Another Owl Tour today, but very different weather to the previous day. After the skies cleared yesterday evening we were left with a very hard frost overnight and a very cold, clear and crisp morning. We headed off inland first thing to look for owls.
Our first stop immediately produced the goods – two Little Owls sat on the roof of some farm buildings. We managed to get the scope on one of them, attempting to catch the first warming rays of the early morning sun. A great start. We also took the time to admire the flocks of geese flying inland to feed, several Curlews calling overhead, a Common Buzzard and Kestrel both also perched up in the sunshine and a pair of Brown Hares chasing each other around a stubble field.
As we meandered our way west, we came across a pair of Red Kites perched in the trees by the road, which flew ahead of us as we drove, looking magnificent as their burnt orange body plumage caught the morning light. A Sparrowhawk shot ahead of the car very low, skimming over the verge and across the road before darting into a hedge. A frosty grazing meadow was alive with life – a Grey Heron catching the sun; several Fieldfares and a pair of Mistle Thrushes in the grass; a couple of Meadow Pipits and a Pied Wagtail in amongst them; and a little covey of Grey Partridges doing their best impressions of molehills – only their slow movements gave them away.
The best of the morning’s drive was just around the corner – perched up on the roof of an old barn was another Little Owl. It stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it from the shelter of the car, before it flew inside and out of view.
With a good showing of Little Owls in the bag, we headed for Titchwell. It was turning out to be a glorious winter’s day and it seemed like a great place to walk out in the sunshine – we were not disappointed. Even the car park was full of life – finches, tits, Robins – but the highlight was the Bullfinches, a male and two females feeding on sallow buds. After a quick hot drink, we headed out onto the reserve.
We stopped to watch a couple of Marsh Harriers out over the reedbed, and could hear the squealing of a Water Rail and a calling Cetti’s Warbler, neither of which felt like showing itself. A Chiffchaff flew out of the reeds into the trees by island hide – a small number stay to winter these days, though most sensibly head further south. Out on the saltmarsh, as well as a couple of Chinese Water Deer, a group of Lapwings caught the morning light and a closer look revealed at least 20 Snipe nearby around one of the pools.
The freshmarsh held a large number of ducks – a massive raft of Pochard with a good number of Tufted Duck, lots of Teal gathered around the edges, a single Pintail on one of the islands, plus assorted Shoveler, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall and Shelduck. Hiding on one of the few remaining islands, amongst a mass of Brent Geese, was a little huddle of Avocets. We walked on along the bank and stopped to look at a little group of Black-tailed Godwits – as we did so a Water Pipit flew out and landed on the small island they were crowded on.
At the Volunteer Marsh, we stopped to admire the waders. The Grey Plovers were looking stunning in sunshine. A small group of Knot were feeding right in front of the hide. We had the opportunity to compare Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits both right next to the path. We had some great views of all of them – and the chance to get some pretty good photos too.
Also out on the Volunteer Marsh we picked up a small group of Bearded Tits feedings on the edge of the reeds. Waiting patiently, we were able to see them as they climbed up into the reeds, before dropping back again. Out on the tidal pools, we stopped to admire a gorgeous pair of Goldeneye and several more stunning Pintail. With lunchtime fast approaching, we headed back to the car.
In the afternoon, we drove back to Burnham Overy and walked out across the grazing marsh. There were lots of geese out on the grass, mostly Pink-footed Geese, and when something spooked them, they all flew up and around, several thousand in the air together, calling. At the same time, the large flock of Golden Plover took to the air, probably prompted by the eruption of the geese, and wheeled round and round amongst them. Quite a sight! Further out on the grazing marsh, as well as several large groups of Brent Geese, we found a small family party of 5 White-fronted Geese with the Pinkfeet.
We had already picked out the Rough-legged Buzzard sitting on a post, whilt looking distantly from the road as we got out of the car. From up on the seawall, we could see it much better. It dropped down and proceeded to walk around in the grass, occasionally flying a short distance before landing on the ground again. There were also several Common Buzzards (both pale and dark birds), Marsh Harriers and Kestrels.
Then the first Short-eared Owl appeared. It circled over the grazing marsh, hunting back and forth for a short while before heading off over the dunes and out beyond Gun Hill. Suddenly a second flew up from the saltmarsh and made straight for the first, with deep and purposeful wingbeats – they proceeded to chase each other for a couple of minutes, then circled up into the sky and as the first flew off over the dunes, the second returned back to where it had been sitting. We watched it for some time, sat in the grass, and hunting over the saltmarsh. Turning our attention back to the grazing marsh, a third Short-eared Owl appeared and shortly afterwards possibly even a fourth over towards the dunes (though we couldn’t completely rule out that it might have been the first returning). We watched one of them quartering over the grass and as it landed we got great views of it in the scope – the stunning yellow eyes and even the (short!) ear tufts. Another cracking performance.
A Barn Owl appeared next, distantly over the grazing marsh, and we watched it hunting and hovering. With the temperature starting to drop again, we decided to walk back. With the full moon approaching and a clear night, the Pink-footed Geese headed out to feed for the night, the reverse of their normal flight in to roost. We watched skein after skein fly overhead and inland, as the moon started to rise behind the trees. The regular Barn Owls were not hunting in their usual place as we walked back, but no sooner had we got back to the car than they appeared behind us. Typical! A quick stop back round at Holkham did not produce another owl, but we stopped to admire the most stunning sunset. Another great winter day out in North Norfolk.