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North Norfolk 6th-13th June (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
North Norfolk 6th-13th June 2014

This June, my girlfriend and I spent a week based in the pretty village of Thornham in northwest Norfolk. Though a non-birder, she is incredibly tolerant of my unerring interest and enjoys the walks. It certainly helped that we had stunning weather for the entire week.

6th June

I had been willing the Spectacled Warbler to stay all week. RBA had confirmed the bird as still present early-morning so leaving Norwich we headed straight for Burnham Overy Staithe. Parking in the car-park by the harbour, the walk along the seawall was enlivened by numerous Little Tern fishing both in the creeks and over the marshes. A Spoonbill showed briefly as it flew from one patch of reeds to another and Marsh Harrier patrolled distantly over the marshes. Reed and Sedge Warbler sang from the ditches and the first of many Cuckoo called continuously.

Arriving at the crowd to the west of the boardwalk, it was clear that the Spectacled Warbler was not going to play ball straight away in the building heat. A nervous twenty minutes went by before a sudden stirring amongst the crowd announced its reappearance. On show for a mere few seconds I completely hashed it; the best I could manage being a glimpse of a shape disappearing into the sueda.

A few minutes later, the bird showed again. This time I did marginally better, largely due to the help of a very kind birder who gave up his own views to put me onto the bird. I still wasn’t satisfied. More glimpses followed and it became clear the bird was doing regular circuits of the vegetation. Whilst many birders followed the bird, a small group and myself elected to stay where we were. After what seemed like an eternity, we were rewarded as the beautiful little Sylvia perched up, sang and display-flighted directly in front of us.

We couldn’t check in to our cottage until 4pm so a couple of hours at Titchwell was a perfect time-killer. On the freshmarsh a selection of waders included 2 Greenshank, 15 Bar-tailed Godwit, 3 Dunlin, 5 Ringed Plover and a summer plumaged Turnstone amongst the more numerous Avocets, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit. A first-summer Little Gull hawked over the water and unseen Bearded Tit pinged from the reedbeds.

A stroll round to Patsy’s Pool was worthwhile. Marsh Harrier were very active, a territorial Little Ringed Plover harried anything that dared to approach, and two Bullfinch called mournfully from the bushes before revealing themselves.

Back to the car park and a Nuthatch, a rare bird for the reserve, piped briefly from the trees. A last look out to the saltmarsh gave excellent views of a ghostly Barn Owl as it quartered back and forth; an excellent end to the first day.

7th June

A largely non-birding day today as we headed for Holt. A brief stop at Cley Coastguards produced the usual terns and a handful of Gannet moving east offshore.

Holt gave up some excellent food and boutique shops. The Post Office that doubles as a record store is fantastic.

A brief but very humid look around both Kelling and Salthouse Heaths in the early afternoon revealed a dearth of birds; a singing Yellowhammer at the latter was the best we could manage.

Looking for a sea breeze we stopped at Holkham Beach on the way back west. Two Grey Partridge were a welcome sight as they foraged in the fields off of Lady Anne’s Drive. Marsh Harrier were again in evidence and a Spoonbill flew west. The beach itself was busy with people but quiet for birds: more Little and Sandwich Tern and a solitary Common Gull looking miserable amongst the sunbathers.

An after dinner walk around the lanes south of Thornham was pleasant. Three Corn Bunting jangled from the hedgerows along with plenty of Yellowhammer and Whitethroat, loads of Linnet and numerous Grey and Red-legged Partridge. Birds of prey were represented by a couple of Kestrel, a single Marsh Harrier, a pair of Common Buzzard and the sole Sparrowhawk of the holiday. Unfortunately the hoped for Turtle Dove failed to materialise. This was to become a long-running theme.

8th June

A long circuit from Thornham, round to Holme, and back via the lanes was today’s jaunt. The heat and humidity meant this was rather uncomfortable at times and the pint in the White Horse at Holme village saved us both.

Holme Dunes NWT was the highlight bird-wise as Marsh Harrier food-passed infront of the last hide and a hidden Grasshopper Warbler reeled having finished his first brood. The best bird, however, was undoubtedly the Bittern that gave excellent flight views from the reserve’s first hide flapping lazily across the marshes before looping back to the sanctuary of its reedbed.

A tip-off regarding Turtle Doves at the paddocks, as well as the opportunity to scan Lavender Marsh, the location of a much-wanted Montagu’s Harrier the previous day, took us in this direction. “The paddocks” is a rather deceptive description of the habitat we found on our arrival. Masses of bushes that could hold a hundred Turtle Doves greeted us. Finding one was another matter. This place must be a haven for migrants in the autumn but the best we could muster were a singing Lesser Whitethroat, again a heard-only, and lots of its more visible and commoner cousins. Lavender Marsh held fishing Little Egret but no hunting harriers.

The lanes were a repeat of yesterday. Collared Dove taunted us at every corner as we searched for their rarer relatives. A family group of nine Mistle Thrush were good to see and excellent views of Stock Dove were also had. Again, Grey Partridge and Yellowhammer were everywhere; a rare thing these days; and the ubiquitous Marsh Harrier soared high over the fields of cereal.

We had dinner at the Orange Tree in Thornham. We were to eat here three times and the food and service were consistently excellent. The menu was also much more interesting than those of the two 80s throwback Marco Pierre White pubs in the village.

9th June

After a birdfree morning in Hunstanton, we drove to Titchwell once again. The freshmarsh waders now included three Greenshank, a couple of Knot and a superb summer-plumage Spotted Redshank roosting with the ever-present Black-tailed Godwit. At least two Little Ringed Plover scuttled around on the muddy patches and an iridescent Kingfisher flashed through the reeds.

Walking towards the sea, a cracking adult Spoonbill gave superb views, first feeding on the saltmarsh before moving to the tidal marsh to feed alongside six Little Egret. As is to be expected at this time of year, the sea was very quiet. A solitary Gannet moved east but the big surprise were two auks doing likewise; close enough to be identified as Razorbills.

The walk back was spent scanning the skies in the hope of birds of prey passing over. A number of Red Kite had been passing Titchwell all week but the best I could manage were a couple more Marsh Harrier high up amongst the gathering clouds.

A quick walk to Patsy's was uneventful save unseen singing Cetti's Warbler and distant rumblings of thunder.

10th June

A relatively early start this morning saw us at the Wolferton Triangle in hope of a Golden Pheasant or two. Parking up on the verge, several Coal Tit sang piercingly and the only Great Spotted Woodpecker of the trip called from the trees. Of the pheasants there was no sign, though the sense of anticipation whilst scanning the edges of the rhododendrons was an exciting experience all the same.

Around the corner and we were at the car park for Dersingham Bog. Having never been here before this fantastic reserve was soon to become one of my favourites. A short walk to the open bog through the woods and the first of at least three Tree Pipit showed off, display-flighting from the top of a pine. Two Stonechat, still a relatively scarce breeder in Norfolk, called harshly from prominent perches close to the footpath.

A mewing call alerted us to the presence of not one, but three Buzzard spiraling overhead. It was whilst watching these that I became aware of reeling sound emanating from the marsh. Quite how long the Grasshopper Warbler had been singing was unclear, but it suddenly sounded very close. A couple of scans of the area and nothing was found. I was about to give up when my eyes focused in on yet another bird-shaped twig fifteen metres away. Raising my bins I was greeted by lens-filling views of this usually skulking species; easily the best of my birding career. The bird sat stock still, only occasionally rotating its head to project its insect-like call in a different direction. Thirty seconds later the streaky songster had had enough and dropped down into the short vegetation, vanishing from sight.

Feeling on a high we strolled back to the car. Another pleasant surprise at 11am was a churring Nightjar at the edge of woodland. Despite a good look we couldn't locate it but we weren't overly fussed as we'd be back later in the week in hope of an evening display.

A stroll around Sandringham was nice. Better, if slightly pricey, were the scones at the cafe.

Next up was Abbey Farm, Flitcham, and another new reserve for me. Again, no Turtle Dove or the hoped for Tree Sparrow around the car park or along the lane. From the hide, however, were bags of Stock Dove and two Little Owl, an adult and a juvenile. Non-birding partners always enjoy owls, particularly when they show this well.

The woodland surrounding the east car park at Roydon Common was very quiet. A Garden Warbler singing invisibly and a close Roe Deer were the highlights. The walk from the west car park was more rewarding. A wing-tagged Marsh Harrier quartered the marsh, a Curlew hassled a Buzzard, and a Hobby sped over. Tree Pipits were again in evidence, as were more Yellowhammer and Stonechat. We inadvertently flushed a family of Grey Partridge with no less than nine young birds but there was no sight or sound of any Woodlark.

11th June

An early morning start at Choseley Barns was yet another attempt to find a Turtle Dove. Watching from the car, numerous Woodpigeon and Chaffinch fed on the forecourt alongside lesser numbers of Stock Dove, Yellowhammer and Goldfinch. A recently fledged family of Pied Wagtail were also present, parading around on the concrete. Slowly, more and more birds arrived; it felt promising.

The scene was soon shattered with the arrival of another couple of birders. To my amazement, without even pausing, they jumped straight out of their vehicle, spooking everything. A couple of minutes was enough for them and, moaning that Choseley never held any birds, they sped away in their car.

A lazy afternoon followed, and following an excellent pub dinner at the Rose and Crown in Snettisham, we headed back to Dersingham Bog. Arriving too early we waited overlooking the bog itself and got eaten alive by midges. No less than three Grasshopper Warbler were singing but, despite sounding ridiculously close, in the fading light they remained invisible.

A ten o’clock the first Nightjar began it’s mysterious call from a ridgeline. We soon caught a glimpse but it disappeared all too quickly. Following the marked trail (I think it was called Le Hare’s Hike) we reached the base of a bracken-lined gully. Within minutes, birds were churring from both sides and shortly after we were treated to superb views as birds parachuted down over our heads to within a few feet.

Having had our fill we headed back, but not before a low-flying Woodcock appeared out of the darkness, reminiscent of a giant bat, flapping along the woodland edge. Tawny Owl called all around us and a bird perched up, silhouetted on a branch, by the car.

12th June

A lie-in after last night’s exertions meant we woke to an already scorching day. Seeing a Balearic/Sooty Shearwater had moved past Sheringham early morning, we headed for the beach at Cley for some sunbathing/seawatching. Walking along the East Bank, a couple of Bearded Tit showed well in the reeds, and several Little Egret were feeding on Arnold’s Marsh.

Settling in on the beach, I scanned the gull-flock offshore to be welcomed by two stonking adult Mediterranean Gull. Very distant and in the heat haze, the views weren’t fantastic, but it seemed to make picking them out all the more rewarding.

The first of 24 Gannet, a group of three, moved east, as did an auk species, this time too distantly to positively identify. The Fulmar that flew west close in was, as realistically expected, the closest I got to a shearwater of my own, but the most unusual sighting was of two Curlew bombing west a significant distance offshore.

The last afternoon of the holiday meant we headed for Titchwell for a final brief visit. Recording 60 species (including the dodgy Red-crested Pochard families) simply by walking from the car park to freshmarsh and back shows the brilliance of this reserve. Birds were similar to our previous visits, the only addition being, ironically given earlier events, two stonking adult Mediterranean Gulls. Accompanied by a scruffier second-summer, these birds gave fantastic views as they roosted on the closest island to the path.

13th June

The lack of a Turtle Dove had now become a slight obsession and worrying indicator of the state of this species in the UK. A change of tact was needed. Out came the OS maps. My plan was, initially, relatively simple. Find areas of farmland that have areas of steep slopes or disused pits that are difficult to farm and hope the farmer has allowed them to remain healthy areas of dense scrub. Easier said than done in Norfolk. Not many steep slopes around here. Disused pits it was then. Luckily, there were a handful of these.

Driving along the back lanes, I kept an optimistic eye on the wires with no success. The first two pits no longer seemed to exist, and the third had very little vegetation. Now on the way back to Norwich, one more likely spot remained. Visible from a distance, surrounded by fields of vibrant red poppies, a little green oasis looked incredibly promising.

There is no suspense to build. Pulling up on the verge a Turtle Dove was immediately obvious perched on the telephone wires. Soon to be joined by its mate, they showed superbly in the morning light; their reptilian, scaled backs and barcode-like necks looking fantastic. The drive back to Norwich was a happy one, though, now knowing for certain that these birds still cling on in this part of the world, the overbearing emotion was one of relief.
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