Whilst not particularly local at 25 miles as the crow flies from Hethersett the watchpoint at Stubbs Mill near the Hickling Reserve is a worthy spot to watch the sun go down particularly on a beautiful clear evening as we had yesterday. The draw of the area is that it is a roosting site for a number of specialty birds and particularly wintering raptors with up to 50 marsh harriers seen earlier this week all gathering to roost. As I started out from the NWT carpark on the half mile or so walk to the Mill the weather was positively spring like.
The place to park, but avoid the boggy bits. Also the place to get an icecream in the summer.
Given it is mid winter I hadn’t thought I would be bothered by swarms of flying insects but I was wrong and dodged in between them whilst listening to the full song of robins and chaffinches who clearly thought spring had arrived. The few trees that line the route included some in early blossom and were full of Long-tailed tits, blue tits and great tits.
Before I had arrived at the Mill and the watch point I had heard the otherworldly bugling call of the common crane for which this area has long been a stronghold. I have far more often heard the birds than seen them and my trip was proving this. At the watchpoint I set up my telescope. and scanned the vista . Many of the birds at the watchpoint are likely to be some distance away and a telescope is a useful accessory for good views here. As the picture below of an old and decaying mill shows you will see birds with binoculars but they will be difficult to appreciate in their full glory.
The decaying ‘Mill’ or more accurately windpump that would have once drained the land before the advent of diesel pumps is topped with one of a number of cormorants that flew by as well as crows, rooks and jackdaws and at the top of the picture is one of about 20 soaring marsh harriers seen. I did not see a couple of other raptors including hen harrier or merlin but both are infrequent and the hen harrier population is of course held very low in the UK thanks to shooting and other persecution by game keepers on grouse moors.
Not all birds were distant a wren and a stonechat appeared very briefly close by and then a hunting barn owl quartered the meadows a few hundred yards away.
Barn Owl quartering the meadows and reed beds.
There are always a few people at the watch point and it is always nice to have company and some extra pairs of eyes who picked out an unusual sighting for the area in a low flying bittern moving from reedbed to reedbed. My companions did put up a couple of hoax calls however both for the elusive cranes. First were some mute swans whose necks poked up from a riverbank and then a couple of times for flying grey herons which are a similar size and colour to the crane but have a different flight profile when seen clearly.
Grey Heron coming in over one of many wind pumps
Eventually a couple of cranes flew into roost with their bugling counterparts and although they were over half a mile away I managed to get some record shots that show the profile and elegance of the birds
Pair of cranes coming to roost (click on picture for close up)
Having finally caught up with the cranes I was already happy when a huge flock of pinkfooted geese several hundred strong put on a late spectacle in the evening sunset. Having given you plenty of landscape and distant birds I shall leave you with another crane which in the style of a TV presenter I prepared earlier (in the year)