Trip reports

East Yorkshire Group's Trip to Norfolk

Male bearded tit perching on Phragmites

Friday, 7 December 2007

A nice idea but how to organise such a trip for the Group? This was the first holiday I had organised for the Group so I was a little nervous when we set out from Driffield at 8.30 am on the 19th October. Nineteen of us embarked on a mini adventure. I had deliberately aimed to spend as much time as possible on as few sites as possible, while still giving a flavour of the Norfolk coast, so our first destination, after a brief stop at Horncastle and a longer break in Gedney, was the RSPB reserve at Snettisham. You access the reserve from the anglers' car park, which involves a bit of a walk besides angling ponds and scrubby grassland before reaching the embankment which over looks the Wash. During this walk a small flock of fieldfare and redwing suggested a few autumn visitors had arrived. The tide was a long way out, as it often is on the Wash, and proceeded to go out even further during our visit. The first impression was of emptiness but that was not the case. The banks of a creek were lined with mallard, that distant patch of stones was really a flock of golden plover, the line of grey on the far horizon hundreds of knot. Closer to, curlew, grey plover and dunlin probed in the soft wet mud.

On the landward side of the embankment is a long narrow lagoon overlooked by three hides although we only had time to visit the nearest. During high tide this can be packed with roosting waders. Today it held a large flock of wigeon and lots of pairs of little grebe. We also got excellent views of two little egret, a bird which would feature at every site we visited. Although there were greylag and Canada geese on the lagoons, a passing skein of over 80 pink-footed geese was just a hint of the numbers we were to see later in the weekend. The walk back to the car park revealed our first stonechat, a bird we would see regularly. We spent 3 and a half hours at Snettisham but still arrived at our hotel for 5pm which allowed plenty of time to settle in before our evening meal at 7pm which was followed by a run through the tick list and bed.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Our morning visit was to Holkham for a walk through the woods and a look over the wetlands. We arrived relatively early and were able to get into the woods while few other visitors were about. We quickly, although not easily, picked up a few flocks of tits, mainly long-tailed and blue while most of us also got to see the treecreeper which showed briefly. Fewer got onto the green woodpecker when it flew over the path or the song thrush which was the only one to be seen all holiday. At the first hide, and with excellent views over the wet grazing meadows, we absorbed the numbers of the wildfowl. A small pond near the hide held the expected gadwall and mallard while the open fields attracted a few lapwing and curlew and a few hundred wigeon and pink-footed geese. We had already seen flocks of pink-feet in the fields on the way down, and were to see numerous skeins during the weekend but to see so many, and to hear that distinctive call is exciting. We also enjoyed the hunting forays of a marsh harrier before Margaret Boyd's attention was drawn to a black and white bird which flew in with one of the skeins. It had a black bum, white body, black neck and head and a long downcurved beak. It was a sacred ibis, which some of our party were familiar with from Europe and Africa. Even in a flock of a few hundred geese it could be followed easily, especially as all the geese were walking to the right and it insisted on heading left. Everyone got good views. Margaret was elated with her find. It's just a pity that it appears to have been an escapee.

After having lunch on the coach, we moved to Cley Marshes, the impressive Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve with a brand new visitor centre. We did the full circuit, starting by heading east them north to the single ridge. At the heart of Cley is an impressive reedbed fringing shallow pools. The walk along the east embankment gives views over this reedbed. We hoped to hear, and possibly see, bearded tit but we found only one. We did however hear the explosive call of a Cetti's Warbler. Unfortunately it called only twice and we never saw it.

For the first time we began to see Brent and Egyptian Geese and a wider selection of waders including avocet, ruff, redshank and three fine, winter plumaged, spotted redshank. A new hide has been erected beneath the seaward shingle embankment giving views over the pools there. After leaving this hide we saw both summer and winter on the move with a departing wheatear and a recently arrived brambling which was feeding on the ground. It showed very well enabling everyone to see the grey head, orange wing markings and deeper, richer orange of the chest than is seen with chaffinch.

On returning to Cley village we popped into the three hides in the centre of the reedbed with the intention of checking the waders and wildfowl on the pools. However, much of our time was spent listening to and searching for another Cetti's in the bushes between the hides. In little more than a single willow tree it was extremely difficult to find. I think Margaret Thornton may have been the only person to get acceptable views. Although we enjoyed good views of three marsh harriers and heard water rail, we missed out on the bitterns.

Another clear, bright and cool morning dawned on Sunday for our last visit of the weekend. Leaving the best till last we were able to spend over four hours at Titchwell March, one of the RSPB's best known, and most popular reserves. We started with a brief walk to the reedbed hide behind the car park and saw flocks of greenfinch, goldfinch and siskin, while the skies were constantly crossed by small flocks of fieldfare, redwing, brambling and starling all heading west, more birds fresh in from the continent.

The path from the centre to the beach overlooks reedbed on one side and saltmarsh on the other and added yet more waders and wildfowl. We had our first good counts of tufted duck and pochard on the deeper water and more black-tailed godwit, lapwing and golden plover. The curlew, snipe and little egrets favoured the saltmarsh where a search for a reported Jack snipe proved fruitless. On one of the pools we picked out a little stint in a small flock of dunlin, allowing comparisons of size, shape and markings. On the beach we added sanderling and bar-tailed godwit to our tally, while sea watching also produced distant eider, great crested grebe and guillemot and razorbill.

As people drifted back onto the reserve at their own pace, we tried again to get bearded tit. The habitat is perfect but they can be so awkward, refusing to show. Everyone will have heard the pinging calls but not everyone saw the group of four which flitted above the reeds beside and then beyond one of the hides. Titchwell lived up to its billing as one of the best sites in Norfolk. I recorded 76 species on the reserve. In all we recorded 99 species (the ibis stays on the list) over the two days. I intend bringing the Group back to Norfolk regularly, possibly incorporating a later visit to Welney to see the wintering swans. Next winter however we are off to Lancashire.

My thanks to Manor Travel and John Faulkner for an excellent drive throughout the holiday and to the Burleigh Manor Hotel and the Gate Lodge Hotel for making us welcome with excellent accommodation and delicious meals. I hope to use these hotels again when we return to Norfolk. My thanks also to everyone who joined this brief tour of Norfolk, I hope you all enjoyed the holiday.

David Woodmansey