10th Feb 2023 – Three Winter Days, Day 3

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Day 3 of a three-day Private Winter Tour in Norfolk, and we were back on the North Norfolk coast. It was a cloudier and somewhat windier day than the previous two, but thankfully remained pretty much dry throughout (we did get a couple of brief spots of rain, which were not in the forecast!!). Certainly nothing to stop us getting out and making the most of our last day.

Our first destination was Holkham. As we drove in along Lady Anne’s Drive, a small group of Pink-footed Geese were on the grass close to the road so we pulled up for a quick look, contrasting them with the Greylags which were in the next field back. There were lots of Wigeon out on the grass and Shoveler and Teal on the pools.

A message came through to say that the Ruddy Shelduck which had been here recently was with the Pinkfeet to the east of Lady Anne’s Drive. We couldn’t see it from where we were, so we walked up towards The Lookout and managed to find it from higher up. It was still hard to see, as all the geese were feeding in amongst the tall dead thistle heads, but the Ruddy Shelduck eventually came out into the open where we could see it.

Ruddy Shelduck – with the Pinkfeet

There was a Chiffchaff feeding in the holm oak at the north end of the Drive and then a large tit flock came out of the pines too. Several Long-tailed Tits dropped down to feed on the gravel under the tree and were joined by the Chiffchaff. The Firecrest has been with this flock recently, so we scanned the birds as they flew in, but at first all we could see were a couple of Goldcrests. The Firecrest then appeared but was promptly chased off by one of the Goldcrests and disappeared into the biggest holm oak. The Firecrest reappeared just as the Ruddy Shelduck came out of the thistles, so it was a question of which to look at first!

Chiffchaff – feeding on the ground

When the tit flock disappeared into the pines, we set off to walk out to the beach. When we got out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, we had a quick look out along the inner edge of the dunes to the west of The Gap. We could see Skylarks and Linnets, which were then flushed by a loose dog running round, but no sign of any Shorelarks, so we decided to try our luck down at the cordon to the east. There were a few Brent Geese and a large group of Redshanks out on the saltmarsh as we walked down, but no sign of anything in the cordon.

We carried on out to the beach and scanned the sea. The big groups of Common Scoter were mostly very distant, but we found one male a bit closer. There were several Red-breasted Merganser and a single 1st winter drake Common Eider too. We managed to find the Red-necked Grebe, but it was busy diving and spent a lot of time underwater, making its way off west and further out at the same time. A Harbour Porpoise broke the surface several times. Two Sanderling flew past along the shoreline.

There was still no sign of life in the cordon, as we made our way back. Before we got to the boardwalk, we stopped to scan the saltmarsh away to the west again, and this time we could see there was a Shorelark in with the Skylarks. We had a quick look through the scope from here, but we could see several dogs running around in the dunes nearby, so made our way round as quickly as possible. Thankfully, when we got closer, we could see they were still there. Now we could see there were actually all nine Shorelarks here.

Shorelark – one from the other day

After another quick look, we moved a bit closer. Now, from a safe distance, we could get a really good look at the Shorelarks. They had taken some finding today, but everyone it was well worth the effort! As well as quite a few Skylarks still on the saltmarsh here, there was a large flock of Linnets and a single Goldfinch with them too.

As we made our way back through the pines, we ran into a big tit flock. We had nice views of a couple of Treecreepers feeding on the trunks of the hold oaks, but despite looking carefully we could only find several Goldcrests and no sign of the Firecrest with this group. Then it was back to The Lookout cafe where we rewarded ourselves with a coffee break.

After coffee, we got back in the minibus and drove east. After disappearing for a couple of weeks, the Long-eared Owl had reappeared in the garden of Cley Spy (North Norfolk’s premier optics retailer!) in Glandford this morning. Not something to be missed! When we arrived, there were a surprisingly large number of people there, but we found a spot to set up the scope. Great views of the Long-eared Owl!

Long-eared Owl – back at Cley Spy

Even better, there was a Tawny Owl roosting in the garden too today. It was a little more obscured and facing away, but it was a strikingly rufous individual, possibly good camouflage for roosting in a young oak tree among the orange leaves!

Tawny Owl – two for the price of one!

Time for lunch now, we were planning to head for Wells but given the time decided to divert to Blakeney. There was no sign of the Kingfisher in the harbour today, but the tide was out and slack. We amused ourselves watching the Black-headed Gulls and Jackdaws angling for scraps.

We had decided we would have another go for the Pallid Harrier this afternoon, so we only had about an hour or so to play with now. We drove to Wells and had a quick look out in the harbour. There was a nice selection of waders again – lots of Oystercatchers, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits, Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin and some small groups of Knot at the back. Not bad, considering the disturbance from the people collecting shellfish in the harbour at the moment.

We still had about half an hour, so we thought we would have a very quick look in Wells Woods to see if we could find the redpoll flock. There were a few Tufted Ducks on the boating lake, but the trees beyond were very quiet. The wind had picked up and was whistling through now. We had a quick look at the Dell, and then walked back through the birches, but barely saw a bird.

We thought we had got to Warham Greens in good time, but we were only half way down the track when we got a message to say that the Pallid Harrier had just flown in and dropped down out of view. When we got out to the edge of the saltmarsh, the small group of people there seemed unhelpfully sketchy on where it had actually gone down, but it was clear it had disappeared. We stopped to scan, but all we could see were two or three Marsh Harriers. When all the waders came up off the flats beyond, we spotted a Peregrine flying across. It seemed to catch something and we then found it again on a post way out on the beach, where it seemed to be eating.

Time slipped by and it increasingly felt like our luck might be out again. There were mentions of ‘dipping’ and a suggestion that we should only give it 10 more minutes. But the Pallid Harrier had not gone down where it likes to roost, so surely it would have to move again at some point. The 10 minutes was almost up, when we picked it up coming out of the grass. Just in time! It kept dropping down into the grass again, then coming up and flying round for a short while. Eventually, everyone got a look at it through the scope.

Mission accomplished, and good to not be defeated at the last – a nice way to end, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

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