Day 4 of a four day Spring Tour in Norfolk. It was drizzling first thing, but thankfully stopped just as we arrived on the coast, brightening up nicely through the day before rain spread in again just as we were finishing. Perfect timing! We spent the day on the North Norfolk coast.
We started the day at Holkham. As we got out of the minibus a Red Kite drifted over the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. We could see a Spoonbill out on one of the pools on the grazing marsh so we got the scope on it. A second Spoonbill flew in and joined it, before the two of them walked back out of view. Two Mistle Thrushes were feeding on the short grass the other side.
A Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff were singing in the trees as we set off along the path to the west, and we could hear a Goldcrest somewhere high in the pines. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling and flew out of the pines, landing in the top of a dead tree.
We stopped at Salts Hole and could hear a Cuckoo now, deep in the trees back the way we had just come. Looking out over the grazing marsh beyond, there were not as many hirundines today – just a few Swallows and Swifts. With the low cloud we thought there might be more.
Continuing west, we saw our first Long-tailed Tits of the trip and a couple of Coal Tits. Two Jays flew across the track ahead of us. From up on the Washington Hide boardwalk, we could hear Sedge and Reed Warblers singing and a couple of Marsh Harriers floated over the reeds. A Blackcap was singing in the bushes in front of the hide and a single Chiffchaff above our heads in the sycamores. With south/east winds and drizzle overnight, we thought there might be some migrants today, but there was no sign of any here.
We followed the boardwalk through to the dunes and stopped to have a quick look out to sea. Two Gannets were plunge diving just offshore – not from much height, presumably due to the shallow water. A few Little Terns and Sandwich Terns were fishing just off the beach too. Two Common Scoters, a Fulmar and a line of Razorbills flew past. Several Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were in and out of the dunes. A Red Kite hung in the updraft on the front edge of the pines above us.
Crossing back through the pines to the track, we walked on west. A Swallow was singing from the cowl on the chimney atop Meals House. Another couple of Swallows swept in and out of the cart shed opposite, and up to try to unseat the king of the castle on the prize perch on the cowl.
There were more warblers singing along the path and when we stopped to look at a Blackcap, we noticed a Scorched Carpet moth on the ivy. A Cuckoo was calling beyond the crosstracks now so we walked on. We were thinking we might catch up with it between there and the dunes, but the next thing we knew it was calling back behind us, before the crosstracks. They were taunting us today – we had heard lots of Cuckoos over the last few days and seen a couple in flight but one of the group was very keen to see one perched!
We stopped briefly to listen to the Willow Warbler with the identity crisis in the sallows, occasionally weaving bits of Chiffchaff into the start of its song. A couple of Bullfinches were calling further on. As we got to the west end of the pines, we met one of the wardens who had been out surveying the Natterjack pools. He hadn’t seen any sign of migrants which might have arrived, which confirmed the impression we had gained on the way out.
Out into the start of the dunes, a Common Whitethroat perched on the fence and we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the bushes. We flushed a few of the resident Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits from the short grass, but didn’t find anything else. It was starting to brighten up now and lots of tiny Plain Fanner moths were fluttering around the dunes. Rather than continue on, we decided to cut back round and back along the path to Joe Jordan Hide.
As we arrived at the hide, a Spoonbill dropped down onto the main pool and was joined by two others for a bathe and preen. We had a good view of them in the scope. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees, and a succession of Spoonbills and Little Egrets in and out of the trees.
After a short rest in the hide, we walked back. Several Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered around the path now in the sunshine. It was time for lunch when we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, so we made good use of one of the picnic tables outside the Lookout.
After lunch, we drove round to Burnham Norton. There were lots of House Martins and Swifts over the houses as we parked. Another Cuckoo was calling, in the pines in the garden behind the parking area. Surely we could get a look at this one? But despite trying several different angles we just couldn’t see it. It sounded like it had a bit of a sore throat too! Eventually it flew out from the back of the pines and resumed calling further off. We walked quickly along the path and found it perched up in the willows. At last!
As we walked on towards the seawall, a male Marsh Harrier flew off over the reeds. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing all along here and out along the seawall. Always obligingly perched up, they demanded to be photographed!
We heard a commotion and looked out on the grazing marsh to see two Redshanks fighting. Another Redshank was standing nearby watching and then we noticed it had three very fluffy small chicks down in the grass. Cute! The Lapwings were displaying too, zooming back and forth, twisting and tumbling, and singing.
As well as Cuckoo, we were hoping we might catch up with some Yellow Wagtails here. Unfortunately the cows were mostly lying down, and only four were standing up. We walked up along the seawall until we were standing opposite and just as we stopped to scan with the scope a single Yellow Wagtail flew up calling and disappeared off west.
A Spoonbill flew over the saltmarsh and disappeared off towards Holkham. We stopped to scan the saltmarsh channel which held a couple of super smart Grey Plovers in full breeding plumage and a lone Curlew.
At the pools out at the far corner, there were lots more Redshanks but no other waders today. As we cut back down along the footpath another Redshank chick, older than the others, scuttled into the long grass as its parents alarm called. Nice to see a few young have hatched here.
We walked back to the village through the middle of the grazing marsh. Several Wall butterflies basked on the track and we saw a couple of Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies. When we got back to the car park, a Hobby was hawking high over the grazing marsh in front. It was drifted off further away, then turned and powered towards us – it had seen a dragonfly from miles away and we watched as it caught and ate it.
We called in at the pools at Wells to finish the day. A single Wood Sandpiper was feeding over in the far corner of the pools in front of the parking area, much smaller than the Redshank nearby. Two Common Sandpipers were right over the back of the pool the other side of the track.
We walked a short distance down the track to scan the pools. There was quite a commotion out on the water to one side, as a pair of Avocets seemed to be picking an argument with a pair of Shelducks which were standing on a slightly higher mound of mud which the Avocets obviously wanted!
Two Spoonbills dropped down into the deeper water over at the back. One of the Common Sandpipers then flew in and landed a little closer. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on the mud on the edge of the rushes on this side too.
Another Cuckoo started calling in the distance away to the east. When we next heard it, it seemed to be closer so we looked over to see it flying high over towards the road and off west towards Wells. It could taunt us all it liked now we had finally seen one perched in a tree at Burnham Norton earlier!
It was already time to think about heading back, when it started to spit with rain, so we decided to call it a day. It had been a memorable four days of spring birding with some good birds.