Back in September I decided to go to Norfolk for the first time, for a few days of birding guided by Stuart White of the Bird ID Company. Stuart is a former City banker who decided to leave London and return to his home of Norwich in order to set up his own bird tour company. The Autumn tour brought in lots of migratory species as they hit UK shores, and new species for me were Pink-footed Goose, Arctic Skua, Little Stint, Knot, Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-throated Diver, Red-legged Partridge and the mega-rare Yellow-browed Warbler.
Jem and I decided we’d like to return to Norfolk together, and so we booked ourselves on a February weekend tour, which was to include a potential ‘Owl Day’ where we’d at least attempt to find all five species of resident owl in one day. This turned out to be last weekend.
Stuart picked us up from our B&B in Norwich on the Saturday morning and we went off to meet the other birders who would be with us for the day on the Broads. Firstly, we made our way to the tiny village of Thurne where we had fantastic views of a Barn Owl hunting along a roadside ditch just ahead of us. As we pulled up alongside the owl peeked over the ridge at us a couple of times before flying off with a sizable rodent in its bill. A good start. The next stop was at the old ruined St Benet’s Abbey where our viewpoint on a small hill gave us good sightings of another hunting Barn Owl plus a male and female Marsh Harrier pair. We also stopped off to see three species of swan: Mute, Whooper and Bewick’s, plus some boxing Brown Hares. Part of Hickling Broad brought us a perching, and then hunting, Peregrine and some nice Curlew and a big flock of Golden Plover. After lunch we found ourselves scanning a large area of marshland near Reedham. There were more Marsh Harriers, a very difficult-to-see Short-eared Owl on the ground, a very pale Common Buzzard, a Common Redshank, Little Grebe, and the highlight was a pair of far-off but mega-rare Rough-legged Buzzards.
Rough-legged Buzzard (on the left of the middle gate)
Next it was off to Cantley Marshes to see the flock of Taiga Bean Geese, along with some White-fronted Geese, three Chinese Water Deer and some more Brown Hares. As the light began to fade we unfortunately missed out on a Little Owl which had decided not to show, but then we made our way to Buckenham Broad to see another pair of Peregrine amongst thousands of Wigeon, and then two more Barn Owls hunting alongside another Short-eared Owl. Six owls in one day wasn’t bad at all (Stuart actually saw two more Barn Owls that Jem and I didn’t see).
Day two was spent in the Holme and Titchwell coastal areas (we saw another hunting Barn Owl on the way). Stuart had hoped to find us Snow Bunting and Shorelark, but we couldn’t find any. I’d mentioned to Stuart that I had Merlin, Hen Harrier and Brambling on my wishlist for the year (along with Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the Hawfinch we’d already found in Hertfordshire last month), and the beach at Holme brought us good views of a Merlin with its prey, along with various waders, gulls, Eider, and a nice Red-throated Diver on the water.
On the way across to Titchwell we stopped off at a large ploughed field to attempt to pick out the Brambling amongst a flock of a few hundred Linnet. I just got a brief glimpse of a very nice male Brambling through Stuart’s scope, and then we saw a distant and silhouetted Hen Harrier for a short moment, but not a good enough view to really say we’d ‘seen’ one. Soon afterwards we stopped by a barn where a purposely-scattered patch of seeds was bringing in Chaffinches, Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and at last, good views of several Brambling. So that took care of my previous post!
Brambling and Chaffinch
Titchwell itself brought us even more Brambling – on the bird feeders alongside Greenfinches and Chaffinches – as well as a Water Rail, Siskin and a Lesser Redpoll. As we made our way through the marshes Stuart said he thought he saw a Hen Harrier in the distance. We waited several minutes and it eventually popped up and – although distant – it gave us a great views as it glided inland and out across the hills. The beach brought us Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser, and the new large hide back in the reserve’s marshes brought us Pintail, Common Snipe and a female Red-crested Pochard. Just as we were leaving a Bittern popped up out of the reeds and went for a short flypast. The drive back to Wells-next-the-Sea where we were dropping off the other guests for the day brought another nice Barn Owl – perched boldly at first – but then flying across the road (didn’t manage to get a good photo, unfortunately) plus two Red Kites.
And that’s pretty much it. Most of the birds were seen at a reasonable distance so the photo opportunities were limited this time, but two days of high-quality guided birding and three more of the five species from my 2013 wishlist now ticked off. Other ticks for me were the Rough-legged Buzzards, Taiga Bean Geese and Long-tailed Duck. Only that elusive Lesser Spotted Woodpecker remains a target now…