The last day of a three day Private Tour, we were back on the North Norfolk coast today. It was another lovely warm, sunny day, with only a little cloud at times this afternoon, but rather breezy all day.
This morning, we had decided to explore Holkham-Burnham Overy, looking for migrants. We parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive and made our way west on the inland side of the pines. A couple of Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in the bushes a short way in, but otherwise the trees were rather quiet on the walk out – perhaps not a great surprise, given the wind. We could hear tits calling from the pines and the occasional Goldcrest.
A single Little Grebe was diving continually on Salt’s Hole, but otherwise there were just a few Mallard on here. There were more ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. Most surprisingly, there were about a dozen Pintail on here today. They were trying to sleep but looked rather nervous – possibly new arrivals from the continent, which had pitched down onto the pool here after a long journey. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing marshes beyond.
Continuing westwards, we could hear Jays calling and one flew past along the edge of the trees. A Common Buzzard was soaring over the pines, mewing. An occasional Chiffchaff called from the bushes, but it wasn’t until we got almost to the west end of the pines that we managed to see one or two with a flock of tits. At least the dragonflies were enjoying the weather – particularly lots of Common Darters basking in the sunshine in the shelter of the path.
Common Darter – enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the path
Out in the dunes, we were even more exposed to the wind. A couple more Chiffchaffs flitted around in the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat flew over and dived into the cover of some brambles. We flushed a very pale Common Buzzard from the top of the dunes and as it flew away, we noticed a young Peregrine circling towards us – our first of the trip.
Peregrine – circled over the dunes
The middle of the dunes was more sheltered, so we walked out a short distance that way. Despite the protection from the wind, there were few birds in the scattered bushes here. We came across a couple of small groups of Stonechats but there was no sign of the big Meadow Pipit flock in the dunes here today – just a couple of birds flying over. Finally we found our first obvious migrant. A Wheatear perched on the fence as we rounded the corner, but it quickly flicked off and disappeared into the dunes.
Given the windy conditions out in the dunes, we decided to head back to the pines along the fence line. We were quickly rewarded with a party of three Whinchats in a small dune slack out of the wind. They flew to the brambles the other side of the fence and started to feed on the berries. One Whinchat then found a sheltered sunny perch on the edge of the bushes where it remained for some time, giving us great views through the scope.
Whinchat – found a sheltered perch out of the wind
There were few birds out on the grazing marshes, but we could see a few geese over beyond the pools behind Decoy Wood. Looking through the scope, we found a group of about 20 Pink-footed Geese feeding on their own in a patch of wet grassland. The first party of Pink-footed Geese returned from Iceland last weekend, here now for the winter. Despite the windy conditions, there were a few butterflies still out and about. Of note, we found Small Copper and a rather worn Brown Argus. A Common Lizard scuttled across the path.
Brown Argus – a rather worn individual
With the sun now warming the south side of the pines, there were more birds on the walk back. We came across several flocks of tits, particularly groups noisy of Long-tailed Tits, accompanied by Blue Tits and Coal Tits. In with them, we found several more Chiffchaffs and a couple of Treecreepers.
Long-tailed Tits – we met several groups on the walk back
The Pectoral Sandpiper which had been at Salthouse had not been seen for a couple of days, but a report came through yesterday afternoon that the bird had returned to its favourite area of muddy pools by the Iron Road. With news that it was still present this morning, we headed over that way next. There is limited parking here, so we left the car further along, in the village and walked back.
The Pectoral Sandpiper was on show as we walked up and, even better, was a lot closer than it had been earlier in the week. We were treated to some great views of it, right out on the open mud. Away from the reedy margin, it was rather nervous. It kept crouching down, scanning the sky above, and at one point it found a little notch in a muddy ridge to hide in.
Pectoral Sandpiper – showed very well today
There were not many other waders on here today, but there was a single Green Sandpiper on a small pool over towards the back. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Pectoral Sandpiper. On the walk back to the car, a Marsh Harrier flushed a flock of gulls from one of the pools on the grazing marshes, which circled up, together with a group of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff. A large party of Swallows flew low west over the reeds, though it was hard to tell for sure whether they were on their way or just feeding.
It was time for lunch, so we made our way round to the beach car park at Cley and scanned the sea while we ate. There was a steady trickle of Gannets passing by offshore and a single Sandwich Tern flew east. The local Black-headed Gulls had a disagreement over who had territorial rights to stand on the shingle next to us to beg for crumbs.
After lunch, we walked out to have a look at North Scrape. The water level has dropped quite a bit since we were here just a couple of days ago and it doesn’t look as good for waders here now. A Peregrine circling over may also have put them off. Given relatively few birds on here, we didn’t stop and headed round to the other side of the reserve instead.
Round at Teal Hide, we could see quite a few small waders out in the middle of the scrape. Chief amongst them were the Curlew Sandpipers, and we eventually managed to count 14 of them on here today, along with a few Dunlin and two juvenile Knot. A little party of Golden Plover was preening on one of the grassy islands. There has also been a notable increase in the number of Wigeon on here in recent days, as more birds return for the winter.
Curlew Sandpipers – hiding in amongst the Wigeon
Our main destination for the afternoon was Stiffkey Fen, so we didn’t have too long at Cley today. On the walk out to the Fen, we came across a mixed flock of tits in the hedgerow, once again accompanied by a few warblers – several Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. A couple of tatty Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered about the brambles.
From the path, we could just see a line of large white shapes out on the Fen, looking through the vegetation. There is a much better view from up on the seawall and here we could confirm that they were Spoonbills, twelve of them this afternoon. They were mostly asleep – typical Spoonbill behaviour! – but did wake up from time to time, stretching their wings and flashing their long, spoon-shaped bills.
Spoonbills – twelve were at Stiffkey Fen this afternoon
Despite the fact that the tide was out in the harbour, the Fen was packed with waders. Possibly they were seeking shelter from the wind. There was a very large flock of Black-tailed Godwits spread out across the front and scanning through we could see several Ruff in with them. We could hear Greenshanks calling and see several flying around. A couple were standing with a large group of Redshank, roosting at the back, and more were sleeping along the grassy edge of the main island. A Common Sandpiper was picking around on the mud just in front of the Spoonbills and scanning the edges we found a couple of Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper.
There is a good selection of wildfowl on the Fen at the moment too, though the drakes are still mostly in their duller eclipse plumage at this time of year. We could see several Pintail here and, as at Cley, numbers of Wigeon are now increasing as bird return for the winter. A single Common Pochard diving in the deeper water was a nice addition to the weekend’s list.
As we walked round to the harbour, one of the Spoonbills flew over and disappeared out into the middle to feed. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing in the harbour channel and some sizeable groups of mixed large and small gulls preening and roosting out on the mud. Scanning through them, we managed to find a single Mediterranean Gull, a winter adult with white wing tips and black bandit mask.
There were lots of Oystercatchers and quite a few Curlew out on the mud, but not so many other waders today. Quite a few of them were obviously still on the Fen, but with the tide out many were probably tucked down in the channels. What was lacking in raw numbers was made up for in variety, as we managed to find a single Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A few Ringed Plovers popped up out of the channels into view. A couple of Turnstones were bathing down in the main channel.
There was another culprit which was probably disturbing the waders out here today. On one of the higher sandbars on the edge of the harbour, a lone Peregrine was standing, remarkably our third of the day. The area around it had not surprisingly been cleared of birds!
Peregrine – our third of the day, out in the harbour
It was lovely standing here, looking out over the harbour towards Blakeney Point in the afternoon sunshine, a nice spot to conclude three great days of autumn birding.