Monthly Archives: October 2015

October 2015 – Gone Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are a great place to spend time birding in October. We spent a week on Tresco, the second biggest of the islands.

Traditionally, Scilly was regarded as one of the best places in the UK to catch up with American vagrants. The highlight of our week was a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper which flew in calling and then spent just one evening feeding on the muddy edge of the Great Pool on Tresco.

IMG_2307IMG_2290Spotted Sandpiper – dropped in for an evening to Tresco Great Pool

The American equivalent of our Common Sandpiper, the juvenile Spotted Sandpiper is distinguished among other things by plainer tertials and greater coverts, a shorter tail and yellow legs. Only the adults in summer plumage have the distinctive spotted underparts. It is a regular vagrant to UK, with about 200 records here and a small number normally appearing annually.

A day trip across to St Mary’s, the largest of the islands, allowed us to catch up with a couple of lingering birds there. Blyth’s Pipit breeds around Mongolia and winters in southern Asia and is a very scarce vagrant to the UK. One had been hanging around in a couple of grassy fields here for over a week already the time we got a chance to see it.

IMG_2193Blyth’s Pipit – a very occasional visitor from Asia

Having seen the Blyth’s Pipit, we walked round to the airfield where a Short-toed Lark was feeding on the short grass right next to the runway. These are much more regular visitors to the UK from southern Europe, and this individual had been here for nearly two weeks already. It was completely unphased by aircraft taking off right behind it!

IMG_2266Short-toed Lark – feeding on the short grass on the airfield

As well as rarities, Scilly is a great place to catch up with other migrants. There were at least four Yellow-browed Warblers around Tresco while we were there – it was hard to go for a walk around the island without running in to one or two of them, or at least hearing their distinctive calls.

P1120077Yellow-browed Warbler – one of several on Tresco this week

Commoner migrants also pass through the islands on their way further south. This Whinchat spent an evening feeding on the fence along Pool Road. It was still present briefly the following morning, and then seemed to continue on its way.

IMG_2329Whinchat – spent an evening feeding by the cattle field

The Great Pool on Tresco has an enviable record for turning up rare wildfowl, as well as vagrant waders. Migrants including a single Pintail and a couple of Shoveler appeared amongst the Gadwall, Teal and Wigeon while we were there. A couple of Pink-footed Geese seemed slightly out of place. A single Garganey was present throughout our stay, and was the best the Great Pool could muster this year.

IMG_2338Garganey – lingering on the Great Pool all week

Jack Snipe are also regular at this time of year around the Great Pool. They are largely crepuscular, best looked for early in the morning or at dusk. One was present for much of the week. They have a distinctive feeding action, bouncing up and down constantly. The Jack Snipe was joined by a single Common Snipe one evening,  which took to bouncing up and down as well while it was together with it.

IMG_2339Jack Snipe – regular on the muddy margins around the Great Pool

Tresco has traditionally held a small number of introduced Golden Pheasants. Sadly the population there, as with most of the rest of the UK, is no longer considered self-sustaining and is boosted by periodic additional releases. They are still great to watch, easiest seen at dusk along the road by the abbey.

P1120182Golden Pheasant – a stunning male

Non-avian interest is now provided by the introduced Red Squirrels. Although not native to the islands, Tresco has no Grey Squirrels, which have seemingly proven so harmful to the populations of Red Squirrels across so much of the UK. They can now be found in various places around the island.

P1120113Red Squirrel – one of the recently introduced individuals on Tresco

Above all, the islands are simply a lovely place to spend time walking, with the added advantage that you never know what might drop in while you are there. Well worth a visit.

P1120148Sunset on Tresco looking towards Bryher

18th October 2015 – Time to Look West

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. After spending much of the last few days enjoying the waifs and strays from Siberia that had been blown onto our coastline, it was time to catch up with some waders and wildfowl. We set off west along the coast to Titchwell for the morning.

Before it got too busy, we had a look around the overflow car park. The bushes here are laden with berries at this time of year and the apple trees full of apples – good feeding for the birds. Lots of thrushes burst from the vegetation as we walked through  – a large flock of ‘teeez-ing’ Redwings, several ‘tic-ing’ Song Thrushes and a good number of ‘chuck-ing’ Blackbirds too. A single Mistle Thrush perched up in the top of a tree across the field at the back.

There were lots of finches as well – Greenfinches and Chaffinches in the bushes, Goldfinches feeding on the ground around the edge, and we flushed two Bramblings from the hedge as we passed which flew off calling loudly. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees and several more Goldcrests. They seem to have been ever-present this weekend, exhausted birds fresh from the continent, feeding up along the coast before dispersing inland, though there were perhaps slightly fewer here already than in recent days.

IMG_2094Siskin – a single male was on the feeders by the visitor centre

We stopped to look at the feeders by the visitor centre. Amongst more of the regular finches, one smaller bird stood out. A single male Siskin, green and yellow with a black cap, was picking at the seeds on the end feeder. There were a couple of Coal Tits too, darting in, grabbing a seed and flying straight out to the safety of the bushes.

Looking across the grazing meadow, a female Marsh Harrier hung over the edge of the reeds before dropping down to perch in the top of bush, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. When it flew again, we could see the pale patches on the leading edge of the inner wings. A Chinese Water Deer was feeding quietly on the far edge of the field.

The grazing meadow pool is still drained, but had a good variety of birds around the muddy puddles today. A single Greenshank was feeding on one of the larger pools with a couple of Redshank and a Dunlin. A Ruff nearby provided a good opportunity to compare with the Redshank – the shorter, slightly downcurved bill, paler head and the neatly scalloped grey-brown back distinguishing it. A lone Ringed Plover was out on the open mud further back. A couple of Snipe were feeding well-hidden in the grass on the drier side.

IMG_2097Greenshank – on one of the puddles on the grazing meadow pool

There were several Reed Buntings, appropriately enough in and out of the reeds along the edge but a couple landed out on the mud where we could get a better look at them. A couple of rather grey-backed Robins were also chasing each other around the reeds – presumably migrants from the continent which had stopped here to feed up. Out in the middle, plenty of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. A much darker bird flew in and dropped down on the edge of the channel, a Rock Pipit. The reedbed pool was very quiet today, just a couple of Coot and two Little Grebes.

Out on the freshmarsh, a large flock of Golden Plover was busy bathing and preening around the edge of the nearest islands. We could hear their mournful calls as we walked out to Island Hide. We got them in the scope and admired their golden-spangled upperparts.

Golden Plover – a large, noisy flock was on the freshmarsh

There was a good selection of other waders out on the freshmarsh too today. Another long line of sleeping waders was further out in the shallow water, Bar-tailed Godwits roosting over high tide out on the beach. With several Black-tailed Godwits feeding behind them, we could get the two species in the scope together and look at the differences in size and upperpart colour and pattern. Nearby, a tighter flock of smaller grey waders similarly asleep were Knot, also sitting out the high tide. There were only two Avocet today, a big decrease on the record numbers here at the end of the summer. Several diminutive Dunlin were scuttling around the edges of the islands and two equally small Ringed Plover were on the mud. Just a single Turnstone was lurking amongst the ducks on the rocks on the furthest island.

The number of ducks continues to increase, with mainly Teal and Gadwall out on the freshmarsh at first. The drakes of the latter species are now pretty much back in full breeding plumage, but the Teal are still emerging from eclipse, with a variable mixture of new feathers and older patterned brown ones. There were not so many Wigeon initially, until suddenly a large flock of Brent Geese flew up from the satmarshes over towards Brancaster and came in to wash and preen. They brought a lot of Wigeon in with them. Something had presumably flushed them from where they had been feeding.

P1110955Teal -a drake still emerging from eclipse plumage

There were also a few Shoveler out from Island Hide, but they were mostly asleep. On the rocky point of the furthest island, we found a single drake Pintail. It kept going back and forth from the vegetation to the water’s edge, seemingly with food.

As we walked on round to Parrinder Hide, a Marsh Harrier drifted over the back of the freshmarsh from the reedbed and flushed everything. All the ducks and waders scattered, and the flock of Golden Plover took to the air and swirled round overhead.

P1110895Golden Plover – took to the air as a Marsh Harrier drifted over

From round at Parrinder Hide, there were not so many birds left on the freshmarsh after the best efforts of the Marsh Harrier. There were several Shoveler and Teal feeding below the hide – the drake Shoveler, like the Teal, still emerging from eclipse plumage. Another Rock Pipit dropped onto one of the islands out in front amongst the Meadow Pipits, giving us a nice side by side comparison.

P1110910Shoveler – the drakes are also just emerging from eclipse plumage

The high tide was starting to recede off the Volunteer Marsh. There was a scattering of Curlews, Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits and a few more Dunlin out on the emerging mud.

P1120007Redshank – out on the Volunteer Marsh

Back on the main path, the Little Egret was in its usual place, where the water flows into the main channel, over a bank of mud on the north side of the Volunteer Marsh. Presumably it knows it can find fish and invertebrates that are carried out by the receding tide more easily in the shallows here.

P1110991Little Egret – feeding in its usual place on the Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools were quieter than they have been in recent weeks. Just a few Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, and only 1 or 2 Grey Plover were feeding out around the islands. There were not the numbers of waders roosting on here today, despite high tide. We did at least get great close-up views of Black-tailed Godwit, as usual.

P1120010Black-tailed Godwit – great to be able to see them so close here

Out on the beach, the tide was still covering the rocks but there were nonetheless lots of gulls and waders feeding on the sand, presumably on detritus washed up on recent northerlies. Amongst them, a couple of Sanderlings were running around like clockwork toys. Looking out to sea, we could see lots of Common Scoter flying round very distantly offshore. There were several Great Crested Grebes on the water, one close in where it was easier to see. Small numbers of Gannets were flying past, but one larger group came west in formation round Scolt Head as a bank of low, dark cloud swept in over the sea. It looked like rain coming in, and it started to drizzle, so we beat a hasty retreat.

On our way back, we diverted round via Meadow Trail. We had heard plenty during the morning, but a Cetti’s Warbler sang right next to us as we walked along the boardwalk. We couldn’t see it at first, but then it flew across the path right in front of us – a flash of a rusty-brown back – and landed low down in the sallows on the other side. We watched it as it moved slowly back through the branches.

Just around the corner, a Kingfisher flashed across the small pool by the boardwalk calling and disappeared over trees in a flash of electric blue. It was all a bit quick. Then as we were walking past Fen Hide, we heard another Kingfisher call. We popped in quickly just in time to see it sat up in the reeds briefly before it shot off over the reeds.

We had enough time for a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. Amongst the hordes of sleeping ducks, mainly Mallard, Teal and Gadwall, we counted a total of  14 Red-crested Pochard (the most we have seen here recently) and a single Common Pochard. Several Snipe were around the edge feeding on the mud. Then it was time to head back for lunch. As we walked back, a Marsh Tit called from the hedge and we saw it making its way quickly along towards the trees.

After lunch, we had a quick look out beyond the back of the car park for a couple of Ring Ouzels which had been reported earlier, but there was no sign of them. We did see lots of thrushes and Blackbirds zipping around in the trees beyond the paddocks. We decided to move on.

IMG_2145Barn Owl – one of at least 3 hunting over the grazing marshes

We drove west to Holme next. We parked by the seawall and climbed up to scan the marshes either side. Just about the first bird we saw was a Barn Owl out on the grazing marsh. It landed on a post on the fenceline opposite and stood there scanning the grass below. We watched as it flew along from post to post, working its way along the fence. Suddenly one of the group called out and we turned to see a Short-eared Owl circling over the back of the grazing meadows, pursued by a couple of Jackdaws. We noted the distinctive stiff wingbeats, like a rowing action, before we eventually lost it behind the trees. There were also five Pink-footed Geese feeding out on the grass below us.

IMG_2139Great Grey Shrike – first one flew in to the hawthorns by the entrance track

We couldn’t see any sign of a Great Grey Shrike at first, but suddenly one appeared from nowhere. We turned to see it fly in and land on the very top of hawthorn. It perched there for a while looking round. A Meadow Pipit came to mob it but appeared to have second thoughts and flew off again. Then the shrike flew further back along the road, and landed again in the top of another bush. We started to walk further along towards where it had gone when it flew again and disappeared behind the bushes ahead of us. We continued further along to the paddocks, which seemed the mostly likely place it might have gone, scanning both sides of the seawall, but we couldn’t find it again.

As we turned to walk back, we could see dark grey clouds gathering behind us. We almost made it back to the car before it started to rain. It was just a shower, so we took shelter until it quickly cleared. Afterwards, we climbed back up onto the seawall and started to scan the marshes again. It didn’t take long after the weather cleared for a Great Grey Shrike to appear again. It was ‘a’ rather than ‘the’ Great Grey Shrike because when we got it in the scope it appeared to be a second bird. There have been two shrikes here recently and this one appeared to be an adult, rather than the 1st winter bird we had seen earlier. It perched up in the top of a hawthorn for a while, out across the grazing marsh, before it flew straight towards us. It landed on the top of a dead dock, swaying in the wind, for a while. Then it flew back across the grazing marshes and disappeared from view. Two Great Grey Shrikes – not bad! There were also two Stonechats perched up in the top of the hawthorns by the entrance road.

IMG_2150Great Grey Shrike – a second bird out on the grazing marshes

Having managed such great views of the two Great Grey Shrikes so quickly, we walked out to have a look at the sea at the mouth of the Wash. There were lots of Brent Geese and waders on the beach – mostly Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher. Out on the sea, rather distantly, we could see hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of Common Scoter, presumably feeding on shellfish offshore. There were also a couple of Red-throated Divers, but they were hard to see as they were quite a long way out.

Scanning over the sea, we picked out a very dark blackish brown bird, a bit like a large gull, flying past – a Great Skua or Bonxie. We could see big white wing flashes in the tips  of its wings as it flew. It dropped down onto the sea and sat bobbing around between the waves. We could see a couple of fishing boats out in the mouth of the Wash, and they appeared to be bottom trawling, possibly for shrimp. These boats can cause a mass of destruction, as they dredge up everything from the seabed, wanted and unwanted. A huge cloud of gulls was following behind, presumably cashing in on all the bounty stirred up from the bottom. At the back, a second Bonxie was harrying the gulls. But it will be interesting to see if the Common Scoter remain offshore once the trawlers have finished.

It was getting late and the light was fading, so we walked back towards the car. We scanned the marshes as we went but there was no further sign of either Great Grey Shrike or the Short-eared Owl, we had been lucky to see them when we did. Unfortunately it was time to head for home.

17th October 2015 – Down to the Woods Today

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. Having walked the Holkham end of the coastal pines yesterday, we headed to Wells Woods today. It was very dull and overcast first thing, and rather windy with a very blustery NE, but at least it was sheltered in the trees.

We decided to concentrate on the open areas to the south of the woods initially, where the light was better. There were lots of Blackbirds and thrushes in the brambles and hawthorns – Song Thrushes, Redwings and a few Fieldfares as well today. While the latter two are the classic winter thrushes, which come here from the continent, our resident Blackbird and Song Thrush population is also swelled with large numbers coming in from colder climes at this time of year. There were also a couple of Bullfinches lurking amongst the bushes – we could hear them calling, but typically shy they flew away ahead of us. A Lesser Redpoll flew over calling, but dropped down into the birches out of view, and several Bramblings were flying around over the trees.

P1110807Fieldfare – there were lots of thrushes in the bushes first thing this morning

We worked our way west along the main track. There were flocks of tits to search through – Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tits – together with the odd Treecreeper… and masses of Goldcrests. Almost every tree seemed to have at least one Goldcrest in it today, all feeding feverishly. It made locating the rarities more complicated, with so many birds to sift through, but it was amazing to see them all.

P1110878Goldcrest – there were masses in the pines again today

A Pallas’s Warbler had been reported with the tit flock west of the drinking pool. We had no problem finding a tit flock, but we didn’t know if it was the right one. The flocks can move quite quickly through the trees, with individual birds stopping to feed for a few seconds even when the flock as a whole seems to be constantly on the move. We spent some time following this flock, but we couldn’t see any lost Siberian warblers in amongst it. There were one or two Chiffchaffs in with all the other birds.

We were then pointed in the direction of another Pallas’s Warbler, further west still along the track. When we got to the spot, there was no sign of it at first. Thankfully, a friendly birder managed to locate it, feeding on its own in some small oaks deeper into the trees. We could see it fluttering around in the leaves, with a deep yellow supercilium and prominent double wing bar. However, it was hard to see the distinctive lemon yellow rump patch from below, or the crown stripe.

P1110817Pallas’s Warbler – feeding in the tops of some young oaks

The Pallas’s Warbler suddenly flew from the oaks it had been in, to another taller tree further along where we could just see it, before it dropped out of the other side and disappeared again. Pallas’s Warblers are always a crowd pleaser. Almost as small as a Goldcrest and covered in bright yellow stripes, they flit and hover in among the leaves looking for insects. Breeding in southern Siberia, they should be on their way to winter in SE Asia or southern China. In some years, large numbers can be displaced westwards and turn up in western Europe. Having missed one last night, it was nice to catch up with a Pallas’s Warbler this morning.

There has also been a Hume’s Warbler along the path here, a little further towards Wells, and that was our next target. As we walked back along the path, we could see a large crowd gathered, but they had not seen any sign of it for a while. We walked into the trees, to try to refind it, but when we re-emerged onto the path, we could see the throng had moved a little further along. As soon as we joined them we could hear the Hume’s Warbler calling, and eventually we got some great views of it in the birch trees by the path. We followed it for a while, or followed the distinctive call as it moved rapidly up and down the line of trees, and saw it very well again when it paused for several minutes to feed in a low hawthorn.

P1110825Hume’s Warbler – like a dull Yellow-browed Warbler, with a distinctive call

The Hume’s Warbler is another bird blown over from Siberia, on its way to wintering grounds in the Indian subcontinent or southern China. Until recently it was considered just a subspecies of Yellow-browed Warbler, but with markedly different vocalisations and some mostly consistent differences in appearance, it was elevated to a species in its own right. It is best identified by its call here – a deeper, more strongly disyllabic ‘tchuu-eet’ (compared to the thinner, higher ‘tsooeet’ call of Yellow-browed) – but it is also a duller, greyer species than its close relative.

With two Siberian warblers seen already, we made our way back to the drinking pool. A second Red-flanked Bluetail, a different bird to the one we had seen at the Holkham end of the pines recently, had been found at the drinking pool yesterday and was still present today. With so many rare birds in North Norfolk at the moment, there were unprecedented crowds at Wells Woods today, and once again we joined a large group waiting for the Bluetail to appear. It didn’t take long, flying out of the dense vegetation and up into the low bushes by the side of the pool.

P1110859Red-flanked Bluetail – our second in two days, well hidden at first

It was well hidden at first, hiding amngst the foliage, but still couldn’t escape the attention of the local Robins, which tried to chase it away. Thankfully, the Red-flanked Bluetail then flew out and perched in the open on a dead branch for a minute or so. We got stunning views of its bright blue tail. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to get any peace and flew off into the pines. We could see it in the trees on and off for a while, before it disappeared completely.

P1110877Red-flanked Bluetail – showing off its blue tail

With reports that at least one Pallas’s Warbler was showing well again back where we had been earlier, we decided to go back for a second look. It now appeared there might be at least three along the path there. The other birders we met coming towards us on the way reported that they hadn’t been seen for a while, and sure enough the one we had seen earlier had disappeared into the trees as we passed the spot. But a little further on, we found a couple of people watching not one but two Pallas’s Warblers!

We eventually got everyone onto them – they were moving quite quickly through the trees again, so were hard to follow at times. Finally they stopped for a minute or so to feed in a low oak, and we could see them really well – crown stripe, square yellow rump patch and all. Cracking birds, Pallas’s Warblers, and that made three for us in the morning! A Swallow hawking over the pines would have been more of a surprise, had we not also seen two late ones yesterday.

Having seen all the main target birds in this area of the woods, and with it approaching lunchtime, we made our way back east towards the car. We were told that the Bluetail had returned to the drinking pool, but a quick diversion round that way and we found it had disappeared into the pines once again.

There has been a Blyth’s Reed Warbler skulking in the brambles at the eastern end of the woods for the last five days but it has been very mobile and extremely elusive. They can be difficult to see at the best of times, but given the amount of thick undergrowth here, such a skulking bird can be nigh on impossible to pin down. However, there was some interest in the group in looking for it, so we took another detour round via the area where it has been seen most often. There were lots of people milling around, but it appeared that it had not been seen or heard. We had a quick look, but eventually the call of lunch won.

After lunch, we decided to go back and have a more concerted effort to see the Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Still it had not been seen or heard from since the morning. We walked round all the likely areas, but there seemed little chance that we might stumble across it. In the end, we gave up and went to explore the area around the Dell. We had just emerged back onto the main path when we got a message to say that the Blyth’s Reed Warbler had just been seen. We hot-footed it back, but once again we found it had disappeared again as quickly as it had appeared. The trail had gone cold. Various reports from around the general area had us chasing shadows for a while, until once again we decided to give up.

We had a walk down the path beside the caravan park and out into the fields. A Great Grey Shrike had been in the bushes here earlier in the morning, and afternoon is a classic time to see this species out hunting, but we couldn’t find that either. We decided to head back to the car. It so happened that the area the Blyth’s Reed Warbler frequents was pretty much on our way back, and as we walked through the trees we came across a large crowd. They were watching the Blyth’s Reed Warbler, or at least the undergrowth where it was hiding.

After a few moments it hopped up and perched in full view on a curved wild rose stem. Half the group managed to get onto it, before it disappeared again into the vegetation. We stood for a while with the dawning realisation that it had moved on again – it was clearly very mobile and covering a large area. A whistle saw the crowd move further through the wood to where it had just been seen again. We spent some time chasing after it through the trees like this – it was always in the deepest tangles and hard to follow. We saw it fly and heard it call a couple of times, but unfortunately, it didn’t perch up nicely again and eventually we lost it once more. Time was running out, the light was fading, the weather was closing in and it started to drizzle as we walked back to the car.

It had been hard work, but what a selection of birds we had seen – waifs and strays from the east, all real rarities in this country. A Hume’s Warbler, three Pallas’s Warblers, our second Red-flanked Bluetail and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Wow!

16th October 2015 – More from the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. Norfolk has been enjoying a real purple patch in the last week, with a succession of rare vagrants from the east turning up in the county, brought to us on an ongoing easterly airflow originating from far across onto the continent. We set out to try to catch up with a few of those today.

Our first stop saw us drive east along the coast to Beeston Common, just beyond Sheringham. It was overcast and blustery when we arrived, but that doesn’t seem to put off our first target. As soon as we got out onto the Common we could see the Isabelline Shrike perched atop a hawthorn bush, looking all around. We got it in the scope and watched it catch a wasp and eat it.

IMG_2003Isabelline Shrike – still present on Beeston Common today & showing well

Suddenly it flew towards us, and landed in another bush much closer by. It was obviously actively looking for food, as it flew again to another perch. It dropped sharply down to the ground, but disappeared deep into a holly when it flew back out so we couldn’t see what it had caught this time. We waited a few minutes and it reappeared on our side of the holly, before flying across back to the hawthorn it had just come from.

From there, it dropped down into the grass again and this time flew up with a small frog. It took it into the hawthorn and we could just see it through the scope, impaling the frog on a thorn. Shrikes are also traditionally known as ‘butcher birds’, as they will store excess food in a ‘larder’ by impaling them on a thorny bush or even barbed wire for later consumption. The Isabelline Shrike seemed unsure whether to eat its frog now or leave it for later. It appeared to eat a little, then moved back to the outside of the bush to resume hunting, before changing its mind and dropping back in to eat some more. Fascinating to watch.

There have been thrushes arriving in numbers for days now, and out on the common we saw a Blackbird or two drop into the bushes and a large flock of Redwing flew over our heads calling. A Sparrowhawk flew over as well – there is a real bounty for predators at the moment, with many small birds arriving here exhausted from the continent.

Having enjoyed such great views of the Isabelline Shrike, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. Heading back west along the coast, we stopped at Muckleburgh Hill next. An Olive-backed Pipit had been found here yesterday, but it had been very elusive. They have a habit of creeping surreptitiously through the grass unseen, so it seemed like it might be difficult for us to see this one. A text message also confirmed that it had been elusive so far this morning. We thought we might as well have a go.

When we finally found the assembled crowd, the Olive-backed Pipit was on show, but getting everyone onto it was easier said than done at first. It was creeping around on an area of cut bracken, amongst the dead stalks and short regrowth, so had lots of places to hide. We kept getting glimpses of it. Frustrating. Finally it crept over to a more obvious place under a large rowan tree and proceeded to work its way round the edge of the taller bracken at its base. Now everyone got onto it, we managed to get it in the scopes and get some cracking views.

IMG_2040Olive-backed Pipit – eventually showed very well at Muckleburgh Hill

Olive-backed Pipits breed in Siberia and just into European Russia, migrating down to India and south Asia for the winter. They are a rare visitor to our shores, though they turn up more often these days than they used to. They are still a great bird to see and full of character, as they creep around pumping their tails slowly up and down.

We left the crowd to it, and continued our way back west, stopping off next at Stiffkey Greenway. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier in the morning, but had disappeared off to the west along the coastal path. There were lots of people here, birdwatchers as well as dog walkers and joggers, so we didn’t fancy our chances of seeing it. This is a good site to look for other recent arrivals in the coastal bushes, so we decided to go for a walk anyway.

Scanning the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Brent Geese out amongst the vegetation. A Greenshank dropped in on the path out across the marshes and started to feed around the small pools. A Grey Plover was on the path further out and there were lots of Curlew and Redshank. Several of the scattered pools also held a Little Egret.

P1110756Brent Geese – feeding out on the saltmarsh

There were not so many birds in the hawthorns and brambles as there have been in the last couple of days. Perhaps fewer new birds had arrived overnight, or possibly they had already moved off inland, disturbed by all the activity up and down the path. We did see plenty of Goldcrests in the bushes, and flushed a steady stream of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. There were several finches – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, though they were keeping down in the bushes out of the wind. We caught up with a tit flock – Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits – working their way through the gorse around the whirligig. In amongst them we found a couple of Chiffchaff.

We only went as far as the eastern track at Warham Greens. As we walked out at the whirligig, a small falcon swept up along the edge of the saltmarsh and powered away behind us, a Merlin. We scanned the marshes out towards East Hills and initially picked up nothing more than a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Then a smaller, sleeker, slimmer-winged harrier swept up above the horizon briefly before dropping back down and resuming quartering low over the vegetation. Through the scopes we could see the paler underparts and square white patch at the base of the tail – its was a young ringtail Hen Harrier.

With no sign of the shrike and time getting on towards lunch, we decided to walk back. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a bush cricket which walked out onto the muddy path – a Short-winged Conehead.

P1110778Short-winged Conehead – a type of bush cricket, on the coastal path

We ate lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive and afterwards walked west along the path on the inner edge of the pines. It was fairly quiet at first, apart from the ubiquitous Goldcrests and the regular Little Grebes on the pool at Salts Hole. Just beyond there, we could see some other birders on the top of a low bank, scanning the bushes in the reeds by the path. There has been another Isabelline Shrike here at Holkham in the last few days (there have been an unprecedented three in Norfolk!), but apparently we had just missed it. It had dropped down from one of the bushes and disappeared. We decided to walk a little further along to the gate, from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

There was no sign of the shrike from further along either, but we did see a rather late Common Whitethroat in a low rose bush by the gate. There are lots here in the summer, but this one should probably be well on its way towards Africa by now. Out on the grazing marshes, we could see a few Pink-footed Geese together with the Greylags. It was while we were scanning the marshes, that someone coming along the path broke the news to us that the shrike had reappeared further back along the path.

We walked back quickly and there it was – perched up in a wild rose bush amongst the reeds, our second Isabelline Shrike of the day. How greedy! It was rather similar to the one that we had seen at Beeston Common in the morning, but noticeably more extensively marked with dark chevrons on its pale underparts. There is typically some variation between individuals.

IMG_2046Isabelline Shrike – our second of the day, at Holkham

When it flew down again, we continued on our way west along the path. We stopped periodically to scan through the Goldcrests, in case there might be something more interesting in amongst them. It has been amazing just how many there were here in recent days – it would be fascinating to know how many have come in from the continent and moved on inland this week.

Just past the crosstracks, we came to the clump of sallows which the Red-flanked Bluetail has been frequenting, since Monday at least. There is always something of a dilemma – whether to try to see it flicking around quietly in the sallows, or whether to wait our by the brambles where it likes to come to feed on blackberries occasionally. We decided on the latter.

We didn’t have to wait too long until the Red-flanked Bluetail put in a typically brief appearance on the brambles. It perched for a few seconds feeding on the blackberries, but it was mostly hidden within the foliage. Then it flew across the front. Most of the group got a glimpse – a flash of the blue tail as it went. We waited again and then got a repeat performance – the Bluetail fed on a blackberry from within the brambles and then flashed off. It was clearly nervous – the local Robins have been giving it a hard time, chasing it away.

IMG_2062Red-flanked Bluetail – showing off its orange flank patches

Finally, on its third visit of our vigil, the Red-flanked Bluetail came out onto the brambles in full view. We could see its rather Robin-like appearance front on, but lacking the red (orange!) breast and instead sporting two orange flank patches and a triangular white throat patch. We were missing its best feature from this angle, but it even did the decent thing and turned round, flashing its bright blue tail at us. What a cracker! Than it darted off back into the sallows.

IMG_2076Red-flanked Bluetail – helpfully turned around to show off its bright blue tail

Red-flanked Bluetails breed in the Siberian taiga and migrate down to spend the winter in SE Asia. They were almost a mythical rarity in the UK in years gone by but only in the last 10-15 years have they become annual visitors and are now almost an expected find after a period of east winds at this time of year. This is probably because they have been expanding their breeding range steadily westwards and now breed in eastern Finland. Still, that does not detract at all from the delight at seeing one – electric blue tail, and all.

After great views such as those, we set off back suitably elated. Once again, we paused regularly to check through the flocks of Goldcrests and tits on the way back. Two Swallows hawking for insects low over the pines around Washington Hide were another unseasonal surprise, with most of their brethren well on their way to Africa by now.

There had been a Pallas’s Warbler in the trees further along from Lady Anne’s Drive towards Wells during the day, so we thought we might walk that way and try to see it. Unfortunately, the weather started to close in a little on our way back and the light levels dropped early. The trees where the Pallas’s Warbler had been were quiet. It had been a tiring day in the field and energy levels were waning by this stage, so we decided to make our way slowly back. But what a day it had been – 2 Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit and Red-flanked Bluetail amongst others. We needed to leave something for tomorrow!

13th October 2015 – Full of Eastern Promise

Another Autumn Tour today. With winds from the east, it has been very exciting here in recent days, so we set out to catch up on a few of the recent attractions and check out if there had been any new arrivals.

We started at Stiffkey, with the intention of walking west from Greenway towards Warham Greens. With the wind veering NE and picking up, with cloud and rain, it felt like there might have been some new birds in overnight. The coastal hedges here seemed like a good place to look.

It was very exposed out along the edge of the saltmarsh, with the wind gusting over 30mph, and at first the bushes seemed rather quiet. We scanned the saltmarsh as we walked – there were plenty of Brent Geese in now, feeding on the eel grass, plus lots of Curlew and Redshank and several Little Egrets. A couple of Marsh Harriers were out quartering the saltmarsh.

P1110513Brent Geese – when they first arrive, they all like to feed on the saltmarshes

We could hear a couple of Goldcrests calling from the bushes, but couldn’t see them at first. They were obviously keeping down out of the wind. Then we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits and two Goldcrests with them were more obliging. Still, there didn’t seem as many here as in recent days.  We flushed a few Song Thrushes from the hedges as we walked, and a Redwing, but there was nothing to suggest any significant numbers had come in overnight. We were making our way back when a red tail flicked over a bush by the path and disappeared – presumably a Redstart, although it didn’t show itself again. As we stood and waited to see if it might reappear, a Blackcap hopped up to feed on the blackberries.

P1110499Blackcap – feeding on blackberries

We had a quick look in campsite wood – and the place was absolutely alive with Goldcrests. We stopped to watch them dropping down out of the trees into the bushes out on the campsite to feed, then zooming back up into the trees again. There had been a report of a couple of Firecrests further along, in some trees on the edge of the campsite, but all the crests had moved on by the time we got there. While it was amazing to watch all the Goldcrests feeding feverishly, it was a struggle to see the birds in the canopy of the wood itself. Eventually, we decided to move on.

We made our way east along the coast to Beeston Common. There has been an Isabelline Shrike here for a couple of days already, and it has been a real performer. It was on form again today – perched high in the top of a hawthorn as we arrived, for all to see. We watched it in the scope for a while, then it set off on  a sally out across the common, catching a bee and taking it back to the bush to incapacitate and then eat it.

IMG_1976Isabelline Shrike – showing well at Beeston Common

It flew around several times, moving between bushes, looking around all the time for prey. Even when it started to rain lightly at one point, it still sat up in the bushes. It was great to watch. Some video of it from yesterday is below.

After that crowd-pleasing performance, we had a short walk over the common to see what else we could see. There has been a Yellow-browed Warbler or two here in recent days, but we couldn’t find the tit flock today – it was just a bit too windy out there. We decided to head back to the car.

We drove to Cley and, after a stop at the Visitor Centre, we drove round to the beach car park. The morning had already gone, so we ate our lunch in the beach shelter out of the wind. While we were eating, we kept one eye on the sea. Seawatching can always produce interesting birds, with a decent onshore wind. There were plenty of Gannets going past today, adults with black-tipped white wings and lots of slaty-grey juveniles. And a steady stream of little groups of auks – mostly Guillemots, but we also picked up several blunt-billed Razorbills too.

P1110527Gannet – one of the many juveniles past today

While we were eating, the vigilence paid off. We picked up a distant Sooty Shearwater flying past, alternately arcing up high over the sea and dipping down to skim low over the waves. We could see its dark underparts, ruling out the commoner Manx Shearwater. After we had finished eating and suitably emboldened by the shearwater, we decided to move round to the side of the shelter to have a more concerted effort at seawatching.

It certainly paid off! Next up, another Sooty Shearwater came past, much closer this time, giving us all a great view. Then a skua appeared low over the sea to our left, heading our way. We got it in the scope and could see that it was a Pomarine Skua and a super smart adult to boot. As it came past we could even see the ‘spoons’ – the elongated, spatulate central tail feathers which project out the back, characteristic of the species. Stunning! Then another shearwater appeared, a bit further out and this time keeping very low over the sea. It was fairly dark again, but shorter winged and dumpier than the Sooty. It was a Balearic Shearwater from the Mediterranean. To round things off nicely, a Great Skua flew past us next – big, bulky & dark, with steady and deliberate wingbeats. We hadn’t intended to seatwatch today, and only gave it about half an hour, so this was an amazing return. If only every day seawatching could be as good as this!!

There was still no real sense of any major new influx of passerines on the wind, so we decided to make our way back to Holkham to try to catch up with the star bird there – a Red-flanked Bluetail which had been found lurking in some dense sallows yesterday. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and made our way west along the inner edge of the pines. We were serenaded by the yelping of Pink-footed Geese as we walking. At Salts Hole, we stopped to admire the Little Grebes. At least 5 today, there was lots of territorial chasing going on and lots of maniacal laughter.

P1110536Little Grebe – one of the pairs at Salts Hole

A little further along, we heard a Marsh Tit calling. We could see it moving around in the low elm suckers alongside the path. It was fascinating to watch – it pulled a dried leaf from one of the trees and took it to a nearby perch, where it starting pecking at the leaf violently. It gradually became clear that the leaf was curled over and after a second or two the Marsh Tit pulled out a caterpillar. It had obviously cocooned itself into a leaf, but the Marsh Tit had realised it was hiding in there and had taken the leaf off to extract it. Very clever.

We detoured up the boardwalk by Washington Hide. The trees here can be very good for birds, but it was just too exposed and gusty there today and they were quiet, apart from yet more Goldcrests. We stopped to look at a small party of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. In the bushes down on the edge of the reedbed, several Redwings were feeding on berries. A Sparrowhawk flew in and landed in a hawthorn, looking round hungrily.

The pool in front of Washington Hide was fairly empty today, and we were just walking back down the boardwalk when a large white shape started to take off from one of the ditches just to the east. The Great White Egret had obviously been hiding in there, out of view, today. We watched it fly across and then drop down into another ditch further over, out of view again.

P1110546Great White Egret – flying between ditches this afternoon

We continued our way west, stopping occasionally to watch the tit flocks or the Goldcrests coming down to bathe in a puddle. A very white Common Buzzard has returned to the bushes over by the church – it was there last winter and was causing some confusion again today.

There is always lots to see here, but we had really come hoping to see the Red-flanked Bluetail and time was getting on, so we made our way to the trees where it had been showing. We hadn’t been there long, when it suddenly appeared from the sallows behind and started to feed on the brambles. We could see the bright blue tail as it flicked around on the bushes, and the deep orange flank patches. Once an almost mythical rare visitor here, they are now turning up more often, but are still an absolute delight to see.

P1110554Red-flanked Bluetail – a record shot in poor light this afternoon

It has been hassled repeatedly by the local Robins and obviously didn’t fancy spending too long out in the open, so darted back into the sallows. Having seen it so easily, we hung around a short while to see if we could see it again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. However, while we were waiting we did hear a Yellow-browed Warbler calling loudly from the sallows. When a bird appeared on the edge of the sallows immediately after, we thought that would be it – but it turned out to be a Firecrest instead. It didn’t stay long and disappeared back into the bushes.

We didn’t have time to linger too long, so set off back to the car. We still had time for one last bird – on our way back, another Firecrest had been seen in the holm oaks beside the path. We arrived just in time to see it flicking around amongst the branches, before it suddenly darted out and disappeared into the trees behind.

It was time to call it a day, but it had been a great Autumn day out – with some top quality rare visitors and a classic seawatching session in the middle!

11th October 2015 – Go West

The third and final day of a long weekend of tours today. With the wind in the east, it felt like there should be some migrants around, so we started off in Wells Woods.

We walked up to the bushes by the lifeboat station first. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way in towards us and in amongst them were a couple of Goldcrests, the first of many we would see today. A Song Thrush sat in the sea buckthorn, a grey-backed continental migrant, presumably fresh in overnight. There were lots of Brent Geese out on the other side of the harbour, with plenty of waders scattered amongst them, mainly Oystercatcher and Curlew. A couple of little flocks of Sanderling were feeding along the sandy shoreline.

We walked into the trees, with lots of Goldcrests calling from the trees above our heads. There are always Goldcrests in the woods here, but there seemed to be more than usual. However, the walk up to and around the Dell was rather quiet. It was cool, it had rained overnight, and there was a very flesh easterly, so perhaps the birds were seeking the more sheltered areas?

We worked our way round onto the main path and walked west. We hadn’t gone far when we heard a pipit calling over the trees, a rather weak and weedy ‘speez’. There are several pipits with a similar call, the commonest of which here is Tree Pipit, but it didn’t sound like a Tree Pipit. It called several times in quick succession and we turned to look for it, but couldn’t see it as it disappeared over. Very frustrating!

There were also lots of thrushes coming in. We could hear little groups calling continually over the trees, a mixture mainly of Song Thrushes and Redwings. A single Mistle Thrush appeared in the tops of the pines briefly, before flying off west towards Holkham. There were also finches calling overhead – Siskins and a few Redpolls again, and more Bramblings today. We heard a couple of single birds calling, and then a flock of four silent birds circled over. We could see there orange breasts contrasting with much whiter underparts.

We struggled to find the tit flocks today. We found one, but it moved quickly away from us into the top of the pines, where it was very hard to follow. We could see Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, and several more Goldcrests. We could hear Treecreepers calling. Most likely, given the cool and windy conditions, the birds had moved deeper into the pines to feed.

We made our way west to the trees beyond the drinking pool, and then turned back. It was only when we got back by the Dell, that we came across another tit flock. They were in the tops of the pines once again, but from higher up in the dunes we could get a better look at them. We watched them for a while, seeing all the same regular species – Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits, and lots of Goldcrests. Then suddenly a crest started calling from low down in the tree right beside us. We turned to see a black and white striped face – a Firecrest. It fed in the tree in front of us for a few seconds, then flew off to join the rest. It was hard work in the trees today so, after a couple of hours, we decided to head west to Titchwell to look for some waders and wildfowl instead.

We had a bit of time before lunch once we arrived, so we walked out along the Fen Trail towards Patsy’s Reedbed. Another flock of tits passed overhead as we walked along the boardwalk – there was no escaping the Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests today! A Common Darter was basking in the sunshine out of the wind on the back of Fen Hide.

P1110202Common Darter – out of the wind and in the sun on the back of Fen Hide

As we walked up to Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see a steady stream of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit flying across the path ahead of us, up over the hedge and down onto the stubble field beyond. There were a lot more Ruff around the muddy edges and islands as well – we counted at least 35 on Patsy’s Reedbed today.

IMG_1884Ruff – one of at least 35 on Patsy’s Reedbed today

The waders kept flying back and forth between the fields and the water. We could see quite a few 1st winter Black-tailed Godwits, with retained juvenile patterned wing coverts but plain grey upperparts. However, one Black-tailed Godwit was still mostly in juvenile plumage – quite rusty coloured on the breast.

IMG_1890Black-tailed Godwit – the middle bird still mostly in bright juvenile plumage

There were plenty of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today as well – mostly Mallard, Wigeon and Teal. A small number of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the water. On the edge of one of the islands, we could see the unmistakable bright orange hairdo of a couple of drake  Red-crested Pochard. Nearby, a couple of pale-cheeked females were sleeping. As we scanned back and forth, more appeared – at least 10 Red-crested Pochard in total today. It had been a productive session out here, but it was time to head back for lunch – so that we could do the main part of the reserve afterwards.

IMG_1873Red-crested Pochard – an orange-headed male & two pale-cheeked females

We walked out onto the reserve after lunch. The grazing marsh pool held a couple of Lapwing, two Ringed Plover and a Redshank. The recent rain had left a couple of puddles, but it is still largely drained. A Kingfisher flashed past along the edge of the reeds and disappeared over the back. The reedbed pool was rather quiet today, with no sign of the raft of Common Pochard which has been there recently.

As we approached Island Hide, we could see a crowd of photographers clustered around the railings along the access ramp. When we got to them, we could see why. There were lots of Goldcrests in the sallows, feeding feverishly on the sunny side, out of the wind. We stood and watched them for a while as they fluttered around only a few feet in front of us. They were obviously fresh in from over the sea, and were desperately looking for food. Interestingly, as we returned back this way later in the afternoon, the sallows were quiet as most of the birds had obviously moved off inland towards the trees.

P1110234Goldcrest – a fresh arrival, looking for food in the sallows

As we stood and watched the Goldcrests, a single Chiffchaff appeared in the same bushes with them, also fluttering around close in front of us looking for food. Again, it was probably fresh in from the continent.

P1110218Chiffchaff – probably also a fresh arrival in the sallows

As usual, there were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh. The waders were dominated by a large flock of Golden Plover roosting on one of the islands. We got them in the scope and could see their golden-spangled upperparts. Several Black-tailed Godwits were also sleeping out there, together with two Avocets. Numbers of the latter are now well down from the huge numbers of late summer. A few Dunlin were scattered around the muddy margins.

Among the ducks, the males are now gradually emerging from eclipse. The drake Teal are a really variable mixture of brown eclipse and smart breeding feathers. There were still lots of rusty brown Wigeon as well as a scattering of Pintail in various states of moult.

P1110207Teal – a moulting drake, with a mixture of old eclipse and new breeding feathers

We made our way on towards Parrinder Hide, but as we got to the junction in the path, we could see a Curlew Sandpiper further along, by the main tidal channel out on the Volunteer Marsh. We continued on along the main path until we were level with it – and got a great look at it through the scope as it fed on the mud, initially with a couple of Dunlin, before walking and running off on its own.

IMG_1902Curlew Sandpiper – feeding out around the Volunteer Marsh again today

There were a few other waders out on the Volunteer Marsh as well, a good smattering of Redshank, Curlew and Grey Plover, plus a couple of Ringed Plover. A single Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and landed out on the mud. A Greenshank flew over calling and disappeared off towards Thornham saltmarsh.

P1110385Curlew – also feeding out on the Volunteer Marsh

Having come this far, we decided to continue out towards the beach. The Tidal Pools held the usual selection of waders – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Grey Plover, plus more Dunlin sleeping on the muddy spits. The tide was on its way in, but there were still lots of birds around the rocks out on the beach. We could see lots of dumpy grey Knot among the Oystercatchers, as well as a few Turnstones. Looking more closely, we picked out a couple more Bar-tailed Godwits as well. A long line of Sanderling were running along the beach down towards the water’s edge.

The sea itself was rather quiet today. A single Great Crested Grebe was diving close in just off the rocks, but still more were further out on the choppy waters. A lone Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore. It was quite cool out on the beach, so we decided to head back.

We hadn’t been in to Parrinder Hide on the way out, so we stopped off their on our way back. With the rising tide, a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot had now gathered to roost on the freshmarsh. Nervously in and out of the vegetation on the bank were at least four Snipe.

P1110325Snipe – at least four were feeding along the bank from Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Shoveler feeding in the deeper water right in front of the hide, helpfully keeping their heads almost permanently down in the water. The drakes are really starting to emerge from eclipse now.

P1110281Shoveler – a drake emerging from eclipse

Back at the junction with the main path, a quick glance at the Volunteer Marsh was just in time to catch a Greenshank dropping in nearby. It only stayed for a second or two, before it was chased off by a Pied Wagtail!

Back at the drained grazing marsh pool, we stopped to look at a Chinese Water Deer which was feeding along the edge of the reeds right at the back. Down at the front, right on the edge of the reeds, we spotted a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly. We had heard one or two calling overhead earlier in the morning, so it was nice to actually see one now.

We swung back round via Meadow Trail. Even though it was cool and breezy, the sun was shining, so we thought it might be worth looking for migrants in the bushes. No surprises, we came across another flock of Long-tailed Tits and lots of Goldcrests. There had been the continual sound of Song Thrushes and Redwings coming in overhead through most of the afternoon, and we saw several new arrivals dropping into the bushes later on today, fresh in from Scandinavia.

As we wound our way round towards Fen Trail, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sallows further in. There has been one here for a while now, but it had proven rather elusive all day today. We stood at one likely spot and scanned, but there was no sign of it. Still it was nice to get one again today – making a full house for the long weekend! Then it was time to head for home.

10th October 2015 – When the East Wind blows

The second day of a long weekend of Autumn tours today. With the wind in the east, we had hopes that there might be some fresh migrants in from the continent. We drove round to Holkham and parked at Lady Anne’s Drive to explore the woods.

The walk west along the inner edge of the pines was quiet at first. There were a few tits in the trees, but it was cool in the east wind this morning. Salts Hole had several Little Grebes as usual – at least 5 today. We could hear them, like slightly maniacal laughter, as we walked along the path. The calls of the Pink-footed Geese also provided a near constant soundtrack.

P1110173Little Grebe – at least 5 on Salts Hole today

At Washington Hide, we climbed up the boardwalk to look in the sycamores. The wind was catching the trees on the far side of the gap, and there was consequently little activity there today. As we turned back towards the hide, we could see a large white shape out on the water below – the Great White Egret. It has been around for about a month and a half now, but it was still nice to see it out in the open on the pool today.

IMG_1829Great White Egret – on the pool in front of Washington Hide again

We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling further along, as we watched the Great White Egret. We thought they might come our way, but the trees along the edge of the path were obviously more sheltered, so we walked back down and along to where they were feeding. We watched them for a while, hoping we might find something different with the flock – but as well as the Long-tailed Tits, it was just the usual Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers.

After the flock had passed through, we continued west, exploring all the most likely areas. In the trees behind Meals House, we came across another tit flock. The sycamores here look ideal feeding grounds for a lost visitor from the east, but it was not to be today. The main recurring theme along the trees was Goldcrest – there seemed to be a lot in here today, with the resident birds presumably joined by migrants from the continent. A few Siskin and Redpoll flew over the pines, calling.

Treecreeper Wells 2015-10-06_1Treecreeper – here’s one from Wells Woods the other day

We were past the crosstracks when we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling loudly from the sallows ahead of us. It was on the far side, where it was sunny, at first but eventually made its way through and we could see it flicking around amongst the leaves. Then suddenly it took off and disappeared west. We could hear it calling again, some way further along the path.

We followed it and found the Yellow-browed Warbler feeding in the top of a young oak tree by the path. It was not hard to relocate, because it was calling so often! It took off again and flew high west, dropping down again further along. It did this several times before it landed in a thicker group of sallows where a lone Chiffchaff was calling. We could see the Chiffchaff feeding around some ivy, and the Yellow-browed Warbler appeared next to it. At this point, the latter stopped calling and appeared to settle down to feed in the sallows, at which point we lost sight of it. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler in the same area earlier in the week, but the way this bird was behaving, it was tempting to think it might be a fresh arrival.

We carried on west to the end of the pines and walked out onto the edge of the dunes. We had met a couple of other birders along the path, and the news from the dunes was that they had not seen anything of note out there. We had hoped to catch up with the Ring Ouzels which had been around the bushes here, but we learnt later that Holkham staff had been working there yesterday – presumably the birds had moved on. Even when one of the wardens drove through the area, nothing of note came out. We did see a couple of male Blackcaps feeding in the brambles.

News came through that someone had seen a Red-breasted Flycatcher back at Washington Hide, so we decided to make our way back there to try to see it. Unfortunately, it turned out that it had only been seen briefly and had disappeared across the path and out into the bushes on the National Nature Reserve. We had a look round some likely spots, in case it had made its way back to the trees, but it was not seen again. We did hear another Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees near Salts Hole.

It was time to head back to the car for lunch, and afterwards we made our way back east. Having spent the morning scouring the tit flocks in the woods, a bit of water with waders and wildfowl seemed like a good way to spend the afternoon. However, as we walked along the path to Stiffkey Fen, we could hear yet more Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests calling!

Stiffkey Fen itself has been very full of water for the last couple of months, despite all the money invested in new sluices. It has proven popular with the vast horde of Greylag Geese and associated white farmyard geese though. There have been the odd few Pintail on here recently and the same was true today. The drakes are now starting to emerge from eclipse plumage and a couple had the beginnings of the chocolate brown head and white neck pattern. There were lots of Pintail on here today – we counted at least 95 hiding amongst the Greylags, a very respectable total. There were also several Wigeon and Teal, with a couple of Gadwall and a Shoveler in with them.

IMG_1839Pintail – the drakes are starting to emerge from eclipse now

With the water levels so high, waders are thin on the ground (not that there is really any ground left to be thin on!). There were still a few Lapwing roosting, standing almost up to their bellies in water. A couple of Redshank dropped in. A single juvenile Ruff was on the tiny remains of one of the islands, where the vegetation was still showing above the flood.

There were more waders out on the other side of the seawall. A couple of Redshank and a Curlew were feeding in the muddy channel, with more Redshank and a couple of winter plumaged Grey Plover on the wider expanse of mud further along. We walked round to the corner to scan the harbour. There were lots of Oystercatcher as usual, but a lot more small waders out here today as well. These included a liberal scattering of dumpy grey Knot, some little groups of smaller, darker Dunlin, and further over on the edge of the water, as least 20 sparkling silvery Sanderling. A few Turnstone were grubbing around among the cockles and other shells.

There were plenty of Brent Geese out in the harbour. When the birds return from Russia, they like to feed out on the saltmarshes on Eel Grass at first, turning increasingly to grazing pasture and winter wheat fields only as the winter progresses. We could see lines of Brent Geese flying in over the sea, out beyond Blakeney Point, presumably more birds returning for the winter. As they got past the Point, several of them turned into the wind, and flew in to the harbour to join the others already out there. While we were enjoying the spectacle out in the harbour, a Kingfisher sped past, changing its mind and turning round on the edge of the mudflats, flying back in along the channel.

P1110185Comma – enjoying the late afternoon sunshine

As we walked back along the path beside the Fen, the sun came out and it was suddenly quite warm out of the fresh east wind. We had not seen so many insects today, but there were more now. A bright orange Comma butterfly was feeding on the overripe blackberries and a couple of Common Darter dragonflies were basking on the wooden post by the stile.

P1110196Common Darter – basking on one of the wooden posts

We had time for one last stop so pulled in at the start of the middle track at Warham Greens and made our way down towards the front. A Common Buzzard looked slightly out of place sat on top of the barn roof on the way down. More in keeping, certainly with the day’s activity, was the flock of Long-tailed Tits which made its way down the path ahead of us and the Goldcrests calling from the hedges. It was nice walking quietly along the track until we found ourselves pursued along the path by a huge convoy of vehicles. It was a disparate birding group – some cars were left scattered in the gateways, others continued gingerly to the end of the rutted track – which them gathered en masse only just beyond the gate at the end.

We made our way past them, and down to the pit. We had hoped their might be some late migrants, but the bushes were largely quiet. There were a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches. However, the highlight was when a single Lesser Redpoll flew in and landed in the trees with them briefly.

There was more activity out on the saltmarsh – lots of Little Egrets, flocks of Golden Plover and Curlew. A couple of Marsh Harriers were tussling out towards East Hills. Then the ringtail Hen Harrier appeared again, flying in low over the saltmarsh from the direction of Wells. We watched it as it worked its way towards us, flashing the white square at the base of its uppertail. It came right across in front of us, swooping a couple of times at something unseen amongst the Suaeda bushes, before dropping down onto the saltmarsh out of view. It seemed like a great way to end the day, so with the light fading we made our way back past the now dwindling crowd and up the path passed their abandoned vehicles.

IMG_1858Hen Harrier – the ringtail was quartering the saltmarsh again at dusk