Eight members of the group met at Mildenhall Services at around 9.30am on Thursday 9th February. The weather conditions running up to the trip had been cold and snowy, and indeed some members had experienced some snowfall en-route. Two other members had travelled up the day before and would join us at the hotel later.
We all had a hearty breakfast and then headed to Lynford Arboretum. The road into the Arboretum was passable but very icy as was the car park. There was still a thick coating of snow. This posed a few minor problems but we soon gathered our gear and walked out into the white.
Around the Arboretum it was fairly quiet. Jay, blackbird, robin, dunnock, marsh tit, goldfinch and wood pigeon were added on the walk down to the Paddock. At the Paddock there was no sign of the hawfinches. There were siskin, crossbill, chaffinch, great tit, goldcrest, treecreeper and nuthatch. We hung around for a short time but other birders who had been around longer than us had said that there had been no sightings of the hawfinches.
We moved on to Strumpshaw Fen (mainly to use the toilet) where we had a quick look out over the main reedbed. It was frozen all but one small corner where all the wildfowl had collected. Black swan, mute swan, gadwall, mallard, shoveller, little grebe, moorhen and coot in this small space. A marsh harrier flew slowly across. Rested, we moved down to Buckenham Marsh just in case the lesser white-fronted goose was easy to pick out. Unfortunately it wasn’t but instead we had barn owl, rook, crow, wigeon, greylag goose, two peregrine falcons, barnacle goose and common gull.
After lunch we moved on to Stubb Mill, Hickling Broad. Upon leaving the car park we could hear the common cranes calling, some of the group even managed some relatively close views. It wasn’t until we were standing at the viewpoint did all of the group manage to see at least four of these magnificant birds, with two on show all the time we were there. Other birds included two hotly contested merlin, ring-tail and male hen harrier, over 30 marsh harriers, kestrel, buzzard and barn owl. We stayed there until it was almost dark before heading off to The Pheasant Hotel at Kelling for our first night.
The first full day in Norfolk began at Titchwell RSPB. The weather had been very cold overnight and the Titchwell area had received a good quantity of snow so everything was crisp and white. The sun was out and although still minus temperatures there was no breeze at all making it not unpleasant at all. There were plenty of birds being reported and most of the group headed straight down to the beach for some seawatching. The water rail was still in the usual place in the usual ditch. Out on the sea there were red-throated divers, long-tailed ducks, red-breasted mergansers, common scoters, velvet scoters and goldeneye. On the beach dunlin, sanderling, oystercatcher, grey plover, ringed plover, turnstone, bar-tailed godwit, redshank, a passing snow bunting and an errant marsh harrier making a nuisance of itself amongst the waders.
Walking back towards the visitor centre, out on the lagoons there were black tailed godwit, spotted redshank, snipe, golden plover, pintail, smew, teal, wigeon, meadow pipit, black headed gull, common gull, herring gull, great black-backed gull, reed bunting, linnet, skylark. A bittern briefly put in an appearance flying past.
The group split early afternoon with one party going to greenways at Stiffkey and the other staying in the Titchwell area. The reason for this split was that there was a lot of uncertainty about the weather as a very cold and possible snow front would be moving through.
The party that went to Stiffkey got a hen harrier, merlin and little egret. Unfortunately it wasn’t as productive as previous years.
At Titchwell we managed to see two mealy redpoll and Coue’s arctic redpoll and woodcock. We then moved on to Choseley Drying Barns where we had large numbers of red-legged partridge and corn buntings as well as yellowhammer and grey partridge.
The next day we decided to go to Holme NOA to find the Ross’s goose via Salthouse and Cley. At Salthouse there were 50+ snow buntings in a roving flock and sanderling, turnstone, dunlin and knot feeding very close to the car park. We didn’t linger long at Cley. As we approached Holme village we entered thick freezing fog so we abandoned the idea and headed back to Thornham seafront. At Thornham we had rock pipit, skylark, redshank, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, peregrine falcon, buzzard and very distant views of 500+ pink-footed geese, barnacle, canada, greylag and brent geese. We then went back to Titchwell as the others hadn’t seen the different redpolls, further views of mealy redpolls and a woodcock. However walking out onto the reserve up to 5 bitterns were very active and showed very well (for bitterns).
We split again as the others went up to Choseley Drying Barns and managed most of the species we’d had the previous day. We headed off eventually to Burnham Overy where we managed to find the rough-legged buzzard. The others caught us up but missed the rough-legged buzzard. There were two barn owls, marsh harrier and common buzzard.
We left the others and headed for Wells-Next-The-Sea where a black brant and pale-bellied brents had been reported. We didn’t see them but on the boating lake we had 5 goosander and 3 redhead smew. Out on the estuary there was enough water for a pair of red-breasted mergansers to still be fishing. In the bushes up to 40 fieldfare, redwing, blackbird and song thrush. We flushed another woodcock out on the way out of the car park just after dusk.
On the journey home we went to Cromer and did a brief seawatch which was very productive; red- and black-throated divers, eider, guillemot, razorbill, gannet and fulmar present. We then drove down to Cantley which was a waste of time but we returned to Buckenham Marshes where we finally picked up bean goose and lesser white-fronted goose. Also present were feral rock doves.