Monday 14 December 2020

Upton Marshes, 14 December 2020 – Honeyguide local guided walk.

Sunshine, after a rainy night, was a welcome sight as six of us gathered at Upton Staithe car park and set off alongside Upton Dyke. Looking west, over Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Upton Marshes, there were three distant cranes all too briefly in the air. Next to show was a marsh harrier and, while we watched that, a peregrine falcon came into the same field of view. The peregrine settled on a gate on the field, and we saw it there or nearby off and on through the morning.

Oby Mill, across the River Bure.

After we turned left along the distinctly muddy path on the river wall, most of the activity was across on the other side of the River Bure and its reedy ronds over on Clippesby and Oby Marshes. There were a few groups of pink-footed geese flying around, though nothing that compared with the flock that Howard and Sue saw by the A47 Acle Straight on their way here today. There were at least two marsh harriers and large numbers of jackdaws, rooks and starlings, though most of our effort went into trying to get a clear view of some cranes in some long vegetation near the rather distant cattle. Eventually they did show: a family party of three, then a second group of three, with the best view when all six were in flight.

It was a bit easier scanning Upton Marshes where again we found a marsh harrier and the peregrine and Daphne picked up on a distant barn owl, though that soon went from view. There were also herons, greylag and Egyptian geese and Chinese water deer.

Tall Mill, Upton.

Flocks of lapwings were often on the move, with the biggest flock in the air soon after we’d taken our next left turn by Tall Mill. This track – also often rather muddy – was between tall hedges, on which there was a flock of fieldfares. There were plenty of open areas to allow scanning towards South Walsham Marshes, and early on a superb male marsh harrier flew close by us. A kingfisher dashed through and there was a buzzard perching on a post. Ann pointed out a different raptor near yet another marsh harrier; a sparrowhawk that dropped into the trees by Upton Fen.

The best was yet to come, on the last leg overlooking the marshes. A flock of cranes came into view and flew slowly westwards. As they spread out it became easier to count them: 35 cranes, which eventually dropped out of sight onto distant marshes.

We then walked into Upton village for a drink and a snack from the community shop, over which Ann saw a butterfly flying in the winter sunshine, though too distant to identify for sure. We then walked back to the car park past bathing house sparrows, weathervanes, Christmas penguins, a sign warning us not to feed the bears and a patch of winter heliotropes. Ann and I saw a red kite on the drive home to Norwich, making it quite a day for raptors.

Can we add these to today's bird list?

House sparrows bathing in a puddle.

Half of the money brought in from this walk is earmarked for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, match funded by the Honeyguide Charitable Trust, leading to a donation of £120 for NWT.

Chris Durdin

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Horsey seals, Honeyguide local guided walk, 7 December 2020

For our first walk after the autumn lockdown, six of us met at the National Trust’s Horsey Mill car park near the east Norfolk coast. For the early arrivals there was the distant sound of cranes bugling and the sight and sound of moving pink-footed geese.

Morning mist turned to sunshine as we found a route through a wetter than expected start to the path towards the distant dunes of sand and marram grass that make the sea defences here. Conditions then became easy once we were on the permissive path through this part of the Horsey Estate. Here three roe deer surprised us, then stood and watched us as we watched them in a field of oilseed rape.

Roe deer.

A sparrowhawk dashed away low over a crop along a hedge line then helpfully returned, the large, brown female settling in a tree. Fieldfares flew over at the same time and we had several sightings along the next part of the route. A uniformly brown marsh harrier and a male stonechat were two more good birds. Mary was alert to a yellow fungus on a tree branch in a small copse protected from browsing mammals by fencing; although it was out of reach it was close and distinctive enough to be identified as yellow brain fungus, which is parasitic on other fungi.

Yellow brain fungus (Cheryl Hunt).

Honeyguider Daphne Rumball is also a volunteer with Friends of Horsey Seals (FoHS) and she had arranged her rota to be on duty to meet us. Curiously, it was two seals in the ‘wrong’ place that took our attention to start with. One was a female that had come over the dunes and was on the inside of the fenced emergency access gap. That one would find its own way back, we were advised. Of more immediate concern was a large pup in a puddle on the track on the landward side of the high dunes. Daphne had called for some help from the chairman of FoHS and with the large board in the photo he cajoled the snarling youngster to move into the safety of the dunes.

A grey seal on the path snarls at a passing bike.

From the viewing path on the top of the high dunes, the beaches were awash with grey seals, the numbers and density reminiscent of grazing mammals on an African savannah. 

Seals as far as the eye could sea.

It was certainly peak time to be here: Daphne said that the latest count was 2900 adult seals, and the signboard on the way in said ‘pups born this year 1709’ including this week 477. Pups on the beach were of varying sizes, some very new and covered in white fur, other suckling, others bigger and at the point of being abandoned from maternal care. One bull was obviously, er, ready for mating; another, later, was in the act. Other bulls were waiting and hoping or being snarled at by females protecting their young. Daphne pointed out turnstones and sanderlings and one harbour (common) seal, this species slimmer and a more uniform colour and with a differently shaped nose when it looked towards us.

Honeyguiders overlooking the grey seal colony.

Grey seals (Cheryl Hunt).

On the return journey there were flocks of lapwings and a shaggy inkcap toadstool. We took a different route towards the end to avoid the muddiest area, bringing us alongside the road near Horsey Hall where almond-scented winter heliotrope was coming into flower on roadsides.

We took advantage of the food and drink on sale at Horsey Mill and picnic tables available in the chilly sunshine. After the group dispersed, Ann and I stopped briefly just a short distance away by the Horsey-Somerton road where there were a thousand or more pink-footed geese on a pasture on one side and a peregrine on an arable field on the other side.

Half of the money brought in from this walk was earmarked for Friends of Horsey Seals, match funded from the Honeyguide Charitable Trust, leading to a donation of £120 for the organisation that does so much to make the Horsey-Winterton coast such a haven for grey seals. Albert Ward from Friends of Horsey Seals says: “We thank you and very much appreciate the generosity of the Honeyguide Charitable Trust in making this donation.”

Chris Durdin

Grey seal (Cheryl Hunt).

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