Day 5 of five days of Spring Migration tours today, our last day. It was mostly cloudy with some brighter intervals and we managed largely to avoid some scattered heavy showers in the afternoon. It was rather breezy again though, particularly in the afternoon.
Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. It was still quite quiet in the car park when we arrived, so we had a walk round to see what was in the bushes. In the overflow car park, a Goldfinch came down to drink at a puddle out in the middle. Then we heard the plaintive piping of Bullfinches and looked over to see a lovely pink male perched in the elder on the corner. It flew across to the other side, followed by a second male Bullfinch which perched out in the open so we could get a good look at it.
There was nothing of note out in the paddocks beyond the car park, but two Common Swifts flew over, heading west. Two Mediterranean Gulls were calling and we picked them up heading south over the car park with a small group of Black-headed Gulls. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing in the sallows and saw some Long-tailed Tits as we walked up to the Visitor Centre. The Bramblings seem to have gone now and there were just lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders.
We headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing in the trees along Fen trail and the pool in front of Fen Hide had a couple of drake Common Pochard which flew off when they saw us, as well as two Greylags.
A Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds just beyond the hide, and we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers too, as we made our way to Patsy’s. But Patsy’s Reedbed itself was rather disappointing – just a very small number of ducks. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew round the dead trees further back.
A couple of Swallows flew through, but the one species which was moving in numbers this morning was Goldfinch – several small flocks flew past either side of us while we were here.
There wasn’t much singing in the sallows as we made our way round via Meadow Trail to the main path. What we did find when we got there, in the grass on the bank, was our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.
We stopped to scan the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh. There didn’t appear to be a lot on here at first, but then we spotted a couple of wagtails down towards the back corner. Their silvery grey backs identified them as White Wagtails, rather than Pied Wagtails, continental migrants stopped off here to feed.
Another Reed Warbler was singing on the other side of the path, and a Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in one of the larger clumps of brambles, where we could get it in the scope. We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and saw a couple zipping off over the top of the reeds.
The large reedbed pool held several Greylags and a few Common Pochard were diving in amongst them. A single Great Crested Grebe was on the water over to one side. We could hear a Little Grebe too, laughing at us from somewhere out of view. Then one of the group spotted another duck swimming towards us along the channel at the front. When it emerged from behind the vegetation, we could see it was a smart drake Red-crested Pochard.
It was rather windy up on the bank, so we headed down to the shelter of Island Hide to scan the freshmarsh. The first thing which struck us when we got in there was the enormous number of Sandwich Terns. We counted almost 300 just on the first couple of islands – the peak count today was over 700! Several pairs were displaying and one pair was mating.
It is very unusual to see large numbers of Sandwich Terns here. They do breed in very significant numbers not far away, on Scolt Head. It appears that something has disturbed them from Scolt and they have come in to the Freshmarsh, attracted by the large breeding colony of gulls. It will be interesting to see if any Sandwich Terns stay to breed, or if they all eventually return to Scolt. In the meantime, it is certainly an impressive spectacle!
The fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ has been almost completely taken over by gulls, predominantly Black-headed Gulls but with a very significant number of Mediterranean Gulls too. We could hear the distinctive calls of the latter regularly, as they flew in and out of the colony.
It was only when we had a good look through the birds on the island that we could see just how many Mediterranean Gulls there were. Apparently, there may be around 50 pairs this year, a significant increase over the nine or so in 2017.
There are not many Avocets on the freshmarsh at the moment, but there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, well over 200 at the moment. Many of them are now coming into full breeding plumage, bright rusty-coloured, ahead of their journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season.
There were a few other waders on here too. A scattering of Ruff around the muddy islands included one deep rusty male, already getting its breeding plumage but still lacking its ruff. A lone Grey Plover was on one of the islands too, but flew over to join the godwits, as did a small group of about a dozen Knot which flew in from the beach.
There are not so many ducks on here now – mainly a few lingering Teal and a few pairs of Shoveler. We couldn’t see the Garganey, which was on here yesterday, from this side. There are still plenty of Brent Geese, yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season. They were commuting between the saltmarsh to feed and the freshmarsh to bathe and preen.
Back on the main path, we headed out towards the beach. There was very little on the Volunteer Marsh today and the ‘Tidal’ Pools are no longer tidal and remain completely flooded with seawater. We carried on past them to have a look at the sea.
The tide was already coming in and not much of the mussel beds remained exposed. We could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits out on the water’s edge, along with a couple of Turnstone. As usual, there were plenty of Oystercatcher too. As we stood in the lee of the dunes to scan the sea, a couple of small flocks of little waders flew past, groups of Ringed Plover and Dunlin.
At first, all we could see on the sea were Common Scoter – a couple of smaller groups closer in and a larger raft further back. Then we picked up a diver not too far out. It was diving continually and hard to see but when it surfaced and turned we could see it was a Great Northern Diver, a good bird to see here. We could see its large size, heavy bill and dark half-collar.
However, that wasn’t the best bird we would have out here today. While we were trying to get everyone onto the diver, three smaller birds appeared even closer in, off the concrete blocks. Through the scope we could see they were Black-necked Grebes, all three of them in cracking full breeding plumage. They had been seen yesterday, but we had assumed they would most likely have moved on already, so it was great to see them.
Black-necked Grebes are scarce here and it is very unusual to see them in breeding plumage at the best of times, so to see three together, and on the sea, is highly unusual. They looked stunning as their golden yellow face plumes caught the light.
We had hoped perhaps to find some more terns offshore, but there were just small numbers of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth. We decided to head back. On the way, we called in at Parrinder Hide.
There has been one or more Garganey here for several days now. We couldn’t see it from Island Hide earlier and we couldn’t see one at first from Parrinder Hide either, although we were told it had been seen on the Freshmarsh earlier. We had at least seen several very well yesterday, down in the Broads. There was a single Pink-footed Goose just outside the hide, with a broken wing which has clearly prevented it from migrating back to Iceland for the breeding season with the others.
There were several Teal asleep in the cut reeds along the base of the bank out from the hide. As we scanned through, we just noticed another shape in the reeds and, through the scope, we could just see a pale stripe across the head. It was a drake Garganey. It was almost impossible to see if you didn’t know where it was. A pair of Greylag walked past and moved the Teal, but unfortunately the Garganey remained where it was, fast asleep.
We made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. There were a few butterflies out here – Green-veined White and a single Holly Blue.
After lunch, we headed up towards Choseley. There had been a couple of brief Dotterel elsewhere in the county in the last couple of days, and this is a traditional stopover site for them, so we thought it might be worth a quick look just in case one had already dropped in here.
Most of the fields on the drive up did not look suitable, so we stopped at Choseley Drying Barns to scan. A Yellowhammer perched up nicely in one of the trees by the footpath.
There were lots of Brown Hares out in the wheat fields. Many were hunkered down out of the wind, but several were running round, chasing each other, and we even saw a quick bout of boxing.
Dropping down the other side, there were a few Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped an found a flock of Linnets which flew up into a hedge, with a Lesser Whitethroat nearby. A lone Wheatear was very distant, high on the ridge in a stony ploughed field.
As we drove on, we spotted a Corn Bunting fly out of a hedge ahead of us. It went back in behind us, so we stopped and walked back to try to see it. Unfortunately, as we tried to get round behind it, it flew off across the field the other way.
We decided to move on and head along to Holkham for the remainder of the afternoon. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped to scan the cows. Two Yellow Wagtails flew past them and across the Drive ahead of us. A Little Egret flew over and then, as we got out of the car, a Spoonbill went over our heads, heading back west towards the colony.
The wind had picked up quite a bit now, and it was rather quiet in the trees as we walked west through the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and a Coal Tit singing. Salts Hole held just a few Tufted Duck today.
At Washington Hide, we could hear Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds. We headed through the trees towards the beach. We stopped here to scan the sea, but it was rather choppy in the wind now. We could see a few distant Sandwich Terns and a Common Scoter way out, flying past. There were still one or two Swallows on the move, flying west.
We made our way round to Joe Jordan Hide. A couple of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds along here were presumably reasonably fresh arrivals. There were some rather dark clouds approaching from the west, so we felt the need to find some shelter, just in case. One of the wardens had driven out across the grazing marshes, so their was a bit of disturbance. However, there was still a steady succession of Spoonbills coming and going, with two busy feeding on the pools out to the right of the hide.
There were plenty of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, and we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese too, right out on the grass in the distance today. They are likely to be sick or injured birds which are unable to return to Iceland to breed, and we could see that one of them had a broken wing.
The rain largely passed through to the south of us, but we did had a very short burst of not too heavy rain. Once it cleared through, we started to make our way back. A quick look in the trees around the crosstracks failed to produce anything more exciting than a couple of Long-tailed Tits and a Coal Tit.
Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another little flurry of activity in the trees. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were flitting around and two Treecreepers appeared briefly nearby. We could hear a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff singing and see a Blackcap in the hawthorns.
Back to the car and it was time to call it a day. It had been a very exciting five days with a good group and lots of good birds, a nice selection of spring migrants, and even quite a bit of non-avian interest. Spring migration in Norfolk at its best!