Friday 28 January 2022

Potter Heigham marshes, 28 January 2022

Honeyguide’s first ever local guided walk was at Potter Heigham Marshes, and a weather forecast suggesting sunshine prompted a return visit. The reality was a very misty start to the day, with the sun looking more like a full moon first thing, though happily the day became steadily brighter.

Potter Heigham Marshes is usually a good place for birds and so it proved as soon as we were overlooking the grazing marshes, with the backs of riverside chalets behind us. A crow on the grass and rooks on wires were followed by three gull species, for easy comparison: herring, black-headed and common gulls, the last with a ‘kind face’, as Chris A noted. More on common gulls later. The nearby lapwings were looking very smart, a male with his long fascinator-style crest. A little egret flew through, and two snipe dashed away.

Moving on, a flock of 70 or so pink-footed geese flew over, then returned in the other direction. Arriving at the lagoons area there were more geese, namely a group of greylags and Canada geese with a single pink-footed goose, this time on the grass. Out on the first lagoon were tufted ducks, a single shoveler and shelduck and a scattering of teals. Soon there were many more of all of these, plus plenty of wigeons and a few gadwalls. Teal as a colour is often described as a blue, though in the sunshine, now out, the ducks’ flash today seemed more like a shiny green.

Bank vole (Helen Crowder).

Three of us then realised that the other three had lagged behind and with good reason: they had found a bank vole by the edge of the path. And very cute it was too, from Helen’s picture.

Farther along there were many more ducks, shovelers and shelducks especially, plus good numbers of cormorants. A lone small wader proved to be a dunlin. A Cetti’s warbler gave a burst of song and a marsh harrier quartered the reedbed.

Shelducks, shovelers and lapwings, plus two gadwalls if you look carefully.
One of Ann’s enthusiasms is cigar galls on reed, and once one was pointed out – and we’d got over their gargoyle nickname – soon we found more. These galls are caused by a frit fly – no, that’s not a typo – then later the swollen stem becomes home to other invertebrates.
Cigar gall on reed.

We’d reached the return home straight, albeit a long one, when a great white egret flew past us. Just a couple of years ago it would have been a red-letter day to see one of these, and already it’s almost a routine sighting. Could we top this? Yes: a green sandpiper on a small flood in the field, actually looking green in the sunshine – so often they are more black-and-white.

Yet today’s star birds proved to be a more every-day species. Two common gulls by the green sandpiper started to display, running alongside each other, heads down, then threw their heads in the air, calling together. It felt like a bright winter’s day to us, but perhaps it was the first day of spring for them.

Common gulls displaying (digiscoped collage).

Common gulls, heads aloft (digiscoped).
Back opposite Lathams, we tucked into coffee and packed lunches while a pied wagtail flitted around the car park.

Chris Durdin 

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Holkham, 17 January 2022

The sun was shining as eight of us gathered in Lady Anne’s Drive, with birds all around us. Noisiest were hundreds of pink-footed geese on the marshes to the west. There was a hunched-up hare by a bramble bush just beyond a curlew. On the other side of the road there were good numbers of wigeons and a large flock of lapwings, with buzzards on two perches.

Pink-footed geese (digiscoped).

After a quick visit to the loos at the Lookout Café, we headed through the pines, pausing to pick a piece of the abundant spring beauty under a bush. We turned right and headed for where several birdwatchers were coming and going, the draw here a flock of snow buntings. They were certainly confiding, often mobile with flashes of white in flight, so much so that counting them was quite a challenge: somewhere in the 85-90 range was the conclusion. With them, here some distance from the shore, was a group of 15 sanderlings.

A few of the snow bunting flock (digiscoped).

Holkham Estate wardens Andrew Bloomfield and Paul Eele came by and stopped for a chat. Andrew showed us a mystery natural object, which none of us guessed: it was part of the beak of a puffin he’d found on the foreshore. Beyond Andrew and Paul we could see a large flock of knots, wheeling around. We moved on and they’d settled on the sand flats, and I estimated there were 2,500.

Mystery object ... none of us knew it was a fragment of a puffin's beak.

Out at sea were two eiders and a tricky-to-find distant flock of scoters. A great black-backed gull on the beach was easier to see. Mostly we looked at the strandline, which we then followed. A few highlights were hornwrack, a top shell, shells of slipper limpets, piddocks and a rayed trough, along with many shells of cockles, oysters, scallops, razor clams and sea urchins.

Top shell (at bottom!); Nemertesia (left), a 'colonial hydroid'; hornwrack (right), which at first sight looks like a seaweed, but look carefully and you can see the cells of 'zooids', a colonial marine animal.

Left to right: razor clam, rayed trough, cockles, slipper limpet and oyster shells.
While we were eating picnic lunches back at the cars there were two ruffs on the marsh near some very close wigeons and a few teals. A snipe was seen better with the help of telescopes and a kestrel came though.
Fallow deer and Holkham Hall.

We drove the short distance to the car park on the Holkham Hall side of the main road and set off through the trees. A nuthatch called. We soon encountered a large herd of fallow deer, all hinds, then two single stags. This was near the monument, which we kept at an eye on all afternoon as Rob had seen ravens around it recently, but no luck today, just lots of jackdaws and a pied wagtail that Ann found near the monument’s top. Fallow deer kept us company all afternoon, spread over the pasture by Holkham Hall. At least twice muntjacs dashed through and disappeared into scrubby vegetation.

Reflections in Holkham's lake (Ann Greenizan).

On Holkham Lake there were two little grebes on the first part that we came to. Heron, little egret and cormorants were soon added, no real surprise there. As we continued, there were gadwalls, mallards, tufted ducks, pochards and wigeons, though by far the most numerous duck species was shoveler. We had no luck finding the reported scaup.

Pink-footed geese flying off to feed, over the Holkham monument.

Walking back across the park’s grassland we found a nice group of redwings with a few fieldfares, then mistle thrushes. A marsh harrier flew through. The sun’s disappearance seemed to prompt the movement of large flights of pink-footed geese overhead, heading to feed on sugar beet fields by the full moon that showed beautifully as we returned to the car park.

Full moon.

Written by Chris Durdin; Rob Lucking was our local guide.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Whitlingham Country Park, 14 January 2022

Mandarin drake.
A perfect winter’s day: a crisp frost, to harden muddy paths, with sun coming through to warm Honeyguiders. From the car park at Whitlingham Country Park we could see that the lone shag, here in this unusual inland setting since 3 January, was in its usual resting place on the pontoon floating in Whitlingham Great Broad.

Whitlingham Woods.

Winter sunshine (Ann Greenizan).
However, we set off in a slightly different direction, through the picnic meadow and into Whitlingham Woods. On a January day, enjoying a walk in the sunshine was rewarding enough, though there was wildlife to steady and identify. A pile of very big logs was a good place to see fungi. Turkeytail was abundant; the biggest fungi were chunky southern brackets; also here were hairy curtain crust and the emerging yellow tips of some yellow stagshorn.

Southern bracket.


A little further along, Ann was alert to some yellow brain fungi; this parasitic and distinctive species is always nice to see. By it were pale globules of crystal brain fungi, too.

Yellow brain fungus.

Crystal brain fungus.

In the sunshine, we noted the hint of purple on alder catkins. In Whitlingham Lane car park, the big rosettes of hoary mullein were paler than ever covered by frost. Then a bank we scanned had hundreds of emerging snowdrops in bud.

A frosty hoary mullein rosette: it's a flower that is special to East Anglia so features in Norfolk's Wonderful 150.

Up the slope in the woods we paused to look at a large clump of spurge laurel, a daphne, with flower buds. Then we found some flowering red campion, in that case hanging on from the mild autumn rather than early-season blooms, and many male and hart’s-tongue ferns. Birds were what you might expect: mostly tits and robins, the trill of a wren.

Spurge laurel.
Back at the car park we picked up the telescope, though that was far from needed for the ducks and geese that had gathered where they are fed. Along with the semi-domestic mallards, mute swans, greylag and Egyptian geese were three Whitlingham regulars: barnacle goose, hybrid greylag x Chinese goose (aka domestic swan goose) and a male mandarin duck. The mandarin is, in my experience, more often absent than present, so to see it well today was quite a bonus.

In the repair shop today ... a millennium sculpture.

A short way along our clockwise circuit of the broad, two men had just started work to renovate a sculpture installed to mark the millennium, in connection with the cycle network.

We shared the path with walkers, joggers, families and all sorts, but that doesn’t seem to trouble the birds here. A Cetti’s warbler sang. Tufted ducks were the commonest ducks on the broad, gadwall the second commonest. Farther round we also saw teals and drake pochards, though failed to find the goldeneyes that another birdwatcher mentioned.

Siskins, if you look carefully.

Siskins were calling and were still enough in a tall alder to see splashes of yellow on them through the telescope. Then we overlooked Thorpe Marshes and headed back towards the car park. There were many cormorants and a heron though the best bird was the shag again, back on the pontoon. At first it was perching on one leg, before confirming it had two legs as it dashed to see off a cormorant that swam close to the pontoon.

Shag - same bird, different views.

The sun was still shining as we finished our visit to Whitlingham with coffee and scones at the barn café.

Chris Durdin

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