Wednesday 16 April 2014

Return to Norfolk

After four years without a visit we decided to spend a long weekend on the north Norfolk coast and re-visit some of my favourite birding sites. The weather was beautiful during our stay but not conducive to large numbers of migrants. I also got to trial my new Sony RX100Mk2 and Turbo Digi-scoping adaptor on my Kowa 883 scope. I started by birding Titchwell at dawn on all three days and didn't venture much beyond here but for rather quiet visits to Holkham and Cley where little was seen beyond those species already recorded at Titchwell.

Titchwell reedbed at dawn

Avocet were as conspicuous as ever giving excellent views at close range from the Parrinder Hide and the West Bank path. They were fully into their breeding cycle with much courting and defending of nesting territories but I didn't notice any incubating birds during the weekend. 

Avocets feeding in the dawn light

Avocet with small fish fry prey

Pair of copulating Avocet

A walk along the beach produced good numbers of Sanderling, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the sand amongst thousands of dead Razorclams while offshore a flock of approximately 150 Common Scoter contained at least 11 Velvet Scoter. There had been up to 8,000 scoter offshore over the early part of the year but certainly during my visit numbers were much decreased although I did record around 5,000 birds from Holkham. While good numbers do summer off the Norfolk coast the majority will have moved on to their northern breeding grounds of Iceland and Scandinavia. The shallow sandy seabed and large numbers of bivalve molluscs provide ideal feeding grounds for scoter and North Norfolk is an excellent place to see large numbers although they are always a little distant for photography.

Pair of Common Scoter offshore at Titchwell

Mixed flock of Common and Velvet Scoter approximately 1km offshore at Titchwell. Can you spot the Velvet Scoter.

Back on the scrapes there were good numbers of both species of godwit. Many of the Black-tailed Godwit are entering their rufous summer finery while most of the Bar-tailed Godwit were still in their sullied winter plumage, a few with some brick red rufous scaling along the flanks. Our wintering Bar-tailed Godwit depart in February and March for moulting grounds in the Wadden Sea and therefore do not usually acquire their summer plumage before they depart while the African wintering birds that arrive later have largely acquired their summer plumage.

Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit showing moult contrast showing worn winter coverts and fresh summer scapulars and flank feathers

Ruff are always a pleasure to see, rather gawky and hyperactive weaving between the legs of the more sedate godwits. On Sunday a flock of 55 was present although at least 30 of these departed after first light. Appearing patchy in their tortoiseshell dress one or two males were beginning to show the beginnings of the formation of a ruff.

A Jack Snipe showed well on Sunday appearing to be somewhat surprised as it found itself in the open on one of the islands, it crouched and flattened itself to the ground before skittishly running for cover amongst the Groundsel growing on the islands.

Jack Snipe

There were relatively few large gulls in evident, this Lesser Black-backed Gull is in its 3rd calendar year and shows the typical replacement of the body feathers and the retained immature wing features which will be replaced later in the spring.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

A pair of Little-ringed Plover were present, my first of the year, these were well underway with their breeding preparations with one bird seen forming a nest hollow with the belly.

Little Ringed Plover

Up to eight Red-crested Pochard have been present at the reserve and I saw up to seven together. The origins of these birds are not known, it is probable that these come from feral UK populations although it is conceivable that these are continental birds.

Red-crested Pochard

Shoveler are one of my favourite ducks with their metallic heads and huge bills with comb-like edgings to the bill used for sifting through fine sediment for their prey.

Within the reed beds at Titchwell were the usual Bearded Tits which showed well on occasions from the West bank path as well as regular sightings of Barn Owl and Marsh Harrier and booming Bittern was heard. There were a few migrants around including my first Sedge and Willow Warbler of the year plus fair numbers of Chiffchaff, Swallow and Sand Martin.