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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!