For my 61st birthday, Helen and I decided to pay another visit to what is probably our favourite of all the RSPB reserves we commonly visit – Titchwell Marsh on the North Norfolk coast.
This is an amazing reserve that we have visited a number of times previously, which benefits from having a variety of different habitats, including: sea-shore, salt marsh, fresh marsh, tidal marsh, woodland and hedgerow. Consequently, Titchwell has tremendous potential for excellent birding and never fails to deliver. Over the dozen or so visits Helen and I have made here we have had some very exciting sightings of some not-so-commonly-seen species such as Bearded Tit, Cuckoo, Red Crested Pochard, Bar tailed Godwit – and the star of them all – A Lesser Yellowlegs – our first-ever Mega!
Today was quite a calm day, and much better than the BBC had been forecasting in the previous few days; there was very little breeze and it was quite sunny without being too warm for comfort – pretty-much perfect birding conditions!
After passing-through the Visitors’ Center and out onto the reserve we faced our first dilemma – where first? The choice was between the West Bank Path which leads eventually to the beach after passing the freshwater, ‘volunteer’ and tidal marshes and runs alongside the salt-marsh, or East Trail which is brilliant for small birds such as Warblers, Blackcap, Bearded Tit and Whitethroat and leads to Patsy’s Reedbed where we’ve seen Red Crested Pochards on several occasions. Also, Marsh Harriers are very common over the reedbeds here.
After a bit of debate, I was allowed to decide (it was my birthday after all!), and I chose the West Bank Path first. After passing through a wooded area where lots of ‘littlies’ sing at us from the trees, the path opens-out onto reedbeds which are almost-continuously resounding to the song of Sedge and Reed Warblers at this time of year. Today was no different, and Helen and I were soon scouring the reedbeds from our elevated position on the path, looking for the source of warbler song coming from the reeds quite near to where we stood.
We didn’t have to wait too long for our first sighting – a beautiful Sedge Warbler, which allowed us some good views before it flew-off. We could also occasionally hear the tantalising ‘pinging’ of one or more Bearded Tit from our vantage point.
Buoyed-up by our good Sedge Warbler sighting, Helen and I continued along the path and entered one of our favourite RSPB hides – the Island Hide which juts-out onto the Freshwater Marsh. Here we watched several Avocet sifting through the water for the crustaceans they love to eat, and a pair of Teal dabbling about in the water just in front of the hide. Further over the marsh we could see large flocks of birds on the various islands. Most were gulls, but there were also good numbers of other birds including various waterfowl species, Redshank, Ruff and Terns – both Common and Sandwich. Several flocks of Brent Geese passed silently overhead, along with occasional loudly-honking Greylag Geese.
Last time we were in this hide, Helen and I had great views of a group of juvenile Bearded Tits flitting-about at the bottom of the reeds to the right of the hide. I scoured the same area today with my binoculars, but there was no sign of movement other than a Coot which was lazily weaving its way in and out of the reeds and a pair of fine Gadwall preening themselves in the sunshine. Rule one of birding – never expect to repeat a previous experience – birds don’t follow the rulebook on that score!
After leaving the Island Hide, Helen and I carried-on out towards the beach. To the left of the path lies a vast salt marsh which used to be an RAF bombing range. Nowadays it is the sole preserve of enormous amounts of wildlife. As we passed along the path, alternatively watching the salt marsh whilst simultaneously scanning the Freshwater Marsh, Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Marsh, we saw lots of activity: flocks of Brent Geese assembled on the salt marsh, a Little Egret looking angelic with its pure white plumage reflecting the sunlight, terns flying circles around the Freshwater Marsh, a flock of Turnstone flying-over which landed on a distant island next to a pair of Grey Plover, a Buzzard describing lazy circles high in the sky overhead, and a lone Red Crested Pochard swimming along on the Volunteer Marsh. There’s always so much to see at Titchwell!
On reaching the beach it felt exhilarating to breath-in the fresh, salty air. A flock of Oystercatcher with at least one smaller wader that I couldn’t quite identify were some considerable distance further along the shore towards Wells-on-Sea. There didn’t appear to be many other birds present on the shoreline today, however. I used my binoculars to scan the sea for any sign of Scoter or other sea-ducks, but came-up empty, alas.
Our next stop, back down the West Bank Path, after pausing briefly to photograph some Linnets in the gorse bushes along the path, was the fantastic Parinder Hide which looks out over both the Volunteer Marsh and the Freshwater Marsh. From here today the dominant species visible were those very loud Black Headed Gulls. Scanning through my binoculars, I was able to pick-out several Mediterranean Gulls mixed-in amongst them, along with a flock of about twenty Sandwich Terns. They were something of a surprise find, as I’ve only ever seen Sandwich Terns at the seashore or on Inner Farne up in Northumberland. Following a discussion with a fellow birder in the hide, we concluded that the terns were probably just having a rest-stop enroute to somewhere else for their breeding season.
Also spotted on the islands of the Freshwater Marsh today were: Egyptian Geese, Canada Geese, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Black tailed Godwit and a pair of Greylag Geese teaching a brood of goslings how to swim in a single file between their parents.
By now Helen and I were in need of some refreshments, so we walked back down to the Visistors’ Center for a much-needed cup of tea and some food. As we sat at an outside table near the bird feeders, we watched a variety of common birds picking over the offerings: Chaffinch, Robin, Great Tit, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, and a rather unlikely Jackdaw!
Next it was East Trail. As we walked along the boardwalk, we first heard, and later saw a Chiffchaff in one of the trees. Other small birds were flitting-about overhead and singing away, but had decided not to show themselves. From the Fen Hide we watched a Marsh Harrier quarter the reedbed in search of prey. A sudden commotion made me look to the left where I saw a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds, chased by an angry Greylag Goose. I managed to capture several frames of the incident, which shows the Greylag pecking at the Heron’s feet. Clearly, the Heron must have been trying to make a meal of one of the Greylag’s goslings.
Walking-on as far as the observation point looking down onto Patsy’s Reedbed, we watched some Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Mallard dabbling-about in the water nearby. More Marsh Harriers were flying around, always on the hunt for prey.
Feeling tired after about five hours walking up and down at Titchwell, we reluctantly made our way back towards the car park at the Visitors’ Center. As we walked from the VC to the car park our final bird-sighting of the day was a male Blackcap in the trees directly over our heads.
A tally of the different bird species we had seen today came in at a very respectable 58. Very good going indeed, and a measure of the remarkable work done by the staff and volunteers at Titchwell to make it so appealing to so many different bird species.
Well done Titchers, we very much hope to be back again soon!