First of the year 2009

January 1 2009
Having decided not to start out too early, we set off at 6.25 a.m. in thick wet mist - it was too early! A Tawny Owl callinging from Sylvia's garden was the first on the list, a lucky omen? Still dark when we arrived at Harpley Cottages so we drove a mile or so up a lane, parked in a field entrance and breakfasted. We enjoyed the sight of four Hares lolloping about the fields and after our first 2009 sighting - a Robin at 7.45 - found no birds at all at the cottages. Farm Lane produced the hoped for Tree Sparrow and all four expected thrushes , both partridges and a Yellowhammer in the Flitcham area. Abbey Farm did not have a Little Owl in view and just a few common birds so it was a short visit.Arriving at Snettisham RSPB an hour after high tide, there was a good sprinkling of waders along the emergent mud but the thick mist made scoping impossible for the distant thousands. Pam found a flock of 10 Snow Buntings on the shoreline, just one male, Goldeneye on the pits.Our usual call at Hunstanton cliffs - the sea still shrouded in mist - but we managed a flock of Common Scoter and a single inquisitive Fulmar cruising by.Not a day for productive walking, the drive out to Holme NOA only added Stonechat, Mute Swan and Shoveller. A Rock Pipit at Thornham harbour, still poor visibility so on to Titchwell where we actually found room to park. The weather must have deterred the tourists.The Freshwater Pool held virtually no waders but there were over 50 Pintail and a large flock of Wigeon.A pair of Red Breasted Merganser at Brancaster Staithe, 2 Black Brant at Lady Anne Drive and 5 Marsh Harriers at Cley bumped up the list. We bumped into Brenda at Salthouse who was in search of the Glaucous Gull reported to be flying that way. No sign.....We returned home for a welcome cuppa on the total of 81. Not a brilliant day but reasonably satisfied considering the weather and some noteable 'misses' - Rook taking the dip prize! A couple of texts from Sue and Wendy during the day, detailing their progress - we won !

January 2

A morning drive to Winterton Beach via Horsey as a new fridge is due to be delivered this afternoon. Additions: 4 Red-throated Divers, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Barn Owls, Grey Heron and the highlight, 2 Common Cranes at West Somerton, we've never seen them there before. Oh yes.....and a Rook !

January 3
A rather brighter day but still overcast with very little wind. Ludham Bridge is not an easy viewing area but we squeezed into a muddy field opening to scope distant Bewick's (60) and 20 Whooper Swans. Another birder allowed us to reverse out - and then took our place. Not altruistic after all.
Buckenham Marshes was very disappointing but we added Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker, Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit before rewarding the crossing keeper with a Werthers for his troubles.
Our usual gateway viewing point at Cantley Marshes didn't let us down, both Taiga Bean Geese and Whitefronts in good scope view.
Viewing the flock of over 5,000 distant Pink-footed Geese from the top of the hump-backed Halvergate Bridge, the single Ross's Goose stood out well.
On to Great Yarmouth beach front for the ever present Mediterranean Gulls behind the Sealife Centre, returning via Horsey for 4 more Cranes and a female Hen Harrier. Walcott the final stop for Sanderling, bringing us to a total of 101 for the year. Pam is one ahead as she caught a pair of Bullfinches disappearing into the thicket as we turned the corner at the bottom of Bachelor's Lane !!!

January 5
Big dipper day....no Waxwings at Dussindale, the Scaup was missing from Whitlingham as was the Red-crested Pochard, Richard 'the hat' told us about the latter which he'd missed too.

January 6
A beautiful day, cloudless blue sky, windless but only 1-3 C all day.
Lowestoft Ness Point for 2 Purple Sandpipers feeding on insects on wet algae on the rock defences, deftly avoiding the incoming tide splash.
Minsmere RSPB car park was unusually empty. Walking to West Hide via the woods where we saw a Treecreeper and I saw a Marsh Tit for my list - Pam had one in the garden. On reaching the hide and climbing up to the upper deck, a female Scaup was immediately in view. We were joined by some very pleasant older men out for the day, we enjoyed their conversation. Pam spotted a Water Pipit on the pool edge nearest the sea and then, great jubilation, 2 Male Smew and another female flew in to dive in a small area devoid of ice. They are such lovely birds. The Dunwich flock of Barnacles flew over and a Kingfisher flew the length of the pool veering along the length of the hide.
The men had told us of a Lapland Bunting at Dunwich Beach so we didn't walk further at Minsmere. The walk at Dunwich was a trudge along large patches of shingle but we managed a brief view of the Lap Bunt and a Skylark bringing the total to 109

January 8
Our monthly outing with friends Aileen and Bridget dawned dull, overcast and very cold - 1-3C all day. We arranged to meet at Snettisham RSPB car park so that they could join us for the drive down to the reserve via the caravan/chalet park. We have a permit to do so. Pam and I added: Avocet at Snettisham (the first we've seen there), Brambling at Flitcham, Sparrowhawk at Holme, Spotted Redshank at Thornham, Twite at Brancaster Staithe, a perched female Merlin at Lady Anne's, Holkham, a Shag at Wells Harbour and a Short-eared Owl at Stiffkey. We also had distant views of a male Hen Harrier at the latter. Day Total: 82. Year total 117

January 9

This time the drive through Dussingdale was immediately successful, 2 Waxwings in a treetop. A cold and damp walk and long scope scan at Whitlingham proved likewise, eventually - as much of the pits was frozen. A female Scaup feeding actively in a distant small pool, Goldcrest flitting along the shoreline bushes.

A daft decision really, considering the frozen water at Whitlingham, so, not surprising that a visit to Sparham Pools did not produce any Goosander ! The visit was worth it for me as I saw 2 male and 1 female Bullfinch to catch up with Pam.

January 11
A long phone call to Australia, chatting with Sara and both boys, meant that we didn't leave home for Felbrigg Hall until 11.10. on a very nice but cold sunny day with a strong NE wind. The reported Hawfinch was supposed to be in a yew tree viewable from the car park. There were several yews.......but one had three birders lurking nearby. Someone with very sharp eyes indeed spotted the female Hawfinch sitting quietly -as they do - high in the branches. I looked through someone's scope and then found it in my own once I'd found the right spot to stand. Excellent. A birder we know well by sight but not by name, we call him Sheltie as he often has one, pointed out the tree where a Little Owl hangs out. There one was, in the lower hole in the main trunk, hunched up, looking out. Great to find another site.
We called in to Gunton Park via the usual fisherman's entry, again no Grey Wagtail but too much water in the favourite sluice and no sign along the stream. A Nuthatch showed well near the car park to bring the list to 124.

January 12
A quickie to Salthouse for the wintering Glaucous Gull, a dingy first winter bird standing about on the shore, plus a Gannet and Guillemot for the year. Sheltie was there....

January 13
Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve was the target for to-day. We added Lesser Redpoll in a car park tree as soon as we arrived. Just Whitley Hide to-day, which had a solitary woman birder who was waiting for the Water Rail. A few Brambling flew in to feed and a solitary Rail crept out of the reeds. Two Treecreepers for the Norfolk list and then, the biggest surprise, an immature male Golden Pheasant under the feeders near the Portakabin. The warden greeted us as we returned to the car. 3 Golden Pheasant, two male and a female, had appeared in June 2008. He thinks that they may have been dumped. Much easier than Wolferton but probably not as genuine! Are any of them genuine?
Pam spotted a Common Buzzard perched in a distant tree as we drove through West Newton - how does she do that when she's driving?
Hunstanton Cliffs gave views of a large flock of Common Scoter and we managed to distinguish at least one Velvet Scoter amongst them, not easy at rest. A few Eider flew through but no sign of any Fulmars.
The drive out to Holme NOA and NWT is rough but always enjoyable, just a Reed Bunting to add. The path out to the NOA hide in the car park is very overgrown but a nearby pile of boards is promising.

January 15
Deciding to go to Titchwell was not sensible on such a cold, damp and overcast day with a southerly wind. We walked directly to the sea as it was high tide, and there we sat for three quarters of an hour despite a largely empty sea. A warden doing the morning recce had told us it was empty! Ever the optimists. The sum total of our devotion was 1 Great Crested Grebe, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Goldeneye and, the highlight just before we left, a female Merlin flying west low across the sea.
What now as it was only mid morning? The road to Denver Sluice from the east was closed so we had to do the return trip and try again from the Welney end. Successful this time with distant but good scope views of three pairs of Goosander. A Kingfisher for the Norfolk list darted across the front of me, too fast and short a view for Pam to pick up.
Our annual visit to Welney WWT was as enjoyable as always. Just one herd of distant wild swans on the raised switchback road through black soil fen country. The 'new' centre ( probably 3 years old now) is very impressive but I don't much enjoy the flights of stairs to the top for the walkway to the Hide. The latter is a high sided bridge across the road and water with information plaques re the swans' journey to Welney. The centrally heated glass sided hide was relatively empty so we could sit and scan in comfort - until grandparents and two under five year old girls, arrived. They
weren't being bad really, just very noisy and Grandad kept trying to teach them about the birds. we were eventually able to move away to a distant corner to view the hundreds of Whooper Swans, even more Pochard and a scattering of other wildfowl.

After at least an hour of happy scanning, 6 Tundra Bean Geese appeared on a distant island. The light was reasonable by now for decent views.

Whilst Pam had a hot drink in the cafe, I left to investigate the small shop and to buy the print of a superb three dimensional, perched Peregrine which we'd both loved when we saw it hanging in the passage on the way in - and two pencils made from recycled plastic cups!

We stopped to investigate the large - 250+ - flock of very flighty finches seen roadside, just Linnets and Greenfinches.

Just west of Letheringsett, a Long-eared Owl flew towards the car from the left, hastily veering away. What luck.

January 20

No sign of any Mandarin Duck to reward us for our exceedingly muddy walk down to Felbrigg Hall Lake via Peddars Way.

The walk east along Sheringham Promenade into a very cold east wind was cheek-biting. We found one Norfolk list Purple Sandpiper skidding sideways down a slippery rock as it attempted to feed on algae then another much nearer the car park on the return walk.

January 23
Why did we go out at all to-day? It was dreadful, heavy rain all day. No Smew at Tottenhill, the day just notable (!) for shopping at Hunstanton Tesco and a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose amid the flock of Dark-bellied Brent off Beach Road, Cley.

January 26
Felbrigg Hall Lake again via Peddars Way, even muddier after all the rain and the brambles snatch at one's trouser legs. We walked to the far gate so that we could get an improved view of the favoured bushy undergrowth at the far edge of the pool. After nearly an hour's patient scanning, enlivened by a chat with Sheltie. After he'd left, I saw in a small 'window' the head of a preening duck showing a large white streak. Pam left to walk the far path through the trees to see if she could approach the water's edge and encourage the birds into the water. In the meantime, I had a clear view of a handsome drake Mandarin head and neck. As I walked to meet Pam, a flock of Mallard and the female Mandarin took to the air and landed. Her flushing was successful and she'd had good views of the female. The male stayed put.

January 29
A beautiful-looking sunny day, the temperature only managing to rise to 1C by lunchtime. Poor timing, a large group of ramblers and dogs filled the car parking space at Dersingham Bog just before we arrived but we parked down the hill on the verge. Keeping our fingers crossed, we made our way through the gang and straight across to the cliff path - they went right. Phew. Plenty of Coal Tit song but nothing else in the woods. Down the steep steps to the valley floor, we discovered that the boardwalk is a meandering circular path, so back to where we started. Apart from 6 Greenfinches, our longish walk went unrewarded, despite conscientious scanning no sign of a Great Grey Shrike. Two Dersingham village birders who walk here often, had only seen it once and said it was frequently missing.

After lunching at Gore Point parking, we drove to Thornham where I photographed an actively feeding and darting Little Egret in the roadside creek.

Walking to Fen Hide at Titchwell, the single woman birder present pointed out a Peregrine perched in a bare tree. Lovely. Our patience was rewarded by the brief sighting of a flying Bittern, Pam twice, me the second time. They hardly rise above the reeds and one has to be looking in the right direction - without binoculars. I'd missed the first one through scanning the distant flying waders. Just one more stop at Holkham to search through the geese and attempt a photo in the poorish light.

January 20
The first birding day with Sue Hill since before Christmas so she hasn't seen any real variety of birds since her New Year's Day birding with sister Wendy. Sculthorpe Moor had many Bramblings around all three feeders on the left circuit with more foraging on the ground in the woods. A few Lesser Redpoll but little else. Gore Point Lookout was very cold but successful with views of 10 delightful Long-tailed Ducks, 3 Eider and an excellent variety of waders. The boardwalk to the NOA hide is complete and a huge improvement. Pam parked the car so that I could attempt to photograph the flock of about 20 Fieldfares feeding on buckthorn berries.
Our first Holkham White-fronted Geese of the winter at Lady Anne's, just 2 amongst the Pinks. The regular, small, wintering flock is no longer reliable here. I love their broad-black striped bellies.
The Brancaster Staithe Twite flock showed well in their hurtling, swooping restless flight way before moving on to Stiffkey Raptor Roost. Five Marsh Harriers, 2 Barn Owls and 1 Short-eared Owl brought a good day to an end. Sue added 64 year birds to her list and we increased our month/year total to 143.

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