Sunday, January 20, 2008

Norfolk - the bird club trip that wasn't...

The bird club organises a Sunday trip to Norfolk every January. We decided to make a weekend of it and headed up on the Friday evening, straight after work. The first night we stayed at the Burleigh House Hotel in Hunstanton (, which is a very welcoming family run hotel, providing excellent value and a very tasty vegetarian breakfast (amongst a good number of options). We'll be heading back there without a doubt.

Saturday started grey and overcast with a forecast of rain all day. We headed directly to RSPB Titchwell Marsh (, one of our favourite reserves. We stopped off in the first hide, the Island hide and settled down to some birdwatching. Helen opened the hide window, which for some reason opens outward, which caught us both by surprise. The noise it made set-up about 80% of the birds on the reserve. We sat there sheepishly for about ten minutes before we plucked up the courage to head up to the next hide!

From this hide we had good views of the remaining Golden Plover, including this individual:

Golden Plover, in winter, seem to spend all their time in large to huge flocks. The flock at Titchwell Marsh is no exception, comprising many hundreds of birds often intermingled with lapwing. This shot shows a bird landing with the flock, which was settling down after a 'fright'.

As well as the Golden Plover and Lapwing, there must have been at least 30 Ruff, including this one:

The Ruff included a couple with the white-morph head markings. As well as the Ruff there were Shelduck and wintering Brent geese from Russia, Branta bernicla:

These Brent were much darker bellied than the Goose we saw last week in Scotland, though all Brent geese have the distinctive black head and neck with the white band, rather like a bowtie!

From this hide we headed out to the sea-watching point at the head of the reserve, and observed Common Gulls, Bar-tailed Godwits (lots of them!), Knot, Greater Black-backed Gulls, and a couple of Grey Plover:

Whilst watching these waders we were joined by one of the reserve volunteers, a chap called Ray, who was brilliant. He helped us understand the different behaviours of the waders and their relative sizes, which really was very informative. He also pointed out the passing Common Scoter and Red-necked Diver on the horizon, together with the pair of Eider Duck relatively close-in (our first tick of the weekend!).

From Titchwell we took Ray's advice and decided to head to Salthouse to see both the Snow Bunting and the Lapland Longspur (Bunting), fingers crossed, on the beach. We stopped for a cuppa in the Titchwell reserve facilities and another birder who'd been at the sea-watching spot with us caught up with and said we'd missed a flock of over 40 Snow Buntings just passing by!! Talk about timing, or lack of it! Anyway we headed to Salthouse, getting lost en route, and parked-up. It was obvious where the birds were judging by the line of people in green looking into binoculars and telescopes.

We joined them. Someone had the forethought to bring fresh bird food and had laid some out so we were soon treated to the flock descending to feed, albeit nervously eyeing up the line of humans...

I've picked out these two Snow Buntings to illustrate the difference in plumage amongst individuals. I suspect the first picture shows a male and the second a female:

In amongst the thirty-forty Snow Buntings were two Lapland Longspurs, including this well marked male:

Click on the picture (any of them!) for a better view. Behind him is a (Ruddy) Turnstone. Both these species were ticks, which made for a very exciting time at Salthouse. A birder we met there gave us directions to the White-crowned Sparrow, a very rare vagrant from America. Only the previous weekend we'd been saying we'd not go and see the bird as it was out of its natural habitat and we weren't sure it was a good idea. But now we were only a mile away and with clear directions we decided to go and see if we could find it. Again the birders showed us where the bird was, as there was a small group standing looking into brush close to the church in Cley.

We watched it appear, hence this photograph, then duck back into cover:

We stayed put to watch for it again, at least fifteen birders looking into this brush. Meanwhile the sparrow had hopped onto the closest hedge and was watching us. I spotted it and was maneuvering my camera for a better shot as I said 'there it is'. The chap at the very front reacted like he'd been hit, grabbed his camera kit and barged through the group shocking us and putting the bird to flight. We'd encountered for the first time the negative side of 'twitching' as this chap was clearly oblivious to anyone else in his single-minded determination to get the best photograph, so we beat a hasty retreat and left him to it.

All-in-all a very successful day though, four new ticks, so we headed to our overnight stop in Acle.

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