Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Real Birder

Norfolk 24th to 28th February 2009




I suppose it's apt that in this centenary year of the birth of Sir Peter Scott my partner, Penny and I should once again visit North Norfolk, maybe to see Titchwell in the way that we have known it, for the last time, before the sea reclaims part of the land and a new sea-facing boundary is formed.

Buy Where to watch Birds in East Anglia from AmazonLike many birders of my generation I was inspired by Peter Scott's wonderful paintings of skeins of geese and many years later I am still moved by these superb birds as they fly in purposeful groups, their formations ever changing as each bird accepts its role in the airborne community, leading or supporting, constantly passing information to others in the flock as they seek landfall. Naturally Norfolk didn't disappoint this year with thousands of geese filling the skies wherever we went.

On a personal & anoraky note I was looking to fill a sorry-looking year list of only 77 to mid-Feb with a target of plus-20 by the time we left for home (sad ain’t it!).


We always self-cater & this year we picked a total winner: Lavender Cottage in Cley-next-the-Sea was absolutely marvellous, warm and cosy, very well-appointed, close to the Reserve (2 minute walk) and with comfy beds! Well recommended for anyone.
- Tuesday 24th & Saturday 28th

The day was cloudy with little wind & a weak sun trying to break through as we made our way along the west path towards the sea. The marshes to the west side are full of pools & scrapes and immediately we saw Pintail, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Teal, Wigeon, Shellduck & Little Egret. The Island Hide overlooking Fresh Marsh had Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Avocet, Golden Plover (more of these later), Shoveller, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Blackback and Oystercatcher.

Rainbow over TitchwellWe spent some time observing over Sea Lavender Marsh and got Skylark - in a soaring, song-filled flight, the earliest we have ever seen this, but which was to become a regular event over the next four days. Reed Bunting and probable Lapland Bunting were seen among the heather as were Dunnock & both sparrows.
From Parrinder Hide overlooking the Brackish Marsh we saw Black-tailed Godwit, Cormorant, Mediterranean Gull, Brent Geese, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard and Snipe. A small flock of Dunlin flew in together with some Knot, disturbing a couple of Common Sandpipers who were busily minding their own business! Among a group of Ruff was one with a distinctive white & grey spotted head, the general consensus was that he had been feeling a bit ruff (!) recently, unusual variation though.

Returning to the Centre for a spot of lunch we got really lucky as a Bittern flew from the direction of Fen Hide over to the West Marsh; best sighting we have ever had of this elusive critter. Time for some sea/beach watching and although the tide was well out there were Goldeneye & Red-breasted Merganser out at sea, whilst the beach gave us Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, in addition to birds already seen previously.

Blakeney SandsIn the woodland area between the car-park and reception is a "feeding station" where all the usual suspects were to be found, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch and Greenfinch along with a small group of Brambling. Later in the evening as we were leaving we saw a Muntjac deer helping himself to whatever spare bird-food he could scrounge, he took a good long look at us, decided we were nothing in particular and carried on feeding! Rounded-off a good day.

Up to now Geese were noticeable by their absence but today certainly put that right; walking along towards Blakeney Point we immediately saw Greylags, Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Pink-footed, Canada Geese, feral Egyptian Geese and our first sighting of Dark-bellied Brents. There were lots of Curlew, a good flock of Dunlin pecking enthusiastically on the mud-flats, we heard Cetti's Warbler sounding-off in the bushes to the side of the path and as we walked back alongside the river there were Redshank and Turnstone along with the usual gaggles of dabbling ducks.

Burnham Overy StaithePreviously we had never been to Burnham Overy Staithe but this time decided to give it a try - what a little gem! Not as busy as Blakeney but just as picturesque and a great bunch of birds. A path runs alongside marshland threaded through with pools and rivulets, some low-lying scrub atop low sandy banking gave cover to a super variety of birds. First-up was Little-ringed Plover with a Little Stint skulking in adjoining tussocks of sea-grass, lots of dabblers, gulls, both redshanks and frequent sightings of Reed Bunting in the scrub. As we watched 100 or so Sanderling scuttling along the evening sands a male Marsh Harrier drifted menacingly over the reeds - not that the Sanderlings took any notice! A lovely juvenile Grey Plover pootled contentedly at the side of a muddy pool trying to ignore the Lapwing shooing it away.

Evening drew in with skeins of many hundreds of geese now filling the air with their bellicose honking as they commuted back to their evening roosting grounds. We felt that it just couldn't get any wrong can you be!
- Friday 27th

Cley windmill and marshesEarly morning walk to the beach at Cley on a greyish, rather windy day brought us good skeins of geese returning to the reserve, whilst Oystercatchers and Lapwings and 40 or so Curlew fed on the marshes, Lapland Bunting were confirmed by call, behaviour and sightings and a couple of Little Egrets flew around. There were by now thousands of Brent Geese, Dark-bellied Brents and Greylags, a few Pink-footed Geese and large flocks of Starlings but the undoubted stars of the day were over fifteen hundred Golden Plover soaring in breath-taking flocks over the marsh; we had seen them at Titchwell earlier in the week but this was something else, it was a spell-binding sight as they flew in ever-changing formations. Magnificent.
- Thursday 26th

Our Long-anticipated visit to Holkham was, to be truthful, a bit of a let down. The day started cloudy & windy and the birds were just hunkering down out of sight. From the George Washington Hide we could see only a few geese huddled together along with Wigeon & Teal instead of the hundreds we saw on our last visit. As we walked towards the Joe Jordan Hide we inadvertently disturbed a Barn Owl who flew within a few feet of us; from this hide, apart from the usual ducks, we saw Scaup and our first Gadwall of the week. In the woodland between the marsh and the beach were small groups of Coal Tit & Goldcrest.

Buy Best Birdwatching Sites in Norfolk from AmazonAmong the dunes we observed from quite close range pairs of Skylarks in urgent & noisy mating behaviour, Meadow Pipits and Redshank fed contentedly on the sea marsh and a small flock of Snow Bunting flew over our heads. As the weather cleared and the birds came out to play we saw Spotted Redshank, Golden Plover, Oystercatcher and a solitary Ringed Plover.

Holkham Park was very quiet, the highlights being a large flock of mixed Meadow Pipit & Twite feeding on the grass, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Penny only… dammit!!), Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Barn Owl, Song Thrush and a fair-sized flock of Greylags.


Did I really say "a bit of a let down"! Once again North Norfolk provided great birding in an ancient, timeless landscape with superb hospitality (I haven’t mentioned "Cookies Crab Shop"!!!), an unforgettable week.    

Total of 89 different species (inc 37 "year listers")

Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo
Bittern  Botaurus stellaris
Little Egret  Egretta garzetta
Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea
Mute Swan  Cygnus olor
Snow Goose  Anser caerulescens
Canada Goose  Branta canadensis
Egyptian Goose  Alopochen aegyptiacus
Greylag Goose  Anser anser
Pink-footed Goose  Anser brachyrhynchus
Pale-bellied Brent Goose  Branta bernicla hrota
Dark-bellied Brent Goose  Branta bernicla bernicla
Shellduck  Tadorna tadorna
Wigeon  Anas penelope
Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos
Gadwall  Anas strepera
Shoveller  Anas clypeata
Pintail  Anas acuta
Teal  Anas crecca
Pochard  Aythya ferina
Scaup  Aythya marila
Tufted Duck  Aythya fuligula
Common Goldeneye  Bucephala clangula
Red-breasted Merganser  Mergus serrator
Marsh Harrier  Circus aeruginosus
Common Buzzard  Buteo buteo
Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus
Pheasant  Phasianus colchicus
Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus
Coot  Fulica atra
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
Avocet  Recurvirostra avosetta
Little Ringed Plover  Charadrius dubius
Ringed Plover  Charadrius hiaticula
Grey Plover  Pluvialis squatarola
Golden Plover  Pluvialis apricaria
Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus
Knot  Calidris canatus
Sanderling  Calidris alba
Turnstone  Arenaria interpres
Dunlin  Calidris alpina
Little Stint  Calidris minuta
Common Sandpiper  Actitus hypoleucos
Redshank  Tringa totanus
Spotted Redshank  Tringa erythropus
Black-tailed Godwit  Limosa limosa
Curlew  Numenius arquata
Common Snipe  Gallinago gallinago
Ruff  Philomachus pugnax
Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus
Mediterranean Gull  Larus melanocephalus
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus
Glaucous Gull  Larus hyperboreus
Feral Pigeon  Columba livia
Wood Pigeon  Columba palumbus
Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto
Barn Owl  Tyto alba
Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos minor
Skylark  Alauda arvensis
Horned Lark (Shore Lark)  Eremophila alpestris
Meadow Pipit  Anthus pratensis
Pied Wagtail  Motacilla alba yarrellii
Wren  Troglodytes troglodytes
Dunnock  Prunella modularis
Robin  Erithacus rubecula
Song Thrush  Turdus philomelos
Blackbird  Turdus merula
Cetti's Warbler  Cettia cetti
Goldcrest  Regulus regulus
Great Tit  Parus major
Coal Tit  Parus ater
Blue Tit  Parus caeruleus
Long-tailed Tit  Aegithalos caudatus
Magpie  Pica pica
Jackdaw  Corvus monedula
Rook  Corvus frugilegus
Carrion Crow  Corvus corone corone
Starling  Sternus vulgaris
House Sparrow  Passer domesticus
Tree Sparrow  Passer montanus
Chaffinch  Fringilla coelebs
Brambling  Fringilla montifringilla
Twite  Carduelis flavirostris
Goldfinch  Carduelis carduelis
Greenfinch  Carduelis chloris
Reed Bunting  Emberiza schoeniclus
Snow Bunting  Plectrophenax nivalis
Oh yes and a Muntjac deer!

Tony Jones

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