At last, the morning of December 9th had dawned. 05.40 saw me picking up Andy Smith and Dave Wright from Thornton. Blackbird calling started us off on to was to be simply the best winter birding I think any of us have ever had. We collected Rob Gill at 06.00 from Leicester and off we went.
In no time at all we arrived at Cantley. The smoke from the beet factory could be seen long before we arrived in the village. We parked up and wandered down what we thought was the right footpath picking up Egyptian Goose, Wigeon, Canada Goose and Marsh Harrier. Andy saw two birds in the field, shortly followed by two more, which soon materialised into Bean Geese (after several other incarnations). Apparently these birds were usually very distant and vary wary. These however were pretty close and seemed quite happy. If the truth be known we were expecting more birds but we found out later that the flock this year only numbered some 30 birds, so in hindsight we shouldn’t be too disappointed.
After Cantley we moved to Great Yarmouth sea front in search of the Mediterranean Gulls which frequented the area between the two piers during the winter months. It was a place that none of us had visited previously. Almost the first bird I saw was a full adult Med Gull. Fabulous! We watched somewhere in the region of 25 Med Gulls, mostly adults but with some juveniles, coming to bread. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen this bird and I had forgotten how smart they were. They outnumbered the other gulls by a country mile and were a fabulous sight. A number of the birds were ringed and as the token ringer in the group Andy detailed these and we should find out their origin in due course. We had a few other things at Yarmouth. Red Throated Diver out at sea, Ringed Plover and a huge flock of 1500 Dunlin.
Next stop Hickling Broad. We arrived a little too early for the roost but too late to try anywhere else so decided to have a wander around the reserve. I have to say that although we didn’t see an awful lot on the reserve it really is a fabulous place and would love to do some moth trapping there in the summer months. Somebody had seen two Cranes in a field so we wandered off in search of them. The list stood at 49 so these would obviously be a cracking 50th. Sadly we didn’t see them but Andy found us a Stonechat for the 50th bird.
The roost at Hickling is at a disused mill (Stubb Mill) and is about three quarters of a mile down a track where you then reach a raised bank looking out over part of the broad. The area was ‘alive’ with Marsh Harrier. There were half a dozen or so around when we arrived but I think in total there were approaching 20. As Andy rightly pointed out not many years ago this would have been the entire UK population and made for a fantastic sight. We added Kingfisher here also, then, quite early on two adult Cranes came across in front of us showing really, really well. We didn’t manage Hen Harrier or Merlin but had fleeting views of Barn Owl and a fly by Sparrowhawk. Andy found 6 Redpoll also. The escaped Harris Hawk was also present for its second year and made for an odd sight amongst the Marsh Harriers. We then had a couple of small groups of Crane settling into roost followed by a 20 odd in one flock which amounted to 33 birds (although we think there may have been a couple more) which apparently is the entire population of East Anglia, Brilliant birding. We then decamped to the Greyhound pub in Hickling Village. Fabulous beer, open fire and we spent half an hour watching the football results roll in and Leicester won away at Wolves with a last minute goal. It doesn’t get any better than this, does it?
Sunday brought us quite a good ground frost and a more than adequate breakfast. A look out to sea gave us another Red Throated Diver and a Turnstone. First stop was Holkham, but we pulled over at Salthouse for Brent Geese, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Teal and a few other bits.
This year there are apparently 100,000 Pink Footed Geese wintering at Holkham, which is truly incredible. The UK holds a ridiculously high proportion of the world’s population during the winter months but this was obviously a bumper year. The two Lesser Snow Geese had been seen from the hide first thing in the morning so we headed there first. Occasionally the flocks got up and what a sight and sound. We don’t think that the entire flock were there but there must have been upwards of 50,000, mind blowing. No luck with the Snow Geese but we did get a small flock of White Fronted Geese on the eastern side of the drive, so we then headed off to the gap for Shore Lark and Snow Bunting. We managed a flock of fabulous looking Shore Lark and 20 plus Snow Buntings including some fine looking males. We got chatting to a chap who had seen the Snow Geese about an hour previous which gave us fresh hope. We looked again from Lady Anne’s Drive, nothing. We decided to head for the road to try from there. A Barnacle Goose (obviously wild!) was an unexpected surprise. Then Rob found the white morph Snow Goose – or so we thought. In hindsight though something didn’t seem quite right and we have to concede that it may have been the hybrid Pink Foot x Ross’s Goose.
We had decided to call in at Brancaster which apparently holds massive numbers of wintering Long-tailed Duck. No luck with these but we had lots of Common Scoter, Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser, Little Egret by the car park and a handful of Kittiwake out to sea.
Titchwell was the final port of call. A few bits and bobs had been seen during the day and we headed down to the sea for, well, not a lot. Bar-tailed Godwit was new and we had hundreds of Common Scoter (mainly females)
We did add a few other things at the reserve. Spotted Redshank, Pintail, Avocet and three cracking Bearded Tits. One male and two females feeding on reed very close to the path giving us the best views we’d ever had of this bird. A Water Rail was apparently in the vegetation right under our feet but failed to show itself. Rob had a flock of Greylag Geese to add to the Goose Fest tally.
Pink Footed Goose
White Fronted Goose
Red Breasted Merganser
Red Legged Partridge
Red Throated Diver
Great Crested Grebe
Black Tailed Godwit
Bar Tailed Godwit
Black Headed Gull
Lesser Black Backed Gull
Great Black Backed Gull
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Long Tailed Tit