Sunday 26th August not only marked a day on the North Norfolk coast, but also my last day of birding before adulthood. The next day I turned 18, so I was hoping that my last day of birding as a child would be a memorable one. It didn’t produce any rares as such, but was still a very enjoyable day’s birding.
No prizes go to those who have already guessed our first port of call. Arriving at 11, a brisk NW welcomed us as we walked along to the three hides overlooking the scrapes and pools at Cley. We stationed ourselves overlooking Pat’s Pool, and it immediately hit me in the face that there was a comparative dearth of birds to my last visit. There were plenty of waders widely spread across the pool, but the species range was thin. This included around 60 Black-tailed Godwits, 20 Ruffs, 2 Common Sandpipers and a brief Greenshank amongst the commoner waders, but that was more or less your lot.
There wasn’t very much else doing on any of the pools bird-wise, but a mixed gull group on Simmonds’ Scrape merited a grilling. We quickly picked out a juvenile gull which no one else in the hide had seemed to have noticed at the right hand end of the flock ,with an oustandingly pale head and underparts, along with a nice chunky dark bill and pronounced gony’s. Direct comparison with larger and more brutish Great-Black Backed juvs surrounding it strengthened initial convinctions that this was a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, but for complete confirmation we needed to see the diagnostic black tail band in flight. After 20 minutes the bird it obliged, showing the aforementioned feature in contrast with a nice pale rump and pretty dark underwing coverts. It milled around with a few LBBs before heading westwards. This was my first juv Yellow-legged and was nice to have found as it made the ID an educational experience; better than being just shown the bird by someone else.
We headed to the coastguards and Swarovski Hide with a spring in our step. Whilst I knew that these NWs would potentially produce scarcer skuas and shearwaters from Cley and Sheringham, neither of us were up for spending very long seawatching so we gave it 15 minutes or so. I was able to connect with two Norfolk ticks here – Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter heading north – but we’d arrived during a quieter spell, with no skuas or shearwaters passing during our stint. We wandered down to Swarovski Hide, and on arrival were greeted by a group of 50 Dunlin on North Scrape. Amongst them were no less than 4 Little Stints at close range, which kept us entertained for a while. Whilst this was perfectly enjoyable, there wasn’t much else going on. We were about to leave when Dad got onto 8 Spoonbills flying in distantly from the east. Largely juveniles, we tracked them as they came closer until they touched down on Pat’s Pool and disappeared from view. Such majestic birds, always enough to lighten up my day. Whilst actually being quiet by its own standards, Cley had once again produced the goods.
I’ve taken to Stiffkey Fen and its environs since I’ve been birding the north coast more regularly. We gave the whole area a good look, starting on the private roadside pool. It was very low on this occasion, with muddy edges predominating, but as the pool is Green Sandpiper central it wasn’t a surprise that 6 were present; lovely to see and more than you ever see together up in NE Scotland. 5 Ruff were amongst them for good measure. I have really taken to this pool; there must be some cracking waders passing through there.
Stiffkey Fen itself impressed us even more. On arrival a single adult Spoonbill was roosting (what else?) amongst a large congregation of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. It quickly became clear that the fen had trumped Cley on wader totals, as amongst 50 of the former and 100+ of the latter there was also 2 Common Sandpipers, 23 Greenshank roosting nearby and no less than 10 Green Sandpipers dotted throughout the Fen (16 in the whole area, including the birds on the pool) ; easily the highest totals I’ve ever had of the latter two species in one place. We got great views of the Spoonbill from the sea wall, but only on two occasions did it snap out of its somnolent state. On the saltmarsh here at least 3 Little Egrets were feeding and another 2 Common Sandpipers were in the creek. This was delightful stuff, and we were the only people there to witness it at that moment so reveled in the serenity of this lovely, wader filled fenland scene.
Spoonbills don’t really make much of an effort to snap out of their semi-narcotic sleeping habits, but personally I’ve been trying to snap out of doing Cley and Titchwell in one day unless the birding is really good at both places, even though I really enjoy birding at both reserves. Dad was here with me this time though, and as he hadn’t been to Titchwell for over a year this was our last port of call. Needless to say, the birding was greatly enjoyable, with a lovely array of waders present on the freshmarsh. 2 Little Stints were amongst a group of 30 Dunlin, which all flew off after about 20 minutes but were enjoyed at close quarters whilst still present. 5 Spotted Redshanks were at the very back of the freshmarsh, each adults in their pale grey winter plumage, whilst there was also 2 stunning summer plumaged Grey Plovers amongst 6 roosting Golden Plovers, a single Green Sandpiper, plenty of Blackwits and Ruff and three Whimbrel. Lets not also forget another slumberous but splendid juvenile Spoonbill amongst a couple of Little Egrets. Whilst this Spoony was definitely slumberous, it was able to snap out of it quite regularly and have a walk around in the beautiful evening light at similar quarters to the Stiffkey bird; a lovely way to end the day.
And so my childhood birding had its swan song, with 10 Spoonbills, 18 wader species and an educational self-found first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull; another display of Norfolk’s timeless quality. Here’s to a productive adulthood of birding ahead.
Thanks for reading,