Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Norfolk in May!

Norfolk - 18th-20th May 2015

Weather: Rain, thunderstorms, overcast. Quite cold.

Bird Total: 76
Plus: Chinese Water Deer; Rabbit; Weasel.
Plus: Large White, Orange Tip, Small White butterflies.
Plus: Azure, Blue-Tailed, Common Blue,  Damselflies; Four-spotted Chaser Dragonfly.
Plus: 7-spot, Alderfly; Cardinal Beetle; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Hoverflies; Long-jawed Orb Spider; Nettle Weevil; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Scorpion Fly; Slug; St. Mark's Fly.
Plus: Bluebells, Early Purple Orchid.

Places visited:
WWT Welney; RSPB Strumpshaw Fen; NWT Hickling Broad; NWT Foxley Wood.

It was time for our annual pilgrimage to sunny Norfolk. Unfortunately, it rained for most of our trip. Even more unfortunately, Carol got it right. There were a few storm showers as well. But we managed to avoid most of it, sheltering in the Hides.

Shan picked me up at Littleport and we drove the short distance to WWT Welney. I had visited before and knew that if it did rain we could shelter in their very scenic and dry, observation hides.

In the event we had to shelter in them up until just after 2pm, when the rain finally relented, allowing us to stretch our legs. First up, though, was a coffee from the cafe, in the Visitor Centre, while we looked out over the fields beyond.

We could see Goldfinch; Chaffinch; Blackbird; Woodpigeon and Moorhen on or around the feeders just below us. Further out, over the lagoon, were Redshank; Lapwing; Shelduck; Shoveler; Little Egret; Black-tailed Godwit; Oystercatcher and Garganey. In the reeds, flying around, were Reed and Sedge Warblers, plus a pair of Yellow Wagtails out to the left.

We braved a light shower and walked over the wooden bridge to the Main Observatory, where we could see loads of Swifts; Sand Martins; House Martins and Swallows, all flying around, some of which were nesting in the roof above us. Also out there were a fair few Whooper Swans, a speciality of the Reserve. There were more Black-tailed Godwits and Shelduck, while on the nearest little island we could see a lone Pied Wagtail.

Then a movement caught my eye to the left. It was a mammal scurrying out of the lake, darting in under the Hide. It could have been an Otter, as they have been seen here recently, but was probably just a brown rat. Further sightings here included Oystercatcher; Wigeon; Lapwing and Kingfisher.

It eventually ceased raining, giving us the opportunity to have a wander. We decided to head up to the end of the trail and work our way back, from Hide to Hide, in case it started to rain again.

On the way we had to step over dozens of Slugs that had appeared, all winding their way across the path. I also spotted a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle. But the insects here were few and far between.

It started to rain again just as we arrived at the first Hide, the Friends Hide. A good thing too, as it really started to chuck it down. All we could see outside were several Avocet, at least one pair with chicks. A couple of Redshank could be seen as well. All of them were looking a bit wet and fed up.

The rain relented a little bit again, so we quickly dashed down to the Lyle Hide. This one afforded us closer views of the Avocets and now we could see at least 3 pairs with chicks. One pair seemed to foolishly cross the water, chicks in tow, before walking along the shoreline. My fears proved to be correct when a little later on, a Kestrel swooped down and took one of the chicks.

We had seen the Kestrel flash by a little earlier, away from the chicks and then we spotted it hovering away to our right. It had obviously seen the chicks and flew in, chancing its' luck. There were more Shelduck here; a lone Common Tern flew over and then we spotted a Pied Wagtail with 2 little juveniles.

The sun then eventually decided to poke its' head out and so we decided to head back down the trail, sitting in one more Hide, meeting a few other hardy souls, before finding ourselves back in the Main Observatory. There was no-one here this time, the half dozen or so people that were here earlier having long since departed.

There were much the same birds as before, but, just before we left, a lone Dunlin flew in, amongst the Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. We had amassed a reasonable list of waders today, despite the rain. And, on the journey to our B&B, The Barns, just outside Cromer, we spotted a Marsh Harrier.

We had stayed at the B&B last year and so we knew where it was. If you are looking for a comfortable place to stay in Norfolk, The Barns would be our recommendation. Later in the evening we had a nice meal, washed down with a pint or two, before having an early night.

After a delicious fry-up, with locally produced sausages and bacon, we decided to keep to our original plan and head for RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Due to the very poor weather we had contemplated moving to Plan B, visiting Titchwell and Cley, places we knew had Hides to shelter in. But the weather forecast had only indicated a few light showers today, instead of the thunder storms previously predicted.

So we found ourselves parking up and heading around the Reserve. It was a little cloudy, but the Sun God was more friendly to us today. The Reserve only had 2 Hides, but both gave us some great sightings.

After a nice, friendly chat with the local Warden, we walked around to the Fen Hide. Here we found a Black Swan; a few Pochard and a lovely Chinese Water Deer, which was feeding on the edges of the lagoon. Then we spotted at least 3 Marsh Harriers, gliding around, over the reedbeds. Cetti's Warblers were sounding off all around us, as well as Blackcap. Then we heard a Cuckoo, a first for Shan this year.

Outside the Hide we first heard, then spotted a Willow Warbler. In fact, there were several about the area. Common Terns were continually flying over, chacking away.

We moved on, coming across an area where there were several Azure and Blue-tailed damselflies. Nice to see in this weather. A little later I could see several Scorpion Flies and a Nettle Weevil. Walking further up the trail we came across an area where loads of Black-headed Gulls were nesting. On further inspection we could see a pair of nesting Great Crested Grebes.

We then found ourselves looking out from the Tower Hide. There were quite a lot of birds outside, on the lake, including Mute Swan; Pochard; Gadwall and Mallard. A Marsh Harrier could be seen in the distance.

The sun came and went, along with the odd shower. After a very nice pub lunch we decided to stick to Plan A and headed for NWT Hickling Broad. This was a very nice Reserve, where we spotted several interesting sightings. But what let it down was the signage and a very dodgy reserve map. There was a Hide called the Cadbury Hide but, after trying twice to find it, we gave up.

Ensconced in the first Hide, the Bittern Hide, we were delighted to see a fair few Avocet; Little Egret; Lapwing; Redshank; lots of Black-headed Gulls and Shoveler.

Unfortunately, just after we arrived, the nice sunshine that had accompanied us down to the Hide, disappeared and was replaced with a heavy thunderstorm, with accompanying lightning. The cloud stayed with us for about an hour before finally moving on.

When it did, a pair of Redshank and a Lapwing moved closer to the Hide. A pair of Egyptian Geese had flown over a little earlier. Then 5 Little Ringed Plovers and 5 Dunlin flew in, as a group and began feeding at the back of the lagoon.

Some people came and went, braving the light rain that was still falling outside. A pair of Shelduck then flew over, while a Grey Heron was being mobbed by a few Carrion Crows.

When the rain finally stopped we headed out around the rest of the Reserve. Out over the marsh we could see another pair of Marsh Harriers. But we had inadvertently found ourselves walking along a muddy stretch of the trail. When we eventually got back on to firmer ground it felt like we had grown several inches because of all the caked-on mud on our shoes.

But then, all of a sudden, we were hit by several things at once. And it wasn't the rain. First up, a little Weasel came running up the track and then disappeared. Then we could hear a booming Bittern, which was followed up by a lovely Hobby swooping over us. It was an exhilarating 10 minutes or so.

We visited another Hide, not knowing our exact whereabouts. Then, after a walk through the Woodland, we found ourselves back at the Visitor Centre. This was where we had tried to find the Cadbury Hide but again found ourselves back near the Bittern Hide and the adjacent Secker's Hide.

We were going to try and find the elusive Hide but time was getting on and so we headed back to our B&B. It was early to bed after another lovely pub meal and pint.

The next morning we bade farewell to our wonderful Hosts and headed for NWT Foxley Wood, which was famous for its' Bluebells. We were hoping that it wouldn't rain, as there were no Hides here to shelter in.

As it turned out, the Rain God smiled on us and we stayed dry. But we did manage to find lots of muddy paths. The Bluebells were spectacular but we decided that they weren't as good as the RSPB Garston Wood bluebells a year or two ago.

There wasn't much in the way of bird-spotting, several Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers were sounding off. But it was a nice walk nonetheless. Several areas in the woodland were covered in a carpet of Bluebells, allowing a few modest photos.

Around midday we decided not to head to our final destination, Sculthorpe Moor, but to head for home, as Shan had a long drive. I was dropped at Littleport and arrived home just before 3pm.

Despite the almost constant rain, it was another lovely trip, with great company.

'A bachelor is a man who doesn't make the same mistake once!'