Since the year started off on a slow note, it was good to get out yesterday, and Colin and I had a pretty good time in North Norfolk. The only downside was the rather cold wind which was really unpleasant at times.
We made our first stop at Flitcham where the juvenile Pallid Harrier has been present since it moved from Snettisham late last year. Its been fairly predictable in that it appears circa 8am but then gets a bit erratic, usually being seen every couple of hours but sometimes vanishing all day. We were still travelling when it was reported, and did not actually get there until some time after 0900, joining the small crowd in the field north east of Abbey Farm. Apart from Wood Pigeons and Goldfinches it was pretty quiet. There were supposed to be Brambling around, I guess around the farm itself which is a pretty good small reserve with lots of good birds.
After about twenty minutes, one of the guys picked up a Harrier along the ridge, keeping very low behind the hedge, which he suspected to be a ring tail Hen. A little while later someone from Warrington pulled up, having paid several unsuccessful visits, said he was on his way home but thought he would make one last try. Having been told it had not been seen for 90 minutes, he decided not to stay. Guess what turned up not long after. The Pallid came down from the hill to the east flying very rapidly over the stubble and on to the farm barn where it must have put on a fantastic show for the small group of birders there. It then appeared to fly along the hedge towards us but then doubled back over the barn and then flew back east high over the field, more distantly this time and was eventually lost to view. I managed to get a few poor shots on it's return, having been too excited with the scope views to consider getting the camera on it.
Our next stop was Brancaster Staithe and the rather obliging wintering Red Necked Grebe. Rob Wilson had staked it out and we were advised to use his car as a shelter as the grebe would otherwise tend to keep it's distance. With the tide well out it spent most of it's time feeding in the tidal channel among Wigeon and Teal. I tried to get some video but every time I hit the record button it dived, so ended up with a few phone scoped stills spoilt by the very strong wind. A reasonable selection of duck and waders also helped to boost the year list a bit.
Titchwell ended up as our final site of the day, and it was almost a rerun of our previous visit in December. We spent some time looking at the drained pool on Thornham Marsh where there were a number of pipits present. Most were Meadow, but I could see at least two Water Pipits, but none of us were sure if (presumed Scandinavian) Rock Pipits were present as reported in the visitor centre logbook. The scan of the fresh marsh was cut short (larger than usual numbers of Avocet being the most notable) as reserve guru Ray told us of a Merlin showing towards the beach. Unfortunately it flew shortly before we got there, and to make matters worse was seen soon after hunting along the tidal lagoon bank-and I was on the wrong side searching for Spotted Redshanks.
I stayed a while, as did others hoping it would reappear but I guess it had hunkered down somewhere sheltering from the wind, so we went on to the sea. This was a bit of a let down as the few birds were distant due to the low tide and wind. Several flocks of very distant Common Scoter, none showing any trace of white wings, a couple of distant Great Crested Grebe and Red Throated Divers, and a few Mergansers in Brancaster Bay. The very tame Black Headed Gull was entertaining but wouldn't quite take crisps from my hand, and I got a bit worried when it almost seemed to follow me back when we decided to return.
A stop of at the pool again did not produce any pipits this time, but the Barn Owl put in an appearance. It was distant, but gradually got closer and put on a good show for us.
The last birds we saw, in the car park woods were a few Siskin. Redpolls were supposed to be around but we couldn't find any, and a quick search of the woodland floor failed to produce Woodcock.
The long tedious drive home was enlivened by a herd of Whooper Swans beside the A10 at Brandon Creek, though we couldn't see any Bewicks unfortunately.