Weekend away in North Norfolk

Friday 25th March

This weekend we went away with the family to Norfolk, staying in Old Hunstanton. The journey there produced 2 Red Kites and we arrived at the accommodation at around 3.30. After unloading we went for a walk along the dunes at Holme. Walking across the golf course we put up a few Meadow pipit and then started scanning the sea and shore. There were many Redshank and a few Ringed Plover in the tidal lagoons with Teal, Shelduck and Curlew all close by. A Scan of the sea quickly produced 8 Red Breasted Merganser and 6 Eider. We were about to carry on walking when Greg spotted a superb Snow Bunting feeding just a few meters away with a Skylark.

Snow Bunting

We watched the bird until it flew with the Skylark further on down the beach. We carried on walking seeing the Snow Bunting again in flight and noting Bar-tailed Godwit, 4 Avocet on a lagoon with 8 Linnet in the dunes. There were Skylarks constantly singing and many Meadow Pipits displaying. 2 Grey Partridge were also seen flying from the dunes. We carried on along the coast to Thornham and whilst the others went to the pub we carried on birding as there were birds just everywhere! A Barn Owl was hunting over the fields with around 500 Brent Geese on the salt marsh. There were 2 Avocet very close in with one bird being colour ringed.

Colour ringed Avocet

Redshank were literally everywhere with 8 Grey partridge seen with 2 showing well enough to get the scope on them. We walked along the path and watched a flock of around 1500 Pink footed Geese grazing in a field. Although a small flock compared to the numbers they can gather in, it was the first time either of us had seen these birds in such numbers. As it is time they were departing we were very happy to see them. A very impressive sight indeed! We stood around scanning and watched 5 Marsh Harriers flying over the reeds and fields. As we were scanning Greg spotted a Chinese Water Deer in the field just out of the reeds.  A strange looking deer showing its tusks! What a great few hours!

Saturday 26th March


We were up early on Saturday and went for a sea watch before the others got up. We drove to Hunstanton cliff to scan the sea. The tide was a long way out which didn’t help but we picked up loads of Great Crested Grebe, Red Breasted Merganser and a few Eider but no Long tailed duck as we had hoped. A Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest were in the bushes at the top of the cliff and loads of small flocks of Brent Geese were flying along close to the shore. We went down onto the beach for a closer look at the geese as they fed on the seaweed. On scanning through them we noticed a Black Brant in with them along with 2 Pale Bellied birds. We have only seen one Black Brant before and had great views of this bird. It was great to watch the flock at such close quarters all feeding busily.


Black Brant


Also feeding on the seaweed covered rocks were around 20 Turnstone and a single Purple Sandpiper. Fulmars were very vocal and gave a great display flying low overhead to their ledge on the cliff.


We decided to head back to Holme quickly and on walking along the dunes first spotted 6 Linnet feeding with 2 Skylark and then found the Snow Bunting again. Despite the deteriorating weather we led in the sand dunes and the bird came very close for some stunning views. The photos really don't do this cracking little bird justice!


Snow Bunting approaching


After breakfast we traveled along the coast and stopped in briefly at Titchwell. The weather was very poor so we didn’t stay long at all but did see 3 Spotted Redshank, 10 Ruff and a Water Rail that was showing very well in a ditch by the path. Driving on we saw a Barn Owl hunting rough ground and stopped for a walk along the beach at Branaster and some lunch. Offshore here we saw a huge raft on Common Scoter with at least 1 Velvet Scoter with them along with 10 Eider. Whilst walking back to the car we picked up a smart Black Redstart flitting on the rocks. We watched it for a while around the driving range. Another great bird!


Black Redstart


After the pub we drove towards Wells and on the way stopped to look at a field 18 Egyptian Geese. A walk at Holkham produced our first 2 Wheatear of the year with loads of Meadow Pipits. We didn’t have long enough to have a good search for Shore Lark but a Marsh harrier showed very well over nearby fields.


In the evening we decided to walk from Holme to the Pub at Thornham and in the ditches near the hide were around 20 Chiffchaff with a Drake Mandarin on the flashes and a Marsh Harrier lifted up from the ground very close by! The walk produced a single Wheatear along the beach and we carried on to the raised walkway to scan the fields again. The Pink footed Goose flock was well worth another look and we sat and waited for anything to drift by. We were tempted to get to the pub as the wind was ice cold but it was worth waiting around. As all the geese took to the air the bird flying low straight towards us was a Crane! It could not have flown on a better route going directly over our heads! Magic! 2 Marsh harrier were also seen and it was off to the pub for a well deserved pint or two.


The Pink-footed Geese taking to the air. Spot the Crane that put them up!


Common Crane overhead in the evening gloom.


Sunday 27th March


Sunday morning we were again up early to scan the sea from Hunstanton and this time went down to the beach to get a bit closer to the sea. We had some decent close up views of Eider and Red Breasted Merganser and a raft of 8 Scaup just offshore was very nice indeed. Many Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit made it a lovely scene along the beach.


Scaup at sea


Before driving home we went back to Titchwell for a proper walk around as the weather had improved. From the Fen hide we saw a Drake Garganey, 2 Common Snipe, a Cetti’s Warbler and a singing Reed Bunting. A Barn Owl was hunting a reed bed and a single Sand Martin was high overhead. With no luck in the past and few opportunities it was a great moment when Greg picked up 2 cracking male Bearded Tit in the reeds. They did show in the open briefly and after a couple of minutes of flitting around close by, disappeared into the reeds. What stunning little birds! We later heard some pinging and had 2 in flight over the reeds.


Spot the Beardie!


Continuing on we saw a very smart Water Pipit showing very well on the bank of the main pool starting to show a hint of its summer plumage.


Water Pipit


There were birds everywhere with Brent Geese overhead, Avocet close by and Curlew and Redshank displaying. The story was the same on the sea and we could not see any Long tailed Duck but you can't have it all. Returning to the car we had a striking White Wagtail a Peregrine over head and then watched a pair of Marsh Harriers displaying with the male bird landing in a tree.


White Wagtail


With the others getting a bit bored it was time to head for home! All in all a very productive session indeed.


It was the first time we had been birding along the North Norfolk coast and we will definitely be back. It really is a remarkably fertile area for birds and wildlife and seems to be just one huge nature reserve! Great stuff!