Thursday 2 February 2023

Four days in East Anglia - Day 3 - 29th January 2023

A Blue Eyed Birder weekend away:

A slightly later start saw us wiggling northwards again but with Titchwell as the start point.  Our route took us past the concrete pad in Brancaster where birders were looking for the Cackling Goose but we could not see any as we drove by and so pressed on to meet Richard and Roger.  Richard immediately informed us that the goose was actually still there so we about turned and zoomed back up there and asked the all important question. ‘Get the orange bag in the field below and go straight up, it is with that bit of the flock…’ A few seconds later and this micro Canada poked his little pied head through the throng of several thousands Pinkies. So ten points to Jim for the directional suggestions the previous evening.

Cackling Goose - 'hutchinsii' - Jim Lawrence

It was a fast feeding little goose and would reappear yards away from where you last saw it but occasionally it ended up in the open slightly and you could see the pale breast.  I had only seen one in Norfolk before and that was way back in 1999 at Holkham and I seem to remember that one being darker breasted and with a little white half collar.  I was always intending to have a look for this elusive and mobile bird today but was not expecting it to be seen so easily and quickly before we really started!

Cackling Goose - 'hutchinsii' - Mark Golley - exactly how we saw it

Moving back to Titchwell saw us begin a leisurely stroll down towards the beach passing Goldfinches and Chaffinches in the Alders but with no Siskins or Brambling to be found.  Bullfinches called but I could not find them The feeding station by the centre is not what not it used to be with just a couple of small hanging feeders and the whole range of bird tables with rooves (for you to look at and then buy). The long wooden beam with multiple feeders used to be full of finches and tits but now just the odd Chaffinch was clearing up spillage and the Blue, Great and Coal Tits just zipped in and out.   The pond is a nice addition but it could still be so much more.  A Muntjac poked around in the herbage while the first field held some enormous looking normal Canada Geese.


A Bittern had been showy in recent days in the track side pools but we did not actually expect it to be there but sure enough it was hunting around the margins and gave exceptional views.  The blue cered male was intent on his fishing and was unperturbed by the presence of his admirers although there was the usual grumbling about ‘reeds being in the way’.  It was a privilege to watch him stretch his neck out and slowly place his bill tip in the water with his head cocked on one side so that he could see through the clear surface to the fish beneath. Periodically he would switch sides and have a go with the other eye.


After about 30 minutes we left him to his hunt for second breakfast and moved on to the first hide where flights of Brent Geese were arriving for a wash and drink amongst the dabblers that included some immaculate Pintails and incredibly close vermiculated Teal.  Two Avocet, Golden Plovers, Dunlin, Ruff, Redshank and Ringed Plover were noted and a female Goldeneye was diving in and out of the bathing Brents.

Brent Geese


Brent Geese

Marsh Harriers were constantly on view and Red Kites could be seen circling in the distance whichever way you looked and a male Peregrine cruised through spooking everything in sight..  The saltmarsh added an invisible calling Spotted Redshank alongside visible Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Curlews and gleaming Little Egrets but we could not find the Spoonbill while Rock Pipits and Reed Buntings moved back and forth.

Reed Bunting

Red Kite

As we approached the sea a departing birder glumly informed us that there was nothing out of the ordinary so we made it our task to change that. The tide was well in and the foreshore was strangely empty of waders although with a bit of scanning we did pick up a big flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers to the east towards the people thronged Brancaster Beach while the odd Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Turnstone were eventually found.

Bar-tailed Godwits

The sea was a little choppier that Saturday but we persevered and found a pair of chunky Eider, more spiky headed Mergansers, gleaming Goldeneye and a hulking Great Northern Diver that was snorkelling not far off shore.  Several distant Fulmars were noted along with wave skimming Red-throated Divers. Pleased with our selection we started to walk back in the stiffening breeze adding a brief Water Pipit and Black-tailed Godwits in the process. 

The Godwit Channel - Enid Barrie

The Bittern had retreated back into the reeds so we opted for lunch but not before a cracking Water Rail posed in the boggy ditch where we watched him in his stripy britches tossing wet leaves left and right with gusto.

Water Rail

Time for some lunch before a return to the Fen Trail to look for the finches once again.  There were plenty of Chaffinches and Goldies still but nothing else and we scoured the mossy understorey for dozing Woodcock but a thermal imager would have been the only way to find one in all honesty. The viewpoints added nothing new so we opted to push on and make the drive back east to Cley where we had a good chance of some new species.

I do like a Wood Pigeon

Stigmella aurella - it would be rude to go a whole weekend without one mine pic?

Chaffinch - so smart

Nodding Snowdrops

The journey was quite productive with Kites and Marsh Harriers, a field sitting Peregrine and a couple of Brambling that flew up into a hedge with Chaffinches from a game crop at Burnham Norton.  Amazingly we got all three cars parked up at the East Bank and set off to look for the Long-billed Dowitcher.  Our first view from the roadside path failed to produce it although 23 Ruff were strutting around the pools with that curious head down, head bobbing gait.  The cool breeze was slightly behind us on the way down and the low light was illuminating the phragmites but it was a little gusty for Bearded Tits although a female Stonechat was hanging onto a solitary Willow.


The Snow Bunting flock was swirling around the shingle in the distance and Richard had a hankering for some shots so zoomed on ahead. Meanwhile a male Peregrine careened over the Bank spooking the Lapwings, Ruff, Wigeon and unseen flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and amongst which was the Long-billed Dowitcher dashing to keep up with larger companions.  Unlike the other waders, this flock headed straight for the pools within the Cley reserve but we were happy to see such a distinctive bird in flight.

Down at the beach the swirling cloud of Snow Buntings could be seen grovelling in front of a happy Richard (we counted 82 in an aerial shot) before we started the walk back after checking a deathly quiet sea. 

Snow Buntings - Richard Hanman

Snow Buntings - Richard Hanman

82 Snow Buntings - Richard Hanman

News that the Cley Spy Long-eared Owl was on show again had us picking up the pace and by the time we got back to the car we only had 18 minutes to get there before closing time.  I had not visited before and wrongly assumed that it was just off the main road in Blakeney but it was actually a couple of miles inland in Glandford!  We made it with five minutes to spare and the staff very kindly let us in to watch this snoozing beauty at the back of their demo area.  It may have had a branch across its face but it did not detract from seeing such a fantastic bird – and its eyes would almost certainly have been closed anyway!

Long-eared Owl

Our fleeting visit was soon over so we chanced our luck and headed back to Blakeney Harbour to see if we could locate the Twite flock but although we had a glorious walk along the seawall as the sun called it a night and illuminated the sky in shades of amber, peach and orange, the little finches eluded us.

It was beautiful though and even the breeze had dropped leaving us with the sounds of Brent and Pink-feet flocks coming in to roost, flock of vocal Curlews and the calls of Grey Plovers, Dunlin, Oystercatchers and Redshanks filtering across the exposed tidal creeks to where we stood in silence.


Orange Sky - Pink-feet

It was a near perfect end to the day. Back at the cars I introduced Richard to the ducky wonders of the harbour pond collection before we headed our separate ways in the rapidly failing light.

Our route back to Wymondham took us past a field with eight feeding Brown Hares and two individual Woodcock that were silhouetted against the last fiery embers of the sky.

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