Welcome to the 220 for 2022 – February Update. Bit of a breezy month, with various storms battering us during the middle couple of weeks. It was a question of taking advantage of the lulls between these events, attempting to mop up as many of those tricky winter visitors as possible before they move back north, or disperse into local breeding territories.
5th February 2022 – There’s a goose on the loose! A Red-breasted Goose in fact, spending its time between Blakeney and Cley on the windy and wild North Norfolk coast. It’s been a while since we’ve visited the former coastal village, so that’s where we began our search, wending our way from the free(!) carpark at the Village Hall through the narrow streets lined with quaint flint and brick cottages down to the Quay. On this particular Saturday, there were a lot of people, and just as many of their pooches, taking a bracing stroll along the sea wall which loops between the two villages. It follows the line of the River Glaven as it broadens and empties into Blakeney Harbour and the North Sea, bordered on one side by fresh marshes, and to the north by the famous sand spit leading to Blakeney Point. Blakeney Church doubled as a lighthouse in times past, when wide navigable channels allowed merchant vessels to dock at the respective quaysides. Cley-Next-the-Sea is so named because it was once just that, complete with Custom’s House, bawdy taverns and, I am reliably informed, its very own red light district. Now, the salt marsh and reed bed creates a half mile deep barrier between the quaysides and the sea, home to waders and wildfowl, cloaked in summer with swaths of light purple sea lavender. The mighty, and sometimes violent, North Sea is constantly trying to reclaim the land, and will, no doubt, ultimately be successful.
As we trudged along the sea wall, parties of Brent Geese were constantly moving to and fro, but despite earnest attention to every bird, none morphed into anything exotic. A lovely female Stonechat and a pair of high-flying Pintail were new for the year, however, making the trudge into the teeth of a very stiff breeze worth the effort. We made it as far as the harbour and then turned back, seeking sanctuary in a rather pleasant bakery situated on the Quay and doing brisk business.
One massive pasty later, we moved a couple of miles east to Cley. There, just beside the beach road, we encountered a group of 300 or so Brent Geese grazing on the Eye. Detailed scrutiny of these birds failed to throw up the Red-breasted Goose, so I decided to brave what was by now a near gale force wind, in an attempt to track down the long-staying Iceland Gull. No luck with that, but as I returned to the car where my wife had sensibly decided to remain, a small party of Brents whiffled in to join those already munching the sward, and joy of joys the Red-breasted Goose was amongst them. I quickly drove to a pull in next to the flock, affording excellent views of this beautiful bird strolling around just 30 metres away from, and totally unconcerned by, a quickly gathering crowd of admirers. The last one of these I saw was sometime in the early 90s, in fact I think that’s the last time one appeared in the county, so a great tick for the year.
8th February 2022 – Time for a trip to the Brecks to catch up with some specialities of that region. Lynford Arboretum is always a pleasant place to spend some time, today we discovered the experience enhanced by the appearance of a rather nice café. Never able to resist a cuppa, my friend Allan and I promptly settled in for a good mardle and a dose of caffeine. As we yapped about this and that, a red admiral butterfly appeared, landing on a notice board to soak up the rather pleasant sunshine. There is little doubt winters are getting a lot milder, and this kind of early sighting is becoming more usual. Hope it found a little nectar to make the early emergence worthwhile.
Suitably refreshed, we began wandering down to the open paddocks, where after a while we espied a pair of dumpy finches sitting quite motionless in the tops of one of the hornbeams. Hawfinches, the prize we sought. This line of trees, perhaps 100 metres from the path, is a pretty reliable site for Hawfinches in Norfolk. The birds are free from disturbance, and can generally be easily spotted amongst the bare branches of winter. Soon they will disappear into the wider woodlands to breed, consequently becoming pretty much invisible. We wandered through these woods hoping for Crossbill or Firecrest, but had to content ourselves with a lovely Kestrel, plenty of Goldcrests and a Marsh Tit. The lake held Dabchicks in fine bubbling voice whilst Nuthatches called all around.
Walking back to the café (we’d eyed the pasties earlier), we paused to watch a good sized gathering of finches and Blackbirds at a newly replenished feeding station. Here we were delighted to be able to connect with a small flock of colourful Brambling and resplendent Yellowhammers tucking into the seed. A Great-spotted Woodpecker added interest.
17th February 2022 – we look after our grandson every Thursday, and today thought we would give him some fresh air by having a look at the snowdrops at Walsingham. What a glorious show they make, carpeting the beechwood with their delicate white blooms. It was windy though, the early stages of storm Eunice making itself felt. Notices had been posted warning folk of imminent closures due to forecast high winds, and it was easy to see, and feel, why this had to be so.
After bouts of seeking pirate treasure and stuffing lunch, we found ourselves at Wells beach, where the pine belt afforded some respite from the gathering storm. Leaving Denise and Jacob to sand castle construction, I squelched across the mud to have a peep into Wells Channel. There, as hoped, were a small party of Red-breasted Mergansers, a bird I missed completely last year, but one I was very glad to see today. I reeled off a few shots as they took flight when a couple of dogs got too close.
22nd February 2022 – Having a couple of hours free this morning, I was lured to Rockland-St-Mary. After initially looking in the wrong place, I eventually found the favoured feeding grounds of a Glossy Ibis that has been utilising the Yare Valley as a winter larder for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t so long ago that the appearance of one of this species would have sent ripples, nay! a tidal wave, through the birding world, attracting twitchers in their bearded hordes. It was designated ‘A rare vagrant’ in literature preceding the 21st century, a declining European species with only a score having appeared in Norfolk between 1930 and the 1990s. However, during the last 20 years it has steadily become a more frequent visitor, so much so that its presence nowadays causes only mild interest. Today, there was just me and a fellow enthusiast propped on a gatepost watching the bird probe its stout curved beak into the damp, muddy pasture. It was totally unconcerned about us pair of humans, but did stand alert and ready to flee when a Marsh Harrier whipped over the field, buffeted by yet another strong breeze. I watched it for half an hour or so, quite taken with the frequency with which it obviously struck gold in the form of some worm or juicy grub. It was gulping some morsel or other down its long neck at the rate of about one every 20 seconds. It would secure a food item in the very tip of its beak, which I’m assuming is quite sensitive and flexible, withdraw said prey to the surface before deftly tossing it in the air to gulp it down. When the sun burst through for a few minutes, the multi-coloured sheen on the birds plumage was shown off to good effect – a truly glossy bird.
Here’s the table for the end of February. It’s getting tight at the top with a tie for 1st spot between Darren Archer and David Bryant, both locked on 112 species – well that’s them half way there! David clocked a few goodies this month, chief amongst them a Ring-necked Parakeet on the southern fringe of Norwich and both Goshawk and Great White Egret in the Brecks. He also connected with the Red-breasted Goose and Glossy Ibis, check out his blog here. Darren provides this update: ‘I have moved on to 112 for the year. Nothing unusual, as GWEgret now counts as normal even up here (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne). I was pleased to see Scaup, a first winter bird, that looking at pics on twitter seems to be changing its plumage daily. I have missed some good birds, and going for the RNGrebe means I didn’t have time to go for Black Redstart, and I think some of these will come back to bite when you top the list on 31st Dec (Hmmm, not sure about that Darren!). However, the challenge has been great. I called in at a bird feeding station which is more or less a bird table in a wood with no hide and no people, and had Brambling and other birds to myself and it felt magical. However, the list I am most pleased about at the moment is the 5km list which now stands at a respectable 85. This months new birds include Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Tawny Owl, and Stonechat‘. And that is really what this is all about, getting out there after two years of restrictions and connecting with nature.
Allan Archer has yet to break the 100 barrier, but his 96 does include White-tailed Eagle, a quality sighting the likes of which will make the difference come 31st December. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Sean Locke has been very busy birding throughout the month, notching up an impressive 105 species. His exploits can be read on his blog. Sean also writes a regular blog for RSPB Strumpshaw Fen and you can read that here.
Elizabeth has seen some good birds this month, notably Hen Harrier, Red Kite and the Glossy Ibis. I know she will steadily add to her tally as the year unfolds.
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