Tag Archives: Black-necked Grebe

25th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 5

Day 5 of five days of Spring Migration tours today, our last day. It was mostly cloudy with some brighter intervals and we managed largely to avoid some scattered heavy showers in the afternoon. It was rather breezy again though, particularly in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. It was still quite quiet in the car park when we arrived, so we had a walk round to see what was in the bushes. In the overflow car park, a Goldfinch came down to drink at a puddle out in the middle. Then we heard the plaintive piping of Bullfinches and looked over to see a lovely pink male perched in the elder on the corner. It flew across to the other side, followed by a second male Bullfinch which perched out in the open so we could get a good look at it.

There was nothing of note out in the paddocks beyond the car park, but two Common Swifts flew over, heading west. Two Mediterranean Gulls were calling and we picked them up heading south over the car park with a small group of Black-headed Gulls. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing in the sallows and saw some Long-tailed Tits as we walked up to the Visitor Centre. The Bramblings seem to have gone now and there were just lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders.

We headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing in the trees along Fen trail and the pool in front of Fen Hide had a couple of drake Common Pochard which flew off when they saw us, as well as two Greylags.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – one of the two on the pool from Fen Hide first thing

A Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds just beyond the hide, and we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers too, as we made our way to Patsy’s. But Patsy’s Reedbed itself was rather disappointing – just a very small number of ducks. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew round the dead trees further back.

A couple of Swallows flew through, but the one species which was moving in numbers this morning was Goldfinch – several small flocks flew past either side of us while we were here.

There wasn’t much singing in the sallows as we made our way round via Meadow Trail to the main path. What we did find when we got there, in the grass on the bank, was our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly – our first damselfly of the year

We stopped to scan the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh. There didn’t appear to be a lot on here at first, but then we spotted a couple of wagtails down towards the back corner. Their silvery grey backs identified them as White Wagtails, rather than Pied Wagtails, continental migrants stopped off here to feed.

Another Reed Warbler was singing on the other side of the path, and a Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in one of the larger clumps of brambles, where we could get it in the scope. We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and saw a couple zipping off over the top of the reeds.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the brambles in the reedbed

The large reedbed pool held several Greylags and a few Common Pochard were diving in amongst them. A single Great Crested Grebe was on the water over to one side. We could hear a Little Grebe too, laughing at us from somewhere out of view. Then one of the group spotted another duck swimming towards us along the channel at the front. When it emerged from behind the vegetation, we could see it was a smart drake Red-crested Pochard.

It was rather windy up on the bank, so we headed down to the shelter of Island Hide to scan the freshmarsh. The first thing which struck us when we got in there was the enormous number of Sandwich Terns. We counted almost 300 just on the first couple of islands – the peak count today was over 700! Several pairs were displaying and one pair was mating.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were over 700 on the Freshmarsh today

It is very unusual to see large numbers of Sandwich Terns here. They do breed in very significant numbers not far away, on Scolt Head. It appears that something has disturbed them from Scolt and they have come in to the Freshmarsh, attracted by the large breeding colony of gulls. It will be interesting to see if any Sandwich Terns stay to breed, or if they all eventually return to Scolt. In the meantime, it is certainly an impressive spectacle!

The fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ has been almost completely taken over by gulls, predominantly Black-headed Gulls but with a very significant number of Mediterranean Gulls too. We could hear the distinctive calls of the latter regularly, as they flew in and out of the colony.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are large numbers in with the Black-headed Gulls

It was only when we had a good look through the birds on the island that we could see just how many Mediterranean Gulls there were. Apparently, there may be around 50 pairs this year, a significant increase over the nine or so in 2017.

There are not many Avocets on the freshmarsh at the moment, but there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, well over 200 at the moment. Many of them are now coming into full breeding plumage, bright rusty-coloured, ahead of their journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into bright rusty breeding plumage

There were a few other waders on here too. A scattering of Ruff around the muddy islands included one deep rusty male, already getting its breeding plumage but still lacking its ruff. A lone Grey Plover was on one of the islands too, but flew over to join the godwits, as did a small group of about a dozen Knot which flew in from the beach.

There are not so many ducks on here now – mainly a few lingering Teal and a few pairs of Shoveler. We couldn’t see the Garganey, which was on here yesterday, from this side. There are still plenty of Brent Geese, yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season. They were commuting between the saltmarsh to feed and the freshmarsh to bathe and preen.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – there are still good numbers lingering here

Back on the main path, we headed out towards the beach. There was very little on the Volunteer Marsh today and the ‘Tidal’ Pools are no longer tidal and remain completely flooded with seawater. We carried on past them to have a look at the sea.

The tide was already coming in and not much of the mussel beds remained exposed. We could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits out on the water’s edge, along with a couple of Turnstone. As usual, there were plenty of Oystercatcher too. As we stood in the lee of the dunes to scan the sea, a couple of small flocks of little waders flew past, groups of Ringed Plover and Dunlin.

At first, all we could see on the sea were Common Scoter – a couple of smaller groups closer in and a larger raft further back. Then we picked up a diver not too far out. It was diving continually and hard to see but when it surfaced and turned we could see it was a Great Northern Diver, a good bird to see here. We could see its large size, heavy bill and dark half-collar.

However, that wasn’t the best bird we would have out here today. While we were trying to get everyone onto the diver, three smaller birds appeared even closer in, off the concrete blocks. Through the scope we could see they were Black-necked Grebes, all three of them in cracking full breeding plumage. They had been seen yesterday, but we had assumed they would most likely have moved on already, so it was great to see them.

Black-necked Grebes

Black-necked Grebes – 2 of the 3 diving offshore today

Black-necked Grebes are scarce here and it is very unusual to see them in breeding plumage at the best of times, so to see three together, and on the sea, is highly unusual. They looked stunning as their golden yellow face plumes caught the light.

We had hoped perhaps to find some more terns offshore, but there were just small numbers of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth. We decided to head back. On the way, we called in at Parrinder Hide.

There has been one or more Garganey here for several days now. We couldn’t see it from Island Hide earlier and we couldn’t see one at first from Parrinder Hide either, although we were told it had been seen on the Freshmarsh earlier. We had at least seen several very well yesterday, down in the Broads. There was a single Pink-footed Goose just outside the hide, with a broken wing which has clearly prevented it from migrating back to Iceland for the breeding season with the others.

There were several Teal asleep in the cut reeds along the base of the bank out from the hide. As we scanned through, we just noticed another shape in the reeds and, through the scope, we could just see a pale stripe across the head. It was a drake Garganey. It was almost impossible to see if you didn’t know where it was. A pair of Greylag walked past and moved the Teal, but unfortunately the Garganey remained where it was, fast asleep.

Garganey

Garganey – asleep in the cut reeds out from Parrinder Hide

We made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. There were a few butterflies out here – Green-veined White and a single Holly Blue.

After lunch, we headed up towards Choseley. There had been a couple of brief Dotterel elsewhere in the county in the last couple of days, and this is a traditional stopover site for them, so we thought it might be worth a quick look just in case one had already dropped in here.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – up at Choseley this afternoon

Most of the fields on the drive up did not look suitable, so we stopped at Choseley Drying Barns to scan. A Yellowhammer perched up nicely in one of the trees by the footpath.

There were lots of Brown Hares out in the wheat fields. Many were hunkered down out of the wind, but several were running round, chasing each other, and we even saw a quick bout of boxing.

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – chasing each other round and boxing

Dropping down the other side, there were a few Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped an found a flock of Linnets which flew up into a hedge, with a Lesser Whitethroat nearby. A lone Wheatear was very distant, high on the ridge in a stony ploughed field.

As we drove on, we spotted a Corn Bunting fly out of a hedge ahead of us. It went back in behind us, so we stopped and walked back to try to see it. Unfortunately, as we tried to get round behind it, it flew off across the field the other way.

We decided to move on and head along to Holkham for the remainder of the afternoon. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped to scan the cows. Two Yellow Wagtails flew past them and across the Drive ahead of us. A Little Egret flew over and then, as we got out of the car, a Spoonbill went over our heads, heading back west towards the colony.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew over Lady Anne’s Drive, just as we arrived

The wind had picked up quite a bit now, and it was rather quiet in the trees as we walked west through the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and a Coal Tit singing. Salts Hole held just a few Tufted Duck today.

At Washington Hide, we could hear Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds. We headed through the trees towards the beach. We stopped here to scan the sea, but it was rather choppy in the wind now. We could see a few distant Sandwich Terns and a Common Scoter way out, flying past. There were still one or two Swallows on the move, flying west.

We made our way round to Joe Jordan Hide. A couple of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds along here were presumably reasonably fresh arrivals. There were some rather dark clouds approaching from the west, so we felt the need to find some shelter, just in case. One of the wardens had driven out across the grazing marshes, so their was a bit of disturbance. However, there was still a steady succession of Spoonbills coming and going, with two busy feeding on the pools out to the right of the hide.

There were plenty of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, and we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese too, right out on the grass in the distance today. They are likely to be sick or injured birds which are unable to return to Iceland to breed, and we could see that one of them had a broken wing.

The rain largely passed through to the south of us, but we did had a very short burst of not too heavy rain. Once it cleared through, we started to make our way back. A quick look in the trees around the crosstracks failed to produce anything more exciting than a couple of Long-tailed Tits and a Coal Tit.

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another little flurry of activity in the trees. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were flitting around and two Treecreepers appeared briefly nearby. We could hear a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff singing and see a Blackcap in the hawthorns.

Back to the car and it was time to call it a day. It had been a very exciting five days with a good group and lots of good birds, a nice selection of spring migrants, and even quite a bit of non-avian interest. Spring migration in Norfolk at its best!

22nd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 2

Day 2 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was mostly another lovely sunny day and warm too – up to 24C. There were forecast to be thunderstorms from about 3pm this afternoon, but thankfully they didn’t arrive until 4.30pm, when we were all but finished for the day.

Cley was our first destination for the morning. We wanted to see whether any migrants were moving along the coast, so we headed up to the beach car park first. A couple of Ruff were feeding around the pool in the Eye Field when we drove up. As we got out of the car and scanned the grass, we could already see several Wheatears – it was going to be a good day for them today!

Walking east along the shingle, a pair of Common Redshank flew up from the grass just beyond the fence and perched on the posts as we approached. They dropped down to the small pool just beyond and started to display, walking round each other calling with tails fanned. The female then bowed and the male started to flutter his wings, calling all the time. He did this for a couple of minutes and finally it looked like they were about to mate, but just as he flew up, the female walked off!

Redshank

Common Redshank – one of a pair by the Eye Field

From the grassy ridge, we stopped to scan the field and Billy’s Wash beyond. We could see several more Wheatears out in the grass from here – we reckoned there must be at least 10 out there this morning, a big increase on recent days. There were plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits too.

There was a nice selection of ducks out on Billy’s Wash, including a pair of Wigeon and a male Pintail asleep in the grass. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were next to a couple of young Great Black-backs, giving a nice size comparison.

There were quite a few Ruff around the muddy edges and one or two Black-tailed Godwits in the water too. But it was only as we were packing up to move on that one of the group spotted a Green Sandpiper on a small bare island. It was only there for a minute or so, but enough for us to get a good look at it. It was quite distant, but even at that range we could see that it lacked the white notch between the breast and wing of Common Sandpiper.

Migrants were just starting to move along the coast. We had our first Yellow Wagtail fly past with a sharp ‘tshreep’ call and one or two Swallows go west over the Eye Field. There are some birds which are less obviously migrants, but you can still spot some of them which appear to be on the move. A small group of five Carrion Crows flew past determinedly east, followed a short while later by another six. Then ten or so more dropped down into the grass for a second before continuing on their way.

Carrion Crows

Carrion Crow – one of several small groups moving east this morning

North Scrape looked pretty quiet at first, but a careful scan revealed a single Common Snipe lurking on the edge of the reeds right down at the front. The number of Ruff has been steadily increasing as birds start to make their way back north again, stopping off here before heading back to the continent. There was a nice flock of twenty or so out here this morning, accompanied by a single Dunlin. A Whimbrel or two flew past behind us, calling.

While we were admiring the waders, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call behind us and turned round to see a flock of eight flying past over the shingle. They dropped down onto the ridge of the Eye Field and we had a good view of them in the scope, feeding in the grass. There were several stunningly bright yellow males, which positively shone in the morning sun. Another four Yellow Wagtails then flew past over the edge of North Scrape and dropped down to join them. It is always a real sign of spring migration when the Yellow Wagtails are moving and a delight to witness.

The Yellow Wagtails flew up and appeared to drop back into the grass on the other side of the ridge, so we decided to start to make our way back to try to get a closer look at them. As we walked back, three Sandwich Terns flew past just offshore. Four Wheatears flew up from the near corner of the Eye Field and two of them perched up on the fence posts ahead of us, a male and a female. It was hard to tell whether they were part of the group we had seen on our walk out or new additions.

Wheatears

Wheatear – there were lots in the Eye Field today

As we got up onto the ridge, we saw a group of Yellow Wagtails fly past. They were possibly the same ones we had seen earlier, but this time they were accompanied by a couple of White Wagtails. We saw the latter drop down onto the small pool by the fence where we had seen the Redshanks earlier. When we got back there, we had great views of the two White Wagtails and two smart male Yellow Wagtails too. We could see the pale silvery grey backs of the White Wagtails, very different from the darker black or slate grey of our Pied Wagtails.

Back at the car, we made our way further east along the coast road to Kelling. As we walked up along the lane, it was rather quiet at first. A Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school. As we got to the copse, we could hear another Chiffchaff and a Blackcap singing. Two male Blackcaps then appeared in the trees on the other side of the path, before chasing each other back into the copse.

In the dense bramble hedge bordering the Water Meadow, we could hear a Common Whitethroat subsinging at first. We stood and listened for a second and waited for it to appear, and eventually it flew up from the vegetation and hovered above singing, before dropping back into the brambles further along. It proceeded to sing from various points as it moved down the hedge ahead of us. They are only just starting to return from their wintering grounds in Africa now, so it is always a pleasure to head a Common Whitethroat.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – back in and singing in the hedge alongside the Water Meadow

There were a few bits and pieces on the pool itself, but nothing out of the ordinary – a few Avocets and a Redshank, plus a variety of ducks including Teal and Shoveler. As we continued on down towards the Quags, a Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled at us from deep in the flowering blackthorn. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and dropped down on the edge of the shingle ridge.

We kept scanning the bushes and brambles as we walked down towards the beach. There were loads of Linnets and another Common Whitethroat flew out ahead of us and down to the corner. Before we got there, we happened to look back and noticed a small bird on the brambles half way up the slope. A quick look through the scope confirmed it was a cracking male Whinchat, a regular but rather scarce migrant through here in spring. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but then it dropped down and completely disappeared.

Stopping to scan the Quags, we could see yet more Wheatears out in the grass. They really were coming through in numbers today. Someone walking past mentioned that there had been a sandpiper out here earlier and thankfully, just a short while afterwards, a helicopter flew past and a Common Sandpiper flicked up from the far side of the island out in the middle of the small pool briefly.

We had to wait a short while longer until the Common Sandpiper eventually walked round onto the near side of the island and we could get a better look at it. Unlike the Green Sandpiper we had seen earlier, we could see the obvious notch of white extending up between the breast and the wing on this one.

There were more migrants moving here too. A few Sand Martins were possibly local birds, but a handful of House Martins flew through west too, along with one or two Swallows. More small groups of Yellow Wagtails flew overhead, their shrill calls alerting us each time to their passing, along with several parties of Linnets.

News came through that two Common Cranes had been seen flying west past Cromer, so we walked up onto the ridge to see whether we could see them. We flushed a few Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting from the grass. A male Stonechat up in the bushes appeared to be carrying food, or possibly nest material. There was no sign of the Cranes – it turned out they had headed inland and dropped back to the coast later, at Cley. But we did pick up a couple of Red Kites flying east and several Common Buzzards circling up over the ridge inland.

A couple of Ring Ouzels had been seen earlier, on the edge of Weybourne Camp, so we walked back down and along the front to see if we could find them again. We couldn’t, but we did see yet more Yellow Wagtails flying past. Three drake Common Scoter were diving offshore and we could see the yellow stripe up the front of the bill in the sunshine.

Common Scoter

Common Scoter – these three were diving just offshore

After a quick walk back to the car, we made our way round to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch. A Marsh Harrier was circling up out over the reserve and House Sparrows were chirping from the bushes as we ate.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. As we walked out along the boardwalk to the hides, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. A male perched up briefly in the reeds before flying off over the tops, then several more flitted back and forth across the path ahead of us. A pair of Lapwing were displaying over the edge of Cricket Marsh, tumbling and twisting in unison, and singing – such an amazing song for a wader.

Lapwing

Lapwings – displaying over Cricket Marsh

We headed straight into Dauke’s Hide first. We could immediately see lots of waders out on both Simmond’s Scrape and Pat’s Pool. In particular, there were good numbers of both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit. The former are quite common here, but Bar-tailed Godwits are more normally found out in the harbour or on Arnold’s Marsh. They were quite possibly migrants, stopping off here to rest on their way north.

It was nice to see the two species of godwit alongside each other for comparison. The Bar-tailed Godwits were noticeably smaller and shorter legged with a more obviously up-turned bill, and in non-breeding plumage with paler sandy upperparts strongly streaked with dark, very different from the rather plain grey upperparts of the Black-tailed Godwits. Several of the Black-tailed Godwits were already starting to moult extensively into their rusty breeding plumage, as was one of the Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty breeding plumage

In with the godwits, there were fifteen or more Knot too, much smaller and greyer, with a shorter straight bill. A couple of Dunlin were already starting to moult into breeding plumage, already showing a black belly patch.

There were lots more Ruff out here too. They are already starting to moult into breeding plumage too, the males getting variegated with brighter summer feathering in various colours, although none are yet starting to get their breeding ruffs. There were much bigger numbers of females now, which are noticeably and substantially smaller than the males. They really are one of the most confusing of waders, with the variety of sizes and colours!

White Wagtails were liberally scattered over the scrapes – we managed to count at least six on view at the same time. They are passing through in good numbers at the moment, heading back north, across to the continent for the summer.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – we counted at least 6 on the scrapes at Cley

There have been a couple of Great White Egrets along this section of the coast in the last few days, migrants or wandering birds different from the residents at Holkham. One Great White Egret chose that moment to stick its neck up out of the ditch which leads away to one side of the hide – we could see its long, yellow, dagger-like bill.

It was working its way slowly towards us along the ditch, but when the door to the hide was slammed shut it flew up and out and landed on the bank further back, which at least meant we got a good look at it in all its glory. It then walked back into the ditch beyond.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches out from the hides

A good number of Black-headed Gulls were gathered on one of  the islands on Pat’s Pool, sleeping or preening. A couple of young Common Gulls were in with them. At the far end of the island, a couple of Sandwich Terns were lurking amongst them and through the scope we could see their yellow-tipped black bills and shaggy crests.

We had a quick look in at Avocet Hide, but there was no sign of the pair of Garganey which were around the area yesterday. There are lots of Avocets on here and they look to be getting down to nesting – the new scrape seems to be very much to their liking. One Avocet was tidying up the island in front of the hide and another pair were mating further back.

When all the Avocets started alarm calling and flew up from the scrapes, we looked up to scan for raptors. It is normally just one of the local Marsh Harriers, but this time a small adult male Peregrine came zipping over high from behind the hide and out towards the Eye Field, scattering everything, before turning back towards the village.

A group of bigger gulls were half hidden in the long grass out on Billy’s Wash and someone in the hide then spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull which had walked out to the end of the group. We could see its striking black-tipped, pink-based bill and it looked generally washed out and pale. When it flapped its wings, we could see its distinctive pale primaries too. This bird has been hanging around here, on and off, for some time now, joining the other loafing gulls here in the afternoon.

After walking back to the Visitor Centre, we drove the short distance round to the Iron Road and made our way out to Babcock Hide. Three Little Ringed Plovers were on the grassy spit out to one side of the hide and it quickly became apparent that they were a pair and a third bird. The male of the pair was clearly trying to see off the other bird and proceeded to chase it right across in front of the hide. It was pretty relentless and wouldn’t let it settle, but it meant we got stunning close views of them – it was very easy to see the striking golden yellow eye ring at this close range!

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – one of the three in front of Babcock Hide

There were more Ruff on the scrape here, including a rusty-coloured male which was feeding with a Redshank right at the front. Up close, we could see it had lost all its neck feathers and the new ones were just starting to grow, in pin. Presumably it won’t be too long before this one is sporting its smart breeding ruff.

Ruff 2

Ruff – this male has moulted its neck feathers already

A pair of Pied Wagtails were also feeding on the mud right in front of the hide and it was a good opportunity to look closely at them and compare them to the White Wagtails we had seen earlier. The male Pied Wagtail was pretty obvious, with a glossy black mantle, but the female had a rather plain but slate grey back, much darker than the White Wagtails.

The Black-necked Grebe finally appeared from behind the reeds at the back – the bird we had come here hoping to see. It has been around for several days now and it was well worth the effort – it really is stunning in full breeding plumage, mostly black with chestnut flanks, and then a tuft of bright golden feathers flaring out behind its bright red eye.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – a stunning bird, in full breeding plumage

The Spoonbill was less obliging, doing what Spoonbills like to do best, fast asleep in the reeds at the back. We could just see its shaggy nuchal crest blowing in the wind, but it kept its bill tucked in.

Heading back to the car, we walked on up the Iron Road to the pool. There were several more Wheatears here – at least 3 – feeding in the short grass around the edge of the scrape. Another couple of White Wagtails were out on the mud in the middle. It really was the day for migrant Wheatears and wagtails today – great to see!

There were more Ruff and a couple of Redshanks on here too – this pool is looking just right for waders at the moment, although it is now starting to dry out so they had better hurry up. We could see dark clouds gathering to west, and flashes of lightning offshore, so we walked back to the car. We were just in time – it started to rain as we drove back towards Cley.

We stopped at the Visitor Centre for a break and to scan the scrapes to see if the rain bright down any migrants and when we got inside, the heavens opened. All the birds were standing out on the pools, rowed up, facing up, looking into the rain, trying to let it wash off them. We were fortunate – the thunder storms had been forecast for much earlier in afternoon. We had pretty much finished anyway for the day now. As it started to ease off, we made a quick dash for car the and headed for home.

Here’s looking forward to another day out tomorrow!

6th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today, our last day and the last Autumn Migration Tour for this season. The weather forecast for today was dreadful but thankfully, as usual, the Met Office had got it wrong. It was windy all day and we did have to dodge some squally showers in the afternoon, but in the morning we were presented with most unexpected blue skies and bright sunshine.

Our first stop for the day was at Snettisham.As we made our way down to the reserve, we saw a group of swans on the northern pit and a quick look confirmed they were Whooper Swans, presumably stopped off on there way down to the Fens. There appeared to be two families – a pair with six juveniles and another pair with three young and an extra adult tagging along. There was a bit of squabbling going on between the two groups – wing flapping and adults chasing after each other with necks outstretched.

6o0a7585Whooper Swans – one of two families on the northern pit at Snettisham

It was getting on for high tide already, but it was not a particularly big tide today which meant that the waders would not be pushed very high up the mud. Scanning from the seawall, we could see huge flocks of waders out over the mud, thousands of Knot and smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits in particular. Closer to us, little groups of Dunlin were more spread out, feeding feverishly.

Many of the flocks were seeking whatever shelter from the wind they could find out on the exposed mud. We got a group of Knot in the scope which were crammed tight in a small depression. On the edge of the channel down in from of us, down at of the wind, was a little huddle of Dunlin, together with a Grey Plover and a Redshank, all trying to sleep.

We took shelter in Rotary Hide to scan the mud. Looking out to the edge of the Wash, we could see long lines of Gannets battling north. They had been blown into the Wash by the strong north wind and were now trying to work their way back out again along the eastern shore. A couple of juvenile Gannets tried flying in across the mud instead, flushing the flocks of Knot which were not sure exactly what was flying overhead.

6o0a7606Gannet – trying to make its way back north, out of the Wash

Over on the edge of the water we could see a couple of large flocks of sleeping Oystercatchers, looking like a black smear along the shore line in the distance. Three Sanderling were much closer, landing on the near edge of the channel and running along on the mud.

Looking out the other side of Rotary Hide, we found one of the two Black-necked Grebes which have been here for a few days now. It was hard viewing from here, as we were looking into the morning sun. The water was also very choppy. whipped up by the blustery wind. The Black-necked Grebe was diving continually, with a couple of Little Grebes too, a little further back.

img_8281Black-necked Grebe – one of two on the southern pit again today

Braving the elements again, we walked further down along the seawall. A lone drake Pintail was on one of the small pools on the near edge of the mud as we passed so we stopped for a closer look at it. It was a smart drake, largely out of eclipse but still without its long pin-shaped tail.

img_8289Pintail – on its own out on the mud on the edge of the Wash

Round at Shore Hide we got ourselves out of the wind again. We had a better view across the pit from here, with the sun away to our right. Almost immediately we found the Scaup, bobbing about on the water in front of the hide. It was a 1st winter drake, just starting to get some grey feathers on its back and white on the rear flanks, and with a dirty white face.

6o0a7639Scaup – the first winter drake on the pit

The second Black-necked Grebe was also diving continually, a little further out behind the Scaup. As were a smart pair of Goldeneye. At first, they were rather distant, down at the southern end of the pit, but after a while they reappeared over in front of the far bank, out from the hide. There was a nice selection of dabbling ducks too, mostly Wigeon in various stages of moult, plus a few Shoveler and a lone pair of Gadwall. We stopped to admire the drake Gadwall, a most under-appreciated bird!

There were comparatively few waders on the pits today. With the small tide, they were not going to be pushed off the Wash. However, there was a tight huddle of fifty or so Redshank on the edge of one of the islands. The vast majority of them were Common Redshank, but a closer look revealed a single Spotted Redshank in with them. They were all asleep at first, but still it was possible to pick the Spotted Redshank out at the back of the flock – it was a slightly paler shade of grey, more silvery-grey than the slaty coloured Common Redshanks, and through the scope we could see the much more marked white supercilium in front of the eye. Eventually something spooked them and they woke up, at which point it was possible to see the Spotted Redshank’s longer, needle fine bill.

It had been gloriously sunny for the most part at Snettisham, but as we drove back to the north coast we could see some rain clouds coming in off the sea and it started to rain as we turned the corner. We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we made a quick detour down to Holme on the way there. There had been a large flock of Waxwings here for the last couple of days. As we drove down the reserve entrance track, we couldn’t see any, but on our way back with the windows open we heard them flying over and saw them land in the hedge behind us, down near Redwell Marsh.

A quick about turn and we managed to get good views of the Waxwings through the scope from the road, in the top of a hawthorn. We walked round and down the footpath to Redwell Marsh, hoping to get a little closer, but by the time we got there they had disappeared. As we made our way back to the road, we heard them calling and they flew over, 25-30 in total, and disappeared over in the direction of the village.

At least it had stopped raining, but it was still rather overcast while we were here. We did see a few other birds. There were lots of Blackbirds and a few Redwing in the hedges, and a couple of Fieldfares flew over as we walked along the road. A Kingfisher zipped over but disappeared down into the river channel out of view. With the Waxwings having disappeared, we didn’t hang around and moved quickly on to Titchwell. On the way there, we could see a huge flock of Fieldfare feeding in a winter wheat field by the main road, presumably recently arrived from the continent.

After lunch at Titchwell, we made our way out onto the reserve. It was very blustery out on the main path, but we stopped for a quick look over Thornham grazing marsh and the dried up pool. We found the Water Pipit which had been frequenting the puddles here recently, but it was right at the back and unfortunately disappeared into the vegetation before everyone could get onto it. A Marsh Harrier hung over the reedbed at the back.

Island Hide offered us some welcome shelter from the wind. The water level on the freshmarsh is going up fast now, as the warden tried to get the vegetation under control. Consequently, there are fewer waders on here at the moment. A single Ruff was picking around in the vegetation on the edge of the cut reeds beside the hide, and a few more Ruff were further out on the islands. While we were scanning, at least 30 more Ruff flew in, one of them with a noticeably very white head. Even in winter, they can be very variable, underlining why Ruff is probably the most often confused wader.

6o0a7676Ruff – in winter plumage, feeding in the vegetation close to Island Hide

There were lots of ducks on the freshmarsh. Large numbers of Wigeon and Teal in particular, with some of the drakes looking increasingly smart as they have now mostly emerged from their duller eclipse plumage. In with them, were smaller numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler.

Good numbers of gulls were seeking shelter from the wind and loafing around on the water or on the islands. The Great Black-backed Gulls had probably sought refuge from the brunt of the wind out on the beach, where they would normally be. A single Yellow-legged Gull was asleep on one of the islands at first, but eventually woke up and showed us its bright yellow legs. It was also noticeably darker mantled than the nearby Herring Gulls.

img_8311Yellow-legged Gull – one was amongst all the gulls on the freshmarsh today

Round to Parrinder Hide and we called in on the north side first. A Curlew feeding in front of the hide was the highlight. Otherwise, there were several Redshank and a distant Grey Plover out on Volunteer Marsh. The islands of vegetation can sometimes conceal a lot of birds on here and down below us we could see a mob of Wigeon and Teal attacking the plants.

6o0a7694Curlew – feeding in front of Parrinder Hide on the Volunteer Marsh

On the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the freshmarsh, there were two Common Snipe feeding just below the hide, although they quickly scurried away further along the bank. There are not so many places for them to hide here now, since the reeds on the bank have been cut down

img_8318Common Snipe – feeding on the bank outside Parrinder Hide

The piles of cut vegetation proved to be a perfect perch for a couple of Stonechat. They had been feeding from the fence around the island further over, dropping down from the posts to the ground. They gradually worked their way along, closer to us, and switched to using the mounds of cut reed as vantage points instead.

A smart drake Shoveler was feeding out on the water in front of the hide. When they are feeding, Shoveler swim around with their enormous bills under the water, stirring up food and then filtering it out with their bills. They can do this for long periods without lifting their heads out – making them very tricky to photograph!

6o0a7734Shoveler – a smart drake feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

There have been some White-fronted Geese at Titchwell for a week or so now. They seem to move between the maize field along the entrance road and the freshmarsh. Today, they were feeding on the fenced off island with all the Greylags. It was hard to tell exactly how many there were. There was the usual family party, two adults and two juveniles, and at least one further adult today.

When the adult White-fronted Geese raised their heads, you could see the distinctive white band around the base of their bills. At one point, as they came out of the vegetation, you could also see the black bands on their bellies. The two juvenile White-fronted Geese lacked the white face and black belly bars, but were still smaller and darker than the Greylags, with a pink bill.

img_8323White-fronted Goose – one of the adults, raising its head

There didn’t seem to be any Avocets left here are first. Most of the birds which breed here or gather post-breeding, have long since left for warmer climes further south. Most years, a small number linger on through into the winter. Eventually we found them, six Avocets lurking right in the back corner of the freshmarsh.

It seems rude to visit Titchwell without at least seeing the sea. We did make a quick sortie out to the beach today, to finish the day. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a little group of Dunlin were feeding along the channel right by the main path. Out on the tidal pools, there were a couple of Black-tailed Godwit and a Grey Plover. However, we didn’t linger on the walk out today, given the wind, but headed straight on to the sea.

As we got to the beach, we could see a squally shower blowing in and the first spots of rain were blowing in to our faces. The sea was rough, which would make it tricky to see any birds out here anyway. Still, it is always amazing to see the fury of the sea on a stormy day. With the rain starting to come in, we beat a hasty retreat.

Walking back past the freshmarsh, there were lots of birds coming in to roost. Lines of Black-headed Gulls flew in from the fields and another flock of Ruff came in over the reedbed and grazing marshes. A Marsh Harrier drifted in from the Thornham direction and headed off over the reedbed. With the light fading, it was time for us to call it a day too. The weather hadn’t been anyway near as bad as forecast and we had still managed to see a great selection of birds, despite the windy conditions.

16th December 2014 – Photographing Geese

A private tour again today. The request was to spend the day watching and photographing geese. There is no shortage of geese in Norfolk in the winter! Getting up close to them can sometimes be more of a challenge.

We went first to Salthouse, which was a convenient pale to start the day. This has been a good place for Brent Geese in recent weeks, and we were not disappointed. A large group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese was feeding on the grazing marsh by the Iron Road. A quick scan through them revealed the Black Brant which has been present for the last few weeks, though roaming up and down the coast and elusive at times. It’s much darker – almost black – body plumage and extensive white flank patch and collar meant it stood out obviously from the rest.

P1100364Black Brant – this very striking bird stood out amongst the Dark-bellieds

P1100359Black Brant – the white collar is extensive, across the neck under the chin

Also in the same flock was a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose. Whereas our regular Dark-bellieds come from Russia, and Black Brant from North America or Eastern Siberia, we get a few Pale-bellieds from Svalbard, Franz Josef Land or Canada every winter. It was  a great opportunity to compare three subspecies of Brent Goose in a single flock.

P1100384Pale-bellied Brent Goose – the near-white belly is obvious here

We spent some time watching the geese and particularly the Pale-bellied Brent Goose. Even though it was in the middle of a vast throng, it was clear that this bird had three juveniles accompanying it. It was also paired to a male Dark-bellied Brent Goose – a mixed pair, and the young birds appear to be hybrids between the two subspecies. This pairing is very rarely reported, given that the populations are typically geographically separated, but this pair has been returning for a couple of years now. It was particularly interesting to look at the young hybrids.

P1100380Pale-bellied & Dark-bellied Brent Goose pair & hybrid young

P1100339Pale-bellied Brent Goose – can you tell the 3 hybrid young from the others?

Also amongst the Brents was a small group of Pink-footed Geese. They were mostly in the longer grass and hard to see but one bird glimpsed occasionally appeared to have a neck collar. Eventually, it came out into view and we could read the letters on the grey collar – ‘THS’. A quick check back at base later revealed that I had actually seen this bird two years ago, nearby at Kelling! It was ringed as an adult male at Loch of Lintrathen in Angus on 16th December 2007, and had been seen in Norfolk over the winter of 2010/11 and in December 2012 at least.

IMG_2057Neck-collared Pink-footed Goose – I had seen ‘THS’ at Kelling in Dec’12!

From there, we moved on to Holkham. Most of the Pink-footed Geese spend the days feeding inland, on discarded sugar beet tops in recently harvested fields. A few remain at Holkham, loafing around on the grazing marshes. By carefully positioning the car, we were able to get close to a view and get some great photos.

P1100397

P1100457

P1100466Pink-footed Geese – great photographic opportunities at Holkham

There were fewer geese at the west end of Holkham, and most of those present appeared to be Greylags. However, a closer look through the geese revealed several White-fronted Geese hiding in the deeper vegetation out on the grazing marshes.

The days are short in the middle of winter, and the only other thing required today was a quick visit to see Snettisham. It seemed like a nice way to round off the day. Out on the Wash, there were enormous quantities of waders. Lots of Golden & Grey Plover, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank & Turnstone. It was great to watch the swirling flocks. The Golden Plover were quick to take flight. However, whenever a raptor flew over, all the other birds took to the air. The odd Marsh Harrier flew over, but two young Peregrines spent some time chasing fruitlessly after various waders, putting them all up.

On the pits, amongst the feral Greylags, were lots of ducks – mostly Wigeon and Mallard, but a few Gadwall, Tufted Duck and also several Goldeneye. There were a number of Little Grebes and amongst them a single Black-necked Grebe – quite a rare bird in Norfolk and a nice one for the list. As the sun started to go down, we walked back to the car – fittingly, the backdrop was provided by the Pink-footed Geese flying out onto the Wash to roost.