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.
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.
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.
And how could I forget the female Red Crested Pochard at 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.
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.