Friday before last found me wandering the streets of London in a state of some bemusement. For someone who lives their life pretty much entirely in the countryside the presence of so many people packed together was a little off-putting, as was my inability to see beyond the next street or any more of the sky than a letterbox shaped rectangle. Probably about as far from my comfort zone as it’s possible to get. Saying that the architecture was undeniably fascinating and by walking to the hotel I got to take in both Hyde Park and Regents Park, genuine oasis’s in a sea of urban sprawl. Ring-necked Parakeets, ridiculously tame Grey Herons, Tufted Ducks, Pochards, a male Ruddy Duck (possibly a dodgy tick) and four White Pelicans (definitely a dodgy tick) were all there for the taking but alas I had nothing but my crappy phone camera with me. For this trip was not one of leisure, far from it. Instead it was my first exam in some seven years and rest assured not an experience that I wish to repeat any time soon.
Heading back West by train mid afternoon continued to deliver a surprising abundance of wildlife with at least ten urban Red Kites on the outskirts of Reading, a flock of thirty plus Stock Doves, various Buzzards and Kestrels and even a small herd of Fallow Deer. All of this whilst being whisked along by probably the greatest passenger train ever built, the Intercity 125. But I digress. Getting off at Bristol I met up with Emma, jumped in the car, and headed back East for the North Norfolk coast. After several weeks of hard revision a couple of days exploring Titchwell seemed like the perfect antidote and after a relatively uneventful journey we arrived a little after nine that evening. There was just chance to dump the suitcases before it was back out to Dersingham Bog which is apparently the best place in Norfolk to see Nighjars. Sadly for us we never got to find out if the claim was true as just as we were literally within touching distance, the car broke down. Warning lights came on, the engine felt like it was shaking itself to pieces and power was a thing of the past. Bugger. Fortunately we managed to limp back to the hotel but whatever plans I’d once had looked to be in tatters.
To cut a long story short Saturday morning was spent getting ripped of by a main dealer before an incredibly helpful man from the RAC rescued the weekend from almost total ruin. Quite how we could go from major engine failure to back on the road with just a replacement spark plug cable (and not even one specific to our car) is anyone’s guess but needless to say complaints against the main dealer are ongoing. What mattered at the time was that we had our weekend back and and having thanked the RAC profusely we finally made it to Titchwell. Just as the rain arrived.
It says something about a place when even rain can’t dampen my spirits but Titchwell really is that special. We’d already added a good selection of woodland birds on the short walk from the car park with a juvenile Song Thrush being my personal highlight before it was in to the Fen Hide for some cover. Joining several others we settled down to enjoy the sights which on this occasion included no less than two Avocets, several Lapwing, a Cuckoo in flight, at least two truly stunning Marsh Harriers, Swifts galore, House Martins, Cetti’s Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers. It’s probably no surprise that I sat there literally open mouthed throughout. Half an hour later the weather had cleared and we headed around to Patsy’s pool where two Red Crested Pochards were an excellent find.
Also present were a smattering of commoner species including Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Shoveller and Gadwall. The Green Sandpiper reported as being present a couple of days earlier had however done a bunk. Continuing along the path to the presently closed Autumn trail a yaffling Green Woodpecker took our attention before showing itself well at the top of a dead tree. Nothing could have prepared us for what happened next though as a Barn Owl flew round the corner and headed straight for us. By the time it turned back across the fields we couldn’t have been any more than twenty metres distant making this my closest ever encounter with the species. I could have ended the weekend right there and gone home more than satisfied.
Of course we didn’t and after taking in a lone Stock Dove it was time to strike out along the West Bank and explore Titchwell proper. From our elevated position it was relatively easy to pick out Redshank, Little Egret, a family of recently fledged Reed Warblers being fed and best of all brief views of two Bearded Tits. Get in! Nothing could have prepared us for what greeted our entrance to the Island Hide however. With the place to ourselves and sunlight just starting to break through the clouds every single window was full of either Avocets or Black-tailed Godwits. They were literally everywhere and the sounds were just extraordinary.
As if this spectacle wasn’t enough movement in the nearby reeds heralded the arrival of at least twenty Bearded Tits! Most were youngsters from this year and they spent the next twenty minutes or so constantly in view. Alternating between the reeds themselves and the mud below they made for an amazing sight and something I’m unlikely to see again any time soon.
Pushing on we added Knot, Pintail, Common Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew to the afternoons tally before movement in one of the drainage ditches caught my eye. A little bit of jockeying for position eventually gained me a clear view of what turned out to be a Water Vole happily munching away amongst thick vegetation. Could this day get any better? Apparently yes as after taking its fill the Vole plopped into the water and swam along the channel in full view. Video was the best option and this is the result. A surprisingly large mammal and again the best views I’ve ever had of one.
By the time we’d made it to the beach the light was beginning to go a little but clouds on the horizon led to some pretty dramatic lighting. Far from ideal for sea-watching however and in the almost complete calm we at first didn’t pick out anything more interesting than a Grey Seal. A couple of large passing Tern’s turned out to be Sandwich Terns and were soon joined by what we eventually identified as a trio of Little Terns! This was a lifer for both of us but in the awkward light it was difficult to pick out the diagnostic white forehead and yellow bill. Once we did let me assure you that the celebrations really started. What a cracking bird!
Even now, with the day finally drawing to a close, Titchwell was still offering up the goods. Two Ringed Plovers, singles of Turnstone and Dunlin then best of all a booming Bittern!!!! It’s been over a decade since I last heard one and that occasion is still as clear in my mind as if it had happened yesterday, That’s the power a Bittern wields and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to what at first light had seemed like a day already heading for disaster. The only question now was what to do tomorrow? Titchwell again of course.