Thursday 5 November 2020

Breydon Water, Great Yarmouth and Buckenham Marshes, 3 November 2020 – Honeyguide local event.

Using the long-range weather forecast to help set the next date of the weekly local Honeyguide outing – though now the last for at least a month on account of the new, imminent lockdown – was due to hit a set-back eventually, and it was raining as we assembled behind Great Yarmouth’s railway station by the sea wall in the Asda car park. The heavens opened and we retreated to cars, rain followed by hail. Happily, the downpour was sharp and short and we were soon out again, watching a flock of redshanks fly around both the flooded saltmarsh and over the car park.

A rainy start: 09:37 on 3 November 2020.

There were so many birds ahead we paused at first in the shelter of Breydon Bridge to scan the flocks of birds moving over and near the main high tide roost. These settled and we moved into the sunshine a little farther along the seawall. It was a brilliant spectacle. The largest numbers of birds in flight were wigeons, many of which settled either on the open water or in high tide pools among the saltmarsh.

Flocks of wigeon on and over Breydon Water. Look out for one redshank in flight (digiscoped).

Black-tailed godwits were the next most obvious, large groups with flashing black and white wings. Then, generally more in the distance over the estuary, tight, wheeling flocks of golden plovers, some of which came into the wader roost. In one telescope view we could see three plover species together – golden, grey and lapwings. 

There were little egrets, three around the hide area; such a routine sighting nowadays that they had little attention. With a sign on the hide saying one person only, we didn’t use it. Scanning for other birds, we looked at a curlew and, more distantly, at a shelduck and oystercatcher. Closer to us, searching through the many hundreds of wigeons, we also found lots of teals and several elegant pintails.

Male pintail (top/centre), black-tailed godwits and wigeons, digiscoped.

Groups of dunlins flew along the far edge of the saltmarsh, but disappeared from view once landed. Avocets were an obvious feature here on visits in September but they were absent today, though there was a line of black-and-white birds, this time great black-backed gulls. I focussed on one end of the gull flock where there was great black-back, lesser black-back and herring gull together.

The range of species here today may have been limited, but it was more than offset by the number and the show, enhanced by some glorious autumnal light. Some fungi in the grass on the sea wall was a little bonus: shaggy inkcaps and another species that may have been clouded funnel.

After popping into Asda to use the supermarket’s loo, we drove to Great Yarmouth seafront, parking on a side road near the model village. On the open beach north of Wellington Pier we found our target species with ease: a group of Mediterranean gulls, numbering about 30 birds. Using the not very secret trick of throwing them some bread they soon came to us, accompanied by the odd black-headed gull for comparison. Many of the Med gulls had rings; I know from what has been written that these are usually birds ringed either in the low countries or central Europe. Most were adults and a few immatures were 2nd winter birds with just a little, variable black on the wings. We walked to the seashore in case there was a wader or two – no luck there – though there was a single common gull in the middle of a large group of Mediterranean gulls, our sixth gull species of the morning. We retired to the cafĂ© by the beach for a coffee or hot chocolate.

Mediterranean gull (Rob Carr) photographed on a Honeyguide Norfolk break visit to Great Yarmouth, 30 September 2020.

With lockdown due to start the day after tomorrow, for three of us we added an additional, afternoon trip to the RSPB’s Buckenham Marshes in the Mid Yare. Here we ate our picnics, in the car park, lunches packed with this plan in mind. The land is very slightly elevated just over the level crossing and from there you could see immediately it was another place that was lively with birds. Perhaps more surprising were the mammals: five Chinese water deer from that first spot and a count of at least 14 from a little farther down the track, plus two hares.

Chinese water deer with Canada geese, digiscoped. 

Buckenham Marshes today, looking towards Cantley Sugar Beet factory.
A distant peregrine falcon, digiscoped.

As during this morning, the light was wonderful and it became a little warmer in the afternoon sunshine. Inevitably here the sight and whistling sounds of wigeon were a strong feature, with some teals, gadwall and shovelers near the lagoon towards the river. There was a peregrine on one of the many gateposts, plus marsh harrier and buzzard. But if I was to choose one bird highlight it would be the golden plover flocks catching the light as they twisted and turned as we looked towards Cantley’s sugar beet factory. It became cooler and we called it a day: perhaps, all being well, there’ll be more opportunities for Honeyguide local trips in a few weeks’ time.

Chris Durdin

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