Monthly Archives: September 2015

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!