For our last full day in Norfolk, we headed to the north bank of the River Yare and RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, via Fairhaven Garden on South Walsham Broad. Our Lass wanted to see a Kingfisher, because they are only very occasional visitors to Orkney.
As luck would have it, as we neared the gardens, in a village called Pilson Green, a streak of electric blue shot across a roadside pond, disappeared briefly behind a stout wooden bus shelter, before it re-emerged immediately ahead of our car and headed off down the lane in front of us.
"There you go," I said, "We've seen a Kingfisher, shall we go home now?"
If that wasn't enough, whilst in Fairhaven Garden, we could hear plenty of high pitched piping (often the only indication that there's kingfishers about) and were treated to a millisecond's worth of view as one flashed across a footbridge.
Fortunately, as it was dull and overcast, the dragons were a bit more obliging on the photographic front than the birds. We watched a male Southern Hawker searching the water's edge for a mate, and there were several Common Darters in the market for some free warmth, courtesy of my hand.
I take great heart from the fact that dragons like this Common Darter do not view humans with any other thought than that we're slightly warmer than the surrounding habitat. Wise ape? Self-proclaimed pinnacle of evolution? You can keep it!
After lunch (the real reason for visiting Fairhaven), we made the short journey to Strumpshaw and set off around the Fen Trail, eyes pealed for wildlife.
In fact, our first nature moment was very relaxed, as for once the subject wasn't flying or running away. I'm guessing it's an Inkcap mushroom of some sort.
As we wandered beneath an Oak tree, a brown shape came flying low towards us along the trail. At the last minute, it hauled back on the stick and disappeared up into the branches of the Oak. It wasn't, as I first thought, a Sparrowhawk, but a Jay. I tried to take a photo of it, but there were just too many leaves in the way, and the light wasn't great either. So, we turned our attention to a nearby pond, which had a couple of darters ovipositing in tandem. After watching them for a while, we turned back to the trail, and I noticed the Jay again, busy collecting acorns. I managed a couple of photos before it disappeared once more. The first image was just a blur, the second was this...
So, the only two decent photos I've taken of Jays over the years, have both been in Norfolk, but on opposite banks of the Yare from each other. See here for the other one.
Walking along a track called Sandy Wall, we noticed several dozen Common Lizards lounging on the wooden edge to the path, trying to eke out as much heat from the wood as possible. Oddly, I wasn't so keen to pick up one of these, especially when a few had already shed their tails, presumably in response to being attacked by a predator.
Also on this stretch of the reserve were very many Guelder Rose bushes, laden with the shiniest and reddest of shiny, red berries. Some winter-visiting thrush will be grateful for all that bounty.
Turning off the main track, we made our way to a hide overlooking a small pool within the fen. As we entered, another chap was leaving and whispered that the Kingfisher was showing well.
Like we needed our "Excited" buttons pushing!
So, we sat in a hide full of folk brandishing more optics than a pub supplies exhibition, and waited. A distant Marsh Harrier briefly piqued everyone's interest, a Little Egret caused a bit of a flurry and then I whispered "Water Rail!" Cue much snapping of photographs. Me included, though I was only in single shot mode, not continuous like my fellow residents.
After a bit more of a wait, we were finally rewarded with an appearance from a Kingfisher, who ignored the wall-to-wall shutter clatter coming from the hide and flitted between several suitably-located posts.
At one point, it flew further away and hovered over a particular patch of water. And hovered, and hovered, then hovered some more. In all honesty, it hovered for longer than just about all my previous views of Kingfishers up to that day. A-maze-ing, darling!
Our Lass was really pleased.
We finally dragged ourselves away, so that other folk could enjoy the spectacle and carried on around the fen. There were many Spindle and Wayfaring trees along the path, some still bearing fruit, but most with their leaves turning red. It was in one of these latter (I think) that we found three Migrant Hawkers roosting, though it was difficult to approach closely for a photograph, as I didn't want to trample any vegetation.
And Strumpshaw was no exception to the Ivy league, with towering drifts of the climber gloriously a-buzz with insects. Here's what all the fuss was about...
If I had planned it, I couldn't have laid on such a sumptuous extravaganza of wildlife watching. The fact that it was all left to chance made it so much more exciting and it was a fitting end to our Autumn break.