Saturday, 10 January 2015

Jan 10th Dersingham Bog and Roydon Common

Dersingham Bog
Norfolk is more than just The Broads and a beautiful coastline. I'm in West Norfolk with my dad, not too far from the royal estate of Sandringham. We are visiting two sites that is home to a landscape of heather and a target bird in each. Will we see them both?

Our first site is Dersingham Bog to look for the exotic golden pheasant. This is an alien species from China, but a feral population is established here. It is a colourful bird with gold and scarlet plumage and a long tail. They were introduced here as a gamebird in the late 1800's, but they discovered that golden pheasants prefer to hide in dense vegetation than to fly into the aim of their guns. To see one you need to get here dawn (or dusk), but I couldn't persuade my dad to get up early. So, I had to make do with a late morning walk instead.

Female Stonechat
Male Stonechat
We were greeted as we arrived with a view of a muntjac deer and a pheasant (not a goldie I'm afraid) along the roadside. We also came across a redwing and a sparrowhawk on the start of our walk. This site has a boardwalk across an acidic bog which is home in summer to unique plants such as sundews and wild cranberry, but now, everything is brown and out of season. The heather too is waiting for summer and the landscape appears dead. The stonechats provided the charm in this bleak scene as they flit from perch to perch and back. These rust-orange breasted little birds seem to follow us around in small groups. We watched 2-3 of these birds for a while, posing on the heather. The males still with black heads, while females without.

In the woods, large mixed flocks of long-tailed tits. blue tits, coal tits and goldcrests were patrolling the thin branches. It is always good to check a flock of tits as other small birds like goldcrests often tag along during the winter months. As for those golden pheasants, the best place to look are under Rhododendron bushes. Even with those striking colours, though, a golden pheasant is a master of 'hide and seek' and it clearly demonstrates this as I fail to see one this morning.

Our next location is Roydon Common. Here I have come to find a great grey shrike that has been wintering on this site this winter. We arrived as someone with a scope was leaving. He told us that it was still around which was promising. But first, I notice a large mixed flock of fieldfare, starling and what could possibly be corn buntings (though I couldn't get good enough views of them to get a positive I.D.) and decided to get a closer look of them.

Roydon Common
We made our way to the spot where the shrike was last seen. We staked out the spot for an hour on top of a small hillock, under a tree. While waiting for this shrike, gulls swooped over the heather and a flock of lapwings flew by with floppy-looking wings. The strong icy winds were taking its toll over me as I became too cold to hang around waiting anymore and I decided to give up. Today, I wasn't going to see the bird that I have longed to see since I saw one as a kid on 'The Animals of Farthing Wood' taking the rodent characters of the show to skewer on a barbed wire fence on display like a set of butcher's hooks. It is still on my wish list... for now.

The sun was beginning to set as we made are way back. But then, Roydon gave us a conoslation prize that you could say is even better than a shrike. A female hen harrier was out hunting. She was distant but that 'V'-shaped flight posture that all harriers do with their wings gave her away as a harrier. You could also make out a white patch on her back near her ringed (or banded) tail. Her body is brown  and her head is owl-like with yellow eyes. She is beautiful enough on her own, but then I saw another harrier. This was a male hen harrier. He looks completely different as he is pale grey with wingtips that appear as if they were dipped in black ink. These rare birds come to roost here at Roydon during winter months. Hen harriers (as far as I know), don't breed in Norfolk but arrive here for winter from Europe and Northern Britain instead. This is a special sight for me and Dad, who has never seen one before, and it makes up for missing out on the golden pheasant and the shrike.

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