Tag Archives: Arctic Skua

23rd Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today, our last day. The weather forecast for today kept changing, from heavy rain and gales when we looked two days ago, with people worrying we would not be able to get out, to sunshine and showers as of yesterday, and now rain for the morning before brightening up. The winds were forecast to pick up in the afternoon, but to nothing like what had been predicted earlier in the week. Once again, the multi-million pound Met Office supercomputer was struggling to make up its mind!

With the possibility of rain this morning, we decided to head over to Titchwell, where we could at least get into the hides. While some of the group were packing up, we popped down to see if the Wryneck was still present. It had been seen at dawn, but we couldn’t find it in a quick look and then it started to rain. Having had a great view yesterday, we decided not to hang around.

When we got to Titchwell, it wasn’t raining so we walked round to the overflow car park to see if there were any birds in there. It looked fairly quiet at first, but waiting patiently we began to see a few Blackcaps in the bushes, with two together feeding on elderberries. A tit flock flew across and disappeared through into the back of the thick hedge by the entrance road. We could hear a Goldcrest calling with them, but the birds were hard to see here and quickly headed off back along the hedge.

There were lots of finches in the trees too. We had a quick scan from the gates at the end which didn’t produce anything of note out in the paddocks, but we did find a couple of Song Thrushes in the bushes by the coach park.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush – one of two feeding in the back of the car park

The feeders by the Visitor Centre had just a few finches and Blue Tits on them this morning, but as we set off along Fen Trail there were one or two Chiffchaffs in the sallows and we quickly came across another mixed tit flock. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over our heads, calling. As we got out of the trees, past Fen Hide, it started to spit with rain again.

Carrying on to Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see a Marsh Harrier up over the reedbed beyond as we approached, hanging in the wind. There were lots of ducks out on the water again – a nice selection of Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, one or two Shoveler, several Common Pochard and a single eclipse drake Pintail – but we couldn’t see the Red-crested Pochard on here today.

It was not a morning to stand around in one place too long, as we headed off along to the Autumn Trail. We could hear another Chiffchaff calling in the hedge as we passed and a Water Rail was squealing from deep in the reeds at the far side of Patsy’s Reedbed. At the start of the Autumn Trail, we heard the pinging of Bearded Tits. Scanning carefully, we managed to find a male climbing up into the top of the reeds. We got it in the scope, and most of the group managed to get a quick look at it before it flew again.

It was low tide now and there were not many birds roosting on the back of the Freshmarsh when we got to the end of the trail. There were lots of Teal down on the mud and we could see several Avocets feeding, up to their bellies in the deeper water. We could hear more Bearded Tits here and had a couple of quick views of one or two flicking up out of the reeds before a male flew across and landed briefly on the edge of the cut area just in front of the viewpoint.

The rain eased off again, but it was still feeling rather damp, so we decided to head round to the hides. We cut across on Meadow Trail to the main path and walked up past the reedbed. As we got to the reeds by the old Thornham grazing meadow ‘pool’, which is getting increasingly overgrown, we could hear yet more Bearded Tits calling. Once again, we had a couple of brief views of a male in the reeds, before it flew back into the reeds along the path behind us. They really were very active today – even though it was cool and damp, at least the wind hadn’t really picked up yet.

The reedbed pool held just a couple of Little Grebes and three Coot, all over towards the back. But two Sand Martins swooping back and forth low over the water were the first we had seen this weekend and a welcome addition to the list. We headed on quickly to Island Hide.

There didn’t seem to be so many waders on the Freshmarsh today, with fewer Black-tailed Godwits in particular, and it appeared that there had been a clear-out of smaller waders too. Still there were plenty of birds to see here. In particular, no shortage of Ruff still, in a variety of colours and sizes, paler winter adults and browner juveniles in different shades, bigger males and much smaller females. We had a nice view of a winter adult male and a juvenile female on the mud right in front of the hide.

Ruff

Ruff – there are still good numbers on the Freshmarsh

We managed to find one lone Dunlin. Then a Ringed Plover dropped in on one of the muddy islands and was quickly joined by two more Dunlin.

The ducks on here were mainly Wigeon and Teal, with the drakes still mostly in their dull eclipse plumage so not looking their best. Looking carefully through the Teal, we managed to find the Garganey which has been seen here on and off over the last week or so. Even though it was a long way back, the Garganey’s more contrasting face pattern really stood out compared to the Teal around it.

Garganey

Garganey – spot the duck with the more contrasting face pattern

There have been two Pink-footed Geese on the Freshmarsh all summer. They are both injured birds, with badly damaged wings, unable to fly back with the others to Iceland for the breeding season. They came over to bathe in the muddy channel right in front of Island Hide today. We got a really good view of their bill patterns, close up, but we could also really appreciate just how mangled their wings are as they flapped and preened.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of the two resident birds, with a badly damaged wing

The wind was starting to pick up a bit now and reports were coming through of good numbers of interesting skuas, shearwaters and petrels passing by offshore all along the coast. When the north wind blows at this time of year, the best birds are to be found out to sea. It was really a day for seawatching today, but that is not a suitable pastime for the faint-hearted! We did look up to see two Great Skuas, or Bonxies as they are known, flying past over the volunteer marsh just behind Parrinder Hide. They looked big and dark apart from their bold white wing flashes.

There were a few gulls on the Freshmarsh today, mainly Black-headed Gulls but with a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls with them too. One gull stood out amongst the Black-headed Gulls – it was a touch bulkier and heavier billed, with a black mask, paler overall and with less black in the wing tip. It was a second winter Mediterranean Gull. We had a look at it in the scope and when we looked back a couple of minutes later, it was joined by a second Mediterranean Gull, this time a first winter.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – a second winter, on the Freshmarsh

One of the group picked up four Spoonbills coming in high over the reedbed. They looked for a minute like they might come in to land on the Freshmarsh, half circling, having a look at their usual roosting spot at the back, before carrying on over the bank and disappearing away towards Brancaster. The Spoonbills tend to spend most of their time feeding out on the saltmarsh over low tide and then coming in to roost at high tide, which was not until much later this afternoon.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – circled over the Freshmarsh before flying on east

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from not far away so scanned along the base of the reeds opposite the hide. Two Bearded Tits were feeding on the mud in the sparse reeds along the near edge, an adult male and a juvenile. They weaved their way in and out and spent several minutes feeding here giving us a great opportunity to get a really good long look at them through the scope. Always great birds to see like this!

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tits – an adult male and a juvenile down on the mud opposite the hide

Nearby, we noticed some movement in the weedy vegetation out on the mud and looked across to see the head of a Common Snipe stick up. It was very well hidden in here, but did eventually come out so we could see it properly.

It was getting on for lunch time now and we wanted to at least try to have a good look out to sea, so it made more sense to head back to the Visitor Centre for a break now, and then come out again afterwards. We could already see a band of brighter sky away to the north, and over lunch the sky cleared and the sun even came out!

After lunch, we walked back out past the Freshmarsh. There were not many birds on the Volunteer Marsh, not even on either side of the muddy channel at the far end, although we did stop to admire a couple of Common Redshanks down just below the main path. In the bright sunshine now, their legs were shining day-glo orange!

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – showing off its bright orange legs

The non-tidal Tidal Pools are now very full with water. We could see a few waders hunkered down on the one remaining grassy island, but there were not many on here now. When we got out to the beach we could see why – they were all gathered out on the mussel beds.

There is not much shelter from the wind at Titchwell, but we tried to have a scan of the sea from the dunes. One of the first birds we picked up was a Manx Shearwater just offshore. It was heading west, but turned and came back past, alternately arcing up into the sky and skimming down over the waves, flashing black and white as it turned. There were several small groups of Arctic Skuas flying past a bit further out and one or two young Gannets.

Although there were patches of blue sky, there were some squally showers coming in off the sea too in the increasingly fresh north wind. We sheltered from one brief one behind the dunes and then made our way down the beach for a closer look through the waders. Despite the fact that it was not long after low tide, the mussel beds were covered quickly by the tide, the sea pushed in quickly by the wind.

We could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits out on the shoreline, accompanied by a good number of smaller Knot. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were walking about on the wetter sand higher up the beach and a Grey Plover, still sporting the remnants of its black underparts from breeding plumage was on the drier sand closer still. A large flock of Turnstones took off and flew in up the beach and as the tide rose, the godwits and Knot started to fly off too.

It wasn’t quite so windy here, further down the beach, so we tried to have another quick look out to sea. A line of six Arctic Skuas came past, quite close in, one of them a smart pale adult. Unfortunately we were not all kitted out for an extended seawatching session on the beach in these conditions, so when another shower came in off the sea, we headed back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – by the path on our way back

There were more waders along the muddy channel on Volunteer Marsh now, bolstered by the birds coming in off the beach. There were several Curlew, more Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. One Black-tailed Godwit walked down to feed on the mud just below the main path, giving us a great close-up view as it probed for worms.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on the way back. There were more waders on here too now, in particular a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits which had come in from the beach to roost. Through the scope, we could see that several were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage, and there were a few grey winter Knot hiding in with them. A small flock of Golden Plover flew in and circled round, their golden brown upperparts catching the sun, before landing on the islands.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – came in from the beach to roost on the Freshmarsh

On the way back to the car, we heard a Whimbrel calling out over the saltmarsh in the distance and more Bearded Tits calling in the reeds. A couple of flocks of Pink-footed Geese flew high overhead calling, presumably more returning birds back from Iceland for the winter.

We made our way back along the coast road to Wells. It would be a bit more sheltered from the increasingly blustery north wind in the woods, so we figured we would spend the last hour of the afternoon in here. There have not been very many unusual migrants coming in recently with the persistent westerly airflow, but with the Wryneck appearing yesterday anything is possible. It was worth a go.

There were several Little Grebes on the boating lake and a couple of Tufted Ducks. But as we got into the trees it all seemed rather quiet, apart from a couple of Jays squawking. We had a quick walk round the Dell and then through to the Drinking Pool. We were surprised by the number of Chiffchaffs calling in the trees today, but we struggled to find a significant tit flock – presumably they were feeding somewhere in the pines this afternoon. When we got back past the Dell, we did find a couple of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, but they seemed to be on their own.

It was time to call it a day now anyway, so we made our way back home. It had been a really exciting and varied three days, with some excellent birds – well worth coming out despite the dire weather predictions beforehand!

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16th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. After a cloudy start, it brightened up nicely, although there was a rather fresh wind which picked up during the morning. We planned to spend the first part of the day down in the Brecks, and then head back up to North Norfolk for the afternoon.

As we made our way south, a Red Kite flapped alongside us, over the field next to the road, a nice addition to the list.

When we got into the heart of the Brecks, we stopped to look for Stone Curlews. After the summer they gather together in large post-breeding flocks, which can be an impressive sight. The first field we tried is a regular site for them at this time of year and we immediately found ourselves looking at a sizeable flock.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlews – part of a large flock in the first field we visited

The Stone Curlews were gathered on the edge of the field, in the lee of a hedge, sheltered from the wind. The more we scanned up and down, the more we could see. We counted 46 Stone Curlews here, but we couldn’t see some birds which were hunkered down in a dip in the field. Someone else had counted 60 here a short while earlier.

When a lorry thundered past on the road, it spooked the birds and most of flock flew out into the middle of the field. We could really appreciate the numbers now. Most of the Stone Curlews ran quickly back to the edge, but some settled down out on the bare ground, where they disappeared. They are very well camouflaged!

Carrying on a little further along the road, we stopped at another field. At first it looked empty. But as we scanned carefully, we found more Stone Curlews hiding in the low vegetation on a patch of rough ground. Each time we scanned across, we spotted more – there were at least another 23 Stone Curlews here. The birds were a bit closer here and we had some great views of them in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we had some great views of them today

We drove on to another spot overlooking a large pig field. There were lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and hundreds of corvids, Rooks, Jackdaws and Carrion Crows, in amongst the pigs. We checked along the margins of the field opposite, where we found some Red-legged Partridges, another new bird for the weekend’s list.

The cloud had started to break now, and we could feel the warmth of the sun. The breeze was strengthening too, good conditions for raptors. We thought we would try our luck, so we drove to a spot of high ground overlooking the forest. There were several Common Buzzards in the air already, hanging in the breeze. A Mistle Thrush flew across and landed in top of trees.

We didn’t have to wait long before a Goshawk appeared. It was a juvenile, brown above and orangey-buff below as it turned in the sunlight. A Kestrel appeared next to it, tiny by comparison, and proceeded to mob it, and the Goshawk responded by having a go back. The two of them circled up, periodically swooping at each other. They seemed to be doing it just for fun, enjoying the wind.

For several minutes, the Goshawk and the Kestrel circled up, gaining height. Finally, the Kestrel decided it had had enough and drifted away. The Goshawk closed its wings and dropped vertically out of the sky, straight down into the trees below. It had certainly been a great start to the day, down in Brecks.

We headed back up to North Norfolk for the rest of the day. Titchwell was already busy when we arrived, and the car parks were pretty full. We found a space in the overflow car park but with all the disturbance now the bushes and brambles here were quiet. As we walked along the path towards the visitor centre, we could hear a tit flock in the sallows. We stopped for a minute and could see Long-tailed Tits flitting around and a Goldcrest with them.

A quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre produced a good selection of finches –  several Greenfinches, as well as Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A Dunnock was hopping around on the ground below. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to head out along Fen Trail. We met the tit flock again in the sallows this side, and a Chiffchaff was calling right above us. As we passed Fen Hide, we looked up to see a Red Underwing, a large moth resting on the side wall, well camouflaged against the wooden boards.

Red Underwing

Red Underwing – resting on the side of Fen Hide

Round at Patsy’s reedbed, we immediately spotted the two Red-crested Pochards busy upending in front of the screen. They are both females, pale-cheeked, dark-capped and with a pale-tipped dark bill. There were also a few Common Pochards too, in with the commoner dabbling ducks – lots of Gadwall, a few Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – two females on Patsy’s Reedbed

As we stood and scanned across the reedbeds, we saw several Swallows flying past, heading west. They are on their way now, heading off to Africa for the winter, autumn migration in action.

The Autumn Trail is open at this time of year, so we carried on round towards the far corner of the Freshmarsh. There were lots of Common Darter dragonflies along the path, basking down on the gravel, which flew up ahead of us. A Bloody-nosed Beetle was slowly crossing the path as well.

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle – crossing the path on the Autumn Trail

At the end of Autumn Trail we could see several larger white shapes in with the roosting gulls out on the Freshmarsh. They were five Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best, and mostly asleep. It was high tide, so they had come in from the saltmarsh channels to roost. We have been spoilt for Spoonbills this weekend, so they weren’t quite the attraction now compared to the earlier ones we had seen!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – in with the roosting gulls on the back of the Freshmarsh

A Common Snipe was busy feeding down on the edge of the reeds and a single Ruff was out on the open mud in front. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reedbed but they were unsurprisingly keeping tucked down in the now very brisk breeze. However, as we headed back for lunch, one flew up from the other side of the bank and across the path behind us, disappearing straight out over the reedbed.

After lunch, we headed out along the main path onto the reserve. The reedbed pool was quiet today. We heard another Bearded Tit calling from somewhere down in the reeds. We continued on to Island Hide and started to scan the Freshmarsh. It didn’t take too long to pick up the Curlew Sandpiper. It was a juvenile, scaly-backed and white bellied with a pale orangey wash on the breast. It was with a couple of streaky-bellied juvenile Dunlin, so we had a nice side-by-side comparison in the scope.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile, out on the Freshmarsh

There are still good numbers of Ruff on the reserve, but they are all in either non-breeding or juvenile plumage now. A large flock of godwits was roosting around the islands. Through the scope, we could see they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits, but with a smaller number of Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too. Some of the Bar-tailed Godwits still had the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage.

We could see several Golden Plovers too, hiding in amongst the vegetation on the islands. Some of them were also still sporting some black on the belly left over from their summer plumage. Three or four Ringed Plovers were running around on the mud and we could see a few Avocets scattered around the water still too.

The smaller waders were very jumpy in the wind and kept flying round and landing again. It was hard to keep tabs on where the Curlew Sandpiper was. The presence of several raptors didn’t help either – one or two Marsh Harriers over the reedbed and a brief Hobby over the seawall at the back of the Freshmarsh.

Continuing on out along the main path towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Ruff in down in the far corner of the Freshmarsh, just below path. We could see its loose feathers ruffled in the swirling wind.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding in the corner of the Freshmarsh, just below the path

The Volunteer Marsh looked quite quiet as we walked past, but there were more waders in the channel at the far end. The tide was going out now and lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Curlews were busy feeding on the wet mud. One Grey Plover was hiding down in the channel right at the back. We had better views of a nice close Black-tailed Godwit just below the path. We noted its plain grey-brown upperparts, in non-breeding plumage now.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showed well by the path on Volunteer Marsh

The ‘Tidal Pools’ are not tidal any more and are now very full of water again after the recent very high tides. Just a small area of island is still exposed. The Oystercatchers were roosting on here, in the vegetation, and we could see several Grey Plover and Knot, and a single Turnstone here too. One particularly smart Grey Plover emerged from the vegetation – its was still pretty much in breeding plumage, with black face and belly and bright white brow and breast sides. It has presumably only just returned and will start to moult very soon.

Out at the beach, the tide was still going out. We could see a large flock of godwits down on the shore, waiting for the mussel beds to emerge from the sea. The sea was quite choppy but as we scanned across, we spotted a smart Red-throated Diver on the water, not too far out. It was still in breeding plumage and as it turned into the sun, we could see its red throat. There were several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea too and we managed to find a single drake Common Scoter but it was tricky to see in the swell.

Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and having just remarked that there should be an Arctic Skua out here, one flew in. It landed on the water, then took off again and started chasing after a Sandwich Tern, the two of them twisting and turning in front of the wind farm. We couldn’t see if the Arctic Skua was successful in getting the tern to surrender its last catch, but the skua dropped down again onto the sea. One or two Gannets passed by offshore too.

On our way back, we stopped in at Parrinder Hide. There were several Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits in the vegetation on the islands and a flock of Linnets dropped in for a drink. A scan round the margins located a Common Snipe, feeding just inside the fence on Avocet Island. We couldn’t find any other different waders from here today though. A Chinese Water Deer was chomping on the reeds in the edge of the reedbed opposite.

We had not seen or heard so many Pink-footed Geese moving today, until late on in the afternoon. We looked across towards Brancaster and could see several large skeins flying over, heading inland. Presumably they were just returned from Iceland for the winter, on their way to Snettisham and cutting the corner off rather than following the coast. A small group came our way, flying in low over the Freshmarsh, where it looked like they might drop in. But they continued on over our heads and away to the west.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were more on the move again late afternoon

We made our way back to the car park – its was time to head for home. It had been a very enjoyable three days exploring some different parts of Norfolk, and we had seen a very good selection of birds and other wildlife.

10th Sept 2018 – Coastal Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour today in North Norfolk, for a visitor from Canada. The brief was to look for common birds too, not just scarcer species, so we set off to see how many birds we could find. It was cloudy, and cool on the coast in a fresh breeze, but thankfully it stayed mostly dry.

Our first destination was Titchwell. When we arrived, the main car park was only half full but there were already a couple of people walking round the overflow car park, looking in the bushes. We had a slow walk round too. It was quiet initially but as we stood and waited quietly a few more birds began to appear out of the undergrowth.

There were lots of finches in the tops of the trees, mainly Goldfinches and Greenfinches. We found several Blackcaps feeding on the elderberries, although a brief Garden Warbler was less accommodating and disappeared into the brambles. As well as several Blackbirds, a single Song Thrush was rather elusive too.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a male feeding on berries in the car park

There was nothing visible in the paddocks from the gate at the end, but while we were scanning we spotted a large flock of Golden Plover flying over the hillside beyond. The birds split up into several smaller groups and one came in over the paddocks and headed out onto the reserve.

We made our way down past the visitor centre and out along the main path. Our first stop was at the reedbed pool. There were a couple of Little Grebes diving out towards the back and one or two Coot, but not many ducks on here today. We could hear Bearded Tits calling out in the reeds, but they were keeping their heads down given the wind. Two Greenshank flew in calling and circled round over the water looking for somewhere to land.

As we walked on, looking towards the Freshmarsh we could see five Spoonbills hiding at the back. We stopped for a quick look, because we knew they would not be visible from the hides. Approaching Island Hide, we heard a Water Rail squealing down in the reeds below the path and looked down to see it chase a Moorhen out onto the open mud. We watched the Water Rail picking its way in and out of the reeds. We could still see it on the edge of the reeds when we got into the hide.

Looking out across the mud, two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were feeding on the edge of the water. They were joined by a single juvenile Dunlin, given a nice comparison alongside, the latter with black spotting on its belly, the Curlew Sandpipers a little larger and with slightly longer bills. There were more Curlew Sandpipers further over, all juveniles, taking us to five in total.

A much smaller wader over on the edge of the reeds below the main path was a juvenile Little Stint. It was loosely associating with a larger flock of around 40 Dunlin scattered over the mud on that side. All the small waders were very nervous and kept taking off and whirling round.

There are still lots of Ruff out on the Freshmarsh, with all the adults now in their dull grey-brown non-breeding plumage. We could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits too, but they were mostly feeding in the deeper water right in the back corner. There is still a scattering of Avocets here but numbers have dropped significantly from the highs of late summer, as birds have headed off for the winter.

Ruff

Ruff – an adult in non-breeding plumage

Two geese on one of the islands were the resident Pink-footed Geese. They both have badly damaged wings, possibly having been shot, and were unable to make the journey to Iceland for the breeding season, but they seem to have survived quite happily here over the summer.

There are lots more ducks in now, as birds return for the winter – Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Gadwall – but they are mostly in their dull eclipse plumage at the moment. Most of the remaining Shelduck are juveniles, as the adults have gone off to moult.

From up on the main path, we had a much better view of the Little Stint. It was feeding on the mud just below, almost too close as it kept disappearing behind the reeds just below us! It was clearly much smaller than all the Dunlin, whiter below, with a short bill and two bright pale lines down the mantle.

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile, close to the main path today

We had seen a single Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin here too, from the hide, but we couldn’t see it at first. Presumably it had been hiding behind the reeds too, as suddenly it appeared again just below the path. We got a great close look at that as well.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – one of five juveniles this morning

We were already doing well for waders here. Then a Common Snipe appeared out of the vegetation on the island between the path and Parrinder Hide and proceeded to probe its long bill vigorously in the mud. A single Knot flew in and landed on the far side of the same island, along the muddy shore.

Two Spoonbills flew up from the back of the Freshmarsh and flew straight towards us, before seeing all the people on the bank and veering away over the corner of Volunteer Marsh. Just as they flew off, another three Spoonbills flew in from behind us, from out over Thornham saltmarsh. They flew straight past us, giving us great close-up flight views.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – several were coming and going this morning

While we were watching all the comings and goings on the Freshmarsh, we heard Bearded Tits calling below us in the reeds. We looked down to see a small bird with a long tail dart across over the water in the corner. We had a couple more glimpses of them, but they were keeping hidden, out of the wind today. We did get better views of one or two Reed Warblers which were also flitting around low down along the edge of the reeds and a Reed Bunting which perched up more obligingly.

When we got to Parrinder Hide, we had a quick look from outside the hide first. We were instantly rewarded with two Spotted Redshanks, roosting at the back of the Freshmarsh with some Black-tailed Godwits. We got the Spotted Redshanks in the scope, first an adult in silvery-grey and white winter plumage and then a much duskier moulting juvenile. We could see their long and needle fine bills, very different from a Common Redshank.

As we scanned the Freshmarsh from inside the hide, a Common Sandpiper flew across in front of us, calling, and landed on the muddy edge out to one side. Further back, we could see a juvenile Little Ringed Plover on the mud too. It ran out along the edge of the island, where it was joined by a second Little Ringed Plover, also a juvenile. The two of them were then chased off by two Ringed Plovers, which at least gave us a great opportunity to compare the two species!

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile from Parrinder Hide

A quick look out from the other side of Parrinder Hide produced a smart Grey Plover still in breeding plumage, and several Curlew and Common Redshank. Back on the main path, there were more waders along the muddy channel at the far end of Volunteer Marsh – lots more Redshank, and Black-tailed Godwits, and two more Grey Plover, this time mostly in non-breeding attire.

The Tidal Pools were rather quiet today, so we made our way straight out to the beach. The tide was out now and there were lots of waders down on the mussel beds. Bar-tailed Godwit was a particularly target and we spotted some down on the beach, so we walked down for a closer look. There were 4-5 Bar-tailed Godwits out on the sand and several with the more numerous Black-tailed Godwits on the mussel beds, including one still sporting rather rusty underpart, the remnants of its breeding plumage.

A single Whimbrel was feeding with all the Curlew on the mussel beds. Through the scope, we could see its short bill and striped crown. There were several Turnstones, very well camouflaged against the dark mud and shellfish, and a few more Knot too.

A Sanderling flew in along the beach but landed out of view. We walked further down to try to see where it had landed, but when we got there we couldn’t find it. At that point, all the waders suddenly started to take off and we looked up to see a juvenile Peregrine buzzing the birds on the beach before following the flocks out over the sea. All the waders flushed and flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers came right past us.

Knot

Knot – flushed by a Peregrine off the beach

The Peregrine turned and came in again, low over the waves. This time it had lost the benefit of surprise and it didn’t look like catching anything. It drifted away towards Brancaster.

We looked out over the sea and saw another dark bird low over the waves. This time it was an Arctic Skua. It had seen a Sandwich Tern flying past, and was heading straight for it, hoping to steal its lunch!  The Arctic Skua chased the Tern for a few seconds, the two of them twisting and turning in a dogfight, before it seemed to lose interest and flew off. A little late, a second Arctic Skua flew past us. Then a Mediterranean Gull flew past along the shoreline, a young bird, in its first winter. It was all action down at the beach!

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua – two were lingering offshore, chasing the terns

It was time to start thinking about heading back for lunch, so we walked back up the beach. We spotted a Marsh Harrier drifting inland over the Tidal Pools, the first we had seen this morning. From the top of the beach, we could see another two Marsh Harriers coming in off the sea. They looked like they might be migrants from the continent arriving for the winter, but one of them was a juvenile bearing green wing tags. It had been ringed at Holkham a few months earlier, so that individual was certainly a local bird.

A Little Egret battling its way in over the sea from further out presumably was a migrant arriving, as was a single Pintail flying west offshore. Two drake Common Scoters were out on the sea.

We had been distracted with all the activity, and we were now starting to get hungry, so we made our way back. We stopped briefly to watch a Little Egret fishing on Volunteer Marsh, where the water was still slowing out of the channel. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the reedbed as we passed, but well hidden from view as ever.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on Volunteer Marsh as the tide dropped

After lunch, we headed out along Fen Trail. Just past the Visitor Centre, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the sallows. We stopped to watch for a minute or so, and found various other birds with them – Blue Tits and Great Tits, several Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest.

We stopped at the gate on the Tank Road to scan the paddocks. There was nothing out on the grass but we could see two doves on the roof of one of the stables – two Turtle Doves. Through the scope, we could see their pink-washed breasts, black and white-striped neck patches and, as they turned, their rusty fringed upperparts.

Patsy’ Reedbed is a great place for ducks at the moment. As well as all the commonr dabbling ducks we had seen earlier on the Freshmarsh, there were several Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks here. Two female Red-crested Pochard were upending out in the middle.

The Great White Egret we were told was hiding in the reeds, but it wasn’t long before it strode out into the middle, where we got a great look at it. It flew round a couple of times too, so we could really appreciate its large size.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – showed very well on Patsy’s Reedbed

Continuing on along East Trail, a large flock of House Martins were hawking for insects over the edge of Patsy’s Reedbed. In with them, we found one or two Sand Martins as well, browner backed and lacking the white rump of the House Martins. The Turtle Doves were now down in the paddocks, around one of the water troughs, and had drawn a small crowd of admirers.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Dove – these two were around the paddocks this afternoon

We had a quick look up along the Autumn Trail to the end. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling but once again they refused to show themselves. There were several browner juvenile Ruffs in the far corner of the Freshmarsh too. Then we made our way quickly back to the car.

By the time we got to Holme, the clouds had darkened and the wind had picked up. A Stock Dove was feeding in the grass in the fields by the track. We walked along the coast path behind the paddocks, but the bushes here were very quiet today, apart from a few House Sparrows. It seemed like there had been a clear-out of our summer warblers over the last day or so and no migrants fresh in.

The dunes the other side were quiet at first two, not helped by several dogs running around on the loose. We eventually managed to find a group of three juvenile Stonechats, accompanied by a Common Whitethroat. A Common Buzzard was perched on some brambles out in the middle of the grazing marsh.

With a lack of small birds in the bushes, we decided not to press on further. On our way back, we stopped to have a look at the Beach. A family of five Common Terns were out on the sand, in the distance. Scanning through the waders on the beach, as well as the species we had seen at Titchwell, we managed to find a group of Sanderlings to make up for the elusive one earlier. A Gannet drifted past in the distance offshore.

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge – posing next to the road

It was time to be heading home, but we made our way back via the smaller roads inland. We had hoped to find a few farmland birds, but the bushes were quiet in the wind. A Red-legged Partridge posed nicely for the cameras on the verge, and we found one field over which a large flock Swallows was hawking for insects.

When we looked at the total for the day, we found we had seen or heard 99 species, including 23 different types of wader. Not a bad start – lets see how many more we can find tomorrow!

22nd July 2014 – Raptors & Titchwell

A day tour in North Norfolk today, looking for rare breeding birds, Spoonbills and waders. We spent the morning looking for raptors. Our first stop yielded the bonus of at least 3 Turtle Doves, which perched up on the wires and gave us great views all round. At the second site we visited, a juvenile Cuckoo flew ahead of us along the track and perched up just long enough for get the scopes on it. Wherever we went, we were serenaded by the sounds of Norfolk farmland – lots of singing Skylarks and Yellowhammers. Amongst the commoner species of raptor, we saw Red Kite, Common Buzzard, several Marsh Harriers and Kestrels.

We drove on up to Titchwell for lunch. As we walked out onto the reserve early in the afternoon, the grazing marsh pool held a good variety of ducks, including a family of at least 8 Red-crested Pochard. The freshmarsh looked really good for waders, with lots of exposed mud, and we were not to be disappointed – it was teeming with life.

P1080081Red-crested Pochard – female on the grazing marsh poolP1080090Waders galore!

The best of the waders were two Wood Sandpipers which showed really well alongside the main footpath. At least 10 Spotted Redshanks included two still mostly in their smart black summer plumage, with the others in various stages of moult, and a single Greenshank lurked in amongst them and the large number of Redshank. Similarly a good smattering of Ruff included a bewildering variety of males in different colours and states. Several Whimbrel dropped in while we were there and flew off ‘laughing’. Large numbers of Black-tailed and a smaller group of Bar-tailed Godwits gave us a good opportunity to compare and contrast, as did both Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers.

P1080088Avocet – several juveniles were present

Waders and ducks were not the only birds we saw. A Yellow Wagtail was also out amongst the large number of Pied Wagtails. Surprisingly, we only saw a single Spoonbill (6 were present earlier in the day, but had probably dispersed to feed), which flew off from the freshmarsh, over the footpath and landed out in one of the creeks on Thornham marsh.The biggest surprise was seeing 4 Arctic Skuas fly over the freshmarsh, probably blown in from the sea by the keen N wind.

All-in-all, a very successful and enjoyable day out.

P1080116Little Egret – nice yellow feet!