Norfolk 3 Day Spring Birdwatching Tour April 5th-7th

A forgiving 8am meeting time on our first day was followed by a gentle drive with the group to NWT Cley Marshes on the coast. We were greeted by mild, bright and blustery spring conditions on the East Bank. The mournful verses of a Mistle Thrush singing nearby could be heard on the breeze. It was immediately clear that good numbers of birds were close to the path, including some lovely displaying Lapwing, several Grey Herons fishing in the dykes, as well as some flyby Ruff.

It wasn’t long before we enjoyed excellent views of both male and female Marsh Harrier quartering the marshes and surrounding scrapes. A nice background soundtrack of  ‘metallic pinging’ calls soon gave away our first Bearded Tits, with brief but lovely views of some male and female birds.

Several Skylarks were in full voice, fluttering high above the marshes, as we stood scanning with our telescopes. It didn’t take long to pick out our first Spoonbill of the morning. Roosting in the tops of some nearby Pines, we counted four individuals as well as a decent number of Little Egret.


© Spoonbill Ian Howarth

We set up our telescopes to scan some areas of scrape, where we enjoyed views of a lovely pair of Pintail (Both &), Ringed Plover, and a surprise Brown Hare making its way along the shingle. A flyby Wagtail sp. looked suspiciously pale and upon closer inspection after the bird settled, it was clear that it was a White Wagtail, with its’ beautiful Silvery Grey mantle.

© Spoonbill – Ian Howarth

As birds began to leave the roost, we enjoyed some excellent in-flight views of the Spoonbill as they ventured out onto the marsh to feed. As we wandered closer to the beach, bursts of song from Cetti’s Warbler could be heard either side of us as well as a squealing Water Rail.

© Lapwing Harry Read

As we made our way back to the minibus the sun was slightly warmer, causing some raptors to take to the skies. We enjoyed a low Red Kite flyover and spotted the familiar ‘flap-flap-glide’ of a Sparrowhawk overhead. A distant raptor gliding on the thermals came in the form of a Peregrine Falcon, which was joined by the Red Kite allowing a nice opportunity for size comparison.

© Peregrine & Red Kite Harry Read

© Peregrine Harry Read

We then made the short walk to Walsey Hills to see the local bird ringing group, processing some birds from the mornings netting. On the way over we enjoyed excellent views of Common Pochard and Little Grebe on the pond. On the hill we enjoyed watching the bird ringers in action, also picking up Goldfinch and a Common Lizard too.

© Common Lizard Harry Read

A short drive East took us to Kelling Heath, where we set off in search of some heathland specialists. A couple of vibrant Brimstone butterflies dashed across the woodland clearings as we reached the open heath. Before we knew it, the scratchy song of a Dartford Warbler filled the air, as a lovely individual hopped up onto an exposed perch above the gorse bushes.

© Dartford Warbler Harry Read

As we wandered back to the car a flute like whistle could be heard through a thicket, providing a brief view of a Bullfinch. We also enjoyed regular phrases of song from Chiffchaffs as well as a couple of Goldcrest amongst the gorse. With favourable conditions we decided to head back to Cley Marshes for lunch, where we sat outside in the sun. As we discussed the mornings action, all conversations were paused as a Bittern got up, flying left to right over the reedbed, giving everyone an excellent and prolonged in-flight view.

© Bittern Harry Read

We got back to our sandwiches, soon after being interrupted again by our first Swallow flyover!

After lunch we headed down to the scrape hides where we enjoyed fantastic views of a long staying Long-Billed Dowitcher in front of the hide. We also enjoyed views of an exceptional mix of waders including Black-Tailed Godwit, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover and Ruff to name a few of the highlights.

© Long-billed Dowitcher Harry Read

It wasn’t long before a Bittern revealed itself, as it climbed halfway up the reeds to survey the dyke. We were treated to some crippling views as it swam across the channel in front of us. We rounded off the day with distant but hard-earned views of a Water Pipit, it’s breast with a pinkish flush.

Day Two: 6th April – Northwest Norfolk

We began day two with contrasting weather conditions, as persistent rain covered the area. After meeting at the regular time, we headed to RSPB Snettisham to see what other species we could pick up. Some scanning across the wash produced various new species, including a single Pink-Footed Goose, Turnstone, Dunlin, Curlew, lots of Grey Plover and some Bar-Tailed Godwit. We moved on to the hide which produced good views of some immature Great Black-backed Gulls and a large group of noisy Mediterranean Gulls feeding and bathing on the pools. We set off towards Hunstanton and a quick stop at the cliffs produced some nice views of Fulmar, as they cruised above the beach.

Our next stop at Thornham pools produced a Stonechat on arrival, as well as some decent views of Marsh Harrier quartering the marsh. We spent a little while scanning the pools, which produced Gadwall, Common Teal and Eurasian Wigeon.

© Marsh Harrier Ian Howarth

After a short drive to RSPB Titchwell we enjoyed lunch sheltering from the last of the rain before heading out onto the reserve. A surprise bonus came in the form of a Firecrest which showed fantastically, close to the visitors centre, feeding low down in some ivy.

© Firecrest Harry Read

As the sun broke through and began to provide some heat, a nice singing male Blackcap showed, as well as our first Willow Warbler in its yellow tinged finery. On our walk out to the beach, we had good views of male Reed Bunting and a selection of waders and waterfowl. A decent scan out to see yielded some good birds, including courting Great-Crested Grebes, Red-Breasted Merganser, Brent Geese, Sandwich Tern and Common Scoter. We headed back to the minibus before making our way to our final location of the day in the Choseley area. As we made regular stops around the crop fields, we enjoyed views of both Yellowhammer, a large flock of Linnets and a lovely Corn Bunting feeding on the ground. In the evening, we were all collected by a Taxi and headed out for an evening meal and a few drinks at a charming local restaurant.

Day Three: 7th April – The Brecks

Our final day started with some beautifully clear and sunny weather. We met slightly earlier at 7.30am as we were driving slightly further towards the Brecks. Our initial plan was altered after we received reports of a Eurasian Dotterel showing close to Great Ryburgh. Our diversion well and truly paid dividend as we enjoyed great views of this wonderful bird close to the road as it fed in a crop field.

© Dotterel Harry Read

Impressive numbers of Skylark were present, their songs filling the air as they parachuted above. We moved onto the Great Cressingham area where a short search produced excellent views of Stone Curlew. As we scanned the fields we found two Grey Partridges close to the road, as well as a small number of Tree Sparrows moving along the hedgerows.

© Stone Curlew Harry Read

After arriving at Cockley Cley we all prepared our telescopes for some scanning. The sun was warming the ground and a gentle but very fresh breeze had begun to blow across the fields. The stunning song of a male Woodlark filled the air as the bird perched in a nearby tree giving excellent views. Large numbes of Common Buzzard were present as well as Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. It took us a little patience, but around 30 minutes in we were treated to a close flyover from not one, but two Northern Goshawk as they swirled and glided by! With our target species for the morning on the list, we headed into the forest to Lynford Arboretum. Here we enjoyed good views of Firecrest and Goldcrest in the large firs. Nuthatches called nearby, as well as a Great-Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper. As we walked further we paused briefly to watch a displaying male Siskin. Pausing close to a marsh area of woodland, we enjoyed views of Marsh Tit, Long-Tailed Tit, Nuthatch and two Swallows.

© Firecrest Ian Howarth

© Nuthatch Ian Howarth

After another lunch sitting in the sun we drove to RSPB Lakenheath, where some scanning revealed a lovely drake Garganey, it’s large white eye stripe giving it away on the far bank of the lake. Other highlights included Little Egret, Gadwall and Tufted Duck. On our drive back towards our finish point we made a brief stop at some bird feeders close to Drymere. A short stakeout produced brief views of a single Brambling and Siskin. All passerines quickly scattered when a stunning male Sparrowhawk dropped in, in search of prey. We enjoyed views of Red Kite whilst we waited for the passerines to reappear, but to no avail.

As we arrived back at our accommodation, a male Greenfinch was busy displaying and calling. A lovely way to finish the final day of our three day tour, taking our total number to 121 species recorded.