Bird of the year at Titchwell was a lovely black-winged pratincole. We were in the middle of a run of pratincole years and they attracted hundreds of birdwatchers. Two things have stuck in my mind concerning these birds. As I walked on to the west bank there was a long row of telescopes, roughly 300, pointing out over the freshmarsh obviously all focused on the pratincole. The five closest to me were all facing the other way, which seemed rather odd. I asked the owners what they were looking at? 'We've got the pratincole on the deck about 80 metres away,' came the reply. I had a quick look through one of their telescopes and there was the star bird. I had never seen a Mexican wave of telescopes before, I hoped everyone saw the bird because at that moment it took off and flew west to hawk insects out towards Thornham harbour. I wonder how many birders had already gone home having ticked the pratincole look-alike lump of mud on the far side of the freshmarsh? The second memory was a classic remark. ' It can't be last years bird, it doesn't have a broken tail feather,' I don't think that pratincoles never moult, but I could be wrong.
Half way through the year Pete Bradley took a group of staff and volunteers out to show us the proposed route of a new path which would connect the fen hide path to our main west bank path. In this group were Joan Thomas who at that time was doing a good job running the servery, David Lake and Pat Vincent. Pat made a name for herself by slipping down into a large muddy puddle, we suggested that this should be called Pat's pool, but Cley had already used that name. You'll be meeting David and Pat again in a later article.
I was asked if I would if I would take out a group of wheel-chair users as part of the Millennium celebrations. I am quite embarassed to say my first reaction was to say no, a flaw in my character was that I was uncomfortable in the presence of people in wheel-chairs. This was totally ridiculous because during my forty years as a teaching golf professional, one of the things I enjoyed the most was getting folk with disabilities to play and enjoy the game. So 'don't be such an ass and get on with it Ray,' sprang into my mind. Taking that walk was one of the best things I've ever done, not only did it stop me just talking to their minders, it gave me a totally different outlook on the whole reserve. It showed me that the flowers and insects we have here formed a large part of their Titchwell experience and many things that I took for granted were totally out of sight when sitting down. The next day our warden sent one of his staff out to cut down several patches of high path-side vegetation so that everyone could see the reedbeds and pools and I always now include a few plants in my guided walks. I have a lot to thank those people for.
Most of us on the reserve had been watching the bird news with interest following the sighting of a purple heron flying over Cley NWT reserve earlier this week. We had hoped the bird would continue along the coast to the reserve but sadly for us, it dropped into the grazing marshes at Holkham instead. Time to 'stand down' and get back to the computers.
On Thursday afternoon while our volunteer Dave was out on his guided walk, he suggested to the group that they needed to check any herons flying over the reserve in case it was the purple heron. You know how the rest of the story goes... As Dave was saying this, he picked up a heron sp flying in from the East and amazingly it was the purple heron. My radio went mad 'PURPLE HERON flying over the west bank path'!!!!!!! I grabbed my bins and coat and legged it out of the the office to see the bird flying west over the grazing meadow towards Holme. Not the best views I must admit but I was happy that I could ID it for myself. A quick phonecall to the staff at the NOA Observatory at Holme meant they managed to catch up with it flying towards Hunstanton.
This is only the 3rd record for the reserve following a flyover in 1982 and an adult that lingered in the reedbed for over a month in the spring 1996.
Black throated diver - single offshore on 27th
Bittern - several flight records this week
Red crested pochard - female on fresh marsh all week
Goosander - drake offshore on 25th
Long tailed duck - 2 drakes offshore on 27th
Golden plover - 2500 roosting on the fresh marsh on the 28th
Golden plover flock by Andy Thompson
Avocet - 12 still present on the fresh marsh
Dunlin - 113 on the drained grazing meadow pool on the 28th is a good winter number here
Greenshank - a late bird on Volunteer Marsh on the 28th
Jack snipe - still present on Patsy's reedbed but generally very elusive
Mediterranean gull - 2 adults on the beach on 25th
Adult winter Med gull by Dave Hawkins
Yellow legged gull - adult present on a daily basis
Tawny owl - one hooting in the carpark early on the 24th. A very under recorded species at Titchwell
Yellow browed warbler - a very late individual see and heard calling in a mobile tit flock on the 24th
Twite - 7 on the beach on 24th
Snow bunting - a mobile flock of up to 50 birds still present
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There may have been big changes going on amongst the reserve's staff but it did not stop a series of excellent birds turning up I998 was a vintage year which kicked off on Jan 16th with my first winter record of an avocet, it was a partly crippled bird which was probably why it hadn't migrated. This was soon followed by a drake green-winged teal and then on Feb 1st a penduline tit. Penduline tits have this wonderful ability to disappear, even when they are up feeding on a reed-mace. They are sufficiently small that when they are at the back of the reed-mace head all you can see are white seeds being ripped off, but waiting to get a clear view of this one was really worth it.
One day I got in from giving golf lessons to find a message that there was a laughing gull on the brackish marsh, so after work I popped down to the reserve to see it. It was there, but hidden behind a big clump, and that was where it stayed. The following day another message said there was a Franklin's gull at Titchwell, I naturally assumed it was a re-identification of yesterday's bird.
After work I again traipsed down to the reserve and was told that the Franklin's had just flown off towards the beach and that the laughing was hiding behind a large clump once more. I was not amused. If I had been a twitcher who'd just driven a couple of hundred miles to see these two I may well have been suicidal, 2 miles was bad enough. I walked on down to the beach without much hope, but there, at the waters edge was an immature Franklin's gull. It stayed a few minutes and then flew on to the sea, where it preened vigorously. When I got back as far as the brackish marsh the laughing gull had come out of hiding and was showing beautifully. What a stunning bird. Two American vagrant gulls life-ticked within half an hour of each other, magic. May 10th will always be American gull day to me.
Seven days later we had another treat when a collared pratincole dropped in. It was a nice sunny afternoon but with a stiff east wind blowing straight down the freshmarsh. The bird was feeding over the water which meant that it hurtled towards you downwind, banked round quickly and then gave everyone prolonged views of its tail end as it beat back into the wind.
Later in the month a white-winged black tern appeared at Cley, it then came here on the 31st. Apart from some white patches on its head it was still in breeding plumage and was generally a very graceful bird to watch. And so it went on, a spotted crake was seen working along the reed edge near the island hide on Aug 21st and the next day an osprey drifted over. It is always great to watch a phalarope, the young red-necked that turned up on Sept 2nd gave a lot of pleasure to its audience.
You don't get a really good sea watch every year at Titchwell but on Sept 13th we did. I wrote this report of it in my logbook. ' Cold, wet and windy. The early dull wet conditions and strong north wind resulted in a really good sea-bird passage. Almost all movement was to the east, the few heading west nearly all double backed later. The sea-bird list ran.... 50 eider, 89 fulmar, 164 gannet, 33 manx shearwater, 3 sooty shearwater, a Cory's shearwater, 28 arctic skua, 24 great skua, 2 pomarine skua, 2 little gull, 8 kittiwake, 5 black tern and 12 great crested grebe. 33 other species were noted'. Great birds, but I was very glad to get back indoors!