Potter Heigham Marshes and NWT Hickling, 1 September 2021

A day of two halves, starting with three of us walking the circuit around Potter Heigham Marshes on a morning that followed the recent pattern of cloudy and relatively cool weather for the time of year.

We moved fairly quickly along the back of the chalets that line this part of the River Thurne, reaching the elegant, converted mill, now a rental property, its traditional drainage role now replaced by an electric pump in a functional building nearby. Drier marshes had dozens of Egyptian geese. These were greatly outnumbered by greylag and Canada geese once we arrived at the series of lagoons, created here by a partnership of the Environment Agency and Norfolk Wildlife Trust to offset losses on the coast driven by coastal change.

Little egrets with greylags and ducks, Potter Heigham Marshes (digiscoped).

A great white egret was a very good bird, though these days no longer a surprise, and soon there were about four little egrets as well. Scanning the countless greylags revealed a single pink-footed goose, and similarly a scan though hundreds of drab ducks in eclipse plumage revealed a female wigeon. A little farther on we added gadwall, shoveler, shelduck and, best of all, an elegant female pintail, then a tight flock of flying teals.

Most of the waders were lapwings, though there were also two ruffs and three snipe. Then at the far end, there was a group of a few dozen black-tailed godwits, which birdwatchers we talked to had been scanning without success for a long-billed dowitcher reported earlier. There were three dunlins and more ruffs.

Hornet hoverfly, Potter Heigham.

Back in Potter Heigham, by the loos, I searched the flowering ivy for ivy bees, but none was completely convincing. Among hoverflies, though, was a splendid hornet hoverfly.

We drove onto NWT Hickling to eat packed lunches. Malcolm and Helen had already arrived and Daphne and Becky soon also joined us. It was good timing as NWT volunteer Bruce Carman revealed last night’s moth trap haul, tucked into egg boxes in a large box. He listed and showed, among others, iron prominent, flame, canary-shouldered thorn, light emerald, green carpet and large yellow underwing moths. There were also a couple of caddis-flies and a docile hornet.

Canary-shouldered thorn.

Light emerald moth.

Hornet.

Considering how overcast it was, it was surprising to see a few invertebrates about, including red admirals, a longhorn beetle and several dragonflies, mostly common and ruddy darters, often settling on gates and fences. In the picnic area a lady looked on as we tore dogwood leaves, leaving them hanging in segments: “the two halves will stay 'magically' joined together due to the presence of latex in the plant sap”, as one online source puts it. We briefly had another passer by listening in as we looked at egg-laying scars of willow emerald damselflies on a sallow overhanging the pool with the narrow-leaved reedmace. But the lack of sunshine meant no damselflies, despite the ideal time of year to see them.

Common darter.
Spotted longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata on yarrow.

There wasn’t much to see, bird-wise, either from hides or along the way, though there was the subdued song of a reed warbler at one point and a green sandpiper dashed off. Instead, we noted various flowers and galls, the latter including a cigar gall on a reed, created by a frit fly, and knopper galls by acorns on oaks produced by the asexual generation of a gall wasp. Turning oak leaves to find spangle galls revealed an oak bush-cricket.

Knopper gall.

We arrived at the boat departure point in good time for our 3:30 booking, where the seven of us and four in a family party reached the boat opposite the usual embarkation point on account of where three cygnets and mother swan had settled. A kingfisher dashed through as we headed out onto Hickling Broad, though most missed it, but not so the flock of golden plovers that sped over us for some minutes. We were taken to the hide overlooking Swim Coots lagoon, where  a wheatear perched on the wire protecting the thatch. From the hide, scores of teals, all in eclipse plumage, were early winter arrivals, along with many lapwings, black-tailed godwits, ruff, redshank and Chinese water deer. We continued, and one open area we cruised by had both a great white egret and a grey heron. It was getting distinctly chilly by now and there was a clear consensus to head back rather than have an extended boat trip to the woodland tower.

Lots of teals at Swim Coots, though gloomy weather.

Swim Coots hide, with a Chinese water deer.

Back on dry land, we continued at a steady pace. There was little to see from bittern hide though that small detour yielded a very large beetle larva crossing the path. Most of us returned to the car park, though Jon and Julia took the detour to Stubb Mill and were rewarded with about six harriers and a very close fly-past of two cranes. 

Larva of Hydrophilus piceus, the Great Silver Diving Beetle.

Chris Durdin

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