Have you spotted this winter visitor?

Twite (Carduelis flavirostris), a winter visitor to Norfolk.

Twite (Carduelis flavirostris), a winter visitor to Norfolk. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Nature: The twite is a bird that's often overlooked, says Mike Toms.

The sea wall that snakes its way out from Thornham to the shelter of the pines at Holme provides an elevated view out over the salt marsh. The small amount of height gained from being on the wall brings with it an opportunity to look down onto the small creeks that finger their way between the salt marsh vegetation. Here and there redshank can be seen feeding; others can be heard piping alarm as they take to the wing, their calls adding to the atmosphere of this place.

To the landward side of the bank there is the grazing marsh on which a loose flock of pink-footed geese are resting, joined by a pair of Egyptian geese and half a dozen greylags. Further on, tucked beneath the pines at NWT's Holme Dunes, is a small waterbody. Here, tufted duck, teal, gadwall and mallard are joined by three little grebes, the latter resembling ridiculously buoyant powder puffs.

Turning back towards the sea our attention is drawn by a flock of small finches, quite close in and feeding within the nearest swathe of saltmarsh vegetation. These are twite, a type of finch that breeds in the Pennines and other uplands across the northern part of Britain. Each has heavily-marked plumage, with streaks of various dull tones set against a background wash that carries more than a hint of reddish-ochre. The small bill, grey in summer but bone-coloured at this time of the year, underlines that this bird feeds on small seeds. In general appearance the twite resemble another more familiar finch, the linnet, and both may be seen feeding on the coast here in Norfolk during the winter months.

The twite is a bird that I have only really known since moving to Norfolk nearly three decades ago. I have seen them on their breeding grounds but for me they have become a feature of my winter walks, and part of the North Norfolk landscape alongside the redshank, curlew and pink-footed geese. As we watch the twite we are passed by couples, families and their dogs, all out for a morning walk. I wonder if they have noticed the twite or have any idea how special they are.