Monthly Archives: September 2015

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  Рwe 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.

5th September 2015 – When the North Wind Blows

An Autumn Tour today. It felt like Autumn too! The temperature just hit a maximum of 14C in the cold and blustery North winds, which were gusting over 35mph at times. At least it was mostly dry, with even some sunny intervals at times.

We headed along the coast to Titchwell first – seeking the benefit of hides to offer us some shelter from the wind and the threat of some early showers. Walking out onto the reserve along the main path, we stopped briefly to look at the grazing meadow pool. Despite the recent rain, this is still very dry. A few Lapwing were out around the shallow pools and a pair of Red-legged Partridge were sheltering from the wind below the reeds.

Out on the reedbed pool, there were a few Gadwall on the water. A closer scan through them revealed a slightly larger duck, dark-capped and pale-cheeked, a female Red-crested Pochard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving at the back and a single Tufted Duck at the front. There were lots of hirundines out over the reeds, mostly House Martins, flying low as they tried to find insects in the wind. In amongst them we picked up a couple of late Swifts, the first we have seen for a few days now – most of our Swifts have already departed.

While we were still on the main footpath, we saw a commotion over the freshmarsh and all the birds took to the air. We couldn’t see what caused it from where we were standing, but a big group of Lapwing and Ruff flew over the path ahead of us and dropped down on the saltmarsh. Small groups of Lapwing were also huddled round the small pools and in amongst them we could see a few Redshank and a single Grey Plover.

P1080820Dunlin – a flock of around 60 on the freshmarsh today, all juveniles

The water levels on the freshmarsh have dropped again, after all the rain last week, and there were more waders around once more today. In particular there were more Dunlin than during the week, with a tight flock of around 60 feeding on the exposed mud. All of them were juveniles, with black-streaked bellies. They were very jumpy – not helped by the wind which often seems to make the birds more nervous – and kept taking to the air and whirling round. On the edge of the islands, there were quite a few Ringed Plover today as well – at least 10.

Many of the waders were sheltering from the combined effects of the impending high tide out on the beach and the North wind. There was a good flock of roosting Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly now in winter plumage but with several juveniles and the odd bird still sporting the remnants of orange summer underparts. Amongst them were a few Knot – much smaller, dumpier and greyer. Another flock of Knot flew back in and landed on the edge of one of the larger islands with a group of Turnstone. Several more Turnstone were sheltering amongst the bricks on one of the smaller islands. The high tide and wind had also brought a number of gulls in off the beach – a good selection of the regular species, including both Great & Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Plenty of the ever-present Avocets were still out on the freshmarsh, though not in the record numbers of a month or two ago. We watched one feeding in front of the hide, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked forward. There were also still good numbers of Ruff – the adults now in winter plumage, plus many browner juveniles.

P1080826Ruff – paler winter plumage adult to left, browner juvenile to right

The waders were getting spooked easily in the wind, but when everything went up in unison again, in a mass panic, a scan of the sky revealed a young Peregrine flying over.It didn’t attempt to chase after anything but was still seen off by one of the local Lapwings. There are also increasing numbers of duck now on the reserve. It has been a feature of the last few days, with flocks of ducks arriving over the sea from the continent. A large flotilla of Wigeon out on the freshmarsh probably contained several birds which may have arrived from Russia that very morning.

We had looked along the edge of the reeds from Island Hide for any Bearded Tits, but it seemed unlikely we would see any today in the windy conditions. However, from round at Parrinder Hide one was visible across the freshmarsh, working its way low along the base of the reeds on the edge of the mud. We got it in the scope and got a quick look at it before it disappeared back into cover. The other highlight from this side of the freshmarsh was the group of 10 Spotted Redshanks in the corner by the bank. All now in silvery grey winter plumage, we admired their needle fine bills.

P1080869Volunteer Marsh – completely flooded by the tide & wind today

A combination of a reasonably big high tide and the North wind meant that the Volunteer Marsh was completely flooded by the sea today. However, there was a lot more activity (or inactivity!) on the tidal pools. Many more waders were roosting on here, sheltering from the wind and waves on the beach. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers hiding in amongst the saltmarsh vegetation and several Grey Plovers on one of the spits of mud. Hiding on one of the small islands we found a single Greenshank in amongst a small group of Redshank, much greyer backed compared to the browner Redshanks. Several Black-tailed Godwits had come out here to feed around the edges of the mud.

P1080841Black-tailed Godwit – several feeding on the tidal pools today close to the path

It was very windy out on the beach – the sand was being whipped up as we climbed over the remains of the dunes. The tide was very high, and the sea was very rough. However, the view was stunning – it is always amazing to see the power of the sea on day’s like today. There was even some blue sky!

P1080865The beach – high tide & big waves in the wind

There were several Gannets passing by offshore, and four birds arced past us quite close in. We could see an adult in the lead, with black-tipped white wings, two dark grey juveniles and an immature bird in between. A little group of waders came along the shoreline – four Dunlin accompanying a single Sanderling. The latter presumably didn’t fancy running in and out of the waves on the beach on a day like today!

P1080856Gannets – passing by offshore, over a rough sea

Is was blustery and exposed out on the beach, so we didn’t hang around. We walked quickly back along the path. We had just about walked past the grazing meadow pool when a quick glance back and we spotted a Common Sandpiper feeding on the mud in the front corner.

We took the detour round via Meadow Trail to Patsy’s. The sallows along Meadow Trail itself were quiet, but further along and out of the wind by the junction to Fen Trail we came across a large mixed flock of tits – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, together with one or two Chiffchaffs and a few Chaffinches.

There were lots of moulting ducks on the islands on Patsy’s Reedbed, mostly Mallard and Gadwall, plus a couple of Shoveler and Common Pochard. There were not many waders, apart from several more Ruff, mostly brown-toned juveniles. However, a single Snipe feeding on the bank was a nice addition to the day’s list. Always smart birds to see.

IMG_0364Snipe – feeding on the bank round at Patsy’s Reedbed

After scanning Patsy’s Reedbed, we had a quick look round along the Autumn Trail. There were lots of Common Darters sheltering from the wind along the path, trying to warm up in the sunnier intervals.

P1080881Common Darter – trying to bask out of the wind on the Autumn Trail


A Bloody-nosed Beetle was also making its way slowly along the path and further along a Common Toad walked past. Round at the back of the freshmarsh, another Common Sandpiper flew across from the edge of the reeds towards the bank ahead of us, out of view. Then we headed back to the car for lunch. A Bullfinch was calling from the trees in the car park, but wouldn’t show itself.

P1080892Bloody-nosed Beetle – walking along the Autumn Trail

After lunch, we drove back along the coast to Warham Greens. We were hoping for some passerines to add to our tally for the day and this is always a good place to look for warblers in early autumn. However, it was still just too windy today, despite the wind easing a touch. We flushed a Whimbrel from the edge of the saltmarsh, and it flew a short distance and landed again, so that we could get a good look at it in the scope. There were some big flocks of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh, very hard to see roosting amongst the vegetation but a couple of times they were spooked and flew round in a tight flock. A single Greenshank flew west, calling.

IMG_0370Whimbrel – feeding out on the saltmarsh

Further out, two Marsh Harriers were quartering the saltmarsh. Much closer, a Kestrel was hovering over the grass by the path. The trees and hedges were quiet today but we did manage to find a few passerines in the bushes in the shelter of the old pit. Several Reed Buntings flew up from the Suaeda bushes by the path as we approached and dropped down into cover. In amongst the brambles and elder bushes¬† we could hear a couple of Blackcaps calling and a smart male flew across and landed briefly in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared from the brambles, looking very smart with powder-grey crown and grey-brown back. Not surprisingly, given the weather, there was no sign today of the Barred Warbler which has been in the bushes in the pit recently. We didn’t hang around too long, and headed back to get out of the wind. On the way back, a Sparrowhawk flew up along the path ahead of us.

From there, we drove on to Stiffkey Fen. In the wood alongside the path, we came across another tit flock, but they were hard to see in the shelter of the trees. A Blackcap was calling from the brambles by the river, but did not venture out. At the Fen itself, we were disappointed to see that the water level was still very high and there were almost none of the islands left exposed. It looked like it might be a wash out as we walked out but then, amongst a small flock of Black-headed Gulls, we noticed a larger white shape, a single Spoonbill. Even better, it was not up to its usual tricks – this Spoonbill was awake!

IMG_0382Spoonbill – this adult was on the Fen briefly this afternoon

From up on the seawall, we could get the scope on the Spoonbill. It was busy preening, but when it stopped we could see its spoon-shaped bill, The yellow tip confirmed it was an adult. There was very little else of note out on the Fen today – a few Ruff and, as elsewhere along the coast, an increasing number of duck. However, a closer scan through the Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Wigeon revealed a couple of Pintail feeding on one of the islands. Unfortunately, all the ducks are in eclipse plumage at the moment so the males are not looking their best, in more female-like brown plumage.

On the other side of the seawall, there was a very noisy dog which had been allowed by its owner to run amok. It was swimming about in the creek and barking loudly. Needless to say, there were no birds left. We walked round to the harbour and could see a selection of the usual birds out on the mud – lots of Oystercatcher, several Curlew and Redshank, and lots of assorted gulls. Closer, a Grey Plover and a Turnstone were feeding in the creek in front of us.

P1080911Blakeney Harbour – the view across to Blakeney Point from Stiffkey Fen

It was still very windy, so again we didn’t linger too long out in the harbour before we headed back to the Fen. By now, the unruly dog had gone. As we walked back along the seawall, a Common Sandpiper flew along the opposite bank of the creek in front of us. It landed for a while, bobbing its tail up and down, before flying off again onto the saltmarsh. A Whimbrel flew in calling. Then a Greenshank dropped into the creek with a couple of Redshank. It fed for a while along the opposite side and we got a good look at it in the scope.

IMG_0390Greenshank – dropped in to the muddy creek to feed

There was no sign of the Spoonbill when we got back – we had been lucky to see it when we did. There was nothing else new on the Fen and, with the afternoon getting on, it was unfortunately time to call it a day.

2nd September 2015 – September Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time for the high tide, but it is always well worth it. The weather was kind to us as well, after all the recent rain, with patchy cloud and even some sunny intervals in the morning, and only a couple of brief light showers in the afternoon.

On our way to Snettisham, we stopped to look at a line of pigeons perched on some wires. Amongst the larger, fatter Woodpigeons were several smaller doves. A quick scan through revealed that, as well as a couple of the ubiquitous Collared Doves, there were two more delicate Turtle Doves. We could just make out their rusty scalloped upperparts as they sat preening in the morning light.

P1080436Turtle Dove – small & delicately built compared to the nearby Woodpigeon

Even before we got to the seawall at Snettisham, we could see a huge flock of waders take to the air. From the edge of the Wash we could see a vast cloud whirling around over the water in the distance. Something had obviously just flushed them. They settled again but further away. No problem today – the tide was going to be a high one and they would eventually be forced back towards us.

There were still little groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers feeding on the closest mud by the seawall. Scanning through them, we found our first Little Stint of the day. Smaller and shorter-billed than the Dunlin, the Little Stint was also clearly much brighter white below, lacking the Dunlin‘s dark belly markings. We got a good look at it but it was hard to get the scope onto it, as the birds were feeding fast, moving rapidly ahead of the fast rising tide.

IMG_0271Little Stint – our first of the day, with Dunlin and Ringed Plover on the mud

The Oystercatchers had not been so easily spooked as the other waders and were still gathered together on the mud from the seawall. As the tide rose, we could see the flock shuffling, the birds moving across the mud ahead of the incoming water. It was amazing to watch, the Oystercatchers all appearing synchronised so the flock appeared to flow across the mud.

P1080469Oystercatchers – still packed in a tight flock out from the seawall

They clearly knew what was coming because, even before the tide got too high, the Oystercatchers started to take off and fly over the bank in front of us and onto the old gravel pits. We watched them peel off in large groups and drop down again the other side.

P1080474P1080493Oystercatchers – some of the first waders to fly over to the pits

With the sun rising behind us, between breaking clouds, it made for a stunning backdrop against which to watch the birds all flying inland.

P1080487Oystercatchers – amongst the broken clouds

As the tide rose ever higher, the amount of exposed mud became ever smaller. Many of the waders are very reluctant to leave and so the birds squeezed themselves into the decreasing space. The flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit which had gone out across the Wash returned and joined the ever growing throng.

P1080497Waders – concentrated onto the ever smaller area of exposed mud

Eventually, the birds were forced into the air. Small groups were peeling off all the time and flying overhead, in to the pits to roost over the high tide. Finally, the whole flock took off, thousands upon thousands, tens of thousands of birds, all in the air at once. They came over the top of us – amazing to hear the sound of all those wings beating. A truly stunning sight.

P1080522 P1080529 P1080557 P1080561 P1080572 P1080580Waders – finally the whole flock took to the air and flew overhead

Once the mud had been pretty much emptied by this vast eruption of birds, we headed for the hides which overlook the pits. Many of the birds headed inland to roost on the fields, but there were still some huge groups of birds packed onto the islands. This is where they roost over the high tide, before they can get back out to the Wash and resume feeding once the water drops again.

P1080611The waders left the Wash to roost on islands on the old gravel pits

P1080648Knot – here a huge flock is packed tightly onto one small island

While the birds spend a lot of time sleeping, they are easily spooked into taking flight again. Many times today huge flocks burst up from where they were roosting and whirled round over the pits in tightly packed groups, before landing back down on the islands.

P1080629 P1080640 The waders whirled round over the pits and landed back on the islands

Sometimes, when the flocks were spooked into flight, small groups would fly back out towards the Wash, quickly returning once they realised that the water had not yet receded enough to expose the mud. Eventually, about an hour or so after high water, the mud started to reappear. As it did so, the birds started flying back out from the pits. They came in a series of waves – some of the larger birds, Oystercatchers, Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits, settling first. Then the vast hordes of Knot poured out from the pits – another amazing sight.

P1080675 P1080690 P1080717 P1080736Waders – eventually the birds poured from the pits back to the Wash

While the waders were all roosting on the pits, it gave us a chance to look at some of them up close, and to see some of the species which we had not spotted on the rising tide. There were several Little Stints in amongst the vast hordes of Dunlin and Knot, so small they can be hard to see in with their larger brethren. Fortunately, one came out to feed around the unoccupied island right in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper also dropped in there to feed briefly.

IMG_0314Little Stint – one of at least three on the pits over high tide today

There are lots of Common Redshanks which feed out on the Wash and gather on the pits. Amongst them, we found some of their less common namesake. Spotted Redshanks are mostly a passage migrant here, but good numbers often pass through at this time of year. We could see at least 10 today, out on the pits. Most were adults in silvery grey and white winter plumage. A darker grey speckled juvenile Spotted Redshanks landed with Common Redshanks right in front of the hide today and we got a great view of its needle-fine bill and even the small downward kink it shows towards the end.

IMG_0340Spotted Redshank – sporting a needle-fine bill with slightly down-kinked tip

To complete the set of ‘shanks’, a couple of Greenshanks also came in to the island. One of them fed around the edge right below the hide. We got a great view of the green legs from which it gets its name.

P1080601Greenshank – feeding below the hide

There were some other birds around the pits as well. A single Spoonbill was roosting amongst the Cormorants. It spent most of the time asleep, but did eventually wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill. As well as the resident Egyptian Geese, the escapee Bar-headed Goose was on the pits again today.

IMG_0325Spoonbill – roosting on the pits with the Cormorants

The Common Terns nesting on the islands still have chicks to raise – one of them still very small. We watched the adult birds returning repeatedly with fish for their young. A Kingfisher put in an all too brief appearance. It flew in and landed in the brambles right in front of the hide, on the edge of the water. The resulting excited shouts from the crown were probably too much for it and it promptly flew off again. We did get a great view of the Kingfisher later on – as the water started to recede out on the Wash, it flew past us and circled round right in front, catching the sun on its electric blue upperparts as it did so. What a beauty.

Out on the seawall, amongst the grass, were lots of Meadow Pipits and several Skylarks. Little groups of Linnets were feeding on the seed-bearing weedy growth. Several Pied Wagtails were flying back and forth along the beach on the edge of the Wash. We heard several Yellow Wagtails overhead, but it was only when we started to walk back that one appeared on the path in front of us.

With most of the waders having returned back out to the mud, we decided to move on. We drove back around the corner and up onto the North Norfolk coast, and headed for Titchwell. After an early lunch – well deserved after our early start – we headed out to explore the reserve.

After the recent rain, there was a bit of water on the grazing marsh pool which has been drained since the early winter. A single Greenshank was feeding on there today, along with several Lapwing. Further along, on the reedbed pool, was a selection of commoner ducks – including Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but couldn’t see them.

The water level on the freshmarsh was much higher as well, after the recent rain we have had. There was still a good selection of larger waders present, but numbers of the smaller species were much down on recent weeks. There were still lots of Ruff – adults in winter plumage with pale-scalloped grey upperparts and whiter underparts, and much browner but very variable juveniles.

P1080791Ruff – a browner-toned juvenile

Numbers of Avocets are well down on the record counts of last month, but there is never a shortage of Avocets at Titchwell. It is always a delight to watch such stunning birds. There were also several Golden Plover out on the islands, some still sporting the remnants of summer plumage in the form of black bellies.

P1080812Avocet – feeding in the shallows in front of Island Hide

There were lots of gulls on the freshmarsh as usual today. The smaller ones were mostly Black-headed Gulls, but amongst them was a single Mediterranean Gull. An adult in winter plumage, we could see its white wing tips. There were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls amongst the Herring Gulls.

IMG_0351Mediterranean Gull – an adult with white wing tips next to a Black-headed Gull

A brief shower passed over while we were in Island Hide and, when it brightened up again afterwards, we decided to make straight for the beach. There didn’t appear to be much on Volunteer Marsh at first – a distant Grey Plover and a Curlew or two. But as we got to the tidal channel on the far side, a scan revealed a single Whimbrel amongst more Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshanks. We got the Whimbrel in the scope and could see its pale crown stripe.

P1080765Black-tailed Godwit – feeding in the wet mud on the Volunteer Marsh

A Little Egret also seemed to have found a good place to feed. It was standing in the tidal channel, staring at the base of a waterfall as the remains of the morning’s high tide flowed off the marsh.

P1080760Little Egret – looking for food in the water flowing off Volunteer Marsh

Out on the beach, there were not as many waders as usual. There were a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone on the rocks, plus a smart Grey Plover still mostly in summer plumage with black face and belly. Out on the sea, we could see a single Common Scoter. A Tufted Duck flew past out to sea. As did a single young Gannet.

We could see some very dark clouds coming in from the west, so we beat a hasty retreat back to Parrinder Hide and sat out the resulting shower. There was not much on this side of the freshmarsh which we hadn’t already seen on our way out. Three more Spotted Redshanks were preening right over towards the back corner. While we were scanning the marsh, suddenly everything took to the air in a panic. The culprit soon became apparent as a young Peregrine flew in from the direction of the sea. It made a couple of stoops – one at an unsuspecting Dunlin, which it missed, before flying off towards Thornham.

We did have time for one last surprise. Scanning the reeds at the far side of the freshmarsh, we picked up a couple of small tawny coloured shapes working their way along the base of the reeds. Finally, a couple of Bearded Tits. Unfortunately, they disappeared back into the reeds again fairly quickly.

Then it was time to head back – suitably tired after our early start this morning. But what a spectacle it had been!