Monthly Archives: September 2016

29th Sept 2016 – Hi, Honey

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today. It was raining when we met up in Wells, but thankfully the weather front cleared through on our way east along the coast and it was dry, and even sunny at times, through the rest of the day. A very gusty, blustery WSW wind had its pluses and minuses!

It had looked like it might be too wet and windy for Stiffkey Fen this morning, but as the rain appeared to be clearing, we decided to give it a go. A small group of House Martins were flying around over the copse by the path. A Goldcrest stopped to preen in the trees above our head as we walked down by the river. As we walked down along the footpath, we could hear Greenshanks and Wigeon calling from the Fen. As we got to the steps, a small group of Pink-footed Geese were flying west just beyond the seawall – a harbinger of things to come this morning.

From up on the seawall, there is a great view across Stiffkey Fen. It was immediately clear there were lots of birds, but no Spoonbills, which we had really hoped to see. The tide was already on its way out, so perhaps they had already made their way out onto the saltmarsh to feed. There were lots of other birds though. Stacks of duck having arrived here for the winter included lots of Wigeon and Teal, plus a fair few Pintail. In amongst them, we could see quite a few Ruff and down towards the front, lots of Black-tailed Godwits.

A few Greenshank flew off calling, four in total, towards the saltmarsh. It was only when we got a bit further along that we could see there were still 19 Greenshank roosting on the Fen, round behind the reeds. On the other side of the seawall, we heard calling and turned round to see two Kingfishers flying off from the fence around the sluice outfall. They shot past us and over the gate out towards the fields.

img_7441Greenshank – one of at least 23 at Stiffkey Fen today

We walked on round towards the harbour. One of the Greenshanks had dropped down into the channel and was feeding in the shallow water opposite the seawall. We got a nice look at it through the scope. Nearby, on the mud, there were lots of Redshank and a couple of Grey Plover too.

Scanning across the harbour, we could see lots of birds out on the emerging mudflats exposed by the receding tide – Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Grey Plover. There were a few Bar-tailed Godwits too, and we got one in the scope along with a few Black-tailed Godwits for comparison. In amongst the Black-tailed Godwits’ legs, were several Turnstones.

Much further over, out to sea, we could see three or four juvenile Gannets plunge-diving off the Point. There was also a steady stream of little groups of Pink-footed Geese arriving in off the sea, perhaps fresh in from Iceland for the winter. Even further out, we could just make out a Marsh Harrier battling in against the wind, still a long way out over the sea. Another migrant presumably just making its way on from the continent.

It was at this point, scanning between the mud around the harbour and the sea beyond, that we picked up a very distant bird coming in over the sandbar at the entrance to Blakeney Harbour, about 2km away. It was quite low over the sand and beating its wings hard. It was clearly a buzzard and immediately looked long-tailed and small-headed so, despite the distance, we had a pretty good idea what it was. Thankfully, having battled in to the headwind for a while, it tacked and came straight over the harbour towards us. Gradually we were able to confirm our suspicions – it was a juvenile Honey Buzzard, possibly fresh in from over the sea.

6o0a3095Honey Buzzard – this juvenile battled in against the wind over Blakeney Harbour

As it came in over the mud on the nearside of the harbour, all the birds took flight and the Honey Buzzard several of the local gulls started mobbing it. It started to circle higher and we lost it for a minute in the melee. When we picked it up again it was just to the east of us and flying in over the saltmarsh on its own. When it got over the fields, it turned back west towards Stiffkey Fen, flying behind us, where it attracted the attention of the local crows and a male Marsh Harrier, which also started to mob it. At that point it changed direction again and drifted off east and away.

Through the scope, we could see the Honey Buzzard’s distinctive shape – as well as the long tail with several basal bars and small cuckoo-like head, we noted the pale patch under the primaries contrasting with the darker and strongly barred secondaries, the dark carpal batch and underwing coverts. The yellow cere confirmed it was a juvenile. Honey Buzzard is a distinctly uncommon bird here at this time of year, with just a few seen on migration, so this was a great bird to see. More than compensating us for the lack of Spoonbills perhaps!

Making our way back up onto the seawall, another flock of Pink-footed Geese was making its way west and started to whiffle down onto the Fen for a rest and bathe, presumably tired after a long journey over the sea. It was great to watch and listen to them as they dropped down and we got a good look at them through the scope, alongside the local Greylags for comparison.

6o0a3103Pink-footed Geese – dropped into the Fen for a rest on their way

As we walked back along the seawall towards the footpath, we stopped for one last scan and noticed a large white bird in among all the geese on one of the islands. A Spoonbill, at the very last! Even better it was not asleep! It was an adult, preening itself with its long black bill with distinctive yellow tip. A perfect finish to a very successful couple of hours here.

img_7458Spoonbill – had appeared on the Fen on our way back

We had planned to visit Cley today, but with reports of a Lapland Bunting at Weybourne for the last few days, we decided to continue on to there first. We parked in the car park and walked west along the coastal footpath. It was exposed and very blustery here, but at least the sun was out now.

A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass beside the path and we could see a flock of Goldfinches further along in the bushes, but otherwise it was rather quiet here. We stopped a couple of times to scan the rough grass the other side of the fence and we had not gone too far when we heard the distinctive call of a Lapland Bunting – a dry rattle interspersed with a rather clipped but ringing ‘teu’. It flew in over the low ridge beyond the fence and circled over, but dropped back into the long grass on the ridge out of view. We stopped for a few minutes to see if it might reappear, but there was no further sign. It was perhaps too disturbed at this time of day, with walkers and dogs, for it to come out closer to the path. Still, it was nice to see it in flight and hear it.

Back to Salthouse and we stopped at the Iron Road. The muddy pool here is looking increasingly dry now and there were no birds on the remaining mud. A Little Egret was feeding in the low reeds at the back and a dark juvenile Marsh Harrier flew past. Another flock of Pink-footed Geese were flying in from the east and dropped down onto the marshes before they got to us.

On our way to Babcock Hide, as small bird flew across the grazing marshes and disappeared in the direction of the hide before we could get a good look at it – a Whinchat. Fortunately, looking back in the direction from which it had come, we found a second Whinchat perched on some dead thistles. We had a much better view of that one through the scope.

img_7467Whinchat – on the grazing meadow on the way to Babcock Hide

With little change in the water levels recently, the mud around the scrape from Babcock Hide was also looking rather dry. The ducks are enjoying it here though – mostly Teal, but also a handful of Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler. This is a good place to see birds moving along the coast though, and as we sat there a party of seven Swallows flew through on their way west and about 80 Lapwings flew over too.

After lunch round at the Cley visitor centre, we made our way out to the hides in the middle of the reserve. There were some nice waders right in front of Teal Hide – a mixture of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Three Ruff picked their way across the mud just beyond the bank – a very educational mixture of two larger juvenile males and a single much smaller winter adult female.

6o0a3129Ruff – smaller adult female in front, larger juvenile males behind

Doing a good job of hiding in the vegetation around the edge of the island, we found the two Little Stints which had been reported earlier. Tiny waders, they were picking around on the mud in amongst all the short rushes. A Dunlin just behind them provided a nice size comparison, highlighting just how small they are.

A female Marsh Harrier circled out over the scrape from the reedbed and flushed all the birds, and the smaller waders all landed again out in the open. It was only at this point that we realised there were actually four Little Stints on here, all smart juveniles. They stood with all the Dunlin out in the open for a few seconds, then made their way quickly back into the cover on the island.

A Greenshank had been sleeping over on the far side of the scrape, but had also been flushed by the Marsh Harrier and landed on the near edge just along from the hide. It was walking towards us and we had a good look at it, looking very smart in the afternoon sunshine. Before it got to the hide, it took off and flew straight across right in front of us and dropped over behind us.

6o0a3143Greenshank – flew across right in front of Teal Hide

The mass arrival of Pink-footed Geese was a real theme of the day today and yet another flock dropped in to Simmond’s Scrape briefly, on their way west. Work is underway to reprofile the scrape at the moment and it was probably the approach of the returning excavator (after what appeared to be a rather extended lunch break) which quickly flushed them again. Their higher pitched, yelping calls contrasting with the deeper honking of the local Greylags.

6o0a3138Pink-footed Geese – another flock dropped into Simmond’s Scrape briefly

With all the activity, there was nothing much on Simmond’s Scrape today. A nice Comma butterfly was enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the hides by the door to Dauke’s. There were also lots of dragonflies around the reserve, despite the wind – Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers.

6o0a3150Comma – enjoying the afternoon sun

It was still very blustery round at the beach car park, but we made our way along the back of the beach towards North Scrape. A Whinchat perched up on the fence at the end of the Eye Field, but apart from a few Shelduck and smattering of other ducks, North Scrape itself looked disappointingly quiet. A few juvenile Gannets were circling offshore and plunge diving.

With a dark shower cloud approaching, we decided to make our way quickly back. As it was, there were no more than a couple of spots of rain. As we drove back along Beach Road, first a Stonechat and then a Wheatear flew up and landed on the fence posts.

6o0a3157Wheatear – on the fence along Beach Road

There was still time for one last quick stop, so we headed back for the shelter of Wells Woods. It was quiet initially walking through the trees – the blustery wind was penetrating even deep into the woods. As we made our way into the Dell, we came across a large tit flock. It was moving quickly, over our heads and back the way we had come. We tried to follow it, but lost it for a few minutes, eventually hearing the Long-tailed Tits calling and catching up with it just as it set off again.

Finally the birds found a slightly more sheltered spot in the trees, with even a bit of late afternoon sunshine catching the leaves, and stopped moving quite so quickly. At this point, we got a little time to watch them. As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue, Great and Coal Tits in the flock. With them were at least three Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, a couple of Treecreepers and lost of Goldcrests. The Chiffchaffs were flitting around in the low brambles and wild roses, occasionally flycatching for insects. We had great views of a couple of Treecreepers climbing up the pines.

When the tit flock started to move off again it seemed to be heading up into the tops of the pines, so we went back and carried on through the Dell. When we got to the other side, we realised we were running out of time, so we turned to head back towards the car. We hadn’t gone far when we found ourselves surrounded by the tit flock again. Watching a tiny Goldcrest down in a wild rose at our feet was a great way to end two very exciting days of autumn birding.

6o0a3177Goldcrest – feeding down at our feet

28th Sept 2016 – Migrants From All Directions

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour today. It was a lovely bright and mostly sunny day, warm if a little breezy. We made our way west along the coast to Titchwell to start the day.

On the edge of the car park, we ran into a flock of Long-tailed Tits. They were chasing each other around in the sallows. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing nearby too. The feeders by the visitor centre were rather quiet, with just a Blue Tit, Great Tit and a single Chaffinch this morning.

Out along the main path, the dried-up grazing meadow ‘pool’ held just a Grey Heron and a single Moorhen. The reedbed pool was more productive. The drake Greater Scaup was still present, diving continually, along with a couple of Tufted Ducks. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and all of a sudden a flock of nine flew up out of the reeds and disappeared back out across the reedbed – we saw the back of them as they flew away from us.

A Curlew had earlier circled over the saltmarsh towards Thornham, but now there seemed to be a bit of a commotion over there. We turned to see several Curlews, Redshank and gulls all flying around – everything appeared to have taken to the air. Scanning the sky, we found the culprit – an Osprey was flying over from the direction of Thornham Harbour. We watched as it flew over the saltmarsh, turning and heading over the visitor centre and disappearing behind the trees. A great start to the day!

6o0a2835Osprey – flew over from the direction of Thornham Harbour

We carried on along the path, past the Island Hide. A single Grey Plover and a couple of Redshank were on the saltmarsh pool.  A Water Rail flew out from the edge of the reeds below us, but turned straight back in to cover, where it started squealing. Then we stopped and scanned the freshmarsh from the bank. There were large numbers of ducks on here today – a lot of Teal, but also a good number of Wigeon and a few Shoveler.

There were quite a few Ruff in the deeper water, feeding in amongst the Teal. One of the grassy islands was full of Golden Plover, looking bright with their golden-spangled upperparts catching the morning sunshine. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was preening nearby – we had a good look at it through the scope, admiring its more strongly marked upperparts and slightly upturned bill, compared to all the Black-tailed Godwits further back.

The muddier edges of the islands held quite a few Dunlin and we started to work our way through to see if we could find something else with them. All the Golden Plover took off and a Little Stint flew in and landed in the water just behind some of the Dunlin. We were just having a good look at it when everything took flight. Through the whirling flocks we could see a larger bird approaching and a Peregrine flew in and landed on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide.

img_7384Peregrine – this juvenile landed on the freshmarsh

The Peregrine was a juvenile and seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. The waders flew round for a while and eventually landed over on the reedbed side of the freshmarsh, as far as they could get from the Peregrine. We scanned through them again and found a Curlew Sandpiper. It gradually came back a bit closer to the path as the birds relaxed a little, at which point we had it side by side with a Dunlin. A great comparison, the Curlew Sandpiper was noticeably a little larger with a slightly longer bill and cleaner, paler underparts. A second Curlew Sandpiper was further over with more Dunlin.

img_7398Curlew Sandpiper – at least two were on the freshmarsh again today

There were also a couple of Spotted Redshanks now, out in the middle of the water, paler than the Common Redshanks, silvery-grey above and whiter below. One of the Spotted Redshanks had gone to sleep but, through the scope, we could see the other’s longer, needle fine bill. Three more Bearded Tits started calling from the reeds below the path a little further along and then flew past us, back towards Island Hide.

By the time we got round to Parrinder Hide, the Peregrine had flown off. But there was still a distinct lack of birds in front of the hide as a consequence of its earlier presence. Further over, on the far side of the island, we found the Little Stint again, feeding with a couple of Dunlin. We had a good look round, but we couldn’t find any sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper which has been here for the past few days.

6o0a2840Curlew – there were several on the Volunteer Marsh

From the other side of the Parrinder Hide, we could see several Curlews out on the Volunteer Marsh, but not much else today. A single Bar-tailed Godwit on the far side walked down towards the channel by the main path, so we headed round there for a better look. A Little Egret and a couple of Redshanks were feeding along the channel, but the Bar-tailed Godwit walked quickly away as we approached along the path.

6o0a2858Bar-tailed Godwit – on the Volunteer Marsh, by the path briefly

With the sun shining, we decided to make our way out towards the beach. As we walked up to the tidal pools, we heard a Kingfisher call and saw it fly into the bushes along bank straight ahead  of us. Moving a little way further along the path, we could see where it was perched. We watched it for a while, as it flew between various branches overhanging the water, flashing electric blue as it went.

There were a few waders on the tidal pools today too, including a couple more Grey Plover and a little group of roosting smaller waders – four Ringed Plovers, a Turnstone and a Dunlin. Further along, just behind the beach, a lone Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the shallows close to the path, a nice opportunity to compare with the Bar-tailed Godwit we had just seen. Looking out the other side, over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Point, we could see two Marsh Harriers quartering.

6o0a2880Black-tailed Godwit – feeding by the path on the tidal pools

The tide was out so there were a few waders on the beach. Down on the mussel beds, we could see several small flocks of Knot and quite a few Oystercatchers, as well as more Bar-tailed Godwits. Further along the beach towards Thornham, we could see several diminutive Sanderlings running around on the shoreline.

Looking out to sea, we picked up a couple of Great Crested Grebes and a winter plumage Red-throated Diver. A single Gannet was plunge diving a short way along the coast and a steady stream of other Gannets flew in past us too, heading west, mostly dark slate grey juveniles.

On our way back, we took a detour round via the Meadow Trail. There was a flock of Long-tailed Tits by the junction with the main path, but all we could find with them was a Chiffchaff. However, further along the Meadow Trail we heard the distinctive sound of a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. It called repeatedly, several bursts, but unfortunately remained deep in the sallows. It was a bit windy round here today, which probably didn’t help our chances of seeing it. Still, it was nice to hear.

We continued on round to Patsy’s Reedbed, stopping on the way to watch a Reed Warbler clambering around in some elder trees. Patsy’s was rather quiet, apart from a flock of Lapwing and handful of Ruff, but we did find a Common Snipe on there as we carried on round the path to the Autumn Trail. A little group of Swallows flew through west, migrants on their way now.

There had been a few smaller waders in the far corner of the freshmarsh viewed from the other side, but they had gone by the time we got round to the end of the Autumn Trail. We could see three Spotted Redshanks roosting over by the fence and heard a Greenshank calling. Another two Bearded Tits flew past and disappeared into the reeds.

There were lots of dragonflies out enjoying the sunshine today. Common Darters were everywhere, basking on the boardwalks, signs and handrails. A few Migrants Hawkers were hunting, mostly in the trees where they could find some shelter from the wind.

6o0a2827Common Darter – lots were enjoying the autumn sunshine today

After lunch, we made our way back along the coast to Brancaster. Parking at the end of Beach Road, we walked out onto the sand and turned east. Immediately, we could see a little crowd gathered further ahead of us, in the edge of the dunes. We made our way along there and were soon enjoying stunning close-up views of a Hoopoe.

img_7430Hoopoe – feeding in the dunes by Brancaster golf course

The Hoopoe has probably been here for over a week now, but has been showing well for the last couple of days. It seemed relatively unconcerned by the presence of so many people and was happily feeding in the sand, probing vigorously around with its long bill at the base of the plants growing in the dunes. It seemed to be finding lots of caterpillars. We watched the Hoopoe for some time, before it suddenly flew up over the dunes and out towards the golf course (it also likes to feed on the greens!).

6o0a2954Hoopoe – stunning with its crest raised

Next, we turned our attention to the sea. There were several Sandwich Terns feeding in the channel between the beach and Scolt Head. Behind them, more Sandwich Terns were loafing around on a sandy point. When they all suddenly took flight, we looked over to see a larger, dark, blackish bird flying straight into the flock. It was an Arctic Skua – a smart pale phase adult. It chased half-heartedly after the terns for a while, before drifting off around the north end of Scolt Head where we could see it distantly joined by a second Arctic Skua.

Returning to the car, we made our way back east along the coast and called in at Holkham. It felt like the wind had dropped a little while we were at Brancaster, but it seemed to have picked up again here and become a little stronger. It was quiet at first walking west through the trees. Salt’s Hole held a single Wigeon with the Mallard and three Little Grebes. A couple of Common Buzzards circled over the pines together with a Kestrel.

We had a quick look from the boardwalk by Washington Hide but the grazing marshes here were quiet and the sycamores behind were being lashed by the wind, so we carrier on west. We were almost at the crosstracks, when we stopped to check out the bushes in a sheltered corner out of the wind. Suddenly there was a rush of wings and a Hobby swooped in low, just over the bracken, and grabbed a dragonfly not 10 metres in front of us! It was all a bit of a blur as it came past so close, but we watched it as it climbed back up eating its prey. Great stuff!

6o0a2996Pink-footed Geese – flying in to the pools to bathe

We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling as we climbed up to Joe Jordan hide, but none were visible at first. Gradually small groups got up from the grazing marshes and flew round to the pools away to our left to bathe. The numbers gradually increased until there was a decent sized flock on the water, with birds starting to drift back to the marshes.

A Grey Partridge called from the grass below the hide and we could see it creeping through the vegetation. A Jay flew across and landed in the top of a hawthorn, carrying an acorn. Several Marsh Harriers circled over or sat perched in the bushes. We could see lots of Cormorants already in the trees, but watched as over 100 flew in to join them, presumably to roost.

However, the highlight was not one but two Great White Egrets which flew in across the grazing marshes. The first continued on east and landed again out of view behind some reeds, but the second circled round and dropped down behind Decoy Wood.

It was time to start making our way back, but just out of the trees to the east of the crosstracks we came across a tit flock. We could hear Goldcrests and Coal Tits calling on the edge of the pines and then a Yellow-browed Warbler started calling from the sallows beyond. The flock was working its way quickly back through the bushes away from us, but we managed to get a couple of views of the Yellow-browed Warbler on its way, before the birds all disappeared towards Bone’s Drift.

That was a nice way to end, so we headed back to the car.

25th Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 3

The final day of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. We were forecast rain this morning, but thankfully we had no more than a very brief drizzle shower. It was cloudy and cool though first thing, with a blustery SW wind, but it did brighten up nicely for us in the afternoon.

We started the day at Holkham, with a walk west on the inland side of the pines, in reach of hides in case it should rain. It was rather cool, even in the comparative shelter of the trees, at first. We met another birder on the path who thought he had seen a Yellow-browed Warbler so we stopped for a short while to look for it. Unfortunately there was no sign of it. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaffs, calling and even breaking into brief bursts of song, and we found one of them deep in some thick ivy climbing up a fir tree. The Chiffchaff would occasionally flick out after insects, so we could see it.

Surprisingly, given the wind, we did well for raptors this morning. On the walk out, a young Hobby was hanging in the breeze over the pines. A couple of Common Buzzards were enjoying the breeze too and one flew across the grazing marshes and landed on the top of a bush. A Marsh Harrier flew past too, towards the reeds in front of Washington Hide. A Common Kestrel was busy devouring a vole, perched on a fence post.

img_7227Common Kestrel – devouring the last of a vole

As we got out into the more open areas of trees and bushes, we could feel the wind. The birds were keeping rather quiet here or hiding in the shelter of the pines. There were lots of Jays squawking and we saw several flying across between the trees. We heard the odd Goldcrest and Coal Tit calling on the walk. When we got to the end of the pines, we climbed up into the start of the dunes. It was very exposed up here, with correspondingly few birds today. A large flock of Meadow Pipits was flying round over the dunes further along.

Scanning the grazing marshes from here, we picked up a Red Kite hanging in the breeze over Decoy Wood, another addition to the morning’s raptor list. It had brightened up a little so we made our way back to the trees to see if we could find any more birds on the way back.

Just in from the west end of the pines, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and looked up to see a flock of birds making their way towards us through the very tops of the tall pines. They were hard to see up high, against the sky, but the flock included Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and a Treecreeper or two. The Long-tailed Tits started to drop out of the pines and across the track into the bushes the other side and for a while it looked like we might get a better chance to look through them, but they didn’t linger there long and quickly retreated back to the shelter of the pines. We heard a Yellow-browed Warbler as the birds made their way back but it only called once and we couldn’t find it.

A Great White Egret had been reported from Washington Hide, so we made our way back there. Unfortunately, it seemed like it had dropped down into a ditch out of view and didn’t reappear while we were there. A Grey Heron was walking around on the pool in front of the hide. A Jay was commuting back and forth across the grazing marsh carrying acorns.

Back to the car, we made our way west to Titchwell, which was our main destination for today. After an early lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. A party of Long-tailed Tits were chasing round in the sallows over the path by the picnic area, and we found a single Chiffchaff with them. The feeders by the visitor centre were rather quiet, apart from a Blue Tit, a Chaffinch or two and a few Goldfinches.

6o0a2172Long-tailed Tit – in the sallows on the way to the visitor centre

The dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ was fairly devoid of life still, but there appeared to be a good selection of ducks on the reedbed pool on the reserve side of the main path. We stopped to look through them and were rewarded with a drake Greater Scaup. It was diving continually, but we managed to get a good look at it through the scope between dives. As well as the Scaup, there were lots of Gadwall on here today and a couple of Tufted Duck.

img_7241Greater Scaup – on the reedbed pool

The freshmarsh was packed with birds, although there was not much on the drier mud in front of Island Hide so we chose to scan from the main path. There are lots of ducks in now, with birds arriving in from the continent steadily now, as we have seen in the last few days. There were loads of Teal and Shoveler, together with a few Wigeon. Most of the drakes are still in eclipse plumage, but many of the Mallard and Gadwall have now regained their brighter breeding plumage. We had a look at one drake Teal which was more advanced than the others, starting its moult back.

In amongst the ducks, we could see lots of waders. A good selection of Ruff – both adults and juveniles – were fairly close to the path. A large flock of Golden Plover were roosting on one of the grassy islands, well camouflaged against the vegetation. A couple were nearer to the path and we got a good look at one of them through the scope, admiring its gold-spangled upperparts. Most have already lost their summer black bellies now.

6o0a2193Golden Plover – with gold-spangled upperparts

The Golden Plover were very jumpy and would periodically take off and whirl round in a tight flock. At one point, a Marsh Harrier flew over from the reedbed and put all the waders up. When they landed again, we found a lone Greenshank had appeared among the throng, although it didn’t linger long and promptly flew off again. There are also more Lapwing on here now – smart birds, often underappreciated.

6o0a2203Lapwing – numbers on the freshmarsh have increased

As it was approaching high tide, many waders had come in from the beach to roost. We could see a good size flock of Knot, asleep, together with several Bar-tailed Godwits. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding closer to the path, which gave us a great chance to compare with the Black-tailed Godwits nearby, with their plainer, greyer upperparts.

img_7271Bar-tailed Godwit – this one was feeding closer to the path

Further along, closer to the junction with Parrinder Hide, lots of Dunlin were feeding down on the mud below the path. In with them, we could see a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers – slightly larger than the Dunlin, longer billed, scaly above and paler below, with the pale peachy wash across the breast slightly faded now. A single Common Snipe was feeding unobtrusively on the edge of the reeds.

img_7255Curlew Sandpiper – one of two juveniles still on the freshmarsh

We made our way along to Parrinder Hide, hoping to catch up with the Pectoral Sandpiper which had been seen here again this morning, only to find it had flown off again an hour earlier. We had to content ourselves with great views of a couple of Black-tailed Godwits below the hide. These were mostly in grey winter plumage, but a single Black-tailed Godwit was still in bright rusty orange summer plumage. It has been here for a while now and shows no sign of moulting yet. It was interesting to compare the two plumages, but the brighter bird did not look especially well today, just sheltering in the vegetation on the bank.

6o0a2248Black-tailed Godwit – mostly in winter plumage now

The Spotted Redshank were hiding in their usual spot at the back. One of them was preening a little further out in the water and we got a good look at it in the scope, with a Common Redshank conveniently next to it for comparison. We could see several more Spotted Redshanks tucked in tight behind the fence.

A quick look out at the Volunteer Marsh from the other side of the Parrinder Hide produced several Curlew and Grey Plover. We could see a Turnstone further over, along the channel closer to the main path, and when we got there it was still working its way along the far bank. In the absence of stones, it was turning over the small plates of mud, where the surface had dried out and cracked, looking for food underneath. Great to watch!

6o0a2276Turnstone – or more accurately ‘Turnmud’ on this occasion!

There were also several Common Redshanks feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, and a couple were down on the edge of the channel too. Further along, where the water was starting to flow out of the channel, a Little Egret had positioned itself in its usual spot to look for any fish in the outflow.

6o0a2273Common Redshank – looking for food on the Volunteer Marsh

There were quite a few waders on the tidal pools too today. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, we found a few Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plovers, which were a nice addition to the day’s list.

Out at the beach, the tide was in. There were several Sandwich Terns just offshore, diving for fish. Further out, we could see a few Gannets and one dark juvenile was plunge diving over towards Thornham Point. It was quite choppy offshore, but we did find a Great Crested Grebe on the sea and a Red-throated Diver flew past.

Unfortunately, we were running out of time now, as we had to be back for transport connections. We swung round quickly via the Meadow Trail on our walk back. There were several little groups of Long-tailed Tits and a Chiffchaff or two calling, but no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler that had been reported here earlier. Then it was time to head for home.

24th Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was another lovely day, mostly bright and sunny, but with a blustery warm south wind which stopped it from feeling as hot as yesterday, even if it was 21C this afternoon. Not bad for late September!

A Wryneck had been reported at Beeston Bump recently, although seemingly rather elusive. As we were heading east today, we thought we would go and look for it even though, with clear skies overnight, there was a chance it might have moved on. When we arrived there was another problem – every path we took had someone out walking their dogs on a sunny Saturday morning! It quickly became clear that, if the Wryneck was still present, it would be hiding in the bottom of a bush rather than hopping about on one of the paths.

Still we had a quick walk round. The bushes were also rather quiet, being a bit exposed out here in the wind. We had also thought this might be a good spot to see some visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), birds on migration moving along the coast. This certainly proved to be the case this morning and as we approached the cliffs we could see small parties of House Martins together with a few Swallows passing west along the clifftop. We stood for a while and could see more hirundines approaching from the east. Then a great cloud of House Martins passed by just below us. They stopped for a while to hawk for insects in the lee of the Bump and we counted at least 100 birds in the flock. Great stuff.

6o0a1994House Martin – a flock of over 100 flew past us along the cliffs

We did a further quick circuit round via the pit without success and then decided to move on somewhere else. Back to the car, we made our way back along the coast to Salthouse and parked at Iron Road. The muddy pool on the west side of the the track has not been so productive for waders in the last couple of weeks, but is always worth a look just in case. There was nothing on there today but as we stopped at the gate we spotted a Wheatear on the near bank further along. Helpfully, as the cows came over towards us to investigate, they flushed the Wheatear which flew and landed right in front of us.

6o0a2017Wheatear – the first of several we saw today

One of the group then spotted a second Wheatear further over. We walked along to the bridge but couldn’t see any more, but on the way back a Common Snipe flew past and landed out of view in the grass behind us. We were scanning for it, and watching a young Little Egret which had been pushed out of the ditch by another helpful cow, when a couple of very noisy dogs ran past and both the Snipe and the Little Egret promptly flew off.

On the walk round to Babcock Hide, we saw all the birds on Watling Water flush and fly off. With no sign of any raptors that side, it may have been some people who had just gone into the hide. We did see a Common Buzzard but it was circling up over Walsey Hills initially before it then drifted right over the path after everything had flown. It seemed to be taking advantage of the warm sunshine and hanging on the breeze. Just before we got to the hide, we flushed another two Wheatears from the edge of the reeds.

6o0a2037Common Buzzard – drifted right overhead along Attenborough’s Walk

As we sat in the hide, a few birds started to fly back in. A few duck returned – Gadwall, Teal and a single Shoveler – and the Little Grebes came back out from hiding in the reeds. Then three juvenile Ruff dropped in – or more precisely two male Ruff and a female Reeve. The females are noticeably smaller than the males and it was great to see them together for comparison. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in with them briefly before flying on west. Then the rest of the Ruff, a mixture of adults and juveniles, returned.

6o0a2044Ruff – two larger male Ruff and a smaller female Reeve

There is a good view east from Babcock Hide and scanning over the reeds beyond we could see a couple of Kestrels hovering in the distance. Then we picked up another falcon much further over, out beyond the shingle ridge. It gradually made its way closer and we could see that it was a Hobby, before it dropped down and disappeared behind the reeds.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear flew between the fence posts ahead of us, presumably one of the birds we had seen earlier. A Marsh Harrier flew in from the east, quartering low over the reeds. It was a juvenile but it had remarkably tatty wings, with a couple of big gaps. Hopefully they had just got broken rather than been shot at! A Canada Goose also flying in from Salthouse direction managed to flush a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits from one of the pools further along.

Round at the Visitor Centre, we opted for an early lunch in the September sunshine before exploring the rest of the reserve. On the walk out to the hides, there was no sign of the Whinchats reported earlier by the boardwalk, but it was very breezy round here now. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up from the scrapes and whirled round overhead.

6o0a2047Golden Plover – a large flock flew up from the scrapes as we walked out

Pat’s Pool had a nice selection of waders on it again today. The highlight was a couple of Little Stints feeding out on the mud in the middle. They looked particularly tiny, even on their own, but we could see just how small they were when they were joined by three Dunlin. A larger group of Dunlin were feeding further over. There was still one Golden Plover left out on one of the islands, although it was doing a good job of hiding, blending in well with some tall dead grass. A single Ringed Plover was running around on the mud at first, before flying off. There were also a few Lapwing and a selection of Black-tailed Godwits and more Ruff.

There were a couple of small flocks of gulls here as usual, preening or sleeping. Mostly Black-headed Gulls, there were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them. We didn’t see it fly in but, while we were watching the waders, a Caspian Gull appeared too. It was an immature bird, a 2nd winter. It immediately stood out, with its very white head, shawl of dark spots, long pointed face and long thin bill. Historically breeding around the Black and Caspian Seas, its range has been spreading west in Poland and eastern Germany, with dispersing birds increasingly found in UK. Caspian Gull is a great bird to see, still irregular in its occurrence here.

img_7190Caspian Gull – this 2nd winter dropped in briefly

We watched the Caspian Gull for a while and all had a good look at it in the scope, but when we took our eyes off it for a second it slipped away again as quietly as it had arrived. There were several other things to distract us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed before drifting right across the scrape, where it seemed to enjoy flushing the birds. Then it returned to the reedbed where it circled with a female for a while. We could see three more Marsh Harriers in the distance, beyond the East Bank. Several Bearded Tits called from the reeds in the ditch in front of the hide, but they remained tucked down out of view and out of the wind.

6o0a2068Marsh Harrier – two were over the reedbed this afternoon

Works have been underway all week to reprofile Simmond’s Scrape, but the diggers were not working on the weekend. Several Curlew dropped in briefly and a couple of Grey Herons, but otherwise there did not appear to be much on there, possibly as a consequence of all the disruption. Still, we were glad we looked in on Dauke’s Hide because a Common Snipe was feeding in the grass right in front of the hide when we went it. We had stunning close-up views.

6o0a2142Common Snipe – feeding in the grass below the hide

We watched the Common Snipe feeding for a while, creeping around in the grass and drilling its long bill repeatedly into the wet ground. It seemed perfectly happy in its chosen spot but a pair of Mute Swans were in the ditch nearby with their cygnet. Whether it really took offence to the Snipe or not, one of the Swans swam straight over to it and started to climb out towards it. The Snipe understandably reacted and ran up onto the top of the bank, standing there upright and alert. It was loathe to fly, presumably hoping to get back to its chosen feeding place, but the Swan continued up the bank and finally the Snipe flew.

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6o0a2161Common Snipe – flushed out onto the bank by a Mute Swan

Several smaller birds found the banks around Simmond’s Scrape much to their liking, where the diggers had been working and scraped back the mud. There were lots of Pied Wagtails feeding on the ground and a couple of Meadow Pipits. Another Wheatear appeared, perched on one of the mounds of muddy earth left behind.

Back to the visitor centre and we drove round to the beach car park. A scan of the sea produced first a Guillemot flying past, then a Marsh Harrier flying in over the water. As well as many of our local breeding Marsh Harriers, many continental breeding harriers come here for the winter and this one was probably just arriving in from Europe. We picked up a few small flocks of ducks flying in too – seven Pintail appeared to go down towards North Scrape and a larger flock of Wigeon headed in towards the reserve. A couple of Brent Geese were just arriving in over the sea too. Migration in action!

The fence alongside the Eye Field can be very good for Whinchats so, with a couple reported earlier on the reserve, we thought this would be a good place to check out. Sure enough, despite the wind, we found three of them perched along the fence line on the walk out to North Scrape. We got a couple of them in the scope, a noticeably paler bird and a slightly darker one.

img_7220Whinchat – 1 of 3 on the Eye Field fence this afternoon

The Whinchats flew on ahead of us as we walked out towards North Scrape, each time landing a little further on, always keeping their distance. Eventually they flew across to the fence out across the Eye Field.

We had hoped there might be a few waders on North Scrape, but that was not the case. There were a few ducks – particularly Shelducks – but no sign of the Pintail we had seen dropping down in this direction earlier. We enjoyed watching a couple of different Reed Buntings in the bushes behind the screen. First a rather streaky first winter appeared, before dropping down out of view. Then a few minutes another Reed Bunting flew in to the same bush – noticeably a different bird, with a darker face and a black bib partly obscured by pale fringing – a winter male.

As we made our way back, another Wheatear flew away from us across the shingle, landing on a large lump of concrete briefly, before flying away again flashing its white rump and tail base. A dark juvenile Gannet and four more Brent Geese flew past over the sea. We walked to the car listening to more House Martins calling as they passed overhead, finishing the day as we had started it.

23rd Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was a glorious day to be out – sunny, blue skies, and warm after the sun saw off the typical cool of an autumn morning. Not great perhaps for bringing in new migrants, but a lovely day to catch up with those already here.

Our first destination was Wells Woods. As we walked across the car park, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling, their distinctive high-pitched yelping, and we looked up to see a small skein of about thirty flying west. A sign that autumn is definitely here, with geese arriving for the winter!

There were Long-tailed Tits calling from the pines as we walked past the boating lake and just beyond, in the top of a birch, we picked up a Chiffchaff. We started to walk along the path to the right, but heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling behind us, so headed back to the junction and took the other fork. We could hear Bullfinches calling on the other side of the track, as we stood scanning the trees where we thought the Yellow-browed Warbler should be. There were Goldfinches in the treetops and a Chaffinch in a hawthorn by the path.

After a while, the Yellow-browed Warbler called again and we managed to find it flitting around low down in a birch tree. It was hard to see at first, but we got a few glimpses of it before it flew across in front of us and went up into the treetops.

6o0a1903Yellow-browed Warbler – elusive at first, in the birches

It seemed to disappear, so we were going to move on, but as we walked past the tree we found the Yellow-browed Warbler again, in a bush the other side. This time it showed much better. It was still on the move constantly, but over a period of time we all managed to get good views of it. We could see its bright pale yellow supercilium (its ‘brow’) and double wing bars.

6o0a1908Yellow-browed Warbler – with pale yellow ‘brow’ and wing bars

While we were watching it flitting around in the birches, we noticed a second bird in the same tree, which turned out to be a second Yellow-browed Warbler! It has been a great autumn already for this species, and there have been perhaps between 15-20 in the trees between Wells and Holkham alone. Breeding in Siberia and wintering in SE Asia, Yellow-browed Warbler used to be much rarer here, but they are now a scarce but regular visitor at this time of year, perhaps due to westward expansion or a shift in migration strategy. Whatever is behind it, they are still great little birds, lovely to see.

6o0a1936Yellow-browed Warbler – two were in the birches together at one point

Finally, when the Yellow-browed Warblers made their way back deeper into the trees, we carried on into the woods. As we walked quietly through the trees, we could see more birds flitting about ahead of us. First a Garden Warbler appeared in a birch right in front of us. Larger and more lumbering, it eventually came out into full view. Then a Blackcap flew appeared in the same tree and flew across in front of us.

A Pied Flycatcher appeared briefly, but flew round out of view behind a large hawthorn. We were just watching a Blackcap in the top of the bush, when the flycatcher shot off up into the pines. A minute or so later it was calling from the birches further back, so we walked round to try to see it. The Pied Flycatcher proved tricky for everyone to get onto, feeding very high in the trees and either perching motionless or flicking quickly between the birches, before zooming off over our heads.

While trying to see the flycatcher, we found ourselves in a sheltered glade of birch trees. This was alive with birds. As well as several more Chiffchaffs, there were a couple of smart Willow Warblers, similar to a Chiffchaff but brighter lemon yellow washed on paler underparts, a stronger face pattern, sleeker outline with longer wings, and paler legs. There were also several Goldcrests and we got great views of them flitting constantly around in the trees, flashing their golden crown stripes. Another Yellow-browed Warbler started calling further back in the trees.

Most of the small birds here are probably migrants, though a few may have bred in the pines. Many will be on their way south from Scandinavia, stopping to feed up here having crossed the North Sea. The Willow Warblers will soon be on their way down to Africa and across the Sahara. Even the tiny Goldcrests, weighing barely more than a 20p piece, make the long sea crossing to get here for the winter. Amazing!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and we walked round through the trees and back out onto the main path. The clear scrubby area just south of the path was fairly quiet, apart from a Blackcap or two flushed from the brambles. However, with the sun starting to warm things up nicely, the first Common Buzzard of the day circled overhead.

6o0a1943Common Buzzard – circled overhead as the day warmed up

We carried on west to the drinking pool. There is not too much water in here these days, but still just about enough for birds to drop down for a drink or to bathe. As we arrived, a Blue Tit had just finished and was preening in one of the low bushes on the edge. A Coal Tit dropped in next, followed by a Goldcrest. We could hear more Goldcrests calling, but couldn’t find any other birds of note around the pool.

Continuing further along, it seemed rather quiet at first – perhaps because it was getting warm and the birds had retreated into the trees. We could hear a few tits calling quietly so we stopped on the path and immediately caught a flash of another Pied Flycatcher as it disappeared into some oaks. Unfortunately, it didn’t reappear, but some movement in the same tree alerted us to yet another Yellow-browed Warbler – which promptly did the same trick before anyone could get onto it. It was very thick and dark in the trees, with all the leaves still on the oaks. A Goldcrest low in the birches by the path proved easier to see and gave lovely close views.

We tried to follow the tit flock as they made their way through the trees, hoping to see what else might be with them, but they moved off quickly and the undergrowth was too thick. We went back to the main path and tried to get ahead of them, but they didn’t come our way. We decided to make our way back.

Along the main path, we finally ran into one of the big mixed tit flocks that can be found in the woods at this time of year. We heard the Long-tailed Tits calling first, and the next thing we knew that were all around us. There were Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Great Tits too. One of the Great Tits found a large and very hairy caterpillar. We watched as it took it to a branch and, holding it with one foot, proceeded to pull all the hairs off before pulling it apart and eating it.

6o0a1959Great Tit – pulling the hairs off a large, hairy caterpillar

As well as all the tits, there were lots of Goldcrests with the flock and a couple of Treecreepers. We had great views of them as they worked their way methodically up several trees alongside the path.

The raptor action was hotting up even more, as the warming air provided plenty of thermals. A Red Kite circled low over the trees while we were watching the tits, before being mobbed by a Common Buzzard as it gained height. Three more Common Buzzards were soaring ever higher into the sky. A couple of Kestrels circled over too, but views of a Sparrowhawk were typically brief as it shot low over the trees.

6o0a1967Red Kite – circled low over the trees

With all the warm weather, there were lots of insects out today. Butterflies included good numbers of Red Admirals, several Small Coppers and a few Speckled Woods enjoying the autumn sunshine. Dragonflies were represented by numerous Common Darters and a couple of Migrant Hawkers.

6o0a1941Red Admiral – enjoying the autumn sunshine

After a very enjoyable and successful morning in the woods, we headed back to the car for lunch. We decided to go up onto the harbour wall to sit and enjoy the view while eating. A Wheatear was feeding on the rough ground just below the path, along with a Meadow Pipit.

6o0a1975Wheatear – feeding on the harbour wall

The tide was in and out in the middle of the harbour we could see a large flock of Brent Geese spread out across the water. On the shingle spit in front of us, we could see a little group of roosting waders, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone. More yelping calls alerted us to another flock of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the direction of the sea.

6o0a1980Pink-footed Geese – we saw several small flocks flying in

After lunch, we made our way along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The hedges here are rather overgrown now and full of berries, but we saw little on the walk out. There is a much better view all round from up on the seawall and amongst the hordes of birds out on the Fen, we could immediately see a line of white shapes. Two of them were feral white ‘farmyard’ geese in with the Greylags, but the other thirty were all Spoonbills.

6o0a1988Spoonbills – 15 of the 30 on Stiffkey Fen today

The Spoonbills were mostly asleep, doing what they seem to like doing best. Periodically, one would wake up for a shuffle or a preen, and we could see its long, spoon-shaped bill. The majority if not all of these will most likely have come from the breeding colony just along the coast at Holkham, the only breeding Spoonbills in the UK. At the end of the season, they like to gather in large flocks along the coast. It has apparently been a good breeding season for them this year.

img_7129Spoonbills – occasionally one would wake up and show off its bill

The tide was just starting to go out on the other side of the seawall, and lots of birds had come onto the Fen to roost, not just the Spoonbills. There were lots of waders – mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. In with them, were quite a few Ruff too. We could hear Greenshanks calling, but they seemed to be hiding out of view at the front, behind the reeds. Over towards the back, a good number of Lapwing had gathered and we found a Common Snipe stabbing vigourously into the grassy bank. As the mud started to appear in the harbour, little groups of Redshank began flying off from the Fen and out over the seawall to feed.

The number of ducks on here continues to increase, as more and more return for the winter. The Fen was packed with Wigeon today and, as we stood and watched, several more groups flew in to join them, possibly fresh arrivals from their Russian breeding grounds. Looking through them, we could see a good number of Pintail too. Down at the front were more Teal and Mallard and in with them, we found a smart drake Gadwall, already emerging from eclipse plumage.

As we walked round to look in the harbour, a Greenshank flew overhead calling, from the direction of the Fen. Out on the mud, we could see lots of Oystercatchers and a fair few Curlew. Scanning through them closely, we found several Bar-tailed Godwits as well. Further over, on the edge of the receding tide, were all the Grey Plovers.

There were more Brent Geese in the harbour too, and a large selection of gulls. All the birds were nervous and we could see why as a Peregrine circled over, mobbed by a Herring Gull, before disappearing off west. A short while later, a second Peregrine appeared, a larger bird, presumably a female, which put all the birds in the harbour up again.

On the walk back, we could hear Greenshanks calling again and this time found two further up the channel below the seawall, with several Redshank. We got one of the Greenshanks in the scope and had it side by side with a Redshank, a nice comparison. On the other side of the seawall, a Kingfisher flashed low over the reeds but disappeared down into the river channel before everyone could get onto it.

We still had time for one very quick last stop, so we called in at Stiffkey Greenway on the way back. We had planned to walk west towards the whirligig but a group coming back from that direction told us it was all quiet that way. However, they did also tell us they thought they had seen a Red-breasted Flycatcher earlier the other way, in the campsite wood, so we thought we should check that out instead.

There was no sign of the flycatcher, but it was fairly disturbed in there, with several dog walkers passing us on the path. A flock of Long-tailed Tits passed overhead, pausing to feed in a large sycamore. As we stopped to turn round and head back, a Kestrel in the field on an untidy pile of straw was enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. It had certainly been a lovely day for it – great to be out birding.

img_7138Kestrel – enjoying the late afternoon sunshine

21st Sept 2016 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was foggy as we drove across to West Norfolk early this morning, but thankfully we came out into the clear as we dropped down to the Wash coast – relief all round as it might not have been so ‘spectacular’ in the fog.

When we arrived at Snettisham, the tide was already coming in fast. There were lots of waders gathered already – a huge throng of Oystercatchers were walking away from the rising water, shining in the morning light, but the main body of Knot was further up, a huge grey smear across the mud. Behind them, the Curlews were more widely spaced.

We stopped ahead of the tide to scan the exposed mud. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding closer to us in a muddy puddle and while we were watching it a Greenshank walked past just behind. A Knot and a Sanderling both dropped in along the edge of the main channel, giving us nice closer views. There were little groups of smaller waders, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, running around on the mud and we watched a Grey Plover calling plaintively.

img_7017Grey Plover – the first of many today

Small groups of Common Redshanks were already peeling off and flying in, over the bank behind us and onto the pits. We heard the distinctive ‘tchueet’ call of a Spotted Redshank too. As the waders became more and more concentrated on the last section of mudflats left uncovered by the rising tide, the Oystercatchers were the next to break ranks, with wave after wave passing over us.

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6o0a1648Oystercatchers – flying in off the Wash to roost on the pits

However, the real spectacle was the vast flock of Knot. As the tide rose, they would periodically lift in a huge swarm, swirling over the mud, flashing alternately dark grey and silvery white, as they banked and caught the light. They would then settle again, higher up, ahead of the incoming water.

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6o0a1640Knot – about 60-70,000 birds in one huge swirling flock

Finally, the remaining area of open mud was too small to hold them, and the Knot took flight again and started piling overhead in waves, dropping down onto the pits behind.

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6o0a1687Knot – finally heading for the pits to roost

We made our way round to South Hide first, to have a look at the birds on the pit. The bank on one side was covered with roosting Oystercatchers. The islands below us were chock full of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot. The latter were jostling for position. Whenever more arrived, the ones on the edge of the flock were pushed out into the water and even having to swim away.

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6o0a1706Waders – jostling for position to roost on the pits

Looking carefully through the flocks, we could make out a few other waders too. A Curlew Sandpiper appeared below the hide. A juvenile, with scaly back and pale peachy wash across its breast, it was chased off by the increasing number of Common Redshanks.

img_7020Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile dwarfed by a Black-tailed Godwit behind

There were several Bar-tailed Godwits in with the much more numerous Black-tailed Godwits (on here at least). The majority of the Bar-tailed Godwits choose to roost on the fields inland, rather than the pits. However, it was great to see the two species side by side.

img_7051Bar-tailed Godwit – with Black-tailed Godwit behind

A Common Sandpiper flew in calling and worked its way along the shore, bobbing up and down as it walked, before it too was chased away. Further out in the middle of the pit, we could see a small group of Spotted Redshanks roosting on some rocks in the deeper water, five of them, four pale silvery grey and white winter adults and a duskier juvenile, plus a couple of Common Redshanks too for comparison.

The few Dunlin roosting on the pit had been pushed off by the Knot and for a while they flew round and round looking for a place to land. There were some empty islands further up, but with nothing else on them, the Dunlin were loathe at first to land on them. As they flew round, we could make out the distinctive white rump of at least one Curlew Sandpiper in with them. A much smaller bird was in with them too, very hard to pick out in flight, but a Little Stint. When they finally settled again, we made our way round to Shore Hide to get a better look.

At first we couldn’t find the Little Stint in with the Dunlin, but we did manage to find three different juvenile Curlew Sandpipers scattered in with the various groups, all asleep. Eventually, the Little Stint moved from where it had been hiding and we got a look at that too, though it was still mostly asleep. It was clearly very small, even next to the Dunlin, and much whiter below. When it woke briefly we could see its much shorter bill.

img_7064Little Stint – roosting in with the Dunlin

When we made our way back outside, the tide had already started to recede and the mud was already reappearing. A large flock of Knot had already returned to the Wash, presumably flushed from the fields inland. However, as we stood and watched, several more waves of birds flew back from the pits, in long drawn out flocks. Mostly Knot, we could hear the rush of wings as they flew past.

When there was quite a throng gathered out on the mud, they suddenly took fright and started to fly round, though quickly settling back down again. We looked up to see a Red Kite circling over, and nearby a Marsh Harrier too.

6o0a1713Waders – still nervous, gathering back out on the Wash

We made our way back to the car and headed round to Titchwell for the rest of the day. It was already lunchtime, so we stopped for a bite to eat in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve.

A quick look at the feeders on the way through added Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit to the day’s list. Walking up the main path, the grazing meadow ‘pool’ how has several puddles after the recent rain and high tides, but no birds. The reedbed pool had a few ducks on it – several Gadwall and a single Tufted Duck.

There had been a Pectoral Sandpiper on the reserve earlier in the day, but it had been mobile and elusive. On the walk out, we were told it had been showing recently from the main path, so we hurried along to try to see it. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out it had flown off towards Thornham about 10 minutes earlier. Still, there was a nice Curlew Sandpiper wading in the shallow water just out from the path, so we had a good look at that through the scopes instead.

img_7091Curlew Sandpiper – showing well from the main path

There were plenty of other waders out on the freshmarsh too. Several Ruff were close to the path, including both buff/brown juveniles and white/grey-brown adults. The large numbers of Avocet which were here in late summer have now moved on but there were still four out on the freshmarsh today. Over the back, we could see more Black-tailed Godwits and, beyond them over by the reeds, a couple of Spotted Redshank.

The largest number of waders were Golden Plover – a big flock had dropped in and were standing around out in the middle.Through the scope, we could see their golden-spangled upperparts. Some still had the remains of their black bellies from summer plumage. There were also a few Lapwing, numbers of them too increasing now for the winter.

6o0a1729Lapwing – numbers are now increasing

We could hear Cetti’s Warbler and Reed Warbler calling from the reeds below us, but we couldn’t get more than an in-flight glimpse of both as they darted across the gaps. We decided to head out to the beach and have another look at the freshmarsh on the walk back.

The Volunteer Marsh was fairly quiet – a Redshank, a Curlew and a Little Egret fishing in the muddy channel were the water was still flowing off after this morning’s high tide. There were more birds on the tidal pools, with several roosting waders including small numbers of Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew and a few Grey Plover, some of which were looking very smart, still mostly in summer plumage. A Little Grebe was lurking under the overhanging vegetation on the edge of the island.

Out at the beach, the tide was out. We could see a couple of flocks flying in over the sea, Wigeon and Brent Geese arriving from the continent for the winter. A quick scan revealed a few ducks out on the water – three Wigeon were more unusual, but it was nice to see a little raft of Common Scoter diving offshore. There were several Great Crested Grebes too, but the best was a single Red-throated Diver close inshore. Through the scope we could see that it still had a mostly deep-red throat patch.

Further out, we could see a dark juvenile Gannet flying past and behind it another dark bird, smaller and rather more gull-shaped. It was an Arctic Skua and it was chasing after a Sandwich Tern. The tern tried to manoeuvre out of the way but the Arctic Skua twisted and turned after it for a second or two before seeming to lose interest.

6o0a1741Bar-tailed Godwit – on the Volunteer Marsh on our way back

It was time to start walking back. At the Volunteer Marsh, a Bar-tailed Godwit had appeared and gave us more good views as we passed by. We stopped again at the freshmarsh, but the birds here were much as they had been on the way out.

Past Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. We stood for a while to see if we could see them, but despite being very vocal they remained tucked down in the reeds out of view. When all the waders took off from the freshmarsh, we scanned the sky and eventually picked up a Hobby high to the north. It turned and started flying powerfully in our direction, eventually banking right above us, giving us a good view of its streamlined, rakish outline and swept back wings.

6o0a1761Hobby – swept in past us after buzzing the freshmarsh

It looked like the Bearded Tits wouldn’t show themselves, so we gave up and started walking again. We were almost past them, when we heard more Bearded Tits calling on the other side of the path, over the bank on the edge of the grazing meadow. We looked over the bank and this time we could see the Bearded Tits feeding in the tops of the reeds – a cracking male, with powder blue head and black moustache, and a browner female both perched up nicely.

6o0a1769Bearded Tit – a smart male finally showed very well for us

That was a great way to end the day, so we headed for home well pleased.

18th Sept 2016 – Migrants Arriving

An Autumn Migration Tour today. The gusty north wind of the last couple of days had dropped and the cloud of the morning even gave way to some sunny intervals in the afternoon. We met at Cley and started the day out on the reserve.

Lots of ducks and geese have been arriving for the winter over the last few days. As we walked out to the hides, a large flock of Wigeon flew in from the direction of the sea. They circled over the reserve several times, looking for a place to land, possibly fresh in from their Russian breeding grounds. A few dropped down, but most of the flock flew on west. We could see a Marsh Harrier flying across low over the reeds but when we positioned ourselves to get a better view of it, it dropped down out of view.

6o0a1357Wigeon – this flock was probably just arriving from Russia

Teal Hide was our first stop. Appropriately enough, as we opened the shutters, a single (Eurasian) Teal was in the ditch right in front of the hide. With two visitors from Canada in the group today, we discussed the various differences between the species found in North America and Europe and how the changing definition of what makes a ‘species’ had resulted in the separation of the Old World and New World forms of some birds in recent years.

6o0a1362(Eurasian) Teal – in the ditch in front of Teal Hide this morning

With wildfowl arriving from the continent now, it was perhaps no surprise that Pat’s Pool was full of ducks. Unfortunately, they are not looking their best at the moment, with the drakes mostly in eclipse plumage. A Shoveler was swimming around in front of the hide with its head in the water, shovelling. There are plenty of Wigeon in on the reserve already now and lots of Teal as well.

There were a few waders too. We had a look at the flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. Most were asleep, perched on one leg, but a few further back were awake and feeding. Almost all of the Ruff are now in winter plumage – grey-brown above and off white below – but one was confusingly still in partial summer plumage, with lots of black feathering on its belly. A group of six small Dunlin worked their way round to the front of the scrape – digging their bills into the mud rapidly, like a sewing machine. A few Golden Plover dropped in onto one of the islands. A single Common Snipe was hiding in the wet grass, but helpfully came out into the open where we could get a good look at it.

The waders seemed very skittish today, and kept flying round at the slightest provocation. Lots of raptors learn that this is a good place to find a meal, which keeps the other birds on their toes. Looking out across the reedbed, a Peregrine flew inland from the beach over the back of the reeds, and started circling over Walsey Hills, at which point it was promptly mobbed by several of the local Rooks.

The three Greenshank we had seen from Teal Hide had flown off by the time we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide. But still, there was an impressive number of waders on Simmond’s Scrape. There were at least 100 Dunlin on here today, mostly juveniles with black speckled bellies. Around the edges, we also found nine diminutive Little Stints, an impressive number of this rarer passage wader, as well as seven Ringed Plover and two Knot. There was a lone Curlew out on Simmond’s today too. At one point, when the smaller waders were all spooked and flew round, they landed around the Curlew and we were presented with Little Stint next to Curlew – the largest of our regular waders together with our smallest, little and large!!

img_6987Little Stint – an impressive 9 were on Simmond’s Scrape

On the short grass around the edge of the scrape, a couple of Wheatears were feeding, the first of several we would see today. At one point, they flew up and landed on the gatepost out from the hide where we could get a good look at them. Then a Sparrowhawk flew in, flushing everything, and landed on one of the islands. It did push a Green Sandpiper out of hiding, which flew over and seemed to drop down on Whitwell Scrape. However, when we got round there, there was no sign of it. Three Little Egrets were feeding out on Cricket Marsh beyond though.

We decided to make our way back to the visitor centre for coffee. As we walked back, a flock of six Pink-footed Geese flew over, also probably freshly arrived for the coming winter, in their case from their breeding grounds in Iceland. They didn’t stop, but carried on west.

After a short break, we drove along to the Iron Road. The muddy pools here have been good at times  in recent weeks, but there were no waders at all on there today. Looking out towards the shingle ridge and the sea, we could see a small group of six Brent Goose flying in. A flock of four Pintail flew overhead, probably also fresh in. They looked to land on Watling Water but seemed nervous and kept whirling round again rather than dropping down to the water.

6o0a1369Pintail – these four were probably more fresh arrivals

The walk round to Babcock Hide produced another Wheatear, this one much closer, hopping around on the short grassy field in front of us, showing off its sandy orange breast in the sunshine. Further over, we could see several Egyptian Geese in with the Greylags and Canada Geese which all gather her.

6o0a1382Wheatear – feeding on the grazing marshes on the way to Babcock Hide

The water level of Watling Water has increased again after the recent rain, so there were fewer waders on here than recently. A Green Sandpiper was sleeping on one of the islands, back on and flashing its mostly white rear end. We got a smart juvenile Ruff in the scope. Three Curlews dropped in for a bathe and preen.

However, we were more fascinated by the antics of the Mute Swans. A couple of immature birds, with dull orange bills, had landed out on the shallow water. The local pair decided to see them off and the male (cob) set off after one of them, with wings raised. The intruder simply walked away, eventually climbing up onto the bank, before making a cheeky circle round and straight back onto the water.

More exciting, we could see two Hobbys between the hide and the shingle ridge, hawking for dragonflies low over the reeds. A couple of Little Grebes were diving out in the deeper water. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch, we decided to see if we could see the Red-breasted Flycatcher which has spent the last couple of days just along the coast from here. Breeding in northern and eastern Europe, it is a very scarce visitor to the UK. We parked at Salthouse duck pond and walked along to Meadow Lane. A Reed Bunting flicked up from the path into the bushes beside us. We could see a female Marsh Harrier circling ahead of us, which then flew in our direction, chased by a couple of Rooks.

6o0a1404Reed Bunting – feeding along the path at Salthouse

The Red-breasted Flycatcher had by all accounts been elusive before we got there, but we had a very good but brief view of it flicking around on the near edge of the sallows only a minute after we arrived. We stood and waited for more, and it quickly became clear that it was doing a small circuit through the trees.

While we watched, it was amazing how many other birds came out of such a tiny clump of low trees. Two Willow Warblers, with lemon yellow breasts, two lumbering rusty brown Reed Warblers and even a tiny little Goldcrest.The latter was undoubtedly a migrant and we had earlier been talking about how the smallest British bird, weighing no more than a 20p piece, can make its way over the North Sea to winter here. Amazing!

6o0a1412Willow Warbler – two of these appeared in the sallows

The Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared again at our end of the sallows a couple of times, but did not really show itself – either hiding in amongst the leaves or just flicking out for a second before darting back into the middle of the bushes. We were thinking we might have to content ourselves with our earlier views, when it finally came out to the front and perched in full view for about a minute. It was a first winter Red-breasted Flycatcher, without the red breast which is shown only by the adult male, but a smart bird nonetheless. When it turned and flicked away again, we got a good look at its black tail with white sides.

6o0a1444Red-breasted Flycatcher – perched out nicely for us

As we walked back to the car, two more Mute Swans flew towards us and passed just over our heads. Huge birds and we could almost feel the beating of their wings.

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. The path out to the fen is rather overgrown at the moment and it is hard to see over the hedges. Early afternoon, the bushes and trees were a little quiet. A male Kestrel perched up on the wires and pylons by the path. We made our way straight out to the seawall, so we could get a good look at the Fen.

6o0a1459Kestrel – on the wires and pylons by the path at Stiffkey Fen

We had hoped to see some Spoonbills at Stiffkey Fen, but there was no immediate sign of any as we got up onto the seawall. There was a nice selection of ducks, including a good number of Wigeon and several Pintail. In with the large gaggle of Greylags. we could see a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese and the regular two escapee Bar-headed Geese.

There were plenty of waders too. Several large groups of Black-tailed Godwit were scattered around the Fen. Many were roosting in the shallow water, on one leg with head turned and bill tucked in, but a few were awake enough to give us a good view of their long, straight bills. In with them, we could see several Ruff, including one with a striking white head – even in winter plumage, they are still a very variable wader, a very common source of confusion.

We could hear Greenshank calling and saw one flying in from the direction of the harbour. A large group of Common Redshank were roosting in with the godwits, and several more were feeding out in the channel on the harbour side. We could see all the Seals out on the sand banks beyond the end of Blakeney Point. When we turned back to the Fen, a Spoonbill was just flying off NE, towards the saltmarsh – it must have been hiding out of view behind the reeds. As it came past us, we could see its spoon-shaped bill.

6o0a1461Spoonbill – flew off towards the saltmarsh

We noticed a commotion at the far side of the Fen and turned to see all the waders take off and whirl round. A sleek, streamlined shape scythed through them – a Hobby. It had its eyes fixed firmly on a Dunlin which was desperately flying away  ahead of it. When the Dunlin jinked and turned, the Hobby matched it – amazingly manoeuvrable. Somehow, the Dunlin managed to get away and the Hobby towered up and away towards the harbour.

6o0a1473Hobby – chased a Dunlin from the Fen

The tide was still out, but we made our way round to look in the harbour. Two Oystercatchers were feeding on the mud by the channel, the first we had seen today. We flushed a Wheatear from beside the path, which flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. It landed on the path briefly, then flew up onto a post nearby, giving us great views. A little further on, a Linnet perched up on a dead branch in the Suaeda bushes.

6o0a1486Wheatear – feeding on the path on the way out to the harbour

There were lots of gulls roosting out in the harbour, on the dry mud banks, and with them we could see several larger white shapes. Through the scope, we confirmed that they were more Spoonbills. We watched two of them preening – doing themselves first, before preening each other’s head and neck. Two more Spoonbills were feeding in the water just below them.

There were lots more Oystercatchers out in the harbour, but with the tide still out it was hard to see many waders. We did manage to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, out with the Curlew and Shelduck, and a nice Turnstone feeding on the mud down amongst the boats, turning stones over to look for food underneath. A Grey Heron flew in high over the harbour calling. There are often Grey Herons around here, but the way this one flew in made us think it might be a migrant. There have been lots of migrant Grey Herons arriving here in the last few days.

6o0a1495Grey Heron – possibly a freshly arrived migrant

However, the highlight of our time down by the harbour was the Kingfisher. It was perched on the wires on the edge of the deck of one of the boats moored in the channel. Periodically it would dart down into the shallow water after fish, flashing electric blue as it did so, before flying back up to a different part of the boat. It also perched on the edge of the deck and on the anchor chain. At one point, it seemed to take offense at its own reflection in the window of the boat, and flew at it, but it quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to looking the other way, over the side and down into the water below.

It was a lovely way to finish a very productive day’s birding on the coast – watching the Kingfisher going about its business in the harbour. We made our way back and headed for home.