

There are always moths at Antony's - Dewick's Plusia

Great Prominent

Waved Umber

Alabonia geoffrella

However in the evening Antony had to go down to Westleton to pick up a moth lure and the chance of a Nightjar encounter was too good to miss.  It was only just gone 9pm when the first bird started churring.  The next 20 minutes were very special with incredibly close views of both male and female as they hawked around us.  It was light enough to see pattern and colour and when the male perched up you could see his white throat puff out when he sang!  I have waited a very long time to see our own Nightjar this well.  The female came and wing clapped past our heads and then landed on the path for a few moments. 

volume up

Stone-curlews wailed, Nightingales serenaded the incoming dark and Stonechat, Tree Pipit and Dartford Warbler all gave a last burst of song to round up a very special end to my epic few weeks away from home.  

I am not quite sure of the exact total but between the 20th April and 22nd May I was only at home in Kent for two days and between Lesvos, Spain, Finland and this East Anglian excursion I managed to see or hear 343 species. Quite remarkable.

I have now had a breather for a week with just a fantastic Orchid day out last Friday but in a few hours I head off to the Pantanal in Brazil for my next adventure.  People ask if I have any regrets about leaving the RSPB?


Thirty Years Ago - May 1993

1st May:

Within hours of returning from Wales I met up with Adrian Kettle and headed up to Newmarket to meet Stuart for the trek to Leighton Moss for the easy, early morning Little Bittern. Cobblers! We sat in that hide for five hours with god knows how many other birders watching the mist and sun rise to deliberately obscure our view. No vaguely smallish Bitterns were seen but two rather large ones were and at least two others were booming. Tawny and Little Owls were vocal and a pair of Marsh Harriers and some Bearded Tits were seen while we waited.  However, compensation for me at least came in the sinuous form of two Otters once of which was seen munching an Eel.

Having seemingly blown out, we headed north to Haweswater. We took our time on the walk up to the cirque as it was shrouded in low cloud but it gave us the chance to find many immaculate Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts in the scattered Oaks and Ash while a couple of Wood Warblers trilled from the canopy. Both Mergansers and Goosanders were on the lake below and Common Sandpipers teetered around the edges. Grey Wagtail and Dipper were found on a fast flowing stream.

Up at the hut the cloud was clearing and the Polish RSPB warden picked out one of the Golden Eagles immediately for us as he sat on a cliff face tree while the female could just be made out on the nest. The male then took off and absolutely fabulous views were had of this 24 year old (older than me) in all his shing golden headed glory. Merlin, female Hen Harrier and Buzzard were all also seen as we turned to make the slow walk back down.

We stopped a small quarry somewhere off the M62 and got good views of a male Peregrine and some Twite before a stop off the M6 heading south for a fine male Ring-necked Duck. 

Annoying the Little Bittern reappeared at 9pm that evening!

3rd May: 

A very early start with Paul Whiteman to get to Madehurst in Hampshire before the roosting White Stork departed.  Fortunately it waited for us and we had superb views both on the deck and in flight.  Only my second in the UK and judging by some of the ridiculous parking quite a few others actually needed it!  Nine bonus Whimbrel drifted over.

 departed.  Fortunately it waited for us and we had superb views both on the 

A look off Selsey Bill and then Church Norton produced a few smart waders that included Grey and Golden Plovers, Whimbrel, Knot and both Greenshank and Spotted Redshank.  There was no sign of the Broad-billed Sandpiper. Thorney Island next to look for Little Egrets and we saw three very well with two more in the distance. Seven Greenshank were in the channels and Little Terns were hunting over the Little Deeps while a male Scaup in the Great Deeps was a welcome year tick. Beardies pinged and Reed, Sedge and Cetti’s Warblers were singing. 

North again now to Pulborough Brooks were the Garganey were absent but seven agile Hobbies rounded up the day.

6th May:

A pair and extra male Sparrowhawk were displaying over Wanstead Park as I drove by on the North Circular.

8th May:

A morning trundle up to Belstead just south of Ipswich for a male Red-headed Bunting and we were soon watching him hopping around close to some houses.  What a stunning bird. It was un-ringed so who knows where it came from. [Eds: even if it was an escapee it was undoubtedly a wild caught bird]

Red-headed Bunting

9th May: 

Another day, another Bunting, this time a fine male Ortolan in Richmond Park that had bee elusively present for a couple of days.  He took two hours to find but eventually we located him in the canopy feeding around the Oak flowers.  A disturbed Tawny Owl, lots of Woodpeckers, Swifts and House Martins added interest along with the Red and Fallow Deer.


10th May:

Gardening in Upminster produced a pair of hunting Hobbies, Green Woodpeckers at the nest and a few Warblers.

15th May:

A casual potter up the A12 with Neil M and Simon S to Trimley for a Semi-palmated Sandpiper that had been present for two days but only confirmed late yesterday. We arrived after the lengthy walk in at 9.50 that nearly everyone had just left as they had not seen the bird and only a funny Dunlin which was rather odd.  However, literally five minutes later someone said ‘ What’s that that just flew in?’ and there it was, a rather smart summer plumaged adult.  It only stayed for twenty minutes before departing high over the docks never to be seen again. Months later controversy still reigns over the Saturday sighting.

A few other waders were seen including Dunlin, Ruff, Avocet and a smart Curlew Sandpiper while an invisible calling Wood Sandpiper was a surprise. Little Terns were everywhere and Wall Butterflies were dotted along the path as we walked back.

Back in Billericay we phoned Birdline and leapt back in the car and shot off down to Fleet Pond in Hampshire for a male Citrine Wagtail.  The weather was pants but thankfully cleared as we arrived and within a few minutes this dapper first-summer male was found patrolling the lake side mere feet away.

Citrine Wagtail

There were many Common Terns and hirundines over the lake while a strange bird being mobbed by them turned out to be a hepatic female Cuckoo which obligingly perched up for a few moment although most of the twitchers present were not interested in her. 

Pleased with our luck we hit the M25 and headed for home.

23rd May:

An Oriental Pratincole had been present for nearly a week on fields and paddocks in the east Norfolk village of Gimingham but I had not dashed for it as I was lucky enough to see the 1988 bird at Elmley.  As such Pete and I headed that way mid-morning on the Sunday and after some frustration with heat haze the bird flew to the paddocks and gave excellent views. Very inquisitive looking with beady eyes.  Some wonderful aerial displays were given showing off the chestnut underwings, lack of white trailing edge and short tail streamers to great effect.  A Quail quipped from the adjacent field.

 Oriental Pratincole

We opted for a homebound route via Minsmere which was packed but we did see the plumed head of a Spoonbill and three Sanderling (somehow a year tick) seen. Marsh Harriers quartered but the Savi’s Warbler did not sing.  The rest of the day was spent failing to see a Red-backed Shrike between Sizewell and the Sluice bushes.

27th May:

An afternoon pop down to Elmley for a Great Reed Warbler that sang well and gave sporadic views in its chosen ditch. It was actually seen best in flight!  Yellow Wagtails buzzard about.

Great Reed Warbler

29th May:

After much faffing about Pete and I got to The Naze where the male Red-headed Bunting was still present on the undercliff. It was immaculate and if anything brighter green above and slightly duller on the rump.  It was lumbering around in the Nettles at the base of a slum and was not approachable at all and often disappeared for a few minutes before coming back out and sunning itself on the exposed sand! If ever a bird had goo credentials it was this one with a back up cast of numerous Black-headed Buntings, an Oriental Pratincole, Desert Warbler and various other Eastern goodies and of course the bird of tomorrow…

Red-headed Bunting - in case you were wondering RHB is on my personal list

A look in at Rye Meads gave me a chance to catch up with the territorial male Marsh Warbler and I am pretty sure that we had a brown Common Rosefinch moving through the Willows…

30th May:

A catastrophically bad afternoon where dithering resulted in us dipping the Pacific Swift at Cley by just a few precious minutes.  At least we were in the company of hundreds of others who had missed out by the end of the evening.  I could have had four life ticks that weekend if things had worked out.  We did see two male Garganey and a Temminck’s Stint but they were not ample compensation for the Swift. To make it worse the Desert Warbler was still on Blakeney but out of reach as no one wanted to leave Cley just in case. Oh well there tends to be one mega dip a year so let’s hope that they Swift was it! 

[Eds: It was to take 20 years and two weeks to get Pacific Swift back and although my twitching days were sparse by then even I made the effort to lay this one to rest!]