7th March 2023 – Not So Wintry Day


A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was originally forecast to sleet/snow pretty much all day, so we had briefly considered cancelling. Thankfully we didn’t as the weather turned out to be completely different – mostly sunny, with blue skies, if a bit chilly, and the only snow we saw was a brief flurry late afternoon, while the sun was shining! Ironically, the weather was forecast to be much better yesterday, but it had drizzled or sleeted on and off all day. How wrong can the forecasters be?!

We started the day at Holkham. The Shorelarks had been elusive yesterday and were eventually reported out on the beach to the west, so we headed that way first. We didn’t have to go too far before we found them, on the sand around the dunes. They were rather jumpy and kept flying round but eventually settled long enough for us to get some really good views. There were nine of them today.

Shorelark – out on the beach

The sea was rough today. We had a quick scan offshore but it was hard to see much, apart from a very large raft of Common Scoter. There had been lots of pipits here yesterday, but the saltmarsh to the west of the gap was fairly devoid of birds this morning, despite the lack of dog walkers. We had a short walk further east, and found a small flock of Meadow Pipits but no sign of any Rock Pipits with them. Back at Lady Anne’s Drive, as we stopped to use the facilities in the Lookout, the Firecrest which has been around all winter made a brief appearance in one of the holm oaks in the sunshine.

From out on the main road, we stopped again to scan the grazing marshes. There were only about twenty White-fronted Geese here today, which we got in the scopes. Several Marsh Harriers drifted back and forth on the breeze, and there were Red Kites and Common Buzzards here too. A Great White Egret was catching the light, out on the grass. Then more white shapes came up out of the trees, nine Spoonbills. They settled in the tops briefly, then eight circled up and flew off east, leaving one on its own still in the trees.

We had a coffee stop at Wells Beach Cafe next, then went for a look in the harbour. The Red-breasted Mergansers were further up the channel today and four Common Seals were pulled out on the sand. There was a nice selection of waders out on the mud and sand – a small group of roosting Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey and Ringed Plovers, Curlews, Turnstones, Sanderling and Dunlin, and lots of Redshanks and Oystercatchers, but no sign of the Greenshank today. We were heading for Cley next, so called in at Morston on the way but there was no sign of the Greenshank in the harbour there either.

The weather was so good, we even managed to eat lunch out on the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre at Cley today, overlooking the marshes. A Spoonbill was out on Pat’s Pool when we arrived, but then flew off west. A pair of Marsh Harriers showed very well over the reeds. After lunch, we had a quick look in Bishop Hide. The Water Pipits were feeding along the reedy edge again, but kept getting chased off by a Pied Wagtail, as did a Grey Wagtail which flew in and landed right in front of the hide at one point.

Grey Wagtail – landed in front of the hide

There were lots of Lapwings out on the islands and groups of Avocets roosting on the edges, along with quite a few Ruff, Dunlin and a few Black-tailed Godwits. We were hoping we might find the Long-billed Dowitcher, but it was not here and there was no access to the central hides today due to boardwalk repairs. A couple of Common Snipe did show very well right in front of the hide.

Common Snipe – in front of the hide

Two smart male Pintail also worked their way round in the water on the edge of the scrape, coming right past in front of the hide but spending most of their time upended.

Pintail – most of the time upending

The Long-billed Dowitcher had appeared the last couple of days on the Serpentine later in the afternoon, so we figured we would have a look there later. First, we made our way along the coast to Weybourne. As we walked down past the mill towards the cliffs, there were lots of Rooks and Jackdaws, Woodpigeons and Curlew in the cultivated fields to the east. We picked up a large flock of Skylarks over the stubble field the other side so when they settled we made our way round on the rough grass on the top of the cliffs.

Thankfully it wasn’t too windy today, and we quickly picked up a Lapland Bunting feeding in with the Skylarks. We had a nice view of it in the scope, a male with a rich rusty collar and heavily black-marked breast. When it eventually flew, we scanned across and found a second, paler Lapland Bunting nearby. There were lots of Yellowhammers and several Reed Buntings feeding in the field here too.

Back at Cley, we walked out along the East Bank. Two Cetti’s Warblers were having a disagreement, one chasing the other out of the reeds just below the bank and the two of them landed briefly out in full view on the edge of the shorter grass. There were lots of Wigeon and Lapwings out on the grass, one of the latter even starting to display despite the cold. There were only one or two Black-tailed Godwits on the Serpentine this afternoon, and no sign of the Dowitcher. There was a Spoonbill here, and it worked its way round in the water, sweeping its bill from side to side, getting ever closer until it was the nearest bird to us. Great views! Then it ran out of water, and walked up onto the grass behind, before eventually flying off further back.

Spoonbill – great views on the Serpentine

There were more Black-tailed Godwits further back on Pope’s Pool but scanning carefully with the scope we couldn’t find the Dowitcher with them either. Presumably it was on the central scrapes, which we couldn’t get to, today. We had a quick look at Arnold’s Marsh. There was a small gathering of Black-headed and Herring Gulls but nothing different in with them today, and a selection of the regular waders.

Some people coming back from the beach told us there were still some Snow Buntings on the old shingle ridge to the north of Arnold’s so we walked out for a look. It was still beautifully sunny but there was a very small dark cloud overhead and as we made our way along the back of the beach it started to snow, or more like fluffy balls of soft hail, which bounced off the shingle ahead of us. By the time we got to where the Snow Buntings were supposed to be, it had stopped but it felt appropriate looking for Snow Buntings with a light covering of snow (even if it melted very quickly)!

We quickly located the Snow Buntings, seven of them. They emerged from behind some tufts of vegetation and shook themselves down, and after a quick preen they walked straight towards where we were standing. They eventually stopped just a couple of metres from us and hunkered down in the shallow depressions in the shingle right beside us. We had set up the scopes but didn’t need them now – the Snow Buntings were far too close. We didn’t even really need our bins!

Snow Bunting – after the snow

Eventually, we backed off carefully and left the Snow Buntings in peace. Back on the East Bank, we looked over to see a Barn Owl hunting along the rough grass on the north side of Arnold’s, a nice way to finish what had been a surprisingly successful day, given the dire predictions for the weather.

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