Good omens as soon as I left home, nice & sunny, 200 yards down the road the rain started, but hey only a hundred miles or so!
Arrived @ RSPB Titchwell after two & a half hours and 99.7 miles. Nature called, I answered, followed by coffee & a bacon bap. Right 10.45am lets go.
Plan - towards the beach this morning, taking in the hides as I go. Rain forecast, quick check, blue skies, pack jacket in back pack, if I take it I won't need it, if I leave it in the car I'll get drenched, as it happens . . .
Reed Warblers chuntering away in the first reed bed but the breeze is keeping them down. Have a listen, I do like to hear that sound. Walk on, on the left in the deep grass a Chinese Water Deer, not seen one before but will see him / her again later (alas no pics). Noticed a chap intently staring at a reed bed through his bins, "Morning, anything interesting?", "Bearded Tit, I think". "Oh, where", "There, in the reeds, see that post?, about 10 yards right" Post? what post? "Ah, got the post" I said, now 10 yards right and I can see - reeds! Stood for 5 minutes, nothing so "Good luck, I'm moving on", "OK bye".
Into the Island Hide, right outside the windows, Avocets, loads of them, adults and growing chicks still with some brownish plumage - pics-a-plenty!
In the reed bed to the right, guess what - got it, Bearded Tits, I counted 11 in all but no adults that I could recognise.
Then a Spotted Redshank on the mud flat, and a rough looking Ruff. A large group of Godwits in the middle distance and a couple of Spoonbills in the distance but too far away. Had a look through a gents scope. Time to move on.
Along the path - nothing new, still plenty of Avocets & a few Spotted Redshanks. Did spot a Lapwing chick trying his best to catch flies, and a Black-Headed Gull eating a crab - does he know how much they cost? couldn't believe he could swallow that in one go but he did!
Arrived at the twin hides, one looking out over fresh water, one over brackish water (as the volunteer at the gate told me "You have to look a bit harder in this one") - so freshwater first. From the steps I could see 2 x Little Ringed Plovers, and a Lapwing both feeding on the mud just outside the window - good pics of the LRP, didn't bother with the Lapwing.
Black clouds coming up, I'll sit here for a while then, Redshank flew in and fed behind the reeds. 20 minutes later time to move on again, so many Avocets it's like wallpaper! The black clouds had gone by without a drop of rain.
Crossed over into the second hide, couldn't see anything apart from Black-Headed Gulls.
Didn't hang around, no point coming to the coast and not seeing the sea. More black clouds coming up but they'll soon pass by on the breeze. As I reached the path again a Curlew flew out of the nearside cover, managed to grab a couple of flight shots - one OK, the other with no head!
A few people heading back from the beach, I press on - about a 8-10 minute walk. Finally I get there, end of the path & onto the sand, couple of Swallows fly by feeding on the flies. Plip, plop. plip - rain drops are falling on my head just as I reach the beach, there's the sea. Decide to put my jacket on, plipping & plopping is getting heavier. Camera in bag, jacket on, hood up head back to the last hide. Soaked in 5 minutes flat - water repellent trousers refuse to repel water after a couple of minutes, by the time I reach the hide trousers are soaked, jacket is soaked but at least it kept me dry, water is dripping off it! Back pack is soaked. Entered the hide and created a puddle. Looked at the couple who were enjoying their tea & sarnies - words not necessary. He did say "There's only us here, if you want to take your trousers off to dry them, we won't worry" I bloody will! I stood in the door way and let the breeze start the drying process, jacket hanging up and creating a small indoor swimming pool. Then the weather turned, the wind got up even stronger, & the rain got heavier, all, and I mean ALL, of the birds disappeared! Whatever the Norfolkese is for "It's blowing a hooley" it was doing it and some!
It did eventually stop blowing & raining and the sun came out - you'd never believe it had rained - apart from the small pool in the hide and the flooded paths! It was about 1.15 and I'm getting peckish so I started to head back to the café. I stopped on a bench to snap another Spotted Redshank, just a few yards away and feeding like fury. Popped into the Island Hide again on the way back, Ruff was a bit closer, Beardies still in the reeds.
More Reed Warblers on the way back. Sausage Baguette & a large tea - thank you very much!
Afternoon session - short walk round the Fen, East & Meadow trails. Fen Hide first overlooking a small pool and reed beds. Not much about then noticed a Marsh Harrier over-flying the far side of the reed bed, thought it was coming my way, grabbed a couple of distant shots and nipped outside for a better view. Where did that go then? How can a bird that size simply disappear in 10 seconds?
Walked a bit further along the trail and came across a female Red-Crested Pochard in a new pool,
and a Pied Wagtail flitting along the water line. Back towards the Hide, stopped at Patsy's Reed bed and watched the Swallows catching flies and kept a watch for more Marsh Harriers (my volunteer chap at the gate said there were 5 breeding pairs so high hopes).
Male Red Crested Pochards (2) fly in and eventually come close enough for some half-decent pics.
Marsh Harriers alas are few & far between and always very distant.
Time to go, 4.30, have to book in to B&B by 6.00. The joys of the A149 await - bliss!
So arrive at B&B & check in - nice! Evening meal (and a couple of pints of Woodfordes Wherry) at the local - 10 minute walk along Church Lane & through the church yard. Question - why do very small Norfolk villages have very large churches? They all seem to round here and on my walk to the pub I pass by the local large church (St.Margaret of Antioch - didn't she have a hand grenade in the Monty Python sketch/film?) and can see two others quite clearly. I guess it was the ale, but on the way back I was noticing some of the house names - no numbers here, far too exclusive. Some very nice houses but surely a bit more imagination wouldn't go amiss when choosing a house name. There is a lovely white cottage called "White Cottage", a cottage in Wright's Yard called "Wright's Yard Cottage"; one called "Norjon" - presumably belonging to Mr & Mrs Major; one called "Enfield" - do they keep chickens? There was one, a beautiful house, finished in Norfolk stones, as so many are round here, behind big wooden gates, but at least the house name was original - it was called "Beware Dogs Loose" the only sign I could see anyway.
And so to breakfast, Day 2 - plan Cley Marshes this morning,
see what the weather is up to this afternoon. Breakfast taken - a short walk (about half a mile, past the windmill) to Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Cley Marshes reserve in search of Marsh Harriers hopefully. Arrived at the Visitor Centre at 9.45 - opens at 10.00, not a good start, especially as the forecast is for rain later.
Looking out over the reserve - which is huge - I can see 3 Marsh Harriers up, one is flying close to the 3 central hides - come on get the doors open! 10.00am, I'm in and paid, of to the hides, quick check of the area - reserve is open, Harriers nowhere to be seen (Rule 2 (b) Once they've paid your job is over so sit down in the long grass / reeds.) It's pretty blowy, hopefully the Harriers will fly in to the wind which will give some opportunities for photos - if they come close enough. Ten minute walk to the hides (at a decent pace), select the hide overlooking the area where I saw the Harriers earlier.
Group of Spoonbills on the farthest island, I counted 11 in all,
plenty of waders - Redshank, Ruff, Greenshank, Godwits and Ducks - Mallards, Shelduck, Shoveler, Teal, plus Herons & Little Egrets. A few Pied Wagtails flitting in and out, but no Marsh Harriers after half an hour or so.
I counted 89 turbines in the off shore wind farm, then spent ages wondering why 89? Seemed to me if you planned a wind farm, you plan for a round number, 90 maybe, but 89? - answers on a postcard please!
Anyway, while pondering the question I noticed a distant Marsh Harrier up and hunting but too far away. Wind was still strong and it was making very slow headway - at least it looked that way from a mile away! After another half-hour pondering, a Harrier finally showed a bit closer and headed towards the hide, slowly against the wind - perfect, then turned right, and disappeared down wind in about 5 seconds! Still no photos, and I'd given up pondering too! Dark clouds building all around, I'd been here an hour or so and taken a few shots of the distant Spoonbills and nothing else - change of hide to the centre hide of the three.
Sat with an "older" couple who I'd met yesterday at Titchwell, they remembered me to - but weren't sure where they'd seen me before, until I reminded them, "Of course, how daft are we?" Not daft, just getting older I guess, I've got that to come, we all have hopefully, at least they were active and out and about to the same degree as me. Mrs.OAP commented "It's a bit quiet, isn't it?", "Oh, I don't know, your list for today is a page and a half long, so not too quiet surely?", "Ah but we were at Titchwell yesterday and filled 2 pages easily", me - "Yes, Titchwell was a bit special yesterday wasn't it", "Were you there then?" me - "Oh look the Marsh Harrier is up again" Still too far away for photos but at least flying and directly in front of the hide, at the far end of the reed bed. Patience was a virtue for the Marsh Harrier eventually flew towards us but veered off to the left at about 100 yards, right in front on the hide I'd left earlier. I took a few shots, then legged it to the other hide, no one here, open a window to see the Harrier about 50 yards away, flying low and slow against the wind, 3 or 4 shots before it dropped into the reedbed. I waited for 15 minutes but it didn't emerge again so I decided I'd have a walk - I'd got a couple of OK shots so wasn't too upset.
Said goodbye to the senior couple who were still adding to their list - which now included a Little Gull, which I'd not seen before.
It was now just after midday, Carol, the weather lady on BBC, had forecast rain for this area this afternoon and the clouds didn't look friendly at all. I had a light lunch & a couple of coffees, sat in the Visitor Centre, watching more Marsh Harriers along with a couple of birders who had made the journey from Plymouth! I decided over lunch, to walk back to the B&B, pick up the car, and drive to the beach, that way if it rained I wouldn't get soaked and I'd have somewhere to shelter, so that's what I did.
At the beach it was blowing hard, some hardy souls were fishing from the beach,
a few walkers on the Coastal Path, and just a few people "on the beach". I walked a few hundred yards in each direction, took a few shots of a pair of Avocets with 2 very small chicks (second brood maybe?),
but when a few rain drops fell I headed back to the car. No more birding today as it turned out and I ended up in Sheringham where it absolutely poured with rain - twice.
If you don't know, Sheringham is one end of the North Norfolk Railway (Holt is the other end), and although I'm not a railway enthusiast it is always good to see a steam engine working - not so nice to smell it or taste it, but good to see it. I've got some snaps of the trains which I'll send to my wife's cousin, whose son is train mad - hopefully he'll like them.
Day 3 - home journey after breakfast. No need to hurry so decided to take a 70 mile diversion to RSPB Minsmere. I'd seen that Otters were putting in frequent appearances and WLTM one at some point. So, following the SatNav to Norwich, then ignoring it and opting for the A140 Ring Road, rather than a route through the centre, I headed for the Suffolk Coast. Now I don't know if the centre of Norwich was at a standstill but the Ring Road was so my journey around Norwich took a good 30 mins longer than it should've done, all due to 2 side roads being closed so that the main Ring Road could be reduced to one lane, controlled by erratic traffic lights. The reason for the delay?, the local council Highways Dept. were putting on a demonstration of "Shovel Leaning" and "Direction Pointing", all resplendent in yellow Hi-Viz jackets and protected by about 1200 traffic cones - about one every three inches!
I finally cleared Norwich and arrived at RSPB Minsmere at about 11.15. Guess what called? Correct! and then coffee. Weather looked OK, and the forecast was for sun this afternoon (which was eventually correct !). Took a walk to "North Walls" in search of Bearded Tits, did see a couple but only "flitters", nothing posing for tourist photos unfortunately. Only a lone Reed Warbler posing for the camera.
I gave it an hour and headed to the Bittern & Island Mere hides, where Otters had been reported early this morning, probably while I was being entertained by the Hi-Viz brigade! Bittern hide was packed although activity outside was quite subdued. An occasional, distant Marsh Harrier showed itself and a few Common Terns hovering over the pools.
After well over an hour pandemonium broke out, 2 Marsh Harriers did a fly-by,
four Bitterns flew in, walked about and flew out again (not all at the same time), and the hide occupants were almost cheering! - small wonder that the birds buggered off!
More pandemonium at the other end of the hide, an Otter spotted and gone! Lady next to me exclaimed "There's a Seal" - er not quite. She saw the "seal" I didn't, can't blame her for being excited really.
I left the hide, selling my window seat for a fiver, and walked to the Island Mere Hide (where that stickleback on Springwatch had his nest). A much quieter hide because a). less people and b). no activity. Just a few Cormorants and various ducks, and more (or the same probably) distant Marsh Harriers. Getting hungry (2.45pm) so headed for the visitor centre and food.
Arrived at 3.00pm, fancied the Cottage Pie - sold out, Chilli - sold out, a jacket potato then - sold out, Sausage Bap - no Sausages, so the Sausage & Bacon bap was off too! Bacon Bap? - yep got bacon, OK that'll do, and coffee. I wish they'd been out of bacon, so "crispy" the rashers had welded themselves together! Coffee wasn't great either.
I did another walk to "North Walls" the wind had dropped & the sun was out (I told it would be) but still no Beardies, sit in the sun for a while, still no sign. A couple of deer appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the reed bed, but still no Beardies.
Slow walk back, checking both sides of the path but not today it seemed. Found my self back at the Bittern Hide, did get a Bittern in the reeds but not very clear so decided to call it a day and head home - 6.00pm.
Decent drive home, just over two hours plus time to pick up "Li's Special Chow Mein" which was very welcome at 8.45pm.
All in all a good 3 days, Titchwell was outstanding, Cley Marshes very good, Sheringham very wet but good trains & ice cream, and Minsmere still good despite the no show of the Beardies & Otters. Reasons to go back again at least.