Tag Archives: Blakeney Freshes

5th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was cloudy and increasingly blustery today, with winds gusting to 47mph this afternoon, so we spent the day dodging the showers. Still, it was surprising how much we saw despite the weather.

As we drove east along the coast road this morning, we flushed lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches from the sides of the road. Our first destination was Blakeney, for a quick walk out around the Freshes before the wind picked up later. A couple of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the harbour channel just across from the car park but we could immediately see that one was much paler than the other. A closer look confirmed, one was a Pale-bellied Brent and the other a Dark-bellied Brent Goose.

6o0a7350Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese – a nice comparison

Dark-bellied is the regular form of Brent Goose which winters in large numbers here. This subspecies breeds in arctic Russia. Pale-bellied Brent Geese breed from Svalbard west across arctic Canada and winter mainly on the west coast of Scotland and in Ireland. We normally get a handful of Pale-bellied in with the flocks of Dark-bellied Brents here each winter and they occasionally form mixed pairs. Today was a great opportunity to see them side by side.

While we were watching the Brent Geese, we heard a Kingfisher call and looked across the channel to see two Kingfishers chasing each other low over the water. They flew over to our side of the channel and disappeared over the bank towards the Freshes. A little later we saw one of the zip back low across the reeds towards the wildfowl collection. A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds a little further along.

Further along the seawall, as we got almost to the corner, we turned to look at the Freshes just in time to glimpse a dumpy bird dropping down into the grass on the edge of a flooded depression. We had a pretty good idea what it was, but we couldn’t see it from the seawall or from the path the other side. As we approached for a closer look, a Jack Snipe flew up and shot off towards the harbour – just what we had suspected. In flight, we could really see the small size and the shorter bill compared to a Common Snipe.

We continued on along the north side of the Freshes bank. There were lots of Skylarks down in the short weedy vegetation beyond the fence. A flock of Linnets flew in and dropped down there too briefly. A Rock Pipit flew over calling and landed on the fence, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. Reed Buntings occasionally flew up from the bushes but quickly disappeared back down again. A female Stonechat worked its way along the fence, dropping down onto the side of the bank periodically to look for food.

6o0a7371Stonechat – this lone female was working its way along the fence line

It is very exposed to the elements out on the seawall here. The wind was now starting to pick up and we could see dark clouds coming in towards us over the sea, so we decided to head back to the car. We had a quick look at the wildfowl in the Blakeney collection – none of which were allowed on the bird list for the day of course! We were just settled back in the warmth of the car when we saw two Peregrines over the edge of Friary Hills. A larger adult Peregrine, presumably a female, was chasing a smaller male juvenile – they swooped low over the grass before disappearing behind a hedge, coming out the other side and zooming off over the houses.

With the deterioration in the weather, we decided to head inland to get some respite. There have been some Waxwings in Holt for the last couple of days and as we turned into the road where they have most often been seen we could immediately see several photographers with long lenses pointed up into the trees. Even before we stopped, we could see Waxwings, and we could hear them calling as we got out of the car.

6o0a7387Waxwing – there were at least 20 in Holt today

There were at least 20 Waxwings, but they were hard to count as they were feeding in several different trees, and frequently flying round in small groups or singles. The bulk of the group seemed to keep returning to the top of a large chestnut tree, where they were hard to see among the leaves. From there, they would drop down into several smaller rowans, where they would proceed to wolf down the red berries, much to the annoyance of the local Blackbirds! There was also an apple tree in one of the front gardens by the road, and several of the Waxwings kept coming down to attack the apples, clinging on to them and biting away at the flesh where they had been half eaten already.

6o0a7454Waxwing – feeding on apples, as well as rowan berries

Having feasted ourselves, on such excellent views of such gorgeous looking birds, when the Waxwings flew off and disappeared round behind the buildings, we decided to move on. Our next stop was at Sheringham, where we went for a walk along the sea front.We thought we might pick up some seabirds on our way, but at first it seemed a little quiet, apart from hordes of Turnstones around the fishing boats which had been hauled up the slipway.

6o0a7525Turnstone – lots along the prom at Sheringham

There was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on their usual favourite rocks below the pub, but when we got to the shelter at the east end of the prom, we could see first one and then two Purple Sandpipers distantly out on the sea defences.

We stopped to talk to another couple of local birders who told us that the movement of seabirds was just picking up, after the wind had strengthened. A line of Common Scoter flew past with a single Tufted Duck in amongst them. A steady stream of Gannets tacked across the wind, heading east offshore, both white adults and dark grey-brown juveniles. There were little groups of Guillemots zooming across and a couple of Red-throated Divers went past too.Then a few Great Skuas started to pass by – in the half hour we stood there sheltering from the wind, we saw about ten – but they were all rather distant and hard to get everyone onto. A single juvenile Pomarine Skua was even further offshore.

As a particularly fierce squall blew in off the sea, we took shelter until it passed. Perhaps prompted by a Sanderling which came in with them, the two Purple Sandpipers took off and flew towards us, passing by and heading back to the rocks below the pub. We waited until the rain had stopped and decided to walk back to look for them. Unfortunately, by that stage they had disappeared again. We did find a couple of Ringed Plovers which had probably stopped off with the Turnstones to sit out the wind.

6o0a7527Ringed Plover – stopped off with the Turnstones on the slipway

After lunch and a welcome hot drink back along the coast road at Cley, we drove round to Iron Road and headed down along Attenborough’s Way. There was a nice flock of Brent Geese out on the grazing meadows (all Dark-bellieds), and as well as the plain backed adults we could see quite a few stripe-backed juveniles. Hopefully, as the Brent Goose numbers increase over the coming weeks, it will prove to have been a good breeding season for them this year.

6o0a7537Brent Geese – adults & juveniles on the grazing marshes

Round at Babcock Hide, the wind was now whistling across the marshes. A little flock of Dunlin were feeding down at the front of the scrape below the hide, but they were very skittish and kept whirling round before dropping back down again. A pair of Redshank were defending their feeding territory in front of the hide, chasing off any others which tried to land there.

First one Black-tailed Godwit dropped in, then another five, stopping to feed for a few minutes before flying off again, flashing their boldly marked black and white wings. A couple of little groups of Lapwing flew in from the east and stopped to rest for a minute or two on the islands.

None of the waders would settle, in part because there were a couple of Marsh Harriers about. First, a dark juvenile flew across the reeds at the back of the pool, and drifted off towards Salthouse. Then a young male Marsh Harrier, with paler underwings and small patches of paler grey emerging on its upperwings, did the same. As they came over the grazing marshes, all the Wigeon shot out into the middle of the water from the banks. There were a few Teal and Mallard with them and three Shoveler appeared from behind the reeds too.

When a particularly dark cloud had passed over, we returned to the car and drove back round to the main part of the reserve. Just as we set out to walk to the hides, it started to rain so we hurried out along the boardwalk – thankfully it was only light rain and we got out there without getting wet.

There were several Shelduck out on Pat’s Pool and  huddle of gulls out beyond the first island. A few Teal were out on one of the further islands, but there were not many waders – three Dunlin at the back and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in with the gulls. Simmond’s Scrape held more wildfowl – a larger flock of Wigeon, a good number of Teal and a huddle of around 20 Pintail asleep behind one of the islands. Presumably the waders had gone elsewhere in search of food and shelter. A Common Snipe was feeding on the bank outside Dauke’s Hide but flew across and landed down behind the grass in front of Teal Hide where we couldn’t see it.

A couple more Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbed beyond the scrapes this side. The light was starting to fade already and they were presumably gathering before going to roost. Several Pied Wagtails flew past while we watched, some of them dropping in to the islands briefly, before continuing on their way heading off to roost.

6o0a7562Marsh Harrier – gathering over the reeds before going to roost

Turning our attention to the gulls, we could immediately see a good selection of different species – Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. One of the herring gull-types looked different – it was very white-headed, whereas Herring Gulls typically have lots of grey blotches around the head at this time of year. Against the white head, the beady black eye really stood out – the nearby Herring Gulls instead showing a very pale iris. It was  an adult Caspian Gull.

img_8262Caspian Gull – this adult was hunkered down against the wind on Pat’s Pool

The Caspian Gull was hunkered down against the wind and didn’t initially look as long-billed and long-faced as they usually do. It kept returning to a little patch of cut rushes, behind which it tried to crouch down and shelter. However, the mantle was noticeably half a shade darker than the nearby Herring Gulls. Eventually, the Caspian Gull walked up onto the island and started preening, and now finally we could see the distinctive long head and bill.

Cley in the late evening is normally a good place to see different gulls gathering before they go to roost, but the Caspian Gulls often come in very late, just as it is getting dark, so we were lucky this one had arrived nice and early today. When some of the gulls flew across to Simmond’s Scrape, we turned to look there and found an adult Yellow-legged Gull to add to the day’s gull list. It was with a Lesser and a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a good comparison in mantle tone – it was noticeably much darker grey than the Herring Gulls but paler and less slatey than the Lesser Black-backeds.

At first, the Yellow-legged Gull was up to its belly in the water but eventually it climbed out onto the mud and we could finally see its deep yellow legs. The light was starting to fade now, and consequently they might not have appeared as bright to the unitiated as they otherwise would have done. It was time to call it a day, but it had been a nice way to end with such a good selection of gulls gathering.

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16th Oct 2016 – Eastern Promise, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today, our final day. With rain forecast for the morning, and having bagged most of the best birds along the coast in the last couple of days, we decided to head for Titchwell where we could get some shelter in the hides.

A couple of Dotterel were belatedly reported from Choseley yesterday. We had no idea if the report was genuine, but we diverted round that way for a brief look first, just in case. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of any Dotterel in the fields, but a little group of five Golden Plover flew over calling, as did a Yellowhammer. At that stage the rain started, so we headed down to Titchwell.

The car par was already surprisingly busy when we arrived, and we couldn’t find any spaces in the first section. There didn’t seem to be much activity in the bushes around the overflow car park – most of the birds were probably sheltering from the wind and rain – so we headed straight out towards the reserve. At first the feeders by the visitor centre appeared quiet, but something spooked a load of finches from the ground behind and they flew up into the trees. In with them, we found a couple of Brambling and one helpfully then dropped down onto one of the feeders where we could get a better look at it.

6o0a4340Brambling – two were on the feeders by the visitor centre first thing

Given the rain, we decided to head straight out to the shelter of Island Hide. It proved to be a wise move, as the rain got stronger for a time while we were in there. We did have a quick look at the grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way, which was once again pretty empty, and the reedbed pool which held just a few Gadwall and a couple of Coot today.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh, particularly large numbers of duck now – mainly Teal and Wigeon, plus smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, and a few Shelduck. Some of the drakes are now starting to emerge from drab eclipse plumage, & looking correspondingly smarter.

6o0a4346Teal – starting to emerge from eclipse plumage now

There was a good selection of waders too, and while we waited for the rain to ease we set about looking through them. Most of the larger waders were in the deeper water over towards the back, a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and about 15 Avocets still (most of the Avocets have now gone south for the winter). On the mud at the edge of the reeds, the Ruff had presumably found some shelter from the wind. A party of three Greenshanks stood with them calling for a while, before they flew off west.

Looking around the various islands,we could see several Golden Plover and Lapwing in the grass. A few Dunlin and Ringed Plover were running around in amongst them too. Then we found a Little Stint – it was hard to see at first, being so small in the taller vegetation, but we all eventually got a good look at it when it came out onto a small pool. A Jack Snipe on the nearest island came out into the open for a time, where we could see it bobbing up and down continuously as it walked along slowly feeding, before disappearing into the vegetation again.

By this stage the rain had eased, so we decided to walk round to Parrinder Hide. As we got round to the junction in the path, we had a quick look over the bank at Volunteer Marsh, which was rewarded with a nice close Curlew Sandpiper and two nearby Dunlin. We watched the Curlew Sandpiper for a while as it fed on the mud just the other side of the channel, before it walked into the water and started bathing, giving us a great view of its white rump in the process. Then it flew off further back and we headed for the hide.

6o0a4385Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile gave great views on the Volunteer Marsh

From round at the Parrinder Hide, you get a different view of the freshmarsh. At first, we saw many of the same birds that we had seen from the other side, but then one of the group picked up a different Curlew Sandpiper on one of the islands, another juvenile but this one much paler, lacking any orangey wash on the breast now and already moulting some of its upperparts to grey first winter feathers. We also found a second Little Stint, a much duller individual than the first. Three Spoonbills were asleep over the back of the fresmarsh, until two decided to wake up and fly off over the bank.

A Jack Snipe appeared on the edge of the mud directly opposite the hide, much closer than the one we had seen earlier, giving us great views as it crept in and out of the vegetation. We could see the golden yellow back strips contrasting with the otherwise very dark upperparts, and the dark central crown strip. This was presumably our second of the day, as it was in a very different place to the first, and there have been at least two Jack Snipe at Titchwell recently.

img_7712Jack Snipe – showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Meadow Pipits on the grass in front of Parrinder Hide and we had been looking for a Rock Pipit in with them. While everyone was looking at the Jack Snipe, a sharp call alerted us to an incoming pipit but it didn’t sound strident enough for a Rock and we looked across to see a very smart Water Pipit drop in, the first we have seen here this autumn. With very white underparts with black streaks, a well marked white supercilium and white wing bars, and the greyish head and neck contrasting with the browner mantle, it is a very different bird to the more swarthy Rock Pipits.

img_7659Water Pipit – the first we have seen at Titchwell this autumn

Between the Jack Snipe and the Water Pipit, we didn’t know which way to look. Then both worked their way round so they were together, saving us that decision!

img_7719Water Pipit & Jack Snipe – together, in the same scope view

For once the forecast was right and the rain stopped. It hadn’t even hindered our ability to see a great variety of birds! We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. We had very nice views of a close Grey Plover, and what was presumably the same Curlew Sandpiper we had seen earlier from the path was now in front of the hide.

6o0a4442Grey Plover – nice views on the Volunteer Marsh from Parrinder Hide

With the improvement in the weather, we decided to make our way out towards the beach. On the other side of the Volunteer Marsh, along the near edge of the channel next to the main path, we had a nice close Black-tailed Godwit. Just across the channel on the other side, a Turnstone (or perhaps a ‘Turn-mud’) was turning over the dried and cracked plates of mud looking for invertebrates. Perhaps this was the same bird we had seen doing exactly the same thing here three weeks ago?

6o0a4475Black-tailed Godwit – right by the main path on the Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools added a few Little Grebes for the day’s list and a flock of Starlings which flew across from there to the saltmarsh included the striking all-white leucistic bird which has been hanging around the area for some weeks now. Out at the beach the tide was out, so the waders were all down feeding on the mussel beds. As well as lots of Oystercatchers, we could see a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the waves down on the edge of the beach but another came and landed right in front of us on the sand briefly.

We walked halfway down the beach to the comparative shelter of the concrete blocks, giving us a bit of protection from the brisk southerly breeze, and started to scan the sea. A nice close Velvet Scoter was the main prize, diving for shellfish just offshore. There were lots of Common Scoter way off in the distance towards the Wash but one drifted closer in just behind the Velvet Scoter giving us a much better view. There were also several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea closer inshore, but a couple of Red-throated Divers were much further out and hard to get onto given the choppy water. Two Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Gannets flew west.

img_7753Velvet Scoter – diving for shellfish offshore

The other highlight out at the beach was watching lots of different birds coming in over the sea, presumably fresh from the continent, migration in action! Several small groups of Brent Geese flew in and a few landed on the beach. Flocks of Chaffinches, Starlings and thrushes all got to dry land safely. An exhausted Fieldfare just made it to the mussel beds and crashed down out of view, but was promptly chased off by several of the waders and was forced to rest out in the open on the beach. We picked up a Grey Heron coming in, some way out to see initially. It eventually flew in over the beach and dropped down onto the tidal pools.

6o0a4480Grey Heron – flew in from the sea and over the beach

Despite the early rain, it had been an action packed morning but it was now time to start heading back for lunch. We walked back round via the Meadow Trail, and not far in from the main path we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deep in the sallows. It was a bit windy here today and we had all enjoyed good views of Yellow-browed Warbler already in the last couple of days, so we didn’t linger.

Back at the visitor centre, a couple of birders told us that a White-fronted Goose had been seen in the cut maize field by the reserve entrance road, so we made a short detour to see that. It was feeding on its own by a small pool out in the field, so we had a nice look at it through the scope, an adult with white blaze around the bill and black belly bars.

img_7767White-fronted Goose – in the field by the reserve entrance road

We had lunch in the sunshine in the car park today. While we were eating, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling on the sunny edge of the sallows at the far end. Most of the group decided to focus on refuelling, but for those that didn’t we had brief views of the Yellow-browed Warbler flitting around in the trees.

News had come through during the morning that a Cattle Egret had been seen coming in off the sea at Cley and it had later been located with the cows out on Blakeney Freshes. As it would be a new bird for several of the group, we decided to drive back that way and try to see it in the afternoon. When we got to Blakeney, we parked by the harbour and walked round towards Friary Hills which is a good vantage point from which to scan. We had just got past the duck pond when a couple coming back the other way told us that they had just watched the Cattle Egret fly off towards Cley, where they had lost it to view.

Back to the car, we climbed in again and drove round towards Cley, pulling up briefly at the entrance to Friary Hills to confirm the news of the Cattle Egret‘s departure with a couple local birders. From the West Bank at Cley, it was immediately apparent there were no cows left out on the marshes, they had all been taken in for the winter already. Cricket Marsh did at least provide Canada Goose and Rook as additions to the weekend list, so perhaps he journey wasn’t entirely wasted!

Climbing up onto the West Bank by the main sluice to scan the marshes, we happened to look back towards Blakeney where we could see some cows out in the distance over on the Freshes. Just at that moment, we a saw small egret fly up from with them and head off away from us back to where the Cattle Egret had originally been seen. Back in the car and we drove back round to Friary Hills.

When we got up onto the top we were told that the Cattle Egret had indeed reappeared with the cows here, but had been flushed by a Marsh Harrier and had flown up from the nearest herd and dropped back out of view behind the reeds with a more distant group. Thankfully it then flew out and joined the cows and we watched it for some time, walking about, in with cows at times but also stalking around on its own in the low lying boggy areas of the marsh.

img_7789Cattle Egret – in with the cows

We had a good look at the Cattle Egret through the scope – we could see its short yellow-orange bill and small size, with scale being provided by a Grey Heron which was close to it at one point. It was always a little distant and never came back to the closer group of cows while we were there. We did talk about walking out along the bank around the Freshes to get a closer look, but there was little enthusiasm for the walk and it was lovely standing up on Friary Hills in the afternoon sun, scanning the marshes and watching the Cattle Egret with the cows.

There were other birds to see here too. A Green Sandpiper flew around over the marshes a couple of times and a Common Snipe or two did the same. There were lots of Wigeon down on the grazing marshes below us, and a huge cloud flew in to join them when they were flushed from the eastern part of the Freshes by a group of walkers. In with them, we could see a few Teal and a single Pintail.

Several species of raptor were enjoying the sunshine. A couple of Common Buzzards perched on some fenceposts, preening, before flying round and hovering out over the grass. Several Marsh Harriers quartered back and forth over the reeds, unfortunately never quite getting close enough to the Cattle Egret to flush it back towards us. A Sparrowhawk flew in from hunting out over the marshes and disappeared over the trees behind us.

There were still a few migrants to see from here too. Several little flocks of thrushes, particularly Redwings, flew overhead. Two Fieldfares were feeding down in the grass with a flock of Starlings. It was a lovely way to end what had been a very exciting three days of birding, with some very good birds seen and great company.