Twite – Thornham Marsh, Norfolk

The next target was the small flock of Twite at Thornham Marshes. It took us around 90 minutes to get there, it was close to 1pm by the time we arrived and so the clock was already ticking in terms of failing light. Sunset here is earlier than I’m used to, at 3:40pm. We parked in the small car park half way along Staithe Lane and walked along the sea wall listening and looking for finch flocks. The sluice gate next to the furthest car park is in a slightly raised area and so we stopped here to scan across the salt marsh.

The sea wall continues to run westwards from here and over this area we picked up a large flock of around 50 finches flying towards us. They looked like Linnets with their fairly plain brown backs, plenty of grey in the head and strong white wing flashes. They flew overhead calling, confirming that they were Linnets with a few Goldfinches amongst them.

A little later we saw further flocks and then smaller fragmented groups in which there were clearly Twite mixed in with them based on wheezing call notes which sounded like a combination of Brambling and Redpoll. The reports from Thornham were usually of 10 Twite and so when we saw a flock of around that number we tracked them excitedly and luckily they landed on the roof of the concrete barn near the sluice gate, in the scope we could see that they were Twite.

From where we were stood the Twite were partially obscured behind the ridge of the barn and so it was mainly head only views initially. I moved around to the other side of the barn and the views were better and the Twite remained in position for several minutes. Linnets are much less streaked and greyer headed but these birds were a warm buff colour all over particularly the throat and upper chest which were almost red. The mantle was also heavily streaked, the wing bar was more obvious and a yellow stubby bill was also diagnostic.

Over the next 45 minutes we followed them as they flitted up and down the main salt marsh channel. They fed together on clumps of seed heads before flying a short distance to another group of suitable plants. Dad and Peter managed to get some decent photos in difficult light.  

Breeding Twites have shown range contractions of 20% in Britain over the last 40 years and breeding pairs in England may have halved over the last decade. The declines have been attributed to the loss of species-rich hay meadows and early cutting dates for silage. The highest breeding densities are in Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, the Hebrides and the adjacent mainland coast. Twite also breed in smaller numbers on the moorlands of northern England and north Wales.

Scottish and Irish Twites are mainly sedentary but the English population of upland-nesting Twites from the grouse moorlands of the Peak District and the south Pennines move east to the coast each winter where they can be found on salt marshes and coastal fields between Lincolnshire and Essex.

This movement of English birds was confirmed by two of our Twite who were colour-ringed. On the right leg of the first bird there was a red ring above a pink ring and on the left leg a pink ring above a metal ring. This individual was ringed as a juvenile on 13th September 2016 at Dove Holes in Derbyshire and had visited Thornham in all of the subsequent winters and so is now in its fourth winter here.

Twite require an abundant supply of seeds for feeding throughout the year and are susceptible to changes in agricultural practice that reduce the availability of their food.

At around 3pm we decided to head off to the B&B in Wells-next-the-Sea, this would give us just enough time to see if the Rough-legged Buzzard was on show in the fields on the western edge of the village.

Rough-legged Buzzard – Wells Quay, Norfolk – 6th December 2019

Just before we got to Wells we pulled over into a car park so that we could scan the mosaic of fields which sit to the north west of Wells. Here a Rough-legged Buzzard had been seen since at least the 11th November. Peter was travelling in his own car as he was visiting friends in Hunstanton at the end of the weekend. He didn’t see us pull over and he headed straight on to the B&B.

Back in the car park I decided to jog up the track which leads out of the car park to try and work out where we should be coming for the Rough-legged Buzzard in the morning. The car park was locked at 4pm so we didn’t have long. Within a few seconds I saw a hovering buzzard and knew immediately that this was the Rough-legged Buzzard. The cleanly marked black terminal band to the tail, its habit of hovering or hanging motionless in the wind, the black belly patch and black carpal patches were all obvious.

I shouted to Dad over the hedge, which now separated us, to bring the car around and we then had good telescope views for a few minutes. I called Peter to let him know but there was no answer. We lost the buzzard temporarily before I relocated it on the ground and presumably this is where it would be roosting for the night. We decided to come back in the morning so that Peter could see it.

Rough-legged Buzzard is a scarce winter visitor to Britain although occasional large influxes occur after bumper breeding years which follow good lemming and vole years in Scandinavia. This results in many juveniles dispersing south-west in the autumn. This was only my third record in the UK.

Rough-legged Buzzard was an unexpected bonus year tick right at the end of the day (I thought we had run out of daylight) and with the Twite that makes it a two year tick day.

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