A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, a relaxed day out on the coast looking for birds and other wildlife. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day, even feeling warm out of the fresh SW breeze. After a later than normal start, due to the vagaries of the local public transport system, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. It was a little after high tide now, but it was a big tide today and we were hopeful we might still find some birds on here.
As we got out of the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese and a small group flew across the stubble field in front of us, presumably having roosted locally. As we made our way down along the path, two Stock Doves flew across the meadow in front of us and dropped down over the far side. As we crossed the road, a Marsh Harrier was creating pandemonium, flying over the Fen and flushing all the Wigeon.
There was no sign of the large tit flock in the bushes by the river, just a couple of Blue Tits. As we got to the thicker sallows we could hear a family of Bullfinches calling and we had a couple of glimpses of them as they flew ahead of us between the trees. A Chiffchaff was calling here too and as we stopped to scan the Fen, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the brambles. The latter was presumably a young bird and in need of practice, as the song wasn’t quite right yet!
Looking across to the Fen, we could see a line of large white shapes on the island, asleep amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were the Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best! One or two would wake up occasionally and flash their long spoon-shaped bills before going back to sleep.
There is a fuller view of the Fen from up on the seawall, and we got the scope trained on the Spoonbills from here so we could get a better look at them. We could see there was a mixture of adults and juveniles, the former with yellow-tipped black bills and the young ones with shorter and dirty flesh coloured bills.
It was nice to see a good number of Spoonbills still here today. As well the risk they may already have started to drift off to feed out on the saltmarsh, with the tide dropping now, it seems like the Norfolk Spoonbills are probably starting to head off to the south coast for the winter. They may not be here much longer.
There were a few birds in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall. As we walked up, we could see four Little Egrets busy fishing just below us, trying to catch something on the falling tide. A little further upstream, a Greenshank and a Redshank were feeding in the muddy water too, when a Kingfisher flew in and landed on a post just behind them.
The Kingfisher population here was hit by the cold weather in March, so it is good to see them back again at some of their regular sites now. This one kept diving into the water and returning to its perch. At one point, it landed back on to us and we had a great view of the electric blue streak down its back, which shone as it caught the morning sun.
Turning our attention back to the Fen, we could see lots of ducks out on the water and roosting on the islands – mainly Wigeon and Teal, but also with at least a dozen Pintail with them too. When something spooked them, many of the ducks took off and several waves of them flew over our heads and out into the harbour. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off too, heading back out with the falling tide now exposing large areas of mud again. The Spoonbills just woke up, looked around, and went back to sleep!
Several more groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over calling as we stood on the seawall. It seemed like there were probably mostly birds which had roosted here though, as they seemed to come in low from the west, rather than fresh arrivals back from Iceland. We could see them circling round away to the east, looking for a suitable field to land in.
From a little further along the seawall, we looked back at the far side of the Fen and could see more waders still out on the mud. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Redshanks and Ruff. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding on its own along the far edge. A Common Buzzard circled up over the fields just beyond.
As we walked round to the corner of the harbour, a Curlew was standing on the large open area of mud on the bend in the channel. There were several Redshanks on here too.
The tide was well out now and there was lots of exposed mud out in the middle of the harbour too. As well as lots of gulls, we could see lots of waders – the ones we could see were mainly Oystercatchers and Curlews but one or two Grey Plover too. Looking across to the far side, the seals were hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and the sand flats opposite. A couple of people walking out onto the mud flushed all the Oystercatchers and they all circled round over the harbour.
A flock of wildfowl came up from the bottom somewhere too and in with the smaller ducks we could see some larger, blackish birds with bright white under their tails. They were Brent Geese, thirteen of them, the first we have seen here this autumn, just returned from Siberia for the winter. In the next few weeks, there should be lots more back here but it is always nice to see the first few back. There was a large flock of Shelducks out here too, all adults – perhaps they moulted here or perhaps they have just returned too, from the moult migration to the Waddensee?
The view from here is stunning, particular on a glorious sunny day like today. We could probably have stood here all day! We had other places we wanted to explore though, so we headed back. A flock of Linnets were in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at them perched in the tops before they flew off across the channel.
The sunshine had brought lots of insects out today. We saw a nice selection of butterflies on the walk back – as well as the usual Speckled Woods along the path, a couple of Small Coppers and a Red Admiral flew past and a lovely bright Comma posed nicely on the hedge, basking in the sun. There were dragonflies out too – a couple of Common Darter were catching the sun on the wooden steps, a few Migrant Hawkers were busy hunting and a Southern Hawker was patrolling up and down the hedge.
We still had some time before lunch, so we made our way back to Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. The two Spotted Redshanks were still on Snipe’s Marsh, busy feeding in the shallow water in between the cut reed stems, along with a couple of Little Egrets. We had a good look at the Spotted Redshanks through the scope, noting their long, needle-fine bills.
Two Common Buzzards were playing over the near edge of North Foreland Wood, tumbling and talon-grappling. When they strayed over enough to disturb the Little Egrets, the Spotted Redshanks were spooked too and flew off across the road. Three Common Snipe down on the mud on the edge of the reeds were not so easily disturbed though, so we had a good look at those through the scope too. A couple of Little Grebes were diving in the deeper water at the front.
We had a quick walk up the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but the breeze had picked up a bit and once again they were keeping well hidden. We did eventually get a quick flight view of one as it came up out of the reeds and flew low over the tops, before diving back into cover. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds off in the distance and a Kestrel was hovering over the grazing marshes the other side.
Several Teal were feeding in the Serpentine and a small group of Shoveler were asleep on the back shore. Scanning the grazing marshes, we could see lots of Wigeon on Pope’s Pool and a small party of six or so Pink-footed Geese in the grass just in front. Through the scope, we could see their dark bills with a distinctive pink band around.
Arnold’s Marsh held a few waders, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, and a group of Cormorants roosting on the small island at the back. Looking round more carefully, we found a few Dunlin too, and three Ringed Plover on one of the shingle spits, hiding in the vegetation.
Carrying on towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Little Egret fishing in the brackish pools by the path. The sea was very calm today, and there wasn’t much out on the water – a single Grey Seal surfaced offshore. A long way out, beyond the wind farm, through the scope we could make out several Gannets and Sandwich Terns fishing, diving into the water. Three Wigeon flew in high off the sea, birds just arriving back from the continent for the winter.
We made our way back and headed round to the Visitor Centre for lunch. It was a lovely day to sit out on the picnic tables today, looking out across the reserve. A steady stream of gulls were commuting in and out between the reserve and the fields behind us, which were being cultivated. We picked up a couple of young Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them.
Three Skylarks flew overhead calling too, while we were eating. Looking out towards the sea, we picked up a large skein of geese coming in. More Pink-footed Geese, these were surely birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.
After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A Red Admiral was basking on the boardwalk, as were several Common Darters. We went into Dauke’s Hide first and as soon as we arrived, one of the volunteers in there told us that the Pectoral Sandpiper was back on Simmond’s Scrape. We had seen it on the reserve several days ago but it had disappeared later that day and not been seen since, so it was a nice surprise that it was back! There are lots of little pools and other wet areas on the reserve, not visible from any hides, where it could lose itself.
We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpiper through the scope. It was creeping round the edge of the larger island at the back, and kept walking into the grass. When it came out we could see its distinctive streaked breast cleanly demarcated from the white belly. It fed next to a couple of Dunlin at one point, and the Pectoral Sandpiper was about the same size, shorter billed, brighter with pale braces on its back and a clean belly lacking the streaks of the young Dunlin. Then, while we were looking the other way, it disappeared!
As well as the Dunlin, there were also several Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits on Simmond’s Scrape, and a large group of roosting Lapwing. A Common Snipe was very well camouflaged, motionless tucked against the front edge of the closer island. Its mournful three-note call alerted us to a Grey Plover flying in. As it landed on the island just behind the Snipe, we could see its black armpits. It was a juvenile, strongly patterned above and lacking any traces of the black belly which adults show in breeding plumage.
Looking out the side of the hide, a Common Sandpiper was feeding on the island down at the front of Whitwell Scrape. Then we heard a Green Sandpiper calling and it dropped in on the other side of the same island. It was good to see the two of them close to each other – the Green Sandpiper was larger and darker than the Common Sandpiper, and lacked the obvious notch of white extending up between the darker breast and wings.
A Sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the grass in front of Billy’s Wash, so we got that in the scope next. It was a young bird, brown on the back and slightly rusty round the nape. We could see its bright yellow iris and barred belly.
The water level is going down nicely on Pat’s Pool now, but a quick look in at Teal Hide failed to produce anything here we hadn’t already seen on Simmond’s Scrape – more Dunlin, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reedy ditch out to the right of the hide, but they failed to come our way.
We wanted to have a quick look in at Babcock Hide before we finished but we knew we didn’t have much time left. We drove round to Iron Road and walked briskly out along the grassy path. A Kestrel was perched on a gate post along the reedy ditch. There were lots of Greylags on the grazing marshes and several Egyptian Geese with them – we could see their striking chocolate eye patches.
There are often flocks of waders at the moment on Watling Water, commuting in from the stubble fields across the road, but there were none on here when we arrived in the hide. There were plenty of Greylags, Teal and Mallard, and a couple of Curlew on the mud at the back. It was very relaxing, sitting in the hide, staring out over the pool and listening to the wind in the reeds, but we had a bus to catch! As we walked back along the path, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in across the road and dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide.
We made it round to the bus stop in good time for the bus. It had been a beautiful day to be out exploring the coast and we had seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife too.