Category Archives: Winter Tour

15th Nov 2019 – Autumn vs Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Late Autumn / Early Winter Tour. It was a cloudy but dry start with some brief blustery showers developing through the afternoon, blown through on a brisk NE wind which became increasingly blustery through the day. We spent the day along the North Norfolk coast, heading east from Wells.

As we met in Wells, we headed straight down to Freeman Street car park first, where the Rough-legged Buzzard had been yesterday. As we got out of the minibus we could see it hunting over the bank at the back of the field, hovering. It was great to see it in action and we got a good look at its black belly patch contrasting with its pale head, and its white tail with a neat black terminal band. It landed in a bush on the bank, so we got the scope on it. Everyone had a good look, then it was off again, flying off strongly towards Holkham.

It was clearly a morning for raptors. Several Marsh Harriers were up now too, quartering the fields. A couple of Common Buzzards were perched in the trees beyond at first then flying around, with a Red Kite hanging in the air over the fields further back. A Sparrowhawk flew across low over the field in front of us, and later either the same or another Sparrowhawk flew off back the other way. There were a couple of Kestrels around too.

The Rough-legged Buzzard was still hunting, hovering in the distance. Then it flew back in towards us and landed in the rough grass at the back of the closest field. We could see its pale head and shoulders in the grass.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – flying around over the fields at Wells again

There were lots of other birds here too. A flock of Linnets whirled over the field periodically, and there were Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Greenfinches calling in the bushes behind us. Several Skylarks came up out of the game cover, and flew round. We could see some larger groups of Lapwings and Golden Plovers a couple of fields over, which periodically spooked and circled round. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese flew down towards Holkham.

Back in the minibus, we drove east to Blakeney. Lots of Pink-footed Geese were out on the grazing marshes further back and a small group of Greylags flew in to land on the grass in front of us – a good opportunity to look at the differences between them, the Greylags larger, paler and with a big orange carrot for a bill. A Little Grebe was hiding in one of the ditches.

We walked down past the duckpond, trying to avert our eyes from the gaudy collection of captive tame wildfowl on display! When we got up onto the seawall, it was much windier. Several Marsh Harriers were up here too, out over the Freshes, including two smart males, one of which was being hounded by a Rook. A couple of Grey Herons were in the grass with the cows, pretending to be Cattle Egrets. A sizeable flock of Brent Geese were out on the saltmarsh the other side, until they were flushed by a dogwalker.

Continuing on to the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the mud in the harbour. There were lots of waders here – a large group of Golden Plover, several small Dunlin feeding busily in front, and Grey Plovers too more scattered around over the mud. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding in front of the vegetation at the back and there were several Curlews.

A Rock Pipit flew in and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. A large flock of Linnets whirled round periodically over the saltmarsh too, at one point flying in to the puddles on the grazing marsh behind us to bathe. We walked on a little further, and another smaller flock of nine finches flew past – Twite! We hoped they would drop in by the puddles too, but they continued on along bank and then turned out to the middle of the saltmarsh where they dropped down out of view.

A family of Brent Geese was feeding on a patch of more bare ground, two adults with two striped juveniles, plus a second pair with no young nearby. This smaller group was more settled and didn’t seem concerned by our presence close by on the bank. A Turnstone was picking around, appropriately enough turning over the small stones looking for food, just behind them.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – on the saltmarsh by the seawall

It was very breezy out here, so we decided to walk back to try to get out of wind. Back on the corner, we stopped to scan the harbour again briefly. A couple of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Goldeneye came out of the harbour channel on the falling tide and flew out to the more open water. A Ringed Plover and several Oystercatchers on the banks of the channel were extra additions to the day’s wader list.

It was more sheltered in Friary Hills, and we had a quick walk round to see if there were any birds coming in. Several Blackbirds were in the thick hedge feeding on blackberries, possibly migrants, but there were no other recently arrived thrushes. We had a closer view of the Pink-footed Geese from here, dark headed, their small dark bills with a noticeable pink band. There were a few of the local Canada Geese mixed in with them.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding on Blakeney Freshes

Some raptors were enjoying the wind, hanging over the edge of the trees at the top of the hill. There were two Common Buzzards, one a noticeably paler bird, rather creamy white below but lacking the black belly of the Rough-legged Buzzard we had been watching earlier. There was a Kestrel and another Sparrowhawk here too.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – a rather pale individual

Following the path round up the hill, it was rather more exposed up at the top. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came out of gardens, and we could see a couple of them feeding in the thick blackthorn bushes. A Goldcrest was calling from the pine tree overhead but was hard to see in the wind. We made our way back down to the minibus.

Round at Cley beach, the shelter provided a welcome place out of the wind to have our lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick look out to sea. There had been a smattering of birds passing by offshore earlier, apparently, but there didn’t seem to be a lot moving now – we saw a single adult Gannet, which was the only thing of note. A Guillemot was on the sea, riding the waves.

An Isabelline Wheatear has been hanging around on the shingle ridge at the other end of Cley since last weekend, but there had been no sign of it this morning apparently, so we went round to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink and to make use of the facilities. We had just arrived in the car park when news came through that the wheatear had reappeared. So, after a short break, we headed out to look for it.

It was very blustery up on the East Bank. Four Gadwall were feeding on Don’s Pool and lots of Wigeon were out on the grazing marsh by the Serpentine. From out of the wind behind the East Bank shelter, we stopped to scan the brackish pools to the west. The resident Long-tailed Duck was busy diving over in the far corner, and we had a good look at it when it surfaced. There were a couple of Shelduck, a line of sleeping Shoveler and several Mute Swans on here too.

Gadwall

Gadwall – two pairs were on Don’s Pool

Braving the wind again, we walked on, out towards the beach. Looking up ahead of us, we could see a line of dark and white birds flying past just beyond the beach. They were about 25 Eider – a mixture of black and white drakes and dark brown females and young birds – coming in for the winter.

Eider

Eider – a line of about 25 flew west over the sea

We turned onto the stones and walked east in the lee of the remains of the shingle ridge, behind the beach. We hadn’t gone far when we looked up as a large bird came in over the ridge and over our heads. It was a Short-eared Owl, presumably freshly arrived in off the sea from the continent. We watched it fly inland over Arnold’s Marsh, before we lost it to view from behind the low  dunes beside us.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – flew in over the beach and over our heads

It was all action out here! A small crowd had gathered to see the Isabelline Wheatear a bit further along, so we walked up to join them. The wheatear was hiding in the long marram grass when we arrived, but after just a few seconds it came out. It showed very well, feeding on the short grass just beyond the fence.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – showed very well, on the short grass behind Arnold’s Marsh

Isabelline Wheatear is a very rare visitor to the UK. They breed in south-eastern Europe and migrate to Africa for the winter, so this poor individual had set off in the wrong direction and was now rather lost.

A single Snow Bunting was feeding on the weedy vegetation on the shingle ridge just beyond where we were watching the wheatear – apparently there had been a few more earlier, but they had flown out onto the beach. The Snow Bunting was very tame – coming here for the winter from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia or Iceland, there is every possibility it might not have seen people before.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – one very tame bird was still feeding on the old shingle ridge

A squally shower blew in from the sea, so we stopped to wait for it to pass over, which it did thankfully quickly. Then we started to walk back. We climbed up onto the top of the shingle ridge on our way, to have another look at the sea. There were a few more Gannets flying past now and when we got back to the north end of the East Bank, we picked up a small flock of Kittiwakes offshore too.

We stopped for a quick scan of Arnold’s Marsh from behind the shelter. There were lots of Wigeon and Teal and several Curlews. Gulls were starting to gather but there was nothing different in with them. Out on Pope’s Pool beyond, we could see a large group of Cormorants drying their wings and several Great Black-backed Gulls.

The light was starting to go now, so we walked back to the minibus and called it a day. Despite the challenging weather at times, it had been a very productive day with some excellent birds. Hopefully with more to come tomorrow!

14th Nov 2019 – Rain to Shine

A Private Tour today, based in North Norfolk. It was a grey and wet morning, but the rain stopped in the afternoon and we had some glorious autumnal sunshine to end the day. The rain didn’t stop us though, and we saw some great birds.

We met in Wells. A Rough-legged Buzzard had taken up residence around the fields between the Beach Road and the west side of town over the last three days, so we thought we would start by looking for that. We had a quick drive up along Beach Road but there was no sign of it looking from there.

As we drove out of Wells towards Holkham, we spotted a raptor on the top of a hawthorn bush, but as we pulled up we could see it was just a Common Buzzard. But then we noticed something large which was hovering over the fields behind it – the Rough-legged Buzzard. We pulled into the car park and as it was not raining now we piled out. The Rough-legged Buzzard was still hovering, and we could see its dark belly contrasting with its very pale head, and its white tail with a wide black terminal band.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew over towards us, and landed on the top of a bush on the bank north of the car park. We walked up the track to the old sewage works for a closer look, flushing a second Common Buzzard from the trees as we did so, much darker than the Rough-legged. We got the scope on the Rough-legged Buzzard and had a great look at it.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – a juvenile, flew in and landed on a bush

There were lots of other birds here too. A covey of Grey Partridges was in the cover crop in the field next to the track, although they were hard to see. We managed to get one in the scope so we could see its orange face. Several Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch were in the bushes, and a flock of Linnets flew round over the field. A drake Pintail flew over.

It started to rain harder again now, so we walked back to the minibus, and drove west, along the coast road to Titchwell. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was working its way through the trees in the car park as we got out and on the walk to the Visitor Centre we stopped to watch a Goldcrest feeding low down in the sallows by the path. There were Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders and a Coal Tit popped in briefly.

Heading out along the main path, there was no sign of any Water Rail in the ditch today – even if the raindrops dripping off the trees into the water made it look like there might be something moving in the bottom. There were a couple of Little Egrets on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh and as we stopped to look we noticed some movement in the vegetation down near the front, a Water Pipit. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it flew and landed in some taller vegetation out of view and a minute or so later flew off.

There was a Marsh Harrier over the reedbed at the back of the old pool. As it flew out over the saltmarsh, it flushed several Curlews and Redshanks which flew up calling loudly. A Common Snipe flew out too – we could see its long bill as it circled round. The Reedbed Pool on the other side of the path produced a Tufted Duck in with the Mallards. A Cetti’s Warbler called in the reeds.

We continued on to Island Hide, where we could get out of the weather. There were lots of Golden Plovers roosting on the islands. They were surprisingly well camouflaged against the mud and low vegetation.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – roosting on the islands on the Freshmarsh

A few much smaller Dunlin were on the edges of the islands. A small flock of Knot flew in and started bathing in the shallow water, and when we got the scope on them, we could see a lone Ringed Plover on the island behind. Further back a long line of Avocets were mostly asleep, standing on one leg. Several Lapwings were on the low island, all facing into the rain with their backs to us.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Freshmarsh too – Wigeon, Teal, one or two Shoveler, and several Gadwall. Small groups of Brent Geese flew in and out from the saltmarsh where they were feeding.

The rain wasn’t too bad, so we carried on round to Parrinder Hide. One or two Reed Buntings were feeding in the vegetation below the path and flew up ahead of us, perching up in the reeds, flicking their tails agitatedly.

When we got into Parrinder Hide, there was another Water Pipit on the island in front. This time, we could get the scope on it and get a better view – white below with well-defined black streaks on the breast, well-marked pale supercilium and off-white wingbars.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding on one of the islands on the Freshmarsh

We were closer to the Golden Plover here and, despite the poor light, they looked noticeably golden-spangled on the upperparts. A single Grey Plover appeared on one of the islands behind, much more monochrome.

There were several Wigeon on the islands in front of the hide too – the drakes looking good now, mostly out of drab eclipse plumage, some still with remnants. A few Shelduck were now out with the Gadwall and Avocet in middle. On closer inspection, there was one Pintail with them too.

From round on the other side of Parrinder Hide, we had a look over Volunteer Marsh. There were lots more Wigeon and Teal out here, well hidden where they were feeding in the tall vegetation. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew in too. One or two Grey Plover were out on the mud and several Redshanks were in front of the hide along with a few smaller, dumpy Knot.

Knot

Knot – on the Volunteer Marsh in front of Parrinder Hide

Our hope was that the rain would stop early afternoon, so we went back to the Visitor Centre for an early lunch. Afterwards, we drove back west to Holkham. It was still raining when we arrived, but we could see brightness and blue sky to the south, which was hopefully heading our way.

As we parked on Lady Anne’s Drive, there were a small number of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadow either side – five on one side, two the other. Lots more geese flew in as we got our stuff together – Greylags with their deeper honking, and the Pinkfeet with their higher-pitched ‘ang-ang’ calls, which landed on the grass further back.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – there were some close ones on the grazing marshes at Holkham

Several Jays flew up and down over the trees and, as we walked up towards the pines, we noticed a covey of Grey Partridge out on the grass right behind the parking attendants’ hut.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – a covey was in the grass right next to Lady Anne’s Drive

As we made our way out along the edge of the saltmarsh, the sky started to brighten up. There were lots of Brent Geese out feeding in the saltmarsh vegetation and a large flock of Linnets whirled round before dropping back in.

As we got to the cordon at the east end, we saw first another group of Linnets fly up, and then we spotted the six Shorelarks taking off too. We didn’t see what had spooked them, but the Shorelarks flew past out over the dunes, and carried on west. Lots of Skylarks came up from the saltmarsh too now, and we watched them flying round together over the Gap, before the Shorelarks appeared to go down onto the beach over in that direction.

We decided to walk back west along the beach to look for them. As we made our way out past the cordon, we spotted another covey of Grey Partridges in the saltmarsh beyond the fence. A swan coming in over the beach caught the low sunlight, contrasting with the remains of the dark cloud behind – very evocative. It was a lone Whooper Swan, presumably freshly arrived over the sea, coming in for the winter most likely from Iceland, probably heading for the Ouse Washes.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – a single bird flew in over the beach

We stopped for a quick scan of the beach, and there looked to be lots going on. Big numbers of gulls and a line Cormorants out on the sand, Oystercatchers scattered between them and small groups of Sanderlings scuttling up and down the shoreline.

We could see a small group of Common Scoter on the sea just beyond the breakers, all pale-cheeked females or immatures. As a few more flew in to join them, we noticed one with white wing patches, a Velvet Scoter. It landed and we got it in the scope, a fraction bigger than the Common Scoters and with a very different face pattern, with two smaller pale spots.

There were five Red-breasted Mergansers just off beach too, and we had a great view of those through the scope. Several Great Crested Grebes were offshore, along with a single Red-throated Diver. Scanning away to the west, we picked up two Slavonian Grebes just offshore a bit further over.

Holkham beach

Holkham beach – when the sun eventually came out

Now the weather had brightened up, suddenly there were lots of people out for a walk, and lots of dogs running around on the sand. Looking back, we still couldn’t see the Shorelarks in cordon, so we walked west along the beach to see if we could find them over where they had landed earlier. A couple of people had just walked through the area and there was no sign now. We knew they regularly return to the cordon, so we walked back to have another look just in case.

When we got back, we found the Shorelarks were indeed back in the cordon, down at the eastern end. We had a quick look through the scope, and then walked round for a closer view. A Ringed Plover was on the saltmarsh ahead of us and a Rock Pipit flew in. It kept flying up and landing next to the Ringed Plover – for some reason it seemed to want to feed close to it.

The Shorelarks had moved out into the middle, and as we walked round to the path on the southern side of the saltmarsh we had a great view of them, their bright yellow faces shining in the low autumnal afternoon sunshine. Great birds!

Shorelark

Shorelark – there were six on the saltmarsh looking great in the afternoon sun

Mission accomplished, we walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese now out on Quarles Marsh, behind the Lookout cafe. A large flock of Egyptian Geese were down on the grazing marsh and as we stopped to look at them we noticed several Brown Hares nearby too.

We drove round to Stiffkey Greenway to finish the day. We were a bit later than planned, after running round after the Shorelarks, and the light was already starting to go. We had apparently already missed a Hen Harrier which had flown past before we arrived.

As we scanned over the saltmarsh, we did find a Merlin perched on a small bush. It was quite a way off, but we could see it in the scope. Someone else pointed out an even more distant Peregrine, perched on a post off on the edge of Blakeney Harbour. An owl was hunting way off out at East Hills, although we could only see it as it broke the skyline now. It looked like a Short-eared Owl, and this was confirmed later by someone who was watching from further west tonight.

More and more Little Egrets started flying past, in small groups, heading off to roost. The light was really going now. It had been a great day, but it was time to head for home.

 

 

6th Nov 2019 – A Gentle Day Out

A Private Tour today. With mobility limitations we wouldn’t be able to walk too far today, but that never stops us from getting out and seeing a great selection of birds. It was a lovely day to be out too – bright with sunny intervals in the morning and light winds. Perfect weather to be out birdwatching on the coast.

Our main destination for today would be Titchwell – with a mixture of hides and benches there are lots of places to stop. As we walked in from the car park, we could hear Long-tailed Tits in the sallows and we sopped to watch them working their way though the branches. A Coal Tit appeared in the alders above our heads too.

When we got to the Visitor Centre, we stopped for a quick look at the feeders out front, where Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch were all added to the day’s list. We could hear the distinctive sound of a large flock of Pink-footed Geese calling as they flew over somewhere over towards the road, and we eventually caught sight of them through a gap in the trees as they disappeared off towards Thornham. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up over the trees too, enjoying the morning sunshine.

After a quick look in the sightings book to check what had already been seen this morning, we walked out of the door on the far side of the Visitor Centre. There were lots of Goldfinches in the tops of the alders here and, looking up, we spotted a smart male Brambling in with them. It dropped down through the branches, stopping for a minute in the sunshine where its bright orange breast glowed in the light.

Then the Brambling dropped again and seemed to head right down to the ground. We found it round on the far side of the gazebo, feeding on the path just a few metres from everyone stood there looking at the feeders. It was a great view of it as it picked its way around in the fallen leaves.

Brambling

Brambling – feeding on the path right by the Visitor Centre

Continuing out to the main path, we had just started to scan the ditches when we notice a couple of people standing further up, staring down to the side of the path. Sure enough, they were watching the Water Rail. It was hard to see under the tangle of branches at first, although the movement as it tossed the leaves aside looking for food gave it presence away.

Then it moved out into the open where we could see it better, its long red-based bill, slaty-blue underparts and black-streaked brown upperparts. Water Rails are typically very secretive birds but this is always a good place to look for them through the winter and this one seemed completely unconcerned by the small crowd which quickly gathered to watch it.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch below the main path

Out of the trees, as we walked along beside the reedbed, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the vegetation. A few people had stopped to watch a Marsh Harrier out over the saltmarsh the other side of the path, and as we passed them we heard the shrill call of a Kingfisher from the reedbed. It flew up out of the reeds and perched briefly in one of the small sallows, just long enough for everyone to get onto it before it was off again. A flash of electric blue as it shot away up the channel through the reeds.

The reedbed pool held a small group of Tufted Ducks and a pair of Mallards and a single juvenile Mute Swan and a few Coot were in the surrounding channels. A little further on, a single Grey Plover and a Redshank were out on the Lavender Marsh pool. A Little Egret preening out on the saltmarsh too really stood out, whereas the slaty-grey Brent Geese were much better camouflaged.

When we turned round to look behind us, we spotted a Great White Egret flying in from the east, over the reedbed. Even though it was silhouetted against the light and it was hard to see its yellow bill, its large size was immediatey obvious, with slow, deliberate wingbeats and long trailing black legs. It flew over the path behind us and we watched as it disappeared off west, towards Thornham.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew west over the main path and off towards Thornham

It was all action out here on the main path, and we hadn’t even got to the Freshmarsh yet! A Marsh Harrier had been quartering out over Thornham Point earlier but the next time we looked out that way three Red Kites were circling over the bushes. They were busy chasing each other and it seemed like perhaps they had found some food as one dropped something and the other two swooped down after it, one of them catching it again. They were then joined by two Marsh Harriers and they call circled together – the raptors were obviously enjoying the good weather!

Finally we made it down into Island Hide and a welcome chance to sit down. There were lots of Teal feeding on the mud just outside the hide, several of the males now starting to look very smart in their regained breeding plumage, the sun catching their bright green speculums.

Teal

Teal – feeding on the mud outside Island Hide

Further back, there were lots of Shoveler, mostly asleep. A closer pair were busy feeding, swimming round with their heads permanently down in the water, hiding their distinctive huge bills. There were a few Shelduck out on the water too, but most of the Wigeon were right over the far side, in front of Parrinder Hide.

There was a nice selection of waders too. On the nearest island, a large number of what at first sight seemed to be lumps of mud were actually hundreds of Golden Plover. Through the scope, we had a better view, their golden-spangled upperparts catching the sunlight. They feed inland in the fields, but come on here to roost or when disturbed, so they were mostly asleep.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – several hundred were roosting on the Freshmarsh today

Further back, a line of white shapes all standing on one leg in the deeper water were Avocets. There are still a good number here, even if a lot of them have already moved off south for the winter. A handful were awake  and busy feeding nearby, sweeping their distinctive bills back and forth through the water. There were a few gulls in a line on the end of the Avocets – mostly Black-headed Gulls, with their winter black dot behind the eye, and a single Common Gull too.

On the other end of the Avocets was a smaller group of large grey waders, which through the scope we could see were Bar-tailed Godwits. A single Knot was hiding in amongst them and a Ruff appeared with them too. More waders were flying in all the time – it was going to be high tide soon, so birds were coming in from the beach to roost. More Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Turnstones dropped in too. There were a few Dunlin scattered around the islands too.

A Water Pipit called as it flew in and dropped down at the edge of the reeds. Unfortunately it didn’t stop long and flew off over the hide. Thankfully, a short while later it reappeared and dropped down on the mud again. This time we could get it in the scope – grey above and off-white below, marked with clean black streaks. From back out on the main path, we could see two more Water Pipits on one of the islands in the middle of the Freshmarsh, along with a much swarthier Rock Pipit and a couple of Pied Wagtails.

We had a better view of the Dunlin from up here, with a couple feeding on one of the smaller muddy islands just below the bank. A small flock of Knot flew in from the beach and dropped in to bathe in the shallow water. There were a couple of Lapwings out on the islands further back too. A single Greylag Goose was busy preening on one of the islands below us too. A succession of small groups of Brent Geese commuted in and out from the saltmarsh behind us, coming in to bathe.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – commuting in to bathe on the Freshmarsh

We made our way slowly round to Parrinder Hide. An Avocet was feeding in front of the hide, giving us a much closer look. Two Common Redshank were in the water to the left of the hide too and there were three more Ruff on the edge of one of the closer islands.

There were more ducks right in front of the hide here, at least until a Marsh Harrier drifted over and flushed everything, but we still had a better view of a couple of the Wigeon feeding on one of the islands. The harrier flushed all the Golden Plover too, which whirled round above the water in a tight flock before settling back down, calling noisily.

One of the Water Pipits was still feeding out on the short vegetation on the big island to the right of the hide, and it was a great, closer view of it from here, even if we were looking slightly into the light – one of the drawbacks of a sunny day!

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide

Time was already getting on, so we decided to start to make our way slowly back for lunch. There were still a few more distractions on the way – another Red Kite circled over the reedbed and when we got back to the trees, a few Siskins were feeding high in the alders above the path with the Goldfinches.

We stopped for lunch back at the Visitor Centre. When the Grey Squirrel wasn’t occupying the one feeder, a succession of finches and tits kept coming in and out. One or two Bramblings came in to feed on the ground below, with the Woodpigeons and Moorhens.

It felt like we had pushed the limits a little of how far we should walk today already this morning, so we decided on a more relaxed afternoon. Back to the minibus, we drove round to Thornham Harbour next. A Rock Pipit was perched on the gunwale of one of the old boats by the coal barn – looking very different to the Water Pipits we had been watching earlier.

There was still quite a lot of water in the harbour channel, but the muddy edges held four godwits – three Bar-tailed and a single Black-tailed Godwit with them. From the minibus, we had a great look at them feeding together, the Black-tailed Godwit darker, grey backed and longer-legged compared to the Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – one of three feeding in the harbour channel

A large flock of Linnets flew up from the saltmarsh and whirled round. There are a small number of Twite back already for the winter, but we couldn’t see them with the Linnets – just a few Goldfinches. We weren’t getting out to look for them this afternoon, so we moved on.

From Thornham, we drove inland on some of the smaller roads. We had seen some Pink-footed Geese dropping down this way earlier, so we thought we would have a quick look for them. There were lots of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges in the road – the shooting season has only just begun and there are still loads of the birds released this year running around and they seem to like sitting in the roads!

A seed mix strip on the side of the road held lots of finches, including a large number of Greenfinches which is always good to see given how they have declined. A little further on, and we spotted a small group of Pink-footed Geese flying in. We stopped and watched as they whiffled down towards a distant recently-harvested sugar beet field. We could see lots more geese down on the ground already, a couple of fields over, through a gap in the hedge, so we decided to drive round to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got round to the other side, a large flock of Fieldfares flew up from the field, beside the road. The Pink-footed Geese had cleverly picked a part of the field to feed in which was mostly hidden from here, but we could see several up on the ridge, their dark heads and small mostly dark bills very different from the Greylag we had seen at Titchwell earlier.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field

A lone Egyptian Goose was in the field too, feeding on its own but it walked off towards the Pinkfeet as we drove up. A little further on, a Common Buzzard was perched out in the same field. From a gap in the hedge, we could see the winter wheat field the other side of the road was full of gulls, Lapwings and Golden Plover. A single Brown Hare was in amongst them all.

Looping back down to the coast road, we headed for Brancaster Staithe. As we drove down to the harbour, the tide was still just going out and a Little Egret was feeding in the flat calm water just off the shore.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding in the channel at Brancaster Staithe

From the comfort of the minibus we could see a nice selection of waders. Several Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers were standing around on a muddy island out in the water. Over the other side of the channel, we could see several more Bar-tailed Godwits. Someone was washing mussels  over on one side of the harbour, and as he walked away from the pile of shellfish landed on the shore, loads of Turnstones hurried in to see what they could fined amongst them.

A few Brent Geese were down in the water just on the edge of the parking area and several Pied Wagtails were running around on the stones, gathering here ahead of heading off to roost together. A sign that time was getting on, and the light was already beginning to go. It was time to head back.

Even on the way, we had a few more surprises. Four Red Deer were feeding in a stubble field, inlcuding one stag with a fine set of antlers. A little further on, we pulled up by a gateway to find a Common Buzzard feeding on a dead rabbit just a few metres away, with a second Buzzard on the gatepost beside it.

It had been a great day – and a good demonstration of how you don’t necessarily need to walk too far to see lots of wildlife along the coast here.

13th Mar 2019 – Waders in the Wind

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, looking mainly at waders. It has been unusually windy for March in the last couple of weeks and it was another windy day today as ‘Storm Graham’ swept in from the Atlantic and across the country. The peak gust recorded on the coast was an impressive 62mph! We had discussed rearranging the day, but a decision was made to press ahead and we were glad we did. It was dry all day, with some brighter intervals, and we saw lots of waders despite the wind.

It was not meant to be a particularly big tide today, but with the strong wind we thought it might be a little higher than forecast. With high tide scheduled for just after 10am, we headed up to Snettisham first to see what  the waders were doing there. On our way, we saw a few birds of prey enjoying the breeze – several Red Kites and a couple of Common Buzzards.

As we made our way in past the first pits, there weren’t many ducks out on the water, apart from a few Mallard and a handful of Wigeon. A female Goldeneye was standing on a concrete block at the bottom of the bank preening. You don’t often see them out of the water, but it was very choppy today and the Goldeneye had probably found  a sheltered spot out of the wind.

Up on the seawall, the wind was whistling in across the open expanse of the Wash. It was immediately clear that the water was indeed a lot higher than might have been expected without the gales today. There was still some exposed mud further down, so we carried on down the track. On our way, we could see a few waders huddled down on the shore. The Oystercatchers were fairly easy to see, and a couple of Turnstones were picking around the tideline but the first Ringed Plover we found had tucked itself in behind a small mound of dried vegetation to try to get out of the wind and was very well camouflaged.

Ringed Plover 1

Ringed Plover – tucked up out of the wind roosting over high tide

A couple of flocks of Golden Plover shot past, twisting and turning in the wind, and we saw a few small groups of Knot and Sanderling flying back and forth over the water. We made our way down to Rotary Hide where we could get out of the wind and look out over the area of still exposed mud.

There were several flocks of Dunlin feeding around the small muddy pools just in front of the hide, which we had a look at through the scope. A Sanderling appeared with the Ringed Plovers around the base of the old jetty, but disappeared behind the pillars. Then four more Sanderlings dropped in with one of the groups of Dunlin. It was good to see the two of them side by side – the Sanderlings much paler, silvery grey above and white below, with a shorter, straighter bill.

Sanderling

Sanderling – three of the four which dropped in with the Dunlin

There were a few Redshank down at the front too, and one or two Grey Plover. Further back, we could see lots more waders in bigger flocks out around the edge of the water. There were a couple of large, black flocks of Oystercatcher and some little huddles of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits nearby, with a much larger flock of Knot back in the distance.

Looking out at the pits the other side, we could see a large roost of Avocets on one of the islands down closer to Shore Hide, so we decided to brave the wind again and walk down there. It was certainly an impressive flock of Avocets all huddled on the end of the island, several hundred all packed tightly together. Over the last month, they have returned in numbers ahead of the breeding season.

Avocets

Avocet – several hundred were roosting on the pit

At one end of the Avocets were four browner Black-tailed Godwits – we could see their long, straight bills – and on the next island back was a large flock of roosting Redshank.

A pair of Pink-footed Geese were swimming between the islands. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the middle of the winter here have left already, gone north on the start of their protracted journey back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a few linger on. Through the scope, we could see their dark heads and delicate bills with a restricted pink band, very different from the larger, paler Greylags nearby with their big orange carrot bills. There was a single Canada Goose with them.

Otherwise, there were a few Wigeon and a small group of Shoveler on the pit. A couple of Goldeneye were diving down at the far end, where a line of Cormorants were roosting on one of the islands. A Little Egret was huddled under the brambles on the bank and a Little Grebe surfaced just in front of the hide.

Moving on, we drove north and stopped at Hunstanton on our way round the coast. There were lots of gulls loafing around on the green as we parked, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a single smart adult Common Gull in amongst them. There has been a Purple Sandpiper roosting and feeding on the groynes here, but as we walked down to the prom we could see the tide was still much higher than it should be, held up by the strong wind, and the waves were still crashing over the sea defences.

We walked up to the start of the cliffs and could see several small groups of Oystercatchers and Turnstones roosting on the rocks on the beach, but despite looking through them carefully we could not find the Purple Sandpiper. In spite of the weather, there were some people clambering over the rocks, which probably didn’t help. As we walked back to the van, there were three or four Turnstones on the seawall which as usual were very obliging.

Turnstone

Turnstone – on the seawall at Hunstanton

It was lunchtime by the time we got to Titchwell, so we stopped for something to eat and a welcome hot drink by the Visitor Centre. There were lots of birds coming and going from the feeders. After lunch, we had a quick look for the Water Rail in the ditch by the main path. We had thought it might be fairly sheltered down in the ditch, but the wind was whistling in through the trees and bushes and there was no sign of anything there.

A Muntjac was huddled down in the bushes behind the feeders on the far side of the Visitor Centre as we made our way round to Fen Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. We had come out here mainly to see if we could find the Common Snipe which have been feeding in the cut reed out along the front edge. There were three of them there but they were well camouflaged, their golden yellow stripes matching the colour of the surrounding reed, and hidden in the vegetation at first. Eventually one came out into the open where we could get a clearer look at it.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – one of three on Patsy’s Reedbed

One or two Marsh Harriers hung in the air over the reedbed and from time to time a Mediterranean Gull would fly over calling, flashing its pure white wing tips. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. There were a few ducks on the water – a pair each of Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard over at the back and a few Gadwall down at the front. We got the scope on one of the drake Gadwall for a closer look, stopping to admire its intricately patterned plumage. Not a boring grey duck after all!

We made our way back round via Meadow Trail to the main path. As we got out of the trees, it was not as windy as we had feared. There were not many ducks out on the reedbed pool, but a Little Grebe was diving in one of the smaller pools just by the main path. A line of Knot flew over the saltmarsh and seemed to go down towards the Freshmarsh, so we headed down to the shelter of Island Hide.

There are lots of Avocets back here now too and several of them were feeding in front of the hide. The water level on the Freshmarsh is still very high and they were up to their bellies in the water and occasionally had to resort to swimming! More of them were clustered around the small island over by the path to Parrinder Hide.

Avocet

Avocet – having to swim on the Freshmarsh

The Knot we had seen flying in across the saltmarsh were bathing and preening along the front edge of the small island too when we arrived. We got the scope on them for a better look – they were a little closer than the ones we had seen earlier out on the Wash. Otherwise, there weren’t many waders on here still.

Duck numbers of most species have dropped now, particularly Teal and Wigeon, but there were still a few on the Freshmarsh. There seemed to have been an increase in the number of Shoveler, with quite a few swimming around the island where all the waders were roosting. We had a closer look at those too and looked at the differences compared to the drake Shelduck which was in front of the hide. A large noisy flock of Brent Geese flew in from where they had been feeding on the field by the entrance track and landed on the water.

As we made our way round to Parrinder Hide, we had an even closer view of some of the Knot on the same island. Then as we walked down along the path to the hide, they started to fly over to the Volunteer Marsh low over the bank, with several right over our heads.

Knot

Knot – on the small island by the path to Parrinder Hide

It was nice and sheltered in Parrinder Hide. A Curlew out in the water in front of the hide was the first we had seen today. We had come here primarily to get a better look at the Mediterranean Gulls which are getting ready to nest on the fenced off Avocet Island, along with all the Black-headed Gulls. It was a good opportunity to compare the two – the Mediterranean Gulls now starting to sport their black hoods and the Black-headed Gulls ironically having brown ones!

Looking out over the Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide, there were a few Common Redshanks in front of the hide and we could see all the Knot feeding in the vegetation in the middle. We got a Grey Plover in the scope for a closer look, still in its winter plumage, grey below. Another Curlew was sheltering behind a clump of vegetation back towards the main path.

We decided to make a quick dash out to the beach to see if any waders were feeding out on the mussel beds. A Black-tailed Godwit was walking along the channel on the Volunteer Marsh just below the main path but flew off as we approached. The diminutive Teal were more obliging and we stopped to admire a couple of drakes which looked absolutely stunning in the afternoon sunshine.

Teal

Teal – a drake, looking stunning in the afternoon sunshine

There were more waders feeding in the channel on the far side of the Volunteer Marsh and we got a look at one of the Black-tailed Godwits here in the scope. Then it was heads down and over the bank. There was nothing on the island on the non-Tidal Pools so we continued straight on to the beach.

Despite it being not far off low tide now, the mussel beds were still covered by the sea. There were some flocks of Oystercatchers roosting with the gulls along the beach towards Brancaster. Looking the other way, we could see more waders scattered along the sand towards Thornham Point, but they were all quite distant. Thankfully we managed to find a closer Bar-tailed Godwit just beyond the old bunker in front of us – the one species here we hadn’t yet managed to get a good look at. We could see its upturned bill and pale sandy upperparts streaked with dark.

After a quick walk back to the van, we heard a Bullfinch calling in the car park and looked across to see a smart pink male perched up in the white blackthorn blossom in the corner, before it flew back into the bushes.

We still had time for a couple more stops on our way back. First we drove round to Thornham Harbour. We could see a few Common Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits in the channel as we arrived and as we walked over to one of the jetties we could see a paler wader in the water in the bottom, a Spotted Redshank in its silvery grey winter plumage, just what we were hoping to find here.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – feeding in the channel at Thornham

Only a very small number of Spotted Redshanks stay here through the winter, with the vast majority heading further south, to the Mediterranean or on to Africa. We had a great view of this one as it walked up and down in the water, sweeping its long, needle-fine bill from side to side in the shallows.

At one point, the Spotted Redshank stopped next to two Common Redshanks which were feeding on the muddy bank behind. As well as being slightly bigger and longer billed, it was noticeably paler with a more obvious pale superciliun between the bill and eye. We had a quick scan of the rest of the harbour, but there was no immediate sign of the Twite here this afternoon and we didn’t have time to explore more widely now.

As we made our way back east, we stopped briefly in Brancaster Staithe. There were several waders around the harbour and we had some nice views of them from the shelter of the van. A very close Ringed Plover was feeding with a similar sized Dunlin right where we pulled up. Further back, there were several Oystercatchers and Turnstones picking around the piles of discarded mussels.

Ringed Plover 2

Ringed Plover – nice views in Brancaster Staithe

A Grey Plover was feeding down by the water’s edge and further back we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits too. It was lovely late afternoon light now too, which showed them off to their best.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover – on the mud down by the water’s edge

Our final quick stop of the day was at Holkham. A white shape out on the grazing marshes drew our eye and we got the scope on a Spoonbill feeding in one of the deep pools. It spent most of the time with its head down, but when it moved from one pool to another we had a good view of its yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bill and bushy nuchal crest. Another Spoonbill was perched in the trees out in the middle, along with a well hidden Grey Heron and a lots of Cormorants.

There were a few geese out on the grazing marshes but our eye was drawn to five smaller geese down at the front, half hidden behind the trees. We got the scope on them and we could see they were Russian White-fronted Geese, lingering winter visitors here. We could see the white surround to the base of their bills and black belly bars.

White-fronted Geese

Russian White-fronted Geese – some are still lingering at Holkham

A Marsh Harrier was enjoying the breeze, flying up and down over the reeds in front of the grazing marshes, but that was not the bird we had come here primarily to see. Ironically, after spending all day looking for waders, we had still not seen a Lapwing! We found a couple around one of the closer pools on the grazing marsh and got one in the scope, an appropriate way to bring our wader-filled day to a close.

3rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day tour today, our last day. After two days down in the Brecks, we would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for some of our lingering winter visitors as well as one or two early spring arrivals. It was damp and drizzly for much of the day, but it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing lots of birds.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. There were still quite a few Wigeon by Lady Anne’s Drive, but it looks like numbers are already starting to drop now as birds which have spent the winter here start heading back to Russia. The regular very pale Common Buzzard was perched on a bush out in the middle of the grazing marshes and six Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reeds the other side.

We made our way straight through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh. A large flock of pipits circled over as we descended the boardwalk and we could hear both Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits calling. Several of the Rock Pipits landed on the edge of the saltmarsh right by the path, where we could get a closer look at them. The Rock Pipits come here from Scandinavia for the winter. We could see some of them were moulting and getting slightly pink on the breast – they can begin to look increasingly like Water Pipits at this time of year, a pitfall for the unwary.

Rock Pipit

Scandinavian Rock Pipit – one of several out on the saltmarsh

As we walked on further east, we scanned the saltmarsh for any movement. We were almost at the cordon before we found the Shorelarks, well hidden in the taller vegetation. At first we could only see one or two when they moved, but as we got closer we could see there were at least 5-6. As we stood and watched them, more and more appeared, so that by the end we had counted a minimum of 12, but it was still hard to know exactly how many were really there.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – still on the saltmarsh at Holkham

The Shorelarks are always one of the highlights of winter birding here on the coast, so we spent a bit of time watching them. They gradually worked their way closer to the path and we had a great look at them through the scope. Despite the grey weather, their yellow faces still really stood out when they lifted their heads. There were a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding on the saltmarsh with them.

The latest forecast had been for it to be dry all morning, but at this point it started spitting with rain. It was only light, so we carried on out to the beach anyway. As we started scanning the sea, there didn’t look to be much out there today at first. There were a few Great Crested Grebes, and a lone female Common Scoter. Then one of group spotted diver quite close inshore – a Great Northern Diver. It was diving regularly and moving west steadily each time it resurfaced, but eventually we all got some good views of it between dives.

There were not many waders down on the beach today. Several Oystercatchers were standing along the shore, and two Sanderling were running in and out of the waves, at least until they were all flushed by someone walking a pack of dogs along the beach.

Making our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we decided to brave the drizzle and walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone far before we heard a Chiffchaff calling in the trees. Along here, it is hard to tell whether this is a bird which has spent the winter here, or an early returning breeding bird. With the unseasonally warm weather at the end of February, Chiffchaffs have already returned very early in several places.

As we passed Salts Hole, we stopped for a quick look. A little group of Tufted Ducks was over on the edge of the reeds and one Little Grebe was still in the far corner. We could see a few geese out on the grazing meadows beyond and through the scope we could see there were several Pink-footed Geese with a pair of Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have already left, on their way back north before they head back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a small number often linger here much later. There was a pair of Egyptian Geese out here too, and a Grey Heron.

A little further on, we stopped for another look out over the grazing marshes. We could see several Shelduck on the small pools out in the middle, and there were two drake Pintail in with them too, although for much of the time we could only see their elongated tail feathers sticking up as they upended. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the reeds over in front of Washington Hide.

With the drizzle picking up a bit, we made our way quickly on to Joe Jordan Hide, to get out of the rain. It was quite busy in the hide (clearly lots of other people had the same idea to shelter in here!), but eventually we managed to sit down. A Great White Egret was feeding out on the grazing marshes off to the right of the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from Joe Jordan Hide

The first Spoonbills have already started to return to the breeding colony and we quickly located two out on the marshes, but they were way off in the distance and hard to see in the mist, heads down feeding in a ditch. Thankfully a bit later on one appeared much closer, and we had a better view of it in the scope. We could see its spoon-shaped bill when it lifted its head.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – one of the first returning birds

A Marsh Harrier was perched in a bush out along one of the ditch lines and there were lots of Cormorants in the trees behind the old fort. Down on the pools we could see four Avocets feeding in the shallows and several Shoveler and Teal scattered around.

The pines had been fairly quiet on the way out but as we started to walk back we came across a mixed flock of tits. We had passed some swarms of gnats gathered over the path in the damp conditions earlier and now we watched as a couple of Long-tailed Tits flew out from a large bush on the verge and hovered right out over the middle of the path, trying to catch some of the gnats. They hovered for second or two before flying back into the bush but then came out to try again. Really interesting to watch, and not behaviour you see often. A Goldcrest was flitting around in the bush too.

We stopped for lunch in The Lookout café, out of the rain. After lunch, as we made our way back to the van, we could see lots of gulls swarming over the grazing marsh, and landing down on the grass. We heard the distinctive call of a Mediterranean Gull and looking through the flock could see at least four in with the Black-headed Gulls.

Our next stop was at Holme. We were hoping to see some birds on the sea here so we walked straight out to the beach, where we were sheltered from the wind by the pines. There were lots of Red-breasted Mergansers on the water and scanning through we could see a dark duck in with them. It was a Velvet Scoter. You could just make out a pale spot on its cheek, but it was not until it flew round that you could see the diagnostic white in its wings. A small group of dark-winged Common Scoter flew past just afterwards.

Otherwise, the sea here was fairly quiet, with just a few Great Crested Grebes and a single Guillemot offshore. A couple of small groups of Brent Geese flew past and more unusually we picked up a flock of six Pink-footed Geese coming in off the sea. They should really be going the other way now!

Walking through the dunes to Gore Point, it was windier out of the lee of the Firs, although at least the rain had eased off now. The tide was coming in and there were a few waders roosting on the beach, at first several small groups of Oystercatchers. Further along, out on the point, we got the scopes on a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. There were several smaller grey Knot in with them, as well as a couple of Grey Plover and a single Dunlin. A lone Turnstone was feeding on the shoreline a bit further along.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – there were a few waders roosting on the beach at Holme

The sea was noticeably more choppy on the far side of the point. Scanning the sea from the shelter of the dunes, we could see a distant group of Eiders out on the water. A closer Red-throated Diver was diving constantly but a single Great Northern Diver was a long way out too. A Gannet and a Fulmar flew past.

We had wanted to see the Long-tailed Ducks off here, but they proved rather hard to find and harder still to see. We eventually found a few in with a larger group of Red-breasted Mergansers, but they were quite distant and diving constantly. Out in the choppier water, when they did surface they looked not unlike the froth on the wave crests and they kept disappearing into the troughs.

It was already getting late now, but we drove back along the coast to Titchwell to finish the day. We wanted to at least walk out to Parrinder Hide to get a proper look at the Mediterranean Gulls, but it took some time to find a Water Rail first. We eventually found one when it walked back into the bottom of the ditch from the vegetation in the bank beyond. We got a good look at it then, as it walked along through the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – eventually showed itself in the ditch

The rain may have eased but the wind had now picked up, and it was rather gusty this evening. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be enjoying it, with several up over the back of the reedbed as we walked out.

Three waders were on the pool out on Lavender Marsh. Two were the usual Common Redshanks, but as we glanced across the one asleep at the back looked rather pale. A quick look through the scope, confirmed it was slightly more silvery grey above, spotted with white, a touch lighter than the Common Redshank next to it. We could also just see tiny bit of pale supercilium, just visible where the bill was tucked into its back. It was a Spotted Redshank. They normally like to roost on the Tidal Pools, but it was perhaps a bit more sheltered on here this evening.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – asleep on Lavender March with a Common Redshank

After we had all had a look at it through the scope, the Spotted Redshank woke up briefly and flashed its distinctive longer, needle-fine bill, just in case any of the group had any lingering doubts over its identity. A Grey Plover appeared from behind the vegetation at front.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is still fairly high – good for ducks, but not so good for waders. The Avocets which were on here were roosting on one of the only exposed small islands, by the corner of the path to Parrinder Hide.

Avocets

Avocets – roosting on one of the few exposed islands

As we headed straight down the path for the shelter of Parrinder Hide, we heard a Water Pipit call from the other side of the bank. When we got into the hide, we looked back along the edge of the water but there was no sign of it that way. A quick look out the other side of the hide and we found it feeding on the shore. We had a good look at it through the scope.

Having seen the closely related Rock Pipits this morning, it was interesting to contrast them with the Water Pipit this evening. The Water Pipit was noticeably whiter below, cleaner with more defined black streaks, with whiter wing bars and a whiter supercilium. It was also greyer above, not so oily olive-brown.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding along the water’s edge beyond the hide

The fenced off Avocet Island was chock full of gulls (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’!). We had come to see Mediterranean Gulls and there were lots here, in with Black-headed Gulls. Several appeared to be paired up already and were even still displaying. It was a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Mediterranean Gulls with a blacker, more extensive hood, heavier red bill and pure white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are lots back now in with the Black-headed Gulls

There were more gulls coming in to roost, bobbing around on the open water in the middle. As well as all the smaller gulls, we could see several Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Great Black-backed Gulls. We had a look at a few adults of each of the three species and talked about the main differences between them. (we decided to leave the more confusing immatures to a later lesson!).

The Marsh Harriers were gathering over the reedbed beyond to roost. More were flying in all the time – one came in over the Volunteer Marsh and straight over Avocet Island, sending all the gulls up into the air. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be playing in the wind this evening and we counted a minimum of twenty all in the air at the same time.

With all the excitement over the gulls, we had not noticed the time and it was already getting late. Unfortunately it was time to call it a day, and wrap up what had been three very successful day’s birding, despite the weather.

27th Feb 2019 – Has Spring Sprung?

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A glorious sunny day, unseasonably warm with temperatures up to 16C by the afternoon. With lots of birds singing now, it felt like spring had sprung! But it is not set to last, so we had a good day out trying to make the most of it.

There have been lots of birds on the sea in NW Norfolk in the last few days – divers, grebes, seaduck – so we decided to start the day up there to try to see some of them. On our way west along the coast road, we stopped to admire a Barn Owl which was dozing on a post, warming itself in the early sunshine.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – enjoying the morning sun on a post by the road

The Barn Owl stared at us for a while, seemingly unhappy at being rudely awoken from its slumbers, then flew back across the field and landed on another post on the other side.

Our first scheduled stop of the morning was at Titchwell. As we walked down the path towards the Visitor Centre, a Chiffchaff was singing from somewhere deep in the sallows. They have started singing early this year, lulled into thinking spring is here already with all the recent warm weather. We could hear our first Mediterranean Gulls of the day flying over too.

The feeders had been taken down for refilling, so there were no birds coming in, but there was lots of chattering from high in the trees around the Visitor Centre. We heard a redpoll singing and looked up to find a Lesser Redpoll perched in the very top of one of the trees. There were quite a few redpolls here this morning and several Siskins too. They were very mobile, flying around in the trees. When a little group of redpolls came down into the bushes lower down, we picked up one or two Mealy Redpolls too.

There have been small numbers of finches on the move in the last week or so, birds starting to head back north after spending the winter further south. We would hear small numbers of Siskin in particular moving through the day.

Stopping to scan the Thornham grazing meadow, a distant Common Buzzard was down in the grass in the middle and another was even further off on a bush at the back. Looking down into the ditch below the path, a Water Rail was picking around in the leaves in the bottom. We stopped to watch it, and a second Water Rail ran across the path a bit further up, which we could then see down in the water in the bottom as we walked on.

Water Rail

Water Rail – one of two in the ditch this morning

A couple of Cetti’s Warblers were calling from the edges of the reedbed, but despite one being very close to the path typically it kept well hidden. A male Reed Bunting was more obliging, perched in one of the small bushes. Through the scope we could see that its black head was still partly obscured by brown fringing which it still gradually wearing of.

Several Marsh Harriers were up beyond the bank at the back, over Brancaster marsh. Then another Marsh Harrier appeared closer to us, up from the reedbed. It was a male and as it flew across we could see it was carrying a couple of pieces of reed in its talons. It dropped down again into the reeds, presumably busy building up a nesting platform.

The old pool on Thornham grazing marsh is now getting overgrown and hard to see anything, but a quick look across as we passed revealed a Redshank down on the pool at the front and a smaller birds picking round the edge nearby. It was a Water Pipit. We had a good look at it through the scope, before it worked its way further back into the vegetation and disappeared.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – a nice surprise on the old pool on Thornham GM

The Water Pipit in recent days has mostly been seen feeding on the cut reed by the reedbed pool on the other side of the path, but they can be very difficult to see out here. There was one out here too, this morning. But it wasn’t until the first Water Pipit flew over from the Thornham side that we could see it. It flew across and chased off the new arrival, which returned across the path. What was possibly a third Water Pipit then flew up from the back and disappeared back over the reeds.

Several Common Snipe were also well hidden, roosting in the cut reeds. There were a few ducks out at the back of the reedbed pool – Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks. A Little Grebe was hiding behind the reeds on one of the small pools just below the path. A few Wigeon were feeding out on the saltmarsh behind us.

The Water Level on the Freshmarsh is still very high, although it has started to go down a touch and there was a little more mud exposed around the tallest of the islands. The Avocets were still roosting in the deeper water, with a good number now back here. On the small island by the junction with the path to Parrinder Hide, we could just see a small group of Knot busy bathing and preening on the mud at the back. A lone Golden Plover was standing with the Lapwings on the drier mud in the middle.

Avocets

Avocets – more are back now, roosting out on the Freshmarsh

Some people returning from the beach told us there were a couple of Black-throated Divers offshore, so we decided to head straight out there. We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh on our way past. It looked pretty empty at first, apart from a few Redshanks, until a flock of Knot appeared from out of the vegetation and whirled round before flying back out towards the beach. There were more waders along the channel at the far end, more Redshanks, several Curlews, one or two Black-tailed Godwits and a little group of six Dunlin.

With the tide coming in, more waders were roosting on the non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’. The water level has dropped here a little in the warm weather and there is a bit more space for them on here at the moment. There were several more little groups of Knot, with a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover standing with them. A few diminutive Dunlin were running round the mud next to them.

By the time we got out to the beach, the Black-throated Divers had drifted east towards Scolt and further out. It was also very hazy offshore, but we managed to get one of the divers in the scope and get a good look at it – we could see the distinctive white flank patch. Several Great Crested Grebes and a single Razorbill were closer in, but everything else was rather distant. There were a few Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye and three Eider flew past in the distance.

High tide was not until midday today, so we decided to make our way slowly back and head round to Holme to see if there was any more to see on the sea there. We called in at Parrinder Hide to admire the Mediterranean Gulls. Numbers are growing steadily now and it will be interesting to see how many pairs breed in 2019, after the big increase in pairs last year. We could see several pairs displaying in with the more numerous Black-headed Gulls on the fenced off Avocet Island, and we got a couple in the scope to look at the differences between the two species.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – displaying on Avocet Island in with the Black-headed Gulls

There were a few ducks still on the Freshmarsh. A good number of Teal were sleeping along the edge of the bank either side of the hide. Several pairs of Gadwall were roosting on the smaller islands along with a few Shoveler.

As we came out of the hide, we could hear a Marsh Harrier calling high above. We could just see it way up in the blue sky. It was flapping steadily and calling at first, but as it got back over towards the reedbed it started to tumble and twist, skydancing. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared in the sky too, circling over the path before drifting off west, possibly birds on the move.

We cut across by Meadow Trail, where there was no sign of the Woodcock now, round to Patsy’s Reedbed. There were not so many ducks on here today – just a few Gadwall, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck. Several Common Snipe were hiding in the cut reeds along the edge. Two or three Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed, and one drifted closer over the back of the pool.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled over the back of Patsy’s Reedbed

The highlight here though was the Bearded Tit. We could hear two birds pinging, one in the reeds in front of the right of the viewpoint and a second back on the edge of the reeds on the left of the pool. That second Bearded Tit worked its way closer along the edge of the pool and then perched up for a few seconds in full view – a smart male with powder blue-grey head black moustache. It zipped across the open water and disappeared into the reeds where the first bird had been calling, at which point both then went quiet.

Back to the Visitor Centre and after stopping to get a quick cup of tea, we headed round to Holme. It was lunchtime now, so we walked out to the beach with our food and scanned the sea while we ate. A Red Kite circled over the pines and drifted out over the beach, perhaps another raptor on the move taking advantage of the warm weather.

There were more birds on the sea off The Firs, but it was very hazy here too. The highlight was a Red-necked Grebe, which at one point swam up to join a small group of Great Crested Grebes, giving us a great comparison. There were lots more Red-breasted Mergansers off here and several more Eiders too. We still hadn’t found the Long-tailed Ducks, so once we had finished eating we decided to walk up through the dunes to Gore Point to try our luck there.

Another Marsh Harrier was calling from high over the grazing marshes, and we looked across to see several geese out on the grass. They were mostly Greylags but there were a small number of Pink-footed Geese still here too, smaller, darker-headed and darker-billed. Most of the winter’s Pink-footed Geese have already departed on their way back north, but a few are still lingering along the coast. The Brent Geese stay here a little longer and there was a tight flock out on the grazing marshes and several smaller groups flying in and out from the beach.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – flying past as we walked up to Gore Point

There were a lot more birds on the sea off Gore Point, and it didn’t take long to find the Long-tailed Ducks. They were diving regularly and hard to count, but eventually we got to a total of 21 together. The long tails of the drakes were hard to see when they were diving but when they stopped a couple of the drakes appeared to be displaying, swimming after a female with their tails cocked in the air.

There were even more Red-breasted Mergansers here – there seemed to be a very good number of them today, though they were too spread out to count easily. A distant Velvet Scoter appeared too briefly, but disappeared again when we took our eyes off it. A single Great Northern Diver was very distant, but a closer Slavonian Grebe then appeared. A Fulmar flew past low over the water. Non-avian interest included a Harbour Porpoise which rested at the surface for a few seconds before diving again.

Having walked up to Gore Point, we were a little later than planned leaving Holme which meant we could only enjoy a brief visit to Holkham on our way back east. There were lots of Wigeon still out on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive as we parked, but not so many geese here now.

Out through the pines, we walked east on the edge of the saltmarsh. As we got closer to the cordon, we could see lots of pipits out in vegetation. A closer look revealed they were a mixture of Scandinavian Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. It was interesting to compare the two side by side, and also to compare and contrast the Rock Pipits with the closely related Water Pipit which we had seen earlier. There were a few Skylarks here too and one or two were singing in the sunshine.

There were a few people watching the Shorelarks already. They were quite a long way back in the taller vegetation before the cordon again, and a couple of people couldn’t resist the temptation to walk out onto the saltmarsh to get closer. We stood on the path and admired them through the scope. It was lovely afternoon light now and their bright yellow faces glowed in the sunshine when they lifted their heads.

Shorelark 1

Shorelarks – still out on the saltmarsh

The best strategy with the Shorelarks is to wait and let them come to you, and we could see they were gradually working their way towards the path further along. We walked up and watched them, busily picking around and creeping through the vegetation. We carried on a little further to see if the Dartford Warbler was still around, despite the fact it has not been reported here for a week or two. There was no sign of it and no sign of the Stonechat which has previously helped to tempt it out of the dense buckthorn, so we didn’t linger here.

Shorelark 2

Shorelarks – great views when they worked their way closer to the path

When we returned to the Shorelarks, they were very close to the path now and walking very slowly we were able to position ourselves without disturbing them. It was a great view of them from here. We tried to count them – there were at least 10 in the closer group, but there were still some further back on the saltmarsh which were mostly hidden. We still had one last thing we wanted to try to do today, so we eventually had to tear ourselves away

Continuing on along the coast, we parked and made our way down a track towards the saltmarsh. A male Marsh Harrier was still out hunting and crossed the track ahead of us. A few Chaffinches and tits flew in and out of the hedges ahead of us. We could hear a couple of Yellowhammers singing and had nice views of one of the males perched in the top of the hedge, bright yellow in the evening sun.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – one of two males singing in the hedge

As we got down to the edge of the saltmarsh, a Barn Owl flew past across the grass in front of us. A nice start! A Peregrine was perched out on one of the sandbanks in the distance, but it was a long way off and little more than a blob in the misty haze even through the scope. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the back of the saltmarsh and a couple of late Common Buzzards circled over the edge of the field behind us calling.

Then a Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail, flying in across the back of the saltmarsh. It was a long way off, but through the scope we could see the white square at the base of its tail. Shortly after, a second ringtail flew in a bit closer. It landed down in the vegetation for a few minutes and when it flew up again it came across and flushed the first Hen Harrier from where it was hiding. We saw the two of them several times over the next 15 minutes or so.

We really wanted to see a Merlin here, but they were a bit elusive this evening. Eventually the one other person down here with us spotted one, right at the back of the saltmarsh, perched on the top of a small bush. It was a long way off, but we could see what it was through the scope.

That was a great way to end, so with the light starting to go now we walked back up the track. There were loads of Brown Hares out in the fields here now. We stopped to listen to a couple of Grey Partridge calling from the next field over, which were then accompanied by a Red-legged Partridge calling too. Then it was time to head for home.

13th Feb 2019 – Winter Coast Hopping

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was to be a relaxed day of birding and photography along the North Norfolk coast. The weather was kind to us – after a cloudy start, it brightened up late morning and was lovely and sunny in the afternoon. It was so warm, it almost felt like spring!

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting the verge ahead of us. There were trees either side beyond, so it turned and came back towards us, crossing the road right in front before disappearing over the hedge the other side. A pair of Grey Partridges flew across the road too.

Our first destination for the morning was Cley. As we parked at Walsey Hills and walked back to the East Bank, several small flocks of Brent Geese flew east and appeared to head inland.

The grazing marshes from the East Bank looked quiet at first, but on closer inspection we could see quite a few ducks. A flock of Wigeon were just in the process of walking back out from the Serpentine onto the grass to graze. We watched them all, walking in the same direction, heads down feeding. Small parties of Teal were flying round, landing on the pools. Several Gadwall were swimming on the Serpentine. Six Shelduck were on the island on Pope’s Pool then flew across to the grass. A Grey Heron was in the ditch at the back.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grazing marshes from the East Bank

Three Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds the other side. One of them landed in a bush, where we could get it in the scope. Another did a nice fly past, one of last year’s juveniles, dark chocolate brown with a pale head. From up by the main drain, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but despite scanning the edges of the reeds we couldn’t see them. They were presumably keeping well down in the reeds as usual.

Arnold’s Marsh had a good number of waders on it today, so we stopped in the shelter for a closer look. There were quite a few Dunlin scattered around the shallow water, and two Ringed Plover with them. A Grey Plover and two Turnstones were feeding on one of the gravel spits on one side. There were plenty of Redshanks and a few Curlews too. A Little Egret was walking around on the brackish pools just behind the shelter.

Over on the beach by sea pool, we could just make out a seal carcass on the shingle. The Glaucous Gull has been feeding on it recently but was not there today – we could see a  young Great Black-backed Gull there instead. From the other side of the shelter, we could see another seal carcass on the beach over towards North Scrape but we couldn’t see the Glaucous Gull at that one either. We spotted a couple of the locals coming back from the beach and they told us that the Glaucous Gull was currently on North Scrape so we decided to walk over there to try to see it.

Before we got to the screen where the hide used to be, we looked across to North Scrape and could see the Glaucous Gull standing in the water on the edge of one of the islands. We got the scope on it and watched it, busy preening. Presumably, after a messy morning feeding on one of the seals it had decided it needed a wash and a tidy up!

Looking out to the sea behind us, we spotted a small flock of Common Scoter flying past. They landed on the sea away to west in the distance. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew across too.

Continuing on to the screen overlooking North Scrape, we had a much closer view of the Glaucous Gull. It was a juvenile – pale biscuit coloured, with subtle slightly darker markings on the wings and back and very pale whitish wing tips. The heavy bill, perfect for tearing into seal carcasses, was pink with a clearly marked black tip. It has been here for over a month now and seems to be finding plenty of food.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull – on North Scrape this morning, busy preening

Otherwise, there were quite a few ducks on North Scrape. Most notably, there were at least 50 Pintail. We got two smart drakes, which had walked out onto one of the islands to preen, in the scope for a closer look. Out of the water, we could see their long pin-shaped tail feathers. Several Shoveler were asleep down towards the front and more Brent Geese flew in and landed out on the water.

There has been a flock of Snow Buntings along the beach here, so when we heard one calling we assumed there was a flock coming. Instead, there was just one Snow Bunting accompanying a flock of Goldfinches. The latter dropped down to feed out on the beach, while the Snow Bunting carried on.

As walked on west towards the beach car park at Cley, we found more Snow Buntings in the weedy vegetation at the top of the shingle. The Goldfinches joined them, but the latter were very jumpy and kept flying up, taking the Snow Buntings with them. Eventually, the Snow Buntings settled down to feed in the vegetation on their own and we could get a better look at them. There were a few Skylarks hiding in the grass here too.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – a flock of about 20 was feeding in the vegetation on the beach

When we heard Pink-footed Geese calling, we looked across to see a huge flock dropping down onto Blakeney Freshes beyond the West Bank. The group stopped to try to photograph the Snow Buntings, and then walked on to the car park, where the van came round to pick them up.

From Cley, we drove back west. From the main road, we could see a flock of Brent Geese feeding in winter wheat east of Wells. There has been a Black Brant at times with the geese here, but there was nowhere to stop on this stretch. When we found somewhere to pull in and let the cars behind us pass, the geese were hidden from view in a dip in the field from here. There were a few more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour at Wells, but none on the old pitch and putt course today.

After a busy morning a break was called for now, so we stopped for an early lunch at the Victoria in Holkham. Then after lunch, we drove up to the top of Lady Anne’s Drive to park. The wardens were working out on the fields east of the Drive, so there wasn’t much out that side. There were lots of geese and Wigeon on the grazing marshes to the west though. Three Common Buzzards circled over, and all the ducks and Lapwing flushed and whirled round.

A small group of Pink-footed Geese were feeding close to the fence, so we stopped and got the scope on them for a closer look. A couple of Greylags were with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species alongside each other. A few Brent Geese flew in and landed just the other side of the drive, but a Brown Hare which had probably been disturbed by the wardens ran across and flushed them before they could settle.

Pink-footed Geese_1

Pink-footed Geese – feeding on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive

We made our way through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh, turning east along the path below the dunes. When we saw movement in the low vegetation we stopped for a look. There were lots of Rock Pipits, at least ten, feeding on the saltmarsh close to the path. We had really good views of them here, their underparts heavily blotched with dark and oily brown above, with a noticeable pale supercilium. These are Scandinavian Rock Pipits here for the winter. A flock of Linnets flew up from the back of the saltmarsh and whirled round.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit – there were lots feeding on the saltmarsh close to the path

A small group of people had been watching the Shorelarks but were leaving as we arrived. They pointed out where they were, and when we got there it didn’t take us long to relocate them. They were a bit too distant for photographs, but we had a great view through the scope of their yellow faces and black masks. We could only see five at first, so we scanned around for the rest, hoping we might find some closer to the path. Unfortunately, when we found them, they were even further back. Still, Shorelarks are great birds to see and we stopped to admire them for a bit.

The Dartford Warbler is still lingering in the dunes here, so we decided to go to look for that and see if the Shorelarks might come closer later. It didn’t take long to find the Stonechat here, perched up on a curl of bramble stem above the sea buckthorn. True to form, while we were admiring the Stonechat, the Dartford Warbler flew in. It landed right on the top of the bushes for a couple of seconds, before dropping down into cover.

We continued watching the Stonechat, and after a while we saw the Dartford Warbler come up again in the sea buckthorn nearby. It didn’t come right out again, but we could see it creeping around in the branches, feeding on buckthorn berries.

Stonechat

Stonechat – feeding in the dunes below the pines

The Snow Buntings were in the cordoned off area of saltmarsh, but they were hiding in the taller vegetation today. At one point they flew round, at least 40 of them in the flock today, flashing the white in their wings, but landed in cover again. Having enjoyed great views of the Snow Buntings at Cley earlier, we didn’t stop to see them here.

When two people walked right across the middle of the saltmarsh, not surprisingly they flushed the Shorelarks. We heard them calling and turned to see them flying round. We could now see how many there were, still around 25 in the flock, which is the number that have been here on and off for most of the winter.

Most of the Shorelarks flew further back across the saltmarsh and landed out in the really thick vegetation where they would be impossible to see from the path. But three had obviously been separated from the rest and flew round again. We watched one land by the path back towards the Gap, where we had stopped to watch the Rock Pipits earlier. So we walked back and found two Shorelarks now feeding with the pipits.

Shorelark

Shorelark – close views of two by the path on our walk back

Approaching slowly on the path, we were able to get quite close to the Shorelarks and they gradually worked their way closer still, so we were able to enjoy great views of them and finally get some better photos. Their yellow faces positively shone in the low afternoon sunlight.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive. As we  drove on west, we had a quick look in at Brancaster Staithe. It was low tide now and there were a few waders scattered around. A small group of Oystercatchers was roosting down on the edge of the water, a Grey Plover was picking around on the shore in front, and several Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the exposed sandbar beyond.

Titchwell was our final destination for the day. We had a walk round the trails to look for Woodcock first. As we passed the Visitor Centre, there were not many birds on the feeders this afternoon. There was no sign of the regular Woodcock on Fen Trail, but with some helpful directions we were able to quickly locate the one on Meadow Trail. It was very well hidden, below a tangle of branches in the sallows. It took a bit of time, but eventually we found an angle through the scope where we could see its eye staring back at us.

Walking quietly along the main path back towards the Visitor Centre, scanning carefully we found a Water Rail in the ditch. While we were watching it, a second one walked into view along the ditch nearby. One was noticeably bulkier than the other, presumably a male and female. They worked their way quite quickly back along the ditch, not exactly together but not far apart, and the smaller of the two came out slightly more into the open. Then we lost sight of them and they had obviously turned back and disappeared into cover.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the main path

There were some Long-tailed Tits in the trees above the ditch and when they started alarm calling, we realised there must be a raptor about. We couldn’t initially see it where we were in the trees, but a Sparrowhawk flew out over the grazing meadow and we watched it land on a post in the distance.

Further out along the path, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling in the vegetation right by the path, but it remained typically elusive. A few Marsh Harriers were already in, circling over the back of the reeds or perched in the bushes.

As we walked out to the Freshmarsh, the first thing we noticed were the Avocets, 23 of them today. This is the most we’ve seen this year, with only 2-3 in recent weeks, suggesting they are starting to return to the coast already for the summer. They were flushed by a Marsh Harrier and flew round, flashing black and white. There were lots of Lapwings too, which landed back in the fenced off island, along with a small group of Golden Plover.

Avocets

Avocets – there were 23 back at Titchwell today

There were a few gulls dropping in to bathe, but otherwise with the water level on the Freshmarsh high for the winter, there were just a few ducks and geese. Unfortunately the light was starting to go now, particularly in the lee of the bank, but we watched a little group of Teal displaying on the water below us.

Teal

Teal – we watched a small group displaying on the edge of the Freshmarsh

There were more Marsh Harriers coming in all the time, to join the increasing number gathered over the back of the reedbed. We turned to see a harrier flying straight towards us low over the saltmarsh behind and realised it was a Hen Harrier. It was quite close when it turned and flashed the white square at the base of its tail. It worked its way north over the saltmarsh close to the path, flushing lots of pipits from the vegetation. Some last minute hunting before heading into roost.

The Hen Harrier was a nice way to end, and it was getting late now, so we started to walk back. As we looked out over the reedbed one last time, we could see loads of Marsh Harriers up now all together. A quick count totalled thirty in view at once – quite a sight!

There was one last bird to add to the list. On our drive back, we noticed a small bird perched on the corner of a barn, silhouetted against the last of the light. A Little Owl, coming out just as we were finishing for the day.