19th to 21st February 2016 - The Midlands

Our jaunt to the Midlands for the Warwick University Beer Festival came round quickly.  We had a slight detour to a local site where Hoopoe had been for quite a long time and were happy to spend time with it as it wandered around.  We also headed to Brandon Marsh twice (the second time as I was rather ill and had to forfeit the annual trip to Draycote Water, sniff).  There were the usual suspects at Brandon with a Marsh/Willow Tit (anyone know which is the more common here?) and an unexpected female Goosander.

Unexpected Goosander

13th to 14th February 2016 - Norfolk

Just two weeks later, we were back up in Norfolk agaim, although due to a mixture of illness (me) and late night drinking (Stuart), we didn't actually get there until around 2pm on the Saturday.  The first stop was at Lynford in hope of Hawfinch, but we didn't spot any mid afternoon.  We did however add Nuthatch to the year list, yay!  We took a brief detour after to Brancaster Staithe, where a Red-necked Grebe had been reported and we spotted it before we even stopped the car, best views we'd ever had!  There were also plenty of waders around, including Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.  The last visit of the day was back to Holkham Hall for the Ferruginous Duck, which had appeared the day after our last visit.  It was dozing when we arrived, but a Mallard kindly woke it up and it had a small swim around before going back to dreamland.

Red-necked Grebe
We started the Sunday off in freezing and windy conditions at Blakeney Marsh, where, third time lucky, we saw a Lapland Bunting.  There were also 7 Twite, and seconds after I mentioned that I had seen on Twitter that there had been Jack Snipe, one kindly flew.  On the walk back to the car, Scandinavian Rock Pipit and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser were also seen.

Bad photo of Lapland Bunting
Two more sites that only provided a couple of birds (but included year listers!) were visited before lunch, which were Hickling Green, where a Woodcock flew low in front of the car as we were passing through and Acle Bridge, where the highlight was a pair of Crane.

Reed Bunting
Last for the short weekend was a small stop in Burgh St Peter, where a Cattle Egret had been hanging around for a short while.  As we arrived we spotted it, but it flew off seconds later, not to be seen again.  Lucky timing!

Cattle Egret

Year list: 145
Lifers this year: 10

7th February 2016 - Thursley Common

We were hoping to head to see some geese including a possible escaped RBG but I was decidedly well into a bad phase of illness by the weekend so we decided to try and have a short walk around Thursley instead.  Five minutes after we arrived there was a flash hail storm despite it being beautifully sunny and after a 'thunk' behind me, I turned around to see Stuart, scope and all, firmly fallen off the boardwalk and knee deep in water.  Donkey.

The common was pretty quiet, but we caught up with two Great Grey Shrike, as well as a split second view of a Dartford Warbler.  

Awful photo of GGS
Also, Ollie 'I hate dogs' Simms, had a beautiful moment with one...

Year list: 137
Lifers this year: 9

30th to 31st January - Norfolk

Norfolk!  Unfortunately not quite as cool as the last super birding weekend in Norfolk, but still fun.  We headed up early morning on the Saturday and completely missed the turning for our first target, so headed on to Wolferton to see if we could spot Mr Golden Pheasant.  When we turned into the road we were in for a surprise as it's usually just us sat there in the layby, but the layby was empty and around 10 cars were pulled up in tight formation around a small area where the bird was usually seen.  I was amazed to see that he was actually out on the road, but the moment we turned the engine off, every single car door opened and people poured out, only a few metres away from the poor guy who then hot footed it back into the trees.  I was really disappointed in the people who had decided that was a good idea and we left straight away.

Golden Pheasant

The first target we had missed the turning to had been the Pallid Harrier at Flitcham and of course we discovered upon arriving we had missed it by 15 minutes.  We hung around for an hour, delighted by the 70+ Brambling feeding in the field in front of us and a first ever view of a perched Merlin, but eventually gave up and went for a walk around Titchwell.  This is always a lovely walk and added a couple to the year list, including Long-tailed Tit, Grey Plover and Avocet.  A brief stop at Choseley Barns produced no Rough-legged Buzzard but one Grey Partridge pretending he was with a group of about 10 Red-legged Partridge.  We stayed the night in a wonderful B&B in Holt we had previously stayed in and enjoyed a catch up with the delightful Andy Stoddart.

It was back to Flitcham early the next morning and we had heard the bird had roosted at Roydon Harrier roost, so we were a bit worried it might change its pattern.  As we drove along the lane to the field it was mainly seen over, a harrier flew over and perched in a tree to the left.  We both yelled PALLID and sat and watched it for a while.  However, we hadn't actually seen a Pallid Harrier outside of photos before, so when we got round to the field we checked with the other birders and my photo was in fact of a Hen Harrier.  Darnit.  We watched the skies about the field for an hour and a half, with very little action, apart from a few low flying visits from the Merlin.  We were beginning to think we were never going to see the bird when it swooped across the field putting on a marvellous show!  We watched it for a while (which involved a good deal of exercise as we ran from field to field and up and down the road to catch sight of it).  Having seen what was definitely the Pallid Harrier, we revisited my perched photo from 2 hours earlier and it was realised that it was in fact the same bird. Doh!  I'm happy we didn't realise and stayed to watch it however, as it was lovely to see in flight and about ten minutes later an actual Hen Harrier joined it and they flew together, a wonderful chance to compare the two birds.

Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier 
Pallid Harrier and Hen Harrier
We then skipped up to Choseley Barns where we saw a flock of Golden Plover (a bird we somehow seem to frequently miss!) and a happily singing Skylark.  We popped into Holkham Hall for a look at the Scaup and were also rewarded with a close low flying Barn Owl (I saw 8 throughout that day!).  The last site of the day before we headed back to London was at Blakeney Marsh, looking for the Lapland Bunting.  We didn't see them, but had my second ever sighting of Twite (although at the time all the people we met were definitely trying to squint and turn my absolutely horrendous photo into the buntings!).  Great weekend all in all, and back up there in two weeks for a goose and crane extravaganza!

Pretty awful photo but...Twite

Year list: 134
Lifers this year: 9