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Thursday 29th March 2007.
I had planned to have both the 29th and 30th off from work as I was owed two days holiday from last year and they had to be used by the end of March.
My first port of call was to Amwell Gravel Pits, near Hertford after a Little Bunting that had been there for a while. I set off at 05 am to quite misty conditions. Driving down the M1 the daylight revealed an extremely dark cloud cover with quite a bit of low mist over the countryside. Just below Luton I hit the roadwork’s and unfortunately lost quite a bit of time there and arrived onsite at 07:30am, about an hour later than I had planned.
It was an extremely dreary day. Heavy mist, extremely black clouds and intermittent rain. It was almost dusk like conditions. It was also bloomin cold. On top of all that the bird didn’t show, even though I stood my ground until 11am.
Edit to this: I took some extremely bad photos of a bird that i thought had potential of being the Little Bunting (taken in driving rain). It transpires that in fact I did see the Little Bunting after all.
Well that was a good start to the day – not. My next site on my itinerary was a place called Mistley, near Maningtree on the Essex / Suffolk border. There was a long staying Long-billed Dowitcher there so off I set and arrived at 1:30pm to even worse conditions that I had left behind me. Torrential rain, extremely heavy mist, the tide was out and all the waders (which I could hear) were lost in the mist. I sat for half an hour and ate a sandwich but even after that time the mist was just the same, the rain was equally as bad and the waders were equally as noisy, and lost in the mist.
It had been my intention to spend a few hours at Minsmere but I had lost so much time at Amwell Pits that it was pointless calling in. Mindfull that I am going there for two days at the end of April I decided to carry on to Ness Point, Lowestoft after the resident Purple Sandpipers. These had eluded me when I went after them in January but not this time. I was onsite by about 15:20 and ten minutes later was capturing some on camera. There were five of them amongst about ten turnstones. Below are two photos of the Purple sand and a Turnstone.
The day had got slightly brighter at Lowestoft but at my next, and last site of the day, Buckenham Marshes (close to Strumpshaw fen) the weather had really begun to close in. Reported here for quite a while was an American Wigeon. Thankfully it wasn’t raining but it was so dark that even though I took my camera there was no chance I was going to use it. Along the path I met an old mate from Birdforum. He helps out at Rainham marshes, London. He and his friends had done the route and were on the way back. They hadn’t seen the Wigeon but had seen some Sand Martins and a couple of Little-ringed Plover’s .
The LRP’s were easy. I found them straight away but the Sand Martins took about an hour to locate. Eventually I located them and amongst them were 6 Swallows. That was at least a good end to the day. Along the way I approached an old mill at the far side of the reserve and as I got close up and explosion of wings, close by, and a white blur as a barn Owl shot out from one of the windows and just missed me by a couple of feet. I don’t who was surprised the most, the Barn Owl or me. I certainly missed the chance of a photo of the bird but to be honest I just stood still for that bit too long taking in the spectacle of the Barn Owl as it quickly flew off into the distance.
A quick stop in Brundall for a bag of chips was on the cards and once consumed I was on my way to Heacham where I was staying at a bed and Breakfast for a couple of days.
The day started just the way it had ended the day before. Dark, misty and cold. My first stop was at Choseley Barnes, near Titchwell just to see what was around. Upon arrival I could see at least a dozen Corn Bunting and six Yellowhammer as well as a Kestrel on a nearby wire. They were all far too distant for any decent photography, plus the light content was awful.
I was at a bit of a loss what to do next. The weather report for the Friday was a bad one. Black clouds and rain and I was sorely tempted to actually leave Norfolk and possibly go over to Lancashire and North Wales where the weather report looked good. I had even told the couple where I was staying that I would ring them later in the day to tell them if I was staying overnight as it had looked that bad.
I decided to persevere, and that turned out to be a good decision. I looked at the previous days sightings on the pager and birds that stood out where Green-winged Teal at Titchwell and Waxwings near Holkham. I was thinking of going to Cley anyway and Holkham was on the way so Waxwings were to be my next site to visit. As I past Holkham hall this obliging Red-legged Partridge stood up and posed for the camera.
I had seen Waxwings on January 1st but didn’t get a chance to photograph them so seized the opportunity to try for these birds. I found them straight away, but what awful conditions to see them in. Extremely misty and the light content was no better than dusk. Obviousli I had to crank the ISO right up to get any photos at all but I did manage a few of them (one shown below).
Looking eastwards towards Cley the sky looked inky black. My mood was almost as black as the clouds I was looking at. All week the weather had been great right up until the two days I had taken off from work. I couldn’t see the point in going towards Cley. I did go as far as Wells but at the harbour there was virtually nothing around so I turned back with the premise that if the weather didn’t improve soon then I would be off somewhere else.
Thankfully not far past Holkham I could see some light filtering through the clouds west of where I was. It was gradually getting brighter so I thought I would go to an undisclosed site in the hope that the Montague Harriers might have arrived early. It was a forlorn hope but at this point the sun actually came out. One thing I had been seeing frequently was quite a few Brown Hares and this site was no different. They were all over the place. They were also very skittish as they were constantly both on the move and distant. I did manage one shot of a Hare going full pelt across the field below me. (photo below).
I decided to carry onto Titchwell in the hope of getting a photo of the G W Teal. On the way I called into Burnham Overy Staithe to see what was about. There wasn’t much just a couple of redshank and three Curlew (photo of the latter below).
Titchwell wasn’t as busy as usual. Perhaps the early bad weather had put people off. It had improved considerably by the time I had reached there. As I walked to the visitors centre the usual Robins came out to greet you but on this occasion a youngster came out as well. One of the adult Robins quickly shot out and proceeded to feed the youngster. This was repeated a few times and I managed to capture one of those moments (shown below).
Moving though Titchwell I came to the Parrinder Hide (where the G W Teal had last been reported). To my surprise the bird was right by the hide and plenty close enough to photograph with my DSLR (photo below).
For Comparison. Below is the Eurasion Teal. Note the Vertical white line on the Green-winged Teal as well as slight facial differences.
Out on the water we could also see a Little Gull but that was far too far way even for the Digiscoping set up and a few Avocet (photo below). I carried onto the path and moved towards the sea looking at the birds either side of the path. Brent Geese, Little Egrets, Golden Plover, Meadow Pipits, Linnets and plenty of Skylarks singing high up in the sky. Quite a few Meadow Pipits were displaying with their parachute fall from the sky and try as I did I couldn’t capture an image of any of them. There were also a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding close by and here are a couple of images of one.
I had one lovely surprise when two Skylarks just dropped straight out of the sky onto the patch about fifteen feet away from me and started to dust bathe themselves. This went on for quite a while and I managed quite a few photos of this sequence of events(photos below).
At last they finished their bathing and took off leaving me to carry onto the beach. As soon as I reached it I turned back as the sea was at its furthest point out and the waders were extremely distant. I had intended to come back at high tide (about 5pm) but that didn’t happen as I will explain later. Walking back through the reserve nothing new came my way so after a sandwich in the car park I decided to pop down to Hunstanton Cliffs to try for some Fulmar flight shots. (photos below).
After getting a few images I left for Wolferton (in the hope of photographing Golden Pheasant) which didn’t happen as they didn’t appear, then onto Sandringham to try for the usually confiding Jays.
As I walked through Sandringham the pager bleeped with the message that the Black-eared Kite had been re-located at the far reaches of Snettisham. I thought that it might be a good opportunity to go for it so rushed back to the car.
Snettisham was reached in ten minutes and so began the long walk to the pump house (poss just over 2km). On the way I was treated to breathtaking displays by a huge flock of Brent Geese. The sea was way out but on the mud could be seen masses of Oystercathcher, Dunlin, both Barwit and Blackwit, a few Golden Plover but it was at the tideline where most of the birds were but that was far too far to work out what they were. There was also a mist that far out which wasn’t helping matters.
It took about 45 minutes to reach the pump house. On the way I met the couple who had reported the Kite. Unfortunately he told me that the bird had flown off at 14:50 (it was now 15:10). It had apparently been feeding on something for about fifty minutes so it was doubtful that it would return but I decided to go for it still.
Arriving at the pump house the weather had started to change. Dark clouds rolled over and a mist started to create a veil over the distant woods. It was also getting cold and I was regretting not putting my fleece on as I was now quite cold. As I scanned the woods a Short-eared Owl suddenly erupted from a nearby field. I quickly grabbed my camera but by now it had put some distance from me, plus the light wasn’t helping my photography. I managed a few distant shot's (heavily cropped photo below).
I waited in vain for about an hour but I was now extremely cold. I decided to call it a day and work my way back to the Rotary Hide, which overlooks the sea in the hope of watching the tide come in. This usually gets the waders flying in spectacular formations.
I was absolutely shattered when I reached the hide and sat down with a sigh of relief. Looking over the mud you could see that the sea was beginning to creep in and the distant waders were on the move. Large flocks of them were swirling in the sky. There were thousands of them and at the same time the Brents were up and flying around. After a while I decided to try to get some photos of the Brents, even though the light wasn’t that good. I was also going to give them a good look over to see if the Red-breasted Geese were in that flock as they appeared to have left Kings Lyn n a couple of days ago.
I was photographing the flying Brents when one of them looked a bit different. In thias light it was hard to make out anything clearly but I still tried to get an image of this one bird. I didn’t get a chance to look at my results until I got back to the Bed and Breakfast. Thankfully when I got around to editing the geese I could see that the lone goose I had photographed was indeed one of the Red-breasted Geese. (a not too good photo of the bird below).
I reported it later that night to Rare Bird Alert and I see today that the two R B geese have been seen quite often at Snettisham.
Also seen were huge flocks of waders and obviously the large Brent Geese flocks plus a Ringed Plover that came fairly close enough to the path I was standing on.
Waders 1st Brents 2nd image.
That was a good end to what became an excellent day in the end.
Saturday 31st March
The previous night the pager bleeped announcing the arrival of a Red-rumped Swallow at Brogborough Lake, Beds. It appeared to go to roost there so I was hoping it would stay for the Saturday.
My plan was to go to Weeting Heath after the Stone Curlew but just as I was leaving Heacham the pager confirmed that the bird had stayed at the lake and was showing well.
I decided to still go to Weeting Heath and luckily I was rewarded with views (albeit distant) of a lone Stone Curlew. The warden had informed me that there were six pairs already there.
I was quickly on my way to Brogborough and the first part went smoothly until I joined the A428 from the A14. At the end of the first carriageway I hit an immense jam. Whilst waiting for some movement I looked at my map book and saw some back lanes that would get me out of this so cut off and went through Toft, then on and through Gamlingay and sandy before joing up with the A421. I was soon in place and as I arrived I saw the bird straight away as it flew over the car.
I walked through the hedge to where the other birders were and watched it for quite a while. Unfortunately it was flying well out of camera range but on one occasion it just about came into distance and I fired off a few shots (shown below).
It never came any closer, in fact it seemed to have disappeared for a while. The pager announced that there was an Iceland Gull a few miles up the road at Stewartby Lake so I decided to go after that. It wasn’t long before I was looking at a sea of Lesser Black backed gulls and trying to find this gull was proving difficult. By now there were three other birders and after 15 minutes we were joined by Lee Evans.
Thankfully one of the other birders found it and from his excellent directions I managed to get onto the bird.
It was now 2pm and thinking what a lot of photos I had to edit decided to cut out now and drive home. Thankfully that was the right decision as I was still editing photos, and typing up trip reports right through to past midnight and again on April 1st for most of the morning.
Well in the end I had an excellent time, despite some bad weather. I hope you enjoyed the three reports, together with the photos.
Next week I am away to Scotland (Nethybridge) from Friday 6th right through to Tuesday 10th. Hopefully I will come back with a few images of some Scottish specialties.