Monthly Archives: September 2016

9th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 3

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.

6o0a0620Common 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.

6o0a0624Peregrine – 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.

img_6582Whinchat – 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.

6o0a0649Brown 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.

6o0a0654Long-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.

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img_6864Pectoral 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.

img_6906Curlew 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.

img_6911Spoonbills – 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!

img_6920Peregrine – 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.

8th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour. With more autumn migrants seen in East Norfolk yesterday, we decided to head over that way today to see what we could catch up with. It was a glorious warm, sunny day – great weather to be out birding.

Winterton Dunes was our first port of call. There had been a Red-backed Shrike seen here yesterday and we were keen to try to catch up with it. There was no news as we drove down but thankfully as we started walking north through the dunes, a message came through to say that it was still present.

6o0a0520Small Heath – there were lots of butterflies out in the dunes

There was plenty to see as we walked along. In the sunshine, there were lots of butterflies out, as well as the regular species we saw a good number of Small Heath and Grayling. The dragonflies were also enjoying the weather, with loads of Common Darters and a few Migrant Hawkers too. A Whinchat appeared in the top of a bush in the dunes as we passed.

6o0a0517Grayling – also plentiful in the dunes today

We eventually got to the area where the Red-backed Shrike had been. As we walked up along the path, there was no immediate sign of it, but when we turned to walk back we found that it had reappeared behind us in the bushes right by the path! We were looking into the sun, so when it disappeared again back into the bushes, we tried to work our way back round the other side, but it had moved again.

At least we knew where the Red-backed Shrike was now and it didn’t take us long to find the bush it was favouring. Positioning ourselves, we were then treated to some stunning views as it perched on a branch. It kept dropping down to the ground below and flying back up. A couple of times we saw it return with prey – first a moth, then a beetle. Fantastic stuff!

img_6415Red-backed Shrike – we had great views of this juvenile in the dunes

When the Red-backed Shrike caught the beetle, it flew back to a clump of brambles just beyond. We were watching it perched on the top when it suddenly dropped down into cover. A couple of seconds later, we saw why. A Hobby was flying low over the ground, straight towards the bush and straight towards us! At the last minute, it saw us standing there and veered away to our left. What a cracking view!

Having enjoyed such good views of the shrike, we turned to make our way back. There were now two Hobbys hawking for insects over the trees, calling. A Marsh Harrier circled up too, and a couple of Common Buzzards. We walked over across the dunes to have a quick look at the sea, which produced a distant juvenile Gannet flying past and a few Cormorants.

On the walk back, we found a couple more Whinchats, on the fence around one of the natterjack pools. We came across a couple of pairs of Stonechats too. There was a steady stream of Swallows passing through over the dunes, on their way south.

When we got to the road, rather than head back to the car park, we crossed over and continued on into the South Dunes. At the first trees we came to, we could hear a Willow Warbler calling. It was very agitated at first, because there was a Sparrowhawk in the same sallow, although it flew off when we arrived. We watched as it flitted through to a nearby holly tree.

6o0a0527Willow Warbler – calling in the trees

It was getting rather hot now, particularly as we were more sheltered here from the cooling breeze. It felt like we might need a bit of luck to find some migrants, but we persevered. A small bird flew along the edge of the path in front of us and landed in the bushes, pumping its tail. A Redstart, a nice migrant to find, we had a good look at it in the scope.

img_6432Redstart – flew along the edge of the path ahead of us

We walked on a little further but, apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs, it seemed pretty quiet. As we turned back, we decided to walk through the trees in the middle of the valley and as we turned a corner, a Pied Flycatcher flicked across into a small tree in front of us. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop long and dropped quickly out the back out of view. As we walked further along, it flew again, into a larger group of oak trees.

When we got up to the oaks, there was no sign of the Pied Flycatcher, but as we walked through the trees a Spotted Flycatcher appeared instead. This was much more obliging – after flitting around deep in the tree at first, it came out onto a branch right in front of us, giving us stunning views. That rounded off an excellent selection of migrants in the Dunes.

img_6499Spotted Flycatcher – another migrant in the dunes

After lunch back at the car park, we headed over to Strumpshaw Fen for the afternoon. The lone Black Swan was on the pool by the Reception Hide as usual. Otherwise, there were lots of Gadwall and Mallard on here and a single Grey Heron. In the heat of the afternoon, the trees were quiet, so we made our way straight round to Tower Hide.

We had been told the hide was really busy today, but when we got there we had it to ourselves. It didn’t take long to find the Glossy Ibis, which has been here for over two weeks now. It looked thoroughly at home, wading around in the water with its head down, feeding. The light was perfect, really showing off the iridescent green gloss on its wings.

img_6530Glossy Ibis – looking very glossy indeed in the afternoon sunlight

There were lots of geese and ducks out on the water, or sleeping around the margins. The mob of Greylag Geese included a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese. The ducks were predominantly Teal, Shoveler and Mallard. We had a careful scan through them at first for a Garganey, but it was only when a noisy Grey Heron flew over and flushed all the sleeping ducks out of the reeds and onto the water that we found one. The Garganey then showed really well and we got a great look at its boldly marked face pattern.

img_6541Garganey – showed really well once flushed out by a passing Grey Heron

There was a nice selection of waders here too. A limping Ruff was hobbling about on the mud right in front of the hide, but several more able bodied birds were feeding over towards the back. Nearby, we found three Common Snipe out on the open mud and with them a single Green Sandpiper. Then a Water Rail appeared out on the open mud too, which was really good to see.

The hide had filled up now, so having seen all we wanted to, we were just about to leave when someone asked us if the small birds on the mud next to the Snipe were Bearded Tits. We put the scope down again and sure enough they were – two juvenile Bearded Tits feeding out on the edge of the reeds.

A quick look in Fen Hide didn’t produce many birds of note, but we did see a Chinese Water Deer which walked out of the reeds onto one of the cut areas. On the walk back, we did see lots more butterflies and dragonflies. The highlight was a late second brood Swallowtail which flew over the path and landed on a branch above our heads briefly, before disappearing back towards the reedbed. As well as the regular dragonflies, we also came across several Willow Emerald Damselflies. These are now regular feature here at this time of year, although a very recent colonist having first been seen in this country only as recently as 2007.

6o0a0611Willow Emerald – we saw several of these damselflies at Strumpshaw today

Then it was back to the Reception Hide for a well deserved cold drink and an ice cream before heading for home.

7th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 1

A three day Private Tour this week, we were hoping to catch up with some early autumn migrants. Day 1 today was cloudy but hot and humid. After a late morning start, we spent the rest of the day exploring the east end of the North Norfolk coast.

Our first stop was at Cley. We drove round to the beach car park and walked out to the viewing screen where the old North Hide used to be. There was not a huge number of waders on here today, but there was still a very good selection. We quickly picked up three Little Stints, in one of the bays half way back, which then walked out of view behind the reeds and we didn’t see them again!

A Wood Sandpiper was calling when we arrived, but we couldn’t see it at first. Eventually it appeared from behind the reeds down at the front and walked out into full view. A very elegant little wader, and a great one to see. Even better, at one point it walked past a Green Sandpiper giving us a nice comparison between the two species.

img_6325Wood Sandpiper – at the front of North Scrape

We heard a Spotted Redshank calling overhead and thankfully it dropped in to the front of the scrape. It stood calling for a few seconds, while we watched it, then ran across in front of us to joined a second Spotted Redshank which had appeared nearby. Both were smart winter plumage adults. They didn’t linger long though, and flew off west calling again. A Greenshank remained asleep nearby throughout.

A scan of one of the more distant islands produced a Curlew and a couple of Common Snipe. However, a small wader asleep next to them looked more interesting, even though it was back on to us. When it was disturbed by a passing Redshank our suspicions were confirmed, it was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. Together with several Ringed Plover and Dunlin, that was an impressive haul of waders for our first hour or so.

We made our way back to the car to head round to the other side of the reserve. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up over Blakeney Freshes. The Wheatears and Whinchats though, which have been around the Eye Field in the last week, appeared to have moved on.

From round at Teal Hide, there was plenty of activity on Pat’s Pool. As well was the usual Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were lots of small waders today. We quickly picked out more Curlew Sandpipers in with all the Dunlin. They were hard to count, as many of the birds were feeding behind the main island, but we eventually got to at least 13. All were juveniles in a variety of hues, one in particular with a rather bright orangey wash across its breast. Further round, a single Little Stint was hiding in amongst all the lumps of mud. At one point, it was in the same view as a Dunlin and two Curlew Sandpipers, giving a great side by side comparison.

There was more to see than just waders here. A young Hobby was hawking for insects over the reedbed. A juvenile Water Rail scooted across in front of the reeds at the back of the scrape, unfortunately too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A Kingfisher called and flew in towards the hide, landing in the trees briefly, before zooming off again. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the cut reeds just outside the hide.

reed-warblerReed Warbler – here’s one outside the hide from the other day

There seemed to be Common Buzzards on the move today. We looked up above the hide at one point to see a kettle of five circling high overhead, which then drifted off west.

6o0a0504Common Buzzard – on the move, five circled high over the hides

We had a late lunch at Iron Road. The pool here has been very productive for waders in the last week or so, but was surprisingly devoid of life today, so we didn’t linger here. Instead, we walked out to Babcock Hide, past all the Greylags and Egyptian Geese on the grazing marshes. A Whimbrel called high to the east, but it was heading away from us and we couldn’t pick it up.

The water level has gone down nicely on Watling Water, exposing lots of mud. A Common Sandpiper was a nice addition to the day’s list, hiding on the edge of the reeds at the back today. There were several more Common Snipe and Ruff here too, as well as three or four Little Grebes busy diving in the deeper water. On our way back to the car, a couple of Bearded Tits were calling from deep in the reeds along the ditch right beside the path, but wouldn’t show themselves.

The wind had swung round to the east and with the low cloud we thought it might be worth looking to see if any passerine migrants had arrived. We drove round to Salthouse and walked out to Gramborough Hill. Another four Common Buzzards were circling over Salthouse church.

The bushes at Gramborough were rather quiet, just a Stonechat and Chiffchaff, as is often the way – it is boom or bust here! We did get our first Wheatear of the day, a rather richly-toned male with a deep orange breast, feeding on the edge of the grazing marshes as we walked out. On the way back, it flew out across to the shingle ridge and was joined by a second Wheatear.

img_6351Wheatear – a rather rich orange-breasted male

It was starting to get a little misty now, so with a light wind blowing onshore we had a speculative look out to sea. At first it was very quiet we saw nothing more than a few of the local Cormorants, but after a minute a bird appeared flying very low over the sea on the edge of the mist. Through the scope we could see it was a Manx Shearwater. Unfortunately, it was too distant and too murky for everyone to get onto it, so we gave up and headed back to the car.

Our final stop of the day was at Kelling. Walking down the lane to the Water Meadow, there were several birds in the thick hedges. We stopped to watch a couple of Chiffchaffs flicking around in a tall hawthorn. We heard Bullfinches calling and two flew out of the brambles, over our heads and back into the tall trees behind us. A Yellowhammer came up out of the beck beside the path.

The Water Meadow itself has all but dried out, so we carried on down to the Quags. We were almost at the beach when we came across a flurry of activity. We flushed a couple of Reed Buntings from the long grass. A few Linnets were calling from the brambles. Then a Stonechat flew from the Quags across in front of us, swiftly followed by two Whinchats.

6o0a0514Stonechat – perched up nicely in the brambles nearby

The Stonechat perched up nicely in the brambles, but the Whinchats flew off into the field beyond. We did manage to get a nice view of one Whinchat perched on the top of a bush.

img_6361Whinchat – rather less obliging than the Stonechats

We walked a short distance up the hill, but there were no other obvious migrants in the coastal bushes. Another Wheatear flew along the shingle ridge and perched on the top in the distance. A juvenile Gannet drifted past offshore. We were out of time, so we turned to head back. The Whinchats were back by the path and flew ahead of us as we walked along, accompanied by two Common Whitethroats which appeared out of the brambles.

4th September 2016 – From Wash to Coast

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today, and our last day. It was a windy day, rather blustery in the morning, but at least it was forecast to stay dry.

Our first stop was at Snettisham. We were not here for the Wader Spectacular today –  it would have required a much earlier start to the day. But with the timing of high tide, we thought we could still get there in time to see a good number of waders gathered on the pits.

With the blustery SW wind, it looked like the water had not come right in to cover the last of the mud this morning, and there was still as large huddle of waders over in the far corner. A long smear of blacks and greys resolved itself into a mass birds through the scope – thousands of Oystercatchers, Curlew, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits – roosting over high tide on the last remaining patch of uncovered mud.

6O0A0221Waders – the huge flock huddled into the corner of the Wash

The tide was already starting to go out again and flocks of Sanderlings were flying in over the water to the mud. As we walked up to the hide, the first lines of Dunlin were already heading back out to the Wash from the pit.

The hide provided some welcome shelter from the wind and the chance to have a good look at the birds. Thankfully, there was still lots to see on the pit. The different species were segregated somewhat into different roosts on different islands and banks. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits were on the islands in front of the hide. There were a couple of massed flocks of Knot on the islands over to one side, with more godwits mixed in with them. Most were Black-tailed, but a closer look revealed a few Bar-tailed Godwits too. A couple of them were still in summer plumage, with rusty orange underparts extending right down under the tail.

The Dunlin were scattered around the edges or on the bits of the islands not filled with Knot. A Curlew Sandpiper had been seen before we arrived but had disappeared. We thought it might have flown off back to the Wash already, but eventually we found two Curlew Sandpiper asleep together, still in with the Dunlin. They were very hard to see, crouched down with their heads tucked in. Further over, the Turnstones had occupied one of the rockier islands and had it all to themselves.

The Little Stint was much more obliging. It appeared from nowhere in the middle of the island right in front of the hide. We had a good look at it through the scope as it walked down to the water’s edge, before it was chased off by the Black-tailed Godwits. While we were watching the Little Stint, a Common Sandpiper appeared nearby. It was working its way around the shore of the island and, a little later, appeared right down on the front edge below us.

6O0A0231Little Stint – appeared on the island in front of the hide

Most of the Spotted Redshanks were roosting out in the deeper water, on their own in a little huddle apart from a single Common Redshank with them. Most were adults, now in winter plumage, silvery grey above and bright white below, but when they shuffled round we could see a single dusky juvenile Spotted Redshank too. The Greenshanks had all gathered on the edge of the shingle bank towards the southern end, and a closer look through them revealed a couple of Spotted Redshanks there too.

IMG_6220Spotted Redshanks – gathered in a huddle out in the middle

As well as all the waders, a young Great Crested Grebe and a couple of Little Grebes were diving out on the pit. As well as some of the more regular wildfowl, we found a small group of Wigeon. There are many more here in the winter, but these are some of the first birds which have returned from their breeding grounds in Russia. As with all the ducks at this time of year, the drakes are in eclipse plumage so are not looking their finest, but they were still nice to see.

As we walked back to the car, lines of waders were coming off the pit and flying over our heads, back out to the Wash. They seemed a little slow to return to the mud today, perhaps because their roost sites were nicely sheltered from the wind. On one of the northern pits, we stopped to look through a raft of gulls out on the water. Most were Black-headed Gulls, but in with them we found a few Mediterranean Gulls too. All adults in winter plumage now, we admired their white wingtips and black bandit masks.

IMG_6224Mediterranean Gull – a few were on the pits today

We planned to spend the rest of the day at Titchwell. A Blackcap appeared in the elder above the car as we arrived in the overflow car park. It grabbed a berry and disappeared back down into cover. There was too much disturbance now, so not much else in the bushes here today. The feeders by the visitor centre were busier, with a selection of finches and tits.

There was a bit of time before lunch still, so we decided to explore the Fen and Autumn Trails first. Stopping at Patsy’s reedbed, we could see a couple of Little Grebes diving in the water and lots of Mallard and Gadwall asleep on the islands. A Snipe appeared at the water’s edge just along from the screen, before creeping back into the vegetation. Further along, a lone small duck was the Garganey. Through the scope, we could see its boldly marked face pattern.

IMG_6243Garganey – on Patsy’s Reedbed

Walking along the Autumn Trail, a flock of Golden Plover flew in overhead from inland and dropped down towards the freshmarsh. They were nervous and seemed reluctant to settle, flying up again and whirling round several times. Round at the back of the freshmarsh, we could see a line of seven Spotted Redshanks and two Greenshanks in their usual favoured spot over by the fence but no sign of any Spoonbills here today. An adult and juvenile Ruff feeding down on the mud in the corner gave us a nice opportunity to compare them. Another Snipe was feeding quietly on the edge of the reeds.

We made our way back to the car for lunch, coming across several Bloody-nosed Beetles on the path as we did so. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling from the sallows as we walked along the boardwalk. At the corner of the Meadow Trail, we stopped to watch a Migrant Hawker hovering over the small pool and a couple of Reed Warblers appeared in the cut vegetation at the back. A Chiffchaff flitted around in the bushes above the path.

6O0A0267Bloody-nosed Beetle – we came across several walking along the paths

After lunch, we set out to explore the main part of the reserve. The grazing meadow ‘pool’ was largely empty of birds. Not part of the reserve, it is now in a sorry state, sadly mismanaged by the landowner. A little further along, we could see a crowd gathered. Two Mute Swans were blocking the path between them and us, and as we got nearer we could see why – three juvenile swans were resting on the top of the bank. Not a great place to choose!

6O0A0275Mute Swans – these two were blocking the main path

The male Mute Swan in particular was being very aggressive and people were reluctant to approach, which was leading to a traffic jam on the path. With some careful manoeuvring, we were able to persuade the two adult swans to climb onto the bank too and traffic could flow freely again.

A quick look at the reedbed pool produced a few Gadwall and Tufted Duck. Then scanning the saltmarsh the other side, we picked up a large white bird flying up from one of the channels towards Thornham. It was a Spoonbill and it flew round and headed in our direction, eventually passing over Island Hide just ahead of us, before disappearing over the back of the freshmarsh and dropping down beyond the far bank.

6O0A0288Spoonbill – flew in from Thornham and across the freshmarsh

From Island Hide, we could see lots of waders out on the mud. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills back and forth through the shallow water. There were more Ruff round this side of the freshmarsh too. A flock of smaller waders over in the corner by the main path was mostly Dunlin. But a careful scan through revealed two Little Stints and two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers.

A third Little Stint was out on one of the muddy islands in the middle and while we were watching it running around it suddenly froze and crouched low to the mud. At the same time, all the other waders suddenly too to the air. Looking up, a Hobby was flying over. It circled over the freshmarsh before turning sharply and stooping into a flock of waders. It didn’t catch anything, but circled up again and then swooped down over the reedbed.

6O0A0290Hobby – chasing waders around the freshmarsh

Once the Hobby had disappeared the smaller waders resettled in a group further over. This time, we could see three Curlew Sandpipers now and one of them was an adult moulting out of summer plumage. Through the scope, we could see its botchy orange underparts. The smaller waders gradually returned to the corner where they had been feeding, and from up on the main path we had great views of the Dunlin and Little Stints out on the mud. Several Ruff walked back to the muddy edge along the reeds just below us.

IMG_6258Little Stint – feeding on the mud by the main path

Round at Parrinder Hide, there were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in front of the hide. Most of them are now largely in grey-brown winter plumage, but one was still mostly in much brighter summer plumage, with rusty head and breast and black-barred belly.

6O0A0325Black-tailed Godwit – this one was still mostly in summer plumage

A Shoveler was also feeding just below the hide, head down, shoveling through the muddy water. It was great to watch it feeding up close.

6O0A0341Shoveler – shoveling through the muddy water

Round on the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh, there were a lot fewer birds but we did get nice views of both Avocet and Curlew feeding close to us. Through the scope, we admired the intricately patterned plumage of the latter.

6O0A0371Curlew – feeding on Volunteer Marsh

In a brighter interlude, we walked out to the beach. The wind had dropped a little this afternoon, and thankfully it wasn’t as blustery now. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the beach and a very smart summer plumage Grey Plover was down on the mussel beds. We could hear a Whimbrel calling and eventually spotted it out on the sand.

The sea was choppy. Out in the distance, we could see several Gannets circling and one flew past a little closer in. A little group of Common Terns was diving into the water just offshore and a Sandwich Tern flew past through the breakers, though more terns were feeding further out. We watched as a small party of Teal flew in over the sea, presumably freshly arrived from the continent for the winter, migration in action.

Then it was time to head back. A single Wheatear on the short grass behind the dunes provided a nice way to round off the day and the weekend.

3rd September 2016 – Whinchat, Wheatears & Waders

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was a lovely warm and sunny start to the day, but we knew that rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we had to make the most of it. We made our way east along the coast to Cley.

North Scrape has been the best scrape for waders in recent days on the reserve. It can be difficult viewing here in the heat of the day, looking into the sun, so we decided to go round here first. As we got out of the car in the car park, a Wheatear was on the top of the shingle ridge behind us. A nice start to the day.

6O0A0129Wheatear – on the shingle in the car park when we arrived

Before we had finished unloading the car, we were called over by some people a few cars further along. They had found a freshly dead Dunlin on the shingle nearby and were not sure what it was. It was amazing to look at up close – a juvenile, with black streaks on its belly. It was missing a wing, but otherwise appeared undamaged. An odd injury, it was unclear whether it was killed by the impact from a raptor or perhaps yet another victim of the lethal high tension fence which has inexplicably been put up around that part of the reserve.

IMG_6144Dunlin – this juvenile was found freshly dead on the shingle

As we walked out beside the beach to North Scrape, a Sandwich Tern called and flew past close inshore. A large Grey Seal surfaced just off the beach, before diving again. When we arrived at North Scrape, it appeared strangely quiet compared to recent days. We were informed that a Hobby, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard had flown over, flushing all the waders – we saw one each of the latter two species while we were there.

Many of the waders had flown off, but the Curlew Sandpipers at least had apparently just flown round the corner out of view. We decided to sit for a while and see what reappeared. A couple of Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged on the nearest, sandy island. Then a single Knot appeared in the water nearby, giving a great view through the scope. A Greenshank was sleeping nearby, along with a couple of Dunlin. Two Green Sandpipers flew in but dropped out of view in the reeds, before flying back off again.

The two Curlew Sandpipers started to walk out into view. They were hard to see well at first, looking through the tops of the reeds in the foreground, and we had to put the scope on the top of the bank. Fortunately, after a while, they flew out and landed in full view at the front of the scrape, where we could see them much better. They were both juveniles, smart birds with scaly backs, a well-marked supercilium and a peachy wash across the breast.

IMG_6151Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile, dwarfed by a Black-headed Gull

There was no sign of any Wood Sandpipers though, which was the species we had particularly hoped to see here. When the news came through that they had relocated themselves to Pat’s Pool, we decided to drive round and have a look at the other side of the reserve. On the way back to the car park, we stopped to admire a couple of Common Darters which were basking in the morning sunshine in the shelter of the path.

6O0A0136Common Darter – enjoying the morning sun

A couple of Wheatears were chasing each other round the now dried-up pool by the fence. They wouldn’t stop still at first, but finally one landed on the top of a dried poppy plant where we could all have a good look at it through the scope. When it eventually took off again, we had a great view of its white rump as it flew past us.

IMG_6162Wheatear – two were chasing round by the beach

We went round to Bishop Hide first. As we walked along the path, we caught a brief sight of a Hobby hawking for insects low over the reedbed. The hide itself was surprisingly full of people. There was a good flock of Black-tailed Godwits sleeping out on the mud and a selection of Ruff scattered around the scrape. The latter included both brown and buff juveniles and grey and white winter adults. One person thought they had found the two Wood Sandpipers at one point but all we could see when they pointed out where they were looking were a couple of Ruff in the edge of the reeds. We decided to head over to the other hides instead.

As we walked along the boardwalk, our attention was drawn by a small orangey-buff bird on the fence along the edge of the reeds. It was a Whinchat. It kept dropping down into the grass before returning to the fence, where it sat very obligingly for us to admire it.

IMG_6170Whinchat – on the fence by the boardwalk out to the hides

Looking out across the other side of Pat’s Pool from Teal Hide, there was still no sign of the Wood Sandpipers – they had probably flown back to North Scrape! We did have nice close views of three juvenile Black-tailed Godwits feeding just in front of the hide, which were nice to see. A flock of Golden Plover landed on the main island and started to bathe in the shallow water, most still sporting the remnants of their summer black bellies.

6O0A0163Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile of the Icelandic race

Even better, a couple of Reed Warblers appeared in the cut reeds right outside the hide. One in particular was hopping around in a patch of dead vegetation very close to us, giving us great views.

6O0A0142Reed Warbler – feeding in the cut reeds just outside the hide

From Dauke’s Hide, a quick look at Simmond’s Scrape did not produce much we had not already seen, apart from a sleeping Yellow-legged Gull. This scrape is apparently scheduled to be reworked this month and has been kept drier than normal accordingly over the last couple of weeks, which may explain why it has been quieter on here. So we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch. It had clouded over, but there were still only a few spots of rain for now.

The pool beside Iron Road has been looking great for waders over the last few days, so it was no great surprise to learn that a Pectoral Sandpiper had been found there. After lunch, we made our way over there to try to see it. It had disappeared into the grass when we arrived, but while we waited for it to reappear, there were several other good birds to see. A Yellow Wagtail flew in and landed at the feet of one of the cows nearby, showing off its very bright yellow undertail.

Best of all, we finally caught up with a Wood Sandpiper – getting really good views of one feeding on one of the muddy pools here, admiring its spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. A Green Sandpiper flew in to the same pool, much darker above, less obviously spotted. There was even a Little Stint on here too, which eventually came out onto a more open patch of mud where we could get a proper look at it.

The Pectoral Sandpiper frustrated us for a while, making a brief appearance out of the grass but quickly being flushed by a passing calf and disappearing back into cover. Then finally, it worked its way to the edge of one of the grassy islands where we could see it, before walking out across in the open. We could see its brown streaked breast, ending in a well-defined curve, the pectoral band.

IMG_6178Pectoral Sandpiper – eventually showed well

A sharp ‘tchooeet’ call alerted us to an approaching Spotted Redshank. It flew in from the east and over our heads, dropping down over the back of the pool towards Babcock Hide. As it was now starting to drizzle a little, we thought it would be a good place to sit for a while, so walked round to the hide.

As we opened the shutters, we could see a Common Sandpiper feeding quietly on the mud in front of the hide, out to the left. It slowly worked its way across in front of us, moving very furtively and bobbing its tail as it went. We could see the tell-tale white spur extending up between the darker breast and the wings.

6O0A0169Common Sandpiper – on the mud in front of Babcock Hide

Then the Spotted Redshank appeared from behind one the islands. It was feeding vigorously in the distinctive way Spotted Redshanks do, head down, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side through the water. It was a dusky grey juvenile, and when it raised its head from time to time we could see the distinctive long, needle sharp bill, with a tiny downward kink near the end.

Even better, the Spotted Redshank progressively worked its way towards the hide and was then joined by a couple of Common Redshanks. It was great to see the two species side by side for comparison. One of the Common Redshanks even tried to copy the Spotted Redshank’s feeding action at one point, following round behind it, before giving up and resuming a more delicate probing in the mud.

IMG_6212Spotted Redshank – a dusky grey juvenile

There were other things to see here too, as we sat out a passing heavier shower. There was no shortage of Snipe, but three flew in and landed on the mud in front of the hide. A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the vegetation just below us too, looking very colourful despite the gloomy conditions now.

6O0A0218Lapwing – still looking very exotic in the rain

A family of Little Grebes were diving out in the water and one of the adults even came out onto one of the islands at one point – most ungainly birds on dry land! A couple of Marsh Harriers flew in from the east, one duller male doing a very close fly by past the hide. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but the one which appeared briefly in the tops unfortunately didn’t hang around long enough for everyone to get onto it. The Cormorants gave up trying to dry their wings once the rain started.

When the rain eased again, we got news that a Redstart had been seen the other side of Salthouse at Gramborough Hill, so we made our way over to try to see it. There were a few people working their way round the bushes when we arrived, and we got a very brief glimpse of the Redstart as it dived into cover. We had better views of a smart male Stonechat, which more helpfully perched on the top of the bushes.

Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the brambles and the Redstart flew off again as we tried to work our way round. It disappeared round the hill and couldn’t immediately be refound. At that point it started to rain again. It was already getting on and we had been much luckier with the weather this afternoon than we had expected, so we decided to call it a day. Looking at all the things we had seen, what a great day it had been!

2nd September 2016 – Autumn Begins

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It had rained overnight, but thankfully stayed mostly dry all day, even if it was rather dull and cloudy.

Our first stop was at Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a Marsh Harrier circled over the hedge across the field, as a mob of Greylag Geese and a covey of Red-legged Partridges fed in the stubble. The paths and hedges were still rather damp, and were consequently a little quiet. A Bullfinch called from the trees down by the river, but typically kept well hidden. A flock of House Martins hawked for insects over the edge of the copse – their gathering a reminder that autumn is here and they will soon be on their way south.

From up on the seawall, we had a much better view of the Fen, which is hard to see from the path now that the vegetation has all grown up. Among the throng of Greylags, we could see a line of large white birds, all asleep on one leg. They were Spoonbills, and we counted sixteen of them, most doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! One lone Spoonbill was feeding right over the back of the Fen behind one of the islands, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water.

6O0A0100Spoonbills – eleven of the seventeen here today

Things improved Spoonbill-wise when a single bird flew in from behind us, over the saltmarsh, and dropped down into the water in the middle of the Fen. It was awake! Through the scope, we could see its spoon-shaped bill, the yellow tip showing it to be an adult. It started to preen, but two juvenile Spoonbills promptly ran out of the main group and started harassing it, bobbing their heads up and down and flapping their wings. They were its youngsters and were still trying to beg for food. The adult showed little interest in feeding them and the two juveniles quickly gave up.

There was a good selection of waders here today. The tide was still quite high over on the harbour side of the seawall, and lots of birds were roosting on the Fen. We could hear Greenshanks calling and a scan of the water as we moved round revealed at least 25 scattered around. A Green Sandpiper was feeding quietly along the edge of the reeds at the front, but a Common Sandpiper was towards the back and harder to see in the grassy edge of one of the islands. A Common Snipe was not so well camouflaged out in the open on the grass.

A large number of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping around the islands, with a few Ruff and Redshank in with them on closer inspection. We managed to find a handful of Dunlin but not the Curlew Sandpiper we had hoped to see on here (which had probably disappeared into the corner out of view). A single Avocet sweeping its bill rapidly from side to side, a couple of noisy Oystercatchers and a handful of Lapwing completed the wader list.

The ducks are not looking their best at this time of year, with the drakes in eclipse plumage, but it was still nice to see several Pintail, always a very elegant species. There are a few Wigeon already back for the winter, but most will return over the coming weeks. As well as the selection of other regular wildfowl, a couple of Bar-headed Geese looked rather more out of place, escapees from a collection somewhere.

6O0A0102Greenshanks – flying out to the harbour as the tide went out

As the tide started to go out, the waders started to fly out to the harbour to feed. As we walked round to the edge of the saltmarsh, from where we could get a better look, a group of Greenshank flew past calling and one dropped down into the harbour channel, conveniently next to a Redshank for comparison. A call overhead alerted us to a single smaller bird with a party of Black-tailed Godwits also flying over, which was the Curlew Sandpiper heading out to the mud, though not the best of views. A steady stream of more Godwits followed, in various groups.

As the water receded, more mud was appearing out in the harbour, and there were now lots of waders out feeding on it. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits, we managed to find a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits too. Several Curlew were walking around, probing their long bills into the mud. A careful scan added a small party of Knot, a Turnstone and we even located the Curlew Sandpiper out in the harbour – much better views than when it zipped past us earlier. However, the prize for the smartest wader went to the stunning summer plumage Grey Plover, still sporting its jet black face and belly.

Suddenly, all the waders took flight. We turned to see a Hobby shoot across the mud chasing a Dunlin. As the Dunlin turned and twisted, so the Hobby followed it close behind. When the first Hobby backed off, a second Hobby appeared and stooped at it, the two of them taking turns for a few seconds. It was exciting stuff to watch, but they seemed to lose interest quite quickly and the Dunlin managed to get away, despite being outnumbered.

6O0A0105Spoonbill – flew out from the Fen to one of the saltmarsh channels

As we turned to walk back, a Kingfisher called and flew down the channel behind us in a flash of blue, before disappearing round the corner. Back up on the seawall,a couple of Common Sandpipers flew along channel and landed further up by the sluice. One flew out into the water to bathe and we got a great look at it through the scope. One of the Spoonbills took off from the Fen and flew straight towards us. It looked like it was going to drop down into the harbour channel, but a walker happened to be passing along the path just at that moment and spooked it, and the two Common Sandpipers too.

6O0A0115Chiffchaff – a good number were with the tit flock

When we got back to the steps, we could hear a flock of tits calling from the bushes. They made their way along the hedgerow, into a sheltered corner, where they paused to feed for a while. As well as the Long-tailed Tits, Blue and Great Tits, there were a good number of Chiffchaffs, although they were constantly on the move, flitting through the foliage or flycatching.

A much paler bird popped its head out briefly – grey crown and bright white throat. It was a very smart Lesser Whitethroat. It was hard to get onto at first, hiding in the dense hawthorns, but eventually gave itself up for us to see. As the flock moved on through, we saw several Blackcaps pass by as well. We followed the birds back along the path, flitting between the willows along the river bank ahead of us.

6O0A0120Lesser Whitethroat – also with the tit flock

We drove back to Holkham for lunch, and afterwards walked west from Lady Anne’s Drive on the southern edge of the pines. It was rather quiet here at first. A Goldcrest was singing half-heartedly from the top of a Holm Oak. A single Little Grebe was on Salt’s Hole, diving continually.

At Washington Hide, a juvenile Marsh Harrier appeared up from the reeds and circled round. A Kestrel and a Common Buzzard were both perched on bushes out on the grazing marshes. We walked along the boardwalk to take a quick look at the beach. We could hear another tit flock in the trees and a Treecreeper called from high in the pines above our heads. Looking out to sea, the cloud had descended again but we could hear a couple of Sandwich Terns and just see them beyond the beach.

We had a look out from Joe Jordan Hide. There were lots of Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees and several Cormorants perched up in the branches. Out on the muddy edge of the pool, we could see rather distant Green and Common Sandpipers, one of each. A Marsh Harrier circled round the wood and another landed on the grass down by the pool, the latter bearing green wing tags but too distant to read them. Further over, a Hobby kept flying out from a dead tree, hawking for insects over the marshes, before flying back to its perch, at one point attracting the unwanted attention of one of the local Jays!

There was just about enough time to carry on out to the dunes. Despite the cool and cloudy conditions, there were still some insects out. Several Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters patrolled over the vegetation by the path. A few Spotted Woods were the only butterflies of note today. Representing the amphibians, a young Common Toad hopped slowly across the path.

6O0A0123Common Toad – hopped across the path

It seemed rather quiet at first out in the dunes, exposed and cool in the breeze, apart from a few Meadow Pipits. We continued on to a more sheltered area and, as we walked up over a rise, we could see several birds on the fence ahead of us. As we watched, two Whinchats and a pair of Stonechats kept dropping down from the wires onto the ground below and back up again.

WhinchatWhinchat – here’s one in the Dunes a couple of weeks ago

Then a Wheatear appeared as well, flashing its white rump as it flew up onto a fencepost. When it dropped back down onto the short grass, we could see a second Wheatear too, further back.

WheatearWheatear – also taken on a sunnier day a couple of weeks ago!

We watched the Whinchats, Stonechats and Wheatears for a while, getting great views of all three species through the scope. Eventually they started to work their way back further into the dunes. Time was getting on and we could see dark clouds gathering away to the west, so it seemed sensible to make our way back. With one last look at one of the Whinchats, perched high in a bush on the top of the dunes, we turned to go.