24th Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was another bright, sunny and warm day, great weather to be out birding on the coast. It felt almost like summer at last!

We met in Wells and headed west along the coast to Titchwell. When we arrived, the main car park was already filling up fast, so we parked in the overflow car park, which was still relatively quiet. We decided to have a quick look round to see what we could find before it got too busy.

There were lots of finches in the bushes. We flushed a couple of Greenfinches from the brambles, a Chaffinch perched up in a dead tree in the morning sun and a small group of Goldfinches circled over. A series of plaintive calls alerted us to a couple of Bullfinches flying over. One Bullfinch was left behind, a male, and followed on after the others, flashing pink underneath in the sunlight.

But the real surprise was to follow. Another bird flew up from the trees – it immediately looked bigger, heavier, short-tailed and when we got it in our binoculars we could see a bold white bar  through the middle of the wings and a large bill. It was a Hawfinch! It circled round over the car park so we could all get a good look at it, then flew off high to the east. Hawfinches are rare birds in North Norfolk these days (we have a breeding population in the Brecks still), so this was a migrant, possibly fresh in from the continent. A great one to see!

A Blackcap was a bit more of a predictable find here, but still a nice bird to catch up with, particularly as we got a good view of a male, which was flitting around and feeding in the brambles. A small group of Swallows flew over the car park, heading west. These were the first we had seen this weekend. Most of the Swallows have already gone, but there were still a few on the move today, on their way to Africa for the winter.

BlackcapBlackcap – a male, feeding in the brambles in the car park

There had been a Pied Flycatcher and a Yellow-browed Warbler reported here yesterday, so we kept our eyes open for them today. The former had been seen in the picnic area but it wad all quiet as we made our way past this morning. We had a quick look at the feeders on our way past, which produced a selection of Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits.

We decided to walk along Fen Trail first, to see if we could find anything in the trees. We did find a flock of tits in the sallows. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest calling, but there was no sign of anything else with them.

Continuing on to Patsy’s Reedbed, we sat down at the screen and scanned the water. There was a nice selection of ducks on here, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. This is also a good place for diving ducks at the moment, and we added Common Pochard and Tufted Duck to our weekend’s list. There were three Little Grebes diving out on the water too. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds beyond.

Another small group of six more Swallows flew in while we were sitting at the screen and continued on west. As we walked on along East Trail, another Swallow came in and circled over our heads. But that was all the hirundines we were to see today, and the small movement of Swallows dried up as the morning progressed.

Round at the end of Autumn Trail, there were three juvenile Ruff on the mud down at the front. One was noticeably darker brown than the others – they are very variable! It was an early high tide today and a big tide, so we thought we might find some Spotted Redshanks roosting on the freshmarsh. Sure enough, there they were, seven of them. They were mostly fast asleep, although occasionally one would wake up and flash its needle fine bill. There was a Common Redshank asleep with them and despite the fact we couldn’t see much of it, we could still see that it was much darker, greyer, than the Spotted Redshank next to it.

Just as we were all getting onto the Spotted Redshanks, which involved walking back a short distance along the path to be able to see obver the reeds, we heard Bearded Tits calling and looked back to where we had just been standing to see three of them climbing up the reed stems, two smart males and a female. Half the group raced back to get a closer look at the Bearded Tits, while the other half stayed put watching the Spotted Redshanks. A Water Rail squealed from deep in reeds too.

Bearded TitsBearded Tits – 2 of the 3 which showed well at the end of Autumn Trail, both males

As we walked back along the path, a Sparrowhawk came over our heads, flapping and gliding, and disappeared into the sallows. A Kingfisher flew across from the direction of Patsy’s, over the path in front of us and disappeared over the hedge, too quick for most of the group to get onto unfortunately. It seemed an odd direction to be heading, there are only fields that way. We made our way slowly along Fen Trail and round onto Meadow Trail, scanning the trees, but there was nothing of note in the sallows beyond the usual tits and a couple of Chiffchaffs. A Sparrowhawk flushed from the trees ahead of us, possibly the one we had seen earlier.

As we got out onto the main path and clear of the trees, a small group of people were looking out across the grazing marsh. A Whinchat was perched on the top of a large bramble clump. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, admiring its well marked supercilium, before it flew down into the grass and disappeared. A distant Common Buzzard was perched on a post at the back.

WhinchatWhinchat – perched on the brambles out on the grazing marsh

The Thornham grazing marsh pool still looks rather sad with very little water on it, but there was a lone Stock Dove out there today. The reedbed pool held just a group of Mallard, but the drakes are looking rather smart already, as they emerge early from drab eclipse plumage. Another Kingfisher called and flew round twice over the reeds – this time everyone got onto it and had a good look. A single Grey Plover was on Lavendar Pool.

Out at Island Hide, there were more Ruffs right in front of the hide. There were several juveniles but also one or two paler, grey/white adults. The adult Ruffs were rather aggressive towards the juveniles, chasing them out of their particular area of mud if they strayed too close. There were both male and female Ruff too, the females being considerably smaller, just to add to the confusing array of plumages.

RuffRuff – a brown juvenile, feeding in front of Island Hide

There were other waders too. Three Avocet out in the middle were our first of the weekend. Most of the Avocets which bred here, or came here post breeding, have gone already, most likely down to one of the estuaries further south in UK. A long line of Godwits, mostly asleep, included lots of Bar-tailed Godwits which had flown in from the beach to roost over high tide, and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits with them. There were a few Golden Plover standing around on the islands too.

Two Little Stints were with a couple of Dunlin in amongst the ducks on one of the islands. They were a little distant, but we had a good look at them through the scope. Then we looked across to the edge of the reeds and saw another Little Stint tucked in on the edge of the vegetation. Just at that moment, something spooked it and it flew out and landed in with a flock of Lapwings in the muddy water just out from the shore. Compared to the Lapwings and Redshanks next to it, we could really see just how tiny the Little Stint was.

Little StintLittle Stint – looked really tiny in with the much larger Lapwings

One of the group had asked about Yellow-legged Gulls earlier and we managed to find one today. It has been hanging around Titchwell on and off for a while now, and was in its usual place on one of the islands. Unfortunately, the Yellow-legged Gull was fast asleep, sat down on the mud so we couldn’t see its legs! One clue to its identity was the shade of its mantle, noticeably darker than the Black-headed Gulls all around it.

There are plenty of ducks out on the freshmarsh again now, mostly Wigeon and Teal which have started to return in numbers from their breeding grounds. The drakes are all in their drab eclipse plumage at the moment. There are more Brent Geese around too now, and we saw several small group flying in and out between the saltmarsh and the freshmarsh today.

There was not enough time to get out to the beach and back in time for lunch, so we made our way back from Island Hide, planning to come out again afterwards. The Pied Flycatcher had been reported here earlier but there was no sign now. We scanned the trees while we ate, just in case.

After lunch, we set out again to walk out to the beach. As we passed the reedbed, a Hobby zipped through, low between the bushes. We could hear more Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds. We had a quick look at the freshmarsh again, but there was no sign of anything new having arrived since we last looked.

There were a few more waders on the Volunteer Marsh today. The first bird we set our eyes on was a Lapwing, right down on the front corner of mud, just below the path. It looked absolutely stunning in the sun, its upperparts shining metallic green,bronze, purple as it caught the light. They really are one of our smartest birds!

LapwingLapwing – at the front of Volunteer Marsh, looking stunning in the sunshine

A Curlew and a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding between the main path and Parrinder Hide, giving a good view of the two species. A Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the channel, just below the path. It was still moulting out of breeding plumage, with lots of rusty feathers still below and .dark centred feathers in its upperparts. As we walked towards it, the Black-tailed Godwit looked nervous, and walked up the muddy bank into the edge of the saltmarsh. It wasn’t us, as a Hobby flew in across the Volunteer Marsh just at that point, continuing on over Parrinder Hide and disappeared from view.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – still moulting out of rusty breeding plumage

As we got to the channel at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, there were several more godwits. This time there were two more of each – 2 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits. We had a great view of the two species side by side.

Bar-tailed GodwitBar-tailed Godwit – 1 of 2 on the near edge of Volunteer Marsh today

Out at the Tidal Pools, there were yet more waders – more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. There was a small roost of waders on one of the spits – Grey Plovers, Turnstones and a single Knot, an adult still moulting out of breeding plumage, still sporting quite a lot of orange on its underparts.

WadersWaders – roosting out on the Tidal Pools over high tide

Part of the reason we had gone straight out to the beach was to try to see a Purple Sandpiper which had been roosting on the old concrete bunker out on the sand. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found six or seven kids climbing all over it. Needless to say, the Purple Sandpiper had gone. We scanned the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, just in case it had gone that way, but we only found more Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Turnstone and Oystercatchers. The sea was flat calm and we managed to find a Great Crested Grebe and two Common Scoter out on the water.

We didn’t stay long out at the beach, but headed back to Parrinder Hide instead. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding along the edge just to the left of the hide. One flew across and landed in the vegetation the other side, but the other stayed put and worked its way gradually towards us, giving us a great view of it. The two Little Stints were still out on the edge of the islands.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – showing very well from Parrinder Hide

Lots of Black-headed Gulls started flying in to bathe, but despite looking through them carefully there was nothing different in with them today. There was a scattering of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails around the islands. A Hobby flashed past again, this time low down right in front of the hide. Stunning!

While we were out at the beach, the Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported again in the picnic area. We walked back to see if we could catch up with it, but there was no sign of the tit flock it had reportedly been with. We walked round via the entrance track and round the trees to see if we could relocate it, but we couldn’t. We made our way back to the picnic area, to see if anything might reappear. We sat there for a while and rested our weary legs for a while, scanning the trees to see if wither would come in. But there was still no sign. A Red Kite drifted over.

Red KiteRed Kite – drifted over the picnic area late afternoon

Finally, we had to call it a day and head for home. It had been a great three days, with a good total of birds seen, including several nice rare or scarce species. Great stuff!

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23rd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather was not as good as yesterday, cloudy with a bit of very light drizzle on and off first thing. But it dried out quickly and then even brightened up in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. There was no sign of the Cattle Egret in the field with the cows where we saw it yesterday, but then it does seem to be a late riser. As we parked the car, three Common Buzzards were hanging in the air over the small copse by the road.

The field by the permissive path has been recently cultivated and there were quite a few Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings in there this morning. As we walked along the path, we noticed some Stock Doves too. They were hard to see through the hedge so we continued on to the copse at the end and looked back. There were at least six of them and we had a good look at a couple of them in the scope, even though they had flown further over as we walked past. They were with a few Woodpigeons, allowing a good comparison.

Stock DovesStock Doves – there were at least 6 in this field this morning

Down on the footpath along the river, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling. A male Blackcap flicked ahead of us through the trees on the bank, but was hard to see in all the leaves. A Cetti’s Warbler was trying to sing from the brambles the other side of the river, but hadn’t quite got it right yet. A Kingfisher called from deep in the thickest part of the trees beside the water.

As we got to the point where there is a gap in the trees and we could see over to the Fen, we noticed two large white shapes in the water amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were two Spoonbills. We found a point from where we could get one of them in the scope and it was a juvenile, with a dull, fleshy coloured bill. The second Spoonbill walked back to join it and we could see it was an adult, with a longer black bill with a distinct yellow tip.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – 1 of 2 at the Fen today, this one a juvenile

The two Spoonbills had a good preen and then started to walk out view behind the reeds, the adult having a quick look for food on the way, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. There have been large numbers of Spoonbills here in recent weeks, adults and juveniles dispersing from the breeding colony at Holkham. Presumably as birds have started to head off south for the winter, the number has steadily declined so it was nice to see two still here today.

Having had a good look at the Spoonbills, we made our way on and up onto the seawall. The tide was still in and it was a big high tide today, so the channel and harbour the other side were full of water. Normally, this means that many of the waders from the harbour are roosting on the Fen, but there were actually fewer than normal on here today. They had obviously gone off to roost elsewhere.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Fen today – mostly Wigeon and Teal. A couple of Pintail were right down at the front of all the ducks, noticeably larger than the Teal just behind. The drakes of all these species are in their rather drab eclipse plumage at the moment, so they are not looking at their best. There were a few Gadwall too, and the drakes of these are already looking a lot smarter, as they moult earlier.

At this point, it had started to spit with drizzle, so we decided to walk a little further along the seawall. We looked back into the corner of the Fen and could see around 20 Greenshanks roosting in their usual spot. Unlike the godwits and Redshanks, they had come in as normal today. The Kingfisher called again and we turned to see it shooting across the seawall and disappearing out across the saltmarsh.

With the tide so high, we thought it might be difficult to see any waders roosting around the harbour this morning. Looking across in that direction, we spotted a pair of Brent Geese swimming past and behind them we noticed a group of waders roosting, including a Grey Plover still in breeding plumage. So we decided to head round there for a closer look. As we got to the bushes at the end of the seawall, we could hear a Goldcrest calling, presumably a migrant out here. It stayed tucked down out of the drizzle and we didn’t see it.

As we got round to the harbour, the group of waders took off and started to whirl round over the water in a tight flock. Thankfully, most of them landed again and through the scope we could see they were mostly Turnstones and a few Dunlin too. The smart Grey Plover had disappeared, but scanning along the southern edge we found several more Grey Plover roosting and, through the scope, we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits asleep too. An Oystercatcher walked up into view. Out on the tip of Blakeney Point, we could see all the seals hauled out, Grey Seals and Common Seals.

Possibly the same two Brent Geese we had seen earlier then flew in and landed in the harbour channel in front of us. We had a great look at them, presumably a pair, with the larger male sporting a particularly bold white half collar. The Brent Geese are only now returning for the winter, as we saw yesterday, and there are still only small numbers back here so far.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – this pair landed in the harbour channel in front of us

We had been scanning the boats periodically to see if the Kingfisher might be perched on one of them, as it sometimes likes to do, and on one scan we spotted it perched on the roof of an old boat out on the saltmarsh. Unfortunately, just as we tried to get it in the scope, it flew again. It hovered high over one of the saltmarsh channels for a couple of seconds before dropping back down out of view.

As we made our way back to the seawall, we could see one of the Spoonbills circling round. It dropped back down below the bank, but when we got up there we couldn’t see them where they had been on the Fen. A minute or so later, they flew up from behind the reeds, circled round in front of us, and disappeared off towards Morston, holding their necks and bills stretched out in front of them. A few more waders had appeared on the Fen – more Ruff, a handful of Redshank and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits, but it was still quieter than it should normally be.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – a rather tatty individual, basking in the sun

It had brightened up a bit as we walked back along the path towards the road. A tit flock flicked ahead of us through the sallows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called. A small group of Greenfinches flew up from the brambles. There were a few butterflies and dragonflies out now – Red Admiral and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sunshine.

After our experience yesterday, we thought it might be worth another look to see if the Cattle Egret had reappeared. We continued on down the permissive path which leads to the field where the cows are. As we turned the corner and saw all the cattle we immediately noticed a white bird in with them. The Cattle Egret had returned.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – back with the cows later this morning

It was a much better view of the Cattle Egret from here, rather than viewing from the car on the road. We had a good look through the scope, noting its small yellow bill. It also had a wash of light orange on the crown, but otherwise looked quite white. The cows were all being rather lazy, sitting down, so the Cattle Egret wandered off through the grass and back to the ditch beyond. There were a couple of Grey Herons here too.

A couple of members of the group had asked about the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, which had been at Burnham Overy since last Sunday, and were talking about possibly going down after we finished this evening to try to see it. It had not been reported today and has been a real skulker anyway, as is typical for the species – others have stood for 4-5 hours and not seen it. There has also been some trouble with twitchers cutting wire fences and trespassing in the fields to try to see it, so we have been steering clear of the site this week. But we had an hour to spare before lunch and it is a nice walk out beside the harbour, so we decided to head round that way. At least then, the group members concerned could see the lie of the land.

The tide had gone out now so we parked in the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe. We were just setting off when we looked up to see a Peregrine fly overhead and out across the channel. It was a young one, brown above and streaked below, and small so probably a male.We watched it fly off across the saltmarsh. As we got up onto the seawall, there were lots of Starlings and House Sparrows in the bushes. A Jay flew across the field beyond. A smart male Kestrel was perched in the top of the hedge and we got a great look at it before it finally took off.

KestrelKestrel – perched in the hedge at Burnham Overy Staithe

There were lots of waders out in the harbour as we walked out along the seawall. We stopped periodically to look through them. There were quite a few Ringed Plover out on the sandbank and a Grey Plover too. On the bank beyond, we could see more Ringed Plover with some Dunlin and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A Spoonbill appeared nearby, before walking back into one of the saltmarsh channels. Further on, as we turned the corner, there were lots more Redshanks and a few Curlew.

CurlewCurlew – feeding out in the harbour at Burnham Overy

We could see a small crowd of people further along the seawall – waiting for the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to appear. When we got round to them, we asked if there had been any sightings of the bird today and they confirmed there hadn’t. We had a quick chat about the bushes it had been favouring earlier, just in case the others should decide to come back again for a longer vigil later.

We did manage to add a few species to our tour list here. A couple of House Martins appeared overhead, flying back and forth. Most of the swallows and martins have left for the winter now, but there are still a small number lingering. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese circled over the grazing marshes. We decided not to hang around here, so set off back for lunch. We were almost back to the car park when we looked across towards Holkham and saw several thousand Pink-footed Geese in the distance, flying in from the fields and down to the grazing marshes.

After a nice break for lunch on the benches overlooking the harbour, we headed round to Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. After parking at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we set off to walk west on the inland side of the pines. We heard a Goldcrest calling from the holm oaks right at the start but expected to see quite a few of them along here today. However, it was unusually quiet in the trees.

A quick stop at Salts Hole produced four Little Grebes. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese calling from out on the grazing marsh and stopped to have a look at them from the gate before Washington Hide. There were at least a thousand in view, scattered across the grass, and many more besides just out of sight behind the reeds and hedges.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Goose – there were thousands already back at Holkham today

There were a few ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, mostly hiding along the edge of the reeds. A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew in and dropped down into the reeds. A Red Kite circled over Holkham Park, off in the distance. There was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets at first though, until one walked out from behind the reeds and proceeded to walk slowly along the back of the pool, periodically stopping to peer into the reeds. It was clearly very big, tall, long-necked, and sporting a long yellow bill.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – walked across the back of the pool at Washington Hide

After having a good look at the Great White Egret, we carried on west along the path. We had been hoping to run into several tit flocks along here this afternoon, but they were all hiding in the trees. We came across one just before the crosstracks, but they were all deep in a very leafy holm oak. We could see the odd bird when it came out onto the edge, tits, Goldcrests and a couple of Chiffchaffs. But they never came out into the oaks and sycamores in front and quickly disappeared back into the pines behind. We then didn’t hear much more than a couple of Chiffchaffs between there and the west end of the pines, which is rather unusual.

We had not even seen a Hobby on our walk out, which has been a regular feature here in recent weeks. When we got to the end of the pines, we heard a tit flock calling and set off to try to see them. When the Long-tailed Tits started alarm calling, we looked across to see a Hobby scything through the open area of trees. It landed in the top of a pine briefly, where we could just see it through the branches, before turning and flying back out of the trees the way it had come.

Probably spooked by the Hobby, the tit flock moved quickly out of the sycamores and back into the pines. We tried to follow it for a couple of minutes, but it went up into the tops of the trees, where it was hard to see and moved rapidly deeper into the pines. We did see a Treecreeper working its way up the trunks. A quick look in the start of the dunes failed to produce anything, but we didn’t have time to go any further. We started to make our way back

Just the other side of the cross-tracks, a Hobby appeared right over our heads. It flew round above us, then suddenly powered across and scythed vertically down behind an oak tree. Wow! When it reappeared a few seconds later, it was eating something, lifting its feet up to its bill as it flew away, probably a dragonfly as there were lots out here in the sunshine. The Hobby circled round again over the edge of the trees and then landed in the top of a pine. We had to move a few metres back along the path to get the angle, but then we for it in the scope and had a great look at it. A stunning bird.

HobbyHobby – catching insects around the edge of the pines

The Hobby stayed there for some time, looking round, but eventually dropped down from its perch and disappeared away through the trees. We continued our walk back. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we found another tit flock. This time they were out of the pines and in the bushes and poplars on the south side of the path. We got much better views of Goldcrest and Treecreeper. There were Coal Tits and a couple of Chiffchaff with them too, but nothing more exotic today.

As the tit flock moved back into the pines, it was time for us to go too.

22nd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a glorious sunny day, warming up through the morning so we were shedding layers after a cool couple of days, with light winds. A glorious day to be out on the coast.

After meeting in Wells, we made our way east to Cley. The car park at the bottom of the East Bank was surprisingly busy, but we managed to park at Walsey Hills which was empty. As we walked back to the East Bank, we could hear tits calling in North Foreland wood, but there was too much traffic to catch them properly and we couldn’t see them.

There were lots geese out on the grazing marshes on Pope’s Marsh, mainly Greylags with smaller numbers of Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. A few Teal were dabbling around the small pools in the grass. Further over, we could see more ducks, a selection of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler. We managed to pick out a rather distant Pintail on Pope’s Pool too.

There were fewer waders out here today, but still a number of Lapwing down in the grass and several Ruff around the Serpentine, mostly brown juveniles. A Common Snipe was preening in the grass along the far edge. A Greenshank flew in calling landed behind us on Snipe’s Marsh. We could hear a couple of Water Rails squealing out in the reeds the other side.

RuffRuff – there were still several on Pope’s Marsh, mostly juveniles

A raptor circling over the reeds as we looked across the reedbed turned out to be a Common Buzzard. They do drift over this way occasionally, but we wondered whether perhaps this was a sign that they were going to be on the move again today, taking advantage of the warmth in the air. So it would prove to be, as we saw a number circling up and heading west throughout the day. A Marsh Harrier was more predictably circling up over the reeds too.

Skylarks have been scarce recently, but we heard several calling overhead as we walked out. Perhaps it was the glorious sunny weather we were treated to this morning which has brought them out? A Reed Bunting perched up nicely in the top of the reeds. A Reed Warbler was slightly less obliging, feeding low along the edge of the ditch by the reedbed until we turned to look at it, at which point it disappeared back into the reeds, before flying off.

We heard Bearded Tits several times as we walked out along the bank, but they were hard to see at first. One perched up briefly out in the middle, but just before flying off and disappearing back down into the reeds further back. It was not until we got to the main drain that a noisy flock of six Bearded Tits flew in and landed in the reeds in front of us, climbing up into the tops for a few seconds before dropping back down again.

Bearded TitsBearded Tits – circling up, thinking about setting off

The Bearded Tits have been very active and vocal in the last few days here. This is the time of year when they disperse and they are getting itchy feet. Sure enough the six Bearded Tits took off and flew round, starting to circle up higher into the sky. It looked like they might be off, but a minute or so later, after we had lost sight of them, they dropped back steeply into the reeds where they had just left.

There have been Otters on and off in the main drain at Cley for some weeks now. A quick scan down the channel and we spotted a head sticking out of the weed which is now carpeting the water. A second head surfaced nearby. The two Otters started to swim towards us, ducking under the weed, looking for food. We could see the little patches of reed along the edge of the channel shaking as they swam through them. They were busy looking for food as they approached the sluice right below us, it was great to watch the heads pop out of the weed and then their long bodies and tails curve into the water as they dived. It was hard to tell how many there were now, at one point some of the group thought a third Otter had joined them.

OtterOtter – eating a crab in the main drain right by the sluice

We weren’t sure what the Otters would do at the sluice, whether they might come up out of the water, but they ended up swimming straight through. We could see the reeds rustling the other side and then a head popped up out of the weed again. This time it had caught something and we watched it holding it in its front paws and crunching on it. It looked rather like a crab and looking at photos later confirmed this. While the first Otter swam with its crab across the channel and into the reeds the other side, we could hear the second crunching on something just below us, out of sight in the reeds by the sluice.

Once it had finished its crab, the first Otter swam back across the channel into the reeds the other side. We could hear the two of them calling, but they didn’t come back out again for a few minutes. It had been great to watch them fishing, but we decided to move on.

As we walked down the East Bank earlier, we had been told that a Red-necked Phalarope had been seen on Sea Pool this morning. We were looking into the light at Arnold’s Marsh from here, so we decided to head straight along to Sea Pool instead. It didn’t take long to find the Red-necked Phalarope, exactly where it had been earlier, along the edge of the reeds on the far side, but we had to walk some way further along so we were not looking straight into the sun.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – a ‘record shot’ of the juvenile this morning

Given the sun, there was quite a bit of heat haze from the expanse of shingle in front and it was always rather distant, but we had a good look at the Red-necked Phalarope as it swam in and out of the reeds. We could see its black mask, golden-straw striped dark back and needle like bill.

While we were standing admiring the Red-necked Phalarope, we also kept looking out over the sea the other side. There were small numbers of geese and ducks moving offshore, Brent Geese and Wigeon coming in from Russia for the winter, little flocks of Teal and a more distant line of Common Scoter.

A couple of very distant Gannets flew past, right out in front of the windfarm. Three Sandwich Terns were still fishing offshore. A Red-throated Diver helpfully flew closer in and we could get it in the scope. One of the group picked up a bird flapping across the surface of the water and it turned out to be a Guillemot being chased by a Grey Seal. The Grey Seal gave up and the Guillemot swam off in the other direction.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up from Pope’s reedbed. Beyond, over the hillside behind, we noticed three more Common Buzzards circling up on a thermal. They really were on the move this morning.

Walking back, it was better light to look at Arnold’s Marsh from this side. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits here, along with several Redshank and Curlew. We could see a small group of Dunlin preening or dozing in the saltmarsh on the near side, and as we walked back towards them, two Dunlin were feeding in the edge of the water. A smaller wader walked out next to them, a Little Stint,but unfortunately it promptly took off and we watched it fly away west, over the East Bank.

On our way back along the bank, a Kingfisher flew off over the reeds but was too quick for most of the group to get onto. As we walked towards the car, we could see a Grey Heron standing on the edge of the reeds on Snipe’s Marsh and a couple of Little Grebes were busy diving the other side.

It was already midday by the time we got back to the car, so it was decided to have an early lunch and use the facilities back at the visitor centre. It was lovely sitting out in the sunshine today. We looked up at one point to see three more Common Buzzards circling overhead.

Common BuzzardCommon Buzzard – one of several moving today

After lunch, we drove round to the beach car park and set off to walk out to North Scrape. The cows were all feeding on the north side of Eye Field and in between them we noticed a small group of Golden Plover, which we stopped to look at in the scope. There were lots of Starlings feeding down in the grass too.

As we walked across the shingle, several Meadow Pipits came up from the vegetation and a little flock of Linnets flew up from the weeds. A couple of Pied Wagtails were feeding around the muddy edge of the pool. There were several Wheatear here a week or so back, but they had all moved off ahead of the recent cool weather. We were just saying how it the sort of day when more Wheatear could appear when one landed on the post right in front of us.

WheatearWheatear – landed on a post right in front of us

The Wheatear stayed on the post for about a minute, looking at us nervously, while we watched it through binoculars. Then it flew off across the shingle, flashing its white rump. We could still see it further over, hopping about on the stone in amongst the vegetation.

North Scrape has been rather full of water in recent weeks and consequently somewhat devoid of waders. After recent management work on the reserve, it has gone from one extreme to the other and is now a large expanse of mud. It is looking really good for waders now, and no surprise that most of the waders have moved in here from the other scrapes.

North ScrapeNorth Scrape – lots of exposed mud after recent management work

The light can be difficult on North Scrape, looking into the sun, and the birds can be distant, but we quickly located two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers down the left side. They were with a couple of Ruff and through the scope we could see their long, downcurved bills and peachy-orange wash across the breast.

Across the other side, a Ringed Plover walked out from behind the reeds, quickly followed by a Little Stint. It was tiny in comparison! More birds followed, and we had counted five Little Stints and six Ringed Plover before they were spooked by something and flew round. There were plenty of Dunlin on here too, and when everything landed again they were even more distant. Still, as they started to feed and spread out, we could make out at least ten Little Stints in with them. A Greenshank was slightly easier to see, when it walked out from behind the reeds, much closer, with a Redshank nearby for comparison.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear was on the fence across the other side of the shingle from the path, on the edge of the Eye Field. It was quickly joined by a second Wheatear which flew up from the grass – they had multiplied in the short time we had been out at North Scrape! A little further on, what was possibly a third Wheatear flew across the shingle to where they had been a few moments earlier.

Our destination for the second half of the afternoon was Kelling. As we started walking down the lane, we could hear Chiffchaffs calling from the hedge. A couple of Greenfinches were lurking in the top of the blackthorn but finally hopped out and showed themselves. A Chaffinch flew in to join them.

Out in the stubble field, we could see lots of Red-legged Partridges. They have been released here in big numbers for shooting. We flushed a Pheasant from beside the path too. As we got to the copse, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. We looked up into the trees to see them feeding there. It was a mixed tit flock – as well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue Tits and Great Tits, and at least one Chiffchaff too. Unfortunately there was nothing rarer with them today!

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – we came across a mixed tit flock in the lane

A Hornet was buzzing backwards and forwards low around the bushes and ivy on the edge of the copse, it seemed to be looking for food. Suddenly it seemed to spot a spider in the middle of its web and it went for it, diving into the web. The spider dropped off its web onto the nettles below, while the Hornet struggled to free itself from the strands of silk at first. Once it was free, the Hornet buzzed around the nettles to see if it could find it, but the spider had sensibly disappeared into cover.

A Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge along the lane just north of the copse unfortunately did not hang around long enough for everyone to see it, disappearing into the bushes as a couple of people walked past from the other direction.

It is hard to see the Water Meadow over the brambles at first now, as you walk up along the lane.  We could see a few Ruff and a Redshank or two around the edge of the water. Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls had dropped in to bathe. It was only when we got almost to the cross track, and looked back, that we spotted the Curlew Sandpiper. It was feeding in the shallow water on the near edge, wading up to its belly. Two Dunlin were on the mud nearby. Through the scope, we got a much better view of this Curlew Sandpiper than we had of the two on North Scrape earlier.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – this juvenile showed much better on the Water Meadow

After watching the Curlew Sandpiper for a few minutes, we carried on down towards the beach. The Quag looked rather quiet, so we turned right and started to make our way up the hill before the beach. We flushed a couple of Meadow Pipits from the rough grass as we passed. Three Stonechats flew across the path in front of us and landed out on some tall stems in the middle of teh grass. A Linnet flew in to join them.

We had another quick look out to sea. A couple more Gannets flew past offshore, closer in than the ones we had seen earlier, which meant everyone could get onto them this time. Another line of distant Common Scoter flew past too, but it didn’t seem as lively as it had been earlier this morning.

It was time to start heading back now, so we walked back to the car and set off back towards Wells. There was still time for one last surprise though. We had looked for the Cattle Egret in the field east of Stiffkey on our way out earlier this morning, but it hadn’t been with the cows. Pulling up on the road on the way back, we spotted the Cattle Egret immediately, out with the cows. Thankfully, there were no cars coming along the road and we were able to pull up and spend a couple of minutes looking at it. That was a nice way to end the day.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – a good way to round off the day, back with the cows

19th Sept 2017 – Relaxed Autumn Birding

A Private Tour today. It was to be a relaxed day of general birding on the North Norfolk coast. After getting caught by a brief shower first thing, the clouds cleared, the blue sky appeared and the sun came out. It was even quite warm by the end of the day. A lovely day to be out.

Our first stop for the morning was to be Stiffkey Fen. On our way there, we drove slowly past the wet meadows just east of the village, trying to work out where the cows were today. A Sparrowhawk came out of the hedge beside the road and flew low over the tarmac ahead of us before swooping up into a tree the other side. We eventually found the cows towards the eastern end of the meadow and even before we pulled up, we could see a white shape with them. It was a Cattle Egret.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – with the cows at Stiffkey again today

The Cattle Egret has been hanging around with the cows here on and off for a while now. We managed to stop the car for a minute, while there was no traffic, and have a look at it through binoculars. We could see its short yellow bill. A couple of Grey Herons were loafing next to the cows too.

After parking a little further along the road, we walked out towards Stiffkey Fen. A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees beside the road, but we couldn’t see them from the path. As we started down the footpath by the river, a Chiffchaff was calling above our heads and flitting about in the willows, and a Goldcrest appeared with it briefly too. We could hear Long-tailed Tits in the bushes by the river and caught the back of a mixed tit flock, with Blue Tits and Great Tits too. A Greenfinch and a Chaffinch flushed from the brambles as we walked past.

When we got to a gap in the trees where the brambles and reeds are low enough to see over, we had a look out across the Fen. The first thing we saw were the Spoonbills, nine of them. We had a quick look at them from here, then headed up onto the seawall for a better view. It was not long after we got up onto the seawall that it started to rain. We took shelter down by the sluice and thankfully it was just a brief shower.

From back up on the seawall, we had a good look at the Spoonbills. Some were asleep, as usual, but one was busy preening and when it lifted its head we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. Another two Spoonbills were walking around in the shallow water, one was an adult but the other was a juvenile with a fleshy-coloured bill. The juvenile was chasing behind the adult, bobbing its head up and down and begging for food. The adult kept trying to walk away, but there was no respite.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – four of the nine on the Fen today

The tide in the harbour was already half way out, so a lot of the waders had already left the Fen and gone out into the harbour to feed. There were several Redshanks down in the harbour channel below the seawall. We could hear Greenshanks calling, but couldn’t see them in their usual place on the Fen. They were hiding behind the reeds today, and the next thing we knew they flew up and over the seawall, heading off across the saltmarsh and out into the harbour. A Kingfisher flew the same way too, up from the river in front of us, across the reeds and over the seawall.

There were still a few waders left on the Fen, mostly Ruff which we had a look at through the scope. A Black-tailed Godwit was fast asleep in the middle of a big group of feeding Ruff. There was a single Avocet on here too today, looking slightly lonely.

A good number of Greylag Geese were scattered around the islands on the Fen and, in between them, we could see a variety of ducks. The drakes are mostly not at their best at the moment, in their rather drab eclipse plumage. We did manage to get a smart drake Gadwall in the scope, but it was just too far to appreciate the fine detail and complexity of its feather patterns. There are plenty of Teal and Wigeon on here now, in addition to all the Mallard. Over at the back, we found a small group of Pintail too.

At that point, something spooked all the birds on the Fen and most of them took to the air. We didn’t see what it was, there was no sign of a raptor about and it might have been the geese taking off noisily to head off to the fields, but whatever it was, by the time things settled down again, there were much fewer birds left behind. Many of the ducks and waders headed off to the harbour to feed, so we decided to head round that way ourselves.

As we walked round to the harbour, we could see several waders down on the mud in the channel. They were mostly Redshank, but in with them was a single Grey Plover, so we had a good look at it through the scope, already in its grey non-breeding plumage. When we got to the corner, we stopped to look at the harbour. A Greenshank flew up from the channel and off across the mud. We heard the Kingfisher call again and looked across to see it perched on the gunwale of one of the boats in the channel. We got it in the scope, but it didn’t stay long and flew off back up the channel.

Blakeney HarbourBlakeney Harbour & Point – after the sun came out

The sun was shining now and it was a fantastic view across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We stood for a while and admired the view, while we scanned for birds out on the mudflats. Most of the waders were presumably further out, out of view down in the Pit. We could still see quite a few from here though – a nice selection including Oystercatchers, more Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, a few Curlew and a little group of Turnstone.

Four Brent Geese flew in and landed distantly on the edge of the water down in the Pit. They have only just started to return from the Russian breeding grounds in the last couple of days and these are the first ones we have seen here this autumn. In a few weeks time, the area will be busy with them, but it was great to see the first ones return.

As we turned to head back, we bird call, a sound like two stones being knocked together, and turned to see a Stonechat perched on the top of a Suaeda bush on the edge of the saltmarsh. It was joined by a second Stonechat and the two of them gradually worked their way towards us, dropping down out of view, but returning to perch right on top of the bushes.

StonechatStonechat – one of a pair on the edge of the saltmarsh

On the walk back, with the sun out, there were several butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the warmth along the hedgerow beside the path, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes.

Our next destination was Cley and we set off to walk out along the East Bank. There were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes to the east, Greylags, Canadas and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling away in the distance, presumably birds just flying in, but we couldn’t see them.

We heard Bearded Tits too, calling from the reedbed, but they too remained elusive, keeping down out of the breeze. A Swallow flew low across the grazing marsh, over the bank and west on across the reeds. It was followed by several more. They are on their way down to Africa for the winter already, and these were the only hirundines we saw today. Autumn is definitely here already.

Scanning the wet grass down on the grazing marshes, we found quite a few waders, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. A single Common Snipe was busy probing away into the mud in amongst the tussocks, but then shuffled off out of view. At the north end of the Serpentine, we came across a small group of Dunlin out on the open mud. We were just looking at them when two Little Stints flew across to join them. We had a great view of the two species side by side in the scope.

Little StintLittle Stint – one of two juveniles on the edge of the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh had a lot of birds on it, but they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. A couple of Curlew were feeding at the back. Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the stony island. After resting our legs for a few minutes in the hide, we continued on to the beach. We could hear a Water Rail squealing from the north edge of the reedbed, tucked well in and out of view.

The sea looked quiet at first. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, low over the sea. Two Sandwich Terns flew across a bit closer in. There has been a lot of wildfowl returning in the past few days, and it wasn’t long before we picked up a single Brent Goose flying past offshore, with three Cormorants following close behind, taking advantage of it to make their short journey easier. A little while later, another 13 Brent Geese flew pas in a line, all just returning from their Russian breeding grounds for the winter.

A couple of large groups of Shelduck flew past over the sea too. The adult Shelducks fly off to the Wadden Sea to moult at the end of the breeding season. Once their moult is complete, they start to return here and these are some of the first to return. A couple of Curlew flew past too, also returning from Europe for the winter.

ShelduckShelducks – returning after going to the Wadden Sea to moult

We headed back for lunch back at the visitor centre, stopping on the way to admire the two Little Stints which were now busy bathing in a small pool on the edge of the grazing marsh. While we were eating our lunch, we noticed a large white shape circling over the hides. It was a Spoonbill and after a minute or so it flew off west.

After lunch, we headed out to the main hides. There had been a report of four Curlew Sandpipers on Simmond’s Scrape earlier, but when we got there we could only find one and it was on Pat’s Pool. It was nice and close though, so we had a good look at it through the scope, a juvenile with scaly patterned back and a peachy wash across the breast. After a few minutes, it flew back to join the Dunlin on Simmond’s.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – feeding on Pat’s Pool and then Simmond’s Scrape

There were lots more Little Stints on Simmond’s Scrape too. They were rather hard to see at first, very small and creeping about on the low vegetation on the wetter islands, but the more we looked the more we found. In the end, we could see at least 9 Little Stints on the scrape, all juveniles. There were three Ringed Plover out on the islands too.

There were a few other waders on here too. Several Lapwing looked particularly irridescent in the sunshine, well worth a quick look through the scope at their glossy green, purple and bronze tinged upperparts. There were a few more Ruff here and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits half hidden in the deep water, with their heads under probing vigorously in the mud below. Three more Avocets were asleep on Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding in the deep water in front of the hide

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers which flew up over the reeds at the back of the scrape at one point. A Little Egret was feeding up and down on the water along the front edge.

As we walked back to the car, it was lovely in the sunshine, listening to the wind in the reeds. It was an early finish today, then back home to put our feet up.

17th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was cool and cloudy again, threatening showers first thing, so we donned warm clothes and waterproofs. Then the sun came out and we spent the latter part of the morning shedding layers. It ended up being a lovely autumn day, great birding weather.

Our first destination of the day was Holkham. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked down towards the pines. There were lots of hirundines hawking low over the grazing marsh along the hedge to the west, Swallows and House Martins, looking for food out of the wind in the shelter of the trees. We heard our first Pink-footed Geese of the day – their distinctive higher pitched yelping calls were once again the soundtrack to our morning. A Pheasant out on the grazing marsh was joined by a family group of three Grey Partridge.

Grey PartridgeGrey Partridge – on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we turned west and started to walk along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from the trees. Unfortunately, as we walked through to try to find it, it promptly went quiet. We came out on the edge of the track through to the beach from Lady Anne’s Drive, where the first bird we saw was a Lesser Whitethroat flitting around in the bushes. It seemed to be loosely associated with a mixed tit flock which came along the edge of the trees and disappeared into the pines. It was a great start, but we thought this meant there might be lots of migrants in the woods today.

Continuing on our way west, we heard Treecreeper calling and looked into the trees to see one climbing up the trunk of a very tall pine. We heard Goldcrests calling but they were mostly deeper in the trees and hard to see. We did manage to get on one which was flitting around high up on the edge of the pines. A Jay called from deep in the wood. We had a quick look at Salts Hole, where there were at least three Little Grebes out on the water, diving regularly.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – 1 of at least 3 on Salts Hole

At the gate just before Washington Hide, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. There were quite a few Pink-footed Geese out in the grass and this gave us an opportunity to look at them in the scope. We could see their dark heads and delicate, dark, pink-banded bills, very different from the carrot-billed Greylag Geese we had seen earlier. A small bird was perched on the top of a line of reeds and kept dropping down into the grass looking for food and flying back up to another perch. Through the scope we could see it was a Whinchat, another autumn migrant. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium.

WhinchatWhinchat – feeding out on the grazing marsh

The sycamores outside Washington Hide were quiet, no sign of any migrants here, so we turned our attention back to the grazing marsh. There were several ducks down on the pool in front of the hide – mostly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a single drake Gadwall. A Pintail appeared briefly, upending out in the middle, showing off its pointed rear end, but quickly disappeared behind the reeds again. A very pale Common Buzzard was perched in a bush further back.

Another couple of birders coming out of the hide told us that they had seen a Great White Egret way off over the back of the grazing marsh, but it had landed out of view. There have been several here all year and they bred this summer for the first time, which was great news. It was presumably one of the other Great White Egrets therefore which walked out from behind the reeds on the pool right in front of us, giving us a great view, especially filling the frame through the scope.

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

The Great White Egret was clearly big and very long necked. We could see its bright orange-yellow bill. It walked very slowly along the reed edge at the back of the pool, occasionally standing stock still and staring down into the water, looking for fish.

Continuing on west, the trees were surprisingly quiet today, with a distinct lack of tit flocks. Perhaps the tits have taken to feeding more in the pines in the recent windy weather. At Meals House, we heard a couple of Chiffchaffs calling, and a Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Jay showed well in the top of a pine tree. We looked up just in time to see a Hobby flying towards us, which continued on straight over our heads.

There had been a report earlier this morning of a Yellow-browed Warbler at the west end of the pines, so we continued straight on past Joe Jordan Hide. We finally found a tit flock half way from there to the end of the trees. We heard the Long-tailed Tits first, and as they came out onto the edge the other tits followed. A couple of Chiffchaffs flitted around in the sallows in the sun, which had started to shine now.

The tits were clinging to the edge of the pines, not coming out properly into the sallows and trees along the path. It seemed like we would not be able to see the whole flock. Then a small warbler flew across the path and landed in the deciduous tree on the south side, and fortunately it was the Yellow-browed Warbler. Unusually, it stayed where it was for a couple of minutes, scratching and wing stretching, which allowed us all to get onto it. We could see its bold pale supercilium and double pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – with the tit flock, near the west end of the pines

Eventually, the Yellow-browed Warbler flew back across the path and into the sallows on the other side. We thought it might feed there for a while, but it was chased off by one of the Chiffchaffs, and flew up into the trees. We could see it perched high in one of the pines, before it flew again and disappeared back out of view. A Willow Warbler flew across from the sallows too, and then the whole tit flock disappeared back into the pines.

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in Siberia and winter in SE Asia, so North Norfolk might not be the first place you would expect to see one. However, in recent years they have become increasingly common and are now an expected sight at this time of year. It is always great to see the first Yellow-browed Warbler, as it means autumn migration has stepped up a gear.

The pressure was off now, having seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, but we continued on to the end of the pines to see if we could find any other migrants. A Blackcap called from the bushes by the path. There were several dragonflies out enjoying the autumn sunshine – lots of Common Darters, a Ruddy Darter and a few Migrant Hawkers. There were butterflies too – Red Admiral, Comma and several Speckled Wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – a female, basking in the sunshine

It was rather quiet at the end of the pines and in the edge of the dunes. We walked round through the trees, but there were next to no birds in the usually attractive spots. We had a quick look out across the grazing marsh from the edge of the dines, and then decided to make our way back, to see if we could find any more interesting birds en route, now that the sun was out.

There was a tit flock high in the tops of the pines at the crosstracks, possibly the one which the Yellow-browed Warbler had been with earlier, but it was hard to see anything clearly up there. We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling just past Meals House, and we got better views of Goldcrest here, but the birds moved quickly back into the trees.

The highlight of the walk back was a Hobby which was hanging in the air over the edge of the pines, catching insects. At one point, it caught something and hung in the air right over our heads eating it, bringing its feet up to its bill so it could devour what it had caught on the wing. Something disturbed the Pink-footed Geese and there was a cacophony of calling as they took off, although we couldn’t see them through the trees. There were clearly a lot more than we had seen earlier now on the grazing marsh.

HobbyHobby – eating its insect prey right over our heads

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across another tit flock moving between the pines and the poplars on the south side of the path. At first, all we could see were more tits, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, etc, and a couple of Treecreepers. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared with them, flying out from the edge of the pines and into one of the poplars. It disappeared into the trees, but a few minutes later, as the Long-tailed Tits started to make their way back across the path, it appeared again and we could see it up in the poplar. Our second Yellow-browed Warbler of the day! Then it flew back into the pines and we lost sight of it.

We had intended to eat our lunch at the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive, but we got back to find they were all fenced off. There is a new path being constructed and for the dreaded ‘Health & Safety’ reasons, we were deemed incapable of reaching them without injuring ourselves! We got in the car and drove round to Wells Beach, where we ate lunch in the car park instead.

An Arctic Warbler had been found here earlier in the morning, so after lunch we went into the woods to see if we could see it. Thankfully it was showing well when we arrived at the right spot, and very quickly all the group had seen it. We followed it for about 30 minutes, flicking around in the birches, fluttering and flycatching, and had some great views of it. It would disappear into the leafy trees at times, but after a couple of minutes someone would find it again.

Arctic WarblerArctic Warbler – we enjoyed great views of this rarity in Wells Woods today

Arctic Warbler is a very rare visitor here in Norfolk, although it is an annual visitor to the UK, more commonly on the Northern Isles. They breed in arctic forests, from north Scandinavia eastwards, wintering in SE Asia, so this one was rather off course. They can be very hard to see, but this particular Arctic Warbler was unusually obliging! A great bird to see.

Having spent quite a lot of time in the woods today, we decided to do something different and go looking for some waterbirds for the rest of the afternoon. Stiffkey Fen seemed like a good place to go. It was lovely and sunny now, warm out of the wind, which was still rather blustery. There were not so many birds in the trees and bushes this afternoon, but we did flush several Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles as we passed.

It is hard to see the Fen from the path now, as the reeds and brambles have grown tall over the summer. There are one or two places where you can still get a vantage point, and we could see lots of white blobs huddled up on one of the islands on the Fen, a mix of Spoonbills and Little Egrets. There was nowhere easy to set up the scope here, so we decided to have a look from up on the seawall.

Unfortunately, when we got up onto the seawall, we couldn’t see where the Spoonbills were roosting, it was hidden behind the reeds. There were lots of other things to see on here though. A nice selection of waders included several Greenshanks along with lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen. A few Ruff were out in the water with them. We got all the waders in the scope to have a good look at them. More Redshanks were gathering in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall, as the tide was coming in now.

There were plenty of ducks on the Fen – Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal. A single Pintail was busy upending out at the back. A very large and noisy gaggle of Greylags flew in from the neighbouring field. A Kingfisher flew up from the reeds calling, but was gone in a flash of electric blue, over the seawall and out over the saltmarsh.

We made our way round to have a look in the harbour. The tide was coming in fast now. We heard a Kingfisher call and looked round to see it perched on a mooring chain fixed to the far bank of the channel. It was presumably the bird we had seen earlier, heading in this direction. We had a good look at it through the scope, it was back on to us and we could see the stripe of bright blue down its back. Then it dropped down into the water and caught a fish, flying back up to its perch and beating the fish on the chain repeatedly before swallowing it. Then the Kingfisher flew off up the channel.

KingfisherKingfisher – fishing in the harbour channel

Out around the harbour, we could see lots of waders gathering. They were mostly on the shore round out of view, but we could see a large huddle of Oystercatchers and, further over, a big group of Grey Plover. More waders were flying in across the harbour all the time, forced off from where they had been feeding by the rising water. We saw a little flock of Bar-tailed Godwits, several groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, another flock of Grey Plover.

Most of the waders landed out of view, but we did manage to get a few in the scope. A single Dunlin and a lone Turnstone were trying to roost on a spit of mud, but it didn’t take long before it was covered by water and they flew off. Two Sandwich Terns on the same spit were also pushed off by the rising tide. A Curlew was preening down on the front edge of the mud.

While we were scanning through the waders, we found a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A line of Mute Swans swam past us up the channel, with a single Greylag Goose with them. Presumably the Greylag was confused and thought it was a swan!

It was a great spot to stand and take in the view on a sunny autumn afternoon, looking out across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We could see all the seals gathered out on the far point. It made a fitting end to the day, and it was now time to head back. On the way, we stopped along the path and managed to find a spot where we could get the Spoonbills in the scope. As usual, they were mostly asleep, but one or two did wake up briefly, just long enough to flash their spoon-shapes bills before they went back to sleep, at which point it was easier to distinguish them from the white Little Egrets roosting with them.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – roosting on one of the islands at Stiffkey Fen

It had been a great three days of Autumn birding. The weather had not been anywhere near as bad as forecast, and we had mostly managed to dodge the showers, with the help of a hide or two. We had seen lots of birds, including several exciting ones, scarce Autumn migrants and some of the regular delights of birdwatching in Norfolk.

16th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour today. It was forecast to be cool and showery today, with the possibility of some more organised and heavier rain around the middle of the day. As it was, we saw very little rain and even some brighter intervals.

With the possibility that there might be some autumn migrants from the continent today, we stopped at Warham Greens first on our way east along the coast road. As we walked down the track, we could hear a Chiffchaff singing in the hedge.

Some of the fields here are edged with strips of wild bird seed mix and we stopped to look down one of the strips which ran down alongside a thick hedge. There were lots of birds which flew up from the vegetation and up into the hedge – Chaffinches first, then several Yellowhammers too, a couple of Dunnocks and a Common Whitethroat. The hedges are very leafy now and it was hard to see the birds in the bushes, but we did eventually get a look at a Yellowhammer perched in the top. There were a couple of Brown Hares running around in the middle of the field too

YellowhammerYellowhammer – hard to see up in the thick hedges

A little further along the track, we heard a Long-tailed Tit calling and soon after we were surrounded by a tit flock. There were Blue Tits and Great Tits too, and at least one Chiffchaff with them, but we couldn’t find anything more unusual.

The old barn had several Stock Doves on its roof and the stubble field beyond held a large gaggle of Canada Geese and a single Curlew. As with yesterday, Pink-footed Geese were a feature particularly of the morning. There were not as many arriving as yesterday, but as we walked down towards the saltmarsh we heard the first of several small skeins which would fly over us today. We could hear their high-pitched yelping calls long before we could see them. They were all heading west, towards Holkham.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – one of several small skeins to fly over us today

When we got out through the gate at the bottom of the track and out into the open, we stopped to scan the saltmarsh. There were a couple of Little Egrets out there, a few Redshanks and several Curlew. A Marsh Harrier appeared away to the east, flying towards us over the saltmarsh, the first of several we would see hunting out there. It flushed all the waders beneath it as it flew across.

While we were watching the Marsh Harrier, a Peregrine appeared in the same view. It was a juvenile, brown-backed and streaked below. As it raced across over the saltmarsh, it flushed a Redshank, which it turned and stooped at. It missed, banked, climbed and stooped again, the Redshank crashing into a pool to evade it. The Peregrine lost interest in it and  had a little tussle with the Marsh Harrier next. All this action was scattering the other birds in all directions, and as the Peregrine started to fly off, a Little Egret flew up beneath it. The Peregrine decided to have a little stoop at that too, it was clearly lacking in experience of what to hunt!

We were still watching the aftermath of all of this when we spotted a Short-eared Owl hunting out over the back of the saltmarsh. It was a little distant, but we got it in the scope and had a good view of it as it quartered over the grass. It landed a couple of times, but came back up again a short while later to resume hunting. Eventually we lost sight of it out over the dune ridge. It was nothing but raptor and owl action for at least 15 minutes!

When the action had died down, we had another scan of the saltmarsh. Way off in the distance we could see several large white blobs and through the scope we could see they were Spoonbills. We had a quick look at them and then started to walk east along the coast path for a closer view. We checked the hedges on the way, but there was no sign of any fresh migrants here, just Goldfinches, Linnets and more tits. A couple of Blackcaps called from the bushes.

When we got to the whirligig, we could see there were five Spoonbills. For once, they were not asleep, but were feeding actively. Despite their size, they were hard to see once the walked down into the saltmarsh pools and put their heads down to feed. From time to time, they would climb out again and we could get a better look at them.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – 1 of 5 out on the saltmarsh today

There were lots of Golden Plover here today, but they were mostly up in the fields behind us. We had seen a couple of small groups, when suddenly several larger flocks appeared, first one away to the west, then another in from the fields behind us. The latter circled overhead and looked like they might land out on the saltmarsh, but instead flew off west to join the others. There were a couple of Greenshanks feeding out on the saltmarsh too, which flew off calling as we got to the whirligig.

Another Marsh Harrier appeared, slightly to the east of us and again started to flush all the Curlews and Redshanks as it flew towards us over the saltmarsh. The Spoonbills heard the commotion and all came out on the pool they were feeding in, standing upright, looking round. The next thing we knew, four of them were off. They flew up, circled round, and headed off east, presumably to roost at Stiffkey Fen. One Spoonbill was left behind and remained standing where it was while the others took off, looking slightly lonely.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – these four flew off east

With the Spoonbills having departed, we decided to make our way back. One of the group had lost a lens cap, so we searched the lane as we walked up the lane, eventually finding it when we were almost back to the car. The tit flock was still in much the same place as it had been earlier this morning, when they were presumably the reason for the dropped lens cap. The birds were coming out into the sunny side of the hedge, so we stopped to watch them. Several of the Long-tailed Tits landed in the bush right in front of us, as they worked their way first one way up the hedge and then back down the other way.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – in a mixed tit flock along the track this morning

While we were watching the tits, a Peregrine appeared in the sky in front of us, flying straight towards us. It was a young one again, heavily streaked below, possibly the same bird we had seen out over the saltmarsh earlier. When it got to the track, it started to circle, right over our heads. Great views! Then it drifted off away over the fields. Photos of the Long-tailed Tits taken as the Peregrine circled over show them looking nervously up towards the sky!

PeregrinePeregrine – this juvenile circled right over out heads

Our next destination was Cley. While we had been at Warham, news had come through that there was a Red-necked Phalarope on one of the scrapes. Thankfully we were informed it was still present when we arrived so we headed straight out to Daukes Hide.

The Red-necked Phalarope was towards the back of Simmond’s Scrape at first, running around in the shallow water next to one of the islands, picking at the surface for food. It was a juvenile, mostly white below with a black bandit mask, dark cap and darker back. In good light, it was possible to see a pink tinge to the breast, lacking the red neck patch shown by the adults in summer plumage.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – a juvenile, at Cley today

All the waders were very jumpy today, and kept taking off and flying round, before landing again. The Red-necked Phalarope would join them each time, but kept returning to roughly the same place at first, remaining over the back. Then all the waders flushed again and the Red-necked Phalarope flew off on its own and landed on Pat’s Pool. It started to come closer to us, flying and landing, stopping to preen, then flying and landing again. We thought it might land in front of Teal Hide, but instead flew back to Simmond’s Scrape and landed in the middle, much closer than it had been. The water was deeper here, so it started to swim, spinning round in characteristic fashion, trying to stir up food to the surface where it could pick at it.

Other than the Red-necked Phalarope, there was a nice selection of other waders on here today. There was a small flock of 30 or so Dunlin and in with them were two Little Stints. Next to the Dunlin, we could see just how small the Little Stints were, with a short bill and cleaner, paler underparts. A third Little Stint flew in and joined them.

There were several Ringed Plovers on the grassy islands and a single juvenile Little Ringed Plover still too. A flock of Golden Plover flew in and landed on Pat’s Pool, nice to see them on the ground after seeing them in flight this morning. Through the scope we could see that several still had the remnants of their summer black belly feathering. There were a couple of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits here too.

When everything flushed yet again, this time there seemed to be more urgency to it and we looked across to see a Hobby streaking low across the scrape, before disappearing away over the reedbed. It went through so quickly, some of the group couldn’t get onto it. But once it had gone, it immediately became clear that many of the waders had gone too. There was no sign of the Red-necked Phalarope now.

We decided to head back for lunch. It had been forecast to rain from 1pm-3pm and roughly on cue it did start to rain. It was just a shower though, and we didn’t have to wait long – after a couple of minutes it cleared through on the brisk wind. It was still spitting a little as we walked back and when we started to eat, but it didn’t amount to much, certainly not what was forecast. A Grey Heron flew in high from the east over lunch, and continued straight on across the reserve. It looked like it was a migrant on its way through.

After lunch, we made our way the short distance along the coast to Kelling. When we got out of the car, we could see a Spitfire flying over the edge of the ridge beyond, part of the 1940s weekend in Holt and Sheringham today. It was pulling some impressive manoeuvres, but was not the sort of bird we were looking for. As we made our way down the lane, a Chiffchaff was calling in the bushes and a Greenfinch flew out. It was sunny now, and there were a few dragonflies and butterflies out – Common Darters, Migrant Hawker and Red Admiral.

Common DarterCommon Darter – there were several out in the sunnier spots this afternoon

There was no sign of any freshly arrived migrants either in the lane or around the copse, so we continued on to the Water Meadow. It seemed rather quiet at first, just a couple of Ruff and a single Redshank at the top end. There had been a Curlew Sandpiper here earlier, but it wasn’t until we got to the other end that we found the flock of Dunlin and there was the Curlew Sandpiper with them.

It was hard to see the waders over the hedge at first, so we continued on towards the corner and found a large gap where we could set up the scope. Here we had a great view of the Curlew Sandpiper feeding with the Dunlin. The Curlew Sandpiper was a juvenile, clearly slightly larger and longer billed than the Dunlin, and cleaner below with a peachy wash across the breast and white belly.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – the juvenile with a Dunlin

Curlew Sandpipers breed in central Siberia and winter in Africa. This one has stopped off on its way to feed up. We get them here every autumn, in variable numbers depending on how successful the breeding season has been.

There had been a couple of Little Stints here too earlier, but we couldn’t see them at first. That was because they were hidden behind the short sedge and reed along the edge of the pool, out of view, until they came out into the open. It was great to see them together with both the Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers. They were both juveniles as well, on their way from the arctic tundra to the Mediterranean or Africa for the winter.

Little StintLittle Stint – one of two at Kelling WM today

A Hobby zipped through in a blur, spooking all the waders, before continuing up over the field beyond. There were some hirundines feeding at the top of the ridge and the Hobby powered towards them and through them, zooming up into the air before turning sharply and plunging back through them. More impressive than the Spitfire we had seen earlier! It disappeared off behind the ridge, but a few minutes later, it or another Hobby made another pass over the Water Meadows.

We wanted to make one more stop before we finished today, so we made our way back up the lane to the car. On the way, three Grey Herons flew high overhead, dropping from the ridge down towards the coast. These looked sure to be migrants, making their way west, further suggesting the one we had seen at lunchtime was on its way too.

There had been a Snow Bunting on the beach at Cley this morning and this was one species that members of the group had asked whether we might see this weekend. They are fairly common here in the winter, not at this time of year normally, but this is an early returnee.

We set off along the beach to look for it. There were quite a lot of people out enjoying the afternoon sunshine and a running race along the coast so every few minutes a runner ran off along the beach. It seemed unlikely the Snow Bunting would still be there. We worked our way carefully along the edge of the vegetation, and suddenly it hopped out in front of us at the top of the beach.  It was very close – Snow Buntings can be very tame and this was a young one so had possibly never seen people before. We got the scope on it, even though it wasn’t really necessary, and had frame filling views of it.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting – feeding on the beach at Cley

The Snow Bunting was feeding on the low seedy plants growing in the shingle on the edge of the beach, creeping around on the ground. We had great views of it until one of the runners came along the beach and ran across right in front of us, almost treading on the poor Snow Bunting. At the last minute, the bird hopped back and disappeared down onto the beach. We waited a couple of minutes to see if it would come back but time was getting on so we decided to head back.

The Snow Bunting was a great way to end the day, although we did also manage a couple of Gannets and three Sandwich Terns over the sea as we made our way back to the car.

 

15th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour today. It was forecast to be cool and rather windy, though not as bad as the last few days, and with a risk of showers. It was sunny when we set off inland, but we drove into the cloud on the coast. We headed up to north-west Norfolk for the day.

Our first destination was Thornham Harbour. A Curlew was feeding in the edge of the saltmarsh right next to where we parked. Several Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting flew up into the bushes as we got out of the car, and a Skylark flew over and dropped down beyond the car park.

A quick look in the harbour channel opposite produced a Greenshank feeding down on the mud, which flew off calling as we approached. A couple of Redshanks and a single Bar-tailed Godwit were a little further along and stayed to let us get a good look at them.

As we got up onto the seawall, a Wheatear flew across the grazing marsh in front of us, flashing its white rump as it went, and landed on a fence post a little further back. Looking inland, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards circling up over the trees, despite the cold and cloudy weather. A single Stock Dove was feeding in the grass out in the middle.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – one of many skeins arriving today

Loud yelping calls overhead alerted us to a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flying past high above us. They were to be a feature of the day today, with groups passing overhead at regular intervals all morning and still to a lesser extent during the afternoon. The Pink-footed Geese are just arriving back for the winter here, after spending the breeding season up in Iceland. Small numbers have been seen over the last few days but this was the first day with a really large number of geese coming in. Impressive stuff, migration in action.

There were hirundines on the move today too. We saw several small groups of Swallows and House Martins making their way west as we walked from the harbour and out along the seawall.

We stopped at the corner to look out across the harbour. There were several waders down in the channel, mostly Redshanks and several more Bar-tailed Godwits. We had a good look at them in the scope. Further over, we picked up a little group of Black-tailed Godwits bathing in the water. An obliging Curlew was feeding on the mud just below the seawall.

CurlewCurlew – feeding on the mud just below the seawall

A Marsh Harrier was out quartering the saltmarsh. It flew in from the direction of Titchwell, across the harbour and on towards Holme. As it passed over, it flushed lots of birds out of the vegetation below. Lots of waders flew up calling, Redshanks and Curlews, a couple of Little Egrets appeared out of the muddy channels, and a big flock of Linnets circled up above it.

Continuing on along the seawall, we spotted another Wheatear further up perched on a fence post. It kept dropping down onto the grassy bank and then returning to another post, gradually working its way towards us. At one point, it found a caterpillar. It took it back to a fence post, then dropped down into the grass to deal with it. When the Wheatear returned to the fence, it was now very close to us and we had a great look at it through the scope before it flew past and landed again behind us.

WheatearWheatear – 1 of 2 along the fence along the sea wall at Thornham

There were lots of Meadow Pipits down in the grass, but they were very hard to see until they flew. Suddenly they all took off and flew off towards Holme and we could see just how many had been there. Four Skylarks flew in and landed briefly, but were swiftly off again, over the seawall, and disappeared out over the saltmarsh. A little further on, we found another Skylark down in the grass closer to us. It was a young bird – we could see it still had several retained juvenile feathers – but unfortunately it seemed to be suffering with an injured leg, as it was hopping unsteadily through the grass.

With the rain still holding off, we decided to continue on towards the beach. There were lots of Coot out on Broadwater, and three Gadwall in with them. A family of Mute Swans appeared from behind the reeds. Much further over, towards The Firs, we could also see several Little Grebes. A small group of Wigeon flew in and circled over the water before continuing on west, possibly new arrivals.

The calls of several Long-tailed Tits alerted us to an approaching tit flock. They flew towards us from the direction of the dunes and landed in a lone elder bush just in front of the reeds. For a couple of seconds, the small bush was packed with birds – as well as the Long-tailed Tits, we could see several Blue Tits, a Coal Tit and a single Chiffchaff with them. But they didn’t linger here and quickly turned and flew back towards the dunes.

From up in the dunes, we had a quick look out to sea. A single adult Gannet flew past. One of the group picked up a lone duck out on the sea and through the scope we could see it was a moulting Eider, a 1st summer male. Further over, towards the mouth of the Wash, a long line of black dots was a large raft of Common Scoter, but they were too far away to make out much detail even with the scope.

As we made our way back to the car, we were caught by a shower. Thankfully it was not too heavy and the wind was at our backs now. It passed over quickly, before we got back to the car. As we crossed the sluice, the Greenshank flew in and landed briefly, before being spooked by our approach and disappearing off again.

It started to spit with rain again when we got to Titchwell, so we decided to have an early lunch and hope it passed over. It was the right thing to do, because it rained for most of the time we were eating, sheltering under the umbrellas on the tables outside the visitor centre. When it stopped, we got ready to head out onto the reserve. A quick look at the feeders added Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Great Tit to the day’s list. We didn’t get far along the path before the heavens opened, so we beat a retreat back to the visitor centre. This rain was mercifully brief and it had already started to ease off when we got back. Once it had stopped, we set off to have another go.

Thornham grazing marsh and the reedbed were rather quiet today. There were quite a few Lapwing on the saltmarsh pool. A small flock of Golden Plover circled over. A Little Egret flew in and landed at the back of the saltmarsh pool. We heard a Bearded Tit call from the reeds but it was too windy to see it out there today. We hurried on to Island Hide to get out of the wind.

RuffRuff – still lots feeding on the freshmarsh

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud right in front of the hide when we arrived. Most were adults, in grey and white non-breeding plumage now. Looking through them, we found a few browner juveniles too. Looking at the males and females side by side, we could see the big size difference between them.

Dunlin numbers have increased recently and there were about 50 on the freshmarsh today. The three Little Stints were very distant at first, but when something spooked all the waders they flew round and landed again much closer. Through the scope, we could see them feeding with Dunlin, giving us a much better impression of just how ‘little’ they really are. There were a few Ringed Plover on the grassy islands too.

The number of Avocet here has really dropped now as most have left for the winter. There were still seven on the freshmarsh, although they were quite a long way back at first. Thankfully when all the waders flushed, they came much closer too. The Black-tailed Godwits on the freshmarsh were all distant too, but there were some Bar-tailed Godwits roosting a little nearer. One of them in particular was still sporting rather rusty-coloured underparts, still moulting out of breeding plumage.

A shout from someone round the other side of the hide kindly alerted us to a Bearded Tit, which was feeding low down along the edge of the reeds. There had been no sign of any Bearded Tits when we arrived and, given the wind, we thought we might struggle to see one today. We had a good look at it through the scope as it hopped around on the mud, in and out of the base of the reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – feeding on the mud opposite Island Hide

We could see that the Little Stints were now closer to the main path, so while it was dry outside, we decided to make our way round to Parrinder Hide. On the way, we stopped to admire the Little Stints and found that they were right next to the path. We had a great view of them just below us, feeding on the edge of one of the muddy islands. They really are tiny – amazing to think that they are on their way from the arctic down to Africa for the winter, stopping here to refuel.

All three Little Stints were juveniles. We could see the prominent pale ‘braces’ on their mantles. There was noticeable variation between them, seeing the side by side and so close to us. One was more richly coloured, rusty and orange, and one was rather greyer than the other two.

Little StintLittle Stint – 1 of the 3 juveniles, showing well, right by the main path

Tearing ourselves away from the Little Stints, we headed round to Parrinder Hide. One of the first birds we saw from here was a juvenile Spotted Redshank just in front of the hide, presumably the same bird we saw here a couple of days ago. It was with a Common Redshank, giving us a great opportunity to look at the differences between the two. The Spotted Redshank had a noticeably longer and finer bill, a much bolder white supercilium and more extensive pale spots on the wings.

The juvenile Spotted Redshank was feeding in a shallow pool in the wet mud, mostly picking at the surface as it walked around, though it did briefly do some rapid sweeping side to side with its bill in the water. While we were watching it, we also picked up an adult Spotted Redshank further over. In winter plumage, the adult was noticeably paler, with silvery grey upperparts and whiter underparts, paler than the Common Redshank too.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – the juvenile, just in front of Parrinder Hide again

There were more Ruff here and we had a better view of the Black-tailed Godwits, noting their plain grey backs compared to the more obviously streaked backs of the Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier. A single Common Snipe was feeding in the grass on the edge of the island just inside the fence.

The gulls on the freshmarsh are mostly Black-headed Gulls at the moment. From round at Island Hide earlier, we had found a Mediterranean Gull with them at one point. A winter adult, we were admiring its pure white wing tips when it took off and flew away over the reeds. From Parrinder Hide, we spotted an adult Yellow-legged Gull on one of the islands. Through the scope, we could see its custard yellow legs and grey mantle a shade darker than the Black-headed Gulls it was with. There was also a single Lesser Black-backed Gull and later a few Herring Gulls flew in to bathe, and three young Common Gulls dropped in too.

Most of the male ducks are in duller eclipse plumage at the moment, but some of the resident birds are starting to emerge already. There were a couple of pairs of Gadwall in front of Parrinder Hide, the drakes already in their rather smartly patterned grey and black plumage. A real connoisseur’s duck! There were also lots of Teal on the freshmarsh, a few Wigeon and Shoveler and some Shelduck, but no sign of the Garganey which had been here earlier.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

With the weather having brightened up a little, we made our way out to the beach. There were some nice close Black-tailed Godwits right by the path at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, which gave us some great views. The water was high in the channel as the tide was just going out, but right at the back, we could see a single Grey Plover on the edge of the mud. It had already largely moulted to winter plumage, with just a few scattered black feathers in its underparts still.

There were several Little Grebes down towards the back of the Tidal Pools today, presumably moved back in for the winter now. There were more waders on here too, more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks at first, then further along towards the beach, we could see a line of roosting birds out on one of the spits. Through the scope, we could see there were several Grey Plover, including one stunning bird still mostly in breeding plumage, with black face and belly. Nearby were a couple of Turnstones and further back, in the vegetation, were two Bar-tailed Godwits.

Grey PloverGrey Plover – stunning still mostly in breeding plumage

Out at the beach, the tide was in. The wind had picked up this afternoon and swung more to the north, which meant the sea was very choppy now and it was hard to see anything out on the waves. Despite the increase in the wind, there didn’t seem to be much moving offshore. There were a few waders out on the beach towards Brancaster, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers but running in and out between their legs, like clockwork toys, were several Sanderling too.

It was rather exposed out on the beach so, with time running out, we decided to start to walk back. Two white shapes flew up out of the saltmarsh way off towards Thornham as we walked – a Spoonbill and a Little Egret together. For a moment, it looked like the Spoonbill might fly over in our direction but unfortunately it quickly dropped down again out of view. Two Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over Thornham grazing marsh and made their way over the trees, presumably heading off to roost.

There were not many insects or other subjects of non-ornithological interest today, perhaps not a surprise given the weather (it was not the sort of day for butterflies or dragonflies!), but on the way back, two things worthy of note did put in an appearance. First, a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle ran across the path. Then, almost back to the trees, we almost trod on a young Smooth Newt on the path.

Smooth NewtSmooth Newt – we nearly trod on this on the path on the way back

Then it was back to the car and time to head for home.