It was really early in the morning that we got up today and got on the road for some birding in one of Britain’s best known birding areas, Norfolk. As we made our way through the open country, interspersed with hedges, I had a few lifer birds this morning. A pair of Red-legged Partridge stood out in a stubble field, one of those somewhat unexciting introduced chicken type birds, but still a ‘tick’ nonetheless. Finally, I got views of a Green Woodpecker as it clung to the side of a wooden telephone pole. What a bird! Then, out of nowhere an Eurasian Hobby appears and gives me gorgeous views as it’s chased by Barn Swallows and Common House-Martins. Another long anticipated lifer appears in its favorite habitat, the hedges…a Dunnock. Previously known as the Hedge Sparrow, Dunnocks are widespread members of the accentor family. I’d always wanted to see one of these plain little ground dwellers and finally, I just had! A second Dunnock appeared and the two kicked dirt together along a nice hedge.
‘It’s a five mile walk’, Mooney kept saying, regarding a Black-winged Pratincole at the Ouse Washes. ‘Well, it must be done’, I said, and off we set with scopes in hand. Rich and I glimpsed a Song Thrush here in an overgrown garden, but I was too picky to add this brief ‘bare-eye’ sighting to my life list. We poked into various hides along the way, picking up some nice birds such as my very first ever Green Sandpiper! Out in the open grassy fields a pair of Common Cranes strutted about, causing my eyes to pop, because it’s not too often you get a lifer crane.
We had in flight views of the Black-winged Pratincole, a vagrant species in the UK. This pratincole breeds in far eastern Europe as well as throughout northern parts of the Middle East. What it was doing at the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire I have no idea, but I’m glad I saw the bird. The flight style and silhouette of the bird were diagnostic to a pratincole, with long, thin, pointy wings and a swallow-like flight. The darker wings were in evidence in flight as well. Another nice twitch for Mooney and I. Another lifer I scored here, from yet another hide, was a Common Shelduck. It was an immature, and there were many immature birds about on this trip due to the time of year I visited. Before we left the preserve, I spotted a Lesser Whitethroat in a bush beside the path, while a Greater Whitethroat hopped about nearby.
Next on the list of places to visit according to Richard Mooney, was Weeting Heath, a Norfolk County Preserve. By this time I had grown some nice blisters on my feet, after the five mile pratincole march. I gingerly crept through the Scots Pines and scanned through little groups of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, and bingo, eventually a group of gorgeous Long-tailed Tits! These were some of my favorite birds on the trip. We entered the hide, looked out onto the heath and immediately spotted our target species, Stone Curlew, or Eurasian Thick-Knee, depending on which taxonomy you follow. We counted over a dozen of these curious, big-eyed birds, including a fluffy white chick, on this particular day.
As if things really couldn’t get any better, we went next to Titchwell, another RSPB preserve on the Norfolk Coast. What a place this is! There are feeders near the visitor’s center where one can watch for Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, various tit species, and whatever else is attracted to the seed. You then walk through a little woodland, where you might find Chiffchaff, Eurasian Robin, Long-tailed Tit, and definitely several Wood-Pigeons. The trail then opens up and you can view a large wetland area full of gulls, terns, shorebirds, ducks and more. What a paradise.
First things first though, Rich Mooney was in line to get a lifer! We rushed towards the group of birders peering down into the reeds and waited for the appearance of a Spotted Crake. This Sora look-a-like is not all that rare in the UK, it is just really hard to see. The bird came right out into the open several times, and there you have it folks, Mr. Mooney himself got a lifer.
Once we had ‘the crake in the bag’ as they say, we headed over to the biggest pond which was full of birds. I racked up some more lifer shorebirds here this afternoon. The light was fantastic for photography and several of the birds just seemed to want to be photographed. Here’s a selection of some of my favorite shots from Titchwell this afternoon.
Ok enough photos for now. You get the picture. Titchwell is a fantastic place and any birder who can should get over there and check it out. Especially fun in shorebird migration season which is late July-October. A few of the other goodies we had at Titchwell that I didn’t snag photos of included Red-crested Pochards, Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Spoonbills, Curlew Sandpiper, Red Knot, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Whimbrel…the list goes on. As we walked back to the car in the fading light, we watched a Song Thrush, my first ‘tickable’ one, as it scratched around on the ground, picking up food for young. Nice way to finish a day of birding. We drove towards Norwich where we spent the night in the Holiday Inn. Along the way we had a Barn Owl fly right out over the road! I looked out the window in my room to find I could have front row seats to a football match as I faced right into the stadium.
Leaving our comfortable hotel in Norwich at 7 AM, we headed back for the coast. Skies looked ominous, you might say, as the remnants of Hurricane Bertha made landfall on the Norfolk Coast. Winds whipped up and black skies threatened from all directions. We carried on to a little village known as Cley-Next-The-Sea. We made our way to the reserve and went to visit a few of the hides that were scattered about at Cley Marshes. Of interest were Eurasian Spoonbills (15), a couple of Eurasian Wigeon, several Little Egrets, and good numbers of Sandwich Terns. Shorebirds included Curlew, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Ruff, N. Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Dunlin, one European Golden Plover, Pied Avocets, Turnstones, and the ubiquitous Black-tailed Godwit. We decided to walk the ‘East Dyke’ and it rained as we did this. My exact words when I got back to the car were, ‘I’ve never been wetter than this with my clothes on before.’
Was it worth walking out in the rains of Hurricane Bertha on the East Dyke at Cley? Yes it was, because I got to see my lifer Bearded Tit, otherwise known as Bearded Reedling. Rich spotted the bird atop some pale long grasses in the marsh. I got my bins on it for a good few seconds before the tiny, buffy bird with a long tail flew across the reed tops and disappeared into the marsh, never to be seen again. Lifer 1999!
Next stop was the Three Swallows Pub in Cley, where we had a delicious roast dinner! It was fantastic to warm up and have some hot food and catch up on our notes in this traditional old English pub.
At this point we were feeling a little beaten by the weather. We decided to make our way back towards London, a mere 3 hours away, depending on traffic. We took off along country lanes, through villages and countryside, all the while scanning the tops of hedges for a rather small yellowish songbird. ‘Little bit of bread, no cheeeeeese’ Rich and I joked, as this was the call of the bird we were seeking. Suddenly Rich jerked to a stop, along a narrow road with a bend in front of us. It wasn’t the safest place in the world to pull over. Nonetheless, I hopped out and got the scope set up at lightning speed. There is was, my 2000th lifer, a gorgeous male Yellowhammer singing from the top of the hedge..’Little bit of bread, no cheeeeeese’. The police even pulled over in an unmarked suv and two friendly officers kindly told us to ‘move along to somewhere safer to park’ and we did.
We got back to Woking at around 7 PM or so and ordered up some delicious Indian food. I had Lamb Vindaloo which was some of the spiciest Indian food I’ve had. Pretty good stuff though. Now, time for a Guinness and some sleep!