Tuesday 11 October 2011

Seeing no birds in Norfolk

A few of us had booked a birdy long weekend in Norfolk about six months ago. At peak time, we would surely be knee-deep in rarities, fighting Yellow-browed Warblers off with our bare hand, shooing Olive-backed Pipits off the pavements. The westerly winds had other ideas however, and as our long-awaited trip dawned, so too did the realisation that we were going to see almost nothing. Naturally, we turned to drink.

We had left on Thursday morning, and taken a circuitous route that involved dipping the Semipalmated Sandpiper at East Tilbury, spending eleven hours in the Hornchurch/Romford area picking the Monkey up, ticking the Sandhill Crane for the England list I don't keep, and finally arriving in West Norfolk late afternoon. Rather than go out birding, we made for the nearest pub.

Whereas my trip to Shetland was characterised by 8pm being thought of as a late night, this trip to Norfolk was the birding equivalent of Ibiza (though without any Mediterranean species). Wherry on draft and a rack of ribs, does it come any better? The boozing continued back at the accomodation, and about twenty minutes after we all went to bed, Dave Mo got up and started his morning routine with a shower. This was to become a feature of the holiday.

The following day, suitably refreshed after fifteen million gallons of beer and about an hour's sleep, we indecisively made our way to Hunstanton. There we saw no birds over the course of about half an hour, and then gave up and went to a cafe for breakfast. After more indecisiveness and ever-increasing numbers of Gadwall being released, we set upon a new plan which took us to Cley. Guess what? We saw no birds. Well, we saw a handful of Great Skuas and some Goldies, but the Richard's Pipits and Red-flanked Bluetails were sadly lacking. We couldn't even find the Lapland Buntings that had been reported from the Eye Field. This was not for want of trying though. I spent about an hour scanning and scanning, and in the process was nearly forced to kill about twenty other birders.

Perhaps this is unique to the type of birding gentry found only in Norfolk, or perhaps this is a sign of national malaise, but not a single other birder could be bothered to actually look for the Laps. This didn't stop all twenty of them coming up to Hawky and I, setting up their scopes, and then asking if we had them. When we answered no, they looked through their scopes for approximately eight seconds each, and then picked them up and walked off back to the beach, their car, their deckchair, whatever. To begin with I was fairly cheerful about it. Nope, hadn't seen them, but it was a big field and they were small birds. Then I started saying that only by looking could you hope to find. Then I became a little short, and asked them how many birders they could actually see looking for them. When this didn't faze them at all, and they walked off exactly as all the others had done before them, I snapped, and was possibly then overtly rude to the next lot that turned up and called them a bunch of of lazy goodfornothing wankers and that I was not there just to ensure that they could view a Lapland Bunting through my scope and that they could just piss off. At that point we too decided to leave, which was fortunate, as the next sixty-something well-kitted-out birding incompetent who had asked me if I had the Lapland Buntings for him would likely have been twatted with my extremely substantial tripod, and then battered to death whilst on the floor with the blunt end of my SLR.

Next stop Wells Wood, where we all wandered around disconsolently for ages, and on the point of leaving were extremely fortunate that my Shetland-trained ears picked out the Yellow-browed Warbler which then proceeded to utterly elude us, bar more brief calls, for a further hour. I forget what we did next, but it almost certainly didn't involved birds and almost certainly did involve beer in dramatic quantites whilst we waited for Dave Mo to get up and for the next day to start.

The next day was pretty fun it has to be said. We left the Mo and the Monkey watching some rugby game or other, and Shaun, Hawky, Redsy and me went off to Twitchwell to photograph waders. This we achieved, though at the cost of getting rather wet, particularly Shaun. It's all about fieldcraft. Position yourself correctly, don't move (unless a wave threatens to drown you), be patient, and the birds will come to you. This culminated in me being surrounded by Knot, Barwit and Turnstone literally feet away, it was superb. I rattled off some 850 frames in the two hours I was there, some of which you are privileged to see littering this post. Kind of. After some comedy antics from the orienteering team of Monkey and Mo, who tried to access Titchwell via Thornham saltmarsh, we attempted a Seawatch at Sheringham, saw nothing, and went home for - wait for it - some beers.

And that was it really. Norfolk in three days netted one Yellow-browed Warbler and a few Skuas. We decided we would cut our losses and so we all went home and back to work. Yes, even me. Happily we went via Suffolk, which actually had some birds. And you can see some of those... in the next program post.

PS  If you didn't read the last sentence in a David Attenborough voice you will have entirely missed out on what I was trying to achieve. Natch.

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