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I had some birding friends visiting this weekend - Dave Foster from Whitburn and Richard Crossley from Cape May were in North Norfolk, so I spent the weekend on the coast birding with Dave and Mark Golley, but not managing to catch up with Richard. The weather started off quite wet and overcast on Saturday morning, but this soon passed and the rest of the weekend was lovely clear skies, albeit with a rather bone-chilling wind.
There were loads of birds around, mainly waterfowl and seabirds, but also some decent non-waterbirds. The Northern Harrier continued its stay in the Thornham area, but only being seen in the couple of hours after sunrise and before sunset, spending the rest of the time in various sites east of Thornham. A couple of ringtail Hen Harriers in the area provided a good comparison. Titchwell had quite a hoard of birds on it over the weekend. The freshmarsh was host to an imm. Greater Scaup, whilst 50+ Twite and 3 Water Pipits fed on the seeded areas of the brackish-marsh. The sea and beach were the highlight though. 9 Shorelark fed just inside the dunes, whilst at sea 2000+ Common Scoter, 7+ Velvet Scoter, 3+ Red-necked Grebes, Slav Grebe, 4 Long-tailed Duck, juvenile Iceland Gull and a smattering of Common Eider and Red-breasted Mergansers made exciting viewing.
One of the Ross's Geese put on a nice flyby at Holkham with a spectacular flock of about 20,000 Pink-feet, whilst a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard put in a nice aerial display. We also found 2 Tundra Bean Geese in a field next to Stiffkey Fen before they all upped and offed towards Blakeney and a nice flock of 12 Pale-belled Brent Geese with some Dark-bellieds showed close to the road at Crabbe Castle Farm, Whighton.
Cley Marshes was a bit quiet, but even that had a lovely drake American Wigeon.
Photos below (in order from top): Pink-footed Geese in flight, Dark-belled Brent in flight, Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Ross's Goose in flight with Pink-footed Geese (x2), Eurasian Curlew (x3), Spotted Redshank (x2), Little Owl, Water Pipit (x2) and video of Shorelarks.
Although my original plan was to head out to Thornham to look for the Northern Harrier, the crowd of ~100 birders that greeted my arrival made me think again, so I headed over to Titchwell to see what was on the reserve. It wasn't a wasted journey; 9 Shorelarks, 4 Water Pipits, 8 Twite (including a colour-ringed, yellow over green, bird), 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and some Velvet Scoter offshore with the Commons made the visit more than worthwhile.
After that I decided to take a look for the Northern Harrier again. As it obviously wasn't at Thornham, I thought I'd go and see if I could find it at Burnham Norton, where it has previously spent time earlier in its stay. So, after a quick stop at Brancaster Staithe, I head over to Burnham Norton. There were lots of Marsh Harriers out on the marsh and I glimpsed a ringtail harrier (probably a Hen) a couple of times as it rose above the seawall, but not much else.
When I reached the seawall I started looking around, but other than Marsh Harriers, there wasn't many other raptors to look at, so I turned my attention to the saltmarsh, where the first thing I saw was a rather pale looking gull sat in the marsh, feeding on something. The gull immediately took flight and flew past me. 1st winter Iceland Gull! It's been ages since I found an Iceland Gull in Norfolk and this bird showed really well, flying round and heading back to the same spot a number of times. It stayed around for about 25 minutes, after which it flew off west towards Brancaster Staithe.
The day ended well too, as the Northern Harrier turned up finally at Thornham (presumably on a pre-roost feeding sortie), so I made the short journey there, entertained on the way by Stan Colleymore's 'mental' on the radio as Aston Villa scored an injury time goal to bring the score back to 3-3. The Northern Harrier was showing well on the saltmarsh when I got to Thornham. It still flies with one of its legs dangling and still likes the look of those Redshanks on Thornham Marsh. I'd go for turkey myself though, given the choice.
Happy New Year!