Sunday 18 February 2024

North Norfolk Coast - 17th February 2024

 A adventure:

My first visit to the North Norfolk coast saw us meet at Lady Ann’s Drive a little before 8am after a very good run up. It dawned bright and still and as usual there were birds everywhere.  Pink-feet drifted over and pristine looking dabbling ducks littered the meadows with Snipe, Ruff, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlews amongst them.  Strangely, there were no Red Kites on show at this stage.



We walked through the trees and down onto the beach to join the small group already looking for the Black Scoter.  The sea was smooth with a moderate swell and was covered in thousands of Common Scoter as expected.  Most were just beyond comfortable range but the odd Velvet was picked out and nine Eider flew east including several drakes that glowed in the low morning sun. 

The weather suddenly turned and a bank of low cloud and drizzle blew in so we decided that staring at fairly distant Scoter in poor light was not worth our effort and so left the gathering and walked west towards where the Shorelarks were meant to be.  A single male Snow Bunting was feeding in the strand line and several Sanderling scurried along the very edge.

The RNLI boat came along the coast from Wells and conveniently spooked the entire Scoter flock which flew our way and ditched closer in opposite where we were standing.  Ten minutes later I had found the Black Scoter with its golden egg glowing on the top of the bill.  It was good to be able to watch him side on and in profile.  The variation in the amount of yellow on the adult drake Commons was noticeable too and was especially visible when head on.  There were plenty of Velvets amongst them along with spiky headed Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and a couple of Red-throated Divers.

Velvet Scoter

I phoned a couple of the lads on the dunes and then put the news out but everyone else was at least quarter of a mile from where we were and would have to come closer. With a schedule to try to keep too I could not linger and kept going down the beach for which I apologised.  We soon found the 13 Shorelarks scuttling around in the tide litter but they kept edging further away and as the group were happy with the scope views we turned back.  I pointed a few straggling birders towards where we had the Scoter and was pleased to hear that over the course of the morning at least some of the crowd connected with it. To think it was over 30 years since I saw my first one in south Wales.

Goldcrests, Firecrest and Coat Tits were in the woodland but I could not find a Treecreeper this time. The Washington Hide produced the missing Red Kites along with Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, the expected Great White Egret and calling Cetti’s Warblers before the amble back for a coffee passing four brief Spoonbills dropping in on the way.

By now LAD was heaving and as we left the cars were parked almost all the way down to the main road! On to North Point Pools to look for the Green Winged Teal but although we could seen dozens of his European cousins the Yank was no where to be seen.  There was however a wonderful male hybrid dabbler that at the very least was part Shoveler and possibly Wigeon or even Baikal Teal given the face pattern.


Brent Geese piled into the eastern pool for a wash and drink before returning the obscured field near the pig farm while Red Kites, Buzzards and Marsh Harriers quartered here too.  One of the male Harriers was gleamingly pale.  Lapwing flopped around and six Avocets were sifting the waters while we had to watch where we put our feet as several male Common Toads were trying to cross the quagmire of a path to get to the adjacent ditch.  We helped them on their way.

Common Toads 

Brent Geese

Time for lunch and then on to Salthouse to try and find the Twite.  The coast road was heaving with people like a summers day despite the drizzle and there was no hope of parking at the base of the Iron Road. Nor was there room by the Dun Cow so we pulled over by the duckpond and contemplated walking down the closest track to the beach which would still have left us a shingle walk at the other end but the finch gods were on our side and we found nine Twite with three Linnets about 200m down the track on the little bit of saltmarsh.  The showed well with their glowing yellow bills and dweeky calls.  Smiles all round, equally so for the lack of shingle walking required.

Henry Wyn-Jones saw them a little closer than we did

Eyes to the sky as Curlew, Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls suddenly climbed above us and as hoped a young female Peregrine was performing lazy circles and looking for a straggler.  We headed back to Cley and parked towards Coastguards to scan the large Brent Goose flock below the eye field and spent a pleasant if somewhat grey hour scanning the large gathering but I could not find the Red-breasted Goose amongst them which was disappointing.


Brent Geese

Four Brent were just behind us on the saltmarsh and I was delighted to see that it was a mixed Pale-bellied – Dark-bellied Brent Goose pairing with their two hybrid young.  Simon decided to call it a day and head for a coffee while I stuck with the Brents for a short while longer. I was going to head for home but opted to head back to North Point Pools to see if the Green Winged Teal would appear.

Pale-bellied – Dark-bellied Brent Goose family

As I approached North Point Pools I could see the Brent Geese was more visible up towards the pig fields so I stopped at the start of the track and set my scope up and amazingly within a minute I had a Red-breasted Goose in view.  I was somewhat pleased.  I immediately rung Simon who was just leaving Cley and encouraged him to get back to me ASAP which thankfully he did.  Julie and David Dent were randomly driving past and saying ‘ is that Howard?’ before pulling over to see what I was watching.  Neither had seen a RBG before.

Red-breasted Goose - Henry Wyn-Jones

I got Henry Wyn-Jones onto the bird hence the pic before driving down to spend the rest of the evening at the pools where a Barn Owl graced us with its presence and the sky was first filled with the long wavy ‘v’s of thousands upon thousands of Pinkfeet heading off to roost and then the hoards of rumbling, grumbling Brents left their fields and headed in the same direction giving me my cue to head for home in the gathering gloom.

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