January 24th-28th Five day Winter Tour

Day One of Five Norfolk Group Winter tour

The first day of a five day tour was spent at Holkham NNR with a huge number of wildfowl as well as waders, divers and sea ducks. Thousands of Pink-footed Geese filled the fields to the north as well as 100+ White-fronted Geese showing down to 40m from the van. Hundreds of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler surrounded the car park together with a scattering of waders made up of Redshank, Snipe, Curlew, Ruff,Black-tailed Godwit and Golden Plover. More highlights before we had even left the car park were, three Great Egrets, Marsh Harrier, and Grey Partridge. A nice surprise was a flyover Raven, which then landed on the beach to feed on carrion.

A lovely flock of c170 Russian White-fronted Geese were close by the road seen very well from the minibus
Black-tailed godwits feeding very close today from the car park alongside hundreds of Wigeon

A walk through the dunes saw 80+ Snow Buntings land briefly at the groups feet and a scan of the sea resulted in Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Common and Velvet Scoter, Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers and more. Another flock of Snow Buntings followed the group along the beach and four Shore Lark were a good find.

A nice flock of c80 Snow Buntings greeted us at the beach

The day ended with a walk through Holkham Park with a number of common woodland species including Greater Spotted and Green Woodpeckers as well as the target species a female Scaup in amongst the Tufted Ducks.

A good start with 73 species today.

Day Two – The Broads

The day started very successfully, we stopped off in the Thurne area and we soon spotted several Cranes flying over the fields, once pulled safely into a lay-by a cursory glance revealed double figures feeding on the maize field. After careful scanning we managed to count 24 Common Cranes, all feeding, and it was lovely to get great scope views and hear their evocative calls. Eventually they took to the skies disappearing in several directions, though a nice group of 8-9 flew right past us.

The group of Common Crane which flew right over the road

We then headed to the first area to look for Whooper & Bewick Swans, but there were none around. However the next favoured area was good with around 40 ‘wild’ swans, consisting of 36 Bewicks and 4 Whoopers, also 21 Snipe in the same area.

The field filled with wild geese including Bewick (middle and right hand bird) and Whooper Swans (middle left bird)

On route to Winterton dunes a number of fields we being ploughed attracting a mass of gulls and when we got to Horsey a small gull flock contained a smart 2cy Glaucous Gull following the farmers tractor around a small ploughed field. A quick trip around Winterton Dunes turned up a fly over Snow Bunting, a single Dartford Warbler seen perched up in a bush, a Purple sandpiper on the coast as well as a hybrid Hooded Crow x Carrion Crow.

The day finished at Hickling with a harrier roost which brought in 25 Marsh Harriers, 2 Cranes, and a smart young male Merlin flying in and perching up providing great views for the group.

Day Three – The Brecks

Day three was our first day of promised sun resulted in a trip to the brecks for some woodland birding.

A brief stop on our way along side a garden with several feeders resulted in some amazing views of Brambling, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Siskin with additional Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing in the surrounding arable fields. Two short walks in Drymere saw the group pick up some classic woodland species including Nuthatch, Stock Dove, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Goldcrest, Firecrest, and Stonechat on the woodland edge.

A single Firecrest which performed amazing for the group all be it brief
A couple of the many Brambling seen and heard throughout the day

As the sun really started to break through we tried our luck at Cockley Cley for raptors and upon pulling up immediately saw 12+ Common Buzard ketling together over the wood. With some patience we had great views of a Peregrine hunting Fieldfare in the field in front, and a brilliant young male Goshawk performed well as the wind got up.

Our last stop at Lynford Arboretum saw more woodland birds including Brambling, Siskin, and several Marsh Tit, but what really stole the show were 10+ Hawfinch feeding on Hornbeam seeds amongst the leaves. The birds gave great scope views with bright males and females all crushing seeds with Greenfinches and thrushes for company.

Thanks to a local providing some winter food we had outstanding views of at least two Marsh Tit

Day Four – Snettisham and Titchwell 

We started the day heading up to Snettisham, at least 5 Red Kites were seen on the way there. Plus a stop to check gulls, also resulted in a Grey Partridge and a flock of 21 Egyptian Geese, though no unusual gulls!

Once at Snettisham we were soon watching our first Goldeneye, with a scattering of several along the pits, including some fine drakes. We then searched for yesterday’s Black Redstart, though there was no sign of it today a flock of 20 Snow Bunting’s were a nice compensation. 

Over the next few hours we watched and scanned through the wildfowl and waders slowly moving closer on the rising tide, everything lit beautifully in fine winter sunshine. There was some fine Pintail, mixed in amongst the hordes of Wigeon and Shelduck. Shorebirds were in good numbers with a roost of 1200+ Oystercatcher, hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Redshank, Grey Plover, Curlew with smaller numbers of Sanderling, Turnstone and Ringed Plover. Later a lovely group of Golden Plover gathered to roost out on the mud. Plus views of Reed Buntings, littoralis Rock Pipit and flocks of Linnet and 2 Stonechats.

The pits held good numbers of wildfowl including Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Little Grebe, plus numerous Cormorants and Mallard. A single Greenshank was present and hundreds of Lapwing were roosting on the islands. All these birds were sent scattering as a Peregrine came cruising by and past us.

It had been a wonderful morning full of birding and we eventually left at lunchtime for Titchwell. After a late picnic lunch we headed out on to the reserve. We started with a loop around the meadow trail, and fortunately connected with the long staying Siberian Chiff-chaff as well as a Common Chiff-chaff. Also Goldcrest and a Long-tailed tit flock here. 
Out on the reserve we had fine views of several Marsh harriers, more waders and wildfowl and a smart female Red-breasted Merganser was showing nicely on the tidal pool.

The second Peregrine of the day put many of the Lapwing into orbit as it cruised past & shortly after a ringtail Hen Harrier was watched hunting over the saltmarsh, around ten Marsh harriers came into roost, a Great White Egret was nearby and the ringtail Hen harrier reappeared and was then joined by a second ringtail Hen Harrier.

One of the clients fortuitously walked back to the centre to visit the shop and was able to watch a Bittern feeding in one of the narrow reed cut channels! It had disappeared when we got there! Though the rest of the group did thoroughly enjoy a super aerial display of 1200 Golden Plover spiralling down to roost over our heads in the last embers of beautiful late afternoon sunshine!
The day was neatly rounded off with a Water Rail feeding close by in the dyke near the visitor Centre.
A trip total now at 122 species.

Day Five – Welney WWT

We headed over to Welney today and arrived just before the centre opened, but were straight on to a new trip bird with several Tree Sparrows showing well in the hedgerow. Once in the Centre more prolonged views as they settled on the feeders alongside Reed Buntings, and House Sparrows good for comparison. We hadn’t seen the Cattle Egrets whilst scanning in the car park, but didn’t have to wait too long from the Viewing platform near reception as 3 Cattle Egrets flew in right on cue and landed in the adjacent field. Also from here a nice flock of albeit distant c300 Whooper Swans.

Tree Sparrows were easily seen around the reception area.
Three Cattle Egrets appeared just as we arrived on the viewing platform.

Once over the bridge into the rather nice, heated main hide, we were treated to much closer views of the Whooper Swans, plus a mass of wildfowl, lovely to see so many stunning drake Pochard, the ratio is massively waited 90% males, 10% females, the latter wintering in France and Spain, this enabling less interspecific competition. From this point we started scanning and initially swept pass some roosting Geese, mixed amongst the Greylags, fortunately as we were scanning back through them, 2-3 had lifted their heads and we realised that 9 Tundra Bean Geese were present, eventually at feed time they all lifted their heads revealing their lovely orange banded beak pattern.

Whooper Swan with it’s distinctive 2/3 yellow wedge & 1/3 black bill pattern, was very easy to see at close range from the hide
Drake Pochard were numerous and this one was nice and close – a stunning bird!
The 9 Tundra Bean Geese eventually lifted their heads to reveal their distinctive bill pattern and orange legs.

There was also a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwit, and we moved to the other hide to get closer, from here there was a mass of c1200 Black-tailed Godwit, a lovely sight to see!

We watched the wildfowl and Swans being fed at midday and then headed back to grab our own lunches! After lunch we visited the other hides to the North of the reserve. From here we managed to find 2 Bewick’s Swans, several Snipe, plus Ruff, Redshank and Dunlin, also distantly a flock of c300 Golden Plover. The walk between the hides also produced 2 possibly 3 overwintering Common Chiff-chaff.

We rounded off the final day from the viewing platform, where a Short-eared Owl was seen very briefly and not by us, but one of the group did see a Kingfisher.

A brilliant 5 days of winter birding with 127 species recorded.