Monthly Archives: November 2014

23rd November 2014 – Rain Doesn’t Stop Play

Day 3 of the 3 day tour. We planned to visit the Titchwell area today – the weather forecast pointed to rain and it seemed like a good idea to be near some hides, where we might be able to find some shelter. Certainly, rain wasn’t going to stop us getting out.

We drove out to Thornham Harbour first. This winter has, so far, been a very good one for Twite. The number of birds over the last couple of years has been slightly disappointing, but several good flocks have been along the coast in recent weeks, one of which has been around Thornham. It was raining quite hard when we arrived but, no sooner had we got out of the car than a flock of 15-20 promising looking finches flew across the saltmarsh and over Thornham Bank. We walked up the bank and followed it along towards Holme, but could not relocate them. Battered by the rain, we were almost back to the car when they flew past again. This time we got a better look at them – Twite. But they circled round and disappeared back over the bank again.

P1090942Titchwell – Freshmarsh & Parrinder Hide

We drove on to Titchwell. There were lots of birds around the feeders by the visitor centre as we passed – mixed flocks of both finches and tits. Thankfully, the rain had eased a little as we headed out onto the reserve. The Thornham Marsh pool was relatively quiet, but the reedbed pool held some ducks. A quick look revealed a little group of Red-crested Pochards, a single drake with bright orange crown and red bill and three pale-cheeked females. We stopped for a minute to watch them through the scope, and also picked up Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed.

P1090941Teal – large numbers were on the freshmarsh

We visited Island Hide first. Disappointingly, the heavy rain overnight appeared to have had a significant impact on water levels on the freshmarsh – most of the mud was now flooded and the exposed reed edge was gone. Wader numbers had dropped correspondingly, compared to recent weeks. Still, the wildfowl were enjoying it – lots of Teal and Wigeon, together with smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, a few Shelduck, a group of Brent Geese and a single Greylag.

IMG_1878Wigeon – seemed to be enjoying the recently cut vegetation on the islands

Having dried out a little, we decided to brave the next leg on to Parrinder Hide. The vegetation on the islands has recently been cut and, combined with the raised water level, this seemed to have created some ideal feeding conditions. Scanning through the throng of ducks on the edge of the nearest island to the hide, we picked up first a Ruff and then a couple of Snipe. A smaller bird was also feeding along the water’s edge, a Water Pipit.  As we found at Cley yesterday, these can sometimes be hard to see but this particular bird was obviously finding lots of small worms on the flooded island and had nowhere to hide. We got fantastic views of it.

IMG_1866Water Pipit – this bird showed very well outside the hide

From the shelter of the Parrinder Hide, we also picked up several other species out on the Freshmarsh islands which we had not seen from the other side. Other waders included 3 Avocet, 2 Black-tailed Godwit and 5 Dunlin, plus a couple more Ruff. Later on, the Dunlin were also joined briefly by 3 Ringed Plovers. A drake Pintail was also hiding amongst the other ducks.

P1090967Snipe – trying to hide on a small island of cut vegetation

We also spent some time looking at the Volunteer Marsh, where there was a good selection of saltmarsh waders to add to our list for the day. Most of the smaller waders were hiding in the vegetation – a surprising number of Dunlin appeared from nowhere when the birds were spooked by a passing Marsh Harrier. Amongst them were several grey winter-plumaged Knot. A single Bar-tailed Godwit and some more Black-tailed Godwits allowed us to get a good look at the differences between the two. There were also several Curlew and lots of Redshank. However, the star performers were the Grey Plover. We could hear their haunting ‘pee-oo-wee’ calls and see their black armpits as they flew round. One bird in particular came down to the front of the marsh, providing a great photo opportunity. The most surprising appearance on the volunteer marsh was a Chinese Water Deer which wandered across the mud looking particularly forlorn.

P1100005Grey Plover – there were lots out on the Volunteer Marsh today

After Titchwell, we made a brief visit back to Thornham to see if the Twite would be more co-operative. However, despite the rain having eased and us walking most of the way along Thornham Bank towards Holme, we could not locate them again. The light had been rather poor all day, but started to fade early in the afternoon, so we set off for one last stop.

We headed back along the coast before turning inland and heading for the Red Kite roost. It wasn’t clear how well they might perform, given the conditions, but as soon as we got out of the car we could see 6 circling overhead. Rather than coming in to the trees to pre-roost, the birds just continued to soar above the trees, with more coming in to join them. Scanning the skyline, we picked up a second group further away, circling similarly. After a while, the first group drifted over to join them and we had a total of 18 Red Kites in the sky together above the trees in front of us.

P1100012Red Kite – some of the flock of 18 which went in to roost this evening

It was a great way to end the tour, after a very successful three days out in the field, and just goes to show that it is worth going out whatever the weather.

22nd November 2014 – Brant & Buntings & Harriers

Day 2 of the 3 day tour. The plan was to work our way east along the north coast today. The weather forecast did not look promising, and the day started cloudy with drizzle, but luckily it was not going to be as bad as it first looked.

P1090905Wells Harbour – a damp & misty start

We started out at Wells and had a quick look out across the harbour. Several Marsh Harriers were flying about over the saltmarsh. Groups of Brent Geese came low overhead and landed in the creek to bathe, before flying to the fields to graze. A Little Egret waded just off the mud and several Redshank and Turnstone, plus a Curlew and a Grey Plover were on the sandbanks. A small group of Redwing flew overhead and inland. Best of all, a Kingfisher flashed across and landed on a pontoon in the harbour.

P1090909Little Egret – one of many seen today

A short drive along the coast and just past Cley we could see several large groups of Brent Geese flying alongside us from the reserve to the grazing meadows by the road. We stopped to look through the gathering flock and it wasn’t long before we managed to locate the Black Brant which has been with our ‘Dark-bellied’ Brents in the Cley area for the last couple of weeks. After the Black Brant hybrid which we saw yesterday, this was the real deal, an altogether more impressive beast. Much darker, almost black back and belly with brown rather than grey tones, and with a very bright white flank patch and collar, the latter complete under the chin and continuing extensively round to the rear of the neck. It really stood out among the Dark-bellieds.

IMG_1828Black Brant – a much more striking bird than the hybrid we saw yesterday

While we were sitting in the car watching it, a Chiffchaff appeared in a bush in front of us. Presumably a migrant on the move, it flew off along the ditch by the road. We got out of the car very carefully and managed to get great views through the scope of the Black Brant, but we could see several people gathering in the field across the road and then the shooting started. The geese took flight and all the birds around took to the air. As a large covey of Red-legged Partridges fled from the guns we saw a Woodcock amongst them – thankfully it escaped unscathed.

We drove on to Salthouse and parked on the beach road. Walking up on to the shingle, we stopped to look at a group of Dunlin feeding on the pools behind the beach. A couple of Turnstone were in amongst them and more were feeding around the remains of the old shingle bank.  While we were standing there, a small flock of Snow Buntings flew in from the west, their calls first giving away their arrival, and we watched them land on the edge of the pools. We spent some time watching them through the scope, running quickly along the mud and feeding in the grass along the edge.

We walked east along the beach. A large flock of Linnets was on the shingle where the old car park used to be. Looking out to sea was quiet – a single Red-breasted Merganser flew past, some more Brent Geese arrived presumably from the continent and a lone Gannet circled distantly offshore. The one thing we could see was small groups of Blackbirds flying in off the sea. One landed on the beach exhausted – it took two goes to fly up the beach before dropping down into cover on the other side. At Gramborough Hill, there were a couple more in the bushes and yet more flew in as we walked round. It was to be a theme of the day, with small groups arriving wherever we went.

P1090932Blackbird – this exhausted new arrival took two goes to get up the beach

Back to Cley and we headed along the path by the road and up onto the East Bank. The new pools on the edge of the reedbed held a Grey Heron and a small group of Teal with the Mallard. Scanning along the edge, a pair of Stonechat were by the reeds. Then a sharp call alerted us to a Water Pipit overhead, which thankfully dropped in amongst the reed regrowth around the margin of the pools. We managed to get the scope on it and everyone got a quick look before it disappeared into cover.

P1090934Teal – feeding on the new pools by the East Bank

There were several Marsh Harriers over the reeds, both on the old reserve and over Pope’s Marsh. One of the group spotted another harrier flying in from behind us, which looked slightly different. A quick look revealed a stunning male Hen Harrier. We watched it fly west across the reedbed, over the reserve and disappear away over the West Bank. Out in the reeds, their distinctive ‘ping’ calls alerted us to the presence of Bearded Tits. They were keeping low down in the vegetation, but occasionally would fly between groups of reeds, allowing us to see them. Several Reed Buntings were slightly more accommodating.

P1090936Marsh Harrier – over the reedbed at Cley

There were lots of ducks out on the marsh – Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck. A single Black-tailed Godwit flew overhead. The sea itself was still quiet, but more Blackbirds were seen flying in. The walk back towards the car was accompanied by several small groups overhead, or flying past us over the reeds.

We finished the day at Stiffkey. The forecast had been for rain later in the afternoon, but it was actually dry with the cloud even breaking up in places. It seemed worth a go at seeing the harrier roost. There were several Marsh Harriers over the saltmarsh, but it didn’t take long for us to see our first Hen Harrier, a ringtail, in this case a young bird which flew east over the saltings. Then a second ringtail appeared distantly to the west, and it too flew past us, before turning and doing a much closer flypast back west. Finally, to round off the performance, a beautiful male Hen Harrier appeared. Possibly the same bird we had seen earlier at Cley, it worked its way slowly west past us, giving us prolonged scope views.

There are always lots of Little Egrets on the saltmarsh at Stiffkey, but as the light started to fade, even more began to appear, flying east in small groups to roost. In the space of about half an hour we saw more than 50 fly past, with the largest group comprising 13 birds together. And they were still coming when we decided the light was getting too poor to stay any longer and called it a day.

P1090939Sunset – Stiffkey looking towards Wells over the saltmarsh

21st November 2014 – Raptors, Geese & Ducks

Day 1 of a 3 day tour today. With the number of birds at Holkham recently, this seemed like a great place to start – to try to get some of the local specialities and lingering rarities in the bag.

No sooner had we arrived at Lady Anne’s Drive than a large flock of ducks and geese erupted from the grazing marsh. It might have been expected to have been due to one of the local Marsh Harriers which are ever-present here, but a quick look revealed it actually to be a ringtail Hen Harrier, a real treat. We watched it as it flew towards us, across Lady Anne’s Drive and away to the east. A Marsh Harrier duly followed behind shortly afterwards.

P1090882Hen Harrier – over the grazing marsh this morning

With the weather this morning proving to be surprisingly bright, we decided to head out to the beach first thing to scan the bay. On our way out, there were lots of Skylarks and we stopped to watch a small group feeding on the edge of the dunes. A small flock of Brent Geese flew in and landed on the saltmarsh. Once again it was pleasing to see a nice proportion of stripy-backed juveniles amongst them, and to watch the various family squabbles as they fed.

P1090886Brent Geese – lots of stripy juveniles were in the flock on the saltmarsh

Scanning through this group, one bird stood out. It was subtly darker, slightly more blackish on the back and belly than the other Brents – our regular wintering birds are from Russia, of the ‘Dark-bellied’ bernicla race. Its white flank patch was more obvious and contrasting and the white collar more striking. We get occasional birds, so-called Black Brants from North America and East Siberia (of the race nigricans), amongst the wintering Brents here, but these are even blacker with more solid and brighter flanks and collars. Our bird was actually a hybrid Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent, a returning bird and the product of a lost Black Brant from some years before which had paired and subsequently bred with one of our Brents. It was great to see it again and a very interesting and instructive bird for the group.

P1090897Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid – lurking amongst the Brents

Out on the beach, we scanned the bay for ducks, grebes and divers. There are lots of Common Scoters now gathered offshore and it didn’t take us long to pick up several Velvet Scoters in amongst them, including several very smart drakes. There is also a good number of Great Crested Grebes in the bay and several were diving just off the beach. Suddenly a much smaller grebe appeared amongst them – a winter-plumaged Slavonian Grebe. Being so close inshore, we got a great view of it and it was particularly good to be able to compare it to the much larger Great Cresteds. The Red-throated Divers were not quite so accommodating, and kept diving!

Looking out to sea, we could see a steady trickle of Blackbirds and thrushes flying in from Scandinavia, in ones and twos. Suddenly a Peregrine appeared, flying fast low over the waves. Following it, we could see that it was after a Blackbird which was struggling in low over the water. Then a second Peregrine appeared and the two of them took turns to swoop down at the poor bird. Somehow it made it to the beach, but there the falcons would surely be able to catch it as it would have to cross the vast open expanse of sand? At one point, they forced it down into a pool but miraculously it took off again and, jinking out of the way of the harrying Peregrines it dived into the dunes. Quite an amazing thing to watch!

At first we couldn’t locate the North American Surf Scoter which has been hanging out with the local Velvet Scoters for some weeks now. However, a timely phone call alerted us to its presence further up the beach. A quick walk along and we could see the bird slightly distantly offshore. Thankfully the group it was with took off and flew towards us – we got a great view of the Surf Scoter as it came past. It was also good to see the Velvet Scoters in flight, showing the diagnostic white trailing edge to their inner wings. A Scaup was also hiding in with them, but we couldn’t find it as the flock landed again on the sea. Having enjoyed the ducks, we had a quick walk along the beach to see if we could locate any Snow Buntings, but by now it was rather too disturbed with dog walkers, so we headed back to the car for lunch.

P1090899Pink-footed Geese – a small group were close to Lady Anne’s Drive

In the afternoon, we headed west on the inland side of the pines. There were a few Pink-footed Geese in the fields by Lady Anne’s Drive as we set off which we got a closer look at. At Salts Hole, we stopped to look at the Little Grebes and a pair of Wigeon out on the water. There were large flocks of Wigeon out on the grazing marsh and the walk was accompanied by their incessant whistling, as well as the high-pitched honking of more Pink-footed Geese which were starting to gather on the marshes. On the edge of the pines, we paused to watch several Goldcrests and a Treecreeper. We encountered several mixed tit flocks and heard a couple of lingering Chiffchaffs.

At the western end of the pines, we stood for a while and scanned over the grazing marshes. There was a good selection of raptors on view – several Marsh Harriers, a couple of Common Buzzards, Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. We walked a bit further and climbed up into the dunes to get a better view and finally the Rough-legged Buzzard appeared, initially flying off and disappearing into the dunes before returning a short while later. We watched it for some time, hunting out over the grazing marsh and hovering repeatedly, occasionally landing on the ground.

From our position in the dunes, we also got a great view of the bushes on the inland side, which were now alive with recently arrived thrushes, those that had escaped the trials of marauding Peregrines and gulls offshore. There were lots of Blackbirds, together with a few Redwings, plus a couple of Fieldfare and Song Thrush. A scan through the groups of Pink-footed and Brent Geese on the marshes revealed a couple of Barnacle Geese amongst them.

With the light starting to go, we headed back. Many more Blackbirds and thrushes were looking to go to roost in the bushes by the track. Large flocks of Pink-footed Geese were continuing to arrive in the gloom and the cacophony of noise suggested a significant gathering out on the marshes. Finally a Barn Owl flashed out in front of us. Fortunately, we got back to the car just before the rain started.

P1090902Jay – there are lots in the pines at the moment

15th November 2014 – Holkham Highlights

A private tour today, and with all the good birds around the area recently we decided to explore Holkham. Meeting at Lady Anne’s Drive, we were greeted by the high-pitched honking of Pink-footed Geese all around, with several flocks flying up and heading off inland to feed. A pair of Egyptian Geese were feeding in the fields and a we stopped to admire a Curlew. Walking west on the southern edge of the pines, a passing Marsh Harrier flushed several large clouds of Wigeon, which whirled round before landing back on the grazing marshes.

Misty Morning HolkhamHolkham – a misty autumnal morning at the grazing marshes

At Salt’s Hole, we paused to admire the local Little Grebes – so full of character – and to listen to them calling like mad laughter. A pair of Wigeon on the water gave us the opportunity to get a good look at them through the scope. A flock of Golden Plover flew past and a couple of Bramblings, Blackbirds and Redwings passed overhead calling, probably fresh in from Scandinavia.

Little GrebesLittle Grebes – up to 6 are still on Salt’s Hole

Along the path, we encountered several mixed tit flocks – Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits, together with lots of Goldcrests, several Treecreepers, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a single Chiffchaff. A pair of Bullfinch called from the bushes – the female flew up briefly, before disappearing back into cover.

We made our way to the west end of the pines and stopped by the gate which overlooks the grazing marshes. It didn’t take long to locate the main target here – the now resident Rough-legged Buzzard. Looking slightly damp and bedraggled in the misty conditions, it sat on a fence post not far from us. The very pale head and dark blackish belly patch stood out. It dropped down into the field a couple of times, before returning to its perch. From behind, it was possible to see the distinctive white tail with a thick black terminal tail band. As well as the Rough-legged Buzzard, we also saw Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk scanning across the marshes.

Rough-legged Buzzard HolkhamRough-legged Buzzard – this bird has taken up residence for the winter

We climbed up into the edge of the dunes, from where there is a great panoramic view across the grazing marshes. From here we could get an even better view of the Rough-legged Buzzard. However, a large white bird was out on one of the pools – a quick look revealed a very big white heron with a strikingly long white neck and dagger-like bright orange-yellow bill, a Great White Egret. It fed for some time on this pool, wading with neck outstretched and occasionally plunging it into the water, allowing us all to get a really good look at it through the scope before it was flushed into cover by a dog-walker out on the marshes.

Great White Egret HolkhamGreat White Egret – feeding on one of the grazing marsh pools

We headed back to Lady Anne’s Drive for lunch, stopping to have a quick look out over the marshes from the raised vantage point of the Joe Jordan hide. We could see the heronry, with several Cormorants loafing around in the trees. There were more Greylag than Pinkfeet at this end of the marshes, with several noisy flocks flying around. A small group of Teal and Shoveler were out on the pools. However, most interest was drawn by the rather smart herd of Belted Galloway cattle out on the marsh!

In the afternoon, we walked out onto the beach. Despite it being a misty November day, there were lots of dogwalkers, horseriders and general sightseers. One of the Holkham Estate vehicles drove past us out on to the sand and we followed it out to the edge of the sea. The reason for the concern was immediately apparent – a Great Northern Diver had become entangled in a fishing net set just offshore. Despite the best efforts of the estate staff, they had not been able to persuade anyone to come and rescue the bird, a very sad situation. There was nothing we could do to help, so we wished them well with their efforts and moved on.

GN Diver HolkhamGreat Northern Diver – this bird was sadly entangled in a fishing net just off the beach

While we were out on the beach, news had come through that the Surf Scoter had been relocated offshore at the western end of the beach. This bird has been present for several weeks now and has attracted quite a deal of interest. We walked along the shoreline until we found a small group of people watching it. Despite what appeared to be a mostly calm sea, there was enough of a swell to mean the Scoters were constantly disappearing from view – combined with the misty conditions, it meant that some of the group did struggle a little to get onto the right bird. However, it was along with at least 9 Velvet Scoters and there were a large number of Common Scoters in the bay, meaning that we could compare three different species of Scoter together.

Red KitesRed Kites – at least 20 came in to roost this evening

Returning to the car, we set off for the drive inland to an otherwise rather unprepossessing area of farmland. A scan of the treetops quickly revealed first one, then two, then more Red Kites perched in the trees, along with a number of Common Buzzards. As the sun started to go down, more birds appeared, flying in from all different directions. Several of them flew out and landed in the trees in the field in front of us, preening and loafing before going in to roost. At one point many of the birds took off and circled round – we counted at least 20 Red Kites either in flight or perched in the trees.

With a beautiful sunset in the west, we headed back to Holkham to finish the day, with the mist gathering again over the marshes.


13th November – Titchwell Manor Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of this year’s tour run in conjunction with the Titchwell Manor boutique hotel, we spent the morning exploring the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. However, before we even set off we stopped to admire the large flock of Brent Geese feeding on the winter wheat field in front of the hotel. Several groups of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead and inland to feed on the discarded sugar beet tops, but five had settled with the Brents, giving us a good chance to compare them side-by-side, before the Pinkfeet flew off to join their peers.

On to the reserve, and we started with a quick look around the bramble bushes and apple trees in the car park. We spent a short time watching a mixed flock of tits working its way round the hedges, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, several smart male Chaffinches were feeding on the ground and a Redpoll came overhead calling. One of the extremely confiding resident Robins came to investigate – unfortunately, we had not brought it any breakfast!

Robin TitchwellRobin – the birds in the car park are always very confiding

At the visitor centre, several tits and finches were coming in to the feeders. However, one of the Moorhens seemed to be monopolising the fat balls, perched rather precariously on a feed tray half way up the feeder stand! The flocks of finches along the main path held a single Siskin amongst the Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A single Chiffchaff swept through amongst the Long-tailed Tits.

Moorhen TitchwellMoorhen – this bird had taken a liking to the fat balls by the visitor centre

The grazing marsh pool held a selection of duck, including several Tufted Duck and Little Grebes. But at the back of the reedbed pool we picked up a small party of Red-crested Pochard – a single drake with his bright orange head with three duller females. Lurking on the edge of the reeds , they eventually came out and allowed us to get a good look at them. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over Thornham Marsh, a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the bushes in the reedbed and a Reed Bunting perched up by the entrance to Island Hide.

Freshmarsh TitchwellTitchwell freshmarsh

The freshmarsh held a good selection of waders and wildfowl. Among the former, a couple of Spotted Redshank were trying to hide on the edge of the large flock of Black-tailed Godwit – they woke up long enough for us to get a good look at their long needle-fine bill, with a distinctive small drooping tip. We also saw Avocets, Lapwings with a single Ruff, Dunlin and an enormous flock of Golden Plover in the distance, up on the fields behind the reserve. A Common Snipe on the edge of the reeds in front of the hide also drew some admiring looks. Lots of Teal were gathered in front of the hide, allowing us to look closely at the intricate detail of their plumage, with Shelduck, Wigeon and Shoveler also out on the water. However, the highlight was a Water Rail which appeared on the edge of the reeds. Initially coming out too briefly for everyone to get onto it, it then came out for a second look and proceeded to bathe and preen for several minutes before running along the edge of the reedbed.

IMG_1782Water Rail – bathed and preened for several minutes on the edge of the reeds

From the Parrinder Hide, we added Common Redshank to the day’s list and got a good look at a couple of Curlew out on the Volunteer Marsh. A single Knot eventually came much closer and allowed us to get a good look at it. A small group of Linnets fed out amongst the vegetation. On the saltwater pools, we got a chance to compare Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits.

Waders TitchwellBlack-tailed Godwit & Redshank – feeding on the saltwater pools

Out on the beach, lots of Oystercatchers were gathered along the tideline, small groups of Turnstone flew past and several Sanderling were running in front of the waves. The big surprise was three Sandwich Terns out on the beach – these birds should probably be on their way to Africa but have been lingering here, possibly in response to the unseasonably mild weather conditions.

Looking out to sea, the highlight was two male Long-tailed Ducks, though it was a struggle to get everyone in the group onto them. We also saw several Common Scoter, Eider, Great Crested Grebes, Red-throated Divers, Guillemot and Razorbill. By now, the wind was starting to take its toll, so we beat a hasty retreat. We stopped just long enough to admire a large flock of Brent Geese which circled in noisily and landed on the freshmarsh – these were the birds we had been watching first thing this morning in front of the hotel, either spooked from the field, or just come in to bathe. Then it was back to the hotel for a warming bowl of soup and some sandwiches to wrap up a very successful couple of days.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – flew from the field by the hotel to the freshmarsh

12th November 2014 – Titchwell Manor Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of this year’s Titchwell Manor hotel tour was the 12th, but the tour started the evening before with a pre-tour briefing and a delicious dinner in the award-winning hotel restaurant. We met up again the following morning, suitably rested, for the short drive along the coast to Cley.

Even from the car park, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing and see a Marsh Harrier circling over the reedbed. Out on the scrapes, there were plenty of birds, despite them having just been spooked by the harrier passing overhead. There was a particularly good selection of waders – lots of Dunlin whirling round in small flocks, a nice mixed group of Redshank and Ruff allowing a convenient comparison, and several Golden Plover mixed in with the Lapwings. However, the highlight was a cryptically-coloured Common Snipe on the bank in front of the hide, which was almost the same colour as the dried mud it was sleeping on, and which was hard to see even when you knew where it was.

Common Crane CleyCommon Crane – flew over as we were leaving Bishop Hide

The surprise of the morning came as we were leaving Bishop Hide. While watching a flock of Brent Geese flying past, we picked up the unmistakeable shape of a Common Crane flying overhead. We watched it disappearing away to the east. On the walk out to the East Bank, we spent some time watching a female and young Marsh Harrier over the reeds, chasing each other and calling. A Water Pipit flew off calling before we could get a chance to look at it but a Reed Bunting was more obliging.

Marsh Harrier CleyMarsh Harrier – two put on a good display over the reedbed

Round at the Beach Car Park, a sizeable flock of Brent Geese had gathered in the Eye Field. We spent a while watching them, looking at the young birds and learning how to separate them from the adults. Lurking in amongst them, towards the back of the flock, was a much darker individual with a more striking white flank patch and larger white collar – a Black Brant, the North American and Siberian form of Brent Goose, a rare visitor which occasionally gets lost and mixes with our regular wintering ‘Dark-bellied’ Brent Geese.

Brent Geese CleyBrent Geese – a large flock was in the Eye Field, with adults and juveniles

Out on the sea, we stopped to look at a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Razorbill, before walking on to North Scrape. The water was packed with duck, and we looked at the differences between the Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. There was also a small group of Pintail to admire. Additions to the wader list for the day included Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.

North Scrape CleyNorth Scrape, Cley – packed with wildfowl

After a delicious packed lunch, provided by the hotel, which we ate in the beach shelter at Cley admiring the view over the marshes, we drove on to Holkham for the afternoon. By Lady Anne’s Drive, several small groups of Pink-footed Geese allowed for close inspection. We then walked out along the south side of the pines, stopping to look at the large flocks of Wigeon on the grazing marshes, several mixed flocks of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers on the edge of the trees and the regular Little Grebes on Salt’s Hole.

Pink-footed Geese HolkhamPink-footed Geese – several small groups were loafing by Lady Anne’s Drive

At the west end of the pines, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes to the west. It did not take long to find our main target – a Rough-legged Buzzard was hovering out over the freshmarsh, it’s distinctive black-banded white tail obvious in flight. However, we also picked up several other species of raptor, including Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk.

Great White Egret HolkhamGreat White Egret – a rare visitor, feeding with the cows

It was turning to dusk as we walked back along the path towards the car. The final target of the day, a Great White Egret, dropped into one of the fields amongst the cows, its large size and dagger-like yellow bill immediately distinguishing it from the resident Little Egrets. We also saw several Barn Owls quartering over the marshes as we walked, and we stopped to admire them. From the trees, a Tawny Owl called and a whistled hoot in return brought it out to investigate, though by now only a silhouette against the sky. All the way, we could hear the calls of the Pink-footed Geese gathering out on the grazing marshes. Back at the car we were treated to the spectacle of huge flocks circling round and dropping in to the fields against the backdrop of a stunning sunset. A spectacular way to end a very exciting day.

Sunset HolkhamSalt’s Hole at sunset

2nd November 2014 – Titchwell & Stiffkey

The final day of three days of tours and what a difference a day makes. After the heatwave of the last few days, today was cool, cloudy and with rain forecast. Still, that wasn’t going to stop us getting out.

We started the day at Titchwell. A quick walk around the back of the car park on arrival revealed a small group of Bullfinch calling, though they proved difficult to pin down with other cars arriving. Walking out onto the reserve, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the scrub but proved similarly hard to see, one of many we heard through the morning. A Kingfisher flashed quickly over the reedbed.

P1090642Shoveler – a very smart drake

With the cloud building behind us, we made for the Island Hide. One of the first birds we found was a real surprise – a Water Pipit landed on the edge of the reeds close to the hide and stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, before it disappeared into cover. Later in the morning, we got to see several Rock Pipits as well, giving us a great opportunity to look at the differences between these closely related species.

P1090582Little Egret – Titchwell regularly yields great views of this species

The freshmarsh was filled with wildfowl and waders and we set about looking through them. The highlight of the ducks was five Pintail, one of the drakes starting to look very smart although still without its distinctive long tail. There were also lots of Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon, as well as Gadwall and Tufted Duck on the reedbed pool. A group of Brent Geese dropped in – we saw lots during the day, with several small flocks out on the saltmarsh. Pink-footed Geese were a feature of the weekend, and yet again today skeins were seen coming in over the reserve during the morning; with a larger flock feeding in the fields inland, we were rarely out of earshot of their yelping calls.

P1090578Pink-footed Geese – another skein arriving in from the sea

There was a good selection of waders on view. A single Spotted Redshank was hiding amongst a bigger group of Bar-tailed Godwits. Several Black-tailed Godwits were not far away. There were also still a few lingering Avocets and a couple of Dunlin. Heading for the Parrinder Hide, we were distracted by some waders on the Volunteer Marsh. In particular, a single Bar-tailed Godwit and a single Black-tailed Godwit were feeding in the water alongside the main footpath, so we carried on a bit further. The two Godwits came right past us, giving a fantastic opportunity to get to grips with the identification of these two tricky species at close range. Also a great photo opportunity! On the Volunteer Marsh and the saltwater pools beyond, we also saw several Curlew, Grey Plover and Knot.

P1090573Black-tailed Godwit – a great opportunity to compare with…

P1090561Bar-tailed Godwit

We decided to continue out to the sea, but the cloud was now building again. By the time we got to the beach, the rain was starting to sweep in. A quick scan revealed a couple of late juvenile Common Terns offshore, but we didn’t stay for a closer look and made a hasty retreat. We got back to the Parrinder Hide just in time, as the heavens opened and the rain poured down. We were also just in time for the Water Rail. No sooner had we sat down than one scurried across into the bullrushes right in front of us. A Common Snipe also flew from the freshmarsh to seek shelter from the rain right directly below the hide. As the rain eased, it edged its way into view and proceeding to give us stunning views at close range.

P1090628Common Snipe – sought shelter from the rain in front of the hide

We headed back to the car for a late lunch, stopping to get a warming cup of coffee at the visitor centre. Afterwards, we took a short detour inland to look for a Great Grey Shrike which had been reported the day before, but unfortunately there was no sign of it. We did find a large flock of Chaffinches and Yellowhammers. We left as the clouds started to build again and the rain started to pour down once more as we drove back along the coast. It looked like the last part of the afternoon might be a washout, but shortly after we arrived at Stiffkey the sky started to brighten out to the west. The rain gradually eased and stopped and we were even greeted by a spectacular double rainbow.

P1090647Rainbow over Stiffkey

Looking out over the saltmarsh, first a female Marsh Harrier appeared, followed by a male and then a young bird. Then out to the west of us a ‘ringtail’ Harrier appeared – a juvenile Hen Harrier. Then the icing on the cake – we picked up a stunning male Hen Harrier flying past. A fantastic way to end the day, and the weekend.

1st November 2014 – Holkham Fantastic

Another day out on tour, and we spent the whole day exploring the Holkham area. The weather forecast was decidedly mixed and we arrived to cloud and showers but it cleared quickly from the west and the rest of the day was sunny and unseasonably warm – was this really the 1st of November? Thankfully the birds were just as good as the weather!

P1090512Little Grebe – at least 6 were on Salts Hole

We started off walking west on the inland side of the pines. We stopped to watch a small group of Redwing feeding in the leaf litter and a pair of Goldcrest on the edge of the pines. Several Little Grebes were on Salts Hole and one in particular spent some time wrestling with a particularly large fish. As we approached Washington Hide, we could hear a mixed flock of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers in the trees behind, and this was suddenly joined by the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler. Climbing up the boardwalk to the hide, the bird gave tantalisingly brief views before disappearing deeper into cover.

P1090513Holkham Beach – the view was glorious out on the sand

With the sun now out we decided to continue along the boardwalk to the beach. A small crowd had gathered to admire the drake Surf Scoter which has been present offshore here for several days now, and we were quickly onto the bird ourselves. The white nape patch shone in the sunshine and, when it wasn’t asleep, so did the swollen yellow-orange of the bill. Quite a stunner. Better still, it was together with 4 Velvet Scoters and a small group of Common Scoters were only a short distance away – 3 species of Scoter all together.

IMG_1726Surf Scoter – the photo doesn’t do it justice

As the other people drifted away, we stayed on the beach and continued to scan the sea. The variety of birds offshore was quite amazing. The undoubted highlight was a single Great Northern Diver which we picked up initially some way offshore to our west and which then swam/dived all the way past us. There were also several Red-throated Divers and a lot of Great Crested Grebes out in the bay; we saw both Razorbill and Guillemot, a single Long-tailed Duck, Gannets diving offshore and a late juvenile Common Tern flew past.

P1090517Great Northern Diver – a surprise addition to the day’s list

At the same time, we could see large skeins of Pink-footed Geese coming in over the sea, as well as several small flocks of Starlings. However, the most charismatic birds were the Sanderlings which ran back and forth along the shoreline in front of us.

P1090514Sanderling – several of these ‘clockwork toys’ were on the beach

We headed back to the car for a lunch break, stopping to admire the Pink-footed Geese loafing around in the fields on the way back. Even as we ate, we managed to accumulate a healthy list of raptors – several Marsh Harriers quartered over the grazing meadows, a single Red Kite circled overhead, a couple of Common Buzzards appeared distantly over the pines swiftly followed by a Rough-legged Buzzard.

P1090524Pink-footed Geese – a Holkham speciality

Fancying a better look, we decided to walk back along the edge of the pines in the afternoon and continue on to the far west end. We were swiftly rewarded with a Firecrest just a short way along the path and we encountered several more mixed tit flocks as we walked. Almost as soon as we got to the far end of the pines, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew over the grazing marshes and directly overhead giving us all amazing views before drifting off over the dunes. We climbed up into the edge of dunes and watched it hovering out over the grazing marshes.

P1090525Rough-legged Buzzard – circled right over our heads

Scanning further round the marshes, we then managed to pick up the Great White Egret as well, at one point together with a Grey Heron highlighting its ‘great’ size. Altogether, adding up to quite an amazing list of good birds from a day at just this one site. With the sun setting, it was then time to head back to the car again, serenaded by the gathering flocks of Pink-footed Geese as we walked.