Category Archives: North Norfolk

24th Nov 2018 – Out for a Lark (or Twenty)

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a rather grey morning, with a moderate and rather blustery east wind, but dry and fairl. the wind dropped in the afternoon and the sun even came out for a time!

Our main target for the morning was to see a Shorelark, so we headed straight round to Holkham first. When we got to Lady Anne’s Drive, the grazing meadows either side seemed rather quiet today. There were no ducks around the pools and no Wigeon out on the grass. A pair of Greylags and an Egyptian Goose flew over, but there were not many Pink-footed Geese out here this morning. A lone Brent was feeding on the grass close to the Drive.

We decided to head straight out towards the beach. Just before we got to the pines, we stopped to scan the hedges either side and we could see several Blackbirds flying back and forth across one of the ditches, between the hawthorns which are still laden with berries. These are presumably migrants which have stopped here to refuel.

On the other side of the pines, we could see a lot more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh. Most were regular Dark-bellied Brents but in with them was our old friend, the Black Brant hybrid, noticeably darker, with a slightly more contrasting white flank patch and more striking white collar. The fact that it returns here each winter shows just how site faithful all these Brent Geese are.

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – the usual bird, out on the saltmarsh again

The saltmarsh was very wet this morning, as there had been a big spring tide overnight. There had been comparatively few reports of the Shorelarks in the last couple of days, perhaps as a consequence of the tides, and when we got to the area which has been cordoned off for them, we found lots of standing water and no larks! They were clearly going to take a bit more finding today.

We headed straight on to the beach, picking our way round the pools and puddles. The beach itself was also rather quiet, with fewer gulls than recently and a distinct lack of waders, despite the comparative lack of dog walkers out on the sand today. The Cormorants were standing out on the sand off Wells Harbour today. It was much windier than the last few days, which perhaps was the reason for the relative dearth of birds.

The sea was rather choppy out in the bay, but we did manage to find a few things out here. A line of Eider were riding the waves, and we found a group of Common Scoter further out. Several Red-throated Divers flew past, as did a few Gannets. A Guillemot just offshore was hard to see as it was diving constantly.

We were just wondering which way to go, when a large group of walkers appeared round the dunes from the Wells direction. They didn’t seem to be flushing anything ahead of them and we figured it was unlikely there would be any birds left on the beach that way. So we walked west instead.

There was nothing on the beach or along the edge of the dunes ahead of us. We kept stopping to scan and looking out to sea. We did find three Slavonian Grebes in a group just offshore, which was a very nice bonus. We decided to try along the edge of the saltmarsh, on the inland side of the dunes where it was more sheltered, and we flushed a large flock of Linnets which was slightly more promising. But there was still no sign of any Shorelarks.

When we got to the Gap, we started to walk back out onto the beach. We noticed some movement on the stones ahead of us, around the corner of dunes and looked across to see Shorelarks. Success! They were moving fast over the stones, or flying round in twos and threes, chasing each other. We got them in the scope and managed to see their distinctive yellow faces with black bandit masks before they took off and flew, heading away across the beach and over the dunes other side. We counted at least 20 Shorelarks again as they flew off.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we finally found them out on the beach

There was still a lot of water draining off the saltmarsh. We thought about crossing to the other side of the Gap but when we got half way over we found that we couldn’t all get across the channel flowing out across the beach without getting wet feet. So we turned to head back the way we had come, and as we did so the Shorelarks flew in again and landed back where they had been.

We stood and watched the Shorelarks again, feeding on the stones. There didn’t seem to be much food here for them, but presumably there were seedheads from the saltmarsh in the sand. They gradually worked their way along the beach away from us, so we decided to leave them to it and head back along the other side of the dunes.

Back at Lady Anne’s Drive, lots of Pink-footed Geese were now dropping in to the grazing marshes, so we stopped for a good look at them through the scope. It had taken a bit of time to find the Shorelarks today, but with our main target in the bag, we decided to explore the coast to the west, looking for waders and wildfowl, taking in the reserve at Titchwell. As we drove west along the coast road, we saw a couple of Red Kites hanging in the air over the fields.

There was still an hour or so before lunch, so we figured we would explore a couple of the harbours before going to Titchwell. At Brancaster Staithe, the tide was out and there were lots of Brent Geese bathing in the channel or loafing around on the sand beyond. A large group of Teal was asleep on the mud bank, and Wigeon were liberally scattered around the harbour.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding in the thick mud

There were a few waders, but still not so many as there are usually through the winter. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were wading in the thick mud, there were several Redshanks further up the channel and three Oystercatchers were roosting by the water. A Curlew picking around on the mud dwarfed a Dunlin next to it. A Turnstone flew in and started feeding on the piles of discarded mussels.

Our luck was in when we got to Thornham Harbour. As we drove up along the road, a flock of small birds flew across in front of us and landed on the top of one of the wooden jetties. They were Twite, fourteen of them, and there looked to be three colour-ringed birds in with them too.

Twite 1

Twite – flew across in front of us as we drove in

We parked the car and got out very quietly, so as not to disturb them. We got the Twite in the scope from here, noting their orangey breasts and yellow bills. They dropped down one by one to the vegetation below, to feed, and we walked over very slowly for a closer look, to try to get the colour ring combinations.

Twite 2

Twite – feeding on the seedheads on the edge of the saltmarsh

We had a great look at some of the Twite as they fed, although it was hard to see all the rings with them down in the vegetation. Fortunately, two of them had already been reported and we had got enough information to identify the third. They were all ringed in Derbyshire, two of them in the spring and one back in 2016. The latter bird spent last winter here too.

It is great to be able to contribute sightings, as they are helping us to learn more about these birds, where they spend the winter and how they move. The Pennines breeding population of Twite has dropped sharply in recent years, and they are much more scarce here in winter than they used to be as a consequence.

There were not many waders here now, perhaps because it was just after low tide. There were several Redshanks in the various channels we checked. We walked up along the seawall as far as the corner and looked out across the harbour. There were plenty of Shelducks out on the saltmarsh, and we noticed a large flock of Brent Geese flying out over the shore line beyond the dunes. A flock of Linnets circled round overhead and a few dropped down to drink at the puddles on the bank.

It was time for lunch now, so we headed round to Titchwell. There were a few finches on the feeders, including one or two Greenfinches which are always good to see these days. A Coal Tit came in too. After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve.

In the winter, it is often possible to see a Water Rail in the ditches by the path here. We scanned carefully as we walked along, and quickly found one just below the path. This is the first time we have seen it here this winter. We had a great look at it, as it fed in the water in the bottom, throwing leaves out of the way to see what it could find underneath.

Water Rail

Water Rail – back in the ditch by the main path

There were a few more birds on the reedbed pool today, so we stopped for a look. As well as several Mallard and Coot, we could see a pair of Gadwall and a single drake Common Pochard in the far corner. Looking across to the back of the reedbed, we could see a surprising number of Marsh Harriers in already. There are over 30 roosting here at the moment apparently, and we counted at least 12 and it was still early afternoon.

When we got to the Freshmarsh, we popped in to Island Hide. The water levels have not yet been raised for the winter, so there were still lots of waders on here. Large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwings were standing around – separately – in the shallow water. There were several small parties of Dunlin working there way round the muddy edges of the islands and we found a single Ruff on the middle of one of them. Most of the Avocets have departed for the winter, but twelve are currently still trying to remain.

Golden Plover 1

Golden Plover – roosting on the Freshmarsh

There are lots of Teal still on the Freshmarsh, with several dabbling in the mud in front of the hide. The Wigeon are feeding mainly on the fenced off island, and there were a few Shelduck over the back. But there aren’t many other ducks on here at the moment. A lone Greylag was feeding right outside the window, and small groups of Brent Geese flew in from time to time.

With the light good at the moment, we decided to head straight out to the beach. With the tide out, there was not much on the Volunteer Marsh – a single Curlew feeding quite close to the path, and a few Redshanks along the channel.

Curlew

Curlew – pulling worms out of the mud on the Volunteer Marsh

With the big tides, the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ are very full with water. There were a few ducks roosting on the one remaining island. We could see a few Shoveler, which was new for the day, and we eventually found the drake Pintail fast asleep.

The tide was still out and all the waders were still on the beach. Possibly it was a bit less disturbed here today, because there were some big flocks of Knot out on the wet sand to the west. There were good numbers of Grey Plover in with them, and Bar-tailed Godwits closer to the sea beyond. We could see several Sanderlings running around on the shore too.

There had been some good birds on the sea today, so we scanned the water from the shelter of the concrete blocks. We found a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, a drake Goldeneye and one or two Great Crested Grebes, but we couldn’t immediately see any sign of any divers, other grebes or the Long-tailed Ducks.

We walked down to the mussel beds, to get a better look at some of the waders. We got a nice little group of Knot in the scope, and then a Bar-tailed Godwit. The Knot were rather flighty and kept flying round.

Knot

Knot – there were good numbers on the beach today

It was exposed to the elements out on the open sand, so we walked back up the beach to the edge of the dunes to scan the sea again. We finally managed to find where the Long-tailed Ducks were, but they were a long way off to the west, half way to Thornham Point, and impossible to see with the light starting to go now. There was a diver and a couple of more interesting looking grebes even further off that way. We did discuss whether we wanted to walk up along the beach to try to see them, but it was getting late now. We decided to head back.

We called in at Parrinder Hide on our way. There were lots of gulls gathering to roost now, and in amongst the Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls, we found an adult Yellow-legged Gull. We hadn’t seen a Common Snipe today, so we scanned along the margins where the reeds have been cut this week, to no avail. Then one flew out of the vegetation on one of the islands and landed in with the Lapwings, before scurrying back in to cover.

The Golden Plover and Lapwings all spooked and whirled round over the Freshmarsh, silhouetted against the last of the light. We couldn’t see what caused it, possibly just a Marsh Harrier drifting over, but they settled down again quite quickly.

Golden Plover 2

Golden Plover – silhouetted against the last of the light

As we walked back along the main path, we looked across to the back of the Freshmarsh to see a small falcon flying fast and low along the bank, a Merlin. It cut the corner over the Freshmarsh and dropped over the top of the bank towards the Volunteer Marsh. We stopped by the reedbed to watch the Marsh Harriers and Little Egrets gathering over the back. More were still arriving, flying in from the west over the path as we made our way towards the trees. Unfortunately, it was time for us to head for home too.

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21st Nov 2018 – Winter Day Reflated

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. After a very wet and windy day yesterday, we were very fortunate that it was another glorious bright and sunny morning with blue skies today, much better than had been forecast. It did cloud over a bit in the afternoon, but there were still some sunny intervals and with light winds, it was very mild, until the sun started to go down.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. We could see a number of ducks on the pools by Lady Anne’s Drive as we drove up, so we walked back for a look after we parked. There were plenty of Wigeon feeding out on the grass, although there are hopefully still a lot more to come over the coming weeks, plus a few Teal and Mallard around the pools an ditches.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding in the fields by Lady Anne’s Drive

Two Common Buzzards were perched on the bushes in the distance out across the grazing marsh, one quite dark and the other strikingly pale. The latter really stood out, shining white below in the morning sunshine. A rather dark juvenile Marsh Harrier was quartering the marshes, flushing the ducks further back. A Grey Heron was lurking in front of the reeds on the edge of one of the ditches.

Several small skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew off from the field on the other side of the road, but we got the scope on the small group which remained down on the grass. We could see their dark heads and delicate dark bills with a pink band around. Across the drive, the bigger and paler Greylags were sporting large orange carrots for bills. A couple of Egyptian Geese were out on the grazing marshes too.

As we walked up towards the pines, we stopped to scan the bushes along the ditch to the west. There are still lots of berries here and we quickly spotted a couple of Blackbirds taking advantage of the food to refuel, and a Redwing which perched up nicely so we could get it in the scope. There are still thrushes arriving from the continent for the winter at the moment.

When we got out onto the open saltmarsh north of the trees, we looked across to see a flock of Brent Geese feeding, well hidden in the vegetation across the other side of the path out to the beach. One of them was darker than the others, with a slightly more obvious white flank patch and bolder white collar. This is a regular returning Black Brant hybrid which comes back here each year with the Brents.

The rest of the saltmarsh was rather quiet, as we walked east, but as we got to the new cordon we could see Shorelarks in the distance. They were feeding on the edge of the beach beyond the fence, so we had a quick look at them through the scope from here in case they were disturbed. There have been around 12 Shorelarks here for the past week or so, and we counted the same number this morning.

We walked up a little further, to the end of the cordon, where another birder was already standing watching them. As we got to him, another small group of 9 more Shorelarks flew in, and landed on the sand just in front of us. We could see 21 now, the highest count of winter here so far. Hopefully the number of birds here for the winter might continue to grow yet. We had a great look at them through scope, picking around the small seedheads on the beach. With the low winter sun behind us, it was lovely light and the Shorelarks’ yellow faces shone as they turned to face us.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – another flock of 9 flew in to join the 12 already there

For no apparent reason, the Shorelarks suddenly took off and flew out over the dunes towards the beach. We looked across through the low gap and noticed a flock of small birds fly up around the corner of dunes, but rather than being the Shorelarks it was a flock of Snow Buntings.

We walked up to the beach, hoping to get a better look at the Snow Buntings. We could see them feeding on the edge of the dunes, but we could see a walker approaching with a couple of loose dogs and needless to say the Snow Buntings flew before we could get into position and disappeared off round the dunes. The Shorelarks did reappear though, flying in again from the beach and landed back behind us.

The tide was out and as it was not so busy today there were lots of birds down at the bottom of the beach, by the sea. As well as all the gulls, a line of Cormorants were drying their wings out on the sandbar. There were lots of Oystercatchers too, and several Sanderlings running up and down the shoreline.

A smart drake Red-breasted Merganser in the channel in front of the sandbar was close enough to get a good look at it through the scope, but a small flock of Common Scoter was a bit further out and the line of Common Eider was very distant, the white drakes standing out as they caught the sunlight. A diver busy preening some way off to the west proved to be a Great Northern Diver when it stopped long enough for us to get a proper look at it. Otherwise, there were a few Great Crested Grebes offshore and one or two Gannets drifting back and forth.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – these fifteen were feeding along the beach towards Wells

They hadn’t reappeared where they had been feeding, so we set off along the beach towards Wells to see if we could find the Snow Buntings again. When we got round the corner and scanned the sand, we could see them out on the open beach in a small group, fifteen of them, busy preening in the sunshine. We had a nice look through the scope, before they were flushed by another dog walker, and flew to the edge of the dunes. The Snow Buntings seemed to be settled here, so we walked up slowly and had a closer look at them, running in and out of the tufts of marram grass, picking at the small seedheads growing out of the sand.

As we made our way back towards the car, the Shorelarks were still showing well on the edge of the cordon, so we stopped for another look. They seemed to have picked up a friend as they were flying round, and there were now 22 of them. Watching one of them close up through the scope we could even see the small ‘horns’ from which it gets its alternative name of Horned Lark.

When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, disaster struck. As we drove back towards the main road, we realised we had a puncture. We couldn’t get the wheel off here, so over a coffee back in The Lookout, we tried to get someone to come out to help. No one locally could come out and fix it on site, so we were faced with a long wait for a tow, which would ruin the rest of the day. It was time for plan ‘B’!

While we waited for someone to pick us up, we went for a quick walk west along the track on the inland side of the pines. Several Jays flew in and out of the trees ahead of and a Common Buzzard dropped out of the pines and flew off across the track.

We hadn’t gone too far before we came across a tit flock. First the Long-tailed Tits came out of the trees, followed by several Blue Tits and Coal Tits. A Goldcrest showed well low in a pine tree by the path. Eventually a Treecreeper followed behind the flock, and stopped to feed along a horizontal branch sticking out high above us in the pines. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from deep in the trees..

We got back to the abandoned car just in time to meet our lift to Wells, where we picked up alternative transport for the afternoon. We then drove down to Wells Woods, where we had a quick break for a bite to eat. A Chiffchaff was calling from the edge of caravan park, just beyond the car park. After lunch, we headed in for a quick look in the woods.

The boating lake provided a couple of additions to the day’s list. Several Little Grebes were diving out in the middle, and a couple of Gadwall were sleeping along the edge with the Mallards and Mute Swans.

Small numbers of migrant thrushes were in evidence here too, as they had been at Holkham earlier. Along the main track, one or two Blackbirds were coming to bathe in the puddles, and were joined by two Redwings. Just past there, we flushed more Blackbirds and Redwings from the hawthorn bushes where they had been feeding on the berries. A Fieldfare flew up too and landed in a birch tree where it tried to hide in amongst the leaves.

Fieldfare

Fieldfare – hiding in one of the birches

The birch trees around the Dell meadow were quiet. We had hoped to find the redpoll flock here today, but they have been very elusive and are clearly spending a lot of time elsewhere. There was no sign of them in the birches by the toilet block either, and we met another couple of birders who had walked back all the way from Lady Anne’s Drive without finding them.

We looped back round via the Dell and found a tit flock working its way through the trees. A Chiffchaff called and we found it flitting around in the birches with the other birds. We had great views of a Goldcrest too, fluttering around the branches just above our heads. A Mistle Thrush flew across the tops of the pines.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – fluttering around in the birches above our heads

We heard one or two lone redpolls flying overhead, but there was still no sign of the large flock. As we made our way back round on the main path, we stopped to look at a male Chaffinch feeding on apples in a tree. A Bullfinch called and flew up into the top of a hawthorn just behind, a smart male. It perched there for several minutes, mostly back on to us, showing off its white rump, flashing pink underneath as it turned, before it was flushed by a passing dogwalker.

Bullfinch

Bullfinch – showing off its white rump

As we passed the boating lake, we could see a flock of birds circling round over the trees way off in the distance beyond the end of the water. The redpolls.  We watched for a couple of minutes as they repeatedly flew round and then settled back down into the trees to feed. Unfortunately, they were in the private caravan site, and there is no access here. At least we know where they are now!

After Wells Woods, we headed along the coast to Blakeney. As we got out of the car in the car park by the harbour, we could see a strange looking gull on the sand just across the channel. It was too dark above for a Herring Gull, but not dark enough for a Lesser Black-backed Gull, with rather odd-coloured fleshy yellowish legs, neither pink nor properly yellow. It is a hybrid, probably Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull, and returns here each winter. A Common Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls bathing further along the channel was a lot less confusing!

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid

Hybrid gull – probably Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull

The ducks in the wildfowl collection don’t count, but we had a quick look at some of the exotics. A Stock Dove looking for some spare duck food on the bank with the Jackdaws was a nice bonus.

As we walked out along the seawall, a female Stonechat was feeding out in the middle of one of the recently cut meadows. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling distantly over the reedbed out in the middle. A Kestrel perched on a post out on the saltmarsh was doing its best impression of a Merlin.

Several lines of Pink-footed Geese came up from the grazing marshes and headed off inland, calling. A small group of chattering Brent Geese flew around at the same time, before heading out over the bank past us, towards the saltmarsh. The sun was already starting to go down and shining between the clouds, giving us some lovely late afternoon light to illuminate the geese.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – flying off from the grazing marshes

Looking out across the Glaven Channel from the corner of the seawall, a Short-eared Owl appeared above the shingle ridge beyond. It had probably just been flushed by a Marsh Harrier, as the two of them circled together for a second. We got the Short-eared Owl in the scope and could see it flying with a distinctive stiff-winged rowing action, before it dropped back down to the bushes on the edge of the shingle.

We turned our attention to the waders out on the mud in the harbour. There were lots of Dunlin scurrying about in big groups. Scattered in with them were several Grey Plover, Redshank and Curlew. Further over, we could see lots of Oystercatchers too.

A Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail, flying low over the saltmarsh just beyond the mud. We could see the white square at the base of its tail. It worked its way quickly west past us, then turned in across the harbour and came over to work the saltmarsh to the west of us, presumably having a last hunt before heading in to roost. Further out, across the saltmarsh, we picked up a Merlin very distantly chasing after two Carrion Crows and getting chased in return.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – hunting over the harbour before heading off to roost

There was no sign of the Twite which often come in to drink at the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh path, so we walked a little further along the seawall, scanning to see if the Short-eared Owl might reappear. It was that time of day though, and we turned round to see a Barn Owl approaching instead across the Freshes. We thought it might stop to work the long grass in front of us, but it was clearly on a mission. It flew straight past us and instead started hunting the recently mown banks of the seawall, heading back towards the village.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew straight past us, heading for the recently mown seawall

The afternoon was getting on now and the Marsh Harriers were starting to gather ahead of roosting. One harrier was already perched on a bush out in the reeds, a rather dark one with a pale head. A darkish male flew in over the Freshes from the harbour to join it, as another greyer male flew past behind us, still working the sides of the Glaven channel, before turning back and gliding in too.

We couldn’t find any Twite feeding anywhere along the seawall, so we decided we would head back. Just as we were walking past the corner where they often come down to drink, the Twite suddenly flew in. Perfect timing! We counted seventeen of them, as they dropped in around the edge of their favourite puddle. It was just a quick drink though. We barely had time to get them in the scope before they were off again, flying out across the harbour.

A small flock of Golden Plover whirled round over the harbour and dropped down onto the saltmarsh, where they instantly disappeared into the vegetation, beautifully camouflaged. The halfway back to the village, we spotted the Barn Owl again, on a post visible through a gap in the reeds. It had just caught a vole and spent a minute or two playing around with it before swallowing it whole. It perched for a while digesting, before it was flushed by a dogwalker and flew off back across the grazing marshes.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – digesting a vole it had just caught and eaten

It was a lovely late afternoon out at Blakeney, but as the sun slipped down in the sky behind the horizon, the temperature started to drop, so we decided to call it a day.

18th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today, our last day. It was another lovely bright, sunny crisp day with blue skies. There was a fresh breeze from the east, but it was not as cold or as blustery as had been forecast. Another great day to be out on the coast.

With reports of a mixed flock of redpolls in Wells Woods again yesterday, we decided to pop in here briefly first thing. As we walked down towards the boating lake, we heard Redpolls calling and looked up to see five fly off over the pines towards the beach. A good start, but it was marred by meeting another birder leaving who told us he had seen the big flock first thing, but they had flown off and he hadn’t been able to find them for an hour since.

We stopped at the boating lake to see if there was anything on there this morning. A pair of Gadwall on the bank were new for the weekend’s list. Another pair of Gadwall swam out of one of the channels in the reeds the other side, the drake keeping very close to the female, which we could understand when another drake swam out in pursuit. There were a few Little Grebes and a Tufted Duck out on the water too. A Kingfisher called as it flew out from the far bank, but disappeared round the corner before anyone could get onto it.

As we walked on along the main track, we could hear Bullfinches calling, but they were hidden from view, probably down in the brambles somewhere in the reeds. It was clear that more thrushes had arrived overnight. A Fieldfare flew in and landed in the top of a tall poplar, where we got it in the scope. Then a Redwing flew up into the birches behind us, calling. As we continued on, we flushed lots of Blackbirds and several more Redwings from the bushes by the path.

Blackbird

Blackbird – it appeared there had been another arrival overnight

When we were almost level with the edge of the Dell, we heard more Redpolls calling and looked up to see a large flock of 30 or so flying in from the direction of the caravan park. There appeared to be a fairly high proportion of pale birds in the flock – Mealy Redpolls – but they flew straight across the track and disappeared behind the trees, heading in the direction of the Dell.

We walked round and out to the middle of the Dell meadow, flushing a rather pale Common Buzzard from the trees on the sunny edge as we did so. We stopped here for a while and scanned the birches all around, expecting the redpolls to be feeding here, but there was no sign of them. A Siskin flew over calling.

As we walked into the trees, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling, but it promptly went quiet. We had a quick look along the path on the east side of the Dell for the redpolls, then round to the birches by the toilet block to try there. The sun was catching the trees in the open glade here and a Chiffchaff flew across and started flycatching from the tops. We watched it for a while, picking at the undersides of the leaves too, before it was joined in the same tree by a second Chiffchaff. It will be interesting to see if they try to overwinter here, or move on again once the weather turns colder.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the birches

There was no sign of the redpolls anywhere in the birches between there and the boating lake, just a flock of Long-tailed Tits which worked their way quickly through the trees above our heads. We had planned to spend the day further west along the coast today, so we decided to resume plan ‘A’.

On our way west along the coast road, we stopped briefly to admire a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a field just before Titchwell village. A single Greylag Goose was with them – though it was impossible to tell whether it was an Icelandic bird which had travelled with them or a local one which had just got in with the wrong crowd.

There were lots of people when we got to Thornham Harbour, out walking, making the most of it and taking the air on a sunny Sunday morning. We had a quick look in the harbour channel, but all we could see were a couple of Common Redshanks. There were just a couple more Common Redshanks around the sluice – perhaps it was just too disturbed here today.

As we climbed up onto the seawall, a male Stonechat was perched up on one of the signs by the gate, but it was flushed by walkers and flew down towards the grazing marsh. We found it again perched on a fence post across the grass, together with a female Stonechat. A Meadow Pipit appeared out of the grass below them.

A large flock of Curlew flew in from the direction of Holme, and dropped down towards the saltmarsh. From the corner of the seawall, we could see they had joined another group which were already roosting out there. We counted almost 100, but more Curlews continued to arrive in small groups while we stood and looked out across the harbour. A large group of Teal were roosting in the sunshine along the muddy bank of the channel opposite.

Curlew

Curlews – flying in to roost on the saltmarsh

There were a few groups of Linnets and Skylarks flying around the seawall, but nothing seemed to settle with all the people walking back and forth. We decided to walk out to the beach. A quick look at Broadwater as we passed revealed just a few ducks – mainly Mallard and Gadwall but with a pair of Shoveler and some distant Wigeon too – and several Coot.

There were lots of people out on the beach too today, so not many waders on the sand in front of us. There were more looking away to the east, on the sand banks in front of the harbour, principally a large roost of Oystercatchers, though a few silvery grey Sanderling were busy running around on the shoreline nearby. A single Ringed Plover flew past. Something obviously disturbed the Curlews from the saltmarsh because they flew out over the beach and landed here too, joining the Brent Geese and Cormorants drying their wings out on the sand.

The sea was much choppier today. A very distant flock of Eider flying west in front of the wind turbines was hard to see, but thankfully then two flew east just behind the breakers a little later which were much easier for everyone to get onto. There were several small groups of Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea, which we got in the scope, and one or two Great Crested Grebes, but there didn’t appear to be much else out on the water today. A few Gannets and Guillemots flew past.

On the walk back, three Little Grebes had appeared out of the reeds on Broadwater. We were aiming for Titchwell for the afternoon, but we decided to make a short diversion inland on the way there to see if we could find any flocks of farmland birds. All the usual likely fields and hedges were rather quiet – there is still plenty of food available, so the bigger flocks have not really gathered yet. A Sparrowhawk flushed from the hedge and flying down the verge behind us was the highlight.

We stopped for lunch at the picnic tables by the visitor centre. The feeders held a good selection of commoner finches, including one or two Greenfinch which are always nice to see these days. A Coal Tit popped in briefly too.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. Three Marsh Harriers were circling over the back of the reedbed, but there was nothing on the pool here today. Looking out over the saltmarsh, we could see a Curlew, a Redshank and a Little Egret. Another Curlew and a lone Grey Plover were roosting on the Lavendar Marsh pool.

There were lots of birds out on the Freshmarsh, so we popped into Island Hide to scan through. The first thing we were struck by were the Teal. There were lots of them and several were dabbling on the wet mud right in front of the hide. In the afternoon sunshine, the drakes were looking stunning. There were a few Shelduck here too and a handful of Shoveler. A large mob of Wigeon were feeding over the back, in the enclosure on the fenced off island.

Teal 2

Teal – looking stunning now, in the afternoon sun

Despite it being just after high tide, there were not as many waders roosting on here as we might have expected. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits, but they were right over in the far corner. Most of the Avocets have left for the winter, but ten are still hanging on here, hoping to be able to avoid the need to move further south. Most of these were also over towards the back, but one Avocet was feeding around the edges of the nearest island.

Four Dunlin were feeding busily on the mud in front of us, and there was another larger flock of Dunlin further over, in front of Parrinder Hide. A single Ringed Plover was with them. The Wigeon were very nervous, and kept irrupting at intervals from the fenced off island, before flying back in to feed. After one such irruption, a Common Snipe appeared from hiding on one of the other islands nearby and promptly went back to sleep on the edge of the vegetation where we could see it.

Dunlin

Dunlin – one of the four feeding on the mud in front of Island Hide

A scan along the edge of the reeds the other side of the hide had failed to reveal the hoped for Water Rail. Then as we were about to leave, one of the group spotted the back end of a Water Rail disappearing into the vegetation. Thankfully, after a few seconds it reappeared and we watched it working its way in and out of the reeds along the edge.

Water Rail

Water Rail – on the edge of the reeds from Island Hide

We headed round to Parrinder Hide next. On the way, a small flock of Brent Geese flew in from Thornham saltmarsh and came low right over our heads as they dropped in towards the Freshmarsh, for a bathe and a drink. The first few misjudged the depth of the water, which is quite shallow at the moment, and aborted their first landing attempt, eventually being more successful a bit further back, where the water is deeper.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – flew right in over our heads

We couldn’t see anything different on the Freshmarsh from Parrinder Hide and there was no sign of the Water Pipit from there this afternoon. One Golden Plover dropped in to the mud in front of the hide, unusually all on its own. We decided to head out towards the beach.

There were a few Common Redshank on Volunteer Marsh and a Little Egret feeding in the channel below the main path. More Redshank were gathered on the tidal channel which stretches back at the far end, along with a few more Black-tailed Godwits and one or two Curlew. We stopped to have a better look at one of the Black-tailed Godwits in the scope.

More waders were roosting out on the one remaining island on the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’, where the water level is now very high again. There were mostly Oystercatchers and Grey Plovers, along with a few Common Redshank. Two paler waders asleep on the front edge of the island were two Greenshank – through the scope we could see their green legs.

Out at the beach, the tide was in. Scattered along the shoreline to the west were lots of Oystercatchers and gulls, and running around in between them were several Sanderling and Turnstones. It was quite choppy now, looking out to sea, and hard to see anything on the water, so we decided to escape the chilly breeze and head back.

As we passed the Tidal Pools, we heard a Spotted Redshank calling. It was obviously on the move, and seemed to have gone over the bank towards the Volunteer Marsh. But as we looked across to all the waders roosting on the island, we could see two slightly paler birds standing next to a Common Redshank. Through the scope, despite the fact that they were asleep, we could see they were two Spotted Redshanks, noticeably more silvery grey above, more obviously spotted with white on the wings. Looking through the Grey Plover from here, we found a single Knot roosting in with them too. A smart drake Pintail was swimming round in front of the island now as well.

We had expected to find the other Spotted Redshank feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, but when we got over the bank we could still hear it calling over towards the Freshmarsh. When we got to the junction with the path to Parrinder Hide, we looked across and found it on the edge of a group of Black-headed Gulls. We had a look at it through the scope and could see its distinctive bill, longer and finer than a Common Redshanks. It was still calling constantly, possibly trying to entice the other Spotted Redshanks in from the Tidal Pools.

By the time we got into Parrinder Hide, it had flown again. Following the calls, it had disappeared round the back of the fenced-off island, out of view. Other birds were starting to gather, and there were more Golden Plover on the Freshmarsh now. More and more gulls were arriving too, and looking through them we found a single Yellow-legged Gull in with the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull – roosting on the Freshmarsh

It was starting to get dark, so we closed up all the windows in the hide and started to walk back. We could already see several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed, and we watched as one after another, six more drifted in high from the west, over the Thornham saltmarsh, dropping slowly over the path and down towards the reeds, getting ready to roost. There were Little Egrets coming in to roost too, one at a time, in over the saltmarsh.

We had enjoyed an exciting three day’s of birding on the coast, and it was now time for us to head for home too. There were still a couple of late surprises in store though. As we drove back east along the coast road, we spotted a Little Owl perched on the roof of a barn by the road. A little further on a Woodcock flew across the road in front of us, silhouetted against the last of the evening’s light as it flew up and over the hedge. They were coming out for the night, just as we were calling it a day.

17th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. After a misty start, the sun came out and the skies cleared, and it was a lovely bright sunny late autumn / early winter’s day. Great weather to be out.

It was very misty out on the grazing marshes when we arrived at Holkham and drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive. The sun was already starting to burn off the mist as we parked and got out of the car. We could see a couple of Pink-footed Geese in the field right by the north end of the Drive, along with a lone Brent Goose. Another two Pinkfeet flew over calling.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – two were feeding right by Lady Anne’s Drive

There were clearly lots of birds in the hedge on the south side of the trees, so we stopped for a closer look.  The hawthorns were full of Redwings, feeding on the berries, along with a few Song Thrushes, presumably all fresh arrivals from the continent overnight, coming in for the winter. One Redwing was perched on the edge, enjoying the early sun as the mist lifted. Several then dropped down onto the grass in the middle of the grazing marsh to feed, in amongst the ubiquitous Woodpigeons.

A small group of Bullfinches flew along the hedge, flashing their white rumps. A smart pink male perched up in the hawthorns briefly, but quickly dropped back into cover. Four Greenfinches appeared in the trees nearby but quickly flew off east. Then a flash of a small pale bird flying along the brambles stretching out across the far side of the grass, turned out to be a female Blackcap once it landed and we got it in the scope.

The new café, ‘The Lookout’, wasn’t open yet, but we took advantage of the raised ground around it as a vantage point to scan the grazing marshes to the east. A couple of Stonechats perched up in the top of the reeds, waiting for it to warm up. A Common Buzzard flew across and landed on a concrete block out in the middle; nearby a second Buzzard was perched in the top of the hedge.

As we walked through pines, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees. Out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, we turned right and walked along the path below the pines. It was rather quiet along here today, and when we got to the new cordon, erected to help protect the Shorelarks from disturbance, there was no sign of them.

The Shorelarks often like to feed on the beach too, so we continued on to look for them there. We could see a long line of Cormorants drying their wings out on the sand bar beyond. Several gulls were feeding just offshore, mainly Black-headed Gulls, flying up and down over a narrow strip of water, dipping regularly down to pick food from the surface. A couple of gulls were slightly larger, bulkier, with pure white wing tips – two adult Mediterranean Gulls. Then a much smaller gull flew in to join the same group, a dainty Little Gull flashing its dark underwings.

While scanning back and forth through the gulls, another white shape bobbing on the sea caught our eye. As we focused in, we could see it was an Avocet! Swimming out on the sea! This is not something Avocets normally do, although most waders are capable of swimming short distances if required. We assumed it had only landed briefly, but over the following 15 minutes or so we were on the beach, it remained happily out on the sea. Seemingly there were a few Avocets on the move today, with other birds seen flying along the coast, so perhaps this was just a tired migrant stopping for a rest? Whatever it was doing there, it was bizarre to see it!

With a very calm sea, there were not so many duck visible today (they were presumably feeding further out). We did find a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers closer in, off the sandbar. There were a few Gannets flying back and forth offshore too, and when we focused the scope on two distant Gannets resting on the sea, we could see one or two Guillemots on the water in front of them.

There had been a few Meadow Pipits and Skylarks flying over calling, but then we heard the Shorelarks and we turned to see them flying in to the cordoned off area on the saltmarsh behind us. We walked back round for a closer look, and when we got to where the Shorelarks were, we heard Snow Buntings calling. We looked across to the other side of the cordon to see three Snow Buntings fly in and drop down on the edge of the dunes at the back. We didn’t know where to look first!

After a look at the Snow Buntings first, we turned our attention back to the Shorelarks. Very obligingly, they flew across and landed down on the saltmarsh in front of where we were standing. They are very well camouflaged when they are feeding down in the vegetation, and they were hard to count at first, but eventually everyone who was counting managed to see all 12 of them. When they put their heads up, you can see their yellow faces and black bandit masks, and it was a perfect day for watching them today. Their yellow faces glowed in the morning sun, which was shining from behind us. Stunning!

Shorelarks 1

Shorelarks – there were 12 today on the saltmarsh

Shorelarks 2

Shorelarks – their yellow faces shone in the sunshine

Shorelarks are very scarce winter visitors from Scandinavia, in variable numbers from year to year, and Holkham is a very traditional site for them. They feed on the seedheads out on the saltmarsh here. Hopefully the new cordon will encourage them to remain here through the winter again.

Having enjoyed great views of the Shorelarks, we made our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive. ‘The Lookout’ café was now open, so we made a quick stop to use the facilities. A Kingfisher shot across the top of the Drive and disappeared west behind the trees, down the line of the ditch, unfortunately too quick for most to get onto it. A Sparrowhawk was perched on a post in the middle of the grazing marsh.

We walked west from there, on the inland side of the trees. We flushed lots of Blackbirds from down under the trees or the hawthorns as we went. There had clearly been a major arrival overnight from the continent, and more seemed to be arriving now, coming in through the tops of the pines. Three Jays flew across the path and one landed in the poplars.

We could hear tits in the pines and looked up to see a flock of mainly Long-tailed Tits working its way through the tops. A Treecreeper called from somewhere deep in the trees, but we couldn’t see it. A Goldcrest appeared in the pines right above our heads and dropped down to feed low down in a tree right beside us.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – fed just above our heads

There were lots of Mallard on Salts Hole today, and in with them we found at least six Little Grebes, several Coot and three Tufted Duck. A small flock of Wigeon was feeding on the grass beyond, and three Egyptian Geese were calling noisily just behind them. One of the Egyptian Geese flew up into the pine tree, perhaps checking out a potential nest site already.

Two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds in front of Washington Hide, flushing all the ducks. We could see a small flock of Shoveler circling round. As we started to walk in that direction, we looked back at Salts Hole to see two Water Rails fly out of the reeds. One flew across to the other side but the other turned back. Both disappeared straight into the reeds unfortunately, but we could then hear them squealing to each either from either side.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there were at least six on Salts Hole today

There were some more Long-tailed Tits in the Holm Oaks along the side of the track and we stopped to watch two Coal Tits chasing each other in and out of the trees. A quick scan from the gate overlooking the grazing marshes revealed a distant flock of Pink-footed Geese and more Wigeon out on the grass.

From up on the boardwalk to Washington Hide, we watched one of the Marsh Harriers quartering over the reeds. It hovered for a couple of seconds and looked like it was going to drop down after something, but then drifted away to the grazing marshes beyond. We were looking straight into the low sun from here – one of the disadvantages of such a nice day at this time of year – so we decided to press on west. There were a few Common Darter dragonflies still out, enjoying the late sunshine, and one was basking on the wood of the boardwalk by the track.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – hunting over the reeds in front of Washington Hide

The pools and grazing marshes in front of Joe Jordan Hide looked rather quiet at first, but a scan of the grass to the west of the hide revealed eight Russian White-fronted Geese with the Greylags. Compared to the Greylags, the Whitefronts were noticeably smaller, with a more delicate pinkish bill surrounded with white at the base. The White-fronted Geese are just returning now for the winter, but numbers here will depend on the weather and food availability on the continent.

There were a couple of people already in the hide when we arrived, and they told us we had just missed a Great White Egret flying past. It was still almost visible away to the east of us, but hidden behind hedge. When a second Great White Egret was then flushed by a Marsh Harrier from the reeds closer to us, the first flew back in and the two of them chased round over the edge of the grazing marsh and in and out of the hedge. One eventually flew back and landed on the far side of the marshes.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egret – two were chasing around the grazing meadows

On the walk back, we bumped into the tit flock again, where we had seen the Goldcrest earlier. It or another Goldcrest was still in the same tree! A Treecreeper appeared in one of the poplars above us and we watched as it worked its way out along the underside of one of the branches. It was then joined by a second Treecreeper briefly, before the two of them flew back deeper into the trees.

Back at ‘The Lookout’, a large flock of Blackbirds came in over the pines and headed off inland. Unfortunately, with the opening of the new café, the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive have been removed (presumably to encourage people to frequent the new establishment!), so we decided to find somewhere else to eat our lunch. There are still some benches at Burnham Overy Staithe, which had the added advantage of a lovely view overlooking the harbour, particularly on a glorious day like today.

After lunch, we had a quick walk out along the seawall. With the tide in, there were a lot of boats sailing up and down the harbour channel and a lot of disturbance as a consequence. There were not to many waders along the sides of the channel at first – a couple of Grey Plover over the far side, and a Curlew down below us which was catching the afternoon sun.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding on the edge of the harbour channel

As we got a bit further out, more waders started to appear. A couple of small flocks of Dunlin flew out of one of the side channels and across the harbour towards us. Several Bar-tailed Godwits landed out on a sandbar in the middle of the channel out towards the dunes and were joined by a few Grey Plover. When another boat sailed towards them, they flew again and came across to our side of the harbour.

Round the corner of the seawall is a muddy bay which is less disturbed by passing boats. A large flock of the Dunlin had all gathered here, feeding feverishly on the mud. Looking through we could see several Ringed Plover with them, their distinctive black ringed faces instantly setting them apart. A few more Grey Plover and Redshanks were scattered around the mud too and the Bar-tailed Godwits flew in to join them. It was nice to see all the waders together, to compare sizes, bill shapes and watch the different ways in which they were feeding.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – flushed by a boat and flew in over the harbour

One of the group spotted an Avocet flying across the harbour towards us. It looked like it might drop in with the other waders, but changed its mind and continued on over the seawall towards Holkham.

At the next corner on the seawall, where the path across the grazing marshes meets the bank, a large flock of Brent Geese had gathered to feed on the grass just below us. We could see several stripy-backed juveniles in with the plainer adults, which suggests they have had a better breeding season this year than last. There were also ten or so Barnacle Geese further back, most likely feral birds hopped over the wall from Holkham Park.

One of the adult Brent Geese stood out from the others – it had a much more striking white collar, a slightly paler flank patch and appeared slightly darker, more blackish overall. It is a hybrid Black Brant, an intergrade between two forms of Brent Goose, between our regular Dark-bellied Brent and a Black Brant from NE Siberia or NW North America. It is an old friend – it returns to exactly the same fields every winter, showing us just how site faithful all these geese are.

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – the regular returning bird was on the grazing marshes

The afternoon was getting on and had we wanted to fit in one more thing before it got dark, so we headed back to the car and drove along the coast to the other side of Wells. As we walked down the track heading towards the coast, we flushed several Goldcrests which flew along the hedge ahead of us. There were also a few Blackbirds and Redwings which flew out of the hedge calling, presumably feeding up on the berries after their journey across from the continent. Another large flock of Brent Geese was feeding in the winter wheat here, chattering noisily.

When we got down to the edge of the saltmarsh, there were already a few people gathered here. A Merlin was perched up on the top of a very distant bush, having just been flushed by a wildfowler walking around out on the marshes.

Apparently a male Hen Harrier had flown past before we arrived, but then a second one appeared perched on a bush, also rather distant though clearly visible through the scope. A ringtail Hen Harrier flew in from the east, across the back of the saltmarsh, and dropped straight into the grass, straight to bed. With the clear weather, it appeared the birds had been making the most of it, hunting late rather than coming in early and flying around before going in to roost. The first male Hen Harrier flew back in from the west, and the second came up so we could see the two males flying round together

A large skein of Pink-footed Geese came over from the fields behind us calling, and flew out across the saltmarsh and landed on the flats beyond to roost. One of the group, looking the other way from the rest of us, spotted another Merlin coming in from behind us too. It came over our heads, turned out over the saltmarsh and we watched it fly across against the sky, before it dropped down and landed on a bush, where we got it in the scope. It was much closer than the first one we had seen, but the light was starting to go now.

A Green Sandpiper flew west calling, but we couldn’t see it in the gathering gloom, so we decided it was time to call it a day and head back.

16th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. It still had a distinctly autumnal feel this morning, misty and grey first thing. The cloud gradually lifted a bit and even though it remained cloudy, it was dry and mild.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we could see a couple of large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the coast. They landed in a field by the road and through the hedge we could see thousands of them already packed in there. Unfortunately there was nowhere to pull in and we had someone else right behind us, so we couldn’t stop.

Our first destination for the morning was Blakeney. As we got out of the car by the harbour, it was rather misty further out across the saltmarsh. A lone Curlew was busy feeding down in the harbour channel. We stopped by the wildfowl collection briefly – amongst all the captive exotics there were lots of opportunists come to help themselves to all the seed put out, mostly Mallards and Black-headed Gulls.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding in the harbour channel at Blakeney

A gaggle of Brent Geese was feeding out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour, so we got the scope on them for a closer look. There was a gathering of gulls next to them, again mainly Black-headed Gulls with one or two Common Gulls in amongst them. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were perched on the top of the masts of the yachts pulled up at the far end of the car park.

A slightly paler backed large gull was swimming down in the harbour channel. It was not pale enough for a Herring Gull, and too dark for a Lesser Black-backed Gull, with legs neither pink nor yellow, but a rather insipid fleshy colour. It is a regular here, and has been coming back for years, having found rich pickings on the seed in the wildfowl collection. It is a hybrid, probably Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, we could see three Marsh Harriers circling in the mist, slow to get going this morning. One perched in the top of a bush so we could look at it in the scope. A Common Buzzard flew over, heading for the trees over by the village. Then out over the saltmarsh, we spotted a Merlin hunting, flying across low and fast. We got several flashes of it as it darted back and forth and then it eventually landed, perched on a dead branch out in the middle.

The pools below the bank held a few Teal and one or two Redshank. A Little Grebe was busy diving on the largest of them. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a couple of Reed Buntings flew up and across to the saltmarsh. A flock of Linnets was feeding out on the edge of the harbour, and whirled round from time to time.

A pipit flew in over the bank calling, and dropped down onto a small puddle in the cut grass on the edge of the Freshes. It was a Rock Pipit – come in from the salty side for a bathe. As it fed round the edge for a couple of minutes beforehand, we could see it was wearing a yellow colour ring and through the scope we could read the black letters. It is probably from Norway – the Rock Pipits which spend the winter out on the saltmarsh here are of the Scandinavian race, littoralis.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit – a colour-ringed bird, probably from Norway

Looking out into the harbour from the corner of the seawall, we could see lots of waders on the more open mud. Hundreds of small Dunlin were scurrying around busily, with a scattering of the larger Grey Plover standing or walking slowly around in amongst them. Two slightly larger and dumpier grey birds in with the Dunlin were two Knot. There were more Redshank and Curlew too. When something flushed lots of waders from further out in the harbour, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits circled round and we spotted three Common Snipe which came calling out of the mist.

This is a good site for Twite in the winter and there has been a group here for the last few days. As we stood scanning the harbour, they flew in and landed down by the path in the wet grass briefly. Unfortunately, just at that moment, two people decided to walk down the path and flushed them.

Thankfully the Twite didn’t fly far and landed again in the low vegetation a little further along. We walked over and got great views of them in the scope, sixteen of them in total (although they are very well camouflaged even in the low vegetation and not easy to count!). We could see their yellow bills and orangey breasts. Three Skylarks were picking around in the low vegetation too.

Twite

Twite – there were 16 at Blakeney today

On the walk back to the car, we found a pair of Stonechats feeding in the reeds just below the seawall. We stopped to watch them, fluttering up from the tops, flycatching, before landing back and flicking their tails.

Continuing on east along the coast, our next stop was at Sheringham. We wanted to try to see the King Eider which has been lingering offshore here for a couple of weeks now. It has been favouring the water off the west end of the prom, so we started our search there. There were several Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls on the groynes below the cliffs and a 1st winter Caspian Gull flew past, heading west towards a couple of crab boats which were hauling up their pots away to the west, surrounded by gulls.

Looking out to sea, we could see lots of Starlings coming in over the water, in small groups or larger flocks of 50 or so, birds arriving from the continent for the winter. They seemed to be streaming in constantly. Several groups of Starlings came in right towards us and over the cliffs where we were standing. There were a few thrushes in with them, Redwings and Fieldfares. One or two Blackbirds came in low over the sea too.

We picked up a Woodcock coming in next. It seemed to head straight into the face of the cliffs, but a couple of seconds later it circled over the top and came along the path straight towards us. At the last minute it saw us, just before it crashed into us, panicked and went to land on the path just a couple of metres away, then changed its mind and flew up over the bank and off across the golf course. There was a great variety of migrants arriving this afternoon – this Woodcock had possibly come in all the way from Russia for the winter.

There was no sign of the King Eider on the sea off the lifeboat station, so we walked a little further west along the cliffs until we had a better view beyond. We stopped to scan and could see a few Gannets circling out over the water. A small group of Red-throated Divers flew past. There were a few ducks moving offshore too – a flock of Wigeon, then a line of Common Scoter with several Teal following behind – more migrants arriving for the winter.

Finally we spotted the King Eider, but it was a long way back to the east of where we were now. We had a quick look through the scope, but it was rather distant. So we walked back towards the prom to try to get a closer look. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it had disappeared again. A crab boat had motored out to where it had just been.

There are normally one or two Purple Sandpipers which spend the winter here, so we decided to walk down along the prom to see if we could fine one, while keeping our eyes peeled for the King Eider. Half way along, we met a couple of other birders who had found the King Eider again, but it was now a lot further out. Apparently, it had moved offshore in response to the crab boat. It was also steadily drifting east. We had another look at it, but figured we might be able to get a better view from the east end.

We scanned the rocky sea defences as we made our way further. There were lots of Turnstones along the prom, perched on the wall, or feeding on chips thrown down onto the concrete for them. When we got to ‘the tank’, we looked over the railing and could see a Purple Sandpiper feeding with one of the Turnstones on the seaweed covered rocks below us.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – feeding on the sea defences along the prom

Thankfully we had already enjoyed good views of the Purple Sandpiper, before something spooked all the birds along the prom – gulls, feral pigeons, waders, the lot. We couldn’t see any likely threat here, but the Turnstones flew off and took the Purple Sandpiper with them.

Finally, we got a good view of the King Eider from here. It is an immature male, still moulting out of eclipse plumage, but over the last couple of weeks it has been here it is gradually starting to look a bit brighter. We could see the bright orange frontal lobes at the base of the bill, between its regular dives to look for crabs.

King Eider

King Eider – the immature male was still off Sheringham

King Eider is a high arctic species, which is very rare this far south. They breed in arctic Russia and winter along the north Scandinavian coast. Presumably, once this bird completes its moult, it will make its way back north. But in the meantime, it seems to be finding plenty to eat here.

Back at the car, we stopped for lunch in one of the shelters on the top of the cliffs, overlooking the sea. Afterwards, we started to make our way back west.

When we got to Salthouse, we turned towards the beach. There were lots of Wigeon on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh. We parked and walked up over the shingle until we could see the sea. A few Gannets drifted past offshore and one of the first birds we found on the sea was the Great Northern Diver which had been reported here earlier. We had a good look at it through the scope between dives – a big diver with a heavy bill and black half collar.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver – on the sea off Salthouse today

There were several Guillemots and Razorbills further out on the sea today, all busily diving too. A group of at least 18 Pied Wagtails were feeding further up the beach on the top of the shingle, fluttering about looking for insects on the stones.

As we made our way back to the car, we bumped into one of the locals who informed us that the Yellow-browed Warbler was showing well just the other side of Sarbury Hill. We found somewhere to park and walked along the footpath to where it had been. There were a couple of other people there watching it and after a minute or so it flew up into a sycamore in the hedge.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – in a hedge along the footpath between Salthouse & Cley

The Yellow-browed Warbler was hard to see at first, flitting around in the back of the tree and occasionally disappearing down into some thicker hawthorns next to it, but eventually everyone got a good look at it. This is rather late for a Yellow-browed Warbler – they are regular now between mid September and the end of October, but few linger this long. Hopefully it will still find enough food to fuel up before continuing on its journey.

We headed round to Cley beach next, in the hope we might catch up with a Short-eared Owl here. Half way along Beach Road, we stopped to talk to a couple of people up on the West Bank looking out over the marshes beyond. They had just seen a Short-eared Owl, but it had gone down into the vegetation out along the start of Blakeney Point.

We continued on to the car park, intending to have a look out to sea from here while keeping one eye out for the owl. As we got out of the car, a large flock of Golden Plover whirled over the Eye Field, breaking up into smaller groups and joining up again, before drifting away. Their yelping calls alerted us to several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the west. We watched as they whiffled down onto the grazing marshes. Through the scope, we could see a flock of Brent Geese, a couple of Canada Geese and all the Pinkfeet in one view.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – whiffling down to the grazing marshes

Turning our attention to the sea, a quick scan revealed three Velvet Scoters offshore. Through the scope, we could see the two white spots on their dark brown faces and the white in the wing forming a diagonal white stripe on their flanks. A female Common Scoter appeared with them and several Guillemots were offshore too.

With no sign of the Short-eared Owl reappearing, we decided to walk along the shingle to see if we could find the flock of Snow Buntings which had been along here earlier. We had just started walking away when we got a phone message to say the owl was up again and headed our way. We turned back, and had another scan which quickly revealed the Short-eared Owl perched on the top of a post, against the skyline.

One everyone had enjoyed a good look at the Short-eared Owl through the scope, it was off again hunting, flying with distinctive stiff wing beats. It disappeared round behind some gorse bushes and didn’t come out the other side so presumably had landed again. We could see several Marsh Harriers starting to gather over the marshes beyond, before going to roost.

It was getting dark fast now, not helped by the grey and overcast afternoon, but we decided to have a quick look for the Snow Buntings anyway. We got as far as the point where the vegetation is thickest on the top of the shingle, between the pill box and North Scrape, when we head a ‘crest calling and turned to see it fly right past us. It was either a Goldcrest or a Firecrest, though it sounded perhaps more like the latter, presumably fresh in off the sea. It circled round, but unfortunately we lost sight of it in the gloom as it dropped down into the vegetation. We had a quick look where it seemed to go down but there was no sign.

The light was clearly going now, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the car. With more birds arriving this evening, it will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.

9th Nov 2018 – Late Autumn Rarities

A Private Tour today on the North Norfolk coast. It was a lovely sunny start to the day, and very mild out of the SE breeze, although there was a bit more cloud around at times in the afternoon. With several lingering rarities still along the coast, we decided on a day catching up with some of our scarcer winter visitors together with a bit of ‘twitching’!

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see some groups of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Several birds were right next to the road, so we stopped for a closer look. We could see their pink legs (and feet!), and small, dark bill with a pink band.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – showing well by Lady Anne’s Drive

While we were watching the Pink-footed Geese, we looked up to see a large white bird flying away from us across the grazing marsh. It was a Great White Egret – we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill. Great White Egrets have bred here for the last couple of years, but can be harder to find in winter, so this was a bonus.

Several small groups of Wigeon flew in to the pool on the other side of the road, but by the time we turned our attention to that side, they had gone back out to graze on the grass. We carried on up to the end of the Drive. A digger was clearing one of the ditches, piling the mud out on the bank, and two Grey Herons were standing by to take advantage of anything edible which it scooped out. As we got out of the car and scanned, a Marsh Harrier was quartering the marshes and a Kestrel was hovering nearby.

We walked through the pines and out onto the beach. Several Brent Geese were feeding out on the saltmarsh, so we stopped briefly to look at them through the scope. As we set off again, walking east, two Red Kites were hanging in the air over the dunes, flashing burnt rusty red as they circled in the morning sunshine. A Marsh Harrier flew past, a young bird, chocolate brown with a pale head, and then a rather pale Common Buzzard flew in over the saltmarsh and almost over our heads. The raptors were obviously out in force this morning enjoying the fine weather!

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – this very pale bird flew in off the saltmarsh

When we got out to the newly cordoned-off area of the saltmarsh, we could see a couple of small birds creeping about in the vegetation which caught the light. Looking more closely, we could see they were Shorelarks. We got them in the scope and could see their bright yellow faces, shining in the morning sunshine, contrasting with their black bandit masks and collars. Looking carefully, we counted six at first but then another five or so more flew in to join them.

Shorelark

Shorelark – one of at least eleven at Holkham today

Shorelarks are scarce and localised winter visitors to the UK most winters, and Holkham is a very traditional site for them. However, they are very vulnerable to disturbance and the beach here has become increasingly popular, particularly with dog walkers. Hopefully, the new fence, which was erected this week by the wardens, will help to keep disturbance to a minimum and will encourage them to remain here again for the winter.

While we were watching the Shorelarks, we could see a flock of Snow Buntings feeding further over, but by the time we had finished looking at the Shorelarks, they had disappeared. We walked over to the beach and scanned the shingle, as Snow Buntings can be very hard to spot when they get in the stones. But the next thing we knew they flew back in, flashing white in their wings and twittering, and landed behind us on the edge of the saltmarsh again.

Snow Buntings 1

Snow Buntings – flew back in to the saltmarsh

We stopped to admire the Snow Buntings for a while, as they fed on the sparse seedy vegetation. They were very active, running around on the sand, occasionally flying up and landing again, always on the move.

After watching the Snow Buntings for a while, we turned our attention to the sea. Scanning the water, we spotted a few seaduck out in the Bay. They were not easy to see at first though – even though the sea looked fairly flat, it was surprising choppy, enough to hide the birds. First we came across two female Eider, with long wedge-shaped bills. Then we found three darker birds with two white spots on their faces, Velvet Scoter. They were busy diving for shellfish, but the white spots caught the sunlight when they surfaced.

A couple of Gannets flew past, white adults with black wingtips. Then we noticed a larger gathering of Gannets further out. One had obviously found a shoal of fish and attracted the others as they were all busy feeding. We watched as one after another folded back its wings and plunged headlong into the water.

There were a few other birds out on the sea too – a winter plumage Red-throated Diver, its white face catching the light, and several Great Crested Grebes too. A couple of Guillemots were not playing ball though, diving constantly so that they were impossible to see.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach too, plus several Oystercatchers, and a few Sanderling and Turnstone were flying back and forth out along the shoreline. A small group of Brent Geese were fast asleep right down by the water’s edge. Something had obviously spooked the Snow Buntings again, because they suddenly flew up over the dunes and landed out on the beach in front of us. We watched them busily preening in the sunshine before they eventually plucked up the courage to fly back again.

Snow Buntings 2

Snow Buntings – flew out onto the beach to preen for a while

As we made our way back towards the Gap, the two Red Kites were still circling over the dunes – there must have been some carrion out there which they couldn’t resist. When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, three more were circling out over the grazing marshes on the other side of the pines.

Then, as we drove back towards the main road, we stopped to watch yet another Red Kite circling very close by. It dropped down into the grass and came back up with a rat in its talons. We couldn’t tell whether it had already been dead or not, but the Red Kite carried it out into the middle of the field and started to devour it.

Red Kite

Red Kite – feeding on a dead rat it found out on the grazing marshes

From Holkham, we headed east along the coast road to Kelling. There have been some Waxwings here for the last few days and we could see several large lenses pointed up into the dead tree right next to where we parked. They were right above our heads as we got out! Thankfully they didn’t seem to be in the least bit worried by us, and we walked across the road from where we could get a better angle to look at them.

With their punk haircuts and multi-coloured wing markings, Waxwings are one of the most charismatic birds and always worth a diversion to see. There were at least five of them here today. They occasionally dropped down to a neighbouring garden to feed on the rowan tree, then flew back up into the top of a dead tree, where they perched, digesting.

Waxwing 1

Waxwings – we saw at least five at Kelling today

Up close, through the scope, we could make out all the details of the Waxwings wings – including the small red waxy tips to its secondaries, from which it gets its name, as well as the yellow tip to the tail and the rusty undertail.

Waxwing 2

Waxwing – showing the small red waxy tips to the secondaries

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from admiring the Waxwings. We were heading back to Cley for lunch, so we stopped at Salthouse on the way there. There had been no mention of the ‘Eastern’ Stonechat all morning, so after a clear night last night it seemed like it had most likely gone, continuing on its journey.

We had a quick look anyway, and there was no sign. Hopefully the Sparrowhawk which was in the bushes close to where it had been favouring, had not had a Stonechat shaped meal! There was a family of Mute Swans on duck pond and a flock of Canada Geese out on the grazing marshes. A Lapwing and a Curlew both flew past, and several Meadow Pipits came up ‘seep-seeping’ out of the grass.

We carried on to Cley for lunch. As we sat down at the picnic tables, a slightly ominous line of dark grey cloud blew in from the south. It hung over us for precisely as long as we sat out eating and then, as soon as we stood up, it cleared again and went back to sunshine!

While we were eating, we could see a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding on Pat’s Pool. There were obviously lots of ducks out on North Scrape, as we could see when they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier, and flew round, mainly Wigeon and Teal.

After lunch, we went for a quick walk up along the East Bank. We stopped to look at some Greylag Geese out on the grazing marsh, with their large orange carrot-bills, very different from the Pink-footed Geese we had looked at earlier. There were lots of ducks out on Pope’s Pool, mainly Wigeon and Teal again. There were some closer Shoveler and Gadwall on the Serpentine, as well as more Teal. As we stopped to admire them, a Common Snipe flew across the water but ran straight into the long grass on the other side.

Teal

Teal – feeding on the Serpentine

It had clouded over again now, and with the wind seemingly having picked up a touch, we headed for the shelter to scan Arnold’s Marsh. There were plenty of Dunlin on here, scattered about in the shallow water, as well as a Grey Plover walking along the near edge, just beyond the vegetation. There were also several Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, three Shelduck asleep at the back, and a few Cormorants drying their wings on the island.

Continuing on out towards the beach, a Little Egret was feeding in the reeds on the brackish pools. It seems to like it here!

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding in the reeds on the brackish pools

Looking out to sea, we spotted two Common Eider just offshore. They were drifting quickly west, but through the scope we could see their wedge-shaped bills. A female Common Scoter was also close in on the sea, dark-capped and pale-cheeked. More Gannets circled out over the sea and a large bull Grey Seal swam past.

We had one last target for the day, so we turned to head back. Suddenly, all the ducks erupted from North Scrape again. We scanned over the marshes, but we couldn’t see a Marsh Harrier out there this time. Then we noticed a Peregrine come up from behind the reeds. We watched as it circled round a couple of times, then it powered down towards the other scrapes and we lost sight of it behind the reeds as it shot across in front of Dauke’s Hide.

On the way back, we had a quick scan of the main drain, which produced a couple of Little Grebes. Then we drove further east along the coast road to Sheringham. There has been a young drake King Eider lingering off here for the last week or so. There were only one or two people looking for it now, late in the day, and they had lost sight of it. We scanned up through the flags, marking the position of the crab pots, and quickly relocated it again.

The King Eider is not at its smartest at the moment. It is just in its second winter and is still moulting out of its duller eclipse plumage, but it was still a treat to be able to watch this high arctic species so well south of its normal range. It was busy diving, presumably looking for the very crabs for which this area is so famous!

The light was fading fast now. Lots of Black-headed Gulls were gathered down on the beach below the cliffs, for a quick bath before heading off to bed. It had been a very enjoyable day out, but it was time for us to head off too now.

4th Nov 2018 – Late Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of Late Autumn Tours in North Norfolk, our last day today. It was another mild and dry day, with some brighter spells in the afternoon. The weather gods had clearly been looking favourably on us this weekend.

The plan was to spend the morning at Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a few Greylag Geese and Wigeon feeding out in the wet grass. Wigeon numbers are just starting to climb here now, as birds return for the winter. At the north end, as we parked and got out of the car, we could see lots of Pink-footed Geese in the field. Most were asleep or loafing, but a small number were awake and busy feeding on the grass.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – quite a few were feeding by Lady Anne’s Drive

We walked through the trees to the beach and turned east on the edge of the saltmarsh. A small flock of Brent Geese dropped in ahead of us, so we stopped to look at them. There were at least two family parties with several juveniles, which is always good to see. We stood on the path, scoping them out in the middle, looking at the striped backs of the juveniles compared to the plain adults.

Then we noticed a couple striding out across the saltmarsh straight towards the geese, their dog running backwards and forwards ahead of them. Presumably they noticed us, because they stopped, called their dog back and put it on the lead. We thought they were going to walk round, but they marched straight up to the geese and flushed them. Then they immediately let their dog off the lead again. Bizarre behaviour and very rude too!

A little further on, we heard a Green Woodpecker calling towards the pines. We followed the sound and spotted it perched in a dead tree in the edge of the dunes. We got it in the scope and had a quick look at it.

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker – perched in a dead tree in the dunes

There were lots of people and lots of dogs out walking already – lots of disturbance around the beach and the saltmarsh. Thankfully we found the Shorelarks feeding quietly on an area of saltmarsh away from the main dog walking route, but the Snow Buntings we had come to see were further out on the edge of the beach and were flushed as we arrived. We watched them fly off and disappear away over the pines way off to the east of the Gap.

We stopped to watch the Shorelarks. There were nine of them, feeding in the low vegetation, picking at the seedheads. When they lifted their heads, we could see their canary yellow faces shining in the morning sun, contrasting with their black masks and collars.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – there were nine feeding on the saltmarsh this morning

While we were watching the Shorelarks, we heard a twittering call and looked up to see three Snow Buntings flying back in. They landed back over towards the beach and were quickly followed by another two. We walked over to get a closer look at them and were  admiring them through the scope when the rest, another 18, also returned. They dropped in with a flurry of variably white wings and we watched all 23 Snow Buntings scurrying about on the sand in a tight group.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – eventually they all flew back in

We left the Snow Buntings where they were and walked over the dunes to the beach. The tide was out and their were lots of gulls and Oystercatchers out on the sand. A few Sanderling were running around too.

Looking out to sea, we spotted a small flock of Common Scoter flying off east towards Wells harbour mouth. We then scanned across and found about another 1,000 Common Scoter still offshore! They were too far out to see if anything different was in with them today. Something had obviously disturbed the Shorelarks, because while we were standing on the edge of the dunes we saw them fly over and land on the beach right out by the sea.

We made our way back to the Gap and walked west on the track on the inland side of the pines. We hoped to find some tits and smaller birds here, and we made a good start. A Blackcap was calling from the bushes, a Goldcrest flicked in and out of a briar climbing up one of the pines and we could hear a Treecreeper calling from deeper in the trees. There were lots of Jays too, busy collecting and stashing acorns at this time of year.

Jay

Jay – we heard and saw several in the Meals today

At Salt’s Hole, there were at least five Little Grebes on the pool, one of which obviously found something amusing because it laughed at us maniacally! There were a few Wigeon with the assembled Mallard on the bank at the back. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling a little further along the path, so we walked over to see if we could catch up with a tit flock but they had disappeared into the pines by the time we got there.

Scanning from the gate just before Washington Hide, a Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds and landed in one of the bushes. A Common Buzzard and a Red Kite were circling over the trees in Holkham Park beyond. We popped into the hide, but there wasn’t much out on the grazing meadows – a few Pink-footed Geese were hiding behind the sallows beyond the pool.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in the bushes in front of Washington Hide

As we continued west along the track, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the reeds, and we could hear a Water Rail squealing too. We stopped again in Joe Jordan Hide, but it was very quiet here too. A couple of Egyptian Geese were down on one of the pools and two Magpies were busy pecking at some bones on the bank in front of the hide.

We decided to walk back for lunch. On the way, there were a few Blackbirds in the bushes and a Redwing perched up nicely for us in the top of a hawthorn by the path. There were still some Starlings coming in over the trees, but otherwise it was fairly quiet here today.

We stopped for lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive. It was to be an early finish this afternoon, so people could get away in good time, but we still had over an hour to play with. We were planning to head along the coast to Kelling to try to see some Waxwings which had turned up there this morning, but over lunch a message came through to say they had flown off, so we decided to head round to Wells instead, to look for the redpolls we had seen earlier in the week.

As we walked in from the car park, there were lots of Little Grebes on the boating lake, along with three Tufted Duck which were a welcome late addition to the weekend’s list.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there were several on the boating lake

When we heard its plaintive piping call, we looked over to see a very smart male Bullfinch perched in a hawthorn by the path. We could hear a Chiffchaff calling from the bushes too, but otherwise there seemed to be very few birds in here this afternoon. It felt like there had been a big clear out of all the migrants which had stopped in here in the last few days. There were still one or two Blackbirds and Redwings, but a lot fewer than had been here earlier in the week. We couldn’t find any sign of the redpolls.

There was not much time left now, but we decided to try somewhere else instead, and headed over to the other side of Wells. Looking round the pools there, we could see lots of Greylags and a good number of Egyptian Geese. Duck numbers here appear to have dropped a bit, but there was still a nice flock of Wigeon and Teal and a single Pintail was asleep in with them. There were still a few Lapwings and one Ruff around the muddy edges or in the wet grass beside the water.

A mixed flock of Greenfinches and Linnets flew round, and the Greenfinches landed on the fence, where we got them in the scope. We had seen a Yellowhammer briefly when it dropped down into the grass, but helpfully two then flew up and came over towards us, landing in the hawthorns by the path. One, a smart yellow-headed male, landed in the top where we got it in the scope. A pair of Stonechats were feeding along the fence line here too, dropping down to the grass below to feed.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – this smart male perched up in the bushes by the path

Unfortunately, we were now out of time, as we had promised to get everyone back in good time today. Thankfully, it wasn’t far back to Wells, where we said our goodbyes. It had been a very enjoyable three days out, with a good selection of lingering autumn rarities and arriving winter visitors.