Showing posts from February, 2015

Give It Some Wellie

As soon as I crested the railway bridge lying only 100 metres from the busy junction I saw the golden brown form of a short-eared owl drifting low over the marshland to my right. Further along this arrow straight road a party of 30 or so Bewick’s swans grazed contentedly on the lush green sward. These birds were still in their family groups, the young birds sporting duller grey-brown neck and wing feathering. Such wildness within earshot of a murderously busy trunk road and within sight of a large, heavily populated town.

It was quite some time ago that I first discovered the unique delights of these East Norfolk marshlands. On that occasion my friend John and I cycled the 22 miles from our homes in Norwich to Gt Yarmouth, battling a strong headwind all the way. The chill easterly airflow was especially punishing along the loneliness of the Acle Straight, that notorious 6 mile stretch of unbending and unforgiving tarmac that dissects the flat marshlands lying just inland from the coast…

Spanish Eyes

Central Extremadura is a country of gentle rolling steppe, where the short grass somehow finds sufficient nutrients from the shallow sandy soil to coat the land in pleasant green. The landscape is broken every so often by isolated hills atop which, more often than not, an ancient castle will perch, commanding the view for miles around. Much of the lowlands is given over to open woodland or Dehesas where holm oak or cork oak are well spaced giving the air of African Savannah as opposed to the familiar denser woodland of home. Some areas have been converted to rice fields, providing artificial wetland habitat where none existed before. Towards the north of the province are a range of higher hills which form the Monfragȕe National Park where invasive Eucalyptus is being removed and native flora replanted, here wide rivers flow creating high gorges beloved of birds of prey. There are higher mountain ranges that we saw from a distance, snow-capped and forbidding.

All of this combined re…


We left our hotel located a few kilometres east of Trujillo just as dawn was breaking. A 45 minute drive through frost covered pasture along mostly empty roads took us to Monfrague National Park. Here we stopped at a viewpoint, Salto Del Gitano (which we're told translates to Gypsy's Leap), overlooking a high rocky outcrop bathed in the crisp light of early morning. Griffon vultures use the cliffs here for breeding and already there were dozens of these large raptors soaring above the ridge. Most were heavily engaged in nesting activity, some sweeping in low across the gorge with sprigs of greenery in their beaks hurtling at breakneck speed towards the sheer rock face only to pull up at the last second and alight beside their chosen nest site on an inaccessible ledge. Some of these impressive raptors would pass quite close allowing us all to fully appreciate their size and aerial prowess, they really are effortless masters of the air and will fly miles seemingly without havin…

The Steppe

We found ourselves on the steppe near Trujillo in the chill of early morning scouring the short grassland for signs of bustards. All around we were serenaded by the trills and fluty calls of corn buntings and crested larks whilst on the horizon the odd red kite struggled to gain height in the absence of any thermals. After a few minutes fruitless scanning I happened upon what could easily have been mistaken for a couple of piles of earth at the far end of a nearby field, except that one of these earth piles raised its head to reveal itself as a little bustard. Within a few seconds another bird appeared and then a third, this one a fine male which made for a great start to our day absorbing the delights of the vast emptiness of the plains of Extremadura. But this was just a taste, a tease, of what was to come on this wonderful days birding.

We moved on a mile or so and found ourselves walking along an isolated track flanked by a large expanse of gently undulating steppe. Iberian grey s…

Extremadura Day 1

First impressions of this place are good ones. Very tranquil, lovely ambience and hospitable owners. Also the gardens are full of birds. Within 5 minutes of our arrival we had seen hoopoe, several azure winged magpies and a lesser spotted woodpecker - last time I saw one of those was 20 or so years ago. Add to this the black-winged kite eating a mouse or vole it had caught atop a roadside pylon, the Iberian shrike perched on wires below and a crested lark on the grass below that whilst we stopped for a comfort break en route, and you've got a pretty good list for our first few hours in Spain. And all the way we were spotting buzzards, red kites, white storks and even a few common cranes. This is hopefully just a taste of what is to come during our week in Extremadura, I'll try and update all we see on a daily basis. Now though it's time for a pre-dinner brush up and having feasted a much needed good nights sleep. Until tomorrow.....
Arctic WanderersOne thing we are seldom short of in this Norfolk of ours is wind, especially on the North coast in winter where the cold Arctic air is frequently swept into the county unabated across the broiling North Sea. These winds can be cruel, whipping the mud coloured coastal waters into a churning frenzy and causing destruction to all that dares to challenge its might. We had a bit of a blow on last weekend and the results of that are all too evident at Sheringham where the high water line is strewn with the carcasses of myriad starfish, flatfish, shellfish and sponges. It also seems that a number of unusual gulls have been forced to make landfall here, pushed South by the winter gales.

So, this week I've been trying to track these white-winged nomads as they seek a crust on the strand line between Cley and Weybourne. I've been quite fortunate and with the help of Tom a fellow photographer and volunteer at Cley Marshes, latched onto a 2nd winter bird cavorting amongst m…