A Wild Goose Chase and Much More
A party of 17 departed Bristol in good order on the Friday morning, 13 in the minibus and four outriders travelling by car; destination – the comfortable Burleigh Hotel in Hunstanton. This was definitely a winter event with weather ranging from bracing to bleak – strong winds throughout and some brief flurries of snow on the second day. We did, fortunately, avoid rain. During the journey interesting spots from the minibus just south of Peterborough were Red Kites and our first Barn Owl. Arriving at Tottenhill Ponds early afternoon gave us three Smews and other waterfowl including a flock of Greylag Geese. From there we went to Roydon Common to enjoy good views of five Hen Harriers – four ringtails and a male. The day ended at Snettisham to see the evening spectacle of the Pink-footed Geese arriving to roost on The Wash – or so we thought. The geese had other ideas, having adopted a different roosting location. Ah well! Having settled into the Burleigh, morning walks on the beach offered some interesting birds including Fulmars and a Shag and gave an appetite for breakfast. On Saturday the main destination was the splendid RSPB Reserve at Titchwell with its well-stocked visitor centre, commodious hides and sea-viewing on the beach for the hardier. There were excellent views of Avocets and a Water Pipit amongst many others. Leaving Titchwell we visited Thornham Marshes, Burnham Overy, Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham (our one view of a White-fronted Goose), Wells Quay and Choseley Barns. We had further views of Barn Owl and Brown Hares on the way back to Hunstanton. Throughout the weekend skeins of geese were seen going to and fro but the Pink-footed Geese kept their distance, usually at a height. However, large numbers of Brent and Greylag Geese were much more approachable and on our last day we passed a grazing flock of Egyptian Geese.
Day three, Sunday, started with a visit to Cley which produced a Purple Sandpiper on one of the pools and sightings of Common Scoters and Red-throated Divers on the sea. After refreshments in the cosy Cley Visitors’ Centre we moved onto Salthouse Beach and found a flock of Snow Buntings and were struck by their effective camouflage – difficult to pick out on the shingle, having landed less than 20 yards away. Next it was the Hawk and Owl Trust’s reserve at Sculthorpe where there were several further views of a Barn Owl. We enjoyed a hide looking onto feeders which, apart from the usual visitors, attracted Marsh Tits, a Nuthatch, Bullfinches, Bramblings and a Water Rail. The last day started on Snettisham Beach in sunshine with a high tide pushing large numbers of waders in. Next was our third and final circuit of “The Wolferton Triangle” – three intersecting roads near the Sandringham estate -said to be a haunt of Golden Pheasant but we drew yet another blank*. However, a Muntjac was seen by some as compensation. Then it was on to Lynford Arboretum to see a Hawfinch, and finally to Thetford to see a Black-bellied Dipper in non-Dipper territory. This individual was a continental race vagrant, obviously an attention-seeker because not only did it pose patiently for a gaggle of snappers only 20 yards away but it had chosen to take up winter residence about 300 yards away from the headquarters of the BTO! Our final tally was 109 species.
Many thanks to Jane Cumming for her genial leadership and expert knowledge of the territory, and to drivers Alastair Fraser and Ken Carruthers.
*P.S. We discovered later that, just as they were preparing to leave for Bristol, the lucky members in the car had close views of two Golden Pheasants!