Leaving North Walsham at 3.30am and collecting James on route, we headed off down the A11, with the Star Wars theme playing loud and Jedi cloaks wrapped around us. It was May ‘four’ce and bird race day! th May and we were on the A11).(Some of those ‘facts’ might not be true, but it was 4
Our first bird of the day was a female Pheasant (1), on the pavement before we left North Walsham. We had arrived at Santon Downham, before we added a heard only Cuckoo (2). It was -1C and much quieter than normal, so we had to wait a while for things to warm up and the birds to start to call. Walking down to a favoured site for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, we added Mallard, Water Rail, Blackbird, Kestrel, Wren, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Treecreeper, Blue Tit and Little Grebe (12).
Waiting for any sign of the LSW we heard our first Turtle Dove of the day. Great Tit, Green Woodpecker (H), Mandarin Duck, Nuthatch, Cormorant, Stock Dove, Jackdaw and Lesser Black-backed Gull (20) were added as the morning started to emerge from the frost and misty haze. We then found the best bird for this section of the site a calling Willow Warbler (21), just before deciding to walk back and try St Helen’s Picnic area. On the way we encountered Great Spotted Woodpecker (H), Grey Wagtail, Crossbill, Magpie, Pied Wagtail and Reed Bunting (27) all before the bridge, and then Starling, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Moorhen, Robin and Siskin (34). From the road we spotted a group of Crossbill perched up, and closer inspection reviled the flock to be a mix of Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll (35). A quick look by the railway line gave us Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Bullfinch, Coal Tit (H), Garden Wabler (H) and Blackcap (41). Gary then saw the Garden Warbler but neither James nor I did, amazingly despite trying hard we never saw a Coal Tit all day either. Parking at the St Helen’s side of Santon Downham, we soon heard and eventually saw Tree Pipt (42). A walk by the river and wooded area by the church, added Song Thrush, Goldcrest (last year’s boggy bird) and Whitethroat (45). With that we headed off to Lynford a new stop on May’s Bird Race Day.
Within minutes of arriving at Lynford we had clocked a large crossbill flock and as some of them drank in a puddle, we saw the male Two-barred Crossbill (46), joined also by the ‘iffy’ male TBC. We then set of for a lap of the paddock hoping for the reported Wood Warbler and maybe a Hawfinch. We saw neither but added Canada Goose, Greylag, Tufted Duck, Mistle Thrush, Marsh Tit, Yellowhammer, Mute Swan and Swallow (54) to the days total. By the folly a Firecrest (55) was a new ‘bird race’ bird. Over by the gravel pits Egyptian Goose, Black-headed Gull, Shelduck, Gadwall, Willow Warbler and finally Great Crested Grebe (61), before escaping the wasps in the hide (I counted 6 small and 1 large nest).
We drove on towards Lakenheath, adding Collared Dove and House Sparrow (63) in Weeting village before a brief stop at Weeting Heath NWT. On the reserve we soon saw Skylark, Stone Curlew, Rook and Lapwing (67). We watched the Stone Curlew steal a dead mole from a Jackdaw and try to eat it, 6 Mistle Thrush close to the hides were also worth note.
Before arriving at Lakenheath i spotted a Greenfinch (68) the other too missed. Our normal quick dash from Lakenheath RSPB car park, (a dash as not to see birds in Suffolk) up to view the Hockwold washes (Norfolk) from the view point, was detoured via the visitor centre as they have moved the paths. At this point we saw an uncountable Green Woodpecker and cursed. We added Common Tern, Coot, Teal, Shoveler, Grey Heron, House Martin and Hobby (75), the latter bird the highlight if a little distant.
Welney WWT was the next stop on out tour of Norfolk, Red-legged Partridge and Marsh Harrier (77) ticked while on route. In the car park Sedge Warber were singing and a Red Kite (79) drifted over our heads. Scanning Lady Fen Little Egret, Redshank and Avocet (82) found their way onto out lists. We opted to rough it in the non heated hide to the left of the observatory, Whooper Swan, Little Ringed Plover, Wigeon, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Yellow Wagtail and a distant Sparrowhawk (89) were all noted down. Gary then noted that Great White Egret was in the observations book, the observer was nearby and told us where it had been, and the warden advised to save the walk we may be able to see it from the main observatory. We could so left the hide to walk the walk, no sooner had we left the warden appeared ‘It’s just flow the other way!’. It had landed out of sight but we headed to the Reedbed hide to have a scan. After awhile I located the bird through the reeds, rubbish views but still a tick, Great White Egret (90). Walking back we added Reed Warbler and Linnet (91), before back at the main hide a second Great White Egret was on show. Walking back over the bridge James spotted 3 Swift (93) my first of the year.
In recent years Pentney has turned up some good and often surprising ‘bird race day’ birds, but not today. On route near Downham Market we added Common Buzzard and Feral Pigeon (95). Pentney disappointingly on added Great Black-backed Gull (96) to the lists. Last year Roydon Common ate up a lot of our time as we hunted for Woodlark, again we failed to see Woodlark, but were more conscious of time. Stonechat, Curlew and Wheatear (99) were seen along with a Hairy Hawker Dragonfly. Flitcham continued a little run of disappointing locations, the Little Owl was hiding the no Tree Sparrow could be found, the only bonus was a sleeping Yellow-legged Gull in front of the hide (100).
Stopping in at Choseley it was nice to see the 2 Dotterel (101) that have stuck around for a week and a Grey Partridge was by the barns. The main Titchwell Reserve was our last chance to rack up big numbers of birds before visiting a few sites for more specialist stuff. The pools either side of the main path gave up Red-crested Pochard, ‘Common’ Pochard, Cetti’s Warbler (H) and a Bearded Tit (106). Gary spotted a lone Brent Goose over Thornham Marsh before we viewed a pair of Gargany on the Fresh Marsh. Other new birds on the Fresh Marsh were Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Herring Gull, Grey Plover, Ruff, Arctic Tern and Turnstone (115). James found a Greenshank (116) on the Brackish Marsh, but the previously reported Spotted Redshank, so we headed to the beach. The tide was a long way out but we still saw Little Tern, Sandwich Tern and Bar-tailed Godwit (119), before Gary found our only sea duck, a flock of c20 Common Scoter (120). Walking back to the car Meadow Pipit and Sand Martin (122) were seen. A quick stop at Choseley gave up a Corn Bunting (123), before we headed east along the coast.
Gary spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly over the Coast Road but James and I both missed it. Near Burnham Market a quick stop netted us a Short-eared Owl (124) spotted low over the fields by Gary, who also heard a Lesser Whitethroat. Parking up at Gun Hill we scanned Burnham Overy Dunes and Holkham, Gary picked up 4 Pink-footed Geese and I found 3 Whimbrel and a Spoonbill (127) in the area.
Next stop was Kelling Heath, again no Woodlark, but two Turtle Dove (128) raised our spirits. Cutting back to Cley Marshes NWT we parked at the coastguards and walked towards North Scrape (minus its hide). The Eye field had at least 3 Yellow Wagtail and 6+ Wheatear, but it was scanning to Symonds Scrape that we added Ringed Plover and Common Gull (130) to the tally. The light was fading fast now so we headed up to Salthouse Heath, a single singing Nightingale (131) wasn’t hard to locate, but seeing it was much harder, eventually it gave fleeting views as it flew across the road. Heading home a Tawny Owl (132) flew across the road near Holt, upgrading our previous heard only bird from Salthouse.
So we finished the day on 132 species? Well not quite, somewhere in the mix we also saw a Ruddy Duck (133), but in case the environment agency is spying on me I shall not say where. We also found a Stone Curlew deep in the wilds of North Norfolk. 133 was an good total, but we honestly feel 150 is achievable and that was out target. Missing birds like Jay, Barn Owl, Kingfisher, Tree Sparrow, Eider, Knot, Pintail, Little Owl and Woodlark all birds normally encounter we were always going to struggle. I could put it down to the cold start to the day, the heat haze of the afternoon, poor research or just bad luck, but I think I will blame the Sith Lord, coming a day early.