Above- (L) Snow Buntings over Cley Beach and (R) Lapland Bunting Blakeney Marsh
Below- Shore Larks in a sandstorm at Holme Dunes and the Pallid Harrier at Flitcham.
Below-Pallid and Hen Harrier at Flitcham
A small group gathered at Whitminster for a 0700 start out on the road, a bit of traffic slowed progress but we made it to the usual stop near Kettering and were soon seeing a few Red Kites on what turned out to be a very sunny day, in fact despite the gales on Friday and Saturday we recorded three near full days of sunshine. Our first port of call was at Downham Market, we saw flocks of Whooper Swans in fields prior to reaching the town and after leaving. The reason for taking this route was to visit the Serin that had been present during the week.
It was rather confusing actually finding the right spot but we eventually found the muddy, weedy mounds it had been visiting. Two small parties of people were present, one group of contractors who may have been involved in placing the mounds there originally and some birders/photographers, some of which had seen it drop into cover. We moved away from this spot, one or two of us heading for slightly higher ground to scan. Not long after the bird flew in over me (MJM) calling as it went and dropped behind us.
A careful shuffle and repositioning in two groups made sure that we could all see it at times, this small finch fed among the ground hugging plants. It was mostly a dull brownish individual but some yellowish feathering was appearing around the face. We were able to scope it for a prolonged period as it showed on and off, the mild winter perhaps responsible for this bird and others being seen during January.
Moving on we then made our way to another unusual and very popular wintering species at Flitcham. The target bird this time was a long staying juvenile Pallid Harrier. While we waited for it to show we were all distracted by a large flock of Chaffinches with good numbers of Brambling, Linnet and lower numbers of Tree Sparrow, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer. It was great to see plenty of Grey Partridge in the vicinity. Eventually a Hen Harrier appeared and gave a few fly-bys as it hunted, we moved to get a better view and waited. The Pallid Harrier finally decided to take flight and came up out of the stubble to join the Hen Harrier, both played on the breeze with interactions and allowed a brilliant opportunity to compare the two together.
The day was nearly done so we decided to stay local, a cruise around the Wolferton triangle gave up a spectacular if naturalised species, a male Golden Pheasant. Car views only as it was rather wary. Heading back south we headed to an area of heath to watch out for Hen Harriers. It wasn’t long before we were on to our first Barn Owl of the trip, it was followed by a pair of Stonechat and as the light faded..one, two, three, four and with the eventual arrival of a stunning male, five Hen Harriers. It was nearly dark so we went to our hotel for the night.
As forecast the day dawned with strong and strengthening winds, we made for Thornham and immediately got onto a flock of c25 Twite that fed on the ground near to us. This was as usual a good spot to start logging various wader and wildfowl, the first of many Brent and Pink-footed Geese were seen as well as Marsh Harriers. A bracing march to the Holme East dunes was rewarded with a party of three sandblasted Shore Larks on the beach. Hat’s off to this trio for getting on with it in 60+pmh winds.
The sea was rather quiet, a few Red-throated Diver in flight, a pair or two of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Sanderling so we headed back, it was tough going, three of the party forming a link and the ‘lads’ doing their best to be a windbreak at the rear. Quite a tiring walk back with a Reed Bunting or two but too difficult to use optics effectively. Our next stop was a bit more sheltered and provided a good list of birds. Titchwell RSPB gave us the following highlights..two very brief Water Pipit on the way out to the sea. On the sea were 120 Common Scoter with two female Velvet Scoters, a male flew past West, a male Goosander, two or three Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Divers. Tunstones, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwits fed on the beach. On the scrapes we noted Little Grebes, many wildfowl species including a female Goldeneye, 29 Avocet, Knot, Ringed and Grey Plover, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, three Marsh Harriers. From the Parrinder hide a Snipe was close and a male Hen Harrier went through East. A female Brambling was on the feeders back at the visitor centre.
Nearby we searched the area around the Choseley Barns for either or both of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzards but the gale was not in our favour, we did see Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. Moving to Burnham Overy/Holkham we scanned the marshes and dunes and noted flocks of Brent and ‘Pinkfeet’ and 7 Barnacle Geese fed among them. In the distance a Barn owl hunted with 3 Marsh Harriers and 13 European White-fronted Geese were also located. At Lady Anne’s drive we listened and watched the large flocks of Wigeon and Pink-footed Geese as the sun set. Driving back a Woodcock flew over the road at Old Hunstanton.
Our last day saw us trying for the Rough-legged Buzzards again, the winds were a lot colder and we did not locate them hearing later that they were seen after we left. We parked at Blakeney on Sea and walked out to the freshmarsh passing Brent Geese and a male Stonechat along the way. We located up to 5 smashing Lapland Buntings among the Skylarks, Twites, Meadow and Rock Pipits spending time re-finding them over and over as this mixed flock were always on the move. On the way back we saw a Greenshank.
A brief stop at the NWT Cley Marshes visitor centre for a hot drink, snack and scan allowed us to locate where the Snow Bunting flock was to be found. A walk along the East bank to the beach shingle and we were watching a flock of 24 of these popular winter visitors as they fed near a breach. Other wetland species were to be found on the fresh water marshes but as we had reached the early afternoon period it was time to head back to Gloucestershire. A good run back with just the one stop was most welcome, the highlight was seeing 30+ Red Kite coming in to roost en-route. We arrived back by 6.30pm to conclude the trip.
Thank you to all who participated.