Day 1 of this year’s Titchwell Manor hotel tour was the 12th, but the tour started the evening before with a pre-tour briefing and a delicious dinner in the award-winning hotel restaurant. We met up again the following morning, suitably rested, for the short drive along the coast to Cley.
Even from the car park, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing and see a Marsh Harrier circling over the reedbed. Out on the scrapes, there were plenty of birds, despite them having just been spooked by the harrier passing overhead. There was a particularly good selection of waders – lots of Dunlin whirling round in small flocks, a nice mixed group of Redshank and Ruff allowing a convenient comparison, and several Golden Plover mixed in with the Lapwings. However, the highlight was a cryptically-coloured Common Snipe on the bank in front of the hide, which was almost the same colour as the dried mud it was sleeping on, and which was hard to see even when you knew where it was.
The surprise of the morning came as we were leaving Bishop Hide. While watching a flock of Brent Geese flying past, we picked up the unmistakeable shape of a Common Crane flying overhead. We watched it disappearing away to the east. On the walk out to the East Bank, we spent some time watching a female and young Marsh Harrier over the reeds, chasing each other and calling. A Water Pipit flew off calling before we could get a chance to look at it but a Reed Bunting was more obliging.
Round at the Beach Car Park, a sizeable flock of Brent Geese had gathered in the Eye Field. We spent a while watching them, looking at the young birds and learning how to separate them from the adults. Lurking in amongst them, towards the back of the flock, was a much darker individual with a more striking white flank patch and larger white collar – a Black Brant, the North American and Siberian form of Brent Goose, a rare visitor which occasionally gets lost and mixes with our regular wintering ‘Dark-bellied’ Brent Geese.
Out on the sea, we stopped to look at a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Razorbill, before walking on to North Scrape. The water was packed with duck, and we looked at the differences between the Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. There was also a small group of Pintail to admire. Additions to the wader list for the day included Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.
After a delicious packed lunch, provided by the hotel, which we ate in the beach shelter at Cley admiring the view over the marshes, we drove on to Holkham for the afternoon. By Lady Anne’s Drive, several small groups of Pink-footed Geese allowed for close inspection. We then walked out along the south side of the pines, stopping to look at the large flocks of Wigeon on the grazing marshes, several mixed flocks of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers on the edge of the trees and the regular Little Grebes on Salt’s Hole.
At the west end of the pines, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes to the west. It did not take long to find our main target – a Rough-legged Buzzard was hovering out over the freshmarsh, it’s distinctive black-banded white tail obvious in flight. However, we also picked up several other species of raptor, including Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk.
It was turning to dusk as we walked back along the path towards the car. The final target of the day, a Great White Egret, dropped into one of the fields amongst the cows, its large size and dagger-like yellow bill immediately distinguishing it from the resident Little Egrets. We also saw several Barn Owls quartering over the marshes as we walked, and we stopped to admire them. From the trees, a Tawny Owl called and a whistled hoot in return brought it out to investigate, though by now only a silhouette against the sky. All the way, we could hear the calls of the Pink-footed Geese gathering out on the grazing marshes. Back at the car we were treated to the spectacle of huge flocks circling round and dropping in to the fields against the backdrop of a stunning sunset. A spectacular way to end a very exciting day.