Monday, 24 November 2014

North Norfolk Birding and a Surprise Dusky Warbler

During my family visit to Suffolk I arranged a birding day in Norfolk with Carl Chapman who runs birding day tours with his company Wildlife Tours and Education. I arrived at Cromer railway station at just after 9 o'clock on Friday 14th November where Carl met me and off we headed west along the coast. It was just me on the tour but Carl was an excellent guide, very knowledgeable and easy going and very good company.

The weather forecast for the day was awful but it was dry on arrival at Salthouse near Cley. However it didn't last and within 20 minutes of leaving the car it bucketed down and did so for the next 3 hours. The forecast was for rain all day but by 1 o'clock it stopped and turned in to a pleasent afternoon. This obviously had an effect on the birds and birding but I did see some fantastic birds and had a great day anyway.

Starting at Salthouse we had a look for snow buntings but with the weather turning we had no luck. We headed off to Cley and birded from the car, getting some lovely close views of golden plover bathing in pools near the road. Looking for a black brant amongst the brent goose flock was unsuccessful but it was nice to see good numbers of juvenile brents in the flock. A short seawatch from a shelter on the beach at Cley gave some nice views of flyby red throated divers, it was interesting to see them lift their heads up occassionally as they flew by, something I haven't noticed before. There were plenty of gannets and gulls flying around and a few guillemots on the sea but in the rain and gloom we didn't find anything else so headed off towards Holkham.

We stopped in a layby overlooking the marshes at Holkham just as the rain cleared, disturbing 3 grey partridges feeding in the stubble. Another 6 were also found and gave some good views, it has been some time since I last saw grey partridge and I was very pleased to see them. A red legged partridge was also heard (another introduced bird!) along with a pure white pheasent (also introduced!). Pink footed geese were feeding in the stubble fields and flying around and gave some great views, my first close sightings ever, and very handsome birds to see.

Looking over the marsh and a few buzzards were perched on trees and fences, looking very bedraggled from the rain, and one distant bird had a very pale head and dark belly. A rough legged buzzard has been seen around the area for a while but with the distance and mist we weren't sure and it flew off without us seeing its tail pattern. There were quite a few pale
common buzzards around which looked very rough legged buzzard-like in the gloom but all lacked the distinct white rump and dark tail band in flight.

Marsh harriers were noticeable and mobile over the marsh and we also picked up a distant short eared owl hunting over the marsh, my third owl species of my trip, and at one point it mobbed a passing by marsh harrier.

Marsh Harrier at Holkham

Heading on to Lady Anns Drive and Egyptian geese were seen in the roadside fields, looking a little more natural in the wilds of Norfolk rather than a London park but still exotic looking and out of place in the UK in November. We had even closer views of pink footed geese with 2 birds having neck rings - checking the details later revealed they were ringed on the same day in Iceland in 2000 (maybe related?). Amazing to think they were 14 years old and the thousands of miles they must have flown.

 Pink Footed Geese

 Pink Footed Geese

Pink Footed Geese

A walk around Holkham Pines and we heard a yellow browed warbler calling amongst a goldcrest and mixed tit flock but we couldn't find it amongst the trees. Offshore a smart great northern diver was close to shore and a few red throated divers flew past doing their characteristic head lift. Carl found the male surf scoter amongst the common scoter flock offshore but the views were distant and difficult in the choppy sea and gloom. It was asleep in the flock but its white nape patch was very noticeable and I had a brief head view just before it dived.

The weather continued to improve and we headed off to a nearby saltmarsh where I had a brief flight view of a female/juvenile merlin, my 4th of the year. 3 hen harriers were flying around as the sun began to set, a ringtail and 2 very smart males, and brent- and pink footed geese flew over calling as they headed off to roost, a perfect end to a brilliant day.

Having missed out on seeing snow buntings I managed to persuade David to drive out to Landguard Point in Suffolk on Sunday 16th to have a look for 2 reported birds. I was out of luck but ended up seeing a dusky warbler instead which had been found that morning, I hadn't known about it being there when we left home so it was quite a pleasent surprise and a new bird for me. It was typically elusive but gave some nice but brief views, not surprising considering the amassed birders chasing it around the bramble patches it was frequenting - I really hate twitches, I want to see birds the same as any birder but I don't agree with harassing birds to get a view. I stayed in one place at a slightly elevated spot and managed some decent views as the bird flew around, flitted about and called in the large bramble patches, most birders were missing it as they ran from place to place to try and see it.

Dusky Warbler, Landguard Point - photo courtesy of Felixstowe Birding Website

Finally, a black stork was seen at the nearby Trimley Marshes that day and so the following day we went for a walk there to have a look for it but with no luck - it had moved on to north Suffolk - but I did see 2 muntjac deer and a fox and I heard another yellow browed warbler calling amongst a goldcrest and tit flock but again couldn't get a sighting.

A male Feathered Thorn - a new moth for me, found by a night light at my nephews boarding school in Suffolk but with a damaged wing from getting wet

And so it had been a very good trip to East Anglia  with some great bird sightings, a British life tick and a yearlist now on 211 species. And I would really like to do a whole weekend birding tour of North Norfolk, maybe next year.........

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