Sunday, 3 February 2013

In Search of Winter Birds - Norfolk 2013 Day 2

Our day began with a re-calculation of last nights species total, from the lowly 63 species that we thought we had recorded, to the dizzy heights of 68. There is no reason for the miscalculation other than over indulgence in ale from the nearby pub followed by a couple of healthy drams of Talisker before bed....not the wisest thing to do when you have a full day's birding ahead of you!

After a hearty home cooked breakfast we ventured out into the crisp morning air. Overnight  light snow was still lying on the ground so we knew it was going to be cold, but the brisk north-westerly wind was unexpected. 

Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra

We began our day with a trip to Choseley Barns, a former site for tree sparrow, but sadly no more. Nonetheless, there are still good birds to be seen in this area and today was no exception. Yellowhammer, brambling, chaffinch, linnet, and the now very difficult corn bunting were present in the hedges whilst grey partridges were unusually present in good numbers in the fields.

Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra

In Hampshire, species such as corn bunting and yellowhammer have disappeared from many of the their former haunts, which makes these trips to Norfolk even more enjoyable; not only do you get to see the range of species, but in good numbers too.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla and Chaffinch's F. coelebs

The farm has recently entered a High Level Stewardship scheme and it seems to be paying dividends, since the number and diversity of species was great, and this in turn attracted interesting predators, the most noteworthy being a hunting merlin which headed low over the fields in search of food.

Brambling and Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella

Our next stop was the RSPB reserve at Titchwell, a great place for wintering ducks and waders and for looking out to sea for sea ducks and divers. We arrived in glorious sun but before long a very ominous dark cloud appeared on the horizon. The pasture to the west of the reserve was excellent, golden plover, curlew, lapwing, black-tailed godwit and ruff were all present, a great start to our visit.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata, one drake and two ducks 

In contrast to the pasture, the scrapes were much quieter. The usual species were present, shoveler, shelduck, mallard, gadwall and teal, with a single female red-crested pochard putting in a surprise appearance. Wading birds were relatively thin on the ground, with pied avocet and a single spotted redshank the most noteworthy.

Sanderling Calidris alba

Our timing was not great because before we reached the second hide the storm arrived, and with it a deluge of hail and sleet and an increase in wind speed. After it had passed we headed out to look at the sea, the strong wind and rough sea made viewing difficult, but we still managed common scoter, only four though, loads of goldeneye, great-crested grebe and red-throated diver. Thousands of gulls were roosting on the beach whilst sanderling, redshank and bar-tailed godwit fed amongst them.

Snow Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis

Whilst at Titchwell, we were told of a flock of snow buntings that were frequenting the dunes at Holme, so you can guess where our next stop was. We parked in the car park, walked out across the golf course and before long we were watching a flock of around 80 birds, which had joined with even more goldfinch's and skylarks. It doesn't matter how often you see them snow buntings are spectacular, and when you have a flock of 80, you can see where the phrase a 'blizzard' of snow buntings comes from.

Dunlin Calidris alpina (left) Knot Calidris canutus (right)

Holme was also great for waders and the dunlin and knot were extremely approachable, giving the ideal opportunity for photography. The image above provides an excellent change to compare two species that can be easily confused by the inexperienced birder.

Knots in flight

After Holme we headed to Wells harbour, where a common seal had hauled out on the sand, before heading to our final destination of Holkham Park.

Common Seal Phoca vitulina

There was not much to report from Holkham, and with no large flocks of geese to see dropping in at Lady Anne's Drive, we headed back to our lodgings and some freshly caught mussels.

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