Anser Birding Norfolk 26-28 November 2010

 Northern Harrier or Marsh Hawk



Barn Owl


Shore Larks


Norfolk 26 to 28 November 2010

26 November 2010
Five of us set of from Whitminster at 0730, made a short stop at Corley Services and arrived at the Rutland Water at 1045 where we became seven. We spent a couple of hours birding around  the Egleton Anglian Water Visitor Centre hoping to see the Lesser Yellowlegs and Grey Phalarope among other birds. It had been very cold overnight so the lagoons were all iced over, a Stonechat showed and we had an interesting introductory talk with Tim Appleton about the reserve. We ventured out into the cold to look over the main reservoir. Highlights were the Avocet (rare in winter here) Goldeneye c80, Goosander 5, 10 Redshank, 20 Dunlin, 5 Curlew, hundreds of Great Crested Grebe plus Marsh Tit and Treecreeper in the woods. We had to move on and our next stop was Thornham Harbour in North Norfolk where we watched the sun go down and the local birds. A Marsh Harrier floated over Holme marshes, a Snow Bunting flew over calling, flocks of Brent Geese arrived to roost and a variety of wildfowl and waders fed on the mudflats. The light now gone we headed to Old Hunstanton to the hotel. After dropping everyone off I noted two Barn Owls from the coast road on my way to Burnham Deepdale, the first was in Old Hunstanton village and the other near Holme next the Sea.

27 November 2010
After having breakfast the first port of call was Holme Golf course dunes where we scanned the beach and sea in the strong NE winds. Flocks of Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatcher fed or flew past. On the sea/flying past we logged 2 superb male Long-tailed Ducks which headed into a blizzard, a Fulmar, 5 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Common Scoter, a Great Northern Diver that flew out into the North sea. The lure of a putative juvenile male Northern Harrier nearby was too much to ignore so we headed to Thornham Harbour where with some patience and diligence it arrived, firstly in the distance over Holme Dunes but kept coming until it flew past and began hunting the saltmarsh in the harbour for a prolonged period. All the features that tally up with what the Americans call a Marsh Hawk seem to fit this bird. Whilst we waited the Little Egrets, Black-tailed Godwits, Brent Geese, Grey and Golden Plovers with the Lapwing, Knot and all the other high tide gathering birds gave us something else to look at. At least three Marsh Harriers were showing as well during our watch.

At Titchwell RSPB a group of Egyptian Geese fed in an adjacent field, a female Brambling was on the feeders. We headed to the brackish marsh where a party of Twite, c40 Skylark and Meadow Pipits all fed. A few Little Grebe fished in the channels. On the beach the rough seas made it hard to see the birds but 300 Common Scoter, a Long-tailed Duck, a Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders were all seen. A Marsh Harrier was also hunting and nine Avocet and a few Black-tailed Godwits joined 60 Pintail on the freshmarsh. With som nay birds to look for it was time to move on.

At Burnham Staithe Rich Taylor spotted a Barn Owl from the car, when we got out it turned into three Barn Owls in the same area. They hunted in the open for us and were joined by a Buzzard.

From here it was a short drive to Wells Deli for lunch items and then a group decision to head for Aylsham to search for a reported flock of Waxwing. About 40 minutes later we found them feeding on the hedgerow berries and resting on wires, 143 were counted when they lined up.

Satisfied with these views in the sun we headed back to Wells next the Sea through the odd snow flurry and saw two Black Brants among 400 Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the football pitch. Nearby a viewpoint over the Burnham Dunes was our final stop for the day watching the sunset in cold conditions  and seeing yet another Barn Owl, c300 Pink-footed Geese coming in to roost, c8 Barnacle Geese among the geese on Holkham marshes.

28 November 2010
We woke to another dusting of snow and sun-zero temperatures but went out before breakfast to Hunstanton cliffs to look over the sea. A scattered number of Shag fed below on the sea and Fulmars soared back and forth with some resting on the sea. I spotted a Skua which was moving very quickly and chasing gulls, it did not hang about but I managed to get fairly good views and thought it to be a Pomarine Skua. Another scan revealed two Velvet Scoter that were picked up fairly close in and all got good views of them feeding on shellfish before they flew out into the wash showing the white wing panels. A Great Crested Grebe and a few mergansers were also seen but the cold drove us back for breakfast. After refuelling and warming up we headed for Holkham Gap walking out through the pines to the dunes and saltmarsh. Three Brents were on the beach, two Dark-bellied and a Black Brant, Redshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin all fed in the shallow creeks. A scan from the dunes over the sea revealed lots of Common Scoter and a few Eider but they were distant. We waited and scanned the area until a party of Shore Lark flew in and landed nearby. A bit of field craft was employed and we were soon enjoying great views of ten of these lemon-faced beauties. Heading back we noted over 100 Skylark and then I heard the call of a Waxwing which flew over heading west. Near Lady Anne’s drive we had some very close Pink-footed Geese as well as 600 Wigeon and flocks of Lapwing. Our next stop was Titchwell for a quick search for Bearded Tits but it was still a bit breezy so we missed out. Plenty of Chaffinch, Greenfinch and a few other common species were on the feeders. A group decision was made to look for the Fenland Cranes, an hour and a bit later we were watching a pair with a juvenile feeding in a field with 100 Whooper Swans at Stone Bridge corner. Eventually they headed off across the road flying right over us the main drain presumably to drink and we scoped them on top of the dyke wall. After ten minutes they headed east following the drain to wherever the roost site is. A good end to the trip but we did see two Red Kites near Kettering on the way home along with a spectacular sunset.  

I was glad we managed to get a full weekend of birding in and see some great birds, thanks to everyone for wrapping up and getting on with it in what was at times rather extreme birding conditions.

Martin J McGill

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