Titchwell and Cley Marshes, Norfolk – 19th Oct

On day two of my Norfolk weekend I started at Titchwell Marsh RSPB reserve. An 8am breakfast and having my tripod repaired at the local In Focus store meant I didn’t get on site until 9:30am. As at Stiffkey a day earlier, glum looking twitchers were heading out, presumably having failed to connect with a Penduline Tit that was reported here on Saturday afternoon. And with their departure the RSPB’s preferred clientele was already arriving in droves.

I phoned Oxonbirder Mark Chivers, with whom I had kept in contact throughout Saturday, to find that he and Andy Last had been on the reserve for some time. After meeting them for a chinwag they went on to Cley hoping to photograph the Grey Phalarope. With no pressing wildlife priorities of my own I opted to remain and enjoy a morning of general bird watching. That of course also means general public, especially on a RSPB reserve.

First stop was the modern Parrinder Hide, built atop the impressive new sea wall that the RSPB has constructed to allay coastal erosion here. Inside my experience was as much of endurance as enjoyment while noisy bless ’ems of all ages came and went. In time I continued along the visitor trail, skirting salt marsh that is under threat from inundation by the sea, before sitting in a sheltered spot on the beach for a while just scanning around. Various common waders, wildfowl and seabirds were all going about their business in these areas, and I stopped to photograph a Chinese Water Deer.

A more relaxed and knowledgeable ambience was to be found back at the Island Hide on the landward side of the new sea wall. This held fond memories of past sightings: my first British Spoonbill, second Black-winged Stilt and Spotted Crake, all on my last Norfolk trip in August 1997. I settled into observing the wildfowl and waders on the freshwater marsh here in a contented frame of mind.

I can never tire of Brent Geese whose gentle ways and soft guttural calls just seem to epitomise winter coastal birding for me. A skein of Pink-footed Geese also flew high across the reserve, a numerous winter visitor to Norfolk and my first sighting of the species since 1987. Then my reverie was broken by a phone call from my fellow Oxonbirders.

The Grey Phalarope hadn’t co-operated with them either, but a roosting Long-eared Owl was drawing crowds in a location adjacent to Cley Marshes. This wasn’t to be missed and so I headed east. It was now early afternoon and the A149 coast road was full of Sunday tourist traffic, all content to proceed at 20mph within the speed limit. Whilst not supposing the Owl would be going anywhere soon, I was nevertheless out of relaxed and into rushing mode but this bird proved to be worth it. I had seen three LEO previously but not this close. And there it just sat majestically (below), turning its head from side to side and shooting deep yellow glances back at its scores of admirers, seemingly unconcerned by all the attention.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

This location, Walsey Hills also held a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler. I re-found Mark and Andy amongst a group of birders staking out another wall of dense vegetation, the usual scenario for any warbler twitch. But this second Siberian sprite was being as elusive as it’s Saturday counterpart at Holkham. So my companions opted to go to the beach and look for Snow Bunting, while mindful of not going over-tired into the working week I headed home.

So there had been no British 300th this weekend but I had observed several good birds and reacquainted myself with one of Britain’s premier birding areas. The downside was the huge numbers of “birding tourists” that these flagship nature reserves cater for. I myself prefer the company of twitchers to an ambience of members in cosy tea rooms. Had any of the bird lifers still been present the experience would no doubt have involved more of the former and less of the latter. But a good day out is always the top priority while the wildlife targets add a sense of purpose, and this had been an enjoyable trip.

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