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Bird Race!

24th May 2009

Gary, Adam & Myself decided to have a a whole days birding in and around Norfolk (not 24-hours, we're not that mental) to ideally see, but if not then hear, as many birds as possible. As we weren't "racing" any other teams it wasn't technically a Bird Race, so I have made up some other teams so I don't have to call it a "Big Day" or somesuch nonsense.

Our (imaginary) opponents:
The Suppressormen - A good score, but as half the birds were rare, breeding and on private land, they refused to give me their list. Total - Disqualified.
Dick Dastardly & Mutley - An obsession with one bird meant a very poor list. Total - 1 (Feral Pigeon)
Dudes & Dogs - Great views obtained with top-notch optics, but wasted valuable time trying to call their dogs back from attacking wildfowl. Total - 100
The Stringermen - A very good score, but did they really hear a Kookaburra at Sweetbriar Marshes? Total 120.
Bill Oddie On Acid - He took a year off Springwatch to prepare, drove at an average of 98mph and only missed House Sparrow having never gone near built up areas. Total 171. *

We Norwich at 5.30, and had a modest 12 for the journey to the Brecks. A stop off in the layby near East Wretham Heath to scope Langmere failed to give us hoped for Ruddy Duck, but did add Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Shelduck & Whitethroat. A meandering drive through an area of Brecks gave distant views of Stone Curlew and Lapwings, before arriving at Lakenheath. Common stuff was picked up around the car park, and Hockwold Washes had GC Grebe, Grey Heron, Gadwall and a Barn Owl in the distance.

The Golden Orioles were singing in the distance, and we defied everyone else by watching from the river side of the plantations to get a greater field of view. Gary managed a brief glimpse of one in the poplars before I noticed a male perched at the top of a poplar, glinting in the sun! An excellent view of an excellent bird. Adam managed a view in the scope before we watched it fly to the first plantation. We picked up flight views of Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Bittern (over Joist Fen) and Turtle Dove, and heard a Water Rail.

As the conditions were good, we decided to try Mayday Farm, which was quite frankly pants. Blackcap, Coal Tit and Song Thrush were seen, and this started an obsessive spell of Woodlark hunting that lost us time. At Weeting we dipped Spotfly, and didn't even pick up Green Woodpecker. A sight near Grimes Graves was better, with Stonechat, Tree Pipit and Siskin, although still no Woodlark. Pentney Lakes were home to a lovely Farmyard Goose, which in no way made up for the lack of Black Terns, or anything good, actually.

A sat-nav malfunction (which saw it later replaced by Adam, with the bonus of a less annoying voice and less "turn around when possible") saw us trapped in traffic in King's Lynn, before breaking free and ending up at Roydon Common. My major contribution to the day, a raptor approached being mobbed by crows, I called "pale buzzard!" but as it came closer and passed almost overhead, it became evident it was a very late Rough-legged Buzzard! A brilliant bird to get. Having decided to give up on Woodlark for the day, one took pity and showed from 20 yards from the car. It didn't show that much pity, flying off as I focused my camera on it.

On the way to Flitcham I saw Curlew in a field, which the others missed, but this was temporarily forgotten as we sped up to find a layby to pull in to look at an interesting raptor being mobbed in the direction of the farm. The jizz said Kite, but it clearly wasn't red. We got a decent view of it, ruling out Marsh Harrier and Buzzard, leaving the unanimous conclusion, Black Kite! Gary called it in along with the R-L Buzzard from earlier, and I was slightly concerned that RBA would think it was a windup, but news got out quickly. A look at Birdguides this morning suggests no-one else managed to see it, which is a shame, but it could well be the same bird that was seen at Breydon or Swanton Novers in the past few days.

We arrived at Swanton Novers in the early afternoon, and after a number of Common Buzzards, we got distant views of a longer-tailed bird, which luckily engaged in brief wing-clapping to confirm Honey Buzzard. We stayed a little longer, seeing up to 8 Common Buzzards soaring in a column together, before shooting off. We saw a male Montagu's Harrier over fields from the top-secret-how-does-anyone-ever-find-it? watchpoint. 

Choseley gave Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge, and on to Titchwell. The female Red-crested Pochard with 9 chicks was on the freshmarsh pool, along with a close couple of Ruddy Ducks. We also clocked up summer plumage Grey Plover, Med Gull, Little Gull, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, Arctic Tern and Eider offshore. Incidentally, there was an intersting duck behind the island with a small brick wall on it, it had a sandy coloured head but it didn't look like a wigeon or RC pochard, maybe a hybrid or escape? I didn't have time to have a proper look, anyone seen it?

Still needing a number of woodland birds we tried Holkham Park, but frustratingly I only added Treecreeper, although Gary also saw Goldcrest. A call in to Morston gave us Short-eared Owl, Brent Goose, Knot and Little Egret (I missed one at Titchwell). Arnold's Marsh added Dunlin, and a seawatch provided a distant Guillemot. Salthouse Heath was quiet, and in the absence of a singing Nightingale from the road we shot off for Sparham Pools. No Kingfisher or Grey Wagtail, but a bonus Bullfinch and as sundown drew close we ran down the river for a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

We finished the day at a heath near Reepham, where we failed to see Woodcock, but were more than rewarded by good flight views fom around 5 churring Nightjars. Final bird of the day was Tawny Owl, bird number 116 (113 seen, Goldcrest, Water Rail & Cetti's heard). Due to a miscount or omissions during the day, Gary thought he had only seen 111, equalling his day record, so congratulations, it looks like you beat it!

A really great day out, four British ticks and good views of them too. A number of common birds missed, the lack of waders was a crippler and almost no rares or passage birds to go for. Still, sets the bar for next year!

Adam, Me & Gary. Guess who got sunburnt?
* Bill Oddie does not take drugs, it's a joke. Some people don't like his presenting style, but I do. He won because he is great. Deal with it.

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