19th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular. It was another sunny day, more blue skies, and although it was breezy again it wasn’t quite as windy as yesterday.

We made our way down to Stiffkey Greens to start the day. The wind seemed to have dropped a bit overnight, so we thought we might stand a chance of finding a few migrants in the coastal bushes. The tide was in, and it was a big tide today backed by the ENE wind, so the saltmarsh was completely covered. A small group of people were out in the water in wetsuits and bathing caps, trying to rescue a sailing boat which had come adrift from somewhere and was floating out in the middle of where the saltmarsh would be later.

The coastal path to the west is often a bit quieter, but the track to the east was flooded by the tide today, so there were more people than usual along here – blackberry pickers, dog walkers, holidaying families with young children out for a walk. Consequently, we didn’t find much in the bushes on the way down to the whirligig.

We kept stopping to scan the flooded saltmarsh, where lots of birds had been displaced by the height of the water today. Little groups of Redshanks were trying to roost around the small islands of vegetation and bushes which were still exposed, with others flying round in lines low over the water looking for somewhere to land. We heard a Greenshank calling, and looked out to see it flying across.

A Spoonbill flew past, heading off east, presumably to roost on Stiffkey Fen. Several Little Egrets were also standing out in the clumps of vegetation, with others flying past. Everything was looking for somewhere to roost over the high tide. Flocks of ducks were flying round too, mainly Wigeon, the males flashing their white wing coverts. A couple of Brent Geese flew past.

Little Egret – looking for somewhere to roost over high tide

Lots of small birds had been pushed off the saltmarsh by the tide today too. A small flock of Skylarks came up over the stubble field just inland. Several Reed Buntings were calling in the brambles and suaeda bushes. Four small birds flew low across over the water in the distance. We only caught them as they disappeared off east – they looked like Lapland Buntings, but they were too far out to be sure and we lost sight of them behind the bushes.

A couple of Marsh Harriers were out hunting, patrolling up and down the lines of higher ground. Continuing on to the whirligig, it was still a bit too windy, despite lighter winds than yesterday, and the brambles here were quiet. There was more activity in the bushes just beyond, several Blackcaps flitting around in the brambles and elders, two or three Blackbirds and a Song Thrush, the latter possibly a continental migrant in for the winter. A Brown Hare sunning itself under the brambles had possibly also been pushed in off the saltmarsh.

A Wheatear flew up off the field beyond the hedge and landed on the top of a hawthorn. It was swaying around, struggling to perch in the wind, before it dropped back down out of view.

Wheatear – struggled to perch on the top of the hedge in the wind

We decided to head back and find somewhere more sheltered. When we got back to the car park, we turned to look out over the saltmarsh and noticed a distinctive large gull flying past. It looked very white-headed, pale grey-mantled and contrastingly dark-winged with dark greater coverts, with a very white tail base and black terminal band. We managed to just grab a couple of photos before it headed away. It was a young Caspian Gull, in its 1st calendar year, 1st winter – not a place we usually expect to see one, a welcome bonus.

Caspian Gull – flew past over the saltmarsh as we reached the car park

We headed for Wells and down beach road where we parked in the beach car park. As we walked in past the boating lake towards the trees, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water.

Cutting in through the birches towards the Dell, we found a couple of birders watching a Redstart. We stopped, and a Pied Flycatcher was flicking about in the trees above too. A good start, and a sign that things had possibly arrived overnight. The birds appeared to be following a tit flock – warblers and flycatchers will often do that here and finding the tits is often the best way to find everything else.

Long-tailed Tit – there were several flycatchers and warblers with the tits

They started to move away rapidly through the birches and we didn’t want to lose them. We could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling much further ahead now, so we followed as quickly as we could. We managed to get ahead of them, and were suddenly surrounded by birds – lots of tits, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits; tiny Goldcrests; one or two Treecreepers working their way up the trunks; a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

A Pied Flycatcher appeared and perched up nicely on a small birch in front of us, making occasional sallies out after insects. Hard to tell if it was the same one we saw earlier, but probably not – there were several in here today.

Pied Flycatcher – perched up in one of the small birches

Following the flock round through the trees on the north side of the Dell, we saw a small shape come up out of the bracken on the top of the bank. It was a Yellow-browed Warbler, and we watched it flicking around in the birches. It disappeared further into the trees and we lost sight of it in all the foliage. We walked round to the other side, and eventually the flock worked its way towards us. The Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the birches again here briefly.

The tit flock headed on through the trees and we had to take a path away from them to get round to where they appeared to be going. It only took a few seconds, but when we got to the other side they had completely disappeared – as they have a habit of doing!

We decided to walk across to the more open area to the south, to see if we could find anything in the bushes. There is a gap at the back where you can see out across the grazing marshes, and as we rounded the hawthorns a bird flew up onto the barbed wire fence right in front of us – a Red-backed Shrike!

Red-backed Shrike – appeared on the barbed wire fence in front of us

The Red-backed Shrike dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence a little further along. We had a longer view of it through our binoculars now – we could see it was very similar to the Brown Shrike we had seen yesterday, also a 1st winter. It was more heavily marked with dark crescents on its upperparts, greyer on the head and nape, and longer-winged too. We were looking into the light from here, and we didn’t notice until we looked at the photos later this it was actually missing its left eye.

It dropped down again, and then shot off across the field to the fence on the other side. We got it in the scope now, and had some more prolonged views. Red-backed Shrikes used to be common breeding birds in the UK, but after a long decline died out as regular breeders in the 1980s, a victim of loss of habitat and intensification of agriculture. They are now mainly scarce passage migrants here, dropping in on their way between their breeding grounds on the continent and their wintering areas in West Africa, although the odd pair sometimes still stays to breed. A nice find for the group!

There were lots of Curlews out on the grazing marshes, and a flock of Pink-footed Geese loafing in the grass in the field beyond. We had a look at them in the scopes too. Two Red Kites were hanging in the air further back towards the main road.

Back on the main path, we made our way on west. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the birches by the track and we heard Long-tailed Tits in here too, but they disappeared out the back and along the far edge of the field beyond before we could get a look through them.

There was nothing at the drinking pool – it is very dry now – and not much activity in the deciduous trees further west. As we turned to come back, one of the group spotted some movement under the bushes, a Redstart. We stopped to watch it, sitting motionless for several minutes before flitting across and landing again. As we started to to walk on, we noticed a second Redstart under the trees a little further along.

Redstart – one of two, feeding quietly under the trees

We planned to head back to the Dell to try to find one of the tit flocks again. On our way, we met someone who said that there had been a Red-breasted Flycatcher earlier by the main path, with the tits. There was no sign of them there, so we continued round into the Dell meadow. We found a tit flock in the birches on the north side and had just stopped to look through them when we received a message to say the Red-breasted Flycatcher was across the other side.

The tits moved deeper into the trees, so we went across to look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher. Unfortunately it had moved off again and disappeared – it wasn’t clear whether it was with the tits now or on its own. It had been a long morning, and it would be getting late for lunch if we spent too long chasing round now, so we decided to head back to the car park to get something to eat.

After lunch back in the car park in the sunshine, and a sit down, we headed back in to the woods to look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher again. We walked round the east side of the Dell first, where it had been earlier. We quickly found a tit flock in the trees here, but it was moving fast. We managed to follow it, but it disappeared over the main track and off towards the caravan site before we could tell if there was anything interesting with it.

Back round to the north side of Dell, a Yellow-browed Warbler had just been seen in here again. We couldn’t find it now, but we did see three Pied Flycatchers, and two or three Chiffchaffs in the birches. We seemed to be chasing our tails, so we walked back out to the main path, planning to look in the birches the other side and regroup, and immediately found a tit flock. We had only just stopped to look through them when we got a call from a friend to say that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was back in the trees in the south-east corner of the Dell.

We hurried round and the Red-breasted Flycatcher was now showing well, flitting around down low in the tangles of branches beneath the birches. It was another young bird, a 1st winter – with a dull pale buffy-orange wash across its breast (the adult males had a more obvious orange-red breast). When it perched it would occasionally cock its tail up, and it was possible to see the white sides to the base of the black tail. It seemed to be settled here now, on its own, doing a small circuit up and down in the trees.

Red-breasted Flycatcher – eventually showed well low down under the birches

We spent some time sitting on the bank watching it quietly feeding under the trees. Red-breasted Flycatcher is another scarce visitor here, more in autumn than spring. They breed in Eastern Europe, up through southern Scandinavia and migrate to West Asia for the winter. Another great autumn migrant for us to catch up with.

It had been very productive in the Woods today, but we had spent enough time in the trees now, so we made our way back out to the car park. There was still a bit of time, so we walked over to loon in the harbour. The beach was busy, but there were lots of waders out on the mud the other side of the harbour channel, so we set up the scopes to look through them.

There were lots of Oystercatchers, Grey Plovers and Knot. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were on the wet sand opposite, and we had a good look at them through the scopes. A few Turnstones were feeding along the far edge of the channel and further back, we found a couple of Ringed Plovers. A small group of Brent Geese was on the mud too.

There would be plenty of time for more waders tomorrow. It had been a great day, with some really good birds. For now, it was time to call it a day – we had an early start planned for tomorrow.

18th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular. It was a gloriously sunny day with wall-to-wall blue skies, pleasantly warm out of the blustery ENE wind.

On our way over to Holkham, two Red Kites hung in the air over the trees just west of Wells. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a small group of Egyptian Geese out on the grass, and as we got out of the minibus a couple of Marsh Harriers were enjoying the wind over the bank off to the east.

We set off west on the inland side of the pines, where we thought it would be more sheltered from the wind. A Brambling was calling its wheezy call and we had just found it perched high in a poplar near the path when we had to get out of the way for a Land Rover coming down the track. When we looked back it was gone. A fresh arrival, come here from Scandinavia for the winter.

There would be rather too many Land Rovers going back and forth along the first part of the track today, often the same vehicle five, six, or more times. Apparently they are filming a Land Rover corporate video here at the moment, racing up and down the beach in vehicles and careering over various other parts of the estate. They were certainly getting their carbon budget soaring this morning, with all the toing and froing. A Chiffchaff was singing in the bushes. And, as we walked on west, a very pale Common Buzzard came over the tops of the trees above our heads.

We hadn’t gone too much further when we encoutered our first tit flock. We could hear the Long-tailed Tits calling at first, before finding them in the trees, along with Coal, Blue and Great Tits, one or two Treecreepers, several Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. When a small warbler flew up into the top of a young oak, we caught a flash of a bold yellowish-white supercilium and a couple of pale wing bars. A Yellow-browed Warbler!

The Long-tailed Tits were on the move and the Yellow-browed Warbler quickly dropped back out of view, deeper into the trees. We could see the flock still moving through parallel with the path and a little further on, it came back out to the trees on the side of the track. The Yellow-browed Warbler flew across and landed in the top of an oak the other side, above the track. We were standing underneath, and could see it flitting around in the leaves towards the top, directly above our heads.

As the flock moved on again, the Yellow-browed Warbler flew back across the track and disappeared into the trees once more. We continued to follow but just before we got to Salts Hole, it crossed back and disappeared deeper into some thick holm oaks on the edge of the pines, where we lost sight of them.

Yellow-browed Warblers used to be very scarce visitors here, wandering off course on their way between their breeding range east of the Urals to wintering sites in SE Asia. But over the last 30 or so years, they have become increasingly common here and are now expected from mid-September. As their breeding range has expanded westwards, birds are now routinely wintering in western Europe.

Scanning across Salts Hole, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water. A Kingfisher popped up on a post at the back, then flew across to the reeds the other side. It didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do, as it flew backwards and forwards in front of the reeds several times, before flying up into a holm oak where it landed. Then it was quickly off again and disappeared round the reeds.

Kingfisher – spent several minutes zooming around Salts Hole

A little further on, there is a muddy pool in the reeds by the track, and as we passed by the Kingfisher flew in and landed in a tangle right next to us, just a few feet away. Unfortunately it didn’t stay long – presumably it saw us, because it quickly flew off again and we watched it disappeared away over the track ahead of us, in a flash of electric blue.

When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, we stopped to scan across the grazing marshes. There had apparently been a Redstart on the fence here earlier but it had flown up over the bushes and there was no sign of it now. Further back, over the reeds, we picked up a distant group of Pink-footed Geese flying in, which dropped down out of view beyond.

When we got to Washington Hide, we walked up onto the boardwalk for a better view. We could now see the Pinkfeet out on the grass in the distance, and got them in the scope for a closer look. A Great White Egret flew in over the reeds, and dropped in at the back of the pool out of view. A few moments later, a second Great White Egret flew in and attempted to land on the pool too, but was quickly chased off by the first.

Several Common Darters were basking on the handrail of the boardwalk, as we set off west again. Just before Meals House, we stopped to watch several Goldcrests feeding in the holm oaks. We had a great view of them, the adults with their golden crown stripes and a juvenile still with an all grey head, at least until another fleet of Land Rovers appeared, and we had to get out of the way again.

Goldcrest – we stopped to watch several in the holm oaks before Meals House

There was too much disturbance around Meals House, which is where the Land Rover crew is basing themselves, lots of vehicles and people. We had a quick look in the sycamores, but there was nothing in there today. The only good news was that once we got beyond Meals House, we would not be bothered by the Land Rovers any more.

Before the crosstracks, we came across another tit flock – we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and see birds flitting around in the holm oaks. but the trees here were just catching the wind and the birds stayed in the thicker trees and didn’t come out to the more open ones by the path.

Just beyond the crosstracks, we heard a Pied Flycatcher calling. At first, we could just see it flicking around deep in an oak tree, but it remained frustratingly out of view. It moved into a thicker tangle behind, then across to a small hawthorn next to the oak. Suddenly it flew out, making a sally after an insect, which it caught. This time it landed right on the front of the hawthorn and we finally got a good look at it. A migrant, on its way south probably from Scandinavia, stopping off here to feed before continuing on its way to West Africa.

Pied Flycatcher – finally landed in the open, on the front of the hawthorn

There was a good selection of butterflies, enjoying the sunshine in the more sheltered spots today. A smart Red Admiral basking on the path, a Small Copper feeding on ivy flowers, a Speckled Wood resting on a branch. There were a few dragonflies too – as well as the ever-present Common Darters, we saw a few Migrant Hawkers and one apple-green Southern Hawker hawking around the edges of the trees. A Willow Emerald damselfly was hanging on a branch over the path by a small group of sallows, a recent colonist, it is amazing how quickly it has spread.

Willow Emerald damselfly – on a branch overhanging the path

Out of the trees, we walked up into the edge of the dunes. Someone we passed told us there was a Redstart in the next valley, so we walked round to where we could get a clear view. The Redstart flicked round out of view behind some bushes, a flash of an orange-red tail. We stationed ourselves at the end of the valley and waited for it to reappear.

There were several Stonechats here, flitting from the bushes down to the ground and back up again. Eventually the Redstart reappeared and gave itself up properly. Several times it perched nicely on the top of one of the small bushes, where we could get it in the scopes. Another nice migrant on its way from Scandinavia to Africa.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, we could see the herd of cattle distantly in the top corner. From time to time, a white shape would appear in the long grass in between them, the Cattle Egrets. We counted at least four, the maximum we could see simultaneously, but there could have been more. Another Great White Egret was stalking along the edge of the reeds out on the pool on the edge of the grazing marsh, looking the other way towards Decoy Wood. Through the scopes, we could see its long dagger-like yellow bill.

A Green Woodpecker yaffled from behind the natterjack pools and we looked across to see it fly up and across past us, heading for the pines. A small group of Siskins came out of the trees and flew over, heading off west – we saw, and particularly heard, quite a few small parties today. An orange Wall butterfly posed nicely in the short grass on the dunes.

On the walk back, another Brambling flew over calling and dropped down into the bushes by the ditch beyond the reeds. Presumably the same Pied Flycatcher flitted across the path and landed briefly in the cherry trees just before the crosstracks. A Bullfinch called and perched briefly in the bushes by the path in front of Washington Hide, where three late Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds. The Kingfisher was still flying around Salts Hole as we passed.

There is nowhere to sit in The Lookout now, as all the tables have been removed, so we drove over the road and up to the car park by the Park for lunch. It was better here, out of the wind. A perfect place for a post-lunch nap on the grass in the sunshine, but we didn’t have time for dozing this afternoon.

A Brown Shrike had been found earlier this morning at Warham Greens, a short drive along the coast, so we decided to head over there to try to see it. We managed to find a parking space on Garden Drove and walked down the track towards the saltmarsh. Permission had been granted to go into the edge of the field, so we walked along the mown weedy margin to where several people were already gathered. The large open field meant we could maintain social distancing and avoid ‘mingling’ between bubbles, while all enjoying the bird.

We were quickly looking at the Brown Shrike, perched low down, in the dead umbellifers at the bottom of the hedge. It kept dropping down to the ground on the margin after insects, before flying back up to another perch. We had great views of it in the scopes. Brown above, with a more chestnut crown in the sunshine, and a distinct blackish mask.

Brown Shrike – feeding from the umbellifers on the edge of the field

It was a young Brown Shrike, a 1st winter, with dark scallop markings on its scapulars but otherwise a rather plain brown mantle, not as strongly-marked as a similar-looking young Red-backed Shrike would be above.We could see the rather short primary projection too, another good distinguishing feature.

Brown Shrikes breed across Russia and spend the winter in India and east into SE Asia, so this young bird was a long way off course. They are rare visitors to the UK, and this was only the second one to be identified in Norfolk. An interesting bird for us to catch up with.

Another Redstart was flicking in and out of the umbellifers close to the shrike, flashing its orange red tail. A Whimbrel flew in off the saltmarsh calling, across in front of us, and disappeared off over the field inland.

Back to the minibus, we drove further east to Stiffkey. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was up in the trees in the small copse by the permissive path as we walked down beside the road, but we couldn’t see anything in with them today.

It was quiet along the riverbank, a bit windy out here today. When we got to one of the places where we could get a view over the reeds, we could see the Spoonbills gathered on the island. Some were asleep, but others were awake and preening, so we could see their distinctive bills. We counted at least 18 today, a good number considering the tide was out, although some were sitting down and there might have been a few more. Two took off and flew over past us, before turning and heading out towards the harbour.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 18 roosting on the island

When we got up onto the seawall, we couldn’t see the Spoonbills. Where they are roosting at the moment is hidden behind the reeds from here. There were lots of Greylags, plus a few Canada Geese loafing on the grass. A liberal scattering of moulting ducks too, included Wigeon, Teal and Mallard. A Pintail was swimming out on the water – though now in dull eclipse plumage, the size and shape still sets it apart from the others.

A few Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits were scattered round among all the wildfowl. We walked further up and looked back to see a single Green Sandpiper, tucked in on the edge of the reeds, working its way along the this strip of mud beyond the water. A Common Buzzard perched up on the edge of the poplars at the back was busy eating something.

The tide was still out in the Harbour. We could see all the seals hauled out on the sandbars beyond Blakeney Point, in the distance. A Greenshank flew past down the creek, and landed on the shore of the channel a bit further up, by the boats. Another three Spoonbills flew out past us, heading from the Fen out into the Harbour to feed in the muddy creeks.

Spoonbills – flying out from the Fen to feed in the Harbour

Looking out into the pit, we could see a couple of Brent Geese. They are just starting to return here for the winter now, back from their breeding grounds in Siberia. There was a good selection of waders too, if a little distant – Knot, Grey Plover, Oystercatchers, Curlew, a single Bar-tailed Godwit. There were lots of gulls loafing on the mud too.

We continued round and down to the edge of the harbour, where we stood admiring the view in the later afternoon sunshine. The Greenshank was now feeding on the edge of the channel opposite, giving us lovely views.

Greenshank – feeding in the harbour channel

It is a magical spot here, and we could have sat for hours, but it was time to head back. It had been an exciting first day – two more days to look forward to.

15th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely sunny day, a little bit hazier than yesterday with a slightly cooler light ENE breeze which kept the temperatures very comfortable in the low 20sC on the coast. Perfect weather to be out birding again.

We started the day at Titchwell. There was no sign first thing of the Glossy Ibis which had been here yesterday afternoon, but we decided to go anyway and get in before the car park filled up. When we arrived and got out of the minibus, a Goldcrest was feeding in a pine right above where we had parked.

There were next to no cars in the overflow car park yet, so we decided to have a quick walk round before it got busy. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came out of the trees by the entrance track and flew across in front of us. They had a couple of Chiffchaffs in tow too. We then watched them feeding in the brambles and elders in the back of the car park. along with a couple of Blackcaps.

Long-tailed Tit – we followed a flock into the overflow car park

We followed the flock round to the far side. There were a few finches in the car park too, but the Bullfinches feeding in the sallows in the far corner remained well hidden and hard to see. We were surprised to find a Moorhen clambering around high up in the bushes here too – an odd place for one. A couple of Jays flew up into the top of the tall willows behind. A Red Admiral butterfly feeding on the ivy looked very smart in the morning sunshine.

Red Admiral – enjoying the morning sunshine

We made our way round to the Visitor Centre, through the crowds of beachgoers and dog walkers who were rapidly filling up the car park, which is still partly closed. There had apparently been a Pied Flycatcher earlier by the Visitor Centre, so we had a quick look in the trees back to the picnic area, but there was no sign of it there.

Back past the visitor centre, a small flock of Siskins flew through the trees. We had a quick look in the alders by the main path, but they weren’t there. While we were looking, a small skein of around twenty Pink-footed Geese came overhead calling, possibly fresh arrivals from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

With it being so sunny, we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed first and then have a look at the Freshmarsh from the end of Autumn Trail. As we walked up to the screen at Patsy’s, the first thing that caught our eye was a Great White Egret out in the middle, preening. It was striking how big it was, particularly when it stood with its neck stretched up, and we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – on Patsy’s Reedbed pool this morning

Another Great White Egret flew across over the reedbed further back. The one we were watching can’t have seen it – perhaps it heard something, because after the second bird landed in the reeds, the first took off and flew back towards it. It chased it up out of the reeds and we lost sight of the two of them behind the bushes.

Otherwise, there were a few ducks on the pool this morning, mainly Gadwall. Coot was an addition to the trip list here, and there were a couple of Little Grebes too. A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a paler head, quartered over the reed behind.

As we made our way round along East Trail and on to Autumn Trail, there were several Common Darters basking on the path which took off ahead of us. A very smart fresh Shaggy Inkcap toadstool was sticking up out of the short grass on the verge. There were a few squashed Bloody-nosed Beetles and a couple of live ones. We picked one up, which had lost a couple of legs, to move it off the path and it duly obliged by exuding the red liquid from its mouthparts from which it gets its name. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us as we passed.

Shaggy Inkcap – growing in the grass by East Trail

We had spoken to someone earlier who had suggested that most of the waders were at the back of the Freshmarsh, but apart from quite a few Ruff in the top corner, there wasn’t much up this end now. Out in the middle, we could see a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and just a couple of lingering Avocets today. A smaller wader further back still looked like the Little Stint, but it was a long way away from this side. In the distance, the other side of the West Bank path, five Spoonbills flew up and circled round.

A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding on the mud at the base of the reeds, in front of the watchpoint at the end of the path. We had a nice view of them through the scopes, a cracking male with powder grey head and black moustache, and a browner female. Another small group of 5-6 were calling to each other in the reeds and we saw them fly up a couple of times before crashing back in.

As we turned to head back, we heard the group of Bearded Tits calling again and watched them land again in the reeds close to the path. We walked up towards where they had landed and noticed one Bearded Tit on its own in the reeds. The rest of the flock further ahead flew up and over the bank towards Brancaster Marsh, but the lone bird stayed put. It climbed up the reeds right in front of us, giving us a great view, calling for the rest of the group.

Bearded Tit – came up out of the reeds right in front of us

It was a male, with powder blue-grey head and black moustache, probably a young one as it was moulting and the head was not as well marked as some. The Bearded Tit flew up a couple of times but landed again. Eventually it seemed to work up the courage to cross the path, but simply landed again in a dead umbellifer on the bank right next to one of us! After flitting around there for a couple of seconds, it finally flew up and over the bank.

We made our way back and round via Meadow Trail. We stopped at the platform by the dragonfly pool to admire an apple green and bright blue Southern Hawker, which in typical style kept coming back to hover close to us. It was chased at a couple of times by a Migrant Hawker, and then it decided to chase it away over the tops of the sallows. A tandem pair of Willow Emerald damselflies were trying to perch in the reeds below the platform but struggled to find somewhere they could agree to settle.

Willow Emerald damselflies – this tandem pair were trying to settle in the reeds

Walking out on the west bank path, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Thankfully, having had such amazing views of the male earlier, we didn’t need to linger to try to see them here. We stopped by the Reedbed Pool and a scan revealed a good number of Common Pochard up towards the back. A Kingfisher called from one of the channels in the reedbed, but didn’t come out.

Looking out across the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a line of white shapes asleep in the grass. Most were clearly Little Egrets, but the end one looked a little larger, a different shape, and more of a dirty yellowish colour. It was a Spoonbill, presumably one of the ones we had seen distantly over here earlier.

A paraglider was flying over Thornham Harbour and flushing everything. Several flocks of Curlew flew up and circled round nervously. A flock of Golden Plover came in over the path, most of them having lost their summer black bellies already. The Spoonbill woke up and flashed its bill, confirming our ID. A second Spoonbill flew in over the saltmarsh towards us, its black wingtips displaying its immaturity, before it turned and flew back the other way.

With the sun out, and nothing much on the drier mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the west bank path further along. As we walked up, we could hear a Spotted Redshank calling, but presumably it was flying off as we couldn’t see it out on the mud. One of the Great White Egrets was now standing on the edge of the small round island, preening.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits still out in the middle, and a selection of Ruff around the edges. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too – its smaller size, slightly shorter legs and more contrastingly-marked upperparts setting it apart, even before we could see its slightly upturned bill.

Ruff – a juvenile feeding on the Freshmarsh below the main path

There were one or two Dunlin scattered around the islands and edges and a larger group of seven at the far end, below the reeds. We couldn’t find the Little Stint at first, it wasn’t where we had seen it earlier, but scanning carefully we eventually found it on the muddy edge of the island over in front of the fence. It was feeding with its rear end up in the air a lot, which confirmed it was the bird we had seen distantly from the end of Autumn Trail earlier. Odd behaviour, but instantly recognisable as different. A single Common Snipe was feeding just inside the fence.

We wanted to spare our energy for the afternoon, so we decided not to walk on any further and headed back to the car park. There had been a Wryneck earlier seen at Holme, so we decided to have a go to see if we could find it. As we arrived at the pay hut, we were told it had been seen again about 15 minutes before, in the bushes just beyond.

We parked and got out, and the challenge quickly became clear – there was a constant stream of cars up and down the track and people up and down the coastal path the other side of the bushes. Amazing numbers of people for this time of year, albeit it was a beautiful day. We had a slow walk round the bushes, with no success, so stopped to have lunch back at the minibus, before having another go.

We figured it might be worth having a walk through the dunes – no one seemed sure whether there might have been a second Wryneck seen further up towards the Firs, and there are often migrants in here. But as we walked through the bushes, there were very few birds. We did see lots of Small Heath and several Small Copper butterflies.

It was only as we got much closer to the Firs that we started to see things. Several flocks of Curlew came in off the beach, presumably disturbed from where they were feeding, along with a smaller number of Black-tailed Godwits.

Then we came across a Stonechat in the bushes, a female, followed quickly by another two, one a male with a black throat. A rattling call alerted us to a couple of Lapland Buntings passing overhead, but they were high in the bright sky and hard to see as they disappeared off west.

One of the group had lingered further back to take some photographs, and when they walked up to us they thought they had just seen a Whinchat. They weren’t wrong – it had just appeared in the bushes behind us, presumably following the Stonechats. We had a nice view of it, before it flew back further into the dunes – a nice bonus here.

Whinchat – in the dunes with a small group of Stonechats

Everyone was feeling tired now, so the intrepid guide walked back to get the minibus and the others waited at the Firs. We had a quick look at the bushes by the payhut as we drove out, but there had been no further sign of the Wryneck. We decided to head back east to Burnham Overy.

We almost couldn’t get into the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe, but thankfully someone was leaving just as we arrived. We set out along the seawall. There was lots of disturbance in the harbour channel – boats, a paddleboard, swimmers – and we didn’t see many birds until we got to the arm of mud which extends alongside the bend in the seawall.

Scanning the mud, we could see lots of Common Redshanks. Several Turnstones were feeding in alongside the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a couple of Common Gulls too. There were a few Dunlin too, and a couple of Grey Plover.

A small group of white shapes were down in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh further up and through the scope we could confirm they were the Cattle Egrets we had come to look for, nine of them. We walked further up until we were directly opposite and had a nice view as they stood in the vegetation preening.

Cattle Egrets – nine were in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh, preening

The tide was coming in fast now and starting to fill the arm of mud in front of us. The Redshanks were feeding more actively and the Cattle Egrets started to move. First one or two, then the rest of the flock flew down to the water. They seemed to be feeding on the tide out in the shallow water beyond the open mud, in amongst the Redshanks – unusual behaviour for Cattle Egrets but fascinating to watch. Presumably they had even been waiting out on the saltmarsh for the incoming tide.

Looking inland, the other side, a Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields in the distance, getting harrassed by crows. A Grey Heron flew across and landed with the cattle out in the middle. A Mediterranean Gull flew in from the harbour and over the seawall, overhead, flashing its pure white wing tips.

It was a great view, looking out across the harbour in the late afternoon sunshine, or inland to the coast road and beyond. A great way to end our two days, watching the Cattle Egrets out in the harbour. It was time to head back.

14th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It may be autumn, but it felt more like summer, with wall-to-wall blue skies and thankfully a nice light southerly breeze on the coast which kept the temperatures from getting too hot. Not great conditions for migrants perhaps, but fantastic weather to be out birding in Norfolk.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. As we got out of the minibus and removed our face masks, we could hear a Greenshank calling, presumably flying over. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post in front of us, in the morning sunshine. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling.

We heard geese calling, the low honking of Greylags, and turned to see a large flock several hundred strong come up from the fields the other side of the road. They flew in over us, calling noisily, and circled round to land over the back of one of the pools.

Greylag Geese – flying in from the fields to the pools

The pools are rapidly drying out now, but the Greylags had landed in the deeper water at the back. In amongst them, we could see lots of Wigeon and Teal, all the drakes now in their drab eclipse plumage. There were several Ruff around the muddy edges and three Dunlin on the front of one of the islands. A flock of Black-tailed Godwit in the deeper water was almost lost in with all the geese.

On the other side of the track, the pools have gone with just some damp mud in the middle. There were no waders on here now, but a small group of Egyptian Geese were feeding in the grass and a Grey Heron and Little Egret on the edge of the deeper channel at the back.

As we walked down the track, a Common Whitethroat flicked out of the bushes. At the far end, we could hear a Kingfisher calling and after a couple of minutes it came up out of a ditch and flew across the track in front of us, in a flash of electric blue. Another flock of Meadow Pipits flew overhead calling. They have been on the move this week, so these were possibly migrants which had stopped here overnight.

There were lots of people out in the sunshine, and a dog running around between the bushes. Perhaps not surprising that there were few birds in here at first, until we got round to the seawall. Here the bushes held lots of finches – Goldfinches, Linnets and Greenfinches – plus several Reed Buntings, Blackcaps and more Common Whitethroats.

As we walked along the seawall, a Chaffinch was feeding on the ground and a Wall butterfly flitted ahead of us. When it finally landed, we edged forward to take some photos, before it was flushed by a couple of joggers coming the other way. This was the first of several we saw here today.

Wall butterfly – by the path on the seawall

Continuing down to the corner, we stopped to look at the western pool. A Green Sandpiper was feeding in the shallow water tucked in the corner and a single Common Snipe was asleep on the bank at the back.

Looking behind us, some people were walking towards us along the bank, and a Wheatear was on the path ahead of them. Thankfully, it just flew down to a post on the edge of the saltmarsh below the bank so we could get a good look at it. Then it dropped down to the ground below to catch something, before flying up to another post further back, flashing its white rump.

Wheatear – flushed from the path down to the edge of the saltmarsh

A flock of geese flew up from the fields off to the south. They were a long way off, but they looked small, dark. Through the scope, we could see they were Pink-footed Geese and as they got a bit closer, we could just hear their yelping calls, much higher pitched than the Greylags we had seen earlier.

Another couple of larger flocks of Pink-footed Geese came up behind them – they clearly weren’t going far because they didn’t form into skeins and remained in untidy groups. We watched them as they flew over Wells town and started to whiffle down towards Quarles Marsh beyond. There were probably up to 1,000 Pink-footed Geese in total, already returned from Iceland. Here for the winter, a reminder that summer is over, even if it didn’t feel like it today!

Pink-footed Geese – several flocks came up from the fields inland

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a couple of white shapes, one larger than the other, a Spoonbill and a Little Egret. The Spoonbill disappeared down into a channel to feed, out of view. We could see its head a couple of times before it came back up out and into view. Almost immediately it took off. It flew in, long neck and bill stretched out in front, towards the pools, but perhaps seeing no other Spoonbills there it turned and disappeared off to the east.

Scanning the rest of the saltmarsh, there were lots more Little Egrets, several Curlew and Redshank. A smart Grey Plover still sporting its summer black face and belly, was in one of the muddy channels. It was time for coffee, so we made our way down off the seawall and back round through the bushes. A small party of Swallows came over, migrants on their way west.

After a break for coffee, we continued east along the coast road to Cley. After a quick stop at the Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove round to the beach car park. It was very busy at the beach today – even the overflow was filling up fast. We walked out over the shingle and off to the east, away from the crowds.

Looking out to sea, it was very calm and not surprisingly there didn’t appear to be many birds offshore. Lots of gulls were following a fishing boat. It was warm now and there were not many birds in the vegetation on the beach either. We were hoping to find a Whinchat along the edge of the Eye Field, but the best we could muster were several Pied Wagtails by the small pool.

Over the ridge in the Eye Field, we stopped to scan the reserve. It was a lovely view, and very pleasant with the light breeze in our faces. North Scrape is almost dry now, but we did pick up a Hobby out over the reedbed beyond, hawking back and forth low over the reeds for insects. On the walk back, a Wheatear had appeared on the shingle by the pill box with the Pied Wagtails now.

Wheatear – our second of the day, on the beach at Cley

A very distant Gannet was now offshore and we picked up a large flock of waders flying past. We could see the larger ones were Knot and presumably the smaller ones were Dunlin, but they were a long way out at first. The Knot continued on west, but the smaller waders started to zigzag inshore. They were indeed Dunlin but as they turned, we caught a flash of a couple of white rumps – it looked like there were a couple of Curlew Sandpipers in with them. But rather than continue coming in, they now carried on west.

We stopped for lunch in the car park, and afterwards headed round to Walsey Hills. There was no space and we had several cars behind us, so we drove on, turned round and came back on the right side of the round. Thankfully there were now a couple of parking spaces.

Three juvenile Little Grebes were on Snipes Marsh, one of which looked very ungainly as it climbed out onto the mud. We set off up the East Bank, where two adult Little Grebes kept surfacing in the thick weed on Don’s Pool. There were plenty of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine too, several Common Darters along path and a very obliging Migrant Hawker which landed in the vegetation beside us so we could get a closer look at it.

Migrant Hawker – landed in the vegetation beside the path

Scanning the mud of the Serpentine, we quickly picked out the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with several Redshanks. It was busy preening, and as it opened its wings we could see its white rump, as well as its long, downcurved bill.

Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile was still on the Serpentine

There was a single Common Snipe in the far corner too and a Green Sandpiper which was feeding along the near edge of the water and hard to see behind the low bank. A large flock of Curlew was sleeping in the grass beyond. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds further back still.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, there were just two Sandwich Terns out here today. More Curlew and Common Redshanks were scattered around. Several Shelducks were out here too – mostly juveniles, as the majority of the adults have gone off to moult in huge flocks on favoured estuaries, many to the Continent and the Waddensee. One or two adults are left behind to look after the young, and we picked out one here today, noticeably brighter and redder-billed than the juveniles.

There were obviously a couple of Gannets feeding just offshore here. We caught sight of a dark juvenile as it plunge-dived, then watched a sub-adult circle over the beach, before flying off east along the shingle ridge. Then it was back to the minibus and we drove back west to Stiffkey Fen to finish the afternoon.

A Chiffchaff was singing in the trees as we walked down along the permissive path, and several Blackcaps were in the trees down by the river. When we got to a spot where we could just about see through a gap in the vegetation to the Fen beyond, we could see a big gathering of large white shapes on one of the islands.

We counted at least 45 Spoonbills today – they were hard to count as some were sat down or hidden behind the others – and mixed in with lots of Little Egrets too. Viewing was rather restricted from here too. The Spoonbills were mostly asleep – as they normally are when they roost here over high tide. It won’t be long before they are heading off, so it is good to see such a large number still here today.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 45 today, mixed in with the Little Egrets

Continuing on, as we got up onto the seawall, a Greenshank flew in along the harbour channel below and over the bank towards the Fen. We could just see a few Little Egrets from here, and a single Spoonbill, as they were mostly hidden behind the reeds from here today. As the Fen has started to dry out, they have moved where they like to roost.

Beyond the Little Egrets, we picked up a Green Sandpiper in front of the reeds at the back with a couple of Ruff. From further along, we could see another Green Sandpiper in the corner over by the hide, along with seven Greenshanks and lots of Redshanks. A Knot was half hidden in amongst all the Black-headed Gulls on the shore of the island in the middle.

There were lots of moulting ducks, mainly Mallard, Wigeon and Teal, but we found several Pintail asleep in with them. The drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, but we did find one awake and swimming in the water, which showed off its still pointed tail as it upended.

Further along still, we looked back into the front corner. Five more Greenshanks were tucked in here and a single Gadwall was on the mud nearby. A Water Rail squealed from down in the reeds below us and we heard two or three Cetti’s Warblers singing while we stopped to scan the Fen.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was coming in quickly now. A Marsh Harrier flew across over the saltmarsh and disappeared up the harbour. Scanning the edges of the pit, we could see small groups of waders on the remaining shingle islands, more Knot, a few Turnstones and Oystercatchers. There was a lot of disturbance out in the harbour today, lots of people walking on the shore, lots of boats – a large flock of Oystercatchers and Knot flew up from where they had been trying to roost across and disappeared off towards Warham.

It was lovely standing here in the sunshine, looking out across the harbour towards the Point, quite a view. A Kingfisher shot past over the channel and disappeared off east. It was time to head back.

6th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk, our last day. The weather gods were still shining on us – it was a cloudy start, but with sunny intervals which increased into the afternoon, slightly chilly early on but warming up nicely.

The tide was not high enough for a full-on Wader Spectacular this morning, but it was almost there. Certainly enough to push all the waders right up against the saltmarsh, which should provide a pretty good spectacle anyway. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time for the tide. On the drive over, a Red Kite over the road eyeing up some roadkill was a new bird for the tour list.

We could see all the waders swirling around even before we got out to the seawall – something was stirring them up today. When we got out to the edge of the Wash, there was still quite a lot of exposed mud. A large slick of Oystercatchers was still smeared across the shore away to out right, up by the sailing club.

There were lots of smaller waders scattered around the small pools on the mud below us, lots of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a few Knot. One or two silvery-grey Sanderling were with them on the beach a little further along. Scanning through them, we found a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers out on the mud too. We got them in the scope – scaly backed, longer billed and clean white below compared to the nearby Dunlin, with a variable pale peachy wash across the breast.

The tide was coming in fast. The Oystercatchers were peeling off from the mud and flying past us, catching the low morning sun peeking through the clouds behind us. They landed again out on the mud higher up. The water was pushing the small waders up onto the beach in front of us too. Two Curlew Sandpipers dropped in and went straight to sleep in amongst the stones and samphire, with a third following them in shortly after.

Curlew Sandpipers – trying to roost on the beach below us

Eventually the rising tide pushed everything off the beach in front of us, so we made our way further down, towards Rotary Hide. More birds were flying in all the time from around the Wash. While we were watching all the mass of birds gathering on the mud, we noticed something coming in fast and low over the water, a Peregrine.

As the Peregrine got towards the mud, chaos erupted. All the Knot took to the sky at once, thousands of birds in a vast flock. They swirled round, twisting and turning, making different shapes like a fast-changing cloud. Always amazing to watch.

Waders – the Knot all take to the air as the Peregrine appears
Waders – thousands of birds in the flock head out over the water
Waders – the flock starts to twist and turn
Waders – making some amazing shapes, like a huge cloud
Waders – thousands of Knot, flying together in unison

The Peregrine seemed to have moved on, so after a while the Knot settled back down. The Oystercatchers had barely reacted and were now increasingly concentrated on the edge of the rapidly rising tide. We continued on further down, to the grass opposite the last remaining area of mud.

A sizeable flock of Knot was in front of the Oystercatchers, on the far side of the deep channel in front of us. Most were in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but there were still several sporting the remnants of their orange summer attire. There were quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too, and some of those were still in breeding plumage as well, the rusty orange colour of their underparts continuing down under their tails. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was standing in the water beyond, looking slightly lost.

We watched as the Knot and godwits were pushed in by the tide, walking up ahead of the rising water, increasingly squashing them into the mass of Oystercatchers behind.

Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

The Oystercatchers were on the move too – the whole flock seemed to be flowing slowly across the mud, away from the approaching water, as those on the edge walked further up, passing through other which were hoping the water wouldn’t reach them. The march of the Oystercatchers – one of the many favourite moments of the whole spectacle.

We thought there were quite a few waders on the mud in front of us, but there were thousands more further round the shore just out of view. All the waders were still jumpy. We could see a few raptors out over the saltmarsh beyond – Common Buzzards and one or two Marsh Harriers – but they were too far back to be causing any trouble.

Presumably the Peregrine was still in the area, because suddenly a vast flock of Knot erupted in the distance, from the next bay, beyond the line of saltmarsh at the back of the mud in front of us. It looked like a huge cloud and again we watched as it twisted and turned before settling back down out of view.

Waders – another vast flock of Knot came up from further round the shore

The waders closer to us kept flying up too, partly out of nervousness, partly as they shifted higher up ahead of the tide. Increasingly, the whole flock was packed into the last corner of remaining mud and then the tide started to slow and go slack. We could see more Sanderlings in with the other waders now, and a good number of Grey Plover, most still sporting their summer black faces and bellies, to a greater or lesser extent.

Waders – concentrated into the last remaining corner of the mud

We waited a short while to see if anything would spook the waders, but they increasingly settled down to roost. While most of the waders would stay out on the mud over high tide today, we had watched a few flying in to the pit, including the Curlew Sandpipers earlier. We decided to have a look in Shore Hide and see what was on there.

When we got into the hide, we immediately noticed a large white bird in with the Greylags just behind the island right in front. Despite it being asleep and not flashing its bill we could see it wasn’t one of the escaped domesticated white geese this time, but a lone Spoonbill. In the absence of any more of its kind it had obviously decided the geese were the next best thing. It did wake up briefly a couple of times, particularly when a Little Egret flew in calling and landed next to it briefly.

Spoonbill – roosting in front of Shore Hide with the Greylags

There were not so many waders on here today, with most of the birds staying out on the Wash. There were a few Oystercatchers which had come in, roosting on the shingle bank to the south of the hide. One of the low islands, furthest from the hide, was fairly full with all of the Black-tailed Godwits which seem to come in regardless and lots of Common Redshanks.

Out in the middle, more Greylags and Cormorants were roosting on the partly submerged lumps of concrete. Half hidden in amongst them we could see six or seven Spotted Redshanks, their usual favoured roosting spot. They were asleep, hiding their long, needle-fine bills, but they were noticeably paler than the Common Redshanks, more silvery grey above and whiter below.

Scanning one of the other low islands, we found another lone Spotted Redshank in with yet more Greylags. It had a noticeably limp, which was perhaps why it wasn’t roosting with the others. Initially it was awake, so this time we could see its distinctive bill, and the well-marked white supercilium extending over the bill and back to the eye, before it went to sleep. Through the scopes, we could also see it still had one or two black summer feathers which had not yet been moulted. A Turnstone and a single Dunlin appeared from between the geese and joined it.

There were several juvenile Common Terns still on the pit. At one point, an adult flew in and landed on the tern island with a large fish in its bill. It’s youngster had obviously gone elsewhere, as the adult perched on the edge calling for it for a while, before it flew off again still carrying the fish. A single eclipse drake Pintail out on the water was the only duck of note. A Common Sandpiper flew round calling, but we couldn’t see it.

It was well past high tide now, so we went back out to the edge of the Wash. The water was already starting to recede and the waders had started to spread out a little. We stood on the shore to watch. There was a trickle of hirundines, Swallows and Martins, making their way south and a single Common Swift, reminding us that it won’t be long now before they have all left us again for the winter.

Waders – starting to spread out as the tide recedes

Rather than walking down the mud to follow the tide, the flocks kept flying up and landing again nearer the edge of the water. It was quite impressive, but in the absence of the local Peregrine now they quickly settled back down again.

A lot of the Oystercatchers landed on the mud in front of where we were standing. Some groups of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and joined them, giving us a good close look at them through the scopes. One of the godwits was carrying a white leg flag and through the scope we could see it had the letters ‘CX’ on it. There is a very active ringing group on the Wash, and it was one of theirs – but it will be interesting to learn if it has been anywhere since it was ringed.

When the large group of birds in front of us took off and whirled round, it was particularly impressive, looking into a huge mass of Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – looking into the massive flock which took off in front of us

Even though it wasn’t one of the biggest tides today, we had still had a great morning and everyone agreed it was well worth the early start. We were heading for Titchwell next though and speaking to a couple of the volunteers at Snettisham we were told that the car park had filled up early yesterday, with half of it still closed off. We decided to head round now to try to make sure we didn’t get caught out.

When we got to Titchwell, we were glad we had gone early. There weren’t many spaces left and thankfully one of the volunteers was on hand in the car park to help us find somewhere to park. Thanks, Les!

We still had time before lunch, so we decided to head round along Fen Trail first, to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Little Grebe was diving continually in the water just below the screen. A couple of Tufted Ducks and Coot a little further back were new birds for the trip list. But otherwise there wasn’t much on here today.

The Autumn Trail is open at the moment, so we continued on round in that direction. There were lots of Bloody-nosed Beetles on the path (several of which were move to avoid them getting trodden on) and a couple of Common Darters basking on the hard surface. The hedges and Willow Wood were rather quiet, although it was the middle of the day now.

As we got to the end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back corner of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff, and a little group of Dunlin tucked into the far corner, along with a Grey Heron. An adult Spotted Redshank appeared, silver grey and white, before taking off and calling as it flew over the bank towards Brancaster.

Further out, in the middle of the Freshmarsh, we could see a bigger flock of waders – hundreds of godwits, both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed, and smaller numbers of Knot – despite it being well after high tide now. Smaller groups of Dunlin were scattered around the edges of the islands and in with them we found a party of five juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, as well as singles of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover. A single Common Snipe was half hidden in the behind the fence on the edge of Avocet Island.

When most of the waders took to the air, we looked across to see a Peregrine stooping at them. It was a young bird, inexperienced, and didn’t seem to know quite what to do. It circled up and then stooped again, but each time seemed to fail to find a possible target. When it circled up higher, we noticed a second falcon, much higher and more distant in the sky beyond and through the scopes we could see it was a Hobby.

Peregrine – repeatedly buzzing the waders on the Freshmarsh

The Peregrine had another swoop at the waders on the Freshmarsh, before drifting off west. As we followed it, it was joined by a second Peregrine, another juvenile and we watched the two of them head off towards Thornham. We turned our attention back to the Freshmarsh, but it wasn’t long before one of the Peregrines was back again and stirring things up again.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the watchpoint, but they didn’t show themselves. We decided to head back for lunch now, and looked up to see another Common Swift flew off west low over the reeds.

We had lunch back in the picnic area in the sunshine, with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies and Common Darters basking on the benches. Checking the news, we could see that the first Pink-footed Geese of the winter had returned this morning – small flocks had been seen over Titchwell earlier and further east to Holkham. It would prove to be a feature of the afternoon, with the first flock we saw coming over the car park as we packed away our lunch things.

Next, we headed back out along the main West Bank path. A stop at the Reedbed Pool added a couple of Common Pochard to the trip list. As we walked on towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling but despite it not being too windy the best we had were a couple of brief views as they flicked across between patches of reeds. A couple of Sedge Warblers were more obliging – one flyatching from the top of the reeds, the other way working its way round the edge of one of the pools.

As it was sunny, and the recent SW winds had dried out the mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further along. The big flock of godwits was still out in the middle and a quick count of the Bar-tailed Godwits suggested at least 450, a very good number for here. There were still a few Avocets out here too, in the deeper water further back. Two Golden Plover flew over high calling and dropped down to join the throng.

Waders – a large flock of Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits was on the Freshmarsh

Numbers of smaller waders appeared to have declined since earlier – perhaps not a surprise after the repeated attentions of the Peregrine. There was still a small group of Dunlin on the edge of the island in front of the godwits, but only two Curlew Sandpipers with them now. There had been a Little Stint here yesterday but there was no sign of it now, so we decided to continue out towards the beach.

Volunteer Marsh was quiet, apart from a couple of Curlews and some Redshanks on the banks of the channel at the far side, and there were more of the same, plus a Little Egret on the Tidal Pool. We continued on to the beach. There were quite a lot of people out here again today, and quite a few prams! With older children mostly heading back to school, the staycationer mix has shifted to families with younger offspring.

Despite the people, there were a few waders down on the mussel beds, Oystercatchers, a few Knot and Turnstones. As we stood and scanned, the godwits finally seemed to decide to come out from the Freshmarsh to feed and we watched groups of both species flying out across the beach. One of the Curlew Sandpipers flew out too, flashing its distinctive white rump.

Looking out to sea, we picked up a very distant group of Common Scoter flying across and when they landed on the sea in front of the wind turnbines we could see a line of several hundred already out there. Already returned from further north, they will now spend the winter off here or round to the mouth of the Wash. Otherwise, there were two or three Great Crested Grebes on the water closer in and one or two Gannets flying round right out on the horizon.

When we heard the distinctive yelping calls of Pink-footed Geese in the distance, we looked out to sea to see several flying in towards us, fresh arrivals here for the winter, fresh in from their breeding grounds in Iceland or possibly having stopped over night in Scotland on their way here. They were in several small groups rather than one skein, but we counted 45 in total.

It was time to start heading back – after an early start, we would have a slightly earlier finish today. We stopped again to scan the Freshmarsh, and the five Curlew Sandpipers had reappeared with more Dunlin. Two Little Ringed Plovers were now down on the mud on the edge of the reeds near Parrinder Hide. Further back, we could see a Spotted Redshank but not the pale silvery grey adult we had seen earlier – this time a dusky grey fresh juvenile.

Scanning the reeds over the other side, we found three Bearded Tits working their way along the edge just above the mud. We got them in the scopes for a closer look. A small party of Swallows and House Martins came across the Freshmarsh, a couple of the Swallows pausing just long enough to take a drink before continuing on their way west.

More yelping calls alerted us to another small skein of Pink-footed Geese coming in behind us over the saltmarsh. We watched as they flew high overhead and continued on east, presumably heading for their traditional roost site at Holkham.

Pink-footed Geese – one of several skeins we watched arriving

It was a nice way to end the tour – watching autumn migration in action, with birds arriving here, the changing of the seasons.

5th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly bright with some sunny intervals and although it clouded over for a bit around the middle of the day, the rain (which wasn’t in the forecast!) skirted round to the west and north of us. Another nice day to be out birding.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the permissive path beside the road, a Common Buzzard flapped up out of the copse ahead of us. As we got into the trees, a Chiffchaff was singing – not too unusual at this time of year, and possibly a young bird practicing.

There were more warblers in the trees down by the river, as we came across the back end of a mixed tit flock, Blackcaps, more Chiffchaffs and a brief Reed Warbler. Warblers will often join up with the roving tit flocks at this time of year. The flock was moving quickly through the trees and we tried to follow them. They crossed over to the Fen, where we caught them a couple of times through a gap in the vegetation and at one point we had several Long-tailed Tits feeding in one the sallows above us. A Bullfinch was piping plaintively further back.

It was quite breezy this morning, but sheltered down beside the river. There were lots of insects along here – several Speckled Woods and a smart orange Comma butterfly basking on the bushes. A couple of Migrant Hawkers were hawking back and forth across the path and one of two Common Darters were enjoying the sunshine on the vegetation.

Comma butterfly – basking on the bushes by the path

When we got to the point on the path where you can look across to the Fen beyond, we could see a sizeable collection of large white blobs over towards the far corner. Spoonbills! The vegetation is quite tall now though, so it is hard to see clearly from here, so we continued on and up onto the seawall. There were lots of Linnets and Goldfinches on the bushes as we walked out and looked back across the Fen.

We had a much better view of the Spoonbills from here, and we could see that there was indeed still a good number of them. Most were doing what Spoonbills seem to like to do best – sleeping – but one or two were preening and a juvenile was relentlessly pursuing an adult nearby, bobbing it head up and down and demanding to be fed. It was hard to get an accurate count with so many asleep in a tight bunch, but there were at least 44 Spoonbills here and probably a few more than that.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 44 still on the Fen today

The Spoonbills gather here at the end of the breeding season, with most of the birds probably coming from the breeding colony at Holkham. It has become quite a spectacle to see them at this time of year. They will be heading off south at some point this month, so it was good to find we hadn’t missed them yet.

Close to the Spoonbills, a group of pale looking waders were roosting in the shallow water, ten Greenshanks waiting out the high tide here. There was a big flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the island and a group of Common Redshanks over at the back. A scattering of Ruff were feeding on the muddy edges and scanning round the margins of the Fen, we found two Green Sandpipers. We walked a bit further up and looked back to the other side, which produced five more Greenshanks to add to the total.

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the Fen and plenty of ducks, mostly moulting Mallard, the drakes in drab eclipse plumage, but also with a few Wigeon and Teal. A small group of Shoveler were feeding, heads down, in the deeper water in the far corner.

Black-headed Gulls were coming and going, with a large group loafing on the islands and others preening in the shallow water. A single Common Gull in with them allowed a good opportunity to compare. A grey-winged male Marsh Harrier came up out of the reeds at the back and landed briefly in one of the trees.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was in. It was a big tide today too, so the saltmarsh was flooded with just the tops of the taller bushes poking out above the water. Two Kingfishers shot across, flashing electric blue, following the course of the channel before cutting across the saltmarsh towards the harbour.

There were a few more Redshank out here, and some Curlew out here, and we could see two Knot trying to roost on one of the shingle islands in the distance. There were lots of seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point, and we could even hear one barking at one point.

News came through that the Wryneck had been seen again at Weybourne Camp, so we decided to head over there and have a go for that, and we thought we might possibly pick up some things over the sea at the same time. We parked at Weybourne beach and walked west along the coast path. The sea looked disappointingly quiet, but as we got almost to the small group of people gathered staring over the fence across the Camp, we did come across a single Wheatear in the short grass.

Wheatear – feeding on the short grass on the edge of Weybourne Camp

There was no sign of the Wryneck and we were told it had not been seen for the last hour, but there were lots of other birds. Several Stonechats were flitting between the bushes and the short grass, including a couple of still streaky juveniles. One or two Common Whitethroats and a Lesser Whitethroat popped up out of the brambles from time to time.

A Guillemot was pulled out on the beach, lying on the shingle some distance above the receding tide now. It looked like it might be unwell, but could perhaps have just been resting.

Guillemot – pulled out on the beach at Weybourne

There had been a Spotted Flycatcher seen here earlier, and after a while it reappeared on the front edge of the pines, perching on a dead branch where we could get it in the scope. It kept flying off and coming back. There had apparently been a Pied Flycatcher seen on the Camp too this morning, but it is private land, fenced off with a particularly aggressive barbed wire fence, and the bird was not visible from the coast path.

Still, it all hinted that there were some migrants around today, which was supported by the Meadow Pipits which came in off the sea and or our heads, a couple of singletons and a small flock of seven, fresh arrivals coming in for the winter.

Then someone called that the Wryneck had appeared – it had flown up and was perched in some dead branches sticking out of one of the bramble clumps. We got it in one of the scopes quickly, and it stayed just long enough for most of the group to get a quick look, before it dropped down again. We waited a short while to see if it would reappear again, but it didn’t. Those who hadn’t seen it were not fussed about missing it, so we decided to move on. As we walked back along the coast path, a small flock of Knot flew past just offshore – more migrants on the move.

Knot – flew past offshore as we walked back

We drove round to the Visitor Centre at Cley to make use of the facilities and have our lunch on the picnic tables there. Scanning Pat’s Pool from the picnic area, we could see that the three juvenile Curlew Sandpipers we had seen yesterday were still present, albeit they were very distant from here.

After lunch, we could see some rather ominous dark clouds to the west and it was clearly raining offshore. It was forecast to remain dry here all day (not that this means anything!), and we figured the worst of the cloud should miss us, so we decided to head back to Kelling to walk down the lane to the coast. With some migrants around this morning, we hoped we might find something in the bushes here this afternoon.

It was rather cool in the lane with the grey cloud and the freshening breeze. There is normally a good selection of butterflies and dragonflies along here, but the only thing we came across today was a single Willow Emerald damselfly hanging on an overhanging wild rose branch. A single Chiffchaff hooeeted from the copse, but otherwise there were disappointingly few birds on the walk down.

Willow Emerald damselfly – hanging on a rose branch over the lane

There were a few ducks on the Water Meadow – Teal, Wigeon, Mallard – and a few gulls flying in and out from the water. The best birds on here today were two Little Grebes. Three Egyptian Geese flew over and landed on the Quags as we carried on along the cross-track.

The bushes above the track to the Hard produced just a single Stonechat and there was only one Pied Wagtail out on the short grass on the Quags. We walked a short way up the permissive path towards the gun emplacements, and stopped to scan the sea. Another Stonechat was in the bushes here but we couldn’t see anything passing offshore.

It was clear there were no migrants to be found here, so we decided to head back and try something different. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over and landed in the top of one of the trees by the school when we got back to the minibus.

It was a bit of a drive from here down to the Brecks, but when we got there we pulled off the road to scan a large area of pig fields. Almost as soon as we got out, we could see a Stone Curlew out in the middle. They can be remarkably well camouflaged down in the bare stony ground and there is restricted visibility from here, but the more we scanned, the more we found, until we could see at least six.

One Stone Curlew was not too far out, so we got it in the scope and had a closer look, its bright yellow iris, black-tipped yellow bill and rather knobbly yellow legs all helping to give it a rather prehistoric appearance.

Stone Curlew – one of six we could see from our first stop

The Brecks is the most important breeding area for Stone Curlews in the UK, and they traditionally gather together at the end of the breeding season, so it is another must see sight at this time of year. There was a Wheatear feeding out in the pig field here too.

Driving on, we scanned some other fields but couldn’t see any more Stone Curlews at first. Then we stopped at another gateway and scanned the pig fields from here more distantly. They were a long way off from here, but we counted another 15 Stone Curlews giving us over 20 in total, a respectable total, particularly given there are probably only just over 200 pairs in the Brecks.

There was a huge flock of sparrows feeding in the weedy vegetation on the front edge of the pig field. It was impossible to make out any detail when they were feeding down in the vegetation, and not much easier when they weren’t given the distance and a lot of shimmer coming off the stubble field in front. But when a small group of them flew across and landed in the top of a nearby bramble bush, we could make out several Tree Sparrows in with the fifteen or so birds in view. How many might there be in the whole flock?

It was unfortunately not quite as windy here – either the wind had dropped, or it was not as strong inland as on the coast – but we decided to have a quick look to see if there were any raptors up enjoying the breeze. We stopped somewhere with a good vista looking across the forest and got out to scan over the trees. All we could see from here were just one or two Common Buzzards.

We hadn’t been here very long when one of the group saw a large black bird flying over the field away to our right. A Raven? Unfortunately, it disappeared behind the trees just as the rest of us turned to look. We walked round and scanned the sky the other side and had another glimpse of it as it appeared to drop down to the fields beyond the next hedge. It did look like a Raven, so we hopped back in the bus quickly and drove back up the road.

Sure enough, there was the Raven in the field. We got it in the scope and could see its massive bill. At one point, it was harassed by a Carrion Crow, which looked tiny next to it. It was a nice bonus to end with – Ravens are spreading east but are still scarce birds in Norfolk. With a long drive back, we unfortunately had to call it a day.

4th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly cloudy, with a fresh SW breeze, but warm and most importantly it stayed dry for us, a nice day to be out again.

We started the day at Wells. As soon as we got out of the minibus, we could see Spoonbills at the back of the pool off to the right. There were seven of them at first – five were standing together in the water, mostly asleep (which is what Spoonbills generally seem to spend most of their time doing!), but two were awake. One was walking round after the other bobbing its head up and down – one of this year’s juveniles still begging its parent relentlessly to be fed.

Spoonbills – there were 10 on the way back

There was lots of wildfowl on the same pool too, masses of Greylag Geese with a good number of Canada and Egyptian Geese thrown in too. This is not the time of year to admire ducks, with the drakes currently in their drab eclipse plumage, but there were plenty of Wigeon and Teal, plus a few Shoveler and a single Pintail right over at the back.

We could see a good selection of waders too, with particularly good numbers of Ruff. A small group of juvenile Ruff, in shades of tawny, brown and buff, were feeding on a muddy pool close to the track a bit further up, whereas the grey and white adults were further out in the middle.

Across the other side of the track, the pool is slowly drying out and a Green Sandpiper was feeding out in the middle of the wet mud. We got it in the scope and a Wood Sandpiper appeared alongside, giving us a nice comparison. We could see the latter’s better-marked white supercilium and the more prominent pale spotting on its upperparts.

Wood Sandpiper – feeding out on the wet mud to the west of the track

A few Pheasants were in the field next to where we had parked, which had recently been cultivated. A Stock Dove flew in and landed with the Woodpigeons, giving us a nice side by side comparison.

As we set off down the track, we met someone coming back the other way who told us they had seen a Spotted Redshank on the pool earlier. We stopped for another scan, but couldn’t see it anywhere. Another Green Sandpiper was now down with the juvenile Ruff much closer to us now. A Marsh Harrier was down in the grass at the back of the pool, which we got in the scopes as it had a quick fly around. The Spoonbills had multiplied too, up to ten now.

As we started walking again, the Spotted Redshank flew up from behind the vegetation at the far side, alerting us with its distinctive ringing ‘tchewitt’ call. It flew across the track ahead of us, showing off the ‘cigar’ of white up its back, and lack of white in the wing versus its commoner cousin. We could see it was a dusky grey juvenile as it dropped down behind the vegetation along the channel the other side. From further up, we could only just see it through the tall grass.

Continuing on past the pools, we came out into the area of open bushes beyond. There were lots of small birds flitting about here, with a nice selection of warblers including several Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and one or two Lesser Whitethroats. A Reed Warbler called from the reeds behind us and another appeared in the bottom of the bushes.

We could hear Greenfinches and one or two Chaffinches calling and lots of Goldfinches which kept flying back and forth between the bushes. Round by the seawall, there were several Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers in with them too. One or two of the latter perched up on top long enough for us to get a better look at them.

Yellowhammer – there were several in the bushes beyond the pools

Peering over the reeds towards the westernmost pool, a Kingfisher shot past over the ditch in front of us in a flash of electric blue. We could see more waders on the pool here. A couple of Common Snipe were tucked under the vegetation on the bank at the back, and two Common Sandpipers were running around on the mud. A Greenshank was asleep in the far corner with yet another Green Sandpiper working its way along the bank beyond.

Lots of Black-headed Gulls were dropping in to the shallow water to drink and preen. Scanning across through them, we noticed one with pure white wing tips, not black like the Black-headed Gulls. When it turned round, we could see it had a heavier, brighter red bill too, and a more of a black bandit mask rather than a distinct black spot behind the eye. It was an adult Mediterranean Gull in non-breeding plumage, already having moulted out its summer black hood.

Mediterranean Gull – an adult in non-breeding plumage

From up on the seawall, we had a wider view of more of the pool. From here, we could get a better look at the plovers which had appeared from behind the grass at the back. Three Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud alongside two Ringed Plovers, the latter distinctly larger, and bigger-headed with more distinct black and white rings round. There were three Dunlin with them too.

From up on the seawall, it was high tide out in the harbour. We could see a few Curlew, Redshanks and Oystercatchers roosting out in the vegetation on the saltmarsh. A Common Sandpiper flew over the water and landed on the support of an old bridge which has long since washed away. A couple of Common Buzzards circled high out towards the beach and drifted off west, and a distant Marsh Harrier was hunting the dunes.

There were a few hirundines on the move this morning, small groups making their way west, mainly Swallows and House Martins. A group of Swallows stopped to hawk over the grassy fields beyond the pools for a while. We picked up a couple of Common Swifts on their way west too. Most of them have already left us, and there are just a few stragglers still making their way off, reminding us that summer is over.

There had apparently been a Whinchat in the bushes earlier, but scanning from the seawall still didn’t reveal it, just more of the same warblers, finches and buntings which we had seen earlier. A couple of young Kestrels were feeding down in the grass in one of the fields.

We started to make our way back round. We climbed up onto the bank overlooking the pool west of the track to see if we could see the Spotted Redshank again, but it was looking nervous already as a skein of Greylags flew over honking noisily and it flew up calling, circled round over the mud and then disappeared further up behind the reeds.

Spotted Redshank – this dusky juvenile was feeding on the pools

As we continued back to the track, a Great White Egret flew over in front of us. We could see its long dagger-like yellow bill and long black legs and feet trailing behind, and we watched as it dropped down in the reeds at the back of the pool behind the Spoonbills.

Back at the minibus, we stopped quickly to scan the fields. A couple of small birds on the fence halfway across the field were Whinchats. We got the scopes on them and realised there were actually four of them, and they kept dropping down to the ground beyond before coming back up. We could see their pale peachy-orange breasts and well-marked pale superciliums. Migrants stopping off here to feed on their way south to spend the winter in Africa.

Our next destination was Cley. We stopped at the Visitor Centre car park to use the facilities and scan Pat’s Pool from the picnic area. Even though it was distant, we picked up a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpiper from here. One was feeding in the shallow water with a couple of Dunlin, in and out of the roosting ducks and Lapwings. A larger flock of Dunlin were in the water beyond.

Most of the hides on the reserve remain closed still but Bishop Hide has finally been opened at least, so we decided to head down to try for a closer look. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds as we walked along the Skirts path. When we turned onto the bridge across the ditch, a couple of people were photographing something down below, so we stopped to look. A Water Vole was busy munching on water lily leaves just a couple of metres away, completely unconcerned at all the attention it was attracting.

Water Vole – feeding just below the bridge on the way to Bishop Hide

Thankfully the hide was fairly empty, so masks on and no problem with social distancing to worry about. We couldn’t see any sign of the Curlew Sandpipers where they had been, although most of the Dunlin were now feeding behind the island where we couldn’t see them. There were lots of Lapwings, several Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, and two Avocets still, all out in view.

We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times from the reeds in front of the hide, but they were keeping well hidden in the breeze today. Amongst the ducks scattered around, several Gadwall were a new addition to the list.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long for the Curlew Sandpipers to reappear, three of them now, all juveniles. They were busy feeding around the clumps of mud at the back of one of the lower islands. Through the scopes, we could see their longish, decurved bills, pale peachy washed breasts, clear white underparts and neat scaly brown upperparts. Noticeably different to the Dunlin, when you got your eye in.

Curlew Sandpiper – one of three juveniles on Pat’s Pool

Curlew Sandpipers breed way up in Central Siberia and winter in Africa. The adults migrate earlier and mostly take a more direct route overland, but many of the juveniles take a more coastal route which brings them to us at this time of year. Amazing to think of the journey these young birds were making, without any input from the adults.

Having had a good look at the Curlew Sandpipers, we decided to make our way back to the Visitor Centre for lunch. On the way back along the path, a tiny Harvest Mouse shot across in front of us and disappeared into the grass the other side.

After lunch, we drove the short distance along to Walsey Hills. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Little Grebes were continually diving in the water on Snipe’s Marsh and two Green Sandpipers were feeding on the mud beyond, in front of the reeds. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling from over towards North Foreland Wood and we looked over at a dead tree on the front edge to see it perched towards the top.

Making our way up along the East Bank, another Little Grebe, an adult this time, was down on Don’s Pool. There were a few Dunlin on the Serpentine and a single Redshank, with a large group of Curlew mostly asleep in the grass beyond.

Suddenly the Curlew all took to the air, calling, and we turned to see a falcon chasing after a small wader in front of Arnold’s Marsh, a Hobby! The Hobby, a young bird and inexperienced, was shaken off by its target fairly quickly. It turned and came fast and low across the grass the other side of the Serpentine, and disappeared inland past us.

Hobby – chasing waders over Arnold’s, then turned and flew off inland

From the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh, we could see lots more Dunlin out in the water. They were very nervous after the Hobby had been through and flew up and whirled round a couple of times. A flash of a white rump in amongst them alerted us to a Curlew Sandpiper and when they finally settled down we could see it through the scopes. Otherwise, there were more Curlew and Redshank here.

A large mob of Sandwich Terns were roosting and preening around a couple of the low shingle islands in the middle, and kept spooking and flying up noisily too. A single Common Tern was in with then initially before deciding to socially isolate on an island of its own. It won’t be long now before all the terns will be leaving us and heading south to warmer climes for the winter.

Sandwich Terns – a large mob were roosting on Arnold’s Marsh

Out at the beach, more Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore. We picked up a few very distant Gannets and one or two Cormorants, but couldn’t see anything else on the sea today. However, a small flock of fifteen Knot did fly past just offshore, presumably migrants just arriving, probably heading for the Wash.

Back at Snipe’s Marsh, a Common Sandpiper had now appeared with the Green Sandpipers. A Wryneck had been reported at Weybourne again this afternoon, but by the sounds of things was very elusive – we didn’t have time to try now, one for tomorrow perhaps. We decided to try instead for the Little Stint which had apparently been reported on North Scrape earlier.

There had been a few Wheatears and Whinchats around Eye Field earlier, but we couldn’t see any from the beach car park. As we walked along the beach towards North Scrape, we came across a couple of people staring into the weedy vegetation on the shingle. They told us that a Wheatear had been seen in here, but they couldn’t find it. It was actually out on the stones just a couple of metres from them! Very tame, we had a great view of it before it disappeared back into the vegetation.

Wheatear – feeding out on the shingle on the beach at Cley

Further on, we came across some Whinchats and another Wheatear along the Eye Field fence. They kept flying on a short distance ahead of us and by the end of the field we had amassed four Whinchats in total. They eventually moved over into the vegetation on the shingle and perched on the tops eyeing us as we passed.

Whinchat – one of four along the edge of Eye Field, giving us a hard stare

Some movement down in the vegetation on the shingle ahead of us caught our eye and we caught the back end of a family of Weasels as they scuttled into cover.

There was no sign of the Little Stint on North Scrape, but there were lots of Dunlin, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, a single Greenshank down at the front and a lone Knot. While we were scanning the mud, we heard Whimbrel calling behind us and turned to see three flying in off the sea. They flew in over North Scrape, then turned and flew back out to the sea again, before flying back in once more.

It was time to start heading back now. We had seen a huge group of Red-legged Partridges in a stubble field way off inland as we were sitting at North Scrape – released en masse for shorting. Then as we walked back past Eye Field, a covey of Grey Partridge flew up from the grass close to the fence.

When we heard Whimbrel calling again, we looked over to see three flying in off the sea – hard to tell if they were new birds coming in or the same three we had seen earlier which had for some strange reason gone back out to sea. However, the two Gadwall we picked up coming in over the sea from some way out were certainly fresh arrivals, probably coming in from the continent for the winter.

Always great to see migration in action and a nice way to wrap up our first day.

23rd Aug 2020 – Back to Work, Wader Spectacular

After over 5 months of no tours due to Covid, it was good to get out with a small group again today – socially distanced and with due precautions of course. Tours from now on will operate as scheduled, but with reduced group sizes for the time being, so if you do want to come out with us in the coming months, please do get in touch.

A Wader Spectacular today, it was an early start to get up to the Wash ahead of the rising tide. We were blessed with good weather, a bit breezy first thing, but dry and bright with some sunny intervals, especially early afternoon.

The journey over to Snettisham out out to the edge of the Wash was uneventful. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was just coming in and a big expanse of mud still stretched off into the distance ahead of us. There was a large gathering of waders up to the north of us still, a big black slick of Oystercatchers, surrounded by Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A selection of smaller waders was down on the near edge of the mud below us, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Turnstones. A colour-ringed Curlew appeared with them, but flew again before we could read the code.

Oystercatchers 1

Oystercatchers – flying past, away from the rising tide

The water was coming in fast across the flats, and as it reached them the Oystercatchers and other waders started to take off, flying past us in long lines low. They headed out over the water before landing again in the middle of the still exposed mud to the south. Further out, a large flock of smaller waders whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light, and we looked up to see another mass of waders high overhead. Thousands of Golden Plovers, unlike the others, they feed in the fields and just go out onto the mud of the Wash as a safe place to roost.

In no time at all, all the mud in front of us had disappeared. We made our way further down along the seawall, passing several Sanderlings on the shingle below the bank on the way. The water had caught up with the mass of Oystercatchers again, and we watched for a while as they walked slowly across the mud, away from the rising tide. From a distance, it looked like the whole mass was a flowing liquid. Then we had to move further up still to keep ahead of the rapidly rising tide.

Oystercatchers 2

Oystercatchers – walking up the mud ahead of the tide

The Oystercatchers started to peel off, flying in past us in long lines, calling noisily, heading for the pit behind us to roost. There was still a bit of mud left uncovered and we could see lots of Curlews in the far corner, gathered on the dry mud on the edge of the saltmarsh. There was still no sign of the vast flocks of Knot gathering here, but we could see some smaller groups flying up occasionally further out, round the edge of the Wash – we figured the vast hordes were still gathered further out along the shore, out of sight.

We were still watching the Oystercatchers when a huge cloud appeared out in the distance. It looked like smoke at first, but as it came a little closer we could see it was tens of thousands of birds, mainly the Knot that we had been waiting for. Rather than landing on the remaining arc of mud closer to us, the birds decided to make an early beeline for the pits today and we stood in awe as they came overhead in waves, thousands, tens of thousands at time.

Waders 1

Waders – thousands of Knot coming in off the Wash

Waders 2

Waders – thousands of birds coming right overhead

We turned and watched the birds swirling over the pit behind us, the skies now chock full of birds. They were nervous – some started to drop down to roost, while others towered back up and turned into the wind, heading back out towards the Wash. More Knot were still flying in above us, coming in underneath the flocks which had turned back and were now high in the sky, layers of thousands of birds moving in different directions. We could hear the beating of thousands of pairs of wings over the wind – mesmerising!

Waders 3

Waders – thousands of Knot swirling over the pit

Some of the Knot landed back out on the Wash on the remaining mud, huddled in the last corner. We stood and waited and it wasn’t long before the rising tide eventually forced them off too, wave after wave, in overhead and down onto the pit. Then we turned and headed down to South Hide.

Waders 4

Waders – another wave, taking off from the Wash

Waders 5

Waders – thousands more, making their way in over our heads

The small temporary hide was rather busy today, so we waited outside. Thankfully it didn’t take long before enough people had left and we could get in (socially distanced, and wearing the required face coverings, of course). There was an impressive gathering of Knot on the islands in front of the hide, packed in tight shoulder to shoulder, still jostling nervously. Some still wearing the remains of their orange breeding plumage, but others already moulted into grey winter dress.

Knot

Knot – packed in shoulder to shoulder on the islands

Lots of Dunlin were gathered along the front of the hordes, in front of the Knot, many still sporting their black belly patches. Scanning through carefully, tucked in amongst them, we could see one which looked different, slightly larger, longer-billed, more neatly scaled on the back, and peachy buff on the breast, with a clean white belly. It was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, on its way from the breeding grounds way up in Central Siberia to spend the winter in Africa. Travelling on its own, its parents having left several weeks before, an impressive feat of hard-wired navigation. It was busy preening, and when it opened its wings we could see its distinctive white rump. When the crowd shuffled, it disappeared back into the throng.

Curlew Sandpiper 1

Curlew Sandpiper – showing its white rump, as it preened

The pit was covered in birds. The flatter islands were covered in Knot and Dunlin and the gravelly banks on the sides of the pit were covered in Oystercatchers, with Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks packed in along the shore below. There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here at this time of year, and we eventually found them out in the middle, roosting in the rocks in amongst the Cormorants and geese, rather distant from this end. A Moorhen with a brood of five small chicks worked its way round the edge of the pool below the hide and a Brown Hare ran across the grassy bank beyond.

Shore Hide looked emptier now, so we made our way back round. As we walked out beyond the boardwalk, a Common Swift flew past, heading south along the edge of the Wash. Many have left already, heading back to Africa after the breeding season, and just a few stragglers remain. A reminder that summer is almost over. A couple of Yellow Wagtails called and there were a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the grass as we passed.

There were a few terns on the small island in front of Shore Hide, mainly Common Terns, a mixture of adults and juveniles waiting for their parents to come back in from fishing out on the Wash, to be fed. Just a single Little Tern was in with them at first, smaller, yellow-billed and with a distinctive triangular white forehead patch. As we watched, more appeared, and by the time we left there were six Little Terns, including two juveniles. We later heard there had been quite a movement of Little Terns along the coast today.

Terns

Little Terns – in with the Common Terns in front of Shore Hide

There were a few waders at the back of the island, Black-tailed Godwits, plus Common Redshanks and a handful of Knot in with them. We had a better view of the Spotted Redshanks from here too, out in the middle, already in their silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. Mostly asleep, occasionally one would wake up briefly and flash its long needle-tipped bill. A scan with the scope of the mass of Knot and Dunlin gathered on the islands further out produced a brief view of a Little Stint, but unfortunately it disappeared back into the masses as quickly as it appeared, before anyone could get a look at it. A Common Sandpiper flew past calling.

The waders were already starting to shift nervously now, so we made our way back out to the edge of the Wash. Even as we walked out of the hide, a large flock of Knot took off behind us and headed low over the bank and back out over the water. Even though it was almost an hour after high tide, there was still no exposed mud though – possibly the rather fresh west wind was holding up the tide this morning. The Knot turned round and headed back into the pit, presumably telling the others there was still time to wait yet.

Scanning out across the water, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards and Kestrels on the posts out on the saltmarsh in the distance. Gradually the mud started to reappear and the Oystercatchers started to fly back out in lines, landing in the shallow water. The Curlews started to reappear from where they had roosted on the saltmarsh, and were joined by a long line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers, the latter still with their summer black faces and bellies.

The Knot were slow to leave the pit today but eventually the first wave erupted, coming up low over the bank, over our heads and out low over the water. Presumably because that wave didn’t return, after a while another mass then came up from the south end of the pit, the ones we had been watching from South Hide earlier, a long line of thousands and thousands of birds. A third wave came up from behind us and back out low over our heads, to the sound of thousands of pairs of wings beating – very impressive again.

Waders 6

Knot – thousands of birds heading back out to the Wash

Waders 7

Knot – an amazing spectacle, as they fly back out low overhead

As more mud appeared, some terns and gulls appeared out on the Wash – including a Sandwich Tern and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. There was still one island full of Knot left on the pit behind us, despite the vast numbers we had already watched fly back out to the Wash, but they were showing no signs of shifting. We decided to start making our ways back and it want until we were back past Rotary Hide that they flew back out behind us.

We made our way round to Titchwell next, but struggled to find anywhere to park at first. Half the car park is still closed off, as part of Covid measures, but with much higher numbers of staycationing visitors here this year, with correspondingly more beachgoers and dogwalkers wanting to park, it is resulting in a major squeeze in parking spaces. Hopefully at some point soon, the rest of the car park will be opened. While the group went off to the picnic area for lunch, eventually a space was secured.

We ate our lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area. Several Common Darters and a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies were basking on the benches in the sun. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling in the sallows. After a break, we headed out to the reserve, past the Visitor Centre and out along the main West Bank path.

As we got out of the trees, we could feel the wind had dropped and it was very pleasant out on the path now. A Marsh Harrier flew in over the saltmarsh from the direction of Thornham, flushing a few Curlew and Lapwing. Two bright white Little Egrets stood out in the vegetation.

We stopped to look at the reedbed pool, which held a few Gadwall, Mallard and Coot. A pair of Mute Swans were in the channel just beyond. We had started to walk on, when we looked back to see a Great White Egret dropping into the reeds at the back.

Out at the Freshmarsh, we stayed out in the sunshine and scanned from the bank. After the blustery westerly winds of the last few days, the water had been blown back and the mud closest to us was getting rather dry. Still, there were a few Ruff feeding below us along the edge of the reeds, a tawny brown juvenile and a very different-looking adult, paler, white below and grey above.

Ruff

Ruff – a grey and white adult feeding on the mud below the bank

There were several little groups of Dunlin scattered around the edges of the islands and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper loosely associating with one of them, although it seemed to prefer to feed on its own on the mud closer to the path.

Curlew Sandpiper 2

Curlew Sandpiper – our second juvenile of the day, feeding on the Freshmarsh

Five large white shapes on one of the islands further back were Spoonbills, and doing what they like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally one would wake up briefly, just long enough to flash its long spoon-shaped bill – we could see a mixture of juveniles, with fleshy bills and at least one adult, with a yellow-tipped black bill. A few Golden Plover were in with the moulting ducks nearby. There were still plenty of Avocets scattered around too.

The Great White Egret appeared above the reeds before dropping back down again. Then the next time it flew up it came out and landed in the open on the mud. It didn’t stay long though, and flew straight back towards the reedbed pool. We could easily have spent the whole afternoon here, but we didn’t have much time so we decided to walk on towards the beach.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh – a few Redshank and Curlew in the channel at the far end and a Little Egret fishing in the water on the corner, occasionally lifting its yellow feet out so we could see them. The Tidal Pools were still rather full, despite the tide being out now – they don’t seem to be draining freely again.

We were looking out over the water when one of the group spotted a Wheatear on a post behind us. It dropped down to feed on the dead vegetation washed in by the tide, before flying back up to the post flashing its white rump and then posing nicely for us. A migrant on its way south, just stopping off here. A flock of Linnets perched in the top of the suaeda nearby.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a fresh migrant, feeding on the saltmarsh by the Tidal Pools

It was time to head back. As we walked past the Freshmarsh, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but they remained tucked down out of sight in the reeds, presumably working their way along the the muddy edge right at the bottom. A Reed Bunting was more obliging and perched up in the tops. Back at the reedbed pool, the Great White Egret was just visible, standing stock still, fishing, just behind the reeds at the front. We had a better view of its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing in the Reedbed Pool, close to the main path

It had been a great day – the amazing spectacle of the waders on the Wash and a very pleasant couple of hours at Titchwell afterwards. A perfect way to restart the Autumn Tours.

 

16th Mar 2020 – Last of the Brecks

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. With Government advice to limit travel and social interactions in the light of the worsening Covid-19 epidemic coming after we finished today, this will be the last of any Bird Tours for the next few weeks, though we didn’t know it at the time. Blissfully unaware, we had a great day out – it was mostly cloudy but dry, with some brighter intervals around the middle of the day, and light winds.

Having met in the car park at Lynford, where a Chiffchaff was singing in the trees, we drove off into the Forest to look for Woodlarks. As we pulled up by a clearing and got out, we could hear one singing straight away and picked it up perched high in a deciduous tree on the far side. There were a lot of dog walkers out this morning though, enjoying the better weather today, and someone walked along the path under the trees where the Woodlark was singing and it dropped down into the middle of the clearing.

Another Woodlark dropped into the trees right behind us now, calling. We got the scopes on it quickly, but it was off again before everyone could get a look at it. It flew over and landed in another tree a short distance down the ride, so we walked down for a closer look. Again, we had a good look at it through the scopes but it was quickly on the move again, flying over us and away over the trees.

The first Woodlark was back in the trees on the far side again, so we decided to set off round in that direction. A Mistle Thrush was singing away in a wood over the field and we could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling. Before we could get to it, the Woodlark dropped down to the ground. When we got round to where it had landed, we stopped and started to scan. We couldn’t find any sign of it at first, but we did notice a flock of Redwings had flown up into the top of a large tree over by the car park now, so we got the scopes on them.

While we were watching the Redwings, the Woodlark flushed from further along the path and flew off over the clearing. This time it fluttered up into the sky and we could hear it singing high over our heads. We watched it flying round over the clearing, singing, noting its distinctive short-tailed, round-winged silhouette. When it dropped sharply back down to the ground, it landed on the top of one of the young pine trees where this time it lingered long enough to get a better look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – landed in the top of a young pine tree

There were lots of Yellowhammers around the clearing too today. On the way back round, a nice bright male was perched in the top of an oak tree by the path. Having enjoyed good views of the Woodlarks, we decided to move on.

As it was not too far from here, we decided to head over to Fincham next. As we drove up along Black Drove, we couldn’t see anything on the wires. A car was parked further up and someone was standing next to it with a scope set up. As we pulled up alongside, he told us the Great Grey Shrike had been around earlier but had just disappeared. We drove further up and scanned the bushes and hedges and by the time we had turned around and come back the shrike had reappeared.

We parked on the verge and got out, setting up our scopes on the Great Grey Shrike which was now perched obligingly on a bare branch on a tree the far side of the field. We watched it for a while, periodically dropping down to the ground to look for food before flying up into the top of another small tree further along the edge of the field.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – hunting from the tops of the young trees across the field

There was lots of other activity here too. Several Skylarks were singing and a pair of Lapwings were displaying out in the fields. Further back, we could see several Roe Deer lying down in front of a distant hedge. A pair of Brown Hares were over to one side of the field in front of us and, when a third Hare came running over the three of them stood looking at each other for a minute for setting off on a chase.

The Hares kept stopping and looking at each other. One did a bit of shadow boxing then there were some full on fisticuffs between a couple of them, all interspersed with chasing round. When the third Hare was finally seen off, the remaining pair chased each other, the male running after the female, but she was not interested in his advances and kept kicking out at him whenever he got close.

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – of the ‘Mad March’ variety

It was brightening up now and we knew this would be our best chance of seeing a Goshawk today, so we drove back into the Forest. It was not ideal conditions, with very little wind, but at least it was warming up nicely as parked overlooking the trees. Good numbers of Common Buzzards were already circling up – we had nine together above our heads at one point, even engaging in a bit of swooping display.

The first Goshawk we picked up was quite distant, circling above the trees away to our left, but it was good to get one in the bag early on. It was clearly a different shape to the Common Buzzards, paler below and greyer above. Then another one appeared off to our right. It was thermalling up with a small group of Common Buzzards and quickly gained height until it was way up in the sky.

The third Goshawk was a little closer, but circled up rapidly too before turning and flying in across the road away to our right. They were not displaying much today, probably, due to the lack of wind, but this latest one did break into a short burst of slow flapping display as it flew across. A very distant Sparrowhawk did put on a bit of rollercoaster display, while a second one a bit closer was just circling up like the Goshawks, but clearly smaller and slighter and with a more pinched in tail.

The surprise of the morning was a Merlin which shot across in front of the trees at the back of the field, disappearing from view before reappearing as it flew over the road and out across the fields behind us. They are scarce in winter this far inland, so this was a real bonus to see one here.

Otherwise, there were lots of Skylarks singing here and Yellowhammers, Linnets and Meadow Pipits flying in and out of the fields. A mixed flock of Fieldfares and Starlings kept dropping out of the pines and into the back of the field behind us.

The Stone Curlews have just started to return to the Brecks and we planned to have a quick drive round before lunch to see if we could find one. Someone else we knew had gone on ahead to do the same, so it was very helpful when we received a message to say that he had found one. We drove straight over and were soon watching it out in a stony field.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – a recent arrival back in the Brecks

By the time we got there, we were told there were actually three Stone Curlews, but the other two were down in the furrows and not visible from where we were standing. Still, we figured one was enough for us and eventually one of the others did stand up so we could see two of them together.

We went round to Brandon for lunch. It was brighter now and it felt rather spring-like eating outside on the picnic tables. A Nuthatch was piping up in the trees and one or two tits were coming and going from the feeders. After lunch, we walked down to the lake. There were five Mandarin here today, a pair on the platform on the outside of the duck house and another three, two males and a female, on the water over the far side, which swam over to join the others as we walked up.

Mandarin

Mandarin – one of five on the lake today

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. As we walked in, a Nuthatch flew up from the ground by the entrance where some food had been put out and up into a nearby pine tree. In contrast, there was no food left on the ground further along, looking down under the trees from the gate, and there were very few birds here today. We continued on down to the paddocks.

A male Hawfinch was down on the ground under the first hornbeam when we arrived, but it was just over a small ridge and in the long grass we could only see its head up occasionally. A greyer female then appeared under the tree too, a little easier to see than the male.

We could hear the quiet ticking calls of a Hawfinch in the trees and looked across to see two males now in the middle hornbeam. Through the scope, we had a much better view of these before they dropped down through the branches and we lost sight of them.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – there were at least four in the paddocks this afternoon

We picked up a Hawfinch in the ash trees next, but it quickly dropped down and we realised there were at least three now feeding on the ground below. Again, they seemed to know how to hide and were mostly just over a low ridge in the grass. When they flew up into the trees we couldn’t see them from where we were, so we walked up to the far end of the paddocks and found them again in the third hornbeam. They were a bit more distant from here, but they were now not moving so quickly, perched in the branches preening.

There were a couple of Mistle Thrushes in the paddocks too, and we could see them out on the grass from here. A few Redwings flew in and landed high in the trees. Two Grey Herons came up from the direction of the lake.

Back at the bridge, there were lots of birds coming and going from the food on the bridge. We stood for a while and watched and had great views of Siskins here today, with several birds on the feeders, and a selection of tits including Marsh Tits and Long-tailed Tits feeding on the fat in the coconut shells. A Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Treecreeper didn’t linger long enough for everyone to see them.

Siskin

Siskin – we had great views of them today, coming down to the feeders

The Little Grebe was laughing madly again from the reeds behind us, so we took a quick walk along the path which runs down beside the lake. It was out on the front edge of the reeds at first, but dived as soon as it saw us and then tried to hide in the vegetation. We could just see it in the reeds as it resurfaced. There were a couple of Gadwall in with the Mallards on the water and Canada Geese and Greylags on the lawn in front of the hotel.

As we made our way back up through the Arboretum, we stopped to look at the Tawny Owl perched high in its usual tree. There was only one there again today, and it had managed to tuck itself even further in amongst the branches, but with a bit of trial and error we found an angle where we could get a scope on it. A Goldcrest was flitting around high in the trees nearby.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – well hidden in its usual tree today

Back up at the gate, there was still very little activity down on the ground under the trees. Looking in the blackthorn on the other side, on the edge of the orchard, we could see at least seven Yellowhammers in the white blossom. There were several Chaffinches too, but we couldn’t find any Bramblings here today – presumably they were feeding elsewhere, given the lack of food on the ground.

Unfortunately, it was time to call it a day now. It was just a short walk back to the car park, where we had started the day and where we now bade our farewells.

14th Mar 2020 – Back to Breckland

A scheduled group Brecks Tour today. The overnight rain took slightly longer to clear through this morning than forecast, but once it did the rest of the day was mostly dry and even brightened up nicely around the middle of the day.

It was still drizzling lightly when we met down in the Brecks and as we drove round and pulled up by a clearing in the forest. There were no Woodlarks singing when we arrived, so we stopped to scan the paddocks opposite. A small group of Redwings was feeding down on the grass and a single bright male Brambling was in with some Chaffinches.

A Green Woodpecker was yaffling from somewhere in the trees – it was unusually vocal this morning and its calls followed us round continually all the time we were here. A pair of Marsh Tits called to each other but moved through the trees in the back of the parking area very quickly. A Treecreeper paused slightly longer, working its way up the trunks of a couple of the trees before flying off.

Once the drizzle had stopped, we set off to walk round the clearing. There was no shortage of Yellowhammers here this morning – singing, calling, perching very obligingly in the tops of the trees. But we couldn’t find any sign of the Woodlarks, either round the clearing or feeding in the field next door where they can usually be found. Given the weather, they had probably gone off to find somewhere sheltered. A Mistle Thrush was singing from the trees across the field.

We decided to try our luck in the next clearing a little further down the ride into the forest. At first, here too all we could find were more Yellowhammers but as we walked along the back of the clearing a pair of Woodlarks came in over the trees behind us. We watched as they fluttered across, short-tailed, and appeared to drop down on the edge of the ride.

When we got back round to the ride, we could see the male Woodlark perched on a tussock on the verge. We got it in the scopes and had a good look at it, before it walked quietly into the long grass. We then walked slowly down the ride to where it had disappeared and could now see the pair feeding quietly between the rows of young trees. It was a great opportunity to compare the two – the male with a brighter pale supercilium and rustier ear coverts. We could also see the distinctive way their supercilia met in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – we watched the pair feeding quietly in the grass

While we were watching the Woodlarks, a large flock of Redwings came low over the tops of the pines nearby. They have been on the move recently, coming back across the country ahead of making the journey back to Scandinavia for the breeding season, and these were probably migrants which were stopping off here. A Sparrowhawk shot fast and low out of the trees and across the track.

Rather like buses, there were now Woodlarks everywhere! As we walked back along the ride to the first clearing, we could now hear one singing here too. We found it perched in the top of a tree right at the back, but still through the scope we could see its bill opening and closing as it sang. Then another pair of Woodlarks flew up from the clearing and landed in a tree close to us, where we could see the female was carrying nesting material.

When the female Woodlark dropped down to the ground, the male flew to another tree right by the path, where it perched preening and singing quietly. We had fill the frame views through the scope now, with a good look at its extraordinary long hind claws.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – singing quietly in a tree while the female fed on the ground below

Having finally enjoyed such great views of the Woodlarks, we decided to head straight round to try our luck with Goshawks next. It was still very grey and cloudy, with a fresh wind blowing, but at least there was a vague hint of some paler cloud to the west.

As we parked at a spot overlooking the forest, our prospects didn’t immediately look promising. There were not even any Common Buzzards up now. There were several Skylarks singing, a pair of Lapwings displaying behind us, a Curlew feeding in a recently ploughed strip and two Brown Hares in a field. A large flock of Fieldfares flew in over our heads tchacking loudly and landed in the tops of the trees behind us, where we could get the scopes on them. There were a few more Redwings in with them too – we could hear their teeezing calls as the flew over. More winter thrushes on the move.

Gradually, one or two Common Buzzards came up although they were not gaining any great height this morning. A few crumbs of encouragement perhaps. Then the clouds changed from dark grey to light grey and that was all that was needed. A male Goshawk circled up out of the trees. Its white undertail coverts were fluffed out and it started to fly with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, displaying.

That would have been good enough on its own today, but then another Goshawk appeared over the trees closer to us. Through the scopes we could see this one was browner above and more buffy-coloured below, a young bird from last year, now in its second calendar year, and it was big too, a female. It started to display as well, presumably the reason why the male had come up to remind the youngster that this was its territory. We could get both birds in the scopes displaying at one point, and then the male turned and chased after the young female, and we lost sight of both of them behind the trees.

Goshawk

Goshawk – this 2cy female was one of 4 up this morning

Scanning over the trees again now, we realised there was another pair of Goshawks up displaying much further over. We had gone from none to four up displaying in a matter of minutes. A distant Marsh Harrier circling up was more of a surprise to see here. Then the young female Goshawk appeared above the tops of the trees in front of us again and we turned our attention back to that. It had clearly not learnt its lesson!

Eventually, when the last Goshawk disappeared from view, we decided to move on. Someone told us there had been a couple of Stone Curlews around earlier, so we decided to go looking to see if we could find them. They are only just returning now. As we drove up the road, several Roe Deer were flushed out of the trees by a truck driving through them and scattered out across the fields beside the road. A couple of Shelduck were on the edge of a flooded dip in a field beside the road.

Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Stone Curlews now (we were warned there had been a Land Rover driving across the field earlier) and all we could find were a couple of Oystercatchers. We tried another nearby field they often favour, but there was no sign of any there either, although we did find a pair of Grey Partridge in the gateway to the field opposite. Back round the other side of the first field, another quick scan failed too. One or two Tree Sparrows were calling in the hedge here.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way over to Brandon. With the sun now just about shining, it was nice eating out on the picnic tables, where a Nuthatch was piping in the trees. Afterwards, a quick walk down to the lake produced a couple of pairs of Mandarin Ducks, with one of them feeding out on the grass and the other on the water in the reeds. A Goldcrest was singing in the fir trees above us.

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – a smart drake, one of four birds still today

We didn’t want to run the risk of missing the Hawfinches, so we made our way straight round to Lynford Arboretum after lunch. As we walked in along the track, two people waved at us from the gate to say a Hawfinch was showing from there. When we got over, there was indeed a female Hawfinch down on the ground not very far from us. A great view!

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – this female was on the ground in front of the gate when we arrived

All the birds spooked and flew up into the trees, but after a minute or so the Hawfinch dropped down again, just a little further back. We watched it hopping around, picking at the seed put down in the leaves for a couple of minutes before everything spooked again. We waited for a while, watching all the other birds coming and going, but the Hawfinch did not come back a third time.

There were plenty of other birds here though – with several Bramblings feeding down with the Chaffinches. They have been in short supply this winter, so it is always great to see some and one or two were very close again today. There were several Yellowhammers too, a Nuthatch, and a selection of tits, all coming down to feed.

Brambling

Brambling – good views of several of these too, from the gate

Despite having enjoyed good views of the female Hawfinch from the gate, we still headed down to the paddocks to see if we could see some more. There were at least six more here, including at least four smart males, more richly chestnut coloured than the greyer-brown females. They were all up in the hornbeams when we arrived, so we got the scopes on them and admired their huge, cherry stone-cracking bills.

It was hard to tell exactly how many there were, with some hidden in amongst the tangles of branches and with other birds flying back and forth between the trees. Some of the Hawfinches then flew over to the first hornbeam and dropped down to feed on the ground. We had good views of a male and female feeding together here.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – we watched some feeding under the trees in the paddocks

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Hawfinches and we walked back to the bridge. There had been no food put out when we walked down, but we had sprinkled a couple of generous handfuls of sunflower seeds out earlier and there was now a steady procession of birds coming and going.

As well as the ever present Blue Tits and Great Tits, a couple of Long-tailed Tits popped in briefly and a Marsh Tit kept darting in and out. A Nuthatch would have come in too, but some people were standing too close to the pillar and it kept shooting past and not stopping, landing instead in the trees either side. There were several Siskins in the alders here too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – reluctant to come in to the seed, with people standing too close

A Little Grebe was laughing madly from the reeds in the lake behind us, so we had a quick walk down beside the water. We couldn’t find the Little Grebe in the reeds but we did find another one diving under the overhanging branches in the middle of the lake. We got the scope on a drake Gadwall to admire the intricacy of the patterns of its feathers.

As we made our way back through the Arboretum, we stopped to look at the Tawny Owl in its usual tree. There was only one here today, and it was well hidden in the branches high in the tree, but after some trial and error we found a good angle where we could get a half decent view of it through the scopes. A Goldcrest was flitting around high in the fir trees above us while we were watching it.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – just one today, well hidden in its usual tree

We still had enough time to fit in a quick trip up to Fincham to see if we could see the Great Grey Shrike. There was no one else there when we arrived and no sign of the shrike on the wires, but as we pulled up by a gap in the hedge we scanned across the field beside us and could see it perched in the top of a young oak tree over the far side. We all piled out and had good views of it through the scopes. A scarce winter visitor here from Scandinavia, it may not be too long now before it heads off on its journey back north.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – perched in the top of a young oak tree when we arrived

After a while, the Great Grey Shrike flew across to another tree, where we could still just see it through the lower branches of a big oak closer to us. After some last admiring glances, it was time to head back. It was a suitably good bird to wrap up another good day’s birding in the Brecks.