Sunday, 6 January 2013

A Race to the Finish

An update on the end of 2012....

We spent 4 days in Norfolk between Christmas & New Year, in a last minute attempt to add a few more birds to The List.

I started out on 28th at Cley whilst Simon went off to the motorcycle museum in North Walsham. I walked all the way around the reserve; rain was threatening but luckily it only materialised towards the end of the day. I was excited when I found 8 Pink-footed Geese in a field opposite the reserve, but that was my only new species.

Looking West along the beach at Cley
Simon came back whilst there was still some light so we nipped up the coast to Kelling for the Richardson's Canada Goose. On the way we came across a Sacred Ibis - I wonder if it's the same one we saw from Muriel in July. I walked in with a local couple & we found the Richardson's in with a small flock of ordinary Canada Geese.

The Pink-footed Geese & the Richardson's Canada Goose put my Year List on 222, the same as Dom.

On the 29th we headed back to the North coast, firstly to Lady Ann's Drive in Holkham for the Black Brant. I couldn't find it but the thousands of Pink-footed Geese were quite a spectacle. Simon then dropped me off at Titchwell for the day, which started well with a Waxwing in the car park. I headed straight down to the beach whilst the weather was dry hoping to find Twite, as a flock has been seen a few times recently, but no joy.
Looking East along the beach at Titchwell
I then headed back to the Island Hide where a Yellow-legged Gull had been seen.  After a short while a gull landed between a Herring Gull & a Lesser Black-backed Gull that was a shade of grey between the two, and when it kindly had a scratch it revealed its yellow legs. So, I added Yellow-legged Gull to the list. Simon returned and we headed back to Holkham for another crack at the Black Brant. I found a possible candidate but needed a second opinion. Simon examined the Collins Bird Guide, coming out in the wind & rain for a look. The goose kept vanishing but Simon managed to get a better look than I had. He confirmed my suspicion, so it went on the list.

That put my List on 224, two ahead of Dom.

And so to the 30th, the penultimate day. We headed East to Buckenham Marsh in search of Taiga Bean Geese that would put me equal on sub-species, the tie-breaker. There was another Waxwing in the car park but no Bean Geese on the marsh, so we tried the nearby Cantley Marsh. I found a large flock of White-fronted Geese, but no Beans. Off to Hickling Broad to look for the Common Cranes which live in the area & generally roost there. Simon dropped me off & headed off to do his own thing. I walked around the reserve before heading to the winter raptor viewpoint just up the road at Stubbs Mill to wait for the cranes.
Hickling Broad

Raptor viewpoint

Stubbs Mill from the viewpoint
The raised platform gave excellent views across the marsh towards Horsey. A Barn Owl flew around the platform fairly close giving fabulous views, but the most impressive site was the harrier roost. I counted 26 Marsh Harriers, with 12 in the scope at one time! There were also at least 2 Hen Harriers, a beautiful male & a ring-tail. It was amazing to see. One of the other chaps counted 32 Marsh Harriers, and according to the reserve website, there can be up to 100! Although the cranes failed to materialise, I'm really glad I went and hope to go back again some time.

It was dark by the time I got back to the car park. I'd had a memorable day but was still a bit disappointed at finding no new birds for the List. To make things worse, when we got home I discovered that Dom had made a mammoth trip to Norfolk & hoovered up 5 species, putting him on 227!  He was 3 species & a sub-species ahead with one day left!

I decided I'd give it my best shot...

On 31st we headed back East to have another look for the Cranes. Chatting to locals at the raptor viewpoint, I'd discovered that they sometimes feed during the day in the fields along the coast road to Horsey.  As soon as we got there Simon pulled into a gateway so that I could scan the fields, and the heavens opened.  I commented that luck was obviously not with us.  Wrong!  There, at the back of the field in front of our van were 4 Common Cranes! I'd allotted two hrs to search for them and it had taken two minutes!

Next stop was The Mound at Waveney Forest, the viewpoint to look for the Rough-legged Buzzard over Haddiscoe Marsh. I'd found directions to The Mound on a Blog but was glad when a local birder Rene turned up to lead the way. It was a fair walk through the woods, so it was a bit annoying that I lost a foot from my tripod somewhere on the walk in. There was one chap there already who was after the Great White Egret, which appeared as soon as we arrived. However, despite watching for about three hours, there was no sign of the Buzzard. Maybe it didn't like the high winds. Rene was confident that I would at least get a Short-eared Owl, but by the time he left at 2.30, there was no sign of one. Then, literally two minutes after he left, I did indeed find a Short-eared Owl, and another Barn Owl.

The Mound & the marshes beyond

Haddiscoe Marsh
The Cranes & the Short-eared Owl put my 2012 Year List total on 226 (& 3 sub-species).  Dom finished on 227 (plus 4 sub-species). I think he deserved to win having managed to accrue his List with a full time job, a wife & 2 young children, and a bad case of the flu when he made his Norfolk visit on the 30th. He's showed what skill, knowledge & determination can achieve!

I'm really glad I took part in the race. I learnt a lot, visited lots of interesting places, and saw loads more fantastic birds than I would have done without the added motivation.

I'm now looking forward to some chilled patch birding in 2013.

An update.....

I really should have mentioned how the other contestants fared in the race....

Paul: 188 + 2 He started well, but circumstances intervened such that he didn't add to his list after his trip to South Africa in October

Mary: 155 + 2 Not bad for a resident of Switzerland! The list was accrued during 2 birding trips (one with me & one with Paul) & a sneak visit to Paul's for Christmas, when a further 4 birds were added.

Steve: 99. A pretty poor effort....nothing added after Feb


  1. Hats off to both of you! Massive effort and dedication and went to the wire. Thanks for all the vicarious birding adventures along the way.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the ride! It was nice to have some company.....