20th – 22nd May 2011 – Norfolk – 3 day trip
Day 1 : The Brecks & North Norfolk
We set off from my client’s hotel near Heathrow airport and drove up to the Brecks area on the Norfolk / Suffolk border with the most notable species on the way up being a Red Kite over the M25. We arrived at our first site of the morning, a field near the A11 (which is just in Suffolk) and soon saw our target species for this site – Stone Curlew. There were also a pair of Eurasian Curlew present here as well as Eurasian Skylark singing everywhere, Red-legged Partridge and we heard both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker.
We then went to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) reserve at Weeting Heath, an area of heathland with mixed woodland around it. There was a Spotted Flycatcher giving excellent views by one of the hides and we got a nice selection of passerines, including Blackcap, Great and Coal Tit, Chaffinch and Goldcrest. The heathland itself held another pair of Stone Curlew. Lapwing and Mistle Thrush, but we couldn’t locate any Northern Wheatear.
The Lakenheath Fen RSPB reserve (on the Norfolk/Suffolk border) was our next stop. Here my client got a flight views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and we both saw Great Spotted Woodpecker and, surprisingly, the only Common Buzzard of the trip. A fleeting flight views was also obtained of Golden Oriole, though hearing them singing was rather more satisfying and there were Common Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warbler singing everywhere. At the westernmost viewing point we had our first views for the trip of Marsh Harrier and Hobby and Common Crane could be heard calling distantly, but were not seen. Likewise, a Cetti’s Warbler was in great voice, but as is the norm for this species it remained hidden. The walk back down the river produced really close views of Common Tern and a drake Garganey was asleep on one of the flashes. Other waterfowl included a pair of Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Great Crested Grebe and plenty of Gadwall. We also heard Great Bittern “booming” from the reeds.
Following lunch we headed up to the North Norfolk coast and “twitched” a rather un-obliging and distant Red-necked Phalarope at Burnham Norton, but a splendid, summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpiper we went for at Stiffkey Fen was a lot more considerate and stood in the same area for us. We also added a rather sick-looking Bar-tailed Godwit, several more-healthy specimens of Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Lesser Whitethroat, Eurasian Bullfinch and Pied Avocet were omnipresent at both these latter coastal sites.
A total of 92 species were recorded on Day 1.
Day 2: The North Norfolk Coast
A quick look around the grounds of our Hotel added several common species for the trip including European Nuthatch, before we set off to the North Norfolk Coast. The hide at Flitcham Abbey Farm provided Common Kingfisher and our first Egyptian Geese as well as a lot of Canada and Greylag Geese and a Ruddy Shelduck of unknown origin (which we therefore didn’t count on the trip list final total). We stopped briefly at Choseley Drying Barns where there were several Corn Bunting singing. A local man that we got talking to told us that he had heard Common Quail recently nearby, so a quick detour was made, but we drew a blank, the consolation prize being Yellowhammer. We then went to the Titchwell RSPB Reserve which my client was keen to visit due to its reputation of it being a top birding spot. Sadly it was remarkably quiet there, but we did add a number of species to the trip list including Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Common Pochard, Little Grebe, a late Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Red Knot, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover and Dunlin. The sea was also very quite but there was a small flock of Common Eider offshore and the high tide roost held Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling and plenty of Eurasian Oystercatcher. There was also a very good show of Southern Marsh Orchids which in some way made up for the lack of birds.
Undaunted, we then made our way along the coast to Cley NWT Reserve. This proved much more productive than Titchwell and we added Greenshank, Shore (Horned) Lark, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Sandwich Tern, a pair of Mediterranean Gull and two 2nd summer Little Gull at this site. Whilst here we heard of another Wood Sandpiper nearby at Kelling Water Meadows so we went for it and got brilliant views of it feeding along the near edge of the pool there.
Despite the wind being south-westerly, we thought we would have a quick look off the sea at Sheringham, arguably the best place for sea-watching on the Norfolk coast. This proved a good move as we added several Northern Gannet and Razorbill to the total and there were a number of Little and Common Tern on the beach and good numbers of Sandwich Tern offshore. I also picked up a distant Fulmar, but my client didn’t manage to get onto it. So, instead we went a couple of miles east along the coast to East Runton, were we both got good views of Fulmar and watched the Sand Martins feeding along the sandy cliff-face.
The idea was to go to Salthouse Heath in the evening for Nightingale and Nightjar, but a quick “reccy” beforehand showed the site to be virtually birdless and not conducive for either species (though they probably still exist here). So following an early supper we headed back west to Roydon Common, near Kings Lynn. When we got there, we could instantly tell that we had made the right decision, the heathland looking superb for Nightjar and one of our other target species for the evening Woodcock. We were not to be disappointed – as well as the incessant calling of Red-legged and in particular, Grey Partridge, and a very vocal Common Cuckoo we had excellent views of a roding Woodcock and heard two Common Nightjar churring, before the biting insects got too much and we called it a day having recorded 104 species during the day.
Day 3: Roydon Common & the Fens
Sunday dawned damp from overnight rain and a blustery, westerly wind. Having “discovered” the delights of Roydon Common NWT Reserve the previous evening we decided to start the morning there. Again we were not disappointed. The woodland was relatively quiet, probably due a cool, windy morning but we did hear a Nightingale singing intermittently but which at times was drowned out by a Chiffchaff singing in a tree above the bushes where the Nightingale was. I also heard a Marsh Tit calling, but we couldn’t see it before it disappeared into the woodland across the road. We then headed off to the heathland where as soon as we had parked we had a singing Woodlark, Mistle Thrush and Common Kestrel, Once on the heath itself, we found another Woodlark, singing from a small tree giving stunning views with the sun on it, similarly a male Stonechat and very close Grey Partridge and we heard both Tree and Meadow Pipit singing from the middle of the common, but couldn’t locate them. We then thought we would try for Montague’s Harrier at a site near Kings Lynn, but were unsuccessful. However, I did have a Barn Owl (our only one of the trip) fly across in front of the car when we were approaching our destination.
As there had been nothing new reported from the any of Norfolk’s coastal locations, we opted to head down into the Fens and look for the Bluethroat that had returned to Welney Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Reserve. Again the strong wind didn’t help with passerines and there was no sight or sound of the Bluethroat, despite the sign clearly indicating where it was holding territory. However, there were at least four Whooper Swan still present (my client’s only “Lifer” of the trip) and a single Bewick (Tundra) Swan as well as plenty of Mute Swans. These former two species visit the area in large numbers in winter (1500+ Whoopers and up to 500 Bewicks) and the ones that we saw are wild birds that have either been injured or non-breeders that have been forced to or decided to stay at Welney all year. We also saw Marsh Harrier, more Pied Avocet, Little Ringed Plover (including a pair with young), Common Redshank, Reed Bunting and a single female Yellow Wagtail, but with only the last species being an addition to our ever growing “list”.
Needing to get back into London in the late afternoon we made out last port of call of the trip the RSPB Ouse Washes Reserve (which is just in Cambridgeshire), where despite there being miles of trails between the hides, we decided only to visit the nearest one. The feeder outside the visitor centre gave us our last new bird of the trip – Tree Sparrow, whilst the hide proved somewhat disappointing with a fly-by Hobby being the highlight and no sign of the recently reported Common Crane.
The tally for the day ended up being a respectable 76 species.
Over the three days we recorded a got a total of 133 species. With so many to choose from it is very difficult to come up with a “best” bird. For me it was probably the stunning Wood Sandpiper at Kelling Water Meadows, and for my client it was a choice between Woodcock, Wood Sandpipier and Mediterranean Gull.