North Norfolk, a Cambridgeshire Fen and a Lincolnshire jaunt, 22-24 January 2015

Sunset at Thornham
Sunset at Thornham Harbour

Five of us left Gloucestershire with a Red Kite or two to add to our list on the way (A14) . We were meeting up with our sixth member of the party in Cambridgeshire to begin birding at Holme Fen. This was a very birdy area, the fenland restoration seemingly working well for our avian friends. On getting out of the car we were onto a Short-eared Owl immediately.  Large flocks of Linnet, Goldfinch and Greenfinch really made some noise and a flock of 30 Reed Bunting crept onto the track to feed/grit. Stonechat, 2 Little Egret and 2 Foxes kept us busy and a second Short-eared Owl began hunting, on a few occasions it came very close. Peregrine, 3 Buzzards, 2 Kestrel (we had noted 14 in total before leaving the area), Sparrowhawk, Raven and eventually a Rough legged Buzzard were all found. The latter bird dropped onto the ground among the Lapwing and Fieldfare to search for worms. The Rough-legged Buzzard was showing well hopping around possibly taking food from the plover and thrushes.

Rough-legged Buzzard Short-eared Owl, Holme Fen

Rough-legged Buzzard and Short-eared Owl

It was time to head on to Norfolk but we did see flocks of Whooper Swan before departing this fenland county. Our first stop was opposite Tesco in Hunstanton, even if I had not said everyone would have already guessed which species had been present. The two Waxwings showed before and after we were present so no luck today but we did not want to hang around in a car park for too long, not when there were so many great birds to see.

At Thornham Harbour we parked up and were immediately watching a charming flock of Twite, around 45 were skipping about the area feeding on the saltmarsh seeds. The low tide creeks held Redshank and Curlew with Grey Plover and Shelduck out on the mudflats. A Kingfisher fished by using the poles in the creeks as a lookout. At least six Marsh Harrier were around including an adult male, Pink-footed Geese came in to roost as well as a flock of Dark-bellied Brent Goose. Yet another highlight was a Barn Owl hunting the seawall, it caught a vole and flew off to the wood with its meal. Three Rock/Water Pipits flew over calling as did a Snipe but alas it was getting dark and time to head back to the hotel at Hunstanton.


I did see another Barn Owl sat atop a telegraph pole at Holme/Thornham on the way back to Burnham Deepdale in the late evening.

23 January 2015

I was up an out early to check on the Tesco Waxwings but they were having a lie-in, it was clear to see that a large movement of Fieldfare was underway. At the hotel we did a sea-watch from Hunstanton seeing 4 drake Eider, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes, 3 Common Scoter, Fulmars and a steady stream of vocal Fieldfare (2000+) were coming in off the sea and heading along the Wash coast.




Moving the short distance to Holme dunes it did not take long to locate a flock of 30 Snow Bunting. This mini blizzard settled on the frost laden high tide strand keeping company with Skylarks. The saltmarsh was busy with Knot, Redshank and Reed Bunting and the wader roost on the point was very busy with Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Redshank.  Out on the sea some distant Red-throated Diver and Merganser were noted.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings

At Titchwell RSPB the drained pool W of the path held a Rock Pipit, an elusive Water Pipit, and a few Snipe and Redshank. The fresh marsh was frozen but 7 Avocet and a band of hardy Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon were sat on the ice waiting for milder times. On the brackish marsh things were more busy, 2 Little Grebe, Grey and Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and a nice comparison side by side of a single Bar and numerous Black-tailed Godwits. A couple of Linnet dropped among them. Out on the sea and beach a few wader species were present with a few Turnstone and Sanderling.  In the surf scattered Goldeneye, Merganser and Great Crested Grebe were present but sadly only a few female Common Scoter.

Along the coast we had to stop to scope the 4500 Pink-footed Geese and 2 Buzzard at Brancaster Staithe. The geese allowed us to watch them from a gap in the hedge, the only other goose species in the field was a Brent.  As we drove on  a trio of Egyptian Geese were seen near the windmill.


A stop at an advantage point overlooking Burnham Overy/Holkham dunes revealed at least three Red Kite, 2 Buzzard, 6 Marsh Harrier and best of all 2 Rough-legged Buzzard. One of these Arctic wanderers demonstrated its hovering hunting technique. On the marshes flocks of Greylag and Brent Goose had c60 White-fronted Geese among them. A couple of Mistle Thrush were also noted.


Next stop was Wells next the Sea and first bird a first winter Shag roosting on the quay, a couple of Little Grebe fished nearby, one visiting birder speculating that these were responsible for the reports of Red-necked Grebe over the last couple of days. Out over the saltmarsh a female (ringtail) Hen Harrier hunted with a fly through male that headed inland. A couple of Marsh Harrier were also seen. A male Sparrowhawk was on sentry duty near the quay and showed in the bright sunshine eventually a large flock of noisy Brent Geese arrived.


On scoping through the flock one really stood out, a big, robust and very black plumaged bird with a well marked throat slash was studied, in the strong sunshine a neck sock was just discernable from the mantle so it may have been an intergrade with Dark-bellied Brent or a genuine Black Brant.



Wells next the Sea Brents

Wells next the Sea Brent flock

Marsh Harrier, Holkham

Marsh Harriers were constant companions


The day was drawing to a close so were relocated to Warham Greens  for some dusk birding. It was pretty good, three male Hen Harrier (in same scope view), a ringtail female, 2 dashing Merlin and 2 more Marsh Harrier rounded off the day in style.


24 January 2015


A post breakfast seawatch was abandoned quickly at Hunstanton as the cold, eye watering wind was coming in off the sea. Changing venue to Brancaster met with one small problem, the tide had flooded the access road so we walked the bank to the beach. Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher fed on the golf driving range, on the sea 20 Goldeneye, a few Red-throated Diver included a closer bird. Small parties of Common Scoter (3,4), Red-breasted Merganser and Great Crested Grebe were all seen.


A drive inland to search for geese was unsuccessful but a Bullfinch and a Grey Partridge were found near Choseley, scores of Red-legged Partridge and c40 Brown Hare were present. Another brief stop at Hunstanton beach to look for Waxwing was not rewarded by the crested wanderers but Turnstone and Ringed Plover were enjoyed between the groynes. We collected our non-Gloucestershire based team member’s car as we were heading back out of Norfolk that afternoon.


Our first stop was the Grimston Warren/Roydon Common area to search for the wintering Great Grey Shrike, a quiet but picturesque heath was eventually livened by the target masked predator. It gave us a number of views in the sunshine culminating in a flyover of our position. Moving on through Cambridgeshire we saw thousands of Fieldfare gathered over a large orchard as they feasted on the windfalls. Reaching Lincolnshire we drove along the drains that held Tufted Duck, one field held Golden Plover among the Lapwing. Our destination was Deeping Lakes LWT for late afternoon and from the hide we watched the roosting Long-eared Owl tucked up in the ivy, a few Goldeneye and four Goosander in the setting light. Many other wildfowl and wetland species were present on these pits.


We had reached the end of the trip with over 100 species of bird noted, lots of sunshine despite the cold wind and some memorable sightings.  A huge thanks to the group for good company, birding focus and such enthusiasm  that we did not notice it was winter.



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