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First posted 17 February 2020, second installment posted on 4 June 2020, third installment on 29 August 2020, fourth installment on 26 October 2020, fifth installment on 06 November 2020 and final installment on 31 December (please scroll down to “31 December 2020 update” below if you’ve already read the first parts).
Press release: we have now started operating Norfolk birding day tours (socially distanced until Covid-19 is no longer an issue). Many of these day trips will be guided by Oliver Reville, who has designed a variety of exciting Norfolk bird tours focused on finding scarce Norfolk species or to simply enjoy some of the famous Norfolk bird reserves mentioned in the blog below. These tours can be run at a birding photo tour pace if you prefer. Watch our day trip page on our website for more details.
By Chris Lotz
My wife Megan and I are in the midst of an extended visit to Norfolk, arguably England’s best birding county, containing some of Britain’s most famous bird reserves such as RSPB Titchwell Marsh Nature Reserve and Cley Marshes. We arrived here on 1 January 2020, and as I write this blog we have now been here for a full 1.5 months.
The winter birding has been amazing! The birding here in Norfolk has been so good that I’ve hardly had time to miss the superb birding in Ohio, where we were based for three years, setting up the US office of Birding Ecotours (which is now being capably managed by Jacob Roalef). I’ve reached 130 species so far in Norfolk (plus a few more from other counties I’ve forayed into). Trying to see as many birds as possible while I’m here in Norfolk is really just an excuse to bird with old friends such as Paul Gaffan, Andrew de Klerk, and others who live in the area, to meet people I know of in the birding world who live in Norfolk (there are many of them), and, importantly, to get to know the county!
There are many highlights. I joined my first UK twitch for a Desert Wheatear on a beach in Norfolk. Then a male, blue-headed Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Norfolk’s first ever and Britain’s fifth ever) pitched up at a dung heap in northern Norfolk; what a great bird to see! Not only is this overwintering individual, which sticks to a small area around the dung heap it likes to forage on and is pretty reliably seen (it’s still there as I write this in case you’re interested!), a beautiful bird, but it’s nice to join the excitement and energy of local birders arriving at the stakeout in droves.
I’ve loved the massive flocks of Pink-footed Geese, picking out rarer ones such as Tundra Bean Goose among the flocks. Whooper and Tundra/Bewick’s Swans have been great to see. The Western Marsh Harrier roost at Titchwell was a true highlight (thanks Sue Bryan, who works there for the RSPB, for helping me with that). Getting my best views, by far, of Water Rail in the famous ditch also there at Titchwell was also a real highlight. Eurasian Woodcock roosting was yet another highlight of this winter’s birding. The owls here are stunning, and I have enjoyed seeing Short-eared Owl on the famous Norfolk Broads, Tawny Owls roosting at Lynford Arboretum, Little Owl at Highfields Farm just south of Norwich, and many Western Barn Owls all over the place; I love how the barn owls hunt in broad daylight, giving superb views, quite different from the strictly nocturnal ones in South Africa. Seeing Common Cranes, a few of which are resident on the Broads, was also one of the memorable highlights of the birding here.
Lynford Arboretum has proved lots of fun, with about a dozen Hawfinches, a few Bramblings, close-up Eurasian Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, and a lot of Redwings and close-up, dazzlingly bright Yellowhammers.
I’ve enjoyed the gulls, too. Apart from the common gull species, Moss Taylor helped to show me a Caspian Gull at Sheringham Beach. We were actually struggling to locate the bird when someone started feeding bread to the gulls and several species of them came in and started swarming around right next to us. I ended up getting photos and videos of the Caspian Gull with my iPhone; I could almost touch the bird, it was so close. Here are a couple of them:
Norfolk locals suggested I just wait a few weeks until Mediterranean Gulls would “be everywhere”, but is it really realistic to expect a birder to wait for a lifer? I certainly didn’t want to wait, so one Saturday after a sightseeing drive from Norwich (where we live) to Cromer, then southwards along the beautiful Norfolk coast, and after enjoying a traditional cream tea at Great Yarmouth I mentioned to Megan “since we’re only five minutes away, why not go to Great Yarmouth Beach now to look for Mediterranean Gulls” (it’s the best place in Norfolk for them). They didn’t disappoint, and several of these beautiful gulls with their stunning white wings were much in evidence among the many Black-headed Gulls and other common gull species.
A birding day with Andrew Stainthorpe, concentrating around Holkham National Nature Reserve, was incredible, to say the least. Four Shore Larks (as the Horned Lark is called in Europe), a nice flock of beautiful Snow Buntings, hundreds of Common Scoters, a few Velvet Scoters, a few Long-tailed Ducks out at sea, so many Brant Geese and other geese, etc., were fabulous to see. Nearby at Wells-next-the-Sea we had great views of Rough-legged Buzzard (or Rough-legged Hawk, as it’s called in North America), and we also easily located the three Western Cattle Egrets nearby (this is a rare species in England!).
Megan and I occasionally find an excuse to make a foray into another county. The highlight was a trip to Rutland Water to see Smew, and we enjoyed seeing a pair of them; the drake is such a stunning bird, the female being more subtly beautiful. I’d only previously seen this species in captivity, so it was great now getting it as a lifer. Rutland Water is a wonderful site for winter birding, and we saw loads of other good species as well, not to mention the beautiful countryside between Norwich and the Midlands. On the way back from Rutland Water we also dropped in at King’s Lynn and the 20,000-acre (8000 ha) Sandringham Estate (the Queen’s private home); England is such a wonderful country for combining birding with sightseeing. The hundreds of hundreds-of-years-old buildings, spectacular gardens, etc., are nothing short of spectacular.
What will the next few weeks bring? We’ve loved the winter birding, and I bet the spring is going to be even better!
4 June 2020 update
Well, on 17 February 2020, when I made the closing statement to the first instalment of this blog, that “We’ve loved the winter birding, and I bet the spring is going to be even better!”, I had no idea what we were actually about to be “in for”. Megan and I went to South Africa for a family visit at the end of February, and barely made it back to Britain. We made it back in the nick of time, literally just before both South Africa and the UK started stringent lockdowns. Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic! Who would have thought that 2020 was going to turn out the way it did!
The day before the lockdown started I did manage a trip to the well-known tea room at Pretty Corner just outside of Sheringham, where I had absolutely superb eye-level views of a beautiful, rather vocal Common Firecrest (this is not actually a common bird, despite its name). Moving westward, a couple of other new year birds then came in the form of Common Snipe at Lady Anne’s Drive at Wells-next-the-Sea, and then a couple of fantastic Eurasian Spoonbills nearby. And near where the spoonbills were I actually found a small gathering of Western Cattle Egrets, a rare bird in England (this was the same place I’d seen them earlier this year, as per the first instalment of this blog).
After a good birding session in the morning that evening an announcement was made that we could no longer do any non-essential driving and that we were only permitted one form of outside exercise per day near our homes. Otherwise the instruction was loudly and clearly to “stay at home” to minimize the transmission of the virus. So my would-be spring birding (at least the way I had envisioned it) came to a standstill, but at least I had gotten in the good morning of birding mentioned above.
Actually, the several weeks of lockdown (and with it the forced change of lifestyle) were in reality refreshing to Megan and me (we understand that this was by no means the case for everyone; we are incredibly thankful that we did not have to endure the same kinds of suffering as many people). The dawn chorus from our home was just so loud and cheerful. We could enjoy the songs of so many birds in and around our house, including some new arrivals such as Eurasian Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler (the song and contact call of which I am so familiar with from growing up in Johannesburg; not all birds overwintering in South Africa sing, but Willow Warblers certainly do!). Megan and I also enjoyed a daily walk from our home, sometimes to Lion Wood, sometimes along the River Wensum (where I saw my first of year – or FOY – Common Tern), etc. Sometimes we also walked to the 900-year-old Norwich Cathedral to enjoy the Peregrine Falcons that breed there. Lockdown birding for us was definitely pleasant, even though we knew we were missing things like Ring Ouzel that are common in the spring for a couple of weeks in Norfolk as they pass through, but not at places within easy walking distance from us. And the Willow Tit feeders about 40 minutes from our home were also a no-go during lockdown, so that species remains a tough bird for me to get for my year list as I missed the opportunity to see it visiting the feeders because of lockdown. So we knew we were missing “target” birds, but the forced change of focus wasn’t at all arduous (just different from our expectations). Even just the beautiful songs of Common Blackbird, European Robin, Eurasian Wren, and the various tit species provided a lot of joy to us. And our bird feeders were attracting the good-looking Eurasian Jay, Great Tit, Blue Tit, and more rarely Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit. Flocks of Eurasian Goldfinch were much in evidence.
One of the most notable changes in bird behavior was that Black-headed Gulls completely vanished from around our home during lockdown. Prior to lockdown this (usually) abundant bird was always present flying around, much in evidence every time I would step outside and making an appearance on every single e-bird list of mine. During lockdown suddenly there were hardly any in Norwich. I can only guess that the species moved to pig farms (of which there are many in Norfolk) and beaches, as humans weren’t providing the usual food source. Norwich streets became eerily empty from a human point of view, and the skies above became similarly empty of Black-headed Gulls which I assume like to feed opportunistically on items people drop and leave behind. Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls remained (at least in some numbers), whereas Black-headed Gulls left the city of Norwich for all intents and purposes.
During the course of the lockdown more and more migrants from their African wintering grounds started showing up around Norwich. Common Swifts one day suddenly became a regular site above our home, much to our delight. Hirundines also arrived back. Within the space of a couple of days I quickly added Barn Swallow, Common House-Martin, and Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) to my Norfolk year list. Common Cuckoo with its characteristic call was also much in evidence. And warblers arrived in force, many of them best observed at the nearby Thorpe Marshes NWT (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) or across the river at Whitlingam Country Park (both quite easy walks from our home). The most common ones apart from the two Phylloscopus warblers and Eurasian Blackcap mentioned earlier were Greater Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler and in fact Cetti’s Warbler with its loud song. Common Grasshopper Warbler is much scarcer, but it’s wonderful to hear its insect-like “song” on occasion.
The real highlight at Thorpe Marshes NWT was not any warbler, though, but instead it was most certainly hearing Corn Crake a couple of times! Yes, one pitched up here, right in Norwich, and entertained many a local birder for at least a couple of weeks. Some lucky birders even got visuals and photos of it. I need to go and see (or more likely hear) if it’s still around now as I write this blog on 4 June. What a bird to get onto my British list, a species I’m more familiar with from Zimbabwe trips I’ve done!
Lockdown has recently become far less stringent, and we can drive anywhere we want and spend as much time outdoors as we wish. So in late spring I’ve managed to add some really great birds to my Norfolk year list. At least two European Turtle Doves were putting on a real show (calling and doing flight displays) at Alderford Common SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). A trip to Hickling Broad generated a female Red-footed Falcon, at least two Eurasian Hobbies, a couple of booming Great Bitterns, and a Hooded-Crow-type thing (perhaps a hybrid, comments welcome, please e-mail [email protected]ours.com).
Hooded Crow is rare in the east of England and is more a continental European bird. I digiscoped this one at Hickling Broad the other day. Is this a hybrid (with Carrion Crow), though?
Megan and I recently took a drive to the beautiful Winterton Dunes NNR (National Nature Reserve) for an evening-visit. We were lucky enough to see a flock of Northern Gannets out at sea, a Common Whimbrel flying past, three Little Terns (this is the site of the UK’s biggest colony of these dainty little beauts), and various other birds.
Most recently a visit to the village of Cockley Cley parish after dinner one evening was super-productive. Highlights were a couple of singing Tree Pipits, one of them posing on a nearby wire, a few Eurasian Nightjars, a Eurasian Woodcock flying over a field at dusk, and a nicely posing Spotted Flycatcher. Really high-quality birds!
Well, that’s it for the “end of spring” 2020 Norfolk birding year blog. Let’s hope the summer brings good things, too!
Before saying “cheers for now”, however, I should note that worldwide lockdowns have given the whole Birding Ecotours team a rare opportunity to spend a lot of time generating brand new birding tour itineraries and updating a lot of other content on our website. Relevant here is that we have just added two British birding tours! So why not join us on one of our two UK annual set-departures birding holidays? Please see details of our Ultimate Spring bird tour (Scotland and England) and of our England in Winter trip here. Norfolk features in these birding tours, not surprisingly, being one of Britain’s best birding counties.
29 August 2020 update
The summer bird-watching here in lovely Norfolk proved great and we’re now at the end of summer, poised for the incredibly exciting fall (well, autumn as British birders call it!) migration event of late August through September. I got a very big taster of that yesterday, but firstly, back to where I took off last, early June…
…After the Eurasian Nightjar, Eurasian Woodcock and Tree Pipit evening of 2 June (detailed at the start of the 4 June update above), the next new year bird for me came in the form of Eurasian Tree Sparrow that Megan and I went to search for in Attleborough, half an hour west of Norwich. A couple of these sparrows, much scarcer in England than House Sparrow (although this has also declined badly in the UK), co-operated very well for us.
Next on the agenda, on 11 June, a perfectly plumaged male Rosy Starling pitched up nine minutes’ drive from our home, so I rushed out to see it among a flock of Common Starlings. This is a rare bird in England/Western Europe, but the whole region was busy seeing an extremely impressive irruption of them and it was only a matter of time before one got reported in the Norwich area. Yay! What a beautiful bird, a species which I’ve seen big flocks of in places like India. Starlings do tend to be nomadic and Rosy Starlings became really numerous in mainland Europe, with a good number of sightings all over Britain too, this summer.
How immensely lucky that the next rare bird alert was also for a desirable species that decided to pitch up at the “corncrake marsh” (see the previous installment above, Thorpe Marshes NWT reserve) also only nine minutes’ drive from my home. A Savi’s Warbler with its peculiar “song” (the sound often being referred to as “reeling”), joined it’s more numerous cousin, Common Grasshopper Warbler, at this brilliant little reserve within greater Norwich. Both of these are skulking Locustella warblers (the same genus also as River Warbler which I was familiar with from my South African birding, a rare, tricky species there though). The scientific name of this group of elusive warblers is named after locusts/grasshoppers as they sound just like insects. Some of the species are indeed easy to overlook because birdwatchers think the sounds they are hearing are from grasshoppers rather than birds. In South Africa, River Warbler is almost impossible to locate until just before it migrates back to Eurasia around the end of March; this is the only time it usually sings in South Africa. Sorry to digress from the topic of this blog about a birding year in Norfolk…back to that…
…in the later summer, Megan and I paid a visit to the beautiful gardens of the Queen’s winter residence in Norfolk, Sandringham, and we were lucky enough to find a couple of Red Crossbills, another sometimes-tricky species to get onto a Norfolk year list. Much to our delight, the sprawling gardens also abounded with more common British woodland birds.
The months of July and August brought Western Yellow Wagtail and quite a number of new wader species for the year, including an American stray Lesser Yellowlegs at North Point/Warham, a fresh marsh near the coast 20 minutes’ west of the legendary Cley Marshes. Other notable shorebirds at this same site, were numerous Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of neat-looking Green Sandpipers and a small flock of beautiful breeding plumaged Black-tailed Godwits. Towards the end of the summer, a couple of Wood Sandpipers and a family of Garganeys, stayed at least a couple of weeks at this site, presenting a golden opportunity for more additions to my growing Norfolk list.
One of the very most exciting days of the entire year was 28 August (so far, but who knows what’s next?). On this day, I met up with my birding friend Sacha Barbato (who can also assist tour participants on Birding Ecotours trips with flight arrangements, please contact us if you want details). This was my first exciting taste of autumn (or fall…!) migration birding in the UK. Due to the wind direction from continental Europe towards eastern England and the intermittently rainy conditions (the rain seems to make the birds “drop” and land rather than continue migrating), the prediction was that today was going to be a particularly good migration birding day!
Sacha and I met at the Cley Coastguard Station at 8 am and it almost immediately started well with Great Skua, Parasitic Jaeger, a good number of Northern Gannets, lots of seaducks including a raft of about ten Common Eiders, etc. After this seabird watching, we then walked to Gramborough Hill (an unassuming little migrant hotspot) and on to Kelling Water Meadows, seeing a couple of Whinchats, Stonechats and Northern Wheatears. On our way back to the car, we realized something exciting: that more individuals of these species had already moved in during the course of our outwards walk. Sacha had predicted that the birds would arrive in bigger numbers around noon and it was now late morning so his prediction was starting to materialize.
After lunch (or in reality tea and scones) at the Cley Visitor Center, we then did a bit more seawatching before embarking on the difficult mile-plus long trek to the “halfway” house (not nearly the half way point in reality!) at Blakeney Point, over pebbles/shingles that test the stamina of even the fittest birdwatcher. But we were richly rewarded from an avian point of view, with a Eurasian Wryneck, a European Pied Flycatcher, at least 17 Northern Wheatears, at least six Whinchats and so forth. We would have loved to have walked all the way to the end of this long spit which acts as a migrant trap, between the sea and Blakeney Harbor, but neither had time nor stamina. Birds that have just flown across the sea from Scandinavia and other parts of continental Europe, arrive here on this sandspit exhausted and hungry. All kinds of rarities, along with the usual migrants, land here in good numbers when the weather conditions are suitable, in August and September, making landfall among the low bushes and scrub. Raptors take advantage of this and we did enjoy a low-flying hunting Eurasian Sparrowhawk looking for a meal (earlier in the day, we’d also seen a Eurasian Hobby carrying a freshly-caught swallow).
We were tired and it was getting late, so we decided to call it a day. But Sacha said September is his best and most exciting birding month and that even more migrants should pass through “next month”. So hopefully the next installment of this blog might with luck make for good reading. Bring on September!
Please watch this space for the next installment of my Norfolk birding blog.
26 October 2020 update
The last two months certainly did not disappoint! Quite a number of birders told me that the autumn months of late August into September and through October would be the most exciting of the whole year here in the UK, especially in Norfolk. What a season it’s been, with many Scandinavian migrants and some incredible Asian vagrants as well!
Because I had such large volumes of work, I was unable to get out seabirding on a couple of occasions when the conditions were perfect (gale force winds blowing from the east, north or both), so I missed waves of Sooty Shearwaters and the particularly scarce Long-tailed Jaegers, Leach’s Storm-petrels and Sabine’s Gulls that others were reporting while I was stuck behind my computer. I did, however, manage to see some Manx Shearwaters and Black-legged Kittiwakes in late August and early September.
Buckenham Marshes RSPB Reserve then generated a couple of Little Stints on 31 August, and later that same afternoon the nearby Cantley Sugar Factory yielded a Temminck’s Stint. My first new September bird for my Norfolk year list was a Wood Sandpiper that I finally caught up with at North Point Fresh Marsh, bordering on Warham Greens. Five days later, a rare bird for Britain (although very common in my home country South Africa), White-winged Tern, pitched up at the Cantley Beet Factory so I “had” to go back there. Also in attendance was one of South Africa’s most abundant shorebirds, Curlew Sandpiper, which was nice to catch up with here in Norfolk (and I had close views of this beautiful bird; I love waders!).
Megan and I decided to visit Titchwell RSPB Reserve on the first weekend of September and managed to locate a Red-crested Pochard; nice close views! Garganey was next on the agenda, with a couple of these beautiful ducks visible from the Tower Hide at one of my favorite reserves, Strumpshaw Fen, within half an hour of our home in Norwich.
I always enjoy the vast and often largely deserted dune-lands of Norfolk’s east coast, so I didn’t need much persuasion to drive to Waxham to take a look at a couple of Red-backed Shrikes. A Black Redstart also showed well, sitting on a roof.
Early September also warranted a drive to the Suffolk/Norfolk boundary to see large numbers of Eurasian Stone-curlews on a pig farm in the Brecks – quite an experience that fellow birders had suggested.
I had missed an earlier Pectoral Sandpiper at Cley, so around mid September it was great to catch up with this well-marked American wader at Dickleburgh Moor Otter Trust Nature Reserve. Great views!
On my way to meet Sacha Barbato, for a walk right to the end of Blakeney Point (some miles of tough walking over shingle), where we found some great migrants (many of them at “the plantation” right at the end) but nothing new for the year, I stopped by Kelling Heath for a while as I was running early. After lots of work and patience, I finally managed to find a Dartford Warbler, not easy when they’re not vocal (spring and early summer has them singing away).
A couple of days later, I “had” to drop everything and drive to Warham Greens near Wells-next-the-sea for another real British rarity, the Asian vagrant Brown Shrike. This beautiful bird showed ever so well! A brief visit to “the Dell” at Wells Woods, one of many legendary autumn birding sites in Norfolk, allowed me to see Common Redstart, something I had struggled to catch up with previously. Returning to the Dell a couple of days later was even more rewarding, with Red-breasted Flycatcher and not one but three or four Yellow-browed Warblers.
Towards the end of September, a wonderful walk along the beach at Titchwell RSPB Reserve to Thornham Point was productive for a confiding Snow Bunting and a couple of Lapland Longspurs (Buntings).
In late September, coastal birding was rewarded with lots of beautiful (with their wonderful dark underwings) Little Gulls, the most close-up ones being marginally inland though at the Kelling Water Meadows. Here, there was also an up close and personal Red Phalarope! Common Loon (Great Northern Diver), along with many Red-throated Loons (Divers), and my first Common Murre (Guillemot) for Norfolk, put in appearances at the nearby Cley Coastguards.
October has been an even more amazing birding month than September (with one extreme rarity), but I don’t have time right now to write about it (too much actual birding, I guess!). So, I suppose I’ll update this blog again in November (especially if birding gets a bit quieter).
6 November 2020 update
My total Norfolk year list was sitting on 211 at the end of September. October allowed me to reach 227 species and was definitely an exciting birding month here in lovely Norfolk with its extensive coastline, varied habitats and many bird reserves. 227 is not a brilliant number, but acceptable to me partly because the lockdown didn’t allow much spring birding and of course it’s not all about numbers, but more about enjoying the birding (although of course I do always count!). October is one of the peak migration months of the year, and excitingly also saw a MEGA getting posted to Birdguides and the Rare Bird Alert (more about that later!).
On 2 October, I decided to swing by the Kelling Water Meadows as an immature Arctic Tern had been cooperating very well and this beautiful bird gave close-up flight views. There were lots of other great birds around too, including an offshore Razorbill.
On 4 October, Megan and I decided to go for a walk at Wells-next-the-Sea on the north coast. Luck was on our side when a co-operative Eurasian Hoopoe got reported just inland near Wighton just as we were about to head home. Wighton is pretty much on the way home anyway. So, we enjoyed seeing a close-up of this charismatic, strange-looking, attractive bird, foraging on the ground next to the road.
5 October was also good, with the opportunity of catching up with a Red-necked Phalarope which Megan and I had just missed by half an hour at Cley the previous month. The following day, a visit to the Broads National Park generated a Glossy Ibis. A probable (DNA analysis dependent) “Stejneger’s” form of Siberian Stonechat was next on the agenda, at the picturesque coastal village of Happisburgh a little to the north of the ibis. The Eurasian Wryneck that others had been reporting in the nearby horse paddock didn’t “play ball” for me that day, but not to worry.
I enjoyed a couple of sessions with a very cooperative Barred Warbler feeding on berries with Eurasian Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats in the Burnham Overy dunes just where they meet the Holkham pine forest. On the second session, not one but two Pallas’s Leaf Warblers showed well, one on the dunes and the other in the pines. The Red-flanked Bluetail that a lot of other birders had seen was a no-show but luckily an incredibly cooperative one did pitch up on the east coast and entertained me nicely a couple of days later. A good number of them graced Norfolk this October: it used to be quite a MEGA in England but apparently more frequent these days.
I woke up on Saturday morning, 17 October, knowing I’d be participating in the Global Bird Weekend bird conservation event arranged by Tim Appleton, BirdLife International and eBird, but not knowing it would be at the Stiffkey Marshes. Here, a bird that hadn’t been reported in the UK for 40 years, was suddenly reported on the rare bird alerts in my “own” county, early this morning! RUFOUS-TAILED SCRUB ROBIN! This brought back great memories of seeing this as not a MEGA but as a GIGA in South Africa in 2016 when South Africa’s only Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin pitched up in Cape Town!
The next day, a Dusky Warbler skulking near the ground close to the Caister Golf Course, just north of Great Yarmouth, gave Megan and I surprisingly good views among a couple of the usual hangers-on (trying to get some attention) in the form of a couple of Common Chiffchaffs.
The last two new birds for my Norfolk year list for October were both ducks: a nice Greater Scaup at Cley and a Ring-necked Duck at the stunning Holkham Hall Estate, such a nice place that Megan and I decided to go back the next day for an excellent walk and tea. The great thing about these two ducks was that it gave me an excuse to drive from west to east along a large portion of the north Norfolk coast – always such a treat! This is incorporated within an “AONB”, i.e. an area of outstanding natural beauty – very well justified (more information at Norfolk Coast AONB).
November is likely to be fairly quiet because of the month-long lockdown that started yesterday (4 November), but I did squeeze in some brilliantly fun birding sessions with my friends Mark and Maria Jones who have done several birding tours with Birding Ecotours, a couple of them with me. On 1 November, we met at Holme Bird Observatory and the best bird of the day, in my books, was a late Ring Ouzel. We also spent another session across the border in Suffolk where one of the many highlights was a couple of amazingly co-operative Dartford Warblers, my fourth experience of these delightful birds this year. It was truly great birding with Maria and Mark, this time in their home country.
31 December 2020 update
Because of the lockdown, I was only able to bird near home for a month, which allowed me to enjoy the more common birds during daily walks with Megan. As Christmas approached, there was a window between lockdowns during which I managed to see a handful of excellent birds. These included a cute Jack Snipe and also a beautiful juvenile Iceland Gull. A Horned Grebe at Rollesby Broad and a Red-necked Grebe on the Malthouse Broad, adjacent to Ranworth Broad, a couple of days later, were excellent to catch up with. At Ranworth, Megan and I briefly also saw Redpolls but we could not sure if they were Lesser or Common.
A small colony of Rose-ringed Parakeets within greater Norwich was next on the birding agenda. I dropped some Birding Ecotours calendars at the One Stop Nature Shop in Burnham Deepdale, and took the opportunity to bird the nearby Titchwell, always so full of amazing birds, the highlight being a (Black) Brant among the much more numerous (Dark-bellied) Brants. On another occasion, I also enjoyed exploring the amazing Dersignham Bog, a public nature reserve on the Sandringham property, hoping for a Common Raven or two. No ravens put in appearances on this occasion, but this was another opportunity just to enjoy some of the more common species (despite their name, these ravens are by no means common here!).
And the final new Norfolk bird for the year was a species I didn’t think was going to pitch up this year, Taiga Bean Goose! Small numbers of these usually arrive at Buckenham/Cantley Marshes RSPB Reserves (two adjacent reserves) in December and they typically only stay a bit into January. This December, no one was able to find them until Christmas was practically upon us, but fortunately six individuals did suddenly get reported, and were then enjoyed by many people over the next couple of days. Whenever I go to Buckenham, I usually also drop by the nearby Strumpshaw Fen RSPB reserve to see if there are any Eurasian Otters and on one occasion this wonderful mammal did not disappoint. On that same visit to Strumpshaw, I also got great views of Eurasian Bittern flying over the reeds from the Tower Hide, not once but twice. Common Kingfisher also usually hangs around this hide.
Well, 2020 has allowed me a wonderful year of birding in Norfolk. Megan and I have now largely set up the UK office of Birding Ecotours, and while doing so we’ve had great fun exploring the beautiful, varied and wonderfully bird-rich county of Norfolk. What a great place to have an office set up!