Norfolk Birding 3 Day Winter Tour

12-14th January 2024

Friday 12th January NW & North Norfolk Day One of Three

We started the tour with a walk out along the shore at Brancaster, as we parked up there were 2 Spoonbills in view and a Marsh harrier skidded past, a nice start!

As we walked along the shore we started to notice the first of many shorebirds, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Sanderling were feeding close by in the standline. As we neared the channel between Brancaster and Scolt there was lots of birds, both along the muddy pools and out on the seawater channel. Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser were busy diving and feeding whilst after some searching, we located a Black-necked Grebe, which showed well along the far shore giving good scope views.

Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe – not the best image in the poor light!

Scanning the masses of shorebirds, mainly Redshank, Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Red Kot, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit paid eventual dividends when a couple Purple Sandpiper appeared, the second one for a period, again allowing good scope views.

Further on there was nice gathering of wildfowl with plenty of Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck plus a lovely gathering of roosting c50 Pintail. Plus, a flock of Dark-bellied Brent feeding out on the flats, occasionally disturbed by a passing Marsh harrier. Also groups of c20 Skylark and c50 Linnet.

Once back at the minibus, we were about to leave when we received news of Waxwings, just down at the roadside near Titchwell. We headed straight there, and another group were still watching them, lovely scope views of 5 Waxwing and we very lucky as within 10 minutes they flew high off to the South East!

Next we headed to Holkham, I stopped off from a suitable vantage point and we located c30 Russian White-fronted Geese, Great White Egret, several Marsh Harrier, Red Kite & Buzzard, plus a calling Water Rail.

At the parking areas at Holkham, there was a mass of waders on arrival on the big flood pools with good number of waders, notable were c100 Dunlin, c30 Black-tailed Godwit, c40 Ruff, c10 Snipe, also masses of Wigeon, Teal and c1000 Pink-footed Geese. All sent skywards at one point by a marauding Peregrine overhead.

We lunched and then headed out on to the beach, unfortunately the wintering Shorelarks were nowhere to be seen, having been flushed earlier from their favoured area. We headed onwards and looked at the sea, there was a huge flock of at least c5000 Common Scoter, plus Eider and distantly Red-throated Diver. Unfortunately the weather now closed in and constant heavy drizzle and the gusting on shore wind, made it impossible to work through the Scoters! We headed for the minibus and escape the rain.

We headed East, and arrived at Stiffkey, but we couldn’t find the Glossy Ibis it wasn’t in its favoured location. We tried for a while to look for raptors but the driving showers made it very difficult and the light closed in, so we headed back for tea and coffees after a good days birding!

Saturday 13th January North Norfolk and Est Norfolk Day Two of Three

We started the day by heading up to Cley marshes, as we arrived and headed up the Beach road we soon jumped out to get lovely views of a hunting Short-eared Owl. Up on the bank we scanned for the Twite and we got distant views of them as a flock flitted around on the sueuda bushes. We decided that views would be better from the Blakeney coastal path, so we drove around and walked out. After a while the flock reappeared, a good size flock of at least c40 Twite. They continued to frustrate initially, in and out of the vegetation. But eventually they flew and then sat on top of the bushes, providing good scope views. As we enjoyed the Twite, our attention was constantly distracted by c2500 Pink-footed Geese dropping from the skies on to the grazing marsh, a lovely sound and sight!

We then headed over to the Glaven area, the regular wintering Cattle Egrets were present with 5 showing well at close range. Around by the ford a super wintering flock of finches were still present ( I saw them on the 1st), with c250 in total, plenty of Linnet, Chaffinch but  including some stunning Brambling as well, also a Grey Wagtail was by the river too.

A walk along the East bank, gave great views of more wildfowl, Pintail in good light, and out on the sea there was Red-throated Diver, Eider, Gannet & several Great Crested grebe.

We lunched at Cley Visitor Centre, with a nice group of c10 Avocet, we then headed East to the Broads. We arrived mid afternoon and headed first to some pools where a lovely mixed flock of wild swans had gathered, 27 Bewick’s & 42 Whooper Swans.

We then headed off towards Ludham bridge area. We walked along the raised bank and were soon watching a hunting Short-eared Owl. After a bit more scanning, a superb adult grey male Hen Harrier appeared and later we were rewarded with even closer views. I took a little while but we eventually found 3 Cranes feeding on the ground, whilst a second Short-eared owl was hunting further away. The day was neatly rounded off with 2 hunting Barn Owls!

Sunday 14th January North West Norfolk Day Three of Three

Today was a bright and early start departing at 7am as we reached Snettisham for the high tide, just as dawn was breaking and the first of c10,000 Pink-footed Geese left their roost, a super start as the geese flew calling overhead, passing by over the next 45 minutes in constant streams. As daylight arrived and the tide peaked, there was a fantastic mass of c40,000 Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit & Oystercatcher, in massive dense ball, either carpeting the saltmarsh and from time to time swirling into the skies. It was a bitterly cold morning with a cutting NE wind! We managed around a pleasurable hour of the masses of shorebirds, plus wildfowl, enjoying the sights and sounds, before taking refuge to the hides.

From the hide out of the wind, we enjoyed nice views of Goldeneye, Little Grebe, Cormorants, 2000 Oystercatcher and some closer Redshank, Knot & Turnstone. We also located a Kingfisher perched out of the wind and had lovely scope views, plus Meadow & Rock Pipit, Skylark and Reed Bunting.

As we headed back to the minibus we were treated to a superb turbo-charged Peregrine hunting the shorebirds, just failing to take a Knot!

We next stopped off late morning for a coffee and cake, and we all warmed up before heading to the cliffs at Hunstanton where there was c30 Fulmars giving great views. We then headed to the Heacham beach area, where after quite a walk we were eventually treated to nice views of 21 Snow Bunting, that chose to fly in and drop on to the pools in front of us, after initially being no sign! Also, great light and nice close views of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone and Redshank nearby.

We headed off to Holme and had a late lunch, we were assured that a long staying Black-throated Diver was still present but it would seem that this bird is tide sensitive as there was no sigh and it’s chosen pool probably too low. We did see 2 Cattle Egret, several more Marsh harrier, Red Kite, a stunning close male Stonechat.

A good three days with 105 species, in at times challenging weather!