This trip was billed as “something of a twitch fest” but it didn’t often feel that way, partly because most of the rarities we sought, either fell into our laps or else defied long and painstaking efforts to locate them. En route to Norfolk we saw a large number of Red Kites from the minibus, but our first birding stop was just outside Bedford, where, within minutes of arrival, we were all enjoying close-up views of a very confiding Hoopoe. When we reached East Anglia we had a bit of a problem finding Lynford Arboretum, but once there, Jay, Siskin and Goldcrest showed readily enough, but not our target birds, Hawfinch and Crossbill. We reached our hotel about 1800 hrs and had an excellent dinner – indeed the excellence of the food was a feature of the whole weekend!
Saturday dawned bright, and after breakfast our first port of call was Thornham, where the tide was high and birds were everywhere. Twite was the only scarce bird seen, and that by only a minority of those present but all of us saw Skylark, Wheatear, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck and great skeins of Pink-footed and Brent Geese – a wonderful place! Then on to Burnham Norton where a Steppe Grey Shrike had been seen for several days – just follow the walkers and when you see a large crowd, stop and admire! Which is just what we did – the admiration being at a distance of less than ten metres. Nearer the sea we located White Wagtail and Redshank, whilst two lucky folk saw a Jack Snipe which flew about 30 yards and disappeared. We then went on to Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham where we had our picnic lunch accompanied by several flocks of incoming Redwings passing overhead. After lunch we set off in search of Yellow-browed Warbler. Two hours later we had seen lots more Pink-footed and Brent Geese and added Kestrel and Marsh Harrier to our list but no Yellow-browed Warbler. Never mind – there’s another one at Titchwell! That one was eventually heard by a few but seen by none. Our search was cut short by an approaching thunderstorm but there was always tomorrow.
Sunday’s pre-breakfast excursion yielded Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Knot, but viewing was hampered by fog. This cleared after breakfast as we went east towards Cley, but at Cley itself the fog was still present. Undeterred we set off along the East Bank, admired a perched Marsh Harrier with a very yellow head, and then spent a happy 20 minutes being entertained by half a dozen or so Bearded Tits. Later we added Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit and Water Rail to our list. We lunched at Burnham Overy Staithe and surprised a group from Birmingham by our lukewarm reaction to the presence of a Great White Egret about 400 metres away! We were far more enthusiastic about an enormous flock of Pink-footed Geese flying overhead, with a smaller skein of Greylag Geese going in the other direction. Back to Titchwell, where we were rewarded by Common Scoter, Sanderling, Common Tern, Red-breasted Merganser and Razorbill from the beach and Avocet, Little Stint and three Spotted Redshanks from the fresh marsh hide. A few of us managed to spot Firecrest here, but, of course, we searched unsuccessfully for Yellow-browed Warbler!
Monday greeted us with gales and heavy rain, which persisted all day. We decided to go back to Titchwell, being the only birding spot with plenty of indoor hide space. We saw 14 Little Gulls (at times being pushed backwards by the wind), Pintail, Gadwall and Greenshank but after two hours we gave up and returned to the car park where we saw our first Grey Wagtail (but still no Yellow-browed Warbler!). We returned to Bristol via Hunstanton where we searched unsuccessfully for a reported Great Grey Shrike; and made a second diversion round the Wolverton Triangle, where we failed to find Golden Pheasant. Never mind – the weekend species count was 110 – not bad for a “twitch fest”! Particular thanks are due to Jane Cumming for her planning and leadership of a most enjoyable weekend, and to Nick Hawkridge and Alastair Fraser, who drove impeccably – sometimes in really horrible driving conditions.