Arrive at The Blue Boar Inn at 19.00 where you will be met by your guide for an informal chat about the birding ahead.
We head to Holkham this morning where the huge expanse of Holkham Gap offers the chance to look for Shore Lark and Snow Bunting as they feed quietly by the dunes. Large flocks of pipits and larks may be seen in cold conditions, as well as a variety of waders and wildfowl. Moving back to the fresh marsh, large flocks of Pink-footed, White-fronted and Brent Geese may be feeding on the grass along Lady Anne’s Drive. North American Black Brant is sometimes present amongst them and we have also seen Red- breasted Snow and Ross’s Goose here though a Tundra Bean Goose is more likely. Goose flocks have declined in recent winters due to changes in agricultural practices, but good numbers are normally still present. Flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing feed by the drive alongside vast numbers of Wigeon, joined in some years by their vagrant cousin from America. Black-tailed Godwit, Barn Owl, Golden Plover, Marsh Harrier and Peregrine are other species likely to be encountered. Nearby Burnham Overy Marshes are great for raptors in the winter, and in recent years Rough-legged Buzzard has been reliable here. Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Common Kestrel and Hen Harrier are all possible, as well as large feeding flocks of geese, Common Goldeneye on the pools and sometimes a Lapland Bunting or two buzzing about. The raptor roost at nearby Stiffkey Saltmarsh may tempt us at dusk, a great site for finding Merlin in particular.
We spend the morning at Titchwell RSPB reserve, which is just half an hour’s drive away from the hotel. This famous reserve holds many interesting species at this time, including, in some years, good numbers of Snow Buntings and Twite. Bearded Tit is resident and a few Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff remain to brave the often-harsh Norfolk winter along with one or two Spotted Redshank. Sea watching at this time should produce good numbers of birds including Red-necked Grebe, Red-throated Diver and the chance of Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter among the thousands of Common Scoter. Eider, Mediterranean Gull and Guillemot are also usually present. We have an outside chance of Great Bittern here and of course Little Egret has become a regular visitor. Other resident species include Common Kingfisher, Grey Heron and Water Rail. We take our packed lunch at Choseley Farm, where we may encounter Brambling, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting. Nearby Thornham Harbour is a good place for getting close to shorebirds such as Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and wintering Spotted Redshank, while a Barn Owl often hunts the meadows nearby and both Peregrine and Short-eared Owl are regular. At Abbey Farm we will hope to locate the resident Little Owls in their daytime roost and a Water Rail may be feeding in one of the muddy pools. Rough-legged Buzzard has been recorded annually in this area in recent years and we will make an effort to see this superb raptor should it be around during your visit, though these days Red Kite is arguably more likely, having become a recent breeding colonist. Perhaps Roydon Common raptor roost will end our day, a superb site for getting good views of Hen Harrier, often including at least one fine male.
The Cley area can provide some excellent birding in the winter months as anything can and does turn up here. Large numbers of waterfowl over winter and should be scrutinised for the more unusual, while a Glaucous Gull may appear on one of the pools. Snow Buntings frequent the shingle ridge and the saltings to the east provide further opportunities to look for Short-eared Owl. Shorelark and Lapland Bunting are occasional at nearby Salthouse, where local birders provide seed for the Snow Bunting flock. In some winters Purple Sandpiper is available on the coastal defences at nearby Sheringham, and if present, we will definitely work these into the itinerary. At Wells, Brent Goose flocks can again be checked for Black Brant and perhaps a roosting Tawny Owl will be available in the pines here, a good place to break for lunch and check the boating lake. Wintering Smew, Goosander and Greater Scaup are sometimes present. We should build some flexibility into the itinerary to look for any wintering local rarities such as Great Grey Shrike or Coue's Arctic Redpoll, both of which are regular. Otherwise local birding around our base gives us the chance to look for species such as Little Owl, Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow and Grey Wagtail.
We head to the East Coast of Norfolk visiting various sites. Common Crane is our target bird with the small resident population supplemented by continental birds at this time. They often feed quietly in the fields in family groups and we know their favourite spots well, though they can be surprisingly difficult to find for such a large bird!. At Strumpshaw Fen we have probably our best chance of encountering a Bittern, while Cetti’s Warblers sing their explosive song from waterside vegetation and Marsh Harriers quarter the reeds. This site also represents our best chance of encountering an Otter, and we have had some memorable views of them here over the years. At nearby Buckenham, Water Pipit often over winters, as well as spectacular numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Raptors are subsequently a major feature here while wild swans or a Green Sandpiper may also be present. Cantley is an adjoining reserve also owned by the RSPB and it is here that we will look for the regular wintering flock of Taiga Bean Geese, one of only two flocks in Britain. Up to 120 birds may be present, but they are shy and are surprisingly good at hiding in long grass. European White-fronted Goose is also regular here. At Great Yarmouth, we may call in at Breydon Water if the tide is suitable for viewing large congregations of shorebirds. Otherwise we may check favoured spots for wild swans or Short-eared Owl, or perhaps a wintering flock of Waxwings. The finale to our day in east Norfolk will be provided by our visit to a raptor roost in late afternoon when large numbers of Marsh Harriers will be coming in to roost. Up to one hundred birds can appear here and we should also see Hen Harrier, Merlin, Barn Owl and Chinese Water Deer, with hopefully a group of Cranes bugling overhead as they gather at their roosting spot for the night. Add flocks of Golden Plover, huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese heading to roost on Horsey Mere, large numbers of Red-throated Divers offshore and you can see why this could be the highlight of our week in Norfolk!
Heading south into Breckland today, we visit the vast tract of Thetford Forest in search of some specialised woodland birds. At Lynford Arboretum we take a very pleasant stroll around the lake to the paddocks where large numbers of Redwing and finches could be feeding. Sometimes these flocks host the spectacular Hawfinch, feeding quietly under the trees and only revealing itself when alert birds fly up to perch high in the treetops. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is present but elusive though Siskin and Redpoll are likely in the alders and in some years large numbers of Crossbill can be present. The gravel workings here host Goldeneye and the occasional Goosander. At Santon Downham, we have more opportunites to look for more similar woodland birds, including Marsh Tit, European Nuthatch and Firecrest as well as large flocks of Brambling and sometimes Great Grey Shrike. At this time of year rare birds can often occur in Norfolk and have included Coue's Arctic Redpoll, White-tailed Eagle,White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Ross’s Gull and more regular species such as Eurasian Spoonbill and Green-winged Teal. We conclude the tourn around 1500 to allow for the onward journey home.