Category Archives: North Norfolk

12th Sept 2019 – Two Autumn Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour exploring the North Norfolk coast. It was a nice bright sunny day today,  and warm in the afternoon out of the fresh SW wind.

Our first destination this morning was Stiffkey Fen. There were lots of cars overflowing the main bait diggers’ layby this morning, but we found a safe place to pull off the road further down. We made our way very carefully down the road and onto the footpath down by the river.

As we walked through the trees, we could hear tits calling above our heads. It is always worth paying attention to tit flocks at this time as they often have other birds accompanying them, and we looked up to see a Chiffchaff with the Blue Tits, up in the willow leaves. We followed the birds quietly as they made our way ahead of us through the bushes.

As we got out into the open, there were still a couple of House Martins around the house on the hill. A Blackcap flitted up into one of the hawthorns by the path, with a Chiffchaff and a couple of Chaffinches. We could hear a large group of people approaching along the path behind us and, as they overtook us, many of the birds moved off into the trees. We waited for them to get out of earshot, then continued along the path.

A little further along, we found another flock of small birds in the trees just across the river. There were good numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in with them today – the former flitting around in the leaves, or flycatching in the sunshine; the latter stopping to feed on the blackberries. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat calling too, but couldn’t see it from where we were.

Looking over the brambles towards the Fen, we could see a line of Spoonbills roosting in with all the geese. We were looking into the sun from here, so we hurried on to the seawall.

Little Egret

Little Egret – with some rather dirty summer plumes

When we got to the seawall, the first thing we saw was a Greenshank down in the harbour channel just beyond. It looked very white below in the sunshine, particularly compared to the Common Redshank feeding on the mud next to it. A Whimbrel walked out from behind the bank further along the channel and a Curlew followed, giving us a great comparison side by side. A Little Egret feeding down in the water in the channel still had fluffy breeding filoplumes on its back although they were rather brown-stained now.

Turning our attention to the Fen, the Spoonbills were mostly asleep on the island, but a small group in the water were busy preening. We could see most of them were juveniles, with flesh-coloured bills, shorter than the adult nearby that had a longer black bill with a yellow tip. We counted twenty two in the group.

There were not many waders out on the Fen today, with the tide already well out in the harbour, but we did find three Pintail roosting in with all the Wigeon and other ducks. A Lesser Whitethroat flew across and landed in an elder bush out in the reeds, where a Reed Bunting was already perched in the top. A Sand Martin flew past along the seawall, on its way west.

As we walked on along the seawall, we stopped to talk to one of the locals walking the other way and another Spoonbill flew in from the harbour and circled in to join the others. The next time we looked back we saw it being chased by a juvenile. The adult Spoonbill flew round and the youngster flew after it. When they landed again, the juvenile walked after it, bobbing its head up and down. When the adult stopped the juvenile started batting it with its wing, begging to be fed. Whatever the adult did, it couldn’t get any peace. This is a common enough sight in the summer, but you would have thought the young Spoonbill might have been old enough to feed for itself by now!

On our way round to the harbour, we stopped to look at a Grey Plover on the mud in the middle of the channel, already in its grey winter plumage. Another Greenshank was roosting on the side of the channel out at the harbour and there were lots of Oystercatchers and Curlew out on the mudflats beyond. We managed to find a couple of Knot too, but the other waders were much further out, with the tide out. When we turned to head back, a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit had appeared in the channel behind us and we had a good look at it through the scope.

As we walked back towards the seawall, we saw one Common Buzzard drifting west over the back of the Fen and when we got there a second Buzzard was circling over the poplars. A male Marsh Harrier flew in from the saltmarsh and over the Fen, flushing all the Lapwings, which swirled round over the Fen with a flock of Starlings.

We turned to see more Spoonbills coming towards us from the direction of the harbour, thirteen more which flew in and dropped down onto the Fen. A quick look through the scope confirmed there were now at least 36 there. The peak count a couple of weeks ago here was well over 50, and birds have been starting to move off on their way to the south coast for the winter, but it was still an impressive sight, one of the highlights of late summer as the Spoonbills gather here after the breeding season at Holkham.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were at least 36 on the Fen as we walked back

As we made our way back along the path beside the river, there were several Speckled Wood butterflies out now, basking in the sunshine, and lots of Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies. We found a Willow Emerald dragonfly too, fluttering around one of the willows, an increasingly common sight along the coast here as they spread rapidly. Another Marsh Harrier, this time a female, was circling over the road as we walked back to the car.

Our next stop was at Wells. As we got out of the minibus, a Marsh Harrier was hunting out over the fields. It was definitely a morning for raptors today, in the sunshine. A Red Kite appeared and flew back and forth over the hedge just beyond the pools, occasionally mobbed by a Jackdaw but just nonchalantly shifting a wing to avoid it. Three Buzzards circled up from the tress on the hill further back and we found another two Red Kites hanging in the air over the fields too.

We scanned the pools on one side of the track, finding a single Green Sandpiper on the mud but not much else. There were a lot more birds on the other side – not least a large mob of hundreds of Greylag Geese. There were some little groups of Egyptian Geese and Canada Geese in with them. The ducks were mainly Wigeon and Teal, with a few Shoveler. We managed to find a couple of Pintail out on the water at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits gathered over the far side and several groups of Ruff. As we walked down the track, we found three Common Snipe on the mud on the edge of one of the pools at the far end. The pair of Pink-footed Geese must have been sleeping in the middle of the Greylags because, when two of the latter took off from the throng, the Pink-footed Geese took off with them. They flew across the track just ahead of us, giving us a good view of their dark heads and mostly dark bills, much smaller than the Greylags they were with, and we watched them disappear off west.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – this pair flew off past us as we walked down the track

A Spoonbill flew across out over the harbour, but dropped down out of view behind the hedge on the hillside ahead of us. Then, as we turned to come back, we got a glimpse of four white shapes fly up and down again in the far corner of the pool. When we walked back a short way, we could see four more Spoonbills here. A Whinchat on the fence on the edge of the field was also a nice bonus – through the scope we could see the pale orange wash on its breast and its pale supercilium.

We had been informed that a couple of interesting moths had been brought in to the moth morning at Cley this morning. A couple of messages confirmed where and when they would be on view and with the help of some of the moth group we were able to get to see them. The Cypress Pug is only the 9th record of the species in Norfolk. It was first recorded in the UK in Cornwall in 1959 having been thought to have been introduced with imported conifers and has since spread along along the south coast.

More impressive but not as rare was the large Convolvulus Hawkmoth. They are migrants from southern Europe and appear here fairly regularly in small numbers at this time of year. Quite a beast and amazing to think that it had managed to migrate all the way here.

Convolulus Hawkmoth

Convolvulus Hawkmoth – a scarce migrant from southern Europe

We headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon. Over lunch there, we talked a little about migrant moths, and the way rapidly changing populations of some species may be harbingers of a changing climate.

After lunch, we set out to explore the reserve. It was windy once we got out of the trees, but warm in the sunshine. A Cetti’s Warbler seemed to be practicing singing but kept well hidden down in a clump of sallows. The reedbed pool held a few ducks, Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks, as well as three Little Grebes.

It was too windy out in the reeds for the Bearded Tits today, but as soon as we got into the hide we spotted one feeding out on the edge of the mud. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, a tawny brown juvenile, before it disappeared back into the reeds. Out of the side of the hide, we then noticed a Water Rail working its way along the edge of the water. We got a great view of that too.

Water Rail

Water Rail – worked its way along the edge of the reeds

There were plenty of waders out on the Freshmarsh this afternoon. A large group of roosting Black-tailed Godwits out in the middle were joined by a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits that flew in from the beach. We could just about see their more contrastingly patterned upperparts, despite the fact that they were facing directly towards us, into the wind. There were three or four Knot roosting in with them too, and two feeding a little further round. A little group of Dunlin was out in the shallow water too.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is very low now, and not helped with the strong SW wind which always blows the water away from the hide the mud in front is getting dry now. The Ruff are feeding further back, on the water’s edge, and the Avocets were mostly over towards the back corner. The juvenile Little Ringed Plover was still with the three Ringed Plovers, but further over between Island and Parrinder hide. Through the scope, we could still see its ghosting of the adult’s yellow eye ring.

As if we hadn’t seen enough Spoonbills already, there were two on the Freshmarsh today. They were roosting on the small brick island at first, but did wake up and walk out into the water, before going back to sleep. Easy life, being a Spoonbill!

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there were two on the Freshmarsh today

We decided to walk out to the beach next. There didn’t seem to be anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we carried on past. There were three Redshanks down in the channel below the West Bank on Volunteer Marsh and a Little Egret on the pool at the corner. Looking down the channel at the far end, we could only find more Redshanks and several Curlews today.

The water level on the non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ is very high after the recent high tides. There were just a few waders on the remaining island but they were tucked well into the vegetation – a few Turnstones and a single Grey Plover.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and the mussel beds were already covered. All the Oystercatchers were roosting out on the beach today, midway between here and Brancaster. Through the scope we could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits with them. There has been a Purple Sandpiper out here this morning again and with the tide coming in we had hoped that it might be back on the old concrete bunker now. Unfortunately, there were several people walking round it and no birds. We scanned the beach and found a little group of Knot and Redshank.

Grey Plovers

Grey Plovers – moulting quickly out of breeding plumage now

There was not much out on the sea today, just a very distant Great Crested Grebe, so we set off to walk back. We had seen a flock of Grey Plover fly across behind us while we were on the beach, and we found them now roosting on the ‘Tidal Pools’. They are moulting quickly out of breeding plumage now, and they were variously spotted and speckled with the remains of their black underparts.

As we continued on, we heard a Whimbrel calling behind us and turned to see it flying in over the pool. We whistled a response and it circled round us, but obviously wasn’t too impressed with our impression as it flew on west.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew west over the Tidal Pools as we walked back

As we got back past the junction to Parrinder Hide, we stopped to have another quick look at the Freshmarsh. There didn’t seem to be anything new dropped in, but we did get a better look at the Bar-tailed Godwits from this angle. A couple were still sporting the remnants of breeding plumage, their rusty underparts looking decidedly patchy now. A Bearded Tit called in the reeds right in front of us but remained tucked down out of the wind.

We could see three or four people looking at the bank by the path a little further along, one down on their knees with a camera. When we got back to them, they showed us a Wasp Spider on its web in the grass. There had been 2-3 along here a couple of weeks ago, but this is the first one we have seen when we have been here. An impressive spider, they are recent colonists from the continent and seem to be spreading quickly now into Norfolk.

Wasp Spider

Wasp Spider – on its web in the grass on the West Bank

We diverted round via Meadow Trail and Fen Trail on the way back. A flock of Long-tailed Tits passed through the trees over our heads as we walked round, but we couldn’t see anything different with them. The bushes round past Fen Trail and along the Tank Road were quiet today, in the wind.

We stopped at the screen overlooking Patsy’s Reedbed. There were lots of ducks on the water – more Common Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard. A single Pintail was preening in amongst one large group of Greylags and a Mute Swan was in with another gaggle. Scanning over the reeds beyond, we spotted a Turtle Dove flying in from the directions of Brancaster Marsh, but it turned and flew across in front of Willow Wood and disappeared behind the bushes.

It was lovely sitting in the sunshine listening to the rustling of the reeds in the wind, but it was time to call it a day now and head back.

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11th Sept 2019 – Two Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour exploring the North Norfolk coast. It was a slightly damp and grey morning, with a series of brief drizzly showers, but it dried out and brightened up in the afternoon, when it was warm out of the rather blustery wind.

There was a request for Little Owls ahead of the tour. It is not the best time of year to look for them, and the weather wasn’t particularly encouraging either today, cool, cloudy and windy, so we didn’t hold out much hope. But we drove inland to try our luck. It turned out our luck was in – the first site we tried, we pulled up and scanned the roofs of the farm buildings and there was a Little Owl tucked in under the lip.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sheltering under the lip of the roof this morning

We parked the minibus where we couldn’t be seen and crept round to where we could get the scope on the Little Owl without disturbing it. It saw us instantly and stared at us for a minute, before realising that we weren’t a threat at this distance and turning its attention back to the roof. Looking at the other farm buildings further back, we realised that there was a second Little Owl out too, but it was even better hidden and was much harder to see.

There were a couple of Common Gulls with the Black-headed Gulls in the field across the road and a group of Rooks playing in the wind over the wood beyond. Two Common Buzzards were hanging in the breeze further back. It was a great way to start the day, with a Little Owl. We set off back towards the coast and cut across to Kelling for a walk.

There were lots of finches in the trees by the school – several Greenfinches were good to see, alongside the regular Chaffinches and Goldfinches. There was a little group of Blue Tits here too, and a Blackcap and a couple of Dunnocks in the hedge with them

As we walk up the lane, there were several Chiffchaffs calling in the hedges. A Swallow hawked up and down, passing within a couple of feet once or twice as it tried to find insects in the shelter of the banks either side. There were several Red-legged Partridge calling, released here in huge numbers for shooting, and one scuttled off ahead of us along the lane.

We stopped at the gate by the copse. There were several Teal down in the small pools in the wet grass, and a Green Sandpiper walking round bobbing its tail in the mud where the cows had churned up the ground. Six Common Snipe were well hidden nearby but we didn’t see the four which had been hidden behind the vegetation much closer to us until they flew and landed with the others further back.

Green Sandpiper 1

Green Sandpiper – feeding in the grass churned up by the cows

It had been cloudy up to now, but the showers started as we walked up to the pool, with a short sharp burst of drizzle. It quickly stopped, so we carried on. A young Stonechat appeared briefly on the brambles, but disappeared round the back before everyone had a chance to see it.

There were a few more ducks on the pool today, several Gadwall, lots of Teal, a few Shoveler, and one or two Wigeon. We quickly picked out the Garganey which was swimming across in front of the island. We got it in the scope and had a quick look at it before it reached the far side and disappeared into the grass.

One of the resident adult Egyptian Geese was shepherding round the two juveniles from this year, while another pair preened in the edge of the water. There were lots of gulls loafing around the pool again, mainly Black-headed Gulls but there was one juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull with them, and a couple of Herring Gulls dropped in. A single Sand Martin was still hawking out over the water.

Carrying on down to the Quags, we couldn’t see any chats or any other birds in the brambles on the hillside, but it was rather windy out closer to the beach. We heard a Greenshank call behind us and picked up a very distant Wheatear on a fence post over towards Gramborough Hill. We were intending to walk up the path to the gun emplacements, but it started to rain again so we decided to head back.

By the time we got back to the pool, the rain had stopped. The Greenshank had obviously dropped into the pool behind us and flew up as we approached, circling round before flying off west, probably a freshly arrived migrant stopping off briefly. The Garganey reappeared but disappeared round the back of the island.

The Stonechat was back on the brambles as we turned the corner, staying long enough for everyone to see it this time. Back at the gate, several of the Common Snipe had returned closer again and didn’t fly off this time.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – we saw at least ten today in the grass from the gate

Driving round to Cley next, we decided to stop for a coffee break in the Visitor Centre, to dry out and warm up. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides.

There were fewer waders on the scrape from Bishop Hide today, just a couple of Ruff and a scattering of Black-tailed Godwits. Two Avocets are still lingering here, but most of the birds which spent the summer here have left now. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding along the edge of the reeds right over the back. A little group of about 30 Dunlin was feeding in amongst the lumps of mud where the cows have churned up the scrape, hard to see until they flew round.

There were a few ducks asleep on the bank in front of the hide, several Teal and one or two Mallard, but the single Wigeon was busy feeding on the grass, a better view than the ones we had seen earlier. A Water Rail called from somewhere hidden in the reeds.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grass in front of Bishop Hide

We walked round to the middle and into Dauke’s Hide next. A Green Sandpiper was feeding right down at the front as we walked in. A little group of Curlew were standing around at the back, until they flew off calling. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits and two Ringed Plovers on the furthest island.

Green Sandpiper 2

Green Sandpiper – feeding in front of Dauke’s Hide

The two juvenile Spotted Redshanks were still here, feeding in and out of the short reeds at the back. We got them in the scope and could see their longer, needle-sharp bill and rather dusky grey plumage. One was feeding with a Common Redshank and the other with a Greenshank, giving us a great comparison of our three regular ‘shanks.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two lingering juveniles

Time was getting on now and we realised we would have to head back back for a late lunch. The weather had at least improved, and the sun was out now, so we found a sheltered spot out of the wind back at the Visitor Centre. After lunch, we drove round to Walsey Hills.

There were just a few Teal on Snipe’s Marsh today, but we found two Little Grebes on Don’s Pool once we got up onto the East Bank. The grazing marsh is looking very dry now, but there was a single Little Egret out on the edge of one of the deeper channels and a Grey Heron flew in. A Marsh Harrier flew back and forth over the reeds beyond, a rather dark male with just a small amount of grey in its upperwings.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of two on Don’s Pool

The Serpentine was quieter too today. There were a couple of Dunlin feeding on the mud and a few Snipe along the north edge still. We continued on to Arnolds Marsh and got out of the breeze in the shelter.

Several Sandwich Terns were standing on one of the islands, until something spooked them and they flew off out towards the sea. The Cormorants were drying their wings at the back as usual. A group of Wigeon were out on the water. There were not so many Curlews here today – they had probably gone to find somewhere out of the wind – but still plenty of Redshanks. Three Ringed Plovers were running up and down the sand at the back.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – loafing on the islands on Arnold’s Marsh

Out at the beach, two Gannets flew past offshore, a distant immature and an adult which flew in towards us before circling back further out. Two Wheatears on the shingle ridge to the east were flushed steadily towards us by two dog walkers. We could see their white rumps as they flew, before they circled back round behind the people and landed further back. Migrants stopping off on their way south.

Little Egret

Little Egret – there were several feeding on the brackish pools

It was time to head back now. There were several Little Egrets and a couple of Redshanks around the brackish pools as we passed. It had been a very productive first day and we were looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

8th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. The wind had dropped after yesterday and after a cloudy start, there were lots of bright sunny intervals and it even warmed up nicely by the afternoon.

With a light easterly wind over southern Norway overnight, and northerlies still to bring birds in to the North Norfolk coast, we thought it worth a look to see if we could find any drift migrants carried across the North Sea. We headed down to Wells Woods first thing. There were several Little Grebes out on the boating lake as we walked in along the track. It sounded like they were laughing at us – did they know something we didn’t?

A Chiffchaff flitted ahead of us and perched in the top of a hawthorn and a Blackcap was hopping around in a dense patch of brambles, feeding on the berries. But both were more likely local birds than migrants. As we walked into the birches it seemed rather quiet, there were just a few Coal Tits calling from the trees. We walked round the Dell, hoping to run into one of the tit flocks, but there was nothing here.We stopped to watch a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers high in the pines.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – we stopped to watch a pair high in the pines

So we changed tack and walked across the main track to check out the bushes the other side. There were a couple of Greenfinches in the trees, a Jay appeared briefly in a pine and a couple of Muntjacs were out on the grazing marshes beyond. Not what we were hoping to find. As we walked back through the birches, we heard the yelping calls of a flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over behind us.

We walked back along the main track but thought we would cut through round the east side of the Dell just in case we could find a tit flock here. There were just a couple of Chiffchaff and Blackcap calling at first, but when we got back to the birches by the toilet block we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. Suddenly we were surrounded by so many birds, we didn’t know where to look!

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the tit flock

As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue and Great Tits and several Coal Tits, feeding actively in the trees all around us. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around in the branches of the big old pine tree above us and higher up, a Treecreeper worked its way up the trunk. A Green Woodpecker called and flew past through the tops.

There were warblers with them, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Then we caught a glimpse of a different warbler high up in one of the birch trees. It was greenish above with a yellow wash on its throat, and plain faced, lacking the distinct supercilium of the Chiffchaffs, with rather a beady dark eye as a result. It was a bit bigger too, and moved more heavily through the foliage.

The warbler kept disappearing into the leaves and a couple of times we thought it had possibly moved off, before it reappeared again. Gradually, over several minutes, we built up a composite picture of it. It had a distinct pale panel in the secondaries when we could see its wings and, viewed from underneath, it seemed to have a rather broad bill with an bright orange base. It was obviously one of the Hippolais warblers, with Icterine Warbler far and away the most likely here, particularly given the conditions. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to tell apart from the very similar Melodious Warbler and we just couldn’t the primary projection, the clinching identification criteria.

As the tit flock moved back through the trees away from us, the warbler did finally disappear. We thought it might have gone with the tits, so we set off after them. It was hard to see the birds deep in the birches but eventually the flock came out onto the edge of the main track. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the warbler with them. Frustrating!

Rather than waste the whole day trying to find it again, we decided to move on and drove round to Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, a large flock of Pink-footed Geese was circling round over the grazing marshes and as we got out they whiffled down and disappeared from view.

We made our way west along the track on the inland side of the pines and it wasn’t far before we found another tit flock. We had good views of another Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the pines, but we couldn’t see anything different in with them before they disappeared into the trees. Carrying on, there were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole and a Kestrel hovering over the grazing marshes beyond.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – in the sycamores behind Washington Hide

We walked up the boardwalk behind Washington Hide. This can be a good area for migrants, but the only bird we could find in the sycamores was a single Chiffchaff. There was more activity on the pool in front of the hide – as we walked round on the boardwalk we spotted a Great White Egret standing on the post in the middle of the pool, preening. We got the scope on it and had a look, admiring its long, dagger-shaped yellow orange bill, as a Grey Heron walked past below for a good size comparison. Then it was pushed off by a Cormorant which decided it was a good place to dry its wings.

Great White Egret 1

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

There were three other large white birds around the edges of the pool, which were three Spoonbills. We watched as they worked their way in and out of the reeds, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallows.

Carrying on along the path, we headed for Joe Jordan hide. The trees behind Meals House were very quiet too – it seemed like we might be out of luck trying to find any migrants here. Then just before we got to the crosstracks, we heard the distinctive call of a Pied Flycatcher in the trees. It flicked across the path in front of us into a large oak tree, where we managed to get a few glimpses of it. Then it disappeared out the back.

We walked slowly along the track, and could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling again in a large hawthorn beside the path ahead of us. Just as we tried to position ourselves to see it, a second Pied Flycatcher flicked up in the small oak right beside us. It shot across the path but when we tried to follow it, we lost track of it. Then we turned round and it was back in the small oak tree again. We were in a better position now and we stood back and had a great view of it when it flicked out and landed on the outside of the tree.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – eventually flicked out onto the outside of the oak

We could still hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from deeper in the trees, and then the second bird appeared in the small oak too. But when we looked at it, it wasn’t calling and the sound was still coming from further back. There were actually at least three here! Pied Flycatchers are migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia south for the winter. There had obviously been a small fall of them on the coast today.

We had a quick look out at the grazing marshes from up in Joe Jordan Hide. We could see lots of Pink-footed Geese down in the grass from here. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and circled out over the grass. It flushed a big flock of Meadow Pipits which circled up above it, determined to keep it below them where they could see it! A Common Buzzard was perched on the scaffold tower out in the middle and a Kestrel flew across in front of the hide with something in its talons.

We decided to set off back, so we wouldn’t be too late for lunch. With the sun out, it was very warm now out of the wind in the lee of the trees. There were lots of dragonflies – Common and Ruddy Darters which flushed from the bushes by the track as we passed, and clouds of Migrant Hawkers zipping back and forth on the edge of the trees.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker – there were lots out along the track in the sun today

After lunch back at the Lookout Cafe, we set off back east. We were aiming to finish the day at Stiffkey, but we still had a little extra time available so we called in at Wells again. We had stopped to check out the pools here on our first morning, but had not managed to look around the bushes as it started to rain, so we thought we would try again now.

As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret working its way along the back edge of the pools on the left of the track, our second of the day. We had a look at it in the scope, before it disappeared from view behind the vegetation. A Green Sandpiper, a Common Redshank and two Common Snipe were on the pools this side too.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – on the pools at Wells this afternoon

We set off down the track. There were a few more Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Egyptian Geese today, presumably more birds arriving back from Iceland, but no sign of any Barnacles. There had apparently been some Pintail here this morning, but despite scanning through the ducks carefully, we couldn’t find any. There was no sign of the Garganey either, but lots of the ducks were asleep in the grass at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the pools and more Ruff today. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was wheeling round over the stubble field beyond, but we couldn’t see why. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was feeding on the mud with five Dunlin, a bit distant in the heat haze but nice to see one to keep up our unbroken record across each of the three days! We could hear Greenshank calling and when we got to the far side, we looked back to see four on the mud behind the vegetation along the far edge.

As we got to the bushes beyond the pools, we could hear a soft tacking call, more of a ‘tsk’ than a hard ‘tack’, and as we turned to watch a Lesser Whitethroat came out of the leaves and started to feed on the blackberries. It was grey-brown on the back, with a soft grey head, slightly darker mask and bright white throat and underparts.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – feeding on the blackberries

As we carried on round through the bushes, we found at least two more Lesser Whitethroats. A Common Whitethroat flew across and landed on the top of some low brambles briefly and we heard one or two Blackcaps calling, a distinctly harder ‘tack’ than the Lesser Whitethroat. There were Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches in the bushes too, as well as a few Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer which flew off towards the fields beyond.

Our last stop was at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path between the hedges on the verge is too overgrown to walk down, so we had to make our way carefully along the road today, until we got to the footpath down by the river. A cacophony of shooting started up over the fields inland – with the close season now, presumably it was some sort of clay pigeon shooting event. There were a few House Martins still circling round the house on the hill, but there was not much to see in the bushes along the path this afternoon.

As we got to the point where the brambles are low enough to see over the Fen, we realised something was wrong. The islands were half empty, and the geese were walking nervously away from the side nearest the road, honking. Five duck flew up and disappeared off, three Pintail leading, followed by a pair of Wigeon. There should have been around 35 Spoonbills on here, but we could only see two.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were only two left on the Fen after all the shooting

From up on the seawall, we could see that the noise of all the shooting had scared almost everything off. We could still see the two Spoonbills in with all the Greylags, but there were no ducks at all. The island at the back, closest to the noise and which is normally packed with roosting birds, was completely empty. There were very few waders on the Fen either – just three Greenshank (joined briefly by a fourth) and much fewer Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Ruff than normal. We did manage to find a single Green Sandpiper along the far shore. All in all, very disappointing.

We decided to walk round to the harbour. There were still a few people and boats around, enjoying the sunshine, but there was a lot less disturbance here than last week. The Spoonbills were out on the saltmarsh. They were rather distant and hard to count, with some hidden in the vegetation and quite a bit of heat haze now, but we could see at least 25 here. The two which were left on the Fen flew overhead and out to join the others. Numbers have already started to drop in the last few days, and it won’t be long now before they have left us, heading down to the south coast for the winter.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – the two flew out to join the others in the harbour

It was just after high tide, and there were lots of gulls roosting on the mud on the edge of the harbour. In with them, we found a few waders – several Ringed Plovers, a few Black-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone. A flock of Redshank flew in and landed in the shallow water behind them. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans was in the water further along and on the sandbank beyond them we could see more waders – a large roost of Oystercatchers, lots of godwits and a few Grey Plover, still sporting their summer black faces and bellies.

The surprise of the afternoon was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver swimming in the harbour, just off one of the spits of mud out in front of us. Presumably it had come into the harbour to get away from the choppy sea in all the wind yesterday. Its red throat was hard to see, but we could see its grey head, dark back and uptilted bill.

When a little flock of small waders shot across over the harbour, we looked up to see a distant falcon heading straight in towards us. It was clearly in a long stoop, coming very fast, but we couldn’t make out what it was at first, head on. When it got almost to the near shore, it changed its angle and dropped quickly down. It turned sharply and we watched as it chased after a small wader which had taken off from the mud and was trying to fly away over the water. It was now clear what it was, a Hobby. The wader quickly got away, and the Hobby circled up over the water and drifted in towards us, before flying off west.

Hobby

Hobby – came in over the harbour after the waders

It was great to watch the Hobby in action and a lovely way to wrap up what had been an exciting three days of Autumn birding in Norfolk.

7th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a grey start, brightening up, with some spells of sunshine and blue sky, but it was very windy, with a very strong NW wind which eased off a touch in the afternoon. At least it was dry today, and we made the most of it.

To start the day, we drove east along the coast road to Kelling. As we pulled up in the village, a Red-legged Partridge flew out of one of the driveways, across the road behind us and away over the school. Walking up the lane, we heard several Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling in the hedges, most likely local birds rather than migrants. There were a few Chaffinches and Robins too. A Common Buzzard hung in the wind over Muckleburgh Hill, and was mobbed by a couple of passing Rooks, but just shifted a wing nonchalantly to evade them.

When we got to the gates by the copse, we spotted a Green Sandpiper down in the pool in the wet grass. A second Green Sandpiper called and dropped in nearby, flashing dark with a contrasting white tail and belly, but it was immediately chased off by the first, which then flew round and landed back down on the pool. There were several Common Snipe hiding down in the wet grass closer to us too. They were surprisingly hard to see, crouched down in the holes left by the cows’ footprints, but as they moved round we counted eleven in total.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – we counted 11 hiding in the wet grass

We carried on down to the pool on the Water Meadow. There were lots of gulls on the water, huddled up against the north edge trying to get out of the wind, but they were just Black-headed Gulls and a few Herring Gulls. Three Sand Martins were skimming backwards and forwards low over the water, looking for insects.

There were several ducks on the pool, Teal, Gadwall and a lone Shoveler as well as six Egyptian Geese, including the resident pair with their two fully grown young still. But a couple came down with two dogs, which started yapping at us as they passed, and then still barking as they walked along the cross track and they managed to flush most of the ducks.

Scanning the bushes beyond the Quags from the cross track, we could see several Stonechats up on the hillside, on the edge of the cattle field, so we walked round for a closer look. The Stonechats were dropping down from the brambles or the barbed wire to the ground to look for food in the short grass. They had found a relatively sheltered spot in the lee of the fence line.

There were wore Stonechats in the brambles and long grass beyond the fence. A paler bird with them hopped up onto a curl of bramble, a Whinchat. We got it in the scope, noting its pale supercilium and pale peachy orange wash on its breast, much paler overall than the female Stonechats. All the birds were keeping well down in the vegetation, trying to get out of the wind, but we found a second Whinchat a little further over when it popped up briefly. Whinchats are just passage migrants here, stopping off on their way south.

As we continued down past the Quags, we heard a Swallow alarm calling, and looked over to see a young Sparrowhawk shoot fast and low over the grass. We walked up the path up to the gun emplacements. The bushes down by the beach were quiet today. A couple of Swallows were still lingering around the gun emplacements, and there were a few Pied Wagtails in field with cows.

We looked out to sea from the high point here. With a strong northerly wind, we had expected to see some birds moving offshore today, but we couldn’t see anything apart from a few Sandwich Terns. We walked back down and climbed up onto the shingle ridge. It was a rough sea today, whipped up by the wind, and we watched the waves crashing on the beach. A distant Gannet flew past.

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of Bishop Hide

After walking back up the lane, we drove round to Cley next. We thought we would try to get out of the wind in the hides. We called in to Bishop Hide first, where there were a few Avocets still on Pat’s Pool, including a juvenile feeding close to hide.

There were fewer Black-tailed Godwits on here than normal, possibly due to the wind, but those that were here were over in the far corner by the reeds. Two slightly smaller birds asleep in the water next to them were Spotted Redshanks. We had a look at them through the scope, two dusky grey juveniles. After a while they woke up and started preening, so we could see their long, needle-tipped bills.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – these two juveniles were on Pat’s Pool today

We could see a couple of little groups of Dunlin on the mud right over the far side. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were over with them, paler and with more patterned upperparts than the Black-tailed Godwits, and with a slight upturn to their long straight bills. A Green Sandpiper flashed across in front of the hide and a Water Rail squealed from somewhere in the reeds.

As we set off to walk round to the main hides, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds close to path. We stopped to look, but the reeds were being lashed from side to side by the wind, so it was pretty clear they would not be coming out.

When we got out into the middle, we had a quick look in Avocet Hide. The mud on Whitwell Scrape is quickly drying out now, and there was nothing to see, no sign of any of the Green Sandpipers which have been on there for much of this week. However, just as we got into Dauke’s Hide, a Green Sandpiper flew past and landed on back on one of the remaining pools, where we had just looked on Whitwell Scrape, with a Common Redshank.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – flew in and landed on Whitwell Scrape with a Common Redshank

Simmond’s Scrape was a bit windswept today and was consequently a little disappointing. Three juvenile Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in deeper water in front of hide, Icelandic birds with an orangey wash on their necks.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – an Icelandic juvenile on Simmond’s Scrape

The waders which were here were very flighty today, often the case in the wind. We couldn’t see the Spotted Redshanks on Pat’s Pool now, but at one point they flew back in past the hide, over the scrape and disappeared off over the reeds. The Dunlin were very jumpy too, mostly hidden up behind the reeds on the edge of Pat’s, but they kept flying out into the middle and back in again.

There were clearly a few waders moving today, migrants arriving. As we sat in the hide, we heard a Greenshank calling and looked over to see it drop down on Simmond’s Scrape. We had a look at it through the scope – it was a distinctive bird, already with a few greyer winter scapulars.

Greenshank

Greenshank – dropped in calling onto Simmond’s Scrape

It was time for lunch, we we walked back to the Visitor Centre. The sun was out, and we managed to find a sheltered spot out of the wind. After lunch, the wind seemed to have dropped a little, so we thought we might brave the East Bank.

We drove round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were just a couple of Teal on Snipe’s Marsh today, not even any sign of the resident Little Grebe. We walked over to the East Bank, and found a Little Grebe on Don’s Pool instead. A Curlew flew over the grazing marsh calling but there was no sign of the flock out in the grass today. Pope’s Pool at the back was dry now, but there was still water in the Serpentine so we continued up for a look.

There were a few Avocets along the shore of the Serpentine, along with one or two Redshanks and several Shelducks. There were more birds along the north edge where it was a bit more sheltered, in the lee of the reeds. We could see a small group of about twenty Dunlin scattered round, feeding in the mud and shallow water, and five Common Snipe with them. We we walked up and looked through them closely, we found a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them. There had been no reports of Curlew Sandpiper at Cley in the last few days, so it had presumably just dropped in here to feed.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – feeding with Dunlin on the Serpentine

The shelter at Arnold’s Marsh provided a welcome respite from the wind. There were lots of Sandwich Terns roosting out on the marsh, but they were very jumpy and kept taking off, flying round and settling again. All the Curlews were on here, roosting on the saltmarsh over in the back corner. Otherwise, all we could see were a scattering of Common Redshank.

Quite a few Wigeon in huddled groups out on the water were possibly fairly fresh in, coming back from Russia for the winter. We watched a small group of six Teal battling in along the shingle ridge, buffeted by the wind.

We decided to brave the beach, and have a quick look out to sea. As we walked up along the bank, a couple of Little Egrets were down on the brackish marsh and a Grey Heron had found a sheltered spot in the sun out of the wind behind the marram grass. One or two Meadow Pipits came up out of grass calling but dropped back in.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnold’s Marsh

The Sandwich Terns all spooked again, but this time after circling round they flew out over the shingle ridge to the sea. When we got to the beach, we could see some feeding offshore, but many obviously didn’t fancy the weather and the choppy sea and headed straight back in to Arnold’s.

Scanning offshore, we picked up three very distant Arctic Skuas busy chasing terns offshore. Another two Arctic Skuas flew past a little closer in, and one turned and came straight in towards us. It had seen a Sandwich Tern nearer to us and started to chase after it. We watched as they twisted and turned, but the tern quickly gave up and dropped whatever it was carrying. The Arctic Skua dropped down to the water’s surface and picked it up, before flying back out and continuing on its way west. The skuas are kleptoparasites, feeding by stealing the food of other seabirds. The pirates of the North Sea!

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua – came in to chase after a Sandwich Tern

Three Gannets flew past offshore, two white adults with black wingtips and a darker-winged immature. A Fulmar came past too, low over the waves, with stiff wings. It was too windy to stay out here long, so after enjoying the spectacle for a bit we turned to head back in.

As we got back towards the road, a big flock of noisy Greylags flew in over the grazing marshes. They had clearly just been flushed by a microlight aircraft which came over just behind them, flushing everything. A small group of eight darker geese, Pink-footed Geese, flew over too. They seem to be a little early returning from Iceland this year and it was surprising how many small groups we had seen.

We decided to try to get out of the wind inland to finish the afternoon, so we drove down to the Brecks. We wanted to make the pilgrimage to see the annual post-breeding gathering of Stone Curlews, which peaks at this time of year. We pulled up by their favoured field, and peaked over the hedge, careful to not disturb any close by. Immediately we could see six Stone Curlews hunkered down behind line of earth and weeds in field.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlews – one of the 20 or so we could see in the field this afternoon

We had a great view of the Stone Curlews in the scope, their bright yellow irises catching the sun. They were amazingly well camouflaged, the colour of the sandy soil. Then we scanned the rest of the field and counted at least twenty. There were probably a lot more we couldn’t see, with the birds tucked down out of the wind, and lots of dead ground in the field where they could hide out of view. With only around 200 pairs nesting in the East of England, even 20 is an impressive total! A large group a Lesser Black-backed Gulls was loafing in field too.

It was well worth the diversion down to see the Stone Curlews, and a nice way to end the day. It was time to head back – a good chance for a doze in the back!

6th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a grey and drizzly start, but although it brightened up during the morning, another band of heavy showers passed through quickly in the afternoon. Still, we successfully managed to dodge the rain, and had a great day, notching up a surprisingly long list despite the weather.

To start the day, we popped down to Wells. As we got out of the minibus, a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted across the fields, chased by a Kestrel. Looking across to the pools, we could see lines of Black-tailed Godwits flying up and heading off inland to feed. A flock of Ruff flew up with one group of godwits too.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits – flying inland to feed

We set up the scope and started to scan the pools, there were still lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the edge of the water and a lone Common Snipe probing busily in the mud. Otherwise, the pools were dominated by the geese – lots of Greylags, and a small group of Canada Geese. Ten Barnacle Geese were unusual here, but most likely feral birds, possibly from the small population at Holkham or even further afield. The Egyptian Geese numbered a substantial 38 today.

There were lots of ducks too, though all in drab plumage at this time of year. As well as plenty of Teal and Shoveler, we could see lots of Wigeon around the edges of the pool today. Numbers are increasing steadily now as birds return from Russia for the winter. One small duck stood out, puddling on the mud at the back. With its strongly marked face pattern, brighter supercilium and white spot at the base of the bill, it was a Garganey. A nice bonus.

Walking down the track, there were one or two Reed Buntings still in the bushes. A flock of Linnets circled over out in the middle and came down to bathe in one of the shallow pools. A Yellowhammer flew over calling. A lone Green Sandpiper was feeding on the mud on the other side of the track.

Their yelping calls alerted us to four Pink-footed Geese which circled and dropped in on the mud with the other geese. Through the scope, we could see their dark heads, delicate bills and the pink band on the bill of the adults, though it was much duller on the single juvenile with them. They have just started to return from Iceland in the last few days, a sure sign that Autumn is definitely here!

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – four dropped in on the mud with the other geese

A distant Red Kite was hanging in the air way off to the east. We had planned to have a walk round the bushes further down the track, but we could see dark clouds approaching from the west, so we decided to head back to minibus. It started to spit with rain, so we were glad we did.

We had planned to head over to the Wash this morning and we drove through some rain as we made our way there. The tide would not be big enough to push all the waders off the mud today, but would still come in enough to bring some of them close enough for us to see them.

As we got up onto the seawall at Snettisham, the rain had stopped. The tide was coming in steadily but there was still lots of exposed mud, and it was possible that the blustery SW wind was holding back the water somewhat. There were lots of waders on the mud over by the sailing club, so we walked back the other way along the seawall.

A large flock of Oystercatchers was roosting on the mud, looking like a black slick. There were several little groups of Golden Plover hunched down in amongst the clods of mud, remarkably well camouflaged despite their golden speckled upperparts. Lots of Knot were sleeping on the mud too and equally well hidden until they moved. From time to time the birds would lift and fly round, at which point we could see just how many were really there.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – a large flock was roosting on the mud

There were some much closer Knot feeding just below the seawall and we had a closer look at them through the scope. They were all juveniles, some rather grey but others with a much stronger orangey wash on the breast. Scanning the mud and the sand beyond, we found good numbers of Ringed Plovers and one or two Dunlin. A little flock of Sanderling running round on the sand then flew off past us, higher up the shore. There were a few Turnstones too, including one still in bright breeding plumage, with orange-chestnut stripes in its upperparts.

Along the shore, there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits still feeding. Through the scope, we found a Bar-tailed Godwit with them, still in breeding plumage with its chestnut underparts extending all the way down under its tail. There were more Bar-tailed Godwits on the mud nearby. A colour-ringed Curlew was the same bird we had seen in almost the same spot a few days ago.

A group of Sandwich Terns was loafing on the mud with some Black-headed Gulls. Just as we got close enough to have a good look through them through the scope, the one Mediterranean Gull took off and flew inland past us, an adult flashing its white wing-tips. Several Common Terns flew in round the edge of the Wash and joined the Sandwich Terns.

We could see what looked like clouds of smoke off in the distance, further out round the Wash. On closer inspection, they were huge flocks of Knot. Something had spooked them from the mud and we watched as they whirled round, the flocks changing shape as they twisted and turned in unison.

There were a few Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits along the seawall, which flew up ahead of us as we walked along. Little groups of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the mud just below. The hirundines are on the move now, leaving us for the winter. We watched a steady passage of Swallows and House Martins flying past, skimming low over the mud, or up over the seawall behind us, heading south.

It started to spit with rain again, so we made our way down to the hides. A single Greenshank was roosting on its own on the pit before the causeway. There were more waders on the mud on the near edge of the Wash, including several Grey Plovers, still with mostly black faces and bellies yet to finish their moult out of breeding plumage, and one or two closer Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – closer on the mud as we walked down to Rotary Hide

We sheltered in Rotary Hide as a squally shower passed over. Scanning the pit away to the south, we could see several Spoonbills roosting with the Little Egrets tucked in tight along the edge at the far end of the pit. The islands at the north end of the pit were largely empty today as the waders prefer to roost out on the mud unless they are forced in here, but three Spotted Redshanks were sleeping out in the middle in amongst the Greylags. So when the rain stopped, we walked on down to Shore Hide.

Through the scope, we had a much closer view of the Spotted Redshanks from here, but we couldn’t see the Spoonbills from this angle, so we walked on down to South Hide. Two Yellow Wagtails flew over calling and dropped down into the grass, a Skylark came up from beside the path and a Reed Bunting flew up from track and landed in the suaeda just in front of us. A Sparrowhawk shot past, low over the grass, and chased after a Meadow Pipit as it flew up. They twisted and turned for a few seconds, but the pipit managed to evade it and the Sparrowhawk gave up and flew off over the inner seawall.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – sleeping on the edge of the pit

From South Hide, we could now see the three Spoonbills roosting on the edge of the pit. They were mostly asleep – typical Spoonbills – but woke up once or twice to look round or have a quick preen, flashing their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.

There were more waders at this end, mostly Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the islands. A few Knot were huddled together in with them. Three Avocets were still feeding in the water. Something must have disturbed the waders out on the Wash, because we could see some large flocks whirling round over the mud in the distance. Several larger groups of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks flew in and streamed down onto the islands to join the birds already here. A few more Knot came in with them, but most still preferred to stay out on the mud.

Waders

Waders – Black-tailed Godwits and Knot roosting on the islands on the pit

It was getting on for lunch time, so we decided to make our way back. As we walked out towards the Wash, a Marsh Harrier drifted high over and flushed the large flock of Oystercatchers roosting out in middle, which whirled round before resettling. We made our way round to Titchwell for lunch. The sun was out now and we could even sit out on the picnic tables.

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. A Chiffchaff was singing in one of the sallows by the main path and we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still very windy here and they were not surprisingly keeping their heads down. With the wind, there were few ducks on the reedbed pool today.

We were told that a Curlew Sandpiper was fairly close to the west bank further up along the path, so we walked past Island Hide to scan the mud on the edge of the Freshmarsh. We quickly found the Curlew Sandpiper in with a small group of Dunlin. It was a juvenile, with scaly patterned back and peachy-buff wash on the breast, slightly bigger, paler and longer-billed than the Dunlin. Three more Curlew Sandpipers were feeding further back, all juveniles too. Amazing to think that they were raised in Central Siberia this summer and are making their way down to Africa for the winter.

Curlew Sandpipier

Curlew Sandpiper – one of four juveniles on the Freshmarsh today

The sun was shining here but we could see some ominous grey clouds away to the west, more rain coming our way. We walked back to Island Hide. Two Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud just outside the hide, and a single Little Ringed Plover was with them. It was noticeably smaller and differently shaped. A juvenile, we could make out a ghosting of the distinctive golden yellow eye ring shown by the adults.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile on the mud outside Island Hide

There were lots of Ruff out on the mud, a confusing mixture of paler adults and browner juveniles, the former with brighter orange legs and the latter with duller yellow-flesh legs, the large males and much smaller females. A single Common Snipe was on the mud over by the reeds.

Two Bearded Tits were feeding on the edge of the reeds, hopping about out on the mud. We had a good view in the scope, both tawny brown juveniles. Later another group of Bearded Tits appeared low down in the reeds a bit further back, including a male with powder blue head and black moustache. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across low over the reedbed, its grey wing panels catching the sunshine.

A Water Rail appeared out of the reeds to the right of the hide next. We watched it as it worked it’s way along the edge, in and out of the reeds, then came right came out into the open in the deeper water in the small channel between the islands.

Water Rail

Water Rail – appeared on the edge of the reeds

The cloud arrived and it started to rain, quickly turning heavy. The birds all stopped feeding and turned into the rain. Some lifted their heads, and pointed their bills up to let the water flow off as they were battered with raindrops. Some sought shelter, hiding behind the tufts of vegetation. It was interesting to watch how the different birds reacted to the weather. A Common Sandpiper appeared on edge of island out in middle.

Ruff in rain

Ruff – a juvenile, being battered by the rain

The rain quickly eased off, and all waders started feeding again. Lots had sought shelter on the mud on the edge of the reeds and there were now lots of Ruff and Dunlin gathered there. The Avocets had come over to the edge too from where they had been feeding or roosting further back, and stood preening now, trying to dry off.

It continued to drizzle on and off for a bit, so we stayed in the hide in the dry. When it finally stopped, the sun came out and it was suddenly back to blue skies. We decided to head round to Patsy’s. As we walked back along the main path, a small skein of 27 Pink-footed Geese flew over the visitor centre, calling, heading west. More birds arriving back from Iceland.

There were several Blackcaps calling in the trees behind Fen Hide and Blue Tits and Goldfinches feeding in the brambles by Tank Road. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way quickly along the hedge. We looked up in the trees to see if the Turtle Doves might be there drying themselves out, but there were just a couple of Woodpigeons today.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed, including Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard, all additions to the day’s list. There were several Little Grebes scattered round the pool too. We sat in the sunshine for a while. Several House Martins were flying round over the reeds and dipping down to the water. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the hedge behind us, but was quickly chased off by a second Lesser Whitethroat.

It was time to head back now. As we got back to the minibus and were just loading up, we looked up to see a Turtle Dove fly across car park and land in the trees at the back, with the Woodpigeons. We got the scope out again and watched it preening in the sunshine. We could see the rusty fringed feathers on its upperparts and black and white striped patch on the side of its neck.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – preening in the sunshine in the trees in the car park

With the UK population having declined by more than 90%, it is always a treat to see a Turtle Dove these days. This one will soon be leaving us, heading off to Africa for the winter, running the gauntlet of the guns in France and Spain, which still allow the shooting of Turtle Doves despite their precipitous decline. We just hope it will make it back again here next year.

It was a great way to end the day, with a Turtle Dove, but always a sobering thought that one year they may not return.

4th Sept 2019 – The Wash & the Coast

A Private Tour today, in NW Norfolk. The plan was to spend the morning up on the Wash, watching the Wader Spectacular, and then the afternoon at Titchwell afterwards. It was cloudy first thing, before starting to brighten up as expected. But we were caught out by a band of heavy rain mid morning which wasn’t in the forecast. At least the sun then cam out in the afternoon and we managed to dry out and enjoy the rest of the day.

As we made our way in to Snettisham, we stopped to look at the gulls on the sailing pit. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, along with one or two Common Gulls, but we did manage to find a Mediterranean Gull in with them. It was an adult, with pure white wing tips and bright orange-red bill, moulting out of breeding plumage and losing its black hood.

Up on the seawall, there was still lots of exposed mud – we were in good time to watch the waders gathering. A large flock of Oystercatchers was already roosting away to our right along the shore by the sailing club. They wouldn’t be able to stay there long, as it would soon be under water. In front of them, there were lots of Golden Plover and Knot, the former surprisingly hard to see on the mud until we got them in the scope. There were lots of Sandwich Terns gathered on the mud nearby today too.

Waders 1

Oystercatchers & Sandwich Terns – gathering on the mud already when we arrived

Along the edge of the water, were lots of Black-tailed Godwits. We got them in the scope next and found a single Bar-tailed Godwit in with them, smaller and shorter-legged, still moulting out of breeding plumage with its patchy rusty underparts extending down under the tail. There were lots more Bar-tailed Godwits across the channel, along with more Knot.

We could hear the ‘pooee’ calls of the little groups of Ringed Plover, as they flew in and dropped down onto the mud close to us, in front of the channel. In with them were a few Dunlin and Turnstone, one of the latter still in bright chestnut and pied breeding plumage, as well as one or two Sanderling.

A Curlew Sandpiper appeared down on one of the small pools in front of too – a juvenile, with scaly back, peachy-buff wash across its breast and clean white underparts, as well as a noticeably longer bill than the Dunlin. It disappeared into a channel and we initially thought it was the same bird which then appeared much closer to us. In fact it was a second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, as the first reappeared back where we had seen it shortly after.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – one of two juveniles pushed in by the rising tide

Birds were dropping down on the mud and moving on ahead of the tide all the time. A Spotted Redshank appeared briefly in front of us, staying just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope. A single Grey Plover appeared on the mud just across the channel, still sporting the black face and belly of breeding plumage. A Common Sandpiper picked its way past us along the edge of the channel. Three Common Snipe flew past.

It was still rather cloudy at first and little groups of Swallows were passing through, hawking for insects low over the beach. A mixed group of Swallows and House Martins paused for a few minutes in front of us, looking for food around the seawall before moving on. They are on their way south now, heading off to Africa for the winter. We had seen a large gathering of hirundines on the wires as we arrived this morning, presumably having roosted there overnight, so perhaps these same birds were now continuing their journey south.

As the water covered the remaining mud in front of us, the last of the Oystercatchers took off and flew low over the water, across to where the mud was still exposed. We made our way further down that way too. It was finally starting to brighten up now, we could even see some strips of blue sky out over the Wash, coming our way, just as had been forecast.

Down at the corner, opposite the edge of the saltmarsh, we watched as the waders were all pushed up ahead of the tide. The Oystercatchers walked ahead of the rising water, flowing almost like the tide themselves. There were already quite a lot of Knot gathered on the mud, but not the 65,000+ of recent days. That was because a lot of them were still further round the edge of the Wash and gradually they were forced round closer to us, into the last corner of mud which would remain exposed.

Waders 2

Knot – more large flocks flew in from further out around the Wash as the tide rose

At this point it started to cloud over again and even spit with light drizzle. The forecast had mentioned the chance of a shower, so we were not too worried and continued to enjoy the spectacle. Lots of Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were gathering in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh. As the other waders became increasingly concentrated the Osytercatchers started to give up and peel away in lines, flying past us and dropping down onto the pit behind to roost, piping noisily.

Waders 3

Massed Waders – Oystercatchers, Knot and Godwits packed into the last corner of mud

Waders 4

Oystercatchers – starting to peel off and head in past us to the pit

As the Knot became increasingly tightly packed in the corner where the mud was rapidly disappearing, it started to rain more heavily. Just at the wrong moment – this wasn’t in the weather forecast! Most of the other people gathered to watch the spectacle gave up and went into the hides, but with the Knot surely about to take off, we decided to persevere for the finale. But the Knot didn’t leave. It was past the point they would normally take off and they were pressed tight up against the saltmarsh, up to their bellies. They were clearly reluctant to take off given the weather and that seemed to outweigh their normal fear of being so close to or in the vegetation.

The visibility deteriorated as the rain started to fall harder and the wind picked up so, with the Knot refusing to leave, we gave in and walked over to Shore Hide. The hide was fairly busy but at least we were out of the rain. Despite the fact that the Knot were not filling the islands, there were things to see here. A Spoonbill was asleep out in the middle with the Greylag Geese and Cormorants. It did wake up at one point and have a quick preen, when the rain stopped briefly, so we could see its yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – roosting out in the middle with the Greylags and Cormorants

Also in with the geese and Cormorants, we found a small group of Spotted Redshanks. They were much more active today, preening busily when the rain eased off for a time. We counted at least seven today, but there could have been more, hidden in between the geese.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – there were at least seven today roosting on the pit

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Dunlin on the island in front of the hide. The next nearest island out to the left held many more Dunlin today, presumably taking advantage of the absence of many Knot. Looking through them carefully, we found one juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, presumably one of the two we had seen out on the mud earlier.

When the rain eased off, the Knot obviously decided to finally leave the Wash. Large flocks spiralled down onto the islands until they were largely filled, the birds packed in tightly shoulder to shoulder.

Waders 5

Knot – finally came in to the pit to roost

We had hoped to see out the rain in the hide, as we could see from the rainfall radar that it was just a narrow band of cloud passing over us, but it started to rain more heavily again. There seemed to be a series of squalls, easing off and then starting up again, but having got wet people were now starting to get cold and there was a request to head back to the minibus to warm up. We walked back in driving drizzle, getting wet through again, and sure enough we could now see the cloud breaking and a band of blue sky appearing away to the west, heading our way. If only we had been able to hang on another 10 minutes!

We drove round to Titchwell with the heater on full blast which at least started to dry us out. It was dry when we got there and it was already starting to brighten up considerably, but we still stopped for a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre. The sun was out by the time we had finished – it felt like a completely different day. We had a bit of time before lunch still, so we decided to walk round to Patsy’s Reedbed and the Autumn Trail.

There were Chiffchaffs calling in the sallows and when we got round to the Tank Road we could see lots of birds in the hedge on the back of the car park. Several of them were coming down to bathe in a small puddle just beyond the gate, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Linnets, so we edged over for a closer look.

We looked up in the taller trees to see two Turtle Doves. They were busy preening, presumably come out into the sunshine to dry off. We had a great view of them through the scope, admiring their rusty edged back feathers and black and white striped neck patches.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – two were preening in the tall trees when the sun came out

With the UK population having declined by over 90%, it is always a privilege to see Turtle Doves. They will soon be on their way south to Africa for the winter, when  they will have to run the gauntlet of shooters in France and Spain, where they are still bizarrely allowed to be shot. Let us hope they can survive the journey and return here next year.

We turned our attention back to the puddle where the birds were bathing, and the bushes beyond. Lots of birds were hoping around on the ground, on the concrete track, including one or two Chiffchaffs and a male Blackcap, as well as the aforementioned finches and several Dunnocks.

There was lots of activity in the hedge the other side too, as a tit flock was working its way through the brambles. As well as the tits, there were a few warblers with them. First a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles – we could see its bright rusty-edged wing feathers – then a much greyer bird flew in too, a Lesser Whitethroat. We watched the Lesser Whitethroat feeding on the blackberries in full view for several minutes, great views of this often rather secretive species.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – fantastic views as it fed on blackberries

From the screen at Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see lots of ducks out on the water – Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard, a couple of Teal and a single eclipse drake Wigeon. There were several Little Grebes too, and a pair of Mute Swans with their four well-grown cygnets.

A good number of hirundines were hawking for insects over the pool, mainly Swallows and House Martins, but we found a couple of brown-backed Sand Martins in with them. There were four Swifts zooming back and forth over the reeds beyond too. Most of our Swifts have already left, their brief summer visit here to breed over and these ones were probably passing through, pushed down lower to feed by this morning’s rain with the hirundines.

The Autumn Trail is open new, so we walked on round to the back corner of the Freshmarsh. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came up out of the reedbed and across the path towards Willow Wood as we passed. It was a bit breezy now, so perhaps not surprisingly we did not come across any Bearded Tits here today. There were a few Teal and Ruff on the mud in the corner. More notably, we could see a little group of waders roosting over by the fence on the back of Avocet Island and through the scope we could see they were five Spotted Redshanks with two Black-tailed Godwits.

Then it was back for a late lunch. We found a table in the picnic area in the sun and it was lovely and warm out of the breeze. There were lots of dragonflies buzzing round now – several Migrant Hawkers and a Southern Hawker, and a line of Common Darters sunning themselves on the bench.

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was a bit breezy as we walked out past the reedbed today. There were a few ducks on the Reedbed Pool, but we headed on out to Island Hide. The juvenile Little Ringed Plover was in exactly the same place we had seen it yesterday, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers still, but there was no sign of the Lapwing which has been right next to the hide in recent days. There were more Ruff over on the edge of the water, but two juveniles gave great views as they fed right outside the windows.

Ruff

Ruff – one of two juveniles right outside Island Hide today

A good sized flock of Dunlin were feeding in the shallow water between here and Parrinder Hide and looking through them we quickly located a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them. A second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was much further back too.

Scanning along the edge of the reeds, we had a quick view of one juvenile Bearded Tit out on the edge of the mud briefly, but the wind was catching the reeds and they were keeping mostly hidden today. A Water Rail appeared and walked quickly along the edge too before disappearing back in. There were a few Ruff feeding over here as well today, along with a single Knot, possibly the same bird which had been right outside the hide yesterday.

From up on the main path, it didn’t look like there was anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we continued out towards the beach. There was just a single Common Redshank on the near edge of Volunteer Marsh, but scanning down the channel at the far end we found a Curlew, two Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover and a Little Egret. The non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ have filled up with water after the recent big high tides, and there was nothing on the one remaining island today.

All the waders were feeding out on the beach, with the tide now out and the mussel beds exposed. There were lots of Oystercatchers, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Turnstones. A couple of small groups of Grey Plover flew in from behind us.

Looking out to sea, we could see a good number of Great Crested Grebes on the water today. Two Fulmars flew in from the west and circled just offshore. But the surprise of the afternoon was a Grey Heron, which we watched working its way in over the sea, well offshore initially. It was probably coming in from Scandinavia for the winter, migration in action!

There were a few gulls on the freshmarsh on our way back, but no sign of the Golden Plover now which had apparently dropped in while we out at the beach. We did find an adult Yellow-legged Gull, next to a much darker-backed Lesser Black-backed Gull, and we could even see its yellow legs before it sat down and went to sleep.

It was time to make our way back now. On the journey home, we stopped to watch a male Marsh Harrier hanging in the wind over a stubble field beside the road, being mobbed by  a Carrion Crow. And two Stock Doves in a field were the last addition to the day’s list.

It was a shame about the rain this morning – it had only lasted less than an hour, but just at the wrong moment! Despite that, we had still enjoyed a great day out and seen lots of good birds.

3rd Sept 2019 – Autumn Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular today, up on the Wash. It was a rather cloudy start, but brightened up nicely from mid-morning. It was warm in the afternoon, particularly out of the brisk SW breeze.

It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time to watch the waders gathering ahead of the big high tide today. As we met in Wells first thing, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling high overhead. They have just started to return in the last couple of days, early this year, coming back from Iceland to spend the winter here. A reminder that Autumn is upon us!

When we got up onto the seawall, we were in good time and there was still lots of exposed mud but the tide coming in fast. We trained the scope on the small groups of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits already gathering on the edge of the rising water. A large roost of Oystercatcher asleep away to our right, on the shore, would soon have to move, as the mud would shortly be under water.

Small groups of Ringed Plover were flying in along the near shore, stopping to feed on the still exposed mud. Several Turnstones and one or two Dunlin were in with them. A colour-ringed Curlew dropped in too, but was probably ringed locally and by the looks of its shiny leg flag, quite recently!

It was not long before the mud in front of us was covered with water, so we moved further down towards the hides. All the Oystercatchers were flying further up, from where they had been trying to roost earlier, and had gathered again in a vast slick spread out across the mud out in the middle. A large flock of Knot gathered nearby looked like a patch of darker grey mud at a distance, until you looked more closely and could see it was actually a mass of birds packed tightly together.

Waders 1

Oystercatchers – gathering out on the Wash, ahead of the rising tide

The official WeBS count of the Knot here had been conducted just a couple of days ago – 67,000! We were not up to this number yet, with many birds still on the mud further round on the Wash. As the tide continued to rise, they started to get restless, flying up and swirling round in huge flocks, before spiralling in to join the birds already gathered down closer to us.

Waders 2

Knot – more clouds of birds flying in to join those already gathered here

As we got down to the corner, opposite the saltmarsh, the water was still coming in fast. Those birds on the shore were getting pushed ever higher, walking away from the rising tide. It looked like the flock was flowing too, Oystercatchers, Knot and Godwits.

As the mass of birds became increasingly concentrated into the top corner, where the last remaining exposed mud was to be found, the Oystercatchers started peeling off first, heading past us in lines into the pits, piping noisily. The Knot waited longer, reluctant to leave the safety of the mud, until they were packed tightly into the last remaining arc of mud, right up against the saltmarsh. Finally they took off, tens of thousands of them rising together. Amazing to watch.

Waders 3

Knot – the moment tens of thousands took off together

Some large groups of Knot flew in past us, thousands at a time, low overhead. We watched them circling round and dropping down onto the pit behind us. Thousands more climbed higher and higher into the sky. There was nowhere left to roost out on the Wash now, with the tide in, and it seemed likely that the islands on the pit may have been already full, so they didn’t know where to go to roost. They spent ages flying backwards and forwards, getting ever higher.

Waders 4

Knot – flocks of thousands gained height out over the Wash

There were still tens of thousands of Knot in the sky. It was very impressive to watch, and we stood and marvelled at them. The flocks were stacked, some higher, some lower, crissing and crossing backwards and forwards over and above each other. We stood and watched them for a while, mesmerised.

Waders 5

Knot – thousands stacked in the sky over the Wash in vast flocks

The Knot showed no signs of coming down, although some seemed to drift away out over the Wash. We decided to head round to South Hide, to see what we could find on the roosting on the pit. One or two Yellow Wagtails flew back and forth over the grass calling shrilly, and a couple of Common Sandpipers flew past over the edge of the wash, with their distinctive bowed wings and flicking wingbeats.

There were lots of waders on the pits. The Oystercatchers were mostly on the banks either side. Quite a few Knot were packed onto some of the closer islands, though we could see thousands more further down the pit. Some Knot were roosting in the water towards the front, where we could get a closer look at them in the scope. A little group of  sleeping Dunlin on the nearest bank included a couple of adults with black belly patches and several juveniles with spotted bellies.

There were more Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the pit than we had seen out on the Wash, mostly now in drab grey-brown non-breeding plumage. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was standing on the bank in front of the Oystercatchers and it gave us a nice opportunity to compare the two species in the scope. Most of the Bar-tailed Godwits seemed to be roosting out on the saltmarsh with all the Curlew.

Three Spoonbills were scattered separately around the shore of the pit, one roosting with the Little Egrets but the others roosting with the waders. One was awake when we first arrived, but typically they all spent most of the time asleep. That is what Spoonbills seem to do most of the time!

Heading back round to Shore Hide, there were lots of Linnets and Reed Buntings in the suaeda bushes, pushed up off the shore by the tide. We could still see a couple of flocks of Knot flying high over the Wash. The islands at the other end of the pit were already packed tight with Knot, standing shoulder to shoulder, and it looked like there was no room for any more. Apart from on the edge of one of the nearest islands, closest to the bank, which the Knot seemed to shun and was occupied by more Dunlin instead.

Waders 6

Knot – packed tight on the islands on the pit

There were lots of Common Redshanks roosting along the far shore of the pit, opposite the hide. The rocks in the middle seemed to have been commandeered by Cormorants and Greylag Geese. However, looking carefully in amongst the geese, we found several Spotted Redshanks. They were fast asleep, head on to us, but we could still pick them out, slightly paler, whiter fronted than the Common Redshanks. One Spotted Redshank woke up and started preening while we had the scope on it, flashing its distinctive longer, needle-fine-tipped bill.

The Knot were now starting to get restless. We walked back over to the edge of the Wash, but on such a big tide as it was today the mud was still only just starting to reappear. Small lines of Knot started streaming off from the pit, over the Bank next to us. They came over a few hundred at a time at first, but there was nowhere for them to go, and they whirled around low out over the Wash. The Oystercatchers started to gather in the corner first, with their longer legs. But the tide was going out fast now and gradually more and more was mud exposed.

Then huge waves of Knot started to come up off the pit, streaming back out to the Wash. The flew low over the bank, and skimmed the surface of the water as they headed back out to where the mud was now appearing again.

Waders 8

Knot – streaming back out from the pit to the Wash

One large flock of Knot, probably a thousand or more strong, came right over our heads. They were so low, all we could hear was the beating of a thousand pairs of wings. Amazing!

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Knot – some of them came low over our heads

We turned our attention back out to the growing throngs gathering out on the mud. A small group of Grey Plover flew in from elsewhere, possibly having roosted on the saltmarsh, and landed in front of the flocks. Through the scope we could see their black faces and bellies, still in breeding plumage. Nine Sanderling dropped in too, and started feeding busily on the wet mud.

The pit had largely emptied of waders now, so we decided to move on and walked back to the minibus. A small roost of gulls had gathered on one of the other pits, mostly Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls, but stopping to look through them briefly we found three Mediterranean Gulls in with them too. Two adults preening on the shore, white winged and with a brighter red bill and black bandit mask.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – an adult moulting to winter plumage

After a quick break for coffee, we headed round the coast to Titchwell. After our early  start this morning, we decided to break for an early lunch by the Visitor Centre. Then after lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we walked up along the main West Bank path beside the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. It was quite breezy now and the reeds were swaying in the wind, but despite that, two appeared up in the reeds in a sheltered spot. We had a good view of a male and a female together, before they dropped down out of view.

We would have been happy with that, but we hadn’t gone much further, when we heard more Bearded Tits calling on the other side of the bank. We poked our heads over and spotted two cracking males perched nicely in the tops of the reeds there, with powder blue heads and black droopy moustaches. When they eventually flew, more birds came up from hidden in the reeds and they all zipped across the path and dropped back down into the edge of the main reedbed. They spent several minutes feeding around the small pools on that side, low round the edge of the water or climbing up into the tops calling, before they eventually flew further back and disappeared.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – showed very well today

The Reedbed Pool held just a few ducks, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. So we continued on to Island Hide to have a look at the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of waders scattered out over the mud here too. Lots of Ruff and a good number of Avocets still. A smart Lapwing was feeding close to the hide, its iridescent plumage shining green, bronze and purple in the afternoon sunshine. A couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were in with the Dunlin, larger, longer billed and cleaner white below. A single juvenile Little Ringed Plover was running round with several Ringed Plovers over by the reeds. Through the scope, we could see the ghosting of the eye ring which is brighter golden yellow on breeding adults.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – showing a ghosting of the adult’s yellow eye-ring

A Spoonbill flew in from the direction of the sea, but there were no others on the Freshmarsh this afternoon, so after a quick look it carried on through. A Water Rail appeared on the edge of the reeds. It disappeared quickly back in, but thankfully reappeared again a short while later and this time spent some time preening out in the open on the mud. A couple more Bearded Tits, tawny brown juveniles, appeared on the mud in front of the reeds too and a single Common Snipe was feeding nearby.

A lone Knot, odd to see on its own after the flocks of thousands this morning, was rather distant at first. But then it flew straight in to the hide and started feeding in the cut reeds just below the window, giving us stunning close views. It was a juvenile, most likely here from Greenland or Canada where it had been raised over the summer, and had probably never seen people before so didn’t know to be afraid.

Knot

Knot – stunning close views of this juvenile from Island Hide

Back out on the main path, we couldn’t see anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we carried straight on towards the beach for a quick look at the sea. The tide was out, and their were lots of waders down on the mussel beds, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Redshanks and Turnstones. A Sandwich Tern flew past offshore and we spotted two or three Great Crested Grebes out on the sea.

Unfortunately, it was time to head back now – after an early start, we had an early finish this afternoon. Two Greenshanks calling out over the saltmarsh as we walked back, flew in over the path behind us. A nice last addition to our wader list for the day, and a good point to finish on.