Monthly Archives: August 2015

19th August 2015 – Wonderful Waders

A Private Tour today, for some visitors from Australia. The request was to see some waders and August is certainly a great time of year to go looking for them. We headed up to the North Norfolk coast hoping to see as wide a variety as possible. We were not disappointed.

We started at Cley. It was cloudy first thing and there were lots of House Martins hawking for insects low over the houses as we walked out to the hides. It had been raining overnight and the reeds were very wet. Probably as a consequence, there were lots of birds feeding up in the dead trees. As well as the resident Goldfinches, there were a couple of young Reed Buntings, two Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. It was particularly nice to see the latter two out in the open side by side.

While it was cloudy we had a quick look at Pat’s Pool first. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding out in the deeper water or sleeping further over amongst the islands. The vast majority of them were Icelandic birds, and mostly moulting adults or greyer 1st summers. However, amongst them a slightly larger godwit with a proportionately longer and deeper based bill stood out. A closer look confirmed it was a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit (of the limosa subspecies), one of two which have been present on the reserve in recent days.

IMG_8347Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of two juveniles currently at Cley

There are also lots of Ruff around at the moment. The adults have now mostly moulted into winter plumage, but good numbers of juveniles have now joined them. We spent some time looking at the differences between them – the more subtly scaly grey upperparts of the adults and whiter underparts, compared to the buff/brown colour of the juveniles.

There were also some nice groups of Dunlin on the reserve this morning. Juvenile Dunlin now outnumber the adults, and we watched a little flock of juveniles, with black spotted bellies, feeding on the front of the first island. Further over, we could also make out a few black-bellied adults in the flocks.

P1070935Dunlin – the flocks currently comprise more juveniles than adults

The ducks have also started to return in numbers. However, the drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, making identification more of a challenge. We spent a little time looking at some of them – a nice group of rusty Wigeon feeding on one of the islands, a couple of large-billed Shoveler and lots of Teal.

We had not been there too long when the sun came out, rather earlier than expected, but a nice surprise. Unfortunately, we found ourselves looking into the sun so we moved round to Dauke’s Hide to check out Simmond’s Scrape instead. There was a lovely flock of Dunlin feeding out in front of us and as we scanned through them we found a couple of different waders in amongst them. First up were the Little Stints. Noticeably smaller than the Dunlin and with very white underparts, they stood out. There were two Little Stints in the flock, and we also admired their shorter, finer bills and whiter faces than the Dunlin.

IMG_8359Little Stint – we found two in with the Dunlin flock this morning

In contrast, the Knot were noticeably larger than the Dunlin. There was no hiding the bright, summer plumage adult, sporting bright orange underparts, but the peachy-breasted juvenile was more subtle. As well as size, the Knot were more rotund and shorter-billed, and lacked the dark belly markings of the Dunlin. On the open mud on the islands nearby, several Ringed Plovers were running around as well.

Out in the far corner of the scrape, we picked up a single Green Sandpiper feeding amongst the vegetation. Thankfully it flew round calling and landed much closer to us, where we could a better look at it through the scope, before it made its way back into one of the more secluded areas, out of view. A large flock of Lapwing flew in and landed on Pat’s Pool and we could hear Golden Plover calling as well as they arrived though couldn’t pick any out looking into the sun at the massed ranks. A single Sandwich Tern was hiding amongst the roosting Black-headed Gulls, from where we could get a great view of the distinctive yellow tip to its black bill.

IMG_8380Sandwich Tern – with a yellow-tipped black bill

One of the other people in the hide thought they had seen a Hobby distantly over the shingle ridge and suddenly not one but two Hobbys powered in towards us from the direction of North Scrape. The birds we had been watching on the scrapes all scattered, particularly the Dunlin flock which whirled round over the water in panic. One of the Hobbys stooped at the flock and in the resulting chaos one of the waders got separated from the group. The two Hobbys then proceeded to take turns stooping at it – unfortunately chasing it round behind the hide where we couldn’t see its fate. Stunning to watch.

As the waders all scattered, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling and managed to pick up two distantly, flying off over the Eye Field with a flock of Dunlin. There was very little left on Simmond’s Scrape after that, so we decided to have a look at North Scrape instead. As we walked along the beach, we could see a few distant Gannets passing by offshore.

The Hobbys had also done a good job at clearing out North Scrape of waders, and there were only a handful of Dunlin left, amongst the hordes of ducks. We did see our first Curlew of the day, preening out on one of the islands. And, as we sat and watched for a while, a Greenshank appeared feeding very actively around the edge of the scrape.

Just as things were settling down, a Sparrowhawk flew over. It was chased off by a Little Ringed Plover which came up from the pool behind us by the beach, heading away over Billy’s Wash. As it did so, it flushed a couple of Common Snipe, Green Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers from where they had been lurking out of sight, though they quickly dropped down again amongst the tall grass.

Once the Sparrowhawk had disappeared, the Little Ringed Plover dropped back down onto a shingle island in the pool. As we walked round to get a better look at it, we could see why. A second Little Ringed Plover appeared from the vegetation, this one a scaly backed juvenile, not fully grown and still with fluffy juvenile down on its head. We got a good look at both of them in the scope, particularly noting the bright golden-yellow eye-ring of the adult. While we were watching them, we heard a Common Sandpiper calling and it appeared from over the Eye Field and dropped down onto the island beside them. It stood bobbing its tail for a second, before disappearing round the back out of view.

IMG_8403Little Ringed Plover – an adult with bright yellow eye-ring

We had done really well for waders at Cley this morning, but there were a couple of key target species missing. We decided to head along to Titchwell for the afternoon, to see what else we could add.

On the walk out, we stopped to have a look at the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out on the water,along with a selection of commoner ducks. A well-grown, stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe swam out into the middle but an adult Little Grebe stayed close to the reed edge with its smaller youngster. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they did not show themselves today – perhaps it was just a touch too breezy.

P1080136Avocet – needless to say, there were plenty still at Titchwell today

The water level on the freshmarsh is still higher than it has been in recent weeks, and there were fewer small waders as a result. From Island Hide, we could see that there were still a few Dunlin, mostly juveniles, lurking around the edges of the islands or the remaining strips of mud over by the edge of the reeds. However, we did see our third Little Stint of the day, over on the islands by the main path – we would have a closer look at that later!

Out in the middle of the freshmarsh was a large flock of roosting waders. Through the scope we could see that they were mostly Bar-tailed Godwits, sleeping out the high tide on the beach. Also asleep amongst the islands, we located one of the wader species we had hoped to see – a small group of 8 Spotted Redshanks. They were mostly asleep, but a couple woke up and had a quick preen, letting us see the long and needle-fine bill, with a small downward kink just at the very tip. They were all mostly in silvery grey and sparkling white winter plumage but a ninth Spotted Redshank joined them, this one still in partial summer plumage with extensive white splotches on its formerly black underparts.

IMG_8458Spotted Redshanks – nine, one still in partial black summer plumage

Over on the edge of the reeds, a Green Sandpiper was feeding in and out of the vegetation. It stopped for a while to preen and we got a great look at it in the scope. A Common Sandpiper appeared next to it – much smaller, paler and greyer-brown above, and with the distinctive white spur between the breast and folded wing. A great side-by-side comparison.

IMG_8426Green Sandpiper – preening by the edge of the reeds

There is no exposed mud in front of Island Hide at the moment, so fewer waders close in. However, those that do come in can be very close indeed. Today we were graced with excellent frame-filling views of a couple of adult Ruff….

P1080145Ruff – an adult, right outside Island Hide

… and Lapwing.

P1080076Lapwing – also right in front of Island Hide

There were also lots of gulls roosting on the freshmarsh. Lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, plus several Herring Gulls and a handful of Common Gulls. In amongst them, a single bird with a mantle intermediate in grey shade between the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and sporting yellow legs, was an adult Yellow-legged Gull. There were also a few Common Terns, as usual.

IMG_8423Common Tern – checking the water level on the freshmarsh

We decided to head round to Parrinder Hide to see if we could add anything else to the day’s list. From up on the bank, we could see the Little Stint still out on the islands. We stopped to watch it and it flew even closer, onto the nearest island and feeding feverishly, it worked its way right round in front of us giving us great views.

IMG_8492Little Stint – great views on the edge of the freshmarsh this afternoon

While we were watching the Little Stint, we picked up a Hobby approaching from further out towards the sea. It came leisurely towards us until it got over the path to Parrinder Hide, when it suddenly turned and dropped into a steep dive towards the freshmarsh. For some reason, rather than targeting something small and bite-sized like a Dunlin, it made straight for an unsuspecting Lapwing. Both birds seemed to get a bit of a shock – the Lapwing realised its impending fate at the last minute and leapt up with wings open, whereupon the size of its target presumably dawned on the Hobby and it veered away sharply. The moment of surprise was squandered and it drifted off towards the reedbed.

It was worth the walk round to Parrinder Hide today. A Common Snipe stood preening on the water’s edge in front before disappearing back into the vegetation. We finally got proper views of a Wood Sandpiper for the day, on one of islands over by the bank, at one point joined by two more Common Sandpipers. Two Yellow Wagtails were flitting round with the Pied Wagtails.

IMG_8502Common Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Parrinder Hide

Out on the Volunteer Marsh, were several Grey Plovers. Most of them are still in stunning summer plumage, with black bellies and faces and bright white speckled upperparts.

IMG_8495Grey Plover – particularly stunning birds in summer plumage

In front of the hide, we also had great views of a particularly obliging Curlew, which walked slowly past us, occasionally stopping to probe into the mud. While we were in the hide, a Marsh Harrier flew over – another passing raptor throwing the waders into a panic once again. A flock of Dunlin swirled round with the Little Stint now in amongst them for safety and landed out on Volunteer Marsh once the panic subsided.

P1080215Curlew – this obliging individual posed in front of Parrinder Hide

Out at the tidal pools, a careful scan revealed a bird hiding in the long grass. It was feeding and occasionally put its head up just long enough to confirm it was a Whimbrel, with pale central crown stripe between two dark lateral stripes, rather different from the plainer head of the Curlew behind. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits feeding out here today, a couple still in rusty summer plumage.

P1080270Black-tailed Godwit – another particularly obliging bird today

There were only a couple of other waders we could possibly see in North Norfolk today and we found both of them out on the beach. Several Turnstone were out on the rocks, mostly still in bright summer plumage. Further east, a couple of Sanderling were feeding out on the wet sand. There were also the usual Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Curlews and Redshanks out there today. A quick look at the sea to round things off produced a single Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebe.

Then it was time to head back, pausing to admire a Little Egret by the path on the way. It had been quite a day – with 24 species of wader to show for it, as well as much more besides.

P1080294Little Egret – by the path on our way back; note the yellow feet

16th August 2015 – Waders Galore!

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. It was an early start, as we were heading up to Snettisham for the Wader Spectacular on the Wash. It was well worth getting up for!

Driving along the roads on the way there early morning, we flushed lots of birds from the edges of the tarmac – lots of Woodpigeons are to be expected at that time of the morning, a couple of Stock Doves were nice to see, and the ubiquitous Red-legged Partridges. More of a surprise were a single Guineafowl and a Peacock – both presumably having wandered out of someone’s garden! As we got to Snettisham, we stopped to look at a Turtle Dove preening on the wires.

As soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see a big flock of waders flying round, several thousand strong, before dropping back down onto the mud. Scanning through the massed hordes we could see the wide variety of birds gathering on the Wash. The biggest numbers were Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits, with smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwits as well. There were also very large flocks of Oystercatchers and Curlew.

With the tide coming in fast, it was amazing to watch the movement of the flocks. Birds would try to stand still, but eventually get moved by the rising water. As they did so, the whole flock would shift, the birds from the edge walking up onto drier ground. From a distance, it was like watching a pool of fluid – it seemed to flow across the mud.

P1070784The vast hordes of waders gathering on the mud as the tide rose

Closer in, there were flocks of smaller waders – Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. They were still feeding actively ahead of the rising tide, running around on the mud or along the water’s edge. As the water filled the muddy creeks, several Common Sandpipers flew round calling.

However, the real highlight was the stunning display when they all flew. Today, it was a young Marsh Harrier quartering the vegetation at the edge of the mud which kept spooking them. All the waders would erupt into the air and swirl round in vast flocks, constantly changing shape as they did so. An awesome sight!

P1070724 P1070732 P1070744 P1070747 P1070757 P1070761 P1070766 P1070774 P1070777 P1070787 P1070811 Wader Spectacular – 60,000+ waders put on a great display this morning

As well as the waders, we picked out a couple of other highlights out on the mud. A single Pink-footed Goose looked rather out of place. There are huge flocks of geese here in the winter but the vast majority leave to breed in Iceland. Only the occasional bird, generally sick or injured, remains for the summer. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull flew in and landed amongst the Black-headed Gulls as the water rose.

IMG_8140Mediterranean Gull – a scaly brown juvenile

A lot of the waders remained out on the mud today, clustered tightly into a small bay of mud which had not quite been covered by the tide. This was despite the best efforts of the Marsh Harrier to flush them off. There were still several large flocks on the pits and a good opportunity to see some of the different species up close.

There were lots of Common Redshank roosting around the edges and amongst them a good number of Spotted Redshank. There were at least 20 today, in a variety of plumages. Most were now well advanced on their way to winter – silvery grey above and bright white below – but a couple were still much blacker. A single Green Sandpiper flew in to the shore of the shingle bank behind them.

IMG_8153Spotted Redshank – some still sporting remnants of black summer plumage

On one of the islands, roosting in amongst a large flock of Dunlin and Redshank, a large white bird looked slightly out of place. It was a lone Spoonbill! Eventually it decided it was in the wrong place and flew up to join the roosting Little Egrets on the top of the bank. A Bar-headed Goose was also out of place on the pits amongst the Egyptian Geese and Greylags – an escape from captivity somewhere.

IMG_8148Spoonbill – roosting with the waders at first, looking slightly out of place

There are lots of Common Terns breeding on the islands on the pit, and they still have juveniles yet to fledge. Several were flying in and out all morning. A small group were roosting on one of the shingle islands with the waders and a look through revealed a moulting adult Black Tern in amongst them – noticeably smaller, with the remnants of smoky black on its belly.

IMG_8185Black Tern – this moulting adult was amongst the waders and Common Terns

With reports of a Curlew Sandpiper in the roost at the end of the pit, we walked round to South Hide. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it amongst all the Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin – it had either walked round onto the far side of one of the islands out of view or flown back out to the Wash by the time we got there. Still, we had great views of a Common Sandpiper feeding in amongst the Turnstones in front of the hide.

IMG_8198Common Sandpiper – feeding on the pits at over high tide

About an hour after high tide, we headed back out to look at the flocks still out on the Wash. The tide was going out rapidly and the birds were starting to spread out again, and chase the falling water. A microlight aircraft appeared from the north and flew along the coast while we were there. This was enough to spark pandemonium amongst the roosting flocks and we were treated to another display as they all took to the air and flew round.

P1070827Wader Spectacular – spooked by a microlight as the tide fell again

There were a few more birds to see as we walked back. Little groups of Meadow Pipits were feeding in the short grass, with a few Pied Wagtails amongst them. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling and dropped down out into the vegetation of the Wash. Scanning the flocks small waders feeding on the freshly exposed mud, we picked up a single Whimbrel.

We headed round to Titchwell next. Chatting to the volunteers in the shop when we arrived, we learnt that there had been a Wetland Bird Survey count at Snettisham that morning with a total of at least 63,500 birds!

P1070842Wall – feeding on thistles along the main footpath

As we walked out along the main path, a Wall butterfly was feeding on the thistles and a couple of Common Darter dragonflies flew around amongst the vegetation. We stopped to look at the reedbed pool on the way. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out amongst the gathering of ducks.

The water levels on the freshmarsh are higher than they were in the week, and there were noticeably fewer waders as a result. It was well after high tide by this stage, but there was still a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits roosting on the freshmarsh, with a few Knot amongst them. There were also several Turnstones on the island nearby. As we scanned the freshmarsh, we could see small groups of them wake up and fly off towards the beach, until eventually they had all gone.

From Island Hide there were plenty of Ruff, including a very obliging bird feeding right in front of the hide. Most of the birds were adults and mostly now in winter plumage – with scaly grey upperparts and white underparts. The odd bird was still wearing the remnants of summer plumage.

P1070895Ruff – a very obliging winter adult from Island Hide

With the higher water levels, the number of Dunlin was well down on recent weeks. There were still a few feeding around the edges of the islands and the remaining mud by the reeds. Most were juveniles, with black spotted bellies, but amongst them we could still find a few adults with the solid black belly patches of summer plumage.

P1070896Dunlin – most were juveniles today, with spotted black bellies

Number of Avocet also appear to be down, although that is compared to the record number of recent weeks. There was still no shortage of them!

P1070861Avocet – fewer than the recent record numbers today

From round at Parrinder Hide, there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper today which has been here in recent weeks. A Common Sandpiper was feeding around the island at the back. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail was down on the edge of the water with the Pied Wagtails, though it appeared not to be welcome and one of the Pieds chased it away. We could also see the Spoonbills from here, sleeping at the back of the freshmarsh, behind the vegetation on the largest island. There were ten of them here today.

IMG_8206Spoonbills – 10 sleeping at the back of the freshmarsh

There were more waders on the Volunteer Marsh today. Several summer plumage Grey Plovers were particularly smart, still sporting their black faces and bellies. We paused to admire a Curlew, feeding out on the mud. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the channel right next to the path, giving us great views.

P1070908Black-tailed Godwit – feeding in the channel by the path on Volunteer Marsh

Out at the beach, we could see a drake Common Scoter standing on the rocks preening, so we headed down for a closer look. We got a great view, able to see clearly the yellow top to the bill.

IMG_8240Common Scoter – this drake was preening on the rocks on the beach

There was also a good selection of waders now down on the beach. We got great views of the Bar-tailed Godwits in particular, with Oystercatchers, Curlews, Knot and Turnstone also picking around amongst the rock pools. A single Sanderling ran along the beach. A few Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore.

It had certainly been an action-packed morning and it was still only lunchtime! We headed back to the car to get something to eat. Suitably refreshed, we headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed in the afternoon. Apart from lots of moulting Mallard and a family party of Gadwall, there were not as many different ducks here today. A single Common Pochard was the only one of note. There were also at least 5 Little Grebes.

We had thought there might be a few waders here, given the water on the freshmarsh, but at first glance we could only see 3 Ruff. However, a careful scan of the islands revealed a single Common Snipe hiding amongst the vegetation – a nice addition to the day’s wader count.

Along the East Trail, the highlights were mainly insects. There were several Gatekeepers and a single, very faded Meadow Brown. Plus a few Common Darters and Common Blue Damselflies along the path.

P1070914Common Darter – along East Trail this afternoon

From round at the end of the Autumn Trail, we scanned the freshmarsh from the other side. Unfortunately the Spoonbills had disappeared – we had hoped for a closer view from here. However, we did find three Spotted Redshanks, one of them still mostly in black summer plumage, together with two Greenshanks, around the back of the island where they were not visible from Parrinder Hide.

A Bearded Tit called and we glimpsed a quick flight view as it flew up from the reeds before dropping straight back in. Despite hearing it call again, unfortunately it did not reappear.

There were no waders on the mud by the reeds in front of us when we arrived, but three juvenile Ruff flew in while we were there. We were just admiring them, when a darker shape appeared out of the reeds behind them – a Water Rail. It walked in and out of the edge of the reeds a couple of times before walking out into the water in the middle of the bay. An odd sight in the middle of a very warm, sunny afternoon! It looked around for a while, nervously, before finally working up the courage to fly across the water to the reeds further along the bank below us.

That seemed a great way to end such an eventful day, so we turned and headed back.

15th August 2015 – Whinchats, Wheatears & Waders

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. We headed east along the coast to explore the Cley area.

It had been raining rain overnight, and while that had stopped by morning it was still overcast, cool and damp. There were lots of hirundines hawking for inescts over the NWT reserve at Cley as we arrived. A scan through revealed three Swifts amongst them – most of our Swifts appear to have departed already. We decided to head out to the main hides first, given the conditions. We could see lots of waders on the scrapes from the car park.

Unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to leave we spotted the warden in his Land Rover leading the cows off the grazing marsh. One of the herdsmen was walking behind shouting. They made their way right around the edge of the scrapes – needless to say all the waders took flight, departing in all directions. What perfect timing – 9am on a busy Saturday morning, just as all the visitors are about to arrive to see the birds!

We decided to head round to North Scrape instead, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision. As we walked along the beach from the car park, we could see several Gannets passing by offshore in the cool NW wind, and a trickle of Sandwich and Common Terns heading back towards Blakeney Point. We had almost made it to North Scrape when a flash of a white rump ahead of us and a Wheatear landed on one of the larger stones. We stopped to look at it and a second Wheatear flew in next to it. They flicked off along the fence line and as we walked up to the turn to the scrape, we scanned the beach beyond. A different bird was perched up on the fence next to them – slightly smaller, more upright, and with a well-marked pale supercilium, it was a Whinchat. A great way to start the day, with a nice little group of autumn migrants.

IMG_7987Whinchat – on the fence by North Scrape with a couple of Wheatears

There were lots of waders out on North Scrape – probably quite a few flushed off the rest of the reserve by the warden! Dunlin is the default small wader here, and it is always worth scanning through the flocks to see if there are any other waders with them. There were over 110 Dunlin out feeding on the mud today. In amongst the nearer group, a slightly larger, plumper, darker grey bird stood out – a Purple Sandpiper. More often seen over the winter on the rockier sea defenses around the coast, this was a nice surprise to see here.

IMG_7999Purple Sandpiper – in amongst the Dunlin on North Scrape

Further back, in amongst a larger flock of Dunlin, we could see a single moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its chestnut summer underparts speckled with winter white now. On the edge of the flock, on the drier mud, two much smaller waders were Little Stints, their white faces and bellies obvious even at a distance. We sat patiently, scanning through the mass of birds out on the scrape, and eventually that group came much closer giving us much better views through the scope.

IMG_8033Curlew Sandpiper – also in amongst the Dunlin

There were other waders to find out there as well. A little group of Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of one of the islands. A juvenile Knot was down near the front of the scrape at first, half associating with the Dunlin, but happy to do its own thing.

IMG_8013Knot – a juvenile with a light peachy wash to the breast and belly

We could hear some of the sandpipers, more than we could hear them. There were 2-3 Green Sandpipers but they prefer to feed amongst the vegetation around the edge of the scrapes. Occasionally one would fly round calling and we got one of them in the scope when it stopped to preen in the open. The Wood Sandpiper was less obliging, flying round calling, but dropping down over on Billy’s Wash out of view. The Common Sandpipers were easier to see, feeding around the grassy edges of the islands, bobbing up and down as they did so. A couple of Greenshank performed nicely as well.

IMG_8028Greenshank – feeding on North Scrape

In the end, we counted 14 species of wader on North Scrape this morning, including all the more numerous species, such as Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Avocet. This was not even counting the Wood Sandpiper and a Turnstone, both of which were only heard overhead and neither of which actually dropped in while we were there. A very respectable score!

We had intended to head back round to the main hides next, but while we were at North Scrape we saw the herdsmen walking round the scrapes again – presumably they had lost one of the herd? With all that disturbance, we decided to head round to the East Bank instead. As we walked back to the car, we scanned the sea. A Common Scoter flew past, along with a few more Gannets. Further out, we picked up a couple of Little Gulls dipping down to the sea, feeding.

It was a bit breezy up on the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits pinging, but they were keeping down in the wind – it was not a good day to look for them. Out across the reedbed, we could see one of the juvenile Marsh Harriers perched in a bush – dark chocolate brown body plumage with an orangey town to the crown. It was struggling to stay still in the wind. A second juvenile flew round and more sensibly dropped back down into the shelter of the reeds!

IMG_8042Marsh Harrier – an orangey-headed juvenile was trying to balance on a bush

There were a few waders out on the Serpentine. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water, a mixture of rusty summer plumaged birds and greyer mostly winter individuals and some in between. The Ruff were harder to see, keeping to the grassy edges out of the wind. A Common Sandpiper was similarly lurking amongst the vegetation.

IMG_8056Black-tailed Godwit – several were feeding on the Serpentine

There were fewer waders out on Arnold’s Marsh then in recent weeks. Another large group of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping, with a couple of Knot in amongst them. The usual gathering of noisy Sandwich Terns was on one of the islands. As we walked back along the East Bank, we did find a couple of Common Darters trying to catch the now emerging sun, despite the breeze.

P1070589Common Darter – basking on the stones along East Bank

We stopped for lunch at the Visitor Centre. With the weather brightening and the sun out, we were even able to sit outside at the picnic tables. While we were eating, a family of Lesser Whitethroats flew across from the overflow car park and started to feed in the young holm oaks in front us. Very nice lunchtime entertainment!

P1070616Lesser Whitethroat – feeding in the young trees by the picnic tables

After lunch, with the disturbance of the cow herding finally having abated, we headed out to the main hides. On our way, there were lots more Common Darters along the path and a Blue-tailed Damselfly in the reeds along the ditch.

There were still not the number of waders that there had been first thing, but a few of particularly the larger species had made their way back in. The numbers were dominated by Ruff – a mixture of paler, mostly winter-plumaged adults and several browner juveniles – and Black-tailed Godwits. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits we get are from Iceland – of the islandica subspecies. Scanning carefully through the flock, we eventually found a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the limosa subspecies. A nearby juvenile islandica gave a nice opportunity to compare the two.

IMG_8071Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile of the limosa subspecies

In amongst a little group of Ruff feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool, we found another Curlew Sandpiper, out second of the day. Again, a moulting adult with white flecked chestnut underparts. A big flock of Lapwing dropped in, presumably flushed of the fields nearby. Another Common Sandpiper was working its way round the islands.

IMG_8097Curlew Sandpiper – our second of the day, this one on Pat’s Pool

We still had time left in the day to do one more thing, so we drove round to Kelling and walked down along the track to the Water Meadow. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was feeding in the tall blackthorn hedge. A Chiffchaff was calling from the holly trees along the lane. As we got down to the Water Meadow, a couple of Whitethroat flew out of the hedge. Out on the pool, there were only a handful of waders – two juvenile Ruff, a lone Redshank and a single Ringed Plover. Three Little Egrets were feeding in the shallows.

The wind had now dropped and it was warm in the sunshine. There were several butterflies and dragonflies out now. An Emperor Dragonfly was hawking for insects along the path. As well as a few Gatekeepers and a Speckled Wood along the lane, we came across several Common Blues around the shorter vegetation down on the coast.

There were lots of Goldfinch and Linnets in the brambles on the hillside behind the beach, post-breeding with plenty of juveniles. In amongst the, along the fence line, we came across a little family group of Stonechats. The male perched on the fence preening whilst the juveniles kept dropping down amongst the thistles in the field.The female Stonechat was further up the fence, higher up on the hillside, and while we were watching her a much paler, buffier bird appeared alongside – a Whinchat. It was feeding differently to the Stonechats, flying up above the bushes, hawking for insects. We decided to walk round and up the hill for a better look. Further down the track, out on the Quags, a single Wheatear was feeding in with cows on the shorter grazed grass.

IMG_8106Wheatear – out on the Quags at Kelling

Round on the hillside, we had a great view along the coast and out to sea. We could hear Whimbrel calling and picked up 3 distantly, flying in off the sea before turning and heading east away from us. We could also hear Stonechats calling and could see a couple on the fence ahead of us. Suddenly a Whinchat appeared as well. Before we could get the scope on it, the female Stonechat chased it away down towards the sea. Only when the Stonechats had returned to feeding their youngsters, did the Whinchat return to the fence, before being chased away again.

IMG_8127Whinchat – one of two down at Kelling this afternoon

We eventually got a good look at it – when it wasn’t being chased off. Then we turned to head back. As we did so, we saw that the Whinchat we had seen earlier was still flycatching on the other side of the hill – there were actually two present with the Stonechats. As walked back we could hear the Swallows alarm calling and looked up to see a Sparrowhawk shoot through. Another Swallow back in the village was more relaxed, preening on the wires above the car as we packed up for the day.

P1070707Swallow – preening on the wires in Kelling village

14th August 2015 – Autumn Migrants Arrive

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. With easterly winds and a little flurry of migrants arriving on the coast late the night before, we headed for Holkham & Burnham Overy Dunes.

We parked at Lady Ann’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. There were various warblers calling from the trees. We came across a family party of Chiffchaffs, the young still begging for food, and we heard several Blackcaps tacking loudly. As we walked along, a couple of tit flocks crossed the path ahead of us. We stopped to look through them – a good selection of tits, plus Goldcrests, Treecreepers, more Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. We couldn’t find anything more unusual amongst them.

Most of our Swifts have left us already, but when we looked up at a big group of House Martins hawking for insects low over the pines, we found one or two Swifts still amongst them. A lone Little Grebe was on Salts Hole as we passed.

Past Meals House, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A juvenile Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with contrasting orangey-yellow crown, was jumping about in the grass. A lone goose nearby was clearly not one of the resident feral Greylag Geese – its smaller size, dark head and small mostly dark bill suggested something more interesting. Getting it in the scope, we could confirm it was a lone Pink-footed Goose. We are still a month away from the first geese returning for the winter and we could see that this bird appeared to have a damaged wing. A very small number of mostly sick or injured Pink-footed Geese do remain here for the summer, rather than attempt the long flight up to Iceland to breed.

P1070507Burnham Overy Dunes – on a misty morning

We headed out of the pines and into the dunes. The bushes seemed surprisingly quiet at first – just a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, calling but typically skulking. It was cool and damp in the misty conditions, so perhaps the birds were just keeping under cover? We did flush a couple of coveys of partridges – the first being Red-legged Partridges and the second being the native Grey Partridges which can often be found in the dunes.

As we drove out to Holkham in the morning, news had come through about an Icterine Warbler at the Burnham Overy end of the dunes. With the apparent lack of migrants at the Holkham end, we made our way west. We could see a couple of people standing on the boardwalk as we approached and we made our way round via the dunes so as not to disturb whatever they were watching. It was the Icterine Warbler, clambering around in the bushes, and flicking between them. It was quite showy at first and we got great views of it – its grey-green upperparts and pale lemon-yellow face, blue-grey legs and pale wing panel.

P1070547Icterine Warbler – showed well in the bushes by the boardwalk

When it started to drizzle very lightly, the Icterine Warbler got a little more elusive. We climbed up into the dunes and could see it flitting around in the privet. While we were watching it, a bird flew in over the dunes and dropped down into the bushes the other side of the boardwalk. A Pied Flycatcher, presumably fresh in. We walked over and suddenly it flew up into a hawthorn in front of us. Classic autumn drift migrants. With confirmation that there were seemingly no other migrants out further west, we decided to head back and have another look in the dunes.

We had heard Green Sandpipers calling as we walked out. Then, while we were standing by the boardwalk, six Green Sandpipers flew up from the grazing marsh and circled round in front of us before dropping back down out of view. A little later, we heard Greenshanks calling out across the grazing marshes and a quick scan revealed a flock of nine flying west. Waders are on the move.

As we walked back through the dunes, we caught a flash of white rump as a Wheatear shot past. It landed behind us amongst some dead flower heads on a small ridge on the dunes, where it tried to lurk unseen. Eventually it became a little more obliging and hopped back out onto the path.

IMG_7957Wheatear – hiding in the dunes

There were a couple of juvenile Kestrels on the fence posts by the dunes, looking very pristine with their bright new feathers. A pair bred locally this year. When we looked up at a falcon in the air just above the west end of Holkham Pines we expected it to be another member of the family. It was a Hobby. Two more then appeared with it, the birds were clearly hawking for something – either insects of possibly hirundines over the trees.

Almost back to the west end of the pines, we bumped into another couple of birders scanning over the bushes beyond the fence, just where we had been looking earlier in the morning. The weather had brightened up a bit by this stage and two Redstarts and another Pied Flycatcher had appeared. The others confirmed the birds had come out just as the weather improved. We stood and watched them for a while. While we were doing so, a shape appeared, flying in from the grazing marshes towards the dunes. the distinctive shape, the stiff wings with an odd rowing action in flight, confirmed it was a Short-eared Owl. It flew across and dropped into the dunes out of sight.

After a quiet start, we had ended up seeing quite a haul of migrants during the morning. As time was getting on by this stage, we decided to head back. We came across a couple more mixed flocks of tits and warblers on the way back. Again, we stopped to look through them just in case. A Garden Warbler was the only new bird for the day, following behind one of the groups. A couple of Bullfinch called from the bushes but remained unseen.

P1070565Ruddy Darter – basking on a stone on the path

The insects were more amenable. With the weather having brightened and warmed, there were lots of dragonflies along the path. Most of them were darters – both Common Darter and Ruddy Darter in good numbers – but Migrant Hawker was also a new one for the day. There were also several butterflies – a Painted Lady in the edge of the dunes, several Holly Blues and a few Red Admirals feeding on the Hemp Agrimony flowers by the path.

P1070555Red Admiral – feeding on Hemp Agrimony

In the afternoon, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the path by the road, another Hobby appeared over the trees in front of us, circling overhead before disappearing beyond the hedge. Down in the valley below, a female Marsh Harrier was quartering.

Even as we walked out along the path beside the river, we could see a gathering of large white blobs through the overgrown reeds. When we got to a gap, we confirmed they were indeed the Spoonbills. From up on the seawall, we could see that there were still 20 of them, and they were almost all asleep as usual!

P1070570Spoonbill – still 20 on the Fen today

A couple of them were awake, and we could see they had the shorter, fleshy-coloured bills of juveniles, lacking the adults yellow tip.

IMG_7969Spoonbills – several juveniles were in amongst the flock

As we got up on the seawall, we could hear Common Sandpiper calling. One flew up the tidal creek and disappeared out of sight. We looked back towards the Fen, and a short while later we could hear them again, and this time we turned to see four Common Sandpipers flying past. Meanwhile, a scan of the Fen had revealed at least three more Common Sandpipers out there, meaning a minimum of seven in total.

A Common Snipe flew over as well, in from the direction of the saltmarsh and dropped into the Fen. We could see its long, straight bill as it came overhead. It tucked itself down in the lee of one of the islands at first, where it was hard to see, before climbing up onto the top to preen. Down at the front, behind the reeds, we picked up a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the other islands.

The largest number of waders out on the Fen were Black-tailed Godwits. Many of the ones already there were sleeping but, while we stood on the seawall, a steady stream of more of them flew in from the direction of the harbour, dropping down to bathe and preen. In amongst them, we found a small number of Ruff, already in pale winter plumage, and a greyer Redshank or two as well.

There was a good variety of wildfowl too, though the ducks are all in eclipse plumage at the moment. A little party of four Wigeon were the most interesting, but there were also Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, as well as a few Tufted Ducks.

After scanning the Fen, we decided to walk round to have a look at the harbour. The tide was out, so it was one vast expanse of mud this afternoon. The first thing we saw were several large flocks of Oystercatcher on the highest ground, with smaller numbers of Redshank amongst them. A couple of grey-brown Curlew were rather different from the smaller, darker, shorter-billed Whimbrel nearby, a good comparison. While we were scanning the mud, a couple of Greenshank dropped into the tidal channel in front of us.

IMG_7982Greenshank – one of two in the tidal channel

Further over, half hidden behind one of the sandbars, were the distinctive black bellies of several Grey Plover. However, it was only when they were flushed and landed again out in the open that we could see how many there were. At least 90, and most of them still in summer plumage with black bellied and black faces. In amongst them, several smaller waders were lurking – Knot, again a mixture of bright orange-bellied summer plumage birds and greyer winter ones. A little group of Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Turnstone as well, added to the wide variety of waders for the day’s list.

There was a good selection of gulls, too. Though nothing out of the ordinary, it was good to compare Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls side by side. A single Great Crested Grebe was swimming out in the pit.

P1070577Small Copper – looking a little old and faded now

Then it was time to start heading back. The sun had come out and it was even quite warm, so there were plenty of butterflies along the hedgerow as we made our way, though many of them were looking quite old and faded now. Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods, a Ringlet and a Small Copper, plus Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock.

It had been quite a day in the end – a great selection of Autumn drift migrants in the morning, plus Spoonbills and a good variety of passage waders in the afternoon.

P1070573Stiffkey Fen – the view across Blakeney Harbour to the Point

11th August 2015 – Waders & Spoonbills

A Private Tour today. With autumn just around the corner and waders already moving south in some numbers at this time of year, we headed out to explore the coast and try to familiarise ourselves with the wide variety of shorebirds passing through.

Our first destination was Titchwell, but we made our way there through the agricultural hinterland behind the coast, so avoiding the congestion that often marks the main coast road in the summer. The wheat is ripe and golden brown now and where it had been harvested we found Brown Hares in the stubble. At Choseley, we stopped briefly to admire a golden-headed male Yellowhammer feeding along the edge of the road. The hedge nearby was being raided by a noisy rabble of Starlings, their gathering numbers another harbinger of the impending end of summer.

Down at Titchwell, we headed straight out onto the reserve. The verge along the sea wall by the main path was full of insects. We stopped to admire a yellow female Common Darter dragonfly on the brambles and several butterflies, including several Gatekeepers and a few now rather faded Meadow Browns. A Wall butterfly perched rather obligingly – and appropriately – on one of the signs on the sea wall.

P1070275Wall – on a rather appropriate sign

There was a nice selection of commoner ducks on the reedbed pool, all in rather drab eclipse plumage now, including Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. Amongst them, we found three female Red-crested Pochards – their dark brown caps and paler cheeks setting them apart. Diving constantly were a couple of Tufted Ducks and a female Common Pochard as well. As well as ducks, the juvenile Great Crested Grebe was still present, still sporting its stripy head, and a couple of well grown young Little Grebes were being fed by one of their parents along the edge of the reeds. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reedbed.

The freshmarsh was looking as inviting as ever and thronged with waders. There have been record numbers of Avocets on the freshmarsh in the last month or so and there was still an impressive number today – at least 300. We made our way into Island Hide and the mud in front was full of Dunlin. The default ‘small wader’, we spent some time looking closely at them. The majority now are juvenile birds, with white bellies variably speckled with black. Amonst them, we could see a smaller number of adult Dunlin, still sporting the bolder black belly patch of their summer plumage.

P1070395Dunlin – most of the birds present today were juveniles

In amongst the Dunlin, right in front of the hide, were several Ruff. As with the Dunlin, there are more juvenile birds around now, with brighter scaled backs and breasts ranging from deep buff to burnt orange. Amongst them, we could still find several adult Ruff, now mostly in winter plumage, much greyer above and whiter below than the juveniles. Still a couple of tardy males were sporting the last remnants of their bright summer plumage, though looking a bit scruffy now as they finish their moult.

P1070319Ruff – a scaly-backed, buff-breasted juvenile

The godwits were mostly asleep on one of the islands, mostly Black-tailed Godwits at this time of tide. The majority of the Black-tailed Godwits we see along the coast here are birds from Iceland (the islandica subspecies), but amongst them we occasionally get Continental Black-tailed Godwits (the limosa subspecies). Amongst the moulting adult and 1st summer Icelandic birds, we found a single juvenile of the Continental subspecies, much plainer and greyer than the brighter rusty juvenile islandica nearby.

IMG_7846Continental Black-tailed Godwit – the tall, lanky juvenile in mid-photo

There were some scarcer species of wader in amongst the commoner hordes as well, and with some patient scanning we gradually found them. A larger, longer necked bird in amongst the Dunlin was clearly different. A closer look confirmed the bright spangled upperparts and pale supercilium of a Wood Sandpiper. A second Wood Sandpiper was lurking at the back of the freshmarsh with a small group of Ruff – noticeably smaller and sleeker than those.

Also among the Dunlin was a much smaller wader, similar in general colour above but paler below and lacking the black belly patch or streaking and with a rather short, fine bill – a Little Stint. While the Dunlin were generally feeding out in the water or wetter mud, the Little Stint was mostly running around on the drier edges of the islands.

IMG_7869Little Stint – a tiny wader, hiding in amongst the Dunlin flock

We also located a couple of Little Ringed Plovers amongst the smaller waders. Lacking the bold black and white head pattern of adults, these were young birds but we could still see the ghosting of the adult’s distinctive golden-yellow eye ring. A single Ringed Plover was out on the freshmarsh as well. A couple of Golden Plover appeared from amongst the vegetation on one of the islands with the Lapwing, but didn’t linger. However, on our way back later a much larger group of Golden Plover had appeared, presumably from feeding inland, and was bathing and preening back on the islands.

P1070442Little Ringed Plover – a couple were still on the freshmarsh

While we were in Island Hide, we could hear the pinging of Bearded Tits continually from the reeds. Several juveniles have been in the habit of feeding out on the mud in recent weeks, but there was no sign of them at first. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding low down on the edge of the reeds. Only once we were back up on the main path did they appear – four rich, tawny coloured juvenile Bearded Tits, one of them still with only part grown tail. We got a good look at them in the scope.

IMG_7814Bearded Tits – the juveniles on the mud, taken a couple of days earlier

While we were up on the sea wall, the waders suddenly took flight and started whirling round calling. A look overhead revealed a falcon high in the sky. It was quickly joined by a second and the two of them circled over the water, a pair of Hobbys. Their mere presence caused pandemonium below, before they drifted off out of view. Out across the saltmarsh a couple of Marsh Harriers circled.

The Spoonbills have had another successful breeding season in Norfolk and the juveniles, together with their accompanying parents, can still be seen gathering at several sites along the coast. We could see a small group over the back of the freshmarsh when we first arrived, but there was no sign of them from Island Hide. They have a habit of walking round the back of the furthest island to sleep out of view. And Spoonbills do like to spend a lot of time sleeping! We got a better view of them from round at Parrinder Hide, 10 in total. They even woke up on occasion!

IMG_7896Spoonbill – 10 this morning, during one of their waking moments

We added a couple more waders to the day’s list from round at Parrinder Hide as well. In the deeper water at the back, we could see several Spotted Redshanks. Now mostly in winter plumage, much white below and paler silvery grey above than Common Redshank an with a longer needle-fine bill. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with the Black-tailed Godwits – in winter plumage, they were clearly paler and we could see their more streaked upperparts.

The Volunteer Marsh was mostly quiet, apart from a few Common Redshank and a couple of Curlew. However, a quick scan along the tidal channel revealed a very smart Grey Plover, still sporting the black belly and face of summer plumage. There were a couple more Grey Plover on the tidal pools, though one already lacking its black belly and the other moulting it out. Amongst the gathering of Common Redshank, we also found a single Greenshank luring at the back.

As we walked out to the beach, we could hear and see flocks of waders flying up and heading in behind us. The tide was on its way in but this still seemed a little early and when we got out there we could see why, with lots of holidaymakers clambering over the rocks. There were still a few Turnstone, still looking stunning in their brighter summer plumage, plus several Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits. Further along the beach towards Brancaster, where it was quieter, there was a small flock of Sanderling running in and out of the incoming tide. The sea itself was quiet. A couple of male Common Scoter were swimming past offshore and  few Sandwich Terns fishing.

As we headed back to the car for lunch, we stopped briefly to look at the freshmarsh again. Many of the waders which had been disturbed from the beach were now bathing and roosting there. In particular, there was a much larger flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and a scan through them also revealed a few Knot. Several were still in summer plumage, with bright orange underparts, but one was in the more familiar grey non-breeding plumage which is how we normally see them here during the winter months.

In the afternoon, we headed back along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The hedgerows along the path were nicely overgrown and full of butterflies. Mostly Gatekeepers again, but amongst them we saw a very faded Ringlet as well.

P1070450Gatekeeper – the overgrown hedgerows were full of them today

As we approached the Fen we could immediately see a large gathering of white shapes on the islands. More Spoonbills, and yet again most of them were asleep. One was feeding rather tentatively in the shallows and as it lifted its head we could see the shorter, paler bill of a juvenile, one of the young born this year. From up on the seawall, we got a chance to count them, a grand total of twenty in all.

P1070468IMG_7908Spoonbill – a total of 20 at Stiffkey Fen today, mostly asleep!

As we scanned over the Fen from up on the sea wall, two of the Spoonbills set off for a walk round. It was immediately obvious that one was pursuing the other and a quick look showed it was one of the juveniles chasing after an adult bird. The juvenile Spoonbills are relentless, begging from their parents when they want to be fed, chasing after them flapping their wings and bouncing their heads up and down. Every time we looked back, the two were still walking round and round the Fen.

P1070474Spoonbills – a ‘little beggar’ juvenile chasing after a parent

We could hear Green Sandpipers calling as we walked out, but there was no sign of them on the Fen when we got there. They played hide and seek for a while, occasionally flying round calling before landing out of view, until they finally gave themselves up and landed at the front. We saw at least three, but there could easily have been more. As we got onto the seawall, there were two Common Sandpipers on the muddy edge of the tidal channel beyond, and they disappeared upstream out of view. Later, as the tide rose and the mud disappeared, they flew back out and onto the Fen. We could see the diagnostic white spur between the grey breast and wings.

As the tide rose in the harbour, the Greenshank started to fly into the Fen as well. First one arrived, calling loudly. As we stood there more dropped in. Eventually a little group of 5 stood together on the edge of one of the islands at the back. There were other commoner waders here as well, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, together with a few Ruff. In amongst the legs of the larger waders, 2-3 Dunlin were feeding. Avocets breed on the Fen and a pair were obviously still feeling protective, even though we could not see if they had any young. Every few minutes they would fly up off the Fen and over towards the sea wall, calling, occasionally coming low overhead.

P1070484Avocet – a pair of adults repeatedly flew over us on the sea wall

The Spoonbills started to become a bit more active as we stood there, and several flew off over our heads and out towards the saltmarsh. At one point, an adult flew over followed by two juveniles – presumably a family group.

P1070494Spoonbill – great flight views as birds headed out to the saltmarsh

With the tide rising, we walked on round to have a look in the harbour. A Kingfisher called and flashed across the reeds, disappearing into the river channel. A short while later, round at the harbour, it reappeared – flying out along the tidal channel beside us in a flash of electric blue and disappearing towards the ‘Pit’.

There were not so many waders left, with the tide covering most of the mud. As we walked round, we could hear Whimbrel calling and picked up a couple of good sized flocks flying high over the harbour, heading west presumably to roost. Several Curlew were also heading the same way. There were little groups of Oystercatcher gathered round the edge with a few Turnstone amongst them. A few waders landed out on the last remaining sandbar. Through the scope we could see several Grey Plover, most still sporting smart black bellies, and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits with two smaller Knot in amongst them. Two even smaller Dunlin flew in as well, but all were quickly pushed off by the tide.

Then it was time to head back, pausing briefly to admire a stunning red-breasted male Linnet. There was time for one more surprise. As we passed the Fen, a small wader flew in and landed on the edge of one of the islands out of view. Working our way round to where we could see it, we found a Little Stint feeding with the two Common Sandpipers. A lovely way to end – a great day out with a particularly nice selection of waders.

P1070480Stiffkey Fen from the seawall

P1070482Blakeney Harbour – the view the other side from the Fen

3rd August 2015 – Spectacular!

It may seem like summer to us, at least when it’s not cold and raining, but to many birds autumn is here already. Waders in particular start to head south again early – the arctic breeding season is very short. Large numbers are gathering along the coast now. This is one of the best times of year to go up to the Wash to watch the waders gathering at high tide.

The Wader Spectacular is well-named. It is a sight to behold to watch tens of thousands of waders peeling off from the rapidly disappearing mud as the tide comes in, flying overhead to roost on the old gravel pits at Snettisham. Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Sanderling and Dunlin, plus Redshanks and Oystercatchers. Smaller numbers of Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks and sandpipers join them. There, they huddle together in massed ranks to sleep off the high tide. About an hour after high water, they start to get restless and eventually head back to the mud again as it reappears.

Today was a big tide, so a good day to go and watch the waders. At a rough estimate, there were well over 20,000 birds, probably more – an amazing sight. A few photos from today’s spectacle are below. There are more dates over the next month or so where the conditions are suitable. If you are interested in joining us, please get in touch.

P1060994The waders start to gather in vast flocks as the mud disappears under the tide

P1070059P1070021The mud gradually disappears under the rising water

P1070027The waders start to take flight, heading for the pits

P1070110P1070115P1070121Vast clouds of waders take to the air and pass low overhead

P1070033P1070047Flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit predominate

P1070136The waders huddle together on the old gravel pits, these are mainly Dunlin

P1070177…and these are mainly Knot, many still in summer plumage

IMG_7587IMG_7655Amongst the throng, a few surprises – here two adult Curlew Sandpipers

P1070163The waders may be spooked from the roost and whirl round in tight flocks

P1070172Then, finally, they start to make their way back to the mud as the tide recedes

IMG_7637A juvenile Wheatear today was unexpected – where did it come from?