Monthly Archives: December 2018

21st Dec 2018 – Two Winter Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk today. As ever, the forecasters couldn’t make up their minds over the last few days what the weather would be doing today, but they had finished up typically pessimistic this morning. It was a damp, drizzly, grey and gloomy start, at which point it looked like they might be right, but then it dried up and brightened up and ended up being not too bad at all in the end.

We were heading west today, but on our way we made a quick stop at Holkham first. As we got out of the car, we could hear a pair of Egyptian Geese calling from the trees. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese too, and looked across to see a large flock fly up from the grazing marshes. They came straight over us and headed off inland. A steady succession of skeins flew over, but still more circled back round and landed down on the grazing marshes again. We could still see thousands of geese out on the grass.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – thousands flying up from the grazing marshes again this morning

There were Greylag Geese too, a much smaller flock out in the field in front of us. We could see they were paler grey with a big orange carrot for a bill. Just beyond the hedge, through a gap, we spotted a group of about ten Russian White-fronted Geese. We all had a good look at them through the scope, noting the white surround to the base of their pink pills and their distinctive black belly bars. Then suddenly they took off for no apparent reason and we realised there had been a lot more hidden behind the hedge, about 55 in total. They flew off back over the grazing marshes.

A large white bird also out on the grazing marshes was a Great White Egret. It was obviously very tall and, through the scope, we could see its long yellow dagger of a bill. A Marsh Harrier was perched in a tree in front.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding out on the grazing marshes

By the time we got to Titchwell, it had at least stopped drizzling, although it was still very dull and grey. There were not many cars yet, so we had a quick look round the overflow car park. There were lots of finches in the bushes, feeding on the brambles, mainly Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but with several Greenfinches too. We heard a Bullfinch calling and a smart pink male flew out and across the car park, but disappeared straight into the bushes. We had a couple of brief views of it in the brambles but it would never stay still long enough to get it in the scope.

A flock of Long-tailed Tits came round through the car park, and as we made our way along the path towards the Visitor Centre what was presumably the same flock was calling in the sallows. A Goldcrest appeared in the bushes by the path ahead of us, and we stopped to watch it fluttering around in the branches. A second Goldcrest appeared above our heads, hovering around an ivy-covered trunk. We followed one of the Goldcrests almost all the way to the Visitor Centre.

There were a few more finches on the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre, but the ones the other side had been taken over by a Grey Squirrel. We had a quick look as we passed, but there was no sign of the Water Rail in the ditch, so we continued on out onto the reserve.

As we came out of the trees, several Lapwings and a small group of Golden Plover flew over, heading inland. When we got to the reedbed, we could see a much larger flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing circling over the Freshmarsh. We couldn’t see what had flushed them, possibly a Marsh Harrier, but they quickly landed back down again.

A Water Pipit came up calling from the cut reeds below the path ahead of us. It flew across the path and headed out over the dried up Thornham grazing marsh pool, from where a second Water Pipit flew up to join it. The two of them circled together briefly before the second bird dropped straight back down again, out of view. The first Water Pipit then flew back across the path and disappeared out over the Freshmarsh.

We stopped to look at a couple of Marsh Harriers circling over the back of the reedbed, and noticed four more were perched together in one of the dead trees. Then looking out across the Freshmarsh, four more harriers were hanging in the wind over the bank beyond, at the back of the Volunteer Marsh. One was noticeably smaller, and through the scope we could see the white square at the base of its tail. It was a Hen Harrier, a juvenile, noticeably rusty orange below, streaked darker.

It looked like the three Marsh Harriers were mobbing the Hen Harrier at first, but two drifted off and the Hen Harrier ended up tussling just with one juvenile Marsh Harrier, giving as good as it got. The two of them kept swooping at each other for ages – great to watch and giving us a good view of the Hen Harrier as they did so. At one point, a couple of Carrion Crows joined in too.

Avocet was a key target for the day. Most of them go south for the winter, but a few normally try to cling on here. From Island Hide, we quickly located the group of about 12 Avocets which are lingering here this year. Initially they were rowed up on the end of a long line of Lapwings, but then something spooked all the waders again, and everything took off. The Avocets landed back down with a small group of roosting Shelduck, where the tern island used to be.

Avocet

Avocets – there are still about 12 hanging on here for the winter

The water level on the Freshmarsh is now very high for the winter, and there are not many of the islands left exposed. Consequently, most of the waders are now feeding elsewhere. Apart from the roosting Avocets and the large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover, we managed to find just one Dunlin this morning.

The wildfowl are enjoying all the water. A small flock of Brent Geese had joined with the Greylags on the water in front of the reedbed. They had just dropped in for a wash and brush up before heading back out to the Thornham saltmarsh to feed. There are more diving ducks on here now, with a small raft of Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard next to the geese. The other regular winter ducks here – Wigeon, Teal and a few Shoveler – were mostly over towards the back of the Freshmarsh today.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – flying back out to the saltmarsh to feed

It didn’t seem like the weather could make up its mind. It had been drizzling again briefly while we were in the hide, but now it seemed to be brightening up. So we decided to try our luck and walk out towards the beach. The tide was out and there was not much on Volunteer Marsh, just a rather tame Common Redshank in the channel just below the path.

The Hen Harrier was still playing with the Marsh Harrier over the bank at the far side. We stopped to watch them again, before the Hen Harrier disappeared behind the bank towards the beach. From the top of the bank, we could see the Hen Harrier hunting along the dunes beyond and when it landed in the top of a bush, we got it in the scope and had another good look at it.

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ are very full of water at the moment, and the one remaining island is getting much smaller. It was fairly packed with roosting duck today – lots of Wigeon, Teal and several Shoveler. A wader appeared briefly on the corner from behind the vegetation, and we had a glimpse of a long, needle-fine bill and distinctive white supercilium. We walked further up for a better angle and our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Spotted Redshank.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – roosting on the ‘Tidal Pools’

Out at the beach, we stopped first to scan the sea. One of the locals was just leaving and informed us that there had not been much of note out here today. We quickly found a small raft of Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Goldeneye just offshore. Four brown female Eider were close in, just beyond the mussel beds. Another drake Goldeneye flew in to join them, its green head with white cheek patch shining in a welcome burst of sunshine. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past out to sea, but unfortunately it was too far out for everyone to get onto.

There was a nice selection of waders around the mussel beds, so we walked down the beach for a closer look. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a few Curlew and Grey Plover. Several pale, streaked Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the edge of the sand, and a Black-tailed Godwit was on the mussel bed nearby for comparison. A mixture of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones were running around in between. Scanning carefully, we managed to find a small group of Knot too, and it was good to see them through the scope, feeding next to the Dunlin for comparison.

On our way back, we remembered we had not seen the drake Pintail on the Tidal Pools on our walk out. So we scanned again from the inner edge of the dunes, and from this angle we quickly found it fast asleep on the island with the other ducks. Not the best of views, but another one for the list. The Little Egret which was now feeding in the channel on the Volunteer Marsh right next to the path put on a much better show. We got a good look at its yellow feet.

Little Egret

Little Egret – showing off its yellow feet

The other bird we had not seen on the way out was the Water Rail, and that too we found on the way back. It was feeding just where we had looked earlier, in the ditch by the path, but was still hard to see down in the water underneath all the tree branches. With a bit of patience, it eventually showed very well though.

Water Rails are a bit like buses, and there was also a second one here now, in the ditch on the other side of the path. It was right out in the open when we first saw it, but as soon as it noticed us watching it, it scuttled remarkably swiftly across and squeezed through a small gap underneath the muddy bowl of a fallen tree, where it was well hidden.

Water Rail

Water Rail – one of two we saw on the walk back

It was lunchtime now, and we felt like we had earned it this morning, so we headed round to the White Horse in Holme for a very welcome quick bite of lunch and a chance to warm up in front of the fire. Afterwards, we drove back to Thornham Harbour.

It had clouded over again now and was feeling rather grey again. A Curlew flushed from the saltmarsh as we drove in, but otherwise it initially looked rather quiet here. A car load of photographers were huddled in their vehicle in the car park with their long lenses pointed out at an empty puddle, where there was a distinct lack of any Twite action.

We walked across the car park and down to the sluice just beyond. As we did so a flock of small birds flew up from the saltmarsh just in front of us. We could hear Goldfinch and Linnet and also the distinctive ‘tveeet’ calls of Twite (from which they get their name) as they circled round above us.

Twite

Twite – two of at least ten feeding on the edge of the harbour

After circling several times they landed back down on the edge of the saltmarsh and we got a good view through the scope as they perched up feeding on some of the taller seedheads. It was really good to see Twite and Linnet in the scope together, the former richer brown overall with an orangey breast and yellow bill.

There were at least ten Twite today and one of them was sporting a collection of colour-rings which identify it as an individual which was ringed in Derbyshire earlier in the year. The dwindling Pennine breeding population is the source of our declining winter population of Twite here in Norfolk.

Having admired the Twite, we got back in the car and headed on west. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese were feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field close to the road so we stopped for a quick look. We were just scanning through when one of the group spotted something different in with them. It was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose. We found somewhere we could stop and got out for a better look through the scope.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Pale-bellied Brent Goose – feeding with Pink-footed Geese on harvested sugar beet

Pale-bellied Brent Goose is a different subspecies compared to our regular wintering Russian Dark-bellied Brents. They breed from Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, across through northern Greenland to Canada. Birds from eastern Canada migrate through Iceland to winter mainly in Ireland and it is probably in Iceland that lone or lost birds may join up with the flocks of Pink-footed Geese (it being better to be with them than travel alone!), which bring them to Norfolk in small numbers. While we were watching the geese, we noticed several Ruff feeding in the muddy field in amongst them.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Snettisham. With all the grey cloud again, the light was already starting to go. It didn’t help that today was the shortest day of the year! From up on the seawall, we could see several Goldeneye on the first pit.

The tide was coming in now but there was still a huge expanse of exposed mud. It was not due to be one the biggest tides today, and it was still a couple of hours to high tide, but the waders were already starting to gather. A large brown slick across the mud out in the middle on closer inspection was a huge flock of Golden Plover. Through the scope, we could also see quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits gathered just behind. More waders down on the water’s edge further back were mostly Knot. A big group of Oystercatchers were roosting on the edge of the beach away to the north.

We were hoping to see a Short-eared Owl here this afternoon, but it was damp and grey with a cool breeze and there was perhaps unsurprisingly no sign of any out hunting. Fortunately we did find one hunkered down under a bramble bush, where it had spent the day roosting. It was only half awake and looking towards us, and we could see the short tufts of feathers on the top of its head, its ‘ears’.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

There were lots of ducks and geese on the pits, mainly Greylags and Wigeon. A feral Barnacle Goose was standing on the grass just beyond. A large number of Cormorants had come in to roost on the islands.

It was starting to get dark now, but we could see two white shapes at the far end of the pit. The first was a Little Egret, but the second looked a bit bigger. Through the scope our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Spoonbill. The vast majority of the Spoonbills which were here in the summer have long since headed off south for the winter, with just one or two still remaining here, so this was a real bonus.

Back at the Wash, a large group of Knot had now gathered together in another dark slick spread across the mud, out in the middle. We had thought we might have a quick look at the pit from Rotary Hide, but just at that point something spooked all the waders. All the Golden Plover took off and started to whirl round in the air, and the Knot zoomed back and forth low over the mud, twisting and turning, flashing dark and light.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a huge flock gathered out on the Wash

Knot

Knot – twisting and turning low over the mud

It was a nice way to end our two days out, watching the huge flocks of waders whirling out over the Wash. We had hoped we might be able to catch the first of the geese coming in to roost from here, but it was still a bit early and unfortunately we had to get back to the village in time for a pick-up. While we were waiting in the car at the rendezvous point though, the skeins of Pink-footed Geese started to come over calling, thousands of them. One of the real sights and sounds of Norfolk in the winter and a very fitting finish.

20th Dec 2018 – Two Winter Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk today. We were lucky with the weather today – dry with some bright spells and even some blue sky at times, albeit with a rather fresh southerly wind and cloudier in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, a pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass in one of the fields and we could see several Teal and a larger group of Wigeon around the edges of the pools.

As we got out of the car, we could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese calling. As it is full moon in a couple of days time, they had possibly been feeding inland overnight rather than roosting here and were therefore in no hurry to head out to the fields again this morning.

The Pink-footed Geese were rather jumpy this morning. Something disturbed them, although we couldn’t see what it was, and about 10,000 birds took off and filled the skies. It was an impressive sight, and sound. A small number flew off over our heads, but most settled straight back down on the grass. A little group landed much closer and we got them in the scope. We could see their pink-legs and feet in the short grass, glowing in the morning sunlight, as well as their small, dark bills with a narrow band of pink.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were thousands in the fields still this morning

A large white bird came up out of the reeds in the distance, in front of Washington Hide. A Great White Egret, it circled round but quickly dropped back down again behind the line of sallows. A very pale buzzard flew over, flashing a white base to the tail as it disappeared off towards the Park, but it was just the regular pale Common Buzzard which can usually be found hanging around here, rather than something rarer.

As we made our way up to the pines, a big flock of Lapwings flew up from the grazing marshes over towards Wells. There were lots Curlews out here too, on the fields beyond The Lookout café, although it is rather hard to see past the new building! Walking along the boardwalk through the trees, we flushed several Jays from the ground which flew up into the pines.

Out on the saltmarsh the other side, a small group of Brent Geese were feeding in the short vegetation. We stopped to look at them, all the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese, here for the winter from their breeding grounds in Siberia. We could see a good number of stripy-backed juveniles in with the adults, suggesting it was a better breeding season in 2018 than it had been last year.

We walked east on the path on the edge of the saltmarsh. As the new cordoned off area came into view, we spotted a large flock of small birds whirling around out in the middle. They were Snow Buntings, we could see the white flashing in their wings as they turned, at least 60 of them. They landed back down on the open sand at the far end of the cordon, so we made our way over for a closer look.

When we got to the fence, we noticed some other birds moving about on the edge of the vegetation out in the middle, the Shorelarks, just what we were hoping to see here today. They were very well camouflaged, and hard to see until they moved, but through the scope we could see their yellow faces and black bandit masks. Smart birds!

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – there were at least 7 already out on the saltmarsh when we arrived

There were at least seven Shorelarks already here, possibly more hiding in the vegetation beyond. Scarce winter visitors here from Scandinavia, this is one of the best places in the country to see them.

The Snow Buntings were very flighty, as usual, and the next thing we knew they flew back over and landed on the sandy path ahead of us. They were feeding along the edge of the dunes, on the tideline, presumably looking for seedheads washed up from the saltmarsh. It looked like they might come straight past us, but then they were off again.

Once we had finished admiring the Shorelarks, we set off towards the beach. The Snow Buntings had landed again on the sand at the far end of the cordon and seemed completely unfazed by us walking past. We could see a variety of different shades, some much paler, whiter birds, some browner – a diverse mixture of ages and sexes, as well as birds from both the Scandinavian and Icelandic races.

Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting – just part of the big flock at Holkham at the moment

The tide was out, which meant there was quite a bit of beach between us and the sea. There were lots of gulls and Oystercatchers down by the sea, and several Cormorants drying their wings on the sandbar beyond. A large flock of Sanderlings whirled round on the shoreline off to the east.

Scanning the sea, we could see several Guillemots on the water, their white faces catching the light. A much larger bird was swimming just offshore beyond the sandbar, a Great Northern Diver. Similarly black above and white below, we could see its large dagger of a bill and black half collar.

There were a few ducks on the sea too, but they were a long way offshore today. We got a distant flock of Common Scoter in the scope, and could see the pale cheeks and dark caps of the females and young birds. One of the scoter flapped its wings and flashed a white panel, a Velvet Scoter, but it was impossible to pick out of the flock on the sea at that distance and unfortunately it didn’t repeat the wing-flap which singled it out from the others. A female Red-breasted Merganser much closer in was much easier to see.

There were several Great Crested Grebes on the sea too, black and white too but much longer-necked than the diver. Then we picked up two much smaller Slavonian Grebes just off the beach a long way off to the west around the bay. We had a look at them through the scope and thought about walking over to get a bit closer but it would probably have meant getting wet feet so thought better of it!

It had been a very productive couple of hours at Holkham, and we still had an hour before we had to pick up someone else in Wells. We decided to pop into the woods there for a quick look to see if we could find any redpolls – they are very mobile and consequently very hit and miss, so they would either be there or not!

The Brent Geese were starting to gather on the old Pitch & Putt course along Beach Road as we drove past. As we walked into the woods, a couple of Little Grebes were on the edge of the reeds on the boating lake, with some Tufted Ducks over towards the back.

It was very quiet at first, as we made our way through the trees, just the odd Robin or Wren calling, and one or two Blackbirds. As we approached the Dell though, we could hear Redpolls calling quietly, and we looked up into the birches ahead of us to see several of them feeding on catkins in the tops. They were against the light here and hard to see clearly, but the more we looked the more we could see. There appeared to be at least fifty of them in total.

We walked quietly underneath them and up onto the dune the other side, where the light was better. From here, we could see they were mostly Mealy Redpolls (the Scandinavian race of Common Redpoll), and we had a good view of several through the scope, including one male with a lovely pinky-red wash on its breast. A smaller, browner one with them was a Lesser Redpoll.

The Redpolls were mobile, moving through the trees, and it was impossible to get a good look at all of them from any one point. They were busily feeding on the catkins and we could see showers of chaff falling like snow from the birches. We couldn’t see any sign of an Arctic Redpoll from here though, so we moved round again to get a different angle and try some other trees.

It took a bit of searching, but eventually we found a much paler Redpoll in with the others. Through the scope, as it moved, we could see it had a plain white rump and thick undertail coverts with a single narrow dark streak. It was the Arctic Redpoll we had been looking for. More specifically, it was a Coues’s Arctic Redpoll, the race we get most often here, also from Scandinavia but from further north than the Mealies. We all managed to get a good look at it before it moved back into the tops. Then suddenly the flock erupted from the trees and flew off.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll

Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – we eventually found one in with the Mealy Redpolls

We still had enough time to walk a quick loop around the far side of the Dell, but we couldn’t find any sign of a tit flock in here today. Then it was back up to Wells to pick up the other member of the group. After a quick break for lunch in the pub in Stiffkey, we carried on east along the coast road to Cley.

We didn’t have enough time to explore the reserve at Cley today, but we wanted to have a quick look at the sea. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post by the Beach Road, and another large flock of Brent Geese was feeding out in the Eye Field. From up on the shingle, it didn’t take long to find our target here – a Red-throated Diver. There were actually quite a few here, mostly a long way offshore, but we eventually got a decent view of one through the scope. There were several Guillemots offshore too.

As we made our way back along Beach Road, we looked across to see all the ducks flush off the reserve. A Marsh Harrier was flying over and had spooked them, surprisingly the first we had seen today. We headed round to Blakeney, and as we pulled up we noticed a male Stonechat on the brambles on the edge of the grazing marshes, right next to where we had parked.

Stonechat

Stonechat – feeding on the edge of the grazing marshes

We were hoping to catch a Barn Owl out here this afternoon, and as we stopped to look at the Stonechat, one flew across the grazing marsh right in front of us. A very good start! It headed off towards the seawall, so we walked round that way to see if we could find it again.

Despite the fact they don’t count, it is impossible not to admire some of the captive ducks and geese in the rather random wildfowl collection by Blakeney Harbour. The large gull on the platform here was also an oddity – with a darker mantle than a Herring Gull, but lighter than a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and odd pinky-yellow legs, it is a Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid. It is a regular here, coming back each winter, to take advantage of the food put out for the ducks.

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid – the regular bird at the duck bird

Out on the seawall, there was no further sign of the Barn Owl. A Curlew was feeding on the sand on the far side of the channel. Several Marsh Harriers were circling out over the reeds in the middle of the Freshes, gathering to roost, and a couple more were having a last patrol out over the saltmarsh. One Marsh Harrier landed in a bush, where we could get it in the scope.

Their high-pitched yelping calls announced a group of Pink-footed Geese coming up off the grazing marshes. We looked across to see several hundred more hiding out in the grass. As we walked out along the seawall, more and more of them took off and headed off inland.

Out over the saltmarsh, a flock of about twenty small birds flew up and circled round, their distinctive bouncy flight helping to identify them as Linnets. From the corner of the bank, we stopped to scan the open mud. There were lots of waders out here, a mixture of small Dunlin running around, larger Grey Plover and Redshank, and larger still Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew, all with different shaped bills and different feeding actions. There were lots of Shelduck too.

It was a great view as the sun set behind the clouds away to the south-west as we walked out, but with the shortest day tomorrow, the light started to go quickly now. We started to make our way back. As we looked across to the far side of the Freshes, we could see another Barn Owl hunting as it came up from behind the reeds. It was a long way off though.

We thought the Barn Owl might come round to our side, but it turned and went back the other way. As we stopped and watched it, we could hear Bearded Tits from the reeds nearby, although they typically kept themselves tucked well down out of the wind. It was time to call it a day, so we made our way back to the car. We had enjoyed a good day out today – let’s see what else tomorrow brings.

12th Dec 2018 – Spectacular Geese

A Private ‘Goose Spectacular’ Tour today, an early start up on the Wash to watch the amazing sight of tens of thousands of Pink-footed Geese leaving their roost and flying inland to feed at dawn. It was a fabulous day too, once the sun came up, with mostly blue sky and sunshine and just a very light easterly breeze.

As we arrived on the seawall, it was still dark but the sky to the east was just beginning to lighten. As we got out of the car and started to don our coats, we could hear thousands of Pink-footed Geese calling out on the Wash. Soon after, the first skeins, the early risers, flew in over us, hard to see in the gloom but we could make out their silhouettes and hear them calling.

As the sun started to come up we were treated to an amazing sunrise. At first the horizon glowed, yellow and orange. There was cloud still out over the Wash which extended slightly inland from us, but to the east the sky was clear. The cloud started off black, contrasting with the dark blue sky, but gradually the light started to catch the edges of the clouds and turned them shades of pink and red, all reflected in the water of the old gravel pit below. Stunning! The sunrise alone was worth getting up early for.

Sunrise

Snettisham – the sunrise alone was worth getting up early for

More waves of Pink-footed Geese came in overhead. They were still all but impossible still to see as they took off from the Wash, in the dark to the west of us, and against the dark brown mud, but as they came into the paler sky above the seawall we could make them out more clearly, in a series of ‘v’ formations, hundreds at a time. We could hear their high-pitched yelping calls.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – an early skein, against the dark grey sky

As the skies continued to lighten, we could see the skeins of geese taking off from the mud now. The waves started to get bigger, thousands of birds at a time, taking off in a rising cacophony of noise.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – thousands taking off from the mud

Pink-footed Geese 3

Pink-footed Geese – flying over us in huge waves

Pink-footed Geese 4

Pink-footed Geese – flying in to the sunrise

With a bit more light now, we could get some of the Pink-footed Geese in the scope, where they were roosting. Even though quite a few had already left, as we scanned across we could still see thousands upon thousands standing out on the mud, like a vast dark smear.

Pink-footed Geese 5

Pink-footed Geese – roosting on the mudflats, out on the Wash

There were several much smaller gaggles of Greylag Geese much closer in, on the near edge of the Wash. They were noticeably paler than the Pink-footed Geese, with large orange carrots for bills. As they took off and flew much lower over the seawall, their calls were much deeper, very different than the Pinkfeet. Coming from much further out, the Pink-footed Geese had more time to gain height out over the Wash before they got to us.

For well over an hour, the Pink-footed Geese kept coming. Each time a huge wave took off and flew in over us, heading off inland, we looked back out to the Wash and could still see thousands and thousands still on the mud. Still they kept coming.

Pink-footed Geese 6

Pink-footed Geese – another wave taking off from the Wash

Pink-footed Geese 7

Pink-footed Geese – flying in over the seawall

Pink-footed Geese 8

Pink-footed Geese – heading off inland to feed

Eventually, gradually, the number of Pink-footed Geese left out on the mud started to dwindle. There are around 30,000 Pink-footed Geese roosting here at the moment, an impressive number and amazing to watch them like this, heading inland to feed. Finally, just a few hundred stragglers were left, so we turned our attention to the other birds.

We could hear Curlews calling while we were watching the geese, and several large flocks flew in from the Wash too, though nothing like on the scale of the Pinkfeet. There were gulls which had roosted out on the safety of the mudflats as well, which flew off inland as the day dawned, in long silvery-white lines catching the early light.

The Wash is also famous for its waders. It was almost high tide now, but not a big enough tide to cover all the mud and push the waders off today. We looked across to the water’s edge and could see some large gatherings of Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers. There were ducks too, mainly Shelduck, Mallard and Teal, but with a few Pintail out on the water.

There had been a light frost overnight and there was still a chill in the air, waiting for the sun to rise fully. We decided to go for a walk to warm up, and have a look in the hides overlooking the pit. There were lots of ducks around the islands and margins, mostly Wigeon, but with smaller numbers of Teal, Shoveler and Mallard.

Wigeon

Wigeon – roosting on one of the islands on the pit

A few Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye were busy diving out in the middle, along with several Little Grebes, one of which helpfully surfaced just below the hide at one point. A large mob of noisy Greylags, birds which had flown in from the mud earlier, were arguing amongst themselves. The waders were mostly out on the Wash today, and there were just a few Lapwing scattered around the islands on the pit.

As we walked round towards South Hide, we stopped at the corner to scan the saltmarsh. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post in the distance and several Marsh Harriers circled up, with four together at one point. Then a smaller harrier appeared, over in the corner, and as it turned we could see it was paler below with a distinctive white square patch at base of tail – a Hen Harrier. We watched it circle for a while before landing down in the vegetation, from where a passing Marsh Harrier stopped to flush it again, the two of them then circling together briefly providing a nice comparison.

It was quiet at the southern end of the pit today. A Little Egret was busy fishing in the pool just below South Hide. We watched as it walked round, stopping regularly and jiggling one foot in the water in front of it to see if it could flush out any prey from the mud.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in the pool below South Hide

We walked back on the path around the other side of the pit. It was rather quiet, although a Ruff flying past was a nice bonus for here. We were hoping perhaps to find an owl still out hunting but it looked like they had all gone to roost. However, we did find a Short-eared Owl roosting under bramble bush. It was very well sheltered from disturbance and looking out to the morning sun for a bit of warmth.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

Then it was back round to the car for a welcome coffee break. Looking out across the Wash, a huge flock of thousands of Knot had gathered to roost out on the middle of the mud over high tide, and were shining in the morning sun.

Knot

Knot – roosting on the mud in a large flock over high tide

After coffee, we made our way round via Hunstanton and up to the north coast, where we popped in to Thornham Harbour to see what we could find. A Black-tailed Godwit and a Curlew were feeding in the channel by the Coal Barn when we arrived, and more waders were in the harbour channel beyond the sluice – several Redshanks, a couple more Curlew, a Bar-tailed Godwit with two Black-tailed Godwits, a Grey Plover and a single Ringed Plover.

Climbing up onto the seawall, a flock of Goldfinches were feeding in the vegetation on the edge of the saltmarsh below the bank. We could see several Linnets with them and then spotted a Twite too. It was colour-ringed – a bird ringed in Derbyshire in May of this year. When something spooked them and all the finches flew up, we realised there were actually five Twite, the others having been hidden from view. They all circled round several times and eventually three of the Twite landed on a wooden post just across the harbour, where we had a lovely view of them through the scope in the sunshine.

Suddenly we heard lots of Pink-footed Geese calling in the distance, and we turned to see a large flock of several thousand come up from the fields inland, beyond the trees. They were presumably birds we had seen flying out from the roost at the Wash earlier. Some circled round and disappeared back down behind the trees, but others flew over towards the grazing marshes at Holme. This is an area they often like to loaf when they are not feeding and we had hoped to find some closer, on the ground today, so we could get a better look at them.

About half of the Pink-footed Geese seemed to drop down in the fields further back, but the rest looked to be landing closer to the bank, so walked along to the next corner of the seawall to see if we could get a look at them. When we got there, we found they were mostly hidden behind a fence, but we could see a few through a gap in the vegetation and got a fairly good look at them in the scope.

There were other birds here to look at too though. Several Skylarks flew up from the grazing meadows and a little group of Meadow Pipits landed in the top of a small bush. A female Stonechat appeared on the edge of the saltmarsh the other side. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the bank. There were lots of Golden Plover and Curlew in the field nearest to us.

Pink-footed Geese 10

Pink-footed Geese – coming in to land on the grazing marshes at Holme

Something flushed the rest of the Pink-footed Geese again from the fields inland, and they flew in to join the rest on the grazing marshes. Most landed out of view again but this time some landed in the field in front of the fence, closer to us. We could see their pink legs and feet catching the light in the sunshine as they came in to land, and we had a better view of them through the scope down in the grass.

As we made our way back to the car, we came across some other birders in the car park. The Twite had come in to bathe in the puddles there. We stopped to watch them too – we could see their yellow bills and orange breasts as they flapped and splashed.

Twite

Twite – bathing in the puddles as we walked back to the car park

Our next stop was at Titchwell. There were a few finches and tits on the feeders by the visitor centre as we passed. We then stopped to watch a Water Rail which was feeding in the ditch just below the main path. These are normally very secretive birds but there is often one which can be found here in winter, with a bit of searching. We watched as it rooted around in the rotting leaves in the bottom of the ditch. It was very well camouflaged but we could see the leaves flying.

Water Rail

Water Rail – in the ditch below the main path

There were three Marsh Harriers circling over the back of the reedbed and a small group of Gadwall at the back of the reedbed pool as we walked out.

The water levels on the Freshmarsh are coming up fast now, as they are raised for the winter. Consequently, there are not so many waders. At least 16 Avocets are still clinging on for the winter and were roosting on one of the few remaining islands. The wildfowl doesn’t mind the increased water though. A gaggle of Brent Geese were swimming on the edge of the reeds, chattering noisily. The ducks like it too – there were plenty of Shelduck, Wigeon and Teal, and a few Shoveler.

We called in briefly at Parrinder Hide. In the middle of the day with the sun shining, we were looking straight into the light from here but we wanted to check quickly whether there was anything else on the islands in front of the hide. Several Dunlin were picking around on the wet mud, but not much else different here today.

The Volunteer Marsh in front of the other half of Parrinder Hide was rather quiet, apart from a few Shelducks and Curlews. Back on the main path, another Curlew and a Redshank were feeding in the channel below the bank.

The non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ are very full of water at the moment. The ducks were all tightly packed in on the last bit of remaining island, and a careful scan revealed a drake Pintail asleep among the Wigeon. Otherwise, there were not many waders here, just a few more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

With the sun at our backs, it was glorious out on the beach. The tide was still just going out, and the mussel beds were still covered. The Oystercatchers were still roosting on the sand and looked great in the light. Several Turnstones and Sanderlings were running in and out between them. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were probing in the sand on the shoreline, with another having a bathe in a pool at the bottom of the beach.

Waders

Oystercatchers – roosting on the beach, with Sanderling and Turnstones

In the light winds the sea was calm. We had a quick scan but the birds were a long way out today. A distant couple of Great Crested Grebes caught the light and a Goldeneye was diving offshore.

After stopping to admire the view from the beach, it was time to head back. It had been an early start this morning. Two Egyptian Geese out on the Thornham grazing meadow rounded out the goose list for the day. Three Wrens chasing around the undergrowth just past the Visitor Centre and a Red Kite over the fields on the way home were the final additions to the overall tally on a very enjoyable day out.