Although not a true bird race (as we are the only team) every spring Gary, James and myself aim to see as many birds as we can in 1 day. The last two years we gone on 'Late May Bank Holiday Weekend' have notched up 113 (+4 heard) and 115(+4), this year in a bid to get more migrants we decided to move the race forward to the 'Early May Bank Holiday'. Also in previous years we have wandered very slightly over the borders this year, it was a solely Norfolk Bird Race.
Gary collected James and I about 4am and we arrived at Santon Downham before sunrise. This gave us time to walk down river to look for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but also ment a blank list as we had added nothing on our journey there. 1st bird of the day was Moorhen, followed by Woodpigeon, Mallard and Carrion Crow. Gary then briefly saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, that James and i sadly missed, we spent the next 30min or so looking for the bird but without success. We did however add 24 more species before returning to the car, highlights being Willow Tit, Garden Warbler, Mandarin, Grey Wagtail and Crossbill. We then drove to the St Helen's Picnic area, here we added 13 more species, including Siskin, Goldcrest and Green Woodpecker. James also spotted a Kingfisher zoom past that Gary and i missed. 41 birds had us well ahead of the 27 we had as we left Santon Downham last year.
A brief stop at Grimes Graves gave us Tree Pipit before Weeting gave up Collared Dove, House Sparrow, Stone Curlew, Lapwing, Mistle Thrush and Chiffchaff.
As last year Lakenheath Fen was the next stop, but with the main reserve being in Suffolk we had to be content viewing Norfolk's Hockwold Fen across the river, this saved us time as we didn't wait around looking for Golden Oriole, Hobby or Cuckoo. Scanning The Flash we soon found Gargany (3+), Little Grebe, Shoveler and other common waterfowl. In the air Sand Martin, House Martin, Common Tern and a surprise Arctic Tern few around. I picked up a distant Meadow Pipit and Skylark, before James and Gary found Marsh Harrier and Kestrel. Before a Reed Bunting duly flew from Suffolk into Norfolk for us, and as we were about to leave c15 Bar-tailed Godwit flew through. We had added 25 species at Hockwold before moving on.
At Welney the wind was much stronger, the idea was to look for the Bluethroat, but with the wind we stood little chance. There were no Corn Bunting on the wires, but a Yellow Wagtail fought the winds as it flew over the car park. Lady's Fen gave us only Avocet and Redshank before we wandered down to the Lyle Hide looking for the Bluethroat, with the wind whipping about we first scanned the marsh, picking up Wigeon, Whooper and Bewick's Swan. We had almost given up on the Bluethroat before we started when Gary hear a faint call, after only a few minutes wait the Bluethroat popped up in full view close to us, although brief we had enough to admire the bird. 2 Little Ringed Plover were on the Scrape and Tree Sparrow were on the feeders.
A couple of Swift near Nordelph was my first of the year, and with a few other common bird we arrived at Roydon Common with 90 species already under our belt. We heard then located a Yellowhammer before Gary located James and i a Cuckoo (he had seen one at Hockwold), followed by a Whimbrel and a fly-over Common Buzzard, but with little else about we moved on. Flitcham was equally disappointing the wind kept the Little Owl out of sight, but James did spot a Wheatear nearby and quite a few Grey Partridge were in the area.
As we reached the coast the wind really picked up at Titchwell we would barrely be able to stand at times, but first we checked Choseley, atleast 1 Lesser Whitethroat was near the farm but again we failed to see Corn Bunting. On the RSPB reserve we rounded up a few of the waders missing from our list, inclusing Spotted Redshank, Ruff and Common Sandpiper, and most of the gulls. A very brief look out to see left us sand blasted and with only a single Common Scoter to add to the list. Somehow through a swaying scope Gary located 2 Little Tern and then a male Red-crested Pochard. Despite the wind we had added 16 species and heard a Turtle Dove.
The next few stops only added the odd bird here and there. At Friary Hills the Ring Ouzel had gone but we spotted a Greenshank, Cley had no Spoonbill, but Sandwich Tern, Reed Warbler, Green Sandpiper and my first Hobby of the year. Kelling Heath produced nothing, but the Water Meadows added 3 Woodsandpiper to the list. The light was fading but we returned to Cley Coastguards hoping the Spoonbill would roost, they didn't but i found a small group of summer plumage Golden Plover in the Eye Field. Salthouse Heath was nearly in darkness as we picked up a Nightingale singing close to the road, picking out its silhouette we listened to the bird awhile, a satisfying end to a long day. As we approached Holt one final bird added itself to the list as a Barn Owl perch up close to the road. A finally tally gave me a total of 123 species seen and 6 extras heard, James and Gary saw one more bird than me, but heard 1 less.
Whoopers and Bewick's at St Benet's Abbey.
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