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February 7th

I was in Norwich at 8am as I had an appointment for a windscreen replacement. But what should I do whilst the work was undertaken? The ‘Whitlingham Wildfowl Festival 2010’ was tempting but would have necessitated a taxi ride and two hours, minus travel time, just wasn’t enough to do justice to the site or the scarcities on show there. Besides, I didn’t have my ‘scope with me. I wasn’t going to sit and read my rights as a consumer for that length of time, that could wait until something goes wrong, so I elected to take a stroll along the riverside walk that runs out of the city from near the Gibraltar Gardens PH up to the ring road. Peering over Dolphin Bridge, four buffy-brown balls of fluff all dived simultaneously and surfaced their heads through the floating mat of weed at the quayside. They were Little Grebes, quite a charismatic little bird with an enquiring eye and almost a wry smile at the corners of their mouths. The name Dabchick kind of suits them. They soon resumed a normal, unworried feeding pattern and I left them in peace. The path runs along the north side of the Wensum and very soon you find yourself forgetting about the residences and industry as you become lost in looking for wildlife in the tall, Ivy clad trees and boggy margins along the way. I hadn’t gone too much further when I saw a brief flash of electric blue as a Kingfisher left an unseen perch over a narrow inlet. Neither whistling ‘peeep-eep-eep’ nor repeat sighting, that one brief moment was all I was going to be treated to. Some particularly boggy, wet and rank vegetation that I passed perhaps deserved a more cautious approach for a Water Rail suddenly exploded forth, giving me a rare but all too brief flight view of a species that is more often seen skulking around at ground level. I was hoping for Siskin or Redpolls in the numerous Alders that grow in the wet ground but drew a blank with both, although I did hear the flight call of an unseen flyover Redpoll. A bridge crosses the Wensum, over which is a piece of mature deciduous woodland which held a singing Stock Dove, the song of which I always like to hear, despite its monotony; ‘awoo-wuh, awoo-wuh, awoo-wuh...’ Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers were also hidden in the trees, their presence again betrayed by distinctive calls and a Nuthatch too was frustratingly not seen. Another call, heard once only and from the direction of the allotments, was probably given by our scarcest Woodpecker, the Lesser Spotted. It sounded like one but, many years ago when they were more numerous, their call was often closely mimicked by Starlings, so I couldn’t be sure if this was the real McCoy or an imposter. I paused a while but didn’t hear it again. The path through the woods led me to Dereham Road so I took the opportunity to nip down Heigham Street and peer through the gates of the water works to see if anything interesting was on the open water there. A few Gulls and nine Tufted Duck were hardly worth the extra few yards, but some good birds have been seen here in the past. I looked at the time and thought I really ought to be making tracks back to the windscreen depot. There was nothing new to see until I was almost back at the point where I had started my walk when a small brown flit landed and started ascending a tree trunk; Treecreeper, one I hadn’t seen for quite some time. It was a fearless individual, feeding at close range and allowing me to study the intricacies of it’s plumage as it probed each nook and cranny it discovered with its gently down curved bill. Treecreepers prefer mature woodland and do occur in north-east Norfolk, but it isn’t a species that I’ve come across in Happisburgh. I’ll have to check out some of the larger gardens more often for I’m sure they must visit from time to time. With my time up, I reflected on what had been a worthwhile two hours in the drizzle.

Driving to Catfield on the journey home, I soon saw the large herd of Swans that has been often reported during the winter. They were quite distant, and I had no ‘scope to hand, but the majority were Bewick’s with a smaller number of Mute and Whooper; circa 250 all tolled. Driving along some of the narrow lanes there allowed reasonable views but as many were asleep, an accurate specific count was impossible. One point I did note was the fact that, although some grey juvenile birds were present, the highest proportion of birds were snow white adults, a worrying indicator perhaps of a poor 2009 breeding season.

Checking my e-mail tonight I was pleased to see that Bob had sent me some superb photo’s of the recent Pale-bellied Brent Geese that have been around. The pictures below were taken at Sea Palling. Note the bird with the pale neck feathering which I noted at Walcott on January 24th.

Pale-bellied Brents at Sea Palling ~ Bob Cobbold

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