If Thass Crows Thass Rooks

East Norfolk again. Halvergate marshes to be exact where a quick scan showed a large raptor perched on a fence post. Something about it didn't look right for marsh harrier which thinking about it I don't believe I've ever seen perched on a fence post, so what was it? Before I could get a proper look it flew off and this is where the value of a long telephoto lens really assists with recording critical information. I hastily reeled off a few shots. Blowing them up on the back of the camera showed the bird to have a dark carpal patch on a largely uniform white underwing, black tipped primaries together with a definite hint of a dark underbelly and most important of all a sliver of white rump. Rough-legged buzzard. A distant view, but pretty conclusive since there has been a couple around this area all winter. As with my last visit the vast acreage of fresh meadows held lots of birds, but despite a thorough scan we couldn't locate any short-eared owls. Off we went to cruise the narrow lanes to see what else we could find.

Rooks and jackdaws are a common feature of the more arable areas of this region with a huge and well known roost at Buckenham during the winter and a substantial rookery there during spring. Not far from Reedham we came upon a farmstead thronged with hundreds of these crows perched on wires, decorating the bare branches and probing in the soft earth for tasty morsels. It was akin to a scene from Hitchcock's 'The Birds' made the more eerie against the backdrop of skeletal trees scudding clouds and a chill breeze. If you are ever wondering whether you are looking at rooks or carrion crows there is an old Norfolk saying which may help, it goes something like 'If thass crows thass rooks and if thass a rook thass a crow' - it's much more profound than you may think!

Thass Rooks

Thass More Rooks

The unmade road at Buckenham that leads to the river Yare is a good place to see wildfowl. Using the car as a hide proves very useful, although the wigeon swimming and feeding in the drainage ditches didn't seem to flinch when people walked past, not even when one of them had a dog in tow. These wigeon become more confiding as the winter progresses and provide an opportunity for a close encounter with one of our most colourful visiting ducks. Close to, the deep chestnut head of the drake emblazoned with its streak of rich creamy yellow is very handsome. The breast is a salmon pink and the vermiculation on the back and belly are intricate and complex. All set off by a steely blue beak. They are all paired up now ready to hit the ground running when they soon move north to their Arctic breeding grounds. During the course of winter they provide choice hunting for peregrines whose sorties cause the assembled masses to launch into the crisp East Anglian air in their efforts to confuse and escape. There were two peregrines in view this afternoon perched on a distant gate from which they can survey the land for prey. These birds may well be the Norwich cathedral pair; after all it is but a few minutes away as the peregrine glides.

Drake Wigeon - A Handsome Chappie....
...and the Duck is Quite Lovely Too!
There Are Lots of Wigeon at Buckenham

The more you scrutinise the lush emerald sward the more you notice and there's quite often a surprise in store. Today it came in the form of a perky water pipit creeping mouse like amongst the tussocks. These birds are around in winter but are not often seen, perhaps overlooked as just another small brown bird, but their bright eyebrow markings and paler appearance gives them away. As we approach spring they will gain their breeding plumage which is altogether different and quite striking.  

A Water Pipit - From Afar

The RSPB and other wildlife conservation bodies have done a wonderful job of managing these wetlands for the benefit of birds and other wildlife, as well as making it accessible to people. The whole Yare Valley is now pretty much stitched together as a managed whole and remains an incredible haven for so many animals. Nearly 20 miles of nature-rich wetland stretching from Whitlingham on the outskirts of Norwich to Gt Yarmouth on the east coast. A remarkable and uplifting conservation success story, we should all be pleased and proud.