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Burnham Norton and Holkham NNR guided walk, 16 April 2021

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Sunshine with a cool northerly breeze greeted this week’s Honeyguide group, with Rob Lucking, around the grazing marshes of Burnham Norton at the western end of Holkham National Nature Reserve (NNR). Grazing marshes at Burnham Norton. A great white egret was out on the marshes, though it was displaying waders that stole the show. Calling redshanks rose and twisted on angled wings; lapwings tumbled and others could be picked out on the ground sitting on nests. There were oystercatchers, too, and a few curlews. Paul Eele, warden of the NNR and a former RSPB colleague for Rob and me, came past and paused for a chat. He confirmed that the water channels on the grazing marsh had been enhanced by a rotary digger, here in the natural-looking shapes of  creeks of the saltmarsh that it once was, centuries ago. In what is becoming a very dry April, Paul also told us that this old grazing marsh was retaining its water much better than marshes that are more recent reversions from arable to gra

Potter Heigham guided walk, 8 April 2021

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No rain, no hail, no snow: after recent ‘spring’ weather, that was a result on today’s guided walk at Potter Heigham marshes in the Norfolk Broads. It was far from warm and the wind was pretty brisk, it has to be admitted. The gardens of the chalets by the River Thurne were under water, but compared with the recent flooding in the River Yare that was minor and no problem on our route.  Once we reached the newly created reedbeds and lagoons there were plenty of birds to see. Greylag and Canada geese were expected but a single pink-footed goose was not. Perhaps it was a late stayer, one of the thousands that winter in the Broads. Maybe it was injured but, if so, there was no obvious sign of that. Pink-footed goose, with greylags either side. Lapwings displayed and oystercatchers called though they were overshadowed by the amazing number of avocets, far from their usual coastal lagoons. There were 60 in a tight flock and another 15 or 20 not far from the main group. A single black-tailed

Wells guided walk, 1 April 2021

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It may have been April Fool’s Day but no-one was fooled by the sudden drop in temperature after the late March heatwave. Rob Lucking met us in Wells-next-the-Sea and we walked to where a stiff northerly breeze was coming over the sea as we headed along East Quay. The nearest saltmarshes were covered by a high tide; there were brent geese but few waders. Crab pots with house sparrows on the quay. Alexanders was dominant along parts if the sea wall, as on much of the coast, though the plant we looked at closely was by the crab pots with house sparrows. The reason was to look at galls, like blisters on its leaves: often galls are from insects, but these are created by a rust fungus Puccinia smyrnii . It was quite a relief to drop down out of the wind with some shelter from the sea wall as we reached North Point wetlands. Rob explained how this was arable land that the farm found difficult to crop and, with Natural England’s support, created the series of lagoons there now. Two marsh har

Wells and Stiffkey with Rob Lucking

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With an eye on local walks and the Honeyguide break in North Norfolk in May, Julie and I joined Rob Lucking* to visit two of his local patches. We met in Wells-next-the-Sea and started by walking along East Quay, opposite the extensive saltmarshes that dominate this part of the coast. There were close groups of brent geese and a nice selection of waders, as you might expect, including curlews, redshanks and grey plovers. But the star birds flew past on the landward side, over the rooftops of the quayside properties: a raven, shortly followed by a second. They were heading west and disappeared from view over the main part of Wells-next-the-Sea. It's not often that I see a new bird for Norfolk. I release that there may be readers of this blog west of Norfolk (just about everywhere!) for whom a raven is an everyday or at least a regular occurrence. Over here in the east, ravens just haven’t been part of the scene for all of my birdwatching life. That’s beginning to change now,

Notes on the 'bearded eagle’

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I cannot be the only person in lockdown digging out books that are normally rarely opened, which prompts me to share an extract from Cassell’s Natural History Vol III edited by P Martin Duncan MB FRS*. The text (including the splendid drawing shown here) runs to 3½ pages and is based on accounts by various correspondents. These two paragraphs particularly caught my eye, about the 'Bearded Eagle, or Lämmergeier’. Line drawing scanned from Cassell’s Natural History Vol III. ‘In Algeria, the Lämmergeier is said to feed largely on Land Tortoises, which it carries to a great height in the air, and drops upon a convenient rock, so as to break the shell. So much has been written upon the habits of this bird that it would be impossible to give here one tithe of the interesting notes which have been published in various works and periodical; but no history of the species, however brief, would be complete without a passing mention of the little girl who was said to have been carried off

Vaccination progresses

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“Have you had the jab yet?” It’s a regular question as my barbershop chorus meets on Zoom on a Wednesday evening. So I keep my end on mute, but it’s trickier one-to-one in break-out rooms. I am trying to master saying, “I’m too young” without sounding peeved that I look like I’m in the currently eligible over-70s demographic. I can’t blame Zoom for grey hair. But I admit to just a little envy of those who’ve been able to get vaccinated and seeing at first-hand the steady progress of the nationwide programme. So when an email from Voluntary Norfolk arrived asking for help at a vaccination clinic withing walking distance, I was happy to accept a shift and to see how it all works, especially as requests for prescription collection/delivery have gone from very occasional (four since lockdown) to none at all. Walking to Lionwood Medical Practice in heavy snow, I wondered what the PPE on offer would be for ‘vaccination stewarding support (patient flow)’. Snowshoes and full Arctic gear? T

Keeled Skimmers in September

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It was a surprise to me to find Keeled Skimmer dragonflies at Holt Country Park during three visits of Honeyguide’s Norfolk breaks   in September, on 10, 17 and 24 September 2020. When I submitted these records, I was interested to find out if this was to be expected or out of the ordinary. But first, some notes on what we saw. On 10 September there were sev eral Keeled Skimmers, mostly blue males. Male Keeled Skimmer, Holt Lowes, 10 September 2020 (David Bennett). On 17 September, numbers were down to two or three though circumstances allowed a close view of a dead male trapped in a spider’s web.  Keeled Skimmer trapped by a four spot orb web spider ( Araneus quadratus ), Holt County Park (=Holt Lowes SSSI), 17 September 2020 (Chris Durdin). Finding one a week later still was a surprise, well into the second half of the month: Jean Dunn’s photograph shows the male on that date. Male Keeled Skimmer, Holt Lowes, 24 September 2020 (Jean Dunn). The tiny round leaves are bog pimpernel.