A Look Back At The Amazing Birds We Have Enjoyed On Our Norfolk House Parties

One of two Red-flanked Bluetails enjoyed on this October's House Party in Norfolk.

We have been running our “Norfolk House Parties” for nine years, this is an annual Birdwatching Trips tour usually in October where we take over a beautiful house overlooking the marshes. All bedrooms are ensuite and we have breakfast at the house, giving us the flexibility to have early starts if we require, and then lunches and dinners in the wonderful cafes, inns and restaurants along the North Norfolk coast it is a wonderful week.

Barry and Wendy have been on all nine of our house parties and Barry has kept detailed notes of all the birds that we have enjoyed. After our most recent Norfolk House Party, October 2020, which due to COVID-19 had only Barry and Wendy on it, Barry looked back at the previous trips and compiled the data.

This data was a real surprise to see the amazing variety of species that we had recorded over the nine House Parties. Each tour lasts a week so it was nine weeks of birdwatching that Barry had detailed, have a guess how many species we recorded over the tours. We were very pleasantly surprised to see that we had enjoyed 221 an amazing total sure you agree. But of course it is much more about the experiences of being out on the Norfolk coast than the number of species seen though the total does go some way to illustrate what a rich area for birds this coast is.

holkham beach shadows 3

North Norfolk does skies very well indeed here at Holkham just east of where we stay.

The house where we stay is situated on the sea-wall and we can step out of the gate and walk east alongside the estuary on one side and the fields and marshes on the other. Taking this walk early morning is one of the many joys of the house party, with the sky to the east brightening masses of Pink-footed Geese lift from their overnight roost against the rising sun. A real hair on the back of your neck standing up moment, the sight and sound of these wonderful birds never fails to be mind-blowing. Add to these calls of the waders over the saltmarsh, the grunts of the Brent Geese as they too fly by and the calls of migrant birds passing over few better ways to start the day. We often walk on the sand-dunes and here search for migrant birds in the scattered bushes and it is always so exciting to see what has dropped in overnight. From the top of these dunes we can see the sea and of course another group of birds is possible, divers, grebes, auks and Gannets can all be seen. Sometimes we are lucky and see migrant birds arriving across the North Sea from Scandinavia or perhaps Iceland? Great skeins of Pink-footed Geese at first dots on the far horizon and then getting bigger and bigger and as they come closer they call excitedly and pass over us, just magical. Sometimes it is a Short-eared Owl that comes “in-off” the sea or many a Sparrowhawk or a flock of Redwings or maybe gangs of Wigeon we just never know what might appear next, the magic of bird migration!

Bearded Tits are always favourites on our Norfolk House Parties, a juvenile here.

Not far away lies the RSPB Nature Reserve of Titchwell and we have spent many hours here during our House Parties enjoying the amazing array of birds. The reserve has some woodland around the car-park and visitor centre always good to pick up some finches and thrushes here, Brambling and Redwing on our most recent visit in October. The ditch on the way to the main part of the reserve is good for seeing Water Rail – seen on our most recent visit – and the rough grassland off to the left has held Barn Owl on occasion and always worth a scan, lovely views of Stonechats this October. Then the path breaks out into the open with huge saltmarsh on the left and the reed-beds and lagoons of the reserve on the right. This first section of open path can be great to hear, and sometimes glimpse, Cetti’s Warblers and we have often seen wonderful Bearded Tits here. Marsh Harriers are very often over the reeds and just once or twice we have seen a Bittern here and we always look! Further along we enjoy close views of waders and ducks and so many of them, it is always great to scan through the mixed flocks to see what we can find. On one very memorable occasion we picked out a rare Baird’s Sandpiper from North America and the reserve was soon full of excited birdwatchers that came to see our bird, brilliant. Then we eventually reach the beach, progress always slow so much to see, where we look for divers, grebes, seabirds, skuas, waders, gulls, ducks, geese and migrant birds arriving over the waves. Every visit is different in terms of what we see but every visit is so exciting and rewarding.

Knot mass Oct 2016 7

Has to be seen to be beieved the mass spectacle of waders at high tide on The Wash.

If the tides are right we will visit The Wash, the vast estuary that makes up the west coast of Norfolk. We arrive in the dark at the RSPB Snettisham car-park and walk out to the estuary. As the light comes up a vast mudflat is laid out before us and there are thousands and thousands of birds spread across it. Huge flocks of Pink-footed Geese rise off the mud and fly inland, over us, from their roost all calling a magical sight but this is just a warm up act. We can see the tide rising over the huge flat area in front of us, rushing in at an amazing speed and pushing the waders closer together and closer to us, breath taking but it gets better. A Peregrine Falcon tears across the sky and the birds take to the air in enormous flocks! Many of the vast numbers of birds here are Knot and they form huge tight flocks and perform an aerial ballet before us – morphing into amazing shapes as Starling murmurations do and we all hold our breath as the falcon stoops time and time again and the flocks split and re-join time and time again. Eventually the Peregrine has its breakfast and the flocks settle back on the mud, but not for long, that incoming tide is rushing across The Wash and the mud is shrinking pushing the birds into a smaller and smaller area. Then there is no more mud and vast flocks are forced into the air again to perform another jaw-dropping ballet for us. Then by some unknown signal the birds pour over our heads in a whoosh of wings and settle on the lagoon behind us, just wow! One of nature’s most amazing sights.

But there is still so much more on our Norfolk House Parties, we visit the Norfolk Ornithologists Association bird observatory at Holme Dune where we can witness the study of bird migration. This area is, perhaps not surprisingly, brilliant for seeing migrant birds too and we enjoyed many wonderful birds here. On our visit this October we enjoyed two Red-flanked Bluetails, Dusky Warbler and wonderful views of Common Crossbills. At Holkham Pines we search for newly arrived migrants which on previous House Parties have included Pallas’s Warblers, Yellow-browed Warblers, Firecrests and this year a lovely “Eastern” Stonechat and a Rough-legged Buzzard. We also visit the famous Cley Norfolk Naturalists Trust Reserve where there always plenty of birds to see and a great visitor centre with delicious cakes. That brings us nicely to another highlight of the House Parties, the food! You won’t go hungry that is for sure as we enjoy delicious food throughout the trip, Norfolk has many wonderful places to eat and over years of experience we know where to find the best of them!

Looking back at Barry’s data from all the House Parties there are some stand out memories that came back. Our very first House Party set the bar very high when were in on the finding of a Red-rumped Swallow at RSPB Titchwell and we also enjoyed great views of White-rumped Sandpiper and a Pectoral Sandpiper on that 2012 tour. In 2013 we did well for Crossbills with not only Common Crossbills but Parrot Crossbills and a Two-barred Crossbill. We also enjoyed another White-rumped Sandpiper and a Shore Lark. The highlights in 2014 included a great list of birds of prey with our only House Party sightings of both Honey Buzzard and Goshawk seen on our walks along the seawall from the house. It was a brilliant trip with wonderful views of both Red-backed Shrike and Wryneck – classic October migrants! In 2015 we continued with wonderful birds of prey when a Rough-legged Buzzard arrived and showed off for us. We were very lucky indeed to see a Long-eared Owl too. But 2015 will long be remembered for a huge arrival of rare migrants along the North Norfolk Coast and we were totally spoilt during our week. Just a few of the so many highlights included Olive-backed Pipit, Pallas’s Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Durian Shrike and Great Grey Shrike all on one trip just brilliant and so exciting! So 2016 was always going to be a different experience but of course we enjoyed wonderful birds. 2016 was the first House Party we saw a Cattle Egret and we were all thrilled to see this rare bird, now we expect to see them and sometimes in double figures amazing how things have changed! An early Waxwing near the house was a wonderful surprise – such beautiful birds. Barred Warbler, Richard’s Pipit and Lapland Bunting all added to another wonderful week of super birds. In 2017 was a week of mostly westerly winds so not so many migrants as other years but still lots to enjoy. It was unusual to be able to enjoy both Taiga and Tundra Bean Geese on this trip, along with huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese always a real highlight on all our House Parties. It was also our only House Party, to date, where we recorded a late Puffin off Cley beach. An Osprey was also our only House Party sighting in 2017 a juvenile bird that provided amazing views at Holkham Lake. The following year, 2018, was one of the lowest for numbers of species and again no easterly winds so few migrants but we did enjoy both Black Redstart and Common Redstart the only year we have seen both on one trip. Super views of a feeding Jack Snipe was another highlight in 2018. The following year, 2019, produced a great variety of late waders and summer migrants but no real rarities. This year, 2020, bounced back in fantastic style with an incredible list of rare and scarce birds enjoyed every day had a real highlight. It started with a bang – a Red-flanked Bluetail being about the very first bird we saw! But it got even better when on day two an Eastern Rufous Bush Chat was found just six miles along the coast at Stiffkey a mega rare bird in the UK. Check out our recent bird blogs about this year’s amazing House Party and then join us in October 2021 we know you will love it.

Come and join us for a “Tour for Two” – very small group just two guests with two guides, tailor made itinerary, low risk in these COVID-19 times and of course lots of birds and an excellent chance of enjoying them all. Do drop us a line and we can make all the arrangements be it a day trip, two days, three day or as long a tour as you wish. Our recent Tours for Two have visited the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales, Norfolk and the Yorkshire coast and we are planning many more! Let us know where you would like to go and we can put together a proposal perfect for you.

We are so lucky to have so many species and habitats within easy reach here in North Wales we would love you to join us for one of our Best of North Wales Birdwatching Trips days out. We expect to enjoy a lot of birds during these relaxed pace tours and we can tailor make the day to suit you.

We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips in the future just drop us a line to arrange a custom tour and please see our tours pages for set departure trips. If you have any questions at all please fire away here….


We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds in beautiful places with you soon!

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