The opening month of the year is always an exiting one for me! And it was with great excitement when 3 of the 'crew' from our last #TheMidlandersAreComing expedition exchanged plans to thrash the North Norfolk coastline. Any birders dream!
So, around 4am, the journey started from deepest Worcestershire, and having met the other 2 of our crew, Gert, Neil, Mike and me started burning up some rubber eastwards!
Our first destination was one of Royal stature, as we pulled into the small, country roads of the Sandringham Estate. Needless to say, the shady atmosphere was on heightened by a number of cars being parked at awkward angles on the verges and the regular slow drive pasts of a number of similarly shady looking vehicles, with many occupants gazing anxiously down the roads.
Our reasoning for being there on those country roads, surrounded on all sides by large rhododendrons was perhaps no less shady. We were in search of a glimpse of the gaudy Golden Pheasants which inhabit the area.
Having sat in the car for 30 minuites, the sun now up high in the sky, and with no sign of anything 'Golden' we decided to leave, as, if i am honest, the sight of lines of non-native hedgerow were boring us.
So we drove up to the coastal 'resort' town of Hunstanton, where there was significantly more in the way of wildlife!
Our arrival was greeted by thick fog, but from the car we spied 2 Dark-bellied Brent Goose on the beach, as well as Redshank and Bar-Tailed Godwit.Having found a suitable parking spot however, we walked the promenade north, where we were greeted by the presence of a stunning flock of around 150 Dark-belled Brent Goose, with their evocative call piercing through the fog!
From the far north end of the Promenade, we quickly found at least 5 Fulmar on and around the cliffs, but we quickly became distracted when the fog started to lift by the sea. Around 30 Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding at various points along the tideline, as were numerous Sanderling, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Turnstone. A single Ringed Plover flew past, and Dunlins were also moving through.
With the fog having now, we were able to scan the sea, and soon our list of ' desirble' birds was increasing. 20 RED-BREASTED MERGANSER were feeding offshore, as were a few Great-crested grebes. Good numbers of Teal and Wigeon were flying past distantly, and these included 4 Shoveler, a single Goosander and oddly, 2 Mute Swans! Certainly the latter i was not expecting on a seawatch!
Next up, it was further north east along the famous coast road. Holme Dunes.
On the pool immediately opposite the car park a Greenshank was feeding, a species i have never previously caught up with in January! The pool also hosted healthy numbers of Little Egrets, Redshank and a couple if Bar-tailed Godwits, with more on the tideline. A wisp of 4 Snipe flew over us and our first Grey Plovers of the day were feeding from the wet sand.
Hundreds of ducks and geese were feeding in the fields behind the beach, mostly comprising of Wigeon and Teal. The Greylag flock held a single Pink-footed goose, but my main highlight was getting decent views of at least 3 MARSH HARRIER, including one pristine, stunning male! In my opinion, Marsh Harrier are one of the best breeding birds we have in Britain, and i still always get that moment of excitement when i pan onto one!
Bring on the day they're breeding in the midlands!
A single Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and a fly through Peregrine completed the bird of prey list for the site!
Next it was onto the site of our first twitch. Burnham Ovary, where a certain Buzzard was currently in residence. It felt somewhat blasphemous driving past Titchwell RSPB without stopping, but our plan was to take shape!
Our scanning for Buzzards was fruitless, with only 4 Commons seen, but it was more than made up for by 2 stunning RED KITE which drifted in and hunted over 'Gun hill'. In common with the aforemented Harrier, Red Kite must go down as one of the most graceful birds to watch, gracefully swaying its tail from side to side to adjust its trajectory as it sweeps low over open fields, and this time having a backdrop of the North Sea!
A single Barnacle Goose was feeding in the fields, as was a large flock of Brent goose,but with time wearing away, and with their being no sign of our main target, we took a unanimous decision to head inland.
A long staying party of PARROT CROSSBILLS have taken up residence in a wood just on the edge of Holt country park. However, before we had gotten to far from Burnham we drove past Holkham, where we managed to 'tick' Egyptian Goose for the day without even slowing the car!
With some excellent map reading skills from Mike, we arrived at the location of Edgefield woods without any problem!
A short walk later and a small crowd appeared staring into the tops of pine tree's. It took a matter of a few seconds to realise where the birds were, and soon after, we were all getting decent, if often obstructed views of 4 PARROT CROSSBILL as they fed in the tops of the tree's
They really were quite a pain to get a decent view of! Looking almost vertically to see a bird jump from one branch to another! Occasionally however, the birds would appear in the open, showing off their massive bulk, which, even though there were non for direct comparison obviously dwarfed Common Crossbill (2 flew over calling)
Having all been satisfied with this life tick, and having got decent views, it was time to head off again. We had to pay homage to the Norfolk birding gods.
Titchwell here we come!
We rushed straight to the beach, which was sadly looking very different to the last time i was here! The recent tidal surge had all but destroyed the dunes, so much so that it is not an exaggeration to say there were non! The power of the sea!
Luckilly however, the surge did not damage the main reserve, unlike the fate of many other reserves along the coast.
The sea was practically dead. Around 100 Common Scoter could be seen offshore, and 30 Goldeneye in nice and close, but otherwhys it was painfully hard going.
We started walking back towards the Parrinder hide, birding as we went, and the birding soon picked up! A good selection of waders were present, including Oystercatcher, Avocet, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlews and a very good sized flock of Ruff (28!). A single Knot joined the Lapwings on the freshmarsh briefly, but nothing could prepare us for the next 10 minutes.
We were guided onto a female SCAUP, and soon after one of our group picked out a nice 1st winter MEDITERRANEAN GULL on the islands.
Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed looking back towards the south, when all of a sudden, the hide was lashed by horizontal rain!
In the distance, a huge flock of around 6000 Pink-footed Goose battled past as the storm grew ever worse, and it was only a few seconds before the first lightening bolt struck the floor, illuminating 9 roosting Marsh Harriers as they were spooked from the reedbed.
It was surreal to be watching these gorgeous Raptors battling against the wind and rain, and to often share the same field of view as a lightening bolt striking the floor, a memory that I'm sure will stay with me for a long time! Absolutely amazing!
However, just as quick as it arrived, the storm had moved east, and we were again treated to gorgeous clear weather, and a stunning sunset.
Stunning isn't it,
Look at those stripes on that hat!
If you would prefer a version without the addition of a 'Suited birder', see the additional option below.
It didn't end there, we moved down the track slightly, to where the reedbed joins the path, and we stopped and scanned. And its a good job we did, as soon after, our model from the above photo was calling out the presence of a stunning ringtail HEN HARRIER! In the fading light, its pale rump patch stood out like a beacon, and as we watching this gorgeous, rare, and sadly persecuted bird of prey, a BARN OWL flew across and started hunting in the same field of view!
This is what Norfolk is about folks!
What a way to end the day!
With the sun now set, a cheeky Suffolk cider in a nearby Thornham pub finished the day off nicely. 98 species, great company, and great location. That's what birding is about!