Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Norfolk 2011 - Birding, Boozing and Bloody Cold!

Somehow managing to squeeze all our luggage, 'scopes, tripods and Tunnock's caramel wafers into the boot of the car, Kev (driver), Wayne (navigator), Geri (entertainment) and I (erm, making up the numbers) left Cardiff for our annual Norfolk jolly on Saturday, Jan 29th.

'Plan A' was to call in first at Buckenham Marshes/Cantley to bag the Lesser White-fronted Goose. Unfortunately, the goose must have got wind of our plans and promptly naffed off a couple of days before we arrived. Never mind, this area is always a great place to start a trip to Norfolk.

The wilderness of Buckenham Marshes

We called in at Strumpshaw Fen on the way and picked up Marsh Tit and Brambling on the reserve centre feeders. At Buckenham there were shedloads of Eurasian Wigeon on the marshes and, on the River Yare, a Red-necked Grebe. We walked along the river, each of us getting taller with each step as the clay stuck to our boots, and soon enough we were watching around 60 Taiga Bean Geese. My best ever views of them - even though it took me five minutes longer than everybody else to get them in my 'scope.

Bean and Greylag Geese

By the time we got back to the car Geri, Wayne and I were covered in clay. Kev on the other hand was spotless. That's what 30 years in the Royal Navy teaches you.

No time to hang around. Our next stop was the Horsey area to go curb-crawling for some leggy beauties - Cranes. Three pairs of sharp eyes, and mine, were not enough to find any 'on the deck', but we did pick up our first Hen Harrier of the trip which was flying alongside a Marsh Harrier; hundreds of Golden Plover and the first of many Barn Owls. On to Stubb Mill, we were greeted by other birders who were waiting for the Cranes to come in to roost. One birder 'greeted' us by telling us to get out of his way. Seeing as we were not in his way, the trip almost began with Kevin putting him 'on the deck'. As tempers cooled we enjoyed watching a kamikaze Peregrine causing panic as it nose-dived a 'flock' of c.35 Marsh Harriers; a male Merlin and finally, 3 Common Cranes.

Within an hour we arrived at our digs for the trip - The Kings Arms at Blakeney - where we were given a warm welcome (and a free round of drinks) by landlord, and Welshman in exile, Nick Davies. Within no time we were tucking into some excellent food and beer in the company of fellow Glamorgan birders Alan Rosney, Mike Wheeler and Gareth Jenkins who were staying nearby.

Day 2 began with a trip to the East Bank at Cley. The long-staying American Wigeon was found without too much trouble before we added Spoonbill, Ruff, Knot, Redshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit on Arnold's Marsh. Moving on to the beach 3 Shorelark were picking their way along the shingle. We didn't expect to see much during a brief sea-watch because, for once, there wasn't a great deal of wind. But, nonetheless we did manage to find a few Red-throated Divers and Slavonian Grebes.

Seawatching at Cley - can you ID Glamorgan birders from behind?

Despite the calm, sunny, conditions we dipped on Bearded Tits in the reeds and headed off for Weybourne where we were soon looking at some Lapland Buntings. Once we managed to get Geri back in the car (is there anywhere you can take him where he doesn't bump into somebody he knows?), we tanked east up the A149 to Holme. Within no time at all we'd found our target bird - Long-tailed Duck - and had also added Snow Bunting and Sanderling to our trip list. Everything was going smoothly . . . too smoothly. It was about time something didn't go to plan.

And so it did, when we assembled with a gang of other birders at Thornham to wait for the Northern Harrier. We waited and waited as dusk began to fall and the temperature dropped like a stone. Finding a small covey of Grey Partridges didn't do much to lift our spirits - especially since we'd been well and truly gripped off by Alan, Mike and Gareth in the pub the night before, all of whom had cracking views of the harrier during the day. And then finally, it appeared. Or did it? A ringtail harrier was flying a couple of miles west of us in the direction of Titchwell. Completely untickable. Should we make a dash over to Titchwell? Surely we'd have better views of it over there? We hummed and haahed and dithered, and when we finally got to Titchwell we were informed that the Harrier had flown over the path five minutes before we arrived. *@!&#{*!. Watching Marsh Harriers and 3 Bitterns coming into roost was not much consolation. Neither was watching half a dozen Woodcock leaving for their night's feeding either.

Day 3 saw us heading west again. A quick stop at Burnham Overy and our luck was back in when we immediately got on to 2 Rough-legged Buzzards who performed beautifully.

RLB - Jeff Slocombe eat your heart out!

Calling in briefly at Choseley it was great to see some Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers still clinging on in the area and, on our drive back to the main road, a lone Waxwing sat up on the top of a tree. Further west we arrived at Flitcham Abbey Farm where it was nice to see the return of some good numbers of Tree Sparrow. From the hide the local Little Owl obliged us as usual. But, despite another patient bout of curb-crawling around Wolferton Triangle the local Golden Pheasants were less obliging.

Next stop Titchwell and its brand new Star Ship Enterprise (Parrinder) Hide - "It's a hide Jim, but not as we know it!"

The new Parrinder Hide at Titchwell

Hardly your traditional hide but it offered welcome shelter from the cold as we watched Spotted Redshank, Avocet (a lone bird and our only one of the trip), Twite and Skylark amongst other commoner wildfowl and waders. There was a huge flock of gulls on the freshwater scrape - and amongst them were a couple of Med Gulls. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention - on our way out to the hide Wayne found the Northern Harrier again! It performed beautifully, really showing off its orangey underparts in the sunshine and, even to my untrained eye, having a subtley different jizz to a Hen Harrier.

We left the warmth of the hide for another quick seawatch. There were hundreds of Common Scoter offshore but we couldn't turn any of them into a Velvet. We did however find a few more R-t Divers, some Eider and a couple of R-B Mergansers.

Next on the agenda - a dodgy (?) goose at Burnham Deepdale. But, before we got to that one we found another. Wayne (he deserves a medal - he was on fire on this trip), picked out a lone Barnacle Goose in a field amongst hundreds of Pink-footed Geese - while travelling at 60mph in the car! On arrival at Burnham Deepdale Wayne (again!) found our target bird about a mile away amongst thousands of Pink-feet - a Ross's Goose. But, before we could get our 'scopes on to it the whole flock - c.10,000 birds took off. *@#!. But no, hang on, they were heading our way! Before long we didn't need our 'scopes as the Ross's Goose circled directly above us. The whole flock landed in a field nearby before shortly being spooked and taking off in one huge mass. The sound they made was breathtaking - like a large train approaching. Wayne, captured some of it on his phone.

Spot the Ross's Goose. (Who needs a long lens?!)

To cap a perfect day, as daylight almost completely disappeared, we just about managed to make out two Smew on Wells Boating Lake in the gloom.

A trip to celebrate - and celebrate we did - until 3am accompanied by our host Nick and a certain amount of Nelson's Revenge, Port and Cherry Brandies!

And that was it - Norfolk 2011. On our way home we called in at Welney where we got Whooper Swan, another Long-tailed Duck and another duck whose name can't be mentioned cos it's got a price on its head. The Trip List of 136 was our highest ever winter trip list total in Norfolk - and we never managed to get to Holkham Hall to look for woodland birds. We'll do it all over again next year.

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