Monday 12 October 2020

Potter Heigham marshes, 12 October 2020 – Honeyguide’s first local guided walk.

The switch from overseas holidays to UK activities continues, dictated by the constraints of coronavirus, and with four successful ‘Norfolk breaks’ in September to look back on it felt like a good time to offer some of the Norfolk break venues as a morning walk for local Honeyguiders.

That was behind the gathering at 9:30 of five Honeyguiders, Julie Durdin and me in the big car park at Potter Heigham. The early arrivals had seen skeins of pink-footed geese fly over. We could all see the high water levels in the River Thurne after recent rainy days that had led to yesterday’s story on the Eastern Daily Press website about a hire boat trapped under the low bridge. Better news was that the long-range weather forecast checked when setting the date proved correct: there was sunshine, and it was dry.

Honeyguiders at Potter Heigham Marshes.

Progress was slow alongside the river and Julie left the birdwatchers to set off for a brisk walk. On the grazing marshes beyond the river were large numbers of geese, mostly greylags and a fair few Canada and Egyptian geese. From the small strip of reed in front of us was the ‘ping’ of a bearded tit: to be expected in the big new reedbeds farther on, but a surprise in such a tiny piece of habitat. It was difficult to know whether to look for that or to watch the stonechat.

We moved on past the windmill converted to a holiday let, then paused by the more modern electric pump that switched on as we passed, creating yet more foam. We were briefly entertained by a mechanical grab that clears reed and weed from the pump’s water inlet.

It's easy to be dismissive of resident/feral geese, but when several hundred greylags came over it was quite a sight.

Greylag geese over Potter Heigham Marshes.

Then we heard the distinctive ‘groo groo’ of bugling cranes. There was the briefest of sightings and they dropped out of sight. Backtracking a little, there they were on the grazing marshes on the other side of the river. It took a little peering through gaps in reeds to see them all but eventually we agreed on a count of 13 cranes. Later we saw them all in flight.

Two swallows were in the sky over the reedbed in the middle distance. A little later a ‘chak chak’ sound alerted us to a flock of about 30 fieldfares flying over. There are only a few autumn days when lingering summer migrants and winter birds arriving can be seen on the same day, and today was one of those. On the return leg another flock of fieldfares came over, silent this time and with the odd redwing mixed in.

The most abundant birds by far on the lagoons among the reeds were teals, with a good group of shovelers in one place, mallards, an occasional gadwall and one pintail in flight. There was a lack of waders, just the odd snipe and a nice flock of lapwings: perhaps a combination of the season and high water levels. Cheryl was alert to a kingfisher on a distant fence above a yellow sheet of buttonweed. Kestrels were numerous today, hovering and perched; other birds of prey were a marsh harrier and a distant buzzard.

Dropping down off the river wall, we had to negotiate a partly flooded track before taking the long straight back to Potter Heigham, passing two more stonechats, a flock of starlings and quite a selection of livestock.

Chris Durdin


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