Scoters, Cranes and much much more

In the last week of October, I went with my Poppa, Mum, Dad and sister for a 5 day holiday. My dad and I planned to go birding every day and take this great opportunity to find some scarce and rare species. Hopefully to boost my Dad’s and my Life list, it seems every time I go to Norfolk, I get at least one lifer.

Day 1

We woke up at 7:00am and set off around 9:45 after dropping the Dog, Cats and 12 Guinea pigs, on the way I made a car list with all the birds that I was to see over the next 3 hours, this included Lapwing, Buzzard, Kestrel, Lesser black-backed Gull and a 6 very nice Jays. Before we got to our holiday cottage in Southrepps (this is only a few miles south of Cromer), we popped into Holt, and I looked out for one of Dave Leech’s colour ringed blackbirds, but they were elusive for me. Then a few hours later we arrived at our lovely holiday cottage, and straight the way I called ‘shotgun’ on the room that had the window north facing, so that I could be able to see Pink-footed Geese in there hundreds fly over the house, then looking around I found a flock of 26 Red-legged Partridge grazing in the field, then to a surprise a Short-eared Owl flew past the church to the right of the house, after un-packing we looked around the village to find a very loud Jays plus feral pigeon in the crooks and crannies of the church.

Red-legged Partridge from my window

Day 2

After not waking up to any sign of Pink-foots, my dad and I decided to go to Holkham Pines, as a nice male Surf Scoter had been showing for last couple of days, and as the cottage had no Wi-Fi we didn’t know what had been sighted, so we drove down to Holkham, and went via the coastal road for the lookout of Pink-feet in the local Sugar-beet fields, I’d heard about a Grey Phalarope that had been reported at Salthouse, so we stopped off there with no luck, to find when we carried along the road, it was in a duck pond with loads of observers getting great views of this bird, but it was too late, so we hoped it would stay for another day. When we arrived at Holkham, I got the telescope and scanned the 500+ flock of Pink-footed geese for a possible Brent or a Bean goose, but instead found a very nice Barnacle Goose, I don’t know if this goose was feral but with such a big flock of ‘pinkies’ I classed it as a wild bird, this was the first of many lifers to come.

Barnacle Goose at Holkham (Digi-scoped)

Within the car park there were many birders, so I asked one of them if the Surf Scoter was still there, and to my delight it was, also a Rough-legged Buzzard had been seen. As we walked along the track, we arrived at a small pond, and to our surprise there was 5 Little Grebes on it as well as 6 Jays, 2 Curlew and a Marsh harrier. Further on a group of people were looking at what looked like a Buzzard, half of them were convinced that it was just a common, but the others thought it could be a Rough-legged, so we kept an open mind, but as the bird was in the sun it was very hard to tell, we left the bird umming and urrghing over if it was a Rough or not. When we arrived to the beach, we were surprised that there was hardly anyone watching the Surf Scoter, but almost straight the way we found this bird, it was lovely to see but very distant, this bird was with 2 Velvet, and 8 Common Scoters, for me Velvet was another new species, so 2 lifers in the same scope!! After watching this bird we scanned around the rest of the sea, for my dad to find a very nice female Long-tailed Duck, as well as 4 Red-throated Divers and a flock of mainly Razorbills but there could have been some Guillemot in with them as well. A fishing boat came along so we decided to look at the mass of Gulls trailing behind it, for me to find a juvenile Kittiwake towards the back of the flock.  
After having views of all 3 Scoter species we headed back to hopefully get another view of a Rough-legged Buzzard and maybe a Firecrest. As we walked through the Pines, a group of birders were looking in the trees and saying ‘Firecrest there, no there’ then a small bird flew out and landed in a pine tree just above us, apparently it was the Firecrest, but we did not get a look at it to be able to tell, as we carried on along the path and just about to get to the car park, and buzzard came out of the trees, I got the scope on it and yes it was a Rough-legged, with a pale tail and slight hovering now and then, another lifer now 4 lifers in 3 hours not bad, bringing my life list up to 245!!
Record Shot of the Surf Scoter from behind (Digiscoped) 

After that we headed down to Thetford to meet Dave Leech from the BTO, he is the head of the Nest record Scheme, to talk to him about the House Martin Study that they are starting from the new year, when we arrived we were a bit early so we popped down to Lynford Arboretum, to possibly see a Hawfinch but no luck, but we did get Siskin, Marsh/Willow Tit, Mistle Thrush and Nuthatch. When we arrived at the Nunnery (BTO Headquarters), we met up with Dave and went down the Nunnery Lakes to see what was there, nothing out of interest, just what you would normally see at lake, but there were some Canada geese with colour neck collars, and a Green Woodpecker, after a very interesting talk with Dave, we drove back to the cottage with 4 new species under my belt, I couldn't wait for the next day

Day 3

With still no ‘Pinkies’ flying over I woke up to a flock of 38 Red-legged Partridge outside my window, my dad and I decided to go and do RSPB Titchwell and NWT Cley Marshes. We went to Titchwell first as with Cley being closer to the cottage it was just easier, but we stopped off at the duck ponds at Salthouse to find that the Grey Phalarope was gone, that was just typical, so we drove down to Titchwell with ‘Pinkies’ flying around and gulls everywhere at Cromer and Sheringham. When we arrived as soon as we got out of the car, Goldcrests were flitting in the trees and tall bushes above us, looking at the sightings board, it seemed quite quiet with the normal birds you’ll expect to see, apart from a drake Red-crested Pochard, which we missed, out on the fresh marsh 500+ Golden Plover with loads of Wigeon and Teal also Ruff and Dunlin feeding on the mud, on the volunteer marsh, some Grey Plover, Curlew, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit. Then on the Salt marsh plenty of Turnstones knocking around with a nice comparison of Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, moving out onto the beach, it seemed that the sand dunes had been flattened but in fact with all the weather in December last year the tide went straight over the dunes and flooded most of the saltmarsh. After scanning along the beach we got; Knot, Sandling, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone. There wasn't much out at sea only a few passing Herring Gulls, so we headed back down the West bank path, this time to go into the hides as well. First we went into the saltwater hide within the Parrinder hides; here we got Knot, Shoveler, Curlew, Shelduck and Knot. Then at the freshwater side, we got Snipe, Brent Goose, thousands of Golden Plover, Avocet and Teal, then all the birds got spooked and they flew into the air , when they came down it seemed that more ducks came down as well, after a good search through the Wigeon, I came upon 5 very nice Pintail. After seeing that amazing spectacle we headed towards the visitor centre, and then a group of people were looking through their telescopes towards something on the saltmarsh, to find it was a Chinese Water Deer, apparently there has been a resident pair for the last few years, but this is the first time that I've seen one. It was quite a strange creature it had two very long canines coming even out of the mouth and it was the size of a dog, so it looked liked one of Dracula’s dogs.

Chinese Water deer, between the bushes 

On the 26th, the day before we arrived in Norfolk Richard Crossley the author of the Crossley ID guides, was dog a book signing as well as on posters, so I asked if he could sign me one and I’ll pick it up when I go to Titchwell, so I went and talked to the head warden Paul Eele about the reserve and how much damage the bad weather last Christmas caused the dunes to get flattened, after that he gave me the poster, and we talked about what we liked at the birdfair, but as soon as we were talking we had to leave as we were going to go to Cley Marsh.

We headed  straight for the coast to see what we could find, when I asked someone what was around he said there is 3 Grey Phalaropes from the screen, so we were going to get Grey Phalaropes after all, as we walked down there we came along a very nice pair of Stonechat, as well as Meadow Pipit and skylark. When we arrived there was a small group of birders watching the birds, they were quite distant but amazing to see 3 Phalaropes in one telescope, the first time I saw grey Phalarope was at that exact place where these birds were now.

After heading back from seeing the Phalaropes, I went back to where the pair of Stonechats were, and then out of the grass tussocks, a very nice winter plumage Wheatear, this was my first of the year

Distant Record Shot of 2 of the 3 Grey Phalaropes (Digi-scoped) 

Male Stonechat


 Day 4

My dad and I decided to have a day on the Broads, so we left early than we had done from the cottage and headed straight for Winterton Dunes, for a good session of sea-watching, we arrived at Winterton, and with minutes loads of Brent Geese were everywhere in there thousands, small  numbers of Starling were coming of the sea, whilst scanning the sea, small numbers of Linnets were flitting around and the odd Lesser Redpoll could be heard, amoung the howling wind, luckily the wins and the visibility cleared, we were surprised to see a Mute Swan riding the waves, also I saw more Gannets in 20 minutes than I've ever seen in my whole life! But then looking through my bins two black ducks flew past, one had completely black wings, making it a Common Scoter but the other bird had a big white spot on its head and on the wings there was white to the back of them, pointing towards being a Velvet Scoter! Later I relocated the scoters and it was a Velvet Scoter with its pale wing bar, and it's pale spot on its head, on our way back to the car a flock of 7 Red-Breasted Mergansers flew past as well as my first Brambling of the autumn.
Female Common Scoter to the left and Velvet Scoter on the right

After an amazing time we decided to go to Horesy, so first we headed to the coast and got even more Gannets, Brent geese and bigger flocks of Starling coming in, and there was a surprise to find Grey Seals right in close to the shoreline, then my dad picked up a massive flock of Common Scoter, maybe 40+ and mainly consisting of females. After wIting to see if anything else would come in we headed just inland to Horesy Mere, and as soon as we got out of the car we could hear COMMON CRANE! I've only seen two birds at Lakenheath Fen the other year in the reeds, and almost straight the way I found them, it was a pair with a juvenile, and we were really close to these birds.
2 of the 3 Common Cranes
It was amazing to see these birds so close up, after seeing these majestic creatures we headed of to a place which I'd researched about Stubb Mill, which here was a 99% of seeing Marsh Harriers and 95% of seeing MORE COMMON CRANE! So we arrived and waited, and within 5 minutes we had 3 Crane, probably the ones from Horesy plus a Stonechat, then half an hour later, out of the middle of nowhere 37 Marsh Harriers flew into the air! It was an amazing spectacle to see and then within a minute they just disappeared! After scanning the bushes in fading light I managed to find a Merlin! What an amazing way to finish an amazing weeks birding, and if you've never been to Stubb Mill, I recommend it.

Sorry this has been late but hope you've enjoyed it