Monthly Archives: October 2019

13th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Migration tour, our last day. It was a damp and misty morning with drizzle on and off, but we managed to make the best of it, and it dried out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather breezy.

We started the day at Holkham. It was grey and drizzling as we got out of the minibus on Lady Anne’s Drive, to the sound of small parties of Pink-footed Geese flying over in the mist.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Goose – small groups flew over calling in the mist

A Common Gull was feeding on the short grass opposite and conveniently walked over to a Black-headed Gull for a nice side-by-side comparison. Further back, we spotted a covey of Grey Partridges. They were hard to see in the dull conditions, in amongst the lumps of mud where the channels on the grazing marsh have just been excavated, so we walked over to The Lookout cafe where we could get a bit of elevation and get a better look at them. Several Jays came out of the trees, and headed off up Lady Anne’s Drive.

Walking west on the track on the inland side of the pines, we could hear tits in the trees and then a Yellow-browed Warbler called further up. We walked on to see if we could locate it, but by the time we got to where it had been it had gone quiet again and there was no movement in the trees by the track.

We stopped briefly at Salts Hole. A lone Tufted Duck flew off with the Mallards as we walked up. There are several Little Grebes on here now, where they spend the winter, and they seemed to be laughing at us, out in the drizzle.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there are several on Salts Hole for the winter

We stopped again to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide, but got distracted by a tit flock calling from the trees the other side. One of the group went over to look at the grazing marsh, and a Great White Egret and a Grey Heron feeding over the grass on the edge of a shallow reedy channel. It was a good size comparison – the Great White Egret at least the size of the heron. A second Great White Egret was more hidden, in a ditch a little further back.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches on the grazing marsh

The sycamores behind Washington Hide were all quiet, although we could still hear the tits just to the east, in the pines and holm oaks. We decided to go into the hide for a sit down and a chance to dry off a little.

Looking away to the left, we could see that the second Great White Egret had now come over to the reedy channel with the first, along with a second Grey Heron. They were then joined by a third Great White Egret which flew in. Quite an impressive assemblage of herons and quite unthinkable just a few years ago, when Great White Egret was a rarity here. They have bred here this year for the second year in a row.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets – from Washington Hide, we could see three now (and two Grey Herons)

There were not many geese out on the grazing marshes today. Presumably most of the Pink-footed Geese had flown inland to feed on the stubble fields, which they do at this time of year. We did manage to find a distant collection of geese – a small group of five Pinkfeet with Greylags and a couple of Canada Geese.

There was quite a bit of activity down in the bushes in the reeds in front of the hide. There were several Song Thrushes flying in and out, presumably migrants dropping in fresh from the continent. A Ring Ouzel had been seen here earlier, and at one point it flew up into the top of a hawthorn bush. It was tricky to see, hidden in amongst the leaves, but through the scope we could make out it was a male, with a white crescent on its breast. It dropped down out of view.

As the drizzle eased off, more thrushes appeared in the bushes, coming up to preen and dry themselves out. There were several Redwings now, with bold pale superciliums and rusty patches on their flanks. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared in the tops of the bushes and then a Marsh Harrier came up out of the reeds too, as the rain stopped.

We walked back down to the gate and looked out at the bushes on the edge of the reeds. There were several Song Thrushes, grey-backed continental birds, clearly migrants coming here for the winter, but no further sign of the Ring Ouzel. While the weather was better we decided to carry on west. A closer Pink-footed Goose was on its own with a small gaggle of Greylags on the grazing marshes just beyond the trees.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – on the grazing marsh with a few Greylags

Just before the crosstracks, a Red Kite drifted out from the pines and over the bushes. It probably flushed another Ring Ouzel, as we could hear it as it flew off chacking.

There had been several Yellow-browed Warblers in the last couple of days in the sallows just beyond the crosstracks, so we walked on to see if we could find one. There were already a few people looking and we had only just walked up when we heard one calling. Triangulating the various calls there were at least two, possibly three, but they played cat and mouse with us for a while. We heard them calling and caught brief glimpses as they flew out of the bushes or perched briefly when they landed, before disappearing in.

A large oak tree provided some shelter from the wind and there was a bit of activity in the bushes in front of it. First a Chiffchaff flitted around in the ivy. Then one of the Yellow-browed Warblers flew up into a large hawthorn right in front of the oak. Now we finally had a good chance to get a proper look at one, although even here it was so active, flicking in and out of the leaves, that it was never easy to latch onto without a bit of patience. It seemed to like this tree, as it came back into it a couple of times while we watched.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we eventually got good views of one in the trees

We had already heard a few Siskins over the pines on our walk out to here, but now a succession of flocks started coming overhead, calling. At first, we wondered whether it was the same flock coming round and round, but the number of birds changed each time and they were all heading quickly west. Then a message came through to say that large numbers of Siskins were on the move along the coast. We must have seen over 500 here in about 30 minutes, but even that underestimated the scale of the Siskin migration underway.

There were other birds moving too today. Two Bramblings flew in over the pines calling and circled overhead, and a few Song Thrushes were still coming in too, flying in over the trees and dropping down into the bushes.

We decided to continue on to the west end, to see if we could find anything else fresh in. As we got to the gate overlooking the grazing marshes at the end of the pines, we could see lots of white shapes feeding in with the cattle away to the south. We had a better view from higher up, just in the start of the dunes. They were a long way off, but through the scope we counted eight Cattle Egrets and three Great White Egrets, another amazing collection of birds which would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, such is the pace of colonisation of these species.

Out in the open in the dunes, the weather was not particularly pleasant – the wind had picked up, and it was still drizzling on and off. We had a quick walk round the start of the bushes, flushing a couple of Song Thrushes out, but with it getting towards lunchtime now too we didn’t have time to venture any further.

However, now we could really appreciate the true scale of the Siskin movement. Birds had been moving over the pines, which we couldn’t see on the south side of the trees. From out in the open, we could see flocks pouring through, 60-250 birds at a time, 2-3 flocks per minute. Amazing to watch! Real migration in action. There were a few Chaffinches on the move too now, and a small flock dropped into the pines around us as we walked back into the trees, a harbinger of what was to come in the afteroon.

After the walk back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped for lunch in The Lookout cafe and a welcome hot drink to warm up. By the time we had finished lunch, the rain had stopped again. We drove east along the coast road to Blakeney, where a pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes on the grazing marsh as we parked.

We thought we would have a quick walk around Friary Hills, which would be comparatively sheltered from the weather and a good place from which to observe the birds passing by overhead. There were lots of Blackbirds in the hawthorn hedge, which flushed out as we walked along and flew up into the trees the other side. Several Song Thrushes came out too, and a single Fieldfare, our first of the autumn. Four Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in here too, probably all migrants stopping off to refuel.

Blackbird

Blackbird – there were lots feeding in the hedge at Friary Hills

The Siskins appeared to have largely dried up now, but they were replaced by Chaffinches. Small flocks were passing over constantly, not on quite the scale of the Siskins earlier but on any other day they would be very impressive numbers moving. Amazing to think that these are all birds arriving here for the winter, mostly from the continent.

Down at the end of the track, a tit flock was moving quickly through the trees. A quick scan and we found a Yellow-browed Warbler in with them. It showed well, if briefly again, up in the sycamores, before the flock moved on. We tried to follow them back along the top path but they seemed to disappear back into the gardens beyond.

We stopped for a few minutes at the top, partly just to admire the view but also to see if any of the tits were still working their way in our direction through the bushes. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the Freshes, and a couple of Grey Herons down with the cows, although there were no egrets with them here. As we walked back down the hill, a young Peregrine came in from the Freshes and disappeared inland over our heads.

Peregrine

Peregrine – flew over as we walked back down the path

To get round to the seawall, we had to walk past the duck pond with its motley collection of wildfowl. A colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull was feeding on the food put out for the ducks on one of the platforms. After emailing the scheme co-ordinator, we discovered it was ringed as a youngster in Suffolk in 2010. Although it was seen all the way down in Morocco at one point (in 2014), in recent years it seems to have found Cley and Blakeney more to its liking. It was good to see the Hooded Merganser was still present in the collection here too and hadn’t escaped!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull – ringed as a chick in Suffolk in 2010

Walking out along the seawall to the harbour, a smart male Marsh Harrier quartered the grazing marshes on the other side of the bank.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – we watched this smart male out over the Freshes

From the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. There were a few waders out on the mud – mostly Curlews and Redshanks. A small group of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone dropped in and started feeding busily. Further out, a couple of distant Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding in one of the deeper channels and there were plenty of Brent Geese out on the sandbars.

There seemed to be several small flocks of waders flying in. When a flock of Turnstone came in over the Glaven channel in front of us, we could see a couple of Dunlin in with them but also a much smaller wader at the back. It was clearly a stint, probably a Little Stint. Unfortunately, despite our best hopes, it didn’t land on the mud in front of us, but carried on out into the harbour and seemed to drop down out of view.

A Scandinavian Rock Pipit flew over the saltmarsh calling and dropped down into the vegetation out of view. Even out here, there were more Chaffinches still coming in or flying west in small groups, with the odd Siskin mixed in with them. It had been an amazing day for visible migration today, with all the finches moving and the thrushes in the bushes. Now it was unfortunately time to head back and wrap up an exciting four days of Autumn Migration.

12th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. It was another cloudy, grey and dull day, but the winds were lighter today and it stayed dry. Much better conditions to be out birding on the coast again.

We started the day at Sheringham Cemetery. As we arrived, we met two other local birders just leaving who told us that one of the Ring Ouzels which had been seen here yesterday had been present earlier but had since flown off. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler here yesterday too, so we decided to go and have a look for that first, then check the bushes where the Ring Ouzels had been feeding in case any had come back.

As we walked round towards the far corner, a Green Woodpecker flew up from the short grass and landed round the back of a pine tree over by the fence. We could just see its head looking round the side of the trunk from time to time. Then it dropped down into the grass nearby and started feeding again, where we could get a better look at it through the scope.

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker – feeding on the grass in the cemetery

There was no sign initially of the Yellow-browed Warbler in the corner where it had been yesterday but while we were looking for it, we noticed a tit flock coming across the cemetery. We decided to follow that across to the allotments to see if it was with them. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and a couple of Goldcrests, but no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler.

Having left the bushes in peace for a while, we walked over to see if anything had come back. There were lots of Blackbirds now – we counted eight which flew out and there were still two or three in the hawthorns, plus a couple of Song Thrushes, but still no further sign of any Ring Ouzels.

While we were checking out the bushes, one of the group was looking over behind us and spotted a warbler in the trees in the corner. The Yellow-browed Warbler was back! We hurried over and found it flitting in and out of a large oak. It was also very vocal now, calling regularly, a distinctive sharp ‘tsooeet’. Almost all of the group eventually got a good look at it when it came out on the front of the tree a couple of times, although it was hard to get onto at times in the leaves. We could see its creamy yellow supercilium and double wing bars.

We were a bit later than hoped now, but we headed down to the prom anyway. The tide was quite well out already and there was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on the sea defences, but there were lots of Turnstones feeding on some food put out on the prom or loafing around on the rocks.

Turnstone

Turnstone – there were lots feeding on the prom

We had thought, with the improvement in weather conditions, that there might be some birds moving today, so we wanted to have a look out to sea. We did find a couple of small groups of Razorbills and a lone Guillemot on the sea. A handful of Gannets flew through west, and a single Red-throated Diver flew east. But there was no sign of anything else moving today, no ducks, waders or small birds coming in.

Heading back west, we stopped again at Walsey Hills. The warden there quickly pointed us to the Jack Snipe which was asleep on an island of mud against the reeds at the back of Snipe’s Marsh. It was well camouflaged amongst the stumps of cut reed, bu we could see its golden yellow mantle and crown stripes. From time to time it would give a quick burst of it’s distinctive bouncing action and once or twice it woke up and flashed its bill, shorter than a Common Snipe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – mostly asleep on Snipe’s Marsh, but did wake up at one point

After watching the Jack Snipe for a bit, we headed in along the footpath through the trees. There were lots of tits around the feeders and we heard several Chiffchaffs as we made our way through to the willows at the back. There had been a Siberian Chiffchaff in here for the last couple of days, but we couldn’t find it. We saw one rather pale Chiffchaff, but it was rather too green in the upperparts to fully fit the bill and seemed to be calling like a regular Chiffchaff to boot.

We did see another Yellow-browed Warbler which called a couple of times before eventually flicking up higher into one of the trees where we could see it. There was a Blackcap in here too.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – eventually flicked up into the top of one of the trees

We went round to Cley for lunch and the weather was nice enough now to make use of the picnic tables outside. A small flock of Ruff came up off the scrapes and flew off inland. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reserve, flushing everything. A Yellowhammer flew over high west calling, presumably a migrant. And a small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over – our first of the day today.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – smaller numbers arriving today

There had been a Hooded Merganser found at Titchwell earlier this morning, and we learnt that it was still present this afternoon, so we decided to head over there to try to see it. As we made our way west along the coast road past Holkham, a small line of five Jays flew high over the fields beside the road, more birds on the move.

The car park at Titchwell was already very full, with lots of people interested to see the Hooded Merganser. We managed to find somewhere to park and headed straight round to Patsy’s Reedbed. The Hooded Merganser was asleep at first over by the reeds at the back but then woke up and swam round a couple of times so we could get a good look at it.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser – a smart drake, on Patsy’s Reedbed

Hooded Merganser is a rare visitor from North America, with only 12 accepted records, although no occurrences before 2000 were accepted. The situation is complicated by the fact that Hooded Merganser is very common in captivity and escapes are frequent. The Titchwell bird showed no signs of having been in captivity – we couldn’t see any rings on its legs and it was fully winged. In fact when shooting started in the distance, from the fields across the main road, all the ducks took off and the Hooded Merganser flew round strongly before eventually dropping back down towards the reedbed pool.

Interestingly, a male Hooded Merganser had been photographed flying past Titchwell back on 18th September. What was thought possibly to be the same bird the turned up in Worcestershire the following day. Was this the same bird back again or had it not gone to Worcestershire after all? Where had it been in the interim?

The Pintail was also on the pool here again, at least until the shooting started. A female Stonechat perched up on the top of the hedge behind us. A male Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed and drifted over towards us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled out from the reedbed

The Autumn Trail is still open, so we walked round to the far corner of the Freshmarsh. We were hoping to find Water Rail and Bearded Tits and although we heard the former squealing and the latter pinging from the reeds, neither showed themselves for the group.

We got the scope on some Bar-tailed Godwits and then some Black-tailed Godwits and one of the latter helpfully walked into the middle of a group of the former to give us a good side-by-side comparison. There were plenty of Avocets and the regular selection of ducks too.

Walking back round along Meadow Trail, we heard a Marsh Harrier calling and looked up to see a young male displaying high in the sky overhead. Not a common sight at this time of year, and the tumbling was a little bit half-hearted. Out on the main West Bank, the Water Shrew was feeding on the side of the path again.

A small crowd had gathered by the reedbed pool, where the Hooded Merganser was now asleep out in the middle of the water. We continued on towards Island Hide, where a Water Rail was showing well on the edge of the reeds. We had a great view of it in the scope.

Some Bearded Tits had been showing along the edge of the reeds too, but had now apparently disappeared round the corner. We were told that some Bearded Tits had also been showing well earlier in the reeds by the main path just beyond the hide and thankfully they were still there. We had fantastic views of a pair, which kept working their way up into the tops of the reeds before flying a short distance further along, the male Bearded Tit with powder blue/grey head and black moustache.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – showing very well in the reeds right by the main path

Interestingly, the pair of Bearded Tits appeared to be followed by a Cetti’s Warbler. After the Bearded Tits flew a short way further down, then the Cetti’s Warbler would flick up out of the reeds too and land again a little further along. It did this several times – not something we have ever seen before. It is normally hard enough just to see a Cetti’s Warbler!

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Bearded Tits. As we walked back towards the Visitor Centre, a flock of about thirty Siskins buzzed around the trees above the path. A small taster of what we were to see tomorrow!

11th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. A grey and windy day, there were spits of rain at times while we were out but with some careful manoeuvring round the county we were able to avoid the worst of the rain this afternoon. Despite the inauspicious weather, we had a very successful day out.

Our destination for the first part of the day was Titchwell. There weren’t many cars yet when we arrived, so we had a quick walk round the overflow car park first, but it was very quiet, no sign of any hungry migrants stopping off to feed here today. There was nothing on the new squirrel-proof feeders by the Visitor Centre either, so we headed straight out towards the reserve.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we found a tit flock in the trees by the main path

We hadn’t gone far along the main path when we ran into a tit flock in the trees. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits flying back and forth across the path, along with a few Blue Tits and Great Tits. We managed to find a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest in with them too. We heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deeper in the sallows but it did not come out.

As we walked out past the reedbed, a male Marsh Harrier flew over the Thornham grazing marsh and chased a couple of crows out over the saltmarsh. We arrived at the reedbed pool just as a Pintail disappeared into reeds, but everyone managed to get on a Tufted Duck, and a Common Pochard with a couple of Coot at the front, all additions to our trip list.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – chasing crows over Thornham Marsh

Out at the Freshmarsh, the water level is currently low, as reserve staff are strimming the islands and margins, coupled with the strong SW wind which tends to push the water away from the bank anyway. Consequently, there were not so many birds on here today and what was here was all gathered right at the back. Several Avocets were also additions to the tour list.

We decided to carry on out towards the beach, but as we walked on we noticed everything spook. We looked up to see a juvenile Peregrine flying over. It didn’t really have a go at anything on the Freshmarsh, but carried on west and disappeared off towards Thornham.

Out at the Volunteer Marsh, there were several Redshanks and Curlews feeding in the muddy channel at the far end.

Redshank

Redshank – one of several on Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools are now tidal again, after storms reopened the channel which allows the water to drain. As the tide was already well out, the water level was down, and there were more waders on here today. We could see several Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, a Grey Plover, and a couple of little groups of Dunlin at the back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Tidal Pools

There were more waders out on the beach, down on the mussel beds. We had a nice comparison of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits in the same scope view and careful scanning revealed a single Knot. The sea looked rather quiet by comparison, although we did find a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A dark juvenile Gannet and a Razorbill both flew past.

Our main target here today was to try to see the Grey Phalarope which had turned up yesterday out at Thornham Point. It was still present this morning, but as we walked west along the beach we got a message to say it had flown off, flushed by a Hobby. It had flown off and come back previously, so we decided to press on anyway. By the time we got out to the Point, it was back on its favoured pool.

A couple of Scandinavian Rock Pipits flushed from the saltmarsh as we positioned ourselves on one side of the pool. The Grey Phalarope was over at the back at first, picking around in the samphire. Then it waded into the water and started swimming around, eventually coming right down to the near edge, in front of us.

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope – on one of the saltmarsh pools at Thornham Point

The Grey Phalarope was a young bird, a first winter, with some new grey feathers on its back but still with retained darker juvenile feathers on the back of its neck and wings. We could even make out the remains of the creamy orange wash on the front of its neck. Grey Phalaropes breed in the high Arctic and spend the rest of the year out at sea, migrating down to the coast of South Africa for the winter. They are very prone to be being blown inshore on autumn storms, when they are scarce visitors here. A great bird to see.

Having spent some time watching the Grey Phalarope feeding, we set off to walk back. We went into Parrinder Hide this time, to see if there was anything over the back of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff out on the mud and we could now see there were more Avocets in the deeper water over towards the back, along with a nice selection of the commoner dabbling ducks.

It was already getting on for lunchtime, so we set off back along the main path. We hadn’t gone far when we found a couple of people looking at a small mammal on the edge of the path. It was a Water Shrew, feeding on the remains of snails which had been crushed underfoot on the path. They are normally quite secretive, so it was amazing to see one out in the open like this, seemingly completely unconcerned by all the people passing by.

Water Shrew

Water Shrew – feeding on the main path on the way back

We ate our lunch by the Visitor Centre. There were a few Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders and a large Brown Rat underneath! A couple of Siskins flew over calling.

Afterwards, we walked out along Fen Trail. We found a tit flock again, but it moved too quickly back through the trees to see if there was anything interesting with it. There were more more tits in the trees by the Tank Road, and a Goldcrest which was busy preening deep in the elders.

Out at Patsy’s Reedbed, there were more ducks, including a moulting drake Pintail at the back, to make up for the one which had disappeared into the reeds earlier. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing out in the middle and a Mediterranean Gull dropped in with them briefly. A first winter, its heavier dark bill and black bandit mask gave it away, but it didn’t linger and flew off again west past us.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – dropped in on Patsy’s Reedbed pool briefly

We had got away with the weather so far today, but now it started to spit with rain. A quick look at the forecast suggested some rain was approaching, so we made our way back to the car park. It looked like it would remain dry further south until later this afternoon, so we decided to head inland. A covey of Grey Partridges ran across the road in front of us. Then as we got out onto the A148, it started to rain.

As we got to the Brecks, we drove out of the rain again, so it was dry when we got to our destination, even if it was grey and rather windy still. We had come to look for the Stone Curlews which gather here in the autumn. They were hard to find at first, but we managed to locate one then two, hiding behind the ridges of soil and clumps of nettles, trying to shelter from the wind. Gradually they became more active, and we counted up to eight Stone Curlews from here. We had nice views of them through the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we counted 27 still in the fields today

There were lots of gulls in the fields too, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Scanning through them, we found an adult Yellow-legged Gull first. It was colour-ringed, with a red ring, but it was too far away to read the lettering. We found a Caspian Gull next, an immature in its 2nd winter/2nd calendar year, but it flew off back to the next field, out of view, before everyone could get onto it. Then we picked out a second Yellow-legged Gull, this time also a 2nd winter. There were probably a lot more other gulls there too, but most were out of view from here.

Given we were upwind from them and the Stone Curlews were sheltering from the wind from this direction, we drove round to the other side of the field to try to see if there were more there that we couldn’t see. We were much further away, but scanning with the scope we could now see where the other Stone Curlews were hiding. The light was fading and they were very well camouflaged against the bare stony ground, but we counted at least 28 Stone Curlews from here. Numbers are gradually dropping now, as birds head off south for the winter, but that was still an impressive total.

As we drove back, we quickly ran into heavy rain. We had been very lucky, managing to avoid the worst of the weather today.

10th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. It was a bright start, clouding over in the afternoon, but staying dry with a blustery SW wind all day.

To start the day, we headed to the pools just east of Wells. As we got out on the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret on the back of the pools to the west of the track. Through the scope, we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill. It was heading for the corner by the track, but by the time we were ready to head down there, it was flushed and flew back out to the middle, before working its way the other way down towards the back corner.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding on the pool west of the track

There were lots of Greylags in the grass around the pools the other side, and a good number of Egyptian Geese with them. Further back, we could see plenty of Wigeon and Teal too. There was no sign of the Little Stint here this morning unfortunately, but a Common Snipe flew round in front of us.

Walking through the bushes beyond the pools, we stopped to look at several Greenfinches feeding in the brambles – an uncommon bird these days. Then we made our way up onto the seawall beyond, where we could see several Brent Geese, Redshanks and Curlews out in the muddy channels in the harbour. A paler wader, its whiter underparts catching the sunlight, caught our attention. Through the scope we could see it was a Greenshank, a nice early addition to the list.

There seemed to be quite a few birds on the western pool, so we walked over for a closer look. There were more ducks on here, plus a few waders, notably two winter adult Ruff (one with a limp) and two Common Snipe busily probing in the mud. When all the birds spooked we looked across to see a Sparrowhawk coming through low, flushing everything.

While we were standing on the seawall, several Blue Tits and three Dunnocks came up out of the bushes in front of us. The way they circled up high into the sky before heading off strongly west suggested they were migrants on the move. Looking out over the saltmarsh, we saw several small groups of Carrion Crows heading west too. Migration in action.

As we walked back along the seawall, a smart male Yellowhammer flew in high and dropped down into the bushes. It disappeared in, but after a few minutes it flew out again and landed in the top of one of the larger hawthorns where we could get a good look at it. There were several Reed Buntings in the bushes here too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew high over calling and disappeared off towards Wells – possibly another bird on the move.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – dropped into the bushes by the seawall

We carried on east along the Coastal Path – there had been a Dusky Warbler further down at Warham Greens for the last few days, although it hadn’t been seen this morning as far as we could tell. We decided to have a look ourselves anyway. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way quickly along the hedge past us, but we couldn’t see anything with it as it did so. A couple of Song Thrushes flushed from the hedge and flew off inland, presumably freshly arrived migrants which had been taking a break. Two Kingfishers flew in across the saltmarsh and disappeared off behind us.

There were a few people looking and they confirmed there had been no sign of the Dusky Warbler. While we stood for a few minutes and listened, we looked out over the saltmarsh. There were good numbers of Pink-footed Geese coming in today – we saw some flocks arriving from distantly out beyond the beach, over the sea, while others came in from the east across the saltmarsh, presumably having made landfall already earlier. As they got closer, we could hear their distinctive yelping calls. A Marsh Harrier was hunting along the edge of the dunes. A flock of Golden Plovers circled up in the distance.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were good numbers arriving this morning

Somebody walking in from the other way told us they had just seen a Whinchat beyond the pit, so we decided to head over that way to see if we could find it. As we were walking past the pit, several Reed Buntings and Goldfinches were in the bushes and then we heard a distinctive chacking call. A Ring Ouzel! We had a couple of glimpses as it flew between the bushes before it disappeared out the back. We walked round the other side and it flew up out of the suaeda, calling. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and disappeared off to the east. Another migrant.

We found the Whinchat, feeding distantly out on the saltmarsh. We could see its pale sandy colouration and distinctive pale superciliun through the scope. There were two Stonechats too, a pair. And we could now see some of the Golden Plovers tucked down in the vegetation in the distance, amazingly well camouflaged.

We walked back to the pools at Wells, but there was still no sign of the Little Stint. Four more Ruff had dropped in on the pools by the track now. We watched as a Marsh Harrier over the field beyond, flushed lots of Skylarks and Linnets from the stubble.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the minibus and headed round to Wells beach car park. A Common Buzzard flew low over the car park and several Jays flew back and forth from the pines.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – flew low over the beach car park at lunchtime

After lunch, we walked up onto the seawall and had a look out over the harbour. There were lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers on the mud across from the lifeboat station.

Looking out the other side, towards the sea, we could see a Grey Plover down on the edge of the channel. On the sand the other side, we found several Bar-tailed Godwits roosting in with the Oystercatchers and a few Turnstones in amongst the Redshanks. Further out, a Great Black-backed Gull was feeding on a dead seal on the sand in the distance and a single Sanderling was running around it. A Rock Pipit flew over calling.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the boating lake

From the harbour, we made our way into the woods. As we passed the boating lake, we could see several Little Grebes diving, out on the water. Juts beyond, as we headed for the trees, we heard a Bullfinch calling from the bushes by the path, and had a quick glimpse as it shot past.

It felt like the wind had picked up this afternoon, and it was blustery in the trees – not ideal conditions. We walked in through the birches and round the Dell, finding very little. Only on the far side, did we finally find a tit flock. We tried to follow them, but they were moving very quickly, not stopping for long in the branches which were being blown around by the wind.

Eventually the flock stopped in the bushes by the main path – we walked round the corner and found ourselves surrounded by Long-tailed Tits. We could hear Chiffchaffs calling and saw one or two flitting around in the branches, along with a Blackcap. Then we heard the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler – just the bird we had hoped to find – but it seemed to be deep in the trees. The flock looked like they might come down to drink and bathe in the puddles on the path, two Coal Tits kept trying to drop down but were too nervous. Then the whole flock disappeared back towards the birches over by the toilet block.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we chased a tit flock through the Woods

We walked all the way round to the birches and found the tit flock again in the trees. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler with them now, although we did have a nice view of several Goldcrests feeding low in the birches. Then the whole disappeared up into the tops of the pines.

There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on Quarles Marsh, but nothing in the bushes in the open area the other side of the main path today. We walked on as far as the drinking pool, but it was quiet here too. A Jay flew up from where it had been bathing and stopped to preen in the trees. It was just too breezy this afternoon and the tit flocks all seemed to have gone into the pines to find shelter. We decided to cut our losses and headed back to the car park.

Jay

Jay – preening after bathing in the drinking pool

To finish the afternoon, we headed round to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down by the river, we found a tit flock in the trees. A Goldcrest was in with them, but despite following them through the sallows all the way down to the seawall we couldn’t find anything else.

From up on the seawall, we could see a single Spoonbill out on one of the islands. It was awake but quickly went to sleep – typical Spoonbill! Most of the large flock which gathered here at the end of the summer had departed now, probably to Poole Harbour where they like to spend the winter, but a small number are still around, for the time being at least. Five Little Egrets were tucked up in front of the reeds at the back, out of the wind. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in from the harbour and dropped down onto the Fen.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was still one left on the Fen this afternoon

Looking out the other way, we could see a distant Marsh Harrier quartering over the Point. A Kingfisher skimmed low over the harbour channel below us and disappeared upstream. Through the scope, we could see three Red-breasted Mergansers out in the harbour. Lots of Oystercatchers, Brent Geese and gulls were scattered around the muddy edges.

Unfortunately it was time to head back now. As we walked down the path beside the river, a Green Sandpiper flew up from the direction of the Fen and disappeared off west. A nice bird to end the day on, but we were looking forward to more tomorrow.

26th Sept-4th Oct 2019 – Shetland

Not a tour, but I spent a few days up on Shetland enjoying the delights of Autumn migration there. Here are a few highlights:

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike – found at Levenwick on 28th Sept

An Isabelline Shrike was found at Levenwick on 28th September. An interesting bird, it was identified initially as probably a Turkestan Shrike, but lacked the strongly defined pale supercilium of that (sub)species. However, it was not a particularly good fit for Daurian Shrike either, being rather too pale below and especially on the throat, with too much contrast between the upperparts and underparts.

A pellet was collected, which hopefully will yield some DNA and might shed some light on this bird’s identity, but even the genetics of this complex group is not simple. Both Turkestan and Daurian Shrike are thought to interbreed with Red-backed Shrike, and possibly with each other, which further complicates the situation.

Eastern Stonechat

Eastern Stonechat – probably a Siberian Stonechat, maurus

An Eastern Stonechat was found the same day at Brake. The Stonechats are similarly complex, now most frequently treated as two species – Siberian and Stejneger’s Stonechats. This one looked a good fit for Siberian Stonechat, but again DNA may be required to confirm its identity (apparently someone did manage to acquire a sample).

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper – on the beach at Grutness

It was a busy day on 28th, with a Semipalmated Sandpiper found on the beach at Grutness. Coming from the opposite direction to the shrike and stonechat, it had perhaps come over from North America previously and just relocated to the beach. It remained for several days, commuting between Grutness and Pool of Virkie.

Little Bunting

Little Bunting – Sumburgh Head, also on 28th

There were several Little Buntings around throughout my visit, and I managed to catch up with a couple of them. One around the lighthouse buildings at Sumburgh Head also on 28th was very confiding.

Olive-backed Pipit

Olive-backed Pipit – found at Cunningsburgh later on 28th

Likewise, there were several Olive-backed Pipits found during my stay on the islands, but the only one I managed to catch up with rounded off my day on 28th, when we watched it creeping through the grass between the irises at Cunningsburgh.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – this one at Quendale on 27th

Similarly, there were several Red-breasted Flycatchers found throughout my stay and I managed to run into several of them.

 

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – a juvenile on 2nd Oct

A juvenile Red-backed Shrike on 2nd October was a lot less controversial than the Isabelline Shrike. One of two which turned up later on in the week, this one near Gott.

Barred Warbler

Barred Warbler – in the middle of Lerwick

Several Barred Warblers turned up later in the week too. I stopped off to see one in the middle of Lerwick on a shopping trip on the afternoon of 3rd, where it was gleaning insects from the tops of some sycamores around the bowling green / tennis courts.

Greenish Warbler

Greenish Warbler – minus its tail

A Greenish Warbler at Levenwick on 27th was one of two during the week, a distinctive bird lacking a tail.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – everywhere at the start of the week

There were Yellow-browed Warblers everywhere at the start of the week – on 27th there seemed to be at least one in just about every bush. However, after a clear night, numbers thinned out considerably after 28th, but they were still seen almost daily. The commonest warbler.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat – presumably of the race blythi

Several Lesser Whitethroats seen all appeared to be birds of one of the eastern races, most likely blythi. It was a nice opportunity to get a better look at several of these interesting birds.

Bee-eater

Bee-eater – a long way north

 

A Bee-eater at Ollaberry was a nice distraction late on 29th.

Orcas

Orcas – a pod of Killer Whales in Clift Sound off Wester Quarff

But the highlight of my trip was not a bird. A pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) was sighted off St Ninian’s Isle and then Maywick heading north on the morning of 2nd. There was nowhere to look for them until Wester Quarff, much further north, so I positioned myself there, not knowing if they would come all the way up Clift Sound. It was a long wait, but eventually they appeared in the distance.

This was the so-called 027 pod of Orcas, eight in total. They took their time to get to us – by now, quite a crowd had gathered – seemingly stopping having made a kill successfully a number of times. Eventually they passed only 150-200m offshore. Amazing!