Birds, Leps, Observations & Generalities - the images and ramblings of Mark Skevington. Sometimes.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

May Day Pseudo Birding

Yesterday, May Day. Another Bank Holiday, and another opportunity to wander birdlessly with family in tow around what should be a reasonable birding site. Or at least that was the prospect until I devised a cunning plan. I mentally hypothesized that if we went out to a really good birding site, then I would stand a more than good chance of actually seeing some great birds despite the best efforts of my offspring. And so it came to pass that we had a family day out in north Norfolk (sweetened with a suggestion of 'let's go to the beach'). This great plan was not without flaw of course: Firstly, there was no way on Earth that said family were going to get up and ready at a very early hour, and so we would not be arriving until c10:30. Secondly, the weather forecast was not great (although likely to be a lot better than staying in Leics.).

First destination was the famous RSBP Titchwell Marsh. I really like this reserve on the whole, though when in extreme birding mode the presence of complete novices and dudes can be annoying. Of course on this occasion, I was heading up the list on both counts and we fitted in perfectly!

Before we'd left the car park, I pointed out Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Cetti's singing around us - though there were only just audible against the strong wind which was to be a key feature of the day. After the obligatory pass through the visitor centre, we spent a few minutes watching the feeders and I got the boys onto a cracking male Siskin through the scope (Nichola and Isabelle were quite happy to tow along without looking at anything through optics).

Robin - just about the only thing I could be arsed to point the camera at whilst at Titchwell, everything interesting was well out of my photographic range!

We ambled down the boardwalk trail through the reeds, picking up a singing Blackcap in open view on the way. I got the boys onto some Brents, a couple of Egyptian Geese and a pair of Redshank over on the saltmarsh, whilst a Reed Warbler chuntered away behind us. Once we were in Island Hide, it was clear that virtually everything was huddled over on the far side of Freshwater Marsh tucked up against the shelter of the Parinder wall.

Freshwater Marsh

I spent some time scanning through and then getting the boys onto various birds in turn, the best being Little Terns, Red-crested Pochard, Oystercatchers, and of course Avocets. Also plenty of commoner wildfowl to look at, including Pintail, Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal. Not too many hirundines and Swifts over, though I picked up a handful of House Martins amongst them. A superb male Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbed behind the marsh, but it was clearly having to work to get anywhere with the wind strength. Otherwise a few Common Terns loitering, but sadly no Little Gulls whilst I was there.

Alex - working out which eye to use to grill a Red-crested Pochard

Josh - keeping a look out for Marsh Harrier whilst waiting for a turn on the scope

Another look over the saltmarsh produced a superb breeding plumaged Spotted Redshank - a real stunner. We carried on down the track but Parinder Hide is no more - work in progress on improving the sea defences and building a new hide.

Parinder Wall - work in progress

Sheltering on the Tidal Marsh was a spanking Grey Plover and a Turnstone, but not much else. The path onto the beach was effectively impassable due to the strong wind whipping up the sand and blasting your face - had I been alone I would have braved it to look although I reckon anything out at sea would have been virtually invisible with the deep swell.

Working our way back, I eventually got good flight views of a pair of busy Bearded Tits - I'd heard them pinging away on the way down the track. We headed back to the car and filled up on our packed lunch and tea, before walking back down the boardwalk trail through the reeds to Fen Hide. Amazing how you bump into people when away from home, and loitering in there were some of the VC55 birding stalwarts headed by Roger Davis. A quick natter confirmed that, amazingly, despite my handicap I hadn't missed anything other than a few Sanderlings in the sandstorm on the beach. A Kentish Plover had been claimed earlier in the morning but it seems that no one else saw it. As we chatted, a shout went up and there in all its glory was a superb Bittern flying over the reeds right in front of us. Josh managed to see it, but Alex had pretty much lost interest by then and wanted to know why we weren't on the beach I'd promised - time to head off somewhere else.

We headed further along the coast to the Wells-next-the-Sea beach / Holkham Pines area, arriving at c14:30. The beach here is superb - a vast area of nice fine sand with loads of shells. Like just about anywhere facing the North Sea, the water is far too cold and a bit shitty but it's a long way off.

Wells-next-the-Sea Beach - looking great but you can't feel the wind

Shiftting Sands - that conveys it a bit better!

We braved the cold and sand-blasting for half an hour before heading into the Pines for what turned out to be a really nice sheltered and sunny walk through the pine woodland and scrubby margins.

A fair bit of activity, expecially in the margins, with plenty of singing warblers amongst the other common residents. Aside from Willow, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, I got nice views of both Common and Lesser Whitethroats, a manic Sedge Warbler and half-glimpsed a singing Garden Warbler.

Whilst stalking the Garden Warbler, I was amazed when a pair of Muntjac ambled past without noticing me. I really needed to get the camera up fast but I didn't want to spook them, but I just managed a couple of shots before they slipped out of view.

Next we moved further along the coast to Salthouse. The wind blowing over the huge shingle ridge was ridiculous, but I was rewarded by a constant movement of Sandwich Terns close in shore, all heading west toward Cley - not a single one coming back east. The marsh was littered with breeding Avocets, including one pair roped off close to the path - shame the light had gone by then.

I have mixed feelings about Avocets: great to look at, really smart birds, but they are bloody aggressive! Also a Wheatear here, and several more Marsh Harriers noted around the area.

By now it was getting on for 17:30 and we needed to head for home with today being back to work and school. Overall we had a great day, and whilst it was by no means the greatest birding day out I've ever had, I was pleased to catch up again with some nice species.


Ipin said...

Looks like a quality day out!

Skev said...

Yep. Even more so after a couple of days back at work - nothing like work to put everything else into perspective!