Trip reports

Norfolk Nomads

Adult whooper swans feeding in fields

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Norfolk Nomads
I was joined by nine group members for the 2016 holiday to Norfolk, our smallest ever group. Despite the small numbers it proved to be a very enjoyable trip. As has been the norm in recent trips to Norfolk the outward journey was broken by a visit to RSPB Snettisham Lagoons. Despite an enforced detour through the Norfolk countryside due to a major road incident at King's Lynn we still arrived at Snettisham by 12.30pm and, by prior arrangement, were able to access the car park with the barrier having been lifted specially for our coach. Although it remained dry during this walk the theme for the rest of the holiday was set with strong winds, today from the west. On this occasion the tide was out which, on The Wash, means a long way out so we did not see the spectacular mass flocks of Golden Plover, Knot and other waders for which The Wash is noted. We started what was to be a very good week with a flypast by three Spoonbills and we also found a Black-necked Grebe on the lagoons which were otherwise dominated by a few hundred Wigeon. The fishing lakes and surrounding fields held a few hundred each of Greylag and Canada Goose. On the mudflats was a single, and ever growing flock of over 300 Golden Plover, and over a hundred widely scattered Shelduck. We also saw our first Pink-footed Geese in the form of a passing skein of about 40 birds and also a handful of that local speciality the Egyptian Goose.
The second morning began with our longest drive of the holiday, to Cley Marshes. This was to be the worst day for the weather. The wind had moved into the north, heavy showers were repeatedly pushed in and massive waves were breaking over the sea defences. As a result we concentrated our efforts on the hides below the visitor centre, although that did not help when the wind drove the rain sideways through the windows. Cley is dominated by a massive reedbed broken by shallow pools. Again Wigeon were the commonest wildfowl although we saw more Teal than at Snettisham. With the exception of a small number of spectacular Pintail most of the other wildfowl and waders were seen in smaller numbers than yesterday. Between showers we walked out along the eastern bank of the reserve which gave elevated views over Cley's reedbeds and also across the new wetland area to the east. A shelter half way along this bank proved useful. It was while we were starting out on this walk that we became aware of a 'pinging' noise coming from within the reeds. At the edge of a pool we finally got good views of the callers, spectacular orange bodied Bearded Tits with a full blue faces and black moustaches. Most of the time they flitted over the reed and dropped out of sight but on the edge of this pool they clung to the reed stems and we were able to get excellent views.
After lunch we relocated to Holkham and walked west on the sheltered side of the woodland which is dominated by pines and holm oak on sand dunes. Being on the sheltered side we expected any small birds to be on this side, away from the wind but the first part of the walk was quiet. So was Washington hide where a few Greylag Geese and Curlew were the features of the fields which can hold hundreds of Pink-footed Geese. We were aware that two Great White Egrets had been seen from the further hide - Joe Jordan hide - so we headed in that direction. It was at this point that the group became spread out with three very keen individuals having headed off to find the Egrets. Realising that the group was fragmenting I paused at a clearing near a stand of holm oak and quickly became aware of some very high pitched calling. Nothing was showing but the calls sounded like those of Goldcrest. Then I thought I could also hear Long-tailed Tit but nothing was showing. Surely if this was a mobile flock of warblers and tits something must show. The calls were from a very small area of holm oak and eventually a bird showed itself. Small, dark green with a very strong orange crest and an eye stripe. And there were two of them. Not Goldcrests, but Firecrests. They were extremely difficult to get onto and follow. Just as busy as their relatives, this was brilliant view of two very special birds.
When we caught up with the rest of the group, due to the volume of people, they had only just been able to get into the small hide and had just seen the Great White Egrets, one of which had flown off while the other had gone into a deep ditch. It took what seemed like an age before we could relocate this bird, and then only the head showing above the banks of the ditch although later on it did rise from the ditch flapping its massive, pure white wings. Just as we were leaving the hide a warbler flew into an elderberry bush nearby. It appeared paler than the Firecrests we had just seen but sported pale stripes above the eyes and along the crown. Another magic bird - a Yellow-browed Warbler. On the walk back we did pause for the Firecrests again but found only Goldcrest and a mixed flock of tits.
On Thursday we concentrated on RSPB Titchwell, one of the best known nature reserves in the county and country. We began by walking along the path at the western edge of the reserve which gives views first over reedbeds, then over lagoons and ends on the beach. There was still a strong north wind but fewer showers. Someone was shooting over the saltmarsh adjacent to the reserve sending Snipe, Curlew and Dark-bellied Brent Geese into the air and onto the reserve. The shallow lagoons here, as elsewhere, attracted mainly dabbling duck with Teal the commonest species here. The range of wader species was much greater, we saw ten Avocet, our only ones of the holiday. We got close up views of Golden Plover which showed beautifully the fine markings of the head and breast. And we spent a long time, a very long time, sifting through the Dunlin for the single Little Stint which had been reported. It was eventually located when the smaller size, differing plumage and different bill shape became apparent. Most of the group ventured on to the beach where the sea was very rough and it was not possible to see anything on the water. We did see a flock of Sanderling, a flock of Scoter and one Gannet (from Bempton?).
After lunch we took a stroll along the eastern bank along a path only open for a few weeks in autumn. This gave good views of the main reedbed which, due to the strong winds, was quiet although we did get brief views of a couple more Bearded Tit. Back at the visitor centre the main attraction were a few Brambling at the feeding station.
After a bit of debate we decide to stick to our original plans and completed the day with a short walk on the sea wall at Burnham Overy Staithe. This proved to be the right decision as we saw a Barn Owl, our only owl of any type, while in transit. At BOS we saw a good mix of wildfowl with more Brent and Egyptian Geese and very distantly a few Barnacle Geese and two White-fronted Geese. On the farmland we also found a small covey of Grey Partridge and were all surprised to find not one but two Wheatears feeding in the detritus at the seaward side of the embankment. We took these to be the familiar Northern Wheatear but the weekly summary from Bird Guides the following weekend had reports of single Desert and Isabelline Wheatears being found in the outer dunes at BOS only two days after our visit. Did we overlook two more special birds?
The homeward journey began with a visit to the WWT centre at Welney, a reserve this group has never visited before. I put this site in as, when I visited last year, there had been a few Whooper Swans and a couple of Bewick's Swans on the reserve. We had been following the birding news and were aware that the first Whooper Swans had arrived at the beginning of the week. When we arrived we were informed that 1409 had been counted that morning. We did not see that many but did see a few hundred, mainly from the hide at the base of the access bridge. This main pool was also packed solid with Wigeon, Mallard and Canada Geese while we found our first Pochard and a striking male Mandarin. The margins of the pool were covered with Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit. A second visit into this hide produced an at times hard to find single Bewick's Swan. We were also aware that during the week a flock of about a dozen cranes had been flying into Welney. We were informed that most days they arrived by late morning except for the day before when they did not arrive until about 4.00pm. Despite spending a lot of time in the hide overlooking the area they preferred they did no show although we did enjoy repeated views of up to three Marsh Harriers on the wing at the same time. However, I don't want this report to end on a low note as the final total was an excellent 104 species seen.
We stayed at the Le Strange Arms Hotel in Old Hunstanton and travelled with BusKing the driver, Neil, having previously taken this group to The Netherlands and Barmouth when working for another company.