21st Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We spent the day up on the north coast. The forecast was poor, with a wind warning out, but it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as we feared. It was a bit gusty, but not as bad as recent days, and it was mostly dry, apart from a squally shower which almost passed us by as we ate our lunch under cover and some rain just as we finished this afternoon. Certainly another day well worth going out!

Heading east along the coast road this morning, we called in at Kelling first. As we walked up along the lane, a Robin was singing from the fir tree by the school and a few Goldfinches dropped down into the hedge beyond. There were several Chaffinches in the taller trees further along, but when we got to the copse, all was quiet.

A couple of House Martins flew over us, heading west, presumably birds on their way to Africa now. A flock of Linnets was feeding down in the stubble field beyond and flew round as we passed, but there didn’t seem to be many birds in the hedgerows. It was rather cool and breezy.

There were quite a few gulls on the Water Meadow again – mostly Black-headed Gulls, either swimming on the pool or loafing on the bank. A few Herring Gulls of various ages were with them and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped in too. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were in with the gulls on the grass and a noisy mob of Canada Geese flew in and landed on the water.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – the resident pair were in with the loafing gulls

A Common Snipe circled over the Water Meadow but seemed to change its mind and headed out over the Quags. It seemed to change its mind again when it felt the wind and cam back in, landing in the long grass on the far side of the pool. When we walked to the corner, we could just see it lurking in the grass, watching us, before it flew up again and away.

Down along the track to the beach, a Reed Bunting flew across and dropped into the reeds where it disappeared. Walking up the hillside, a Meadow Pipit flew up out of the grass, but dropped straight back in again further back. There was a big flock of Goldfinches in the bushes and feeding on the ground in the shelter of the old sand pit.

As we walked up to the gun emplacements, we scanned out to sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were battling into the wind offshore. Then a couple of Gannets flew past, quite close in, banking and tacking downwind, dark slaty grey juveniles. For the next couple of minutes there was a steady trickle of Gannets passing offshore, adults white with black wing tips and some in between.

It was windy and exposed up here on the hillside, so we headed back down. As we walked back towards the Water Meadow, a small warbler flicked out of the brambles ahead of us and dropped straight back in again. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good look at it – we were looking into the sun – and it didn’t emerge again.

Along the cross track, we stopped to scan the muddy ditch which runs across the Quags. While most of us were scanning the edges further back, one of the group noticed a Common Snipe crouching behind a piece of plastic sack down in the grass right in front of us. It pretended it wasn’t there for several minutes before eventually flying off.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – trying to convince us it wasn’t there!

We had a bit more luck finding birds in the hedges in the lane on our way back – perhaps because it brightened up a bit and we could even feel the warmth of the sun. First, a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles, where we watched it eating blackberries. Then we came across a Willow Warbler flicking around low in the bushes along the edge of the field. Further up the lane still, a Chiffchaff was singing rather half-heartedly from a holly tree.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the brambles by the Water Meadow on the way back

There was a tractor rough cultivating one of the stubble fields beside the lane. A Red-legged Partridge ran away from us up the edge of the field. A Brown Hare was hiding in the longer green growth out in the middle, looking just like a clod of brown earth, and the tractor flushed a second Hare as it worked its way round.

Several Black-headed Gulls were following the tractor, landing in the cultivated strip behind, and we could see a few larger gulls too which were feeding out of view higher up the field but flew up as the tractor passed. A 1st winter Mediterranean Gull flew in to see what was happening, we could see its black outer primaries and secondaries, contrasting with silvery grey midwing panel and mantle, as it flew past us and disappeared up over the rise in the field.

Back to the car, we made our way back west. We stopped at Iron Road next and had a walk up to the pools. There were a few Greylag Geese here, and a couple of Lapwing, but it looked from the recent tyre treads heading through the gate like someone had been in there recently.

We walked back and made our way round towards Babcock Hide. A few Swallows flew past over the grazing marshes, more birds on migration, heading off back to Africa for the winter. A big flock of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass with the Greylags. A group Curlew circled over – several dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide, but the rest continued over towards the grazing marshes by the East Bank.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits – there were quite a few on Watling Water today

When we opened the flaps in the hide, the first thing we noticed was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and preening in the water in front. Several more were feeding on the mud nearby. Several were brightly coloured juveniles, with an orange wash around the neck and across the breast, which marks them out as birds of the Icelandic race. Amazing to think they were raised up in Iceland just a few weeks ago!

There were several Ruff on here too, further back, and a few Curlew asleep towards the back, possibly the ones we had seen fly in earlier. Several flocks of Lapwing flew past – possibly just local birds moving, but perhaps they had just arrived from further afield?

We saw a nice selection of ducks on here today, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, one or two Shoveler, and 12 Pintail. The Fulvous Whistling Duck with the large mob of Greylags doesn’t count – it is an escapee from someone’s collection, that seems to think it is a goose! Behind the Greylags, a family of five Pink-footed Geese obviously did not want to mix with their commoner cousins. Possibly freshly returned from Iceland, the goose and three full-grown juveniles were busy feeding while the gander stood guard nearby.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – this family of five was not mixing with the Greylags in front

A Sparrowhawk flew over the back, keeping low, and disappeared behind the reeds. Then we noticed a Hobby over towards Little Eye. Several times it flew up before stooping vertically down at something below, at which point each time we lost sight of it. Then it gave up and flew powerfully low over the grass towards us, before turning and heading across over the grazing meadows just to the south of us.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us in Babcock Hide

As if that wasn’t already enough, the highlight from our stop in Babcock Hide was the Otter which was feeding in the deeper water in the back. It was very active, diving repeatedly. Twice we saw it surface with a large fish. The first time, it swam with it across to one of the reedy islands and we thought it would hide in there for some time, eating. But just a few minutes later, it was back out fishing again. The next time it caught what appeared to be an even larger fish. It swam across to the same island, but a minute later reappeared and swam across with the fish still in its jaws, disappearing round behind the reeds along the edge.

When the Otter finally disappeared, we made our way back to the car and drove a little further along, to Walsey Hills. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see the two Spotted Redshanks out on Snipe’s Marsh. They were feeding very actively in the shallow water amongst the mud and cut reed stems. One was still largely in juvenile plumage, dusky grey, but the other was more advanced in its moult to winter plumage, whiter below and paler silvery grey above. We could also see their long, needle-fine bills.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two still on Snipe’s Marsh

There was a nice selection of other birds on here too. Four Green Sandpipers were feeding around the edge of the mud at the back. A single Common Snipe was very well camouflaged against the cut reeds. There were also a few Little Grebes and a single Tufted Duck out on the water.

It had clouded over a bit more now, so we decided to head round to the beach car park and use the shelter for lunch. It was a good move, as we could see a squally shower coming in, which mostly passed to the south of us, although we just caught the trailing corner of it. There were a few Sandwich Terns offshore and while we were eating lunch we spotted two Arctic Skuas flying in to chase them. We watched the ensuing aerial dogfight for a couple of minutes before the skuas eventually realised they weren’t going to be able to steal a free lunch and gave up. One or two more Gannets flew past, too.

After lunch, we drove round to the Visitor Centre and then walked out onto the reserve, to the hides. A quick look out from Avocet Hide revealed not very much on Whitwell Scrape – a handful of ducks and a single Green Sandpiper in the vegetation in the far corner.

There were more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, so we moved straight on to Dauke’s Hide. There were six Dunlin on here, picking around on the muddy edges of the islands, juveniles with black-streaked bellies. We could see a few more Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Ruff and a Curlew. There were plenty of ducks too. A Marsh Harrier flew in and circled over the reeds at the back.

Ruff

Ruff – there were quite a few on Pat’s Pool

We looked across to Pat’s Pool and could see even more birds on there. There were several juvenile Ruff with a couple of Redshank right down at the front. A male Ruff was strikingly larger than the several females with it. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on here, and a single Green Sandpiper right at the back on the mud.

There were a couple of Dunlin on Pat’s Pool too, but they were mobile, flying round nervously in the wind. When they landed at one point, with the godwits, right over the far side, in front of Bishop Hide, a third small wader was with them. It was noticeably brighter marked above than the Dunlin, with obvious tramlines, clean white below, with a comparatively short beak. When it turned, we could see its streaked breast was neatly demarcated from its white belly. A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper!

We had just got the Pectoral Sandpiper in the scope, when someone came round from Teal Hide to let us know they had seen it too. It was distant at first, so after a quick look we made our way round to Teal Hide where we had a better view. All the small waders were still rather easily spooked, and eventually it came a bit closer. We had a really good look at it through the scope.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – eventually we got some very good views of it

There have been quite a few North American waders turning up in UK in the past week or two, courtesy of the active Jetstream. Presumably this Pectoral Sandpiper had most likely come from there, rather than Eastern Siberia, where they are also found. There was also a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit on here, but it rather played second fiddle to the Pectoral Sandpiper.

When the Pectoral Sandpiper flew back and landed on the mud over near Bishop Hide, we headed round there. It was only a short distance beyond the visitor centre, where the car was parked, anyway. We had an even better view of it from here, when it flew out and landed in the middle just behind the roosting gulls.

There are always lots of ducks loafing on the bank between the hide and the scrape, and we had great views of an eclipse drake Wigeon which was bathing in the channel in front of the hide, before climbing out onto the grass beyond.

Wigeon

Wigeon – this eclipse drake was bathing in front of the hide

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from all the action here. As we walked back towards the visitor centre, a male Marsh Harrier flew in over the road and dropped down into the reedbed. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew past, and as they got closer we could hear their yelping calls. Probably more birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

We had stayed rather longer than intended at Cley this afternoon, with all the excitement over the Pectoral Sandpiper. We still had just about enough time to call in quickly at Stiffkey on the way back, but as we drove west we could see dark clouds and when we got there it was raining. We decided to save that for another day, and try our luck elsewhere.

As we drove up to the church, the usual perches where the Peregrine likes to stand were empty, but then we noticed it a little further along, on the stone ledge. We got out of the car and set the scopes up and were treated to close up views of it. It was looking around, checking out the traffic passing below and the people walking through the churchyard, seemingly unphased by it all, blinking occasionally.

Peregrine

Peregrine – perched up on the church tower again today

It was a nice way to finish off what had been a great first day out. So much for the dire predictions of the Met Office! Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

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19th Sept 2018 – Wildlife & Windy

An Autumn Day Tour in North Norfolk today. It was a very windy day, as Storm Ali swept across the country, with gusts touching as high as 52mph at one point. Thankfully we avoided the worst of the storm as it hit further north in the country and it remained dry and even sunny at times here. It is remarkable what you can see, whatever the weather – so we went out as normal and had a great day.

When we arrived at Titchwell, there were not too many cars in the car park yet. A flock of Long-tailed Tits appeared in the trees next to where we parked and we watched several up in a sycamore, before they flew off across the car park, along with several Great Tits and Blue Tits. We had a quick look around the overflow car park but despite the fact that there were no cars here yet, the bushes were quite quiet in the wind.

A Goldcrest was singing from deep in the sallows by the path to the visitor centre and we could hear a Chiffchaff calling too. We stopped to look at the feeders and were surprised to see a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker hanging on the side of one of them. Not a bird we see on the feeders here very often!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a juvenile on the feeders

We thought we would have a look round at Patsy’s Reedbed first this morning. There were lots of ducks out on the water, and it didn’t take long to find the two female Red-crested Pochard which have been hanging out here in recent weeks. There were also a good number of Common Pochard on here, and one or two Tufted Ducks.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – the two females on Patsy’s Reedbed again

The dabbling ducks were mainly Gadwall and many of the drakes are already well advanced in their moult back out from drab eclipse plumage. Otherwise, there were a few Mallard, a small number of Shoveler and one or two Teal. We heard a Little Grebe laughing (at us?) and two of them swam out of the reeds just across the water from us.

Despite the wind, there appeared to be a steady trickle of hirundines on the move. While we stood at the screen here we saw several small groups of Swallows and House Martins battling into the wind before continuing west over the trees. They are on their long journey down to Africa for the winter now – a real sign of autumn! A couple of Marsh Harriers were hanging in the breeze out over the reedbed.

The Autumn Trail is open at this time of year, so we set off to walk round to the back of the Freshmarsh. A Bloody-nosed Beetle was walking across the gravel on the edge of the path and we stopped for a closer look. We also saw several squashed ones, a hazard for the beetles crossing at this time of year, and a Devil’s Coach-horse too.

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle – on the path on the Autumn Trail

There were no waders on the mud at the back corner of the Freshmarsh today, just a couple of Moorhens in the edge of the reeds and several more Teal. Not surprisingly, the reeds were quiet too – everything was keeping tucked well down today, out of the wind. We decided to walk back round via Meadow Trail and out along the main path.

With all the diving ducks on Patsy’s at the moment, there were just a couple of Little Grebes and a Coot on the reedbed pool, so we continued straight on to Island Hide where we could also get some shelter. The strong wind blows the water away from the bank towards the back of the Freshmarsh, so there was a large expanse of drier mud in front of the hide today.

Several Teal were feeding in a small watery channel just below the hide, including a drake already moulting back out of eclipse plumage and starting to show its smart breeding plumage head pattern. Most of the other ducks were huddled in groups around the islands asleep, but checking through them carefully we found a single Pintail in with the Shovelers.

Teal

Teal – a drake moulting out of eclipse plumage

There were lots of waders on here again today. Plenty of Ruff, feeding out on the wetter mud along the edges of the water. A large flock of small waders kept flying up and whirling round, before landing back down on the mud somewhere different. They were very nervous today in the wind. When they settled, we could look through them. They were mostly Dunlin, juveniles with black-streaked bellies, but in with them was a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and three Ringed Plovers.

We got the scope on the Curlew Sandpiper and had a closer look at it. Alongside the Dunlin, it was clearly a touch larger and slimmer, with a clean white belly and orangey-buff wash on the breast. It’s bill was noticeably long and downcurved. Amazing to think that it was raised just a few weeks ago up in central Siberia and is now making its way down to Africa, with no guidance from its parents!

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile was out on the Freshmarsh again today

There were lots of godwits roosting out around the islands too. Mostly Black-tailed Godwits, but on closer inspection we could see there were quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with them and several Knot hiding in amongst there legs. We had a nice scope view of all three species together, giving us a nice comparison between the two godwit species in particular.

A single Turnstone appeared on the island nearby and a lone Golden Plover was resting on its belly on the mud too. There are still a few Avocets left here, even if most have now left for the winter, and they were feeding or roosting around the back of the small island further back.

Continuing on along the main path, we had a closer view of the Curlew Sandpiper on the mud before all the birds flew again. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet, with most of the mud quite dry at the moment, although there were a few Black-tailed Godwits down in the deep channel which runs back at the far end.

It was quite exposed out from the shelter of the bank. We could see lots of Oystercatchers roosting on the grassy island on the Tidal Pools and there were several Grey Plover here too, but it was hard to keep the scope steady out here in the wind. We continued on to the beach.

The sea was on its way in and had already covered the mussel beds. It was very choppy, but sheltering behind the dunes, we scanned across and managed to find two drake Eiders out on the water. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past. A small group of Oystercatchers came in up the beach but a single Bar-tailed Godwit found it more of a struggle, flying away to the east before battling in upwind. A single Golden Plover trying to fly west along the shoreline may have been a migrant arriving.

It was harder going, walking back into the wind, so we took a detour into Parrinder Hide for a rest. The main feature now was the number of gulls which had come in to the Freshmarsh since we had looked earlier, presumably escaping the wind out on the beach. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls but looking through them carefully we found a single Mediterranean Gull, a 1st winter with a black bandit mask. Scanning through the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls we found an adult Yellow-legged Gull, its mantle a shade darker than a Herring Gull, but with yellow rather than pink legs.

It was lunchtime and those who hadn’t brought their lunch with them and sneaked a quick sandwich in the hide were getting hungry! We made our way quickly back to the picnic area, which was sheltered from the wind and in the sunshine. The dragonflies appreciated it here too – there were lots of Migrant Hawkers buzzing around the trees and at least 15 Common Darters basking on a single bench next to us.

Common Darter

Common Darter – one of 15 basking on a single bench

After lunch, we made our way back east along the coast road. From the car, we picked up a couple of Red Kites on the way, one tussling with a Marsh Harrier. We parked just beyond Stiffkey and made our way down along the path to the Fen. A Kestrel was struggling to balance on top of a hawthorn bush out in the meadows as we passed.

The bushes along the footpath were uncharacteristically quiet – possibly due to the wind today. When we got to the point where you can see over the brambles, we immediately spotted the long line of white shapes in the vegetation on the island. Spoonbills – and, as usual, they were mostly asleep! One was awake though, busy bathing in the water just beyond, flashing its long yellow-tipped black spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – we counted 39 today, mostly asleep as usual

It was nice and sheltered here, and in the sun, so we paused a while here to scan the rest of the Fen. There were lots of waders roosting on the island in front of the Spoonbills, lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff. A group of Redshank was bathing in the water in front of the island and with them we could see two Greenshank, slightly larger, slimmer and more elegant, with brighter white underparts. A Green Sandpiper called.

There are lots of ducks on here too now. A group of rusty-coloured Wigeon were roosting in the vegetation on the edge of the channel and several Pintail were busy upending out in the water. Despite the fact that the drakes don’t have the long pin-shaped feathers at this time of year, we could still see their more pointed tails.

It was windy up on the seawall. We had a good look at the Spoonbills through the scope and counted them, 39 in all today, an impressive sight. We could see the Green Sandpiper along the edge at the back and we found a Common Snipe down in front of the reeds. From further along, we could see more Greenshank roosting along the far side.

Continuing on down to the corner overlooking Blakeney Harbour, we could see all the seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew back and forth over the water and we could see a young Gannet plunge diving into the sea beyond the sand bank. A summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver was swimming out in the deeper water of the harbour, but it was hard to see the red on its throat from here.

It was already high tide, but the water had not risen as far as expected in the harbour today, presumably held back by the wind. The waders were still all scattered over the remaining mud, feeding. We found a large group of Grey Plover, including several still mostly in breeding plumage with black faces and bellies. There were lots of Oystercatchers out here too.

It was time to start making our way back, but we had one last treat in store. As we walked back along the path beside the road, a Marsh Harrier appeared over the hedge in front of us and proceeded to quarter over the flower meadow, hanging in the wind. We had a great view of it, a smart adult male, with pale grey panel in the middle of its wings and pale grey tail.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a male, quartering the meadow by the road on our way back

As the Marsh Harrier drifted off, we continued back to the car and then found it again quartering the stubble field next to where we had parked. It was a nice way to end the day. Yes, it had been very windy, but we had enjoyed a great time and still managed to see a good selection of different birds and other wildlife.

16th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. After a cloudy start, it brightened up nicely, although there was a rather fresh wind which picked up during the morning. We planned to spend the first part of the day down in the Brecks, and then head back up to North Norfolk for the afternoon.

As we made our way south, a Red Kite flapped alongside us, over the field next to the road, a nice addition to the list.

When we got into the heart of the Brecks, we stopped to look for Stone Curlews. After the summer they gather together in large post-breeding flocks, which can be an impressive sight. The first field we tried is a regular site for them at this time of year and we immediately found ourselves looking at a sizeable flock.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlews – part of a large flock in the first field we visited

The Stone Curlews were gathered on the edge of the field, in the lee of a hedge, sheltered from the wind. The more we scanned up and down, the more we could see. We counted 46 Stone Curlews here, but we couldn’t see some birds which were hunkered down in a dip in the field. Someone else had counted 60 here a short while earlier.

When a lorry thundered past on the road, it spooked the birds and most of flock flew out into the middle of the field. We could really appreciate the numbers now. Most of the Stone Curlews ran quickly back to the edge, but some settled down out on the bare ground, where they disappeared. They are very well camouflaged!

Carrying on a little further along the road, we stopped at another field. At first it looked empty. But as we scanned carefully, we found more Stone Curlews hiding in the low vegetation on a patch of rough ground. Each time we scanned across, we spotted more – there were at least another 23 Stone Curlews here. The birds were a bit closer here and we had some great views of them in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we had some great views of them today

We drove on to another spot overlooking a large pig field. There were lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and hundreds of corvids, Rooks, Jackdaws and Carrion Crows, in amongst the pigs. We checked along the margins of the field opposite, where we found some Red-legged Partridges, another new bird for the weekend’s list.

The cloud had started to break now, and we could feel the warmth of the sun. The breeze was strengthening too, good conditions for raptors. We thought we would try our luck, so we drove to a spot of high ground overlooking the forest. There were several Common Buzzards in the air already, hanging in the breeze. A Mistle Thrush flew across and landed in top of trees.

We didn’t have to wait long before a Goshawk appeared. It was a juvenile, brown above and orangey-buff below as it turned in the sunlight. A Kestrel appeared next to it, tiny by comparison, and proceeded to mob it, and the Goshawk responded by having a go back. The two of them circled up, periodically swooping at each other. They seemed to be doing it just for fun, enjoying the wind.

For several minutes, the Goshawk and the Kestrel circled up, gaining height. Finally, the Kestrel decided it had had enough and drifted away. The Goshawk closed its wings and dropped vertically out of the sky, straight down into the trees below. It had certainly been a great start to the day, down in Brecks.

We headed back up to North Norfolk for the rest of the day. Titchwell was already busy when we arrived, and the car parks were pretty full. We found a space in the overflow car park but with all the disturbance now the bushes and brambles here were quiet. As we walked along the path towards the visitor centre, we could hear a tit flock in the sallows. We stopped for a minute and could see Long-tailed Tits flitting around and a Goldcrest with them.

A quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre produced a good selection of finches –  several Greenfinches, as well as Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A Dunnock was hopping around on the ground below. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to head out along Fen Trail. We met the tit flock again in the sallows this side, and a Chiffchaff was calling right above us. As we passed Fen Hide, we looked up to see a Red Underwing, a large moth resting on the side wall, well camouflaged against the wooden boards.

Red Underwing

Red Underwing – resting on the side of Fen Hide

Round at Patsy’s reedbed, we immediately spotted the two Red-crested Pochards busy upending in front of the screen. They are both females, pale-cheeked, dark-capped and with a pale-tipped dark bill. There were also a few Common Pochards too, in with the commoner dabbling ducks – lots of Gadwall, a few Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – two females on Patsy’s Reedbed

As we stood and scanned across the reedbeds, we saw several Swallows flying past, heading west. They are on their way now, heading off to Africa for the winter, autumn migration in action.

The Autumn Trail is open at this time of year, so we carried on round towards the far corner of the Freshmarsh. There were lots of Common Darter dragonflies along the path, basking down on the gravel, which flew up ahead of us. A Bloody-nosed Beetle was slowly crossing the path as well.

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle – crossing the path on the Autumn Trail

At the end of Autumn Trail we could see several larger white shapes in with the roosting gulls out on the Freshmarsh. They were five Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best, and mostly asleep. It was high tide, so they had come in from the saltmarsh channels to roost. We have been spoilt for Spoonbills this weekend, so they weren’t quite the attraction now compared to the earlier ones we had seen!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – in with the roosting gulls on the back of the Freshmarsh

A Common Snipe was busy feeding down on the edge of the reeds and a single Ruff was out on the open mud in front. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reedbed but they were unsurprisingly keeping tucked down in the now very brisk breeze. However, as we headed back for lunch, one flew up from the other side of the bank and across the path behind us, disappearing straight out over the reedbed.

After lunch, we headed out along the main path onto the reserve. The reedbed pool was quiet today. We heard another Bearded Tit calling from somewhere down in the reeds. We continued on to Island Hide and started to scan the Freshmarsh. It didn’t take too long to pick up the Curlew Sandpiper. It was a juvenile, scaly-backed and white bellied with a pale orangey wash on the breast. It was with a couple of streaky-bellied juvenile Dunlin, so we had a nice side-by-side comparison in the scope.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile, out on the Freshmarsh

There are still good numbers of Ruff on the reserve, but they are all in either non-breeding or juvenile plumage now. A large flock of godwits was roosting around the islands. Through the scope, we could see they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits, but with a smaller number of Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too. Some of the Bar-tailed Godwits still had the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage.

We could see several Golden Plovers too, hiding in amongst the vegetation on the islands. Some of them were also still sporting some black on the belly left over from their summer plumage. Three or four Ringed Plovers were running around on the mud and we could see a few Avocets scattered around the water still too.

The smaller waders were very jumpy in the wind and kept flying round and landing again. It was hard to keep tabs on where the Curlew Sandpiper was. The presence of several raptors didn’t help either – one or two Marsh Harriers over the reedbed and a brief Hobby over the seawall at the back of the Freshmarsh.

Continuing on out along the main path towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Ruff in down in the far corner of the Freshmarsh, just below path. We could see its loose feathers ruffled in the swirling wind.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding in the corner of the Freshmarsh, just below the path

The Volunteer Marsh looked quite quiet as we walked past, but there were more waders in the channel at the far end. The tide was going out now and lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Curlews were busy feeding on the wet mud. One Grey Plover was hiding down in the channel right at the back. We had better views of a nice close Black-tailed Godwit just below the path. We noted its plain grey-brown upperparts, in non-breeding plumage now.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showed well by the path on Volunteer Marsh

The ‘Tidal Pools’ are not tidal any more and are now very full of water again after the recent very high tides. Just a small area of island is still exposed. The Oystercatchers were roosting on here, in the vegetation, and we could see several Grey Plover and Knot, and a single Turnstone here too. One particularly smart Grey Plover emerged from the vegetation – its was still pretty much in breeding plumage, with black face and belly and bright white brow and breast sides. It has presumably only just returned and will start to moult very soon.

Out at the beach, the tide was still going out. We could see a large flock of godwits down on the shore, waiting for the mussel beds to emerge from the sea. The sea was quite choppy but as we scanned across, we spotted a smart Red-throated Diver on the water, not too far out. It was still in breeding plumage and as it turned into the sun, we could see its red throat. There were several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea too and we managed to find a single drake Common Scoter but it was tricky to see in the swell.

Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and having just remarked that there should be an Arctic Skua out here, one flew in. It landed on the water, then took off again and started chasing after a Sandwich Tern, the two of them twisting and turning in front of the wind farm. We couldn’t see if the Arctic Skua was successful in getting the tern to surrender its last catch, but the skua dropped down again onto the sea. One or two Gannets passed by offshore too.

On our way back, we stopped in at Parrinder Hide. There were several Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits in the vegetation on the islands and a flock of Linnets dropped in for a drink. A scan round the margins located a Common Snipe, feeding just inside the fence on Avocet Island. We couldn’t find any other different waders from here today though. A Chinese Water Deer was chomping on the reeds in the edge of the reedbed opposite.

We had not seen or heard so many Pink-footed Geese moving today, until late on in the afternoon. We looked across towards Brancaster and could see several large skeins flying over, heading inland. Presumably they were just returned from Iceland for the winter, on their way to Snettisham and cutting the corner off rather than following the coast. A small group came our way, flying in low over the Freshmarsh, where it looked like they might drop in. But they continued on over our heads and away to the west.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were more on the move again late afternoon

We made our way back to the car park – its was time to head for home. It had been a very enjoyable three days exploring some different parts of Norfolk, and we had seen a very good selection of birds and other wildlife.

15th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. After a cloudy start, it brightened up and was then nice and sunny until it clouded over again later in the day. We spent the day today exploring the North Norfolk coast.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl quartering over some wet grazing marshes. There had been some rain overnight, so perhaps it had struggled to hunt and was therefore still out this morning. We managed to pull up and watch it for a few minutes as it worked its way round and round over the grass. A great start to the day.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the grazing meadow by the road

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a grey-winged male Marsh Harrier flew in across the field next to us. We had a good view of it, before it disappeared round behind the trees.

Some birds were feeding in the tramlines through the stubble. As well as a couple of Pheasants, there were four Stock Doves. We had a good look at them through the scope, noting their glossy green neck patches  and black spots on the wings. When the Marsh Harrier returned, the Stock Doves took off and we could see the neat blackish trailing edge to their wings and the lack of any white wing stripe.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – quartering over the stubble

There were two Brown Hares in the field opposite. We could hear a Kestrel alarm calling and a Common Buzzard mewing, but it was still probably a bit too early and too cool for the latter to be up circling above the trees.

Along the footpath beside the river, we found the big tit flock again but the birds were keeping hidden in the trees this morning. We could see several Long-tailed Tits and we heard one or two Chiffchaffs. A male Blackcap appeared on the outside of a bush eating blackberries. While we were watching the flock, three Bullfinches flew in calling and landed in the trees with them, before disappeared off in the other direction along the river bank.

There is a point along the path here where you can see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. When we got there, we were immediately struck by a long line of white birds asleep on one of the islands. A very large group of Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were at least 36 on the Fen today

There were some waders visible from here too. Eight Greenshanks were tucked up along the edge of the reeds at the back, along with a couple of Green Sandpipers. There were more waders hidden from our view behind the reeds at the front, but while we stood here more flew in to join them, presumably coming in from the harbour as the tide rose. There were flocks of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits dropping in, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit too.

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills. Some even woke up briefly and flashed their spoon-shaped bills. One adult on the edge of the flock was pursued remorselessly by a juvenile begging to be fed, bouncing its head up and down and flapping its wings. Through the scope, we could count them properly too – the grand total of 36 Spoonbills here today. Quite an impressive sight!

We could see all the waders roosting out in the water in the middle from here too. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were good numbers of Common Redshank. Looking closely, we found a single Spotted Redshank with them too, noticeably paler grey above, whiter below, and with a more noticeable pale supercilium just visible, despite the fact it was asleep with its bill tucked in.

There are lots of ducks on here now, as birds have returned for the winter. Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and one or two Shoveler. In the water, busy upending, were ten Pintail. There are always plenty of Greylags here, with more dropping in from the fields beyond all the time. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying west overhead all morning, birds returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Goose – several small groups flew west this morning

Looking out across the harbour from the seawall, we could see lots of seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point. Several Sandwich Terns were fishing out in the pit and beyond, in the distance, we could see two dark juvenile Gannets plunge diving in the sea the off the Point.

We picked up a falcon flying in fast and low across the harbour and when it turned and climbed towards the Fen we could see it was a Hobby. It came in over the seawall just beyond us and dropped down low over the Fen. It seemed to realise there was nothing suitably-sized here to chase though, because it promptly climbed and disappeared off west without spooking all the waders.

Continuing on a little further along the seawall, we looked back and scanned the other side of the Fen. There were more Greenshank roosting here, another 20 to add to the eight or so we had seen earlier.

As we walked round towards the harbour, we could see more waders flying round near the edge of the water, beyond the saltmarsh, flushed from where they had been roosting. We watched as a large group of Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits flew in and landed again.

When we got to the corner, we could just see part of the roosting flocks on a spit of mud. The birds in view were mostly Grey Plover, several still sporting various amounts of black on their underparts. There were Oystercatchers and Curlews on the mud here too. The waders were all flushed by a boat full of rowers which came ashore on the sand, flying round before landing again further round, out of view. Across the other side of the channel, we got the scope on a small roosting flock of Turnstones, up on the edge of the saltmarsh.

We turned and started to make our way back. The sun was coming out now and it was warm in some of the more sheltered spots along the path. Several Speckled Wood butterflies were sunning themselves along the hedge.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – there were several out on our walk back from the Fen

Our next destination was Cley. We arrived there still with some time before lunch, so we decided to have a walk up the East Bank first. As we walked up onto the bank from the car park, we looked back towards Snipe’s Marsh. We could see several waders over there, so we decided to walk over the road first, for a closer look.

Two Spotted Redshanks were sleeping in the cut reeds. We were looking into the sun at first, but we made our way round to where we could get a better view of them. When they woke up, we could see their long, needle fine bills. There were two Green Sandpipers feeding out on the mud too, as well as a good number of Common Snipe, appropriately enough here!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of two on Snipe’s Marsh

A small bird flew across and landed in the base of the reeds at the far side. Flashing white in the outer tail as it landed, we might have expected it to be a Reed Bunting here but we caught a glint of yellow as it dropped in. It was a Yellowhammer – not quite where we would expect to see one! A Reed Warbler working its way round the base of the reeds at the back was less of a surprise.

Given we were at Walsey Hills now, we had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes. We heard several Chiffchaffs calling, and a Coal Tit singing, but nothing else today, despite the fact the ivy here was alive with insects in the sunshine.

Over on the East Bank, it was surprisingly breezy as we walked out. We heard several Bearded Tits calling from various places in the reeds, but not surprisingly they were keeping well down today.

Looking further up, we could see a large white bird in the water at the north end of the Serpentine. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, so we walked up there for a closer look. We watched it sweeping its bill methodically back and forth through the shallows, occasionally throwing its head back when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on its own in the Serpentine

Otherwise on the Serpentine there was just a single Black-tailed Godwit, one Snipe and an Avocet, as well as a selection of commoner dabbling ducks. Pope’s Pool beyond held a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a handful of Ruff. A small group of Swallows flew through, heading determinedly west, on their way back to Africa for the winter.

There were not so many birds out on Arnold’s Marsh today, more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlew. We carried on out to the beach, but it was very quiet looking out to sea too, with surprisingly little moving today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A quick look at Whitwell Scrape produced just a couple of Lapwing and a few ducks. We could see more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, but by the time we walked round to Dauke’s Hide, the flock of nine Dunlin we had seen drop in had flown off again. There were still two Ringed Plover on here and lots of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding up to their bellies in the water in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – one of many on Simmond’s Scrape

Looing across to Pat’s Pool, another Spotted Redshank was feeding on the edge of the reeds. Three Dunlin were initially towards the far side, but helpfully then flew round and landed at the front with two juvenile Ruff. Two Common Snipe were very well camouflaged out on the edge of one of the islands, hard to see until you looked through the scope.

We were planning to head out to North Scrape, as we had seen several waders landing over there, but by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre we could see one of the wardens out there on a tractor, topping the grassy edges of the scrape. A quick change of plan, and we drove back to Iron Road instead.

As we walked up along the Iron Road to look at the pools, two Spotted Redshanks flew in and landed on the area of open water just to the east. They looked to be the same two that we had seen on Snipe’s Marsh earlier. A small group of Meadow Pipits flew high overhead calling, but they could just as easily have been local birds as migrants moving.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – feeding on the grazing meadows by Iron Road

On the other side of Iron Road, there were lots of geese out on the grazing marsh, mainly Greylags but with several pairs of Egyptian Geese too. The escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck was with them – interesting to see, but as it has come out of a cage somewhere it doesn’t count!

We walked round on the path Babcock Hide next. There was no one in the hide and we got quite a shock when we opened the window and found a cow staring back at us, just a few inches away! The cows were feeding right in front of the hide and were very inquisitive, poking their noses in through the flaps. They were not particularly helpful either, blocking the view.

Babcock Hide

Babcock Hide – we got quite a shock when we opened the flaps!

We could just about see what was on the pool here though. On our way out here, we had seen a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits flying in and out from the stubble field across the road, where they were feeding. There were still several loafing about out in the water. Further back, two Pintail were busy feeding, upending in amongst the Mallards. With their rear ends in the air, we could see their more pointed tails.

As we made our way back along the path, we heard a Whimbrel calling. We looked over towards the pool by Iron Road and saw it circle once before continuing on its way west, disappearing off over Walsey Hills. Surprisingly, given the time of year, this was the first migrant wader we had seen on the move today.

On our way back west, we diverted off the coast road and headed inland. We scanned the fields for partridges, but couldn’t see any today, as we made our way up to a regular site for Little Owl. It didn’t take long to find one, perched on the roof of one of the farm buildings. It was rather distant, but we had a good look at it through the scope. It was a suitably appropriate way to end the day, as we had begun, with an owl.

14th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a nice bright and sunny start, and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon it stayed dry all day. With reports of a couple of interesting birds down in East Norfolk yesterday, and a few more migrants around there, we headed down to the Broads.

As we drove down towards Winterton, which was to be our first destination for the day, we scanned the fields for any sign of Cranes, but we couldn’t see any this morning. They are not so easy to find at this time of year.

When we got to Winterton, we headed straight off into the South Dunes. As we got to the first trees, we could see Blue Tits in the sycamores, but there didn’t appear to be anything else with them. Just beyond, some movement in the dense brambles on the slope turned out to be a Lesser Whitethroat, once it came out enough for us to see it. Probably a migrant, stopped here to feed on its journey south.

A little further along, there was lots of activity in the bushes. A big flock of House Sparrows was chattering away in the white flowers of old man’s beard. A Chiffchaff flew out and darted into the brambles and then a Common Whitethroat appeared there too. Another bird flew up and perched on the top of the bushes next to the sparrows – a Whinchat. It flew again, into some thick elders, where it thought we couldn’t see it. But from the right angle, we could get a clear look at it in the scope.

Whinchat

Whinchat – perched in the elders, thinking we couldn’t see it

The trees just beyond held more Blue Tits and a Blackcap. Another Chiffchaff showed nicely in a birch tree, fluttering around in the leaves looking for insects. Another bird flew out and landed in the trees higher up the slope. A Redstart – another migrant breaking its journey here. It was quite hard to see, perched motionless in the leaves, until it flew again, darting across the path and disappearing round the back of some oaks the other side.

We walked round to the other side of the trees, but there was no further sign of the Redstart. However, we could see two crows feeding on the grassy slope of the dunes across the valley. They were noticeably grey around the nape and through the scope we could see they were Hooded Crow hybrids. One had more grey on it than the other, but neither had enough, in the right places to be a pure Hooded Crow. They intergrade fairly commonly with Carrion Crows, which was clearly the case with these two. Interesting birds to see anyway.

Hooded Crow hybrids

Hooded Crow hybrids – feeding in the dunes

As we carried on south, there were several more warblers in the bushes – it was nice to see a few migrants here, despite the SW winds. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling, possibly on their way south.

There had been a Barred Warbler here yesterday, but when we got to the bushes where it was last seen we found several people looking, but no sign of the bird. Our second Lesser Whitethroat of the morning showed nicely on the outside of the hawthorns, eating blackberries, and while we were watching it a Sparrowhawk circled up over the houses at the top of the ridge. Another Chiffchaff was flitting about in the bushes too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – feeding up, in the birches

When we heard Swallows alarm calling, we looked up to see a flock flying over followed a few seconds later by a Hobby. It was a lovely clear view as it flew past at eye level, before climbing up and disappearing over the ridge. As it banked, we could see its orange-red trousers.

There were quite a few butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, mostly various whites. On the walk back, a Grayling basked on the brambles, angling itself to catch the sun and a Small Copper landed nearby, down in the grass.

Grayling

Grayling – basking in the brambles

A Reeve’s Muntjac was feeding in the bushes half way up the slope. It stopped eating, stared at us for a minute or so, and then resumed its lunch. It seemed completely unconcerned by us passing close by.

Muntjac

Reeve’s Muntjac – stood and stared at us

As we got back to the road, it had clouded over and it felt like the wind had picked up a little, although we had been sheltered from it in the valley. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to continue on into the North Dunes, to see if we could find a Wheatear. However, as we walked through the dunes, we were surprised to find almost no birds at all, not even a Meadow Pipit or a Linnet!

We got as far as the ‘east pond’, but it was cool and breezy here now and there were no signs of any Willow Emerald around the single small sallow. These damselflies are only very recent colonists in the UK and this can be a good place to see them. Up at the top of the dunes just beyond, we had a great panoramic view, but once again there was a surprising lack of  birds. We decided to head back.

On our way back past the ‘east pond’, we at least had a brief view of two Willow Emerald damselflies around the sallow, although they quickly disappeared back in. There were several Common Darters which were more obliging, one or two Migrant Hawkers buzzing round, and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly down in the rushes in the edge of the water.

When we got back to the car park, it was time for lunch. As we ate, looking out to sea next to the boat sheds, a damselfly flew in and landed right at our feet. It was a Willow Emerald! It narrowly avoided being trodden on and flew up to bask on one of the sheds where we had a much better view of it than the two we had seen briefly earlier.

Willow Emerald

Willow Emerald – basked briefly on one of the boat sheds

There were a few Mediterranean Gulls moving offshore, flying north along the coast. Two landed on the sea, an adult with bright red bill, black bandit mask and clean white wing tips, and a more subtle first winter.

After lunch, we headed inland to Potter Heigham to look for wildfowl and any waders. There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing meadows as we made our way in, accompanied by a pair of Egyptian Geese.

From up on the bank, we could scan the pools and we immediately spotted several Ruff out on the mud and a good number of Common Snipe around the edges of the reeds. Two Common Sandpipers were working their way round different parts of the shore. A flock of Golden Plover flew up and circled round calling and another group of smaller waders flew in and landed on the mud in the middle – nine Ringed Plover accompanied by a single Dunlin.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – flying round over the pools

There were plenty of ducks here too, though the majority of the drakes are currently in their dull eclipse plumage, so they are not looking their best. Still, we could see a nice selection of Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon.

As we continued round on the bank, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the back of the grazing marshes in the distance, the other side of the channel. Their high pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese high overhead. Flocks of these geese have been seen along the coast, returning from Iceland for the winter, in the last few days. These might well have just been returning here too, as this area is a regular roost site for Pink-footed Geese in the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – likely fresh arrivals just back from Iceland

When we got to the river bank over the far side of the pools, we looked back to see a Hobby over hanging in the air over the grazing marshes the other side. It kept swooping down behind the trees before flying up again, presumably catching dragonflies low over the wet grass.

The pools over on this side have dried out a lot over the summer, but there are still some nice areas of water. When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to find one asleep in some small tufts of grass on the edge of the mud. Three Green Sandpipers were feeding in one of the pools, along with a Ruff.

Otherwise, there were also more geese and ducks on this side, including a smart drake Wigeon back in breeding plumage already. A large group of Cormorants were sleeping on one of the islands.

The cloud had thickened progressively through the afternoon and the sky was now rather grey. We decided to walk back. On the way, we found two more Green Sandpipers on one of the other pools. A smart grey-winged male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the drier areas of the marshes.

With a long journey ahead of us, we decided to head for home. More again tomorrow…

13th Sept 2018 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular today, up on the Wash watching the whirling flocks of birds. It was a lovely bright sunny start to the day, if a little chilly first thing! It did cloud over a little but there were still some bright intervals in the afternoon.

It was an early start, which saw us heading up to Snettisham to get there well ahead of the rising tide, so we could watch the waders gathering. As we made our way down towards the seawall we could already see some huge flocks of birds swirling high in the sky – something had obviously spooked them.

When we got up onto the seawall, so we could see out across the Wash, there was still a huge flock of Golden Plover twisting and turning out over the mud. They looked stunning as they caught the morning sun, alternating golden brown and bright white. After a few minutes, they disappeared off inland, presumably heading off to roost in the fields. The Oystercatchers had all landed back down on the mud, but we couldn’t see many Knot out here. At first, we weren’t sure where they had gone.

1 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – flying in to join the throng in the morning sun

More Oystercatchers flew in from further up the Wash across in front of us, and again the morning light meant they positively shone. They flew out and joined the throng massed on the mud. There were lots of Ringed Plover down on the mud just in front of us and we had a good look at a single Bar-tailed Godwit down there too. Further out, on the other side of the channel, four Spoonbills marched across the mud ahead of the rising water.

A large group of Dunlin flew in and zoomed nervously backwards and forwards over the channel in front of us, before settling on the mud further out. More Knot started to appear too, in several flocks of various sizes, but they flew in over us and seemed to be heading in to the pits to roost already. Normally they are just about the last to leave the mud!

2 Knot

Knot – several flocks flew in past us onto the pits

The tide was rising fast now. A couple of bright silvery-grey and white Sanderling and a Turnstone joined the other small waders down at the front but flew off with the Ringed Plover as the water started to come in. A lone Avocet was about the last to leave the mud there, waiting until the water was almost up to its belly before taking off.

The huge flock of Oystercatchers was on the edge of the water now. They didn’t seem to be too concerned and on closer inspection we could see why – they were walking up the mud ahead of the tide, like a vast flowing liquid. We made our way further up too. As we walked past the pits, we peaked over the bank and could see that there were already lots of Knot on the islands there. They had obviously flown in to roost already, even before we got there.

3 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – started peeling off in waves

Some of the Oystercatchers then started to give up and head for the pits, peeling off in waves. We stationed ourselves at a suitable spot on the path where they were coming in right over our heads. Amazing to watch!

4 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – the flocks came in right over our heads!

More birds were flying in all the time, from further around the Wash. The remaining Oystercatchers were getting ever more concentrated into the last corner of the remaining exposed mud. Beyond them, we could see lots of Sanderling and Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Grey Plover, as well as still quite a few Knot.

5 Waders

Waders – became ever more concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud

More of the waders started to throw in the towel and head off to roost, realising it was futile to resist the tide rising ever higher. The Sanderling headed off back up the Wash to roost somewhere else and the Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits stood their ground, but we stood and watched as the others headed in past us in waves, landing behind on the pits.

A Marsh Harrier quartering the saltmarsh just beyond managed to get most of the remaining birds in the air. Even the Curlews took off but landed again in the vegetation further back.

Once the majority of the birds had left the Wash, we headed off to have a look at the Pits. As we walked along the boardwalk, a couple of Spoonbills flew in and dropped down onto the pits. It was unbelievably busy at Snettisham today, and when we got to the temporary screen/hide at the south end, we found we couldn’t get in, so we decided to continue on round and scan from the far side.

The light was much better on the east side. We stopped on the boardwalk where we could see across onto part of the pit. The far bank was coated in Oystercatchers, shifting nervously. Below them, on the water’s edge, we could see a few Black-tailed Godwits. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was with them, much more obviously patterned on the upperparts, giving a great side by side comparison.

There were three Spoonbills on one of the islands, doing what they like to do best – sleeping! They did wake up from time to time and show us their bills, two juveniles and a single adult, the latter with a yellow tip to its black bill. There were a couple of Pintail with the Mallards on the water nearby too.

Carrying on round on the path, we passed a few Egyptian Geese on the grass with the Greylags. From up on the inner seawall, we could see part of the islands at the northern part of the pit and they were full of waders. From a distance they looked just like stones, but on closer inspection one was covered in tightly packed Knot. Another held a more varied mix – Turnstones on the edge, Knot mixed with godwits just behind and Dunlin scattered more widely at the back.

There were still a few Common Terns on one of the islands – adults in various stages of moult to non-breeding plumage and several brown-backed juveniles. A Little Grebe was diving on the water in front.

The crowds in the hides seemed to be thinning out a bit, but the benches in the south screen were still largely taken up with a rank of large-lens touting photographers in residence. There was room for us to stand behind them now at least though!

The islands at this end were filled mainly with Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits, but there were some small groups of Common Redshank around the margins and three Greenshank with them down at the front. A moulting juvenile Spotted Redshank asleep nearby looked very like the Common Redshanks until it woke up and flashed its longer, needle-fine bill.

Greenshank

Greenshank – with the Redshank and Dunlin in front of the south screen

There were a few Dunlin and Knot down at this end too, but most of the smaller waders were on the islands at the other end of the pit, so we made our way round to Shore Hide next for a closer look.

The island right in front of Shore Hide was packed with birds. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits but hiding in amongst them were lots of Knot. Most of them are in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but several were still wearing the remains of their orange summer underparts. The next island over seemed to be wall-to-wall Knot!

6 Knot

Knot – hiding in with the Black-tailed Godwits

There were more Spotted Redshanks out in the middle here, roosting with Black-tailed Godwits in amongst the rocks where the Cormorants were loafing. There were a few Common Redshanks too and we possibly couldn’t see all of them, but we counted at least 11 Spotted Redshanks here, mostly adults in non-breeding plumage now.

We hadn’t been in the hide long before the Knot started to shuffle nervously. It was already an hour or so after high tide, and the sea would be receding now. A few took off from the edge of one of the islands and as they flew round over the pit, more and more Knot took off to join them before they started to head off over the bank.

7 Knot

Knot – the packed flocks on the islands started to take off

We decided to go outside, back to the edge of the Wash. Perfect timing, as we got out to find a huge swirling flock of Knot out over the mud. They twisted and turned, making various shapes in the sky, breaking into separate flocks before flying back across each other and then coalescing again. Finally – a proper spectacular display from the Knot!

8 Knot

Knot – the swirling flocks made various shapes in the sky

11 Knot

More Knot – more shapes!

The Knot were clearly still unsure at first as to whether to head back out onto the Wash or not. The flock turned and came back in, over our heads. The sky above us was filled with thousands of birds and all we could hear was the beating of thousands of wings. Breathtaking!

10 Knot

Knot – thousands flying over our heads

They circled over the pits again for a minute or two before deciding they didn’t like the look of those either, then headed back out over the Wash and disappeared away into the distance. We stood on the edge of the Wash for a while. The Oystercatchers started to filter back out from the pits in lines, before landing in big groups back out on the newly exposed mud.

Eventually, it looked like that might be the end of it for today, so we started to walk back along the path. As we did so, we scanned the mud. A Spoonbill appeared and began to feed in the small pools, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the water, head down. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past, flashing its all-white wings and a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed on the edge of the water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the muddy pools after the tide receded

Looking over the bank, we could see there were still quite a few Knot packed tight on one of the islands on the pit. They didn’t seem like they were too inclined to move, but as we walked further on something spooked all the birds behind us and another wave of Knot flew over the bank and out low across the Wash. They swirled around for a couple of minutes – giving us one last display – before settling down on the mud.

12 Knot

Knot – the last wave gave us a final display

It had been a great morning at Snettisham, and we headed off to Titchwell next. It was midday when we arrived there, and after our early start it was time for lunch! After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve – we didn’t have as long as usual here today, but we would see what we could find.

The reedbed pool was quiet, save for three Coot and a single Little Grebe. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were well out in the reeds and there was a fresher breeze now, so they were keeping tucked down. We continued on to Island Hide.

There were plenty of Ruff on the mud in front of the hide. They can be the most confusing wader to identify and we looked at two which were very close – a winter adult male and a much smaller juvenile female. They almost looked like two different species!

Ruff

Ruff – an adult, in non-breeding plumage

There was a nice selection of other waders. A huddle of Black-tailed Godwits around the islands. A flock of Golden Plover on one of the strips of mud, with a few black-bellied birds still sporting the remnants of their breeding plumage. A couple of Dunlin on the mud in front of the reeds, juvenile birds with spotted bellies. Two Ringed Plover were running around the edge of one of the islands.

Numbers have dropped substantially from late summer, when the local population was boosted by birds coming to moult, but there are still quite a few Avocet here. One was feeding quite close to the hide, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the shallow water. It was quite brown-backed, a juvenile.

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of the hide

We could hear Bearded Tits calling at one point, but despite scanning back and forth along the edge of the reeds periodically, we couldn’t find any here today.

The two Pink-footed Geese with mangled wings, which have been here all summer, were on one of the islands, over towards Parrinder Hide. There were plenty of ducks too – Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler mainly – all in their rather drab eclipse plumage. Several Shelduck were all juveniles, with the bulk of the adults having gone off to the continent to moult.

Continuing on along the main path, we scanned the margins and the edges of the islands hoping for a Common Snipe, but we couldn’t find one today. There were plenty of Linnets in the vegetation on the islands, and a few Pied Wagtails around the muddy edges.

Volunteer Marsh was fairly quiet, apart from a Curlew and a Redshank, until we got to the channel at the far end. A Black-tailed Godwit was probing its long bill in the mud just below the path and a Little Egret was fishing in the narrows. Scanning the muddy banks either side of the channel on the north side, there were lots more Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshank, and a single Grey Plover.

After the recent big tides, the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ have filled up again. As a consequence, there was nothing on here today – very few of the islands are now visible above the water. So we continued on to the beach.

With the tide out now, there were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach. We could see good numbers of Curlew, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Turnstones and Knot. However, we were hoping we might find a Whimbrel but there was no sign of one. The sea was pretty quiet too. There had been a Red-necked Grebe offshore earlier, before the tide went out, but all we could find now was a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

On our way back, we called in at Parrinder Hide. At first it looked like there was nothing different to see from here. Several Linnets, Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits were feeding in the tall vegetation on the islands. We were hoping at least to find a Common Snipe here, but just after we had announced we couldn’t find one, a Common Snipe walked out onto the edge of the island to the left of the hide. Typical!

A wader dropped in onto the spit at the end of Avocet Island and through the scope we could see it was a Common Sandpiper. It stopped to bathe and then walked up onto the shore to preen, before running off round the back. Just a few seconds later, another Common Sandpiper appeared on the mud just to the left of the hide. We could tell it was a different bird to the one we had just seen, as this second one had a gammy leg and a noticeable limp.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper – the second one we saw from Parrinder Hide

As we scanned the edge of the reeds over the far side of the Freshmarsh, all we found at first were more Common Snipe. Suddenly they seemed to be everywhere! Then we spotted a Bearded Tit working its way low along the reed edge on the back of the mud. It was distant, but we could see it was a smart male, with a powder blue head and black moustache. A couple of minutes later we found two juveniles a little further over, feeding on the open mud. Then a Water Rail appeared nearby too, coming out of the reeds for a quick bathe before walking in and out of the vegetation along the back edge.

It had been well worth the diversion into Parrinder Hide. As we walked back towards the visitor centre we finally got our Whimbrel. We heard one calling, and looked across the saltmarsh towards the beach to see two Whimbrel flying past in the distance.

We thought that was it. It had been a quick visit to Titchwell this afternoon, but we were due back. We were packed up, in the car and driving out of the car park when we saw several people looking intently up into the trees. We opened the window and asked what they had seen and the reply came ‘Turtle Dove‘.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves – these two were in the trees at the back of the car park

Everyone disembarked again and we had a great view of the two Turtle Doves perched in the trees at the back of the car park, preening and dozing in the afternoon sun. It was a perfect way to end the day.

11th Sept 2018 – Coastal Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today in North Norfolk. Having done so well out on the marshes and coast yesterday, particularly with waders and wildfowl, we decided to do something different today and try to find some woodland and farmland birds. The weather was not entirely helpful – it was rather cool and windy and the expected rain arrived earlier than forecast. Although it was just light drizzle it continued through to the middle of the afternoon. Still, it didn’t stop us getting out.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham Park. As we got out of the car, we could hear a tit flock above us in the holm oaks and a Nuthatch was piping from one of the trees. It played rather hard to get for a while, hiding in the dense branches up in the tops. As well as the tits, we managed to see a couple of Goldcrests before the Nuthatch finally came out onto the edge of one of the trees.

Through the gates, we stopped to look at the feeders by one of the houses. There were several Great Tits coming and going and, after a short while, they were joined by another Nuthatch on the peanuts. We could see movement in the yew tree nearby and a Song Thrush flew out. A second Song Thrush was still feeding on the berries in the back of the tree, but hard to see in the dense foliage, as were a couple of Blackbirds.

As we continued on down towards the lake, we could hear Jays calling and one flew across between the trees as we arrived at the open area by the monument. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees.

When we got to the lake, we could see a raft of ducks and grebes out on the open water in front of the hall, so we walked up that way first. There were several families of Great Crested Grebes on the lake, the adults still with their summer crests accompanied by stripy-headed juveniles, and we had a good look at them through the scope. Most of the ducks were Shoveler, with smaller numbers of Teal, Mallard and Gadwall, but just one Tufted Duck.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebe – one of several families still on the lake

There were three Fallow Deer bucks out in the long grass across the lake, and when we walked down a little further towards the hall, we could see the bulk of the herd over towards the entrance road, sitting down on the shorter grass. A flock of Egyptian Geese were feeding on the outfield of the cricket pitch in front of the hall.

Heading back the other way, up towards the north end of the lake, there were a couple more families of Great Crested Grebes – they seem to have done well here this year. As we got into the trees again, a smart Fallow Deer buck was feeding close to the path and let us approach quite closely before it finally ran off.

Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer – this buck was feeding in the trees by the path

We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees ahead of us and we walked up to find a mixed tit flock on the edge of the lake. As well as the other regular tits, we had nice views of a pair of Coal Tits in a pine tree – a new bird for the list. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees behind us, and when we turned to look for it we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly out and land in a tree above our heads. By the time we turned our attention back to the Treecreeper, it had gone quiet.

A small falcon appeared from over the trees at the back and flew towards us over the lake. As it banked, we could see it had thin, scythe-shaped wings – a Hobby! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and quickly disappeared over the treetops on our side of the water. Still, it was a good bird to see.

From the north end of the lake, we headed back through the trees. It was pretty quiet – apart from a Brown Hare which ran across the path – until we got back to the monument. We could hear a tit flock again and a couple of Treecreepers were calling from somewhere further in. We stood on the track and waited to see if they would come our way, but they seemed to be moving away from us. At that point it started to drizzle with rain. As we hadn’t been expecting it to arrive so early, and were not all equipped with our waterproofs, we made a hasty retreat back to the car.

We were planning to make our way east today, but rather than follow the coast road, we headed inland to look for some farmland birds on the way. Our first search for Grey Partridge at a good site for them drew a blank – a Kestrel on a post and a Common Buzzard in a field were the best birds here.

As we cut across behind the Park, we stopped to scan a field and a Green Sandpiper flew across and landed in a puddle in the gateway. It stayed just long enough for us to get a look at it, then flew off – a bit of a surprise find out here!

A little further on, we found a mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover in a field of young oilseed rape. As we had only seen Golden Plover in flight yesterday, we got out to have a closer look in the scope. There were several smaller birds in the field too – a flock of Linnets and a smaller group of Meadow Pipits, another new bird for the list.

Continuing on along the road, a buff and white shape flew up from the verge ahead of us – a Barn Owl! We can often see Barn Owls out hunting in the daytime in the winter when they are hungry, but not so often at this time of year so this was another unexpected bonus. We followed slowly behind as it made its way along the verge ahead of us. It appeared to be carrying some prey, which it presumably had caught before we surprised it. It disappeared behind the hedge and appeared to land, so we stopped and walked back to a gap where we could see into the field. Unfortunately there was no further sign of it.

The field did provide us with a couple more new birds though. We could see a large covey of Red-legged Partridges out in the stubble but four more partridges over the far side of the field perched on a straw bale next to a game cover strip looked much duller. Through the scope, we could see they were Grey Partridges, just what we had been looking for! Then a Skylark came up from the stubble in front of us, flew back across the field, and dropped back in to the vegetation.

It was still cool and damp, although the drizzle had eased off a bit. Not great weather for owls, but we decided to push our luck and see if we could find a Little Owl next. We headed over to a complex of farm buildings which is a regular site for them. We parked up in a layby, and as we got out we noticed another covey of Grey Partridges right next to the road. A much better view than the ones we had just seen.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – the second group we found, this time close to the road

A flock of Mistle Thrushes took off from the trees by the layby and we could hear Bullfinches calling from deep in the vegetation. As we scanned the barns, we could see a small round shape on the edge of one of them, tucked in out of the wind and under the edge of the roof. It was a bit distant, but through the scope, we could see that it was a Little Owl. It was hunched up at first, but then seemed to rouse itself, preen and disappeared back into the barn behind it.

From there, we dropped back down to the coast and headed along to Cley. The wind seemed to have eased and the drizzle was only light now, although it was still a bit misty. We decided to have a look at the East Bank before lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but by the time we had got up onto the bank, they had gone quiet again.

There were several Curlew and lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, but we couldn’t see many waders out on Pope’s Pool today – just one or two Avocets. A selection of ducks – Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon and Mallard – were on the Serpentine, as well as several more Avocets feeding.

The hide overlooking Arnold’s Marsh provided some welcome shelter from the elements. We could see a few Sandwich Terns over towards the back and had a look at them through the scope. There were plenty of waders out on here, but not much variety – lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks and a few Curlew. A couple of Dunlin flew in, circled over the water, and carried on towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were still a few on Arnold’s Marsh today

Continuing on to the sea, we could see a few more Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and a single Gannet flew past out in the distance towards the wind farm. It wasn’t a day to be lingering out on the beach so, with no sign of many birds moving, we headed back.

On our way, we heard another Bearded Tit calling, but they were keeping well tucked down out of the weather. When we were almost back to the car, we turned to see a female Marsh Harrier flying in over the grazing marsh and across the bank, before dropping down into the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in across Pope’s Marsh and dropped down into the reeds

From the bottom of the East Bank, we had a quick look over at Snipe’s Marsh. We could see a small wader out in the mud amongst the cut reeds and a look through the scope confirmed it was a Green Sandpiper. A careful scan revealed a second Green Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the taller reeds at the back and, appropriately enough given the name of the location, four Common Snipe.

We would normally use the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre for lunch but given the weather we drove round to the beach car park and made use of the shelter there instead. We kept looking out to sea from time to time while we ate, but it was very murky and there was still no sign of any activity. After lunch we headed round to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink.

Our attention originally had been to spend some time at Cley today, but the sightings board revealed there was nothing here today that we had not seen already at Titchwell yesterday, so we decided to try somewhere else. It was not great weather for looking for small birds, but we thought we would try our luck at Kelling.

The track down to the Water Meadow was fairly quiet. A Blackcap was calling in the bushes and we heard a few Chaffinches too. The only small birds in the brambles around the pool were Linnets and a couple of Reed Buntings were in the reeds. There were plenty of gulls here again, bathing and loafing on the bank – mostly Black-headed, several Herring and two or three Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well.

The track to the beach produced a single juvenile Stonechat, accompanied by a Common Whitethroat, but there was no sign of any migrants here. We started to make our way up the hillside behind the beach but it was rather cold and damp, so we turned decided to cut our losses and try somewhere else.

As we drove back west along the coast, the drizzle stopped, the mist lifted and the sky appeared to be clearing from the north. As we made our way down along the footpath beside the river towards Stiffkey Fen, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the copse and a large mixed tit flock started to emerge from the trees ahead of us. Several birds landed in a large hawthorn on the edge of the meadow – we could see three different Blackcaps, a Chaffinch, and a selection of tits.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a male in the bushes by the path

The flock continued to move quickly through the bushes ahead of us. There were lots of birds and small groups would pause from time to time to feed in one of the trees. We saw several Chiffchaffs and lost count of the number of Blackcaps, but unfortunately a Lesser Whitethroat just hopped up briefly and disappeared before everyone could get onto it.

When the flock moved into the thicker trees, we continued on along the path. From a gap in the sallows it is possible to see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. There were lots of Greylags on the islands and in with them were three escaped Bar-headed Geese and a Fulvous Whistling Duck. Smart birds, but unfortunately, they don’t count! We could see two Spoonbills asleep, and several Little Egrets against the reeds beyond.

There is a better view of the whole Fen from up on the seawall. From here, we could see more of the ducks – as wall as plenty of Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Wigeon, we found three Pintail in with them.

There were lots of waders in amongst the wildfowl too, particularly good numbers of Ruff and fewer Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the muddy edges, we found a Common Sandpiper and three Green Sandpipers, at one point with the two species side by side for comparison. There were four Common Snipe on the mud on the edge of the reeds too.

We had a better view of the Spoonbills from up here too. One of them woke up and started to preen, flashing its long spoon-shaped bill, black with a yellow tip. Then a third Spoonbill flew in from the harbour behind us. As it came in over the back, we could see it had a much shorter bill – a juvenile, a ‘Teaspoonbill‘ whose bill is not yet fully grown.

The juvenile Spoonbill made a beeline for the adult which had just woken up. It walked up to it, bobbing its head up and down and flapping its wings, begging to be fed. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away, but the juvenile was having none of it, and the adult gave in remarkably quickly and fed the youngster – sometimes these begging pursuits can go on for ages!

The adult Spoonbill then took off and headed out towards the harbour – whether to replace the food it had just surrendered or to get away from its begging offspring was not clear. It flew towards us on the seawall and straight past, giving us a fantastic close fly past.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew past us on the seawall on its way to the harbour

We turned to scan the harbour. The tide was out and there were lots of birds spread over the mud in the distance. We could see a huge group of loafing gulls, with another Spoonbill sleeping in with them. There were undoubtedly more waders out of view in the bottom of the pit, but we could see hundreds of Oystercatchers and a good number of Grey Plover including several still in their smart breeding plumage.

Over on the beach beyond the tip of Blakeney Point there were lots of seals hauled out on the sand. It won’t be long before the Grey Seals are pupping now.

Unfortunately it was time to start making our way back now. We were treated to another great view of the Long-tailed Tits, feeding on the blackberries by the path.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the brambles by the path

It had been a very enjoyable couple of days birding – and a very productive one too. A great introduction to the delights of the North Norfolk coast and its birds.