Saturday, 7 June 2014

Norfolk - 19th-21st May 2014

With Shan, staying at The Barns B&B, Comer.

Weather: Warm and sunny throughout. Slight breeze.

Birds Total: 126
Plus: Fallow Deer; Rabbit; Red Squirrel.
Plus: Brimstone, Brown Argus, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Large White, Orange Tip, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies. Drinker Moth, Garden Tiger, Brown Tail Moth Caterpillars. Cinnabar Moth.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-Tailed, Common Blue, Large Red, Red-eyed Damselflies; Broad-bodied Chaser, Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy Dragonflies.
Plus: 7-spot, 16-spot, Harlequin Ladybirds; Alderfly; Cardinal Beetle; Crane Fly; Cross Spider; Flesh Fly; Hoverflies; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Mayfly; Nursery Web Spider; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Solder Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.

Places visited:
RSPB Lakenham Fen; NWT Weeting Heath; Pensthorpe Wildlife Park; NWT Cley; RSPB Titchwell.

Norfolk Wildlife Reserves in the Spring. You can't beat them. I've been visiting the area every year for a few years now and I never come away disappointed. This year proved to be no exception. And, for once, the weather was glorious, with warm, sunny skies and just the merest hint of a cool breeze.


I met up with my good friend Shan again, a Lancashire lass, who picked me up at Ely station for our first visit, RSPB Lakenheath Fen. With a decent SatNav in place we managed to avoid the noisy USAF aircraft overhead and all the traffic on the road to find the Reserve and arrived just after opening.


We had just started down the trail, hearing a few Chiffchaff and Skylark, when I spotted a little red and black moth flitting around the grass. It turned out to be a Cinnabar, which was a first for me and a great start. I'd seen a few caterpillars but never the adult. We could also hear Cuckoo in the distance, the Fens being a great place for them.

A lovely female Ruff at Pensthorpe
A bird then appeared to our left, near the railway line. At first we thought it might be a Skylark but when it landed on a reed I could see that it was a Reed Warbler, which had been doing its' song flight. Shan then spotted a Reed Bunting fly over, the first of several today. There were a few other people in front and behind us so we didn't loiter too much.

Our first stopping off point was the New Fen Viewpoint, where a few more people were already present. In fact there were already quite a lot of visitors around, like us no doubt enjoying the warm weather. From here we could see and hear 2 Cuckoos, one of them perched up on a tree further down the trail; a Jay flyover; a Whitethroat singing away; a couple of Four-spotted Chasers and a few Hairy dragons, all flying around the lagoon. Plenty of Azure, Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damsels were about and, out over the marsh, a pair of Marsh Harriers were hunting back and forth. On the lagoon in front of us a Coot family swam idly around, the chicks squeaking away, begging for food. A lone Great Crested Grebe floated serenely by, which strangely turned out to be the only one we saw all trip.

The hot sun was already beating down on us, even though it was still quite early and it was proving to be very hot sitting out in the open. When I eventually moved over to the more shady seating area, locally called the 'Bus Stop', I was very pleasantly surprised to meet a fellow Birder and Blogger, Seymour Birds! He was just up for the day out. The 3 of us walked up the trail a little ways together, stopping every now and then to photograph an insect or dragon. Here we found Drinker Moth caterpillars; Nursery Web Spiders, one with an unfortunate fly; Cross Spiders, one with an unfortunate damsel; a Garden Tiger caterpillar; a Four-spotted Chaser; a Large Red Damsel and a few Peacock butterflies.

We must have spent 30 minutes or more along here, just walking a few hundred yards. But, at the urgent request from Shan, who is not too partial to insects, we made our way to the Mere Hide, where we looked for possible Bittern sightings. We were told by other visitors earlier that they could be heard booming. The Bitterns, that is, not the visitors!

While we waited we could see plenty more dragons and damsels, doing their thing; a few more Coot; some Mute Swans and a lone Little Grebe out on the lagoon. Another Marsh Harrier was flying back and forth high up to our left. A Red Admiral and a Holly Blue fluttered past the Hide. We could also hear a few Cetti's; Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings sounding off. Just before we continued I heard the familiar pig-like squeal of a Water Rail.


Male Ruffs showing their colourful range of summer plumage.
We then headed off to the Joist Fen viewing point. Just before we reached it we spotted a Bittern flying past to our left, heading towards one of the lagoons further out. It was our only sighting of the trip but it still set the heart racing! There were a number of people at JF as well, none of which saw the Bittern sadly. We looked out over the marsh here and spotted 3 more Marsh Harriers; several Hobbys; Lapwing; a Kingfisher and a few Bearded Tits flying back and forth across the lagoon just in front of us. All very entertaining stuff, especially my namesakes!

Eventually we decided to move on and soon the trail led us up to the apex of the Reserve and we came to a trail adjacent to a canal. Just before reaching it we spotted a lovely Sedge Warbler, singing out high up on a tree, posing nicely. When we got to the canal path a couple of guys told us that a pair of Cranes were just a little further up the trail. So we tried our luck, spotted them, took a few quick, distant photos and then headed back as they looked like they had spotted us and were looking a little nervous. They had youngsters with them so we didn't want to hang around too long, for fear of spooking them.

The breeze had strengthened a little here but I still managed to spot a Common Blue butterfly, trying to keep low down to avoid being blown away and then Shan spotted a couple of male Banded Demoiselles, both clinging onto grass stems. Then we met one of the Reserve Wardens who informed us that a Red-backed Shrike had been seen a little further on. We could see a few people with scopes along the trail and so hurried to join them. We stood there in the hot sun for about 20 minutes, all of us straining our eyes out over the canal, but I only glimpsed a fleeting sighting of what could have been the Shrike, but, alas, couldn't confirm it.

Further on a male Blackcap was more obliging and could be heard singing out and then appeared, flying from tree to tree in front of us. A couple of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies escorted us part of the rest of the way. All the usual Warblers could be heard everywhere; lots of butterflies and even more damsels were all very much in evidence along this stretch. If we'd of had more time I would have spent quite a while here.

We finally made it back to the visitor centre for a well-earned rest. No Golden Orioles today but we did manage to spot some quality stuff. Lakenheath Fen is always well worth a visit.

Redhead Smew - not sure what it's doing with the stone!
As it wasn't yet 4 o'clock we decided to try and find NWT Weeting Heath for the Stone Curlews. After taking the wrong turn out of the Reserve and doubling back we found it about 15 minutes later. We either should have used the SatNav or gone to SpecSavers! The Reserve Warden there was just locking up the visitor centre but he did tell us that a couple of pairs of Stone Curlews could be seen from the West Hide. So we quickly walked down and, sure enough, out to the left, about 100 yards away we could see one pair, with a couple of chicks. Scanning the area we managed to spot 3 more adults. This was the 4th time I had visited here and this was easily the best views I'd ever had of them. There were a few people in the Hide, one guy with a scope who allowed us a closer look. Through it, we could even see the yellows of their eyes!

We searched for the reported Pied Flycatchers in vain and, with Shan flagging a little after her very early start, we decided to drive up to our B&B just outside Cromer. Thanks to the SatNav this only took about an hour or so and we were soon checked in and heading off for dinner. A very good first day.


For our second day we had decided to visit Pensthorpe Wildlife Park in the Wensum Valley. The Park is a little like the WWT reserves with some captive birds on display. Conservation forms a large part of the Park with Red Squirrels; Corncrakes and a Crane project in situ. It was another lovely, warm sunny day and we were both looking forward to it.


We arrived a little early, just before it opened, thanks to the SatNav, so we sat down in the cafe area where we were entertained by the local House Sparrow population. Earlier, parking the car, we spotted a lone Oystercatcher, the first of many today, picking its' way around the area. We could see its' long, orange bill probing away in the muddy grass.


We spent the whole day here but we still didn't manage to see everything on offer. Our first stop was the Wader Aviary, where we were treated to really good close-up views of Avocet; Bearded Tit; Black-tailed Godwit; Black-winged Stilt; Curlew; Redshank; Ruff and Turtle Dove. The Avocets had plenty of chicks on show, a few of which hatched right in front of us! Both Shan and I were delighted to get such great close-up views, so we spent an hour here.



Reluctantly moving on we headed around the Reserve, seeing plenty of wildfowl, including the captive birds. At the Wader Scrape we looked out over the lake to see more Avocets; Barnacle Geese; Common Sandpiper; Egyptian Goose; Jackdaws; Lapwings; Little Egret; Little Ringed Plover; Pied Wagtail; Ringed Plover and Shelduck. Plenty of action!

There were lots of butterflies around the Reserve, plenty of damsels including Banded Demoiselles and then I spotted a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly. We broke for a very nice lunch about 1-ish before heading back around the other side of the Park.


Here we found the Conservation areas. First up were the Red Squirrels with some youngsters, which Shan cooed over. But I found that the Corncrakes were also in the same enclosure and so I concentrated on them. This was my first ever view of a Corncrake and they didn't disappoint. One of them 'crekking' out very loudly. Then we found the Great Crane Project area where we could see several species, mostly paired up. We also found lots of chicks, not only a Sandhill Crane chick, but chicks from Shelduck; Egyptian Goose; Bar-headed Goose and Oystercatcher. All rating very high on the cuteness scale.

Time was getting on and so we decided to head back to the Wader Aviary for a last look. And a sit down. We spent another delightful hour here before heading back. Before leaving we browsed the Shop where I resisted the urge to buy yet another Insect book.
Our B&B was called 'The Barns', a charming 18th century brick and flint converted barn. It only had 3 rooms, but they were superb. Breakfast included locally sourced bacon and sausage. Run by Amanda and Tony we can heartily recommend it. We had another very nice dinner in the local pub. Beers on offer around the area included one of my favourites, Woodfordes Wherry.

In the morning, after another energy-building breakfast we took a look at the weather situation. It had been forecast to rain today but, in the event, looking outside we found sunny blue skies again. So we made a decision to drive up to Cley first and then onto Titchwell. You can't visit Norfolk without visiting these Reserves!
At Cley last year we saw a Wilson's Phalarope. No such luck this year, only the usual really good stuff were on offer. NWT Cley is a smallish Reserve with about 4 or 5 Hides, 3 of which were conjoined. A lot of reedbeds had been cut back and so afforded us great views of the surrounding area.

On the walk down to the Hides more Warblers were in evidence including another showy Sedge Warbler. From the Hides themselves we could see Avocet; Common Sandpiper; Godwits; Grey Heron; Hobby; Lapwing; Little Egret; Marsh Harrier; Oystercatcher; Pied Wagtail; Redshank; Ringed Plover and Shelduck, as well as lots of Hirundines criss-crossing the skies, including my favourites, the Swifts, Spitfires of the sky. A lovely couple of hours were spent here before driving off up to Titchwell.

Parked up at Titchwell we soon headed off up the trail towards the Hides. We soon spotted a lone male Red-crested Pochard on one of the lagoons and, as we were watching it, 2 more males and a female showed up. A good start. On the way to the Island Hide I spotted a Brown Tail Moth caterpillar. From the Hide itself we could see more Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit action, all feeding, their long bills either stabbing or sweeping. Some of them ventured in quite close, giving us even better views.

Moving on up the trail to the Parrinder Hide we found the star bird of the day. First one male, then 2 more and then a lone female arrived. They were Grey Plovers, another first for me. They didn't venture too close but I was more than happy just to see them, especially as they were in their summer plumage. Godwits and a Common Sandpiper did approach the Hide, allowing more close-up views. 5 Ruddy Turnstones could be seen, weaving in and around the Gulls and, just behind them, on another spit of sand, we could make out a pair of Little Terns. Then 5 Dunlin flew past, wheeling about in the air, before landing out on the scrape. A lone Snipe flew in and immediately disappeared into the tall grass.

There were plenty of people about the Reserve here today as well, all variously saddled with cameras; scopes and bins. And some dog-walkers, who thankfully kept to the public footpaths. We decided against walking upto the beach as Shan wanted to get on the road home. A good decision as it turned out as part of the beach had been roped off, no doubt due to the Winter storms.

So sadly we bade Norfolk farewell again, until next year. A wonderful few days.

THE END!
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