Norfolk 5 day Winter Birding Tour 16-20th January

Day One – 16th JanuaryThe Broads

We kicked the tour off in tricky weather conditions, cold grey skies with intermittent showers, wintry by the days end. However, the birding was good and we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. We kicked off near Horning with a nice group of “wild” Swans, 20 Whoopers & 6 Bewick’s, a careful approach kept the bird happily feeding and gave everyone good views with the opportunity to study the difference in bill patterns and structure, there was also Fieldfare and a nice group of Greenfinch in the hedge.

© Chris Mills – Bewick & Whooper Swans

We next stopped off at St. Benets Abbey area, where we pleased to find that the 4 Taiga Bean Geese were still present, and we got reasonable scope views of there long dark necks, mantle combining with their extensive orange bills! We then headed on to the Abbey, where up on the raised ground we were able to scan 360 degrees around the surrounding wet grassland, a few more Bewick’s & Whoopers were in evidence, then a nice ringtail Hen Harrier appeared, hunting the bog, in between the showers the Marsh harriers were up and circling and several Kestrels were hunting. No sign today of last week’s group of Cranes though!

We then headed on to Filby Broad, where there was some nice rafts of aythya ducks, lots of Pochard, Tufted Duck and quite a good number of very smart Goldeneye. We then headed round to Ormesby Broad where there was a lot more Pochard & Tufted Duck, also a smart ♂ Red-crested Pochard, but the highlight here was definitely nice close views of a redhead Smew!

© Chris Mills – Smew

The weather closed in again for a while and we sought refuge with a coffee in the cafe. The weather seemed to be improving, so we popped back to St. Benets for lunch, where we treated to a hunting Barn Owl, a good number of Marsh Harriers, plus several skeins of Pink-footed Geese overhead.

It was mid-afternoon and time to head to the roost at Hickling, the weather was still not great, but in between showers we were treated to 3 Hen Harriers, 2 rt & a nice grey male Hen Harrier that gave cracking views, fortunately the best views of the 3 birds.

© Chris Mills Ringtail hen Harrier

A Great Egret was seen and we rounded off nicely with 3 Cranes coming into roost just before the light went and wintry showers began again.

Day Two – 17th January North Norfolk

What a difference 24 hours make, today dawned with blue skies and a hard frost & -4 overnight! We headed up towards Holkham, where our first stop produced a lovely mass of Pink-footed Geese waiting for the grass to thaw, amongst them were several Barnacle Geese. 

Just a short drive and we were soon watching the main Russian White-fronted Goose flock around 170 birds, showing well at close quarters. We headed further along where we had a good view over the entire grazing marsh, there was masses of tightly packed wildfowl  huddled up on the frozen pools, Wigeon, Teal & smaller numbers of Gadwall. Red Kites were sitting in the trees, Several Marsh harriers were hunting up and down and 2 were sitting on a dead bird with 2 Ravens in attendance. Also a few Little Egrets and at least one Great Egret. 

© Chris Mills White-fronted Geese

We next headed to the Lady Anne’s drive and we’re soon watching more duck and Pink-footed Geese, and a nice covey of Grey Partridge, with several Snipe feeding right out close in the open.

© Steve Pritchard – Common Snipe

We headed out into Holkham bay and soon found the 9 Shorelark, feeding close by the cordon area, also here were a nice group of Scandinavian Rock and Meadow Pipit. At the far East end there was a nice small group of Snow Buntings, also a few Linnets. We then headed to the shore to scan the sea, the sea was still rough and there was a heat haze with a shimmer so difficult to view. But after some scanning we picked up a Red-necked Grebe, it was very tricky as it dived and disappeared in the surf. Then a drake Goosander flew West followed shortly after by 3 Red-breasted Merganser, and a line of Common Scoter went West. A few distant Red-throated Diver passed East and Sandering and Oystercatchers went along the shoreline.

© Chris Mills Shorelark

After a really nice mornings birding we headed back for lunch in the sunshine. 

After lunch we took a walk out along Burmham Overy staithe, there was plenty of Brent Geese and more wildfowl. The tide was in but there was roosting Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank Turnstone, Curlew  and a lovely larger flock of Black-tailed Godwits. We also added Little Grebe, Shelduck and Golden Plover. There was a very close pair of Stonechat showing very well along the seawall. 

© Steve Pritchard

Plenty more Red Kite and Marsh Harrier were seen as well as a superb Peregrine that flew straight towards us from the distant horizon.

The day was rounded off at a raptor roost with 3 ringtail Hen Harriers, several Marsh Harriers, 2-3 Merlin, two in the air together and one perched, plus lovely close views of a hunting Barn Owl.

Day Three – 18th January North Norfolk

We started with a stop off near Great Cressingham where after a bit of searching I located several Tree Sparrows in the hedgerow. We then headed on to a dedicated field full of Millet & Fathen. This field has been very productive and again held a wonderful mix of birds, with 300 Linnet, 50 Chaffinch, 20 Brambling, 40 Yellowhammer, 20 Reed Bunting, Goldfinch, Fieldfare & Redwing. We spent some time here enjoying the birds tumbling from the hedges into the crop.

We then headed to the raptor watch point, where after a few Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk a young Goshawk appeared briefly sitting in the top of a tree, before dropping low and hunting through the trees.

We then headed to Lunsford for lunch. After lunch we walked around the area, it was sunny but very cold! Siskin, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch all obliged but Firecrest had gone quiet and there was no sign of last weeks bird. However 5 Hawfinches arrived at their roost and we enjoyed plenty of Redwing & 2 Mistle Thrush whilst waiting. 

These evening we all headed out for a lovely evening meal at the Railway Arms, Taxi collected everyone from Hindolveston and we had a lovely evening, good conversation and great food!

Day Four – 19th January North Norfolk

We started the day with a walk out along Gypsy Lane towards Brancaster, to look for the Hume’s Warbler. We had Long-tailed Tit flock and other tits on the walk out plus the first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of 2023.  Further on there was  Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Rock Pipit, Grey Plover & Marsh Harrier, Red Kite & Kestrel on the salt marsh. It was bright, but with a cold blustery wind, not the ideal conditions for seeing a tiny warbler! After an hour of searching I heard it call, but despite further searching it refused to show, so we headed off for the shore. 

There was plenty of waders along the shore, with 100+ Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone and 50 Bar-tailed Godwit. Out on the sea there was several Goldeneye & Red-breasted Merganser, Paul located a 1st winter drake Eider sat on the sandbanks. More scanning and Alison located a small ‘black and white’ Grebe just offshore, it proved to be a Slavonian Grebe, which we all enjoyed watching as it dived and fished close inshore.

After a nice morning’s birding we headed to Titchwell where we had lunch and then headed out to the beach. A brief stop to look on the mainly frozen main fresh marsh, did give us lovely views of several cracking Pintail and Ringed Plover. A Cetti’s Warbler showed out in the open, but no sound or sight of any Bearded Tits.

© Steve Pritchard – Pintail

The shoreline yielded a nice mix of shorebirds, Redshank, Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, there was a distant flock of 100 shorebirds roosting so we walked up to get better views. The majority were Bar-tailed Godwit, but sprinkled amongst them were Sanderling, Dunlin and Knot in fantastic low light. 

© Steve Pritchard – Bar-tailed Godwit

We walked back and a Spotted Redshank called and flew low over the bank and I walked back to find it on one of the pools, where we got good scope views.

As we walked back past the freshmarsh, a few more birds had dropped in as the ice thawed and we added 4 Ruff to the list.

Another nice day took the tour list on to 126 species.

Day Five – 20th January North Norfolk

We started the last day with a seawatch off Cley with the chance of adding a few additional species. There was regular Red-throated Divers passing, along with Teal, Cormorants and a steady passage of shoreline, Black-headed, Common, Great black-backed & Herring Gulls. A few Common Scoter a Goldeneye moved past and  9 Eider including 8 drakes was nice, plus 3 Kittiwake, plus 2 Razorbills were all additions to the tour. 

Behind us on the Eyefield, there was a nice flock of Dark-bellied Brent’s and a few close Golden Plover.

We then headed off to Blakeney and walked from the harbour to the freshmarsh. After a fairly uneventful walk out, we were pleased and surprised when a small flock of 20 Twite flew in and sat conveniently on the fence line affording great scope views.

We next headed to Stiffkey floods where we soon found the Black-tailed Godwit flock and fortunately the Long-billed Dowitcher was still amongst them, we had nice scope views until they were disturbed and flew further out.

It was a cold day with squally showers and everyone was happy to stop off and grab hot drinks in Stiffkey, which we sipped whilst scanning over Stiffkey greens, several Marsh harrier, a Red Kite and a ringtail Hen Harrier.

We lunched at Cley out of the wind and the headed off to our final venue, it was a high tide and though the usual Turnstone flock was present there was no sign of any Purple Sandpiper despite checking all the groynes. 

So we headed back and the tour finished up with 130 species, with some lovely moments and special birds.