Monday, 11 May 2015

May 11th Hickling Broad NWT

Hickling Broad
What a lovely day! It is a perfect excuse for a visit to Hickling Broad with my mum. This Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve has everything a Norfolk naturalist can wish for. Later this month, this reserve will have swallowtails emerging and showing their striking colours over the reedbeds. For now, however, the chance of seeing wild cranes is always top of your wish list here at Hickling. This area is a breeding ground hotspot for these birds, but seeing one is still hit and miss. These large birds were once extinct in the UK, but then in the 1980s, a flock of wild cranes arrived to Norfolk naturally and have been living in places like Horsey and Hickling ever since. Today, they have spread into other parts of Norfolk and Suffolk and across the country as far north as Scotland.

We began our walk hoping to see anything and everything, not just cranes. We hardly got to the first hide as we stopped now and then finding something of interest. A whitethroat was singing it's scratchy tune on the top branch of a tree, swaying back and forth in the breeze. Large red damselflies rest with closed wings on flowers of gorse. A marsh harrier soared in the distance and as I scanned the horizon with my binoculars, I am positive that I saw two large birds landing into the reedbeds a long way off. They were grey with black wingtips and long necks, I am certain these were cranes. Unfortunately, Mum did not see them along with two other visitors.
Large Red Damselfly

At the first two hides, a large colony of black-headed gulls were sitting on or building thier nests. A few avocets and greylag geese sitting on their nests with these noisy neighbours. I also saw a reed bunting and couple of coot families. The chicks were small and black with bald red heads, one of the ugliest youngsters around and one only a mother would love!

Black-headed Gull Colony
Gull Sex!!
All done!
Coot and Chick
Four-spot Chaser
There were a few butterflies about today, mostly peacocks, large whites and brimstones. I am glad to see my first dragonflies of the year today, too. As we made our way to the second hide, we found a few four-spot chasers perching on a shrub by the entrance of the hide. These dragonflies are named because they have four spots on both sets of wings (2 on each wing) and are one of the first of the British species to emerge.

Another Four-spot Chaser
I think this is a female Broad-bodied Chaser
Hoverfly and Thistle

When we decided to leave the second hide, we made our way back to the visitor centre for lunch via a boardwalk that sank slightly into deep marshy water, finding swallows, a kestrel and 2 stock doves along the way. We had a picnic outside, watching house sparrows (as well as other birds) feeding on the feeders and taking the food back to a nest box. Blackcaps, yellowhammers, willow warblers and chiffchaffs provided the soundtrack to our lunch.

Blackbird eating an apple

After lunch, we went for a longer walk towards Bittern Hide and a few viewpoints. The path we were walking on was buzzing with life, as I spot green tiger beetles taking off to avoid our disturbance. Reed, sedge and Cetti's warblers sang in the reedbeds as we got to Bittern Hide. Inside, we could see hobbies and marsh harries circling above, while more greylags were nesting in front of the hide below. We were told that we had missed out on a couple of cranes flying past just quater of an hour before we arrived to the hide. How did we miss that? Never mind.

Green Tiger Beetle
From the next viewpoint, which is a mini tower, we could see Hickling Broad from one side and a scrape full of birds on the other. No guessing to which side we spent time looking at. There was another, slightly smaller, colony of black-headed gulls here with a few avocets, ringed plovers and lapwings. The lapwings, in particular, were chasing the ringed plovers away and then we found the reason why. There were lapwing chicks! They were small bundles of fluff. Mum couldn't help going "aww!" We continued our walk as we made our return towards the visitor centre. I managed to hear a very distant sound of a calling cuckoo on the way, a perfect way to end a nice day out at Hickling on.

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