Thursday, 2am: Having resisted temptation for so long, I finally snapped and hauled myself outta my pit to head down to Norfolk with Bazzo for the Western Sand.
Drive down was uneventful enough, and we pulled up in Cley on a cold, drizzly morning at about 8.45am and strolled down to Pat's Pool.
No sign of the peep initially, but at about 9.15am, it appeared with a small group of Dunlin quite close to the hide, before conveniently flying across a channel and feeding right underneath us.
Managed a few shots, but it was a dark old morning.
With the bird this close, it was time for some "grown-up" birding for a change and for the next half an hour or so, our conversation went along the lines of "blah blah blah....contrast between scapulars and coverts...blah blah...legs set well back like a Kentish...blah blah...streaky crown, arrowhead markings on side of chest...blah blah...where's me breakfast?...blah blah...short primary projection, big super in front of eye, long decurved bill...webs visible between toes...thin white wingbar, tiny compared to Dunlins etc".
It was a cool peep (although it is limping now) and the serious stuff was very enjoyable, but after awhile I nipped out to watch the Cetti's Warblers squawking in the reeds and brambles, before we headed off to explore the rest of the marsh.
It has been a terrifyingly long time since I last visited Cley, but it is still one hell of a birdin' site.
Avocets, Marsh Harriers displaying, day-flying Barn Owl, a cracking Water Pipit from the North Hide and the clamour of hordes of dark bellied Brent Geese on the lagoons.
A seawatch from the shingle produced many Red Throated Divers, with Guillemot and Razorbill, and a stunningly colourful mixed flock of Snow Buntings and Goldfinch bounded about behind the ridge.
Bright yellow and white wing flashes flickering in the brightening sun were just gorgeous - but the skittish goldies meant you couldn't get close to 'em.
On the hill above the swish new visitor centre a feeding flock of Pinkies held five Barnacles and a Ross's Goose, which local birders have firmly bracketed "feral", this seems a little harsh, given the warm welcome afforded to the Lesser Whitefront at Buckenham an hour down the road - such is the nature of wildfowl.
After a bit of brekky, we drove out to Kelling to look for the two Arctic Redpoll coming to seed in a garden there - no luck despite 16 nice Lesser Redpolls commuting in the bright sun.
Well into the afternoon we decided to use the last of the daylight to look for the Great Grey Shrike at Fakenham, and found it after an hour or so of searching, perched up in the stiffening wind and sinking sun.
Fairly open lores and a pale bill had us heading towards the Steppes, but closer inspection revealed plenty of black in the tail, and a wimpy (for a Great Grey) bill, with dark upper mandible.
Lots of white in the wing tho'....you can read more from the grown-ups on this interesting shrike on the excellent "Birding Frontiers" website, here and here.
After that, I drove back to Cley where we had booked a night with Richard and Julia Porter at King's Head Cottage.
Superb hospitality from one of the gods of birdin' and his missus.
Despite the freezin' cold, we walked out to the Three Swallows for a gallon or two of Guinness (Cley's High Street is closed for engineering work, so the George was shut too - zeut alors!), before a good night's kip.
Gorged on a great big breakfast on Friday morning, before motoring west in bright sun to Wells, where Barn Owl was hunting over the fields off the Beach Road, and Turnstones and Brents busied themselves around the quay.
Drove the short distance to Holkham, where we were cruelly stiffed by the Shorelarks, which had flown off into the infinity of creeks and dunes moments before we got onto them.
A shame, but I've often found 'em tricky at Holkham Gap - somedays you almost step on 'em, others they break yer heart!
Consolation came in the form of a calling Chiffchaff in the woods and a gorgeous Firecrest feeding about 200m down the track west of Lady Anne's Drive - lovely little thing.
With time moving on, we went to Burnham Overy, where a flock of frankly pants Lapland Buntings resolutely refused to show well in a stubble field by the A149.
We got okay flight views, but a bounding pack of little brown jobs is no way to watch winter buntings and after giving them 45 minutes to improve their behaviour (no need to be shy just 'cos there's a Merlin tazzing about), we pushed on to Titchwell.
The Coue's Arctic Redpoll was feeding in the catkins just above the picnic area as you walk towards the visitor centre, and while it isn't the most distinctive Arctic Red I've seen, the white (apart from one streak) vent, super, frosty appearance, tiny bill etc all looked good.
Watched it for about 20 minutes as it performed like a circus acrobat above our heads with a loose group of Lesser Redpoll and Goldfinch.
A walk down to the shore produced a Chinese Water Deer out on Thornham Marsh (a mammal tick for me), and a fine Spotted Redshank just below the path.
Offshore Goldeneye, Red Throats, RB Mergs, Common Scoter and Eider were joined by four stonking Long Tailed Ducks diving away about 150m out from the receding tide. Cracking birds.
Pulled out of Titchwell by 1.50pm and headed for home.
All was going splendidly until we hit the M62 at Ferrybridge, where traffic ground to a halt amid tales of snow blocked Pennines, jack knifed lorries and chaos on an Armageddon-stylee scale.
How bad was it?
Well, Bazzo put his fleece on in case we were stranded and even bought emergency supplies (then promptly ate them all before he had left Hartshead Moor services) and it took us FIVE AND A HALF BLOODY HOURS to get from Ferrybridge to the top of Saddleworth.
It was like being stuck in Samuel Beckett's worst nightmare, had he been prone to a spot of twitching.
After ten hours on the road, here's what the M62 looks like to a driver who has abandoned all hope and eaten all the choccy in the car.
Never again (until the next time).
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...