24th-25th Jan 2023 – Two Days on the Coast

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A 2-day Private Tour in North Norfolk. We had glorious crisp, clear winter weather with blue skies, sunshine and light winds on Tuesday – although it was cold, it felt warmer with some sunshine. Perfect weather to be out birding! While it was milder on Wednesday, it felt a million times colder with the grey skies, mist at times, light drizzle on and off and slightly stronger winds. Still, it didn’t stop us getting out again, and seeing lots of good birds.

Tuesday 24th January

It was a big high tide this morning, so we decided to try Titchwell first to see what might have been pushed out. A quick look round the car park produced a female Bullfinch feeding in the sallows and a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the hedge, but the highlight was a Woodcock which we disturbed from the leaves on one side and watched it run into cover. We tried round on Fen Trail to see if it had gone through that way, but couldn’t find it again.

As we walked out along the main path, we stopped to watch not one but two Water Rails in the ditch. A Siskin was calling high in the trees above us. A Marsh Harrier was out over Thornham Marsh and a Red Kite was perched in the dead trees at the back of the reedbed.

Water Rail – one of two today

With a hard frost overnight, most of the water was frozen, but there was still a good selection of ducks on the Freshmarsh – Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon and a couple of drake Pintail dozing on the edge of the one patch of open water further back. A couple of small skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew over calling but the Brent Geese were right over towards Thornham Harbour today, and with no water for them on the Freshmarsh they were not flying in and out. Several Chinese Water Deer were feeding out on the saltmarsh too. A Sparrowhawk was hunting over the back of the Freshmarsh and landed on a post on the bank so we could get it in the scope.

With the sun shining, we headed on towards the beach. The tide was going out fast now and there were lots of waders in the channel on Volunteer Marsh – we had really close views of Curlew, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover. There were a couple of Black-tailed Godwits further back and a Bar-tailed Godwit down the far end too.

Even the Tidal Pools were frozen today. There had been a Spotted Redshank earlier, but there were no waders left on here now. There were three Pintail on the ice, including a couple of very smart drake. Out at the beach, the tide was in. We quickly got the scope on the Black-necked Grebe which was diving a short way offshore. Scanning across, we could also see several Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye on the water. A Sanderling was running around on the sand in front of us and several more Bar-tailed Godwits looked stunning in the low winter sunshine out on the shoreline.

On our way back, we stopped to watch a couple of Common Snipe feeding on the saltmarsh. A pair of Stonechats flicked around the bushes just behind. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a pale wader caught our attention, feeding in the bottom of the channel. The Spotted Redshank – we got it in the scope and at one point had it alongside a Common Redshank for comparison.

Back at the Visitor Centre, while most of the group stopped for lunch we had a quick look in the sallows on the way back to the minibus. Our luck was in – the Woodcock was now in the leaves in the gully right by the path, so after dragging everyone away from their food we had fill-the-frame views of it in the scope. Stunning!

Woodcock – stunning views

After lunch, we made our way west. After a diversion inland due to roadworks closing the main road through Thornham, we drove down to the harbour. There were a few waders in the channel, including a Lapwing which glowed metallic green, purple and bronze in the afternoon sunshine, and a Rock Pipit landed on one of the jetty posts right in front of us. From up on the bank, we could see lots of Common Snipe on the grassy fields the other side.

We stopped by the bench on the corner to scan the harbour. Again, there was a good selection of waders and ducks here. A succession of flocks of Brent Geese flew overhead, dropping down into the harbour channel. But there was no sign of the Spoonbills from here today.

Our last destination for the afternoon was Holme. As we walked across the golf course, a Barn Owl was hovering over the far side of the grass. It flew across the path in front of us and landed on the brick shelter the other side, where it perched on the corner looking down into the rough below. It dropped down into the grass but failed to catch anything and when it came up again it it flew straight towards us, perfectly lit by the sun behind us. It crossed back over the path and landed on a post on the edge of the trees behind us.

Barn Owl – on the golf course

As we walked along the path out to the beach we noticed some movement on the shingle and there were the three Shorelarks feeding quietly. We got them in the scope and watched them for a while. The tide was out now, but we stopped to scan the sea which produced a couple of smart drake Eider and a Red-throated Diver, though all were rather distant from here. A Great Black-backed Gull was feeding on one of two dead seals along the high tide line. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits on a small pool in front looked even smarter in the last of the afternoon’s sunlight.

The temperature was dropping quickly now as the sun dipped below the horizon. Time to head for home. What a great first day.

Wednesday 25th January

What a difference a day makes! Today dawned grey and misty, with a rather chilly breeze, a big change from yesterday. We made our way east today, to Blakeney first. A quick look out on the saltmarsh west of the quay produced a dozing Greenshank, although it refused to lift its head. A flock of Brent Geese were feeding out in the mist and three Little Grebes were hiding along the far edge of the channel. A couple of Marsh Harriers were further out.

As we walked round the harbour, a Chiffchaff flicked off the seawall ahead us and out across the channel to the saltmarsh. Passing the duckpond, we couldn’t resist having a quick look at the captive wildfowl collection, even though they don’t count! Four Moorhens flew up out of the enclosure and perched precariously on the fence. We hadn’t gone much further when something spooked all the gulls off the duckpond. As they took to the air, a larger bird came up from the field beyond – Bittern! Unfortunately it headed straight off into the mist, presumably having been looking for somewhere to feed around the reeds that wasn’t frozen, and we watched it disappear off to the north of Friary Hills.

There were some nice Brent Geese feeding on the saltmarsh by the path, which we stopped to admire. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were carried quickly out along the harbour channel behind them with the dropping tide, but we caught up with them again a bit further along where they were now busy diving, along with a drake Goldeneye. A small group of mixed waders were roosting on the mud along the edge of the channel.

We carried on up to the corner and stopped to look at the mud which was starting to emerge in the harbour as the tide fell. There were lots of busy Dunlin, several Redshanks and Grey Plover, Curlews and more Bar-tailed Godwits. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew past right in front of us. This is sometimes a nice spot to stand and watch but the damp wind was cutting right through us today so we decided to walk back.

Kingfisher – in the harbour

Back at the quay, a Kingfisher was perched on the rope tying up one of the boats and we stopped to watch as it flew backwards and forwards between various ropes and the quay. There were a couple of Redshanks on the sand just across the channel from us and a Greenshank dropped in with them. Amazing close views, but it was still hard to tear everyone’s attention away from the Kingfisher!

Greenshank – amazing views

Several members of the group could only be with us for the morning today, so we dropped them back in Wells, then went down to the beach car park for a quick look in the harbour. It was a bit more sheltered here, out of the wind. There was a great selection of waders here too – Sanderling and Turnstone, several Dunlin with one starting to get its black summer belly already, Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers, and we eventually managed to find some Knot too, even if they were a bit distant.

A couple of Tufted Ducks were swimming in the channel with three Mallard. As we walked round the corner, we found the Red-breasted Mergansers too – a small group of five or so were further back but a pair were really close to the near edge. The redhead female quickly swam out to the middle of the channel but the drake continued diving just offshore and surfaced a couple of times right alongside us.

Red-breasted Merganser – close to the shore

We were going to break for lunch at the Beach Cafe but it was only open for coffee today, so we drove round to Holkham instead. There had been a Firecrest in the holm oak at the top of Lady Ann’s Drive but as we walked up we found a couple of people photographing a Goldcrest. While we were watching that, the Firecrest flicked out of the back of the trees so we switched out attention and were treated to some lovely close views as it fed in the leaves. The covey of Grey Partridges was in their usual place on the grass opposite.

Firecrest – an unexpected bonus

After lunch, we headed out to the beach. We were told that the Shorelarks were on the saltmarsh west of the Gap, but we were hoping to catch the Snow Buntings so we decided to try the cordon. Before we got there, we bumped into a group of people watching the Shorelarks on the edge of the saltmarsh – they had obviously moved. They were really close to the path and seemed unconcerned by us watching them. There were some Rock Pipits and a Meadow Pipit out here too.

Shorelarks – close to the path

The Snow Buntings had apparently flown out to the beach, so we went out to take a look. We couldn’t see them and it was a bit too misty offshore to see much on the sea today either, although we did get the scope on a Red-throated Diver which was close enough inshore. We walked along the beach up to the Gap and scanned the edge of the dunes further along to the west but couldn’t see any sign of any movement. We couldn’t find a way across the creek which was shallow enough for everyone to get over without getting wet feet and it was drizzling lightly and cold out here now, so we turned and walked back the way we had come.

The light was already starting to go, but we had time for one last stop. Scanning the grazing marshes from the road, we quickly located a small group of White-fronted Geese feeding out on the grass. There were a few Marsh Harriers and Red Kites hanging in the air and a Common Buzzard on a nearby bush. A Barn Owl was hunting over towards the wood to the west. A nice way to finish.

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