Trip reports

Titchwell Marsh RSPB, Coach Trip, 19 Feb 2017 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Titchwell Marsh RSPB, Coach Trip, 19 Feb 2017 
 
With "recent sightings" for many of our favorite birding venues being posted on the internet weekly, or even daily, it is almost inevitable that our expectations might be raised to dangerous levels as we embark on a visit. In the week before our arrival at Titchwell very large numbers of duck had been seen on the sea every day and, as the "leader", who wants to make sure that people see as many different birds as possible, I did worry that they might all have taken flight before we got there.As it turned out I needn't have worried because with our boots on the sandy beach, with a light breeze and with the sun behind us, we could immediately see large rafts of black ducks floating on a reasonably calm sea. I can honestly say that I have never had such good views of so many sea ducks and quite soon we were picking out the velvet scoters, with white flashes on their flanks, among the many plain black common scoters, the females of which were obvious with their lighter brown heads and necks. Once I had got over the sheer numbers of birds in front of us I started to see some small groups of different ducks with distinctively patterned light and dark plumage that could only be long tailed duck, another species highlighted in recent reports. A few goldeneye were spotted, singly and in small flocks, and eventually a pair of red-breasted mergansers put in an appearance, swimming quite quickly, making them a bit difficult to pick up with a scope. Strangely with the intense activity on the sea the waterline was virtually bird-free with only a turnstone, sanderling and the usual tame black-headed gull that walked up to us looking for a free meal. After what must have been my longest session on the beach for a good few years a move was made towards the Parinder hides with thoughts of lunch, but as we approached golden plover and lapwing filled the sky in panic as a peregrine circled quite low, presumably intent on finding itself a feathery midday snack. With the thwarted falcon heading towards the sea the birds settled down, as we did with our sandwiches, but it's very difficult to concentrate on cheese and pickle when something new is spotted and quite soon I was focusing on knot, dunlin and grey plover feeding side by side giving an excellent opportunity to compare size, shape and the very important combination of individual characteristics known as jizz. The bill sizes of the birds make them quite easy to sort out at close range but at a distance the very distinctive way the plover moves a few paces before standing stock-still goes a long way to separating it from the others. We had seen a few black tailed godwits earlier (plain grey/brown backs) but a distant bird with a bad limp turned out to be a bar-tailed godwit (streaky black back) and having appreciated the glorious fresh plumage of teal and shelduck in the afternoon sunshine from the Parinder (north) we popped into Parinder (south) where the aforementioned golden plover and lapwing kept largely to their own islands - birds of a feather! Here we were looking into the sun, so many birds were silhouettes, but we could see plenty of brent, greylag and Canada geese, plus avocet, shoveler, gadwall etc. Back on the path we noticed that one of the small islands in the freshwater marsh had great black-backed, lesser black-backed, black headed and common gulls all within a couple of metres making another good I.D. comparison opportunity. The total number of species claimed by the group for the day was 92 so I have only scratched the surface of Titchwell here. There were a good many marsh harriers about, mainly distant over the reed bed, a water rail that some managed to see before it disappeared into thin air, and brambling that turned up on the feeders with the more common green, gold and chaffinches at both the beginning and end of our day. The photographers among us would have had some good opportunities and I think a barn owl probably put a smile on at least some of their faces as they reviewed their shots on the journey home.