Minsmere, Frampton, Norfolk Broads 22-24 February 2019

Our trip to Minsmere, Frampton and the Norfolk Broads left on time and in good weather, with 32 members and guests eagerly looking forward to what the next three days would bring. Our driver, Chris, went for a different route from the normal way over the Cat & Fiddle, but the eagle-eyed still managed to see Red Grouse as we climbed from Baslow over to Chesterfield. After a short stop en route, we arrived at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve in bright sunshine and, almost before we had got off the coach, we were greeted by the spectacle of thousands of Golden Plover (photo right) wheeling about over the wet grassland. They were to be a feature for the rest of the day.


Frampton Marsh is a great place for waders and we were soon seeing large numbers of Lapwing too, with both Redshank and Ruff well represented, but there were two species that we particularly hoped to see and both of them duly obliged. Long-billed Dowitcher (left, photo taken in USA) is a rare but regular visitor to Western Europe from its home in North & Central America and eastern Siberia, with some individuals staying for long periods. The bird at Frampton Marsh had been there for around six months so we thought we ought to have a reasonable chance of seeing it, and it didn’t take long to locate it as it fed out on the marsh. A number of people commented on its distinctive feeding style, with rapid probing of its bill in the soft mud, so the species name, Limnodromus scolopaceus, is particularly appropriate as it translates from the Latin as “snipe-like marsh racer”!


Although not rare, it is always a good day when Spotted Redshank can be seen, and there were up to four birds present. They seemed to spend much of their time asleep, with their long bills tucked inconveniently out of sight under their wings, but, with a little patience, it was possible to get good views. All the birds on the marsh needed to keep a wary eye open for predators, and a Merlin spent time sat on various posts, interspersed with rapid hunting flights, while some of the group saw a Peregrine take down an unfortunate duck. All of this was accompanied by the constant sound of Dark-bellied Brent Geese as they flew in and out and spent time bathing in the shallow pools.


Elsewhere on the reserve, there was a good variety of wildfowl with Wigeon, Gadwall and Pintail dabbling in the shallows while Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldeneye (photo left) and a single Scaup were diving in deeper water. There were Mute Swans too, and, late in the day, four Bewick’s Swans flew in, shortly followed by two Whooper Swans (photo right), providing an excellent opportunity to compare the three species in close proximity. It had been a really good first day and we set off for our hotel in Great Yarmouth in fine spirits.


A walk before breakfast was popular but not very rewarding; we had plenty of opportunities to see Skylarks and to listen to their songs, but apart from that, the only other birds seen were Ringed Plovers on the beach and the odd Pied Wagtail. After a hearty breakfast (how did John manage it?) we headed south to our first site at Westleton Heath. Here we hoped to find a couple of species that were new for a number of members of the group, and the first of these, the Woodlark (photo left), was soon heard but was not easy to see as it flew over the trees some distance away. However, we soon found a much more considerate bird which sang from the top of a tree and allowed everyone to get excellent views through the many telescopes trained on it. A short walk across the heath brought us to prime Dartford Warbler habitat (photo right), and it wasn’t long before a male put in a brief appearance on top of a gorse bush. Unlike the Woodlark, Dartford Warblers are not prone to sit anywhere for long - they appear and (mostly) disappear at irregular intervals, so it was quite a challenge to make sure that everyone got a view of this charismatic bird, but eventually we all left satisfied that we had seen it well.

A short drive down the narrow entrance road brought us to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere, where we were met by a very helpful member of staff who furnished us with maps and some information on what was about. We split into small groups and headed off in different directions around the reserve – some group members I never saw for the rest of the day! The scrapes were full of birds with wildfowl and waders predominating; these included Barnacle Goose, Shelduck, Teal and Shoveler as well as Avocet, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew. Gulls were also much in evidence with no less than eight species identified. It wasn’t too difficult to pick out the Mediterranean Gulls in amongst the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls, and a Yellow-legged Gull was in with the Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed Gulls but it needed the help of the local gull expert to pick out the Caspian Gull which was in the same group of birds.


The other main habitat visited was the reedbed, and a good vantage point was the well-named Bittern Hide. It provided good views of Bittern (for some), Little Egret (photo above left) and hunting Marsh Harriers (photo above right) as well as passing Cormorant and Goosander and a singing Cetti’s Warbler. A walk round to Island Mere Hide took us past a spot where two Adders were sunning themselves, and I think we all learnt a lot from the enthusiastic volunteer who spent most of the day patiently pointing them out and explaining something of their lifestyles. From the hide, a few members managed to spot an Otter, and this was also a place to see Snipe hiding in the fringes of the reeds and Bearded Tit flying over. Returning from there, Woodlark was singing on Whin Hill, Water Rail called from the reedbed, Goldcrest sang from the conifers and an obliging Green Woodpecker flew over.

Elsewhere on the reserve, other birds were being found, with Firecrest and Chiffchaff in the bushes near North Wall and Stonechat and Dartford Warbler in the low dunes behind the beach. The feeders near the café were a good spot to see Great Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Tit as well as a variety of other woodland birds, and a glance up to the sky was likely to see a soaring Buzzard or the chance of a Sparrowhawk. Another excellent day, and we returned to our hotel for a well-earned dinner and the odd glass of wine!


For our final day, we went to the Norfolk Broads, and spent some time checking the fields east of Horsey Mere for Common Cranes and other species. The Cranes didn’t oblige, but we did find some good flocks of Greylag Geese, and at one stop there were really nice views of two Grey Partridge (photo right), with Red-legged Partridge in the same field for comparison. Kestrel and Buzzard were both keeping watch from the tops of telegraph poles while Marsh Harriers quartered the ground in the hope of spotting an easy meal. It was almost like a summer’s day at Sea Palling where we joined lots of holidaymakers on the beach. Our chances of seeing any birds on the sea weren’t helped by the local lifeboat crew who were carrying out exercises just offshore, but there were both Oystercatchers and Turnstones on the groynes.

We tried to visit Horsey Mere, as we had done on our last trip to this area, but the sheer number of people and the difficult parking meant that we had to abandon that idea, and we went instead to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. There were Great Crested Grebe on the river, Little Grebe in the reedbed and Treecreeper in the woodland, but the warm weather had encouraged a number of butterfly species onto the wing, including Brimstone, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell, an amazing sight in just the second half of February. This was to be our final stop, so we set off back to Wilmslow and relaxed as our driver steered for home. Thanks are again due to Barbara for the time that she puts in to organising the weekend.

Photos by Robert D

For more photos from this trip please visit Sandpiper’s Page on the Group website at http://www.wgbwcopy.wikidot.com/sandpiper-s-page

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