Headed off to Norfolk, more specifically Thornham Harbour where the Northern Harrier has been seen on a regular basis. With a heavy frost and lots of black ice we took the roads very gently, and as a result when we got to Thornham just after 9 am we were rather gutted to learn the Harrier had just gone out of view.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we kept scanning over towards Holme Dunes where it was last seen, with the occasional scan over towards Titchwell. This was productive as we saw a normal ring tail Hen Harrier, a large covey of Grey Partridge, many hundreds of Pink Feet and about 20 Barnacle geese among the more usual suspects. A bit of sea watching, despite being a long way off was worthwhile with a couple of fly by Red Necked grebes, some Long Tail Ducks (not having seen any at all last year) and Kittiwakes. Lots of waders and sea suck too.
Around 1030 we were surprised to get a message saying the Harrier had just been seen to our north, presumably by the crowd near the barn a few hundred yards away. On their return we quizzed them and got confirmation, as well as the last position, and soon after some of us located a Harrier near the old blockhouse on Thornham Marsh. It looked promising, but the diagnostic feature (a broken leg) did not show. It landed for a bit allowing everyone to locate the bird and over the course of the next ten minutes it then flew towards us before flying along the shoreline where we got very good views. The very dark brown upper-parts contrasted with the peachy orange largely unstreaked under-parts, and the very dark head was outlined by a pale collar and a dark boa- I could understand the comparison with Pallid Harrier. Satisfied with the views I ran back to the car to get my camera but by then it had vanished. Colin got a few images with his Pentax K5 and 300mm lens:-
Long considered conspecific with Hen Harrier, some authorities have split Northern Hen Harrier, as it seems to be more closely related to Cinereous Harrier which is logical as it is also an American species. So a tick of sorts on our first day out.
We left soon after and went to Titchwell which turned out to be pretty much full up with only a few spaces left along the approach road. While getting ready and having a coffee we scanned the car park, but were unable to locate any Redpolls-Mealy or Lesser among the tit/Siskin flocks. Had the same problem at the feeders so we decided to wander round the Fen Trail to see if we could find any other birds. Good move as we flushed two Woodcock-another species we failed to see last year.
Heading up to the new Parrinder Hide, we scanned the fresh and salt marsh picking up several Twite and a flyby Water Pipit, before bumping into Bill Last. Had a quick natter as I had not seen him for a bit and investigated the new hide and view points.
Took a few snaps as well.
The sea was productive with more Long Tail Ducks and Red Necked Grebes. Tried to locate one of the Slavonians, but the tide was dropping fast. This also meant the Scoter flock was very distant, and despite a long watch I failed to see any white wings of a Velvet.
The old tern hide has long gone, but it's location was a good vantage point to watch the nine Shorelarks feeding in the dunes. Never managed to get them all in the viewfinder though.
Eventually we left Titchwell having found the female Scaup on the fresh marsh and headed off to Burnham Norton. Found a small crowd watching flights of Pink footed Geese coming in and a quick scan of the beet field produced the adult Ross's Goose among the Pink Feet.
We finished off just down the road at Burnham Overy and heard we had just missed a Rough Legged Buzzard. I scanned the geese and was rewarded with a single Tundra Bean goose though it soon vanished into a hollow and few others saw it. A couple of Barn Owls were nice to see and after a short wait a very pale Buzzard over the Holkham Pines proved to be one of the Rough Legged. It was on view for some time, where it was joined for a while by a Common Buzzard before hunting over the Burnham Overy dunes-would have been nice to have been there with the camera as it would have been very close. As it was i had to settle for a pretty pathetic distant image.