Following on from a successful week’s birding in Norfolk, Alan Davis and Ruth Miller are back and ready to go with another group for their second Birding House Party.
When the first bird of the trip is a barred warbler just yards from our base for the week, you know it’s going to be a good tour! We met up with another lovely group of guests for our second week on the north Norfolk coast and since then, have enjoyed more spectacular birding together.
Our birding days usually start with a walk along the seawall with our trusty Ultravid HD-Plus in 8×32 and 8×42 which has been very productive with great birds. These have included the very local barred warbler, Richard’s pipit, Lapland buntings, dusky warbler, lesser whitethroat and wheatear, as well as masses of geese – pink-feet, brents, greylags and Egyptians – out on the marshes.
Any visit to RSPB Titchwell is always exciting and on our first visit here, we all enjoyed amazing views of the exceptionally confident yellow-browed warbler in the willows, little stints and curlew sandpipers on the lagoons and velvet scoter on the sea, amongst many others.
On a visit to Thornham Harbour, we were able to compare spotted redshanks and greenshanks side-by-side in the low-water channel just in front of us, while out on the marshes, three spoonbills suddenly popped up into view. Amazing how you can hide a large white bird in a creek but our Ultravids managed to pick it up.
We headed over to Blakeney Freshmarsh and, ignoring comments from other birders that our target species had flown off, we climbed up onto the viewpoint near the priory to gain some height to help our scanning. A good move, as after setting up the APO-Televid 65 and 82 spotting scopes on the high lookout, we could see the cattle egret hanging out with the cattle in a field on the marshes, probably not in view from lower down.
It seemed to particularly like the one liver-coloured cow in the herd of brown animals, which helped with giving directions to everyone and we all enjoyed good scope views of the bird. A spot of scanning over the marsh at Holkham on the way back to base was rounded off with a short-eared owl quartering the fields; again another obliging bird as it hunted to and fro, allowing everyone to get good prolonged views in the scopes.
The next day we headed east for a change, and made a short stop at Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. Here we checked the flocks of geese on the marshes with our Ultravids and were rewarded with excellent views of European white-fronted geese in amongst the greylag flock. The white-fronts were actively feeding and walking about amongst the greylags with heads and flanks in full view, so we had the perfect opportunity in the full sunshine to compare the two species and point out the distinguishing features.
After a cafe lunch at Winterton Dunes – crab sandwiches come highly recommended – we headed to Stubbs Mill and walked out to the raptor watch point. We hadn’t been there long when we heard the distinctive bugling of common cranes, and two birds flew in and obligingly landed in view. Scopes swivelled and between the bushes, we all enjoyed super views of these elegant birds strolling and feeding on the shorter grasses beyond.
But the crane excitement was eclipsed, when one guest suddenly called: “Pale raptor to our left,” and there was a glorious male hen harrier quartering the hedgerows. This magnificent bird appeared almost luminous in the low evening sunshine; time stopped and we were totally in thrall as through Ultravids and Televids we watched it hunting for what seemed like hours. There’s only one way to celebrate a fantastic sighting like that and that’s with a delicious dinner, so we called in at The Anchor in Moreston.
More great birds around Norfolk over the next few days included yellow-browed warblers in the holm oaks and willows at Holkham Pines, lapland buntings on the beach at Holme Dunes, and masses and masses of geese lifting off the marshes during our dawn walk along the seawall.
A pre-dawn start saw us heading for The Wash, the huge estuary on the west coast of Norfolk. Our journey was interrupted by owls, only half a mile into the drive a barn owl was alongside the road on a fence post. Then a second barn owl flew low across the road, followed by a third on a post showed very well in the headlights, fantastic bird. Next was a tawny owl on a low post on a grass verge and again allowed us all great looks.
At The Wash the tide was rising fast and masses and masses of waders were being pushed in closer and closer, a must see spectacle that everyone should try and see at least once! We were thrilled with our time here and the waders were just magical on mass.