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.
Common 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.
Long-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.
Greater 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.
Golden 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.
Lapwing – 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.
Bar-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.
Curlew 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.
Black-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!
Turnstone – 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.
Common 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.