Sunday, 14 April 2013

East Anglia again

Here we are in EA once again, doing the visiting-and-sightseeing thing. Not the most auspicious start to the trip, as we'd got no more than 10 minutes down the road when S was copiously sick in the back seat: a cascade of porridge and raspberries descending across the car-seat, her (of course) fresh clean clothes and everything in between. Poor girl looked pretty shell-shocked after that, unsurprisingly, but soon fell asleep for the next stage of the journey, whilst we negotiated the rain, spray and wind past Bristol and along the M4. By the time we'd passed Swindon the weather was sufficiently dry and bright for the odd Red Kite to be out and about, easing their way through the gusts and the swirling mix of Rooks which rose to mob them with an elegant aplomb.

Our first port of call was Saffron Waldon, where we dropped in on friends who have recently had a baby and are coming to terms with the sleepless phase. Few opportunities for any serious out-and-abouting, added to which the weather was foul - blasting easterly wind and temperature around zero, even before wind-chill is taken into account. In fact, all we really noted was that the Rooks were undaunted by the weather and have begun sitting on their nests. And that Saffron Waldon is actually quite a pretty town...

We moved on to Norwich, where we descended on another couple of friends. No improvement in the weather, but nothing ventured & so on, so we headed out to Holkham to see what we could see on Sunday. The wind was so cold and so strong that S kept her head down the entire time we were out, sleep or wake, snuggled as far inside my coats as possible. Puddles and damp hollows in the pastures were rimed with ice created by the wind-chill. Birds were scattered sparsely around the site - a pair of Wigeon here and there on the pastures, a scatter of Lapwings disconsolate amongst the tussocks. In the occasional shelter of the pines, the sun was warm and spring-like, but move back into the wind and all such thoughts were put aside. We rounded the eastern end of the pines near Wells and turned west along the beach. The sand moved past us at a rate of knots, making a dun knee-high mist which obscured the ankles and shins of walkers and indeed almost totally obscured some of their dogs. The few birds on the beach were hunkered down tight against the surface, all to the seaward side of the blasting sand - a handful of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, a few Sanderling, a couple of Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and a solitary Redshank. By the time we returned to the car we were breathless with the cold, ears ringing to the sound of pounding surf, howling wind and whispering sand. The only one who seemed entirely at ease was S, who'd woken not long before...

Holkham beach. We just don't have that extent of sand in Devon.

It was windy. Very windy. Jake (the dog) must have been grateful to have a tail to keep the wind out.

It was windy. Very windy... All day.

The afternoon's visit to Titchwell, just a little further west along the coast, was - if anything - even more windy. So much so that we took a quick walk along to the sea and back without stopping for much at all - a hunting Barn Owl in the lee of the woods, a pair of Pintail dabbling languidly in the shelter of a saltmarsh island, a female Red-crested Pochard (where did she come from, I wonder?)... and a vast flock of gulls (mainly Common) sheltering on the pools away from the sea. We soon headed back to the car and hit the road for Norwich.

On, then, early in the morning, to the wild and woolly hinterlands of Suffolk for a few days with Na's aunt and uncle. The weather finally began to perk up, S began to perk up as well, and Na came down with her tummy upset: timing! We managed to relax a little though, spending some time stacking wood and digging over the veg beds for the spring, unearthing vast quantities of bindweed root and taking the opportunity to wander round Minsmere and Walberswick. The wind abated a smidgen, but only a smidgen, and we were rewarded with a fine Short-eared Owl hunting the coastal marshes at Walberswick and another Barn Owl on the heaths, and a handful of Smew, an adult Little Gull and a trio of Whooper Swans at Minsmere. Hardly the stuff of epic, but nice enough for a  southwest birding family.

A Lapwing eyes us suspiciously from the rabbit-nibbled grassland at Minsmere. Or maybe it's watching the rabbit in the background.

And now here we are with some warmer weather - Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins are trickling in through the local ponds and it seems as if spring might finally have sprung upon us. Here's to it!

Hazel catkins - and a couple of flowers to go with them.

Male Chaffinch. Not in song in East Anglia when we were there, but now they're hitting their stride here.