Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Shorelarks and Parrots

I've had friends over this weekend who had certain avian and cetacean targets in their sights so I took on the duty of local guide, heading first to the metropolis of Great Yarmouth hoping to see the Shorelarks there. Great Yarmouth is not exactly my favourite place in Norfolk. Tatty and faded with garish and noisy amusement arcades along the "Golden Mile" and suffering from high levels of deprivation it hardly appeals. Having talked it down (and before the locals complain), the Time and Tide Museum is excellent and well worth a visit and hidden amongst rows of modern terraces and industrial units is a surprisingly well preserved medieval protective wall complete with towers.
The Shorelarks were reported to be on the beach north of the Britannia Pier so we parked near the Imperial Hotel, crossed the North Denes, avoiding inevitable dog mess and detritus of empty beer bottles and rubbish, and  joined sea-anglers, dog-walkers, metal detectorists and the odd meandering drunk on the shore. A family of birders were watching the Shorelarks feeding unconcernedly on the shingle amongst all this activity, only flushing if someone went particularly close to them and quickly settling down again. Shorelarks to me are an enigmatic bird coming from the Arctic tundra, wintering just in small numbers, seemingly in different places each year and never guaranteed from one year to the next so there was a curious juxtaposition of these especially wild birds in this distinctly human semi-urban environment.
Yarmouth sea-front is also an excellent place to see Mediterranean Gulls, which seemed to be the commonest gull on the beach whilst we were there.
From Yarmouth we headed northwards along the coast stopping at various points from Waxham to Happisburgh in the hope of seeing the Humpbacked Whale. The visibility was not good and our quest failed but there were a few sea-duck such as Eider and Common Scoter passing by and the odd Red-throated Diver on the sea.
My friends' other target was the Parrot Crossbills at Holt Country Park. Heading there rather late in the morning we arrived to find a gathering of slightly despondent birders and no sign of the crossbills. Luckily within 10 minutes of our arrival 4 birds flew over the car park and in to some nearby pines and eventually 10 birds revealed themselves. Looking through branches and leaves and past trunks, viewing was awkward at first but when they flew into a pine tree near the road they became much easier to see and ultimately gave excellent views. Bill size and structure varied amongst the group but some were very impressive indeed with notably bull-necks and large heads. We nipped up to Cley for lunch and I just had time to find the Black Brant and see the Pale-bellied Brents with the Dark-bellieds on the Eye Field before having to head home.

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