2nd Feb 2023 – A Day on the Coast

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A Private Tour today, along the North Norfolk coast. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up through the morning and there was then some nice winter sun at times in the afternoon. It was a very mild day, up to 11C, but didn’t feel quite so warm in the rather blustery WSW wind.

We drove down to Holkham to start. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding on the grazing marsh by the north end of Lady Anne’s Drive as we walked out towards the beach. A Mistle Thrush was singing from the tops of the trees. The Shorelarks have been very mobile in recent days, and we decided to try the cordon first. There was no sign of them there, but a scan of the sea produced a Long-tailed Duck flying west through the breakers and then a second Long-tailed Duck diving with a small group of Red-breasted Mergansers offshore.

We walked back west and went to have a look at the saltmarsh the other side of the Gap. As we approached, we could see movement and through the scope confirmed that there were the Shorelarks, along with a couple of Skylarks. We headed over to where they were feeding and stopped briefly to watch a small flock of Linnets overhead. When we looked back the Shorelarks had gone. We had a quick look to see if they had gone out to the beach, but there was no sign there – they had probably gone back to the cordon. There were some large flocks of Common Scoter on the sea off this side, but they were too distant today to see anything else in with them.

Treecreeper – with the tit flock

We had seen the Shorelarks and with lots to to today we decided against trying to find them again. As we walked back through the pines, we came across a nice mixed tit flock, with great views in particular of two Treecreepers feeding on a tree trunk right in front of us, and a couple of Goldcrests. We checked the holm oak at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive but it was very exposed here, the branches were being blown about and we couldn’t see anything in there. We stopped to watch a large group of Long-tailed Tits feeding on the path just to the west. As we walked back towards the minibus, a Raven was out on the grass right beside Lady Anne’s Drive, before it flew off.

Raven – by Lady Anne’s Drive

White-fronted Goose was on the target list for the day, but it was a question of whether to walk down to the old Joe Jordan hide and look from the wall or try to save time and view from the road side. We decided to try the latter but when we got round there, a couple of people were scanning but hadn’t seen any. We worked our way through the geese carefully and located four White-fronted Geese asleep in the grass with the Greylags on the other side of one of the pools. Then a large flock of at least 80 more White-fronted Geese flew in and landed on the grass on the old fort. There were three Great White Egrets here too, one showing very well out in the open in the scopes in the sunshine.

A quick stop at Wells Harbour produced a nice selection of waders. We wanted to see Bar-tailed Godwit in particular, and a couple of large flocks whirled overhead calling before we had even got the new lifeboat station. There were also lots of Oystercatchers, Sanderling and Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, Dunlin and a few Knot. A small group of Red-breasted Mergansers diving in the channel further up looked stunning in the sun.

We stopped for lunch at the Visitor Centre at Cley, scanning Pat’s Pool from the picnic area where we could see a few Avocets, lots of Golden Plover with the Lapwings and a few Ruff. Then after lunch we parked again at Walsey Hills and walked up the East Bank. There were lots of Wigeon out on the grass, and a few Shoveler, Teal and some smart Gadwall on the Serpentine, along with a couple of Black-tailed Godwits. We could see a small group of people on the bank so we walked up to join them, just as one had located the Long-billed Dowitcher asleep in the grass. It was not a good view at first – all we could see was its rear end! But then it came out and even better flew right down to the near edge of the water right in front of us – some of the best views we have had since it arrived here first in mid-October.

Long-billed Dowitcher – showing well

The main item on the agenda for this afternoon was to try to see the Pallid Harrier at Warham Greens. We could see the Snow Buntings now distantly on the shingle ridge, to the north of Arnold’s Marsh, but rather than go out for a closer look we decided to keep the eyes on the prize and head back. With the wind, it was not a day for Bearded Tits but we heard one calling behind us a couple of times and then looked round to see it briefly flying over the reeds.

As we walked down the track at Warham the hedges were alive with thrushes – Redwings, Blackbirds, and a Fieldfare came out tchaking ahead of us. A few people were already looking from the far end and had just seen a grey male Hen Harrier. It didn’t take us long to get onto it and we were treated to some great views as it flew up and down over the saltmarsh. There were lots of Marsh Harriers, several Red Kites and Buzzards, a distant Peregrine and a brief glimpse of a Merlin too.

The Pallid Harrier sometimes comes in early and lingers out over the saltmarsh and other times comes in late and goes straight in to roost. It was almost 4.30pm when we finally picked it up flying in low and heading straight for the roost site. Thankfully we all got a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down out of view. We needn’t have worried, as it came up again a couple of minutes later and proceeded to fly up and down over the back of the saltmarsh for the next fifteen minutes, giving us a much better chance to appreciate it. At one point we were watching the Pallid Harrier as the male Hen Harrier flew through the same view, followed immediately by a Barn Owl across in the foreground! A Merlin zipped across the view too at one point, but all eyes were on the Pallid Harrier.

Sunset – to end a great day

The light was starting to go as the Pallid Harrier finally disappeared from view. There was a glorious sunset too, as we walked back to the minibus – a great finish to the day.

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