James Lowen 

Part of a nice wintering flock of Ruff on Holkham's grazing marshes.


3 February 2024 Black dog

'The black dog': another term for depression. In winter, when natural light is low and poor, often accompanied by SAD. But 'Blackdog'? A renowned Scottish site for moulting scoter, where I have previously seen (and even more previously, dipped) American White-winged Scoter, enjoyed (and previously dipped) Surf Scoter, and dipped (with no respite) Black Scoter. I haven't seen one of the latter in the UK since the early 1990s, before it was a species and before I really took much attention of it. I've tried a few times since - at Blackdog and on the Northumberland coast. I would never have expected to see my next one in Norfolk: not a species that was talked of as an imminent county first. But that's what my friend and all-round-top-bloke Mike Buckland found last Saturday. He got glimpses of it, at great distance, several times: too distant to photograph, too distant be absolutely and publicly convinced about, but good enough for him to put the news out as a 'probable. Now, if many Norfolk birders were to put out news of a 'probable' Black Scoter, I would likely ignore it. But when Mike does - well, that means it is one. So I shelved family obligations and jumped in the car to Holkham. Although a few birders were dribbling back from the beach, I was astonished and disappointed at how few people were scanning the Bay that afternoon. Only one other birder was close to me, and I could see perhaps a couple of others alternately scanning the sea and the Shore Larks. I failed to locate it by dusk, but shifted family obligations around to return shortly after dawn, joining Nick Acheson and Ash Banwell, and being joined by Stuart White. Just after 9am, Mike refound the bird and - after I had faceplanted in the sand in our rush to to reach him - we enjoyed good views. Mike has written up his find here - and it's a thrilling, authentic finder's account, full of skill, perseverance, self-doubt and joy. A great read. More than a bit better than the only digiscoped video grab I could manage... 

And a quintessential Norfolk scene to finish with: Cranes over a windmill. The Broads in a photo.

North Norfolk is having a rather good winter. In addition to the wintering Red-breasted Goose (plus another one - perhaps Mike Buckland's Wells bird of last autumn - found out west this week), Pallid Harrier and Glossy Ibis, this past few weeks has seen a smart Green-winged Teal please visitors to Holkham Bay. 

I have had too much work and too many family commitments to do too much birding so far this year, but here are a few of the things that have caught my eye within the county.