It was a chilly morning as we breakfasted, loaded up the car and set out for Norfolk. It had an ominous sky that promised rain and we were suitably sober as a result. Birding in heavy rain is a miserable experience. However, by the time we had reached Norfolk, pausing at The Farm Shop for tea and stickies, the weather though still cold, looked decidedly more promising. On the way we had seen most of the Corvids Carrion Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies most of the pigeons and several hares.
I have noticed that often although it is raining and wet inland it can be quite bright and sunny on this coast. We were not due to arrive at the flat we had rented till late afternoon se we had the day to amuse ourselves. we therefore started at Titchwell RSPB site of much of our birdwatching on this coast. We found several Marsh Harriers in the air before we had left the car park. They were joined by a Red Kite and a Buzzard a common one but where can you see three species of raptor in the visitor car park?
On the bird feeders we found the usual suspects Long Tailed Tits,Blue Tits, Great Tits, many Chaffinches, Greenfinch and Goldfinch and abundant House Sparrows. On the reed beds we saw a number of Reed Buntings and Linnets flew over our heads and settled on the salt marsh. In the trees around the visitors centre there were a number of Chiff Chaff singing loudly, several Dunnocks were lurking in the vegetation, a blackbird was turning over leaf litter looking for food and a songthrush was seen on a shrub. A Robin was giving star performances by taking food from the visitors, whereas a wren just chided us for getting too close.
The hide in the reed beds was very quiet indeed the whole reserve was very quiet in terms of visitors. We heard Bearded Tits but we only caught a glimpse of them flying. We found a male Blackcap in the woodland near the centre and a Cetti’s warbler sang from just outside the reed bed hide. A phesant called from the reeds somewhere.
On the water we found Mute Swan, Shellduck, Egyptian Geese, Canada Geese, Tufted Ducks, male and female Gadwell, Widgeon and Teal, Shoveler and Pochard. A lovely surprise was a pair of Red Crested Pochard on the Freshwater lagoon. An elusive male Goldeneye kept disppearing as he dived for food at the back of the lagoon and several females were also found. We found a rather sulky Grey Heron fishing in the reeds. On the marsh a Little Egret was conspicuous as only a white bird on a salt marsh can be. Oystercatchers were making amorous advances on the salt marsh and a Kestrel just hung in the air above the reeds. Skylarks were displaying over the marsh a group of approximately 30 Brent Geese lingered obviously not that eager to fly to their breeding grounds.
As for waders we found Avocets displaying, Ringed Plovers, 10 Grey Plover, Lapwings, 10 to 15 Ruff a group of 10 Dunlin, Redshank. A Curlew flew over and a snipe was found trying to hide amongst some vegetation on the freshwater lagoon. the tide was high so there were about 30 Black Tailed Godwits roosting on a muddy island in the lagoon.
A large group of gulls contained Black Headed Gulls, Common gulls herring Gulls and Lesser Black backed Gulls
All of this whetted our appetite for when we arrived atthe beach. We met a bired who assured us that nothing was on the water. Thankfully he was mistaken, we found 3 Scoter species and though we waited for an age to see them move so that we could determine if they were the velvet Scoter that had been reported no luck so they were just down as Scoter sp. Just out from the beach a line of 9 ducks gave us excellent views and turned out to be Long Tailed Ducks, a drake was amongst them we could distinguish their facial markings. On the beach sanderlings were running towards the sea and back again like some sort of wind up toy, Turnstones were also busy on the beach. A couple of Blackheaded Gulls kept coming closer and closer to us in the hope of some food probably. We found great Crested Grebes on the sea. On the return walk we noted a number of Meadow Pipits and a flock of Linnets that flew between the salt marsh and the brackish lagoon. After another hot drink and snack we decided to go for a walk at Hunstanton. the weather was becoming decidedly colder and windy. we walked along the base of the cliffs finding Fulmars on their nests and several Stock doves freezing hiding in crevices on the cliffs. A common seal watched us for a while from just off the beach and we found a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers on the sea. It was starting to rain so we headed for the digs. Around the flat were quite a few rabbits. Finally in the tree near to the house we found a Willow Tit. we had seen 75 seperate species of bird and 3 species that I hadn’t yet seen in 2012 an excellent start to the holiday.
On the First of April, with a weeks holiday before us we started birdwatching with a new zeal. The day was sunny and clear if a little breezy, the previous week had been very hot and sunny and we had all chafed at the restrictions imposed by earning a living. Even though it was not yet 10am the car park was very full indicating how popular this reserve has become.
By the visitors centre we had soon notched up the usual quote of ducks and geese. Great Crested Grebes are present here in such large numbers that it has become a notable site for these birds. Coot were already on a nest by the visitors centre. Cormorants are also present in large numbers drawn by the fish and disliked by the fishermen for the same reason. Grey herons used to nest in large numbers in the woods on the opposite bank of the river Trent but many have now moved to nest near to Attenborough village and they nest earlier than many species. Greylag and Canada geese were plentiful and several pairs of Egyptian geese originally introduced as ornamental wildfowl and now a feral self sustaining population. A pair of Red Crested Pochard swam around the visitors centre looking for any free handouts of food. I feel somewhat suspicious of the genuine wild status of a bird that comes to collect custard cream biscuits from the hand, consequently this pair are definitely suspect, despite having bred here for several years. Oh and just to round off this motley crew, a cape shellduck stood sunning itself beside the visitors centre. Call me suspicious, but the thought that this plump well fed and apparently tame bird had flown thousands of miles is rather too difficult to believe and it was noted as an escapee. Alongside all these were the usual range of interbred ducks and geese some definitely with a great deal of farmyard in their phenotype.
On Clifton pond Wigeon, Gadwell, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye were busily feeding. This is an excellent assemblage of species for this time of the year especially after such gloriuos weather the previous week. A pair of Ruddy Ducks were swimming at the back of the pond. Ruddy Ducks have been hunted to ‘protect’ the White Headed Duck with whom they can interbreed, justified on the basis that the Ruddy Duck is a North American bird. A bit of distasteful avian ethnic cleansing that has reduced Ruddy Duck numbers over the last few years. However I love seeing them as it supports my subversive sense of humour, good for you I think. A Buzzard flew from the woods at Barton in Fabis and all the seagulls flew up to defend their patches. A Kestrel was hunting over the field and pheasants were calling. The usual assortment of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were busy on the feeders alongside the resident Tree Sparrows. A pair of Oystercatchers were on one of the Islands but apart from the Lapwings and a solitary Snipe these were the only waders we saw. Waders are rather few in this part of the county.
We decided to move on and head for Tower hide. Beside the path a number of short trees, Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Elder had been planted and as we got to Tower hide we found a very unusual small warbler at the base of one of these shrubby trees. We watched it for a few moments before deciding this was a Cetti’s Warbler, which was confirmed when we heard the bird sing. Such an volume from this tiny bird is amazing. Chiff Chaffs were everywhere and later we found a male Blackcap also very vocal. At the edge of the pond are posts which were used to fence off the reedbed so the geese would not eat the young reeds before they could become established. On one of this posts sat a Common Tern another new species for the year. At the end of this path is a sunny spot loved by a number of butterfly species, so it was that we headed there after Tower hide. We saw more Reed Buntings than one might usually see all year. The pair of Long Tailed Tits were busy nest building, Greenfinches were singing from the tops of the trees and we saw several species of butterfly. Brimstones the first butterflies of the year were present, Orange Tip males were about, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were abundant and a pristine Speckled Wood butterfly came through. We all managed to find a Comma butterfly at some point during the day. Beside the path from the Tower hide to main pond there were a number of plants flowering that normally do not flower simultaneously. We saw Coltsfoot an early spring flower and White Violets, but we also saw Pink Campion which usually flowers later and Ground Ivy was everywhere, Lesser Celandines were very conspicuous and as usual Dandelions were capitalising on the warm weather .
We walked beside the River to the Bund and then came all the way back as the path though the village was closed not that there was any notification until we actually went to use this path. The last encounter we had was of a female Scaup on church pond looking very like a Tufted Duck but with the characteristic white patch above the bill and a less distinctive break between the colours on the body, when seen next to a female tufted it is glaringly obvious.
We saw more of the same species and heard a Willow Warbler. Although we missed the Bittern that we discovered had been seen earlier in the day and a Curlew we had seen 54 species and I had now seen 129 species this year. We had also spent 4 hours walking a distance we could have covered in an hour. To anyone who does not understand the attraction of birdwatching it is so hard to explain. Time ceases to matter, we are fully associated, we reside in the moment without the worry of work, chores or conscience. There is always the uncertainty of what will we find today and the search for an encounter sometimes we see very little sometimes an unexpected delight, a particular long encounter, or a previously unobserved behaviour. If there is little to see there are always plants, lichens and things that don’t run or fly away.
Insects such as butterflies and dragonflies are even more elusive. they live as adults for only a short time. A cold spell or a rainy summer can severely reduce numbers. There are reluctant to fly unless it is sunny and some are confined to specific areas of the country. In addition we have to earn a living, so we are not available except at weekends. These are severe constraints on any encounter. How often are our summers sunny and consistently warm? Many summer holidays have been ruined by wet cold weather and the resultant lack of dragonflies or butterflies, at least birds are still present in cold wet weather and plants stay still whilst being photographed and allow themselves to be closely examined to verify identification and note any interesting details. On the second of April we were due to travel to Norfolk staying in Hunstanton for five days of holiday.
I was however exhausted and worried at how unfit I appeared to be. Surely all the swimming and exercise I regularly undertook four or five times a week should have meant I was much fitter than this. It was only as the week developed that I came to realise that I was ill and the tiredness was a major symptom of this.