Today was billed as an Owl Tour – but it was always going to be a bit of a struggle in wild and windy weather. Owls don’t really like cold and wind. Still, we decided to give it a go and make the most of the day.
Our progress wasn’t helped, at our first site, when we discovered farm workers busy working amongst the farm building where the Little Owls normally like to sit. A large flock of Curlew was feeding in a stubble field and a couple of Brown Hares were chasing each other back and forth.
We worked out way westwards in the hinterland behind the coast. A quick detour produced a couple of Tree Sparrows in amongst a flock of House Sparrows. These birds have become very scarce in recent years and only scattered sites remain in N Norfolk. A large flock of over 100 Fieldfare were feeding in a field by the road.
We stopped to look over some wet grazing meadows. A Red Kite circled up lazily from a tree, a long tail dangling from its talons suggested it had picked up a dead rat. Several Grey Partridges were calling, and a scan revealed a covey of at least 8 birds. A pair of Kestrels flew up from the side of the road as a car went past and landed in a small tree. Suddenly the male set off at speed and it was quickly apparent that it was attempting to intercept another female which had just flown in, perhaps one of last year’s brood. The first female also joined in and all three birds flew around calling loudly, chasing and grappling. A Common Buzzard also flew into the trees. However, although the weather had brightened a little, there was no sign of the local Little Owls.
We drove on to Titchwell. A Bullfinch calling in the car park flew up and perched in some brambles. There were lots of finches in the trees around the visitor centre – a large number of Goldfinches, but also Chaffinches and a few Greenfinches.
The grazing meadow pool has just been drained – gone were the ducks, but lots of Lapwing had now taken their place along with at least 20 Ruff. A Kingfisher flew over the mud all too quickly and disappeared into the reeds at the back. While we were standing there, a Water Pipit flew in calling and dropped down onto the mud at the edge of the reeds right in front of us. We got great views of it in the scope. Even better, nearby we found several Scandinavian Rock Pipits for comparison – good to see these two tricky species almost side-by-side. Also on the Thornham side of the path, a couple of Snipe were trying to hide out on the saltmarsh.
Out on the freshmarsh, a couple of the islands have started to appear again, after the recent flooding for management purposes. 16 Avocets were gathered on one of them, and a group of Black-tailed Godwit on another, along with plenty of Lapwing. However, the wildfowl predominated – a large raft of Pochard, along with a smaller number of Tufted Duck, out on the water, as well as plenty of Brent Geese. Several Pintail included a few stunning drakes with their long pin tails – other ducks included lots of Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. However, the highlight was a single Red-crested Pochard out on one of the islands – unfortunately it spent most of its time asleep!
The Volunteer Marsh has been good for waders in recent weeks. Today, it held lots of Grey Plover, several Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Turnstone. More Black-tailed Godwit were out on the tidal pools, along with several more Pintail and a very smart pair of Goldeneye. A quick look at the beach added Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling to the list. On the walk back, a Water Rail was hiding in one of the ditches close to the visitor centre.
We headed back to Burnham Overy – a quick detour again failed to produce a Little Owl, but by now the weather was quickly clouding over again. A scan from the road while we ate our lunch eventually produced a Rough-legged Buzzard hovering distantly over the dunes. It landed and a short while later was joined by a second – we watched the two of them circling together. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying inland overhead calling.
Out on the seawall, the rain clouds started to gather. A Peregrine was out on the grazing marsh, sat on the grass, preening. A cloud of Golden Plover swirled up and out over the saltmarsh, before settling back onto the grazing marsh. With all the raptors about – several Common Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels as well – it was perhaps no great surprise they were so jumpy. When all the Pink-footed Geese took flight, the Golden Plovers were off again, along with hundreds of Lapwing. We watched one the Rough-legged Buzzards circling up amongst them, before heading off over to the dunes; then hovering repeatedly as it hunted back and forth, and finally flying back to the grazing marsh again and landing on the grass. However, there was no sign today of any Short-eared Owls in the cold and windy weather.
With the rain starting, we beat a retreat back to the car. On the way to Holkham, several thousand Pink-footed Geese had gathered in a sheltered field by the road side. As we stopped to look at them, a striking pale Common Buzzard flew over and all the geese flew out onto the marshes. At Lady Anne’s Drive, the first fields looked quiet but down by the pines it was clear there were enormous numbers of Pink-footed Geese already gathered on the grazing marshes. Despite the drizzle, we walked out along the edge of the pines, with the constant cackling and yelping of the geese as a soundtrack. There were no Barn Owls out hunting in the now wild and windy weather but we did find a lot of owl pellets at a favoured roost site nearby. The highlight at dusk was a beautiful pink-tinged male Goosander on Salts Hole, together with the usual pair of Goldeneye.