I went year-listing in Norfolk at the weekend. I think I may have left it a little late, as I was only on 195. After a successful day I am now on 203, but this is approximately the total I would hit in April if I were taking it seriously. Clearly I am not taking it seriously, and whilst at various stages I have both decried and embraced listing, 2014 will be my lowest ever total by a wide margin. I think I need to do better. I am not saying that I am going to go all out and smash it in 2015, but if you do at least pay a little bit of attention to listing, which patently I have not this year, then you will spur yourself on to see a few more birds. That’s the answer really – call it what you will, add a listing element if you want, but just go birding. If you do, you’ll see more birds than I have this year. For instance, my 200th bird was a returning Pink-footed Goose in a skein high above Warham Greens. How is this even possible, how did I manage not to see a Pink-footed Goose last winter? We were searching for a Red-breasted Flycatcher that the ever-productive John Furze had just found, and the sounds came floating down. I recognized it immediately of course – I’d seen hundreds of birds in Iceland relatively recently – but that’s not the point. It means that throughout the whole of the last winter period, I had not birded the coast. Not been to north Norfolk, not been to the Yare Valley. But it gets worse - Black-necked Grebe was a year tick too! In other words I have seemingly not been birding anywhere. That’s not quite true of course. I had been to Morocco – twice – and also to Cyprus during the winter period. It’s true that there weren’t many Black-necked Grebes and Pink-footed Geese, but there were outstanding numbers of Moussier’s Redstarts and Cyprus Pied Wheatears, neither of which we could find yesterday on the coast despite giving it a really good bash. Time is the killer, but still.
Nick, Bradders and I had a relatively leisurely start, and didn’t arrive at Blakeney until about 9am. It was cold! I’d been told to expect a nice warm day, wandering around in shirt sleeves not seeing very much, but it was murky with a stiff breeze blowing and newly-arrived Wheatears clinging to the sea wall. We quickly located the juvenile Red-backed Shrike sheltering in a bush, and then went off to bird Friary Hills for a bit. Nothing much doing here, so we pootled off to Warham Greens, always a favourite place to go birding on an autumn easterly. We started at the Stiffkey end and gradually worked our way west, picking up a couple of Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher. As we arrived at the most-westerly track, Garden Drove, we could see a group of birders moving cautiously down towards us. We stayed put as they pushed down, and saw a couple of Spotted Flycatchers in with various Tits, but the real prize was a Red-breasted Flycatcher that eventually showed very well indeed. Such smart little birds, I’ve now seen eight – simply by virtue of going birding, incredible! Remarkably I’d seen one down this exact track almost two years ago. I think it’s what they call a site having a track record. So almost impeccable timing on our part. Arriving half an hour earlier and finding it ourselves would of course have been perfect timing!
We birded our way slowly back to the car via various Buntings, Wheatears and Finches, and following a spot of lunch in Wells, parked up next to the track that led down to Burnham Overy and Gun Hill. The hope was that with the freshening breeze, more and more migrants would start arriving. Although we bumped into Nick, Clare and Tony who confirmed that this did appear to be the case, beyond a few more Whinchat, Wheatear and a Redstart, we couldn’t conjure anything better up. A few Yellow-browed Warblers further east raised our hopes a bit, but I think it’s probably all going to be about this week and next, it’s east all the way and Shetland could be immense. Seeing as it wasn’t heaving, we decided to devote a small amount of time to the Barred Warbler that had been there a couple days. Barred Warblers being what they are, there was nothing happening, and so after seeing a Garden Warbler, cynicism and boredom got the better of Bradders and he wandered off. He had however failed to appreciate the significance of eating a Double Decker. Nick and I both had one, and whilst I promptly fell asleep, Nick stayed awake and the subtle magic started to work. Thus almost imperceptibly I became aware of a very shouty man in the dunes…… “It’s there!” “In the Elder!!”
Eh? What’s an Elder? I think I need to work on my bush identification skills. By now fully awake due to shouty man, I managed to work out which bush it was, namely as it was the only one with a bloody huge Warbler in it. Ah, so that’s what an Elder looks like. The Warbler actually moved with surprising grace for a large lump – much like me – and was in complete contrast to the Garden Warbler, which basically performed a series of large belly flops in a bramble. I took a series of piss-poor shots with which to grip off Bradders, and we proceeded back towards the car as it was now approaching 6pm – no wonder I was tired….. On the way back we finally saw the elusive Black-necked Grebe (a likely Norfolk tick for me, except it wasn’t as I had seen one in exactly the same place six years and day ago), and then performed our good deed for the day by pushing a Merc off a bank following a parking fail by another birder that had left one of the rear wheels spinning in mid-air and the body of the car grounded on the grass.