Sunday, 8 January 2012

Postcard from (a Golden) Norfolk

Photo Provided by Andrew Kinghorn (The Fog). The Golden Pheasants were seen remarkably well and at length.

What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
And I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm,I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.

Beatles Lyrics

5th and 6th Jan. Military manoeuvres began at 2.00am on the 5th when I was picked up by Andrew (The Fog) and we set of for Sheffield to meet Tom (Flat Cap Birder). Tom took over as driver and we headed for Norfolk with a stop at the Wolferton Triangle shortly after light had appeared. It wasn’t too long before we were watching two Golden Pheasants. A great start and highlight of the trip which brought me a lifer. Having visited once before and never having had a sniff of these birds I hadn’t been overly confident that they would appear let along give the long and stunning showing that they did. A Muntjac Deer was also seen. A return was made to Kings Lynn railway station to pick up Oliver who had been slightly delayed by falling wires on the rails as he had travelled from London. We then set off from Buckenham Marshes.

I remember the last time I visited Buckenham Marshes, it was windy and cold. This time it was windy and cold and wet. I didn’t let this nor the fact that for a time I felt I was about to throw up at any second take my mind off why we were here. The main objective was the Lesser White Fronted Goose and it was eventually seen. I’m told the one I saw here last year was in fact a hybrid so I’ve made sure that I now have this species legitimately on my life list. Pink-footed Geese had been seen on the journey and I’m now pleased that I have seen Taiga Bean Geese and in some number, if somewhat distant. There were numbers of Egyptian Geese around with a few Barnacle and Canada Geese too. In between watching the geese we were entertained by flocks of waders and ducks, the large flocks Golden Plovers being the highlight. I’d like to say they looked good in the sun but there wasn’t too much of that, although it did appear eventually!

It was onward to Hickling Broad and Stubbs Mill. The entry fee into Hickling Broad Reserve began to make me think that Norfolk birding doesn’t come cheaply. As it happens the spectacle that was to come later was a birding treat that I would have paid a great deal more to see. The reserve itself was quiet with only the odd Marsh Harrier to be seen so we made off towards the raptor roost viewing point. I remembered the area vaguely from a visit some years ago. We soon picked up the three Common Cranes on the ground as another two flew in. Then the Marsh Harriers began to arrive in numbers. They just kept on coming and I thought they were never going to stop. Thirty plus were counted up in the air at one time and we reckoned in total that there were more than fifty of these birds. Two ringtail Hen Harriers put in an appearance along with two Merlin. I had not anticipated how fantastic an experience this would be and it is one of my top birding experiences in the UK. If I have anything like this again during 2012 I’ll be well pleased. By now I had shaken of the earlier feelings of sickness and enjoyed the walk back to the car in the fading light. A great way to end the day before heading to accommodation in Great Yarmouth, some fish and chips and a well earned pint before sleep came at last.

Off after a good breakfast on day two we had hope to find the Great Northern Diver, but that wasn’t to be although Andrew picked up a Kingfisher whilst we were looking for the diver. A Harris Hawk flew over head, but no guys I haven’t put it on the list. The Bewick’s Swans at Ludham had disappeared too but we did find a flock of Whooper Swans and watched a Merlin chasing a bird up in the air.

Snow Buntings were found in the car park before we moved on for what was to be the big one, the Western Sandpiper at Cley. Tom and Andrew had watched this bird last year and I wasn’t able to join them, so I was anxious to get it on my UK list. Having shelled out more cash, we entered the busy reserve. I had been confident of seeing this bird but the confidence began to drain quite quickly. I’m patient when watching for birds, but the general atmosphere was suggesting to me that this bird was not going to show easily. I found the behaviour of some birders in the hide completely out of order and the type that gets birding a bad image. I nearly had my eye pushed into my eye piece on one occasion, I was stood on and pushed around and have felt safer in the crowd at a football match. Never mind, my thanks to Tom for getting me onto Western Sandpiper. I had a very acceptable sighting of the bird which is a UK tick for me. I sure I would have felt a bit down if I’d missed this one. By now we had seen many waders and added Brent Geese to the list also. Cetti’s Warbler was heard. It was time to leave.

We moved on to Holkham where the fields held thousands of geese and a Barn Owl appeared content sitting out in the open. In places the flocks were packed closely together. On the whole they were Pink-footed Geese, but we picked up two Ross’s Geese, and Barnacles and Greylags were also easily picked up. We parked at St Annes Drive and walked into Holkham Gap hoping for Shore Lark, but had no luck with them. Flocks of Skylark were on the marsh. When we returned we heard Jay and then had a rather nice sighting of one of them. Oliver especially wanted to find the Rough Legged Buzzards which would be a lifer for him. It was good that it was he who eventually picked the first bird up. We saw two Rough Legged Buzzards really well. One of them an especially pale bird. Then it was off to Titchwell.

The Coue's Arctic Redpoll was quickly found along with Lesser Redpoll. I’m still struggling with these Arctic Redpolls! Also had a close sighting of a Water Rail at this time. We found a number of waders near to the sea including a group of circa forty Grey Plover. Long Tailed Duck and Red-Breasted Merganser were also amongst birds seen. The sun was almost gone by now on what had been a far less windy day with really good light. On return walk to the centre a pair of Pintail was seen on the marsh and two Avocets were on the pool. As our second day was ending a ring tailed Hen Harrier flew over the marsh and passed over our heads.

It was time to head for home now at the end of two great days in equally great company. Good birding is always made even better if the company is good too. I want to thank Tom for the driving throughout the birding days and Andrew for getting me to and from Sheffield. The bird list for the trip came to 103 on my reckoning. I’ve certainly never started a years birding so well as in 2012. My mission has begun. All this after the Magpies walloping the Reds of Manchester!

The following day I led an RSPB walk and that was pretty good too. More of that later.


  1. Some of the more popular sites get a bit crowded down there as birding is becoming more fashionable. The twice i've been to Norfolk i've found 4 cracking "unfashionable" sites and added peace and tranquility to the fantastic birding.

  2. Hi John. Cley was the only spot that crowds were a problem. I was taken aback as to how busy it was on a weekday very shortly after opening. The rudeness of some dudes (I'm told that is what they were ha ha) was unbelievable. The car park was full. NWT must be pulling in some money. I hate crowded hides, but had to endure it to get my Western Sandpiper.:-)

  3. Hi, sounds like it was a fab day and yeah a great start to 2012!

    It will probably take some beating and there was a very nice variety of species too.

  4. It was an excellent way to get the year started Mark. You'll see I was in good company.:-) Cheers.