Having had time to recover from a persistent hangover picked up in Norfolk this past weekend I thought I would have a crack at summarizing what, all in all, was a enjoyable few days “down south” in the company of some great young birders. The past few days in Norfolk marked my first true “NGB meet up” and it was nice to finally put faces to many of the prominent names I am familiar with through social media. The weekend itself could have gone a little more smoothly, indeed we ended up dipping most of the birds we sought to see but despite this, with good variety and good company January was concluded in fashionable style.
Setting off on Friday the 29th myself and Jack (@WhitleyBirder) decided to drop into Rufforth, near York, to break the journey up a little. This is a site famed for its gulls, indeed some estimates claim that the roost in all its glory can, on a good day, consist of up to 30,000 birds. With this in mind we had expected to at least catch up with a Caspian or wayward Glaucous Gull. This was not to be however. Upon arrival only c1500 gulls were evident on the airfield and a scan of these yielded no surprises, simply a lot of Herring, Common and Great Black-Backed Gulls mixed in with the odd LBBG and Black-Headed. We did however manage to pick out one bird of note; a rather pale, rather bulky gull that at first looked like a good candidate for Glaucous. The only thing was, it it did not showcase the characteristic white primaries. As such it was noted as a possible “Viking Gull” and passed over. There was however a Viking put out from Rufforth the next day so maybe we were correct.
Anyways, Saturday the 30th found us out and about it Norfolk, subsequently dipping the first of our hoped for rarities, the Pallid Harrier at Abbey Farm. Despite this however all was not lost and the farms surroundings offered up a few nice species to kill the time. The best of which was surely a flock of 100+ Brambling feeding close to track. By far the largest accumulation of this species I have seen to date! Also here a Hen Harrier showed briefly on a distant hillside and a Peregrine passed overhead. A good sized flock of c75 Stock Dove was also nice to see whereas a pair of Egyptian Geese feeding on spilt grain provided a welcome year tick. Gotta love them!
Departing the site of the absent Harrier our next venture saw us trying for the Golden Pheasant at Wolferton Triangle – perhaps the most longed for bird of the trip from my perspective. Again we drew a blank here and promptly set off for the coast, where to make things worse, we also managed to dip Shorelark. This stop proved enjoyable nonetheless however with a flyby Merlin providing a nice year tick and two Red-Breasted Merganser giving great views. A flock of Twite were similarly nice to see here as were c200 Brent Geese feeding in a nearby field but before long our attentions turned elsewhere and we set off for Titchwell. – A site that I have wanted to visit for an awful long time.
All in all, Titchwell did not disappoint. Despite the lack of anything overly exciting there was more than enough to keep us entertained for a few hours. The highlight; at least for me, was a good number of Avocet on the scrapes – Another year tick while up close and personal views of Grey Plover and Black-Tailed Godwit were enjoyable. A good variety of wildfowl also showed here, the best of which being 20+ Pintail and a few smart Shoveler while elsewhere Ringed Plover, Water Rail, Jay and Siskin were all welcome additions to the trip list. Our visit here concluded with a brief seawatch with Fulmar, Slavonian Grebe, Common Scoter and Red-Throated Diver picked out amid the waves.
Departing Titchwell we next made a bee-line for Blakeney and the wintering Lapland Buntings. Of course, given our apparent bad luck, our quarry avoided us yet again. The only redeeming features of the site consisting of a showy pair of Stonechat and more Twite. This was however, not the last stop of the day and as the light faded we made our way elsewhere in search of Hen Harriers. Prior to this trip I had only ever seen Hen Harriers as pairs or singles with larger groups quite unheard of in the North. As such, I jumped at the chance to observe my first communal roost and as the light faded we were lucky enough to catch up with six (or perhaps more) Hen Harriers quartering a tranquil swath of salt-marsh. A real treat to behold made even better by the presence of an obliging Barn Owl, 11 Little Egret and the constant passage of Brent Geese overhead. The day was far from lost it seemed!
Sunday morning found us in high spirits as, for once, we managed successful twitch something – the impressive Glaucous Gull currently residing at Great Yarmouth. The bird in question showed wonderfully, making occasional passes over the waiting cameras before returning to its favoured perch on top of a local house. Always a great bird to see, the sheer size of this species never fails to impress! A smart Mediteranian Gull also showed here though before long we set off in search of the Lesser Yellowlegs at Breydon Water. Despite failing in this regard the jaunt was made worthwhile by the surprise appearance of two Bearded Tits in the reeds just behind the hide. These showed impeccably for quite some time marking my best views of this species to date and put a smile on the face of each and every birder in attendance. Scanning the water, the sheer number of ducks in evidence proved somewhat mind boggling for this Northerner. Here c15,000 Teal, Wigeon and Pintail fed close to shore in the company of hundreds of Black-Tailed Godwit, Redshank, Knot, Bar-Tailed Godwit and Dunlin. Nice views of three snoozing Spotted Redshank concluded our visit.
Concluding our final day in Norfolk, myself, Jack, Jonathan and Lewis decided to break off from the group in order to try once more for the Pallid Harrier at Abbey Farm. Once again however we were out of luck and despite a solid few hours the bird was not seen. At least until we departed for home and it was reported up the road! Still, things were far from dull here with Marsh Tit a welcome year tick and the Brambling flock continuing to delight. A ringtail Hen Harrier briefly got our hopes up before better views clarified its ID while elsewhere two Barn Owl hunted the field margins and Egyptian Goose and Red-Legged Partridge made the most of the scattered grain.
All in all, my first true taste of Norfolk was a good one despite missing almost all of our quarry species! The Hen Harrier roost will certainly go down as one of my favourite sights to date and with good company and over 100 species noted you will not catch me complaining. I will definitely be back in the near future. Huge thanks to the UEA birders for tour guiding and putting up with us all. If my terrible pictures do not “do it for you” I do believe Gideon Knight (@EarlywormBirder) obtained much better ones which may be visible somewhere.