Friday 17 November 2023

The Broads and Yare Valley - 17th November 2023

A adventure:

I was up before the sun and there was still the sound of Redwings and Blackbirds going overhead in the dark before I headed north to our rendezvous at Winterton. Once there was light it became apparent that there were Blackbirds everywhere and they popped out of hedges and gardens on my journey.

The car park at Winterton was equally populated by these Scandi visitors and Goldcrests flicked through the Sycamores like a proper autumn day.  A Pallid Swift had spent the last six days (I think) around the church and had been seen roosting on it but the weather was so grim yesterday that there were no reports after early afternoon.

It was cool and grey and after the Whitfields arrived we ambled down to the church itself and just a few minutes later I picked up the Pallid Swift leisurely flying just above the rooftops. We scampered around to the other side and soon found it again as it performed a few circuits on languid wings.  There is something oddly different about the way a Pallid Swift flies; almost more slowly and methodically and that coupled with the disassociation of seeing any Swifts for over two months makes an out of season one look different and also strangely large in my humble opinion.

Pallid Swift - Henry Wyn-Jones from a couple of days ago

We were treated to several circuits where all the features were noted before it dipped over a roof and out of sight.  We did not see it again and I do not think it was seen again all day. We were lucky.

And all the while Blackbirds were dropping in in small groups and singles with others clucking away in the gardens.  Pleased with our early success we moved north to Waxham Barns for a look from the dunes.



Flocks of Fieldfares were seen in the roadside fields but there was too much farming disturbance for there to be any Geese or Cranes close to us.  Skeins of Pinkfeet  could be seen descending towards Winterton.

The view from the dunes was murky and there were no Cranes here either this time but I did find two adult Whooper Swans inland and a large flock of Pinkfeet amongst hundreds of Gulls loafing on the waterlogged fields.

There were more Blackbirds with the addition of a few Redwings and quite a few calling Robins and Goldcrests and what I think was a calling Siberian Chiffchaff.  The sea was flat calm and the tide was in but several scans did produce three female Goldeneye, four Razorbills, a Guillemot, Teal, six Brent Geese while a single partial sum plum Great Northern Diver was followed south by a ridiculous group of five more!

The road through to Hickling was somewhat flooded in parts but we made it through to a car park illuminated by golden Hazel and Field Maple leaves still on the trees.  The fact that most of the reserve was under water thankfully did not prevent us from taking the dry track down towards Stub Mill.

Blackbirds moved along in front of us with a few Redwings and Song Thrushes amongst them and two Muntjac sat in the field margins.  The flood where we saw the Caspian Tern back in May was so high that the gates were all half submerged and with such levels there were understandably no duck of any sort to be seen.

The light came and went and Marsh Harriers were constantly on view as the hunted low over the glimmering silver topped reeds where Reed Buntings and Bearded Tits were seen.  The latter erupting in little groups of up to 15 before dropping back down to contemplate a future attempt.

Bearded Tits 

Two Water Pipits came up from, the hidden edges along with several Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails while a set aside patch of sunflowers was alive with small birds.  There were Chaffinches, Green and Goldfinches and at least 12 Brambling that glinted white, orange and black in the momentary sunshine.  A single Siskin and a gleaming male Yellowhammer were seen and several tail flicking Reed Buntings.


The next field along was littered with Starlings and Fieldfares and four Konik ponies eyed us warily and seemed to want attention but the ears held back kept hands at a safe distance.  A pair of Stonechats followed them around. 




Rather oddly there was no sound (let alone sight) of any Cranes whatsoever. The Whitfields had not been to the view point before but we did not linger long.  Marsh Harriers were again obvious including a fine adult male and a couple of Buzzards and Kestrels while a Red Kite was circling off towards Winterton where the Pinkfeet still circled.


The walk back added a fine Great White Egret in the main channel and a late Migrant Hawker patrolling the sheltered path.  

Great White Egret

Stigmella plagicolella

Coptotriche marginea

Stigmella aurella

Lunch in the car park and then off again to St Benet’s Abbey where I hoped there would be some hungry Short-eared Owls after the last few days of grim weather. As it happened tow were seen before we even got to the end and like the other week I took us away from the happy snappers and up to the Abbey ruins where we watched six of these magnificent creatures hunting around us.  The variation in colour was noticeable with some quite rufous and others sandy.  It was a fantastic encounter. 

Short-eared Owl

Flocks of Fieldfares circled around us and came down to mass bathe in the puddles on the path with a hoard of even more enthusiastic Starlings and an immature Red Kite circled just above us.

Red Kite 

With the light holding and the birds showing I opted to move south to Buckenham Marshes for the Corvid roost.  It was cool but still calm as we walked down the track but the marshes were far drier than I anticipated with no duck visible until the very end where the usual mass of Wigeon were to be found.

Canadas and Greylags were out on the marsh with so many Chinese Water Deer dotted across the vista.  I counted 38 in one sweep.  A small flock of Pinkfeet were on the deck with 14 Russian White-fronts which I was pleased to find and off in the distance skein headed off towards Breydon Water.  Sixteen Linnets were trying to go to roost in a Bramble clump but there were very few Rooks and Jackdaws around as the mists started to rise across the marsh and it looked like I was a little too early in the season for the usual spectacle.

Chinese Water Deer 

Greylags in the rising mist

Suddenly a mass of birds appeared on the southern horizon but there were not Corvids but Pinkeet and I estimated that 2000 spiralled and whiffled into the fields with an accompanying wall of goosy sounds.  Amongst them was a Ruddy Shelduck but given my recent duckage exploits I shall just leave that there…

Buzzards were still sitting on fenceposts and a Barn Owl ghosted along the river wall bank in the gloomy distance while the Chinese Water Deer seemed to suddenly loom large as the mist came up and highlighted them.

A single Golden Plover, four Snipe and two Ruff were amongst the Lapwings and a pair of Stonechats were still hunting in the very low light.  Starlings started to pour through in swirling lozenges of blackness and they undulated towards their roost at Strumpshaw.

Starlings and Pinkfeet


Back near the station a few Rooks and Jackdaws were gathering and swirling around above us.  It was splendid and noisy but not quite what I had hoped for.  We waited as they started to head into the roost trees and then walked back to the cars.  It was now very dark but there was just enough light to see it suddenly dimmed by a vast cloud of countless thousands of Rooks and Jackdaws pouring in from the south in one mega flock.  The wall of sound reached us and surrounded us as we stood in awe at this most under-rated of British wildlife spectacles.


  1. A really comprehensive account of an excellent 👏 days birding with Howard

  2. Love it, missing those Suffolk/ Norfolk birding outings

  3. A beautifully-written, evocative account.