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Norfolk in the sun! Montagu's Harriers, Nightjars, Stone Curlews and more

We set off with Dave, Julie and Tony for our third guided birding trip to Norfolk this June. Could this trip live up to the very high standards of the previous two visits?

Well, we soon got our first good bird with a Red Kite right over us on the A14. We decided to make a birding stop en route at Berry Fen, Cambridgeshire where we had enjoyed some great birds in 2010. We got a real shock, the wetland was bone dry and bird less! Even without water we still got the list going nicely with close views of a juvenile Green Woodpecker playing hide and seek in a willow. Cuckoo and Common Tern also joined the fast-increasing trip list.

Into Norfolk and we stopped at Weeting Heath NWT Reserve where we were soon enjoying wonderful views of a pair of Stone Curlew with a single youngster. The family were close to the hide and we enjoyed scope filling views of these weird and wonderful waders.

Stone Curlew adult

We enjoyed amazing views of Stone Curlews again, but this time in warm sunshine.

Next stop was Horsey Mere where after a short wait a majestic Common Crane swept low over the reeds near Stubb’s Mill and dropped down out of sight. Swallow-tailed Butterflies were on the wing over the reeds and we saw at least four of these spectacular creatures. The National Trust café here was just right for a quick meal and we watched the Swallows nesting on the wall of the building right next to the serving hatch.

We then headed west for Burnham Norton where a Pectoral Sandpiper had been found. Walking north towards the seawall was slow going as there were so many birds to see. A ghostly Barn Owl floated over the rough grasslands and we stood and soaked up the views of this beautiful bird.

A small pool held Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits but no sign of the sandpiper. Then Alan saw the bird being chased by a Redshank, but sadly the bird landed out of sight before anyone else got on to it. We quickly climbed up on to the seawall where we could look down on the pool. Julie quickly relocated the Pectoral Sandpiper on the mud at the edge of the pool. We all had really good views of this rare wader as it fed in the soft mud at the water's edge.

A second Barn Owl joined the first and we loved watching these pale owls floating over the fields and coming very close at times. Then Ruth picked out a Spoonbill flying east over the marsh – what a start to the trip!

As dusk fell we headed back to the car with Cuckoos calling and the Barn Owls seeming to follow us back along the track. A short drive took us to our hotel in Hunstanton where we were all ready for bed but excited about the prospect of lots more great birding in the morning.

Early morning we were at RSPB Titchwell and soon enjoying great birds! Bearded Tits were showing off in the reeds as we walked along the seawall. The views of these often tough to see birds were stunning! Family parties were sitting sunning themselves in the early warmth and we were able to see every detail in the telescopes, what a brilliant start to the day. Then Dave saw a Bittern flying low over the reeds towards us! We all had a an amazing view as it slowly flapped past us, but more was to come: the Bittern landed and two well-grown juveniles crashed through the reeds towards the first bird. What a sight, not one, not two but three Bitterns in view all at once! Marsh Harriers floated over the reedbeds as Avocets swept their up-turned bills through the waters of the lagoon.

At the new Parrinder hide we were soon watching a Temminck’s Stint running around on the mud just outside the windows! A tiny wader, it was good to see it next to Little Ringed Plovers for size comparison, themselves small birds but looking so much bigger than the stint.

A lovely breeding-plumaged Spotted Redshank showed off in the early morning sun as it strode through the shallow water. A Little Gull swept over the surface of the lagoon and gangs of Black-tailed Godwits rested with dozens of Avocets on the islands.

Titchwell path

A view back across RSPB Titchwell

Walking out to the beach we enjoyed more waders with plenty of Knot, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits all feeding at the waters edge. Three Eider loafed on the sand while offshore we watched Gannets and Sandwich Terns diving for fish as a pair of Little Tern flew and landed on the beach. Brilliant birding!

Titchwell Seawatch

Seawatching in the heat of a lovely summer morning just doesn't seem right!

Then it was back to the hotel for a well earned breakfast before setting out again for more birds.

We were soon enjoying some very special birds indeed as a male Montagu’s Harrier mobbed two Marsh Harriers! It was jaw-dropping stuff as the smaller Montagu’s repeatedly dived at the chunky Marsh Harriers which rolled over and presented their talons to the incoming Monty. A male Montagu’s Harrier is a really special bird and we all just watched and watched this action in the sunshine.

In Holkham Park we saw the resident flock of Egyptian Geese around the lake and were surprised to find three Common Gulls and a first summer Mediterranean Gull with Black-headed Gulls here. It was now very hot indeed so we headed for the visitor centre at Cley NWT Reserve for refreshments.

Out on the reserve at Cley we headed for the north hide overlooking North Scrape where the lagoon was alive with birds. Three Spoonbills were standing on an island with Cormorants and for once they were awake and preening; so often we see them fast asleep with their distinctive bills tucked in out of sight.

Titchwell Avocet

Avocets were all over the reserve, even nesting on the open beach.

Waders were well represented with two more fine Spotted Redshanks, a moulting male Ruff and Green Sandpiper amongst plenty of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. Wildfowl included Teal and our first Wigeon of the trip. Five first summer Little Gulls dropped in, each in a different plumage, and showed very well. A handsome second summer Mediterranean Gull also put in an appearance amongst a gang of Black-headed Gulls. Marsh Harriers were busy ferrying food to hungry juveniles and whenever you scanned the reedbed at least one was on show.

Salthouse Heath next and despite the heat there were still a good few birds about. Yellowhammers were singing away from the tops of small trees as Linnets flew all around. Then we heard the purring of a Turtle Dove and Ruth located this wonderful bird in a nearby ash tree. As we enjoyed great scope-filling views a second bird flew in and joined the first. A Garden Warbler sang from dense scrub and it took a while to get a view of the songster.

We went back west along the coast for some tasty fish and chips before heading south to meet up with our great friend Steve Cale, the bird artist, who had offered to show us some very special birds.

As the light just began to fade a Woodcock flew low over the forest edge where the trees met the heath. It or another was seen several times slowly flapping over the forest. Then we heard the sound we had hoped for, the bizarre churring of a male Nightjar! At first just a short burst then silence, but then it began again and kept going, then a Nightjar swept low over the heather really close to where we were stood! Over the next half hour we saw at least five of the weird and wonderful birds. A male landed right on top of a pine tree close to the path and with the Leica scope we could see every detail of this amazing bird, even the whiskers around the bill. Surely one of the best views of a Nightjar anyone had every seen?! A huge thank you to Steve for making this very special evening possible.

After a very short night we were out again early on Sunday morning at a heathland where we had brilliant views of singing Tree Pipits,as the males sat on tree tops in the morning sun. A male Stonechat showed off as a Grasshopper Warbler reeled and a flock of noisy Crossbills were in the pines.

After another excellent breakfast we headed west and called in again at Weeting Heath where the family of Stone Curlews were again showing off. Our visit coincided with the RSPB/NWT team ringing the youngster and we were able to watch as the chick was ringed with both a BTO ring and colour rings so the bird can be identified in the field. A Wood Lark was seen briefly in the distance singing over the pines but sadly quickly dropped from view. In the woodland near the hides we had great looks at Marsh Tit and Nuthatch, both new for the trip list.

A short drive took us to RSPB Lakenheath where it was so hot; the temperature was over 30C in the shade! In the intense heat it was not surprising that bird activity was a little slow. Nonetheless, we enjoyed amazing views of a juvenile Bearded Tit sat very close to the path and calling away. Marsh Harrier and Hobby hunted the reserve and a Kingfisher flashed past. All too soon it was time to head for home, it has to be said that the air conditioning was very welcome, we were all boiled and rather pink!

Marsh Harrier male

A male Marsh Harrier, we saw dozens of these wonderful raptors during the trip

It had been another amazing birding trip, we had so many great memories of wonderful birds. Well over 120 species seen by everyone and most of them seen very well. Bird of the trip? Hard to say. The views of the male Montagu’s Harrier mobbing the Marsh Harriers were brilliant, but then the Nightjar views were the best we have ever had, Pectoral Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint are always great to see, then so is Common Crane and then purring Turtle Doves in the sun were very special!

We are planning on running more trips to Norfolk throughout the year, probably one a month if there's enough demand, so if you would like to join us for great birding do get in touch for details.

Phone Alan on 07778 677141
We look forward to enjoying the best in birding with you!


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