Snow Buntings in Norfolk

Monday, November 19, 2012 Adam Tilt 15 Comments


In the words of everyone’s favourite Austrian, I'm back. From where I hear you ask? Norfolk I answer, hoping to bring this slightly awkward opening exchange to a swift conclusion. Ah you say in clear disregard to my previous statement, see any Waxwings? I think we may be about to fall out.

I shouldn't be surprised really that I'm still sat here proudly wearing my 'not seen a Waxwing club' badge, though the constant stream of tweets on my twitter feed as people leave our once expansive membership is starting to rub. It's not even as if I haven't been trying to join them. Kitted out with the excellent new RBA iPhone app we were well aware of how many were being seen all around our base in Wells-next-the-Sea, often popping up just where we'd been or gone just before we got there. I'm sure it's nothing personal but I get the distinct impression that Waxwings and I may actually be mutually exclusive.

Thankfully the other winter visitor we really wanted to see couldn't have been more accommodating, often popping up in such close quarters that I came perilously close to unwittingly stepping on one at Cley. I am of course talking about Snow Buntings, little bundles of joy and mischief whose tameness and character managed to wipe any lingering thoughts of Waxwing failure from my mind (I may as well try denial). Coincidentally I saw my very first Snow Buntings on Cley beach way back in the 1990's, a sighting that in no way could prepare me for the sheer number present this year. The largest flock by far was at Holme-next-the-Sea where 60 individuals had joined forces with another 30 or so Goldfinches and Greenfinches to perform a finch ballet in the air. It was a mind boggling display and easily one of the highlights of the trip, though rain and a case of photography fatigue means that my memories are the only record. Fortunately a spot of sun and more Snow Buntings at Titchwell, Cley and Holkham did tease my camera back into action for these shots.

28994 - Snow Bunting, Holkham Gap

28991 - Snow Bunting, Holkham Gap

28996 - Snow Bunting, Sley

28984 - Snow Bunting, RSPB Titchwell

While we are on the subject of Buntings I did keep a close look out for any of the Lapland variety, and believe we my have glimpsed one at Holme though not well enough for a positive ID. We also did our best to search through a supporting cast of hundreds if not thousands of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits at Holkham Gap but that proved to be an almost impossible task. I take that as a positive though as it's those sheer volumes of birdlife that make Norfolk so special. As much as I love where we live it's never going to be able to compete with the sight of thousands of noisy Pink Footed Geese flying overhead in waves that stretch across the entire sky, nor the Barn Owls that are to be found in the same locations almost without fail. Whereas our fields are full of sheep Norfolk's are crawling with Grey and Red-Legged Partridge, slightly artificial in the landscape I agree but a joy to see nonetheless. All that's even before you get to my favourite nature reserve, RSPB Titchwell. The beach there was several miles of feeding birds with thousands of Sanderling, Knot, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and a smattering of Black and Bar Tailed Godwits turning the sand into a constantly moving mass. Amongst the chaos it was still possible to find an occasional moment of tranquillity such as this Bar Tailed Godwit grabbing a few minutes of sleep.

28983 - Bar Tailed Godwit, RSPB Titchwell

But there was still more to come. Marsh Harriers over Cley, Ruffs feeding alongside the road at Salthouse, Avocets on the freshwater pools at Titchwell, Bramblings on feeders, our first Fieldfare of the year near Blakeney, a Guillemot swimming up the channel towards Wells, Grey Plovers, Ringed Plovers, Golden Plovers, flocks of Lapwings, a Starling on every rooftop, suicidal Pheasants, Common Scoters streaming over the sea, Gannets fishing, Little Grebes calling and almost, but not quite, a Partridge in a Pear Tree. That's not even to mention the Seals hauled out or in the water at various locations and the stunning landscapes that despite lacking my beloved hills and mountains still manage to create a charm all of their own.

28981 - Titchwell Beach

And how could I forget the female Red Crested Pochard at Titchwell?

28998 - Red Crested Pochard, RSPB Titchwell

There were also a couple of real surprises along the way, chief of which was a single Swallow and three House Martins over Wells beach. Now that's two species of bird I really didn't expect to be mentioning this far into November! Wells was also rather well populated with Brent Geese, the vast majority of which were the dark bellied variety. They were typically staying a little further out into the channel than last year with the exception of this group down by the lifeboat station.

28985 - Brent Geese, Wells-next-the-Sea

28986 - Brent Geese, Wells-next-the-Sea

We didn't manage to make it across to Snettisham during our visit (the tides were rubbish anyway) or Dersingham Bog as the time quite literally flew by. Before we knew it we were starting the long drive back west, oblivious to the final treat that was lying in wait for us somewhere in Cambridgeshire. While I was busy conducting the latest in a long line of death stares at the car holding us up, Emma had thankfully been keeping an eye on the passing scenery and suddenly shouted out that there were some Storks in the field to our left. I glanced across just in time to see four magnificent Common Cranes feeding amongst stubble, their shape and grace unmistakeable in the almost featureless landscape. I've been wanting to see some for ages and although this was probably the least likely place I had ever expected to, I certainly wasn't going to complain.

15 comments:

  1. Wonderful images Adam and don't worry I'm sure the Waxies will find their way to you soon..

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  2. how beautiful the snow bunting and the godwits; enjoyed your post Adam alongwith the scenery

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  3. Love the Snow Buntings, they are precious, and the other birds, fantastic.

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  4. Ha ha, I too am still a member of that club, and like you, it's not for the want of trying. Still the Snow Buntings make up for it nicely. Lovely post.

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  5. Great series. Love those buntings. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  6. Great photos of the snow buntings and it would have been very special to see that flock plus the finches all flying together. I love the Godwit!

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  7. Great birds, the snow buntings are my favorite.

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  8. Gorgeous shots! Those buntings are beautiful birds!

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  9. Hey Adam I'm in both clubs - Waxwing and Snow Bunting so you should worry. Nice shots of all the birds you saw plus the beach. Norfolk is a good place to be to catch up on the hard to get ones.

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  10. Great set of pictures - November is late for the swallow and house martins.

    I dont think I've ever seen snow bunting anywhere but on the beach - where there is no snow!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  11. Beautiful pictures, I especially like the buntings.

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  12. From Snow Buntings to shore birds and water reflections, all quite lovely, very nice series. Happy weekend~

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  13. Well, I'm on the other side of the world and was beginning to develop a complex for being the only birder to not have seen the "hordes of migrating waxwings" this year! Very nice report and wonderful images! Thank you for sharing - I especially enjoyed the commentary (okay, I looked at all the pictures first, but did go back and actually read the words).

    --Wally in Florida (USA) (Still Waxwingless.)

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  14. I really like the Snow Buntings. From Findlay

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  15. Nearest place I've seen Waxwings to you is Lancashire (details on my blog) so they can't be far away from you as they forage even further south in search of berries!

    Super Snow Bunting pics by the way and great blog alround ... you have a new follower!

    Tim@Timbobaggins Abroad

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