Tuesday, 17 January 2017

More wanderings in the marsh

We're only two weeks into January, but the game, as Sherlock would say, is afoot. I thought I was doing quite well with 97 species up to now, but Martin, my brother-in-law, has been on fire and is up to 118. I know it's silly and boyish but something had to be done. So, with a 4.45 alarm this morning I was in Norfolk at dawn with a clear itinerary to get past him on the year-list.
First stop was Wolverton to (not) see the golden pheasant. These are relic populations of released birds. There are no more than 3 or 4 sites left in the UK now, and at Wolferton there is one lone male lurking in the rhododendrons.  It is there, and shows most days, but you need either luck or to wait, and probably wait till gone 9.30 when the passing traffic dies down and it comes out to feed on the verges. I had neither the luck nor the time so after  quick coffee I hit the coast.
First stop was Thornham harbour.

The weather was chilly but but overcast - a typical Norfolk day really. The marsh was dotted with redshank and curlew but my target was a flock of twite. These are small sparrow-sized birds like linnets in their appearance, but with a smaller, stubbier bill and overall plainer appearance.

At the top of this tree is a flock of about 40 of them. They were pretty mobile and never settled near me, but they did fly over once! A meadow pipit was also a year-tick.

Next, I went a couple of miles down the coast to Titchwell. This is now one of, it not the premier RSPB reserve. It is always busy, and the carpark was already half full. The reserve seemed quite quiet, but I still managed to find pretty much all of the birds I was after.
On the sea there was large flock of common scoter, the ubiquitous seaduck, together with a dozen at least of their slightly larger cousins, velvet scoters. A backup cast of long-tailed ducks, red-throated and great northern divers were also present.
On the beach, sanderlings were doing their dance with the incoming waves and turnstones were busying themsleves in the seaweed searching for sandhoppers.
Back on the reserve I picked up more ticks with golden and grey plovers, knot, greenshank, spotted redshank, oystercatcher and black-tailed godwit. A pair of water pipits on Thornham pool were very distant but along with the brambling on the bird-feeders made for a solid hour of bird-watching.
I then nipped back to go to Holme. On the track in is a reliable colony of tree-sparrows, another rare bird around me. On the Broadwater near the observatory I found the lone ferruginous duck asleep with a party of wigeon.
Moving along the coast to Cley got me grey partridge in the fields in quite good numbers. When I got to Cley though, it was obvious that the coastal flooding from last week was worse than I thought. The carpark at Blakeney was covered in debris and there was a team of workmen with diggers clearing it up. The road past Cley to Salthouses was still closed and beach road at Cley was flooded. They are used to it though, and in a week or so it will all be back to normal I hope. So, I gave up on the coast and headed inland to Linford Arboretum. I've been here before, most memorably for the 2-barred crossbill three years ago. It is, in Winter though, one of the premier sites for hawfinch, with up to 40 roosting every evening.
As I headed to the roost site I crossed a small bridge where there was a bird-feeder and a pile of grain on the concrete bridge support. This was attracting in many birds - blue, coal and long-tailed tits and chaffinches.

 What attracted me though was another year-tick, the increasingly rare marsh tit, with it's gorgeous black cap.

A few hundred yards further down was the hawfinch roost. These are our largest finches, often described as parrots, with a large seed-crunching beak. Unfortunately though these were always distant, mainly at the top of tall trees so the photos are record shots at best!

There was also a large flock of bramblings mixed in with them, as well as a few crossbills, mainly told from their calls as they flew over.
As dusk started to fall and the temperature dropped I headed back to the car. A very good day, most of my targets were acquired and I'v moved up to 125 for the year, well ahead of Martin. Still, it's a marathon not a sprint and I'm going to focus mainly on lifers, which get harder each year, but with a trip to Weymouth still to come in January I'm hoping to be well placed for a "big year"!