Norfolk Wildlife Diary

Sue and I, together with my friend Keith, spent a few days in Norfolk last week.

On the way to our base in Cromer, we stopped off at the Wildfowl and Wetlands reserve at Welney in the Ouse washes. Whilst sampling the delights of the lovely café there, we were able to look out over Lady Fen, where there were both Great White and Little Egrets together with a party of Common Snipe. On the feeders outside the window, there were House and Tree Sparrows feeding. The latter species is becoming increasingly rare in the UK, but Welney remains one of the best spots to see it.

After lunch, we walked over to the main observatory, which overlooks the washes. Here there was a good selection of wintering Duck species plus Whooper Swans, a winter species which seems to be doing well with increasing numbers visiting these shores. Sadly, there were no Berwick’s Swans to be seen. This species, another winter visitor to the UK, is unlike the Whooper Swan, becoming rarer in this country. This is thought to be due to a combination of population decline and short-stopping. This latter phenomenon, a result of climate change, means the birds no longer have to come as far south to find suitable wintering grounds and so a greater proportion are wintering in continental Europe rather than coming to the UK.

As we were driving away from the reserve, we continued to check the parties of Swans on the fields and eventually were rewarded with finding 3 Berwick’s Swans, a small family party.

Day 2 saw us travelling to Horsey gap to see the Grey Seals (Details can be found in an earlier post ( ), but we also saw some good birds with close sightings of Red-throated and Black-Throated Diver on the sea and Purple Sandpiper on the rocks.

Next, we visited the Filby broad complex, where some unusual ducks have been wintering. Whilst preparing to set off and search for the ducks, we were told they had been located on Rollesby broad and so we set off in that direction. Arriving at the viewing point, we were soon looking at a beautiful male Ferruginous Duck. I have seen these before but in the bright sunlight, it was possible to fully appreciate the wonderful rusty brown colour of the male’s plumage, from which it gets its name. A female Ring-necked Duck was also present, but there was no sign of the male Ring-necked Duck, that had been seen a few days previously (We later heard it was on another part of the complex).

Ferruginous Duck (Photo by Keith)

Our final stop was the roost site at Hickling Broad. As the afternoon wore on, we saw 3 Common Cranes come into the roost and a number of marsh harriers, but sadly no Hen Harriers, which are becoming increasingly rare in this country.

Common Crane (Photo by Keith)

Day 3 started at Cley beach for a sea watch, where there were 5 Red-throated divers and a Great Northern Diver on the sea. We returned to the visitor centre for coffee and then continued to watch over the marsh for a while before setting off to East Bank, where we heard Water Rail and bearded Reedling in the reed bed. Black-tailed Godwits and Wigeon in large numbers were on the marsh together with Canada Geese. Our next stop was the gull roost at Sheringham, but only Herring and Black-backed Gulls were present. We did see a Purple Sandpiper and the local Ruddy Turnstones, which are always on the lookout for food from visitors and came amazingly close.

From here we went onto Weybourne for another sea watch, but there was little to be seen apart from gulls. Returning to Cley we watched the Harriers coming into roost, but we only saw Marsh Harriers.

Day 3 saw us at the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. Walking out to the beach we saw many waders on the marsh including Bar-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank and Grey Plover together with a Great white Egret. On the sea were a Great Northern diver, Common Scoter, and a Slavonian Grebe.

Travelling east we noticed some birders watching over Holkham Freshmarsh and it turned out they were watching a juvenile White-tailed eagle which was perched in a tree on the marsh. Originating from the re-introduction programme on the Isle of Wight, this bird had chosen North Norfolk as the place to spend the winter. Stopping at Cley we were fortunate to see a Barn Owl on the marsh.

Day 4 saw us back at Cley in the morning and then we went to Sheringham to see a party of Waxwings on some scrubland. These birds visit the UK each year in variable numbers, depending on the size of the berry crop in Scandinavia. So some years we see thousands of birds and in others a handful. These were the first I had heard reported this winter so far.

Waxwing (Photo by Keith)

Our quick trip was very rewarding. Between us, we saw over 100 species of birds. Highlights for me were the Grey Seals and that lovely Ferruginous Duck.

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