RSPB Titchwell Marsh – 10/02/2024

Golden Plover (© Graeme Hutchinson)
Golden Plover (© Graeme Hutchinson)

A great day spent birding on the north Norfolk coast, with geese galore, plenty of plovers and reams of raptors, not to mention a roosting Tawny Owl. The group racked up a total of almost ninety species while enjoying the delights of RSPB Titchwell on a warm winter’s day.

Having stopped briefly on-route to enjoy the “delights” of the M11 Birchanger Services, we arrived at the reserve late morning. A change to Titchwell’s policy regarding full-sized coaches since our last visit in December 2022, meant that our driver had to drop us at the top of the entrance road. While annoying, given the difficulty our previous driver had getting a coach around a tight 90° bend, it is understandable. So, from the bus stop by the entrance, we made our way on foot.

The sunshine through the coach’s windows on the way and the lack of wind made it feel positively spring like as we made our way through the carpark and woodland alive with birdsong.

Enroute to Titchwell - Ely Cathedral in the sun (© James Aylward)
Enroute to Titchwell – Ely Cathedral in the sun (© James Aylward)

To allow time for everyone time to get ready, we gathered near the feeders behind the Visitor Centre. Together with the surrounding trees, these proved to be a hive of activity. In addition to the common tits and finches, members of the group saw both Siskin and Brambling here at various points during the day.

Brambling (© Jane Stylianou)
Brambling (© Jane Stylianou)

Two members of the Central London Local Group had been staying in the local area and had kindly set up scopes on a roosting Tawny Owl. (The owl had apparently been favouring a particular ivy-covered tree as its daytime roosting spot for several weeks.) Making our way quickly along the fen trail, we formed an orderly (for birders) queue to allow everyone a chance of a good, if somewhat obscured view of the bird. A few lucky members of the group even got to see the owl open its huge eyes as if peering back at us. Huge thanks to our “advance scouts” for taking time out from their holiday to give us such easy views of a bird that is notorious for roosting in dense foliage and consequently frequently going unseen.

Tawny owl Strix aluco, adult perched in tree, Hertfordshire, April
Tawny Owl, adult perched in tree, Hertfordshire, April (© Ben Andrews,

Crossing over the old concrete Tank Road, a leftover from when the site was a military firing range, we made our way to a viewing screen looking over Patsy’s Pool. A number of diving and dabbling ducks were enjoying this sheltered pool. However, most of our focus was on the raptors flying overhead. As well as the ubiquitous Marsh Harriers (well ubiquitous at least if you’re somewhere like Titchwell), we were treated to a flypast by a Peregrine. Several Red Kites were circling and working their way slowly east closer to the beach. While Buzzards drifted west high-up over the fields behind us, with a couple of Kestrels hovering below them.

Retracing our steps to the main west path, we started to make our way slowly towards the sea, scanning to both sides as we went. A lone male Reed Bunting was perched in the tops of the reeds to our right calling and to the left a flock of Brent Geese were feeding in the salt marsh. The explosive call of a Cetti’s Warbler was heard several times from various spots in the reedbed but as is usually the case with Cetti’s there was no visible sign of the bird or birds.

Continuing on, we made our way to Island Hide, the first of two hides that looks over the main Freshwater Marsh at Titchwell. Broken sluices had meant that until a few days before the reserve team had been unable to control the level of the water. Adjusting these levels as the seasons progress is a real art and is key to the reserve attracting the amazing variety of birds it does. So it was good to hear that the main outflow sluices had been fixed, even if a lot more work remains to be done.

As it was now slightly after one and tummies were rumbling, we decided to extend our stay in the hide and eat our lunches. However, just because we were eating, didn’t mean the birding stopped!

A new island, just in front of the hide, gave close views of Black-headed Gulls, while further back a number of beautiful black and white Avocets were feeding in deep water (well past “chest deep” on an Avocet). A few pairs of elegant Pintail were also upending just behind the Avocets, their long necks (compared to most dabbling ducks) enabling them to feed despite the depth of the water.

On the bund to the north of the hide, several Golden Plover were roosting, tucked in amongst a much larger number of Lapwing. A solitary Snipe was spotted on the front-edge, its long bill and markings clearly visible in the winter sun.

Golden Plover (© Charlotte Weddell)
Golden Plover (© Charlotte Weddell)

Suitably refreshed we continued on to the larger high-tech Parrinder Hide. As we approached, we saw several small flocks of Linnet flying ahead of us with their distinctive bouncy flight. This hide gave us an opportunity to look back at the Freshwater Marsh from the north. From here, we enjoyed close views of Meadow and Water Pipit, the supercilium (eye-stripe) of the latter clearly visible. While Curlew, Shelduck, Teal and Wigeon were feeding right in front of us.

Andrew and James in Leader Mode (© Toni Menezes)
Andrew and James in Leader Mode (© Toni Menezes)

Leaving the Freshwater Marsh behind we moved on to the brackish/saline sections of the reserve.

The next area, Volunteer Marsh, was rather quiet. This often seems to be the case, though it will be interesting to see how this previously freshwater habitat develops as it is allowed to revert to saltmarsh. This reversion is part of a programme of managed retreat to better adapt the reserve to the effects of climate change – it is hoped that the saltmarsh will act as a sort of buffer, slowing the advancing tides and stopping it crashing into the seawall protecting the freshwater areas of the reserve.

However, it was not entirely bereft of birdlife, there were a number of birds feeding on the exposed mud in the channel that runs across the seaward end of this section. Closest to us, a Curlew made use of its long downward-curved bill to probe for food, before somehow managing to briefly disappear despite its large size in the muddy creek. Further back, a single Grey Plover was accompanied by several Redshank and Oystercatchers. The lack of vegetation meant we had better views of these Redshanks than the brief glimpses we had got earlier from a single bird feeding in a pool on the saltmarsh.

Edging closer to the beach, we arrived at the Tidal Marsh, a flooded saline lagoon. This area also proved relatively quiet today, but a distant Bar-tailed Godwit roosting and a few Shoveler were duly added to the day’s list.

Shoveler (© Jane Stylianou)
Shoveler (© Jane Stylianou)

Just before we reached the beach and close to an abandoned, partially flooded, concrete pillbox, a mixed group of Skylark and Linnets were feeding. Viewing through the scopes we were able to admire the colourful Linnets as well as the appreciate the effectiveness of the Skylarks’ camouflaged plumage. Despite their close proximity and the many £1000s worth of optics pointed in their direction – the four Skylarks was quite tricky to pick out.

Tearing ourselves away from the delightful Linnets and Skylarks, we finally reached the dunes and were able to look out across the beach to the sea.

In the calm, but slightly hazy conditions, large rafts of Common Scoter were visible someway offshore, with smaller groups closer in. Otherwise, the seas seemed rather quiet though a few Grey Seals were spotted here and there as we scanned along.

Common Scoter, male and female swimming, Forsinard Flows RSPB reserve, Sutherland, Scotland, July (© Andy Hay,
Common Scoter, male and female swimming, Forsinard Flows RSPB reserve, Sutherland, Scotland, July (© Andy Hay,

There were plenty of waders feeding along the water’s edge, including some tiny Sanderling a good distance away to our left. Through the scope we could see them dashing backward and forwards, their tiny legs a blur of motion, almost like a set of clockwork toys. Much closer, a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits flew past us heading west. The distinctive tail markings, that give them their name, clearly visible as they flew.

A few of the Group who had dedicated more of the day to sea-watching, had been rewarded with views of Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.

Wanting to get ourselves in position to watch any harriers coming into roost. We hightailed it back to the Visitor Centre and carpark to refuel/use the facilities. Titchwell’s one shortcoming, if you can call it that, is that the only “facilities” onsite are some ¾ of a mile from the beach – a long, long way on a cold windy day let me tell you!

Brent Geese Flying (© Jane Stylianou)
Brent Geese Flying (© Jane Stylianou)

Suitably refreshed, we made our way back out onto the path that runs down the western edge of the reserve. We didn’t have long to wait before several Marsh Harriers appeared. Some helpfully perched for a while in various of the bushes and dead trees dotted around the reedbed. We didn’t get to see the large numbers of Harriers that we had on our previous visit a year or so before. Instead we got to enjoy the sight of huge flocks of both Brent and Pink-footed Geese heading out to roost from where they had been feeding during the day. At times it felt as though the skeins of geese stretched from one horizon to the other – that most quintessential sight of a winter birding trip in north Norfolk and a great note to end on.

However, it seemed Titchwell had other ideas! As we made our way back towards the Centre, one of the resident Water Rail was feeding in the ditch to the right of the path. Buoyed by the sight of the bonus Rail, the trek back to the main road to get on the coach for our return to London no longer seemed as far.

Trip Summary

DestinationRSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk
DateSaturday, 10th February 2024
WeatherCloudy/overcast, 12 ℃, Wind: Light SSW
No. of attendees49
LeadersJames Aylward and Andrew Peel
No. of bird species86

Bird List
Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Pheasant, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Turnstone, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Tawny Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Bearded Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Treecreeper, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting.

Trip Report: James Aylward

To find out more above any of the birds we saw during our trip, visit the RSPB’s online bird guide. To join us on a future trip, please see our Eventbrite page for further details.