9th Feb 2023 – Three Winter Days, Day 2

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Day 2 of a three-day Private Winter Tour in Norfolk, and we headed down to the Broads. It was a cold start again, but no frost this morning, followed by another crisp, bright and sunny winter’s day.

It was a long drive down to the Broads this morning, and when we got to Ludham Bridge we diverted down towards St Benet’s to see if we could find any swans. As we drove in along the access track, all we could see were Mute Swans but then four geese in the grassy field by the track caught our eye. A quick check with binoculars confirmed our suspicion – they were Taiga Bean Geese. We pulled in to a convenient gateway and got the scope on them.

These Taiga Bean Geese were seen in pretty much the same place between 13th-16th January, but there have been no reports of them in the three-and-a-half weeks since. Where have they been hiding all this time? It is a big area, and they do spend lots of time down in low-lying wet ground where they can be very hard to see. Even so, it was a big surprise to find them here again, after everyone assumed they had moved on quickly.

Taiga Bean Geese – a surprise reappearance

While we were watching the Taiga Bean Geese, we looked round behind us and picked up four Common Cranes flying in over the marshes in the distance. They disappeared behind the old Abbey, but were immediately followed by another three Cranes, which appeared to be losing height as they were lost to view too. We figured they might be dropping down onto the marshes behind the Abbey, so once we had all enjoyed great views of the geese, we drove on to the car park and walked up onto the hill beyond. A couple of Stonechats flicked ahead of us as we made our way up and a large flock of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass.

Scanning from the Abbey ruins, we couldn’t see any sign of the Cranes we had seen earlier. Two more Cranes did fly up from over towards the river, but unhelpfully they quickly dropped down again behind some reeds out of view. We could see several groups of swans out on the marshes from here and as well as a few more Mutes, we found a good number of Whooper Swans and eventually got reasonably views of them through the scope.

We had a lot we wanted to pack in today, so we moved on. We decided to try for better views of some Common Cranes first, so drove round to an area where we have seen them regularly recently. When we arrived, we found two out on one of the fields, so we got out and set the scope up. We had a nice view of them in the sunshine, which caught the red top to their heads as they preened. There had apparently been quite a few more Cranes here earlier, but we suspected that the one we had seen flying earlier had come from here. Good views of these two was plenty enough for us today though, and as we drove off, we looked back to see them flying off. Just in time!

Common Cranes – a pair in the fields

There had been three Smew from the hide at the Waterside Cafe at Rollesby Broad earlier, but they had apparently flown out further down the Broad. Before we stopped for a coffee in the cafe, we had a quick look from the hide anyway, but all we could see from here were Tufted Ducks and Coots now. A couple of Kingfishers zipped past. After our hot drinks, we drove a bit further along and scanned the remainder of Rollesby Broad. There was still no sign of the Smew, but we there was a nice raft of Common Pochard out here and a selection of gulls, including our first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the trip. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were displaying on Ormesby Broad, across the road.

Great Crested Grebes – displaying

From here, we drove round to Filby Broad next. On the walk from the car park, several Redwings flicked through the trees overhead and a Great Spotted Woodpecker stopped briefly in a dead tree by the path. Scanning from the boardwalk, we could see lots of ducks but they were mostly right over the far side. There were some nice Goldeneye a bit closer. We eventually picked up a Ferruginous Duck swimming quickly along in front of the reeds opposite, but it disappeared into a bay and we lost sight of it behind a line of reeds. A couple of times it did reappear briefly, diving in the entrance to the bay, just long enough for everyone to get a look through the scope.

It was time for lunch, but we decided to drive over to Strumpshaw so we could make use of the facilities there. There were more Redwings in the trees as we parked and walked over the railway line. A constant stream of birds were coming in and out of the feeders, so we sat at the picnic tables to eat and watch. As well as Blue Tits and Great Tits, there were several Long-tailed Tits and one or two Marsh Tits and Coal Tits kept darting in and out. A Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared briefly in the trees behind and a couple of Blackbirds, Redwings and a Song Thrush were feeding in the nearby ivy.

Marsh Tit – coming to the feeders

As we were finishing lunch, a Common Buzzard drifted over and then we noticed three Marsh Harriers circling up from the Fen. We watched as they drifted over towards Reception Hide and then two more Marsh Harriers appeared high above, calling and swooped back in down to the reeds, displaying. One of the staff from the Reception then kindly came out to tell us there were some Bearded Tits in the reeds on the island in the Broad. A quick dart back to get the scope from the minibus and we had some great views of them feeding on the seedheads.

Next stop was at Cantley Marshes. There were lots of geese out on the grass – several thousand Pink-footed Geese, which could hear calling as we got out of the minibus and we scoped first from the back of the car park and then from the other side of the railway crossing. From here, we could see a good number of White-fronted Geese loosely associating with them too. A couple of Lapwings were displaying out over the marshes, twisting and tumbling, and a couple of Ruff were out on the grass. There were several Chinese Water Deer out here too, and we watched one make its way over towards the railway. It was spooked by an approaching train, ran straight towards us, saw us at the last minute and turned tail and ran off back the other way.

Chinese Water Deer – spooked

Our final destination for the afternoon was Halvergate. As we pulled up in the car park, a Barn Owl was hunting out over the back of the marsh in front. Otherwise, it looked rather quiet at first, but how wrong first impressions can be. We picked up a Short-eared Owl out over the marsh the other side of the track and watched it through the scope as it worked its way away from us. Then we noticed a second Short-eared Owl a bit further over, and a second Barn Owl too. Then a ringtail Hen Harrier flew past low over the grass.

There had been a White-tailed Eagle seen a couple of times recently on Haddiscoe Island and it had been reported again yesterday. We could see the Island way off in the distance, to our right, but we weren’t really expecting to see the eagle from here. Then we looked over towards Great Yarmouth, off to our left, and there was the eagle flying across. It was distant but we had good views of it through the scope and we watched it fly all the way across over the levels and lost sight of it over towards Waveney Forest. This is one of the White-tailed Eagles released on the Isle of Wight, a 3rd calendar year female. She previously spent some time in North Norfolk, particularly at Holkham, before heading down to Essex and now returning to Norfolk.

White-tailed Eagle – huge!

We turned our attention back to the marshes, where one of the Short-eared Owls was circling up higher, pursued by two Carrion Crows. Eventually the Crows lost interest and it broke off into a long glide, eventually landing on one of the gates out on the marsh, where we could get it in the scope. Then it was time for us to head for home, a great end to our second day.

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