After the wonderful full day yesterday we decided to head north once the early morning traffic had died down. Our destination was to be the Norfolk Broads, specifically the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw, and then on to Hickling to visit the raptor view point late in the afternoon, two places I haven't been to before.
It was another lovely morning with a clear blue sky, lovely autumnal light and a fresg but mild southerly breeze. The reserve at Strumpshaw is situated just outside the village in an area of open water, reed beds and woodland that runs alongside the River Yare. As with many of the RSPB reserves these days there were events on to attract the children and with this week being half term and close to Halloween, as we set off we walked through the woodland past huge spiders and bats hanging in the trees.
Our first stop was the Fen Hide which overlooked some open water and beyond that a reed bed. In the sunshine the reed mace and water was quite spectacular.
The area around the hide is meant to be very good for Bearded Tits, we could hear them calling away in the distance but they were never close at all. Out in front of us the bird life was confined to a single Mallard, several fly pasts of the ubiquitous Woodpigeon, and a young Grey Heron.
patience finally ran out so we decided to walk on. There had been a Great Grey Shrike reported over the weekend and it was supposed to favour the area of the Tower Hide so we continued on in that direction.
The path takes you alongside the river which is tidal, and today we were there at high tide which meant in certain places the path was extremely muddy. As we walked we were serenaded by various Robins, and there were Blue and Great Tits about and the odd Goldcrest.
We climbed the steps to the hide, and in front of us on the open water was a large flock of duck, mostly Shoveler and Teal there were also a few Gadwall and Mallard. Teal were close to the hide, dabbling in the shallow water.
just below the hide on a short bar of mud, hidden in the vegetation were six Snipe. At first I couldn't see them, but slowly they began to appear.
In the low autumn sunshine, against the dark greyish blue of the water there plumage looked wonderful, matching completely their surroundings.
Some were engaged in some sleeping, there were those that were feeding and one that decided it need a quite spectacular preen.
Eventually sleeping was the choice of them all, but always with one eye on any possible intrusion of their privacy.
Beyond the water the reed bed stretched all the way to the railway track. the wind was quite strong and you could constantly here the moving reeds. In the wind a pair of Marsh Harriers hung over the reeds constantly watching for any opportunity.
Then as we watched the duck on the water they all took off as if spooked by something. we couldn't see anything that might have caused this, and after a couple of laps around the water they settled back down.
We left the hide to walk around the outside of the reserve and back to the centre. there was no sign of the shrike, and apart for a fly over Marsh Harrier and one or two Wrens calling we saw very little as we negotiated our way back along the muddy path, over the railways and back to the visitor centre. The view across the water and reed beds from there looks quite spectacular, but unfortunately it was a very visit.
It was lunchtime when we left Strumpshaw, and we stopped to try and get some lunch in a local pub, but unfortunately many of the pubs do not serve food on Mondays. We finally found somewhere in Acle, and after a rather filling Ploughman's lunch we headed for Hickling.
Hickling Broad reserve is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and after paying our dues we walked out to the hides. As we entered there was one person present looking forlornly out of the hide window. As we lifted the window he said "I hope you are not expecting to see any birds out here", and we looked out onto an open cleared area with no sign of any life at all. he then told us that the hides seem to have become deserted of birds, and the whole area seemed dead and quiet. We said our goodbyes leaving him continuing to look sadly out the window, and we walked around the boardwalk returning to the visitor centre after seeing precisely nothing.
The main purpose of the visit though was to go to the raptor Viewpoint at Stubb Mill, so as it was now quite gloomy, and the wind had dropped we decided to walk there in the hope that maybe something might happen a little earlier.
The walk goes alongside the edge of the reserve and some fields. In one of the fields two pairs of Red-legged Partridge were sitting. They were off when they realised we were watching them.
I mentioned that it was quite gloomy and this was as a result of low cloud that had drifted in. However in places there were bright spots and this would send shards of light down over the fen.
We could see the old Mill away in the distance, and after about 20 minutes we turned a corner to find it in front of us.
The raptor Viewpoint is just a little bit away from the mill, and raised area with a fence to lean on. There is one small bench but this was occupied when we arrived and the couple never gave it up, even when there some birds about.
There was activity in the bushes with Robins and Long-tailed Tits about, and over by the Mill we could hear the calls of Redwing in the trees. Scanning across the marsh there two distant Marsh Harriers flying over the bushes and trees, one very atmospherically passing an old windmill.
As we stood waiting and watching we could hear the calls of Cranes away in the distance, they were about but would they show? Another dominant call was that of the Redwing, and every so often a flock would fly over heading for the bushes around Stubb MIll.
The natural silence was broken by the sound of a quad bike, and then it appeared and headed out into the marsh to feed the cattle. As the bike headed into the marsh the calls of the cranes set off again, and then four large birds appeared just above the horizon. Two of them were Mute Swans and they turned and headed out to the broad, while the other two headed for us, and they were clearly Common Cranes.
They landed on the marsh directly in front of us, but a long way away, there was now a slight mist and it did not make it easy to see the birds, and to complicate it they walked behind bushes and trees.
We had seen three cranes in May at Minsmere and they were distant to, but for me the joy of these birds is there call, and in the still misty air of the fens it sounds primaeval. the cranes stayed for awhile but once the bike returned they flew back to the area from which they came.
Then disaster struck, a phone call from Germany and many questions that were answerable if I had been sitting in my office, but not in the middle of a Norfolk marsh. I made several phone calls to try and get the necessary information, but as would always be the case as I was on the phone Helen sees a Barn Owl. It was a quick view before it disappeared so we went looking to see if we could relocate it. We did and of course the phone rang again. So there am I with my phone tucked under my chin, watching the owl through binoculars flying around a field.
It then flew off away from view, and at almost the same time I finished the call, and there was nothing more to be done. We started our walk back to the car park now as it was quite dark. As we came around the corner onto the main footpath we caught up with the owl again. It was flying over the hedgerow, and then settled on a post looking down into the bramble.
We tried to get closer keeping to the side of the path just close to the hedge so that we did not break the skyline. This was being successful, and we would probably been able to get a lot closer if it was not for the fact that coming the other way was another birder who had not seen the owl. We waved and finally he saw it, but it was too late the owl flew off and over the back of the hedge and across the field into the distance.
It was a shame as it looked like it would continue to show well, but I had finally managed to get some good views despite both the phone calls and the gloomy conditions.
We made our way back to the car, and set off back to Thorpeness, it took about an hour and a half on the single A roads that dominate the infrastructure here. When we did get back the skies were clear and there was a bright moon, a good indicator that maybe we will be lucky once again for our last day here in Suffolk.