Monthly Archives: September 2018

14th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a nice bright and sunny start, and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon it stayed dry all day. With reports of a couple of interesting birds down in East Norfolk yesterday, and a few more migrants around there, we headed down to the Broads.

As we drove down towards Winterton, which was to be our first destination for the day, we scanned the fields for any sign of Cranes, but we couldn’t see any this morning. They are not so easy to find at this time of year.

When we got to Winterton, we headed straight off into the South Dunes. As we got to the first trees, we could see Blue Tits in the sycamores, but there didn’t appear to be anything else with them. Just beyond, some movement in the dense brambles on the slope turned out to be a Lesser Whitethroat, once it came out enough for us to see it. Probably a migrant, stopped here to feed on its journey south.

A little further along, there was lots of activity in the bushes. A big flock of House Sparrows was chattering away in the white flowers of old man’s beard. A Chiffchaff flew out and darted into the brambles and then a Common Whitethroat appeared there too. Another bird flew up and perched on the top of the bushes next to the sparrows – a Whinchat. It flew again, into some thick elders, where it thought we couldn’t see it. But from the right angle, we could get a clear look at it in the scope.

Whinchat

Whinchat – perched in the elders, thinking we couldn’t see it

The trees just beyond held more Blue Tits and a Blackcap. Another Chiffchaff showed nicely in a birch tree, fluttering around in the leaves looking for insects. Another bird flew out and landed in the trees higher up the slope. A Redstart – another migrant breaking its journey here. It was quite hard to see, perched motionless in the leaves, until it flew again, darting across the path and disappearing round the back of some oaks the other side.

We walked round to the other side of the trees, but there was no further sign of the Redstart. However, we could see two crows feeding on the grassy slope of the dunes across the valley. They were noticeably grey around the nape and through the scope we could see they were Hooded Crow hybrids. One had more grey on it than the other, but neither had enough, in the right places to be a pure Hooded Crow. They intergrade fairly commonly with Carrion Crows, which was clearly the case with these two. Interesting birds to see anyway.

Hooded Crow hybrids

Hooded Crow hybrids – feeding in the dunes

As we carried on south, there were several more warblers in the bushes – it was nice to see a few migrants here, despite the SW winds. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling, possibly on their way south.

There had been a Barred Warbler here yesterday, but when we got to the bushes where it was last seen we found several people looking, but no sign of the bird. Our second Lesser Whitethroat of the morning showed nicely on the outside of the hawthorns, eating blackberries, and while we were watching it a Sparrowhawk circled up over the houses at the top of the ridge. Another Chiffchaff was flitting about in the bushes too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – feeding up, in the birches

When we heard Swallows alarm calling, we looked up to see a flock flying over followed a few seconds later by a Hobby. It was a lovely clear view as it flew past at eye level, before climbing up and disappearing over the ridge. As it banked, we could see its orange-red trousers.

There were quite a few butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, mostly various whites. On the walk back, a Grayling basked on the brambles, angling itself to catch the sun and a Small Copper landed nearby, down in the grass.

Grayling

Grayling – basking in the brambles

A Reeve’s Muntjac was feeding in the bushes half way up the slope. It stopped eating, stared at us for a minute or so, and then resumed its lunch. It seemed completely unconcerned by us passing close by.

Muntjac

Reeve’s Muntjac – stood and stared at us

As we got back to the road, it had clouded over and it felt like the wind had picked up a little, although we had been sheltered from it in the valley. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to continue on into the North Dunes, to see if we could find a Wheatear. However, as we walked through the dunes, we were surprised to find almost no birds at all, not even a Meadow Pipit or a Linnet!

We got as far as the ‘east pond’, but it was cool and breezy here now and there were no signs of any Willow Emerald around the single small sallow. These damselflies are only very recent colonists in the UK and this can be a good place to see them. Up at the top of the dunes just beyond, we had a great panoramic view, but once again there was a surprising lack of  birds. We decided to head back.

On our way back past the ‘east pond’, we at least had a brief view of two Willow Emerald damselflies around the sallow, although they quickly disappeared back in. There were several Common Darters which were more obliging, one or two Migrant Hawkers buzzing round, and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly down in the rushes in the edge of the water.

When we got back to the car park, it was time for lunch. As we ate, looking out to sea next to the boat sheds, a damselfly flew in and landed right at our feet. It was a Willow Emerald! It narrowly avoided being trodden on and flew up to bask on one of the sheds where we had a much better view of it than the two we had seen briefly earlier.

Willow Emerald

Willow Emerald – basked briefly on one of the boat sheds

There were a few Mediterranean Gulls moving offshore, flying north along the coast. Two landed on the sea, an adult with bright red bill, black bandit mask and clean white wing tips, and a more subtle first winter.

After lunch, we headed inland to Potter Heigham to look for wildfowl and any waders. There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing meadows as we made our way in, accompanied by a pair of Egyptian Geese.

From up on the bank, we could scan the pools and we immediately spotted several Ruff out on the mud and a good number of Common Snipe around the edges of the reeds. Two Common Sandpipers were working their way round different parts of the shore. A flock of Golden Plover flew up and circled round calling and another group of smaller waders flew in and landed on the mud in the middle – nine Ringed Plover accompanied by a single Dunlin.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – flying round over the pools

There were plenty of ducks here too, though the majority of the drakes are currently in their dull eclipse plumage, so they are not looking their best. Still, we could see a nice selection of Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon.

As we continued round on the bank, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the back of the grazing marshes in the distance, the other side of the channel. Their high pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese high overhead. Flocks of these geese have been seen along the coast, returning from Iceland for the winter, in the last few days. These might well have just been returning here too, as this area is a regular roost site for Pink-footed Geese in the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – likely fresh arrivals just back from Iceland

When we got to the river bank over the far side of the pools, we looked back to see a Hobby over hanging in the air over the grazing marshes the other side. It kept swooping down behind the trees before flying up again, presumably catching dragonflies low over the wet grass.

The pools over on this side have dried out a lot over the summer, but there are still some nice areas of water. When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to find one asleep in some small tufts of grass on the edge of the mud. Three Green Sandpipers were feeding in one of the pools, along with a Ruff.

Otherwise, there were also more geese and ducks on this side, including a smart drake Wigeon back in breeding plumage already. A large group of Cormorants were sleeping on one of the islands.

The cloud had thickened progressively through the afternoon and the sky was now rather grey. We decided to walk back. On the way, we found two more Green Sandpipers on one of the other pools. A smart grey-winged male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the drier areas of the marshes.

With a long journey ahead of us, we decided to head for home. More again tomorrow…

13th Sept 2018 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular today, up on the Wash watching the whirling flocks of birds. It was a lovely bright sunny start to the day, if a little chilly first thing! It did cloud over a little but there were still some bright intervals in the afternoon.

It was an early start, which saw us heading up to Snettisham to get there well ahead of the rising tide, so we could watch the waders gathering. As we made our way down towards the seawall we could already see some huge flocks of birds swirling high in the sky – something had obviously spooked them.

When we got up onto the seawall, so we could see out across the Wash, there was still a huge flock of Golden Plover twisting and turning out over the mud. They looked stunning as they caught the morning sun, alternating golden brown and bright white. After a few minutes, they disappeared off inland, presumably heading off to roost in the fields. The Oystercatchers had all landed back down on the mud, but we couldn’t see many Knot out here. At first, we weren’t sure where they had gone.

1 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – flying in to join the throng in the morning sun

More Oystercatchers flew in from further up the Wash across in front of us, and again the morning light meant they positively shone. They flew out and joined the throng massed on the mud. There were lots of Ringed Plover down on the mud just in front of us and we had a good look at a single Bar-tailed Godwit down there too. Further out, on the other side of the channel, four Spoonbills marched across the mud ahead of the rising water.

A large group of Dunlin flew in and zoomed nervously backwards and forwards over the channel in front of us, before settling on the mud further out. More Knot started to appear too, in several flocks of various sizes, but they flew in over us and seemed to be heading in to the pits to roost already. Normally they are just about the last to leave the mud!

2 Knot

Knot – several flocks flew in past us onto the pits

The tide was rising fast now. A couple of bright silvery-grey and white Sanderling and a Turnstone joined the other small waders down at the front but flew off with the Ringed Plover as the water started to come in. A lone Avocet was about the last to leave the mud there, waiting until the water was almost up to its belly before taking off.

The huge flock of Oystercatchers was on the edge of the water now. They didn’t seem to be too concerned and on closer inspection we could see why – they were walking up the mud ahead of the tide, like a vast flowing liquid. We made our way further up too. As we walked past the pits, we peaked over the bank and could see that there were already lots of Knot on the islands there. They had obviously flown in to roost already, even before we got there.

3 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – started peeling off in waves

Some of the Oystercatchers then started to give up and head for the pits, peeling off in waves. We stationed ourselves at a suitable spot on the path where they were coming in right over our heads. Amazing to watch!

4 Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – the flocks came in right over our heads!

More birds were flying in all the time, from further around the Wash. The remaining Oystercatchers were getting ever more concentrated into the last corner of the remaining exposed mud. Beyond them, we could see lots of Sanderling and Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Grey Plover, as well as still quite a few Knot.

5 Waders

Waders – became ever more concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud

More of the waders started to throw in the towel and head off to roost, realising it was futile to resist the tide rising ever higher. The Sanderling headed off back up the Wash to roost somewhere else and the Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits stood their ground, but we stood and watched as the others headed in past us in waves, landing behind on the pits.

A Marsh Harrier quartering the saltmarsh just beyond managed to get most of the remaining birds in the air. Even the Curlews took off but landed again in the vegetation further back.

Once the majority of the birds had left the Wash, we headed off to have a look at the Pits. As we walked along the boardwalk, a couple of Spoonbills flew in and dropped down onto the pits. It was unbelievably busy at Snettisham today, and when we got to the temporary screen/hide at the south end, we found we couldn’t get in, so we decided to continue on round and scan from the far side.

The light was much better on the east side. We stopped on the boardwalk where we could see across onto part of the pit. The far bank was coated in Oystercatchers, shifting nervously. Below them, on the water’s edge, we could see a few Black-tailed Godwits. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was with them, much more obviously patterned on the upperparts, giving a great side by side comparison.

There were three Spoonbills on one of the islands, doing what they like to do best – sleeping! They did wake up from time to time and show us their bills, two juveniles and a single adult, the latter with a yellow tip to its black bill. There were a couple of Pintail with the Mallards on the water nearby too.

Carrying on round on the path, we passed a few Egyptian Geese on the grass with the Greylags. From up on the inner seawall, we could see part of the islands at the northern part of the pit and they were full of waders. From a distance they looked just like stones, but on closer inspection one was covered in tightly packed Knot. Another held a more varied mix – Turnstones on the edge, Knot mixed with godwits just behind and Dunlin scattered more widely at the back.

There were still a few Common Terns on one of the islands – adults in various stages of moult to non-breeding plumage and several brown-backed juveniles. A Little Grebe was diving on the water in front.

The crowds in the hides seemed to be thinning out a bit, but the benches in the south screen were still largely taken up with a rank of large-lens touting photographers in residence. There was room for us to stand behind them now at least though!

The islands at this end were filled mainly with Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits, but there were some small groups of Common Redshank around the margins and three Greenshank with them down at the front. A moulting juvenile Spotted Redshank asleep nearby looked very like the Common Redshanks until it woke up and flashed its longer, needle-fine bill.

Greenshank

Greenshank – with the Redshank and Dunlin in front of the south screen

There were a few Dunlin and Knot down at this end too, but most of the smaller waders were on the islands at the other end of the pit, so we made our way round to Shore Hide next for a closer look.

The island right in front of Shore Hide was packed with birds. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits but hiding in amongst them were lots of Knot. Most of them are in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but several were still wearing the remains of their orange summer underparts. The next island over seemed to be wall-to-wall Knot!

6 Knot

Knot – hiding in with the Black-tailed Godwits

There were more Spotted Redshanks out in the middle here, roosting with Black-tailed Godwits in amongst the rocks where the Cormorants were loafing. There were a few Common Redshanks too and we possibly couldn’t see all of them, but we counted at least 11 Spotted Redshanks here, mostly adults in non-breeding plumage now.

We hadn’t been in the hide long before the Knot started to shuffle nervously. It was already an hour or so after high tide, and the sea would be receding now. A few took off from the edge of one of the islands and as they flew round over the pit, more and more Knot took off to join them before they started to head off over the bank.

7 Knot

Knot – the packed flocks on the islands started to take off

We decided to go outside, back to the edge of the Wash. Perfect timing, as we got out to find a huge swirling flock of Knot out over the mud. They twisted and turned, making various shapes in the sky, breaking into separate flocks before flying back across each other and then coalescing again. Finally – a proper spectacular display from the Knot!

8 Knot

Knot – the swirling flocks made various shapes in the sky

11 Knot

More Knot – more shapes!

The Knot were clearly still unsure at first as to whether to head back out onto the Wash or not. The flock turned and came back in, over our heads. The sky above us was filled with thousands of birds and all we could hear was the beating of thousands of wings. Breathtaking!

10 Knot

Knot – thousands flying over our heads

They circled over the pits again for a minute or two before deciding they didn’t like the look of those either, then headed back out over the Wash and disappeared away into the distance. We stood on the edge of the Wash for a while. The Oystercatchers started to filter back out from the pits in lines, before landing in big groups back out on the newly exposed mud.

Eventually, it looked like that might be the end of it for today, so we started to walk back along the path. As we did so, we scanned the mud. A Spoonbill appeared and began to feed in the small pools, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the water, head down. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past, flashing its all-white wings and a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed on the edge of the water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the muddy pools after the tide receded

Looking over the bank, we could see there were still quite a few Knot packed tight on one of the islands on the pit. They didn’t seem like they were too inclined to move, but as we walked further on something spooked all the birds behind us and another wave of Knot flew over the bank and out low across the Wash. They swirled around for a couple of minutes – giving us one last display – before settling down on the mud.

12 Knot

Knot – the last wave gave us a final display

It had been a great morning at Snettisham, and we headed off to Titchwell next. It was midday when we arrived there, and after our early start it was time for lunch! After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve – we didn’t have as long as usual here today, but we would see what we could find.

The reedbed pool was quiet, save for three Coot and a single Little Grebe. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were well out in the reeds and there was a fresher breeze now, so they were keeping tucked down. We continued on to Island Hide.

There were plenty of Ruff on the mud in front of the hide. They can be the most confusing wader to identify and we looked at two which were very close – a winter adult male and a much smaller juvenile female. They almost looked like two different species!

Ruff

Ruff – an adult, in non-breeding plumage

There was a nice selection of other waders. A huddle of Black-tailed Godwits around the islands. A flock of Golden Plover on one of the strips of mud, with a few black-bellied birds still sporting the remnants of their breeding plumage. A couple of Dunlin on the mud in front of the reeds, juvenile birds with spotted bellies. Two Ringed Plover were running around the edge of one of the islands.

Numbers have dropped substantially from late summer, when the local population was boosted by birds coming to moult, but there are still quite a few Avocet here. One was feeding quite close to the hide, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the shallow water. It was quite brown-backed, a juvenile.

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of the hide

We could hear Bearded Tits calling at one point, but despite scanning back and forth along the edge of the reeds periodically, we couldn’t find any here today.

The two Pink-footed Geese with mangled wings, which have been here all summer, were on one of the islands, over towards Parrinder Hide. There were plenty of ducks too – Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler mainly – all in their rather drab eclipse plumage. Several Shelduck were all juveniles, with the bulk of the adults having gone off to the continent to moult.

Continuing on along the main path, we scanned the margins and the edges of the islands hoping for a Common Snipe, but we couldn’t find one today. There were plenty of Linnets in the vegetation on the islands, and a few Pied Wagtails around the muddy edges.

Volunteer Marsh was fairly quiet, apart from a Curlew and a Redshank, until we got to the channel at the far end. A Black-tailed Godwit was probing its long bill in the mud just below the path and a Little Egret was fishing in the narrows. Scanning the muddy banks either side of the channel on the north side, there were lots more Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshank, and a single Grey Plover.

After the recent big tides, the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ have filled up again. As a consequence, there was nothing on here today – very few of the islands are now visible above the water. So we continued on to the beach.

With the tide out now, there were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach. We could see good numbers of Curlew, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Turnstones and Knot. However, we were hoping we might find a Whimbrel but there was no sign of one. The sea was pretty quiet too. There had been a Red-necked Grebe offshore earlier, before the tide went out, but all we could find now was a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

On our way back, we called in at Parrinder Hide. At first it looked like there was nothing different to see from here. Several Linnets, Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits were feeding in the tall vegetation on the islands. We were hoping at least to find a Common Snipe here, but just after we had announced we couldn’t find one, a Common Snipe walked out onto the edge of the island to the left of the hide. Typical!

A wader dropped in onto the spit at the end of Avocet Island and through the scope we could see it was a Common Sandpiper. It stopped to bathe and then walked up onto the shore to preen, before running off round the back. Just a few seconds later, another Common Sandpiper appeared on the mud just to the left of the hide. We could tell it was a different bird to the one we had just seen, as this second one had a gammy leg and a noticeable limp.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper – the second one we saw from Parrinder Hide

As we scanned the edge of the reeds over the far side of the Freshmarsh, all we found at first were more Common Snipe. Suddenly they seemed to be everywhere! Then we spotted a Bearded Tit working its way low along the reed edge on the back of the mud. It was distant, but we could see it was a smart male, with a powder blue head and black moustache. A couple of minutes later we found two juveniles a little further over, feeding on the open mud. Then a Water Rail appeared nearby too, coming out of the reeds for a quick bathe before walking in and out of the vegetation along the back edge.

It had been well worth the diversion into Parrinder Hide. As we walked back towards the visitor centre we finally got our Whimbrel. We heard one calling, and looked across the saltmarsh towards the beach to see two Whimbrel flying past in the distance.

We thought that was it. It had been a quick visit to Titchwell this afternoon, but we were due back. We were packed up, in the car and driving out of the car park when we saw several people looking intently up into the trees. We opened the window and asked what they had seen and the reply came ‘Turtle Dove‘.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves – these two were in the trees at the back of the car park

Everyone disembarked again and we had a great view of the two Turtle Doves perched in the trees at the back of the car park, preening and dozing in the afternoon sun. It was a perfect way to end the day.

11th Sept 2018 – Coastal Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today in North Norfolk. Having done so well out on the marshes and coast yesterday, particularly with waders and wildfowl, we decided to do something different today and try to find some woodland and farmland birds. The weather was not entirely helpful – it was rather cool and windy and the expected rain arrived earlier than forecast. Although it was just light drizzle it continued through to the middle of the afternoon. Still, it didn’t stop us getting out.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham Park. As we got out of the car, we could hear a tit flock above us in the holm oaks and a Nuthatch was piping from one of the trees. It played rather hard to get for a while, hiding in the dense branches up in the tops. As well as the tits, we managed to see a couple of Goldcrests before the Nuthatch finally came out onto the edge of one of the trees.

Through the gates, we stopped to look at the feeders by one of the houses. There were several Great Tits coming and going and, after a short while, they were joined by another Nuthatch on the peanuts. We could see movement in the yew tree nearby and a Song Thrush flew out. A second Song Thrush was still feeding on the berries in the back of the tree, but hard to see in the dense foliage, as were a couple of Blackbirds.

As we continued on down towards the lake, we could hear Jays calling and one flew across between the trees as we arrived at the open area by the monument. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees.

When we got to the lake, we could see a raft of ducks and grebes out on the open water in front of the hall, so we walked up that way first. There were several families of Great Crested Grebes on the lake, the adults still with their summer crests accompanied by stripy-headed juveniles, and we had a good look at them through the scope. Most of the ducks were Shoveler, with smaller numbers of Teal, Mallard and Gadwall, but just one Tufted Duck.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebe – one of several families still on the lake

There were three Fallow Deer bucks out in the long grass across the lake, and when we walked down a little further towards the hall, we could see the bulk of the herd over towards the entrance road, sitting down on the shorter grass. A flock of Egyptian Geese were feeding on the outfield of the cricket pitch in front of the hall.

Heading back the other way, up towards the north end of the lake, there were a couple more families of Great Crested Grebes – they seem to have done well here this year. As we got into the trees again, a smart Fallow Deer buck was feeding close to the path and let us approach quite closely before it finally ran off.

Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer – this buck was feeding in the trees by the path

We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees ahead of us and we walked up to find a mixed tit flock on the edge of the lake. As well as the other regular tits, we had nice views of a pair of Coal Tits in a pine tree – a new bird for the list. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees behind us, and when we turned to look for it we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly out and land in a tree above our heads. By the time we turned our attention back to the Treecreeper, it had gone quiet.

A small falcon appeared from over the trees at the back and flew towards us over the lake. As it banked, we could see it had thin, scythe-shaped wings – a Hobby! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and quickly disappeared over the treetops on our side of the water. Still, it was a good bird to see.

From the north end of the lake, we headed back through the trees. It was pretty quiet – apart from a Brown Hare which ran across the path – until we got back to the monument. We could hear a tit flock again and a couple of Treecreepers were calling from somewhere further in. We stood on the track and waited to see if they would come our way, but they seemed to be moving away from us. At that point it started to drizzle with rain. As we hadn’t been expecting it to arrive so early, and were not all equipped with our waterproofs, we made a hasty retreat back to the car.

We were planning to make our way east today, but rather than follow the coast road, we headed inland to look for some farmland birds on the way. Our first search for Grey Partridge at a good site for them drew a blank – a Kestrel on a post and a Common Buzzard in a field were the best birds here.

As we cut across behind the Park, we stopped to scan a field and a Green Sandpiper flew across and landed in a puddle in the gateway. It stayed just long enough for us to get a look at it, then flew off – a bit of a surprise find out here!

A little further on, we found a mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover in a field of young oilseed rape. As we had only seen Golden Plover in flight yesterday, we got out to have a closer look in the scope. There were several smaller birds in the field too – a flock of Linnets and a smaller group of Meadow Pipits, another new bird for the list.

Continuing on along the road, a buff and white shape flew up from the verge ahead of us – a Barn Owl! We can often see Barn Owls out hunting in the daytime in the winter when they are hungry, but not so often at this time of year so this was another unexpected bonus. We followed slowly behind as it made its way along the verge ahead of us. It appeared to be carrying some prey, which it presumably had caught before we surprised it. It disappeared behind the hedge and appeared to land, so we stopped and walked back to a gap where we could see into the field. Unfortunately there was no further sign of it.

The field did provide us with a couple more new birds though. We could see a large covey of Red-legged Partridges out in the stubble but four more partridges over the far side of the field perched on a straw bale next to a game cover strip looked much duller. Through the scope, we could see they were Grey Partridges, just what we had been looking for! Then a Skylark came up from the stubble in front of us, flew back across the field, and dropped back in to the vegetation.

It was still cool and damp, although the drizzle had eased off a bit. Not great weather for owls, but we decided to push our luck and see if we could find a Little Owl next. We headed over to a complex of farm buildings which is a regular site for them. We parked up in a layby, and as we got out we noticed another covey of Grey Partridges right next to the road. A much better view than the ones we had just seen.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – the second group we found, this time close to the road

A flock of Mistle Thrushes took off from the trees by the layby and we could hear Bullfinches calling from deep in the vegetation. As we scanned the barns, we could see a small round shape on the edge of one of them, tucked in out of the wind and under the edge of the roof. It was a bit distant, but through the scope, we could see that it was a Little Owl. It was hunched up at first, but then seemed to rouse itself, preen and disappeared back into the barn behind it.

From there, we dropped back down to the coast and headed along to Cley. The wind seemed to have eased and the drizzle was only light now, although it was still a bit misty. We decided to have a look at the East Bank before lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but by the time we had got up onto the bank, they had gone quiet again.

There were several Curlew and lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, but we couldn’t see many waders out on Pope’s Pool today – just one or two Avocets. A selection of ducks – Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon and Mallard – were on the Serpentine, as well as several more Avocets feeding.

The hide overlooking Arnold’s Marsh provided some welcome shelter from the elements. We could see a few Sandwich Terns over towards the back and had a look at them through the scope. There were plenty of waders out on here, but not much variety – lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks and a few Curlew. A couple of Dunlin flew in, circled over the water, and carried on towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were still a few on Arnold’s Marsh today

Continuing on to the sea, we could see a few more Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and a single Gannet flew past out in the distance towards the wind farm. It wasn’t a day to be lingering out on the beach so, with no sign of many birds moving, we headed back.

On our way, we heard another Bearded Tit calling, but they were keeping well tucked down out of the weather. When we were almost back to the car, we turned to see a female Marsh Harrier flying in over the grazing marsh and across the bank, before dropping down into the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in across Pope’s Marsh and dropped down into the reeds

From the bottom of the East Bank, we had a quick look over at Snipe’s Marsh. We could see a small wader out in the mud amongst the cut reeds and a look through the scope confirmed it was a Green Sandpiper. A careful scan revealed a second Green Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the taller reeds at the back and, appropriately enough given the name of the location, four Common Snipe.

We would normally use the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre for lunch but given the weather we drove round to the beach car park and made use of the shelter there instead. We kept looking out to sea from time to time while we ate, but it was very murky and there was still no sign of any activity. After lunch we headed round to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink.

Our attention originally had been to spend some time at Cley today, but the sightings board revealed there was nothing here today that we had not seen already at Titchwell yesterday, so we decided to try somewhere else. It was not great weather for looking for small birds, but we thought we would try our luck at Kelling.

The track down to the Water Meadow was fairly quiet. A Blackcap was calling in the bushes and we heard a few Chaffinches too. The only small birds in the brambles around the pool were Linnets and a couple of Reed Buntings were in the reeds. There were plenty of gulls here again, bathing and loafing on the bank – mostly Black-headed, several Herring and two or three Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well.

The track to the beach produced a single juvenile Stonechat, accompanied by a Common Whitethroat, but there was no sign of any migrants here. We started to make our way up the hillside behind the beach but it was rather cold and damp, so we turned decided to cut our losses and try somewhere else.

As we drove back west along the coast, the drizzle stopped, the mist lifted and the sky appeared to be clearing from the north. As we made our way down along the footpath beside the river towards Stiffkey Fen, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the copse and a large mixed tit flock started to emerge from the trees ahead of us. Several birds landed in a large hawthorn on the edge of the meadow – we could see three different Blackcaps, a Chaffinch, and a selection of tits.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a male in the bushes by the path

The flock continued to move quickly through the bushes ahead of us. There were lots of birds and small groups would pause from time to time to feed in one of the trees. We saw several Chiffchaffs and lost count of the number of Blackcaps, but unfortunately a Lesser Whitethroat just hopped up briefly and disappeared before everyone could get onto it.

When the flock moved into the thicker trees, we continued on along the path. From a gap in the sallows it is possible to see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. There were lots of Greylags on the islands and in with them were three escaped Bar-headed Geese and a Fulvous Whistling Duck. Smart birds, but unfortunately, they don’t count! We could see two Spoonbills asleep, and several Little Egrets against the reeds beyond.

There is a better view of the whole Fen from up on the seawall. From here, we could see more of the ducks – as wall as plenty of Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Wigeon, we found three Pintail in with them.

There were lots of waders in amongst the wildfowl too, particularly good numbers of Ruff and fewer Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the muddy edges, we found a Common Sandpiper and three Green Sandpipers, at one point with the two species side by side for comparison. There were four Common Snipe on the mud on the edge of the reeds too.

We had a better view of the Spoonbills from up here too. One of them woke up and started to preen, flashing its long spoon-shaped bill, black with a yellow tip. Then a third Spoonbill flew in from the harbour behind us. As it came in over the back, we could see it had a much shorter bill – a juvenile, a ‘Teaspoonbill‘ whose bill is not yet fully grown.

The juvenile Spoonbill made a beeline for the adult which had just woken up. It walked up to it, bobbing its head up and down and flapping its wings, begging to be fed. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away, but the juvenile was having none of it, and the adult gave in remarkably quickly and fed the youngster – sometimes these begging pursuits can go on for ages!

The adult Spoonbill then took off and headed out towards the harbour – whether to replace the food it had just surrendered or to get away from its begging offspring was not clear. It flew towards us on the seawall and straight past, giving us a fantastic close fly past.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew past us on the seawall on its way to the harbour

We turned to scan the harbour. The tide was out and there were lots of birds spread over the mud in the distance. We could see a huge group of loafing gulls, with another Spoonbill sleeping in with them. There were undoubtedly more waders out of view in the bottom of the pit, but we could see hundreds of Oystercatchers and a good number of Grey Plover including several still in their smart breeding plumage.

Over on the beach beyond the tip of Blakeney Point there were lots of seals hauled out on the sand. It won’t be long before the Grey Seals are pupping now.

Unfortunately it was time to start making our way back now. We were treated to another great view of the Long-tailed Tits, feeding on the blackberries by the path.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the brambles by the path

It had been a very enjoyable couple of days birding – and a very productive one too. A great introduction to the delights of the North Norfolk coast and its birds.

10th Sept 2018 – Coastal Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour today in North Norfolk, for a visitor from Canada. The brief was to look for common birds too, not just scarcer species, so we set off to see how many birds we could find. It was cloudy, and cool on the coast in a fresh breeze, but thankfully it stayed mostly dry.

Our first destination was Titchwell. When we arrived, the main car park was only half full but there were already a couple of people walking round the overflow car park, looking in the bushes. We had a slow walk round too. It was quiet initially but as we stood and waited quietly a few more birds began to appear out of the undergrowth.

There were lots of finches in the tops of the trees, mainly Goldfinches and Greenfinches. We found several Blackcaps feeding on the elderberries, although a brief Garden Warbler was less accommodating and disappeared into the brambles. As well as several Blackbirds, a single Song Thrush was rather elusive too.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a male feeding on berries in the car park

There was nothing visible in the paddocks from the gate at the end, but while we were scanning we spotted a large flock of Golden Plover flying over the hillside beyond. The birds split up into several smaller groups and one came in over the paddocks and headed out onto the reserve.

We made our way down past the visitor centre and out along the main path. Our first stop was at the reedbed pool. There were a couple of Little Grebes diving out towards the back and one or two Coot, but not many ducks on here today. We could hear Bearded Tits calling out in the reeds, but they were keeping their heads down given the wind. Two Greenshank flew in calling and circled round over the water looking for somewhere to land.

As we walked on, looking towards the Freshmarsh we could see five Spoonbills hiding at the back. We stopped for a quick look, because we knew they would not be visible from the hides. Approaching Island Hide, we heard a Water Rail squealing down in the reeds below the path and looked down to see it chase a Moorhen out onto the open mud. We watched the Water Rail picking its way in and out of the reeds. We could still see it on the edge of the reeds when we got into the hide.

Looking out across the mud, two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were feeding on the edge of the water. They were joined by a single juvenile Dunlin, given a nice comparison alongside, the latter with black spotting on its belly, the Curlew Sandpipers a little larger and with slightly longer bills. There were more Curlew Sandpipers further over, all juveniles, taking us to five in total.

A much smaller wader over on the edge of the reeds below the main path was a juvenile Little Stint. It was loosely associating with a larger flock of around 40 Dunlin scattered over the mud on that side. All the small waders were very nervous and kept taking off and whirling round.

There are still lots of Ruff out on the Freshmarsh, with all the adults now in their dull grey-brown non-breeding plumage. We could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits too, but they were mostly feeding in the deeper water right in the back corner. There is still a scattering of Avocets here but numbers have dropped significantly from the highs of late summer, as birds have headed off for the winter.

Ruff

Ruff – an adult in non-breeding plumage

Two geese on one of the islands were the resident Pink-footed Geese. They both have badly damaged wings, possibly having been shot, and were unable to make the journey to Iceland for the breeding season, but they seem to have survived quite happily here over the summer.

There are lots more ducks in now, as birds return for the winter – Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall – but they are mostly in their dull eclipse plumage at the moment. Most of the remaining Shelduck are juveniles, as the adults have gone off to moult.

From up on the main path, we had a much better view of the Little Stint. It was feeding on the mud just below, almost too close as it kept disappearing behind the reeds just below us! It was clearly much smaller than all the Dunlin, whiter below, with a short bill and two bright pale lines down the mantle.

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile, close to the main path today

We had seen a single Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin here too, from the hide, but we couldn’t see it at first. Presumably it had been hiding behind the reeds too, as suddenly it appeared again just below the path. We got a great close look at that as well.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – one of five juveniles this morning

We were already doing well for waders here. Then a Common Snipe appeared out of the vegetation on the island between the path and Parrinder Hide and proceeded to probe its long bill vigorously in the mud. A single Knot flew in and landed on the far side of the same island, along the muddy shore.

Two Spoonbills flew up from the back of the Freshmarsh and flew straight towards us, before seeing all the people on the bank and veering away over the corner of Volunteer Marsh. Just as they flew off, another three Spoonbills flew in from behind us, from out over Thornham saltmarsh. They flew straight past us, giving us great close-up flight views.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – several were coming and going this morning

While we were watching all the comings and goings on the Freshmarsh, we heard Bearded Tits calling below us in the reeds. We looked down to see a small bird with a long tail dart across over the water in the corner. We had a couple more glimpses of them, but they were keeping hidden, out of the wind today. We did get better views of one or two Reed Warblers which were also flitting around low down along the edge of the reeds and a Reed Bunting which perched up more obligingly.

When we got to Parrinder Hide, we had a quick look from outside the hide first. We were instantly rewarded with two Spotted Redshanks, roosting at the back of the Freshmarsh with some Black-tailed Godwits. We got the Spotted Redshanks in the scope, first an adult in silvery-grey and white winter plumage and then a much duskier moulting juvenile. We could see their long and needle fine bills, very different from a Common Redshank.

As we scanned the Freshmarsh from inside the hide, a Common Sandpiper flew across in front of us, calling, and landed on the muddy edge out to one side. Further back, we could see a juvenile Little Ringed Plover on the mud too. It ran out along the edge of the island, where it was joined by a second Little Ringed Plover, also a juvenile. The two of them were then chased off by two Ringed Plovers, which at least gave us a great opportunity to compare the two species!

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile from Parrinder Hide

A quick look out from the other side of Parrinder Hide produced a smart Grey Plover still in breeding plumage, and several Curlew and Common Redshank. Back on the main path, there were more waders along the muddy channel at the far end of Volunteer Marsh – lots more Redshank, and Black-tailed Godwits, and two more Grey Plover, this time mostly in non-breeding attire.

The Tidal Pools were rather quiet today, so we made our way straight out to the beach. The tide was out now and there were lots of waders down on the mussel beds. Bar-tailed Godwit was a particularly target and we spotted some down on the beach, so we walked down for a closer look. There were 4-5 Bar-tailed Godwits out on the sand and several with the more numerous Black-tailed Godwits on the mussel beds, including one still sporting rather rusty underpart, the remnants of its breeding plumage.

A single Whimbrel was feeding with all the Curlew on the mussel beds. Through the scope, we could see its short bill and striped crown. There were several Turnstones, very well camouflaged against the dark mud and shellfish, and a few more Knot too.

A Sanderling flew in along the beach but landed out of view. We walked further down to try to see where it had landed, but when we got there we couldn’t find it. At that point, all the waders suddenly started to take off and we looked up to see a juvenile Peregrine buzzing the birds on the beach before following the flocks out over the sea. All the waders flushed and flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers came right past us.

Knot

Knot – flushed by a Peregrine off the beach

The Peregrine turned and came in again, low over the waves. This time it had lost the benefit of surprise and it didn’t look like catching anything. It drifted away towards Brancaster.

We looked out over the sea and saw another dark bird low over the waves. This time it was an Arctic Skua. It had seen a Sandwich Tern flying past, and was heading straight for it, hoping to steal its lunch!  The Arctic Skua chased the Tern for a few seconds, the two of them twisting and turning in a dogfight, before it seemed to lose interest and flew off. A little late, a second Arctic Skua flew past us. Then a Mediterranean Gull flew past along the shoreline, a young bird, in its first winter. It was all action down at the beach!

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua – two were lingering offshore, chasing the terns

It was time to start thinking about heading back for lunch, so we walked back up the beach. We spotted a Marsh Harrier drifting inland over the Tidal Pools, the first we had seen this morning. From the top of the beach, we could see another two Marsh Harriers coming in off the sea. They looked like they might be migrants from the continent arriving for the winter, but one of them was a juvenile bearing green wing tags. It had been ringed at Holkham a few months earlier, so that individual was certainly a local bird.

A Little Egret battling its way in over the sea from further out presumably was a migrant arriving, as was a single Pintail flying west offshore. Two drake Common Scoters were out on the sea.

We had been distracted with all the activity, and we were now starting to get hungry, so we made our way back. We stopped briefly to watch a Little Egret fishing on Volunteer Marsh, where the water was still slowing out of the channel. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the reedbed as we passed, but well hidden from view as ever.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on Volunteer Marsh as the tide dropped

After lunch, we headed out along Fen Trail. Just past the Visitor Centre, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the sallows. We stopped to watch for a minute or so, and found various other birds with them – Blue Tits and Great Tits, several Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest.

We stopped at the gate on the Tank Road to scan the paddocks. There was nothing out on the grass but we could see two doves on the roof of one of the stables – two Turtle Doves. Through the scope, we could see their pink-washed breasts, black and white-striped neck patches and, as they turned, their rusty fringed upperparts.

Patsy’ Reedbed is a great place for ducks at the moment. As well as all the commonr dabbling ducks we had seen earlier on the Freshmarsh, there were several Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks here. Two female Red-crested Pochard were upending out in the middle.

The Great White Egret we were told was hiding in the reeds, but it wasn’t long before it strode out into the middle, where we got a great look at it. It flew round a couple of times too, so we could really appreciate its large size.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – showed very well on Patsy’s Reedbed

Continuing on along East Trail, a large flock of House Martins were hawking for insects over the edge of Patsy’s Reedbed. In with them, we found one or two Sand Martins as well, browner backed and lacking the white rump of the House Martins. The Turtle Doves were now down in the paddocks, around one of the water troughs, and had drawn a small crowd of admirers.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Dove – these two were around the paddocks this afternoon

We had a quick look up along the Autumn Trail to the end. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling but once again they refused to show themselves. There were several browner juvenile Ruffs in the far corner of the Freshmarsh too. Then we made our way quickly back to the car.

By the time we got to Holme, the clouds had darkened and the wind had picked up. A Stock Dove was feeding in the grass in the fields by the track. We walked along the coast path behind the paddocks, but the bushes here were very quiet today, apart from a few House Sparrows. It seemed like there had been a clear-out of our summer warblers over the last day or so and no migrants fresh in.

The dunes the other side were quiet at first two, not helped by several dogs running around on the loose. We eventually managed to find a group of three juvenile Stonechats, accompanied by a Common Whitethroat. A Common Buzzard was perched on some brambles out in the middle of the grazing marsh.

With a lack of small birds in the bushes, we decided not to press on further. On our way back, we stopped to have a look at the Beach. A family of five Common Terns were out on the sand, in the distance. Scanning through the waders on the beach, as well as the species we had seen at Titchwell, we managed to find a group of Sanderlings to make up for the elusive one earlier. A Gannet drifted past in the distance offshore.

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge – posing next to the road

It was time to be heading home, but we made our way back via the smaller roads inland. We had hoped to find a few farmland birds, but the bushes were quiet in the wind. A Red-legged Partridge posed nicely for the cameras on the verge, and we found one field over which a large flock Swallows was hawking for insects.

When we looked at the total for the day, we found we had seen or heard 99 species, including 23 different types of wader. Not a bad start – lets see how many more we can find tomorrow!

4th Sep 2018 – Migrants & More, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour up on the North Norfolk coast today. It was a different day to yesterday, cloudy all day with a fresh N wind off the Continent, which brought with it the promise of arriving migrants.

This time we made our way east along the coast. We made a quick stop at Stiffkey first. As we got out of the car, several House Martins and Swallows were hawking for insects over the trees, presumably fuelling up before heading off. We wanted to have a walk through the coastal bushes to see if anything had arrived overnight. A couple of other people had the same idea, so we agreed to keep in touch and let each other know if there was anything about.

Several Curlews and Redshanks flew up from the saltmarsh as we passed. Some small flocks of Golden Plover wheeled round further out, calling plaintively. We could hear a Greenshank too and a rasping call alerted us to a Snipe flying overhead. There were a few Little Egrets out on the saltmarsh too.

A Marsh Harrier was quartering the cordgrass beds out towards the beach and a second bird flew across the saltmarsh closer to us, flushing all the waders from the grass as it did so. A Peregrine was perched out on a sandbank in the distance – we got a better view of it through the scope.

We walked out as far as the whirligig and had a good look in the bushes, but it all seemed very quiet. We only heard a single Blackcap calling from deep in the hawthorns here. It appeared that not only had there been no new arrivals overnight but that a lot of the birds which had been here had decided to move on. We received messages to say that neither of the other two people here had seen anything so we decided to head back to the car and try something different.

Carrying on along the coast to Cley, we walked out to the hides to see if we could find any waders. We called in to Avocet Hide first. There were several ducks feeding right in front of the hide – Teal and Shoveler.

Shoveler

Shoveler – feeding right in front of Avocet Hide

There were not many waders on this scrape at first sight, but scanning carefully we found a couple of Little Ringed Plover at the back of the main island. A Green Sandpiper was calling, and following the sound, we found it hiding in the cut reeds on the far corner of the same island. A Common Snipe crept into the cut reeds in front of it and melted away into the vegetation.

Our next stop was going to be in Dauke’s Hide, but we couldn’t resist a quick look over from here at Simmond’s Scrape next door. There seemed to be more waders on there, lots of Ruff and quite a few Dunlin in particular. We found a juvenile Spotted Redshank asleep with the ducks and an Avocet on the front of the closest island. We got the scope on it and could see its dusky grey overall colouration, spotted on the wings with silvery white dots, and even though it was asleep we could see its white brow back to the eye.

Wigeon and Dunlin

Wigeon & Dunlin – spooked from Simmond’s Scrape

Then most of the birds on the scrape took off – all the Ruff and Dunlin and most of the ducks too. They whirled round over the reeds and scrapes – a small group of Wigeon flew round in front of us, with a couple of Dunlin for company. Most of the waders flew off, but the ducks returned. The Spotted Redshank woke up briefly, flashed its long, fine bill, and went back to sleep!

We found out what the culprit was – a Marsh Harrier had drifted over from the reedbed at the back, an adult male. It disappeared off over Cricket Marsh. A short while later, a juvenile Marsh Harrier did exactly the same thing, scattering everything again.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the juvenile, spooking all the birds on Simmond’s Scrape

With most of the waders gone from Simmond’s Scrape now, we decided to head round to have a look at Pat’s Pool next instead. The water level on here has gone up in the last few days – presumably they have let some more water on. Consequently, there weren’t many waders on here either. There were just some Ruff, presumably some of them come over from Simmond’s, and a few Lapwings.

While we scanned round the scrape, we kept one eye on Simmond’s to see if the waders might return, but only a few Ruff and four of the Dunlin drifted back in. A single Pintail was notable amongst the commoner ducks. We had a quick look in at Dauke’s Hide anyway, adding a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in deeper water in the far corner to the day’s list. The Spotted Redshank was still asleep! We decided to head round to the East Bank next.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but they were keeping well tucked down today. There were quite a few Meadow Pipits chasing each other round the grazing meadow the other side and we heard a Skylark too.

There were quite a few waders out on Pope’s Pool – mostly Ruff, probably including some which had flown here when they were flushed from Simmond’s Scrape. There was a Common Sandpiper too, and several Common Snipe, but there was a surprising amount of shimmer in the air which made it hard to make out any detail at that range. Thankfully, we found another Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the Serpentine, which was much easier to see.

We had a quick look in the main drain as we passed, but there was no sign of the Otter. Just a rather distant Little Grebe diving in the channel. So we carried straight on to the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of birds on Arnold’s – a large flock of waders and another of Sandwich Terns. Through the scope, we could see the waders were mainly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. In amongst them were several much smaller Dunlin and four Ringed Plovers. A small party of Curlews were roosting in the vegetation off to one side. This was where most of the waders were now hiding!

The Black-tailed Godwits were already starting to drift off back towards the reserve, in small groups, when everything erupted. We looked up to see two Hobbys shooting across the sky, one following after the other. Having sown pandemonium, they gained height and then one of them set off at speed after a Dunlin, chasing it off over Pope’s Pool, followed by the second. The Dunlin was too quick for them – they had lost the element of surprise – and the two Hobbys gave up, flying off over the reedbed towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns & Black-tailed Godwits – spooked by a pair of Hobbys

Most of the waders settled quickly back down again on Arnold’s, but some headed off back towards the reserve too. We stopped to scan through them again and about five minutes later, the Hobbys were back for another go, putting everything up again, but powering straight on through without stopping.

A distant flock of ducks caught our eye, coming in over the sea just beyond the shingle ridge. There were about forty of them, mostly Wigeon but with a few Teal mixed in, fresh arrivals from the Continent coming here for the winter, migration in action! With a moderate north wind, there had been some seabirds seen along the coast too this morning, so we thought we would have a quick look. We headed out to the beach.

As we got out to the shingle ridge, another group of six Wigeon flew past above us and four more Teal came in low over the sea. Several of the Sandwich Terns were now fishing just offshore and further out, we picked up some larger white birds flying past over the sea, Gannets. There was a steady trickle of Gannets past as we stood on the beach, and a single Fulmar. We also spotted a couple of distant groups of Common Scoter flying past, more returning migrants.

Gannets

Gannets – there was a steady trickle past over the sea

It was a bit chilly standing around in the wind out on the beach so, when someone told us the Otter had been showing earlier in the main drain, we headed back for a look. It had apparently been close to the sluice but had now swum further down the channel. We could see it in the distance, diving in the green blanket weed and we had a good look at it through the scope.

The Hobbys did yet another pass, coming in low over the grazing marsh and heading off over the reedbed, much closer this time. We didn’t know which way to look – Hobbys or Otter?!

The Otter caught an eel and climbed out onto the bank. Then it slipped back into the water and started swimming towards us. It kept diving and each time it resurfaced it was much closer. We stood quietly on the sluice and waited. It came closer and closer, before it was just a few metres from us. It came through the sparse reeds along the edge of the channel and then swam out right in front of us. We could even see the Otter still had the eel in its mouth, before it dived and the trail of bubbles disappeared through the sluice right below us! Amazing.

Otter

Otter – swam through the sluice right below us

That was a great way to end the morning, and we headed round to the visitor centre for lunch, very pleased with what we had seen. After lunch, we drove back along to the Iron Road. We were a bit disappointed to see that they had just been topping the grazing meadows with a tractor, presumably causing lots of disturbance, although the tractor driver appeared to have gone off for his lunch now.

The Iron Road pool looked quite dry and deserted, so we made our way along the path towards Babcock Hide. Several Egyptian Geese had already moved back in to the recently cut grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile from Iceland

When we got to the hide and opened the flaps, we could see lots of waders in the water just in front. Most of them appeared to be Common Redshanks but there were a couple of juvenile Black-tailed Godwits too, which had come here from Iceland where they had been raised over the summer.

There were 26 Common Redshanks together in the flock but with them was one bird which looked subtly different. It was a touch darker grey, more brightly spotted on the wings, with bright white above the lores meeting over the bill and a slightly longer and finer bill. It was another juvenile Spotted Redshank.

It was really good to see the two species side by side, particularly watching their subtly different feeding actions, the Spotted Redshank sweeping its bill more quickly and vigorously from side to side through the shallow water.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank & Common Redshanks – spot the odd one out!

As we made our way back towards the road, along the track from the hide, we happened to glimpse something dropping down by the cattle gates at the top. It could have been anything and was almost certainly nothing interesting, but just the way it flew triggered some unconscious interest. We walked up to the gates but couldn’t see anything.

The tractor had been driven away earlier and the main gate out to the road left open, so rather than walk out through the pedestrian gate at the side, we walked out towards the main road. As we did so, a bird flew out of a very small bramble just before the bridge over the ditch. It was rather pale grey-brown, probably just one of the regular House Sparrows which are often along here, but as it flew away from us down the line of the ditch it looked oddly long-tailed. As it turned and dropped into the grassy bank beside the ditch, it looked like a Wryneck.

With the group standing on the path back towards the car and one of us walking back along the road, we were hoping the bird would fly back out to the fence or one of the bramble bushes further along the ditch. But before we could all get in place, the bird took off again. It flew up several metres into the sky, circled round and headed off over the road. This time we could see it definitely was a Wryneck! Unfortunately, it flew away strongly over the field the other side and was gone.

Wryneck is a scarce visitor here, a drift migrant which only arrives if the wind is coming off the continent when it is on its way from Scandinavia down to Africa, so this was a great bird to find. And all the more so here, a totally unexpected place to see one!

With the chance that migrants were starting to arrive, we returned to the car and carried on along the coast road to Kelling. It was rather quiet as we walked along the lane towards the Water Meadow. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap both called from somewhere in the hedge, both probably local birds rather than migrants. There was no sign of anything of interest around the copse. A little flock of Linnets was in the brambles by the Water Meadow.

Linnet

Linnet – a small flock was around the Water Meadow

When we got to the cross track and could look back at the pool, we could see lots of gulls bathing and a small group loafing in the grass on the edge. There was a nice selection – mostly Black-headed Gulls, but also a few Herring Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull. There were a few ducks too, largely Teal and Shoveler, but also another lone Pintail – they are starting to return now and this is an unusual place to see one, so the two we saw today may have been fresh returnees.

We carried on along the track towards the beach, scanning the bushes and brambles to see if we could find any grounded migrants, but there was no sign of any here. A Brown Hare ran down the hillside towards us, but stopped and started to feed in the long grass. Another Brown Hare had found a sheltered spot, out of the wind, in the lee of the bushes behind the beach.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – sheltering from the wind

As we walked along the track up the hillside just behind the beach, we scanned the sea to see if anything was passing offshore. Several Sandwich Terns flew past, presumably returning from fishing further along the coast. A fairly close-in Fulmar was also notable, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting.

There were no birds around the gun emplacements but we did eventually managed to locate a rather distant Stonechat, looking out across Weybourne Camp to the radar towers. There was still no sign of any migrants here, so we started to make our way back.

As we got back to the village, we could see four Common Buzzards over the hillside beyond, where the land rises up onto the Holt-Cromer ridge. With a north wind blowing, there was presumably quite an updraft for them today and they were hanging almost completely still, seemingly effortlessly. They were playing too, two of the swooping at each other, talon grappling. We stood for a couple of minutes watching them.

It was a lovely way to end a couple of very enjoyable days spent looking for migrants and more along the coast here.

3rd Sep 2018 – Migrants & More, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour up on the North Norfolk coast today. It was mostly a nice, warm, sunny day, but there was some sea fret lingering offshore which was blown in on the moderate NE breeze, so it was a bit foggy on the coast for a couple of hours around the middle of the day.

We made our way west along the coast today – our first destination was at Titchwell. As we got out of the car, a tit flock was in the trees above us. We could see several Long-tailed Tits in the Sycamores, and hear a Coal Tit singing. There were also several  Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches with them, picking around for insects amongst the leaves.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the sycamores in the car park first thing

The overflow carpark can be a good place to look for warblers at this time of year, before it gets too busy. There were already several people walking round this morning, but we still managed to find lots of birds. We stopped by a quiet corner, and scanned the brambles, elders and hawthorns laden with berries.

A couple of Reed Warblers appeared first, one of them finding a branch in the morning sun where it stopped to preen. It is always odd to see them clambering round in bushes at this time of year. Several smart silvery grey Lesser Whitethroats clambered around after the berries – they are always much easier to see at this time of year. A rusty brown Common Whitethroat came out too, followed by several Blackcaps. There was a large flock of Goldfinches and Greenfinches up in the top of the trees, and a Song Thrush appeared briefly too.

That was a great selection of birds to start our visit here and so we headed out to the reserve. As we walked out along the main path, we could hear Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds but they were a long way out and hard to see. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the back of the reedbed.

There was nothing of note on the dried up grazing meadow pool, which is getting rather overgrown now, but as we scanned over the reeds a Sparrowhawk flew low towards us over the bare ground. It flushed several Woodpigeons, then landed briefly out of view behind the reeds at the front, before it was off again towards the trees.

The reedbed pool held a few Common Pochard and a pair of Gadwall. A Green Sandpiper flew round calling loudly, before dropping down behind the reeds, and a Common Snipe flew over too, its raspy call alerting us to its approach. A Bearded Tit zipped across over the reeds, too quick for everyone to get onto.

We stopped in at Island Hide first, to see what was on the Freshmarsh. There were lots of birds out here today – mostly ducks and waders. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope in residence for the last few days, a bird we particularly wanted to see. Scanning carefully, we found it right at back, swimming around amongst the ducks. We could see its distinctive shape, short sharp bill and white head and neck with black bandit mask.

Ruff

Ruff – the adults now almost entirely in their non-breeding plumage

There was a great selection of other waders on here too today. The first thing we noticed on the mud in front of the hide were all the Ruff, the adults now mostly in their drab grey-brown and white non-breeding plumage. A huge mass of godwits spread across the middle of the scrape, a mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. The latter had probably come in from the beach to roost, ahead of the rising tide, and we could see several of them were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage.

Scanning through all the godwits, we could see a few much smaller Knot and Dunlin mixed in with them. There was a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper too. When it was asleep, its clean white belly and brighter supercilium set it apart from the Dunlin nearby. When it woke up, we could see its longer, more downcurved bill.

A single Spotted Redshank was lurking in the deeper water right at the back, against the reeds. We could hear a Greenshank calling and looked across the scrape to see three land briefly on the edge of one of the islands. There are still quiet a few Avocets here too, and a Ringed Plover appeared briefly on the mud. A large flock of Golden Plover circled over and dropped down onto the islands. Every so often, all the waders would take off and whirl round as a Marsh Harrier drifted high over the scrape.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbill – the last of the 21 to arrive

The tide was obviously rising now out on the saltmarsh, as the Spoonbills started to appear, flying in from where they had been feeding. First a pair landed out on the Freshmarsh, an adult pursued by its offspring, demanding to be fed – the ‘little beggar’. This was followed almost immediately by another big group of eighteen. Another loner arrived shortly afterwards, taking us to 21 Spoonbills in total. They landed out in the middle of the Freshmarsh at first, but were quickly spooked by a passing Marsh Harrier and disappeared round the back of Avocet Island out of view.

As we made our way round to Parrinder Hide next, we could already see patches of sea fret in the distance beyond. As we sat in the hide, the fog started to blow in over the Freshmarsh. It was rather eerie, looking at all the birds shrouded in fog.

Fog

Waders in the fog – from Parrinder Hide

Despite the fog, we could still see quite a few birds from the hide. Two Pink-footed Geese were feeding just in front with a single Greylag. The Pink-footed Geese are both birds which have been here all summer, unable to migrate back to Iceland for the summer due to broken wings.

A couple of Snipe were feeding on the edge of the fenced-off island, probing their beaks vigorously into the mud. A Common Sandpiper finished bathing in edge of water, and walked up onto the stony edge of the island to preen.

Given the fog, we were not sure whether or not it would be worth walking out to the beach. At least the fog did seem to be coming and going. As we looked out from the other side of Parrinder Hide, the visibility seemed to improve a bit. The tide was fairly high now, and much of the Volunteer Marsh was under water. We could see a couple of small groups of Curlew roosting in the taller vegetation and one Curlew feeding just below the hide. Several Common Redshanks and three Little Egrets were out on the mud.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

We decided to continue on, out to the Tidal Pools first. At the back of the pool just beyond the bank, we could see lots more Common Redshanks, with two Greenshanks asleep nearby. Further on, more waders were roosting on the larger island over high tide. We could see lots of Oystercatchers, and a long line of Turnstones, some still in the remains of their brighter summer plumage. There were several Grey Plover too, most of them still in breeding plumage too – we could see their black faces despite them being asleep and facing away from us, into the wind.

There were still wisps of fog blowing in, as we made it to the beach. We looked up to see a Grey Heron flying high in off the sea. It circled over the back of the beach, presumably a migrants coming in from the continent. There were a few Sandwich Terns feeding just offshore, and a little party of Sanderlings on the edge of the sea, with a Turnstone and a Dunlin for company.

Sanderling

Sanderling – one of a small party feeding along the shoreline

As we started to walk back, two juvenile Common Terns circled over the Tidal Pools. We stopped again at the Freshmarsh for a quick scan, as another small flock of Dunlin dropped in out on the mud. But we were then told that there were two Garganey and a Great White Egret round on Patsy’s Reedbed, so we decided to head round there quickly first, before lunch.

As we made our way round via Meadow Trail, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler sub-singing in the trees by the dragonfly pool – good to hear, as we lost so many of them in the cold winter weather earlier in the year. Otherwise, the trees were quiet, so we made our way quickly round to Patsy’s.

When we arrived at Patsy’s, the first thing we saw was the Great White Egret. It was hard to miss, a large white bird as big as a heron with a long, dagger-shaped yellow bill! We had a good look at it through the scope, stalking slowly through the shallows at the back. It had earlier been seen on the saltmarsh at Thornham Point, and then flying off over towards Brancaster, so it had presumably come in to here to feed over high tide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – on Patsy’s Reedbed

There was a great selection of ducks on Patsy’s too today. As well as the usual Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal, there were a few Wigeon. One of the Garganey was busily upending at the back, but we occasionally got a look at its strongly marked face pattern. There were several Common Pochard and a single Tufted Duck too, and two female Red-crested Pochard eventually emerged from the reeds.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and eventually spotted a male working its way slowly round the base of the reeds along the back edge of the pool. We got it in the scope, and could see its powder blue/grey head and black moustaches.

Then it was time to head back to the picnic area for a late lunch. While we were eating, we heard news that a Pied Flycatcher had been seen over at Holme, so after lunch we decided to head over there to see if we could find any migrants.

There were several butterflies out on the seawall in the afternoon sunshine – Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Heath. A big group of Swallows were hawking for insects low over the saltmarsh beyond, feeding up before heading off south to Africa for the winter.

We headed round to check out the paddocks first, to see what we could find. A Chiffchaff calling loudly and incessantly from the pines by the first house was potentially a good sign, but after that it was quiet apart from lots of House Sparrows in the brambles.

A small dove flew across the paddocks behind us and we turned to see it was short-tailed and flashed a white belly as it banked. It was a Turtle Dove. It flew out across the saltmarsh and dropped down into the low dunes just behind the beach. A nice bonus!

A little further on, we heard Long-tailed Tits calling and found a flock feeding in some bushes by the path. As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue Tits and several warblers – at least three Lesser Whitethroats, two Common Whitethroats, a Blackcap and a few Chiffchaffs. As they disappeared out across the paddocks, we got a good look at the silvery grey Lesser Whitethroats in particular.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – there were several warblers with the tit flock in the paddocks

The Pied Flycatcher had been seen earlier round by the entrance track, so we headed over and checked out the trees. We found the same tit flock again, the other side of the paddocks, but there was no sign of anything else. Presumably the flycatcher was a fresh arrival and had moved on in search of somewhere better to feed.

We were then told there were some Whinchats in the dunes, so we continued along the coastal path towards the reserve. A Whimbrel flew past calling, high over the beach somewhere, but we couldn’t see it from where we were. Eight Spoonbills flew past too, easier to see than the Whimbrel, possibly birds from the flock we had seen earlier at Titchwell, now heading out to feed on the falling tide.

Spoonbills 3

Spoonbills – these eight flew over us at Holme

When we arrived in the dunes, there was no sign of the Whinchats at first – it seemed rather quiet. But searching carefully, we came across a couple of Common Whitethroats and then found three juvenile Stonechats. We figured the Whinchats must surely not be far away and, scanning the tops of the bushes, we found at least two perched up. We had a good look at them through the scope – buffier and more orangey than the darker, rusty Stonechats and with a much more obvious pale supercilium.

We might have set off into the dunes for a closer look, but with one of the group still recovering from a broken ankle, we decided to save our energy for tomorrow. Hopefully it will be another exciting day!