Monthly Archives: October 2018

28th Oct 2018 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was much better weather today – mostly bright, even sunny at times, though with one or two squally showers we mostly managed to miss and cold in the still blustery NE wind.

With the wind coming in off the continent overnight, we headed down to Wells Woods first, so see what it might have brought us. As we passed the boating lake, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water and one seemed to be laughing at us (their call sounds like mad laughter!).

Armed with a tip off about a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler a short distance along the track, we went to look for it. As we walked along, we could hear the teezing calls of Redwings and the chucking of Blackbirds in the bushes. A large flock of Redpolls, 40-50 strong, flew out of the birches by the boating lake and circled overhead. We could hear the Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deep in a large sallow clump as we approached, but it was immediately clear it would be a devil to see here.

Walking into the trees, round the back of the sallows, we flushed tons of Blackbirds and Redwings – there had clearly been a sizeable arrival of them overnight, birds arriving from the continent for the winter. There were Redpolls in the trees here too, and we watched several rich brown-toned Lesser Redpolls as they dropped out of the birches and into a large hawthorn in front of us.

Round by the Dell, we could hear tits calling in the trees – Blue, Great and Coal Tits, but surprisingly no Long-tailed Tits with them. There were Goldcrests everywhere here, flicking about in the trees, low down in the briars, in every bush. There had clearly been a big arrival of Goldcrests too – amazing to think that these tiny birds, weighing about the same as a 20p piece, can make it all the way across the North Sea.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – there had clearly been a big arrival overnight

There is a more open area, with lots of hawthorns, which is normally good for thrushes when they have just come in, but it was disappointingly quiet today. With the bright weather, there were lots of people out walking in the woods this morning and lots of dogs running round, so perhaps they had all been flushed from here already.

Making our way back into the birches, we managed to locate a second Yellow-browed Warbler, even though it wasn’t calling. This time we got a good look at it, flitting around in the branches of the trees. We could see its striking pale supercilium and two pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we managed to get a good look at the second one this morning

Yellow-browed Warblers are very much an expected feature of autumn in here these days, but amazing to think these small birds make it all the way here from their breeding groups over towards the Urals, on their way south for the winter. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the trees here too.

Continuing on towards the drinking pool, the trees by the path here were also full of Goldcrests. But the bushes round the drinking pool itself were quiet. While we walked through, we did hear a Crossbill calling and looked up to see a nice red male flying over the tops of the pines, disappearing off east. Having only had brief views of them earlier, we decided to head back and see if we could get a better look at the Redpolls next. Several Siskins flew back and forth overhead calling on the way.

Approaching the Dell meadow, someone waved to call us over and told us that a Barn Owl had been hunting over the grass. We stood for a minute and looked, but there was no sign of it now. However, we did see a couple of people walk out of the trees at the far side, and stop to look up into the birches above them. We could see they were looking at a small group of Redpolls, so we walked over to join them.

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll – small and rather rich brown in colouration

The five or six Redpolls closest to us, lower down in the front of the birch, were obvious Lesser Redpolls. They are smaller and darker, more richly coloured, tawny brown on the back with a brighter brown wash on the breast. The three Redpolls higher up were larger and paler. They were mostly facing us and we assumed at first they were all Mealy Redpolls, migrants from further north in Scandinavia.

One of the paler Redpolls was lurking deeper in the branches, so we concentrated on looking at the others first. Then the third bird turned and we could see it looked rather pale frosty above, buff and white-toned on the back rather than grey-brown. It also appeared to have a rather bright white wingbar too.

It climbed higher up and came out where we could get a better look at it. It was face on to us again, but it did look very pale, with more limited streaking on the flanks than the neighbouring Mealy Redpoll and with a pale creamy, chamois wash on the face and breast. It found a catkin to feed on and hung on it above us – we could see the white feathers underneath looked thick and densely padded and it had just a single, narrow dark streak in the middle of its undertail coverts.

Surely it was an Arctic Redpoll? We trained the scope on it, hoping it would turn and we might see the diagnostic white rump. It fed for a minute or two, hanging on the catkin, but then something spooked it and it disappeared into the trees. It looked good, but without seeing the rump, we just didn’t have enough to be 100% sure.

Arctic Redpoll

Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – it’s identity was confirmed the following day

We waited a while to see if the Redpolls would return to the birches where they had been feeding. We were rewarded with the Barn Owl, which reappeared, and started quartering the meadow in front of us. Great views in the sunshine! It landed in one of the trees for a few minutes, where we could get it in the scope, before resuming the hunt.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the Dell Meadow

The Barn Owl flew back into the trees and landed in an area of sparser birches. It seemed to be looking down into the grass below, looking for prey – an unusual place for a Barn Owl to hunt. Then it disappeared on through the trees.

A couple of Bramblings appeared in the tops of the birches, along with one or two Redwings. Two Lesser Redpolls chased through the trees and appeared to go down to drink, but there was no sign of any more Redpolls coming back to feed on the edge. We could still hear them feeding in the tops of the denser birches beyond, but apart from seeing the odd one or two at any time, they were impossible to get a good look at in here.

Postscript – it felt like that would be the end of the story, as we decided to move on. However, on Monday morning, after several hours chasing round after the Redpoll flock, we were able to confirm that there was indeed at least one Coues’s Arctic Redpoll in with them. A nice post-tour confirmation and a great late addition to the day’s list!

As we walked back to the car, the Barn Owl was still hunting, flying around between the trees where the wood is a bit more open. A pair of Bullfinches also perched up briefly in the hawthorns, piping to each other plaintively, before disappearing in.

From Wells, we headed west to Holme. As we got out of the car by the golf course, we could hear Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds calling in the trees. A Fieldfare tchacked noisily too and a steady stream of small flocks of Starlings flew overhead, on their way west. All fresh arrivals from the continent, coming in for the winter.

As we walked out over the golf course, it was very busy – lots of people, and lots of dogs, out enjoying the morning sunshine. We were hoping to find a small group of Shorelarks, which has been feeding on the beach here, but with so much disturbance, it didn’t look promising.

When we got up to the top of the beach, we stopped to scan the sea. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water and a winter-plumage Red-throated Diver was diving as it made its way east just off the beach. There were lots of waders on the wet sand – Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Turnstones. Two Ringed Plovers flew past.

There were some threatening dark clouds just offshore, although they looked like they might miss us. Just in case, we thought we should have a quick look for the Shorelarks now. As they had apparently been feeding that way yesterday, we set off east along the high tideline. As we walked past, several Rock Pipits and Skylarks came up from the saltmarsh just behind the beach. It started to spit with rain briefly, which at least had the advantage of encouraging most of the other people to head back in for cover!

We hadn’t gone too far before we found the Shorelarks, feeding on the top of the beach some distance ahead of us. They were heading away, but we stopped and had a quick look at them through the scope. We were planning to try to walk up a little closer, but before we had a chance they took off and flew towards us. They came right over us, calling softly, and landed on the beach back where we had just been. There were six of them – an extra two, as only four had been reported earlier.

Shorelark

Shorelark – there were six at Holme today

We walked back and found the Shorelarks feeding on the tideline in a sandy slack in the dunes. We got them in the scope, and had some good views. We could see their yellow faces and black bandit masks and collars. A walker came along the shoreline and flushed them, but the Shorelarks flew towards us and landed even closer, even better views. They fed here for a few minutes and they were off again. flying off along the beach behind us.

It was time for lunch, so we headed round to Titchwell and made use of the picnic tables, out of the wind. Afterwards, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders by the visitor centre held just a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but we could hear Bramblings calling in the alders by the main path. We looked up to see two Bramblings feeding above us. There was a tit flock working its way through the trees here too, but we couldn’t find anything different in with the tits.

The dried-up Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was fairly devoid of life – just a single Redshank and a Pheasant. The reedbed pool held just a few Coots and Mallards today, so we continued quickly on to Island Hide. Just before we got to the access ramp, we looked down at the mud in the corner below the path and noticed a Grey Wagtail feeding on the edge of the water. They are not common here, so this was presumably a migrant stopping off on its way.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding on the mud by Island Hide

From the shelter of Island Hide, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh. A winter adult Ruff was feeding on the mud just outside the hide, next to an adult Dunlin still moulting out of breeding plumage, still sporting a rather spotty black belly patch. There were more Dunlin and Ruff on the islands further back.

Ruff

Ruff – an adult in non-breeding plumage

There were still five Avocets on here today. A small number normally try to stay through the winter, while most of the other decide to head south instead. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits too, mostly asleep on the islands. Two Golden Plover were tucked in on the edge of the vegetation but were spooked when all the ducks took off and flew off.

There are plenty of ducks on here now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, as more return from their northern breeding grounds . More of the drake Teal are emerging from eclipse now and regaining their smart breeding plumage. The drake Wigeon on average are a little behind them. The Brent Geese are returning too, as we saw yesterday, and small groups kept dropping in to the Freshmarsh to drink or bathe, from the saltmarsh beyond.

Teal

Teal – many of the drakes are getting back into their smart breeding plumage now

A sharp call alerted to an incoming pipit, but we were in the other part of the hide so didn’t see it come in. We eventually found it, feeding along the edge of the reeds to the side of the hide. Normally we might expect it to be a Water Pipit on here, but this was a Rock Pipit, rather oily brown above and heavily streaked and blotched below. A Water Rail put in a brief appearance next to it, but quickly disappeared back into the reeds. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed.

The wind picked up as a squally shower came in off the sea. It mostly missed us, passing inland to the west, but it did rain for a few minutes. We sat it out in the hide. Once it had cleared through, we decided to head round towards Parrinder Hide for a change of scene, but once we got up onto the main path the wind had dropped a bit too and it looked OK ahead of us, so we continued straight out towards the beach.

As we walked past Volunteer Marsh, a couple of close Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the channel just below the bank. There were more Redshanks on the mud in the wider channel at the far end, along with a single Grey Plover which we got in the scope.

When we got to the beach, the tide was out but we stopped on the edge of the dunes to scan the sea. We could see a line of Common Scoter flying way out in front of the wind turbines and a couple of juvenile Gannets making their way past, but otherwise the sea was quite choppy and we couldn’t see much out on the water.

There were lots of waders out on the mussel beds – mostly Oystercatchers, Curlew and godwits. A Marsh Harrier drifted along the shoreline and over the mussel beds, causing pandemonium and flushing waders. Even though the wind had dropped a bit, it was still breezy and cold out here, so we decided to head back to shelter.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide. With the clocks having gone back last night, it was getting dark early today and the gulls were already gathering to roost. We had a good look through them, to see if anything different had come in, but all we could see were the usual Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

A couple of geese walked across in front of the hide – a single Pink-footed Goose following a lone Greylag, giving a nice comparison. The Pink-footed Goose was one of the two injured birds, with a mangled wing, which has been here all year, though there was no sign of the second today. A flock of Golden Plovers, circled over calling and dropped down onto the mud amongst the ducks.

It was time to start heading back now. As we walked back along the path, a Cetti’s Warbler was practicing its song from the bushes in the reedbed, nice to hear them back as the population here was devastated by the cold weather earlier in the year. We had seen small flock of Starlings flying west all day, but now a huge flock of at least 1,000 birds came over and disappeared on west.

As we got back to the trees, there seemed to be a burst of activity as Blackbirds and thrushes started spiralling up out of the trees. They circled overhead, seemingly getting their bearings, before heading off into the gathering gloom. Having rested up here for the day, they were now looking to continue on their journey. An amazing thing to watch.

As we made our way back, there was one last surprise in store. A shape on the roof of a barn, silhouetted against the last of the light, caught our eye. A quick U-turn confirmed it was a Little Owl. We stopped and wound down the windows. It dropped into a roof vent but stayed perched half in where we could see it watching us. A lovely end to the day and en exciting Autumn weekend.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a barn at dusk on our way back

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27th Oct 2018 – Autumn Weekend, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was a wet and windy day, with a cold and gusty northerly bringing squally showers in off the North Sea. Perfect seawatching weather – but we had a few other things we wanted to try to do today as well.

With seawatching in mind, we made our way over to Sheringham first thing. It was a big tide this morning and with the strong north wind, the waves were crashing over the prom. It meant we couldn’t get along the prom to the shelter, so we had to drive round to the other side, and it also meant there were already a lot of people taking shelter here. We managed to find a spot out of the wind and settled in to scan the sea.

It was immediately clear there was a lot of wildfowl moving this morning, birds arriving from the continent, coming in over the North Sea to spend the winter here. We saw a steady stream of flocks of Wigeon and Teal flying past, mostly low over the waves. A couple of groups of Common Scoter coming past further out, and then some flew through with a group of Teal, providing a nice size and colour contrast.

The Brent Geese are arriving for the winter too at the moment, flying in short lines, and there were a small number of Shelducks, sometimes mixed in with them. Two Goldeneye flying past were the wildfowl highlight.

There was a steady movement of commoner seabirds passing by this morning too – mostly Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillemots, blown inshore by the wind. Two dark juvenile Arctic Skuas came through reasonably close and disappeared off east. A single Manx Shearwater was too far out for everyone to get onto. A Great Northern Diver flew west, typically flying strongly well above the waves, despite the wind. But there was no sign of any Pomarine Skuas or Little Auks while we were watching, which we had thought we might see this morning.

There are always a small number of Purple Sandpipers along the shoreline here through the winter and a much larger number of Turnstones. The Turnstones will often run along the prom but the Purple Sandpipers are normally down on the rocks below. However, the crashing waves were obviously too much even for the hardy Purple Sandpiper today, and a couple of times it was pushed up onto the prom in front of us. When it flew back down onto the rocks, we had a good look at it over the railings.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – on the rocks just below the Prom

We only spent an hour seawatching this morning, then with other things we wanted to try to see, we decided to move on. As we drove west along the coast road, we could see a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a stubble field. We found somewhere to pull in and would down the windows. The geese nearest us flew up and settled again towards the back of the field, out of view, but it was clear we couldn’t get out of the car without flushing the rest of the flock. We could still see quite a few geese from the car, but most of them were hidden now in a dip in the field.

There were several Red-legged Partridges feeding in the stubble too, and we heard Skylarks calling as we opened the windows. A couple of smart Yellowhammers perched in the hedge nearby, calling..

Continuing on to Salthouse, we parked by the duck pond. As we got out of the car, a Woodcock shot past. It felt like it might almost have crashed into us, but veered round, over the road and into the gardens beyond. Another bird arriving from the winter, possibly from as far away as Russia, presumably fresh in and looking for somewhere sheltered to rest. Several Black-tailed Godwits were standing around in the pools behind the duck pond.

There has been an ‘Eastern’ Stonechat here for the last week or so, which we were keen to see. As we walked down along the track, we could see quite a crowd gathered already, but they didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular, mostly standing around chatting. Apparently the Stonechat had not been seen for the last 15 minutes – it was clearly keeping down out of the wind today.

We walked up to where it had last been seen and scanned the edge of the grazing marsh, but couldn’t see any sign of it. Then we walked back to where it had been favouring in previous days, out from one of the field gates. It wasn’t out there either, but scanning back along the reedy ditch which runs beside the path, we spotted the Stonechat down in the vegetation.

It was obviously more sheltered down in the ditch but you could only see the Stonechat looking back from the gate and it kept disappearing into the reeds. When it did finally venture out onto the edge of the grazing marsh where it was more visible, a Sparrowhawk promptly appeared just beyond it, flying out low over the grass. The Stonechat sensibly dived back into the reeds, but then went made its way further back along the ditch away from us, where we couldn’t see it.

About half the group had managed to see the Stonechat, but there was a big crowd by the gate so not everyone had got onto it. Climbing up onto the top of the bank, we walked along level with where it had been. After a few minutes scanning, we spotted it again out in the middle of the grazing marsh this time.

The Stonechat was well camouflaged against the dead sedges, shades of orange and brown. But the wind seemed to have dropped, and it became more active, perching up on the top of the vegetation like a good Stonechat should! Finally, we all got nice views of it through the scope.

Stejneger's Stonechat

‘Eastern’ Stonechat – this photo taken yesterday, hopefully DNA will confirm its identity

‘Eastern’ Stonechat is the name currently being used for a group of species, including Siberian and Stejneger’s Stonechats, both of which can turn up here. It used to be much simpler, as they were all lumped together under the title ‘Siberian’, but DNA analysis has shown Stejneger’s to be distinct from Siberian and it is now treated as a full species in its own right. Unfortunately, our ability to identify these birds in the field has not kept up with the pace of taxonomic change driven by genetics!

The Salthouse Stonechat appears to be a Stejneger’s Stonechat – at least it looks similar to Stejneger’s Stonechats which have been confirmed by DNA testing recently. Hopefully, DNA has been collected and will be able to confirm it’s identity. If it is not Stejneger’s, then it will be back to the drawing board with the ID criteria!

Either way, it is an interesting and well travelled bird. ‘Eastern’ Stonechats breed across Russia to Japan and China, mostly wintering on the Indian subcontinent, with the range of Stejneger’s being further east than Siberian.

Once we had all enjoyed good views of the Stonechat, we drove on to Cley and stopped at the Visitor’s Centre for an early lunch. There were lots of birds on the scrapes and, with the wind having dropped a bit, we could even eat at the picnic tables overlooking the reserve.

A Marsh Harrier drifted across the scrapes, causing a mass panic, flushing  lots of Black-tailed Godwit and Wigeon. Thankfully, as it drifted off, the birds all seemed to settle back down. Two Lesser Redpoll flew over calling and eight Golden Plover circled over. The surprise here was a Gannet circling over the fields behind the Visitor Centre, presumably blown inland on the wind.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled over the scrapes, flushing everything

After lunch, we could see black clouds approaching from the north, so we decided to head out to the hides, where we could get some shelter. As we walked along the Skirts path, a Spoonbill flew past over the reserve. Most of the Spoonbills which spent the summer here have departed now, with many of them heading down to Poole Harbour for the winter. There are only one or two still lingering on, so it was nice to see one today. It circled over the scrapes and looked like it might land, but then continue on east.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew east as we walked out to the hides

By the time we got out to Dauke’s Hide and looked out, we were surprised by the comparative lack of birds, particularly compared to the masses we had seen when we were eating lunch. Talking to one of the volunteers in the hide, it seems the Marsh Harriers had made several more passes over the scrapes and eventually succeeded in scaring off most of the birds. We could still see a couple of Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbed in the distance.

There were still a few waders left. A couple of little groups of Dunlin were picking around on the muddy edges of the islands. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water. The Lapwing were mostly asleep on the grass and a lone Avocet was standing in the water behind one of the islands. Like the Spoonbills, most of the Avocets have gone south now for the winter, but a very small number always try to remain as long as it doesn’t get too cold. A Common Snipe dropped in at back, but quickly disappeared into grass.

Avocet

Avocet – just the one left at Cley now

There were still a few ducks left on the scrapes too, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shelduck. The Black-headed Gulls were joined by a couple of Common Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull was asleep on one of the grassy islands. The Spoonbill came back west and headed off towards Blakeney Harbour.

While we were in the hide, it started to rain, so we stayed in the dry until it eventually eased. Then we headed back to the car, and drove round to the East Bank car park. As we got a short distance up the bank, it started to sleet, so heads down, we walked quickly up to the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh.

The forecast was for heavy showers, but the weather seemed to set in for a while now. There was lots of water already on Arnold’s Marsh, which was good for the ducks, presumably with many coming over here when they were flushed from the scrapes. There were lots of Wigeon and Teal again, but with a few Shoveler here too. Scanning through carefully, we found a female Pintail and four Gadwall in with them. A group of Brent Geese dropped in, possibly fresh arrivals stopping for a rest. With the high water levels, the Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the tall vegetation around the edges.

We had been told about two Snow Buntings feeding at the end of the bank, by the beach. When the rain finally eased again, we walked up to look for them but as we arrived we could see two walkers had just come up off the beach and gone right through the area. There was no sign of any Snow Buntings, presumably having been flushed.

We set off east along the grassy part of the old shingle ridge, but there was no sign of them along here. When we got back to the East Bank,  the Snow Buntings flew up from the shingle ahead of us, presumably having flown back in. They landed back on the north end of the path just a few metres ahead of us and we had nice views of them as they fed on amongst the stones, picking around the clusters of vegetation. They were looking a bit bedraggled, but we were probably too!

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – out on the beach, looking a bit bedraggled

While we were watching the Snow Buntings, we noticed a large dark bird drifting west right past us, with the gulls over the beach. It was a Pomarine Skua. We watched it as it hung in the wind – we could see it was heavy, bulky, especially compared the Arctic Skuas we had seen earlier. It landed on the beach and we could just about see it in the scope from here through the sea spray, so we walked over for a closer look.

After we had all had a good look at the Pomarine Skua in the scope, it took off and flew further west again. It looked like it went down towards the beach car park, so we  decided to head back to the car and drive round there to see if we could find it again.

As we walked back along the East Bank, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a small skein coming in from the east. They came in overhead and dropped down towards the reserve. Four Marsh Harriers were already gathering to roost out over the reeds.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Geese – flying in to the reserve, late afternoon

By the time we got round to the beach car park at Cley, the Pomarine Skua had taken off and gone further west again. Looking out to sea, there were still lots of Kittiwakes & and Gannets pouring past. Lines of Brent Geese were still moving west offshore too.

We were just about to leave when someone seawatching there shouted that there were two Little Auks on the sea. They were in the surf just offshore, drifting west towards us, but despite being close they were still hard to see in the crashing waves. We managed to get the scope on them, and you could see them as they rode up the face of the waves.

They seemed to swim a bit further out and we lost sight of the Little Auks. Then we noticed a Great Black-backed Gull drop down into the breakers, followed by three more. When they came up again, one of them was carrying a Little Auk in its bill! We didn’t see what happened to the second one, but Little Auks are always vulnerable when they are blown in by gales. They breed in the Arctic and spend the rest of their lives far out at sea, away from predators like gulls. They are often exhausted when they are close inshore and easy pickings for the gulls.

That was a fairly gruesome end to our seawatching today – nature red in tooth and claw! We still had one more stop to make on our way back. With the blustery wind and rain, the Peregrine was in its usual spot on the sheltered side of the church tower, tucked in an alcove between the stone pillars. We stopped and had a nice look at it through the scope.

Peregrine

Peregrine – tucked in out of the wind, on the south side of the tower

We had done well today, despite the wind and rain. The weather forecast is a bit better for tomorrow, so let’s see what the wind had brought us!

14th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

Day 4 of a four-day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was meant to rain all day today and, although it was wet at times, it was nowhere near as bad as we might have feared based on the forecast. The wind was very light in the morning, but swung round to the north and picked up a bit more in the afternoon.

With the forecast of rain, we headed over to Cley first thing, so we could take shelter in the hides. But when we got there, it wasn’t raining, so we decided to make the most of it and drove round to the beach first.

As we walked along the shingle, a large flock of Linnets came out of the weedy vegetation the other side of the fence accompanied by Goldfinches and followed by a number of Meadow Pipits. We were looking for a Snow Bunting, which had been here for a few days, but there was no sign of it with these other birds here.

Continuing on to where the vegetation grows out over the open shingle, we walked through amongst the sparse tall weeds around the edge. A couple of Skylarks came up from the edge of the grass and disappeared off towards the Eye Field, and then a Wheatear flew out and landed on a lump of concrete on the beach. It was looking rather bedraggled, presumably from the wet vegetation, and stood there watching us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this bedraggled individual was feeding out on the edge of the beach

Just a couple of metres further along, we noticed something moving on the shingle right in front of us, as we almost trod on the Snow Bunting. It was feeding quietly on the top of the beach, where some low weeds were growing through the stones. Snow Buntings are often very tame, coming from places where they probably are not used to seeing people, and this one was very accommodating. It was a male, but rather dark grey and brown, an Icelandic Snow Bunting of the insulae subspecies.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – feeding quietly on the top of the shingle ridge

A large flock of Ringed Plover flew round over the sea and landed back on the beach some distance further up ahead of us. Looking through the scopes, we could see there were a few Dunlin with them too, but the birds were remarkably hard to see on the stones and part of the flock was hidden from view over a rise in the beach.

There was quite a bit of activity over the rather calm sea this morning, so we stood for a while and scanned out over the water. A steady stream of Gannets came past, mostly flying east, a variety of different colours and ages, from dark grey-brown juveniles, to the white adults with black-tipped wings, and various stages in between.

Gannet

Gannet – several dark grey juveniles were among those flying past

Several Red-throated Divers were swimming on the water and we had a closer look at both an adult still mostly in breeding plumage and one already in grey and white winter attire. A Shag flew west along the shoreline, past us.

At this time of year, birds are arriving from the continent for the winter and there was a nice selection of wildfowl coming in over the sea today. A steady stream of small lines of Brent Geese flew past low over the sea, coming back from their breeding grounds in Russia, and we saw several flocks of Wigeon and Teal too. Two Red-breasted Mergansers flew past just off the beach together with a couple of Teal and a few Common Scoter went past further out.

Looking inland, a Marsh Harrier was standing down on the short grass on the edge of North Scrape, but there didn’t seem to be much else on there today. A Common Snipe and two Redshank were feeding on Billy’s Wash. Remarkably, the rain was still holding off – despite it being forecast to rain all morning – so we thought we would push our luck and head round to the East Bank for a walk. A pair of Grey Seals was bobbing in the water just off the beach, watching the people walking past, as we made our way back to the car.

The East Bank car park was quite full, so we parked at Walsey Hills instead. We stopped to have a look at Snipe’s Marsh first. We could see a Little Egret feeding on the mud amongst the cut reeds, but there didn’t appear to be any waders here at first. However, a careful scan around the edges eventually produced the hoped for Jack Snipe, well spotted by one of the group, asleep in the reeds on one side.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – showed well, sleeping on the edge of reeds

We had a good look at the Jack Snipe through the scope. It woke up at one point and we could see its bill, thicker and shorter than a Common Snipe. We could also see the distinctive head pattern. A Water Rail ran across the mud the other side but disappeared into the reeds before anyone could get onto it. Helpfully it re-emerged a little later and walked back the other way.

There seemed to be some smaller birds on the move this morning, and we could hear Chaffinches calling overhead as we stood by Snipe’s Marsh. One or two Bramblings gave their wheezy calls too. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from time to time from the reeds and a Bullfinch was calling over by North Foreland wood.

There looked to be some darker clouds approaching now, so we decided to have a quick look in the trees at Walsey Hills. As we walked along the footpath, we could hear Robins and a Chiffchaff calling. We had been lucky with the weather up until now but at this point it finally started to rain. We walked up to the top to have a look in the trees, but beat a hasty retreat.

It was time to head for the hides and get out of the weather. Having been to the Visitor Centre to get our permits, we walked quickly out along the boardwalk and straight into Dauke’s Hide. As soon as we got inside, someone very kindly pointed out a Kingfisher, which was perched down on the mud right in front.

The Kingfisher was wrestling with a stickleback. It had dropped it on the mud, but hopped down and picked it up and proceeded to beat it against the small mound it was standing on. It dropped it again and stood looking down at it, before finally picking it up once more and eating it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – was wrestling with a stickleback on the mud in front of the hide

We enjoyed stunning views of the Kingfisher – it kept coming closer to the hide, perching on a post in the channel just in front. Eventually, it flew off up the channel but a few minutes later it was back again on its favourite post.

Dragging our attention away from the Kingfisher, we noticed a Little Stint with ten Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape. It was hard to see properly from Dauke’s, particularly to get an angle for the scopes, so we hurried round to Avocet Hide for a closer look. The Little Stint was noticeably smaller than the accompanying Dunlin, with a shorter bill and cleaner white underparts.

Little Stints have been thin on the ground this autumn. The passage of juveniles through here way outnumbers adults, so it could be that they have had a poor breeding season, or perhaps just the persistent westerlies mean that the numbers reaching here have been low. Either way, it was nice to catch up with one today.

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile with 10 Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape

The Dunlin and Little Stint were spooked by something and flew back across to Simmond’s Scrape, so we went back round to Dauke’s Hide. The Kingfisher had disappeared, but a Water Rail was now running around down in front of the hide, giving great views.

There were a few other waders out on Simmond’s Scrape today, including a Curlew, and a couple of Ringed Plovers. A flock of Golden Plover dropped in. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool.

There are lots of ducks back for the winter already, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. Looking through them carefully, we found a single Pintail, a drake starting to moult out of eclipse plumage. There was a big RSPB group in Dauke’s Hide today, so there was nowhere for us to sit. They had given up looking at the birds though and had settled in to eat their lunch. Eventually, all the loud discussions about double cherry bakewells and their different home made chutneys started to make us hungry, so we decided to head somewhere more appropriate to eat our lunch. Thankfully, the rain had now stopped again.

The shelter round at the beach car park was the perfect spot, out of the wind, which had now swung round to the north. After lunch, we had a quick look out at the sea. There were still lots of Gannets moving, plus one or two plunge diving just offshore now. Several Sandwich Terns were patrolling up and down. A Razorbill flew past, and a Guillemot was diving, out on the sea just off the beach.

There had apparently been an arrival of Blackbirds and Robins overnight, with a few seen around Cley first thing, so we thought we would see if there was any sign of activity down at Kelling Water Meadow. However, the lane was disappointingly quiet, just a few Chaffinches in the trees. Perhaps it had been too disturbed during the morning to hold anything here. There were lots of Pheasants in the fields, and Red-legged Partridges calling – this is a shooting estate after all. Rooks and Jackdaws were flying around the trees or on the hillside beyond the Water Meadow.

Down at the pool, the first thing we noticed were the gulls. There were quite a few Black-headed Gulls, but one young bird immediately stood out. It was a young Mediterranean Gull, a 1st winter. Continuing down to the corner for a better look, we found another two Mediterranean Gulls on here as well, a second 1st winter and also a 2nd winter. There were a few Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – one of three immatures on the Water Meadow this afternoon

It was rather exposed when we got out of the shelter of the lane, and it was spitting with rain again. With the lack of any obvious sign of any migrants, we decided to head somewhere more sheltered.

On our way back west, we had a look up at the church tower and could see the Peregrine back again. It didn’t look particularly happy though, facing in to the wall and hunched up, presumably sheltering from wind & drizzle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – eventually it even turned its head to look round.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower, sheltering from the wind & rain

Wells Woods seemed like a good place to finish, where we could get out of the northerly breeze. Several Little Grebes were diving out on the boating lake as we passed. We made our way in and up to the Dell, before we came to a tit flock. One of the first birds we got our binoculars on was a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was feeding in a small birch and we all managed to get a good look at it. A Goldcrest flew into one of the low bushes right next to us to feed, giving us a chance to appreciate just how small they are.

Their glipping calls alerted us to some Common Crossbills in the pines and we quickly realised they were right above our heads. We watched them flying down to the lower branches to find cones, before taking them higher up to deal with. They have been rather few and far between over the last year or so here, so it was great to see them and quite well.

Crossbill

Common Crossbill – feeding above our heads in the pines by the Dell

We followed the tit flock as it made its way through the trees for a few mins. As well as all the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, we could hear Treecreeper and Chiffchaff calling. Eventually, the Long-tailed Tits led the other high up into the pines and they disappeared.

It was a productive few minutes, and a nice way to end the tour, in Wells Woods. We got as far as the drinking pool, but it was time to head back, with people wanting to get away quickly. It had been a very good four days too, with a nice selection of different Autumn birds.

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was still very windy today, but otherwise it was mostly bright and fairly sunny, apart from a band of sharp showers which passed over late morning. It was very warm too, up to 25C in the afternoon – unseasonally warm for mid October and t-shirt weather out of the wind!

It was forecast to be a big spring high tide this morning, so we planned to head over to Snettisham to watch the waders. However, with such a strong southerly wind, it would undoubtedly hold the tide back and stop it from completely covering the mud. So we figured the waders would remain out on the Wash today and consequently it wasn’t worth a really early start to get there well ahead of the tide.

The tide was already in when we arrived just after 9am, and we could see all the waders gathered in the far corner, just as we thought they would be. As we walked down towards the far end of the seawall, something spooked them and all the waders took off. We stopped to watch them all swirling round, making different shapes in the sky, before they quickly settled again down on the last remaining bay of mud.

Waders 1

Waders – 80,000 Knot were swirling over the Wash today

Carrying on to the end of the path, we set up the scopes to look more closely at the vast flocks of birds gathered in the tiny corner of mud. They looked like oil slicks spread over the surface. Closest to us were the Oystercatchers, a much darker, black mass. The Bar-tailed Godwits were nearby, more loosely grouped. Through the scopes we could see their pale backs streaked with dark. The Curlews were widely scattered on the drier mud at the back. Along the edge of the water was one vast throng of Knot, packed in shoulder to shoulder, looking almost like a pebble beach!

Waders 2

Waders – mainly Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and lots of Knot!

More Oystercatchers were still flying in to join the crowd already gathered, shining white and black as they caught the low early morning light. Then suddenly everything was up again, thousands and thousands of waders, whirling round over the mud in vast flocks, twisting and turning. What a spectacle! We would see what we assumed was the reason – a couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the spit of saltmarsh just beyond.

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

They settled again, but not for long. We could see more Knot come up in huge flocks further back, many of them coming over to the nearer group to settle. Then they were all up and swirling again.

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

This time we spotted a different culprit – a young Peregrine. It made several passes over and round the huge flocks which twisted and turned, before drifting back over the saltmarsh. It had a quick tussle with one of the Marsh Harriers and then settled on a fence post out in the vegetation behind the mud.

The waders eventually settled again. The tide was already starting to go out again, and there was a bit more mud exposed already. This time the various groups were less concentrated in the corner and we could see different species. There were lots of Grey Plover and more flew in and joined them, flashing their black armpits as they flew. Out on the mud, close to the massed Knot, we could see a tight group of Sanderling, much paler than the other waders, shining white and silvery grey in the low sunshine.

Waders 5

Waders – the flocks catching the morning sunshine massed on the mud

Beyond the flocks of waders, lit up by the sun shining behind us, we could see dark clouds approaching from the south. We got round to the shelter of the South Screen just in time, as a sharp burst of heavy rain passed overhead. Even though most of the waders were still out on the Wash today, there were a few different species still to keep us amused while we sheltered from the rain here.

At least 13 Greenshanks were roosting in with a larger group of Redshanks on the back of the closest island, along with a few Turnstones. A large group of Oystercatchers were sleeping on the shingle bank further back, and down on the waters edge below then were several more Redshank and a single Knot.

The warden came in to shelter from the rain. He had been doing a count today and was able to tell us we had been watching 80,000 Knot out on the Wash. Wow! He also told us there were four Spotted Redshanks further back, roosting on one of the small islands out in the middle of the pit. When the rain finally eased off, we could see them in the distance, much paler than the Redshanks in front of us, but not as pale as the Greenshanks.

The Greenshanks woke up and started getting restless. One or two started feeding, running through the water, sweeping their bills quickly from side to side feeling for food. Several of the Redshanks woke up too and started bathing, throwing themselves headlong into the water and flapping. A Grey Plover appeared on the island just behind Greenshanks.

Greenshank

Greenshank – there were several roosting on the south end of the pit

Then the Redshanks and Greenshanks started to take off in small groups and seemed to head back out towards the Wash. There were other birds here too. A Rock Pipit was chasing round with the Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings, down on the gravel margins in front of the hide. There was a good selection of ducks and geese on view, including a Canada x Greylag hybrid with the Greylag Geese. A Little Grebe was busy diving close to the near bank.

There was a gap in the clouds and the rain stopped for a while, so we took advantage and walked round to Shore Hide, before another squally band of rain passed over, producing quite an impressive rainbow over the north end of the pit. There was still one Spotted Redshank on the small island, right out in front of the hide giving us a much better view from here. We could see its long, needle-fine bill. A single feral Barnacle Goose was in with the Greylags at the back.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – there was still one on the pit when we got round to Shore Hide

When the rain stopped again, we headed out of the hide and started to make our way back to the car. There had been a report of some Snow Buntings in with the flock of Linnets along the shore. We walked back along the shingle and quickly found the Linnets but there was no sign of anything with them. The tide was now well out and several Ringed Plovers and little groups of Dunlin were now feeding on the closer mud.

When we got round to Titchwell, it was already time for an early lunch. The car parks were very busy, and we found the last space in the overflow car park, but thankfully the picnic area was empty. While we ate, a Swallow and three or four House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees, feeding up before continuing on their way south. A Goldcrest was singing in the edge of the pines behind us.

After lunch, we headed out along Fen Trail. It was very warm now out of the wind, but it was still breezy in the trees and we couldn’t find any sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler here. We couldn’t find the flock of Long-tailed Tits either – they had probably gone somewhere more sheltered, taking the Yellow-browed Warbler with them. A Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows.

There were lots of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine – lots of Common Darters and Migrants Hawkers buzzing round the sallows or basking on the boardwalk.

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, the first thing we spotted were the Red-crested Pochard. There were six of them here today, including three smart drakes, numbers having gone up as the latter have emerged from eclipse plumage and from hiding. There were also lots of Gadwall and several Shoveler.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s Reedbed today

There were a few gulls coming and going from Patsy’s Reedbed, but not much else, so we set off back towards the main path and the rest of the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes on the edge of the concrete tank road, but the rest of the bushes on Fen Trail and round on the Meadow Trail were quiet.

As we made our way up along the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. Another Red-crested Pochard, a female, was out with a few Gadwall on the water. There was a big crowd gathered on the path outside Island Hide, and we thought they might be watching the Jack Snipe, so we hurried up to join them. A snipe had been seen earlier disappearing into the vegetation but when we looked where they were pointing, all we could see was bits of a Common Snipe showing through the weeds as it fed.

From inside Island Hide, we had a better view of the Common Snipe when it finally poked its head round the edge of the vegetation. There were lots of Ruff out on the Freshmarsh still too, and a small number of Avocet which are lingering here, after most have gone further south for the winter. Otherwise, there were not many other waders here today.

Avocet

Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

There are lots of duck out on the Freshmarsh now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, together with a few Shoveler. The drakes are all still largely in dull eclipse plumage, so not looking at their best.

With the Jack Snipe not showing, we decided to head out to the beach, and come back to have another look later. As we walked out along the west bank path, a flock of Golden Plover flew in and circled over the Freshmarsh several times nervously, before eventually landing out in the middle.

A couple of Redshank were feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, in the channel just below the path. At the far end, there were more waders out on the muddy banks. An Oystercatcher was working its way round just below us and out along the edge of the water we could see Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, a Grey Plover and more Redshank. A Little Egret flew in, flashing its yellow feet, and started looking for fish in the muddy water.

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – in the muddy channel on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were empty, so we continued on to the beach. The tide was out, but we found a sheltered spot in the lee of the dunes and scanned the sea. There were a few Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a single Red-throated Diver. We could see a distant flock of Common Scoter, out towards the wind turbines, but they were hard to pick up on the water and easiest to see when they flew.

While we were scanning offshore, we noticed a tern fishing way off to the west. It’s agile flight, dipping down frequently to the water’s surface, and dark upperparts contrasting with white underneath immediately set it apart – a juvenile Black Tern. It spent ages flying up and down just offshore away to the west of us, gradually working its way back towards us, before it eventually flew past just offshore.

It is quite late for a Black Tern off here, though not unprecedented. Still, it was a nice bird to see. While we were watching the Black Tern, one of the group noticed a small raptor coming in low over the waves. When we all got onto it, we could see it was a Merlin. It eventually came in low over the beach at Thornham Point, though it was impossible to tell whether it was a new arrival from the continent or a local bird skimming over the waves to avoid the wind.

There were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, along with several small groups of Brent Geese. We made our way down for a closer look and had good views of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits side by side. It was very windy out on the sand though, so we put our heads down and walked back up the beach.

We wanted to have another look for the Jack Snipe, and when we got back almost to Island Hide we were told it had been seen briefly earlier but had gone back to sleep in the vegetation. Thankfully, someone walked back with us and showed us exactly where it was. From up on the main path, all we could see was the Jack Snipe‘s eye staring back at us, and only when the wind blew the vegetation back so we could see it!

There was a slightly better view from Island Hide. We could see more of the Jack Snipe, and had good comparison views of a Common Snipe next to it – we could see the different head pattern on the Common Snipe, with the single pale golden stripe over the eye and a pale central crown stripe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

A couple of helicopters taking off from one of the hotels in the village created a lot of disturbance, flushing most of the birds from the freshmarsh, and the Jack Snipe finally woke up and started bouncing up and down. Unfortunately, rather than starting to feed, it walked deeper into the weedy vegetation and disappeared.

There high-pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese overhead. Several of them dropped down onto the Freshmarsh with the already gathered horde of Greylags. We also spotted a Yellow-legged Gull which dropping in briefly with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls for a bathe and a preen.

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. As we walked back to the car, three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reedbed out on the Thornham grazing marsh, silhouetted against the late sun, gathering before going in to roost.

12th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was rather cloudy all day and very breezy again, but at least it stayed dry. With birds we wanted to try to see in the Brecks and down in the Broads, we decided to venture further afield today.

Our first target for the day was Stone Curlew. At the end of the summer, they gather together in big post breeding flocks in the Brecks. Numbers typically peak in September and start to decline in October as birds move off for the winter, but we figured we should still be able to find some of them here.

As we drove down the road, we could see several birds in the field the other side of the hedge and a glance over confirmed that there was a mixture of Stone Curlews and Lapwings. Unfortunately there is nowhere to stop here, so we continued on to try another site, in the knowledge that we could always come back if need be.

Stopping at a gate overlooking a large area of open fields, we quickly located two Stone Curlews. They were some distance over and facing away from us, into the wind, sheltering behind a line of green vegetation. Still it was a good start and we had a look at them through the scopes, so we could make out their staring yellow irises and short, black-tipped yellow bills.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – we found two at the first place we stopped to scan

As we stood here watching the Stone Curlew, several small flocks of Song Thrushes, Redwings and Skylarks flew over our heads. As we had seen yesterday, birds were on the move again today – with their migration visible even down here in the Brecks.

With Stone Curlew in the bag, we decided to have a go and see if we could find a closer one. We drove over to another field they have been favouring this autumn. The weedy vegetation here has grown up in recent weeks and there are more places to hide, but it didn’t take long to find another Stone Curlew, this one much closer than the two we had seen earlier. We edged along the path beside the field so as not to disturb it, to where we could set up all the scopes and admire it.

While everyone had a good look at this Stone Curlew in the scope, we scanned the vegetation more carefully. On each sweep, we located another one hiding in the weeds until we had found at least four Stone Curlews here. Looking out to the bare stony ground beyond, we spotted another four Stone Curlews hiding up against a small ridge of earth.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – we found several closer ones at the next place we stopped

After getting great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to scan the pig fields nearby. In the first field, several Egyptian Geese were walking around the pig troughs in the middle. A Stock Dove flew in and dropped down out of view with the Woodpigeons in the middle.

At the second set of pig fields, we could see a very large flock of gulls asleep in the middle. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with a few Black-headed Gulls and a single Common Gull. Scanning through them more carefully, we could see a larger gull asleep, half hidden in with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. It had a paler mantle, a bit too dark for a Herring Gull, and through the scope we could see its comparatively plain white head, with just a few pencil streaks,  When it opened its eye, it had a pale iris and a noticeable reddish orbital ring. It was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull – asleep in with the Lesser Black-backeds

It felt like it was brightening up and for a second we could feel a bit of the sun’s warmth in the air. Combined with the brisk wind, we thought it might be a good day to try to see a Goshawk up enjoying the breeze. On our way round, we stopped briefly to look at a flock of Chaffinches in some small bushes by the road and found two Bramblings in with them.

By the time we got round to a high spot overlooking the forest, the warmth in the air had disappeared again and it was back to cold, grey and windy. As we got out of the car, it was clear there was very little aerial activity over the trees and it didn’t help that there was a pheasant shoot under way a couple of fields over which was very noisy and causing a lot of disturbance, with vehicles and dogs along the edge of the trees.

A Mistle Thrush flew across over the edge of the trees in front of us, and two unseasonal House Martins circled over – most of them have already left, off to Africa for the winter. We stood and watched for a few minutes and a few Common Buzzards circled up over the trees but never gained much height. A Sparrowhawk shot across, skimming above the treetops. We had a lot of ground we wanted to cover today, so we decided to move on and get away from the noise!

There has been a Rose-coloured Starling lingering on a housing estate on the outskirts of Norwich for the last few days, so on our way across to the Broads, we decided to call in for a quick look. It turned out it had been hiding in the back garden of one of the houses today, not visible from outside, but the homeowner was very kindly letting people in for a quick look whenever it appeared on the lawn. Unfortunately, it was only coming down to feed every 20-30 minutes and then only lingering there very briefly.

When we arrived, there were already several people waiting. Not long afterwards, the Rose-coloured Starling reappeared down on the lawn, the front door opened and everyone rushed in for a look. Unfortunately, due to the viewing angle, only the first few people inside could see the lawn where the bird was feeding. Only half the group got a quick look at the Rose-coloured Starling, before it flew up and disappeared into the hedge again.

We filed back outside and waited to see if there might be another showing, but it looked like the homeowner had taken a break for lunch and was no longer keeping an eye on the garden, so we decided to head on elsewhere instead.

Gadwall

Gadwall – the connoisseur’s duck, on the pool by Reception Hide

It wasn’t too far from here to Strumpshaw Fen, where we stopped for our lunch on the picnic tables by Reception Hide. The front of the pool was packed with ducks, mostly Gadwall which we stopped to admire, along with a few Mallard and a couple of Teal. The resident feral Black Swan eventually appeared with the Mute Swans, before swimming over to the front and climbing out onto the bank to preen. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds beyond.

A steady stream of Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming in to the feeders. A sharper call alerted us to a Marsh Tit which shot in, grabbed a sunflower seed and flew over to an elder bush nearby to eat it. It came in several times over lunch, at one point joined by a second Marsh Tit, giving us a chance to get a good look at them. A Siskin flew over calling too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – two kept coming in to the feeders over lunch time

After lunch, we headed round to Buckenham Marshes. As we drove down the road, a Red Kite was hanging over one of the fields and was we crossed the railway line, two more appeared over the grazing marsh right in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – one of two, over the grazing marshes

Scanning from the gate, we could see a few geese out on the grazing marsh and through the scopes we could see there were several groups of Canada Geese and Pink-footed Geese, along with a smaller number of Greylags. There had been a report of White-fronted Geese here this morning, but we couldn’t see them at first.

As we walked down the track towards the river, we could hear them calling and looked across to see a family of three White-fronted Geese out on the grass. They were presumably just returned here for the winter, as they were calling regularly and very mobile, flying round between the different patches of marsh. Through the scope we could see there were two adults, with white surrounding the base of their bills and black bars on their grey bellied, and a juvenile which lacked those.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – a family of three, just returned for the winter

These were the first White-fronted Geese we have seen this autumn, and should be the first of many to return to the marshes here, where a few hundred normally spend the winter.

A flock of Barnacle Geese flew in next, circling round over the marshes before dropping down to feed with the Canada Geese. These are feral birds, which also spend the winter here. Despite their non-wild origins, they are still beautiful geese, so we did have an admiring look at them through the scopes.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – this flock flew in and landed with the Canada Geese

While we were watching the geese, a Common Snipe flew up from the edge of the ditch in front of us and zig-zagged off away over the marshes. There were a couple of Chinese Water Deer out in the grass too.

Continuing on along the track, we stopped to scan the pools over towards the river bank. There were lots of ducks here, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. This is a very important site for wintering Wigeon, but there are still a lot yet to return here from their Russian breeding grounds.

We had really come here to look for waders, and in particular two Pectoral Sandpipers which have been on the pools here for the last few days. We could see a little group of Ruff, including a winter satellite male with a striking white head, and several Dunlin. Through the scopes, it didn’t take long to find first one and then the second of the Pectoral Sandpipers, feeding on the mud along the edge of the vegetation just behind the water.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – one of the two juveniles at Buckenham

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the gate on the edge of the marshes. It was a bit windy out here, but we could see they were both juveniles, with neatly pale-fringed dark feathers in the upperparts. We could see there distinctive streaked breasts, sharply demarcated against their white bellies in a neat pectoral band. They were abot the same size as the Dunlin, but with shorted bills. There were several more Common Snipe feeding on the edge of the vegetation near them too.

Continuing on to the river bank, we had another quick look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the shelter of the hide. It was a bit further away, but out of the wind. Then it was time to head back, with a long drive ahead of us.

11th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. After a damp and cloudy start, the skies cleared and it was bright, sunny and even quite warm. After heading out with coats and hats, we were desperately shedding layers by mid-morning! There was a rather blustery south wind all day, which meant some of the smaller birds were keeping down in cover though.

We started the day at Holkham. Parking at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling as we got out of the car and several small skeins came over up off the grazing marshes and flew off over our heads, heading out to feed from where they had probably roosted last night.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying off from the grazing marshes early morning

At the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we turned left on the path which runs west on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of metres before we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the trees. It came into a large oak above our heads but was high up in the leafy branches and proved impossible to see in the early gloom and wind.

A second Yellow-browed Warbler called from the holm oaks the other side of the tracks. We could see movement in the dark leaves, but it moved through too quickly to get on and both birds went quiet. We decided to try again later, if need be, when it had brightened up a bit. A good start, with two calling Yellow-browed Warblers, anyway.

A little further along the path, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits feeding high in the tall poplars. We stopped for a minute to see if we could find anything else with them. There were some other tits, including a couple of Coal Tits, and we heard Goldcrest and Treecreeper calling, but they moved quickly up into the tops of the pines and disappeared deeper into the trees.

At Salts Hole, there were at least six Little Grebes around the pool, back for the winter. A lone Curlew was feeding in the field behind. There were lots of Jays out today, busy collecting and stashing acorns, and we saw three flying across the back of the pool, between the trees.

We stopped again at the gate just before Washington Hide, to scan the grazing marshes. The first thing we noticed was a Short-eared Owl, circling high above the grass, flying with its distinctive stiff-winged action. It seemed nervous, looking round, possibly fresh in over the sea from Scandinavia. It flew back towards the pines and disappeared over the trees.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – out over the grazing marshes, possibly a fresh arrival

A Cetti’s Warbler singing in the edge of the reedbed was good to hear, having lost most of our resident birds over the cold weather last winter. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reedbed too, a dark chocolate brown young bird with green wing-tags, presumably tagged in the nest here. It was joined by a male and the two of them grappled talons briefly.

A Great White Egret flew in and seemed to land down on the pool, hidden in the reeds. From up on the boardwalk, we could see it perched on a post. It quickly dropped down and we watched it fishing in the shallow water from the comfort of Washington Hide. After a few minutes, it flew off round the back of the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing on the pool in front of Washington Hide

There was quite a bit of raptor activity visible from here this morning, as well as more Marsh Harriers, we saw a couple of Common Buzzards, including a rather pale bird perched out in one of the bushes on the grazing marsh, a Kestrel hovering out over the grass, and a distant Sparrowhawk circling.

As we carried on west, we could hear lots of Song Thrushes ticking in the trees – there had obviously been a large arrival of them overnight. There were Chaffinches and Bramblings calling overhead too, also freshly arrived for the winter. We heard a couple more flocks of tits from the path, but they were very hard to see in the wind, even if it was now brightening up nicely. They seemed to be hiding up in the pines or in the denser holm oaks, rather than out in the deciduous trees by the path.

At the cross-tracks, we came across another flock and could hear several Chiffchaffs calling here too, with them. Another Yellow-browed Warbler called from just into the trees, so we walked in along the path, but by the time we got round to where it had been the tits had disappeared up into the pines again.

We decided to carry on through to the north side of the pines, where it would be more sheltered from the wind. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it from deep in the trees. As we emerged from the pines, we flushed several Song Thrushes which had been feeding down on the grass, rather grey-brown birds from the continent, duller than our resident Song Thrushes.

We heard yet another Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but this time it was out in the scattered pines in the open dunes, so we figured we had a chance of getting a look at this one. Thankfully it was quite vocal, presumably another fresh arrival, and we managed to track it down. Eventually almost all the group got a good look at it, as it flitted around among the branches. A second Yellow-browed Warbler was calling in the woods, from the denser pines beyond.

As we walked a short distance through the dunes, more Song Thrushes were coming in overhead in singles or small groups. A little flock of Bramblings flew in overhead, and we heard a small group of Crossbills glipping as they flew west over the pines, although we couldn’t see them above the trees from this angle. A couple of Stonechats were perched on the top of the brambles in the dunes.

Climbing up to the top of the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. There were quite a few birds out in the bay today – several Red-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe, a Guillemot, and a raft of Common Scoter. A Sandwich Tern flew past offshore, presumably a lingering summer visitor, as did a few small lines of Brent Geese, just arriving back from Russia for the winter.

It was quite amazing to just stand here looking out over the sea and just watch the birds arriving in from the continent. In particular, we saw lots of Skylarks coming in, with several flocks flying up over the dunes past us and in over the pines and other groups continuing on west just offshore. A Red Kite circling out over the beach may have been on the move too, before coming in over the dunes past us.

It was windy again back on the south side of the pines, and harder to see the birds again. We did hear several Redwings calling in the trees, and eventually got good views of one perched in the top of a pine tree. Several Song Thrushes were feeding up on the berries in a hawthorn bush, after their long journey.

Continuing on out of the pines at the west end and into the dunes, we flushed lots more Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap was calling from the brambles but we didn’t see it. Up on the top of the dunes, we heard a Redstart calling in a hawthorn bush. As we walked round the back, it flew across and disappeared into a dense clump of privet. Two Grey Herons flew in high over the beach, more migrants just arriving for the winter.

Yet another Yellow-browed Warbler called and we turned to see a couple of people looking into a holly bush out in the dunes. The bird was remarkably hard to see, despite it being just a very small bush, but eventually it came out onto the more sheltered side to those members of the group who hadn’t seen the Yellow-browed Warbler earlier could finally get a good look at one.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – one taken a couple of days ago in the woods

These tiny warblers breed over in Russia, just west of the Urals, and should be migrating south east to winter in Asia. Instead some Yellow-browed Warblers head off west and arrive on our shores. They used to be very rare here, but in the last twenty years have become regular visitors at this time of year. Still, they are always a pleasure to see and to marvel at their remarkable migration.

It was already after midday and stomachs were starting to rumble, so we headed back towards the car. It was lovely and sunny now, and warm too if still rather breezy. There were lots of dragonflies along the path in the more sheltered spots, Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. We saw several butterflies out too, Red Admirals on the brambles, a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper.

A Hobby was patrolling along the edge of pines, taking advantage of the updraft from the wind, probably looking for dragonflies. A couple of times it passed by over us, and we could see its swept back pointed wings and orange trousers.

Hobby

Hobby – patrolling along the edge of the pines

Surprise of the day was a Kingfisher which flew over our heads as we walked back along the path on the edge of the pines – not normally where you expect to see one, although they are often seen out on the marshes here. Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another tit flock and this time got good views of a Treecreeper climbing up a tree trunk.

It was time for a late lunch when we finally got back to the car. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese still loafing around in the fields alongside Lady Anne’s Drive, while we ate. Afterwards, we set off to explore the coast east of Wells.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – loafing in the fields by Lady Anne’s Drive over lunch

The wet fields east of Wells by the coastal path are full of wildfowl a the moment. We could predominantly see big numbers of Wigeon and Teal, the drakes still mostly in their dull eclipse plumage. In amongst them we found a single Pintail too. There are lots of geese here, but Greylags, Canadas and Egyptian Geese, although we saw plenty of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead calling.

There were a few waders in with all the wildfowl. We could see several Ruff feeding in the long grass around the pools, along with a small number of Lapwing, and three or four Black-tailed Godwits in the edge of the water, hiding in amongst all the Wigeon.

A large flock of Linnets and Greenfinches was feeding in the edge of the field nearby and further back we could see a couple of bright male Yellowhammers perched up in the bushes catching the sun. As we walked down along the track between the pools, we flushed several Reed Buntings from the wet grass. A pair of Stonechats flew along the fence line ahead of us, perching on the posts or on the bushes either side.

Stonechat

Stonechat – a pair flew along the path ahead of us

At the next pool we came too, we were looking into the sun and it was hard to keep the scopes steady in the wind. All we could find here today were Teal and Mallard, sheltering in the grass around the edges. There were lots of Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh the other side and a couple of Redshank down in one of the muddy channels.

We decided to have a walk on along the coast path to finish the day. There were still more Song Thrushes and Chaffinches coming in, little flocks flying in over the saltmarsh and disappeared inland over the fields, or flying over our heads heading west along the coast. But there were few migrants in the bushes by the path this afternoon – as well as being windy, there were lots of people and dogs out for a walk and it was probably a bit too disturbed here.

As we walked, we stopped periodically to scan the saltmarshes. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling out in the distance, and eventually we were rewarded with a Hen Harrier too, a ringtail. We stopped and watched it as it quartered low over the marsh, flashing the white square at the base of its tail as it turned. A second Hen Harrier appeared briefly, away to the east in the distance, but didn’t come our way. After a while, the first dropped down into the vegetation.

We continued on as far as Garden Drove, but the trees at the north end were more exposed to the wind, and it was hard to see anything in here. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and saw them as they flew out of the trees and headed off inland along the hedgerow. There were a few other tits with them, but we couldn’t see anything else.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time here, as we had to get back and a couple of members of the group had decided to stop on the path where we had seen the Hen Harrier rather than continue walking, so we didn’t want to leave them too long. The Hen Harrier was up again, quartering the marshes as we got back.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, quartering the saltmarshes

It was a nice way to end our first day out, watching the Hen Harrier out over the marshes. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…