Ruddy Turnstone at Salthouse
Our party of six set off for Norfolk early morning arriving in the county a few hours later, our first stop, Cley next the Sea. We made a short stop at the Cricket Marsh at Cley NWT, Brent Geese being the attraction, searching through the flock Dark-bellied Brent soon revealed a Light (or Pale) bellied Brent but not the Black Brant (or Pacific Brent) that had been around. Other birds could be seen in the distance with Marsh Harrier being particularly obvious, a Stonechat used the telegraph post strainer wire as a handy lookout nearby.
A stop at the Cley NWT visitor centre allowed us to enjoy a hot drink and scan over the marshes. Lots of Wigeon and Teal were on the scrapes with three or more Marsh Harriers in sight at any one time. A walk along the East Bank to the sea followed stopping to scan for a Grey Phalarope that had been seen in the preceding days. Waders noted included parties of Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank. A gathering of gulls contained a first winter Caspian candidate. Seven Eider flew close inshore heading N along the beach, another flock of 13 followed on a bit later, the drakes looked superb.
Turning our attention to the beach shingle it didn’t take long to locate a flock of 43 Snow Buntings, in flight they were very much a blizzard in the blustery wind. Flocks of Wigeon, Brent and Teal also ploughed through into the head wind, no doubt heading for favoured wintering areas. A few Common Scoter, a Gannet and distant divers also passed by. A scan over the marshes gave us a flock of Ruff but these and the other birds present were very mobile.
We searched headed back to the visitor centre and carefully scanned the marshes from the viewpoint, fortunately, although distant I was able to locate the busy Grey Phalarope on Simmond’s Scrape as it manically fed among the other wetland birds. A couple of Little Stint were also picked out.
Finding ourselves back at the cricket marsh we once again tried our luck searching through the Brents, best bird was a Barn Owl that Chris spotted, it gave us sunset views with the famous windmill beyond, this rounded off the day nicely. We made our way back toward Hunstanton where we were to stay for the next two nights.
After breakfast we were on Hunstanton cliffs by 0920am watching the busy visible migration as 1000s of birds streamed down the Wash Coast. The majority were Starlings in their 1000s, Chaffinches in their 100s as well as Lapwing, Teal and Wigeon in over the sea. Lesser Redpoll, Brambling and Siskin were also seen. On the sea a Red-throated Diver or two, a few Great Crested Grebe, a Guillemot, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Scoter were added to the list. The local Fulmars put on a good show, no effort needed in their mastery of flight, the strong wind helped.
At Choseley Drying Barns we managed to locate Corn Buntings, flocks of Fieldfare, Blackbirds and Redwing and a flock of 400 Golden Plover but the Dotterel that was seen a couple of days before had clearly moved on.
At Titchwell RSPB the usual winter gathering of ducks were in evidence with large flocks of Golden Plover arriving on the fresh marsh, we headed straight to the sea to catch the top of the tide getting close views of two Bearded Tit and a Chinese Water Deer whilst on the way. It was a good move, two Long-tailed Duck fed close by with their characteristic long dives beginning with wings open in readiness to fly underwater. Another female flew in and landed a little further out. A Red-throated Diver gave good scope views, other species noted included Guillemot, 12 Common Scoter, 7 Red-breasted Merganser, 12+ Great Crested Grebe and a Slavonian Grebe.
The beach was busy with Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone. A Red Kite made a nice change from Marsh Harriers. As the tide dropped we watched waders on the saline scrapes as well as Little Grebes and a Little Egret fishing. Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Curlew were enjoyed. Back at the visitor centre we took a lunch break and watched Coal Tits on the feeders.
Black-tailed Godwit at Titchwell, RSPB
Burnham Overy was our next stop, Barnacle Geese were recorded as well as a handful of Pink-footed and small numbers of Greylag. Driving and stopping a bit further on added a Great White Egret. In the Harbour at Wells next the Sea we saw Brent Geese, Little Grebe and saw another hunting Barn Owl over the fields.
As we returned toward Hunstanton the plan was to call in at a few sites, first stop was a very quiet Land Anne’s Drive at Holkham, nothing of note other than the usual Egyptian Geese in the fields. A sort stop overlooking Burnham Overy again revealed a similar story. No sign of any large flocks of grey geese at all.
Our final sunset stop was at Thornham Harbour, a Barn Owl flew across the road but never stayed around for all to see. On the exposed seawall we realised and welcomed the fact that the wind had dropped, it was calm and still so we simply enjoyed the wildness of the area and the atmosphere.
We were greeted by another windy but sunny day, another session at Hunstanton cliffs we again used the seaside shelter as a windbreak but there wasn’t much happening on sea and no vis-mig to speak of. With the tide on the way we headed for Thornham Harbour again, Curlew, Redshank and Bar-tailed Godwits fed in the creeks as the water crept in. We located a flock of Twite in the saltmarsh, they obligingly lined up along the fence, 17 were counted before they made their way back to the saltmarsh seeds. Not wanting to be cut off by the tide we moved on leaving the many bird species of the area to carry on with feeding.
Twite at Thornham Harbour
A few short stops to scan in the same places as yesterday didn’t add anything new to species recorded so far so we ended up back at Cley next the Sea. The Brents flew off as we arrived so we went to the beach car park at Salthouse, a tame party of Turnstones waited for us on the shingle allowing close views and photographs. The sea was pretty wild and viewing difficult in the strong wind, a Gannet and Guillemot the pick of what we could actually seein the swell. A flock of 1000+ Pink-footed Geese fed on the hillside nearby.
Another go at locating the Black Brant ensued and this time successful, it gave itself up but not easily. The Snow Bunting flock were also feeding in the fields probably having had enough of the windy conditions.
Various options were mooted to finish up our day but as a group we plumped for a goose search inland, I drove what is normally a reliable route for Pink-feet but there were none, driving a long way inland near to Flitcham we got lucky, a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese were settled with more in the area. A careful scan revealed an orange legged Pink-foot and a smart Tundra Bean Goose that promptly sat down.
Nearby at Abbey Farm we added Grey Partridges, a Red Kite and Tree Sparrows as dusk set in, a decent finale as these species were ‘requested’.
Thank you to Bettie, Barbara, Chris, Anita and Ruth for joining me.