I had been looking forward to this weekend for a while because I’d planned to go on a trip to Norfolk with fellow Next Generation Birders. Sean, Liam, Ollie and I headed up on Friday evening to join Chris, James, Jake, Danni, Drew, Sam, Dan, Antony and Angus for two days birding. It ended up being a bit like a bird race, which I rather enjoyed as it meant I saw lots of Norfolk and a large number of species! The use of walkie talkies also added extra enjoyment.
We met up at 7am on Saturday morning just in time for Sainsbury’s to open so we could stock up on snacks for the trip. Then it was time to start the birding though we’d already heard a robin singing by the hotel and herring gulls at Sainsbury’s.
First stop was Wolferton in search of the golden pheasants. We arrived at around dawn and waited. No sign of the pheasants, but there was plenty of bird activity. Robins, goldcrests, wrens, blue tits, coal tits, great tits and chaffinches all singing and calling. Woodpigeons flew over in the distance, and we spotted bramlings, redpolls and siskins flying between trees in the wood. Still no golden pheasant though.
We’d waited for quite a while so decided to head to Roydon Common for a bit. The plan was to see the wintering great grey shrike so we headed along the path towards its favoured spot. That too was missing – maybe they knew we were coming so hid… Still, we did see long-tailed tits, a fieldfare singing skylarks, meadow pipits, a buzzard sat in the tree and some distant pink-footed geese. We also added a rook from the car.
After a good stroll around the Common searching for the shrike, we decided to return to Wolferton for one last try. Success! As we drove up to the triangle, we quickly braked as not too far in front of us was the target bird: a golden pheasant.
We watched it until it disappeared back into the undergrowth. Feeling satisfied it was time for the next stop – Hunstanton. The first bird at Hunstanton was a fulmar. They must’ve been around the cliffs below as several flew rather close to us, before dropping down below the sightline. There was a group of fulmar sat in the sea as well. Don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. Also out at sea were common scoter, eider, red-breasted mergansers and some great crested grebes. Sean also picked up a long-tailed duck, but the rest of us struggled to spot it!
Back in the car, we saw many oystercatchers at the side of the road and some starlings while we drove round to another bit of coastline. House sparrows in the car park at Holmes Golf Course were another addition to the list, though Liam had shouted out “tree sparrow!” from the car but I didn’t spot it. Shame, tree sparrows are rather rare in Hampshire! Edit: Liam is convinced this never happened, perhaps I was daydreaming and reminiscing of the one time I ever saw a tree sparrow…!
We bumped into Josh as we stopped to admire the twite only a few feet in front of us. They looked tiny compared to the skylark that was also hopping around on the ground. Further along the beach we passed a flock of linnet and caught up with the snow bunting. This is another species I’ve not seen many before. We also briefly sea watched there, seeing more common scoter and a red-throated diver. There were more waders at the end of the beach as well. Grey and golden plover, lapwing and more oystercatchers next to a group of herring gulls. It was time for even more waders as next on the list was Titchwell, an RSPB reserve.
As expected, there was a plentiful supply of waders and wildfowl at Titchwell. As well as the common waders* such as avocets, lapwing and oystercatchers, I was chuffed to see knot, ruff and 2 (or more) bar-tailed godwits. The bar-tailed godwits were even better when stood next to black-tailed godwits. Was a great comparison, and I feel I could (finally) ID one in future now!
*that’s not to say that knot, ruffs and bar-tailed godwits are uncommon, but I don’t tend to see them very often so was pleased!
Good views of a marsh harrier, sparrowhawk and a peregrine in quick succession were had too, as well as a water pipit which was a nice addition. I then turned my attention to the ducks – again, most of the common winter species were present. Teal, mallards, gadwall, shelduck, shoveler, wigeon. Surprisingly (to me anyway) there were no tufted ducks or pochards…
I stayed watching the waders and wildfowl a little longer than the others before joining them on the beach. Another brief sea watch was underway with yet more common scoter, red breasted mergansers, and a possible great northern diver – I didn’t see it, but I hear it was a huge diver, just right for a great northern. Meanwhile, I checked the beach for waders. Oystercatchers, sanderling, turnstone and dunlin. Another highlight on the beach was a friendly black-headed gull.
Close by to Titchwell was Choseley, a bit of farmland, to look for the typical farmland species. We weren’t disappointed as there were indeed yellowhammers, corn bunting and also a stock dove. The nest port of call was Burnham with large numbers of brent and pink-footed geese, golden plover and lapwing. It was an impressive sight when a buzzard flushed them all! A few moments later a barn owl joined in with the confusion, adding to the spectacle. All this was made more impressive by the fact that we were just parked by the side of the road looking into fields below. It almost reminded me of Shetland!
We would’ve stayed a while longer until “American wigeon, Cley” popped up on someone’s phone – twitch on, was the decision. As we made our way towards Cley it became apparent that the American wigeon wasn’t thus, and was perhaps a hybrid or even simply a Eurasian wigeon but we carried on. Cley had been next on the list anyway!
Cley was worth it. Again, there were numerous waders and wildfowl, with highlights including a garganey, marsh harrier and 5 bearded tits. Some of the group managed to spot the white-fronted geese after multiple attempts, but they all looked like pink-footed and greylags to me! The reported bean geese remained elusive, and still no pochard or tufted duck…
Our final destination four Saturday was Stubb Mill for the crane roost. To begin with all we could see were marsh harriers coming into roost, an impressive sight by all means – we counted 20 at once at one point! A ringtail hen harrier soon joined them and later on a male hen harrier was spotted too. To add to this, a red-legged partridge and Chinese water deer were in the foreground. The flash of blue from a kingfisher was a nice surprise too. No cranes yet, but I was still very happy.
And then the cranes were spotted. Just 2 at first, but we had good scope views each time they popped their heads up. We waited for a while longer as the starling murmaration was impressive and we could hear cranes in the distance. It was getting rather dark by this point so we decided to start heading back. At that moment, the cranes got louder and closer. We rushed back to the viewing point just in time to see them fly past. It was practically dark but still amazing to see 34 cranes fly by! And as we drove off, several woodcocks took off near by.
Great end to the first day. 3 lifers (golden pheasant, hen harrier & cranes) and over 90 species in 10 hours. We finished by congregating for a meal in Norwich before resting, ready for a 2nd days birding.