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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.