Monthly Archives: September 2014

No tours until November due to broken ankle

Unfortunately, I have broken my ankle and have had to cancel all tours for the next few weeks. I expect to be back running tours at the start of November.

Please excuse the lack of posts on here in the interim. I will put something up as soon as I can get out birding again.

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7th September 2014 – Waders & Surprises

Final day of the three day tour. The plan for the day was to focus on the Titchwell area, and with the flow of drift migrants over the last few days drying up a little, finally to find the time to focus on waders and some other regular species. What we didn’t expect to get was a couple of extra surprises on the way!

As we walked out along the main footpath, we stopped to look at a smart Grey Plover out on the saltmarsh. A glance behind us, and a glimpse of a tail dropping into the reeds looked promising for a Bearded Tit. It was just beside the path, so we waited quietly. A couple of calls confirmed the identification, but we couldn’t see it at first, until some rustling of the reeds revealed a female. We managed to get the scope on it and suddenly a male edged up from below. Great views! We watched the pair of Bearded Tits for several minutes, disappearing down into the reeds, then climbing up again; flying a short distance, dropping in and then reappearing again. All at close quarters, just by the main path.

P1090053Bearded Tit – a pair gave great views close to the main path

As we walked on, we could see 4 Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh on the Thornham side. We stopped in the Island Hide next, and the freshmarsh was covered with waders. Scanning through the massed ranks of Dunlin, we quickly picked up a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers out in the deeper water, probing down with their longer decurved bills. On the edge of the group, feeding up on the mud itself, a much smaller wader stood out – a juvenile Little Stint. As we watched them, the flock worked their way over towards the main path, so we decided to leave the hide and walk on a little further to view them from there.

P1090085Curlew Sandpiper – at least 9 juveniles were on the marsh today

As we walked, more Curlew Sandpipers flew in from out on the freshmarsh, and eventually we counted 9 juveniles amongst the Dunlin. As we got closer, we found there were also now 3 juvenile Little Stints. All of the waders were feeding in the water right next to the path – much closer than normal – allowing us to get really great up-close views.

P1090125Little Stint – 3 of these tiny waders were feeding on the mud right next to the path

While we were watching them, a single Yellow Wagtail circled overhead calling, but wouldn’t come down with all the Pied Wagtails. Amongst all the excitement, it was easy to forget all the other waders we had seen out on the freshmarsh – Avocets, Lapwing, Snipe and lots of Ruff, in various different plumages; Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew; at least 6 Spotted Redshank, lots of Redshank and a couple of Greenshank. Quite a list. At the Volunteer Marsh, we stopped to watch a Black-tailed Godwit feeding, probing its long bill right down into the deep mud and leaving both it and its face covered. A little further out, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits provided a great opportunity to compare and contrast.

The tide was out and on the beach,we added a whole load more waders to the list for the day. On the tideline, there were lots of Oystercatcher, loads more Grey Plover, a couple of Knot, a group of Sanderling and several Turnstone. Out on the sea, a lone male Eider in eclipse plumage drifted by and several Fulmars flew past. We also spent some time discussing the identification of the commoner large gulls and looking at the terns offshore.

P1090166Little Egret – this bird was feeding on the edge of the Volunteer Marsh today

We called in at the Parrinder Hide on the way back. Several of the Spoonbills had flown back from feeding out on Thornham marsh and were now roosting on the freshmarsh. We counted 10 initially, but as we watched a further 3 flew in and dropped down amongst them. Most of the waders, we had seen from the footpath, but a small group of Golden Plover were new. However, the real surprise was a Pink-footed Goose which appeared amongst the Greylags. It may be one of the small number of birds from Holkham which don’t make the journey back to Iceland, either due to illness or possibly immaturity. However, we are already getting into the period for the first returning birds, so perhaps winter is on its way already!

P1090190Lapwing – feeding right outside the Parrinder Hide

After lunch in the picnic area, enjoying the now warm and sunny weather, we headed back out onto the reserve to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed. We spent some time watching a Kingfisher, which perched up on the posts around the planted reeds. It splashed into the water numerous times without reward, before finally emerging with a whopper of a fish. Back on one of its favourite posts, it proceeded to beat the fish against it numerous times until it finally felt confident enough to swallow it. It then sat looking rather uncomfortable after its enormous meal for a couple of minutes afterwards. We had so far failed to find any of the resident Red-crested Pochard, but after searching through the flocks of duck to no avail, suddenly a bright, day-glo red bill appeared amongst the vegetation on one of the islands as an eclipse drake which had been sleeping finally awoke.

We ended the day exploring the area around Choseley. The footpath at the drying barns was rather quiet, perhaps due to too many dog walkers on a sunny Sunday afternoon, until a Marsh Harrier appeared over the fields. It seemed to be mobbing something, which would normally be the wrong way round, but then a Short-eared Owl appeared from behind a hedge. The two circled up, the owl trying to get above the harrier, and came right overhead before drifting off. Short-eared Owl is mainly a winter visitor to Norfolk, though the odd pair may still breed in remoter areas, so this sighting was totally unexpected and most unusual.

P1090236Short-eared Owl – normally a winter visitor, this bird circled over Choseley this afternoon pursued by a Marsh Harrier

Before the tour started, on the way to Titchwell, several Whinchats had appeared by the road just south of Choseley, obviously migrants which had started to work their way inland. So we finished the day headed on down the road a little further. After looking in a couple of likely fields, we found a grand total of 4 Whinchats feeding around a hedge on the edge of a set-aside field corner. A nice way to end the tour, with one of the migrants which has featured so often across the last three days.

P1090230Common Darter – still a few dragonflies are on the wing; this one decided to rest on a bench

6th September 2014 – Lingering Migrants & More

Day two of a three day tour. With the wind still coming off the Continent overnight, with cloud over the coast, the plan was to start by seeing if any new migrants had dropped in overnight. We would then go on to look for waders and try to catch up with some Spoonbills.

We started at Warham Greens. A Redstart was briefly around the parking area as we arrived, but flitted immediately off up the hedge line inland. This seemed like a promising start. However, the bushes along the track were fairly quiet, although the small copse at the end added a nice Willow Warbler. The hedgerow along the front was alive with birds – lots of Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers. Two Whinchats perched up on the top, and flitted ahead of us as we walked along. But the path was already busy with walkers and dogs and there was no sign of the Wryneck which had been reported earlier. A lone Greenshank sat out on the saltmarsh and several flocks of Golden Plover circled over calling. A lone Spoonbill flew east – a harbinger of things to come!

P1080978Whinchat – several were still along the coast today

From there, we drove to Stiffkey Fen. Once we got onto the seawall, the white blobs we could see through the reeds on the way out resolved themselves into Spoonbills, five of them initially. For once not asleep, we could see the adults with their yellow bill-tips and the juveniles feeding, sweeping their bills side-to-side through the water. While we were watching them, another two flew in from where they had been feeding out in the harbour. A sharp call from the creek behind us, and a Kingfisher flashed up and over the reeds and disappeared around the edge of the Fen.

P1080983Spoonbill – the first 5 of many today

There were also plenty of waders, it was hard to know which way to look. The best was a Little Stint which dropped in while we were there, but we also saw the two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers which have been hanging around for a while. At one point, we had Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin all together in the scope – a great chance to compare three of the more regular and more confusable small waders, the Little Stint significantly smaller than the Dunlin, which itself was much smaller than the Curlew Sandpiper. We also saw at least 3 Green and 2 Common Sandpipers, Oystercatcher and Avocet, Ruff, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Redshank.

P1080985Black-headed Gull – winter-plumaged adult after our sandwiches

With some black clouds gathering on the horizon, we headed back to the car and drove on to Blakeney. After a break for lunch, which was much appreciated by the local Black-headed Gulls and Jackdaws, the darkest of the clouds had passed over us. So we walked out along the bank around the Freshes and quickly located the Red-backed Shrike out on the grazing marshes. With the works to repair the bank after last year’s storm surge, we were able to walk round onto the temporary footpath across the marshes and get much closer to the bird. We watched it for a while at a distance, before it suddenly flew past us and landed much closer. It then caught a dragonfly and proceeded to dismember it in front of us. Stunning! You can see a short video of it here.

IMG_1658Red-backed Shrike – the juvenile showed well on Blakeney Freshes

Next, we headed on to Cley. Out on the reserve, another 7 Spoonbills were loafing on one of the scrapes, this time more traditionally asleep! While we were watching them, another 7 flew west over the marshes towards the beach and just after they had passed, three dropped into the scrape. It was hard to rule out that these may have been part of the 7 we had seen flying over, but that did make at least 14 for Cley and 21 in total for the day (and possibly as many as 24).

P1090028Spoonbill – another 7 at Cley

There were also lots of waders. Another Little Stint (darker than the one we had seen at Stiffkey) and two more juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were running round the legs of the Black-tailed Godwits. A Little Ringed Plover was new for the day. And we spent some time looking at Ruff of different sizes (male & female) and ages. Numbers of duck have steadily increased in recent weeks, and we saw lots of Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal, and a single Pintail, but all in drab plumage – all the males are still in eclipse. The local Marsh Harriers were also performing for the crown, with young male, female and juvenile birds all flying round. When one got too close, a lot of the birds on the scrape took flight and the Spoonbills flew off past the hide.

Spoonbills in flight Cley 2014-09-06_1Spoonbill – stunning in flight

After a good session in the hides, we set off back to the car. As we did so, all the birds suddenly erupted from the scrape. Could it just be a Marsh Harrier again? It seemed a bit much of a reaction and a closer look revealed a Hobby flashing across above the reeds. It proceeded to make numerous passes over the scrapes, at times soaring up and then plunging down again at speed, almost catching a Dunlin at one point, before giving up and heading out towards the beach. Such a treat to watch.

Finally, we headed out to the beach ourselves. North Scrape held huge numbers of duck, but relatively few waders, and nothing we hadn’t seen already today. However, the real treat was just along the shore line. A vast throng of gulls on the beach and in the surf were accompanied by several Common and Sandwich Terns. Looking closer, we could see lots of tiny fish suddenly bursting from the waves, chased by several much larger fish – the Bass had come inshore to chase a large quantity of Whitebait feeding just off the beach and the gulls and terns were cashing in!

P1090038Hoverfly – this stunning large Volucella zonaria was at Cley

5th September 2014 – Autumn Migrants Galore!

Day one of a three day tour today. Weather conditions have been great for early Autumn drift migrants over the last few days, with high pressure over Scandinavia producing easterly winds off the continent. Cloud overnight suggested there might be some birds to see this morning, and we were not to be disappointed.

P1080948Gun Hill – the view out from Burnham Overy Dunes

We started off by walking from Holkham to Burnham Overy Dunes. There was nothing unusual in the pines, although the tit flocks have started to mass, and we spent a bit of time looking at Treecreepers and Goldcrests and lots of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps with them. At Salthole, a Kingfisher flashed across and perched on a fence post briefly. Out on the grazing marshes, an adult Peregrine sat in the trees with the resident Cormorants undisturbed around it.

Once we got into the dunes, the excitement started. A flash of a red tail from a bird flying away revealed a female Redstart, which perched up nicely in the brambles. While we were scoping it, a lovely male appeared on the other side of the fence. There were also several warblers – lots of Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a single Lesser Whitethroat. A large, heavy warbler glimpsed over the fence in the area of the marsh not open to the public was probably a Barred Warbler, but unfortunately it disappeared into a large thicket of bramble and willow never to be seen again.

P1080936Redstart – a classic early Autumn migrant in the dunes

Walking on through the dunes produced several Wheatears feeding on the short grass. As we got to the bushes at the end of the boardwalk, a Pied Flycatcher flicked up and perched in front of us. It was quickly joined by a second.

P1080940Wheatear – these birds love the short grass in the dunes

Walking on, we headed out to Gun Hill. Another Pied Flycatcher perched up nicely in the bushes, but the Wryneck which had been seen flying into the dunes earlier in the morning could not be relocated. There had not been many birds in the dunes as we walked out, but on our way back we flushed two more Redstarts and a couple of Whinchats from the Suaeda. Before we got back to the pines, we added another two Whinchats and yet another two Pied Flycatchers.

P1080957Pied Flycatcher – at least 5 were in the dunes today

After lunch, we headed along to Cley. We wanted to see the Wryneck which had been showing on the East Bank that morning and it was on view immediately as we arrived. It showed very well, feeding out on in the open on the path, at least until any casual walkers passed by. A short video of it can be seen here. While we were watching it, a Spoonbill flew over, first heading east and later presumably the same bird heading back west.

`Wryneck – feeding out on the East Bank at Cley today

After all the excitement of the Wryneck, we headed out to Kelling to see if we could find any more migrants. A Common Sandpiper was on the Water Meadow and a Common Snipe was probing in the mud nearby, and both a Grey Heron and a Little Egret dropped in. A repeated call from the fence line on the other side of the water got us on to yet another Redstart, this one presumably fresh in from over the sea. Down by the beach, we added yet another 3 Whinchat to the day’s total, along with a pair of Stonechat and another Wheatear.

Adding up the totals at the end of the day, we had amassed a very good number of migrants, a classic early Autumn day on the coast.

P1080960Small Copper – several butterflies were in the dunes