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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.