Friday morning dawned dry with slight cloud as 30 members climbed aboard the coach at 7.30 am, eagerly looking forward to our weekend away. Some four hours later our coach slowly approached the car park at Frampton Marsh where Trish was waiting to guide us in and meet and greet us. Frampton Marsh, a new venue for the group, is a RSPB Reserve near to Boston and is one of the most valuable areas of salt marsh in the UK. Bordered on one side by the River Witham which flows into the nearby Wash, the reserve has wet grassland and reed beds, both uncommon habitats now, due to drainage of arable land over the years.

From the visitor centre we saw our first swans of the weekend, 38 Whoopers, with a family of 4 Bewicks – two adults with two juveniles – close by and a couple of Mute Swans. The first Avocets of the season had just arrived that morning and were resting up after their journey. Waders were around, but not plentiful, but we still noted Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Curlew. There were plenty of ducks on the freshwater pools including Tufted, Gadwall, Wigeon, Pochard, Mallard, Shovelers and Shelduck as well as Pintail, Goldeneye and a pair of Scaup, all seen well from the comfort of the hides. A couple of Snipe flew out from the long grasses, zigzagged across an open stretch of water and disappeared from view as quickly as they had appeared. Our first geese were the Canada Geese, common throughout the reserve, several Greylags and finally our first sighting of the winter geese, about 400 Brent feeding in the fields; some Barnacle Geese were also seen. Out on the wet grasslands Little Egrets, Lapwings and impressive numbers of Golden Plover were present; Kestrel and Merlin flew over the fields. Skylarks were singing all over the reserve, a true harbinger of spring.

The feeders close to the visitor centre gave us the usual finches and tits as well as Reed Bunting. As the light became poorer our first Barn Owl of the trip was seen quartering distant fields for its supper. We all watched for a good 15 minutes before setting off for the final hour and a half’s journey to Old Hunstanton and our hotel for the next two days. As the forecasters predicted and spot on 6 o’clock, the rain that had been threatening most of the afternoon finally arrived.

Next morning the pre-breakfast walk to the beach some 10 minutes away, did not tempt many of us, as the clouds were low and visibility poor due to mist from the overnight rain. In fields by the hotel Mistle and Song Thrushes were heard and seen, as well as 10 Fieldfares and a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a nearby tree. Pheasants were feeding along the margins of a field with some Partridge but we were unable to identify them positively.

The itinerary for Saturday was the north Norfolk coast from Thornham to Salthouse with several stops in between. Our first excursion from the coach was at Thornham along a muddy track towards the marsh. And what a little gem this stop proved to be. As we set off down the track a Short-eared Owl was perched up on a post and seen by most of the group. Our second Barn Owl of the trip flew into view and looking over the salt marsh we counted 41 Curlew, several small pockets of Brent Geese, Shelduck and a distant ring-tailed Hen Harrier. Not bad for a 20 minute stop!! Then it was on to Burnham Overy where we had a roadside halt looking across the marsh for a possible Rough-legged Buzzard. The weather began to clear from the west, visibility improved greatly and a sleeping bird in the distance, gradually stirred, shook its wings and took off. As it slowly flew towards us then across the road and away, everyone had good views of the Rough-legged Buzzard. A pair of Grey Partridge were spotted in the fields, a Yellowhammer in the nearby bushes and we were then treated to two Barn Owls working along the hedgerow in the weak sunshine. What a cracking start to the day and it was still only mid-morning!

Our main stop and walk today was at Holkham. Our route took us along Lady Anne’s Drive, through Holkham Pines NNR to the George Washington hide, across the boardwalk to the beach. We walked along the beach then found a track through the dunes, crossed some water using a strategically placed plank and a helping hand, and back through the woods to Wells harbour and lifeboat station. After our early morning excitement the birds were somewhat fewer here. Salt’s Hole pool gave us the usual Little Grebes, paler than normal, and Goldeneye whilst the hide proved more productive with Egyptian Geese, Shelduck, plenty of Wigeon, Oystercatchers and Starlings. We watched a congregation of Golden Plover wheeling above the trees and Moorhens skulking near the water close to a pair of Ringed Plover. On the beach Sanderling were chasing the tide at the water’s edge and Common Scoter were on the sea.

After lunch we walked up the track at Salthouse to the shingle banks and were well rewarded with superb sightings of flocks of Snow Buntings and Turnstones. They zipped backwards and forwards in front of the shingle, settling for a short time before taking flight again. Then it was off to Cley Marshes a Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve, for the final walk of the day. By now the weather had started to deteriorate and the cool wind was more noticeable. The group split, some choosing the warmer option of birding from the visitor centre, the remainder walking around the Cley Reserve and along the exposed east bank. Both groups saw the Marsh Harrier, Avocets and Little Egret. As dusk fell and we were travelling back to the hotel we saw one of Norfolk’s most iconic sights; thousands upon thousands of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead in V formation coming over in wave after wave. They had left their feeding grounds inland and were heading out for safety during the night to Scolt Island just off Brancaster Staithe. Two more Barn Owls were also seen quartering the fields.

After another excellent evening meal we all adjourned to the bar where Marjorie’s quiz proved to be the catalyst for a very pleasant sociable couple of hours.

Sunday morning was so different; blue skies, sunshine and a slight wind. Today was Titchwell and it certainly lived up to its reputation as the jewel in the RSPB’s crown. The alterations are sympathetic with the surroundings and the new Parrinder hide superb with its all round vision windows and seating. This is taking viewing and visitor amenities into the 21st century. At the first feeders our 100th bird for the trip was observed, a Lesser Redpoll. By now we had all split up into small groups and for some birds, Bittern, Water Rail and Bearded Tit, it was just down to luck being in the right place at the right time. From the main footpath there were flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plover snoozing on a mud bank in the nearby pool. The sunshine was highlighting the range of colours in their plumage and they just glowed. Ruff and Pintail were on the pools with the common ducks Gadwall, Shoveler, Goldeneye and Wigeon. On the mud by the brackish water a lone Water Pipit was feeding and seen well by all groups. A mixed flock of 30 Twite and 6 Skylarks also held our interest for some time here, and Teal, Curlew and Ringed Plover came in close to the hide. As we were ready to board the coach Red-legged Partridge were spotted in the field.

From Titchwell it was just a short drive to Choseley Barns where the farmyard and surrounding hedges attract Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. We were not disappointed and had excellent views of a party of five Yellowhammers, their colours so rich in the sunshine and three Corn Buntings. Another Barn Owl, our best view yet, flew along the hedge towards us, crossed the road and continued hunting in the nearby fields.

For our last stop of the day we returned to Thornham Marsh in another attempt to find the Northern Harrier reported to be in the area. By the side of a small creek, Redshank, Grey Plover, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the mud banks. A Rock Pipit was seen by some and a Meadow Pipit by all. Although we saw two Hen Harriers (or was it the same bird twice?) the Northern sub species eluded us. Nevertheless it was a good day’s birding and a fitting end to the trip with the promise of something special for next time.

Norfolk certainly is a premier birding venue and gave us plenty of birds with great views. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the number of Barn Owls we saw without really trying. Living in Wilmslow if I see one a year I’m thrilled; to see a dozen over the weekend was just amazing. We saw seven different raptors and our total species recorded was 107.

My thanks to Judith for her help in arranging this weekend with me, our thanks to Steve for booking the coach for this and every trip and to Marjorie for her quiz which as always produced plenty of laughter and alternative answers. Finally, and certainly not least, a big thank you to Brian for his expertise in finding and getting us on to the birds this weekend. His knowledge of the area, can we get the coach there, and the whereabouts of the nearest loos are invaluable. It was also encouraging to see several new members joining us this time, for what was agreed by all to be another extremely successful trip.


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