Sunday, 27 January 2013

A welcome thaw

Its been sub-zero temperatures and snow for almost two weeks now so last nights thaw was very welcome. This morning it was bright, breezy and about 10 degrees.
I decided to explore a couple of local spots and first up was Whitlingham Country Park, south-east of Norwich and only ten minutes from home. Both Slavonian Grebe and Bittern had been reported from there for a while now. Bittern might be hit and miss but I was reasonably confident I could catch up with the grebe.
I arrived at the car park and followed the track along the southern part of the large lake heading east. To be honest I hadn't really any gen on the bird's whereabouts and just started to follow my nose. There was still a lot of frozen snow on the path so it was pretty slippy, I stopped every so often to scan the lake but couldn't see the grebe. Nonetheless there were good numbers of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, several Shoveller, a couple of Goldeneye and plenty of Moorhen and Coot. I kept walking with my camera gear feeling heavier and heavier. I had almost reached the furthest end of the path without picking up the bird when I met another birder who had just gotten on to it. The bird was about 30 meters away swimming and diving. As I got my gear set-up it took flight and flew past us along the edge of the shore before settling down some 30 meters away. I moved back down the path and got some reasonable shots of the bird. But I had only paid for one hour of parking so needed to get back to the car. So I packed up again and headed back. I felt I could get some better shots so paid for another hour of parking and set off again back along the path. I caught up with the bird quite quickly this time and watched it for almost forty minutes as it swam and dived in the same spot about twenty feet from the shore. I've never seen a Slavonian Grebe so close, so this was a real treat. I don't think I've ever seen one on fresh water before, usually out at sea in Cork Harbour or Dublin Bay.

Slavonian Grebe, Whitlingham CP, Norfolk - 27th January 2013
As my hour ran out I headed back to the car for coffee and sambos.
It was still early enough though and rather than head for home I decided to venture a little further afield to Strumpshaw fen RSPB.  I parked up, crossed over the railway track and went towards the first hide. I stopped to see if anything was on the feeders by the reception area and was delighted to see a Marsh Tit drop in a couple of times to grab some peanuts. Maybe these are everyday birds in the UK but imagine the fun if one turned up in Ireland. I didn't get any shots but I'll be back, smashing birds Marsh Tits. The lake in front of the hide was frozen over so it was a little birdless, but over the reedbeds at the far end I could see two Marsh Harriers. I decided to take the trail towards the fen hide stopping briefly to look for Barn Owls hunting over the meadow, sadly none but at least I know where to look. A flock of five Fieldfares flew over before alighting briefly in a tree. At the fen hide I had just missed an Otter (bugger!), I waited for a short while before heading back to see if the Owls were luck there. I had a quick scan over the reedbeds before reaching the carpark and at one stage I had five Marsh Harriers in my bins!! It was getting dark now so time to pack up.
Whitlingham CP is only ten minutes from home and Strumpshaw fen RSPB about fifteen minutes but what a place to have on your doorstep, Bittern, Barn Owls, Marsh Harriers and Hobby in the summer. I'll have a path worn to the place.

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