Thursday, February 11, 2016

Norfolk February 2016

Over the weekend of 5th to 8th February I spent my time birding with a few mates in Norfolk. This is an annual outing and we stay in a great little cottage in Great Bircham which proves to be an ideal base for our forays out into the field. A few beers, some great craic, full English breakfasts and top birding always combine to make a memorable weekend.
This year we met at Lackford Lakes, not too far from Thetford, so that we could stick Long-tailed Duck on our list. The bird was easy enough to find but distance and poor light meant that I could only get a record shot. Still a good bird to kick off with.
Long-tailed Duck - Lackford Lakes.
After adding a number of pretty obvious species to our list we set off on the short drive to Lakenheath RSPB Reserve to look for Common Crane, Bittern and a reported Great White Egret. It was a bit windy and cold when we arrived but nothing like as bad as it was destined to become over the next couple of days. We were soon watching a couple of Water Pipits battling against the wind and then we had reasonable views of the Great White Egret but we failed to locate any Bittern. Probably due to the windy conditions. We heard bugling Cranes and then we saw five birds flying off with a flock of Greylag Geese. Again pretty poor pictures of Cranes' backsides resulted.

Bye-bye Cranes.
After three hours of not finding Bittern we headed north. Travelling through the fens towards Tottenhill just south of King's Lynn. We drove through the fens hoping to find wild swans and indeed we saw Bewick's, Whooper and Mute within 30 minutes of setting off. We wanted to call in at Tottenhill to have a look at a Black-necked Grebe that had been reported on a gravel pit there and which was viewable from the road. Checking the map we located the gravel pit and then risked all our lives by marching along the busy A10. Lorries and buses and more lorries whizzed by within inches whilst we failed to see anything at all on the gravel pit. So we set off back down the A10 for more close shaves with death! Only then did one of us suggest that there might, in fact, be more than one gravel pit, as there often are. Sure enough we were at the wrong pit and once we located the correct one there was the Grebe...viewable from the road!
Roydon Common was next for Harriers. This was a brilliant birding experience as we saw Pallid, Hen and Marsh Harriers at one time all together in a single scope view. Generally the birds were always too far away to photograph but I managed a decent record shot of Hen Harrier earlier.

A blurry shot of a distant Hen Harrier.
We ended the first day not seeing Golden Pheasant at Wolferton although it seems every other birder in Norfolk did.
Saturday morning saw us at Choseley Drying Barns where we connected with not one but two fantastic Rough-legged Buzzards as well as a couple of Common Buzzards and a mad Peregrine trying to chase everything away. Loads of Grey and Red-legged Partridges around these parts too. I managed to get a decent shot of a Grey later in the day at Lady Anne's Drive.

Grey Partridge - Lady Anne's Drive, Holkham.
Holkham Hall was our next stop...for Ferruginous Duck and Scaup. The Ferruginous Duck was difficult to photograph; it was wedged into the vegetation on the opposite side of the lake. The Scaup were equally difficult because it was very windy and cold so I couldn't be bothered! It didn't stop one of us trying out a new and unique method of looking for Tawny Owls in suitable roosting holes by sticking a scope near the entrance...not really thought this through though! there anybody there? An original but ultimately flawed way of checking for owls.
Well's Harbour was next so that we could add the long-staying Shag. Always picturesque which I take to mean take a picture of it! So I did.

The tide is out at Wells.
Burnham Overy Staithe was next. On the way down towards the sea wall we came across a flock of Golden Plover loafing in a field, the estimated size of said flock was 10000 birds! Bear in mind it was blowing fit to remove slates from a roof yet one of our group suggested we carefully scan this flock for a possible American Golden Plover. That would be two and a half thousand birds each... in a telescope rockin' wind. So we did....and one of us spotted a likely looking candidate. What made it a strong possible was that we could all locate the bird quite easily, because it was not was pale grey and it had a good strong, pale supercilium. However, this was not good enough to clinch the ID. We couldn't see the primary projection, nor the tertials and the bird stubbornly refused to stand up so we could not gauge leg length or overall structure...all of which features we would need to ascertain the bird's true ID. Then it flew off, along with nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine other plovers. By the time we reached the sand dunes the wind was gusting at three-thousand miles an hour and it was whipping up sand that Lawrence of A would not have tolerated but we struggled through because there were possibly three Shore Larks fifty-three miles further along the shingle. Sand-blasted and extremely well exfoliated we rocked-up at the end of the shingle to be rewarded by the sight of three disgruntled and fed-up looking Shore Larks hunkered down in the grass.
On the way back to Burnham Overy we located a small flock of Barnacle Geese. To tick or not to tick? We did!

Amazing Bark of a Sweet Chestnut Tree in Holkham Park.
...and a row of Badger Bums at the same place.
By Sunday the wind had got-up to mach 2. We were to be found gazing at nothing much at all from Hunstanton Cliffs. A single fly-by Red-throated Diver and a few Fulmar were the only birds to be added to our list so it was off to Tithwell to join thousands of others who drift about there on a Sunday morning.
The usual Water Rail site produced the usual Water Rail.

The usual Water Rail in the usual lace at Titchwell.
The big surprise here was that the wardens had drained the main lagoon to carry out maintenance work. So no ducks...or much else really. We set off to the sea hoping that they hadn't drained that too. The tide was out when we got there so they may as well have drained it as far as birding was concerned! Four Snow Buntings were the highlights here.
We ended the day in the Joe Jordan Hide down at Holkham Pines. Here we had nothing short of a Raptor fest with another completely bonkers Peregrine belting about, along with over a dozen Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Common Buzzards and five Barn Owls. Another Great White Egret put in an appearance as well as over 100 European White-fronted Geese.
The day finished with us debating the identity of a white blob sat up in a tree by the A149 some mile or so away. One of us was convinced it was bird A, another was certain it was bird B, two of us kept swapping between both until eventually we nailed it. Here is a picture exactly as we saw it...what do you reckon it is?

ID this bird! It's the white dot roughly in the centre.
A couple of shots from Thornham Marshes to end with. A Brent Goose, so synonymous with the North Norfolk Coast. And a Curlew on the exposed mud...before they all disappear!

Brent Goose    Thornham

Curlew    Thornham.
We finished the weekend the following morning at Flitcham with a total of 124 species after failing yet again to see any Golden Pheasants. Thanks to Trevor, Paul and Nigel for a crackin' weekend and thanks to Andy C for the loan of the cottage and a special thanks to the workers in Sharpe's brewery for the Doombar and all those that gave their time to pick grapes.

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