Been a While

Good title on three counts.  Firstly it’s been a few weeks since my last posting.  For this the blame can be put on the push to finally finish the interior decorating so freeing up spring and summer to do as we please (I’m sure more jobs will be added to the ‘to do’ list).

Secondly.  It’s been many years since I last visited Cley Marshes Nature Reserve up on the Nth Norfolk coast.  Founded in 1926 this is the Countries oldest Wildlife Trust reserve.  430 acres of freshwater reedbeds, man-made scrapes, ditches and wet grazing meadows this is a famous site for turning up rare birds.  Only separated from the volatile North Sea by a (now un-maintained) shingle bank the reserve has flooded four times in recent years due to storms, taking a couple of years to recover from the salt incursion each time.  One day it will inevitably be lost for good.

And finally you have to go way back in the mists of time (well 1998 to be precise) for my last sighting of the feature bird a Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus).  This rare vagrant from North America turns up annually in the UK.  The specimen at Cley has been present since late October and last Friday I decided to go see if I could locate it.

Dowitcher spotted and it has a long bill!

Let me apologise here for the quality of these highly cropped and processed images of the Dowitcher.  In my defence the bird was always very distant, right at the limit of my 600mm lens, and the light was pretty poor, the promised ‘sunny spells’ were few and far between!  However it is what it is and I’m just glad to come away with something resembling the bird.

Shh! Don’t wake the sleeping Wigeon
Always on the feed

I wonder what will become of our visitor from ‘across the pond’?  It’s a 1st winter bird and is doing alright for itself.  It was constantly feeding, head down going like a demented sewing machine!  Come breeding season (not long off) will it stay or tag along with other species and head north?  One thing for sure it could be a bit lonely for other Dowitcher company.

Nice comparison shot. From left, Redshank, Dunlin, Dowitcher, Dunlin

Let’s have a look at a few other sightings.

A beautiful and elegant wader, the Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
A pair of Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) enjoy a rare moment of sunshine. Soon they will be off to start a new generation down the nearest rabbit burrow!
5 Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) flew close by the hide taking me by surprise, I fluked this one shot
Not all birds were as distant as the Dowitcher. This smart drake Pintail (Anas acuta) was just a few yards away

Spring still seems some way off, two weeks of rain, snow showers (yikes) and low temperatures forecast.  Soon it will be butterfly time.

Winter Walk

Drawing back the bedroom curtains to a clear blue sky, the sun is rising and not a breath of wind.  Ah but this January and there is a price to pay for a beautiful morning.  The grass is white with a hard overnight frost, the pond frozen as it has been for several days now and paths glisten with ice ready to catch out the careless pedestrian as my knee found out later!

No matter, it’s too nice a day to be indoors.  Grab the camera a banana and apple.  Warm jacket, boots and gloves, let’s go explore the countryside.

A Great Tit (Parus major) forages on a bank unaware of my presence a few feet away

I crossed fields, through woodland with the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and then the hamlet of Spa Common down to the old canal.  The footpath is still fenced off so carry on up hill and through the first farm to skirt the edge of Witton Woods then down to the mill pond at Ebridge.

A Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) provided a fly past. Not good news for the fish stocks if this fellow finds them!

The mill pond is part of the restored section of this dis-used waterway.  Today it was iced over.  To the side is a spillway, like a small man made waterfall it provided an area of shallow open water and to my delight was visited by the local Wagtails.

A gorgeous Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) glistens in the bright sun. Not common in Norfolk but the habitat in these mill pools and streams is very much to their liking
Another wagtail enjoys the ice free water, the more common and widespread Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

Leaving the mill behind it was uphill on the field edge avoiding the somewhat busy, narrow, minor road to the hamlet of White Horse Common.  Named after a 17th century cottage which became the village pub in the 19th century, now it’s a house again as is the old Wheelwright Arms where I spent a few enjoyable evenings supping ale in my youth.

Not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ the Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a much maligned bird. At this time of the year their plumage takes on a sheen of purples and greens. The chattery song with much mimicry is quite pleasant. They eat a great many harmful insects and if you witness the pre-roost gatherings it’s one of the wonders of nature. What’s not to like?
A female House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) looks surprised to see me. No longer a common sight, the UK population has fell by 70% between 1977 and 2018 and is now on the red list of concern

And so back down the high banked lane and across the now thawed and muddy field to home.  A splendid few hours and miles with lots to see and enjoy.

Winter Swans

Two species of swan leave their breeding grounds in the high Arctic Tundra of Siberia to winter in the relatively warmer climes of Europe, the Whooper and smaller Bewick’s.  Though there are reserves where they can be seen in big numbers (the Ouse Washes at Welney here in the east) a drive around the Nth Norfolk countryside can often provide sightings of smaller herds.  Last Friday we found a group of a dozen Bewick’s just a few miles from home.  Luckily they were not too distant from the road and I managed to photograph them from the car as they are easily spooked.

Bewick’s Swans, the grey ones are the cygnets that migrate with their parents
Adult and young

The Bewick’s Swan (Olor columbianus bewickii) is con-specific with the North American Whistling Swan, together they are called Tundra Swan.  Unlike the American bird the ones we see have a large patch of yellow at the base of the bill.  The shape of this yellow is convex, on the bigger Whooper the colour extends forward along the bottom of the bill to a point.

He went thataway

Earlier in the day we visited the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen which was surprisingly bereft of birds and the river bank path far too muddy to enjoy walking.  After the summer drought the rain gods have been making up for lost time, even this morning the weather is foul.

Peek-a-boo. Great Tit (Parus major) on a Strumpshaw feeder
Favourite shot of the day. Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris)

A Bit of Birding

There was a time, many moons ago, when I was an avid, perhaps ‘over the top’, birdwatcher.  September and October were my special months, this was the time when migrants and rarities could and often did pitch up on our east coast.  I would eagerly watch the weather patterns and bird reports.  If everything fell in place I would head to the coastal ‘hotspots’ and spend my days scanning the scrub, bushes and trees for those lost waifs and strays hoping and sometimes finding something rare and unusual.

Nowadays my approach is much more relaxed.  A day in the field means just enjoying whatever is there.  Most of my photography is now based on insects especially the butterflies and dragonflies.  Bird photography is still something I am learning with the aid of the big 600mm zoom lens so it’s best to practice on ‘easier’ subjects before attempting those tricky rarities.  With that in mind last week, on a very pleasant day, Mrs H and I headed up to Titchwell RSPB reserve to see what was about.  This is a good time of the year for waders.  Most are returning from the northern breeding grounds.  There will be some in summer plumage, some in transition, others already in their winter dress, also juveniles who can look totally different.  Here are a few of our sightings.

Male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) are so much bigger than their females, they look like two different species. Gone now are the elaborate plumes that give the bird it’s name
This Dunlin (Calidris alpina) still retains a lot of summer plumage
Juvenile Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) can be told apart from winter adults by its scaly feathering on back and wings
Autumn is well underway when the geese start returning. These are Brents (Branta bernicla) from Western Siberia that landed on the sea
Standing in the sea a winter plumage Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) our second biggest wader after the Curlew
By contrast this juvenile Black-tailed Godwit resembles a faded breeding adult

Of course it’s always nice to see birds that are not ‘common’ and we were lucky that there were two species of wader that are only usually encountered on autumn migration and then it’s in variable numbers.  The Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) and Little Stint (Calidris minuta) both breed on Arctic tundra and winter from Southern Europe to tropical Africa.  It is the juveniles that mostly stop over in the UK for a quick refuel.

Curlew Sandpiper, surprisingly difficult to pick out in a flock of Dunlin, they are slightly taller and slimmer
My favourite shot of the day. Europe’s smallest wader the Little Stint

Well, that’s a lot more images than I usually post.  I hope you enjoyed just a small selection from our bit of birding.


The temperatures are rising again and the drought continues.  We have just had a wonderful few days as our daughter the ‘Lemming’ popped over from Berlin for a short break.  This is her first visit ‘home’ in over three years so we tried to cram in as many trips out to favourite places as we could.  One such spot is Pensthorpe Natural Park.  700 acres of flooded gravel workings gives many lakes to walk round plus the beautiful River Wensum, woodland and fantastic gardens.  The park is well known for being at the forefront in breeding rare species for release such as Corncrake and Red Squirrels.  There was also a big collection of exotic waterfowl from the around the world.  I say ‘was’, sadly in February the park suffered an outbreak of avian flu and a lot of birds were culled.  There was still plenty to see, here are a few images from a lovely day out.

A Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) enjoying the summer sun
Some ducks are ‘natural’ like this female Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Juvenile Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) makes for a pretty picture
Another of the ultimate ‘little brown jobs’. Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) are shy breeding migrants and this is my first image of one. Soon they will be heading back to sub-Saharan Africa
Relief! A Great-crested Grebe (Podicus cristatus) enjoys a good scratch
This Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) survived the cull
The Lemming in conversation with one of the park’s Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis)

Swallowtail Time

(or, Visiting Old Friends ptII)

One of the joys of living in our part of Norfolk is that in late spring/early summer  the UK’s largest, most colourful butterfly can be seen.  Of course you need to know where to look, they don’t pop up everywhere.  You also need our old friend the un-predictable weather to be favourable.  A good spell of warm, sunny and wind free conditions will bring this enigmatic insect out of it’s pupa deep in the reedbeds to grace the area we call ‘Broadland’

What it’s all about, the ‘Norfolk’ Swallowtail (Papilio machaon ssp britannicus) perhaps my best shot to date

Last weekend was ideal so a trip to my favourite haunt Hickling Broad was in order.  The usual area was disappointing, there had been clearance work over winter and few nectar flowers were available.  A few hundred yards further on and there was a good amount of Red Campion and with it a newly emerged, mint condition Swallowtail eagerly fueling up.  This beauty allowed plenty of photo opportunities.

Pushing the shutter up to 1/1000th almost freezes the action. Those wings are nearly always fluttering

The dragonfly season is also now in full swing.  The early species were dominated by the Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata).  I have never seen so many in one place, almost swarm like!

Fresh Four-spotted Chaser, one of thousands
Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

As well as these ‘old friends’ there were a couple of surprises.  Firstly a butterfly that has been in very low numbers in my part of the world and I have never seen at this site, the Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera).

The Wall Brown, a small butterfly that nearly always is seen sunning itself on the ground (or walls!)

So, a small brown bird sitting in an alder tree.  I was so pleased to get this shot even though I was using my macro lens!  This is a Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti).  This bird first bred in the UK in 1972 and unlike all the other warblers (except one) does not migrate.  As an insect eater it’s population could crash in harsh winters.  The thing is the Cetti’s is extremely difficult to see, keeping deep inside vegetation by rivers or ditches.  It gives away it’s presence by it’s explosive call repeating the cetti name (though it was named after an 18th century Italian zoologist, Francesco Cetti).  An unusual fact, this is the only UK bird with 10 tail feathers, good luck trying to count them!

All in all a great day out and I’m glad to get my upload issues sorted so I could share it.



Those of us who have raised children will know the demand the ‘little darlings’ can place on us.  Then spare a thought for the Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) parents.  An average brood is 7 or 8 and I have read that each chick will be fed around 100 times a day!  Those adults are run ragged and their plumage soon gets a bit scruffy.

When we moved here almost two years ago I brought one of our old nest boxes with us and put it on the north facing end of my workshop.  Last spring, much to my surprise, a pair of Blue Tits took advantage and raised a brood (only one per year), this year they, or another, are back so I thought I would try and snap some comings and goings.

“Wait your turn!” At times it can get busy. The bird emerging is carrying a faecal sac which helps keep the nest clean
“Come on then, out you go”
An adult brings a small insect. I have zoomed in but can’t identify what it is
This time a small, green, moth caterpillar. These caterpillars are the staple diet of the chicks. The Tits will time their breeding to coincide with the opening of the new leaves on deciduous trees which the catties feed on before the leaves produce more tannin which is poisonous

The chicks will remain in the nest for about three weeks.  Then they will emerge, usually in the early morning, they quickly disperse to learn to fend for themselves.  Survival rate is not that high hence the large broods.

The type of nest box is called ‘Woodcrete’ by Schwegler.  Though they are slightly expensive they will out last all other types and offer perfect insulation for the nesting birds and are easy to clean at the end of the season.  They are available for most species who use cavities to nest in.

Flying Kites

Following on from my last post.  After we had watched the goose for a good hour and the crowds increased it was decided to take advantage of the sunny day and carry on west around the coast.  Stopped at Titchwell for our pack up of filled pittas and coffee.  The car park was quite full and I didn’t feel the pull to visit the reserve.  We headed just a mile inland away from the flat coastal marshes to the gently rolling countryside around Choseley village.  Mrs H spotted a Red Kite (Milvus milvus) so I drove to a vantage point with the sun behind us.  What we witnessed is something I never dreamed I would see in my home County.

Six Red Kites in the sky over Choseley

The first Kite we had spotted swooped down to a stubble field where another flew up to meet it.  These where then joined by a third.  There seemed to be a bit of an argument going on.  As the birds flew across the road two more joined in the tussle, as they passed the drying barns a sixth was counted.  Here they wheeled around to and fro looking all the world as if they were playing a game of tag, yet I suspected that even though they roost communally this was a territorial dispute.

Follow the leader
After a while one of the Kites returned, a bit closer this time

So why did I think I would never see anything like this here in Norfolk?  Well I have mentioned about this bird in past posts so here’s a quick recap.  Due to persecution the Red Kite almost became extinct in the UK in the 1960’s.  A handful of pairs survived, hidden in almost secret valleys of Mid-Wales.  It was decided to re-introduce this bird by releasing captive bred Scandinavian stock over the years in four areas.  The scheme is a great success and now in certain places big numbers of Kites can be seen gracing the sky with their elegant gliding flight and forever twisting, forked, red tail.  Gradually these birds have spread out from the release areas and are now colonising most of the Country.  This day we saw more Red Kites (10) than any other bird of prey, even outnumbering the Buzzard (8) another raptor that has increased it’s range over the years.

A female Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) tries to slip by unnoticed past a patch of dead Sunflowers

A superb day out and it helps to take my mind off more worrying and depressing issues a few hours flight east.  💙💛

Crowd Pleaser

Nice to get out at the weekend.  We have the builders in and everything is a bit all over the place as we have lost the use of three rooms for a few weeks, the ‘kitchen’ is now a camping stove and microwave in a tiny spare bedroom.  The sun was shining but the wind was still a bit cool.  After a bit of deliberation it was decided we should go along the North Norfolk coast to see if we could locate a very rare goose that has been in the Cley/Salthouse area this past couple of weeks.

The goose in question has been hanging around with a mobile flock of Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) so I slowly drove past the marshes as Mrs H scanned the fields.  A flock was spotted just past Salthouse village but it was distant and there was no where to stop safely.  I carried on and thought I would try down Beach Road in Cley.  A van was parked by a field gate and my faithful spotter called out “geese!”  Sure enough they were Brents and a quick scan revealed our ‘target’.

The most beautiful goose in the world? Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis)

Now that is a goose definitely worth looking out for.  A little phrase in England for such a beauty is ‘Bobby Dazzler’.  A bit of caution must be taken when seeing these birds in the wild and that includes any rare or exotic species, are they really ‘wild’ or have they hopped over a fence from an ornamental wildfowl collection?  Well it seems this fellow is as good as it can possibly get to being the ‘real deal’.  It wasn’t long before other birders turned up, word travels fast in the rare bird world, and soon there were dozens “oohing” and “aahing” and to make it better it was very close to the road, just the swaying reeds in the roadside ditch making photography tricky at times.

Our boy was more than a little bit vocal!
And at times a bit feisty!

So where does it come from?  The Red-breasted Goose breeds in Arctic Siberia on the Taymyr Peninsula (the same area as some Brent Geese).  They over-winter near the Black Sea coast of Romania, Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Northern Greece and a Country in most peoples thoughts right now, Ukraine.  Sometimes the Red-breasted will join the Brents and head west into Europe and pitch up in the Low Countries mostly the Netherlands.  Then it’s a short hop over the North Sea to England.  This one turned up, with another of it’s kind, in Essex.  The Brent Geese flock then split up with half heading north up to Norfolk with this one among them.

Some more Brents come to join the party


About 35 miles away, over the border in the neighbouring County of Suffolk, lies the coastal town of Lowestoft.  Once a thriving fishing port and a centre for ship and boatbuilding.  College days during my boatbuilding apprenticeship were spent here so I got to know the area well.  The town went into decline with the loss of the shipbuilding and the fishing industry is a mere shadow of it’s former self.  North Sea oil and gas brought a period of prosperity before that too declined.  Now the future seems based on manufacturing for the renewable energy market and a reliance on tourism.

The Town’s main claim to fame however is that, at Ness Point, it is the most easterly place in the UK.  Now, you would think that the ‘Point’ would be a place to show off, not everywhere is the easternmost spot of the Country after all.  Make a bit of an attraction out of it, pull in the tourists?  Sadly no.  The area can, at best, be described as ‘a bit rough’.  Reached by narrow, lorry lined, roads, past factories and failed businesses that are now wasteland, under the shadow of ‘Gulliver’ a massive wind turbine.  What could possibly draw local birders to this unattractive location?  The answer…. Purple Sandpipers.

The Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) not totally un-approachable!

It’s been a few years since I last went to admire these cute waders, time for a visit.  So if the Sandpipers attract the birdwatchers what attracts the Sandpipers?  Well, these shorebirds like to winter on rocky coastlines.  They do not feed by probing mud like most of their kin but by picking through what the tides deposit, like seaweed.  Now East Anglia is not graced by rocks, this is an area of soft sandy cliffs and much coastal erosion.  To counteract this, vulnerable places have been ‘protected’ by the installation of sea defences.  At Lowestoft the concrete walls were supplemented with the placement of a barrier of huge granite boulders and it is these the Purple Sandpipers found much to their liking.

Coming to see what I’m up to
The sea walls also attracted Turnstones (Arenaria interpres). Their plumage is starting to brighten up before heading north to Arctic tundra to breed

I was in luck.  Two of these winter visitors were present and with a little patience allowed me to get very close.  I sat down on the promenade and had to wait awhile for the sun to come out from behind a stubborn cloud to get the best shots.  Passers-by were curious as to what I was photographing and were delighted when I pointed out the birds and explained a little about them.  Soon these two will wing their way north to the Tundra of Iceland or Northern Scandinavia for the breeding season and hopefully they, or their offspring, will return for the enjoyment of birders in future years.

Cute or what?
I didn’t pay the Sandpipers to pose for any of my photographs, that would have been stupid as they would have no use for pound notes when they migrate north. However, if I had done this shot would have cost me a pretty penny!