Thursday, 10 February 2011

Norfolk Long Weekend trip - DAY THREE

This was our final day so as you can imagine I wanted to get away for early afternoon as I didn't fancy driving the long way home in the dark. But I was determined to try and get better views of the Northern Harrier before I left in case I never get a chance at this bird again.

We started off at Lady Anne's drive at Holkham which is just west of Wells-next-the-Sea where we were staying. A tip of from a mate (Face with Binoculars) the previous day was that a Rough-legged Buzzard was knocking about this area. We parked up, paid about £4000 for a ticket, and then set up scope to start scanning. Colin had a Stonechat but I couldn't get onto it as it was distant over the wetland. After about 20 minutes Derek put up the call and he had found the Rough-legged Buzzard, it could have been over in Lincolnshire but I couldn't quite tell. We all managed to get onto the bird and saw all the features to eliminate Buzzard and confirm it was actually a Rough-legged Buzzard. Smiles all around we left here and set of for Twitchwell, I mean Titchwell.

We didn't get very far until I pulled over as Derek spotted what he thought was a White-fronted Goose in a field with other geese. I was half expecting to see a flock of Lesser White Front's (only kidding mate ;) ) but Derek has superbly spotted a whole field of White-fronted Geese. The birds showed extremely well and it was by far the best ever views I have had of White-fronted Geese.

Our final stop of the day was Thornham, I had planned to go straight to Titchwell RSPB but I decided I better check Thornham first. On arrival we were informed we had just missed the Northern Harrier, 'oh dear' were my thoughts. But the guys showed us where it headed and we waited. A nice Barn Owl provided my first and last of the trip and we watched 3 distant Marsh Harriers go about their business. After about 30-45 minutes Brian picked up a Harrier. From memory Brian said something like "Is that it?", a quick scan with the scope and I picked up the bird straight away. "THAT'S IT!" I said and we enjoyed simply excellent views of the bird as it hunted and flew about. Then the Northern Harrier flew right past us and I had it in the scope, we had sensational views. Even my mate Colin commented on how good the views were, Colin has been birding for probably about 35-40 years! Derek managed the below video and the still image shows my backside and the Northern Harrier, I was close haha

(Backside view, OH and the Northern Harrier. Brian to the right)

Northern Harrier video:

The Northern Harrier is just a fantastic bird and stands out from Hen Harrier, well it did to me when I saw it on the Friday and Sunday. One thing I did notice and the other lads did was the flight and hunting style of the bird. I took into consideration that the bird might be hunting differently due to the strong winds, however the Marsh Harriers and Hen Harriers we watched were behaving no differently to the way they do normally in normal wind conditions. So the wind strength wasn't affecting the way in which the bird was flying and hunting. 

The bird was always moving fast, low, and clearly trying to flush birds up and then go for the easy catch as the bird would be already pretty close to make an instant kill. On the Friday when we were watching it the bird would suddenly disappear and then reappear due to the speed it was moving in both directions. In summary it would go low and fast one way and then turn around and go low and fast the other way. It looks to me like habits an flight style are the best way to pick out a Northern Harrier candidate in the WP rather than plumage (if at range). I know plumage details are key to positivity ID the birds in the first place but could a distant bird somewhere suggest Northern Harrier just of flight style without seeing any of the clinching ID features in the birds plumage. 

I am certainly no expert but I would say they are a very different bird, about time the BOU got their fingers out and separated them! There wasn't much at Titchwell RSPB so after a look around we headed off back home.

Hope you enjoyed reading my Norfolk trip report. Bird of the trip had to be Northern harrier. My year list stood at 140 at the end of the trip.

Until next time, Foghorn out!


  1. Hi Andrew,

    You have produced a fantastic trip report here! Your videos are fantastic and the content of your report is enough to keep anyone absorbed. Well done on seeing some fantastic quality birds, especially the Northern Harrier - I agree that it seeem's a very different bird from any Hen Harriers I've seen.



  2. cracking three days by the looks of it Andrew,great videos and reports