I am quite frankly miles behind on this blog with relation to my Norfolk birding. I basically lived in Norfolk from late July to the beginning of September, during which time I did a tonne of birding. Covering it all would be too long-winded, so I’ll go quickly through some of the highlights of my Norfolk birding during that period, and also ‘swiftly’ through a decent day out during a visit to the region last weekend.
I remember thinking several years ago that Roller would be one of those species I could only ever dream of seeing in the UK. It seems however in the last couple of years that this words-cannot-describe-how-stunning species has been occurring in the UK on an increasingly regular basis annually. I was in the wrong place for a fleeting Roller in Aberdeenshire last year (also the Yorks bird), and prior to that had not been presented with any opportunities to go for one locally. So when news filtered through of an individual at Horsey (presumably the Holt bird of a couple of months earlier), I could not resist. If there’s one bird I’d try my utmost to locally twitch, it’s this species. A long stayer, this ROLLER remained distant for much of the time I was there: a whole an and a half, simply gawping at this bird, bowled over by its mouth-dropping beauty. Distance barely impacted on the enjoyment of this bird, as it continually moved between the fenceposts along the Nelson’s Head Track, allowing for several tear-inducing glimpses of its contrasting azure underwing coverts and navy-blue- purple-tinged primaries and secondaries. JUST LOOK AT IT. It’s not even that great a picture, but the bird completely arrests your attention, causes you to shout impetuously in excitement. Undoubtedly in the top 5 birds I’ve seen in Britain, let alone the most pleasing rare I’ve had in Norfolk or Britain this year.
The rest of August birding in Norfolk was characterised by gulls, passage waders and Spoonbills. It was an excellent period for getting better versed in michahellis, with individuals in the gull roosts at Cley allowing for much finer inspection of primary patterns as well as much pleasure. I probably saw about 20 Yellow-legged Gulls over the month on several visits to Cley, including 10 in one group on 21st August. The large majority of birds seen were adults, but on some occasions did include a few 3rd summer types. One of the excellent things about Norfolk birding in late summer, these michahellis. 2 Mediterranean Gulls were seen at Cley on different dates, involving the above juvenile and an adult on 21st August. Spoonbills rarely eluded my presence, with numerous birds seen together at Cley,Titchwell, Burnham Deepdale (maximum of 3) and Morston/Stiffkey, the latter birds relating to a group of 7 mobile between the latter two sites on three days camping that I had in the area in late August.
Passage wader wise, the whole range of uncommoner species were seen, mostly at Titchwell and Cley – Spotted Redshank and Green Sandpiper were particularly abundant , but a few Wood Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers and a single Little Stint (at Titchwell) all made appearances, among very decent numbers of the diverse commoner fare. The undoubted wader highlight though must go to a gorgeous juvenile RED-NECKED PHALAROPE at Cley on 8th August, an overdue lifer which was surprisingly elusive and pretty distant. Nonetheless, the overwhelming charisma of this hither-and-tither, frantically-busy-feeding bird was deeply entertaining: it’s rare but intense experience when faced with the inimitable behaviour of a crazy Phal. That golden striated mantle too – OOFT! The same day also heralded a showy female MONTAGU’S HARRIER by chance at an undisclosed site, another major highlight of the month.
I was unfortunate to miss a decent fall during the Bank Holiday weekend in late August. I got out for some birding on the east coast on my birthday, but could only 2 juvenile Pied Flycatchers (Waxham and Horsey), 4 Whinchats and Lesser Whitethroat and a few Wheatears on visits to Hemsby, Horsey and Waxham. Given the density of Pied Flies, Redstarts and Wrynecks during the days prior, this was somewhat disappointing.
I was back down in Norfolk last week for a long weekend – a wee hiatus from the humdrum life that is uni. I scheduled a day’s birding with UEA Fresher and fellow Next Generation Birder Jake Gearty, and later with Dan from the Spain trip for a couple of hours. Our inclination was to work the coast between Cromer and Sheringham, not least because the cover there is underwatched, but also due to its productivity within the prior few days; a Pallid Swift had roosted in the area. Myself, Jake and Drew (another UEA Fresher) began by working the cover northwards from Cromer towards Overstrand. South-westerlies dominated the day, leaving things relatively unproductive on the passerine front, despite working 4 or 5 miles of cover from Overstrand to Sheringham. At this early point however, there was a notable arrival of 100+ Chaffinches, mobile along the cliff-side cover with some commoner tit species and a few Goldcrest mixed in, as well as a presumed migrant Jay and fleeting flight views of a decent candidate for a continental Great-spotted Woodpecker, and vis-migging Mipits and Skylarks. As we walked along the beach, a gorgeous adult winter Med Gull showed down to 15ft, and I noted my first two argentatus Herring Gulls of the year, a 3rd winter and a juvenile.
We had produced the aforementioned species in an hour and a half, and were nearing Overstrand. Jake suggested that we kept on going towards Overstrand: little did we know we would be sent running in the other direction. As I scanned a new group of Chaffinch, a dark hirundine with a very silvery underwing interrupted my field of view. It took a second to compute that a hirundine had just passed through, but as soon as I realised and scanned away from the finch flock I was fully on the bird and out of nowhere bawled ‘PALLID SWIFT!’. Just seeing a Swift species in October was exciting enough, but the fact that this was a Pallid meant that chaos ensued as the others, who were scanning elsewhere, went temporarily mental and desperately tried to look for the bird. I followed it as it kept low and straight wings along the cover, but it soon rose above the clifftop and hawked, where Jake and Drew managed to connect.
Adrenaline surged through us at the prospect of this out of the blue re-find: it had not been reported since early morning, and we were the only people watching this stunning, not-so-scythe-winged Swift. In the two minutes or so that it hawked near us, giving pretty good views, we noted the contrasting silvery underwing, the more chocolately brown upperparts and the generally blunt-edged rather than sharp-edged wings. I managed to get the following pics before it zoomed westwards, seemingly vanishing into thin air. Reports on RBA showed that 2 Pallids had been seen together at Sidestrand half an hour earlier, so this may or may not have been the individual that roosted at Cromer the previous evening. It does seems likely though that it was one of the Sidestrand birds relocating westwards. This Pallid finally represents my 300th bird in Britain – it’s been a slog, but that’s basically due to the distinct lack of care that I give about my British list.
After that quite unexpected turn of events, we were more than glad to conclude that the day had reached its peak. We met up with Dan at West Runton, where we had a good old catch up but didn’t really see many birds. Up to 8 Med Gulls were much enjoyed around West Runton, as was my first Scaup in Norfolk, a 1st year male in moult on the sea. Passerine-wise though things were scant, limited to a few continental Song Thrushes, Fieldfares and two Chiffchaffs (one abietinus). Nonetheless though, as the light drew in scarily early, we could not complain with a Pallid, and it was good to scout out some new habbo for future reference.
That was my best attempt at a ‘swift’ summary of Norfolk birding since late July – don’t know if I really succeeded in making it concise, but hey ho. I will be back down in Norfolk for Christmas: who knows what it will produce? Fabalis? Nivalis? Probably.
Thanks for reading,
I guess JDP’s fly-over dotterel is just a tiny bit gripping then? Really enjoyable read as always Joe.