Saturday, 30 November 2019

Fantastic winter birding

North Norfolk is a great place for birding in the winter months and at the moment it's particularly decent. Unfortunately, with the short winter days, it's impossible to see everything you want to see, however on Sunday 24/11 joined by birding mate Dylan, we gave it a good go!

It was an early start, leaving Brackley just before 6am, however at least it meant we got the most out of our day. After umming and ahhing as to where to start, we decided on Thornham to look for Twite, raptors and hopefully the Glossy Ibis that had been about for the previous few days.

It was a murky old day as we arrived and made our way up through the car park. We paused for a scan across towards Titchwell. A ringtail Hen Harrier soon appeared, hunting low over the vast expanse of saltmarsh, together with a cream-crown Marsh Harrier. A couple of Rock Pipit were generally about as they usually are here, together with the standard array of waders and wildfowl. A great start!

Over then a short way W of the car park where a small flood was still holding the Glossy Ibis which gave great views not too far from the path a it wandered about in the company of a few Redshank. Nice to see as I haven't seen one for a good few years. A scan of a nearby flock of Greylags produced several Pink foots & a lone White-Fronted Goose too.

We carried on east, pausing at Burnham Overy to check the channel there for divers without thinking that the tide was out - duh! Anyways, good views of Grey & Ringed Plovers had.

We next had a good scan of Burnham Overy Marshes from beside the A149 which proved really fruitful, with c10 White-Fronted Geese, c10 Barnacle Geese, the long-staying 8 Cattle Egrets, a couple of Great White Egret as well as quite a few Pinkfoots, several Brent Geese and 2 Egyptian Geese. A proper goose-fest!

Holkham was to be our next proper stop and having parked up at Lady Anne's Drive, we trudged off towards the eastern side of Holkham Gap to look for Shore Larks and Snow Buntings. It wasn't long before we picked up 40 or so 'busy' Snow Buntings feeding and flitting about. The Shore Larks were far less conspicuous, however these were soon pointed out to us and we stood and enjoyed them for a while too. Both the larks and buntings were in the roped off area that is proving to be a great success, providing some food rich, undisturbed habitat for these rare visitors, away from the crowds of dogwalkers that tend to flock to Holkham Gap.

The Sea off Holkham Gap has been quite good lately, as it often is in winter. Having trudged through the channel running across the beach, we set up for a scan. In no time I picked up 3 female / 1st-winter Velvet Scoters in flight amongst 100s of Common Scoters about. Dylan also picked up a female Long-Tailed Duck soon after too. A more distant Red Necked Grebe then came into view, as well as a group of 3 Slavonian Grebe, 2 Red-Throated Diver and 3 Red-Breasted Merganser. A right good haul in for half an hours scan!

Time was pressing so we made our way back to the car. Before we set off for Cley, we paused to enjoy a confiding group of Grey Partridge and Brent Geese super close to Lady's Anne's.

En route to Cley, we dropped in just W of Wells to see if the Rough-Legged Buzzard of recent days was about. Thankfully straight away it was on view, perched up in a bush, not really doing very much! It did fly down to try and catch something from the deck, before returning to the bush to preen - showing off it's distinctive white-banded tail in the process. After we'd soaked up this for a bit for carried on our journey E, very satisfied with yet another great bird! 

At Holkham, there was brief suggestions of sun, however by the time we got to Cley is was thoroughly gloomy again as we walked up the East bank. I had heard that one or two Water Pipit had been seen along here recently on and off. We caught sight of a possible amongst the wet, grassy edges of some flood a little way along, however closely scrutiny appeared to suggest this was in fact a Littoralis Rock Pipit. However, just as we were about to carry on up the path, a second pipit appeared in the same area and this was a real deal Water Pipit, with paler underparts, a nice distinct super and faint but noticable wing bars. I was chuffed as it's not a species I get to see very often. A great bonus!

The main reason for making our way along here was to see the long-staying Isabelline Wheatear that had taken up residence in the area at the NE end of Arnold's Marsh. I had seen the Burnham Overy bird back in 2016, however the views were distant and brief, so I was looking forward to taking better views and appreciate all the discernible features.

It was soon pointed out to us and after initially being fairly static and distant, it came far closer to the area around a gate, which had been laced with meal worms. Now usually I'm not too sure how I feel about feeding migrant birds mealworms, however on this occasion it may actually have saved the bird's life, having at one point looked to be on it's last legs.

It looked to be that we wouldn't be able to make it anywhere else before the light gave out, so we took our time enjoying the Wheatear and the array of birds on Arnold's Marsh including good numbers of Curlew and Dunlin. The cloud had cleared a bit by then to reveal a fantastic golden sunset.

The day from crowned with 6+ Marsh Harriers cruising around the reedbeds, followed by the amazing sight of some 2,000 Pinkfoots overhead, coming in from the east, into the reserve pools to roost. Incredible end to a seriously good days birding!

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