A Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. It was windy and wet for a time in the morning, but cleared up in the afternoon. We birded through the weather and managed to see a decent haul of migrants.
We met in Blakeney and drove along the coast towards Titchwell. The coast road is closed at the moment, so we diverted inland. On the way, we passed by a couple of likely spots for migrants. We did see a Red Kite being harried by crows. And we found a Wheatear in a rough field of set-aside. But otherwise it was hard going in the increasingly blustery wind.
We headed along to Choseley to see if we could see the Dotterel which have been around for the last few days. When we got to the field that they have been favouring, the wind was blowing the topsoil away in a veritable sandstorm. Needless to say, we could not see the birds.
It was already starting to rain by the time we dropped down into Thornham. Thankfully the female Ring Ouzel was immediately evident on the cricket pitch. As the rain picked up, it made a strategic beeline for the covers. It seemed to know what they were for – for keeping the rain off Ring Ouzels of course – and continued feeding from underneath. When the rain eased, it came out again onto the pitch, before heading back for shelter when it picked up again. Very sensible!
Our next stop was Titchwell. With rain forecast for the morning, the shelter of the hides seemed like a sensible place for us to be. Thankfully we had just made it to the safety of Island Hide before the worst of the rain came, though it was still cold and damp on the walk there. It was also mercifully short, before it brightened a little from the west, and we were later able to walk on to Parrinder Hide without getting wet.
There was lots for us to see from the hides. A single White Wagtail was on one of the islands and a couple of Willow Warblers flitted around in the sallows. Waders were well represented. One of the first we saw was a smart Spotted Redshank moulting into its smart summer plumage, which was close to Island Hide before someone shut one the windows a little too loudly.
Out on the islands, there were several groups of Dunlin, about 25 in all, including some smart adults almost in summer plumage and others still mostly in their grey winter attire. There were also several Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, the former flashing their golden yellow eye-rings. A smart male Ruff flew in, resplendent in its rusty orange & black summer plumage. But the highlight was a single Common Sandpiper, working its way along the shore of the islands, bobbing up and down as it went.
There were lots of Avocets as usual, including some nice close ones from Island Hide, and several Black-tailed Godwits. We spent some time admiring the latter in particular, with several now looking rather bright orange in their summer garb.
There was a good selection of ducks as well, though numbers are well down on the winter. Lots of Shelduck, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard.
One of the Teal on the freshmarsh stood out. It didn’t look quite right and didn’t resemble any other species, from here or elsewhere around the world. Some features did not fit with our Eurasian Teal, including the broad barring on the flanks in particular, as well as an odd head pattern. It resembled a hybrid was perhaps an ‘intersex’ Eurasian Teal, a female which typically develops some male-like plumage but can apparently also show atypical features such as the barred flanks.
The Volunteer Marsh was very quiet today, almost devoid of birds, but there was more on the Tidal Pools, the highlight being a single Greenshank. There were also more waders for the day’s list out on the beach – a couple of lingering Bar-tailed Godwit, lots of Grey Plover and Turnstone, and a few clockwork Sanderling running along the shore.
We had seen a couple of Common Terns on the freshmarsh, but the real tern action was out from the beach. Four more Common Terns were patrolling inshore, over the breakers. A couple of Sandwich Terns passed by further out. But the real surprise was the Little Terns – a couple flew past us and when we stopped for a closer look we realised there was a steady stream of around 35 coming back!
As we walked back, we stopped to admire a single drake Red-crested Pochard on the reedbed pool, his coral red bill glowing in the emerging sunshine. There were another 6 round on Patsy’s Reedbed. With the weather having improved, there were at least 20 House Martins hawking over the main reedbed, and also lots of singing Reed and Sedge Warblers on the way.
However, we had really wanted to see another warbler – and we were rewarded round by Patsy’s Reedbed. The Grasshopper Warbler had gone quiet when we arrived, but after a short wait we started to get snatches of song. Then finally he climbed up into a small sallow and started reeling away. We got him in the scopes, but he was still remarkably difficult to see at times, hiding amongst the foliage.
Having lost quite a bit of time ducking the showers, it was already time for a late lunch when we finally got back to the car park. However, having been informed that the Dotterel had been seen again up at Choseley, we headed straight round there first. They were not to be seen from the gateway below the drying barns, but we drove round to the other side, on Chalkpit Lane, and picked them up from there. There were 7 of them, including 5 bright females (remember in Dotterel, the females are brighter than the dull males!). They were a bit distant, but we got a decent look at them before they suddenley took flight and landed back down in the very far corner of the field.
We were later than we would normally have been, but we decided to still have a look at Holkham anyway. The walk west along the inland side of the pines was initially fairly uneventful – apart from the usual variety of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers. However, as we got almost to Washington Hide we heard a distinctive ‘glip, glip’ call coming from the pines, the sound of Crossbills. It appeared to be a small group of birds, but we could not tell if they were flying or perched. Unfortunately, after two short bursts of calls, they fell silent and we couldn’t find them again. They have been very hard to find in Norfolk over the last year, so this suggests that some birds are on the move again.
The sky blackened again from the west and a heavy shower loomed, so we took shelter in Washington Hide for a bit. There were a surprising number of Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marshes, at least 70, as well as a single Barnacle Goose and a Barnacle Goose hybrid. A small group of Curlew out on the grass included three stripy-headed Whimbrel. A single Spoonbill flew west.
As it cleared to bright sunshine again, we continued westwards. We climbed up to Joe Jordan hide and immediately picked up two more Spoonbills loafing around the pool, preening. They stayed a while, before flying back into the trees. A little while later, first one then a second flew down again.
We were really running out of time now, but wanted to take the opportunity to have a quick look in the dunes. As soon as we came out of the pines, we could hear Ring Ouzel calling, and then three birds flew round and dropped out of sight into some brambles. They were clearly very jumpy as, over the next few minutes, we saw them fly round several times. Eventually, we got a good look at them, first perched up in a bush, and later on the ground, a single male Ring Ouzel and two females.
We did a quick scoot round the first section of dunes and came across a loose mixed group of birds. There were lots of Linnets, mostly feeding on the ground. As we scanned over the area, we could also see there were at least 4 Wheatears feeding amongst them. Then we noticed a smart male Whinchat perched up in the bushes.
Then it was time to call it a day. Despite the rain, we had seen some great birds and amassed a really good tally of spring migrants.