At last the chance to get away, for the first time this year, and we were off to Norfolk for a long weekend stretching into Monday and Tuesday. The forecast was excellent, and as we left it was under clear skies, but it was quite cool. This clear sky then contributed to a very foggy journey, from around Royston, with it being completely impossible to see anything on either side of the road.
We stopped just outside King Lynn for breakfast, and to give the fog time to lift, which it did slowly. When we finally set off the sun was just coming through, and turning off of the A149 we drove along lanes through open fields, it finally became a beautiful day. The fields were recently ploughed, and in places also had some short growth of crops. In amongst the crops there were several Brown Hares.
There was a little bit of sparring going on if some of the Hares came a bit too close, but in the main they were intend on feeding, or just sitting to enjoy the sun after the fog had lifted.
As well as the Hares there were also pairs of Red-legged Partridges dotted over the fields.
Most of the Brown Hares, were distant, but one came quite close and I was able to just manage to use the hedge as cover to get in close.
Leaving the Hares, we drove down the road, with Blackbirds and Woodpigeons flying alongside us. We were early, so were not heading to the hotel first, but passed through Thornham, and headed toward the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. Pulling into the full car park there was plenty of bird song in the surrounding trees, as we changed into walking boots I could hear Blackcap, and Song Thrushes, and of course several Robins.
From the visitor centre we headed out on the sea wall. Above us some remaining Brent Geese flew in from Thornham Marsh to the freshwater lagoon. There were plenty of people about, and we stopped at one group where they were watching a pair of Red-crested Pochard feeding close to the bank.
The male is a very striking duck, with a bright red bill contrasting with a rusty orange brown head, and black chest, the female meanwhile is like all ducks a little subdued, with a brown crown and lighter cheeks.
The duck's status in the UK is a little confused due to escapes, and releases as well as natural visitors from the European continent. However these escapes have probably become more "wild" over the years. This pair were unconcerned about the presence of us on the sea wall, and would come quite close.
We walked on towards the sea wall. Avocet were everywhere, feeding in the deep water of the freshwater lagoon, and wading in the shallower salt water pools.
As we made our way towards the dunes and the beach a Swallow, the first of the year flew past us making its way along the coast line to the west
Unfortunately the tide was by now well out when we reached the beach, however you could quite easily make out a long black line on the sea belonging to Common Scoter.
I couldn't pick them out with the camera, but through persistent scanning with the scope I could see quite a few Long-tailed Ducks, in fact that morning there had been a count of 73, plus 6 Velvet Scoter that I couldn't find. The Scoter were not counted today, but later on in the weekend there was a count of 3000 estimated. The Scoter were quite mobile, taking off when the gulls became more persistent.
Moving around the females stand out as the paler birds, again with the lighter cheek patches
In amongst the Scoter were a pair of Great crested Grebes that looked like they were displaying to each other but they were a long way out.
We started to head west along the beach, which just reached out in front of you, along with a beautiful blue sky.
Black-headed Gulls flew up and down the beach, while the larger herring Gulls could be seen along the shoreline in the distance. Every so often pairs of Sandwich Terns could be both heard and seen diving in the deeper water, which was a fair way out to sea.
Aside from the gulls, the only other birds that were clearly visible were the Oystercatchers, they would announce themselves as they flew from behind me. One though was standing on the beach amongst the reflection of the lovely blue sky and the razor clam shells.
Then we came across a surprise, Helen pointed out a Sanderling moving rather lethargically at the edge of the tide line. It was strange to see one all on its own, and after being used to seeing them interacting it looked quite lonely.
Still in the lovely silver grey winter plumage it moved slowly along the tide line. There was none of the clockwork like leg action as it fed in the trickle that was the waves.
It allowed me to get nice and close.
Then finally I was too close and at last it started to move in the more usual and expected manner, stopping every so often to drill the bill into the sand in search of something worthwhile.
When the bird is as confiding as this little Sanderling it is so easy to just fire away with the camera, so I applied some restraint and moved away to leave it to feed in peace. Away in the distance there was now a heat haze, and I could just make out the shapes of Cormorants roosting on the sand. There seemed little else to walk to so we decided to turn around and head back to the reserve and maybe a coffee, it was also the chance to allow the sun to catch the other side of our faces, and also to admire a completely different view of the beach.
The sun was now quite high in the sky, and this changed the lighting on the pools and marsh. A pair of Avocet fed in some shallow water, the sunlight sending some mirror like reflections across the still water in the Tidal Marsh.
The light was even more restricting from the south Parrinder Hide that overlooks the freshwater marsh. It is a lovely hide, with wide open panoramic views from both the north and south side. The problem though is when you do look south the visibility is almost completely washed out.
In front of the hide, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall dabbled. Avocet could be seen almost everywhere moving around in pairs, squabbling with neighbours. Straight in front of us were a small group of Black-tailed Godwits, roosting in the shallow water.
A single Avocet came close to the hide, feeding belly deep in the water, rather than move the bill from side to side in the more familiar feeding style this one was plunging it head deep into the water, bringing up small items to swallow. You can see the water sparkling around the bird from the sunshine.
We left the hide, deciding to return when the light was a little better, and as we walked along the sea wall back towards the visitor centre a pair of Marsh Harriers appeared above the reed bed to the east, moving over the reeds with the wings outstretched and with the characteristic rocking motion, and then drifting high up only to drop away once again.
As we approached the centre we passed through the Willow Carr, the leaves on the trees just emerging and the pussy willow flowers in full bloom.
We sat and had a cup of coffee and a tea due to the complete failure of the coffee machine on my turn. Under the feeders Chaffinches and Robins fed, while at the back a Song Thrush moved slowly across the open soil.
After the stop for a drink we headed out on the East Trail, stopping to take advantage of a confiding Chiffchaff.
We briefly entered the Fen Hide, but came out again rather quickly to find two Red Kites soaring above us.
One drifted away to the west, while the other came a little closer over our heads then headed away to the south.
Almost immediately the Red Kite was replaced by another Marsh Harrier, this time a male drifting away ahead of us towards the reed bed at the far end of the East Trail.
From the elderberry bushes alongside the old concrete area I could hear a Garden Warbler in full song, but only managed fleeting glimpses as it kept well out of sight.
We walked to the viewing screen alongside the pool in front of Patsy's Reedbed. The dominant duck was the Gadwall with 42 pairs counted. A really lovely duck up close where you can see the delicate fine stripes that make up the grey look from a distance, and the lovely scapular feathers.
As well as the Gadwall there were a few Teal, a pair of Tufted Duck, and of course Mallard, plus three pairs of Greylag Geese.
These geese could be heard and seen flying over the reeds, their calls becoming quite annoying but more an issue was when you saw one coming out of the reeds the first thought was Bittern! Only for it to become a Greylag Goose.
At the far side of the pool a Little Grebe was calling and diving, then from the reeds closer to the screen a Great Crested Grebe appeared, with the sunshine a beautiful reflection in the still water.
It dived then swam directly towards us before diving once again.
The trail comes to an abrupt halt with a barrier to prevent further progress. Apparently this part of the reserve is only open in the autumn due to I can only assume nesting birds. A Buzzard circled above us being mobbed by a crow as it slowly drifted away to the south. The main show though came from the Marsh Harriers. Every so often they would come skimming over the reedbed, frustratingly always managing to keep a safe distance from us.
Both male and females were seen, and when the female came out into the open the greyer and smaller male would put on a wonderful show, flying vertically up then turning and heading back down, flipping upside down and twisting and turning. This is known as "sky dancing". At this stage it was the male on its own, but soon it will include the twists and turns plus the grappling of talons as both birds fall towards the ground. The individual display was amazing to watch so the talon grappling must be pretty fantastic.
For now though we were content with the good views we were getting.
We stood watching the harriers for some time, but eventually decided we needed to eat so headed back to the visitor centre, pausing for this Blue Tit in amongst the blossom.
After some lunch we made our way back to the sea wall where we took advantage of an empty seat to just sit and look and listen.
Looking produced a Red Kite that re-appeared, this time from over Thornham Marsh coming quite close once again, the long wings and tail quite different to the stiffer, rocking flight of the harriers
Listening then produced a pair of Mediterranean Gulls that came from the direction of the Freshwater Marsh. Against the bright blue sky their snow white plumage made them stand out from the commoner Black-headed Gulls, but they first declared their presence with their calls that can sound like a zip being opened.
Sitting quietly also I also noticed that in front of us fast asleep close to the reeds were a pair of Pochard. The male was hidden behind the reeds but the female was a little more out in the open.
It was back to the ears once again, the familiar pings of Bearded Tits came from within the reeds, and any movement was closely scruitinised. A small bird at the base of the reeds was thought at first to be the owner of the calls, but once it had eventually made its way higher on the stems and out into the open it was clear it wasn't the bird we had hoped for but just a male Reed Bunting.
The pings continued, and finally we had some rapid glimpses this time, definitely of the owner, a male Bearded Tit. This was the only image i was able to get before it shot back into the reeds and out of sight. Hopefully it will not be the only views we get this weekend.
Moving up to the next seat we had views along one of the many bits of open water within the reedbed. here we found a pair of Red-crested Pochard, this time in conditions more suited to them, and similar to those where we saw them in S'Albufera in Majorca a couple of years ago, the male with the crest raised
We walked back along the sea wall, and once again the Red-crested Pochard pair were close. The male had the crest lowered and it was quite comical, looking like a badly fitting wig, similar to a rather important American person!
With the Pochards were many pairs of Teal. Both the males and females are always busy, upending to get to the best vegetation close to the bottom.
Up the right way the males look very dapper.
We walked back to the beach once again, the tide was on the turn, but still a very long way out, and it was not really any better than in the morning. We could still see the long black line of Common Scoter.
On the way back an Avocet was close to the sea wall on the mud in the volunteer marsh.
There is always a Redshank here too, feeding in the brackish water, casting a nice reflection in the water, and showing off its breeding plumage in the sunshine.
We needed to check into the hotel in Thornham, and not wanting to leave it too late we decided to head there in the late afternoon. It was a glorious late afternoon, and we took advantage of a nice beer garden , and a few more drinks than maybe I should have done, but then they always go down too easily in the good weather. Tomorrow the forecast was for it to be just as good, maybe eevn warmer. Hopes were high.