FAREWELL (?) TO TITCHWELL
I suppose it's apt that in this centenary year of the birth of Sir Peter Scott my partner, Penny and I should once again visit North Norfolk, maybe to see Titchwell in the way that we have known it, for the last time, before the sea reclaims part of the land and a new sea-facing boundary is formed.
Like many birders of my generation I was inspired by Peter Scott's wonderful paintings of skeins of geese and many years later I am still moved by these superb birds as they fly in purposeful groups, their formations ever changing as each bird accepts its role in the airborne community, leading or supporting, constantly passing information to others in the flock as they seek landfall. Naturally Norfolk didn't disappoint this year with thousands of geese filling the skies wherever we went.
On a personal & anoraky note I was looking to fill a sorry-looking year list of only 77 to mid-Feb with a target of plus-20 by the time we left for home (sad ain’t it!).
We always self-cater & this year we picked a total winner: Lavender Cottage in Cley-next-the-Sea was absolutely marvellous, warm and cosy, very well-appointed, close to the Reserve (2 minute walk) and with comfy beds! Well recommended for anyone.
TITCHWELL - Tuesday 24th & Saturday 28th
The day was cloudy with little wind & a weak sun trying to break through as we made our way along the west path towards the sea. The marshes to the west side are full of pools & scrapes and immediately we saw Pintail, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Teal, Wigeon, Shellduck & Little Egret. The Island Hide overlooking Fresh Marsh had Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Avocet, Golden Plover (more of these later), Shoveller, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Blackback and Oystercatcher.
We spent some time observing over Sea Lavender Marsh and got Skylark - in a soaring, song-filled flight, the earliest we have ever seen this, but which was to become a regular event over the next four days. Reed Bunting and probable Lapland Bunting were seen among the heather as were Dunnock & both sparrows.
From Parrinder Hide overlooking the Brackish Marsh we saw Black-tailed Godwit, Cormorant, Mediterranean Gull, Brent Geese, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard and Snipe. A small flock of Dunlin flew in together with some Knot, disturbing a couple of Common Sandpipers who were busily minding their own business! Among a group of Ruff was one with a distinctive white & grey spotted head, the general consensus was that he had been feeling a bit ruff (!) recently, unusual variation though.
Returning to the Centre for a spot of lunch we got really lucky as a Bittern flew from the direction of Fen Hide over to the West Marsh; best sighting we have ever had of this elusive critter. Time for some sea/beach watching and although the tide was well out there were Goldeneye & Red-breasted Merganser out at sea, whilst the beach gave us Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, in addition to birds already seen previously.
In the woodland area between the car-park and reception is a "feeding station" where all the usual suspects were to be found, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch and Greenfinch along with a small group of Brambling. Later in the evening as we were leaving we saw a Muntjac deer helping himself to whatever spare bird-food he could scrounge, he took a good long look at us, decided we were nothing in particular and carried on feeding! Rounded-off a good day.
BURNHAM OVERY STAITHE & BLAKENEY - Wednesday 25th
Up to now Geese were noticeable by their absence but today certainly put that right; walking along towards Blakeney Point we immediately saw Greylags, Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Pink-footed, Canada Geese, feral Egyptian Geese and our first sighting of Dark-bellied Brents. There were lots of Curlew, a good flock of Dunlin pecking enthusiastically on the mud-flats, we heard Cetti's Warbler sounding-off in the bushes to the side of the path and as we walked back alongside the river there were Redshank and Turnstone along with the usual gaggles of dabbling ducks.
Previously we had never been to Burnham Overy Staithe but this time decided to give it a try - what a little gem! Not as busy as Blakeney but just as picturesque and a great bunch of birds. A path runs alongside marshland threaded through with pools and rivulets, some low-lying scrub atop low sandy banking gave cover to a super variety of birds. First-up was Little-ringed Plover with a Little Stint skulking in adjoining tussocks of sea-grass, lots of dabblers, gulls, both redshanks and frequent sightings of Reed Bunting in the scrub. As we watched 100 or so Sanderling scuttling along the evening sands a male Marsh Harrier drifted menacingly over the reeds - not that the Sanderlings took any notice! A lovely juvenile Grey Plover pootled contentedly at the side of a muddy pool trying to ignore the Lapwing shooing it away.
Evening drew in with skeins of many hundreds of geese now filling the air with their bellicose honking as they commuted back to their evening roosting grounds. We felt that it just couldn't get any better.........how wrong can you be!
CLEY MARSHES & SALTHOUSE - Friday 27th
Early morning walk to the beach at Cley on a greyish, rather windy day brought us good skeins of geese returning to the reserve, whilst Oystercatchers and Lapwings and 40 or so Curlew fed on the marshes, Lapland Bunting were confirmed by call, behaviour and sightings and a couple of Little Egrets flew around. There were by now thousands of Brent Geese, Dark-bellied Brents and Greylags, a few Pink-footed Geese and large flocks of Starlings but the undoubted stars of the day were over fifteen hundred Golden Plover soaring in breath-taking flocks over the marsh; we had seen them at Titchwell earlier in the week but this was something else, it was a spell-binding sight as they flew in ever-changing formations. Magnificent.
HOLKHAM PARK & MARSHES - Thursday 26th
Our Long-anticipated visit to Holkham was, to be truthful, a bit of a let down. The day started cloudy & windy and the birds were just hunkering down out of sight. From the George Washington Hide we could see only a few geese huddled together along with Wigeon & Teal instead of the hundreds we saw on our last visit. As we walked towards the Joe Jordan Hide we inadvertently disturbed a Barn Owl who flew within a few feet of us; from this hide, apart from the usual ducks, we saw Scaup and our first Gadwall of the week. In the woodland between the marsh and the beach were small groups of Coal Tit & Goldcrest.
Among the dunes we observed from quite close range pairs of Skylarks in urgent & noisy mating behaviour, Meadow Pipits and Redshank fed contentedly on the sea marsh and a small flock of Snow Bunting flew over our heads. As the weather cleared and the birds came out to play we saw Spotted Redshank, Golden Plover, Oystercatcher and a solitary Ringed Plover.
Holkham Park was very quiet, the highlights being a large flock of mixed Meadow Pipit & Twite feeding on the grass, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Penny only… dammit!!), Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Barn Owl, Song Thrush and a fair-sized flock of Greylags.
Did I really say "a bit of a let down"! Once again North Norfolk provided great birding in an ancient, timeless landscape with superb hospitality (I haven’t mentioned "Cookies Crab Shop"!!!), an unforgettable week.
Total of 89 different species (inc 37 "year listers")
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Snow Goose Anser caerulescens
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota
Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla bernicla
Shellduck Tadorna tadorna
Wigeon Anas penelope
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Gadwall Anas strepera
Shoveller Anas clypeata
Pintail Anas acuta
Teal Anas crecca
Pochard Aythya ferina
Scaup Aythya marila
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Coot Fulica atra
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Knot Calidris canatus
Sanderling Calidris alba
Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Common Sandpiper Actitus hypoleucos
Redshank Tringa totanus
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Curlew Numenius arquata
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
Feral Pigeon Columba livia
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Horned Lark (Shore Lark) Eremophila alpestris
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Blackbird Turdus merula
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Great Tit Parus major
Coal Tit Parus ater
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Magpie Pica pica
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Rook Corvus frugilegus
Carrion Crow Corvus corone corone
Starling Sternus vulgaris
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
Twite Carduelis flavirostris
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus
Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
Oh yes and a Muntjac deer!