The 7th of April was another bitterly cold Spring day, hats and gloves in prime position on pegs and in bags ready to be deployed. A few brave Garganey have been reported north of the river, but it was a bird from the north itself that had me rushing for the thermals and the telescope late in the day.
I was thankful for the local Whatsapp group who were quick to report that a Grey Phalarope had been seen on Rockland Broad. This tiny Wader would have come in on the northerlies over the last few days, although to grace one of the broads is a real surprise, since most stick pretty close to the coast before moving on. Indeed, my experience of the birds has usually been on a sea watch in the Autumn, waves crashing and foam flying, my eyes straining to pick them out as they fly low just above the surf. They are fantastic birds, and now one was here on the patch. I had a brief panic when I realised my scope was in my car at the garage (thankfully I do have a much older spare) but once the home front was settled I was rapidly making headway down the track to the broad.
In spite of the cold, Swallows and my first House and Sand Martins darted overhead as I walked, no doubt wishing they had stayed on the continent for just a little longer. No birds sang. In fact, very little else was moving. This was early April, but the feeling was Baltic. On approaching the broad, some local birders were already there, as was the bird. Phew! Although distant, I watched as the bird swam back and forth, the occasional spin noted as it hunted for food. In flight, the strong white wing-bar was the stand-out feature, visible as its wings drooped and hung just above the water, not unlike a large Bat species. I soon found myself on my own watching the bird, barely even noticing the feeling in my hands disappearing faster than the light. I was prepared to put up with that for a while longer; this was one of those patch moments to savour. It has been a while since I have seen a new species on the patch, and I am not sure I will ever see a Phalarope spinning and Martins hawking over a Norfolk broad at the same time again.
Jumping forward a week, and it is ever so slightly warmer. I heard a Blackcap warble ever so briefly in the back garden today, and down the marsh a Sedge Warbler sang proudly, deservedly laying claim to the best spot as the first returning bird here. A Red Kite has come back to stake its claim on the land, a conservation success with a home for life in the village. Walking home, a clatter of Pigeon wings announced a Peregrine prospecting a meal, strength in numbers saved the day on this occasion.