Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Norfolk - 16th-18th September 2013

Weather: Overcast, cloudy, rain at times, brightening up towards the end of the trip. Very windy.

Wildlife seen:
Little Grebe; Cormorant; Little Egret; Grey Heron; Mute Swan; Pink-footed Goose; Greylag Goose; Shelduck; Canada Goose; Mallard; Wigeon; Shoveler; Gadwall; Teal; Tufted Duck; Marsh Harrier; Buzzard; Kestrel; Red-legged Partridge; Pheasant; Moorhen; Coot; Avocet; Oystercatcher; Ringed Plover; Lapwing; Golden Plover; Dunlin; Curlew Sandpiper; Little Stint; Knot; Curlew; Black-tailed Godwit; Bar-tailed Godwit; Redshank; Spotted Redshank; Greenshank; Ruff; Pectoral Sandpiper; Snipe; Ruddy Turnstone; Wilson's Phalarope; Black-headed Gull; Mediterranean Gull; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Great Black-backed Gull; Woodpigeon; Stock Dove; Feral Pigeon; Collared Dove; Green Woodpecker (H); Swallow; House Martin; Skylark; Meadow Pipit; Pied Wagtail; Dunnock; Robin (H); Wheatear; Blackbird; Blackcap (H); Chiffchaff (H); Blue Tit; Great Tit; Starling; Magpie; Jay; Jackdaw; Carrion Crow; Chaffinch; Goldfinch; Greenfinch. Total: 73

Plus: Comma, Large White, Red Admiral, Small White butterflies; Common Darter, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter Dragonfly.

Places visited:
RSPB Snettisham; NWT Cley; RSPB Titchwell; Holkham NNR and Hunstanton beach. And the A149. Several times.

It was, at last, time for my annual visit to north Norfolk. This time it was to be September and this time it was to be with Shan, my friend from Lancashire. We met up early Monday morning at Kings Lynn and decided to make Snettisham our first stop. It was Shan's first ever visit to one of the UK's best birding sites and, as we were only here for a few days, we had a lot to pack in.

The weather had unfortunately turned in recent weeks, after the long, hot summer and we were not too hopeful for any good weather for our visit. It was forecast for cloud and rain, especially on the Tuesday. So, bearing that in mind, we decided not to visit RSPB Lakenheath Fen and, instead, opted for RSPB Snettisham. We figured that, if it rained, we could shelter in the many Hides there. Lakenheath is a bit too open.

We arrived at Snettisham just after 10 and set out towards the estuary. On the trail down the first thing we spotted was a small dead Shrew, looking completely untouched. Not an encouraging start. The first bird we spotted was a Little Egret in the distance. The wind was blowing a gale already at this point meaning that hearing anything was out of the question. We reached the beach and had a quick look out over the shingle banks, seeing lots of birds, some close in. But, due to the wind, we couldn't even stand up straight, let alone ID anything.

So we headed for the first Hide, the Rotary. We found it empty and so made ourselves comfortable. I felt totally wind-swept already and was glad of some shelter. A quick sweep of the area in front of us gave us views of Avocet; Black-tailed Godwit; Curlew; Dunlin; Golden Plover; Knot;  Lapwing; Little Egret; Redshank and Ringed Plover. The tide was currently out and so we were treated to a vast array of birds out on the mudflats, all probing and feeding, walking back and forth. It was an amazing sight to see so many birds. We spent about a hour here before deciding to move on. There were only a few other people about, notably a couple of guys doing a sponsored walk for Cancer.

On the trail around to the next Hide I spotted a very nice Wheatear fly in and land, before quickly flying off into the wind. Other small birds were around, most probably Larks.

We then arrived at the Shore Hide which overlooked both the estuary and a lake on the opposite side. Looking out from this Hide we could see about 50 or so Black-tailed Godwits on a strip of land to our left; GBBGs and Cormorants; various wildfowl and 4 Greenshank, all standing on one leg each, right in front of the Hide. Every few minutes more and more Godwits joined the throng, some of which were preening. Then we spotted another Greenshank to the left of the Godwits. Lots of Wigeon could be seen even farther out. Another Little Egret could be seen feeding even farther out than that and to the right of the Egret a Shelduck was snatching a quick nap. 2 Curlew flew over, uttering their characteristic call. A 2nd Greenshank joined the loner; more Godwits added themselves to the ever-increasing group, making the total well over a 100 and then 4 Dunlin flew in and landed right on the end of the same Spit and immediately started feeding. Above the horizon line we could see hovering Kestrels. Then the Godwits went up en-masse and, scouring the sky around them, we spotted the reason - a female Marsh Harrier, which glided serenely by. They all flew back down and settled again once the Harrier had departed. An Avocet took the opportunity to fly in as did another pair of Greenshank. Then a Spotted Redshank flew in and landed beside the Greenshank. At first I thought it was a Redshank but the slightly down-curved tip to the bill gave it away.

Lots of birds, lots of species so far and we were enjoying it immensely. We moved on to the Sanctuary Hide to see what else was about. This Hide looked solely out over the lake and we could see 5 Little Egrets, all together; a dozen Redshank; another pair of Greenshank; a few Ringed Plovers; at least 3 more Spotted Redshank; about half-a-dozen Ruddy Turnstones; a Little Grebe right in front of the Hide, diving every few seconds and then we saw around 9 or 10 Red-legged Partridges away to our left, scuttling back and forth, over the cropped sedge. Several Pied Wagtails were about, wagging away and flying from small island to small island. Several other people came and went from this Hide, all enjoying the show.

We decided to double back to the Rotary Hide as time was getting on. The tide was due to come back in around 5-ish and I wanted to show Shan the flocks of birds taking off to avoid it. Not long after we arrived the first flock, Oystercatchers, flew up and over the Hide, towards the Hide we had just left and land on the adjacent shore. Out on the estuary the first of the Knot shows started, giving us fantastic views of black and white as they twisted and turned, back and forth, before landing back down. The tide was starting to concentrate the birds onto ever decreasing mud-flats. This was starting to force the birds up and fly off to drier areas of the beach. It was all great stuff and they were giving us some wonderful sights. Next up was a flock of Avocet, their black and white bodies spinning and turning. Then a thousand-plus Redshank flew up and over the Hide, around the lake and back onto the mud-flats. The sights and sounds were amazing.

Unfortunately time was against us, Shan was starting to feel the effects of a 3.15am start and so we reluctantly headed back. On the way the wind finally caught hold of my baseball cap and it was with some difficulty that I retrieved it from very prickly bramble. Indeed, the wind was even stronger at this point and so it was a head-down walk back to the car.

We then drove to Hunstanton, our base for the trip. Somehow we managed to drive straight past the town and had to double-back. We got lucky with one of the turn-offs and managed to find our B&B without further trouble. The B&B was called Garganey House and was run by Robert & Julie Sturgess. Great conversation and even greater breakfasts! It was a short walk into the town centre for our evening pub meal. There weren't too many people about this evening probably due to the poor weather. We had a nice meal, a couple of pints and an early night.

Breakfast was at 8 o'clock the next morning, a lovely big fry-up, but sadly, no black pudding. We were on the road by 9. Usually I visit RSPB Titchwell in the morning and then NWT Cley in the afternoon, but today Shan agreed to try Cley first, have a lunch stop on the way back before visiting Titchwell.

The weather forecast for today was for heavy rain, but Shan had spotted the forecast for this area had a strip of just cloud, so we were hopeful. For most of the day the rain did hold off and even then it was only light showers. We were very lucky with the weather, managing to shelter in the Hides.

We arrived at Cley - via a quick detour towards Fakenham, where we spotted a couple of Red-legged Partridges on the road - just after 10. After paying for our tickets in the visitor centre we headed out to the 3 Hides. The wind wasn't nearly as bad as yesterday and even the sun poked its noses out every now and then. We looked out from the Avocet Hide where we spotted lots of wildfowl, notably Wigeon and at least one eclipse Shoveler. But when we paid a visit to the Dawke's Hide we found a few people congregated around a couple of scopes to the right-end side of the Hide. I sensed a twitch going on and, with my adrenalin starting to kick in, I casually asked what was about. I was right, one of the scope guys grinned at me and said that a Wilson's Phalarope was out on the lake, giving some good views. I quickly scanned the area and picked it up, swimming back and forth, feeding on all the surface flies around it. I was graciously allowed to see it through one of the scopes and could even make out its yellow legs. It looked like the decision to visit Cley first had paid off.

I scanned the lake to see what else was about. There were certainly lots of birds around, mainly wildfowl but including lots of Godwits; Shelduck, including a few juveniles; a lone Avocet and half-a-dozen Ruff. Most birds were asleep but the Phalarope was busy feeding away and I noticed that it was quite near the Swarovski Hide so I decided to head off to see if I could get a better view. Shan didn't fancy the walk and decided to stay put and so I hurried off. When I arrived I found the Hide predictably packed, 4 deep, mainly with scopers. But, after only a few minutes, I managed to squeeze into a seat. The Phalarope was indeed giving better views from here and I even managed a few record shots. Immediately in front of the Hide was a strip of land where lots of ducks were dozing, including a lovely eclipse Mallard. Then I spotted a couple of Godwits moving around and in between them. Ruff could be seen out on the lake, getting nearer the Phalarope and eventually they scared it up. There was a collective intake of breath from everyone in the Hide as we all hoped the bird would fly closer to us. Unfortunately not. Then, a few seconds later, something put most of the birds up and we saw the Phalarope fly even further out, towards the far bank. We soon spotted the culprit, a juvenile male Marsh Harrier. With that, I decided to head back to Shan's Hide. On the way I spotted one Common and one Ruddy Darter, basking on the wooden rails in the fleeting sunshine.

When I arrived Shan pointed out some Pink-footed Geese away to the right. More juvenile Shelduck were about too. It was at this point we decided to break for lunch at the visitor centre before heading off to Titchwell. Cley did not disappoint and it was an excellent morning.

We managed to get to Titchwell without any detours and started out on the trails. At the start of one trail there were a set of Feeders where most of the Finches were feeding, with Moorhens hoovering up the bits and pieces on the ground. Above and behind them was a hovering Kestrel but it wasn't after the finches. Further on we saw lots of Swallows criss-crossing the sky all around us. We visited Fen Hide and Patsy's Reedbed area before finding out that the trails had been altered and we eventually walked into a dead end. A very informative sign told us so but it would have been better if the sign was at the start of the trail. An example of Norfolk logic. So we double-backed and found the West Bank path. Signage here was obviously a problem as this trail wasn't immediately apparent. I guess we should have taken the offered map from the Visitor Centre. This path led us out to the main Hides and the beach.

The wind was starting to pick up now, with the clouds starting to look menacing. There was even a spot of rain. Before we got to the Island Hide we spotted another Marsh Harrier in the distance. From the Hide we could see the usual wildfowl; a pair of Redshank and about 17 Avocets and a few flocks of yet to be identified small waders flying around. We walked on further up the trail.

About halfway to the Parrinder Hide we saw the small flock of Waders land near us. Scanning them gave us views of mainly Dunlin, but with a pair of Little Stints and a Curlew Sandpiper amongst them. To the right of them a lone Snipe was picking its way along the reeds. Then we came upon a group of people looking out to the reeds where they told us that a pair of Pectoral Sandpipers were about. We couldn't see them and it had just begun to drizzle, so we headed off to the Hide.

There weren't too many people in this Hide, at first, but there was an expert birder amongst them. This proved useful as a pair of birds that I spotted to our right that I thought were Dunlin turned out to be the Pectoral Sandpipers. We all watched as they got closer and closer to the Hide. Just as we thought that they were going to walk right past us a pair of Pied Wagtails chased them off. Not long after that a lone Knot flew in to our left onto the mud-bank. Then Shan identified a couple of LBJs as a pair of Meadow Pipits. Further out to the right, in and around lots of Teal was another lone Snipe. We could also see another 20 or so Avocet; a lone Curlew picking its way between the tufts of grass and a lone Oystercatcher asleep away to our left. Then we spotted a group of Bar-tailed Godwits in the distance, all of them asleep. It must have been the after lunch nap.

A couple of guys then entered the Hide and set their scopes on a group of Dunlin which were feeding in and around a large group of BHGs. They were convinced that they could see a White-rumped Sandpiper amongst them and tried to convince all those present, but it wasn't confirmed. We did see a lone Mediterranean Gull in amongst the BHGs. And then the Pectoral Sandpipers flew back in and this time they did get close to the Hide, giving some great views. They looked like Dunlin again at first glance but you could see their distinguishing yellow legs.

We paid a quick visit to the north side of the Hide where there were lots of Redshank; Bar and Black-tailed Godwits; Little Egret and some Knot. As the clouds were starting to look even more menacing we decided not to pay a visit to the beach but to head back home. Dinner, beers and bed. Titchwell didn't disappoint either and it was a fantastic day.

After another hearty breakfast, we paid out bills and headed off to Holkham. Instead of visiting the Hall we decided to do a bit of woodland birding and visited the NNR. There was a £3 car-parking fee for a couple of hours. We were only one of a few cars there but later, when we headed off, the area was packed out. Before we even left the car we spotted about a dozen Curlew out on the adjacent field.

It was the best day of the three today, weather-wise, with few clouds, allowing the sun to shine. Just after we had entered the woodland trail we saw our first butterflies of the visit, several Speckled Woods fluttering past, some of them landing. We then found ourselves at a small lake, called the Salt Hole where we were entertained by about 6 Little Grebes. Then we saw a Kestrel fly over, hover and then fly off. As I was looking at the Kestrel a Jay flew past and landed on a branch towards the back of the lake.

We eventually found ourselves looking out from the George Washington Hide. From here we could see a pair of Curlew feeding out to our right. Directly in front of us, on the bushes, were lots of Red Admirals, Speckled Woods and a couple of Commas. A Buzzard flew from right to left over the horizon. Further out to the left another Kestrel could be seen hovering. We could also hear, but not see, Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Then we could hear lots of trumpeting cackles, typical of Pink-footed Geese. Skeins and skeins of them were flying past, in the distance, from left to right. It was quite a noise and fantastic to watch. Almost at the same time we spotted a pair of Marsh Harriers gliding over the fields directly in front of us, one of them scaring off the Curlews. A little later Shan spotted a couple of female Pheasants feeding in the field to our left and then a couple more Kestrels appeared. We could have stayed here watching the spectacle for ages.

But, unfortunately, our two hours was up and so we had to head back. I suggested we return to Hunstanton and sit down to look out over the cliffs to the beach and sea. The weather was even better now, sunnier and warmer and it was a nice 30 minutes or so just sitting on a bench and looking out. Lots of BHGs were out on the grass looking for handouts. We only had a 3 day old McDonalds and I felt a bit guilty even thinking about letting them have it. We could also see a few Waders on the beach and could hear a few Oystercatchers peeping away.

Shan drove me back to Kings Lynn station where we said our goodbyes before she headed off back to Lancashire. My trains got me back home just after 4pm.

Another brilliant trip to Norfolk made even better by Shan's company. The only other thing we could have wished for was for better weather.