Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 26 October 2015

Surlingham Church Marsh, Rockland Broad, Strumpshaw Fen, Buckenham Marsh, and Halvergate Marsh, Norfolk (with Jim Bradley)

On the 3rd, 4th, and 5th November, I will be leading birding tours of both Breckland and Broadland.  In order to familiarise myself with Broadland reserves, my guide for today, and birding friend, Jim Bradley, took me on a pre-tour recce in order to show me routes and places to stop, and the birds we are likely to see and hear during my tours.  May I say at this stage of this account that Jim's guidance was extremely invaluable.  Jim's knowledge of the routes and the birds likely to be found in specific areas/habitats was second to none.  Thank you Jim.       

Surlingham Church Marsh
What a fantastic small Broadland reserve this is and a great location for those joining me on the tour here on 4th November.  A gentle stroll around this reserve doesn't take too long, however, the diverse bird-life here will hold any visitors attention.  The marsh lies immediately adjacent to the River Yare, consequently, following a high tide, the paths here came become very muddy...appropriate foot wear a must.
Jim initially took me along a path which descends into the marsh and the Riverside, the habitat here held calling Water Rails and singing Cetti's Warblers, whilst the path-side trees and bushes held Bullfinch, and winter Thrush species.  A flock of about 10 Redpoll was seen over the marsh.
A short stop in the hide which overlooks the marsh produced another calling Water Rail in thick reed-bed cover.  Teal, Mallard, and a Grey Heron seen on the lagoon, whilst on the river a Kingfisher was seen and calling.  Overhead, Jim pointed out a fine looking female Sparrowhawk circling briefly over the marsh.
Approaching the end of this visit to Surlingham, another Kingfisher sat silently in a a bush overhanging the water.
Just prior to leaving, Jim showed me the grave of that wonderful Norfolk Naturalist, Ted Ellis, and his wife at the beautiful ruin that is St Saviour's church.  Ted Ellis was a man I would have loved to have met, he was a gentle man, and gentleman.

Rockland Broad
Upon arrival  flock of about 10 Redwings dropped in, presumably to feed upon the wealth of Rowan berries there.
The walk along the path to Rockland Broad is quite long and relatively dry.  The path on one side is lined with Sallow and various tangled habitat, this habitat held singing Cetti's Warbler.  Eventually tha path leads to open extensive marshland on both sides of the River Yare, this area held a female juvenile Marsh Harrier. A small area of woodland held a mobile Tit flock which included Goldcrest.
A short visit to a hide overlooking Rockland Broad produced Great Crested Grebe, a large number of Greylag Geese on the water, also a single Tufted Duck was with them.  Distantly, a Kestrel was seen hunting, this was then mobbed by a second Kestrel.

Strumpshaw Fen
Jim and myself arrived at an already busy RSPB Strumpshaw Fen reserve car park.  This fabulous location is to be the second venue of my tour following Surlingham Church Marsh.
Grey Heron at Strumpshaw Fen 24/10/15
Our first stop was at the Reception hide,  a wonderful initial stop for overviewing a habitat of marsh and a lagoon, and giving a flavour of what could be an excellent visit to this special reserve.
On this visit, Grey Heron (pictured) was een fairly close to near reeds and nearby was a few Mallard.
We then walked on to Fen hide  from where we saw a very distant Great Grey Shrike sitting typically on the top of a bush.  This bird must have been at least a half-mile distant from the hide, however, the unmistakeable behaviour of sitting on a high vantage point was useful.  Even better still, the Shrike made a couple of flights from the bush climbing quite high to catch a passing insect or small bird which was then taken back to the perch.  During these flights, the highly distinctive blacks and whites of the bird, the behaviour seen, and the return to the same perch, all helped with its identification despite the distance involved here.
Having left the hide to head back to the car park, Jim spotted our first of two Weasels of the day.  Back at the visitor centre a feeder produced Marsh Tit, Great Tit, and Chaffinches.

Buckenham Marsh
Our nest visit was to the wonderful Buckenham Marsh.  This was my first visit to this location.  From the car park we walked the path to the River Yare with overviews of marsh on both sides of the path.  What was particularly memorable for me, and I remember commenting to Jim on this, is that the landscape and habitats seen here is exactly the same as Beccles Marshes where I spent many happy days back in the 1960's and 70's.
Walking along the path Jim pointed out a scrape to our right, here was very good numbers of Wigeon, some giving their beautiful "weeeoo" call.  Also here was Lapwings and a single Snipe, whilst on the marsh was Greylag Geese.  A massive Great Black-backed Gull gave good comparison against a nearby smaller Lesser Black-backed Gull, and an even much smaller Black-headed Gull.
Whilst walking towards the River Yare, Jim looked back to scan the distant areas of marsh and located a Peregrine sitting on the ground, it appeared to be sitting on a slightly raised mound.  Despite the distance, the Peregrine was highly distinctive as it sat motionless and upright, and revealing its Grey upperparts and white underparts.  Either the bird was resting following a feed, or it was waiting possibly for the Wigeon to be put up for the chase.
A small flock of Barnacle Geese sat together on the marsh whilst more Greylags were seen along with Mallards splashing about in the ditch nearby.
Chinese Water Deer at Buckenham Marsh 24/10/15
The walk back along the path saw our second Weasel of the day. This small mammal ran in and out of cover as it came towards us, and somehow sneaked past us came out out of the grass behind us.
As we neared the end of this visit I spotted a Chinese Water Deer close to us on the road.  This was my first sighting of this lovely Deer species.  Having read up on Chinese Water Deer I have come to learn just how vulnerable this species is on the world scale.  Norfolk holds 10% of the world population of Chinese Water Deer, clearly its escape from Woburn in the 1920's has given this endangered mammal a good chance of survival here in Norfolk.

Halvergate Marsh
This was our final stop of the day.  We had been lucky with the weather, however, rain set in whilst visiting Halvergate.
As soon as we got out of the car Jim straight away picked up some Redpolls (about 10), which had alighted on a fence close to us.  This was a good opportunity to see and appreciate the lovely red/black forecrown and black chins of these birds, especially given that these Finches are almost always in fight...a good find by Jim.
With light fading and rain setting in most birds seen were Crow species. 
Despite the rain, I love to experience the various moods of weather and to witness the changing lights and overall feel of the places I visit.  It may feel too bleak for some, but both Jim and myself commented that we love bleak.

Birds seen/heard 24/10/15
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck (1), Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck (1), Pheasant, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 1 Peregrine (Buckenham Marsh), Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Treecreeper, Great Grey Shrike (Strumpshaw Fen), Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Redpoll, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting.

My Thanks
I will end this account by thanking my birding friend Jim Bradley for being my expert guide to his patch.  Primarily, the reason for this day out with Jim was for me to get the feel of the various sites we visited today in readiness for the tours I will be conducting in early November.  I was not too familiar with these reserves prior to our visit, however, I finished the day in the knowledge that I now know my routes to take, places of interest to stop at, and which birds occur where, and all of these factors are all down to Jim's superb guidance.  Than you Jim.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Paul...
    enjoy your tour leading...
    you have knowledge to pass on!

    You mention the great Ted Ellis and the fact that you'd have loved to have met him...
    I had the fortunate opportunity to do so on a few occasions...
    always in his natural habitat!! The great outdoors....

    I posted this as a comment on another like-minded birders blog...
    Easternbushchat...
    a post called, simply, "Inspirations"...
    [ http://easternbushchat.blogspot.fr/2015/09/inspirations.html ]
    you most likely read his words, too...
    comment was as follows:

    ""~
    "but Ted did it effortlessly because he simply loved his subject manifest in sparkling eyes"....
    He once was leading a group of Beavers through some willow scrub....
    I forget now exactly where....
    but there was the great man...
    his long, long neck stretching out from the collar of that fawn raincoat...
    animatedly describing how none of what we were looking at were species willow but all hybrids...
    and why... and how to tell the parentage of each....
    when, suddenly, those "sparkling eyes" spotted some Butterburr...
    and he dropped the "lecture" on hybridization in willows...
    dived at the plant and plucked a leaf...
    he told us to look for a leaf without tiny holes...
    not one of us could find one...
    he then had a short rant about illustrators "tidying plants up" when they painted them....
    and went on to tell us all about the 10mm sized Strawberry Snail that is endemic in the UK....
    but wherever Butterburr occurs...
    it makes a bee-line... perhaps that should be snail-slime-track....
    straight for the plants...
    and, whilst hiding under the leaves eats the tiny holes that are always part of Butterburr...
    and shouldn't be painted out for the sake of "neatness"...
    that was why he inspired so many of us!!
    From me also... Thanks to you, Ted Ellis...
    your inspiration lives on...
    as do your words!
    ~""

    You would have loved the man, Paul...
    but take this from him...
    when you spot something as the leader...
    don't hesitate to pass on your knowledge...
    in the fashion of Ted....
    dart hither and thither...
    and pass on what comes out in these posts...
    and, like Ted...
    enjoy it!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lovely picture b.t.w. of the Chinese Water Deer...
      to my knowledge, the Broadland population was a deliberate introduction by Boardman when he'd finished the waterworks around his How Hill estate.
      I may well be wrong... it might be a 'rural' myth??

      Delete
  2. What a great read Tim and thank you for sharing these experiences with me. Yes, I would have loved to have met Ted, however, I think I very much related to him on TV when he enthusiatically showed viewers around Wheatfen and the life that occurs therein. He was clearly at one with nature and would have been a great man to listen to over a hot log fire.
    Thank you also for your comments about the Chinese Water Deer. I will research the 'Boardman' story to see what I can find. Clearly Tim, this species in Norfolk will be imperative to its survival on the world scale given its vulnerability. I wonder how long it will be before they reach the more swampy meres and fens of Breckland.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CWDs have a problem with muntjac...
      the two don't get along! And there are too many muntjac in the Brecks...
      shame...
      in trying to find any confirmation of the How Hill introduction, I found the "Game Conservancy" site...
      apparently they are legal targets...
      but Lord knows what kind of mentality gets its rocks off shooting something the size of a large Fox Terrier...
      especially something as cute... yes, I did type cute...
      as the one you captured through your lens!
      Yes, the males fight like hell and scar each other with their tusks...
      but that is the rut!
      Their status needs to be guarded... they may be aliens... but they have a refuge in Broadland that should be respected for the species sake!


      And Ted Ellis telling tales and passing on that mind of knowledge over a log fire...
      conjours up thoughts of a certain Lord Nelson in the Burnhams....
      with its curved settles either side of a large table... and beer served from the jug...
      to have had Ted there adding sparkle to the good ale...
      would have put a head on it!

      Delete
  3. Hi Paul, thank-you for your kind words both here and on my own blog. We did enjoy an excellent day and I wish you well for your upcoming tour. I look forward to reading the account here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much Jim. The tour of Surlingham and Strumpshaw will now be that much better for me because of your superb guidance. Thank you once again.

      Delete