18th Sept 2021 – Warblers, Wheatear & Waders

A Group Day Tour in North Norfolk today. After the morning mist burnt back, it was bright and warm with some sunny intervals this morning. It clouded over a bit more in the afternoon, and there looked to be some showers to the west of us later on, but it stayed largely dry where we were.

We started this morning with a walk along the coast path at Stiffkey. The weather was not ideal for drift migrants arriving from the continent, but with a light SE wind overnight and mist this morning it was not impossible something might have dropped in. Scanning from the car park revealed a Spoonbill preening out on the saltmarsh which we got the scopes on for a closer look, before it flew off west.

Spoonbill – preening out on the saltmarsh

We hadn’t got much further when the bushes by the path were suddenly full of birds – as well as a couple of Blue Tits, there were several Dunnocks, Robin, Goldfinches, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. There didn’t seem to be anything more unusual with them, so we continued on. A Sparrowhawk flew past and disappeared back into Campsite Wood.

There were lots of waders out on the saltmarsh – lots of Curlews and several Redshanks – plus a good number of Little Egrets. A Great Black-backed Gull flew in and flushed a small group of Golden Plover from the vegetation out towards the beach. A single Common Snipe flew in high over the saltmarsh calling, and we lost it in the sun as it headed inland behind us. Another Spoonbill flew over heading east.

We came across a single Blackcap before the whirligig, but the bushes there were rather quiet today. There were one or two butterflies out, enjoying the morning sunshine, a couple of very fresh Commas and a Red Admiral.

Comma – enjoying the morning sunshine

From the far end of the circular path, we stopped again to scan the saltmarsh. More Golden Plover were very well camouflaged, hiding in the vegetation, unless they moved. A single Grey Plover flew round in the distance, flashing its black armpits. A distant Grey Heron and a Common Buzzard were the first of each for the day.

There had been three or four House Martins over the saltmarsh when we arrived, but now a big flock of 30 or more hirundines came through, heading west. Mostly Swallows, there were a few House Martins in with them. Presumably migrants heading off on their way to Africa for the winter. A Siskin flew over very high, calling, probably another migrant.

Looking behind us, we had a quick glimpse of a Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes just beyond the whirligig so we went round for a look. On our way, we flushed a Common Whitethroat from the edge of the tarmac path which landed briefly in a briar, and then when we got out the other side, we found the Lesser Whitethroat again. We had a good view of it for a minute or so out in the open in the elders and hawthorns.. There were a few Blackcaps in here too.

There didn’t seem to be a lot of freshly arrived migrants here, so we decided to head back and try somewhere else. We drove back towards Wells and stopped at the pools just east of town. As we drove down the track, we could see a couple of partridges in the stubble, so we looked round behind the hedge and could see orange faces and grey necks looking out – a small covey of Grey Partridges.

We stood with our scopes on the edge of our field to scan the pool to the east. A Meadow Pipit flew up from the stubble and landed on the fence. Then we noticed a female Yellowhammer a bit further back. Both kept dropping down into the edge of the stubble. A Wheatear popped up onto the fence too – just a few fence posts back from us, and posing nicely, a great view.

Wheatear – posed on one of the fence posts

There were four more Spoonbills out in the water towards the back, in amongst the Greylag Geese. There were lots of Wigeon out there too, the drakes all still in rusty eclipse plumage. Three Pintail flew in high from the direction of Wells. A couple of juvenile Shelducks were feeding on the mud down at the front. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits over towards the back too, mostly asleep. A single Ruff was in with all the Lapwings in the grass.

There were more geese on the dry pool the other side of the track. In amongst the Greylags, we found a single Barnacle Goose, a very pretty goose, but presumably a feral bird from somewhere. There were lots of Egyptian Geese on here too, mostly loafing around in the grass.

We had a walk down the track to see if we could find anything else. A Kestrel landed briefly in the bushes and was then hovering out over the grazing marshes. A Marsh Harrier quartered the fields beyond and we picked up a distant Common Buzzard and a Red Kite away to the east. From the corner, we scanned the pools again. A Green Sandpiper on the mud briefly ran round the back of one of the islands out of view before everyone could get onto it, but we did get a better view of several Black-tailed Godwits feeding here, and saw our first Teal of the day.

It was nearly midday already, so we walked back to the minibus and drove further west along the coast to Titchwell, where we planned to spend the afternoon. After lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area, we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we came out of the trees, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from a big sallow by the path on the edge of Thornham grazing marsh, but typically remained well hidden. A Chiffchaff was calling from the bushes in the reedbed opposite. Just beyond, we stopped to admire a Curlew feeding in the flowers on the saltmarsh close to the bank and a Chinese Water Deer was lurking in the rushes behind.

Curlew – feeding in the flowers on the saltmarsh

It was a nice still day, so when we heard Bearded Tits calling we scanned along the new edge of the water opposite where the diggers have built the new bank and quickly found a smart male in the reeds. We got it in the scopes, a great view as it came out into the open, picking around the floating vegetation disturbed by the digger. When the first disappeared back in, another male appeared a bit further back. A female appeared too and when they finally flew across the water and disappeared into the reeds the other side of the bank, we could see there were four Bearded Tits together.

A scan of the Reedbed Pool revealed a few more ducks – a couple of Shoveler, a single Tufted Duck and a large raft of Common Pochard. Two Little Grebes swam across in front. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds a little further up, but they were in much thicker vegetation and remained well hidden. While we were looking, we heard something crashing through the reeds just below the path. We thought it might be an otter, so we waited by the pool just beyond, but nothing came out and it all went quiet.

Pectoral Sandpiper – the juvenile, still on the Freshmarsh

We were told the Pectoral Sandpiper was showing well from the path a little further up, beyond Island Hide, so we headed straight up there next. A small group of waders came up from the middle of the Freshmarsh and we turned to look at them as they flew towards us and on past – four Little Stints and two Dunlin! Unfortunately, they disappeared off west before the rest of the group caught up, having stopped to look at something by Island Hide.

The Pectoral Sandpiper was hard to see, picking around in the ruts in the mud left behind by the digger, but we got it in the scopes and eventually everyone got a good look at it. A scarce visitor here, this bird, a juvenile, will have been raised in either far NE Siberia or North America this summer and should be on its way to South America for the winter!

The weather was so nice, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from up here, rather than head back into the hide. There were lots of other waders here, so we set about working our way through them. The Ruff were in various shapes, sizes and colours just to confuse the unwary! The Wood Sandpiper flew out from the edge of the reeds but unfortunately didn’t stay very long, before disappearing back in.

Ruff – a juvenile

Further back, we could see a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and scanning through we found a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in with them, juveniles with very strongly patterned upperparts. A small flock of Knot flew in and landed with them too and we managed to find a single juvenile Dunlin on the mud nearby.

Several Golden Plover were roosting on the new islands, surprisingly hard to see against the bare mud, but beautifully golden-spangled in the sunshine through the scopes. There were a few Lapwing on there too. Further back, we got the scopes on a small group of Avocets. There were several Common Snipe on the mud over in front of the reeds and a Greenshank flew in calling over Thornham saltmarsh right past us, before dropping down on the middle of the Freshmarsh.

Greenshank – flew in over the saltmarsh calling

We dabbled briefly in the dark arts of gulls too, getting the scopes first on a couple of Common Gulls preening in with the roosting Black-headed Gulls, then comparing and contrasting an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull with a nearby adult Herring Gull.

We decided to head on out towards the beach next. There were just a few Curlews and Redshanks in the muddy channel at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, but there were a lot more waders on the Tidal Pools. With the tide coming in out on the beach, they had come in here to roost. A large group of Redshanks were loafing at the back before the bank and just beyond there were lots of Oystercatchers in the vegetation and a tight mass of Knot all down the nearby spit. A Turnstone was feeding nearby, flicking over lumps and mud and vegetation (rather than stones!) to look for food.

A big flock of Linnets kept flying up out of the suaeda bushes on the bank, flying round bouncing up and down, before landing back in the tops of the bushes. A male Stonechat flew in and landed with them.

The tide had already covered the mussel beds out at the beach. We got the scopes first on three Sanderling running along the edge of the waves just to the west of us. Three Ringed Plovers were on the shore the other side, towards Brancaster, but were repeatedly flushed by a dog and flew back towards us. There were still a few Oystercatchers and Turnstones out on the beach too.

While we were looking at the waders, one of the group scanned the sea and quickly located two Red-throated Divers just offshore. One was still largely in breeding plumage, still sporting its red throat, though it was hard to see with a bit of mist still lingering offshore. There were a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore too and a distant Gannet.

We picked up a single Brent Goose flying west well offshore first, followed shortly after by seven more Brent Geese with a single Wigeon, and then a much larger flock of Wigeon. These are the first Brent Geese of the winter we have seen – birds arriving fresh back from Siberia as we watched – and the ducks were also just coming back for the winter too. Always nice to see migration in action!

There were some rather threatening clouds to the west of us and we felt a couple of drops of rain, so we decided to walk back so we were closer to cover if it did come over our way. As we got to the turning to Parrinder Hide, the Wood Sandpiper flew in and landed in the corner of the Freshmarsh right below us. We had a great view of it now, as it fed in the small pool on the edge of the reeds, with both adult and juvenile Ruff for comparison.

Wood Sandpiper – showed very well on our way back

Scanning the the mud further back, we couldn’t see the Pectoral Sandpiper where it had been earlier, but we did find two Yellow Wagtails feeding around the margins, which we got in the scopes. A little further on, we relocated the Pectoral Sandpiper now out on the mud on the edge of the reeds from Island Hide feeding with the Common Snipe. A second Greenshank flew in over the saltmarsh calling, with the first answering from where we had seen it land earlier. A flock of seven Avocets came up from the Freshmarsh and circled up higher before turning and flying off towards the sea – just going off to feed somewhere else or perhaps heading off south for the winter? Hard to tell, but there are definitely birds on the move at the moment, as we had seen today.

With things coming and going all the time, we could have stayed here all evening, but unfortunately it was time now to call it a day and head back.

12th Sept 2021 – Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour today, our last day. We spent the morning in North Norfolk and the afternoon down in the Brecks. There were some nice sunny spells again, particularly in the afternoon, when it was quite warm. It almost felt like the summer we never had!

There had been a Common Crane with the Greylags at Iron Road yesterday, so we swung round via there on our way to Cley this morning. We had a quick scan through the geese as we passed, but there was no sign. It was only when we had parked at Walsey Hills and got out of the minibus that we were able to check messages and saw that it had already flown to the fields east of Salthouse.

We had a walk down the footpath through the bushes. They were ringing this morning, so there was quite a bit of disturbance around the feeders. We did manage to add Great Tit to the trip list and saw a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches flying in and out. One of the group heard a Goldcrest singing and it was only when we walked on a little further and heard Iberian Chiffchaff song that we realised something was wrong! The ringers were using a recording of various songs on a loop to try to lure in unsuspecting birds to the nets. There were on or two real Chiffchaffs in there and we saw one flitting about in the bushes at the far end.

There was no sign of any migrants fresh in, so we walked back to the minibus and made the short drive down past Salthouse towards Kelling. There were some Canada Geese a couple of fields over in the stubble and we eventually found somewhere to get the minibus off the road. A quick scan from the verge confirmed the Common Crane was with them, so we walked up the edge of the stubble to find a safe spot we could view from.

Common Crane – with the Canada Geese today

The Crane looked rather incongruous surrounded by Canada Geese! Presumably this is the same lone bird which has been drifting up and down the coast all year. Always a good way to start the day, with a Crane. There were a few Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits distantly out on the grazing marshes and a female Marsh Harrier drifted down the back of the stubble field and turned over the edge of Meadow Lane before heading off towards the Quags.

Back to Walsey Hills, we could resume the morning’s planned agenda. The young Little Grebes were calling on Snipe’s Marsh, but tucked in behind the reeds out of view. Up on the East Bank, an adult Little Grebe then surfaced in front of us in the middle of the blanket weed on Don’s Pool.

Scanning Pope’s Pool, we could see some distant Ruff. Several Common Snipe came up from the the edge of the Serpentine and landed again in the grass. A group of Black-tailed Godwits was busy feeding in the water. One or two of the Rooks seemed to be delighting in chasing waders – chasing after first a Ruff and then a Curlew. There looked to be some more interesting waders further up, so we walked on to the north end of the Serpentine.

The highlight here was a very crisp, fresh juvenile Wood Sandpiper which looked very smart through the scopes. There were a couple of Dunlin as well, plus more Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, a lone Avocet and two more Common Snipe on the edge of the emergent reeds on the far side. There had been a Curlew Sandpiper here last night and first thing this morning, but we couldn’t see it now. We checked with some people we had seen out on the bank earlier and were told it had been flushed by a Sparrowhawk and flown off, so we moved on.

Wood Sandpiper – on the Serpentine

There were a few Meadow Pipits in the short grass in the corner and when we stopped to scan we noticed movement on the edge of the reeds just behind. Two Reed Buntings and three different Reed Warblers appeared in the reeds as we watched.

One of the group spotted a Hobby high over the reeds behind us. It was gliding away from us at first, but then turned and started to fly higher still with rapid wingbeats. It caught something, possibly a dragonfly, and proceeded to eat it on the wing, bringing its feet up to its bill.

A small flock of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh kept flying round and calling as we walked up. We scanned from the bank in the sunshine. A lone Greenshank was feeding in with the Redshank at the back. A juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit flew up and looked to be heading off west before it looped back round and landed again in with the Black-tailed Godwits. It was joined by a second Bar-tailed Godwit a little later. A single Knot was picking around on one of the shingle bars and two more Avocets were asleep nearby. Two Pintail were upending right in the far corner.

Out on the Brackish Pools, there were a couple of Turnstones along with a few more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. A Water Rail squealed from somewhere in the reeds down the main drain and we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling along there too. Two more Knot flew in from the west and dropped down towards Arnold’s.

As we walked up to the beach, a small bird flew from one of the big lumps of concrete on the shingle. A flash of white rump as it landed on the start of the low ridge to our right confirmed it was a Wheatear. We had a nice view of it as it fed on the vegetated slope of the bank.

Wheatear – feeding on the shingle ridge

Scanning the sea, we picked up a couple of juvenile Gannets just offshore, one of which continued past us, and then we noticed an adult flying past a bit further out. A Guillemot was on the sea and then we noticed a Red-throated Diver just off the beach, diving in the breakers a short distance to the east. It was coming out way and we had a great view of it, an adult just moulting out of breeding plumage, we could still see its red throat as it turned and caught the sun.

The Red-throated Diver eventually seemed to see the crowd gathered on the shingle and worked its way a bit further out, drifting with the tide and preening for a while. It came back in towards the beach back to the east but was then disturbed by a dog diving in and out of the waves and drifted off rapidly towards Salthouse.

Red-throated Diver – just starting to moult

It was all action on the beach for a while, but then it went quiet. We couldn’t see anything moving offshore now, so we decided to head back. There was still no sign of the Curlew Sandpiper back on the Serpentine. A large flock of at least 40 Meadow Pipits flew in high over the reedbed and dropped in on the grazing marsh. There has been a big movement of Meadow Pipits down along the Yorkshire coast the last couple of days, so these were probably migrants arriving here. We could see a couple of juvenile Little Grebes on Snipe’s Marsh now.

It was almost midday when we arrived at the Visitor Centre car park. We had thought about having a quick look out from the hides, but there was nothing we hadn’t seen already on the information board and we didn’t have a lot of time now, if we wanted to head inland this afternoon. We had a quick scan of Pat’s Pool from the terrace, but we couldn’t see anything to tempt us to change our plans, so we opted for an early lunch in the sunshine. A smart male Ruddy Darter was basking on one of the picnic tables.

Ruddy Darter – basking on the picnic table

After lunch we headed off on the long drive down to the Brecks. We were hoping to find some Stone Curlew, as now is the time to see them in their big post-breeding gatherings. We found somewhere to park off the road and got out to scan the field opposite. We could immediately see about ten, but they were rather distant and there was still lots of heat haze. It was forecast to cloud over this afternoon but was still stubbornly sunny, and the combination of sunshine and bare flinty Breckland soil always means lots of shimmer. Still, Stone Curlew was a new bird for several of the group so it was nice to see them, particularly when one stood up that was a bit closer to us.

Stone Curlew feed at night and are active at dawn and dusk, spending most of the day roosting. So they can be hard to see here, well camouflaged against the soil when sat down, or hiding in patches of vegetation. As we stood and watched, we realised there were more here than we had first seen, with others appearing as they stood up or moved. Eventually we figured there were around twenty here.

There were a few other birds here – a flock of 53 Golden Plover flew over calling a couple of times. We had a brief view of a chat on an old farm building further down – it looked pale below, like it could be a Whinchat, but it was very distant in the haze and dropped down before we could get a good look at it. We decided to walk down the road to see if we could get another look at it from further along.

As we walked down the road, we had a quick scan of the field the other side. Another Stone Curlew was standing up out in the middle and was quite obvious, so we got the scope on that – the views were slightly better than the others we had seen, if still rather distant. Scanning across we figured there were at least another eight Stone Curlews in here, mostly sat down in the clods of ploughed earth, and probably a lot more we couldn’t see further back.

We stopped in a gateway further down which was directly opposite the old farm buildings, but there was no sign of the chat here now. A few Pied Wagtails were feeding around the edges and a flock of Linnets dropped in. There were lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls out on the stony ground in the middle too.

There were even more Stone Curlews out in the field here, but they were mostly hidden in the vegetation. At first, all we could see was the odd brown head in amongst the brown dried plants. We got the scope on one and had a good view of a bright yellow iris staring back at us. Again, as we stood and watched birds started to move. At one point, several stood up and started to preen – perhaps mid-afternoon they were starting to get a little restless after a long day in hiding. There were more here that we had realised and some were much closer – now we had some really good views through the scopes.

Stone Curlew – eventually, stunning views

Everyone agreed it had been well worth the drive down to see the Stone Curlews. We totted up and figured we had probably seen around 65 in total, an impressive number, and had some really good views. Always a great way to finish the tour at this time of year, it was now time to head back.

11th Sept 2021 – Autumn Tour, Day 2 – Wader Spectacular

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour today, and we headed over to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular this morning. It was a cloudy start but brightened up late morning and we even had some sunny intervals in the afternoon.

It was an early start this morning, in order to get over to Snettisham ahead of the rising tide. As we got out onto the seawall, a Turtle Dove flew up round across the track ahead of us. We watched it fly down over the pit and land on a bush the other side, where we could get it in the scopes. A nice bonus to start.

Turtle Dove – flew past as we arrived

Their was still lots of exposed mud from here, but the water was coming in fast. We could see a large dark slick on the mud away to the north, a large flock of several thousand Oystercatchers gathered up towards the sailing club. Nearby was a huge flock of mainly Bar-tailed Godwits – through the scopes we could see a few still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage. There was a gathering of gulls on the mud too, including several Mediterranean Gulls, plus a number of both Sandwich and Common Terns.

There were more waders on the mud closer to us. Lots of Ringed Plovers, a few Dunlin, Turnstone and Knot, plus Curlews and Redshanks. Two Sanderling dropped in right down below us briefly. Looking out across the Wash, we could see thousands of Knot now, whirling round in the sky, making lots of different shapes. Something was obviously stirring them up out there this morning.

Waders – whirling round out over the Wash

The tide was coming in quickly, and after a while all the Bar-tailed Godwits started to lift off in large groups, flying past us and landing out on the drier mud to the south. Then the Oystercatchers followed and soon, there were no waders left on the mud in front of us. We moved on down to Rotary Hide.

We stopped and watched the flocks again from here. The Oystercatchers were gathered out in the middle, and as the rising waters eventually caught up with them again, we watched as they started to walk away from tide, the whole black slick looking like it was flowing across the mud. The March of the Oystercatchers – great to watch! Some of the godwits and Knot were walking away from the tide too today, following the Oystercatchers. Others flew up from the edge of the water and landed higher up.

We carried on down to the end and got ourselves into position. As the water continued to come in apace, the waders were increasingly tightly concentrated in the last corner. Many of the Knot had gathered further out around the Wash today and as they were forced up by the rising tide, huge flocks each several thousands strong flew in from the distance beyond. There didn’t look to be any room for them, but they all dropped down to join the already packed throngs on the mud in the corner.

Waders – increasingly packed into the last corner of the Wash

The Oystercatchers saw the writing on the wall first, and started to peel off in lines, flying in past us piping noisily. Eventually the first wave of Knot erupted, a thick cloud like smoke, tens of thousands of birds. Some came straight in over our heads, so we could hear the beating of hundreds of pairs of wings. Others towered up over the Wash and came in much higher, in over the pit behind us.

Waders – the first wave of Knot erupted

We watched the huge flocks of Knot circling behind us, and swirls of birds broke off from the bottom of the flock and spiralled down towards the islands on the Pit, almost as if a giant vacuum cleaner hidden below was sucking them out of the sky. The airspace over the Pit was getting congested now, and as more waves of Knot came up from the Wash, other groups circled back out over the Wash.

The islands were obviously filling up fast, again the birds seemed to be shunning the islands to the south of the Pit. More and more birds turned back out over the Wash and we watched the huge flocks of Knot climbing higher & higher, back and forth, towering up. We watched in awe from below.

Waders – wave after wave came up from the mud
Waders – Knot flying back and forth out over the Wash
Waders – made some interesting shapes in the sky

A lot of birds had already disappeared down onto the Pit behind us when suddenly they erupted in panic. We heard a huge whoosh as they all took to the air and turned to see a thick mass of birds twisting and turning above the water. A young Peregrine appeared from the middle of them. It seemed to have missed its chance, lost the element of surprise, but as it flew back away from the Pit it managed to catch something small, presumably a Knot. We watched it disappearing off inland, trying to dispatch its struggling prey on the wing.

Waders – Peregrine-induced panic

As the huge flocks continued to fly round overhead, backwards and forwards, we spotted three Spoonbills with them. We didn’t see where they came from, perhaps up from the Pit when the Peregrine attacked or from out on the Wash. They circled briefly, then drifted off north.

Spoonbills – circled over the Pit

Yet another vast flock of Knot came up from the Wash and in over the Pit. Some managed to land, others headed back out again. We could still see thousands of birds towering high into the sky, others managed to land tight in the corner of the Wash in the shallow water. It was slack tide now, and gradually the excitement died down a little. There were still quite a lot of Knot out on the Wash today, packed in with all the larger waders like Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits which always stay out.

We could see the hides were busy – lots of people had run off to get their seats even before the action had finished – so we chatted a while to let the initial rush subside. The Knot that had come in were all packed onto the islands north of Shore Hide again, and the hide was still full when we walked over. We waited outside for a bit and eventually got in, only to find that a rank of photographers had taken up occupation of all windows overlooking the islands again.

Knot – packed onto the islands north of Shore Hide

Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting in their usual spot, out in the middle with the Cormorants, but were mostly asleep now. We eventually found an angle where we could set up the scope and see through between people to the nearest of the Knot flocks. The first birds we saw were three Little Stints with the Dunlin on the edge of the throng.

Little Stint – one of three roosting on the island

The banks either side and islands at the south end of the Pit were covered in Oystercatchers. We had a careful scan round the edge and found a single Common Sandpiper on the shingle in front of South Hide. Then we headed back out to let someone else have a turn in the hide.

There were loads of Shelducks bobbing out on the water over high tide. We later discovered it was WeBS count day, and RSPB staff had counted 1,560 Shelduck here today (along with 56,000 Knot!). Two Little Stints flew round over the water, but it was hard to tell if they were birds which had been on the island earlier or different. We had seen one or two Swallows heading south earlier, and a big flock of Swallows and House Martins drifted back overhead now.

The tide was starting to go out, and the birds started shifting a bit. As the flocks in the corner started to space our, we could see lots of Grey Plover now, some still sporting their summer black faces and bellies, but most at least looking more patchy now. Scanning through the lines of terns out on the mud, we found quite a few Little Terns now, in amongst lots of Common Terns and quite a few Sandwich Terns.

Lines of Knot started coming up over the bank from the Pit and heading out low over the water towards the corner. Lines of Oystercatchers came out too. Several quite large groups flew out, as well as some dribs and drabs, and then it went quiet. We walked over and looked over the bank and could still see lots of birds on the islands on the Pit, but they were showing no sign of moving, despite it being about an hour and a half after high tide now.

Waders – lines of Knot flew back out

We decided to head back. We called in briefly at Rotary Hide on our way past, where lots of Turnstones were roosting on the nearest island, another Common Sandpiper with them. On our way back along the seawall, we stopped to admire a large roosting flock of several hundred Sanderlings on the beach.

Sanderling – roosting on the beach

We headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon, cutting across inland to avoid the traffic. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields on the way. We stopped for lunch in the picnic area first – several Speckled Woods and a single very smart fresh Comma, as well as Common Darter dragonflies were fluttering around the vegetation and basking in the sunshine. A Bank Vole worked its way round through the undergrowth.

Comma – basking in the sunshine

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. As we walked down along Fen Trail, we could hear several Chiffchaffs calling in the trees. Out onto the Tank Road, we arrived just as a flock of birds passed through. We managed to see a couple Blackcaps eating berries in the elders, and found a Garden Warbler with them briefly, before they flew deeper in. A Chiffchaff remained preening in the bushes on the edge.

We went straight round to the end of Autumn Trail first. When we got there we found a few people looking but they had seen no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper which is still lingering here. There were four close juvenile Little Stints which were nice to watch, along with a few Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and several Ruff too enjoying the mud which had been churned up by the diggers. Another Bank Vole was chewing on a blade of grass on the edge of the path, seemingly unconcerned by all the people standing there.

We kept scanning along the edge of the fenced-off island at the back, which is the area the Pectoral Sandpiper has been favouring. There were several more Ruff over the back and we did see a single Spotted Redshank asleep in front, but presumably our target was hidden in the flooded vegetation behind the fence.

Suddenly something spooked everything, and all the birds flew out of the fence – lots of Teal and Ruff. A careful scan and we found the Pectoral Sandpiper too. A very smart, clean, juvenile, it kept getting hidden by the Herring Gulls loafing on the island in front, but eventually we all had good views through the scope out in the open.

Pectoral Sandpiper – finally appeared from the vegetation

The Pectoral Sandpiper stayed out in the water for several minutes, looking round at first, then stopping to preen, before it walked back to the edge of the vegetation. We had a good view as it started to feed of the distinctive pectoral band formed by the bottom of the streaks on its breast. Then it was chased by one of the Ruff, and disappeared back further in. Amazing to think that it has travelled all the way from North America or perhaps more likely the far north-east of Siberia!

We walked back to Patsy’s and stopped on the benches for a scan of the pool. There were lots of Coot and Gadwall, including some very smart drakes. Two eclipse drake Pintail were upending right at the back, in front of the reeds. There were a few Common Pochard too and several Little Grebes.

As we made our way back through the trees along Fen Trail, we saw at least three Willow Emerald damselflies perched on branches by the path. A fairly recent colonist, it is very well established here now. A Common Toad was sitting in the middle of the boardwalk.

Willow Emerald damselfly – well-established here now

We cut across on Meadow Trail to the main path and walked up towards the Freshmarsh. The reeds were fairly quiet today, not helped by a freshening breeze. A Grey Heron was lurking on the edge of one of the tracks made by the digger through the reeds. Two more Common Pochard and two Little Grebes were on the reedbed pool, and another couple of Little Grebes on the channel beyond. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing, typically well in the bushes.

We went down into Island Hide and were pointed by one of the volunteers to a Wood Sandpiper feeding on the mud in front of the reeds. A single Common Snipe appeared nearby. There was a nice close Ruff, its loose back feathers typically billowing up in the breeze, and an irridescent green Lapwing on the mud right in front of the hide. Avocet numbers have declined significantly, but there were still around a dozen on the Freshmarsh this afternoon, including a close juvenile feeding in front of the hide. Several Golden Plover were over towards the new bund and a few Black-tailed Godwit were asleep on one of the new islands.

Ruff – its loose back feathers typically billowing up

There were more Gadwall on here, including another smart drake, and several Shoveler, the males all still in drab eclipse plumage. One of the drake Teal was just starting to get some head colour again.

A Water Rail appeared, working its way along the edge of the reeds out to the right of the hide. Then another came out into the open on the mud a little further back. As if not to be outdone, the first Water Rail then reappeared and also came right out onto open mud where we got a great look at it.

Water Rail – came right out onto the mud

One of the group saw a small bird flick into the dead reeds on the edge where the diggers had cleared and after a minute or so a Reed Warbler emerged. A few minutes later, a male Bearded Tit appeared in exactly the same place, although it only stayed out briefly before dropping back in. A Great White Egret came up from the near edge of the reedbed and flew off back in the direction of Patsy’s.

There was a shout of ‘Hobby‘ from the volunteer we had spoken to earlier but it dropped down out of sight before he could get us onto it. It had been a long day, so we decided to head back now. On our way back to the visitor centre, we were just in time to see the Hobby heading out across Thornham grazing marsh. Then it was time to head for home – more tomorrow.

10th Sept 2021 – Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour today, and we headed across to the Broads. It was bright with sunny intervals and warm, although we drove into heavy showers on our way back in the afternoon.

Our first destination was Potter Heigham. As we walked down the track from the car park several House Martins were hawking around the trees opposite and we could hear Greenfinches calling.

Across the main road, we scanned the grazing marshes as we walked along. A Kestrel was hovering at the back and a Common Buzzard flew in and landed on post briefly. A Grey Heron flew across and landed in one of the ditches. A big flock of Egyptian Geese were sleeping in the cattle field between the track and the river. We could see a couple of Lapwings on the grazing marsh and our first Marsh Harrier flew across the track ahead of us.

There were lots of dragonflies out in the sunshine around the reedy ditches – Common Darters, Migrants Hawkers and a couple of Brown Hawkers – and a good number of Red Admiral butterflies.

Red Admiral – lots out today in the sunshine

When we got to the first pool, we found a couple of gaps in the reeds to look through. There were lots of geese on the mud beyond the water – mostly Greylags, plus a gaggle of Canada Geese and few more Egyptian Geese. A group of Wigeon were gathered on the near end of geese, with a few Shoveler and a single Tufted Duck out on the water.

A couple of Ruff were in among the geese and we found some more waders tucked down in the near corner on the mud – several Black-tailed Godwits and a single Common Snipe. A small group of Little Egrets were on the bank a bit further back.

We continued on down the track to the corner and took the path up onto the bank. Looking across to the pool opposite, we could see three Greenshanks running around after each other, calling, before they flew off. There were a couple more Common Snipe here and we picked up a single Green Sandpiper over on the far side. We could see a few Black-tailed Godwits on the island, but they were mostly out of view through the reeds from where we were standing.

At this point, we received a message via the news services that the Long-billed Dowitcher which has been here for several days was still present. A few people had gone on ahead of us, so we presumed they had found it and walked on to find them. They were looking out over the next pool, but knew nothing about it! We stopped to look here too, adding another seven Common Snipe to the tally.

We picked up the three Spoonbills which had also been reported as present, distantly out in the middle. We decided to have a look on the pools round on the other side, where we could get a better view of the Spoonbills and see if the dowitcher was over there. On the way round, a Ruddy Darter was in the grass by the path.

Scanning the pools from the river bank, there were lots more Greylags on here. There were more waders too – lots of Ruff and several Common Snipe in the muddy channel in the far corner. We kept adjusting our position to get a different angle over the reeds and see different parts of the pools. We picked up a single Dunlin on the far bank.

Spoonbills – 2 of the 3, asleep

We eventually found an angle from where we could get a better view of the three Spoonbills. They were mostly asleep, but woke up occasionally to flash their yellow-tipped black spoon-shaped bills.

A smart male Marsh Harrier flew in over the pools past us and across the river behind.

Marsh Harrier – flew past us

We received a message from two of the people we had spoken to earlier that they could see a Garganey on the pool with a couple of Teal. We couldn’t find it initially from where we were standing, but eventually located it from a little further up. There were two Garganey now, with the two Teal. We could see the distinctive pale spot at the base of their bills through the scope. A closer Greenshank on the next pool flew off just as we got the scopes on it.

We had intended to walk back round the way we had come, to have another go at finding the dowitcher, but the group was tired after the walk round here now and wanting to head back for lunch. It was a shorter walk back along the river bank, but quieter bird-wise. We had just got back to the car park when we received a message from the others to say they had just relocated the dowitcher asleep on their way back. Too late!

We drove round to Winterton and found a spot to eat lunch in the back of the car park, overlooking the sea. There were several gulls out on the water. An adult Mediterranean Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull flew past. Three Sandwich Terns were fishing just off the sandbar, until they were chased past us by a juvenile Herring Gull. There were several Cormorants and Grey Seals offshore too, but when we spotted a small shape bobbing on the water just off the concrete blocks it turned out to be a Guillemot, which swam slowly past us just off the beach. We picked up a distant Gannet flying past too.

Guillemot – swam past

After lunch, we headed off for a walk into the dunes. There weren’t many birds at first. We could see one or two Marsh Harriers over the bushes inland and a couple of Kestrels. But we did see a good selection of butterflies – lots of Red Admirals, but it was particularly nice to see several Graylings here, and a late tatty Common Blue was an addition to the list.

Grayling – we saw several in the dunes

We were already armed with some up to date information from one of the regulars, and we bumped into someone else who confirmed we were heading in the right direction. A little further up, along the fence line, we found a small group of Stonechats. Scanning across, we spotted a Whinchat with them, paler peachy orange on the breast with a bright pale supercilium. The chats were constantly on the move, and so hard to count, but eventually we managed to see all three Whinchats together that we had been told were present. A lot of migrants move through quickly in this clear, sunny weather, so it was nice to catch up with some while we could.

Whinchat – there were 3 in the dunes

There were a few warblers in the bushes here too, and we had some nice views of a Common Whitethroat which seemed to be following the chats around.

Beyond the chats, we spotted a Wheatear in the dunes so we walked across for a closer look. It was joined by a second and they flicked off ahead of us, flashing their white rumps.

Wheatear – there were two in the dunes

It was nice standing in the dunes watching the Whinchats and Wheatears. We figured that was as much walking as we would be able to manage today, so we decided to head back slowly to the car park. When we got back, we had another look at the sea. The tide had gone out and there was much more sand now. More Sandwich Terns had gathered on the beach with the gulls, several Mediterranean Gulls and Common Gulls as well as the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

It was a long drive back, so we decided it was time to call it a day and head off now. We would have an early start tomorrow too.

3rd Sept 2021 – Snettisham & Wells

Another Private Tour today in North Norfolk. This time, a specific request to go and look round Snettisham Coastal Park and Ken Hill Marshes. It was cloudy and threatened to spit with rain a couple of times, but stayed dry. It was also warmer than of late, with slightly less blustery NE winds, which meant it was difficult to work out how many layers to wear at times!

As we drove across to Snettisham this morning, a Red Kite drifted over the road. There were lots of Linnets on the wires as we drove past Ken Hill Estate down along Beach Road, immediate beneficiaries of the regenerative agriculture in the field here which was previously used for intensive arable crops.

We parked by the seawall and walked up to the entrance into the Coastal Park. A Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows. As we got to the gates, we looked up to see a Turtle Dove on the wires. We had a good view of it in the scope, though it was looking a bit tatty.

Turtle Dove – on the wires

When the Turtle Dove flew down, we continued on into the bushes. There was a hive of activity around the first small open grassy area – several Common Whitethroats in the hawthorns, a couple of Blackcap calling, a Chiffchaff flycatching from the top of a small briar patch, plus tits, Robins, Dunnocks, Starlings and Blackbirds. We stopped to look through them.

There were lots of House Martins and Swallows hawking overhead, gathering ahead of the long journey to Africa for the winter. A lone Common Swift appeared too – most have already left us, but there have been a few late birds along the coast this week. Sad to think that already this may be the last one we will see this year.

Continuing on, the bushes further up were a little quieter. We heard a Lesser Whitethroat tsking from the bushes, but it went quiet before we could start to work out where it was hiding. There were lots of Goldfinches around the outer seawall, including a good number of plain-faced juveniles.

When we got up to the crossbank, we climbed up onto the seawall to have a look out over the Wash. The tide was out, but we could see lots of waders along the distant shore. We got the scope on them – Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank, lots of Knot and several Grey Plovers, some still sporting their summer black faces and bellies.

As we turned round to scan over the grassy area north of the crossbank, we spotted another Turtle Dove flying towards us, from the direction of Heacham. We watched as it continued on past, before we lost sight of it flying through the bushes down through the Coastal Park. A Common Buzzard circled up inland and a couple of Kestrels were hovering out over the marshes.

Across from the inner seawall, the pools out on Ken Hill Marshes have dried up a lot over the last couple of weeks. There was still a bit more water on the marshes to the north, so we walked up for a closer look. There were lots of geese on here, mostly Greylags including several feral white ones and various in-betweeners. A group of Egyptian Geese were with them, mostly asleep. We found two Barnacle Geese too – presumably part of the ever growing UK feral population.

Barnacle Geese – with the Greylags

There were a few ducks too, including a few Wigeon, birds already returned for the winter. We heard a couple of Green Sandpipers calling and picked one up flying up from the pools. Two Marsh Harriers circled over the back of the marshes. A couple of Grey Herons were lurking in the overgrown vegetation.

We heard Stonechats calling distantly behind us, but couldn’t find them initially. We eventually located them right over the far side of the grazing marshes. Even better, the first bird we got the scope on was a Whinchat – we could see its obvious pale supercilium, paler buff-brown upperparts and paler peachy-orange underneath. The birds were perching up on the tall ragwort seedheads and bramble clumps beyond and dropping down to look for food in the short grass, out of view. After watching them for a while, we had counted at least two Whinchats and five Stonechats.

Whinchat – feeding with the Stonechats

Walking back south along the inner seawall, the pools out on Ken Hill Marshes were too overgrown now to see much, although we did find a Little Grebe with the geese and ducks on one of the more open areas of deeper water. There were still various warblers calling from the bushes, including a Cetti’s Warbler down by the ditch below the bank which remained typically elusive.

What was presumably the same Common Swift was still hawking over the Coastal Park and the Marshes – it seemed to keep passing us going north, but presumably was the same bird doubling back each time.

Common Swift – could it be our last of the year?

We cut back in through the south end of the Coastal Park, but it was a lot quieter now than it had been earlier. It was already well after midday by the time we got back to the minibus, so we had a quick discussion about what we would like to do for the rest of the afternoon. The decided target was Pied Flycatcher and any other migrants. We thought about going to Holme Dunes, but the new NWT parking booking system which has been in place for the summer precludes and hint of spontaneity in visiting there any more (you have to book in advance!), so we went to Wells Woods instead.

When we got to Wells, we stopped for a late lunch in the car park. It had brightened up quite a bit now and was quite pleasant out of the breeze, sheltered by the trees. After lunch, we set off into the Woods. The boating lake had a few Little Grebes on it but not much else of note today.

Walking in through the birches, it was rather quiet at first, but before we got to the edge of the Dell we came across a flock of birds feeding in the trees. At first, all we could see were tits, Coal, Blue and Great Tits, and several Treecreepers which spent some time feeding in one of the big pines and a neighbouring hawthorn.

Treecreeper – one of at least three

We could hear a Pied Flycatcher calling so we walked a little further and found it flitting around high in the birches. A second Pied Flycatcher flew across in front of us into the sallows nearby, on the edge of the Dell. They were very active, moving all the time, and hard to see in the leaves most of the time, but a couple of times they landed in full view for a second or two.

It was hard to tell at first which way the flock was going, but eventually the tits moved off south towards the main path, so we tried to keep up with them. There were a few warblers with the flock too, several Chiffchaffs and we had good views of a lovely lemon-yellow Willow Warbler feeding high in one of the birches.

Willow Warbler – flitting around in the birches

The tits moved on again and we set off after them. As we did, a Pied Flycatcher started calling from low in the trees beside us and we turned to see it land. It remained on the same perch for a couple of minutes, giving us great views this time.

Pied Flycatcher – one of several

When the Pied Flycatcher eventually flitted up into the trees, we set off in the direction the flock had disappeared. But we couldn’t find it now – it had probably continued on over the main track and into the caravan park. We had a quick walk around the open area south of the track, but it was very quiet today and there were just a few Woodpigeons out on Quarles Marsh.

We cut back in to the Dell meadow and then back round the west and north sides of the Dell, but apart from one or two Chiffchaffs and Jays calling it was rather quiet. As is usually the case here, it is all or nothing – most of the birds tend to be with the flocks. There were good numbers of Speckled Wood butterflies still on the wing, though some are looking rather tatty. We watched a male Specked Wood displaying to a very tatty female.

Speckled Wood – looking a bit tatty

There were quite a few dragonflies out now too – several Migrant Hawkers and a nice apple-green Southern Hawker in the trees. On the north side of the Dell, several dead flower stems in the grass were each adorned with a basking Common Darter on the top.

There were several people now watching one of the Pied Flycatchers on the east side of the Dell as we cut back out to the main track again. We had to be back in good time this afternoon, so we didn’t have enough time now to do anything else. We decided to walk on along the track down to the drinking pool.

The birches by the main path were quiet. As we cut in towards the drinking pool, something flew up from the ground under the trees – a large female Sparrowhawk, it landed briefly in the tops before flying off through the pines. Even though there is still a small amount of water in the bottom of the pool, there was no sign of anything coming in to drink or bathe this afternoon.

Back out on the main track, it was time to head back. A smart male Ruddy Darter basking on the path was a nice late addition to the day’s dragonfly list.

Ruddy Darter – basking on the path

1st & 2nd Sept 2021 – Two Autumn Days

A two day Private Tour in North Norfolk. Wednesday was very cloudy and grey but dry, with a cool northerly wind which was not as strong as forecast. Thursday was mostly cloudy and grey too, but the wind had dropped further and we had a couple of very brief glimpses of what appeared to be the sun – a very rare sight in the UK this summer!

Wednesday 1st September

With a request to try some seawatching if possible, we headed first to Sheringham this morning. Conditions are all important for seawatching and there was forecast to be a moderate to blustery north wind again today. However, as we drove down, we noticed that the trees were not moving as much as we would have expected. When we got to Sheringham our fears were confirmed and the wind had indeed fallen lighter than forecast.

We decided to have a go anyway, as there has been some significant movements of waders and wildfowl this week which are not so dependent on conditions. There were still a few ducks moving – little groups of Teal, several parties of Common Scoter, and a few Wigeon with them. One Redshank flying west was the only wader this morning.

There were still Gannets passing by and others feeding offshore, plus some distant Kittiwakes and one or two Sandwich Terns closer in. A Great Skua came up briefly up off the sea, probably waiting to attack one of the terns if it could spy one with a fish. Two more flew west along the horizon but were very distant and very hard to see. A Red-throated Diver flying west was easier to see and a Guillemot flew past.

We gave it an hour but it didn’t look like we would get much more of interest this morning, so we opted to move on and drove further east to Cromer. There were not many gulls on the beach or around the pier at first – a few hanging in the air over the east end of the prom, and lots more out chasing behind a distant crab boat. There was a surf school on the beach this morning, so lots of disturbance on the sand.

We stopped on the far side of the pier to scan. A Fulmar flew past offshore and there were still some Common Scoter passing. Then we spotted our target – a juvenile Caspian Gull flying round the end of the pier, but unfortunately it went round behind the lifeboat house and was lost to view. A dark juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull was more accommodating.

As we waited to see if the Caspian Gull would reappear, more large gulls started to drift in from the sea and land on the beach. On cue either the same or another Caspian Gull flew in and landed with them. We had just got the scopes on it, when it was flushed by one of the surfers, and the gulls all scattered. Most seemed to fly off east.

Change of plan, we went to get some bread from the nearby shops to see if we could tempt one in. When we got back, we noticed a few gulls on the booking office at near end of the pier so we walked back to get an angle to have a quick look through them before any food would cause chaos. Lucky we did, as there was a juvenile Caspian Gull standing on the roof.

Caspian Gull – a Dutch-ringed juvenile

We had a really good look at the Caspian Gull through the scopes now. It was wearing a red colour-ring with the code ‘F.E’ – a quick check with one of the local birders confirmed it was a Dutch bird, ringed in the colony where it was born, in May this year. We could see its strikingly pale head, particularly compared to the nearby juvenile Herring Gulls, and dark shawl, long pointed face and long parallel-sided bill.

Mission accomplished here, we moved on again. There had been a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Trimingham yesterday afternoon, but a message came through to say there was no sign of it this morning. So we made our way back to to Beeston Bump to see if we could find any migrants ourselves. We were just walking down the track towards the railway line, when something flicked across in front of us. It landed on the edge of the hedge the other side. A Pied Flycatcher! It flicked back across the track and perched up nicely for a couple of seconds, then flew to the other side again and was lost to view. As we walked slowly up to where it had been we couldn’t find it again now.

Pied Flycatcher – perched in the hedge briefly

Emboldened by our Pied Flycatcher, we continued on across the railway line and explored the bushes in the hope of finding more migrants. There were several Linnets and Goldfinches and a couple of Chiffchaffs calling from the shelter of the bushes, but no other obvious migrants. Perhaps it was a bit too cool and breezy so close to the clifftop, which is why the Pied Flycatcher had moved to the more sheltered lane? A rather tatty Common Blue butterfly was a bit of a surprise, given the cool weather.

As we made our way back to the minibus, a large Hoverfly Volucella inanis, one of the big hornet or wasp mimics, was trying to warm up on a branch by the track. It was time for lunch now, so we drove up to the picnic area at Pretty Corner where we were out of the wind. After lunch, we made our way west towards Wells and stopped at the pools just before town.

As we parked and got out of the bus, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying high west. We scanned the pools from the car park first. The pool to the west of the track is now dry, but there is still lots of water to the east. A single Ringed Plover flew round with a Dunlin and they both landed on the mud at the front. Another small group of Dunlin was feeding slightly further behind.

Four small waders flew up from somewhere at the back of the pools and we watched them as they flew across. As they got closer, we could see they were four Little Stints. They continued on over the track, and we watched as they disappeared off west, round the front of Wells. There were several Common Snipe feeding round the muddy edges of the pool and lots of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff further back.

Common Snipe – one of several around the pool

We could see a good number of Wigeon in the grass around the pool, with increasing numbers now returning for the winter, as we saw earlier this morning. Through the scopes, we picked out a few Gadwall and Shoveler at back. The other side of the track, there were lots of geese loafing around the dry pools, mainly Greylags but with several Egyptian Geese too.

There were lots of distant hirundines over the edge of Wells and we were just looking through them to see if we could find a late Swift when a Hobby appeared. It shot through them and then disappeared off inland. We could see it circling away in the distance. Several Common Buzzards kept coming up from the pig fields just inland and a Marsh Harrier was hunting briefly over the fields beyond the pools.

We walked on down the track for closer views of some of the waders. As we scanned, we picked up the Hobby again, way off to the east now, harrassing another flock of Swallows over the trees in the distance.

As we were scanning the far corner of the pool from the end of the track, we picked up a Common Sandpiper flying towards us over the water. It flew straight over our heads, and dropped down the other side of the track. There is still lots of water in the foot drain, so we scanned down along the muddy edge and found the Common Sandpiper feeding there with a Green Sandpiper too. At one point we had the two of them side by side, a great opportunity for comparison.

Common Sandpiper – landed on the edge of the foot drain

It was already mid-afternoon now, and we wanted to have quick look in Wells Woods before we finished, to see if we could find any more migrants, so we walked back. A Golden Plover flew round over the pool calling. As we got back to the minibus, all the Greylags in the stubble field over towards Wells were flushed by a small plane which came in overhead, and they all flew in calling noisily.

As we walked into the Woods at Wells, we had a quick look at the boating lake. Three Tufted Ducks and several Little Grebes were additions to the tour list. There were several Mallard on the water, with one drake already moulted back to breeding plumage and looking very smart again.

The trees were rather quiet at first. We could hear a Blackcap calling from deep in the brambles out in the middle, and a Chiffchaff calling as we approached the edge of the Dell. we continued on round the north side of the Dell, where we could hear Jays and Magpies calling too.

It tends to be all or nothing in here, as most of the birds go round together in large flocks, led by the tits. We wrre just making our way round the far side of the Dell when we heard a Pied Flycatcher calling. We came out of the denser trees and as we looked down along the edge, it was suddenly alive with birds – we didn’t know where to look! There were lots of warblers – Chiffchaffs and several lovely lemon-yellow Willow Warblers. A selection of tits with them too. We watched a pair of Goldcrests in a holm oak, as an adult fed a juvenile.

It was hard to tell exactly how many there were, as we had lots of brief views of Pied Flycatchers flashing in and out of the trees, but eventually one showed itself better. A couple of Jays were chasing each other on the ground, below the trees.

We followed the flock as the birds flew across to the south side of the track. The Pied Flycatchers were a little easier to see in the more isolated birches. We could hear several calling, and saw two chasing each other – there were at least two and probably three or more. A Common Whitethroat flicked out of a low bush in front of us and we could see it in a low briar clump. A cronking noise alerted us to a pair of Ravens and we turned to see first one and then the second fly up off Quarles Marsh calling and disappear over the caravan park. As we looked over, a male Bullfinch landed on the top of the hawthorns briefly.

Suddenly everyone felt rather tired now, after all the day’s excitement, so we decided to head back. We had another day to look forward to tomorrow,

Thursday 2nd September

We set off from the accommodation inland to head down towards coast, and on our way we stopped to scan some barns. A Little Owl was perched on the roof of one, rather distant, but we had a nice view of it through the scope.

Continuing on to Stiffkey Greenway, as we drove in along the track down to the car park there were lots of birds in the vegetation – Whitethroats, Goldfinches, Dunnocks. We had stopped to look but another car came in behind us so we had to move. By the time we had parked and got out of the minibus, they had mostly disappeared. We could hear a Greenfinch calling further back.

Scanning the saltmarsh from the edge of the car park, we picked up a Greenshank out in the vegetation and stopped to get the scope on it. A large flock of Golden Plover came up off the saltmarsh and flew past us. Two of three Marsh Harriers were out hunting and a distant Kestrel was hovering.

As we walked west, we could see several Curlew out on the saltmarsh. A Whimbrel flew up from fairly close to the track and landed further back in the vegetation. A Sparrowhawk flew across, mobbed by Black-headed Gulls. It dropped down on the saltmarsh out of view – we could tell it was still there as occasionally one of the gulls would stoop down at it, but it wouldn’t come up again. A lone Spoonbill flew past.

Spoonbill – flew past

The bushes by the path were quiet and even round the whirligig, where there are lots of berries, we couldn’t find anything. We decided to just have a quick look along the path just the other side of the Whirligig then head back, and it was good we did. The bushes here were alive with warblers – Common Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroat, and Blackcaps. They were hard to see at first, flitting around on the far side of the hedge. A Reed Bunting was more obliging, and perched up on top.

We eventually got good views of several warblers in the top of a large hawthorn. Another bird appeared with them – a Redstart! It only stayed a second, but we all got a look at it before it flicked off back into the bushes.

The flock appeared to be heading along the hedge line so we continued round for a better look. We caught the back end of a flock tits heading inland along the track, which presumably took some of the other birds with it. There were several Common Whitethroats still lingering in the bushes. Someone had a brief flash of what might have been a Pied Flycatcher. Then we had a brief glimpse of what might have been the Redstart again, as it flicked across. But despite waiting a few minutes, nothing came out again.

We walked back round and the bushes where everything had been were now quiet. So we decided to walk back. The Whimbrel was on the saltmarsh just below the path, but flew back as we approached. It landed on the edge of a small pool, near to a roosting Curlew and through the scope we could see the Whimbrel feeding just behind it, another great comparison.

Whimbrel – feeding on the saltmarsh

Given the Redstart hinted at the possibility of migrants freshly arrived, we decided to have a quick look in Campsite Wood. It was disappointingly quiet – plenty of Woodpigeons, as usual, we heard a couple of Great Tits, but nothing else. The wind seemed to have picked up a little compared to earlier, and the wood is very exposed to a north wind. There were also still quite a few people in the wood despite the campsite being much quieter now.

Out the far side of the wood, we scanned and picked up a couple of Common Buzzards hanging in the air in the distance. A Kestrel flew in off the saltmarsh and hovered right above us. Two Speckled Wood butterflies were feeding on overripe blackberries deep in the brambles. We walked back along the front, passing a Little Egret feeding in the channel next to us.

Little Egret – feeding in the channel

When we got back to the minibus, we stopped for a coffee break. Checking the news, there didn’t seem to be much new turning up elsewhere, so we decided to head over to Titchwell for the afternoon, to try to add some waders to the list. It was already midday by the time we got there, so we stopped for an early lunch. A Common Swift passed back and forth over the sallows from the picnic area – the first we have seen for several weeks now, as most have already left us for the winter.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. There were lots of House Martins and a few Swallows hawking over the reedbed, but we couldn’t see the Swift now. A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the Thornham grazing marsh but there was no sign now of the Whinchat which had been reported here earlier. The reedbed pool held just one Tufted Duck, but we found two Common Pochard diving in the channel just beyond. A Cetti’s Warbler sang a couple of times very half-heartedly in reeds.

The works are still ongoing on the Freshmarsh, with the diggers working out on the edge of the reeds today, but the waders didn’t seem to care. It anything, the low water levels and freshly churned up mud are proving more attractive for them this year. We could see lots of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff scattered around the scrapes, and plenty of Avocets still too, although numbers are now dropping.

Ruff – feeding on the Freshmarsh

A couple of Common Snipe flew off before we could get the scope on them, but a group of Turnstone bathing and preening on the edge of the new bund lingered a little longer, before they flew off too, back towards the beach. A single Knot was roosting behind a large lump of mud churned up by the diggers and we picked up a couple of Ringed Plovers feeding on the drier mud.

The Dunlin were obviously favouring the area at the back, where the diggers are working. When a group were disturbed and flew round, we could see a flash of a white rump with them. They landed our side of the new N/S bund, and a quick scan confirmed a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was in with them. We got it in the scope, as it stopped to bathe. There were a couple of Little Stints in the flock too, but the whole flock quickly drifted back and disappeared behind the new bank again.

The variety and number of ducks is steadily increasing now, as birds return for the winter. We could see lots of Teal out here today, along with a few Gadwall and Shoveler, and a couple of Pintail asleep.

We decided to walk round to Parrinder to see if we could get a better look at the small waders. We didn’t go into the hide, but scanned from the balcony beyond, where a bit of elevation meant we could see more of the mud over the fence round Avocet Island. We could see Curlew Sandpiper again from here. It was over on the mud in front of the diggers, and didn’t seem at all concerned. We counted at least five Little Stints too, all fresh juveniles, from here. Eventually a couple came in a bit closer and fed for a while where we could get a good look at them through the scopes. A Common Sandpiper was working its way back along the edge of the new muddy channel by the bund.

Little Stints – two of the five today

There were lots of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and a few Pied Wagtails in front of the hide too, taking advantage of the works to feed on the dried out bits of the new scrapes.

We decided to head out to the Tidal Pools, as it was approaching high tide and we figured there should be some birds roosting on there now. A lone Redshank was on the near channel of Volunteer Marsh as we passed, and a few more plus a handful of Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Curlew on the muddy channel at the far end.

There were lots of waders roosting on the Tidal Pools – most impressive, there were at least a thousand Knot. A large gathering of Oystercatchers were on the grassy island too. Scanning the edges, we found a couple of Grey Plover, including one very smart one which dropped in briefly. Several Turnstone included two very smart birds still in breeding plumage.

Two Pintail were upending in the water, perhaps the same two as we had seen earlier on the Freshmarsh. Both were drakes in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best.

Having come this far, we decided to continue on to the beach. Several little groups of Sanderling were running in and out of the waves along the shore. There were more waders, including a number of Bar-tailed Godwits further up along the beach, towards Thornham Point. A few gulls and Turnstones were feeding on shellfish which had been washed up on beach. When something flushed all the Knot from the Tidal Pools, we turned to see them fly out over the beach. Half landed out on the shore, but the others flew round and then went back to where they had come from.

Knot – flying out over the beach

There was not much out to sea now – the seawatching had dried up steadily as the wind had dropped further today – just one Sandwich Tern fishing offshore, and a few distant Cormorants coming and going from Scolt Head.

As we turned to walk back, all the Knot went up again. We looked up to see a young Peregrine flying over. It headed out over the beach.

Peregrine – flushed the Knot from the Tidal Pools

That was a nice bird to end the two days – we made our way back to the minibus and headed back inland to the accommodation.

26th August 2021 – Woods, Fen & Marshes

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy and grey day, with a blustery and cool northerly wind, but it stayed pretty much dry throughout and we enjoyed a good day out and saw a nice selection of different things.

With the wind still coming off the Continent, we decided to have a quick look in Wells Woods again first thing, to see if anything had arrived overnight. As we made our way in from the car park, we stopped to have a quick look at the boating lake. As usual, there were several Little Grebes and three Tufted Ducks out on the water. We heard a Kingfisher call, but couldn’t see it and then a minute or so later two Kingfishers appeared right at the back, chasing each other back and forth across the water, before disappearing back through the trees.

The birches were relatively sheltered from the wind, but despite this there was nothing much in here today – we could hear a couple of Coal Tits in the pines beyond. We continued in round the Dell, which was similarly quiet – we heard a couple of Chiffchaffs and one or two Jays screeching. It sounded like the tit flock was up in the top of the pines today. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from somewhere deep in the trees. It was a bit more exposed in the open area south of the main track, which was pretty much devoid of birds on a quick circuit this morning. There clearly were not large numbers of freshly arrived migrants so we decided to move on.

Driving east along the coast road, we stopped next at Stiffkey. It was spitting very lightly with rain when we arrived, but a female Marsh Harrier was hunting the field right next to where we were parked so we watched it from inside the minibus. By the time it had drifted off north, the rain had stopped. Given the weather, it probably wasn’t a great surprise that we didn’t see many butterflies or dragonflies along the footpath today. We did have one Speckled Wood in the trees.

A Stock Dove flew over was we walked along the permissive path by the road and a Chiffchaff was calling in the copse at the end, but otherwise it was quiet along here (apart from the traffic!). A Common Buzzard was hanging in the air over the south end of the Fen when we got out of the trees on the other side of the road and through the first kissing gate, and a late House Martin was still around the house on the top of the hill. A little further along a Chiffchaff and a lemon-yellow Willow Warbler flitted out of the sallows by the river briefly.

The vegetation is now too tall to see across to the Fen from the path, but there is one area where you can just about see through the reeds. The Spoonbills were not in their usual place, on the grass at the south end, but had moved back to the high point of the island, in the corner by the reeds, out of view from the seawall. We found a gap in the reeds through which we could just about see them. There were a lot fewer than recent days too – only about twelve or so today, compared to 50+ previously.

Spoonbills – only a dozen or so today

We could see a lot more water on the Fen even from here and hear that water was still being allowed to run on, through the sluice from the river. The water level had perhaps been getting a bit low but it is a bit early to flood it for the winter wildfowl, with lots of passage waders still to come through. The Spoonbills also usually utilise the site well into September.

We continued on and up onto the seawall, where we were out in the face of the wind. We could now see that the south end of the island was submerged and there was no exposed mud. All the birds were packed into the areas of grass which remained above the flood. There were lots of gulls and a few ducks, mainly Mallard and Teal, and Greylags.

The tide was high in the harbour, and many waders usually roost on the Fen over high tide. There were still lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks on here, but they were packed in tightly with the gulls and wildfowl. We counted at least 30 Greenshanks too, but they were now having to roost up to their bellies in water as there was no room anywhere else. One decided to see if it could find somewhere better and flew out over the seawall past us. We watched it fly up the harbour channel, checking out the edges, then out over the saltmarsh. It was a big tide today, higher than normal backed by the strong north wind, and there was nowhere for it to go, so it turned and flew back in to the Fen.

Greenshank – trying to find somewhere to roost out in the harbour

We had a quick look out at the harbour, but it was rather breezy. We could see lots of seals pulled out on the shingle on the end of Blakeney Point. With the very high tide, there were few birds out on the remaining areas of saltmarsh, just a Little Egret which came up from the vegetation briefly. We decided to head back.

Carrying on east, we stopped next at Cley. The vote was for an early lunch first, and we managed to make use of the picnic tables overlooking the reserve, despite the breeze. Afterwards, we headed out to the hides.

We went into Teal Hide first. The wind had pushed the water back and the waders were further over today. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff were roosting in the shallows in the lee of the island. In amongst them, we could see three eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn. Someone kindly drew our attention to a Wood Sandpiper which had just appeared from behind the reeds. We watched it feeding in and out of the vegetation, presumably finding some shelter in there. At least five Meadow Pipits were feeding in the edge of the reeds in front of the hide too, presumably trying to find shelter from the wind.

When we looked up as a few Greylags flew in from over the reedbed at the back, we noticed a Common Crane dropping down over the scrape too. Not something you often expect to see when you look up from the window of the hide! The Crane turned into the wind right in front of the hide and gradually lost height as it dropped over the reedy ditch and disappeared down onto Simmond’s Scrape, next door.

Common Crane – flew in right in front of the hide

One of the locals came running round from Avocet Hide to tell us the Crane was on Simmond’s Scrape, so we went round there to see it. We had fill-the-frame views through the scope as it walked across the middle to the island – stunning! It stood for a while looking round, picking at the ground, then walked back across the scrape to the reeds on the far side, where it proceeded to look for food, dwarfing the Little Egrets which were back there too.

Common Crane – walked across the middle of the scrape

There were more waders on here. A mobile flock of Dunlin also held two juvenile Little Stints, which we got a good look at through the scope. We could see how small they were relative to the Dunlin, itself not a large wader. Two Ringed Plovers were out on the mud at the back and a couple of Green Sandpipers were feeding in the back corner, and kept flying round calling, while a third was on Whitwell Scrape. Two Common Snipe were hiding in the edge of the low cut reeds along the back edge. There were more Black-tailed Godwits on here, including a couple of smart rusty juveniles of the islandica subspecies, and a couple of Avocets.

From the hides, we walked back to the Visitor Centre. After a quick facilities break, we drove the short distance along the road to Walsey Hills. We were heading for the East Bank but as we passed Snipe’s Marsh we stopped to watch several Little Grebes out on the water. One adult was feeding two well grown but still stripy-headed juveniles – whenever the adult surfaced with a fish, either one or both juveniles would swim towards it calling, but interestingly one would turn and swim away if its more boisterous sibling was coming too. If its sibling was already busy with a fish, it would take the opportunity to be fed.

Little Grebes – an adult with one of its two juveniles

Crossing the road, we could see a couple of Mute Swans in the catchwater drain and as we got nearer we found a female Tufted Duck with a brood of three almost fully-grown ducklings in there too. From the start of the bank, we could see a female Gadwall on Don’s Pool with five also almost fully-grown ducklings of its own.

Tufted Ducks – a female with three ducklings

A couple of Curlew flew up out of the grass and scanning the grazing marshes we found there were actually more than fifty hiding in the vegetation, out of the wind. A Grey Heron was hiding in the long grass right at the back, in front of the reeds. While we were scanning, our attention was caught by a distant Little Gull on Pope’s Pool. We had a quick look at it from here just in case it should fly off before we got closer. A young Marsh Harrier drifted over from the reedbed and circled overhead.

Marsh Harrier – drifted overhead

Continuing on up, we stopped to scan the Serpentine. There were more waders on here – lots of Black-tailed Godwits and several Common Snipe. More godwits kept flying in from the direction of the reserve and dropping down to join them. Along the north edge, we got the scope on a Common Sandpiper, and at one point had it together with two Green Sandpipers, a Common Snipe and a Curlew all together in the same view.

Godwits & Snipe – feeding on the Serpentine

The Little Gull helpfully flew in from Pope’s Pool and landed on the Serpentine, much closer to us. It swam slowly towards a Black-headed Gull which was feeding on the edge of the mud. The Black-headed Gull chased the Little Gull off, but not before we had managed to get a good view of the size difference between the two.

It was windy up on the East Bank, so we headed for the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh. The water level on here has gone up significantly – presumably the high tides and strong winds had caused either some overtopping of the shingle or the water had leached through. There were still a few things to see. A single Greenshank was busy feeding with a small number of Redshanks in the flooded samphire – much paler by comparison. An eclipse drake Shoveler was asleep nearby – looking rather rusty brown, a bright blue line of its wing coverts was just visible above its flanks.

There were still a few terns on here – several Sandwich Terns, with their shaggy punk crests and yellow-tipped black bills and a single Common Tern sheltering down on the north side, with slicked back crown and black-tipped red bill. Four Avocets were roosting on the end of the spit which also held more godwits and Redshanks. A Brown Hare had found a sheltered spot over that side too, in the lee of some of the thicker grass.

You can’t come out all this way and not at least have a look at the sea, so we braved the elements and walked on up to the beach. The sea was pretty rough and impressive today too. Several Golden Plover flew along the shingle ridge on our way up – two came in by Sea Pool and flew west, followed by three along the beach just as we arrived. They hinted that things may be on the move but there was no sign of anything out to sea now.

It was bracing out on the beach and it was time to head for home now, so we turned our backs to the wind and walked back.

25th August 2021 – More Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular Tour today, in NW Norfolk. It was mostly cloudy and grey this morning, and rather cool, but it did stay largely dry and we did have one or two brighter intervals, more so in the afternoon.

It was an early start to get up to the Wash ahead of high tide this morning. As we arrived on the seawall at Snettisham, we were in good time and there was still a lot of exposed mud. The waders were already gathering – we could see several large streaks of dark out in the middle, huge flocks of Knot and a mass of Oystercatchers.

There were more waders gathering on the mud up towards the sailing club. We got them in the scope – a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits with a few Knot mixed in, and another smaller group of black-and-white Oystercatchers beyond. There were lots of terns up here too – a mixed flock of Sandwich Terns, larger with a shaggy black crest, Common Terns, smaller and more streamlined with a slicked back black crown.

We hadn’t been there long when something spooked the flocks of Knot out in the middle and they all took to the air. They made some impressive shapes as they swirled across the mud and out over the water beyond. We looked up to see a Peregrine disappearing off high south, inland. It looked like it might have been carrying something in its talons.

Waders – swirling flocks
Waders – swirling flocks
Waders – swirling flocks
Waders – thousands of birds in the sky

There was a nice selection of smaller waders around the pools closer to us, lots of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, several Turnstones including one still in smart breeding plumage, a few paler silvery-grey and white Sanderling. A Common Snipe flew in and dropped down onto the rocks right in front of us – an odd place to see this species. It crouched down nervously for a bit before the water started to cover the rocks and it flew off again.

Common Snipe – landed on the edge of the Wash

The waders and terns from up by the sailing club slowly peeled off in groups and flew past us, landing again higher up ahead of the rising tide. Before we knew it, all the mud in front of us was covered by the sea, so we made our way down towards Rotary Hide, where there was still lots of exposed mud.

The Knot on the watery edge of the huge masses fly up in flocks, over the others, to escape from the rising tide. In contrast the Oystercatchers walk away from the water – it is always one of the favourite moments, watching the ‘March of the Oystercatchers’, with the whole flock appearing to flow away from the rising tide like one amorphous whole.

The ‘March of the Oystercatchers’

Pretty soon, we had to move on again, down to the shore opposite the SW corner of the mud where everyone was now gathered to watch the climax of the spectacle. The waders were increasingly packed into the last remaining corner of mud. Some of the Oystercatchers started to peel off in groups and fly in past us, piping noisily, dropping down onto the Pit behind us to roost. Five Egyptian Geese flew in over the Wash too.

Waders – increasingly packed into the last corner

Eventually, it became too much for the Knot, packed in too tight now with the tide rising under them and no more dry mud left to retreat to. Suddenly they erupted. A huge flock took to the air, tens of thousands of birds and turned towards us. They came in low overhead, the sky darkening noticeably, all we could do was look up in awe and listen to the beating of thousands of pairs of wings above us. Mesmerising!

Waders – the flock erupted
Waders – thousands of Knot came in overhead

The Knot swirled over the Pit behind us, lines dropping down from the bottom of the flocks as if pulled down by some invisible suction force, down onto the islands on the Pit to roost. The others circled round above to await a clear line of descent. It was obviously filling up fast down on the ground, as several flocks turned back out over the Wash and towered up high into the sky.

A lot of people made a dash for the hides now, but we stayed out on the shore to watch. Another huge wave of Knot came up from the mud in the corner and came in overhead, under the birds which were heading back out, several flocks each thousands of birds strong heading in different directions at different levels above us. There was no room left on the islands in the Pit now and the Knot flew higher and higher, back and forth, out over the Wash. Perhaps they would have to stay airborne over high tide, if they couldn’t find anywhere to land, burning significant amounts of energy in the process.

There were lots of Shelduck out on the water. Four Avocets appeared, bobbing on the water near them. They can swim, but it is not normally something you would expect to see, Avocets swimming past out on the Wash. A distant Gannet flew north out to sea.

We had waited for the initial rush into the hides to die down, before we headed over to Shore Hide, but we still couldn’t get in at first. All the Knot were concentrated on a couple of the smaller islands further up the Pit today, with none now down on the south end, on the islands in front of the new hide, Knot’s Landing. As a consequence, all the photographers had taken up occupation of Shore Hide, filling all the benches facing the birds and the standing room behind, and were obviously not going to move for the duration in case they miss a shot. There was not much room for anyone else. We stood outside for a bit and looked from there.

When most of the non-photographers had come out of the hide, we were able finally to get in, although it still wasn’t easy to find an angle to get the scope on the islands to the north. We scanned the rest of the Pit first. There were seven Spotted Redshanks roosting on the rocks amongst the Cormorants. The whole of the back shore was lined with Black-tailed Godwits and the shingle banks either side over towards Knot’s Landing were covered with Oystercatchers.

Very few birds normally roost on the island right in front of Shore Hide, probably due to the disturbance caused by people in the hide, and today it was completely empty for most of the time. A few Dunlin landed on the far end at one point and a Common Sandpiper picked its way down along the shore for a few minutes, giving us some great views through the scope, before flying off again.

When we could eventually get the scope on the islands where the Knot were roosting, we could see they were packed in very tight today. By this stage of the tide, they have normally finished shuffling and settled down to sleep. Today they were endlessly moving, waves moving through right and left as they jostled for position. No wonder thousands had to turn back out over the Wash.

Knot – packed in tight onto the islands

We decided to head back out to the Wash and let someone else have a turn. The tide was already falling and it wasn’t long before the Knot starting to come out from the Pit in lines, over the bank and out over the water.

Waders – flying back out to the Wash

The first Knot probably came out a bit early and there was nowhere for them to go. It wasn’t long though before the tide started falling and the mud began to reappear. The early groups packed back into the corner, but as the amount of exposed myd grew steadily the waders started to space out. Now we could get a look through them, and we picked out a long line of still mostly black-bellied Grey Plovers which had roosted out on the saltmarsh. Three Little Terns appeared out on the mud too and a Mediterranean Gull dropped in.

We could see a Peregrine perched on one of the posts out on the saltmarsh, beyond the mud. It seemed to be waiting for its moment, possibly for the waders to spread out more. Then finally we saw it take off, dropping down and coming in fast and low over the saltmarsh. But the waders saw it coming and erupted again, swirling round out over the mud.

Waders – flushed by the incoming Peregrine
Waders – panic!

The Peregrine seemed to change its mind now and turned away, heading inland. We watched it chasing Woodpigeons up out of the fields beyond the seawall and over the edge of saltmarsh, stooping repeatedly, before we lost sight of it behind the seawall. The waders slowly settled back down onto the mud.

Waders – eventually settled back down on the mud

We were just about to leave when one of the volunteers shouted to alert everyone to three Spoonbills flying over the Pit behind us. They looked like they might drop down, disappearing behind the bank, but then climbed again and we could see them heading on north.

Back at Rotary Hide, no one seemed to know anything about a Curlew Sandpiper which had been reported here earlier, so we didn’t stop. A Grey Heron flew out over the mud, briefly spooking the massed flocks of waders again. We continued on further up to look through the small waders which had moved out onto the mud just off the shingle point to feed. Scanning through, we found a Little Stint in with the Dunlin, but unfortunately it disappeared before everyone could get a look at it through the scope.

It had been a great morning at Snettisham, but with the tide receding fast the waders were now getting increasingly distant. We made our way back to the minibus and headed over to Titchwell for an early lunch. After lunch, we headed out for a quick look on the reserve, to see if we could find any more waders. We could hear a tit flock in the willows by the main path so we stopped for a quick look, but couldn’t find anything more unusual with them today. Several Swallows were flying round overhead, a reminder that they are now gathering ahead of their departure for the winter.

As we got out of the trees, a Kestrel was hovering over the bank ahead of us. We stopped for a quick look at the reedbed pool, just as two Bearded Tits flew across at the back. Several Tufted Ducks and a single Common Pochard were additions to the days list, although not looking at their best at this time of year, like most of the other ducks, with the drakes in drab eclipse plumage. Several Reed Warblers zipped back and forth across the ditch in the reeds just beyond the pool.

Diggers on the Freshmarsh – work continues

The diggers are still out on the Freshmarsh, as the project to redesign and reprofile the scrape into three separate units continues. Thankfully it doesn’t appear to be putting off the birds – the shallow water was full of waders. We called in at Island Hide, where we scanned through the hundreds of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. We found several Ruff of various sizes and colours on the mud and a Common Snipe feeding in more suitable habitat than the one we had seen earlier.

There was lots of the mud we couldn’t see from the hide, with new bunds being created by the diggers, so we went out for another scan from up on the West Bank. There had been a Curlew Sandpiper on here earlier but we couldn’t locate it now. When a flock of Dunlin swirled round and dropped in, we thought it might be with them. But looking through, we found a Little Stint instead – a nice bonus, given the one at Snettisham earlier had escaped before everyone could see it. We enjoyed prolonged views of this one through the scope.

There were several Ringed Plovers on the patches of drier mud and looking through from up on the bank we found a single juvenile Little Ringed Plover too. We heard a Spotted Redshank calling, and looked over to see it flying round over the reedbed. It looked like it was dropping down towards the reedbed pool, but came up again, past us on the path, and disappeared out over the saltmarsh.

Lots of Black-headed Gulls were loafing on the piles of mud and in with them we found a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. They have lost their summer black heads now, but still stood out with their white wingtips.

Mediterranean Gull – loafing on the Freshmarsh

We had a very quick look in Parrinder Hide to see if we could find the Curlew Sandpiper from there, but the far end of the Freshmarsh is not yet done and we couldn’t see much with the old fence of Avcoet Island in the way. There were a few Linnets and Pied Wagtails bathing in the shallow water in front of the hide. As we came back out, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail, and looked over the bank just in time to catch the back end of it disappearing off west.

We headed out for a quick look at the sea. The Tidal Pool was surprisingly full of water, given it was now low tide, so presumably it is not draining freely again after the latest big tides. We did find a single Greenshank and a Grey Plover over in the far corner, and a lone Curlew was on one of the islands.

Out on the beach, we scanned the sea but there was nothing moving this afternoon. We could see a selection of waders down on the mussel beds, but nothing we hadn’t seen earlier. We were out of time, so we turned to head back.

Back at the Freshmarsh, we stopped for a last scan. We immediately found a Whimbrel in among the waders towards the back. We were just looking at that when we realised a group further up the path were watching the Curlew Sandpiper. One of the volunteers pointed out where it was, hiding behind a small pile of mud in the water quite close to the path. We turned the scope on it and thankfully after a few seconds it walked out into the open and started feeding in the shallows. A scaly backed juvenile, we could see its long decurved bill through the scope now.

Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile on the Freshmarsh

A nice way to end the day, it was now definitely time to head back.

24th August 2021 – To The Point

A Private Tour today, along the North Norfolk coast. It was mostly cloudy but bright with some nice sunny intervals which were not in the forecast.

Winds from the NE can sometimes bring drift migrants from Scandinavia at this time of year. There had been a few earlier in the week, so we decided to have a quick look in Wells Woods first thing, to see if anything new had arrived overnight. As we walked in past the boating lake, we stopped for a quick scan – there were a few Little Grebes and a couple of Tufted Ducks out on the water.

As we forked right along the path to head into the trees, we heard a Kingfisher call from the pines beside us. We just caught sight of it, a flash of electric blue, as it zipped out across the track behind us and disappeared over the reeds towards the lake. A Red Admiral was sunning itself on the reeds by the path.

Red Admiral – sunning itself on the reeds

As we walked into the birches, we could hear tits in the trees and realised we were in the middle of a tit flock. There were lots of birds, so we stopped for a while to look through them. As well as the tits – Blue & Great Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits – there was a selection of warblers, Chiffchaffs and a couple of lemon yellow Willow Warblers probably from Scandinavia, several Blackcaps and a single Garden Warbler briefly eating honeysuckle berries. A Treecreeper flew across but disappeared into the pines.

As the flock moved away from us, back towards the boating lake, we decided to venture in a little further. As is often the case in here at this time of year, it is largely all or nothing, and away from the tit flock the trees were rather quiet. We did come across a smart Jay which lingered long enough for us to get a good look at it on the north edge of the Dell.

Jay – showed well in the Dell

We walked across to try the open area south of the main track next. We could hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats tacking quietly from the bushes and as we walked through two Common Whitethroats flew in and landed in the brambles beside us. We watched them eating the blackberries, admiring their bright rusty wing edges. There was no sign of a significant arrival of migrants overnight though, so we decided to head back round the other side of the Dell and move on.

The tit flock was still in the birches. We stopped as we could hear Bullfinches calling and watched them fly across to a tangle of briar and hawthorn on the edge of the trees. It was sunny in there and probably as a consequence there were lots of birds. We could still see the Bullfinches, and a juvenile plain-faced rusty juvenile posed nicely. A Garden Warbler, possibly the one we had seen briefly earlier, was busy preening deep in the branches. There were also a couple of Blackcaps and a Sedge Warbler, which looked rather out of place in here.

From Wells, we headed east along the coast to Cley. We had thought about walking up Blakeney Point, but it slowly became clear that some of the more interesting birds which had been there yesterday had cleared out overnight. It had been clear in the evening yesterday, and we had waited for news as we suspected that birds might have moved on.

We decided to head out to the hides before lunch. We started in Teal Hide, where we were told a couple of Little Stints had just disappeared into the back corner behind some reeds. As we set up the scope to look for them, we noticed movement on the edge of the reeds beyond – a juvenile Bearded Tit was working its way along, just above the mud.

Thankfully the Little Stints didn’t take long to reappear, and we had a good view of them through the scope, feeding with a small group of Dunlin. What was probably a Wood Sandpiper was not so obliging, disappearing out of view as we walked into the hide and not coming out again while we were there. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff on here too.

Dauke’s Hide is still closed (due to nesting Swallows!), so we went into Avocet Hide instead and scanned Simmond’s Scrape from there. There was a third Little Stint on here, with another flock of Dunlin, a better view too as it was a bit closer, picking around the back edge of one of the islands. We could really see how small it was.

Little Stint – our third today, on Simmond’s Scrape

There was a good selection of other waders on Simmond’s too today. A Green Sandpiper was feeding along the edge of the reeds, where a Common Snipe was initially hiding, before it came out into full view on the island, giving us a great view through the scope. A Greenshank was in the water in the back corner, with a group of Black-tailed Godwits.

We made our way back to the Visitor Centre and ate our lunch on the picnic tables outside. There were a couple of options for the afternoon – a Barred Warbler was still on Blakeney Point, only about halfway up, and a Red-backed Shrike was still at Salthouse. The Barred Warbler had been very elusive yesterday and speaking to people who had been up this morning it was no easier today. There was no guarantee we would be able to find it, but the vote was to try anyway as that would give the opportunity to see a bit of Blakeney Point, a new destination for the members of the group. We might see some other things on the way too.

As we set off from the beach car park, we flushed a few Linnets from the shingle and a Reed Bunting was hopping around on the edge of the suaeda. A couple of Greenshanks kept coming up out of the muddy channel on the landward side and flying on ahead of us. A Golden Plover flew in over the harbour calling, and out over the shingle ridge.

There were obviously not many new migrants in here today, but we did come across a single Whinchat, feeding with a small group of Stonechats. They kept perching on the bushes and spikes of vegetation on the shingle ridge, flying on ahead of us as we walked.

Whinchat – on the shingle ridge with Stonechats

There were a few butterflies out here too, this afternoon. The highlight was a single Grayling which flew up from our feet. Landing again and folding its wings, it was very well camouflaged against the shingle. A Small Copper landed next to us while we were distracted by the Grayling. A male Common Blue fluttered furiously after a female around our legs.

Grayling – well camouflaged on the shingle

We stopped occasionally to look at the unique flora of the Point too, as we walked out. We managed to find one Yellow Horned-poppy which was still in flower, and admired the aroma of the Sea Wormwood. Not much is in flower now apart from the sea lavender, but we did also find Sea Campion, Sea Sandwort and of course lots of Suaeda vera.

When we got to the Watch House, traditionally known as ‘Halfway House’ to birders who make the long pilgrimage out to the end of the Point, there were only three people looking for the Barred Warbler and it hadn’t been seen for some time. The others wandered off but undaunted, we set off through the thickest patch of Suaeda. We hadn’t gone too far before it flew out in front of us. We got in position, and when it flew again, we all had a good view – a strikingly large and pale grey warbler with a long tail. We called the others back and everyone got to see the Barred Warbler now as it flew out and back into the Suaeda another couple of times. But it clearly wasn’t going to perch out in view today, and kept dropping into the deep vegetation, so we decided to leave it in peace to feed.

As we walked back towards the shingle ridge, we suddenly found we were surrounded by small bees with brightly banded abdomens, buzzing low over the short grass. We were in the middle of a colony of Sea Aster Bees (Colletes halophilus), which make their nesting burrows in the sandy ground by the path.

Sea Aster Bees (Colletes halophilus) – nesting by the path

As we looked at the Sea Aster Bees, we noticed a different bee in with them, with orange-red legs and eyes and white spots on the sides of its black abdomen. It was a Black-thighed Epeolus (Epeolus variegatus) a cleptoparasitic bee species which lays its eggs in the nest cells of the Sea Aster Bees. It was hanging around the openings of the nest burrows, presumably looking for active nests.

Black-thighed Epeolus – inspecting a Sea Aster Bee burrow

This was as far as we wanted to go up the Point today – it is about 1.5 miles from the beach car park at Cley to the Watch House, and another 1.5 miles further on to the old lifeboat house. Tough walking on what is largely shingle. Speaking to people who had been out further today, there was not a lot more to see in terms of migrants.

We decided to walk back along the beach and scan the sea on the way. About half way back, we noticed a Guillemot swimming past the other way, just offshore. The wind was still NNE, but not strong enough to blow anything in from out to sea this afternoon. We had the beach largely to ourselves – an amazing view looking back up the Point – until we got back to the beach car park at Cley. Then, after our exertions, we decided to call it a day.

Guillemot – swam past on the walk back

14th August 2021 – Summer Day

A Private Tour today, on the North Norfolk coast. It was a bright, sunny morning, clouding over in the afternoon, with showers arriving later on.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. There were already a few cars in the parking area, people looking for the Pacific Golden Plover. We had already had a message to say it was still present, but it had disappeared into the mass of birds on the island and was out of view. We set the scope up, and could see lots of Lapwings roosting in the grass, along with a few Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff.

There were loads of geese everywhere too, as well as on the island and in scattered around the pools, there were lots in the stubble field by the parking area. They were mainly Greylags, but in with them we found a few Canada Geese and some Egyptian Geese around the pools west of the track, which are rapidly drying out now. Someone shouted and we turned to see an adult Peregrine circling high over the fields behind us.

Peregrine – circled high in over the fields

There was no sign of the Pacific Golden Plover reappearing, so we decided to walk down the track and keep an eye open to see if it came out again. There was a nice selection of waders around the pool east of the track, quite a few Common Snipe, more Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits.

A Marsh Harrier drifted back and forth over the bushes at the back of the pools and a Red Kite flew west over the fields back towards the road. Surprise of the day was a Goosander flying high west over the pools – an unusual time of the year to see one here, they are more common in autumn and winter.

Looking again at the island at the back, we spotted the head of the Pacific Golden Plover as it appeared out of the grass. We trained the scope on it, and eventually all managed to get a look at the bird. It is moulting slowly now and the black face and neck are speckled with white. Not the best views, but it was good that we were able to catch up with it at all, given how elusive it has been at times here.

A little further on along the track, we stopped again. A Greenshank was standing in the grass in the furthest corner of the pool nearest the track, preening. We got the scope on it before it took off and flew straight past us. It dropped down onto the pool the other side, out of view behind all the vegetation, but after a couple of minutes it reappeared again back where it had just been. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding in the same corner.

Greenshank – flew past us, over the track

As we walked back to the minibus, there were lots of insects in the brambles by the track. Butterflies included lots of Gatekeepers and some very faded Meadow Browns, plus a Small White and a brief Wall which flew off the wrong way down the track before we could get a good look at it. We flushed a Ruddy Darter dragonfly and a Blue-tailed Damselfly from the grass by the path too as we walked along.

Ruddy Darter – in the grass by the path
Gatekeeper – lots in the brambles

Making our way east along the coast road, we stopped at Stiffkey next. A Common Buzzard circled up lazily over the trees inland and a female Common Darter was sheltering between the hedges along the permissive path by the road. Down by the river, there were one or two Southern Hawkers and Migrants Hawkers around the trees. A Red Admiral perched obligingly on the hemp agrimony flowers.

The vegetation is so tall along here now that it is next to impossible to see the Fen from the path. We could just make our a mass of white shapes on the island, looking through the tops of the waving reeds, Spoonbills. We continued on towards the seawall for a better view. A flock of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits appeared out of the sallows by the river. A couple of Bullfinches flicked across the path ahead of us.

Long-tailed Tit – we came across a tit flock by the river

From up on the seawall, we had a much better view. We could see the Spoonbills clearly now. They were mostly asleep and quite tightly packed, which always makes it difficult to count them accurately, but there were at least 50 today. There were a few sleeping Little Egrets scattered in amongst them, just to confuse matters further.

Spoonbills – at least 50 today

It was high tide out in the harbour, which is why there were lots of birds roosting on the Fen. As well as all the Spoonbills, there were loads of Black-tailed Godwits asleep in the grass. We only counted three Greenshanks today, but it is possible there were more out of view behind the reeds, and a line of Common Redshanks were roosting in the shallow water too. A single Spotted Redshank was feeding actively, in and out of the reeds in the far corner, a dusky grey juvenile. There were a couple of Green Sandpipers on here too. A Cetti’s Warbler, possibly a young bird practicing, was chattering down in the reeds.

Looking out over the harbour, we could see the seals out on the end of Blakeney Point. It was a big tide today, so there were not many other birds left out here now – a few Oystercatchers and Curlew flying around, plus some distant Sandwich Terns out over the Point.

As we made our way back along the path by the river, a Kingfisher flashed across the pool by the path and disappeared into the trees.

We continued on along the coast to Cley and stopped for lunch on the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre. It was still nice and sunny and we watched as a couple of juvenile Marsh Harriers drifted back and forth over the reedbed. After lunch, we made our way out to the hides.

There were lots of waders on Pat’s Pool. One of the first we set eyes on was a smart Spotted Redshank, still largely in its black breeding plumage. There were a couple of Greenshanks feeding along the edge of the reeds, along with a Green Sandpiper.

Spotted Redshank – still largely in breeding plumage

There were lots of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits on here too. Looking through the Godwits, we picked out one with a selection of colour rings on its legs. A pale green ring with a black ‘E’ on it confirmed it as one of the tiny population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits which breed on the Ouse Washes. We got the scope on it before it disappeared behind the reeds.

There had been a Garganey reported on here earlier and we eventually found it right over the back. It was feeding, swimming round with its head mostly under the water, but when it lifted its head up we could see the white spot at the base of its bill. We heard a quick burst of Bearded Tits pinging from the reedy channel which runs out away from the hide, but unfortunately they didn’t show themselves.

There are very good numbers of Common Snipe around the reserve at the moment, birds returning from their breeding grounds on the Continent. We had very good views of some from Avocet Hide, feeding in the shallow water at the front of Whitwell Scrape. Dauke’s Hide is closed at the moment, to avoid disturbing the nesting swallows, but we scanned Simmond’s Scrape from Avocet Hide instead. As well as lots of Lapwing and more Common Snipe, we found a juvenile Little Ringed Plover on the muddy edge of one of the islands.

Common Snnilsipe – lots around the reserve currently

Several Marsh Harriers were constantly drifting around the edges of the reeds, cautiously avoiding flying out over the middle of the scrapes and flushing everything. Two juveniles dropped down into the grass at the back of Simmond’s Scrape, where we got them in the scope. We could see their tawny heads contrasting with their dark chocolate brown body feathers.

Marsh Harrier – patrolling the edges of the reeds

It had clouded over a bit this afternoon, but it was still bright as we made our way back towards the Visitor Centre. A darker shower cloud passed to the south of us. We stopped to watch a couple of Reed Warblers in the reeds from the bridge over the catchwater drain. A Red Admiral was warming itself in one of the logs in the car park.

Red Admiral – on one of the logs in the car park

We drove along to Walsey Hills to go for a walk along the East Bank to end the day. But as we got out of the minibus we could see some dark clouds to the west which looked like they might head our way this time. We hoped we might get a walk in ahead of their arrival, so we set off anyway.

Several Reed Warblers flitted in and out of the reeds around Don’s Pool and a couple more were feeding in the flowers on the bank along with a Sedge Warbler. A little further up, a family of Reed Buntings were flitting between the reeds and the vegetation on the bank too.

We stopped to scan the Serpentine. There were more waders on here, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, more Common Snipe. At the far end, we found a Wood Sandpiper feeding in the shallow water – through the scope, we could see its spangled upperparts and more obvious supercilium than the Green Sandpipers we had been watching earlier. A single Common Sandpiper was along the muddy edge nearby, sporting its obvious white spur between breast and wing.

Wood Sandpiper – on the Serpentine

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh, which kept flying round calling noisily. We had been planning on heading that way to see what else was on there, but the dark clouds had crept up on us and it was looking very wet away to the south-west. It started to spit with rain, so we decided it was better to stay dry and call it a day.

The rain largely held off as we made our way back along the East Bank. A family of Mute Swans was now out on Don’s Pool. An adult Little Grebe was busy feeding two stripy-headed juveniles out in the middle of Snipe’s Marsh, but another adult on the edge of the reeds further back swam after and attacked another juvenile – presumably more than one family were present here. The other juvenile swam away out of reach.

The rain had stopped again and we were just starting to think we might have walked back too soon, but while we were packing up it started again much heavier. It had been a good day out, and we had got back just in time.