Friday, 11 December 2015

Dec 11th North Norfolk

It was still dark as I boarded the train to Sheringham this morning. As the train was taking me to my destination, daylight was breaking through the clouds of darkness, nothing glamorous or spectacular but still a welcoming sight as I arrived to Sheringham. The early start was necessary as I have a big day ahead of me. I went down to the sea front, where the sunrise was coming to a conclusion, and I did a bit of sea watching from the usual shelter. Turnstones were having their breakfast which had been dropped for them along the sea front and were approachable. I was alone in the shelter today, but I managed to spot guillemots, gulls, red-throated divers and possibly three little auks by myself. I was watching the sea for an hour before the cold winter chill made it unbearable to sit in any longer.

Red-necked Grebe
Apart from sea watching, I was in Sheringham to be picked up. Shortly after 11am, my friend Will arrived to take me out in search for some special birds. Our first stop was at Brancaster Staithe, meeting up with Will's friend Darren, who was watching our first special bird of the day. A red-necked grebe in winter plumage was diving around a channel close by to us near the harbour car park. This was a new bird for me and to have it moving towards us was a privilege. Usually these birds are seen far from the shore, so to have one as close as this is quite lucky. These birds breed in Eastern Europe, where they look stunning with red necks, white faces and black caps. In winter, they arrive to our coastlines with only the yellow bill remaining from their breeding plumage.

As well as the grebe, we also spot a red-breasted merganser, yet another sea bird showing itself closer than normal. This saw-billed duck did not stay for long though as it flew off into the distance towards the sea. We also saw a black-tailed godwit, a curlew and a flock of brent geese.

Red-breasted Merganser
Brent Geese
Common Buzzard
Next stop was at Choseley Barns for a rough-legged buzzard. This is a Norfolk specialty with several birds visiting the county every winter. It looks similar to the common buzzard, but it is slightly bigger with a white tail that has dark bandings along the edge of it and it also hovers like a kestrel. Despite being a regular visitor to Norfolk, I have yet to see one myself. We and a few other birders scanned hard over the fields for one, only to find several distant common buzzards instead, which we hoped that at least one of them could be turned into the bird we were after. We also found a corn bunting, yellowhammers, brown hares and red-legged partridges. No rough-legged buzzards but I'm happy with the other things that we saw before moving on.

Corn Bunting
Red-legged Partridge
Pink-footed Geese
Black Brent Goose
After a lunch stop at Wells, watching little grebes, starlings, mallards and gulls, and after a fruitless search at Blakeney, our final stop was at Cley. The sun was beginning to set as we had a quick search for the black brent goose near the beach car park. We couldn't find it amongst the larger flock of dark-bellied brent geese, but further down the road, we finally spot it with a smaller flock. Once you get your eye in and know what you are looking for, this lone American easily stands out from the crowd of Russian birds. It is the white patch on its flanks that gives it away. The black brent was finally in the bag!

Black Brent with two Dark-bellied Brent
Dark-bellied Geese
Little Grebe
Sunset at Cley
The sky was glowing orange, which washed over the landscape on one side gloriously. We decided to pop into one of the three central hides to watch the birds come into roost. The hide was facing away from the sun and its oil painted skyline, instead, the sky was blue and pink which reflected onto the surface of the pools. Hundreds of brent and thousands of pink-footed geese skeined over the reserve, circling over the pools as if thinking about landing before moving on, almost merging as one giant multi-species flock. This was quite a sight and the sounds that these geese were making was incredible! Joining them in the air were lapwings, godwits and golden plovers, which swirled around the illuminating sky, forming patterns and shapes. About three to four marsh harriers were soaring over them all, occasionally diving down to chase them up. This and the sunset made it an experiance I shall never forget!
Cley Windmill
Brent Geese

Pink-footed Geese

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