Feel free to post questions or comments on this new blog about Birding in and around Barcelona and Catalonia, Spain. Although currently still in progress, I have uploaded Trip Reports up until November 2010... with videos and month-by-month 'quick look' summaries still to come. Stephen Christopher

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Outside Spain: August in Norfolk, U.K.

An August morning on the North Norfolk coast

As I swung the car door open at 0730 on the morning of 20th August 2009 it had been twenty months since my last visit to Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk, and my impatience to sit on the sea-front bench-on-the-beach meant I skipped out of the car park and entered the footpaths at some pace.

But within seconds, singing Wren, Chaffinch, Robin, Chiffchaff and Blue Tit drew my haste to a halt and I settled on a canopy-covered picnic bench to listen.  As I did so, I dwelt on the thought that here such birds - all relatively rare during summer in north-east Spain where I spend much of my time these days - are perhaps not appreciated as they might be.  Perhaps given as little attention in fact as I give to Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles around my garden.

But some of Norfolk's jewels, and one in particular, were even rarer back in Spain and so, although somewhat calmed by the welcome chorus, I made my way through the reserve with purpose.  One such exciting bird, the Herring Gull, accompanied me faithfully all along the straight track to the sea as if aware of its new popularity.  How smart it was in its pink legs and, yes, I remember now how significantly paler its mantle is than the Yellow-legged Gulls in Barcelona.

As the morning light and shadows stretched across the water with the still-rising sun, it gradually converted busy silhouettes into full-colour Curlew, Redshank, Avocet, Snipe, Lapwing and Dunlin (photo below). A flock of Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead before two more 'strangers' - the Meadow Pipit (winter only in my part of Spain) and Reed Bunting (a different sub-species) - escorted me to the beach itself.

As I approached, a pair of Little Egret flew up and brought up flashes of Barcelona but I paid them little attention (!).  Instead I looked straight ahead and, with the same rush one gets from scaling the steps to view the green grass of the Camp Nou football pitch for the first time, step by step the sea came into view and I paused on the brow of the footpath.  What a wonderful place.  I'm used to viewing the north sea from here in winter but even now the sand was blanketed with wriggling flocks of Grey Plover (some in dinner-jacket-smart summer plumage), Ringed Plover (photo below), Sanderling, Oystercatcher and Turnstone, amongst others.

I stayed.  I stayed and barely used my binoculars.  I stayed until distant voices crept down the footpath and whispered 'you're no longer alone' in my ear and I moved on.  Sorry guys, this morning I just didn't feel like talking.  And anyway I still had 'the jewel' to prize from the jaws of the reserve and the voices provided me with a good excuse to get on with it.

A handful of Ruff and a reminder that all the White Wagtails here are Pied Wagtails were the only additions, save for small flocks of Linnet and Goldfinch that skipped ahead of me as I strolled back to the Island hide, but even as I entered it was apparent that a fistful of Little Stint were slaloming between the legs of the Dunlin and Redshank.

I suppose there's a saying somewhere that states that all jewels are worth waiting for, and I was prepared (with coffee, chocolate biscuits, a banana, brie and apple sandwiches, a piece of leftover omelette, a bag of crisps and an orange, all lovingly pre-packed by my sister) to wait as long as it takes.  I hadn't seen this bird for two years and, before that, not since I used to watch them scamper about at my local reservoir when I was a teenager.

Within five minutes, whilst excitedly watching three absolutely spanking Sedge Warbler (yet another stranger; there are none in Catalonia) flitting between the reed bases and exposed earth to the south of the hide, a juvenile Bearded Reedling aka Bearded Tit aka how-bloody-great-is-that?, popped out onto the soft sand and was promptly joined by three others.

For the next half-hour and more I watched them to the exclusion of all else (except for the Sedge Warblers and a pair of Reed Warbler all of whom seemed to be sharing the same niche).  The rubbish picture above of course is no attempt to do them justice but I couldn't resist. 

During this time they hardly disappeared as they worked their way first back and then forth across the feet of the reeds, on a couple of very reminiscent occasions actually sliding down the reed stems a la Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub (or Fireman Sam for the younger generation).  I'd forgotten that they did that.  And they run!  Since when do they run?  Funny how the brain works as I don't remember even knowing that.  No-one else in the hide knew that either, but at least I'm being sociable now and actually talking to people.

On the way out a large group of Greylag Geese and some Common Teal (mostly winter birds for me) had gathered amongst the other duck-species and I picked out a mid-distant Great Black-backed Gull, a bird not present in Catalonia that I hoped to see at closer quarters later in the day.

A Common Whitethroat nodded me the direction of the car and I was soon off back west along the coast to Holme.

A few dog-walkers made me fear the worst and put me in mind of a quick departure but a hop, skip and a jump to the top of a sand-dune was the minimum requirement to see if a longer stay was worthwhile.  Worthwhile?  I should say so.  I immediately caught sight of a lone Grey Partridge, itself caught mid-path and scuttling back into cover.  This was another of my key target species for the day.  Although I do occasionally see the rare Catalan population in the Pyrenees, it had been a while since I'd had a really good view.

A little fruitful patience produced superb views as he eventually tip-toed out with six youngsters and his partner, who like a lollipop lady stopped mid-way to marshal the kids past before following on behind, and they all disappeared into the sand-scrub.

As I turned to watch a close-by Common Whitethroat, a ringtail Hen Harrier suddenly went up a few metres away and dropped down on the blind side of the dune.  Even a reversed jump, skip and and a hop unfortunately failed to re-locate the bird but, encouraged by the diversity, I locked up the car and sand-squelched my way to the tide's edge.

I almost ignored a wing-flick in the sand dunes en route but a voice on my shoulder nagged me to pursue and discover a Northern Wheatear.  I do see this species throughout the year and this apparently larger and darker bird smacked of the Greenland sub-species but it was a little too far off to be sure.

Once at the water's edge, I allowed the foam to lap at my shoes as I sat on my heels and waited about twenty minutes for the shorebirds I'd just scared away to get used to me and return.  These Red Knot (above) were my favourites, but close views of more Great Black-backed Gull and a re-found appreciation of the quite beautiful Common Gull, a rare vagrant for me most often seen in the Ebro Delta, ran them close.

Other new birds present amongst the thousands of gulls and waders were plenty of Bar-tailed Godwit, along with a few of their black-tailed cousins, a Great Crested Grebe flying low over the ocean and fishing Common and Sandwich Terns.

All in all about 75 species for the day, including plenty of Rook, another 'stranger' not mentioned, and the best birding in yonks.  What a great year I'm having.

P.S.  I didn't eat the orange.