Monthly Archives: September 2015

30th September 2015 – Warblers & Waders

A Private Tour today. It was another lovely clear, sunny day but the strong easterly wind left a chill in the air and the smaller birds looking for cover. We wanted to look for some autumn migrants and had a particular request for some waders. We headed for Wells Woods first. There have been several Yellow-browed Warblers here in recent days, as well as some other commoner migrants, so this seemed like a good place to look.

It started well – the usual Little Grebes on the boating lake, and a couple of Chiffchaffs chasing round in the sun in the trees just beyond.  But the wind was already whistling in around the trees and the Dell was quiet. We worked our way west, checking out all the likely spots but could not find the tit flock anywhere. The highlight was several Continental Song Thrushes – greyer backed than our local birds and recently arrived for the winter – which dropped down out of the trees to feed in a hawthorn.

We came out of the trees back onto the main path and were about to start making our way back when another birder further along whistled to us. He had just seen a Yellow-browed Warbler with the tit flock on the edge of the path, but all the birds had just moved deeper into the trees. We set off after them – we found Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and even a Blackcap, but the birds had moved high up into the tops of the pines and were increasingly hard to see. We followed the flock in the hope it would double back to the edge, and we did hear the Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but the birds just went deeper and deeper into the trees. In the end we decided to give up and try something else.

P1100219Fly Agaric – a rather smart poisonous toadstool

We drove west to Titchwell. All the car parks were almost full – remarkable for mid-week at the end of September. We decided to walk round via Fen Trail to Patsy’s reedbed and explore that side of the reserve before lunch. There had been three Yellow-browed Warblers reported from Meadow Trail earlier in the morning, but it was very exposed and windy out there now – and consequently rather quiet.

We turned and headed back towards Fen Trail. We could hear Long-tailed Tits approaching through the sallows, so we positioned ourselves where they would have to cross the path. The Long-tailed Tits arrived first, pausing to feed for a few seconds before moving past us, followed by a few Blue and Great Tits. Then a loud, strident ‘tsoo-eeest’ alerted us to the arrival of a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was tough to see initially, as it was feeding on the outside of the sallow above us. Eventually we picked it up, and we could see it flicking about – a small warbler, with whitish underparts, a bright, pale supercilium and double wing bar. It made up for our struggle to see one in Wells earlier.

P1100082Yellow-browed Warbler – here’s one from Wells the previous day

Fen Hide was quiet as usual, so we walked on to Patsy’s Reedbed. This has been chock full of moulting ducks in recent weeks, but we were surprised to find it almost completely empty today. It turned out that reserve staff had been working on there earlier. We walked on along the East Trail to the Autumn Trail. Despite the wind, there were still quite a few dragonflies out – mostly Common Darters basking in the shelter of the vegetation on the path.

P1100222Common Darter – basking on the boardwalk

At the corner of the Autumn Trail we climbed up onto the bank where the new extension path leads off. Out on the saltmarsh towards Brancaster we could see several white shapes – four Spoonbills were doing what they like to do most, sleeping! One at least woke up long enough to flash its bill, showing off the yellow tip of an adult, before dozing off again. Nearby, on the saltmarsh, were a couple of Little Egrets and Grey Herons, also standing around lazily.

IMG_1303Spoonbill – these four were sleeping on the saltmarsh by the Autumn Trail

Round at the back of the freshmarsh, at the end of the Autumn Trail, we could see a largish flock of waders roosting. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits but in amongst them we could see a couple of Ruff and a little huddle of five Spotted Redshanks. They too were mostly asleep, but woke up occasionally to flash their bills, longer than a Common Redshank’s and with a needle-fine tip.

IMG_1306Spotted Redshanks & Black-tailed Godwits – roosting on the freshmarsh

There were also lots of duck on the freshmarsh – the numbers continue to grow, as more arrive for the winter. There were lots of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal, mostly still in dull eclipse plumage but the odd one of the latter in particular is notably now showing more of a breeding head pattern and some grey body feathers. A single eclipse drake Pintail was asleep but we could see a patch of new grey body feathers on its flank. In contrast, the drake Gadwall and Mallard were almost in full breeding plumage already.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we headed back to the car. The aim was to spend the afternoon out on the main part of the reserve. The feeders by the visitor centre were rather deserted. After a well deserved break, we walked back out and just stuck our heads round the corner to double check that there were still no birds there. The feeders were empty and at first we could only see a single Chaffinch, but then we noticed the Brambling lurking in the bushes just behind, the first we have seen this autumn. It perched up nicely so we could get a really good look at it in the scope.

IMG_1323Brambling – the first we have seen this autumn

It was very windy out on the main path. The grazing marsh pool was still mostly dry and empty (apart from the cows!) and there was nothing on the reedbed pool but a raft of Common Pochard with a couple of Tufted Duck today. So we made straight for the Island Hide and some shelter.

There had been a Temminck’s Stint reported earlier on the freshmarsh. When we arrived in the hide, it had supposedly just walked round the corner of the furthest island, although all we could see emerge on the mud there was a Dunlin. Apart from lots of Lapwing and Golden Plover, there weren’t many waders round this side of the freshmarsh today – we had seen more from the Autumn Trail. There were only a few Avocet, a handful of Dunlin and a few Ruff.

A couple of Brent Geese flew in and landed on the freshmarsh. Shortly afterwards, a bigger group of about 40 arrived and joined them, for a wash and brush up. The Brent Geese are now in the process of returning from Russia for the winter. Out on the beach a little later, we saw a line of five Brent Geese flying in over the sea – new arrivals.

IMG_1331Brent Geese – several dropped into the freshmarsh to bathe

Our next destination was Parrinder Hide, but first we had to brave a windy walk along the bank. We stopped to look at a couple of Dunlin on one of the islands. They were both juveniles, with black spotted bellies, but one had started to moult and had a lot of grey feathers in its upperparts whereas the other had not. Two Ruff on the next island were both winter adults but had rather different coloured legs – one was rather yellow but the other was a rich deep orange. A smart Snipe was probing around nervously amongst the vegetation nearby. Most of the Snipe have been on Patsy’s recently, but perhaps this one had been forced over onto the freshmarsh by the disturbance this morning.

IMG_1336Snipe – on one of the islands from the main path

Round at Parrinder Hide, there was not much different to see on the freshmarsh. We had hoped to be able to see the reported Temminck’s Stint from here, but there was still no sign of it. We had a good scan but didn’t stay too long.

It was more productive on the other side of the hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. At first it seemed a little quiet, apart from the usual scattering of Redshank, Curlew and Grey Plover. As we looked more carefully, we started to find a few bits and pieces. A single Bar-tailed Godwit appeared just long enough for us to get the scope on it, before flying off back towards the beach. A couple of Ringed Plovers appeared next to one of the Grey Plovers.

Suddenly a different wader dropped in with the Redshank. It was a little bigger than a Dunlin, longer-winged and more streamlined, with a fairly long decurved bill. We got it in the scope and could see that it was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper – one of the species we had wanted to see today. We got a great look at it feeding out on the open mud for about 5 minutes before it looked round nervously and flew off.

IMG_1345Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile landed on the Volunteer Marsh briefly

We walked on towards the beach. The tidal pools were much quieter than recent weeks today, probably a combination of the current very high tides, the wind and the fact that it was low tide today so a lot of birds were feeding out on the beach. From out on the sand we scanned the shore – we could see a few Knot and Turnstone, lots of Oystercatcher and a silvery white Sanderling. A Greenshank flew past and dropped down among the rocks out of view.

Apart from the kite-surfers, the sea was quiet. A Great Crested Grebe was diving and impossible to get onto. It was also just a bit too windy to be standing out here today, so we turned and headed back the way we had just come. A stunning Grey Plover performed for the crowd as we passed.

IMG_1359Grey Plover – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh on our way back

We made a beeline for the Island Hide again to see if we could see the elusive stint that we had missed earlier. One of the occupants put us on to a couple of birds which he thought were stints, but once again they turned out to be Dunlin. They can be very confusing, as they moult and lose their belly markings.

Thankfully one of the other birders in the hide pointed us to a real stint out on the furthest island. However, it was not a Temminck’s Stint but appeared instead to be a Little Stint. It was a slightly odd looking bird – lacking the features we could expect to see on a classic juvenile at this time of year, the pale fringes to the upperparts feathers, the white mantle lines. Most likely either a very worn adult or dull moulting juvenile. Unfortunately it was a little too far away to see any fine details clearly. Still, it was an interesting bird to see and one of the hoped-for species, even though we had not really expected to see one. A bit of a bonus to end the day.

27th September 2015 – Warbler Time

Day 5, the final day, of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With the wind having gone round to the east yesterday, good conditions to bring us birds in from the continent, we headed out in search of migrants at Holkham. It was another glorious day, sunny and warm – great weather to be out birding.

It was still early when we arrived at Lady Anne’s Drive, so we had no trouble parking. We could see a flock of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadows and both Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier circling over. We walked west along the path on the inside edge of the pines.

P1090936Salts Hole – on a still & sunny autumn day

It was quiet at first in the trees, where it was still quite cool in the shade. Several small flocks of Siskin flew over calling, perhaps as likely to be feeding in the pines now as on the move. It was beautiful looking out over the grazing marshes from the edge of Salts Hole, which was flat as a mill pond today. A couple of Little Grebes were out diving in the middle and laughing maniacally (or that’s what their calls sounded like!).

P1090952Little Grebe – two were out on Salts Hole this morning

Beyond Salts Hole, the trees either side of the path open out a little and we started to pick up more birds. A Chiffchaff was calling from the trees. Half way to Washington Hide, we picked up a call ahead of us which we recognised – like a Goldcrest, but sharper. It was flitting around in a holm oak and hard to see amongst the dark leaves, but we saw its head poke out and could see a white supercilium – it was a Firecrest. We spent some time trying to see it better, getting glimpses of it, before it flicked across to the trees the other side and silently disappeared.

The sycamores by Washington Hide can be very good for birds, so we climbed up the ramp and had a good look but they were quiet at first. As we walked back round to the hide, we spotted a white head protruding above the reeds with a large yellow bill attached. The Great White Egret has been around for about four weeks now, but it can be very elusive for such a large bird. So it was great to see it today. We sat down in the hide and watched it (or its head at least) before it disappeared completely behind the reeds.

IMG_1299Great White Egret – head and bill showing above the reeds

The door to the hide was still open, so we could hear the tit flock as it approached through the trees. We went back out and started scanning through the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Treecreepers, etc. Then we heard the call, like a shrill, slurred Chiffchaff, from further along the sycamores. We hurried along and eventually picked up the Yellow-browed Warbler up in the tops. It was hard to see well at first, in and out of the leaves, calling occasionally. Then it flew across to the more isolated trees by the hide where it was much easier to get everyone on – we could see the bright supercilium and two pale wing bars. It fed there for a few seconds before the tit flock headed off east and it went after them. A great start to the day, especially having missed a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers yesterday – and even better to find one of our own!

We continued on west along the path, stopping by Meals House to look at the sycamores there. As we stood behind the house, another Yellow-browed Warbler flew in from the west and dropped into the trees in front of us. It looked like it was a fresh arrival, because it promptly flew back again past us. Just round the corner, what we presumed was the same Yellow-browed Warbler called from a small birch tree on the south side of the path. We got cracking views of this one as well. And while we were watching it, yet another Yellow-browed Warbler started calling from further back in the trees on the other side of the path. Wow!

P1100005Yellow-browed Warbler – the second or third we saw this morning

This looks like it will probably be a good year for Yellow-browed Warblers in the UK. On their way from Siberia to SE Asia, they are blown across in our direction in variable numbers each autumn. After the earliest record for Norfolk earlier in the month, and large numbers first in Scandinavia and then in the Northern Isles, we could be on for big numbers here this year if conditions are right.

Continuing westwards, we found more tits and Goldcrests and several Chiffchaffs along the path. The west end of the pines was disappointingly quiet, as were the first dunes. We were told of a Redstart in the dunes but the poor directions (‘over those dunes in a bush’!) meant we went on a bit of a wild goose chase. A Stonechat perched up on the top of the bushes. By that stage, everyone was getting a bit hot and tired so we turned to head back. As we got to the west end of the pines, yet another Yellow-browed Warbler called once from the bushes on the south side of the fence – we were up to at least four for the day!

On our way back, we checked carefully through the flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrests once again. We didn’t find any more at first, but just before the cross tracks we came across a small crowd gathered watching – yes, you’ve guessed it – a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was flitting around in the tops of the sycamores in the sunshine, hovering and flycatching – giving us another great view of its white striped head and wings. As we all stood there, it gradually became clear that different parts of the crowd were actually looking at two different birds – there were two Yellow-browed Warblers at opposite sides of the same tree.

By this stage it was getting harder and harder to tell just how many Yellow-browed Warblers had arrived in Holkham Pines overnight. Were these latest two different again, or had two of the birds we had seen earlier moved along the pines? With no sign of the birds by Meals House or Washington Hide, perhaps the latter. We lost sight of the birds in the sycamore and a couple of seconds later we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees on the other side of the path. It was just amazing to see so many of these delightful little sprites today, flitting around in the sunshine.

We were tipped off that the Great White Egret had moved to the pool by Joe Jordan Hide, so we popped in there next. It was rather more distant than we had seen the business end of it this morning, but we could see the rest of it now!

The arrival of large numbers of Pink-footed Geese has been a real feature of the last couple of days. There was already a large number on the grazing marshes from Washington Hide as we walked out this morning. They were very noisy and rather jumpy, constantly being spook and flying between the meadows. From the Joe Jordan Hide we were scanning the sky for raptors when we spotted another huge skein of Pink-footed Geese about 1,000 strong flying in over the fields beyond. They made their way steadily in and turned into the wind to drop down towards the grazing marshes, whiffling as they did so to lose height. Presumably fresh in from the north, perhaps straight from Iceland.

P1090963Pink-footed Geese – another huge flock was newly arrived at Holkham today

We made our way back to the car from there and, after a pit stop in Wells, headed along the coast to Warham Greens. We stopped at the middle track today and ate our lunch, before wandering down to the end. There were a few tits and Goldcrests in the hedges. We could see a couple of people in the field by the pit, so we turned the other way towards the whirligig.

The wind had picked up a little and it was a bit more exposed out on the front. There were very few birds around in the hedges and bushes today. Out on the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Golden Plover and Curlew, but no sign of the hoped-for Whimbrel today. A single Bar-tailed Godwit circled round with the Golden Plover when they took to the air. We could hear Greenshank calling, and eventually found one roosting on the edge of one of the small pools, its white head and underparts really shining in the sun. A very smart male Marsh Harrier flew in from the saltmarsh and over the hedge in front of us.

P1100023Marsh Harrier – a lovely silvery-winged male

Heading back the other way, the pit was very quiet – most of the sylvia warblers seem to have cleared out in the recent fine weather. We had been told of a Pied Flycatcher at Garden Drove so we continued our way west. When we got there we found it had been showing very well but had just completely disappeared. Another flock of tits and Goldcrests was making its way down along the hedge by the track, but the flycatcher was not to be found with them.

We stood in the sun and most of the group decided it was a good opportunity to sit down on the grass and enjoy the warmth. While they did, we walked quietly back down the track to the wood at the end. By now, the tits were in the trees here and as we stood and watched the Long-tailed Tits flycatching in the sycamores, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the tops briefly. Perhaps the bird we had missed yesterday or perhaps a new arrival, given the number which it appears had come in overnight.

P1100043Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the trees on Garden Drove

When we got back to the rest of the group, there was still no sign of the Pied Flycatcher at first. One of them had walked further up and whistled us over as it finally showed itself again. We watched it preening in the sunshine and flycatching along the edge of the field. It was a lovely way to end a very successful tour.

P1100074Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the sun along Garden Drove this afternoon

26th September 2015 – Catching Up on the Coast

Day 4 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. Having headed west yesterday, we decided to go the other way along the coast this morning. It was glorious weather to be out on the coast – sunshine, blue skies and light winds. It could almost have been summer!

We drove along to Cley first and headed out to walk around the south side of the reserve. We could hear Bearded Tits calling almost immediately – there was a lot of ‘pinging’ coming from the reedbed this morning. As we walked along the path, suddenly four Bearded Tits flew up from the reeds and started climbing up into the sky. This is the time of year when little parties of them disperse along the coast but they could not pluck up the courage to move today and eventually dropped back into the reeds. It was perfect conditions for looking for Bearded Tits – sunny and still.

We walked round to where we thought we might be able to see them better and, between more bouts of ‘pinging’, we saw eight Bearded Tits flying around the tops of the reeds together. They kept flying round and dropping into the reeds, but eventually they landed and climbed up into the tops where we could get them in the scope. They looked amazing in the morning sun, with three cracking males with grey heads and drooping black moustaches (beards!).

IMG_1235Bearded Tit – cracking views of at least 8 today, including 3 stunning males

Nearby, a female Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the bushes in the reedbed. We got her in the scope and enjoyed amazing views of her too. She sat there for a while looking round, then started calling. A Magpie came to investigate but just hopped around in the bush below her and she ignored it. She seemed to yawn a couple of times, opening her bill and stretching her neck up – she looked like she might be calling, but though we had heard her earlier we didn’t when she did this.

IMG_1259IMG_1254Marsh Harrier – stunning views of this female preening & yawning

She preened for a while and stretched, hanging out her left wing at one point, giving us a great view of the pale leading edge to the inner wing shown by adult female Marsh Harriers. Stunning views!

IMG_1264Marsh Harrier – stretching to show us the pale leading edge to the wing

The water levels on the reserve have been high in the last couple of weeks, which is good for the ducks arriving for the winter, but with all scrapes in a similar state it means there have not been so many waders. We had a quick look at Pat’s Pool and could see that there was still a lot of water. There were lots of birds present – especially ducks, mostly Wigeon and Teal, with a few Shoveler and a couple of Pintail. Most of the drakes are still in drab eclipse plumage, but a drake Teal was more advanced in its moult and already showing a rather smart head pattern. A single Gadwall was also a smart drake.

There were lots of larger waders present, but limited variety – a large mob of Black-tailed Godwits and lots of Lapwing. Amongst them were a few Ruff. They were mostly adults, with whiter underparts and white-scalloped grey-brown uppers. There was only one much browner juvenile.

P1090890Little Grebe – catching lots of fish in the channel in front of the hide

There was a young Little Grebe fishing in the channel right in front of the hide. It seemed to be doing very well, catching lots of small fish. Some of the group saw a Water Rail briefly along the channel as well, while the rest of us were still bewitched by the Bearded Tits.

P1090905Marsh Harrier – seen off by the Lapwings

When the Marsh Harrier had finished stretching and preening, she flew out across the reedbed and circled around the back of the scrape. She didn’t seem to be hunting – perhaps she did it just to cause mayhem in the birds loafing on Pat’s Pool. She certainly caused a stir, as all the birds over the back of the scrape took to the air. Several Lapwing set off after her, but she didn’t really seem to be perturbed as she drifted back to the reedbed. All the ducks and waders quickly settled again. A single Common Snipe had obviously been brought out by the activity, as it suddenly appeared out in the middle as everything else landed.

P1090911Pat’s Pool – the Marsh Harrier stirred up all the birds as it circled over

With not much else to tempt us out onto the reserve, we decided to move on further east along the coast. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported again this morning at Walsey Hills – it had been present for a few days but had been elusive earlier on in its stay. We popped in to have a look, but quickly discovered that it hadn’t been seen or heard of since early this morning. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the bushes and lots of insects buzzing round the flowering ivy. We didn’t linger, and continued on.

We had tried to see the Barred Warbler at Kelling a couple of days ago, without success. It seemed to have been showing more reliably this morning, so we decided to give it another go. A couple of Bullfinches flew ahead of us, calling, as we walked up the lane. One perched up in the top of an ash tree and we could see that it was a juvenile – more rusty-brown coloured and lacking a black cap.

There was a little crowd gathered for the Barred Warbler as we arrived. We waited patiently for a while and it flicked into view. It was rather furtive, working its way through the brambles and occasionally flying back up into the hawthorn, picking at berries. It kept showing itself as it lumbered around in the undergrowth – a large, pale grey warbler – though it kept dropping back into cover. It was good to catch up with it, having missed it earlier in the week. A couple of Blackcap were in the brambles as well and a Whitethroat was in the hedge further along.

There were lots of finches in the hedgerows and weedy fields  – Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets. A couple of Redpolls flew over calling. A Yellowhammer flew up and perched in the hedge, just long enough for us to get it in the scope.

P1090926Egyptian Geese – the resident pair on the Water Meadow

There was a lot of water on the Water Meadow still today – not so much of a surprise here, after all the recent rain, as there is no way to control the levels. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were present as usual, along with a smattering of Teal and  a single Shoveler asleep.

Walking round on the path, a Common Lizard slithered quickly off the path and disappeared into the verge. There were two Stonechats as usual on the hillside above the Quags. We followed the path up and could see another four more distantly on the fence over on Weybourne Camp. The sea was flat calm, but a small group of Wigeon were offshore and some very distant Gannets were flying past.

IMG_1044Stonechat – at least 6 at Kelling today, this one from the other day

The warm sunny weather meant perfect conditions for raptors moving along the coast. While we were watching the Barred Warbler, we had seen a little kettle of nine Common Buzzards circling up over the fields beyond. It was to be a bit of a theme today. When we got back to the car, another two Common Buzzards drifted off the ridge on the edge of Kelling Heath and over the village. Later in the afternoon, we saw more kettles circling along the coast.

After lunch, we started to make our way back west. Stiffkey Fen was our next post of call. There were Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees as we made our way our way along the path. We could just see a large white blob out amongst the geese as we walked past the Fen, through the overgrown vegetation. From up on the seawall, everyone could see it was a Spoonbill. It was asleep at first, doing what every self-respecting Spoonbill likes to do most, but woke up a couple of times briefly, just long enough to flash its long, spoon-shaped bill. The yellow tip confirmed it was an adult.

IMG_1293Spoonbill – during one of its waking moments, an adult

While we were watching the first Spoonbill sleeping, a second flew in from the direction of the saltmarsh. It circled over the Fen, dropping down towards the water. We could see it was a young bird from the black tips to its wings. Unfortunately it landed out of view behind the reeds. A Kingfisher called and flashed past upriver.

There was not much else of note out on the Fen. Once again, the water levels are too high here. There were lots of Greylag and Canada Geese and a respectable congregation of ducks, including a few more Pintail. Lapwing represented the bulk of the waders, plus a handful of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. A Greenshank was feeding in the saltwater channel on the other side of the seawall together with a Redshank, giving us a nice side-by-side comparison of the two species.

We walked round to the harbour, with the view out to Blakeney Point beyond looking beautiful in the sunshine. The tide was still out, but we could see lots of birds out on the mud. The large gathering of gulls included both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the latter’s custard-yellow legs glowing in the sun. There are already a good number of Brent Geese in here, plus there was a small group of Mute Swans out in the channel. When a small boat sailed past, a large flock of Wigeon took to the air and circled round over it. Pink-footed Geese were a big theme of yesterday, with many hundreds arriving in the afternoon. We had a couple more groups coming in over the harbour – heading off in different directions, both east and west along the coast.

The waders were mostly distant. Once again there were lots of Oystercatcher roosting on the mud and good numbers of Curlew. Another Greenshank was asleep in the channel in front of us, again with a Redshank for company. While we were standing there, we heard more Greenshank calling and seven more flew in over our heads and dropped down towards the Fen.

We still had time for one last stop on our way back, so we called in at Warham Greens briefly. Another Yellow-browed Warbler had been seen here earlier in the morning, but by the time we got there a few forelorn souls were searching in vain – it seemed to have moved off with one of the local Long-tailed Tit flocks a few hours earlier and no one seemed to know which way it had gone. We walked down to the end of the track and had a look in the sycamores. We saw a couple of Goldcrests on our way down and two Chiffchaffs flycatching in the late afternoon sun in the trees. We stopped to admire the big flock of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh. Then it was time to call it a day.

25th September 2015 – Titchwell Time

Day 3 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. Back on the coast, we made our way west to Titchwell this morning, to explore the reserve. It was a lovely day – a bright start, plenty of sunny intervals with only patchy cloud.

The car park was not too full when we first arrived, but we knew it would fill up fast. We walked round the corner to explore the overflow car park before it got too busy. Several Blackcaps were feeding in the brambles, which are now laden with fruit. We saw both black-capped grey male and rusty-capped browner female/young birds. A Chiffchaff was flycatching from an elder tree. There were also a few Chaffinches around the bushes and a smattering of tits – a Coal Tit flew over and a flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way across. The highlight was a male Bullfinch which fed quietly in the brambles just long enough for everyone to get a good look at it in the scope.

P1090747Common Darter – basking in the morning sun

As we walked out along the main path, there were lots of insects in the vegetation along the bank, including several dragonflies, enjoying the early morning sunshine and out of the wind in the lee of the trees – Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. Out on the grazing meadow, there were lots of Lapwings and several Curlew in the long grass.

The grazing meadow pool is still pretty dry – still no sign of the landowner reflooding it (it is not part of the reserve). The Lapwings seemed to like it here too, but it doesn’t seem to attract much else. A cock Pheasant looked beautiful catching in the sun on the edge of the vegetation. A little further along, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. There was a good raft of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck out there again today, plus a Little Grebe and a couple of Mute Swan cygnets.

We made our way to Island Hide first. The water has dropped and with a strong westerly wind recently the remaining water has been pushed over to the far side of the reserve. Consequently, the waders were a little distant today and reduced in number. We found a couple of small groups of Dunlin and two Ringed Plover with them, but not so many small waders and no sign of the Little Stints today. A little group of Avocet were asleep over towards the back. There were only a couple each of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit.

IMG_1157Common Snipe – not so well camouflaged on the fresh green vegetation

The edge of the reeds nearest the hide had been lacking in activity initially, but a Common Snipe dropped in and we all turned to have a good look at it. It was nervous out in the open, and not particularly well camouflaged in the lush green vegetation out on the exposed mud. It was trying to feed, but kept stopping and looking round, before hurrying across.

While we were watching the Snipe, a sharp-eyed member of the group spotted a Water Rail just behind it, working its way along the edge of the reeds. It kept disappearing into the reeds out of sight, before emerging again, never venturing too far out into the open. At one point, when it disappeared from view, it started calling – loud squealing, a little reminiscent of a pig. It was great to hear it as well as see it.

IMG_1147Water Rail – working its way furtively along the edge of the reeds

It was a bit breezy for Bearded Tits to be showing their best today, but they have been seen regularly feeding along the edge of the reeds in recent weeks. We eventually found one doing just that today, but it had chosen the reeds at the very far side of the freshmarsh!

The number of ducks on the freshmarsh has been steadily growing in recent weeks, as birds return for the winter. There are already a good number of Teal and Wigeon present. At this time of the year, the males are still mostly in dull, female-like eclipse plumage, meaning they are not looking their best. Amongst them we also found a few Shoveler and a Gadwall or two. Two paler brown ducks at the back of the freshmarsh, with swan-like necks and rounded heads, were a couple of Pintail.

From round at Parrinder Hide, we added a couple more birds to the day’s list. Right over in the back corner, we found a Spotted Redshank asleep amongst the ducks and gulls. At first, all we could see was its red legs and its very pale underparts catching the sun. Very occasionally, it would wake up for a second and flash its long, needle-fine bill. A little later, when we looked back, it had multiplied – three Spotted Redshanks asleep!

Out in front of the hide, just along the bank, four geese were feeding. Most of the geese here are Greylags, but one of the four was slightly smaller, with a darker head and smaller, darker bill. It was a lone Pink-footed Goose and it was great to see it alongside the Greylags to compare and contrast. Unfortunately, it appeared to have an injured wing, so it was more likely a bird which had spent the summer here rather than a returning migrant. Despite this, it was a harbinger of things to come.

P1090777Pink-footed Goose – this apparently injured bird was with the local Greylag

We checked out the other half of Parrinder Hide as well, but the Volunteer Marsh was pretty quiet. A few waders consisted of mostly Common Redshank and Curlew, plus a couple of Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit.

P1090811Common Redshank – one of the few waders to favour the Volunteer Marsh

As we got back to the main path from Parrinder Hide, we saw a larger flock of waders flying in from the direction of the beach. They headed straight for the freshmarsh, whirling round for a while before settling on the mud, a mixture of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. They shuffled nervously for a short while. It was not high tide, so presumably they had been disturbed from the beach, and shortly afterwards we saw them flying back out there.

There was more activity on the tidal pools. This seems to be the preferred feeding place for the Black-tailed Godwits which remain on the reserve at the moment. One particular individual came right down in front of us, feeding. It looked around when the cameras started firing off and even raised its wings just enough to give us a great flash of its black tail.

P1090850Black-tailed Godwit – helpfully flashing its black tail for us

This seems to be the preferred place at the moment for most of the waders to roost when they are pushed off the beach. Clustered round the muddy islands were little groups of Dunlin with a few Turnstone and Ringed Plover in amongst them. Further over, the Oystercatcher were gathered separately on the saltings. In front of them, on a muddy spit, was where the Grey Plover had chosen to rest. While scanning through the Grey Plover, we came across a bird asleep with them, face on but with a much paler white front. When it woke up and started preening our suspicions were confirmed, a very elegant Greenshank.

IMG_1168Greenshank – roosting with the Grey Plover on the tidal pools

Suddenly, a flock of birds appeared from the beach again and whirled round over the Tidal Pools. It was great to watch them – mostly Knot but with a couple of much larger Bar-tailed Godwits and a single black-armpitted Grey Plover in amongst them. After circling round a couple of times, they landed on the same muddy spit. Again, the Knot shuffled nervously in a little gang before they seemed to gain confidence and settled down to bathe and preen.

IMG_1177Knot – a nervous flock whirled over the tidal pools before eventually settling

The tide was coming in, but the rocks were still not covered by the time we got out to the beach. However, we could see why the waders had been pushed off so early – a little phalanx of photographers had made their way right out onto the rocks. We did see a couple of Sanderling running along by the waves on the other side of the beach and another four which flew past just offshore, very pale silvery grey above and white below.

Carefully scanning, we managed to pick up a few birds on the sea today. A single drake Common Scoter was just offshore and the yellow top to its bill showed really well in the sunshine. A smart summer adult Red-throated Diver also appeared just off the beach and again the lighting was just perfect to be able to catch its red throat as it turned. There were also several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea, starting to look increasingly pale-faced. A Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore.

While we were standing on the sand, we heard a slightly hard but ringing ‘teu’ call and looked up to see a small brown bird flying towards us over the beach. It circled overhead and we could see that it was a Lapland Bunting. We see them more generally in winter, so this was an early one but not abnormally so. They can be scarce, so this was a great bird to see. Unfortunately, it didn’t land but seemed to turn towards Brancaster before coming back round behind us into the sun and disappearing over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Point.

P1090878Pink-footed Geese – small flocks were flying in off the sea all afternoon

While we were on the beach, we also heard the distinctive high-pitched honking of Pink-footed Geese and looked up to see a skein of about 50 birds coming in over the sea. Unlike the unfortunate bird we had seen earlier on the freshmarsh, these were migrants arriving fresh on their journey from Iceland. It was to be a theme of the rest of the afternoon – a fairly constant stream of little groups of mostly 30-50 birds passing east overhead. On our way back later in the day, we even saw a small flock of Pink-footed Geese whiffling down onto Holkham freshmarsh – which may be their home for the winter now. It was fantastic to see such real migration in action, these birds are such a major part of winter birding in Norfolk.

After all the excitement, we were a little later than intended getting back to the car for a late lunch. Afterwards, we headed out again to the East Trail and Patsy’s Reedbed. We stopped briefly by the visitor centre to look at the feeders and apart from the usual selection of finches we were rewarded with a single Siskin hanging on the peanuts, a rather washed out grey-green juvenile. We had earlier heard a few flying over, though not in the big numbers of recent weeks, so it was nice to see one close up for a change. As we walked out towards Fen Hide, three Lesser Redpoll circled over calling.

IMG_1196Siskin – after so many flying over, it was nice to get a good look at one today

There was no sign of the Bittern today while we were out at Patsy’s Reedbed – it had been seen earlier, flying over into the reeds at the back. However, there were plenty of duck – more Mallard and Gadwall, including some smart drakes already emerging from eclipse, plus more Shoveler. There were also around 15 Ruff, mostly juveniles in various shades of buff, beige or tawny brown, plus at least three more Common Snipe feeding quietly along the edge. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed and made a pass over the pool, spooking all the birds.

P1090862Shoveler – an eclipse drake

There were also lots of Black-headed Gull dropping in to the water to bathe and preen while we were there. We carefully scanned through them as they gathered, but couldn’t find anything more than the odd Common Gull with them. We were on our way to the Autumn Trail when we glanced back and caught a pair of bright white wings coming in – an adult Mediterranean Gull. It circled over the water a couple of times, before landing out of view in the melee.

We walked round to the end of the Autumn Trail, where it overlooks the back of the freshmarsh. We could hear Bearded Tits calling as we arrived, and two flew over from the bank, across the path and dropped down into the reeds. It was still just a bit too breezy for them to come out, but we could hear pretty constant pinging and caught the odd brief flight view while we stood there.

Scanning the freshmarsh, we couldn’t see anything new but we did get a better view of the Spotted Redshanks. Once again, they seemed to multiply while we were there, with birds dropping in, presumably pushed off favoured feeding areas by the tide. We started off with three and by the time we left we had got up to eight! They were also a bit more active now, preening.

By the time we got back to the car, we didn’t have time for much more today. We made a quick detour up via Choseley, but there was little of note around the drying barns – a group of Collared Doves came down to search for food on the concrete pad, several Pied Wagtails were zooming round, and a few finches perched up on the wires. We had a quick drive round the area – scanning the fields produced a single covey of Grey Partridges and a couple of Red-legged Partridges. A few Brown Hares were mostly lying low. On our way back down to the coast, a small falcon flashed across the field and across the road in front of us, a Merlin, unfortunately too quickly for most of the group to get onto it. Then it was time to call it a day.

24th September 2015 – Inland Birding

Day 2 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With few new migrants appearing on the coast yesterday, we decided to head inland to try for something different. After heavy rain overnight, it had pretty much cleared through by the morning, though was still cloudy and a bit damp at first. It brightened up nicely during the day, but was still cool in the blustery west wind.

We drove down to the Wensum Valley first. There had been an Osprey here for some days previously, stopping off on its way south to Africa, and we thought it might be a nice way to start the day today. It has been roaming up and down the river, visiting various fishing lakes. Unfortunately there was no sign of it at its favourite site, or any of its usual haunts. A Common Buzzard sat in the tree overlooking the lakes. Behind us, a Kestrel perched in the top of a hawthorn eyeing us curiously.

IMG_1118Kestrel – not the Osprey we had hoped to see this morning

Still, there were lots of other birds to see here. A Kingfisher zipped back and forth across the lake in front of us. A Grey Wagtail flew over – its very sharp call and, once we then saw it, its bounding flight and very long tail gave it away. A short while later, two Grey Wagtails flew back the other way, right over our heads. There were Siskin here as well – part of the huge influx we have seen in recent weeks. A party of twelve flew in calling and landed in the ash tree right in front of us, dropping down to an alder by the lakes, before flying off again.

Three Stock Doves perched up on the wires. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting the differences from Woodpigeon – the smaller size, lack of a white neck patch and the glossy green there instead, the black spots in the wings. A flock of Golden Plover circled up distantly above the fields beyond. A few lingering Swallows and House Martins flew over.

There was no shortage of Egyptian Geese here. When we arrived, two were in the Osprey’s favourite dead tree, and they stayed there pretty much throughout. Another very noisy party of eight flew in along the river. It was lovely down by the lakes this morning, but it gradually became clear that there had been no sign of the Osprey all morning. We decided to head on inland.

P1090699Egyptian Geese – flashing their white wing panels as they flew over

From there, we made our way down into the Brecks. The region is well known for the Stone Curlews which breed here and early autumn is a good time to look for large post-breeding flocks which gather in favoured fields at this time of year. We tried one of the best sites for them but unfortunately there was lots of disturbance today, people working in the fields and lots of tractors driving back and forth. We drove around the area to see if we could find them at any other sites, but there was no sign. We did see lots of other farmland birds – big flocks of corvids around the pig fields, coveys of both Grey Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, both flushed by tractors in the fields, flocks of finches and lots of Pied Wagtails.

With the morning getting on, we decided to head further into the Brecks to Lynford Arboretum to try to add some woodland birds to the list. We walked round the top part of the arboretum before lunch. There were lots of birds, but they were hard to see at times in the tops of the trees. It was rather windy and they were keeping to cover today. Coal Tits outnumbered the rest, with little groups feeding in the fir trees, plus Blue and Great Tits. We also saw several Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a couple of Nuthatches.

After lunch, we walked further into the arboretum, down to the lake. There was a Marsh Tit calling as we reached the bridge, but it disappeared into the trees as we walked up. We tried the woodland walk to see if we could find it again, but as we got back to the bridge it was there again, calling. It was particularly windy by the lake and all the birds were proving hard to see. We walked back up through the arboretum again, seeing much the same as we had earlier. We had to get ourselves back up to the coast to finish, but with the report of a Barred Warbler at Kelling and “showing well”, we decided to head that way earlier than planned to try to see it.

The walk along the lane was fairly quiet today – obviously lots of people had been up and down there already. A few Chaffinches were in the hedges. There were still several butterflies out in the sunshine – Speckled Woods and Red Admirals. We had seen a single Southern Hawker among the trees in the car park at Lynford Arboretum over lunch, but most of the dragonflies out today were Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. While we were walking down the lane at Kelling a single Migrant Hawker landed on the brambles & nettles along the path, giving us a great opportunity to admire it up close.

P1090718Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sun along the lane at Kelling

Out on the water meadow, we could see the regular pair of Egyptian Geese and a smattering of duck – several Teal and three Shoveler, the latter with their heads down constantly in the water, feeding. A lone Curlew was probing in the grass on the edge. A Little Egret was fishing along the north side and a single Grey Heron sat preening in the sunshine in the reeds along the drainage channel on the Quags.

IMG_1130Stonechat – one of the males down at the water meadow

The Barred Warbler had been seen along the hedge between the path and the water meadow, but there had been no further sign of it for a couple of hours by the time we got there. With all the disturbance up and down the lane, it had presumably hidden itself in cover. A party of Stonechat were feeding around the Quags – at least four, two males and two females.  They were very active, flying back and forth between vantage points, dropping down to the ground after prey or flycatching up into the air. It was hard to keep up with them. There were also lots of Linnet and Goldfinch around the Quags.

P1090734Stonechat – a female perched on the dead thistle head along the lane

It was lovely down by the water meadow in the afternoon sunshine, so we stood for a while just in case the main target might show itself again. Lines of gulls were making their way west overhead, presumably heading off to roost, and a few Black-headed Gulls dropped in to bathe. Finally we were out of time and had to make our way back. A Great Spotted Woodpecker perched in the top of one of the fir trees back by the main road, calling, as we left.

23rd September 2015 – Dunes & Woods

Day 1 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. The weather was kind to us – some sun and blue skies, some patchy cloud – although it was cool at times in the blustery west wind. With the possibility of a tiny window of wind coming in off the continent overnight, we headed for Burnham Overy first thing to see if we could find any fresh migrants.

As we got out of the car, we could see a couple of flocks of Golden Plover overhead, alternately flashing bright white underwings and gold spangled upperparts as they turned in the morning sun. The hedges on the walk out are full of berries – ready for the autumn thrushes. A Chiffchaff called from one side and a Goldcrest flitted across on the other side, calling – the latter as likely a migrant arrived from the continent than a resident. The fields were full of Curlews – and a large flock of Egyptian Geese.

IMG_1072Grey Plover – out on the saltmarsh at Burnham Overy

From the seawall, we scanned across the saltmarsh and Burnham Overy Harbour. With the tide out, there were lots of Redshank on the mud and a couple of Grey Plover in amongst them. Further over, in the channel, a flock of Wigeon dropped in and behind them we picked up a small group of Dunlin feeding on the edge. A party of plain-looking Knot came up from the harbour and flew out towards the beach.

The reedbed pool was quiet today. A Little Grebe appeared briefly, but headed quickly for the reeds. It was a bit too exposed and windy out there. We could hear Bearded Tits calling but they were staying tucked down, out of the wind.  We did get a quick glimpse of a grey-headed male as he flew across the reeds just before he dropped back into cover. A group of five Skylarks flew over us as we walked out along the bank.

The bushes by the boardwalk are a very good spot for migrants when birds are arriving but they were quiet as well today. There were a few of the resident Linnets and Dunnocks present, as usual. However, the area was very disturbed, with Holkham Estate staff replacing the fence all the way between the boardwalk and the west end of the pines today. A couple of butterflies were sunning themselves – a Comma wouldn’t settle for long but a Small Heath performed nicely in the brambles. We decided to walk east into the dunes, towards the pines.

P1090601Small Heath – sunning itself on the brambles by the boardwalk

The massive movement of Siskins along the coast has been the standout feature of recent weeks, but numbers have clearly now tailed off. We did have a couple of small flocks of Siskin flying west over the dunes today, but not the numbers we have seen recently. A flock of three Redpoll also flew over us, calling.

We hadn’t gone far into the dunes when we came across a Wheatear. They like the short grass and lichen-covered slopes and hollows out here. It dropped over a ridge out of view, so we climbed up to get a better look at it. It would perch up on dead plant stems or hillocks before flitting  back down to the ground looking for food, flashing its white tail base as it did so.

IMG_1080Wheatear – feeding out in the dunes today

A little further on, in the bushes on the south side of where the fence would normally be, we glimpsed what appeared to be two Whinchats briefly. We were looking east into the sun, so repositioned ourselves to get a better view. After a short while, a pair of Stonechats appeared nearby – perhaps we were mistaken about the Whinchats? We got them in the scope and had a good look at them – the black-faced male and brown-cheeked female Stonechat – before they worked their way west in the direction we had just come. More of the fencing crew were right where the chats were trying to feed, with loud machinery, so we decided to carry on and swing back this way later.

The bushes by the west end of the pines were also rather quiet, but a scan of the grazing marshes revealed a small flock of 30+ Pink-footed Geese out on the grass. They have just begun to return from Iceland in the last couple of weeks and numbers are very slowly starting to increase. We got them in the scope and could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills. A short while later a large skein of about 200 geese appeared over the fields way off to the south, beyond the coast road. As they gradually got closer we could hear them calling – more Pink-footed Geese – and half of them whiffled down onto the marshes (the rest carried on west towards Holkham).

We couldn’t find any other migrants in the dunes, so we turned to head back. About half way to the boardwalk, a couple of birds appeared in the bushes by the old fence line. We stopped and got the scope on them – Whinchats, just along from where we had seen them earlier. Then another two appeared, probably disturbed by the fencing activity. We got a great look at them in the scope, noting their distinctive pale supercilium, and the differences between the different birds ranging from rather pale and washed out to one with quite a strong orange coloured breast.

IMG_1088Whinchat – we eventually tracked down four in the dunes

Back at the boardwalk, we stopped to admire several Golden Plover which had dropped down onto the saltmarsh. They are remarkably well camouflaged amongst the vegetation out here. Then we made our way back to the car.

IMG_1095Golden Plover – well camouflaged among the dead sea lavender flowers

Our next destination was Wells, but we took a little detour inland on the way there. As we drove, we glimpsed a Red Kite over the fields beyond the hedge. Pulling in at the next farm track, we could see it drifting lazily over, flashing its red, forked tail. Further along the track, a covey of nine Grey Partridge appeared. They ran along, making a couple of failed attempts to get into the cover of the verge, before finally getting round the corner out of view. A little further on, another three Grey Partridge were feeding quietly in a cultivated field. When they crouched down, they looked to all intents and purposes like clods of earth.

P1090630Grey Partridge – one of at least 12 we saw on a short detour en route to Wells

We headed down to Wells beach car park for lunch and afterwards walked back to take a quick look in the harbour. The tide was coming in, but there were still several waders feeding on the mud on the far side – mainly Curlews and Oystercatchers. Three juvenile Ringed Plover were trying to roost on a rapidly disappearing island. While we were scanning through the waders we picked up two ducks in the harbour channel – two redhead Red-breasted Mergansers. They were diving constantly, so were hard to get in the scope, but we all managed to see them eventually.

When a Sanderling flew past down the channel and disappeared round the corner past the lifeboat station, we decided to walk over to the beach to take a look from there. There were a lot more waders on that side – lots of Oystercatchers and, next to them, quite a nice flock of Knot with a few Dunlin mixed in. On a sand bar mid-channel, were a little huddle of Sanderling and a few Bar-tailed Godwit.

IMG_1106Peregrine – a juvenile out on one of the harbour sandbars

Further out, towards the sea, we could see a Peregrine out on the sand. We got it in the scope and could see that it was a young bird. We watched it for a while sitting patiently and then, having taken our eyes off it, a short while later it appeared closer in, just behind the wader flock, eyeing them up hungrily. A Marsh Harrier drifted across the channel towards us as well, from the direction of East Hills.

IMG_1117Peregrine – edging its way closer to the unsuspecting waders

There was also a good-sized flock of Brent Geese out in the harbour – these geese too are just starting to gather for the winter, in this case returning from Russia. Beyond the sandbar, over the open sea, we picked up a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Gannet, flying past distantly.

We spent rather longer looking in the harbour than we had anticipated, so we didn’t leave ourselves as much time to explore Wells Woods as we would perhaps have liked. However, the trees were very quiet at first as we walked through. A Chiffchaff called from the birch trees.

P1090647Common Darter – sunning itself out of the wind

We couldn’t find any trace of any of the tit flocks at first, not even around the drinking pool which has been a favoured area in recent days. We did see a nice Goldcrest low overhead in the pines and a Treecreeper working its way straight up a trunk nearby. Walking a little further along the main track, we encountered the surprise of the day. We heard them first – the distinctive ‘teesz’ call of Redwings. They dropped down out of the trees and into the brambles over an overgrown bank. Unfortunately as we climbed quietly up to try to see them, they flew off west, calling again. It is not long now before the hedgerows will be full of Redwings and Fieldfares, arriving from the continent and feasting on all the berries. However, these are the first Redwings of autumn we have seen.

As we worked our way back towards the car park, we finally found a flock of Long-tailed Tits and with them, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers. They were feeding on the edge of the pines and we didn’t know where to look as the came past us – birds everywhere, but none of them sitting still for long. However,  we had a good look but there was no sign today of the hoped for Yellow-browed Warbler amongst them.

Back at the car park, we were just walking back to the car when a Hedgehog appeared from the verge and started to walk out into the road. A passing car only just missed it. It was strange to see it out and about at this time of day and it seemed a little lethargic – perhaps it was not well? However, it turned and managed to burrow its way into the grass, finding a gap through the fence and deep into the brambles. Hopefully it will be OK. All too soon, it was then time for us to head for home.

P1090678Hedgehog – in the car park at Wells Beach this afternoon

20th September 2015 – Water, Water almost Everywhere

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. We made our way east this time, towards Cley. It was another lovely day, a bit hazy on the coast at times, but very pleasant in the sunshine.

The movement of Siskins overhead along the coast has been very much a feature of the past few days and today was no exception. As soon as we got out of the car at Cley, we could hear a small flock calling as they flew west. As we walked out to the hides, a little group of Blue Tits was feeding around the trees.

P1090446Blue Tit – outside the hides at Cley & showing very well

Just as we approached the hides, a Sparrowhawk appeared low over the marshes from the direction of Simmond’s Scrape. Two Dunlin flew off calling as it came over. The Sparrowhawk circled up over the Eye Field and was promptly joined by another which flew in from the direction of the West Bank. There was a big difference between them, the bigger bird an adult female and the much smaller one a browner young male. After a brief circle together, they flew off in different directions.

We thought the Sparrowhawk may have cleared all the waders off the scrapes, even though we hadn’t seen many flying off, but once we got into the hides we found them covered with water. After the rain we had late in the week, the water levels are very high again – not good for small waders. There were just a couple of Greenshank on Simmond’s and the usual crowds of Black-tailed Godwit and a few Ruff on Pat’s Pool. The high water levels are good for ducks, and there were plenty of Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler, but not looking their best at the moment, with the drakes still in eclipse plumage.

A young Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the bushes out in the reedbed, preening. A Sparrowhawk appeared and started to buzz it, presumably one of the ones we had seen earlier, although the harrier looked distinctly disinterested. There was not much else to see here, so we decided to try round the other side of the reserve.

IMG_1020Marsh Harrier – a pale-headed, dark-bodied juvenile

As we drove round towards the beach, a Kingfisher flew up out of the ditch beside the road and disappeared over the grazing marsh. From the beach car park, we walked east along the shingle, pausing to scan the sea as we went. There was a steady stream of Gannets moving east offshore, lots of slaty-grey juveniles and fewer white adults. A few lingering Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. A little party of three Red-throated Divers flew past and four Common Scoter went the other way. A Guillemot was out on the sea, but it was hard to get in the scope as it was diving constantly.

P1090463Gannets – a white adult following a slaty-grey juvenile

There were a couple of Wheatears out in the Eye Field, flashing their white tails as they flew, and several Skylarks hiding in the long grass. As well as the Siskins, there were a few parties of Meadow Pipits on the move today and a Grey Wagtail came low overhead with one of them as we walked along the beach (one of several we heard overhead today).

We had a quick look at North Scrape but here too the water levels were too high today. Apart from more ducks, there was very little to see, just four Redshank. However, while we were scanning around the scrape, a shape appeared over the water just in front of us – a Short-eared Owl. We noted its stiff-winged flight action as it came past, before gliding away from us towards Eye Field. It circled out over the grass, turning back towards us before dropping down to the ground on Billy’s Wash, out of view. A few of the local Jackdaws and Rooks thought about mobbing it but couldn’t work up the courage, circling above it for a while. A real bonus – Short-eared Owls are mainly winter visitors but there have been several on and off along the coast throughout this year.

P1090454Short-eared Owl – circling over Billy’s Wash

We carried on along the beach as far as the East Bank and had a quick look at Arnold’s Marsh. There was not much of note here either today, lots of Redshank, a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Curlew and four Dunlin. We heard a Spotted Redshank overhead, flying back and forth over the reserve, presumably struggling to find somewhere where it wanted to settle to feed. The Little Egret was in its usual place on the brackish pools by the path.

P1090469Little Egret – back feeding in its usual place on the brackish pools

We had originally intended to spend more of the morning at Cley, but with the high water levels, we decided to try our luck elsewhere. As we walked back to the car, as well as the steady stream of Gannets, we picked up a flock of wildfowl flying in over the sea. It was a bit of a mixed bag – several each of Wigeon and Teal, a single Pintail at the front and four Brent Geese bringing up the rear. Amazing to think that they were just arriving from the continent, from Scandinavia or further across into Russia.

From Cley, we drove a short distance further east along the coast to Kelling and walked down the lane to the Water Meadow. The hedgerows were full of berries and there were lots of Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches in there too. A large party of Blue Tits came past with a Chiffchaff singing just behind them. Down at the copse, a Goldcrest appeared briefly on the edge of the trees, followed shortly after by a male Blackcap.

The pool on the Water Meadow was also full of water, though there is no way of managing the water level here to get it lower. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were sleeping on the grass by the edge and a single Dunlin was rooting around in the wet grass beyond.

IMG_1046Stonechat – a smart male in the sunshine

We had really come here looking for chats. Down by the Quags, it didn’t take long for us to locate the local Stonechats. There were at least six of them today, a mixture of adults and moulting juveniles, perching up on the barbed wire fence and dropping down into the field after insects or flycatching from the brambles. Nearby, we found our first Whinchat as well – paler than the Stonechats and with a striking pale supercilium. It was a bit further over, so we decided to walk up the hill to get a better look.

Just around the corner, we almost walked past a Meadow Pipit creeping through the grass right next to the path. It froze as we approached and was next to impossible to see until you knew where it was hiding. Finally, we got too close and it flew up and dropped into the field beyond the fence.

P1090499Meadow Pipit – creeping through the grass by the path

When we got up onto the hill, we couldn’t find the Whinchat among the brambles any more. But walking round to where the Stonechats had been earlier on the fence, it suddenly reappeared and with a second Whinchat too. They were very active, flycatching and flicking between patches of brambles, flashing the white patches in the base of the tail as they went. We managed to get them in the scope, but the Stonechats did not appreciate their presence, and chased the Whinchats off back over the other side of the field.

IMG_1031Whinchat – one of two at Kelling Quags today

We were about to leave when a falcon flew quickly overhead. A Hobby, it flew out over the Quags and circled up. We watched it hawking for insects – when it caught something, it would bring its feet up to its bill to eat it on the wing. Behind us, we heard the roar of an old aircraft engine and turned to see a Spitfire looping and rolling in the sky over towards Weybourne, presumably part of the Holt/Sheringham 1940s weekend. Not the sort of bird we were looking for, and it put on almost as good a display as the Hobby.

On our way back, the Hobby clearly felt it needed to do one more pass and came low over our heads again as we walked back up the lane. We also flushed some Bullfinches from the hedgerow, probably a family party, we could see at least one young bird before they flew back up the lane calling.

P1090501Hobby – hawking for insects overhead

We had our lunch at the picnic tables back at Cley, to the soundtrack of a Water Rail screeching from the reeds just across the road. Afterwards, we made our way back west along the coast road to Stiffkey and walked out along the path to the Fen. Once again, we found it very full of water, to the extent that there was almost nothing left of the islands.

There had been 17 Spoonbills reported here earlier in the morning, but there was no sign of any at first when we got up onto the seawall. With the tide having gone out, they had probably flown out to feed. We heard a Kingfisher calling and turned to see it fly across the saltwater channel and land on the fence by the further sluice. We just had time to get a look at it in the scope before it flew again. It came straight towards us and looked as though it might land on the sluice right next to us, but seemed to notice us at the last minute. It veered away, passing below us in a flash of electric blue, then turned sharply, up over the seawall, round through the bushes and hard right down into the River Stiffkey channel out of view, calling as it went.

We turned back to the Fen, and there suddenly were two Spoonbills. Presumably they had been feeding out of view and had walked back out behind us while we were watching the Kingfisher over the other side. We got them in the scope and could see they were both adults, with yellow tips to their black bills. They stood preening for a while, before one of them started to feed, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side deep in the water.

IMG_1050Spoonbills – these two reappeared while our backs were turned

There was not much else on the Fen, given the high water levels. Mostly Greylag Geese with a few Canada Geese too, and a selection of ducks. The highlight of the latter was several Pintail, though the drakes were in dull eclipse plumage and they were all asleep. There was also a lot of disturbance down here today – dog walkers and cyclists up and down the path, and even several people walking out across the mudflats.

Round at the harbour, we could see lots of Oystercatcher out on the mud. We didn’t count them ourselves, but we were told there were at least 350 by someone who did. There were a few other waders as well – mainly Redshank and Curlew. A group of grey winter Knot were feeding on the edge of one of the channels. We could see several Turnstone way out in the distance, but one was feeding on the edge of the channel in front of us. It was doing just what it should – turning stones over to look for food! A single Grey Plover was on the mud nearby. There were also a good number of Brent Geese out in the harbour again today.

We walked back to the car, pausing briefly to look at Stiffkey Fen again, where an extra Spoonbill had now joined the two adults, this one a juvenile with fleshy bill lacking a yellow tip. Then we drove a short distance back further west to the other side of Stiffkey and parked down at the end of Greenway.  There were lots of cars in the car park and several people staring out at the saltmarsh, but we set off to walk west towards Warham Greens. It was all rather quiet bird-wise at first, possibly not a surprise given the number of dogwalkers, cyclists and people out for a Sunday stroll along the path, as well as the odd blackberry picker lurking in the hedges.

Just past the whirligig, we flushed a Greenshank from the edge of the saltmarsh. A little mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits made its way along the hedge beside us. Then, on the top of one of the hay bales by the path, we noticed a Wheatear. It had found itself a good vantage point and kept dropping down into the grass to feed before returning to its perch.

IMG_1065Wheatear – looking for food from the top of a hay bale

Then we picked up a lone Spoonbill feeding out on the saltmarsh. A second bird flew in from the east and dropped down nearby. Then we saw another two flying in as well. We could see them walking across the islands of vegetation before dropping down into the muddy pools to feed.

A Hen Harrier had been reported here earlier and we had hoped that we might bump into it ourselves, but it seemed like it was not to be. However, we were just about to turn round to head back, when we spotted a shape hunting low over the saltmarsh near East Hills. We got it in the scope and it was indeed the Hen Harrier, a ringtail. We got it in the scope and could see the characteristic white square at the base of the tail. It quartered low over the saltmarsh for a while before it dropped down out of view.

That seemed like a great day to wrap up the day, so we started to make our way back. Suddenly there seemed to be more life about. A Yellowhammer called from the top of the hawthorns by the path. A Brown Hare sat up in the field catching the afternoon sun. We had expected to see a Whimbrel out on the saltmarsh earlier, but we were almost back to the car when one finally flew up and past us close by. A nice way to end, then it was time to call it a day.

P1090508Brown Hare – sunning itself in the late afternoon light

19th September 2015 – Bittern, Bearded Tits & Waders

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today, which saw us heading west along the coast to Titchwell. It was a glorious day, bright and sunny, wall to wall blue skies at times, it could almost have been the summer we barely had.

We were making our way along the coast road when we spotted a large, dark bird in a stubble field alongside. There were no other cars coming, so we pulled up and had a quick look. It was a juvenile Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a paler cream head. It was pecking at the ground and clutching at the clods of earth, but didn’t appear to have caught anything. When another car came round the corner, it flew off inland.

P1090325Marsh Harrier – in a stubble field by the road this morning

When we got to Titchwell, the main car park was already starting to fill up. However, the overflow car park was still quiet so we had a walk round, looking in all the bushes and trees which are covered in berries and apples. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew across, calling. Several Chaffinches were feeding on the berries, as was a Blackcap. An obliging Song Thrush perched up amongst the brambles, catching the morning sun. A Comma butterfly did likewise, feeding on the blackberries.

P1090339Song Thrush – catching the sun among the berries in the car park

We went to have a look over the paddocks from the back of the car park and, while we scanned the fields we heard a falcon calling. Over the trees behind, we saw a Hobby flying in. As it approached the trees, two more Hobbys flew up from below it. We saw them grapple and drop down again out of sight. Shortly afterwards, we spotted one of them perched in one of the dead trees on the edge of the reserve. Through the scope, we could see that it was a juvenile and it was busy feeding on something, presumably food brought in by the adult we had seen.

IMG_0792Hobby – juvenile feeding on prey, presumably brought in by one of its parents

We had seen lots of Siskin flying overhead, moving along the coast, yesterday. As we walked out onto the reserve, it was clear they were still coming through, though perhaps in not such large numbers today, as a couple more small flocks flew overhead. A Redpoll flew over calling as well.

The grazing marsh pool is still largely dry, though with a few puddles from the recent rain. The Lapwings seem to like it like that, a couple of Ruff were feeding along the edge of the reeds in front of us and two Dunlin dropped in briefly as well. There were lots of birds in the reeds around the edge of the pool, mostly Reed Buntings and a Reed Warbler. We could hear several Bearded Tits calling, but when they flew we had a quick glimpse before they dropped quickly back into the reeds again. Some more Bearded Tits called behind us from the main reedbed, very close to the path, but disappeared similarly quickly. It was rather frustrating, as we had hoped to get a good look at them today.

There was a large raft of duck on the reedbed pool, so we stopped to look through them. There were lots of Common Pochard, but no sign of the Red-crested Pochard on there today, plus a Tufted Duck and a few Gadwall. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see those ones at all. A Cetti’s Warbler was similarly vocal and elusive.

We decided to try the freshmarsh instead and headed for Island Hide. We had stopped by the path to the hide to look at a Grey Plover out on the saltmarsh when we heard yet more Bearded Tits calling from the other side of the sallows. We walked a little further along the path, but these ones were not showing themselves either. We were rewarded with our first Little Stint feeding out on the mud on the freshmarsh, dwarfed by a Ringed Plover nearby.

IMG_0929Little Stint – feeding on the mud on the freshmarsh

While we were watching it, two Curlew Sandpipers flew past, accompanied by another Little Stint and disappeared down behind Island Hide. It rapidly became clear that the Bearded Tits were not going to play ball, so we went to look for the waders. But by the time we got into the hide, they had disappeared too! It really felt like it was going to be one of those days. Finally, after scanning the freshmarsh for a while, the three of them suddenly appeared from round the corner on the edge of the reeds. It was great to watch the two Curlew Sandpipers and one Little Stints, all juveniles, together.

IMG_0807Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint – showing the size difference

That must have been when our luck changed. While we were watching the waders, a Bearded Tit appeared at the base of the reeds behind them, followed quickly after by another two. One was a smart male, with grey head and black ‘beard’ (more like a moustache). At one point, we had the three waders and the party of Bearded Tits in the scope together! They fed for some time around the base of the reeds, working up and down along the edge of the mud. Finally they climbed up into the reeds, began calling and then flew off back into the reedbed. Cracking birds.

IMG_0887Bearded Tits – finally gave themselves up for us on the edge of the reeds

There was a good selection of other waders out on the freshmarsh. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwit was roosting over high tide, forced off the beach. We spent some time looking at the differences between them and the Black-tailed Godwits nearby. There were small numbers of Dunlin, mostly juveniles, feeding on the edge of the islands. Numbers of Avocet are well down now, from the very high counts of late summer, but there were still several out on the freshmarsh.

There were two Spoonbills on the back of the freshmarsh, doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping. They did wake up occasionally, looking round before tucking their bills back in again. One of them was a juvenile, lacking a yellow tip to its bill. A third Spoonbill flew in from the direction of the saltmarsh and dropped in nearby. A Chinese Water Deer emerged from the reeds along the bank beyond Parrinder Hide.

Back on the main path, we set out towards the beach. The Little Stints kept mostly apart, but briefly joined up with each other as we did and we got great views of them together from the path.

IMG_0920Little Stints – briefly, the two birds fed together

With the tide just going out, Volunteer Marsh was still largely covered with water. There were a few Curlew out amongst the crowds of Redshank. A Little Egret was taking advantage of the tide, looking for food as the water flowed out of the channel over a bank of mud. We watched it running back and forth, chasing prey as it was swept over the shallows.

P1090385Little Egret – fishing in the shallows on Volunteer Marsh

There were more waders roosting on the tidal pools – several Grey Plover, more Dunlin and Redshank, and a little group of Turnstone. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits have taken to feeding out here and a couple of them gave really close up views again from the path. They seem to be quite territorial – as well as walking warily round each other, one of them got quite aggressive with one of the Redshank when it attempted to feed nearby.

P1090402Black-tailed Godwit – showed really well on the tidal pools

P1090394Black-tailed Godwit – chasing off one of the Redshank

Out on the beach, the tide was still in. Consequently, there were no waders out here today but a party of nine Sanderling flew past among the breakers. There were still quite a few Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and a couple of Gannets flew past. We watched a line of ducks flying in over the sea, which turned out to be nine Shoveler – presumably birds coming in from the continent for the winter. Scanning the sea, we could see several Great Crested Grebes on the water and picked out a couple of Red-throated Divers as well.

We made our way back towards the visitor centre, stopping to scan the pools again as we did so just in case something new had appeared. We had looked for the Spotted Redshanks in their usual place on the way out. Back at the freshmarsh, they had reappeared – ten of them – but they were over the back as usual and mostly asleep. One awoke briefly and preened, flashing its long, needle-fine bill, before tucking it back in again. A Hobby circled high over the back of the freshmarsh, presumably one of the birds we had seen earlier. We could see it catching insects and eating them.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling as we walked past the reedbed and a little crowd had gathered nearby. We stopped and could see why – Bearded Tits in the reeds just below the path. They kept disappearing, but came out again to feed on the seedheads, a pair. Just like buses, we had waited to see one and now we were seeing them everywhere!

P1090415Bearded Tit – feeding in the reeds by the main path

After lunch, we headed back out towards Patsy’s Reedbed and the Autumn Trail. A Bittern (or two) has been showing on and off around here in the last week or so, and one had been seen in flight earlier in the morning, but we didn’t hold out much hope of seeing it ourselves. Still, it is always worth a go. We popped in to Fen Hide for a look, but there was nothing there. Someone in the hide told us that it had been seen ten minutes earlier flying over Patsy’s Reedbed, so we headed straight round there but the trail seemed to have gone cold – there was no sign of it. We did pick up a couple more birds for the day’s tally – a couple of Common Snipe, one sunning itself with tail spread, and a single female Red-crested Pochard.

IMG_0958Red-crested Pochard – just the one female around the reserve again today

Rather than wait indefinitely on the off chance that the Bittern might show itself again, we decided to carry on round to the Autumn Trail. There were lots of dragonflies along the path, Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. We had not seen any Siskin out over the marshes but they were clearly still passing through  – we saw several large flocks of 40-60 pass overhead along the southern edge of the reserve. A Hobby circled out of the trees above us, again presumably one of the young ones we had seen earlier.

P1090440Common Darter – lots still along the Autumn Trail today

Round at the end, overlooking the back of the freshmarsh, we could see there were still two Spoonbills. Much closer now, we could see that they were two adults – both with yellow-tipped bills. We had hoped to get a closer look at the Spotted Redshanks, but most of them had disappeared again. The one that was left behind was hard to see behind the reeds. We could hear Bearded Tits calling yet again and a Reed Warbler was flycatching among the reeds.

We made our way back and, as we got to the back of Patsy’s Reedbed, we stopped for a cursory scan. There on the far side, on the edge of the reeds was a Bittern – in full view. We got it in the scopes and got a great look at it. It was working its way along, weaving in and out of the reeds and bulrushes, occasionally pushing its way further in before emerging again further along.

IMG_0998Bittern – working its way along the edge of Patsy’s Reedbed

We were losing it from view from where we were standing, so we raced back round towards the screen. We stopped again and could see the Bittern still working its way along the reed edge, before it disappeared into the bulrushes out of view. A couple of minutes later it reappeared among the rushes further round. It stretched its neck up, just like every illustration suggests a good Bittern should, and had a good look round. Then it stretched, rearranged its feathers, and took off, flying across the water and disappearing into the reeds at the back of Patsy’s Reedbed. Great views – a real treat to see.

IMG_1018Bittern – stretching its neck up in the rushes

That was a fantastic way to finish, so we headed back towards the car park suitably elated. We made a quick diversion up via Choseley on our way home. There were not many birds around the drying barns, but the fields beyond produced a few Stock Doves, a pair of Grey Partridge as well as countless Red-legged Partridges (ready for the shooting season!) and a number of Brown Hare. Then it was really time to head for home.

18th September 2015 – Autumn Migrants & More

The first day of a long weekend of tours today. The plan was to catch up with some lingering autumn migrants in the Wells-Holkham area. The forecast was for the possibility of thundery showers today, so we set off for the dunes at Burnham Overy with our waterproofs just in case.

As we walked out along the path across the grazing marshes, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling from the hedges. A Pied Wagtail flew over calling, followed a little later by a Grey Wagtail. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins heading east over the grazing marsh, though it was harder to tell if they were on the move today or just forced down to feed by the low cloud. We had just gone through one of the gates when we heard a bird calling from the bushes behind us. We walked back and a Redstart flew out, flashing its red tail as it darted across the track and disappeared over the hedge. A nice autumn migrant to start the day.

There were several Curlew calling and a little flock dropped down onto the grazing marshes alongside the track. Several Common Snipe flew overhead, including a flock of 6, possibly flushed from the grass by a tractor topping the meadows. A large flock of Golden Plover circled out over the harbour. Standing up on the seawall, a Greenshank flew past calling and dropped down out on the saltmarsh. Further over beyond the harbour channel, we could see a little roost of Grey Plover pushed off the mud by the high tide. When they were disturbed and flew round we could see several smaller Dunlin with them.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed by the seawall. Scanning the tops of the reeds, we spotted a pair climbing up into the branches of a dead elder. We just had time to get the scope onto them before they disappeared across the reeds and dropped back down into cover. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the brambles on the edge of the reeds and gave a similarly brief view – perching up on an old fence before diving back into the bushes.

IMG_0705Linnet – several were in the boardwalk bushes as usual

The bushes by the boardwalk seemed a little quiet at first, but as we stood quietly and looked closely, more birds appeared. There were several Linnets as usual, a couple of the juveniles still begging food from the attendant adults, and the regular Dunnocks. A Chiffchaff appeared low down in brambles next to one of the local Common Whitethroats. A Goldcrest flew across between the bushes and disappeared into the undergrowth calling.

Then the biggest surprise of all – a Tree Sparrow dropped in. We watched it for a while, but it was very restless, moving around between the brambles and the apple tree. Tree Sparrows are getting very scarce in Norfolk now and are very unusual out here, so this was a real treat. Then suddenly it took off and flew strongly west towards Gun Hill.

While we were standing by the boardwalk, we heard the first group of Siskins flying over. They have been on the move for over a week now and there was a steady stream passing overhead this morning, calling as they flew west over the dunes. Once or twice in amongst them we could hear a Redpoll or two calling as well. While we were in the dunes, we tried to keep a count – at least 265 went through. More Siskin flew over while we were in the pines, but we couldn’t see them to count them, so the actual total past this morning would have been a bit higher. Real visible migration in action.

IMG_0707Common Buzzard – watching from up in the dunes

From the boardwalk, we made our way east towards the pines. A Common Buzzard sat up in the tops of the dunes. A Wheatear appeared on the fence just in front of us, but unfortunately we were already too close and it darted off again immediately. Thankfully, as we walked over the crest of the dunes, we could see it or another Wheatear down on the path just ahead of us. It flicked up and landed on the fence where we could get a good look at it through the scope.

IMG_0720Wheatear – perched on the fence on the edge of the dunes

There have been several Redstarts in the dunes in recent days and, although we had seen one briefly on the walk out, we wanted to get a better look. As we walked towards the west end of the pines, we could hear Redstarts calling. From a convenient high vantage point in the dunes, we scanned the bushes. First we picked up a young male Redstart, with white feather tips partially obscuring its black face, then a female flicked up into a hawthorn nearby. The male showed particularly well, perching in the brambles and branches of a dead young elder just beyond the fence.

IMG_0745Redstart – this male showed particularly well

IMG_0728Redstart – the plainer female was a little more shy

While we were admiring the Redstarts, a glance across the grazing marshes towards the wood revealed a large white shape flying across. There has been a Great White Egret hanging around at Holkham for getting on for three weeks now, but at times it has been rather elusive. We could immediately see how big it was as it dropped down onto one of the pools. We hadn’t intended to walk any further, but with the promise of getting a better view of the Great White Egret we set off to walk to Joe Jordan hide.

The walk along the path on the south side of the pines was uneventful at first. As we got almost to the crosstracks, we could see the Great White Egret out on the pool preening, so we had a quick look at it through the scope in case it flew off again. That also gave us the opportunity to stop and scan through the tit flock which was feeding in the pines before the hide. There was the usual variety, Long-tailed, Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreeper and Chiffchaffs.

IMG_0758Great White Egret – towering over the local Greylag Geese

From up in the hide, we got a much better view of the Great White Egret. There was a Little Egret on the other side of the pool which allowed a great size comparison – the Great White Egret looked huge even next to several big Greylag Geese! While we were in the hide, a Red Kite drifted in and circled the trees, landing in the tops for a while. There were also several Marsh Harriers flying back and forth.

After a suitable rest in the hide, it was time to head back. As we walked along the path just a little west of the hide, yet another Redstart flew across in front of us, again flashing a red tail as it went, our fourth of the day. The rest of the way back to the boardwalk was fairly uneventful, although the Wheatears had multiplied – there were now two on the fence. We had enjoyed much better weather during the morning than we had anticipated, but we could now see dark clouds to the south of us. At first they seemed to be passing us by, but as we turned to head south along the seawall we finally ran into a little rain. Coats on, we walked back quickly and thankfully the worst of it missed us.

P1090281Fallow Deer – there is a large herd in the deerpark at Holkham Hall

We drove round to Holkham Hall for lunch, and sat out the rain while we ate. Some of the resident Fallow Deer herd came to look at us. A Nuthatch was calling in the trees nearby and another Red Kite drifted over the park. It stopped rainging and brightened up nicely just as we finished, with even patches of blue sky overhead, so we walked down to the lake. An injured Pink-footed Goose was hanging around with the flock of Egyptian Geese across on the other bank.

There had been a juvenile Black Tern around the lake for the past couple of days, but it gave us the run around for a while. There was no sign of it around the southern end, so we set off to walk to the other side. We were about half way along when the Black Tern appeared ahead and flew along the edge of the lake right in front of us – straight back to where we had just been standing! As we turned to walk back, we watched it hawking over the water, dipping down occasionally to the surface. Needless to say, when we got back to where it was, it immediately set off back towards the northern end. We had had a good look at it so decided to leave it to it.

We headed round to Wells Woods to finish the day. There had been a report of two Pied Flycatchers there earlier, but we struggled to find any birds at all at first. It was very disturbed with lots of dogs running amok and their owners standing nearby shouting and whistling. We made our way over to the relative quiet of the drinking pool and quickly located one of the local tit flocks. As well as the regular variety of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers, we could see one or two Chiffchaffs and a single Willow Warbler, but no Pied Flycatcher. A Green Woodpecker called nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker did the same.

Out in the brambles on the edge of the trees, we found a Lesser Whitethroat. It made itself elusive at first but we followed it as it flitted between the bushes calling. Eventually it landed in a small hawthorn and sat out in the now emerging afternoon sunshine. Then a second Lesser Whitethroat appeared with it. A browner Common Whitethroat, with rusty wings, hopped out nearby. Another tit flock whisked through.

P1090316Small Tortoiseshell – one of several butterflies out in the afternoon sun

There were still a few insects about. With the sun coming out, the butterflies came out too. We had seen one or two Speckled Wood earlier, but now we found several Red Admirals and a Small Tortoiseshell basking in the sun. One of the sharp-eyed members of the group spotted a large caterpillar on the path as we walked through the pines – on closer inspection, a Pine Hawkmoth caterpillar. There were also a few dragonflies buzzing around – Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers.

P1090297Pine Hawkmoth caterpillar – on the path in the pines

We made our way back via the Dell, but still with no sign of the flycatchers. Almost back to the car park, just before the boating lake, we came across yet another small tit flock on the edge of the pines by the main path. We stood watching it for a while, with a couple of Long-tailed Tits performing for the crowd. We were just about to leave when something flitted across high up in the pines – a Pied Flycatcher! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and, no sooner had it appeared than it was off through the tops of the pines and we couldn’t find it again. Still, it was a nice way to round off the day.

P1090319Long-tailed Tit – one of many in the woods at Wells

15th September 2015 – Cley & Beyond

A Private Tour today, based in the Cley area. A relaxed day of general autumn birdwatching, we headed out to see what we could find.

With a cloudy start and a little bit of drizzle at first, we headed down to the reserve at Cley Marshes first and the shelter of the hides. As it was, we didn’t need it with the weather drying up before we got there. The first thing we noticed as we opened up the hide window was a stream of House Martins and Swallows pouring west. Apparently there had been a very big movement of House Martins in particular along the coast during the early morning and we were just in time to catch the tail end of the rush hour! It continued at a slower pace all day, with little groups of hirundines moving through. Real migration in action.

It was a good thing we headed to the hides first thing. The other thing we immediately noticed out on the scrapes were the waders. We could hear the distinctive ringing call of Greenshank and looked out to see a little group of six feeding actively on Simmond’s Scrape. A little while later they flew over to Pat’s Pool where a seventh Greenshank was sleeping. A tight flock of about 20 Dunlin was also out on the edge of the mud and a closer look revealed two smaller waders amongst them. With their white bellies and pale faces and short bills, we could see that they were Little Stints.

IMG_0568Little Stints – two diminutive juveniles were in amongst the larger Dunlin

There was quite a bit of disturbance over the other side of the reserve, with the warden out cutting grass on his tractor. Unfortunately, he had obviously managed to get it stuck in the mud and had to get a bigger tractor in to drag it out! That was to our benefit as it had probably flushed a lot of waders off Billy’s Wash or North Scrape and some of them came over to the scrapes on our side. The highlight was a Wood Sandpiper which dropped into Simmond’s Scrape briefly. We managed to get a great look at it in the scope, noting its well-marked pale supercilium and spangled upperparts, before it flew across and dropped into the vegetation out of view. There were also at least two Green Sandpipers around today and one dropped in right down at the front outside the hide.

IMG_0544Green Sandpiper – feeding right in front of the hide

There was a good selection of commoner species too. Several long-billed Black-tailed Godwits, most of the adults now in grey winter plumage but also several more patterned juveniles in with them. A single Redshank flew in and three scaly-backed gingery juvenile Ruff worked their way along the front edge of the scrape.

P1090224Ruff – a buff-brown juvenile, one of three in front of Dauke’s Hide

The waders were very flighty today and it didn’t help when the warden came over to our side to mow the back of Simmond’s Scrape. Many of the birds flew over to Pat’s Pool while he did so, so we moved round to Teal Hide. A scan of Pat’s Pool from there added three young Little Ringed Plovers to the morning’s tally, very well camouflaged hiding on the drier mud and vegetation of the island.

The number of ducks is now steadily increasing, as birds arrive for the winter. There are lots of Wigeon now, their distinctive whistling call a real feature of the coast from here on, and good numbers of Teal. In with them, we found a smaller number of large-billed Shoveler and a few Gadwall. Although the odd drake Gadwall was starting to gain breeding plumage already, most of the male ducks are still in rather drab and female-like eclipse plumage. It is not the best season to admire wildfowl in all its finery at the moment.

P1090225Marsh Harrier – circling over Pat’s Pool

One of the reason the birds are jumpy at the moment is the regular appearance of birds of prey overhead, looking to cash in on the presence of so much potential prey. A female Marsh Harrier circled over, scattering all the ducks and waders, including a couple Common Snipe which had obviously been in hiding in the vegetation around the margin of the Simmond’s. At that point, the flock of Dunlin and Little Stint went back to Pat’s Pool. A short while later, everything scattered from there and we turned to see a Sparrowhawk with something in its talons. The Sparrowhawk landed on the bank and started to pluck its unfortunate victim, looking round nervously. We got a fantastic view of it in the scope as it sat and fed.

IMG_0574Sparrowhawk – plucking its unfortunate prey on the bank

We had enjoyed a great morning in the hides but the impact of all the disturbance, warden and raptors, had served to clear out a lot of the birds we had been enjoying. We decided to head round to the beach. On the walk back to the car along the boardwalk, a small bird appeared on the fence along the edge of the reeds. It was a Whinchat, an autumn migrant stopping off on its way south, and we watched it dropping down into the grass and back up to a prominent viewpoint, working its way along the fenceline. While we were watching it, we could hear the distinctive calls of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds, but they weren’t prepared to show themselves in the cool and breezy conditions.

IMG_0590Whinchat – on the fence by the boardwalk

We parked round at the beach car park and walked east along the shingle. A couple of Gannets soared gracefully past, a white adult with neat black wing tips and a darker immature bird. There were also still a couple of Sandwich Terns feeding offshore, plunging down into the waves just off the beach.

There wasn’t much on North Scrape today, probably not a surprise given all the disturbance this morning. Further east we picked up our first Curlew of the day on the brackish pools. Arnold’s Marsh was also a little quiet. The highlight was our only Avocet of the day – most of the birds which were around the reserve over the summer appear to have departed (from the scrapes we can see, at least!). Two graceful Pintail were feeding quietly at the back. Lots of Meadow Pipits were zooming round. A Little Egret fed quietly in the pools the other side of the East Bank, flashing its bright yellow feet.

P1090264Little Egret – feeding on one of the brackish pools

After such a productive morning, we had worked up an appetite by now so we drove back round to the visitor centre for lunch. We even managed to sit outside! In the afternoon, we drove west along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The trees along the path were laden with berries – blackberries and lots of haws. A couple of Migrant Hawkers buzzed about our heads. A Speckled Wood basked out of the wind.

P1090265Speckled Wood – basking in a moment of sunshine this afternoon

The Fen itself has far too much water on it at the moment, so that there was almost nothing left of the islands in view. The big flock of noisy Greylag Geese dominated what was left, with a few Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff clustered in amongst them on the small area of remaining dry land. There were a few ducks, particularly Wigeon again and a few more Pintail. Unfortunately, there was no sign of any Spoonbills her today. We decided to walk round and check out the mud in the harbour.

As we walked along the seawall, a piping call alerted us to a Kingfisher. It shot over the bank from the direction of the Fen and low across the channel beyond, flashing electric blue on the back before dropping down into one of the channels out on the saltmarsh.

IMG_0618Greenshank – feeding in the saltwater channel at low tide

A couple of Greenshank were feeding in the saltwater channel, very elegant birds with pale heads and light grey backs. There were more waders on the mud alongside, mostly darker grey Redshanks but in with them a Grey Plover. A second Grey Plover flew in, this one sporting the remnants of its summer black belly, and the two began calling mournfully. With several Curlews calling too, it was a real soundtrack to the saltmarsh in winter!

IMG_0600Grey Plover – moulting rapidly out of summer plumage

Out in the harbour there were lots of gulls gathered on the mud and large numbers of Oystercatcher. With them, we picked up two distant Bar-tailed Godwits. Further over, towards Blakeney Point, we could see as many as 19 Little Egrets gathered in the deepest remaining water, feeding. Numbers of Brent Geese are growing steadily now, as the birds return from Russia for the winter, and we could see several small groups out on the mud.

IMG_0648Whimbrel – a very obliging bird feeding by the seawall

As we turned to head back, a Whimbrel flew past and appeared to drop down out of view on the saltmarsh. Back at the seawall, we discovered it had landed on the edge of the channel. We stood and watched it for a while and it worked its way right towards us, picking regularly at the stones as it clearly found plenty of food. We got stunning views of it, smaller and shorter-billed than the Curlew with a distinctive head pattern which it flashed at us as it bent down to pick up morsels from the mud. While we were standing there a young Brown Hare (a Leveret) came running along the path in front of us. It only seemed to notice us at the last minute, turning sharply and racing off back whence it came.

IMG_0638Whimbrel – close up, great views of the distinctive head pattern

We still had a little time left, so it seemed like a good idea to have a look at the saltmarshes a little further west. We drove into Stiffkey and down to the coast. On our way, we could see dark grey clouds gathering in front of us. From the car park, we could see some large white shapes on the saltmarsh but we could also see the rain approaching. We decided to sit it out and a good thing too as a heavy squall passed over. Flocks of Golden Plover flew up from the saltmarsh and headed inland overhead as it came in. Finally, the sky started to brighten again beyond and we walked out through the last drops of rain into the sunshine, with a beautiful rainbow in the sky behind us.

P1090278Stiffkey – the rainbow behind us after the rain passed over

We were glad we did so. Not only was it a great view, but we could see the Spoonbills fly round as the sun came out. Thankfully they dropped back down to the saltmarsh ahead of us. When the path came out into the open where we could see them, we discovered they were now quite close by, five Spoonbills. We got great views of them feeding in the saltmarsh pools, sweeping their spoon-shaped bills from side to side, yellow-tipped in the adult and dark in the four juveniles. One of the young birds started begging from the adult, chasing it round endlessly, calling and bouncing its head up and down. We have seen the young Spoonbills doing this since the summer, but even now they are not giving their parents any peace!

IMG_0686Spoonbill – one of five feeding on the saltmarsh

There were several Marsh Harriers out quartering the saltmarsh and just before we turned to head back, a quick scan revealed another large bird further out. Its distinctive rowing wing action immediately gave its identity away, a Short-eared Owl. It circled up high into the sky – a real bonus.

We thought that would be a good way to end and, with more grey clouds gathering, we started to walk back. However, the day had not finished yet. A short way down the path, a Barn Owl appeared hunting over the field just inland. We only got a quick glimpse of it, but as we came out of the bushes into a more open area we stopped to scan the field and a Whinchat appeared on the top of some dead umbellifers along the margin. Then a second Whinchat popped up nearby. Several Brown Hares were also in with them. Further up the field, another bird perched up on the tall stubble – a Wheatear sunning itself. It looked stunning in the afternoon sun with the dark grey clouds gathering beyond.

IMG_0693Wheatear – perched up in the sunshine between the rain

A Sparrowhawk shot through low across the field, scattering the little group of birds we had been watching, as we packed up and continued on our way back. But just round the corner, we spotted the Barn Owl again, hunting along the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh. We watched it working its way away from us, before it dropped down into the Suaeda where we could just see it perched through the scope, before it continued up into the campsite wood beyond. What a great way to finish the afternoon, but it was now time for us to call it a day and head home.