17th Oct 2016 – Away Day to Spurn

Not a tour today, but a day off and a very rare day trip out of Norfolk to Spurn in East Yorkshire for a spot of birding.

Siberian Accentors breed in Siberia, from the just west of the Urals east to the far NE, and migrate down to Korea and eastern China for the winter. Before this year, there had never been one seen in the UK before. There were 32 records in Europe up to 2015, of which over half had been in Finland and Sweden (though none in those countries for the last 12 & 16 years respectively). Here in the UK, it had got to the point where we thought there might be a barrier in the form of the North Sea – perhaps these accentors did not like sea crossings?

That all changed on 9th October when a Siberian Accentor was found on mainland Shetland. It was a great record, but too far away for many mainland birders and it departed quickly, after its second day. At that stage, the Shetland bird was the fourth in western Europe this year. Since then, things have really gone mad, probably reflecting a very large high pressure system over northern Europe which persisted for an unusually long time in the first half of October, bringing winds from way off to the east during the period in which they were migrating. More and more have been seen, and there have now been five different Siberian Accentors in the UK. At the time of writing, 80 have been seen in western Europe in the last two weeks and the total is increasing daily. Amazing!

One of the UK’s Siberian Accentors was found at Easington, on the Spurn peninsula in East Yorkshire late on Thursday 13th. Like the Shetland bird, it could easily have moved on quickly, particularly with bright and clear conditions overnight on Saturday and Sunday. However, it was still present on Sunday night…

We set off early in the morning on Monday, trying to avoid some of the worst of the traffic. At around 7.20am, we got the news we were hoping for – the Spurn Siberian Accentor was still present, the quest was on. After negotiating the late rush hour traffic around Hull, we got to Easington at 10am and walked the short distance to where the bird has been feeding. A small number of birders were gathered and within seconds we were watching a Siberian Accentor – a bird none of us had seen anywhere in the world and a near mythical species for me when I was growing up. Amazing!





6o0a4727Siberian Accentor – the second ever to be recorded in UK

After we had had our first session watching the Siberian Accentor, news came through that an Isabelline Wheatear had been found in a field just a short walk away. Breeding from southern Russia across to Mongolia, down to Turkey in the south west, and wintering in Africa and across to NW India, they are rare visitors here. Though with 34 records in UK up to the end of 2015, they are not as rare as the accentor. Still it would be a great bird to see.

We walked over to where the Isabelline Wheatear had been and a small crowd was already gathered. The bird was there, feeding out in a cultivated field, with a regular (Northern) Wheatear nearby for comparison. Isabelline Wheatear can be a tricky bird to identify, with some pale Northern Wheatears looking confusingly similar at first glance. This bird was not the brightest Isabelline Wheatear we have seen, which made it all the more interesting to see. There are some key identification criteria for this species, including the much wider black terminal band on the spread tail, the colour and pattern of the wing coverts and the spacing of the primary tips and all fitted Isabelline Wheatear. A real bonus bird for our visit here.

6o0a4623Isabelline Wheatear – a large, pale wheatear

6o0a4581Isabelline Wheatear – note the very broad black terminal band on the tail

We had just enjoyed a very good weekend in Norfolk, with lots of Siberian waifs and strays being blown in on the easterly winds along with large numbers of commoner migrants, but by all accounts Spurn had also enjoyed a huge fall of birds. After two clear nights, a lot of those had moved on but there were still plenty of other birds for us to see. After a second session back watching the Siberian Accentor it was nice to have an opportunity to explore the rest of the Spurn area for the remainder of the day.

There has been a large arrival of Tundra Bean Geese in recent days and on our way between the Siberian Accentor and the Isabelline Wheatear we had noticed a flock of around 10 in a stubble field beside the road. On our way back, we stopped for a proper look. They had obviously been feeding in the wet field, as their bills were caked in mud, mostly obscuring the distinctive orange bill band. However, the structure of the bill on a Tundra Bean Geese is distinctive, very different from the bill of a Pink-footed Goose. Through the scope we could just about make out a little orange on the bills of a couple of them.

img_7873Tundra Bean Goose – 1 of around 10 in a stubble field near Easington

A brief stop at Kilnsea failed to locate the Pallas’s Warbler in the bushes in the car park of the Crown & Anchor, but it was rather windy while we were there. A Glossy Ibis had dropped in to Kilnsea Wetlands earlier but there was no sign of it as we passed. However, when we parked up at Canal Bank, we were told it was now out on the saltmarsh on the edge of the Humber Estuary but out of view. Shortly after we got out of the car, it flew up and circled round, its glossy wings shining green in the sunshine, before dropping down again. We were fortunate to catch it, as a few minutes later, the Glossy Ibis flew off again and continued on its way south, crossing the Humber from Spurn Point to Lincolnshire.

There was no sign of any Jack Snipe from the hide at Canal Scrape, although a Water Rail stopped to have a bathe on the edge of the reeds. We didn’t stop long here though, as time was pressing and we wanted to walk out all the way to Spurn Point, three miles away. Ideally we would have had more time to explore the area, but it was already early afternoon and we were told we should be back at the Warren by around 5pm to avoid being stranded, as the high tide later today could cover the breach in the peninsula.

There were lots of areas of scrub which were crying out to be explored as we walked down towards the Point, but we had to avoid the temptation and crack on to the end. Even just along the ‘road’, there were still good numbers of Robins and thrushes, especially Redwing, and a few Goldcrests. Some of the Robins were particularly tame!

robinRobin – a very tame one (photo credit Luke Nash)

By the time we got to the Point, we knew we didn’t have much time. On the walk down, we were told that there were still a couple of Dusky Warblers in the bushes and helpfully a couple of locals pointed us in the right direction. They can be particularly skulking, but with the wind having dropped, one of the Dusky Warblers decided to perform amazingly for us in the afternoon sunshine. Although it did go missing at times, we watched it flycatching in the bushes and hopping around on the grass! Interestingly, it was not the best marked Dusky Warbler, with a rather subdued pale supercilium. However, it called fairly regularly which helped us to locate it.


6o0a5188Dusky Warbler – a very showy bird at Spurn Point

In order to get back over the breach in the time we were told, it was going to be a brisk walk back. We had a quick look on the way for the Olive-backed Pipit which had been on the Point earlier, but there was no immediate sign so we didn’t linger. A brief and light squally shower blew through as we strode over the narrows, though thankfully the wind was now at our backs. It did also create the most stunning double rainbow, the inner one with amazingly saturated colours, which hung just a short distance ahead of us on our way.

There was still just enough time to stop at Kilnsea in the last of the afternoon light before we had to head for home. We found a few people in the churchyard looking for the Pallas’s Warbler, but we were told it hadn’t been seen for over an hour. The wind had dropped a little and there was now some late sun on the trees, after the rain had passed through, but it was still a bit cool. A Chiffchaff promised something more exciting until it came out from the leaves to where we could see it.

There appeared to be something else in the back of the trees, so we walked around to the gate the other side, where it was more sheltered from the wind even if in the shade. Scanning the trees this side, we found another Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests in the sycamores before we got a glimpse of the Pallas’s Warbler among the thicker, greener leaves of an ash tree right above us. We called the others over and had lovely views of it just above our heads – our favourite ‘seven-striped sprite’. It was a great way to end our brief visit to Spurn, watching the Pallas’s Warbler flitting around in the tree.

Then with the light starting to fade, it was back in the car for the long journey home. What an amazing day!

16th Oct 2016 – Eastern Promise, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today, our final day. With rain forecast for the morning, and having bagged most of the best birds along the coast in the last couple of days, we decided to head for Titchwell where we could get some shelter in the hides.

A couple of Dotterel were belatedly reported from Choseley yesterday. We had no idea if the report was genuine, but we diverted round that way for a brief look first, just in case. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of any Dotterel in the fields, but a little group of five Golden Plover flew over calling, as did a Yellowhammer. At that stage the rain started, so we headed down to Titchwell.

The car par was already surprisingly busy when we arrived, and we couldn’t find any spaces in the first section. There didn’t seem to be much activity in the bushes around the overflow car park – most of the birds were probably sheltering from the wind and rain – so we headed straight out towards the reserve. At first the feeders by the visitor centre appeared quiet, but something spooked a load of finches from the ground behind and they flew up into the trees. In with them, we found a couple of Brambling and one helpfully then dropped down onto one of the feeders where we could get a better look at it.

6o0a4340Brambling – two were on the feeders by the visitor centre first thing

Given the rain, we decided to head straight out to the shelter of Island Hide. It proved to be a wise move, as the rain got stronger for a time while we were in there. We did have a quick look at the grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way, which was once again pretty empty, and the reedbed pool which held just a few Gadwall and a couple of Coot today.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh, particularly large numbers of duck now – mainly Teal and Wigeon, plus smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, and a few Shelduck. Some of the drakes are now starting to emerge from drab eclipse plumage, & looking correspondingly smarter.

6o0a4346Teal – starting to emerge from eclipse plumage now

There was a good selection of waders too, and while we waited for the rain to ease we set about looking through them. Most of the larger waders were in the deeper water over towards the back, a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and about 15 Avocets still (most of the Avocets have now gone south for the winter). On the mud at the edge of the reeds, the Ruff had presumably found some shelter from the wind. A party of three Greenshanks stood with them calling for a while, before they flew off west.

Looking around the various islands,we could see several Golden Plover and Lapwing in the grass. A few Dunlin and Ringed Plover were running around in amongst them too. Then we found a Little Stint – it was hard to see at first, being so small in the taller vegetation, but we all eventually got a good look at it when it came out onto a small pool. A Jack Snipe on the nearest island came out into the open for a time, where we could see it bobbing up and down continuously as it walked along slowly feeding, before disappearing into the vegetation again.

By this stage the rain had eased, so we decided to walk round to Parrinder Hide. As we got round to the junction in the path, we had a quick look over the bank at Volunteer Marsh, which was rewarded with a nice close Curlew Sandpiper and two nearby Dunlin. We watched the Curlew Sandpiper for a while as it fed on the mud just the other side of the channel, before it walked into the water and started bathing, giving us a great view of its white rump in the process. Then it flew off further back and we headed for the hide.

6o0a4385Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile gave great views on the Volunteer Marsh

From round at the Parrinder Hide, you get a different view of the freshmarsh. At first, we saw many of the same birds that we had seen from the other side, but then one of the group picked up a different Curlew Sandpiper on one of the islands, another juvenile but this one much paler, lacking any orangey wash on the breast now and already moulting some of its upperparts to grey first winter feathers. We also found a second Little Stint, a much duller individual than the first. Three Spoonbills were asleep over the back of the fresmarsh, until two decided to wake up and fly off over the bank.

A Jack Snipe appeared on the edge of the mud directly opposite the hide, much closer than the one we had seen earlier, giving us great views as it crept in and out of the vegetation. We could see the golden yellow back strips contrasting with the otherwise very dark upperparts, and the dark central crown strip. This was presumably our second of the day, as it was in a very different place to the first, and there have been at least two Jack Snipe at Titchwell recently.

img_7712Jack Snipe – showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Meadow Pipits on the grass in front of Parrinder Hide and we had been looking for a Rock Pipit in with them. While everyone was looking at the Jack Snipe, a sharp call alerted us to an incoming pipit but it didn’t sound strident enough for a Rock and we looked across to see a very smart Water Pipit drop in, the first we have seen here this autumn. With very white underparts with black streaks, a well marked white supercilium and white wing bars, and the greyish head and neck contrasting with the browner mantle, it is a very different bird to the more swarthy Rock Pipits.

img_7659Water Pipit – the first we have seen at Titchwell this autumn

Between the Jack Snipe and the Water Pipit, we didn’t know which way to look. Then both worked their way round so they were together, saving us that decision!

img_7719Water Pipit & Jack Snipe – together, in the same scope view

For once the forecast was right and the rain stopped. It hadn’t even hindered our ability to see a great variety of birds! We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. We had very nice views of a close Grey Plover, and what was presumably the same Curlew Sandpiper we had seen earlier from the path was now in front of the hide.

6o0a4442Grey Plover – nice views on the Volunteer Marsh from Parrinder Hide

With the improvement in the weather, we decided to make our way out towards the beach. On the other side of the Volunteer Marsh, along the near edge of the channel next to the main path, we had a nice close Black-tailed Godwit. Just across the channel on the other side, a Turnstone (or perhaps a ‘Turn-mud’) was turning over the dried and cracked plates of mud looking for invertebrates. Perhaps this was the same bird we had seen doing exactly the same thing here three weeks ago?

6o0a4475Black-tailed Godwit – right by the main path on the Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools added a few Little Grebes for the day’s list and a flock of Starlings which flew across from there to the saltmarsh included the striking all-white leucistic bird which has been hanging around the area for some weeks now. Out at the beach the tide was out, so the waders were all down feeding on the mussel beds. As well as lots of Oystercatchers, we could see a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the waves down on the edge of the beach but another came and landed right in front of us on the sand briefly.

We walked halfway down the beach to the comparative shelter of the concrete blocks, giving us a bit of protection from the brisk southerly breeze, and started to scan the sea. A nice close Velvet Scoter was the main prize, diving for shellfish just offshore. There were lots of Common Scoter way off in the distance towards the Wash but one drifted closer in just behind the Velvet Scoter giving us a much better view. There were also several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea closer inshore, but a couple of Red-throated Divers were much further out and hard to get onto given the choppy water. Two Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Gannets flew west.

img_7753Velvet Scoter – diving for shellfish offshore

The other highlight out at the beach was watching lots of different birds coming in over the sea, presumably fresh from the continent, migration in action! Several small groups of Brent Geese flew in and a few landed on the beach. Flocks of Chaffinches, Starlings and thrushes all got to dry land safely. An exhausted Fieldfare just made it to the mussel beds and crashed down out of view, but was promptly chased off by several of the waders and was forced to rest out in the open on the beach. We picked up a Grey Heron coming in, some way out to see initially. It eventually flew in over the beach and dropped down onto the tidal pools.

6o0a4480Grey Heron – flew in from the sea and over the beach

Despite the early rain, it had been an action packed morning but it was now time to start heading back for lunch. We walked back round via the Meadow Trail, and not far in from the main path we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deep in the sallows. It was a bit windy here today and we had all enjoyed good views of Yellow-browed Warbler already in the last couple of days, so we didn’t linger.

Back at the visitor centre, a couple of birders told us that a White-fronted Goose had been seen in the cut maize field by the reserve entrance road, so we made a short detour to see that. It was feeding on its own by a small pool out in the field, so we had a nice look at it through the scope, an adult with white blaze around the bill and black belly bars.

img_7767White-fronted Goose – in the field by the reserve entrance road

We had lunch in the sunshine in the car park today. While we were eating, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling on the sunny edge of the sallows at the far end. Most of the group decided to focus on refuelling, but for those that didn’t we had brief views of the Yellow-browed Warbler flitting around in the trees.

News had come through during the morning that a Cattle Egret had been seen coming in off the sea at Cley and it had later been located with the cows out on Blakeney Freshes. As it would be a new bird for several of the group, we decided to drive back that way and try to see it in the afternoon. When we got to Blakeney, we parked by the harbour and walked round towards Friary Hills which is a good vantage point from which to scan. We had just got past the duck pond when a couple coming back the other way told us that they had just watched the Cattle Egret fly off towards Cley, where they had lost it to view.

Back to the car, we climbed in again and drove round towards Cley, pulling up briefly at the entrance to Friary Hills to confirm the news of the Cattle Egret‘s departure with a couple local birders. From the West Bank at Cley, it was immediately apparent there were no cows left out on the marshes, they had all been taken in for the winter already. Cricket Marsh did at least provide Canada Goose and Rook as additions to the weekend list, so perhaps he journey wasn’t entirely wasted!

Climbing up onto the West Bank by the main sluice to scan the marshes, we happened to look back towards Blakeney where we could see some cows out in the distance over on the Freshes. Just at that moment, we a saw small egret fly up from with them and head off away from us back to where the Cattle Egret had originally been seen. Back in the car and we drove back round to Friary Hills.

When we got up onto the top we were told that the Cattle Egret had indeed reappeared with the cows here, but had been flushed by a Marsh Harrier and had flown up from the nearest herd and dropped back out of view behind the reeds with a more distant group. Thankfully it then flew out and joined the cows and we watched it for some time, walking about, in with cows at times but also stalking around on its own in the low lying boggy areas of the marsh.

img_7789Cattle Egret – in with the cows

We had a good look at the Cattle Egret through the scope – we could see its short yellow-orange bill and small size, with scale being provided by a Grey Heron which was close to it at one point. It was always a little distant and never came back to the closer group of cows while we were there. We did talk about walking out along the bank around the Freshes to get a closer look, but there was little enthusiasm for the walk and it was lovely standing up on Friary Hills in the afternoon sun, scanning the marshes and watching the Cattle Egret with the cows.

There were other birds to see here too. A Green Sandpiper flew around over the marshes a couple of times and a Common Snipe or two did the same. There were lots of Wigeon down on the grazing marshes below us, and a huge cloud flew in to join them when they were flushed from the eastern part of the Freshes by a group of walkers. In with them, we could see a few Teal and a single Pintail.

Several species of raptor were enjoying the sunshine. A couple of Common Buzzards perched on some fenceposts, preening, before flying round and hovering out over the grass. Several Marsh Harriers quartered back and forth over the reeds, unfortunately never quite getting close enough to the Cattle Egret to flush it back towards us. A Sparrowhawk flew in from hunting out over the marshes and disappeared over the trees behind us.

There were still a few migrants to see from here too. Several little flocks of thrushes, particularly Redwings, flew overhead. Two Fieldfares were feeding down in the grass with a flock of Starlings. It was a lovely way to end what had been a very exciting three days of birding, with some very good birds seen and great company.

15th Oct 2016 – Eastern Promise, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3-day long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today. The easterly winds of the last couple of weeks finally swung round to the south overnight, but there were some new birds arriving overnight and some others still to catch up with. The change in the wind direction meant it was a bit drier, after the morning mist cleared, and brighter and warmer in the afternoon.

It was a bit misty and cool as we arrived at Holkham. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling watched as a flock disappeared off inland from the grazing marshes, heading off to feed on the fields. In the holm oaks right on Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across a small tit flock, the usual Long-tailed Tits, other tits and Goldcrests, but we couldn’t find anything else with them.

As we walked west on the south side of the pines, a variety of thrushes flew out of the trees – Song Thrushes, Redwings and Blackbirds. There were finches on the move again today – with Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls all flying over calling. However, they were eclipsed in number by the Starlings today, with a steady stream of flocks flying west right through the morning, some numbering several hundred birds.

We stopped at the gate before Washington Hide to have a scan of the grazing marshes and watch all the activity. We were just turning to leave when one of the group spotted a Great White Egret approaching. It circled over the fields in front of us a couple of times before disappearing back towards the trees.

6o0a4149Great White Egret – circled over the grazing marshes

The sycamores by Washington Hide were rustling in the breeze and still cool in the morning mist. There was no sign of any tit flock here and we couldn’t find any warblers either, just a couple of Goldcrests hiding in among the leaves. However, as we walked up a Redstart started calling and showed very well, flying backwards and forwards between the trees, perching on the lower branches.

6o0a4162Redstart – showed very well by Washington Hide

While we were watching the Redstart, we heard Bearded Tits calling on and off. Then we just caught sight of a flock as it dropped out of the sky and down into the reeds. We couldn’t see them from the boardwalk by the hide, but as we got back down onto the main path we heard them again and looked up to see six Bearded Tits flying round in circles high over the reeds. Even though they look like quite weak fliers, they can disperse over considerable distances, particularly at this time of year. As we stood watching them, a flock of 80 Redwings flew out of the trees and off south across the marshes. Lots of birds on the move today!

At this point, we heard news that a Dusky Warbler had been found out in Burnham Overy Dunes. This would be a great bird to see, so we set off to walk over that way. We assumed that we could have a better look for warblers in the trees on the way back, once it had brightened up a little. We did hear a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers on the way through the trees, and got a brief look at one when it came to the edge of the sallows in which it was hiding.

Coming out into the dunes, we didn’t stop to search the bushes, but pressed on west. Someone was walking through the top of the dunes and as he went was  flushing lots of thrushes, which flew across in front of us to the bushes beyond the fence. Several Redwings landed in a bush in front of us. We noticed a blackbird with silvery wings heading towards us and when it turned we could just make out a paler off-white gorget – it was a Ring Ouzel. It saw us standing there and circled round, before dropping down again in the dunes further over. A couple of Stonechats perched up in the bushes by the fence.

We made our way quickly over to where the Dusky Warbler had first been found, but there was no sign of it. It had apparently been moving west, so we decided to check out all the bushes out towards Gun Hill. There was no sign of it out there, but we did see another Redstart.

After having a good look round, we happened to notice another birder only 200m or so back east in the dunes from us who suddenly started to hurry back towards the boardwalk. There were still quite a few other people looking for the Dusky Warbler out further west of us too, towards Gun Hill, but there was no shout in our direction. As he passed three more birders who had just been sitting down, they got up and followed him, so we suspected something might have been found. However, checking the news services there was nothing to indicate what it might be. On a hunch, we set off in the direction he had gone, but when we got back towards the boardwalk there was no sign of anyone there. Perhaps he was just in a hurry to get back?

We started to check the bushes this way again, while another birder passed us by and walked back over the boardwalk into the dunes. After a few seconds, he very kindly ran back up to the top of the dunes and shouted over – a small crowd had been sitting in the dunes watching the Dusky Warbler the other side, without telling anyone. Not especially helpful!

We hurried over there, but by the time we arrived, the Dusky Warbler was on the move again. We could hear it calling but it flicked out the back of the bushes where it had been performing for the crowd and flew over the fence beyond. We could just see it flitting around in some vegetation the other side, before it flew further back and then flew off east behind the dunes. Most of the group managed to get a look at it, but it would have been much better for all if the news of its relocation had been put out in a more timely fashion. A nice bird to see, but all a little frustrating!

6o0a4165Common Darter – perched on one of the group’s hats

It had brightened up by the time we got back to the pines and there were lots of insects flying around the trees on the sunny side. When we stopped, we were suddenly surrounded by several Common Darters, several of which decided to perch on people’s faces, arms and hats!

Almost at the far west end of the pines, we heard another Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but it was quite a way from the path.Walking slowly back east, we met someone who had just seen a Radde’s Warbler, but the vegetation here is very dense and after a quick look, it became clear we could struggle to relocate it. We did find yet another Yellow-browed Warbler nearby and this one showed well in an oak tree.

6o0a4170Yellow-browed Warbler – one of at least 6 we saw or heard today

It was to be the story of much of the walk back – the warmer and brighter weather had brought them all out from hiding. We heard or saw at least five Yellow-browed Warblers before we got to the crosstracks. Otherwise, there were a few Chiffchaffs now enjoying all the insects, as well as lots of Goldcrests. We did find a tit flock as we approached the crosstracks, but all we could find with it was one of the Yellow-browed Warblers.

The other side of Meals House, we found another tit flock. There had been a Pallas’s Warbler with these birds the day before yesterday, but it had not been reported since. Despite that, we thought it was most likely still with them, so we stopped to check them out. There was no sign of the Pallas’s at first, but we did find yet another Yellow-browed Warbler. Then the Long-tailed Tits set off east through the trees, with the rest of the flock following in their wake.

We set off in pursuit of the tit flock, and tried to get ahead of them on the boardwalk by Washington Hide. We succeeded but, rather than stopping in the sycamores, the whole flock flew high over the gap and disappeared into the pines the other side. We had a tantalising glimpse of a warbler as they did so. We set off after them again and they made their way very quickly east through the middle of the pines. We could hear the Long-tailed Tits calling from deep in the trees as they made their way as far as Salts Hole and then they went quiet and seemed to disappear.

While most of the group stayed on the path, a couple of us set off into the trees to see if we could find which direction they had gone. Deep into cover, we found The Long-tailed Tits were still there, but they had started feeding lower down in the evergreen holm oaks and were now just calling quietly to each other. We were standing in a small sunny clearing, but the birds were all but impossible to see in the dense foliage. Then the Pallas’s Warbler suddenly appeared right in front of us in the sunshine on the outside of the closest tree. Despite whistling, the rest of the group did not realise and by the time we ran down to tell them the Pallas’s Warbler had disappeared into the trees again.

With all the chasing after tit flocks, it was now getting on, so we made our way back to the car for a rather late lunch. Given the sunny weather, we sat outside on the picnic tables on Lady Anne’s Drive – it could almost have been summer! While we were eating, a Red Kite circled over the grazing marshes beyond. A Jackdaw perched on the post next to us and eyed our food hungrily.

6o0a4181Jackdaw – hanging round the picnic tables at lunchtime

After lunch, we drove round to Burnham Overy Staithe. A Barred Warbler had been in the bushes just the other side of the seawall from the car park for a couple of days. They can be inveterate skulkers sometimes, but this one was much more amenable. As soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see it lumbering around in the brambles just below us. It flew up into the hedge a little further over but kept returning down to the same bushes. We spent some time enjoying watching it.

6o0a4234Barred Warbler – showed well in the bushes at Burnham Overy Staithe

Barred Warblers breed from central and eastern Europe across into Asia and winter in eastern Africa. They are annual visitors here in small numbers, usually blown off course on easterly winds. Most of the Barred Warblers which occur here are 1st winter birds, as was this one – with just faint barring on the flanks.

While we were enjoying the Barred Warbler, we could see a selection of other birds from our vantage point on the seawall. Six Swallows flew in and started hawking for insects just along from us. Out in the harbour we could see flocks of Brent Geese and lots of Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh. A Great Black-backed Gull down in the harbour channel was wrestling with a large flatfish, trying to work out how it might be able to eat it.

We had tried for the Radde’s Warbler at Warham Greens yesterday, but it had proven impossible to see in the cool and windy conditions. With the better weather, it had seemingly been showing much better today, so we headed over there again to try our luck a second time. This time it was in – a small crowd was watching the bird as we walked up. It was hard to see , skulking in the thickets of nettles or the ivy-covered tree trunks, but with a bit of patience and perseverance, we were all able to get good views of it. It was very close, but at one point we had it only a metre or so away from us, down on the ground in the nettles. Great stuff!

6o0a4276Radde’s Warbler – skulking in the nettles

It was a great way to end the day, so we eventually had to tear ourselves away and head back to the car. As we did so, a small party of four Grey Herons flew overhead, making their way west over the track. A reminder that it is migration season and lots of birds are still on the move.

14th Oct 2016 -Eastern Promise, Day 1

Day 1 of a 3-day long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today. The easterly winds we have been enjoying for the last couple of weeks are continuing, though only for a day or so more. That means there are still some great rarities from Siberia to catch up with – it was going to be a busy day! Our first destination was Wells Woods. There has been at least one Olive-backed Pipit here for the last few days, although it has been very flighty and elusive at times. Still, we thought we would give it a go and try to see it.

As we walked in from the car park, we could hear Bramblings calling and a couple of small groups flew back over our heads. Then a bigger flock of finches came out of the birches, about 40-50 strong. From their calls, they seemed to be mostly Redpolls – there have been a growing number in the trees here in recent days and there were lots more arriving yesterday, mostly Mealy Redpolls. Unfortunately, these didn’t stop and we watched them fly away to the east, over the car park.

A flock of Siskin were more amenable – we could see them landing in the bushes and several then dropped down to the puddles on the path ahead of us to drink.

6o0a4030Siskin – coming down to drink on the path this morning

We cut in through the trees, around the area where the Olive-backed Pipit had been originally, but it seems to have been disturbed from here now by the crowds. There were fewer thrushes than recent days, but still plenty of Goldcrests in the birches and loads of Robins everywhere we looked – the vast majority are migrants escaping from northern Europe for the winter and stopping here to feed on their way south.

6o0a4036Robin – some of the northern migrants are very tame!

News came through that the Olive-backed Pipit was in the north side of the pines, where it had been at times yesterday, so we made our way quickly over there. When we arrived, there were lots of people milling around but no one seemed to know where it was. We walked quietly through the trees, checking out the old dune hollows where there is grass and small trees, and it didn’t take us long to find it. The Olive-backed Pipit was down on the ground under a young holm oak, but it was hard to see and it crept up the bank and out of view behind the foliage.

Unfortunately, our attentions drew the crowds over and we lost the Olive-backed Pipit. As we tried to follow it, with various people encroaching from different directions, it kept flushing. We could see it fly and hear it call, but then it vanished altogether. We decided to leave it in peace and try again later, once the crowds had dispersed.

While we were looking for the pipit, a Pallas’s Warbler had been reported over by the drinking pool, so we made our way over that way. When we got there, there was no sign of it but we did manage to ascertain that it was with a flock of Long-tailed Tits – so the challenge was to find the tits!

We continued on west, but the deciduous trees beside the path seemed rather quiet, despite the fact that the wind was lighter today. We did see a variety of raptors – a Common Buzzard flew low out of the trees, a Marsh Harrier quartered the fields to the south, a Sparrowhawk came over the tops of the pines and we were alerted to a Peregrine way overhead by its loud calls. There were lots of Jays too, carrying acorns off to bury them somewhere eminently forgettable!

A loud ‘tsooeet’ from an oak tree right next to us alerted us to a Yellow-browed Warbler. We could see it flicking around in the top, above our heads, but we got better views when it dropped down into a small birch tree. We could see its pale supercilium and double wing bar.

6o0a4040Yellow-browed Warbler – calling by the path

Walking on a little further, we finally heard Long-tailed Tits calling and cut into the trees to try to see them. But they disappeared into some pines and our attempts to catch them coming out the other side proved mostly fruitless. While we waited for them, we did see a Treecreeper climbing up a young oak, and watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker excavating a hole in a dead birch stump, pulling out beak-fulls of woodchips and scattering them below.

6o0a4059Great Spotted Woodpecker – excavating in a birch stump

It seemed possible that the tit flock had made its way past us back towards the drinking pool, so we returned to the main path and started making our way back. Almost back there, we heard Long-tailed Tits again and made our way back into the trees. Almost immediately, we spotted a Firecrest flitting around in a small briar just in front of us, before it flew back up into the pines.

The tits seemed to be dropping out of the pines, and several came down into the small deciduous trees and undergrowth in front of us. After watching them for a minute or so, we had a tantalising glimpse of a warbler, but it disappeared before we could see it properly. Frustrating, but it felt like we might have the right flock this time. As the Long-tailed Tits started to make their way towards the path, we cut through and positioned ourselves in their path, in an open area with some lovely small deciduous trees in front of us.

The positioning worked perfectly! Just as we had hoped, the Pallas’s Warbler appeared in one of the oaks and we were treated to great views of it as it fluttered between the branches. We could see its yellow supercilium, brighter yellow at the front than the comparatively inappropriately named Yellow-browed Warbler we had seen earlier. The Pallas’s Warbler also had an extra stripe, a yellow central crown stripe, and when it hovered to pick insects off the leaves we could see it lemon yellow rump patch.

6o0a4067Pallas’s Warbler – our favourite warbler!

Pallas’s Warbler is an annual visitor here, blown off course on its was south, typically just in small numbers at this time of year. They breed in southern Siberia and winter in China and SE Asia, so this one was a long way from home. With all the stripes and the lemon yellow rump, they are always a great favourite. A fantastic bird to see! As the tit flock continued on east, the Pallas’s Warbler flew off with them. We followed the flock to the drinking pool, but it didn’t stop. We did get great views of several Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff coming down to bathe.

We had bumped into some other birders before we found the tits who told us that they had just flushed an Olive-backed Pipit from south of the main path (in an area near where one had been reported yesterday). The one we had seen earlier had still not been relocated, and it was not far away as the Olive-backed Pipit flies, but it would have to be mobile to be the same one. We had a look where they had seen it but there was no sign and we were told it may have flown back north. We went back to where we had seen the Olive-backed Pipit earlier, but there was no sign of it there either.

Having had a quick look around the Dell, we decided to check out the path beside the caravan park. However, we had not got very far when another birder emerged from the trees talking on his mobile and told us his mate was watching the Olive-backed Pipit back behind the drinking pool. We hot-footed it round there only to find his mate had walked off and the pipit had flown up into the trees and been lost again. There were a few people still milling round but looking lost again. Frustrating.

The area looked promising – open mature pines, long grass below, and some scattered younger trees, meaning plenty of cover – perfect for an Olive-backed Pipit. So we circled round to the back of the grass and started walking very quietly along the furthest edge. Some movement in the grass caught our attention and there were not one, but two Olive-backed Pipits together!

Thankfully one of the Olive-backed Pipits stopped in the grass and turned to look at us, so we could get everyone onto it. The birds then made their way a bit further back, out of view, but circling round again the other side and we watched one flit up onto a dead branch lying underneath a young holm oak. This time we all got a great view of it as it perched there, pumping its tail up and down.

6o0a3942Olive-backed Pipit – a photo from yesterday (when it was quieter)

Olive-backed Pipits can be very secretive and skulking so it was great to finally see one so well. This is another mostly Siberian species, although its breeding range spreads just into NE European Russia, and it normally winters in S Asia. After that, we made our way back to the car for a very well-earned lunch. It had certainly been a productive morning in the Woods.

After lunch, we climbed up over the seawall and made our way down to the lifeboat station to scan the harbour. There were several Brent Geese down in the harbour channel and a nice selection of waders out on the mud – lots of Oystercatchers, a single Black-tailed Godwit in with a group of Bar-tailed Godwits and Redshank, several Curlew, a couple of small flocks of Knot and, further over, a scattering of Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a Turnstone.

The highlight here was the aerial battle between a juvenile Peregrine and a Ringed Plover. We first spotted them out over the mudflats across the other side of the harbour channel. The Peregrine was in quick pursuit, but every time it got close, the Ringed Plover turned sharply, much tighter than the Peregrine could turn, and opened up the gap again. Several times the Ringed Plover tried to escape by gaining height, but the Peregrine powered up higher. They were very evenly matched – it was just a question of which one would tire first.

The chase went on for ages – an adult would probably have given up much earlier, but this young Peregrine was either inexperienced or just very hungry. We lost sight of them round behind the lifeboat station but the next thing we knew they appeared again flying fast and low over the water just below us, flushing all the geese and roosting waders. When they disappeared from view again, the Peregrine must have finally given up because the next thing it appeared from round the lifeboat station only a few metres away from us!

6o0a4084Peregrine – exhausted after chasing after a Ringed Plover, unsuccessfully

The Peregrine tried to land on one of the groyne posts not far from us, but thought better of it, so flew a short distance across the harbour channel and landed on a mudbank just the other side. We had a great view of it through the scope.

img_7580Peregrine – taking a breather after the fruitless chase

Our final destination for the day was Warham Greens. As we made our way down along the middle track, a small flock of Golden Plover flew over calling. A Blackcap flew across the track and we could hear Goldcrests in the hedge. There were still a few Blackbirds and thrushes in the bushes and, as we got down towards the end of the track, we heard a Ring Ouzel chacking from deep inside, although we couldn’t see it.

From out on the coastal path, we could see several flocks of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh. Several bright white Little Egrets stood out against the dark vegetation. A couple of Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes in the distance. We made our way west to the pit where we could hear a Brambling, but couldn’t see it in the bushes.

There had been a Radde’s Warbler on Garden Drove earlier in the morning, but when we arrived there had been no sign of it for several hours. We had a quick look in the copse at the end, which was a bit exposed to the wind. There seemed to be more birds in the hedges along the track, and we quickly found the Yellow-browed Warbler, which flew across out of the taller trees and landed in a low hawthorn briefly.

We walked slowly up the track to the concrete pad and back down again. We did see a few Chiffchaffs and several Robins. And plenty of Goldcrests in the trees – amazing to think that these tiny birds, weighing less than a 20p piece, have made it all the way across the North Sea.

6o0a4097Goldcrest – there are still lots in the trees along the coast

With no sign of anything more exciting on Garden Drove, we decided to check out the hedgeline to the west, towards Wells. As we walked along the coastal path, flocks of finches got up from the edge of the field and flew up into the hedge. There were loads and loads of Bramblings, at least 100, probably a lot more, as well as Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, a few Linnets and a single Reed Bunting.

6o0a4116Brambling – there were loads in the fields this afternoon

We stopped by one field which was planted with a seed mix and 20-30 Bramblings flew up into the hedge beside us, calling away. They have all arrived from Scandinavia in the last few days and have stopped to feed in the fields here. As we were admiring them, a small falcon flew fast towards us along the top of the hedge, scattering all the birds. It was a Merlin – it saw us at the last minute and turned away, flying off across the field the other side of the hedge towards the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to start making our way back. We scanned the saltmarsh on the way, seeing three Marsh Harriers now quartering in the distance. As we walked back along the middle track almost back to the car, a Merlin flew high east ahead of us – possibly a different bird returning to roost. It had been a tiring day, but a great one with some great birds.

9th Oct 2016 – Arrivals from the East, Part 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. We had some sunny intervals today but isolated showers were coming in off the North Sea from time to time on the NE wind. Thankfully, they missed us in the morning and we managed to dodge them in the afternoon.

The morning was spent exploring Cley. We parked at the visitor centre and walked out towards the main hides. Looking out towards the sea, we could see a couple of lines of Brent Geese flying in, presumably migrants arriving from Russia for the winter. Along the Skirts path, a male Stonechat flew ahead of us, perching on the brambles and fence posts, before flying out into the field. A Meadow Pipit perched up in the morning sun on a dead thistle. A Kestrel circled up overhead, and was chased off by another couple of Meadow Pipits.

6o0a3628Kestrel – circled overhead, pursued by a Meadow Pipit

As we walked out along the boardwalk, we flushed a noisy flock of House Sparrows from the bushes in the reeds. A young Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds and seemed to delight in flushing all the birds from the scrapes as it flew over.

There were lots of small waders in front of Teal Hide visible from the visitor centre earlier, but by the time we got out there they seemed at first to have disappeared, presumably unnerved by the Marsh Harrier. We found them again as they emerged from behind the large island, 30 Dunlin. Then a Ruff appeared from the same place as the Dunlin. It was a juvenile, with buffy underparts. It was followed shortly after by a winter adult Ruff, whiter below and paler grey-brown above, and with orange legs. It was good to see the two Ruff next to the Dunlin for size comparison.

A Black-tailed Godwit was feeding just in front of the hide, but a larger flock were sleeping over towards Bishop Hide, all in a line, all on one leg with heads tucked in. They are mostly in winter plumage now, dull grey. A single Avocet stood at the end of the line. Further over, we picked up a couple of Swallows hawking for insects over the reeds. They eventually made their way past, followed by a few more – migrants, on their way south down to Africa for the winter, pausing briefly to refuel on their journey.

6o0a3648Black-tailed Godwit – this one was feeding in front of Teal Hide

Simmond’s Scrape has just been ‘reprofiled’. The digger has gone, but the scrape itself will presumably take a while to settle back down. Still, from Dauke’s Hide we could see lots of ducks, all still mostly in duller eclipse plumage – Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler. A single Grey Plover and a single Golden Plover were on the bare island over at the back – a nice opportunity to compare them side by side. Several Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were still enjoying the bare muddy margins of the scrape.

Some of the flocks of Brent Geese we had seen arriving earlier had landed in Eye Field. Looking out from the hide in that direction, we could see more Brents landing with a large gaggle of Canada Geese. On the front edge of the flock, out on the grass, we could see some ‘grey’ geese and through the scope we confirmed our suspicions – they were White-fronted Geese. Small numbers come to Norfolk from Russia for the winter, normally to the Broads or Holkham, so these birds had probably stopped off briefly to get something to eat and have a rest after a long journey from the continent.

img_7497White-fronted Geese – we could see nine in with the Canadas and Brent Geese

Looking more carefully, we could count nine White-fronted Geese. Several had sat down in the grass to sleep. On the ones that were awake and feeding, we could see their pink bills with white band round the base, and the distinctive black belly bars.

After making our way back to the visitor centre, we drove on to the car park at the end of the East Bank. Up to four Jack Snipe had been reported just across the road on Snipe’s Marsh (for once, appropriately named!!), so we walked over to see if we could see them. Thankfully there were a couple of people there who told us where two of them were, because the Jack Snipe had gone to sleep in the edge of the reeds and were very well camouflaged.

img_7521Jack Snipe – with bright golden yellow mantle stripes and dark central crown

We watched the Jack Snipe for a few minutes and one of them then woke up and started feeding. As it did so, we could see the distinctive bobbing action, bouncing up and down as it walked slowly along, probing its bill into the mud. Nearby, we could see at least five Common Snipe too, larger and longer-billed, and through the scope we could see the diagnostic pale central crown stripe on one of them.

With some very dark clouds coming in from the direction of the beach, we made our way back to the car. Just in time, as it started to rain. We drove a little further east and parked at Iron Road. As it seemed like the rain might be slow to clear, we opted for an early lunch. By the time we had finished, the sun was out again.

The muddy pools by Iron Road have been quiet recently, and consequently we weren’t going to walk up there, but scanning from the path we could see a few waders, so we changed our minds. There was a little more water after the recent rain. When we got up there we could see a smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and two Ringed Plovers out on the mud, along with lots of Meadow Pipits. A Green Sandpiper appeared from over the back and flew past us. A Common Snipe flew round and landed in the reeds the other side of the track.

img_7540Curlew Sandpiper – with two Ringed Plovers

While we were standing there, we could hear a Bearded Tit calling. It seemed to be coming from back along the path, in the reeds along the ditch. Then the Bearded Tit flew over and landed just behind us, down in the reeds along the ditch the other side of the track. Even though it was out of view, we could hear it ‘pinging’, and occasionally see movement. We walked over to the edge of the ditch, peering over the top of the vegetation. Then more helpfully it climbed up into the tops of the reeds in full view just a few metres from us. It was a female – with no grey head, no black moustache. It perched up in full view for a minute or two, then the Bearded Tit flew off towards Salthouse. Great views!

6o0a3680Bearded Tit – perched up in the tops of the reeds right next to us

Walking back towards the road, we turned right onto Attenborough Walk and headed for Babcock Hide. On the way, we stopped to admire the Egyptian Geese on the grazing meadow. While we were standing there, a Wheatear appeared out on the grass, in amongst the cows.

The water levels at Babcock Hide have been rather static recently, which is not so good for waders, and the scrape looked fairly empty at first. There were a few ducks – Shelduck, Teal and Wigeon. There are cows grazing out here at the moment, and they kept walking back and forth in front of the hide. They mostly seemed to be very nervous of us, but it was quite a shock when one walked up and almost stuck its head through the flaps right in front of us, particularly as we were looking through binoculars at the time!

img_7556Cow – looking in on Babcock Hide

There were several Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails around the edges of the scrape. When a wagtail appeared right in front of the hide, we might have expected it to be another Pied, but it was very pale grey backed and also grey rumped. It was a White Wagtail, the continental race of Pied Wagtail, more commonly identified here in spring. Another migrant which had stopped off here on its way south.

6o0a3719White Wagtail – in front of Babcock Hide

As the cows walked round in front of the hide, two Common Snipe came up from the grass round to our left and flew off over the back. Then a smaller snipe flew up from the reeds – another Jack Snipe. It flew back over the water, circled round a couple of times, before eventually dropping down again out of view at the back of the scrape. There are obviously a lot of Jack Snipe arriving at the moment for the winter – the number we have seen in the past three days is unusual.

With more shower clouds out over the sea and heading our way, we decided to spend the latter part of the afternoon at Holkham, where we had some more hides for shelter if necessary. We walked west from Lady Anne’s Drive, on the inland side of the pines. There were lots of Goldcrests in the trees and we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. We had a quick look for it, but we were looking into the sun, and it seemed to move through very quickly. It stopped calling, and we couldn’t see any movement.

6o0a3750Goldcrest – showing very well at Holkham

A quick scan of Salts Hole produced three Little Grebes. We stopped again at the gate before Washington Hide. There were four Curlews in the field – hard to see until they put their heads up – and several Jays kept dropping down into the grass. A couple of Coal Tits chased each other round the pine above us. Then we saw black clouds coming and made a quick dash for the hide.

We got to Washington Hide just in time, and took shelter from the rain. Thankfully it passed through very quickly. We just had time to admire a few Gadwall in with the Mallard on the pool. There were several Song Thrushes and Redwings in the bushes. A Common Buzzard perched up in a tree. We had hoped we might be able to find a few Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Although we saw a lot, they were flying up from behind the trees and heading off east.

When the rain stopped, we had a quick walk out onto the boardwalk, to pay homage to the sea. On the way, an exhausted Chiffchaff was flitting around on the ground below us.

6o0a3791Chiffchaff – exhausted and feeding on the ground behind Washington Hide

Carrying on west, we made our way along to Joe Jordan Hide. There were several Marsh Harriers flying in and out of the trees and hedges here. A Common Buzzard perched on a post in front of us. Scanning the grass, we found a single Pink-footed Geese on its own. Through the scope we could see that it was an injured bird, with one wing hanging down. That probably explains why it was here, rather than out on the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to walk back. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, when a Pied Flycatcher flew up from a puddle on the edge of the path. Unfortunately it disappeared into the trees before we could get a good look and wasn’t going to show itself again. Another Yellow-browed calling was some consolation. Then it was time to head for home. We rain clouds all around us, there were some stunning rainbows to admire.

6o0a3797Rainbow – Holkham

8th Oct 2016 – Arrivals from the East, Part 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. Thankfully the overnight rain cleared through just before we met up this morning. The rest of the day was mostly bright with sunny intervals, and even the couple of dark clouds which went over later in the afternoon produced no more than a couple of drops of rain. It was a lovely autumn day to be out.

Our destination for the morning was Warham Greens. We parked at the start of one of the tracks and walked along towards the coast. In the first field, they were just starting to harvest potatoes. As the tractor and trailer drove in, it flushed a large flock of Golden Plover, which flew up calling mournfully, followed by a flock of Lapwing. As the harvester started to make its way through the middle of the field, it was pursued by a noisy mob of Black-headed Gulls.

The track was lined with thick hedges which are dripping with berries at this time of year. We flushed lots of birds from the bushes as we walked along, presumably mostly migrants fresh in from the continent. There were thrushes galore – Blackbirds, Redwings and a few Song Thrushes. Several harsh scolding ‘tchack’ calls alerted us to the presence of a Ring Ouzel, but it was hiding deep in the hedge. We just got a glimpse of it before it flew out the back and across the field.

The birds were hard to see perched, because they either flew ahead of us or dived deep into the hedge. But it is quite a spectacle to see so many birds, migrants which have just arrived here. Every few metres we flushed another Robin or Blackcap. We could hear lots of Goldcrests too and see them occasionally flitting around in the bushes – amazing to think that these tiny birds had probably just flown in across the North Sea. Three Bramblings flew off ahead of us, calling. An exhausted Chaffinch was easier to see, feeding just a few metres ahead of us on the path, probably tired after a long flight.

6o0a3552Chaffinch – exhausted and feeding just ahead of us on the path

The Yellowhammers here are most likely residents and we heard a couple calling as we walked along. The rain overnight had filled up the deeper ruts and left lots of good puddles, which the birds were taking advantage of. We watched as a Yellowhammer came down to bathe in one of them.

6o0a3558Yellowhammer – having a bath in one of the puddles

As we got further down the track, a bird flicked out of the hedge ahead of us, flashing an orange-red tail as it flew along for a few metres, before diving back in. It was a Redstart. We made our way slowly down to where it had gone in, but unfortunately it had disappeared, probably out through the other side of the hedge.

Down at the end of the track, we could see a couple of small groups of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. There were plenty of Little Egrets too – at one point we had a group of seven together, all in a line. More Golden Plover would periodically whirl round, calling, alternately flashing white and gold as they turned in the sunshine. As well as lots of Curlew out in the vegetation, a single Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and landed on one of the small pools, where we could get it in the scope. A Peregrine was very distant, circling up over the marshes towards Wells lifeboat station, and a Marsh Harrier wasn’t much closer, out over the Spartina beds towards the beach.

As we approached the pit, we could hear the ‘tchacking’ of another Ring Ouzel in the bushes. Again, it stayed deep in cover, moving ahead of us, and we couldn’t see it. The biggest surprise of the day came next. While we were standing waiting for the Ring Ouzel, we heard Bearded Tits calling and turned to see a flock of nine flying past us low over the edge of the saltmarsh. They don’t look like particularly strong fliers, but Bearded Tits do disperse over some distance and these ones were certainly in a hurry, flying off strongly east.

Continuing west, as we reached the end of Garden Drove, a friendly face beckoned us over to say that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was in the small copse there. We could hear it calling, but it was hard to see on the outside of the trees, so we made our way in to where a couple of photographers were already standing.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher seemed to be favouring a couple of sycamores and kept returning to them. It was hard to pick up when it stopped still, but by following it when it made little sorties out after insects and then looking where it had landed, it was possible to get some very good views of it at times. It was a first winter, so born earlier in the summer, and blown off course on its way from NE Europe to W Asia for the winter. They are quite rare visitors here normally, but a few have turned up along the coast in the last few days on the easterly winds – hence this was the second we had seen in two days!

6o0a3599Red-breasted Flycatcher – in the trees at the end of Garden Drove

Having all enjoyed the Red-breasted Flycatcher, we made our way on a little further west. We were walking along the coastal path but someone else was walking along the edge of the field the other side of the hedge and flushed a Redstart. Again, we just got a glimpse as it flew back along the hedge, so we made our way round so we could see the direction in which it had gone.

The Redstart had found a hawthorn out of the wind and in the sunshine and was perched out in full view, periodically dropping down to the edge of the field below after food. We could see the orange-red tail after which it is named. At one point, a Chiffchaff perched up in the tree with it.

We could head a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees on Garden Drove, so we made our way back and walked a short distance up the track. It was calling periodically, but it was hard to see in the tall sycamores, especially as we were looking into the sun. There were lots of Goldcrests flitting about too, which made it more complicated still to know which bird to look at. However, it was possible to see the Yellow-browed Warbler in the trees with a bit of effort.

As we made our way back east along the coastal footpath, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. The first group were too far off, but then we heard closer calls and turned to see a skein of about two hundred flying west just over the fields. Presumably these were birds just arriving for the winter, and they seemed to be on course for the grazing marshes at Holkham. On the walk back up the middle track, there were several more people now and fewer birds, although we did find another Yellowhammer bathing in a different puddle.

A short drive east and we stopped at Morston Harbour for lunch. It was lovely sitting out in the sunshine, with more flocks of Golden Plover whirling around over the saltmarshes. Although it wasn’t as quiet as we might have hoped, with all the seal boats returning just at that moment.

The afternoon was spent at Stiffkey Fen. As we made our way along the permissive footpath by the road, a couple of Common Buzzards flew past over the field. Stopping to scan , we could see another three Common Buzzards over the woods beyond. They were obviously all taking advantage of the autumn sunshine! Down by the river and we flushed more Blackcaps from the brambles as we walked. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way noisily through the sallows ahead of us.

It is hard to see much of the Fen from the path, as all the vegetation has grown up so high. We could hear lots of Wigeon calling as we walked along. However, the view is much better up on the seawall. From here, we could see lots of ducks, though they are not looking their best at this time of year, with the majority of them still in dull eclipse plumage. There were certainly loads of Wigeon, plus several Pintail, a good number of Teal and a scattering of Mallard and Gadwall too.

The find of the afternoon was a Jack Snipe, which was feeding along the edge of the reeds. We just had time for everyone to look at it through the scope before it disappeared back into the reeds and we didn’t see it again. As usual, there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits here and, in amongst them, a few Ruff. We could hear Greenshank calling periodically and watched as several flew off and over the seawall out towards the harbour, but they were tucked in behind the reeds at the front. Two Common Snipe flew off calling too.

Another Peregrine, a juvenile, was a bit closer this time. It circled over the trees at the back of the Fen before flying off fast and low over the fields to the east. A male Marsh Harrier flew in over the fields just afterwards, making for the harbour.

We were just walking off in that direction ourselves, when we turned to see a Spoonbill flying in from the harbour. It flew past behind us, over the seawall and circled before dropping down onto the Fen, giving us a great view of its spoon-shaped bill as it did so. We walked back to get a better look at it, and found the Spoonbill bathing over towards the back corner. It was a juvenile, with a fleshy-coloured bill, probably raised at Holkham this summer. Just as we were watching it through the scope, it walked back behind the reeds out of view.

6o0a3605Spoonbill – flew in from the harbour & dropped down on the Fen

Turning back again along the seawall, we walked out to the edge of the harbour. A single Grey Plover was feeding on the mud by the channel, as was a Curlew. We got good views of both of them through the scope.

6o0a3621Grey Plover – on the edge of the saltmarsh channel

The male Marsh Harrier reappeared, flying along the edge of the saltmarsh. We were watching it as it suddenly dropped down and caught a Black-headed Gull. The gull must have been ill, because it put up very little resistance. The Marsh Harrer was just starting to pluck its prey, with us watching it and enjoying great views of it through the scope, when it suddenly took off and dropped the dead gull back onto the ground.

We could see three Carrion Crows harassing it, which wouldn’t have seemed the most likely reason for it to desert its prey so quickly, but then we noticed a Peregrine was with them, and making a couple of short dives down towards the harrier, presumably trying to steal its prey. The Peregrine was eventually chased off by the Crows, and the Marsh Harrier flew low along the saltmarsh and out of view. We didn’t see if it managed to retrieve its precious lunch!

Looking out over harbour, the tide was out. We could see hundreds of Oystercatchers in big groups out on the mud. In with one of the groups we could just see several Knot running around in and out of the Oystercatchers. There were also more Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits.

6o0a3616Brent Geese – flying around over the saltmarsh and harbour

Little groups of Brent Geese were flying around over the saltmarsh and we could see a whole load more out on the mud in the harbour in the distance. Numbers are increasing steadily now, but there are still a lot yet to come for the winter. A large group of Mute Swans was also swimming about in the harbour.

We spotted a Greenshank asleep in front of a rock, down in the channel in front of us. We had a look at it in the scope, and we could see it regularly opening its eye, even though it was sleeping – if you are a bird, you often do not have the luxury of going to sleep completely, particularly with hungry Peregrines and other predators about! We had almost forgotten about it and were looking at something else when one of the group noticed that it had woken up and started feeding. This was a much better view.

img_7496Greenshank – eventually woke up and started feeding

It is a lovely place to sit on a sunny afternoon, looking out across the harbour, but with time getting on we eventually had to tear ourselves away and start to walk back. Migrants were continuing to arrive even now. A large party of Redwings flew in over the harbour and circled over the fields back towards the Fen, before disappearing inland. As we got to the seawall, we could hear Bramblings calling and looked across to see a couple land in the hedge nearby. The leading members of the group just got to see them in the top of a hawthorn, but when a couple of dogwalkers came along the path the other way, they dropped down out of view, before we could get them in the scope. The next thing we knew, the Bramblings flew off calling – four of them in total.

A loud call alerted us to a Kingfisher flying along the river channel beyond which landed on the wooden sluice. Unfortunately, before we could get it in the scope, it was off again and disappeared further up along the river. Back at the Fen, there was still no sign of the Spoonbill.

As we made our way back along the footpath the other side of the road and came out of the trees, we flushed a Barn Owl from the far edge of the wood. We watched it fly away from us to the grazing meadow beyond, where it started to hunt, flying back and forth over the grass. Suddenly it dropped down to the ground and we could only just see the top of its head. It stayed on the ground for some time and when it flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. The Barn Owl deftly transferred the vole from its bill to its talons and flew over into some trees to eat.

6o0a3622Brown Hare – a couple were in the field on the way back to the car

As we walked back to the car, we could see a couple of Brown Hares in the grassy field by the path. One of them was looking decidedly mad, leaping up and kicking its feet out – despite the fact it certainly isn’t March! Then it was time to head for home.

7th Oct 2016 – Arrivals from the East, Part 1

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. With the wind in the east, it felt like there should be some interesting birds about today. It was cloudy and cool, but the wind had dropped from recent days and we had no more than a few spots of rain.

Our main destination for today was Titchwell. We arrived in the car park to be told by one of the volunteers that the Red-breasted Flycatcher which had been seen yesterday was still present and had just been seen in the picnic area, but had moved through towards the access road. We joined him round on the road, but there was no sign of it there, so headed round to the picnic area instead. There were a few people gathered there and we could just hear the Red-breasted Flycatcher calling, but it was deep in the trees and flew across back towards the access road!

Back out on the tarmac, we could hear the much Red-breasted Flycatcher better and worked out where it was in the trees. It was not visible from where we were, so we walked round the other way via the visitor centre to the path known as bug alley. We could hear it calling all the time here and eventually it appeared in the trees right above our heads. Most of the group got a good look at it here, but it was hard to get onto at times, high up in the trees. We followed it back towards the picnic area. After a wait while it went deeper into the trees towards the car park, it came out and showed much better for us.

6o0a3249Red-breasted Flycatcher – the best shot from today, without much light in the trees

That was a great way to start to the day – and worth the extra effort to find it. We set off to explore the rest of the reserve, stopping briefly to scan the feeders by the visitor centre, which had a few Long-tailed Tits and finches. Out on the main path, in the trees, a Brambling gave its wheezy call from high above us. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler called too and we managed to get a quick glimpse of it before it dropped out the back.

There was very little to see on the still dry grazing meadow ‘pool’, but we stopped to watch a couple of Marsh Harriers. As one quartered over the reeds at the back, we spotted a second perched in a bush nearby. It too took off and the two of them flew round for a time, before the second bird landed again. This time we got a good look at it in the scope – all dark brown apart from an orangey-yellow head, a juvenile.

6o0a3251Marsh Harrier – one of two hunting over the reeds on the Thornham side

The reedbed pool held a single Little Grebe, right at the back with a Shoveler, and several Mallard. While we were standing there scanning, a small snipe flew straight towards us from the direction of the freshmarsh and as it passed we could see that it was a Jack Snipe. It dropped down on the grazing marsh ‘pool’ but only a minute or so later we picked it up again as it flew back past us to the freshmarsh.

A particular request today was whether we might be able to see a Bearded Tit. Walking past the reedbed, we heard a couple calling and just saw the back end of them as they flew low and fast across the reeds, before dropping back in. We stood on the bank just before Island Hide, scanning the freshmarsh and heard more Bearded Tits calling – again, we saw them zipping across over the reeds, fairly typical views of Bearded Tits.

Then three Bearded Tits flew towards us and landed in the reeds not far from the bank. This time, they climbed up into the tops of the reeds and started to feed on the heads – a couple of browner females at first, then a stunning male. The next thing we knew, another seven Bearded Tits flew over towards us in a single flock, calling, and dropped down with the ones we were watching. We didn’t know where to look, they seemed to be everywhere, and at one point had at least three males perched up together. Cracking stuff!

6o0a3287Bearded Tit – great views from the main path today

Scanning the freshmarsh from the path, we could see lots of ducks – mainly Teal, but good numbers of Wigeon and Shoveler too now. More Wigeon were flying in from the saltmarsh in small flocks, and one little group of ducks flying in turned out to be a single Wigeon with three Pintail, as they came overhead. We could see lots of Brent Geese out on the mudflats in Thornham Harbour and an occasional group flew in and landed on the freshmarsh too.

There was a nice selection of waders too. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping out in the middle. We had seen a couple of flocks of Golden Plover flying in as we walked out, and they were now gathered on the islands. There are still a few Avocets here, but numbers have dropped sharply now as most of the birds have moved south for the winter. Right at the back, against the reeds, two pale looking waders were Spotted Redshanks, in their silvery-grey and white winter plumage.

A Little Stint was picking around on the edge of one of the grassy spits, but was a little distant until it helpfully flew in and landed much closer to us. Even better, it had a Dunlin for company – which allowed us to see just how small the Little Stint was by comparison. It was a juvenile, stopping off here on its way south from the arctic tundra to Africa for the winter. There were several little groups of Dunlin out on the islands and a single Ringed Plover on here too.

The Pectoral Sandpiper and Jack Snipe had both been seen on the weedy mud just beyond Island Hide earlier, but we couldn’t find them there on the walk out. We did have great views of a couple of Common Snipe feeding down amongst the vegetation just below us.

6o0a3292Common Snipe – feeding just below the main path

We could not see any sign of the Curlew Sandpipers on the freshmarsh and when we got to the junction for the path to Parrinder Hide we found out why – they were on the Volunteer Marsh! We had a nice view of them feeding out on the mud, looking back towards Parrinder. There were a couple of Grey Plover and a Curlew out there too.

Round at Parrinder Hide, there was no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper in its usual favoured spot here either when we arrived. We had a good scan of the freshmarsh from here, which produced several Knot with the flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and three Ruff dropped in nearby too. From this side, we could see there were actually two Little Stints.  A Black-tailed Godwit was feeding right in front of the hide, giving us the opportunity to look at the differences from the Bar-taileds.

6o0a3353Black-tailed Godwit – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Meadow Pipits out on the grassy islands and a single Rock Pipit was with them – slightly larger and darker, with oilier brown and plainer upperparts. When all the waders took off and whirled round over the scrape, we saw a young Peregrine disappearing off inland over the reedbed.

We had almost given up hope of seeing the Pectoral Sandpiper from here, when it flew in and landed on the muddy edge of the island in front of us. It didn’t seem to like being out in the open, and ran quickly along the shore, across the water, and into the reeds below the bank. It looked like that might be it, but after a couple of minutes we could see it creeping furtively about in the vegetation and it gradually made its way closer and into full view, where we could get a great look at it through the scope.

pectoral-sandpiper-titchwellPectoral Sandpiper – here’s a photo of it from a few days ago

Breeding in North America and also just over the Bering Strait in NE Siberia, it is always interesting to speculate whether Pectoral Sandpipers which turn up here have come across the North Atlantic or across from Russia.

After all the excitement of the morning so far, time was getting on now, so we decided to have a quick walk out to the beach. However, there were still more distractions on the way. First, we had a quick look at a Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh, on the edge of channel by the path. A little further back was a nice close Bar-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone was preening on the edge of the mud. A Greenshank flew in calling and landed with a Common Redshank in one of the pools.

6o0a3396Bar-tailed Godwit – this one was feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

As we stood watching the Turnstone, one of the group spotted a small bird on the path just ahead of us. It was a Wheatear, possibly a new arrival fresh in from the continent, as it looked absolutely exhausted. It hopped along the path towards us, occasionally darting into the grass. Thankfully it appeared to be finding food. Then two people walked past us along the path and flushed it out onto the Volunteer Marsh.

6o0a3424Wheatear – an exhausted migrant on the path

A Little Egret was fishing it its usual spot, where the water flows out of the channel. The three Curlew Sandpipers were now over here too, at the further side of the Volunteer Marsh, close to the main path. We stopped to have another look at them and they came closer and closer until they were right below us on the mud. It was nice to see them so well. All juveniles, one still had a brighter orangey wash across the breast then the other two, which were more faded. Having been raised this summer way over in arctic Central Siberia, like the Little Stints they have stopped off here to feed on their way south to Africa for the winter.

6o0a3531Curlew Sandpiper – three juveniles were on the Volunteer Marsh today

Moving swiftly on, a Kingfisher called and shot low across the water as we got to the tidal pools. Thankfully it landed on the edge of the small island over the far side and we got a good look at it in the scope. A little group of Knot were roosting on one of the spits.

As we arrived at the beach, we heard someone pointing out a Slavonian Grebe on the sea and quickly got the scope onto it. Thankfully it was not very far offshore and it was possible to see it even with binoculars, between dives. An unexpected but very nice bonus! A little further along we picked up a much bigger Great Crested Grebe too. A single Common Scoter was further out and harder to see in the choppy sea and three dark ducks further west, towards Thornham, turned out to be Eider when we got them in the scope.

The tide was out now and there were quite a few waders down on the shore. We could hear as well as see all the Oystercatchers, which were piping away. Several very pale grey/white winter Sanderling were running around on the beach, in with some more larger and greyer Knot.

We were already late for lunch, but as we hurried back we were distracted again. Just before we got to Island Hide, a small crowd was gathered on the path. They had been watching the Jack Snipe but we arrived just in time to see it disappear into the vegetation. We did see the Pectoral Sandpiper again, which had returned to this side now, and a Water Rail which appeared briefly out of the vegetation where the Jack Snipe had gone. Then it was back to the car for a rather later than planned but very well-deserved lunch.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent back at Wells Woods. As we walked into the trees, we could see the birches were alive with Goldcrests, 3-4 to a tree, everywhere we looked. In with them, we found a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps too. And there were lots of Robins. The vast majority of them presumably migrants, stopping off on their way south or come here for the winter.

On the edge of the Dell, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. We followed the sound and had a quick glimpse of it in the top of some sallows before it flitted away out of view. We carried on in the direction where we thought it had gone and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling further still ahead of us, which we assumed initially was the same one. We made our way through the trees to the meadow, where we thought we might be able to see it, but got distracted by a pipit which flew out of the birches and straight back into the trees, landing high up in a birch out of view. As we tried to get a better look at it, it flew again, calling this time – it was just a Meadow Pipit.

When we heard calling again, the Yellow-browed Warbler appeared to have gone back to where we first saw it. It was only when we got back there ourselves, that we realised there were two. This time, we could see the first Yellow-browed Warbler flitting around in the tops of the sallows and birches. It was hard to see in amongst the leaves at times, but most of the group got to see most of it!

We walked on round, out of the Dell and back onto the main path. As we approached the corner, we could see lots of thrushes in the hawthorns and brambles ahead. Something must have spooked them, because suddenly about fifty more flew up from the field beyond the reeds and joined them in the bushes. We could see they were mostly Redwings, together with a smaller number of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds.

6o0a3539Redwing – 50+ were in the field and bushes on the south edge of the woods

Continuing on a little further along the path, we cut through the bushes, flushing thrushes left and right as we did so, until we found a gap in the hedge from where we could see the grassy field beyond. The Redwings were all returning to the ground to feed – it was amazing to watch them coating the field, spread out over the grass. They had probably arrived overnight, or during the day, and were refuelling here before continuing on south. It was a nice way to end the day, in the woods surrounded by autumn migrants of various shapes and sizes.