Saturday 17 April 2021

Burnham Norton and Holkham NNR guided walk, 16 April 2021

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 grass.

It was a good morning for mammals. At the back of the group, Helen and others saw a weasel cross the path. There was hare to our right and a Chinese water deer scampered across the marshes to our left before disappearing into reeds. Later, Ann saw an otter on the gravel by a gate in the marshes; two others managed to see it before it went out of sight into a ditch.

We heard a sedge warbler but we failed to find the yellow wagtail that Rob saw briefly. Later we found a singing sedge warbler that stayed where it was to allow good views through telescopes. Marsh harriers were constantly on the move. Then two more very good birds: the first was a bittern that boomed, albeit not often. The second was an immature little gull that was flying over a flooded area among a much larger group of black-headed gulls. We found it again on the return leg of our walk, including settled on the water. The dark lines on the upper wing means it was a first-winter bird, and it lacked the smoky underwing of the long-staying adult little gull at my local patch of NWT Thorpe Marshes (photos from Thorpe here).

At the farthest point of this fairly gentle circuit we overlooked saltmarsh out towards Scolt Head and inland towards Brancaster Overy Staithe. Avocets were feeding in creeks and a flock of brent geese flew towards us and settled.

View over saltmarsh towards Scolt Head.
The sea walls were dominated by alexanders coming into flower, on which were many ladybirds. There were mason bees in the dry path and one I photographed on alexanders I think was grey-patched mining bee Andrena nitida.

Grey-patched mining bee (provisional ID).
On the lagoons on this part of the walk we added shovelers, teals and tufted ducks to the gadwalls and shelducks seen already. Little egrets go almost without comment nowadays and the great white egret returned.

We said farewell to Honeyguiders not staying on for the afternoon; those out for the day had their picnic lunches in the sunshine by the cars, under the willows with the singing chiffchaff. Swallows came over us here.

A short drive took us to Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham which was busy with people, as were the machines issuing tickets for parking. The popularity of Holkham beach means birds are acclimatised to people and the sculpted channels and scrapes in the marshes either side of the road had plenty of birds, offering close views. These include more displaying redshanks and lapwings, a snipe, close curlews, some late wigeons and more brent geese. After visiting loos at The Lookout café, we walked along the back of the pines and immediately lost the crowds who were obviously here for the beach.

It was sheltered and warm and that brought out butterflies, three that were first-of-the-year for most of us. A male orange tip flew past, then a green-veined white settled on a flowering currant. The third was a speckled wood, dancing around a stump. Peacock butterflies dashed past as well and a willow warbler sang. A marsh harrier called; the male was high above us, over the Corsican pines, in courtside display.

Holm oak leaves: the bumps are Aceria ilicis mite galls, the brown patches are leaf miners. 
We noted how holm leaves were scarred with the tunnels of leaf miners. Then Rob showed us an odd tree planted here long ago: winged elm, also called cork-winged elm on this Holkham blog; the photo shows why it is so named. Wahoo is another name given on Wikipedia for Ulmus alata, introduced from North America.

Winged elm.
Some turned back before we reached the far (and closed) hide that overlooks the cormorant colony and heronry. The others didn’t miss much: two spoonbills in flight only and no egrets on view, just cormorants and woodpigeons. We paused on the return walk to see what we’d earlier noticed a Naturetrek group observing: the larval pits of antlions, a relatively recent colonist here. The slippery sides of the pits, for trapping and consuming ants, recalled the sarlacc in the Star Wars film Return of the Jedi.

Antlion larval pit.
We all returned to the cars at much the same time and were able to enjoy a good view of a red kite over the marshes. How amazing that red kite, marsh harrier and buzzard should all be routine sightings – a transformation within our lifetimes.

We then drove a little farther west for a brief visit to North Point wetlands at Wells-next-the-Sea (previously visited by Honeyguide on a much chillier 1 April). There were many hares on the fields and waders on the lagoons, including black-tailed godwits and ruffs, but we couldn’t find the reported grey phalarope. A spoonbill and a red kite flew over.

Wells North Point wetlands, one of the lagoons.

Chris Durdin

1 comment:

  1. Tim Strudwick kindly confirmed the ID of grey-patched mining bee (Andrena nitida).


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