This is my first pure birding blog, which maybe reflects the huge increase in the amount of birding I’ve been doing recently. I justify this birding from an all-round naturalists perspective by making sure to find a few new bryophytes or invertebrates along the way!
So today myself, Toby and my Dad decided to bird the North Norfolk coast in order to cash in on the recent quantity of good birds there. First stop was RSPB Titchwell, which has seen amazing counts of sea ducks recently. The first good bird was a female Brambling on the feeders by the visitor centre, a very good bird for Pembrokeshire-based Toby, and my first of the winter so far. On the way out to sea, I saw a lone gull on the marsh. It was close, and looked by eye to be a Yellow-legged Gull. It was, and a textbook adult bird at that! Long wings, dark mantle, heavy bill, clean white head and red orbital ring! (It had bright yellow legs too, when it briefly stood up). Phone-scope:
On the next marsh closest to the sea we had 3 Spotted Redshank, and a Water Rail swimming across right next to the bank.
As we approached the beach, I could see a small crowd of bescoped birders looking out to sea. This was promising! We got to the beach, and it did not disappoint. 40 Long-tailed Duck (including a stonking male), 10 Velvet Scoter, 10 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Scaup, hundreds of Common Scoter, tens of Goldeneye and a smattering of Great Crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers! Long-tailed Duck was a long overdue lifer for me! There were also Sanderling and Knot amongst a hoard of waders on the beach. Long-tailed Duck, record shot:
The next site to visit was Holkham Gap, hoping for Shore Larks (a lifer for all of us!). After a little while walking the saltmarsh, the only birds we’d managed to flush were Meadow Pipits and Linnets, by the hundred. Luckily, I spoke to a few local birders who pointed us in the right direction. Five minutes later, Dad called out that he’d seen some Shore Lark-like birds skulking in the dead sea lavender. We walked a little closer, and up flew 13 Shore Larks! Photo courtesy of Toby Phelps, hence it isn’t a phone-scope for once.
As we followed the flock, they flew up again, and were joined by a further 12 birds. 25 Shore Larks! After a little while appreciating the Shore Larks on the floor, we headed back across the marsh. A small flock of 8 Brent Geese flew onto the marsh next to us. “Could be a Black Brant in there” said Toby (there was one reported at Holkham Gap a few days before) shortly followed by “There, I’ve got it!”. The Dark overall colour, large white flash on the flank and very distinct white neck ring were definitive. It was an Asian/Siberian bird, so the back wasn’t as dark as an American bird would be. Photos are Toby’s again, bird is second from the right in the top photo, and central with its head up in the bottom.
As we walked further back through the marsh, we flushed yet another flock of Shore Larks, this time numbering 20 birds. That brought the total to 45 Shore Larks!
The final place to visit was Cley Marshes, where we hoped for Caspian Gulls or White-wingers (Iceland or Glaucous Gulls) in the roost. From the hide, we had excellent views of Marsh Harriers, causing every bird on the marsh to fly up. The Golden Plovers eventually spiralled back down from above, bringing with them 21 Ruff. The few Gulls which had settled in the usual roost spot had been scared onto an adjacent pool, behind a reedbed! It was too far to walk round and view the pool before darkness fell, so we had to watch as the Gulls filtered out of the sky, and out of sight for good. No Gulls for us!
The day ended with another Water Rail swimming across in front of the hide, and hundreds of Brent Geese flying in V-formations across the grey, wintery skies. Stunning!