I stayed at a relative’s house in Leeds, and got picked up at the ungodly hour of 4.50am by Keith, Ken and Rob, getting a singing robin as my first bird of the day. The trip down was mainly, of course, in darkness, but as the sun rose we picked up a few of the usual birds such as jackdaw, rook, woodpigeon, blackbird, carrion crow, black-headed gull, magpie, starling, mallard and collared dove. Getting lost slightly just before our first destination proved a bonus, as it meant we got our only Egyptian geese of the day, as well as pheasant, dunnock and a large group of red-legged partridge. We got our bearings, and arrived at around 8.20am at…
We left the car into the freezing morning, very happy to stretch our legs after the journey, and the first birds we saw from the car park were overhead flocks of lapwing and golden plover, a few blue tit and greenfinch in the bushes, and a flypast by a snipe was a nice way to start the day.
On crossing the railway line on to the reserve itself we were greeted by hundreds of wigeon in the ditches, and moorhen, wren, pied wagtail, greylag, mute swan, shelduck and shoveler were also picked up. About this time we also met up with the other carload of Yorkshire pilgrims – James, John, Mike and Jess, who had come from East Yorkshire.
We soon found what we were looking for – the reserve’s regular flock of taiga bean geese, which also contained some slightly less exciting Canada geese and feral barnacle geese. They were at quite a distance, so it was a challenge to pick out what we were most looking for, but eventually we scoped the lesser white-fronted goose which is wintering there. It was hard to pick out its salient feature (the yellow orbital ring was impossible at that distance) but its size, structure, lack of belly-stripes and white far on to the forehead made us certain it was the bird we were after. First target down, albeit not in fantastic views.
While squinting through the geese we heard a sharp call from the foliage, which was quickly identified as Cetti’s warbler, and many of us actually got a brief glimpse as it flew between two patches of vegetation. Other birds before we left included barn owl, grey heron, pink-footed goose, great black-backed gull, herring gull, skylark and stock dove. Then on to our next destination (a flock of house sparrows from the car was a tick on the way) which was…
On arrival at Cley, we made our way straight to Arnold’s Marsh, picking up little egret, marsh harrier, bearded tit and another (this time heard-only) Cetti’s. The bird we came to see – a western sandpiper – didn’t show immediately, but the wait gave us a long list of waders, including avocet, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, curlew, redshank, spotted redshank, oystercatcher, dunlin, grey plover and ringed plover, as well as brent goose, cormorant, teal, little grebe, and linnet. James also picked out a stonker of a yellow-legged gull sat on the water.
Eventually the western sand showed, a tiny little thing, dwarfed by the ringed plover and dunlins around it, and seemingly hopping around on one leg. After we’d all got our fill we walked back to the cars, picking up a stonechat on the way back.
It was then decided to have an unscheduled stop to see some snow buntings at…
Well they were right by the car park, it would have been rude not to! We pretty much immediately got on to the snow buntings, 30 of which were a stunning sight flitting among the dunes, as well as several turnstone. We had a quick look out to sea, and picked up a few grey and common seals, a guillemot, a couple of flypast red-throated divers, and another diver we couldn’t identify by bins alone. At this point Rob was the only one who’d lugged his scope up the shingle, and it was revealed to be a black-throated diver, and after we’d all queued to have a look (with me probably queue-jumping and lunging in for a lifer) we realised it was daft sharing when we had two cars-full of scopes, and a bit of a more concerted sea-watch turned up a few more red-throated divers and a few cracking Slavonian grebes!
Goldfinch was also added, with kestrel and song thrush from the car on our way to…
We were, of course, greeted at Holkham by the thousands upon thousands of pinkfeet. A walk down Lady Anne’s Drive turned up a rather beefy-looking peregrine, sat, in a rather un-peregrine-like way, in a field, and walking down the gap on to the beach saw rock pipit added to the day’s tally. The target for here was shore lark, and it looked for a while like a needle in a haystack. When the other car-load, which were straggling after a tea and cake-stop, texted in to say they’d had a rough-legged buzzard in a tree near the peregrine, I nearly rushed back to see it, but glad I persevered as the shore larks eventually showed brilliantly, and super little birds they were too. I never got the rough-leg, as it had gone when we got back, but the views of the shore larks were too good to have missed for distant Buteo, lifer or no lifer!
Heard-only treecreeper and goldcrest were added on the way back up the gap, and on to our final destination…
Chaffinch, great tit and long-tailed tit pushed the tally onwards as soon as we reached Titchwell, and after a bit of a wander we found the small redpoll flock which we hoped would give us our final target for the day. Lesser redpoll. Check. A couple of classic mealy redpolls. Check. And then we found the 1st winter Coue’s arctic redpoll. A tricky ID though, as this wasn’t your classic “snowball” arctic redpoll, with much subtler differences to the mealies, but we nailed its very pale colours, very clean underside, slightly larger size to the mealies, and at one point quite handily had all three species together in one binocular view.
That wasn’t the end of the birding, though, as a greenshank and another spotted redshank were seen on the way down to the beach, pintail, pochard, coot, tufted duck and ruff spotted on the lagoons, and goldeneye and red-breasted merganser squinted out to sea in the fading light. But best of all was probably a fantastic Chinese water deer mooching round, a bizarre-looking cross between a deer and a dog that most of us had never encountered before.
And then it was back to the car park after a packed day, entertained by up to four marsh harriers on the way back through the reserve.
And that was it – I ended the day with 91 species, and I know there were a good few others saw I personally didn’t get (including the rough-leg, meadow pipit, knot and a few others). An excellent day out, in great company, with some cracking birds seen.