It was a very sad reason to visit Norfolk, the funeral of my Grandma, but it was an opportunity to see lots of relatives that I hadn't seen for ages and also to get a short break away from the island. The first day there, on 3rd Feb was spent around the tiny hamlet of Crostwick where we were staying in a hotel, and in the morning we had a wander across the road to the 15th-century church where the Snowdrops grew amongst the gravestones. It was a sunny day and the birds were singing like it was spring. A Blue Tit kept going in and out of a small hole in the ancient church wall, no doubt investigating a nest site, probably as they had done for hundreds of years. A surprising new tick was a Spring Usher sat on the hotel wall after dark at the lights.
There were no flights home from Stansted until the Sunday, so the next morning, on 4th Feb, I met up with Andy for a day's birding in the Broads to hopefully see some species I have not seen for a while. Our first stop was the fields around the village of Clippesby, where there had been lots of feeding geese, including some Tundra Bean Geese. I was keen to see some of these, not just because I hadn't seen the species for over ten years, but also because I was not 100% sure I had seen this particular subspecies in Britain before. I had seen one Tundra Bean in Guernsey in 2003 - which I had totally forgotten about until I checked my records upon return! - and I had seen a few Taiga Beans in Norfolk quite a while ago. My first record of Bean Goose, in Cleveland, when I was a teenager were probably Tundras but I could not be sure.
As we drove out of the village we came across a large Pink-footed Goose flock feeding in the brown fields by the side of the road. Upon stopping at a pull-in we saw that the flock extended right across the hillside and the birds near the top of the hill had orange legs and looked a little bigger and darker than the Pink-feet and were the Tundra Beans. There may have been as many as 100 of these birds present.
Behind us, Andy noticed a group of Cranes flying in from the North and we saw them drop into some fields just down the road. We jumped back in the car and found the field that they were feeding in, which they were sharing with a few Chinese Water Deer. I had seen this non-native mammal species once before in Norfolk a while ago when they were still quite uncommon, but they are apparently spreading quickly and becoming common like the Muntjacs.
We moved on to Ludham Airfield where we saw a flock of Bewick's Swans in one of their usual wintering spots. There must have been about a hundred of them surprisingly close to the roadside and we had good views from the car. I thought it was a while since I'd seen this species and looking at my records when I got home, I could not find any sightings since 1997! This is ridiculous - I cannot believe it has been 20 years - almost half my life!!
We called in next at some pig fields nearby, at Mautby, because there had been a Caspian Gull seen feeding there in recent days. Thankfully, I can still hold my head high, as we did not find it, and so I still have not got Caspian Gull on my British List. A close shave! As the photo below shows, there was a little twitch going on as there was an Iceland Gull there and some people seemed very pleased to see it. Another unusual species for that part of the country was a Hooded Crow feeding amongst the filth in the fields.
Next we went to look for some waterbirds, just down the road at Filby and Ormesby Little Broad. There was a distant Black-necked Grebe feeding in front of the reedbed and we saw a few Goldeneye swimming around. Returning back to the car we were told about a Red-necked Grebe from where we'd just been looking, but it wasn't surprising that we'd missed it since it was right at the far, far side.
So after a typical guzzling, BUBO lunch bought at a friendly grocers by the broad, we had seen most of the interesting birds on offer and went to do some general birding. The East side of Breydon Water was full of birds. This is definitely something that you miss living on Guernsey, scanning with your 'scope across the view in front of you and seeing bird after bird, species after species. There were lots of dabbling ducks including plenty of fabulous Pintails, and lots of species of wader, including Knot, Avocet and both godwits, the highlight though being a spindly Spotted Redshank.
After a rather gloomy day, mid-afternoon saw the sun starting to come out, as we made our way along the River Yare at Reedham. Here you can look out across the vast expanse of the Halvergate Marshes towards Burgh Castle. There had been a Rough-legged Buzzard seen here during the winter and we probably saw it straight away, but it was very distant and even though it had the right feel about it we couldn't be sure. The bank overlooking the area was a great place to stand and soak up the scene, especially when the evening sun shone onto the lines of reeds, giving the whole area a golden trim.
We saw lots of great birds here. Both Short-eared and Barn Owls flapped quietly around the grassy areas and numerous Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were always in the air. A Merlin powered across the fields, momentarily stopping for a breather on a fence. A Cetti's Warbler called from the reeds and a Kingfisher zipped by. A Green Sandpiper flicked its way over the reedbeds, making its way downriver. A really splendid and atmospheric end to a superb day out in the Broads.