Today was the second visit I have made this year to Norfolk and as usual, the birding was of the highest quality. The main target bird was to be the Yare Valley LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE and with Allan Stewart and Joan Thompson in tow, we set off from the M25 at 0830.
The weather was really grim on route, with bouts of very heavy rain and then periods of fog and very poor visibility. Fortunately, by the time we reached the Norwich bypass, a strong easterly wind was blowing bringing with it brighter periods and drier conditions. It remained very cold all day though, with temperatures never rising above 7 degrees C
A few notable birds on route included 170 Rooks besides the A11 at Roudham and 45 Fieldfares along Cox Hill Road in Beighton, north of Cantley.
CANTLEY MARSHES AND ITS ENVIRONS, YARE VALLEY (EAST NORFOLK)
There were perhaps as many as 90 birders today in Burnt House Lane searching through the geese flocks. Frustratingly, possibly because of the wind or more perhaps because of feeding conditions, the Taiga Bean Geese in particular kept to the ditch and fields just south of the railway and were quite difficult to view. The best vantage point was from the footpath just beyond the railway crossing at the end of the lane but at 600 yards range or more - and with the biting wind - viewing remained problematic throughout.
We had tried a number of different observation posts before I chanced upon the adult LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE that had been present now in the valley for almost eight weeks. I picked it up just as it took flight with 5 TAIGA BEAN GEESE and climbed height and began purposefully heading towards Buckenham. After a while, the six birds decided to change direction and then began to head back. They continued flying east until they were back in line with the main flock and then continued flying towards us (by now a crowd of some 35 observers, many of which had responded to my shouting). We were incredibly lucky in that the 6 birds did a very close flypast allowing an excellent perusal of the bird's features, with its small head and bill, shorter neck, slimmer wings and extensive white forehead blaze all being noted. The flock then veered away, changing the course slightly to SE, before they all disappeared behind the Cantley Beet Factory.
Throughout the flight period I was very concerned about the close relationship between a large Taiga Bean Goose (perhaps a male) and the LWFG - there seemed to be a distinct bond between the two birds and in all reality, it appeared they were paired up. On several occasions, just the two birds split from the other three and kept extremely close. This behaviour does make me wonder if this individual LWFG emanates from the Swedish Reintroduction Scheme, whereby certainly Barnacle Geese (and perhaps Taiga Bean Geese) are used as surrogate mothers to this species. I find it hard to believe that with so many wild White-fronts in the valley that the bird has not 'switched sides' as certainly in the past, the latter is its favoured travelling companion.
Anyway I digress - the final tally of TAIGA BEANS was an impressive 102 birds (including a flock of 54 that arrived in from the Buckenham Carrs direction) whilst EURASIAN WHITE-FRONTED GEESE numbered an exceptional 331.
Also to be seen were 6 Egyptian Geese, many Wigeon and Teal, a few Common Shelducks, up to 3 different MARSH HARRIERS, Common Kestrel, 200+ Lapwings and vast numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls.
The village of Cantley itself in Burnt House Lane held a population of House Sparrows (10 birds) and several pairs of Eurasian Collared Doves.
With the LWFG flying east and only flight views being obtained, we set off in hot pursuit and attempted to relocate it. Passing by the Church Road Sheep Fields and its feeding 5 Common Blackbirds, we eventually came upon HILL FARM at the end of Reedham Road. The farm here has an excellent vantage point over the eastern section of the Yare Valley.
No sooner had I set my 'scope up to scan the LIMPENHOE MARSHES, I found an adult ROSS'S SNOW GOOSE - feeding amongst what turned out to be over 3,500 Pink-footed Geese. I was mightily chuffed by this find as I had not found an individual of this species before in Britain but on informing Dave Holman only minutes later, I was brought back to ground when DJH announced that Barry Jarvis had first seen the bird there on Wednesday. Nevertheless, it was a great bird and did a fly-round shortly later and came closer - in flight it having a few traces of immaturity in its flight feathers.
The flock also yielded at least 11 BARNACLE GEESE, as well as at least 4 TAIGA BEANS, but despite an exhaustive search, we could not locate the LWFG. A few more Egyptian Geese were seen, 2 Stock Doves and over 600 Common Starlings.
We returned once more to Burnt House Lane and on scanning the railway-hugging TAIGA BEANS to accurately count them, I relocated the LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE with them, just before it disappeared down into the ditch to presumably drink. The distinctive head pattern could be clearly seen, with the white blaze extending well back on the forehead, but the lemon eye-ring not at the distance viewed and frustratingly over the next 90 minutes or more, it simply raised its head and neck on just a few occasions and never waltzed out into full view. Only a handful of the 50 or so assembled watchers were able to get on to it.
COCKSHOOT BROAD, THE BURE MARSHES NNR (NORFOLK BROADLAND)
A first for me - a brand new locality - a relatively tiny broad situated to the NE of Woodbastwick and accessed along a myriad of tiny lanes (and today totally flooded) eventually culminating in a car park directly opposite the very popular Ferry Inn on the south side of the River Bure. From here, a boardwalk leads east for 700 yards beyond the Moorings to the hide.
We eventually arrived at the hide at 1425 hours and over the next 15 minutes, enjoyed some superb views of the adult female FERRUGINOUS DUCK that had been present for a few days. It was very loosely associating with the 27 Tufted Ducks present on the broad but, like them, had a tendency to want to disappear in the dense vegetation to the left of the hide.
In every respect it was a classic individual with the perfect profile (rounded, dome-shaped upper head, with the bulging lower cheeks), all-dark rather long bill, white undertail-coverts (fairly inconspicuous at times, and duller white than on a drake) and rich ferruginous-brown plumage, particularly on the sides and breast, and very dark brown upperparts and head. The eye was completely dark and its size and shape were spot-on - no evidence whatsoever to suggest it was a hybrid (although of course a hybrid had been present at this same very site in 2010 - per Tim Allwood on site). Simon Knight obtained some nice images of the Ferruginous Duck, a few of which I have reproduced above.
The small broad offered very little in terms of species diversity, with just 2 Mallard and 2 Gadwall accompanying the 5 Coots; 85 Greylag Geese were on the Bure opposite the pub and a single LESSER REDPOLL was feeding in the Alders that bordered the boardwalk. A flock of 23 WAXWINGS paused briefly.
ACLE STRAIT AND BREYDON WATER (NORFOLK)
The roadside flashes north of the A47 Acle Strait yielded a single LITTLE EGRET and a Grey Heron whilst Breydon Water at high tide held many thousands of roosting waders, including an impressive flock of RED KNOT.
LOWESTOFT NORTH LINKS, NESS POINT AND HARBOUR AREA (SUFFOLK)
Having wasted so many hours in the Yare Valley attempting to get better views of the LWFG on the deck, we ran out of daylight hours at Lowestoft.
By just a few minutes, we missed out on the juvenile ICELAND GULL in the North Links car park. It had been showing down to just three feet but a woman with two dogs felt she just had to disturb the flock and the Iceland flew to the neighbouring beach and perched on a groyne. As we pitched up, it took flight and flew south along the beach for some 300 yards before stopping again on another groyne. We set off in hot pursuit but before we got anywhere near, it took flight again and headed off down towards Lowestoft and Ness Point. Several of us followed, eventually walking the mile or so to the harbour, where the bird was roosting for the night on top of the warehouses in Hamilton Dock.
Ness Point itself was very disappointing - just 17 Turnstones and no sign of the 7 Purple Sandpipers wintering.
Lee G R Evans