Birding Norfolk

A short, three day trip on what was my first visit to Norfolk yielded 81 species, 4 lifers, 7 sites visited, many news things learned, and quite a few miles travelled. 

The Wash

On Sunday 20th I headed straight off the motorway to Horsey. I arrived at Horsey Mill and wandered down to the dunes. Distantly, a large flock of geese were descending into a field, and from pictures I was later able to identify them as Pink-footed Geese. Apart from that, however, it was a very quiet walk down. It was a lovely day and the path along the dunes was busy, and any access for views of the sea was blocked to protect the seal colony. Further along near the car park I managed to negotiate the crowds and get excellent views of the seals and seal pups, most of them just lounging about on the sand. 

Grey Seals

Grey Seal pup

Grey Seal

Seal Watchers

After eating some lunch in the car I wandered over to the Horsey Mere viewpoint. The water held lots of Teal and Tufted Ducks, and there were a few Marsh Harriers around, one of which had green wing tags. I wonder if it was part of the same scheme as the one frequenting the Arun Valley. To my surprise I saw one of the Marsh Harriers rise out of the reeds with a large fish in its talons. The fish was too big for the bird, and it had to be dropped. I suspect it was stolen from a cormorant. I watched a Kestrel land on a pylon close by and swallow down a small rodent, then headed off. 


On the drive around to Hickling I pulled over to watch a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a field, and beyond them I spotted a group of 17 yellow-beaked swans. On closer inspection I could see that the yellow protruded past the nostril, identifying them as Whooper Swans. My first lifer of the trip. A Great White Egret was also spotted here. 

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

Great White Egret

Whooper Swan

I arrived at Hickling hopeful to see Cranes and Hen Harriers. I took the path around to the raptor roost and on the way spotted a Barn Owl quartering in a field. When I arrived at about 15:15 it was already beginning to get dark, and the harriers were heading to roost. A small group of people were gathered on the viewing platform overlooking the marsh. Someone called out the presence of male Hen Harrier, which I picked up distantly, just making out the pale and grey plumage. It was the first time I have seen a male. 2 ring tail Hen Harriers were also seen, and there were a lot of Marsh Harriers. As it began to get dark, huge flocks of geese were overhead. I think mainly Pink-footed Geese. I didn't hear any Common Cranes, but I am almost certain I saw 4 come in from the right in two groups of two. Large, long-necked birds that dropped down in the reeds where the raptors were roosting. However, they were very distant and it was dark, so I could not be sure. As I walked back in the dark I spotted a small deer in the field which I am pretty sure was a Chinese Water Deer. I headed off to my accommodation in Sheringham, stopping briefly to look at some impressive Christmas lights.

Pink-footed Geese

Barn Owl

Christmas Lights

I had decided I would start the day on Monday with a sea watch at Sheringham. It is considered one of the best spots, and given the inclement weather I thought I would take advantage of the seawatching shelter there. There was a fair bit moving on the sea; lots of small black and white birds which were obviously auks, some bobbing on the sea, but I couldn't ID them. There were also grey and white birds moving, which I thought were divers, and was later able to confirm them to be Red-throated Divers. My second lifer of the trip. A few gannets were also on the move. After a good couple of hours here I took a short trip up to Cley.

Arriving at the beach car park at Cley I pulled over to observe a flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover quite close in a flooded field. Also featuring here were Curlew and Brent Goose.  I joined two friendly seawatchers in the shelter who kindly gave me some tips on what to look for out at sea. They told me the grey and white birds I had been seeing at Sheringham were Red-throated Divers, and I was soon confidently pointing them out. One or two were at times came very close in. It turned out to be a big day for this species, with many hundreds seen in the morning. The other diver species appear darker, and are apparently not so common off the coast of Norfolk. Common Scoters were pointed out, but these were far too distant for me to identify myself, but the overall dark appearance and trailing flock formations is a telling sign. The small black and white birds were Guillemot and Razorbill, but I struggled to separate them. I didn't managed to add one to my list until a while later when I managed to get a picture of one on the sea. From the picture I could see a long bill confirming it as a Guillemot and separating it from the more stubby billed Razorbill. This was lifer number 3. 

Golden Plover

Brent Geese

Red-throated Diver

Red-throated Diver


After a spot of lunch on the move I arrived at Titchwell Marsh. I took the path down to the sea and en route spotted a few waders including Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Knot, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover and Redshank. On the beach were many more waders and on the sea were a group of 8 Goldeneye and a Red-breasted Merganser. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Velvet Scoter that had been there recently. I noted a Barn Owl on the way back and then headed to my accommodation at Willow Farm near Wisbech. 

Grey Plover



Ringed Plover

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser


Black-headed Gull

On Tuesday morning I went to Snettisham. It is a long trek over to The Wash, but it is worth it. Huge numbers of waders were feeding on the mud flats, and although it wasn't the best time to see the Knot (high tides that cover all the sand are required) there were still many thousand, and were impressive to see when they took to the sky. There were a lot of Shelduck here too. The large pit held one or two Goldeneye. I didn't manage to pick out the Little Stint, but it was later reported, presumably by the guy I briefly stopped and spoke to who was proud to say he had reported it for the last 55 consecutive days! It winters here most years apparently. I was feeling an urge for more seawatching, so after the long walk back to the car I headed to Holme Dunes.

Knot, Snettisham


The Wash

The Wash

The road leading to Holme Dunes car park is probably the worst I have ever driven. A long, pepper-potted sandy drive that had me a bit concerned about the robustness of my car's chassis! However, it was worth it, and despite the sometimes icy winds I stayed here, atop the dunes, for about three hours looking out to sea and across the marsh. Huge numbers, in the hundreds, of dark coloured birds were very distant on the horizon. I was sure these were Common Scoter, and by a stroke of luck a small flock came close enough for me to get a picture, from which I could make out the dark cap and subtly pale face of the females. My fourth lifer. A few Red-throated Divers were also spotted as well as some Great Crested Grebes. Scanning the marshland behind me I spotted about 9 White-fronted Geese amongst the Greylag, Pink-footed and Brent Geese. A Great White Egret and 2 Marsh Harriers were also present. I noticed a deer skulking in a field, and from a photo was able to identify it as a Chinese Water Deer. Then another, smaller, dog-sized deer was feeding in the dunes, and this I was able to identify as a Muntjac Deer. 

Common Scoter

Bar-tailed Godwit

Muntjac Deer

Chinese Water Deer

Holme Dunes

Holme Dunes

The next day a thick mist had descended on Norfolk. My plans to stop at WWT Welney en route home were unfortunately thwarted by flooding at Welney Wash, which had closed the only viable road. Nevertheless, it was, in the main, an excellent trip, and one I want to do again soon. 


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