Saturday, 4 January 2020

The First Hundred (Norfolk 1-2 January)

Wednesday 01 January. A new decade and a trip to Norfolk with David Buckingham who I met in Steyning at 05:00. He drove to Lyndford Arboretum near his home town of Thetford, arriving just after dawn. We were soon watching 3 Hawfinches and 3 Marsh Tits while noisy flocks of 60 and 30 Pink-footed Geese flew over. We drove on to Sedgeford somewhat anxiously as there was no news about the tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtail on the Information Services. Our concerns were soon a distant memory as it was on view on the dung heap when we arrived and was in view for most of our stay. It was a distinctive looking bird with its blue-grey head, prominent white supercillium flaring behind the eye and buzzing call although I only head the latter twice as some of the other visitors there were rather noisily talking about their year lists and giving directions to a Yellowhammer! Large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland while we were there were almost as impressive, I estimated over 1500. We headed to Thornham on the coast where the flock of 20 Snow Buntings showed distantly. So distant that only the males were readily identifiable even in flight, although a few stood out on the saltmarsh including a very white plumaged individual. A flock of about 100 Linnets were almost as far away giving us no chance of picking out any Twite that might have been in amongst them and we'd have had to approach from Holme to get any closer. In a distant channel were a male Goldeneye and 12 frisky Red-breasted Mergansers while a Spotted Redshank feeding in a nearby creek was much more co-operative and the pick of the waders present. We continued along the coast to Titchwell which was absolutely packed. We were fortunate to find a space in the furthest car park, possibly the last one, and joined a steady procession heading down to the sea, dodging those on their way back. A selection of unexciting duck, an Avocet and another Spotted Redshank were on the pools but the reedbeds were silent although we saw 6 Marsh Harriers in the area including two males. Out on the sea were three superb male and a female Long-tailed Duck and a Slavonian Grebe although all were fairly distant. Time was against us and we headed to Holkham Gap for the remainder of the day. The car park was chaotic but this time birders were in the minority. We briskly walked to the roped off area between the dunes and saltmarsh where five Shore Larks were feeding, although they were right in the middle and I only saw four at any one time. At the far side the flock of 70 Snow Buntings were feeding but mobile and we'd not the time to walk around to them. Back at the car we drove a short distance towards Wells to look for the wintering Rough-legged Buzzard, although it had not been reported that day. There was no sign of it although we saw three more Marsh Harriers. We decided to head back west along the coast road, stopping by the road a couple of times to overlook the marshes. This paid off with Great White Egret and a superb Short-eared Owl hunting along a hedgerow. Nine Grey Partridges were feeding in the field at our last stop with perhaps 2000 Pink-footed Geese in the field behind us, an excellent finish to an enjoyable day. I'd seen 86 species, my third best start to a year in the UK. We returned to Thetford where we failed to find an open fish and chip shop there or in Brandon.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Sedgeford
considered of the race tschutschensis breeding from Siberia to Alaska and wintering in the Phillipines, Indonesia, South East Asia and now Norfolk

on the dung heap it looked long legged

its patchy underparts were quite bright yellow in places

skeins of Pink-feet over Sedgeford

Thursday 02 January. After some discussion we decided to spend the day in the Brecks, returning to Lyndford Arboretum where we saw a Crossbill in flight, 9 Hawfinches and 4 Marsh Tits. Santon Downham produced 3 more Hawfinches, Kingfisher, Water Rail,Treecreeper and a superb Otter. The otter was probably a young one and appeared to be eating a Moorhen. It was the first I'd seen away from Shetland. We went to Livermere seeing a handful of Tree Sparrows, mostly in flight, in scrub by the church and 4 Canada Geese on the lake, about one of the least memorable birds to see as my 100th species. Driving back north to Lakenheath we saw 6 Red-legged Partridges by the road but couldn't pick anything out amongst the gulls around the pig farms although most were quite distant. I'd not been to Lakenheath since there were Golden Orioles there and didn't recognise anything. DB picked out a Yellow-legged Gull amongst 1200 Lesser Black-backs on the main lagoon. They were not too far away but I was reminded of how I'm not keen on gulls on reservoirs, it is hard to get a feel of their structure and one has no chance of reading any colour-rings. We walked out towards the main reedbed flushing 2-3 Water Pipits and a Great White Egret but failing to even hear Bearded Tit. From a lookout we watched the Marsh Harriers coming in, seeing at least 19, and right at the death, 20 minutes after sunset, a flock of six Cranes flew in calling. We'd hoped they'd fly around and drop into the reedbed but they continued. It was an excellent finish to what until then had been a little disappointing day. Lakenheath was a superb reserve but with reedbeds, particularly in winter, one is heavily reliant on secretive birds like Bitterns appearing for you. Walking back in the dark the passing warden gave us a lift in this 4WD and told us the reserve had been created for the cost of a detached house in Cambridge. Unfortunately we didn't have a spare house (detachedor otherwise) to enable him to increase its size.

Otter at Santon Downham
it didn't seem too concerned by our presence on the opposite side of the river

viewpoint at Lakenheath

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