A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 22 February 2016

Norfolk Birding - Shore Larks, Rough-legged Buzzards, Bean Geese and the Golden Pheasant of Wolferton

Me and Alex decided to take a New Year’s trip to Norfolk in order to catch up with all the birding goodies that were on offer in what is surely one of the most productive of counties for birds. With a wealth of species concentrated in a small area near Kings Lynn, we had three days to connect with an impressive line-up of great birds.

Staking out Flitcham that afternoon for the resident Pallid Harrier unfortunately drew a blank (although we had already seen an individual last autumn in Somerset) but we were rewarded with a beautiful flock of feeding Bramblings, a hunting Merlin and a pair of gaudy Egyptian Geese as consolation prizes.
Brambling, Flitcham
Phone-scoped shot of one of the Bramblings
The next day saw an early rise and the obligatory trip to the now famous Wolferton Triangle in order to catch up with the resident Lord of the Estate – the legendary Golden Pheasant himself, before heading over to Choseley Drying Barns to try and spot one of the two Rough-legged Buzzards that have been calling this area home. 
Golden Pheasant, Wolferton Triangle
After eventually finding the right location and after a fair bit of driving and scanning fields, I managed to pick out a pale coloured Buteo heading over the ridge with pronounced black carpal patches and a white upper tail – our target bird.

Enjoying brief views, we drove over to the field in question and after some careful scanning, I picked up our sought after Buzzard, this time perched in the field next to us. Taking flight and being harassed by two persistent crows, we both got excellent views as this majestic raptor flew along the edge of the field, the white inner tail above distinctive along with the much paler wings and characteristic markings.

With the Rough-legged Buzzard now out of sight and perched in a distant tree, we headed over to Cley for our final stop of the day in an attempt to catch up with one of the four Bean Geese that had been present on the reserve associating with the regular Pink Feet. Travelling past many farm fields, it was a refreshing change to see coveys of both Grey and Red-legged Partridges in large numbers as we drove through Norfolk, with both species being plentiful.
Grey Partridges, Norfolk
Arriving at Cley, we immediately locked on to a Barn Owl gracefully quartering the reeds in the afternoon sun, while several Marsh Harriers patrolled the reserve.  Entering the hides, the Bean Geese were extremely difficult to pick out amongst the large flock of Pink Feet, and after some careful scanning it wasn't until the other birders in the next hide along pointed them out to me that I was able to pick them out. Extremely similar to Pink Footed Geese, the good views really enabled us to note the subtle differences - their orange bills really stood out from the pink bills of the Pink Feet. Having only ever seen one Bean Goose before at Telford a few years ago, this was a great opportunity to really get my eye in on these two confusion species.
Bean Geese, Cley
Two orange billed Bean Geese interspersed with the Pink Feet
A quick check on the fields further up the track resulted in us also trying to pick out the Black Brant that had been present in the Brent goose flock for several weeks. Alex eventually managed to pick it up in what was becoming fast fading light, and we both admired this attractive American subspecies - my first in the UK. 
Black Brant, Cley
Black Brant, Cley
Differing from our Brent Geese by sporting a complete white neck collar and having much bolder white markings on the sides, once we had our eye in we could easily pick out this American stray amongst the hundreds of Dark-bellied Brents
Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Cley
The Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Black Brant at the bottom left!
With the light now disappearing, we headed back to the hotel for a feast of pizza and pasta before our final day in Norfolk and what would be our first birds of 2016. 

With New Year’s Day dawning and just one full day left, we decided to head over to Thornham Harbour where 3 Shore Larks had been present on the shingle beach next to the estuary mouth. One of my favourite small shore birds and a species I don’t often come across in the North West, I was keen to catch up with these delightful Bumble Bee patterned larks.

Stopping to admire the flock of around 30 Twite that had been feeding amongst the salt marsh plants right next to the car park and giving excellent views, we headed off in to the dunes to locate the Shore Larks.

With an ever present stream of New Year’s Day birders having scopes set up watching the birds, they weren't hard to find, and we were soon enjoying close views as the three birds fed along the tide line in the debris washed up by the waves.
Shore Lark, Thornham Harbour
Shore Lark, Thornham Harbour
Shore Lark, Thornham Harbour
Having only ever seen the Rossall Point bird last winter, it was great to admire these brightly coloured birds as they went about their business and it was a fantastic end to what had been a hugely successful trip to Norfolk.

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