So on the second of January we all piled into the car at 7am to head for the North Norfolk coast. It took us 2.5 hours. On the way as the sun rose on a cloudless sky we saw flights of Lapwing and Golden Plover feeding on the Lincolnshire fields Red-Legged Partridge and Pheasant grazed in the furrows. We arrived at Hunstanton to see the golf course covered with Curlew and Oystercatchers.
We headed for Cley first and then worked our way back along the coast. We arrived at the visitors centre just after it opened and got tickets. We then pottered off to the centre hides where the Western Sandpiper was displaying amongst Dunlin, Lapwings and Ruff. It wasn’t the most exciting bird in the world as it looked very similar to a small Dunlin at such a distance, but from the press of birdwatchers in the hide had raised considerable excitment. It was standing room only in the hide and we felt compelled to utter almost continuous apologies as we attempted to avoid the telescopes of the massed birdwatchers. On the way out of the hide we saw another rare Norfolk specimen, Brian Bland wrapped up and heading for the hide with the sandpiper. I hope the sandpiper is conscious of the honour bestowed upon it. Just outside the hide we paused to view the Western Sandpiper again (as with only 8 seen in the UK it isn’t a bird we will see often). As we watched a Marsh Harrier flew up from the reeds and the whole flock of waders took off. In flight the sandpiper was much more obvious as the small size was more apparent and the different plummage meant it stood out from the flock, it also flew faster than the associated Dunlin. As we walked back to the car, the sound of Bearded Tits was heard in the reeds (but that was it, just the sound). A flock of Pink Footed Geese flew over us, whilst across the road from the centre a group of Brent Geese were busily feeding on the field, indifferent to the line of birdwatchers with their telescopes trained in their direction.
We decided to go to the beach and try the North hide for birds. 20 minutes of sea watching yielded about 20 Red Throated Divers some of them very close to the shore, 3 Common Scoter bobbing about in the waves, Guillemot , Turnstones and Black Tailed Godwits. A seal kept a wary eye on us from close to the shore. Avocets were paddling off North hide. Widgeon, Teal, Shoveler and Pintail were happily feeding in the shallows whilst a Little Grebe meandered up and down the neighbouring channel. As we walked flocks of Golden Plover wheeled above us and massed Lapwings took off flew around and settled again. A flock of Goldfinches scattered along the dunes as we walked, moving from clumps of seedheads to the next patch, their colours enhanced by the bright sunshine. A Skylark perched on the fence and although it was cold and windy we felt exhilarated. Following a lunch break we drove towards the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. On the way we found at least 2 White Fronted Geese in a field adjacent to Lady Annes Drive at Holkham with a dozen Greylag Geese, but couldn’t pause long on the busy coastal road.
The car park at Titchwell was bulging but we managed to find a place to park after driving round twice. A flock of birdwatchers were gathered in the picnic area looking at the trees trying to find the Arctic Redpoll that had been seen earlier. After a few minutes the Lesser Redpolls flew into an alder tree across the picnic area accompanied by the paler Arctic Redpoll. At once the group was hushed as 30 pairs of eyes were trained on the bird. Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Long Tailed Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits all flew across the clearing unheeded (except for me of course). Dunnock, Blackbird, Wren and Robin lurked in the foliage whilst Redwings gorged on hawthorn berries. From the first hide a female Scaup headed into the nearby reeds but a pair of Scaup on the lagoon made up for the brief view of the first Scaup. Amongs the Black-Headed Gulls on the water a Mediterranean Gull was concealed, its characteristic eye-ring, thicker bill and pale ends to primaries eventually seen and identified. Snipe were hiding in the foliage on the islands and a Goosander swum amongst the islands at the back of the lagoon. As we moved to the new hide we saw 2 Spotted Redshank feeding in the brackish lagoon. They were clearly identified by their greater height, longer slightly upturned beak and habit of rushing around in circles like particularly ditsy waders.
On the sea 2 Whooper Swans swum in the distance and Red Throated Divers bobbed about. A Goldeneye caused a brief flush of excitment until it was positivly identified. The shoreline contained a smattering of waders including Grey Plovers, Knot, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Bar- and Black-Tailed Godwits. The light was starting to fade as we trudged back to the car park weary and cold, but very happy with the day. We thought that was the end of the day, however as we drove home a Woodcock suddenly emerged from the ditch at the side of the road flew towards the car saw the obstacle and wheeled off back into the darkness over the fields. A wonderful end to a great day. After 2 days birdwatching we had seen 101 species with 28 of those being added in Norfolk of the 82 species for the day.