England, Norfolk - A winter's twitch - 25th to 27th November 2006

Published by Mick Sveikutis (Micksway123 AT aol.com)

Participants: Mick and Tina Sway

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Having never previously birded in East Anglia, in late autumn, we decided to head off to North Norfolk for a birding weekend. This area of England is seen by many, to be the birding Mecca of England. It hosts several large reserves/conservation areas including :the RSPB’s Snettisham and Titchwell, reserves at NOA Holme Dunes and NWT Cley, all within a twenty mile radius. In addition there are noted birding spots like Gypsy Lane, Salthouse and Choseley Barns, all with a reputation for harboring rare migrants. It’s also worth saying that if you want a guarantee of watching Marsh Harriers , this is the place to be.

On the Saturday 25th Nov, it bucketed down with rain right from the off leaving Biddulph at 08.00 am, until we arrived at RSPB Titchwell at about 12.30. We headed off down the beach path in light rain and with heavy overcast skies, although the air felt mild it was extremely windy. At the beach the tide was way out, however by the decking at the observation point sanderling, oystercatcher and turnstone shuffled amongst the razor shells. A large raft of common scoters bobbed about on a choppy grey sea. Large numbers of ducks were on the lagoons, including northern shoveler, pintail, teal, wigeon and mallard. Small number of avocet, crested and little grebe were also present along with coot, cormorant, moor hen, grey heron, grey plover, lapwing, common and spotted redshank, black headed and herring gulls. Brent, grey lag geese and a little egret were in the fields. A number of jackdaw were also visible in the fields.

On Sunday 26th Nov we rose early to twitch a little auk and shore larks at Snettisham RSPB. At the car park a sparrow hawk flew from a fence post and on the lagoon path (opposite the chalets) a mixed flock of redwing and fieldfare flew into the hawthorns to feed on the berries and a little egret was in the water. Large numbers of grey lag geese and a couple of Egyptian were present in the fields. The shore larks proved elusive until we were walking back north along the coastal path, when they lighted to forage in the scrub on the shingle. The goldeneye and little gull seen here are also worth a mention. Snettisham is noted for its large winter flocks of wading birds which include black tailed and bar tailed godwit, knot, dunlin, sanderling, turnstone, shelduck, curlew, gulls, grey and golden plover. Again the weather was windy but after a threatening grey start it remained sunny all day. In the afternoon we headed of to Salthouse hoping to see snow buntings. Driving along the coastal road pheasant, curlew, grey and red legged partridge were grazing in the fields.

At Salthouse amongst the shingle sea wall, we were soon rewarded with goods views of a small flock snow bunting , which unfortunately were not allowed to settle for long, being frequently disturbed by people walking their dogs. Then it was on to the adjacent Cley reserve, for marsh harriers where a circling pair of a male and female, put up a large flock of roosting knot, which never returned whilst we were there. A sparrow hawk flew across the reserve lagoon, sending up quite a number of ducks in it’s wake. Unfortunately we ran out of time and had to dip on the white rumped sandpiper which was reputedly there. It was now 16.00 and a cetti’s warbler sang at the car park heralding a beautiful winter sunset, so it was off back to the B ‘n B at Docking for a restful night.

On Monday 27th November we decided to return to Salthouse for a spot of sea watching. The morning was again windy, grey and overcast , brightening up as we made our way some 15 miles further south, down the coast. As we passed through Burnham Overy Staithe, a kestrel rested on a telegraph pole and another hovered over a field. And on the landward side hundreds of pink footed geese chose to set down en mass, in a ploughed field.Looking towards the salt marsh a large flock of lapwing took flight. Standing on the sea wall we saw, foraging in the sea holly on the bank sides, were occasional linnet, goldfinch and meadow pipit. In the pools there were teal, shelduck, redshank, oystercatcher and black headed gulls. Setting up the scope looking out to sea Tina quickly spotted a single guillemot near by, though a few more scudded across the horizon in the grey sea against a greyer morning sky. Further out a couple of first winter black backed gulls squabbled. Bobbing out to sea were two red throated divers and a single black throated diver. Unfortunately there was no further sign of the snow buntings, however a dozen pied wagtails flitted about.

Lunchtime soon overtook us, so we decided it best to head off back to the Staffordshire Moorlands, but not before taking in Titchwell and a bite to eat first. As we drove on large numbers of geese continued to appear overhaed in “v” formations as the day continued to brighten up. At Titchwell the temperature was about 15c bright and sunny, bringing out the flies and gnats.On the feeders were large numbers of tits, blackbird, green and chaffinch, sparrows, robin, blackbird and dunnock. Stonechat and brambling had also been reported that morning, however we dipped on those. There was still plenty of water fowl about, however the only new additions to our tally of birds seen, were garganey, snipe, reed bunting and a single bearded tit, which three other birders kindly put us on to.

At that we scoffed our RSPB Christmas muffins, paid our usual homage at the gift shop and made off for home just as the sun was going down.

It has to be said that Norfolk never fails to turn up something unusual. The snow buntings, auk, divers and shore larks made it one of our best ever visits, well worth the trip after the bad weather on Saturday made it a disappointing start.