Trip reports

Coach trip to Hickling Broad and Stubb Mill

Coach trip to Hickling Broad and Stubb Mill
Hickling Broad by Graeme Hutchinson

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The day dawned clear and frosty and, as ever, my intention to sleep through the coach journey to Hickling was thwarted by the constant distraction of the view from the window. Fields frosted in pristine white, misty vistas straight out of Lord of the Rings, blue skies, sunshine and skeletal trees. On arrival, Hickling did not disappoint with reeds glowing in the winter sun, and huge skies reflecting azure in the water.

The bird list here was quality rather than quantity. The highlight at the main reserve was a bittern perched precariously on a bunch of reeds, and skypointing for long enough for most to get a look at it. I think it may have come out to look at us. Great crested grebes fished in the sunshine. Every now and again huge lines of pink-footed geese straggled over the horizon. We estimated one flock to contain at least 1500 birds.

Around 2.30pm we moved to the raptor roost watch point at Stubb Mill for the main event. A perfect afternoon morphed into an exquisite watercolour dusk, providing perfect conditions to see the birds coming in for the night. By 3.30pm it was, it must be said, very cold. Our group strung out in a line along the bank, each shivery or not according to the amount of layers they had managed to pile on. Marsh harriers came in numbers; the warden suggested he had counted 100 roosting there recently. Certainly it seemed that Andrew called "Marsh harrier coming in!" at least 100 times. A few fieldfare feasted on berries in the scrub.

The highlight for me here was the groups of cranes flying over. We had been hearing their calls throughout the day but it was great to see them - such elegance in motion. Some were visible on the ground behind a large orange digger somewhat incongruously parked centre stage before us, leading to some confusion. "That's not a crane, it's a digger!" A couple of hen harriers were about, harder to see but distinguished by shining white rumps even in poor light.

A barn owl appeared as the light failed, which was a relief as we'd told everyone they were practically guaranteed to see one. After this only the hardiest, or most thickly dressed hung on as temperatures plunged, the rest having sought sanctuary in the coach. Ice was forming on the path as we headed back. We ended the day with a list of 65 birds, and as I said, all quality. And such an exquisite place to spend the day. As someone commented, "To think I might have spent the day in Sainsbury's; the crowds, the trolleys!" Enough said.

posted by Graeme Hutchinson