Friday, March 25, 2005

Brecks birding

Day 2 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

A tree-climbing Egyptian Goose Flitcham, Norfolk.

We all get a lay in this morning, and after our scrummy breakfast we head for the North Norfolk coast. After stopping briefly at Gayton to watch a couple of Egyptian Geese in a paddock, we spy a Common Buzzard on route to Flitcham where we are greeted by a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker in the car park. Within seconds of entering the hide we are watching a Kingfisher perched up by what looks like a nest hole. The pools hold assorted ducks including Tufted, Gadwall and Teal, and around the meadows are at least six Egyptian Geese. Two birds are ‘up’ the lower part of a large tree in front of us. They climb around and jump up and down like a couple of kids playing chase! A couple of Curlews probe the ground between the Greylag Geese. A Chiffchaff sings cheerfully from the nearby bushes but out of view.

We make haste for the coast and arriving at Titchwell in thick fog we find a congregation of eager searchers in the car park. ‘Firecrest’ is the reply to our enquiry and within a few minutes we are all enjoying fantastic views this ‘jewel’ warbler. It flits around actively feeding, flashing its broad white supercillium, fire-orange crown and day-glow shoulder pads. Fantastic!

We hit the reserve, and after negative news of the Arctic Redpoll, we head to the Fen Hide were only a single Snipe sits in the mist. We head on down the north bank and the first pool on our left holds a selection of wildfowl including Little Grebe, two male Pintail and three Ruddy Ducks, the males looking all dapper with their white cheeks and blue bills. The main freshwater marsh is shrouded in mist and only the first 50 yards are viewable. A few Avocet sweep their upturned bills through the water and a Ruff, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit feed busily in a corner.

We pick our way along the north bank, the mist coming and going. A handful of Wigeon and Brent Geese feed on the saltmarsh. Arriving at the brackish lagoon Steve spots a Spotted Redshank in the near corner feeding alongside a Black-tailed Godwit. We get great views of this elegant wader, with its needle fine bill and clean grey plumage, but no signs of summer plumage. The godwit by contrast is flushed with the orange-red of breeding dress. With the fog still unsure whether to clear or stay, we retrace our steps back towards the centre. A couple of Little Egrets are on the saltmarsh and Marilyn finds us a couple of Pochard.

An obliging cock Pheasant Titchwell RSPB car park.

We lunch in the car park, and are joined by a cocky Pheasant, and after coffee and retail therapy at the centre we begin our way southwards. We are only minutes away from Titchwell when we find a couple of Redwings feeding under the garden trees of a splendid house before heading on to Choseley barns. On arrival there are loads of birds on the overhead wires. Redwing. Fieldfare. Corn Bunting. Bingo! Feeding on the ground by the barns was a mixed flock of finches and buntings including Yellowhammers and more Corns. ‘Tree Sparrow!’ shouts Marilyn. And there among all the birds is a lone cheeky little chestnut-crowned sparrow with its exquisite little black cheek patches. There are birds all around us, decorating the hedgerows and trees, the bright yellow heads of the male Yellowhammers dazzling like little baubles. All the birds take flight and seek refuge in the hedges and trees. ‘Must be raptor around’ muses Steve. ‘They pick them up long before we ever do’ he adds. ‘Marsh Harrier!’ yells Barry and with that a cream-crown harrier glides into view from behind the barns. Great stuff.

We move off and drive slowly along the narrow lanes. We stop to check gulls following a couple of tractors. ‘Is that a Grey Partridge?’ asks Barry. Confusion ensues as we get directions, but eventually we all get on to a fantastic male Grey Partridge with a brilliant peachy-orange face. It moves and is followed by a much plainer bird. ‘That’s got to be the most poorly marked female I’ve ever seen’ comments Steve.

We move on to Tottenhill were the old gravel pit is swimming with waterbirds – Shelduck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Great Crested Grebe. Back in the van we are approaching Wormegay when Steve spies a distant white shape over a rough field. With nothing else on the road we reverse, pull over and Steve begins giving directions to where the bird isn’t! ‘There it is!’ shouts Steve. And everyone latches on to the ghostly shape of a Barn Owl floating over the fields. It drifts lazily across a patch of rough grassland before arching and diving in to the grass. It’s down for a long time. It rises with prey clutched firmly in its talons and heads off purposely. We follow it straight to a triangular nestbox on the side of a sturdy oak. There aren’t many better birding sights than a Barn Owl so the mood as we headed back in to the Brecks was buzzing.

Our run across Clamps Heath finds us a lone male Wheatear flitting among the Rabbits, but the otherwise the heaths are pretty birdless, so we head back towards the hotel. Whilst winding our way through the back roads we chance upon a Little Owl sat in a bush which all too hurriedly disappears into some nearby trees.

Dinner is a jolly affair with several of us enjoying some local produce, Pheasant, shot on a nearby estate! Well, it is a birds weekend isn’t it?

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