Well, champion of his Norfolk birding competition anyway. Having been trailing throughout the year in his birding competition a last ditch effort in December provided 10 year ticks propelling Danny into first place and subsequently achieving the highest year list of 212 birds.
Despite an autumn trip to the Isles of Scillies and Cornwall and some productive birding on the Norfolk Coast in October and November putting me on 202 for the year, by the beginning of December I was still languishing in last place at least 8 birds behind the lead. However, my tactics of aiming for quality birds and picking up the more common species later seemed to be paying off as there were still many of the regular winter visitors to East Anglia that I still needed to see.
My late run started while surveying on the Thames Gateway project in Essex when I stumbled across a black redstart which are generally summer migrants with a small number overwintering in the south of England. It was a species found regularly on the coast in Norfolk but I had failed to connect with earlier in the season and had in fact given up on seeing one this year so was a very welcome sighting.
Two days later I took off to the Norfolk/Suffolk coast with a hope of picking up some additional birds. Firstly though, a quick stop off at Cantley RSPB reserve, a very reliable site for greater white-fronted goose, but not today. After a quick search through the large flocks of geese it was apparent that none were there so continued on. My second stop was Great Yarmouth where there had been two shore larks present for several weeks. I had in fact already tried to see them a few weeks earlier but failed. I found them very quickly feeding along the tide line, watching them for a few minutes before heading on towards Ness Point, Lowestoft. I arrived just as a deluge of rain engulfed the area so sought shelter for a while before finding a good location to view the rocks placed on the point as sea defence structures. On the rocks were at least six purple sandpipers, a species normally associated with the rocky shoreline of south west England and not East Anglia but a welcome sight all the same. My final target was Walberswick where a grey phalarope had been present for several weeks. I arrived and after a short walk had found the bird where it performed admirably, feeding very close to where I was watching. Three new ticks now put me in second place on 206 and I was beginning to believe that first place might be achievable.
The following week I headed out before dawn to a site called the Wolferton Triangle; a small area of woodland in North Norfolk adjoining the Sandringham estate. I spent about three hours waiting and was eventually rewarded, literally as I was giving up and driving away, with a single male golden pheasant crossing the road in front of me. Golden pheasant are increasingly rare and this site is one of the only remaining sites with a viable ‘wild’ population. I continued on around the coast to Snettersham RSPB reserve to see a black-necked grebe that had been present for a little while. I arrived to find it feeding very close to the reservoir bank so enjoyed some good views for a while before it moved off. My next target was Titchwell, a reliable site for sea ducks. I arrived and quickly headed to the beach to scan the sea. Within half an hour I’d found the two species I was hoping for; common eider and red breasted merganser. 210 and it was only 11:30. I headed back to the reserve shop and discovered to my annoyance that there were three spotted redshank on the reserve and I had walked passed without stopping. I went back and after a painful hour had found one feeding at the back of the freshmarsh. At this point I decided to head to Kelling about forty minutes along the coast from Titchwell and the location of a rare Richard’s pipit. Also it would give me the opportunity to observe the damage to the area around Cley and Salthouse caused by the recent storm surge.
I headed to Kelling via a quick stop at Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham which is a reliable site for geese in particular greater white-fronted geese. I pulled up and began scanning through a flock of several thousand pink-footed geese before finally picking out two greater white fronts just before the entire flock took to the air, my day couldn’t be going any better; 212 and now surely in first place. I arrived at Kelling with great hope but was quickly disheartened by a birder returning from the Richard’s pipit site who had drawn a blank. I nevertheless strode on with the hope that I would be lucky enough to re-find the bird but was ultimately disappointed despite searching until dusk I failed to find the Richard’s pipit and so headed home.
I hoped to find time to do some birding over the Christmas period but was going skiing in France so had limited time. When the Richard’s pipit was re-found on Boxing Day I almost went, but mulled wine and the sofa won out and I didn’t add any additional species to my list. Although confident I wasn’t in last position I was sure that one of the others would be able to beat 212 so on my return from skiing I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had come first with my rivals only achieving totals of 210 and 204 respectively.