Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, AKA ‘The Biggest Twitch’, have visited far flung corners of the world in pursuit of exotic birds. However, they are still hugely passionate about the species found closer to home in Great Britain as seen here in their latest trip; a week of birdwatching in Norfolk.
Our Norfolk Birding House Parties are always enormous fun and this month we ran two, back-to-back, on the north coast. During the house parties, we take over a large house, complete with ensuite bedrooms, overlooking the marshes where the birding begins from the window and the veranda. Breakfasts are enjoyed at the house and we take lunch and dinner at the many marvellous cafes and pubs along the north Norfolk coast – the food is very much another highlight of these trips, no-one goes hungry. Day one of our Norfolk trip got off to a great start.
We all met up at RSPB Titchwell and enjoyed a warm sunny afternoon seeing plenty of birds, well equipped with our Ultravid HD-Plus 8×32 and 8×42 and APO-Televid 65 and 82 spotting scopes. Highlights included a very showy pectoral sandpiper very close to the path down to the beach. A stunning flock of golden plover were crowded on one of the islands and around their feet were a little stint and two curlew sandpipers. An odd looking stint here left us scratching our heads! Perhaps just an odd plumaged little stint? More research is required on that one I think. A jack snipe was feeding out in the open at times and a water rail stood sunning itself.
Back at our lovely house in Burnham Overy Staithe, we enjoyed lots more birds from the veranda. Highlights here included five marsh harriers, spoonbill and an adult Mediterranean gull. The day was rounded off with a super meal in the local pub, The Hero. We sloped off to bed full bellied and wearied eyed, but excited to see many more birds in the coming week.
We began day two of our trip with a walk along the sea wall pre-breakfast and got to enjoy a lot of birds. Moody sky added to the drama of the early morning and waders and wildfowl filled the air as more fed in the creeks and on the mudflats. The vast skies here are just magical and we soaked up the views of both birds and landscape. A wheatear was on the shoreline and a jack snipe zipped past us, just caught in the lens of my Ultravids.
A super breakfast was had before heading the few miles to Holkham and walked west on the south side of the woods. It was lovely and sheltered here and really warm in the sunshine. Once the APO-Televids were set up, we had super views of three yellow-browed warblers together in a willow patch at eye-level, what little stunners! Fieldfare, redwing and brambling were all dropping in and more geese on the move while marsh harriers hunted over the rough fields.
After lunch we birded at Burbham Norton, walking out the sea wall with our Ultravids hanging round our necks while enjoying more sunshine and huge skies. A cracking male common redstart, three wheatears and goldcrests were among the migrants. A spoonbill posed on the saltmarsh with two little egrets in a tiny pool. Another tasty meal and a lovely barn own finished off another great day’s birding.
As day three arrived, everything was going very well indeed – plenty of great birds, super company, an ideal location and the best Leica equipment was making for a perfect combination. Walking out from the house along the sea wall each morning was simply magical with huge skies and so many birds to see. The beauty of the Ultravid HD-Plus, especially the smaller 8×32, is just how lightweight they are, yet extremely clear and powerful.
That day we spotted a great grey shrike out on the edge of the dunes, a lapland bunting, three spoonbills, thousands of pink-footed geese and lots of migrants. We spent the rest of the day at Norfolk Wildlife Trust at Cley Marshes where we enjoyed sunshine and lots more birds where the star was a very showy barred warbler that allowed frame filling views in the scopes, what a bird!
Day four and as we headed over towards the broads, we were hoping for some very special birds indeed. Would we be lucky? We parked up and started walking towards the raptor watch point. We hadn’t gone far when we saw five large birds flying towards us. Binoculars swivelled and we were rewarded with the amazing sight of five common cranes flying almost over our heads – truly fantastic. We continued on to the watch point and set up the APO-Televids. Within minutes we had the first of many marsh harriers flying overhead while a kestrel hovered close by.
The sound of long-tailed tits had us checking the hawthorn hedges and in amongst the mixed flock was a beautiful showy yellow-browed warbler. Our two showy cranes took off as the farmer drove out on his quadbike to check his cows; they didn’t go far but this time chose to land out of sight. A short while later they were joined by two more cranes, and we could hear them bugling excitedly to one another, even if we couldn’t see them.
Next up, a ring-tailed hen harrier flew the length of the marsh before us, marvellous to see this bird for such a prolonged view. More marsh harriers entertained us, along with common buzzard sightings and that hunting kestrel, before we had another crane encounter, this time a line of three birds which flew across the marsh and disappeared to roost somewhere out of sight. The sound of bugling behind us suggested they’d joined others for the evening roost. Twelve cranes, hen and marsh harriers in the bag, it was time to head for The Greyhound Inn for a few pints and a hot supper to celebrate.
The next morning, we took another early morning walk along the seawall at Burnham Overy Staithe, and the group enjoyed more great looks through the scope at the great grey shrike by the dunes, an influx of northern wheatears and lots of redwings, a red-throated diver offshore and a great white egret on the fresh marsh.
After breakfast, we paid another visit to RSPB Titchwell and we quickly spotted a group of birders focusing on something just below the path. Close scrutiny amongst the dock leaves showed a jack snipe, bobbing and preening amongst the vegetation. The obliging bird stayed put allowing amazing scope views for the whole group of this usually-skulking character.
We continued on out to the beach and enjoyed great views of masses of waders and wildfowl including little stints, black and bar-tailed godwits, avocets, golden plover, lapwing, ruff, knot, turnstones, dunlin, sanderling, gadwall, shovelers, wigeon, common scoter, brent geese and many more! Back at our base at Burnham Overy Staithe early evening, scanning over the marshes from the balcony, produced three spoonbills, as well as a single long-tailed duck in the harbour. It rounded the trip off nicely and judging by the many thank yous, everyone in attendance enjoyed the trip just as much as we did!