Saturday, 19 November 2005

Highlights of a quiet afternoon birding

Dropping down from the ridge running west from Burnham Market you get a wonderful view over Titchwell marsh. On a bright November Sunday, you can see dozens of birdwatchers making their way to the hides that overlook the scrapes on Titchwell Reserve. At this time of year there are many different birds to be seen from these hides and, with lots of eyes scanning the flocks of waders and wildfowl, there is always the chance of something rare or interesting. But today I want to avoid the bustle of the crowds and find some solitude worthy of such a clear day. For me, one place to do this is at Gypsy Lane. Situated to the east of Titchwell, a small lay-by marks the entrance to a narrow lane running north to the coast and passing through a sequence of habitats.

The first part of the track is bordered by a strip of linear woodland, with a range of bushes and shrubs, from which the soft call-notes of foraging birds can be heard. It is well worth pausing to watch and listen as mixed feeding flocks, often of tits and late warblers, work their way past in search of insects and seeds. On this occasion there is no hoped-for rarity, like a Pallas’s warbler, but there are goldcrests in with the tits. As the trees thin, there is a glimpse of two jays, another bird that, like the goldcrest, is much in evidence this autumn. There are also glimpses out across Titchwell Marsh, over which hunting harriers may sometimes be seen – though not today. Then it is out from the cover of the woodland and onto the bank that puts you above the reeds, pools and saltmarshes which flank either side.

Almost immediately I can hear the scolding call of a wren from low down in the vegetation just a few metres away. Further off, I can hear the ringing calls of a small party of bearded tits as they move excitedly through the tops of the reeds. These are one of the birds I have come to see. Standing by my scope, I wait and listen as they move closer, slight movements in the reeds giving away their location. Finally they show themselves, brightly coloured and almost comical in appearance, these delightful little birds are always a joy to watch. Although they are scarce (nationally there are about 500 pairs), the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex hold about 40% of the breeding population and provide some of the best opportunities to see these birds. Only part way through my walk, and with the prospect of more birds to see, the journey up to the coast has already proved worthwhile, something I can reflect on over tea.

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