I've not been much of a social birder since I moved away from the area of my hometown RSPB group, and rarely had much to do with birders my age at any time. Not really through choice I hasten to add, though I've certainly enjoyed the freedom of birding alone.
So, when I got the chance to join with the Next Generation Birders on a weekend in Norfolk, I put in a great deal of effort to get the time off work, and sort out accommodation, in order to go.
After coming up to King's Lynn late on Friday night (picking up Amy Robjohns, Liam Curson, and Ollie Simms on the way), we were out first light on Saturday to stake out Golden Pheasant at the famous Wolferton triangle. Despite seeding the verges, there was no sign, with only a calling Brambling by way of compensation.
We gave them some time to appear, and popped down the road to Roydon Common, a site I've not been to before.
We were hoping to see the Shrike, but despite a report that it was still present, we failed. We, being a group of 13 or so of us.
There was little of interest here otherwise, other than the nice New Forest/Thursley Common-esque landscape.
We headed back to Wolferton, only to immediately come across the hoped-for Golden Pheasant. Clearly it appreciated the peace and quiet away from us!
Onto Hunstanton and a brief look from the cliffs there.
As you can see, we were all captivated by the tick of Fulmar!
Holme golf course was the next location, and on arrival we flushed a pair of Grey Partridge, and had a Red-throated Diver fly past. Eventually, the hoped-for flock of 9 Snow Bunting made an appearance. Just before leaving, I got a glimpse of a Long-tailed Duck landing behind the dunes. Never saw it again frustratingly!
We moved on to Thornham Channel...
...where a nice flock of Twite showed close-to.
Titchwell is a must-visit whilst in the area, and as always, it produced the goods. A Water Pipit was immediately found on the freshmarsh, and a very distant Great Northern Diver was on the sea - much rarer here than back home.
A quick nip into Choseley guaranteed us Corn Bunting, and a look at Burnham Overy found us the first of many Barn Owl.
Another site it's illegal to bypass whilst in north Norfolk is Cley, and our determination to go was heightened even more by news of an American Wigeon. While this turned out to be phony, we did however have other goodies to look for, with a distant White-fronted Goose, and the overwintering Garganey, showing to us.
After a failed attempt at wild swans, we headed to the roost at Stubb's Mill, Hickling Broad. We were worried we'd be too late, but as it happens it was very good timing.
A male Hen Harrier was a fantastic sight as always, along with 2 ringtails. A few Chinese Water Deer were around too.
We eventually got onto 2 rather elusive Crane nearby, but as the sun set, we were worried that would be it from our main target.
But, just as we were leaving in almost complete darkness, we heard the evocative and unmistakable sound of a large flock of them coming in to roost. 32 to be precise - the largest number for a while there apparently. This video is a documentation of the moment (and sounds), rather than the visuals!
I finished the day on the personal total of exactly 100 species - by quite a margin my most prolific day ever.
After a night in Norwich, Sunday dawned, and my birthday - would it be fitting as a birthday treat? We started off at the promising-looking Breydon Water - another first-visit for me.
We were rather hoping to see the Richard's Pipit that had been around all winter, but there was initially no sign.
113 Avocet were on the water (yes, I bothered to count them), and I heard a Spotted Redshank, which later showed well to all.
As we approached the limit of the Pipit's favoured range, a bird was flushed, and flew off into the distance. During it's rather long flight, it joined flocks of Skylark, and then Meadow Pipit, allowing a perfect comparison. We concluded it could only really have been the Richard's Pipit! Good thing it wasn't a lifer!
We moved down the road to Halvergate Marshes...
Where, as I experienced 2 weeks ago, a Rough-legged Buzzard was immediately in view. Although others were disappointed to see it sat around, I enjoyed seeing it like this, being the opposite behaviour to the Jevington bird.
After that, I was incompetent in not seeing the Bewick's Swan flock that everyone else was looking at, at a nearby site. Then it was on to Thorpe Green, Norwich, to twitch a species I see every day.
Even so, it was showing rather well...
I'm being unnecessarily facetious really, cause it was nice to admire the 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull so close.
We then moved south to the Breckland of Suffolk, and the curious site of Santon Downham.
Curious, cause it seemed to be a small reedbed in the middle of a woodland. Nonetheless, it did hold the species we'd missed the day before, a Great Grey Shrike. A close-up view revealed scaly underparts (indicating a 1st-winter) - not something I can remember noticing before.
A site which is always worth a visit is Lynford Arboretum (despite my previous visits being Two-barred Crossbill dips). The main target was elusive, with only a Brambling the compensation once again.
Luckily though, two Hawfinch were eventually seen round the usual paddocks.
We then briefly popped into a site for Goshawk, but failed, only seeing a Red Kite of note. A short-tailed passerine I glimpsed was probably a Woodlark, but I didn't get enough on it.
Our penultimate stop was a housing estate in Mildenhall...
...where a Waxwing showed beautifully - always a pleasure.
The rather fitting finale was a dusk visit to Lakenheath Fen...
...where a Great White Egret was flying around. But, the highlight was the still conditions, red sunset, and the sight and sound of thousands of Jackdaw and Rook coming in to roost above our heads. Mind-blowing!
Personal trip total: 120 species.
A wonderful weekend then, and it was great to meet all the brilliant young birders. A big thanks to them all for the great company, but particularly James Shergold and Jake Gearty, who did most of the organisation. I look forward to the next one guys!
Mmm. Maybe I should start birding Portland again? I almost forgot! ;-)