Category Archives: Autumn Tour

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.

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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…

25th Sept 2018 – Fen & Marshes

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, a relaxed day out on the coast looking for birds and other wildlife. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day, even feeling warm out of the fresh SW breeze. After a later than normal start, due to the vagaries of the local public transport system, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. It was a little after high tide now, but it was a big tide today and we were hopeful we might still find some birds on here.

As we got out of the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese and a small group flew across the stubble field in front of us, presumably having roosted locally. As we made our way down along the path, two Stock Doves flew across the meadow in front of us and dropped down over the far side. As we crossed the road, a Marsh Harrier was creating pandemonium, flying over the Fen and flushing all the Wigeon.

There was no sign of the large tit flock in the bushes by the river, just a couple of Blue Tits. As we got to the thicker sallows we could hear a family of Bullfinches calling and we had a couple of glimpses of them as they flew ahead of us between the trees. A Chiffchaff was calling here too and as we stopped to scan the Fen, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the brambles. The latter was presumably a young bird and in need of practice, as the song wasn’t quite right yet!

Looking across to the Fen, we could see a line of large white shapes on the island, asleep amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were the Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best! One or two would wake up occasionally and flash their long spoon-shaped bills before going back to sleep.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – at least 18 of them, still on the Fen today

There is a fuller view of the Fen from up on the seawall, and we got the scope trained on the Spoonbills from here so we could get a better look at them. We could see there was a mixture of adults and juveniles, the former with yellow-tipped black bills and the young ones with shorter and dirty flesh coloured bills.

It was nice to see a good number of Spoonbills still here today. As well the risk they may already have started to drift off to feed out on the saltmarsh, with the tide dropping now, it seems like the Norfolk Spoonbills are probably starting to head off to the south coast for the winter. They may not be here much longer.

There were a few birds in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall. As we walked up, we could see four Little Egrets busy fishing just below us, trying to catch something on the falling tide. A little further upstream, a Greenshank and a Redshank were feeding in the muddy water too, when a Kingfisher flew in and landed on a post just behind them.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – feeding in the harbour channel on the falling tide

The Kingfisher population here was hit by the cold weather in March, so it is good to see them back again at some of their regular sites now. This one kept diving into the water and returning to its perch. At one point, it landed back on to us and we had a great view of the electric blue streak down its back, which shone as it caught the morning sun.

Turning our attention back to the Fen, we could see lots of ducks out on the water and roosting on the islands – mainly Wigeon and Teal, but also with at least a dozen Pintail with them too. When something spooked them, many of the ducks took off and several waves of them flew over our heads and out into the harbour. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off too, heading back out with the falling tide now exposing large areas of mud again. The Spoonbills just woke up, looked around, and went back to sleep!

Several more groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over calling as we stood on the seawall. It seemed like there were probably mostly birds which had roosted here though, as they seemed to come in low from the west, rather than fresh arrivals back from Iceland. We could see them circling round away to the east, looking for a suitable field to land in.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – several small flocks flew over calling

From a little further along the seawall, we looked back at the far side of the Fen and could see more waders still out on the mud. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Redshanks and Ruff. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding on its own along the far edge. A Common Buzzard circled up over the fields just beyond.

As we walked round to the corner of the harbour, a Curlew was standing on the large open area of mud on the bend in the channel. There were several Redshanks on here too.

The tide was well out now and there was lots of exposed mud out in the middle of the harbour too. As well as lots of gulls, we could see lots of waders – the ones we could see were mainly Oystercatchers and Curlews but one or two Grey Plover too. Looking across to the far side, the seals were hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and the sand flats opposite. A couple of people walking out onto the mud flushed all the Oystercatchers and they all circled round over the harbour.

A flock of wildfowl came up from the bottom somewhere too and in with the smaller ducks we could see some larger, blackish birds with bright white under their tails. They were Brent Geese, thirteen of them, the first we have seen here this autumn, just returned from Siberia for the winter. In the next few weeks, there should be lots more back here but it is always nice to see the first few back. There was a large flock of Shelducks out here too, all adults – perhaps they moulted here or perhaps they have just returned too, from the moult migration to the Waddensee?

Blakeney Harbour

Blakeney Harbour – the view across to the Point

The view from here is stunning, particular on a glorious sunny day like today. We could probably have stood here all day! We had other places we wanted to explore though, so we headed back. A flock of Linnets were in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at them perched in the tops before they flew off across the channel.

The sunshine had brought lots of insects out today. We saw a nice selection of butterflies on the walk back – as well as the usual Speckled Woods along the path, a couple of Small Coppers and a Red Admiral flew past and a lovely bright Comma posed nicely on the hedge, basking in the sun. There were dragonflies out too – a couple of Common Darter were catching the sun on the wooden steps, a few Migrant Hawkers were busy hunting and a Southern Hawker was patrolling up and down the hedge.

Comma

Comma – enjoying the sun

We still had some time before lunch, so we made our way back to Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. The two Spotted Redshanks were still on Snipe’s Marsh, busy feeding in the shallow water in between the cut reed stems, along with a couple of Little Egrets. We had a good look at the Spotted Redshanks through the scope, noting their long, needle-fine bills.

Two Common Buzzards were playing over the near edge of North Foreland Wood, tumbling and talon-grappling. When they strayed over enough to disturb the Little Egrets, the Spotted Redshanks were spooked too and flew off across the road. Three Common Snipe down on the mud on the edge of the reeds were not so easily disturbed though, so we had a good look at those through the scope too. A couple of Little Grebes were diving in the deeper water at the front.

We had a quick walk up the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but the breeze had picked up a bit and once again they were keeping well hidden. We did eventually get a quick flight view of one as it came up out of the reeds and flew low over the tops, before diving back into cover. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds off in the distance and a Kestrel was hovering over the grazing marshes the other side.

Several Teal were feeding in the Serpentine and a small group of Shoveler were asleep on the back shore. Scanning the grazing marshes, we could see lots of Wigeon on Pope’s Pool and a small party of six or so Pink-footed Geese in the grass just in front. Through the scope, we could see their dark bills with a distinctive pink band around.

Arnold’s Marsh held a few waders, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, and a group of Cormorants roosting on the small island at the back. Looking round more carefully, we found a few Dunlin too, and three Ringed Plover on one of the shingle spits, hiding in the vegetation.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in the brackish pools

Carrying on towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Little Egret fishing in the brackish pools by the path. The sea was very calm today, and there wasn’t much out on the water – a single Grey Seal surfaced offshore. A long way out, beyond the wind farm, through the scope we could make out several Gannets and Sandwich Terns fishing, diving into the water. Three Wigeon flew in high off the sea, birds just arriving back from the continent for the winter.

We made our way back and headed round to the Visitor Centre for lunch. It was a lovely day to sit out on the picnic tables today, looking out across the reserve. A steady stream of gulls were commuting in and out between the reserve and the fields behind us, which were being cultivated. We picked up a couple of young Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – two flew over while we were having lunch

Three Skylarks flew overhead calling too, while we were eating. Looking out towards the sea, we picked up a large skein of geese coming in. More Pink-footed Geese, these were surely birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A Red Admiral was basking on the boardwalk, as were several Common Darters. We went into Dauke’s Hide first and as soon as we arrived, one of the volunteers in there told us that the Pectoral Sandpiper was back on Simmond’s Scrape. We had seen it on the reserve several days ago but it had disappeared later that day and not been seen since, so it was a nice surprise that it was back! There are lots of little pools and other wet areas on the reserve, not visible from any hides, where it could lose itself.

Pectoral Sandpiper

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpiper through the scope. It was creeping round the edge of the larger island at the back, and kept walking into the grass. When it came out we could see its distinctive streaked breast cleanly demarcated from the white belly. It fed next to a couple of Dunlin at one point, and the Pectoral Sandpiper was about the same size, shorter billed, brighter with pale braces on its back and a clean belly lacking the streaks of the young Dunlin. Then, while we were looking the other way, it disappeared!

As well as the Dunlin, there were also several Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits on Simmond’s Scrape, and a large group of roosting Lapwing. A Common Snipe was very well camouflaged, motionless tucked against the front edge of the closer island. Its mournful three-note call alerted us to a Grey Plover flying in. As it landed on the island just behind the Snipe, we could see its black armpits. It was a juvenile, strongly patterned above and lacking any traces of the black belly which adults show in breeding plumage.

Looking out the side of the hide, a Common Sandpiper was feeding on the island down at the front of Whitwell Scrape. Then we heard a Green Sandpiper calling and it dropped in on the other side of the same island. It was good to see the two of them close to each other – the Green Sandpiper was larger and darker than the Common Sandpiper, and lacked the obvious notch of white extending up between the darker breast and wings.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – flew in and landed on the island at the front of Whitwell Scrape

A Sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the grass in front of Billy’s Wash, so we got that in the scope next. It was a young bird, brown on the back and slightly rusty round the nape. We could see its bright yellow iris and barred belly.

The water level is going down nicely on Pat’s Pool now, but a quick look in at Teal Hide failed to produce anything here we hadn’t already seen on Simmond’s Scrape – more Dunlin, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reedy ditch out to the right of the hide, but they failed to come our way.

We wanted to have a quick look in at Babcock Hide before we finished but we knew we didn’t have much time left. We drove round to Iron Road and walked briskly out along the grassy path. A Kestrel was perched on a gate post along the reedy ditch. There were lots of Greylags on the grazing marshes and several Egyptian Geese with them – we could see their striking chocolate eye patches.

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose – on the grazing marsh near Babcock Hide

There are often flocks of waders at the moment on Watling Water, commuting in from the stubble fields across the road, but there were none on here when we arrived in the hide. There were plenty of Greylags, Teal and Mallard, and a couple of Curlew on the mud at the back. It was very relaxing, sitting in the hide, staring out over the pool and listening to the wind in the reeds, but we had a bus to catch! As we walked back along the path, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in across the road and dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide.

We made it round to the bus stop in good time for the bus. It had been a beautiful day to be out exploring the coast and we had seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife too.

23rd Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today, our last day. The weather forecast for today kept changing, from heavy rain and gales when we looked two days ago, with people worrying we would not be able to get out, to sunshine and showers as of yesterday, and now rain for the morning before brightening up. The winds were forecast to pick up in the afternoon, but to nothing like what had been predicted earlier in the week. Once again, the multi-million pound Met Office supercomputer was struggling to make up its mind!

With the possibility of rain this morning, we decided to head over to Titchwell, where we could at least get into the hides. While some of the group were packing up, we popped down to see if the Wryneck was still present. It had been seen at dawn, but we couldn’t find it in a quick look and then it started to rain. Having had a great view yesterday, we decided not to hang around.

When we got to Titchwell, it wasn’t raining so we walked round to the overflow car park to see if there were any birds in there. It looked fairly quiet at first, but waiting patiently we began to see a few Blackcaps in the bushes, with two together feeding on elderberries. A tit flock flew across and disappeared through into the back of the thick hedge by the entrance road. We could hear a Goldcrest calling with them, but the birds were hard to see here and quickly headed off back along the hedge.

There were lots of finches in the trees too. We had a quick scan from the gates at the end which didn’t produce anything of note out in the paddocks, but we did find a couple of Song Thrushes in the bushes by the coach park.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush – one of two feeding in the back of the car park

The feeders by the Visitor Centre had just a few finches and Blue Tits on them this morning, but as we set off along Fen Trail there were one or two Chiffchaffs in the sallows and we quickly came across another mixed tit flock. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over our heads, calling. As we got out of the trees, past Fen Hide, it started to spit with rain again.

Carrying on to Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see a Marsh Harrier up over the reedbed beyond as we approached, hanging in the wind. There were lots of ducks out on the water again – a nice selection of Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, one or two Shoveler, several Common Pochard and a single eclipse drake Pintail – but we couldn’t see the Red-crested Pochard on here today.

It was not a morning to stand around in one place too long, as we headed off along to the Autumn Trail. We could hear another Chiffchaff calling in the hedge as we passed and a Water Rail was squealing from deep in the reeds at the far side of Patsy’s Reedbed. At the start of the Autumn Trail, we heard the pinging of Bearded Tits. Scanning carefully, we managed to find a male climbing up into the top of the reeds. We got it in the scope, and most of the group managed to get a quick look at it before it flew again.

It was low tide now and there were not many birds roosting on the back of the Freshmarsh when we got to the end of the trail. There were lots of Teal down on the mud and we could see several Avocets feeding, up to their bellies in the deeper water. We could hear more Bearded Tits here and had a couple of quick views of one or two flicking up out of the reeds before a male flew across and landed briefly on the edge of the cut area just in front of the viewpoint.

The rain eased off again, but it was still feeling rather damp, so we decided to head round to the hides. We cut across on Meadow Trail to the main path and walked up past the reedbed. As we got to the reeds by the old Thornham grazing meadow ‘pool’, which is getting increasingly overgrown, we could hear yet more Bearded Tits calling. Once again, we had a couple of brief views of a male in the reeds, before it flew back into the reeds along the path behind us. They really were very active today – even though it was cool and damp, at least the wind hadn’t really picked up yet.

The reedbed pool held just a couple of Little Grebes and three Coot, all over towards the back. But two Sand Martins swooping back and forth low over the water were the first we had seen this weekend and a welcome addition to the list. We headed on quickly to Island Hide.

There didn’t seem to be so many waders on the Freshmarsh today, with fewer Black-tailed Godwits in particular, and it appeared that there had been a clear-out of smaller waders too. Still there were plenty of birds to see here. In particular, no shortage of Ruff still, in a variety of colours and sizes, paler winter adults and browner juveniles in different shades, bigger males and much smaller females. We had a nice view of a winter adult male and a juvenile female on the mud right in front of the hide.

Ruff

Ruff – there are still good numbers on the Freshmarsh

We managed to find one lone Dunlin. Then a Ringed Plover dropped in on one of the muddy islands and was quickly joined by two more Dunlin.

The ducks on here were mainly Wigeon and Teal, with the drakes still mostly in their dull eclipse plumage so not looking their best. Looking carefully through the Teal, we managed to find the Garganey which has been seen here on and off over the last week or so. Even though it was a long way back, the Garganey’s more contrasting face pattern really stood out compared to the Teal around it.

Garganey

Garganey – spot the duck with the more contrasting face pattern

There have been two Pink-footed Geese on the Freshmarsh all summer. They are both injured birds, with badly damaged wings, unable to fly back with the others to Iceland for the breeding season. They came over to bathe in the muddy channel right in front of Island Hide today. We got a really good view of their bill patterns, close up, but we could also really appreciate just how mangled their wings are as they flapped and preened.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of the two resident birds, with a badly damaged wing

The wind was starting to pick up a bit now and reports were coming through of good numbers of interesting skuas, shearwaters and petrels passing by offshore all along the coast. When the north wind blows at this time of year, the best birds are to be found out to sea. It was really a day for seawatching today, but that is not a suitable pastime for the faint-hearted! We did look up to see two Great Skuas, or Bonxies as they are known, flying past over the volunteer marsh just behind Parrinder Hide. They looked big and dark apart from their bold white wing flashes.

There were a few gulls on the Freshmarsh today, mainly Black-headed Gulls but with a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls with them too. One gull stood out amongst the Black-headed Gulls – it was a touch bulkier and heavier billed, with a black mask, paler overall and with less black in the wing tip. It was a second winter Mediterranean Gull. We had a look at it in the scope and when we looked back a couple of minutes later, it was joined by a second Mediterranean Gull, this time a first winter.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – a second winter, on the Freshmarsh

One of the group picked up four Spoonbills coming in high over the reedbed. They looked for a minute like they might come in to land on the Freshmarsh, half circling, having a look at their usual roosting spot at the back, before carrying on over the bank and disappearing away towards Brancaster. The Spoonbills tend to spend most of their time feeding out on the saltmarsh over low tide and then coming in to roost at high tide, which was not until much later this afternoon.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – circled over the Freshmarsh before flying on east

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from not far away so scanned along the base of the reeds opposite the hide. Two Bearded Tits were feeding on the mud in the sparse reeds along the near edge, an adult male and a juvenile. They weaved their way in and out and spent several minutes feeding here giving us a great opportunity to get a really good long look at them through the scope. Always great birds to see like this!

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tits – an adult male and a juvenile down on the mud opposite the hide

Nearby, we noticed some movement in the weedy vegetation out on the mud and looked across to see the head of a Common Snipe stick up. It was very well hidden in here, but did eventually come out so we could see it properly.

It was getting on for lunch time now and we wanted to at least try to have a good look out to sea, so it made more sense to head back to the Visitor Centre for a break now, and then come out again afterwards. We could already see a band of brighter sky away to the north, and over lunch the sky cleared and the sun even came out!

After lunch, we walked back out past the Freshmarsh. There were not many birds on the Volunteer Marsh, not even on either side of the muddy channel at the far end, although we did stop to admire a couple of Common Redshanks down just below the main path. In the bright sunshine now, their legs were shining day-glo orange!

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – showing off its bright orange legs

The non-tidal Tidal Pools are now very full with water. We could see a few waders hunkered down on the one remaining grassy island, but there were not many on here now. When we got out to the beach we could see why – they were all gathered out on the mussel beds.

There is not much shelter from the wind at Titchwell, but we tried to have a scan of the sea from the dunes. One of the first birds we picked up was a Manx Shearwater just offshore. It was heading west, but turned and came back past, alternately arcing up into the sky and skimming down over the waves, flashing black and white as it turned. There were several small groups of Arctic Skuas flying past a bit further out and one or two young Gannets.

Although there were patches of blue sky, there were some squally showers coming in off the sea too in the increasingly fresh north wind. We sheltered from one brief one behind the dunes and then made our way down the beach for a closer look through the waders. Despite the fact that it was not long after low tide, the mussel beds were covered quickly by the tide, the sea pushed in quickly by the wind.

We could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits out on the shoreline, accompanied by a good number of smaller Knot. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were walking about on the wetter sand higher up the beach and a Grey Plover, still sporting the remnants of its black underparts from breeding plumage was on the drier sand closer still. A large flock of Turnstones took off and flew in up the beach and as the tide rose, the godwits and Knot started to fly off too.

It wasn’t quite so windy here, further down the beach, so we tried to have another quick look out to sea. A line of six Arctic Skuas came past, quite close in, one of them a smart pale adult. Unfortunately we were not all kitted out for an extended seawatching session on the beach in these conditions, so when another shower came in off the sea, we headed back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – by the path on our way back

There were more waders along the muddy channel on Volunteer Marsh now, bolstered by the birds coming in off the beach. There were several Curlew, more Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. One Black-tailed Godwit walked down to feed on the mud just below the main path, giving us a great close-up view as it probed for worms.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on the way back. There were more waders on here too now, in particular a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits which had come in from the beach to roost. Through the scope, we could see that several were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage, and there were a few grey winter Knot hiding in with them. A small flock of Golden Plover flew in and circled round, their golden brown upperparts catching the sun, before landing on the islands.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – came in from the beach to roost on the Freshmarsh

On the way back to the car, we heard a Whimbrel calling out over the saltmarsh in the distance and more Bearded Tits calling in the reeds. A couple of flocks of Pink-footed Geese flew high overhead calling, presumably more returning birds back from Iceland for the winter.

We made our way back along the coast road to Wells. It would be a bit more sheltered from the increasingly blustery north wind in the woods, so we figured we would spend the last hour of the afternoon in here. There have not been very many unusual migrants coming in recently with the persistent westerly airflow, but with the Wryneck appearing yesterday anything is possible. It was worth a go.

There were several Little Grebes on the boating lake and a couple of Tufted Ducks. But as we got into the trees it all seemed rather quiet, apart from a couple of Jays squawking. We had a quick walk round the Dell and then through to the Drinking Pool. We were surprised by the number of Chiffchaffs calling in the trees today, but we struggled to find a significant tit flock – presumably they were feeding somewhere in the pines this afternoon. When we got back past the Dell, we did find a couple of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, but they seemed to be on their own.

It was time to call it a day now anyway, so we made our way back home. It had been a really exciting and varied three days, with some excellent birds – well worth coming out despite the dire weather predictions beforehand!

22nd Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We planned to spend the morning down in the Brecks and then return to North Norfolk for the afternoon. It was rather cloudy and grey all day, a bit brighter around the middle of the day, but it stayed dry and the much lighter winds were both a blessing and a hindrance!

On the drive down to the Brecks, a Red Kite over the fields next to the road was a nice addition to the trip list. Otherwise it was a fairly uneventful journey, until we got down to the area where the Stone Curlews are gathering. Before we even got to the layby, we could see a good number from the road as we passed, in the edge of the field just beyond the hedge. There is nowhere to stop here so we continued on to the place where we could park.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the Stone Curlews we had seen from the car were out of view from here today, over a ridge in the field. Fortunately, we could still see a couple of Stone Curlews nestled down in the field. We got the scope out and scanned and found there were actually six here, though only the heads of some of the others were visible. We got the scope on the most obvious and closest bird and had a good look at it. We could see its bright yellow iris, when it opened it eyes, and its black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – one of a group of six we saw at our first stop this morning

We had a good look at the first Stone Curlew, then two of the others stood up from where they were hiding down in the low-growing crop, so we turned the scope on them.

There were a few Red-legged Partridge in the field too and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over. A brief glimpse of a hawk disappearing away over the trees suggested something more exciting until it came back over the field and we could see it was just a young female Sparrowhawk flying in an odd fashion, with deep and powerful wingbeats more like a display flight.

There have been some more Stone Curlews in another field further on, so we decided to go and check those out, and then if need be come back and try to see the ones we had seen from the road earlier. As we edged in slowly along the path, we realised that some of the Stone Curlews were very close to us, closer than normal, hidden in the vegetation. We froze. A small number of the birds flew, but thankfully landed again just a little further back. Some of the others walked a short distance away, but most of them stayed put.

We got one of the Stone Curlews in the scope, and had a good look at it taking turns. Gradually, over the next half an hour, we were able to edge out into a position from where we could all see some of the birds. They were settled now, untroubled by our presence at a discrete distance, and we had some truly amazing, frame-filling views of them here.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – frame-filling views through the scope

Scanning back and forth over the vegetation, we realised we could see more and more birds, with several hiding or sitting down so only the tops of their heads were visible. At first we could only see about 15-20, but by the end we had managed to count at least 41 Stone Curlews here visible at any one time. An amazing sight!

A flock of Linnets were feeding down in the weedy vegetation too, and kept flying round calling. There were some pig fields not far away and when we made our way round there we could see lots of gulls out amongst the pigs. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but looking through them carefully we managed to find a single adult Yellow-legged Gull as well as one or two Herring Gulls, in with them.

It had been an amazingly successful start to the morning and, as we were down in the Brecks now, we thought we would see if we might be able to see a Goshawk. This is not the best time of year to see them, but the juveniles in particular do like to come up and play on windy days. Unfortunately this morning the wind had dropped much more than forecast, and there was also no warmth from the sun which was stuck behind the clouds.

As we drove back along the road, we could see all the other Stone Curlews in the first field we had passed – there were at least another 30 here, but we couldn’t stop. We carried on to a spot on higher ground which overlooks an area of forest. There were lots of Lapwings and Starlings out on the cultivated field in front of the trees. Several Mistle Thrushes kept dropping down from the trees to the field to feed, before flying back up again. In the trees, we could see lots of finches, including a couple of small flocks of Siskin.

At first there were not even any Common Buzzards up in the air over the trees. However, we could see a mass of hirundines. Through the scope, we could make out that they were mostly House Martins out over the forest, but along the edge of the trees and over the fields by the road, there were more Swallows. A small numbers of Swallows came across the field in front of us, seemingly on their way west. Clearly these birds were just stopping off here on migration, heading off to Africa for the winter.

Gradually a few Buzzards started to circle up. They weren’t gaining much height today though. One landed in the top of a pine tree. Another drifted over the field behind us, mobbed by a large flock of Jackdaws.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – mobbed by Jackdaws

Eventually a juvenile Goshawk appeared above the wood in the corner. Unfortunately, it was only visible for a few seconds as it flew over the tops, not long enough for everyone to get onto it, before disappearing behind a line of trees. Despite scanning either side in the hope it would re-emerge, it didn’t come back up again. A Sparrowhawk was more obliging, circling up amongst all the hirundines before flying across and dropping back down into the forest.

We tried another spot a little further on. There were lots of Common Buzzards up now, and a Red Kite too, but still no further sign of any more Goshawks. It was not the best day for raptor watching, so we decided to head back up to North Norfolk. During a quick stop in Wells to use the facilities, we heard Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a flock of 36 high over the town, heading west. Presumably more birds just returning here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

We stopped for lunch at Stiffkey, overlooking the saltmarsh. A distant Red Kite was circling out over East Hills and we could see several Curlews, Redshank and Little Egrets were scattered around in the vegetation in front of us. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up a little to the east of us, flying round for a minute or so before disappearing back down into the vegetation.

A single Spoonbill appeared out on the far edge of the saltmarsh, before dropping down out of view to feed in one of the small pools. At times we could just see its head appear, but eventually it climbed out again and we got a good look at it through the scope.

After lunch, we headed along the coast to Blakeney. With a hint of a few migrants in today, we had a quick look around Friary Hills first. It was very quiet in the trees here, with just a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling in trees. As we walked back round along the bottom path, a Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge. Just beyond it, we came across a tit flock, moving fast through the bushes. A grey warbler disappeared round the back before we got a look at it, and despite following the tits along the hedge, all we could see with them now were a few finches.

Walking out along the seawall, a Greenshank was on the mud on the edge of the harbour channel, but was flushed by a couple out walking and disappeared downstream, behind the saltmarsh. We had a better view of a Little Egret, fishing in one of the smaller muddy channels by the path, jiggling its feet in the mud in front of it, trying to flush out something to eat.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in one of the muddy channels

When we got to the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. We could see lots of Curlew and Redshank on the mud closer to us, but most of the other waders were much further out, around the pools in the bottom of the harbour. Through the scope, we could see Oystercatchers and godwits, one or two Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover and several Turnstones.

Looking out across the Freshes the other side, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying back and forth over the reeds, chocolate brown with a contrasting paler head. They were joined by a paler female which came up from the reeds and circled with them for a minute of two before landing on a gate post.

Then the male Marsh Harrier flew in from the harbour behind us. It circled over the rest of the family and looked like it might be preparing for a food pass, despite the fact we couldn’t see anything in its talons. The two juveniles up circled expectantly below it, but it clearly wasn’t here to feed them and gradually drifted off. The juveniles followed, one of them gaining height and swooping down at the male from above. Possibly it was cross that it hadn’t been fed! Eventually the male lost interest and flew back out again towards the harbour.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the male came in over the harbour behind us

We walked back on the path across the grazing marsh. There were not many birds here today, but we did spot a Stock Dove which flew in and landed with a couple of Wood Pigeons out on the grass.

Stiffkey Fen was our last planned stop of the day. The bushes and brambles by the path were quiet at first today, just a couple of Blue Tits. Then we heard Bullfinches calling in the thicker sallows and looking carefully through the foliage, we could just make them out feeding in the back.

When we got to the point where you can see across the brambles to the Fen beyond, we immediately spotted the Spoonbills. There were twenty of them today, mostly asleep, but we could see a pair preening each others heads and necks. When you have a bill as long as that, you need a bit of help to reach some places! When a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew over, all the Spoonbills woke up and we could see there was a mixture of adults with yellow-tipped black bills and juveniles with shorter dirty fleshy bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were 20 on the Fen today

Over at the back, against the reeds, we could see a single Avocet feeding. Most of them have left already now, for the winter. A Green Sandpiper was right over the back too and a couple of Greenshank flew in calling. When we heard a cacophony of honking just behind us, a wave of Greylags flew in very low over our heads from the fields and dropped down onto the Fen. Quite an experience!

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills through the scope. As well as all the Greylags now, there were lots of ducks out on the Fen – mainly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a good number of Pintail.  and a couple of Tufted Ducks.

A big flock of Black-tailed Godwits was roosting down on the Fen and we could see several Redshanks and Ruff, in various shapes and sizes, with them. Down along the edge of the mud in front of the closer reeds we could see a couple of Snipe feeding and a second Green Sandpiper with them. More Greenshanks were flying in from the harbour in ones and twos ahead of the rising tide – we were up to seven already now.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see all the seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and on the sandbars opposite. A couple more large flocks of Pink-footed Geese came in off the sea round the end of the Point, flying on west over the saltmarsh towards Wells and Holkham. A Hobby flew low across the harbour, flushing all the birds around the edge as it did so. With the element of surprise gone, it quickly climbed higher and carried on west.

The tide was coming in fast now. A flock of Oystercatchers had gathered on one of the rapidly disappearing shingle spits on the edge of the harbour. On the spit in front, a single Grey Plover was standing with a lone Curlew until a large flock of Grey Plover and Turnstones flew in to join them. Through the scope, we could see the Grey Plovers were in various stages of moult, with more or less of the summer black face and belly remaining.

News came through that a Wryneck had been seen in Wells. This was a much wanted bird for several members of the group, to the point that we had joked each morning about seeing three or four of them! However, it was very much unexpected today, particularly given the persistent westerly winds and the comparative lack of other migrants coming in. We had to go for a quick look on our way, despite having limited time now before we had to be back.

When we got there, we found a couple of people standing in the car park. They hadn’t been able to find it and no one really knew where it had been seen exactly. We had just got out to talk to them when we noticed a bird drop out of the low hedge just a couple of metres from us, down onto the bare dusty ground on the car park verge – the Wryneck!

It flew again immediately, to a thicker area of trees by the car park entrance. We got everybody out and walked slowly over in that direction. There was the Wryneck, down on the ground on a small grassy bank just the other side of the trees. It froze there, looking round, though seemingly undeterred by the camper vans coming in and out of the caravan park between us and it, from where we were standing on the other side of the entrance road.

It wasn’t easy for everyone to get onto at first, despite it being quite close, as it looked just like a branch or small lump of earth in the grass, but finally the whole group were watching the Wryneck. It was a great view of it here.

Wryneck

Wryneck – what a way to end the day!

Then a Wood Pigeon flew low across over the bank and spooked the Wryneck, which flew into the bushes nearby. We waited a few minutes, in case it might come straight out again, but it was cloudy and cool and the light was fading now. We really had to get everyone back too, or they would be late for dinner! It was a fantastic – and most unexpected – way to end the day, with a Wryneck.