Monday, 2 March 2015

2 brothers and 79 birds

I received an email from my brother suggesting that if he came over from his home in Catalan, could we do a days birding in Norfolk? It didn't take long to reply with a very excited yes. I always look forward to going out with Stephen, my skills with bird ID are ok but when it comes to Waders & Gulls I'm not as confident as we don't get a great variety in Derbyshire. He runs his own business giving guided day tours and holidays and always seems to spot things that others would miss. (see here)

Stephen arrived on the Monday night and after some catching up and preparing sandwiches and snacks for the day, we then went off to bed as we had agreed a 4am leaving time so we could get to Titchwell for sun up around 7am. Our drive was great, hardly any traffic and in 2 & ¾ hours we arrived at the RSPB reserve. While having a quick coffee in the car park I heard the familiar sound of Pink-footed Goose (1) flying towards us, we looked up and that was Stephens 1st wish list tick sorted. He had arrived with a few birds that he really wanted to see as he doesn't get them where he lives. Grey Partridge, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snow Bunting & Twite along with some sea birds such as Long-tailed Duck & Divers were targets but like me he just enjoys being out birding and gets excited about getting great views of any bird.
Pink-footed Geese At dawn

As we left the car park Blackbird (2), Dunnock (3), Chaffinch (4) & Moorhen (5) were quicly added. We heard more Geese heading towards us but were distracted by a stunning Barn Owl (6) quartering to our left over the reed beds, we watched it drop down several times and all the time the geese were getting closer and closer, the a loud BANG, BANG. Two Pink feet dropped from the sky and hit the mud, a tosser with a gun had taken the lives of these birds for no reason as his dog couldn't get through the mud to retrieve them, a very sad and disturbing start to the day, what a waste of life.
You can choose your own caption for this

The next few bird sightings were enjoyed but we struggled to forget the event that we had just witnessed, including Brent Goose (7) that was also on his wish list. As we walked on towards the beach we added Lapwing (8), Shoveler (9), Teal (10), Greylag Goose (11), Curlew (12), Little Egret (13), Reed Bunting (14), Little Grebe (15), Redshank (16) & Black-headed Gull (17). I took the time to check out all the Redshank in the hope of seeing a close relative. After around 5-6 minutes I was rewarded with the Spotted Redshank (18), White supercilium, greyer body & more delicate bill clearly visible. They can be tricky but I think I've got this bird nailed now, they are certainly a lot easier in Spain when in full breeding plumage. 
Spotted Redshank

Stockier bird with upturned bill, Bar-tailed Godwit
Next came two more birds that can be difficult to split without experience. Godwits are obviously Godwits but getting the Black-tailed & Bar-tailed part right takes a bit of practice. If you get a good look at the tail then that helps enormously but when tail is obscured then the Bar-tailed Godwit (19) is a stockier bird with shorter legs & a slightly upturned bill. I was lucky, the Bar-tailed was feeding right next to a Black-tailed Godwit (20).
Much longer legged with straight bill, Black-tailed Godwit

We made camp and set up the scope on the beach in the hope of getting a few sea birds, tucked in amongst the dunes, to shy away from the very cold wind, we soon started adding more birds, Sanderling (21), Dunlin (22), Turnstone (23), Grey Plover (24)
Grey Plover
Ruff (25) Oystercatcher (26), Common Gull (27), Herring Gull (28)
& Great Black-backed Gull (29) were all working the shoreline, and out to sea we spotted Great Crested Grebe (30), Common Scoter (31), Goldeneye (32) & another bird on Stephens list, the Long-tailed Duck (33). After around 90 minutes we started to pack up, as we were Cormorant (34) flew low over the choppy water & 3 Ringed Plover (35) landed a few metres away. 
Ringed Plover
Behind a small flock of birds were moving up and down the dunes, we saw Goldfinch (36), Linnet (37) & we heard, then got a quick view of Twite (38).

Moving back down the walkway Canada Goose (39) flew over heading north and out on the freshwater marsh were Wigeon (40), Mallard (41), Pintail (42), Shelduck (43), Avocet (44).
From over the far side of the reserve a male Marsh Harrier (45) glided low over the water putting up all the ducks & waders as it looked for breakfast. A Snipe (45) zig-zagged through the reserve calling as it flew, a Pheasant (47) called from the reedbed and a Song Thrush (48) sang from the top of a willow.

Other birds seen at Titchwell were Woodpigeon (49), Magpie (50), Carrion Crow (51), Blue Tit (51), Great Tit (53), Skylark (54), Long-tailed Tit (55), Wren (56) & Robin (57).

We left the reserve and as we reached the village of Titchwell we turned right down a country lane where we had heard that large gaggles of Pink Feet had been seen feeding over the last few days. After driving up & down a few times there was no sign of any geese, but we did get some great views of Grey Partridge (58) & Red-legged Partridge (59) in good numbers and very close to where we had pulled up. 

Grey Partridge makes a break for the cover of long grass

Red-legged Partridge scans for Danger

Then a real treat, 4 Brown Hares were chasing around in a field and as I followed them with the camera I spotted 3 sat in the hedge row, I love watching Hares and it was wonderful to see.
Brown Hare ran across our path
Brown hare with black tips to the ears
Burnham Overy Dunes was our next stop where people were reporting regular sightings of Rough-legged Buzzard. I'd never stopped here before but will certainly return to this great site. The 1st new bird was Mute Swan (60) and soon followed by Egyptian Goose (61) in a distant field. I spotted a Kestrel (62) hovering over the marshland.
Kestrel looking for breakfast

 I was photographing it when Stephen called 'Raptors', I took a couple more shots and ran up the bank hoping for the RL Buzzard. We got incredible views of Common Buzzard (63), Marsh Harrier & 3 stunning Red Kite (64), around 10 raptors in total were soaring and chasing each other around and at one point 2 Kite clasped talons and spun earthwards for a few seconds until they released just before hitting the ground. That really got the hairs on my neck stood up, what an experience.

Looking back over a flooded field I saw a bird that surprised me, not because I didn't expect to see it but I was so surprised it was the first of the day, Coot (65). On the muddy edges there were at least 20 Ringed Plover and Stephen pointed out 2 birds that were feeding along side, I wasn't sure at first but then they were identified as Little Stint (66), this was a lifer for me so at this stage I was over the moon.
Little Stint was a lifer for me

3 more birds added to the days list before we left, House Sparrow (67), Starling (68) & Jackdaw (69). No luck with the RL Buzzard but maybe we would fair better at Holkham.
These Brent Geese few over as we walked back to the car

The thought of visiting Holkham beach always gets my juices flowing, not just the idea of seeing something interesting, sea watching can always throw up a surprise, but also because it's such a beautiful place. I always walk down to the shoreline and do a 360, take in the vista and fill up with fresh air. 

As soon as we left the car we saw Pink Feet, Egyptian Goose, Wigeon, Little Egret, Pheasant, Curlew plus a few more species. One new bird for today was Fieldfare (70), around 15 or so was feeding with the Wigeon, I was reminded how stunning these birds are as I had great views through the scope.
A stunning Fieldfare

 As we walked towards the beach a Goldcrest (71) was added from the wood after being heard calling. A blast of very chilly wind greeted us as we left the treeline and it took a couple of minutes to find our spot and set up. Not a lot out there to start with, then Goldeneye made an appearance along with some Gulls, but after around 30 minutes Stephen called out that a pair of Red-breasted Merganser (72) were hugging the waves, he pointed the scope ahead of their flightpath and I had great views, they then landed and I had added another lifer to my list. 
Awful picture but this Red-breasted Merganser was my 2nd lifer of the day
Take time to enjoy the beautiful vistas at Holkham in between birds 
Time was now getting on and we had to start thinking about light, we still hadn't seen the RL Buzzard so headed off to another site where one had been spotted.

As we walked back on the beach we came across huge swathes of Razor Clam shells, there were thousands of them all over the sand.
Razor Clam shells

Not a great picture but this Red Kite gave us another great tick for Holkham

Salthouse failed to supply the RL Buzzard which was disappointing but the day had been so good that it didn't really matter. It did however give us a Pied Wagtail (73) so worth calling in.

A quick stop at Cley and some more sea watching gave us a frustrating distant view of a diver, as time past the views got slightly better, enough to confirm that it was a Red-throated Diver (74), Mick Reavey reminded me on Twitter that ' think Lord Snooty. Nose in the air = red (in my less than scientific approach to dots out to sea)'. Just before we left we added Lesser Black-backed Gull (75).

Very tired and starting to get hungry (having eaten all the sandwiches) we made one last decision to return to Titchwell to watch the sun set and maybe see the Raptor Roost. I was surprised how many people were here, around 30 or so. 4 Marsh Harriers made an appearance and gave some good views, Rook (76) & Collared Dove (77) were seen before we left and a pocket full of sunset photos were captured.
The light was great as the sun fell

A perfect end to a fantastic days birding

Other birds today were Grey Heron (78), Golden Plover (79)

I returned home shattered at around 8:20pm, whilst sat eating I reflected on what a fantastic day we'd had, 79 species for the day, 34 added to my year list and 2 lifers, it doesn't get much better than that. What a great place Norfolk is for any birder, whether a beginner honing your skills or an expert looking for a rare migrant, it will never disappoint. I had the best nights sleep I'd had for months and yet another great memory of our wildlife to treasure.    


  1. Beautiful post. I hope Fin and Harley share moments like this together as brothers in the future. A treasure trove on memories in just one post.

  2. Thank you Heather, days like that one are the ones you remember with great fondness. We only manage to get out together a couple of times a year so we make the most of them.

  3. Nice one Bro'. You didn't mention you eating all the sandwiches though.