I'll start with the obligatory Siberian Stonechat photo, this from the 22nd. Needless to say this was both a stunning and educational bird. Completely different to the extra-pale looking male I had seen here the previous weekend, and I was able to watch and observe the full suite of features despite a couple of nuggets (one a very famous nugget) stalking the barbed wire fence.
On the 24th, I met up with 'The Breckland Birder' Paul Newport, a true gent and birding pal with whom I share many values out in the field. Paul was keen to get to grips with some of the Mid-Yare reserves so that he could plan a small tour he was leading early November. We began at Church Marsh in Surlingham, and I was pleased that my local reserve was on good form. Redwing, Fieldfare, Redpoll and Siskin all passed through, the Redwing infact were encountered feeding on berries close to the river. A couple of Kingfisher blazed upstream just where I hoped they would, and our interest was further held by a female Sparrowhawk over the hide, calling Bullfinch and Cettis Warbler and a snorting Water Rail.
Rockland Broad was a little quieter, as it often is. I always hope for a rarer Grebe at this time of year, but on the water only the expected Great-crested Grebe dived and fed, along with a single Tufted Duck and a small gathering of Black-headed Gull. Over the marshes, Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier were added to the day list.
We then took a jaunt round the other side of the river to Strumpshaw Fen. I was relieved for both of us that at least one of the Great Grey Shrikes remained, and although distant Paul picked up a bird catching insects and we were able to observe typical Shrike behaviour even if from around half a mile away. This was incredibly my 4th GG Shrike of the Autumn, and a lovely Mid-Yare tick. A bird has since been reported from Claxton Marshes, soon to be the bit of the patch on my doorstep. Walking back, a Bearded Tit was heard and a Weasel ran across the track.
Buckenham Marshes is a site with year-round interest that for me peaks mid-winter, with its hoards of Wigeon and Geese. Today was a little prelude, with a smattering of Wigeon having already arrived and a single Peregrine sat on the ground watching proceedings from afar. The highlight here was undoubtedly our second Weasel encounter of the day, indeed of the year for me. The small predator zig-zagged across the track ahead of us, momentarily disappearing into cover before emerging again to cross the track once more. Eventually, it got that close to us that when it re-emerged, it did so behind us!
We finished at Halvergate Marshes, and by now the poorer weather looked to set in. Bar a smart group of Redpoll which alighted on a gate in front of us, the birds here were keeping a low profile. The marshes here are brilliantly bleak, and fast becoming one of my favourite spots in Norfolk. A nice end to an excellent day in the field with Paul, and hopefully he will have as good if not better a day when he leads his tour group soon.
Back home, and Winter birding has taken pole position. On the 26th, I enjoyed watching 2 Short-eared Owls at Langley Marshes. A sight I never tire of, these giant moths flying low over the dank, misty marshes. With dusk approaching, I chanced my luck at Claxton Marshes hoping for the same experience. A close call with a Barn Owl instead here, and a group of around 100 Fieldfare on the ground- my largest group of this Thrush anywhere on the patch this year.
Yesterday afternoon, I had a couple of things to do in Yarmouth which was ideal for either a stop on the way back at Breydon or Halvergate, With no news so far of the American Golden Plover (my other British record also came from here, and indeed the bird was relocated later that day) I again headed to Halvergate and spent a splendid couple of hours walking the muddy tracks around the Weaver's Way. I scanned the wide open spaces, which surely would throw up a Rough-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier this Winter. A group of noisy Rooks alerted me to a small, low-flying Falcon which was probably a Merlin but with light fading and views poor I cannot say for certain. Marsh Harriers floated into roost, and Pink-footed Geese chattered over the setting sun. Back at the car as I was unloading my gear, 7 Bewick's Swans flew overhead nice and low for me to get a good look at. I am only aware of one other Norfolk report from the last 10 days, so this was an unexpected bonus. The Barn Owl that landed next to my car was even closer, but as the photo shows below he refused to look me in the eye.
Tomorrow, we make the move to Claxton, not before raising a glass to Surlingham. Should the rain stop, I will pop out later for a roost watch in the village, which will feel a little final but no doubt I will be back by the weekend; the new house is most certainly 'on patch' and only 9 minutes away by car.
Sun setting over Surlingham Church Marsh
Short-eared Owl mid-dive at Langley Marshes
Halvergate Marshes, with gate
Barn Owl at Halvergate