Norfolk Trip - February 2010

Thursday 18th February:
The locations of the Society’s winter trips are never difficult to decide, the problem being to arrange suitable accommodation at a reasonable cost to all.  This year our trip took us to Norfolk where we have been many times in the past 30 years, usually staying near Wells-next-the-sea; this time we ventured further along the coast to Cromer.  This enabled us to include in our itinery bird sites further south, including Hickling and Burton Broads.

After a reasonable journey, although misty for much of the way, our first meeting point was Hunstanton to view the coastal birds.  Fulmars are present here all year as they nest on the cliffs below the viewing points, gulls, auks and divers are often present either at sea or passing by. Some of the group had called in at The Wolferton Triangle before-hand and saw Golden Pheasant; this is England’s premier site for seeing these birds.

Next stop was Tichwell RSPB reserve, not to be missed by any discerning birder who makes the journey to Norfolk; from the car park to the sea is a revelation on every visit whatever the season.  Although a major reconstruction of the sea defences for the reserve are in operation at this time, we still noted over 50 species of ducks, waders, raptors, and passerines while we were there.  Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, Avocet, and Spotted Redshank are virtually guaranteed.  On the sea and shore at the end of the reserve we had good views of Oystercatcher, Grey and Ringed Plovers, Turnstone, and Sanderling, then the added bonus of what at first glance appeared to be an oil slick out at sea - it was in fact a flock of at least 5000 Common Scoter.

Arriving at the Hotel by 5pm, settling in, a drink at the bar, the daily call-over of birds seen, followed by a most enjoyable evening meal made a great beginning to what developed into a wonderful long weekend away.  

Species for the day 87

Friday 19th February:
First of all the full English / Norfolk to set us up for the day, then a briefing from Phil on the suggested places to visit.  All agreed, having seen a report of Snow Buntings at Salthouse, that site was to be the priority.  Delight on arrival - over a hundred were feeding around the car park.  Turnstones mixed in with the feeding frenzy and didn’t seem to notice about 20 excited birders, photographing and watching at very close quarters.  Onward to Cley nature reserve which, on arrival, looked disappointing from the species board so we went on to Stiffkey to look for sea birds.  The sea itself was very rough so we didn’t stay long there either, but long enough to watch a Purple Sandpiper picking up a worm from the path.

The wind was lazy and it cut through us so having seen the forecast for brighter weather after 11am we went inland to Holkham Park and its sheltered woodland.  This is a deer park, with woods covering about twenty acres.  It supports the usual common birds and all three woodpecker species, but only Green and Great Spotted were encountered, along with Nuthatch, Tree Creeper, Jay, and most of the titmice.  Flocks of Fieldfare & Redwing were about, and down on the lake we saw Great Crested Grebe, Dabchick, Egyptian, and Greylag geese, Pochard and Tufted Ducks.  A Tawny Owl was heard calling but not seen.

As predicted the day became brighter with a lighter wind for our visit to Holkam Gap.  Lady Anne’s Walk is usually an excellent area to see large flocks of geese but, strangely, not today.  The pine wood at the end of the walk is right on the edge of the beach which attracts birds for shelter.  Goldcrest and Coal Tit were seen in passing but the quarry here was Shorelark; daily sightings had been reported over the last few weeks so the chance of spotting them was good.  After some time and effort not one showed, but a lesson was learned - regardless of the weather get out there and look before the locals with their dogs have chance to flush every thing.  However rewards from here were flocks of Redshank, some Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, and a distant Marsh Harrier.  Returning through the pine wood two Woodcock were flushed and on the edge a Barn Owl quartered the fields.

Species for the day 85 combined total 105

Saturday 20th February:
Today was our trip to the Broads and the reason for staying as far east as Cromer.  The broads are large bodies of open water surrounded by deep fringes of dense reeds.First stop was Burton Broad, the associated car park with facilities, then a half mile walk to the well-constructed boardwalk that takes you through the reed bed and willow scrub and out in the open to a viewing platform. 

Greylags were close by, rafts of Tufted and Pochard were here, male and female Golden Eye were already pairing up, a Cetti’s warbler attracted everyone’s attention with its typical but surprising shout, then a distant Bittern flew low over the water only to disappear into the reed cover.  Marsh Harrier again was noted and Marsh Tits were calling as we returned to our cars for the next venue, Hickling Broad and Stubb Mill.

Again, a car park and facilities but a little further to walk this time (about a mile), but it is a rewarding walk with lots to take in as you travel the country lane to the specially set up viewing point for the Harrier and Crane roost.  Patience is the virtue here but there is always interest around; Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin, and Barn Owl put in an appearance before the star guests arrived.
As dusk approaches Marsh Harriers come in every few minutes and Cranes, usually parties of four to six, fly in to lesser degrees.  Before you know it darkness falls and fifty or so satisfied birders trudge homeward.

Species for the day 77 combined total (Norfolk) 117

Sunday 21st February:
After another super breakfast, it was planned to visit the N.W.T reserve at Holme and RSPB Snettisham but unfortunately snow began to fall, and most people decided that it would be best to head home in case it got worse.  A wise decision as it did, and progress was slow from Cromer to King’s Lynn as the snow came thick and fast.  The remainder of the journey was clear and fortunately all arrived home safely.

Still birding on the way home, four of the group saw c100 Golden Plover fly over, two intrepid members ventured to Rutland Water and added Smew and Tree Sparrow to the list, while another pair saw Red Kite.  We felt a grand total of 120 species wasn’t bad for a long weekend away, admittedly 3 species were out of the county of Norfolk, but well worth a mention don’t you think?

High on our list of enjoyment was the excellent menu, the quality and presentation of food, and cheerful service we received from the hotel staff; the group can highly recommend The Virginia Court Hotel, Cliff Avenue, Cromer.

On behalf of the group, Anne and myself we send our thanks to Phil and Jacquie Tosh for the work that went into organising yet another memorable trip.
David Shallcross