Monday, 4 February 2013

In Search of Winter Birds, Norfolk 2013 - Day 3

For day 3 of our trip we decided to start at Burnham Overy Staithe in search of the rough legged buzzard that had been in the area. We set off just after sunrise, but en-route our attention was drawn to a large flock of geese that appeared to be dropping into a nearby field around Choseley. We immediately changed direction and headed inland towards them.

Pink-footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus

We had yet to encounter a large flock of pink-footed geese on this trip but the spectacle of thousands of geese flying over calling, then wheeling around as they fall from the sky, really makes these trips worthwhile. Today we must have timed it perfectly, as the geese were moving inland from their overnight roost before dispersing across the landscape.

Pink-footed Geese

It was so difficult to count how many birds were present since they were constantly on the move, then dropping out of sight into a distant field. We estimated that there were at least 7,000 birds in this one flock.

Pink-footed Geese

When on the deck the geese were quite nervous, taking to the wing as soon as any potential predator approached. In most cases they needn't have worried, as what was approaching was a brown hare. The hares seemed unperturbed by the presence of the geese and would just carry on their daily routines, often running straight across a field through the middle of the flock, making the whole flock take to the wing.

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus with Pink-footed Geese

We arrived at Burham Overy Staithe as the tide was falling. A few waders (ringed plovers, redshank, bar-tailed godwits and a knot), were scattered sparsely over the mud, and marsh harriers hung in the wind. A quick look out to sea from the dunes produced a couple of red-throated divers, common scoter and eider, and a flock of white-fronted geese grazed on the fresh marsh behind the dunes.

If there is one rule in birding it is always to expect the unexpected, and today that rule was re-enforced by the presence of a purple sandpiper on a freshwater pool, in the middle of a meadow at Cley. Typically in winter this is a species of coastal, wave-washed, seaweed covered rocks, well at least that is their habitat in Hampshire. The bird at Cley was on a freshwater pool, along with a lapwing and a redshank, not the sort of habitat I have seen them in before. It was feeding in a similar style to the black-bellied dipper, submerging its head and walking forward in search of food....very bizarre!

Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima with Redshank and Lapwing on a Freshwater Pool

After our brief visit to Cley, we decided to head back to an area where we had recently seen some barn owls feeding. Visitors to North Norfolk in the winter will be very well aware of how visible and approachable this species can be, and subsequently how easy they are to photograph. Unfortunately, the light today was not so good and therefore I had to set a high sensitivity level on the camera to stand a chance of getting even a half decent photo. 

Barn Owl Tyto alba (male)

As we headed towards our destination we were greeted by a stunning male barn owl hunting along the roadside verge, a precarious place for this species to hunt. The bird seemed oblivious to our presence, making several close passes before heading off across the field.

Barn Owl (male) 

This individual was a male, which can be seen by the pure white, unspotted underparts, females tend to have a more yellowish tinged breast with fine dark spots.

Barn Owl (male)

With not much light left for birding, we headed back to our accommodation for a short break before another well earned visit to the local pub.

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