Tag Archives: Brent Geese

12th December 2014 – Winter Specialities on the Coast

A private tour today in North Norfolk. We were hoping to catch up with a few of the winter specialities and see some Pink-footed Geese. We certainly did see some geese! And we had a really good day besides, with a lot of other good birds.

We started the day at Salthouse. A small flock of Brent Geese was feeding right by the Beach Road, so we sat in the car for a while to watch them at close quarters. There were lots of stripy-backed juveniles and lots of squabbles between the different families. Lurking amongst the regular Russian Dark-bellieds was a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose, possibly from Franz Josef Land or Svalbard. However, there was no sign with this group of the Black Brant which has been here regularly for the last few weeks.

P1100101Pale-bellied Brent Goose – with the Dark-bellieds at Salthouse

We walked out along the beach. A good selection of ducks was out on the pools – Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and a single Shelduck. Suddenly, a flock of small birds flew up from the shingle ahead of us and their distinctive twittering immediately confirmed that they were Snow Buntings. They flew off to the east, flashing their white wing patches of various sizes, returning overhead shortly afterwards and disappearing from view. In the distance, we could also see another flock of small birds which flew round and landed on the edge of the shingle. They looked like Twite, so we decided to walk west and try to find them.

However, when we got to where they had landed, we couldn’t find them. Walking a little further on, we came across the Snow Buntings again, about 20 in all, and this time got great views through the scope as they fed in the sparse vegetation behind the beach. We turned to head back, and hadn’t gone very far when the flock of about 30 Twite flew round once more. We managed to position ourselves and they flew in and landed on the fence in front of us, allowing us to get a good look at them, before dropping down to feed in the long grass, at which point they completely disappeared again! Knowing where they were, we stood and watched for a while and one or two birds would regularly fly back up onto the fence.

P1100111Snow Buntings – a flock of about 20 was at Salthouse today

As we walked back to the car, we could see more Brent Geese further along the coast at Kelling, so we decided to see if the Black Brant was with them. We had a short walk along the lane there, which yielded Redwing, Song Thrush, Yellowhammer and a stunning male Bullfinch. However, there was no sign of the target goose, so we didn’t linger.

We had driven via Cley looking for geese on our way to Salthouse earlier on. There had been none there first thing, but news came through that the Black Brant had been seen there later in the morning, so we drove round to the Eye Field. We quickly found the Brent Geese and it didn’t take long to locate the Black Brant in amongst them – its much darker, blackish body plumage and striking white flank patch and collar meaning it really stood out.

IMG_1939Black Brant – in the Eye Field at Cley today

From there, we headed on to Wells. Some of the Pink-footed Geese had been feeding on the harvested sugar beet fields just inland in previous days, but they had obviously moved on. We did have a Red Kite circling lazily over the road. From there, we dropped back down to Holkham and there were plenty of Pink-footed Geese on the grazing marshes – thousands of them! We stopped a while to watch the throngs, with lots of small groups flying round overhead and a constant backdrop of high-pitched honking. A few were feeding closer to Lady Anne’s Drive and allowed us to get a really good look at them. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Snow Goose which had been here with them for the last couple of days.

IMG_1948Pink-footed Geese – several thousand were in the fields at Holkham

Our next stop was Burnham Overy. We walked out along the track across the grazing marshes. Another nice flock of Brent Geese was feeding close to the path, little groups of Pink-footed Geese were out on the fields and lots of Curlew and Lapwing. A commotion over the other side of the hedge revealed a covey of cantankerous Grey Partridges, at least 8 birds arguing amongst themselves, calling and chasing. We saw several more coveys as we walked out along the seawall. However, the highlight was the big flock of over a thousand Golden Plover – they were very hard to see in the grass but when spooked they flew round and overhead in a swirling flock.

P1100127Golden Plover – the large swirling flock landing back on the grazing marsh

Over towards the dunes, we picked up the unmistakeable flight of a Short-eared Owl. We watched it for a while in the scope as it tussled with a Marsh Harrier, circling back and forth. As we walked along the seawall, a stunning male Hen Harrier flew in and west across the grazing marshes, before circling up and over the dunes. There were numerous Common Buzzards sat on bushes or gates or flying round, but as we got nearer the dunes, we finally located the regular wintering Rough-legged Buzzard, sitting on a fence post out over the marshes. Its pale head and deep black belly patch really standing out in the late afternoon light

IMG_1962Rough-legged Buzzard – this young bird looks set to spend the winter here

As we walked back, a Barn Owl suddenly appeared over the fields. It circled round and flew past us, intent on hunting and oblivious to our presence. We saw it several times as we walked back, working its way back and forth. Just to round off the raptor (& owl) haul, a young Peregrine shot past over the trees just inland on the return walk.

P1100120Pink-footed Geese – a stunning display, thousands flying in overhead at dusk

The sun was starting to go down by this stage. Several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese, each of over a thousand birds, had flown overhead as we walked, coming from the fields inland where they had been feeding to roost out on the marshes. However, the best was to come as we got back to the car. We could hear the noise well before we could see them – a cacophony of yelping and honking in the distance. Then the sky was lined with birds which came in low overhead, the sky almost black with them, the sound of them strangely bewitching. For several seconds they passed above us, an enormous number of geese. We stood in awe as they went. What a great way to finish the day.

P1100131Sunset at Burnham Overy

4th December 2014 – A Good Day for Geese, and More

A private tour today. After a late start, we headed over to Salthouse. As we drove along the coast road, we could see just a few Brent Geese on the grazing marsh by the road. We pulled up and through the window could see that the Black Brant was in amongst them, but before everyone could get onto it the geese took off. They flew over the road and up over the hill beyond, out of sight. Very annoying!

We drove on down to the beach. The sea was quiet – a few distant Red-throated Divers moving past offshore – but there was a good selection of wildfowl on the grazing marshes. Several Shoveler, Wigeon and a few Teal were on view, as well as a couple of Shelduck and a Little Grebe. Suddenly all the ducks erupted from cover and out onto the open water, and we realised there were many more there than we had previously been able to see! The source of the excitement soon became clear as a Sparrowhawk was promptly seen off by a couple of the local Jackdaws. There was no sign of the Lapland Buntings which have been around those fields for the last few days and as we walked back to the car, we worked out why as the Sparrowhawk flew in again to the very area they had previously been in.

P1100072Salthouse – the view over the marshes from Sarbury Hill

From the beach, we had not seen any sign of the Brent Geese returning from where they had flown, so we decided to drive back and have a quiet walk up over the paths beyond the coast road to see if we could locate them. A couple of fields up behind the road, we saw through a gap in the hedge that there was a large flock feeding in a winter wheat field. Moving very slowly, we got ourselves into a position where we could see the geese. They could see us too, but by making sure that we didn’t spook them as we approached, they were happy to walk slowly away from us and resumed feeding. A quick scan through the flock revealed the Black Brant – its much darker body plumage, very bold white flank patch and striking, thick, white collar all immediately serving to distinguish it from our usual wintering Dark-bellied Brent Geese. We got great views of it through the scope.

P1100071Black Brant – amongst Dark-bellied (& one Pale Bellied) Brent Geese

A second scan through the flock and we picked up a rather paler bird – this time a Pale-bellied Brent Goose. This race of Brent occurs regularly but rather uncommonly in Norfolk, coming from places such as Greenland, Spitzbergen or Arctic Canada, much further west than our Russian Dark-bellieds, it typically winters in the west of the UK. At one point, as it walked through the flock, we had the three races of Brent Goose all in the scope together! It is not very often that happens. We retreated as the flock walked away from us over the brow of the hill and out of view.

We moved on to the East Bank at Cley. It was not great weather for Bearded Tits – cold, damp and overcast, although at least it wasn’t windy – but we thought we would have a go at seeing them anyway. A small group of Redshank was feeding on the new pools at the start of the bank and three Ruff had tried to hide in amongst them, giving us a great opportunity to study the differences between these similar-sized waders. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbed and a showy Little Egret fed on the Serpentine. We could hear both Reed Bunting and Wren calling as we walked along, then suddenly heard the distinctive ‘ping’ of a Bearded Tit. Waiting patiently, and one flew out and dropped into the reeds not too far from the East Bank. Then a male shuffled up a reed and briefly sat out in full view and we could see a female feeding on the edge of the shorter reeds.

P1100074Little Egret – feeding on the Serpentine

We headed west to Holkham. Identification of geese was a topic of interest, so we stopped at Lady Anne’s Drive to look at the Pink-footed Geese. There are normally a few birds to be found loafing around in the fields by the road here, and we got excellent views, giving us the chance to compare and contrast with some nearby Greylags and to see the size difference versus the smaller Brents which were mixed in with them.

P1100078Pink-footed Geese – we had good close up views at Holkham

By now, the weather had closed in and it was decidedly misty. Undaunted, we carried on towards Burnham Overy and set off to walk out across the marshes to the seawall. The first thing we saw was a group of at least 12 Barnacle Geese out amongst the Brents. The origin of these birds is never entirely clear, as there is a large feral population in the UK these days.  A short distance further on and we could hear a cacophony of sound approaching from behind. Gradually, out of the mist, we could see the source approaching – at least 2,000 Pink-footed Geese had been disturbed from the sugar beet fields inland, where they had been feeding, and had decided to flight into the grazing marshes. They came right overhead – a truly amazing sight.

P1100081Pink-footed Geese – at least 2,000 birds came right over our heads

There were several small groups of Brents on the grazing marshes as we walked out, and in one of them a bird stood out. Not quite as dark as the Black Brant we saw earlier, the flank patch not quite as white, but still with a very striking collar, this was a hybrid Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose. This bird has been returning to the same area every winter for many years – unfortunately, not normally as accommodating as it was today, right by the path, just as the weather meant there was not enough light to get what would have been a fantastic set of photographs. Always the way!

P1100084Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid – a regular at this site

From up on the seawall, we could see a good selection of waders out on the mud – Grey Plover, Redshank, Dunlin, Knot and Oystercatcher. Later on, after walking out through the dunes to the beach, we added Sanderling, Turnstone and a fly-by Bar-tailed Godwit to that list. Also by the seawall, we flushed a little covey of three Grey Partridges which flew out and landed on the saltmarsh, where we could get them in the scope.

The first raptor we picked out was a female Marsh Harrier, which sat on a bush in the reeds. We watched it as it flew away and chased off a male nearby. However, the bird we had really come here to see was the Rough-legged Buzzard. Just as it looked like we might be out of luck, we picked up a fence post looking slightly taller than it should at a great distance across the marshes. In the scope, through the mist, we could just about make out a pale head – it was a Rough-legged Buzzard. Walking further up the path didn’t help – it was still a long way off and visibility was very poor. However, it had turned round and we could see its solid dark belly patch. Hardly satisfactory views, but under the circumstances, better than we might have feared. At least we had seen it.

After our walk out to the beach, we headed back along the path. A glance out over the saltmarsh revealed a raptor approaching from the west. As it got nearer, it was clearly a Rough-legged Buzzard. It proceeded to come right overhead, giving us great views of its underparts, and as it flew away from us, it banked to show off its white tail with black terminal bank. Stunning, so close, if only the light had been better and the cameras had been out! We were still not finished and, a little further back along the seawall, some mournful honking alerted us to two Bewick’s Swans flying low overhead and away to the west. Well worth the walk out, despite the weather.

What little light there had been was now fading fast, so we headed back to Lady Anne’s Drive and enjoyed the sight and sound of the thousands of Pink-footed Geese coming in to roost.

22nd November 2014 – Brant & Buntings & Harriers

Day 2 of the 3 day tour. The plan was to work our way east along the north coast today. The weather forecast did not look promising, and the day started cloudy with drizzle, but luckily it was not going to be as bad as it first looked.

P1090905Wells Harbour – a damp & misty start

We started out at Wells and had a quick look out across the harbour. Several Marsh Harriers were flying about over the saltmarsh. Groups of Brent Geese came low overhead and landed in the creek to bathe, before flying to the fields to graze. A Little Egret waded just off the mud and several Redshank and Turnstone, plus a Curlew and a Grey Plover were on the sandbanks. A small group of Redwing flew overhead and inland. Best of all, a Kingfisher flashed across and landed on a pontoon in the harbour.

P1090909Little Egret – one of many seen today

A short drive along the coast and just past Cley we could see several large groups of Brent Geese flying alongside us from the reserve to the grazing meadows by the road. We stopped to look through the gathering flock and it wasn’t long before we managed to locate the Black Brant which has been with our ‘Dark-bellied’ Brents in the Cley area for the last couple of weeks. After the Black Brant hybrid which we saw yesterday, this was the real deal, an altogether more impressive beast. Much darker, almost black back and belly with brown rather than grey tones, and with a very bright white flank patch and collar, the latter complete under the chin and continuing extensively round to the rear of the neck. It really stood out among the Dark-bellieds.

IMG_1828Black Brant – a much more striking bird than the hybrid we saw yesterday

While we were sitting in the car watching it, a Chiffchaff appeared in a bush in front of us. Presumably a migrant on the move, it flew off along the ditch by the road. We got out of the car very carefully and managed to get great views through the scope of the Black Brant, but we could see several people gathering in the field across the road and then the shooting started. The geese took flight and all the birds around took to the air. As a large covey of Red-legged Partridges fled from the guns we saw a Woodcock amongst them – thankfully it escaped unscathed.

We drove on to Salthouse and parked on the beach road. Walking up on to the shingle, we stopped to look at a group of Dunlin feeding on the pools behind the beach. A couple of Turnstone were in amongst them and more were feeding around the remains of the old shingle bank.  While we were standing there, a small flock of Snow Buntings flew in from the west, their calls first giving away their arrival, and we watched them land on the edge of the pools. We spent some time watching them through the scope, running quickly along the mud and feeding in the grass along the edge.

We walked east along the beach. A large flock of Linnets was on the shingle where the old car park used to be. Looking out to sea was quiet – a single Red-breasted Merganser flew past, some more Brent Geese arrived presumably from the continent and a lone Gannet circled distantly offshore. The one thing we could see was small groups of Blackbirds flying in off the sea. One landed on the beach exhausted – it took two goes to fly up the beach before dropping down into cover on the other side. At Gramborough Hill, there were a couple more in the bushes and yet more flew in as we walked round. It was to be a theme of the day, with small groups arriving wherever we went.

P1090932Blackbird – this exhausted new arrival took two goes to get up the beach

Back to Cley and we headed along the path by the road and up onto the East Bank. The new pools on the edge of the reedbed held a Grey Heron and a small group of Teal with the Mallard. Scanning along the edge, a pair of Stonechat were by the reeds. Then a sharp call alerted us to a Water Pipit overhead, which thankfully dropped in amongst the reed regrowth around the margin of the pools. We managed to get the scope on it and everyone got a quick look before it disappeared into cover.

P1090934Teal – feeding on the new pools by the East Bank

There were several Marsh Harriers over the reeds, both on the old reserve and over Pope’s Marsh. One of the group spotted another harrier flying in from behind us, which looked slightly different. A quick look revealed a stunning male Hen Harrier. We watched it fly west across the reedbed, over the reserve and disappear away over the West Bank. Out in the reeds, their distinctive ‘ping’ calls alerted us to the presence of Bearded Tits. They were keeping low down in the vegetation, but occasionally would fly between groups of reeds, allowing us to see them. Several Reed Buntings were slightly more accommodating.

P1090936Marsh Harrier – over the reedbed at Cley

There were lots of ducks out on the marsh – Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck. A single Black-tailed Godwit flew overhead. The sea itself was still quiet, but more Blackbirds were seen flying in. The walk back towards the car was accompanied by several small groups overhead, or flying past us over the reeds.

We finished the day at Stiffkey. The forecast had been for rain later in the afternoon, but it was actually dry with the cloud even breaking up in places. It seemed worth a go at seeing the harrier roost. There were several Marsh Harriers over the saltmarsh, but it didn’t take long for us to see our first Hen Harrier, a ringtail, in this case a young bird which flew east over the saltings. Then a second ringtail appeared distantly to the west, and it too flew past us, before turning and doing a much closer flypast back west. Finally, to round off the performance, a beautiful male Hen Harrier appeared. Possibly the same bird we had seen earlier at Cley, it worked its way slowly west past us, giving us prolonged scope views.

There are always lots of Little Egrets on the saltmarsh at Stiffkey, but as the light started to fade, even more began to appear, flying east in small groups to roost. In the space of about half an hour we saw more than 50 fly past, with the largest group comprising 13 birds together. And they were still coming when we decided the light was getting too poor to stay any longer and called it a day.

P1090939Sunset – Stiffkey looking towards Wells over the saltmarsh

12th November 2014 – Titchwell Manor Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of this year’s Titchwell Manor hotel tour was the 12th, but the tour started the evening before with a pre-tour briefing and a delicious dinner in the award-winning hotel restaurant. We met up again the following morning, suitably rested, for the short drive along the coast to Cley.

Even from the car park, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing and see a Marsh Harrier circling over the reedbed. Out on the scrapes, there were plenty of birds, despite them having just been spooked by the harrier passing overhead. There was a particularly good selection of waders – lots of Dunlin whirling round in small flocks, a nice mixed group of Redshank and Ruff allowing a convenient comparison, and several Golden Plover mixed in with the Lapwings. However, the highlight was a cryptically-coloured Common Snipe on the bank in front of the hide, which was almost the same colour as the dried mud it was sleeping on, and which was hard to see even when you knew where it was.

Common Crane CleyCommon Crane – flew over as we were leaving Bishop Hide

The surprise of the morning came as we were leaving Bishop Hide. While watching a flock of Brent Geese flying past, we picked up the unmistakeable shape of a Common Crane flying overhead. We watched it disappearing away to the east. On the walk out to the East Bank, we spent some time watching a female and young Marsh Harrier over the reeds, chasing each other and calling. A Water Pipit flew off calling before we could get a chance to look at it but a Reed Bunting was more obliging.

Marsh Harrier CleyMarsh Harrier – two put on a good display over the reedbed

Round at the Beach Car Park, a sizeable flock of Brent Geese had gathered in the Eye Field. We spent a while watching them, looking at the young birds and learning how to separate them from the adults. Lurking in amongst them, towards the back of the flock, was a much darker individual with a more striking white flank patch and larger white collar – a Black Brant, the North American and Siberian form of Brent Goose, a rare visitor which occasionally gets lost and mixes with our regular wintering ‘Dark-bellied’ Brent Geese.

Brent Geese CleyBrent Geese – a large flock was in the Eye Field, with adults and juveniles

Out on the sea, we stopped to look at a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Razorbill, before walking on to North Scrape. The water was packed with duck, and we looked at the differences between the Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. There was also a small group of Pintail to admire. Additions to the wader list for the day included Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.

North Scrape CleyNorth Scrape, Cley – packed with wildfowl

After a delicious packed lunch, provided by the hotel, which we ate in the beach shelter at Cley admiring the view over the marshes, we drove on to Holkham for the afternoon. By Lady Anne’s Drive, several small groups of Pink-footed Geese allowed for close inspection. We then walked out along the south side of the pines, stopping to look at the large flocks of Wigeon on the grazing marshes, several mixed flocks of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers on the edge of the trees and the regular Little Grebes on Salt’s Hole.

Pink-footed Geese HolkhamPink-footed Geese – several small groups were loafing by Lady Anne’s Drive

At the west end of the pines, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes to the west. It did not take long to find our main target – a Rough-legged Buzzard was hovering out over the freshmarsh, it’s distinctive black-banded white tail obvious in flight. However, we also picked up several other species of raptor, including Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk.

Great White Egret HolkhamGreat White Egret – a rare visitor, feeding with the cows

It was turning to dusk as we walked back along the path towards the car. The final target of the day, a Great White Egret, dropped into one of the fields amongst the cows, its large size and dagger-like yellow bill immediately distinguishing it from the resident Little Egrets. We also saw several Barn Owls quartering over the marshes as we walked, and we stopped to admire them. From the trees, a Tawny Owl called and a whistled hoot in return brought it out to investigate, though by now only a silhouette against the sky. All the way, we could hear the calls of the Pink-footed Geese gathering out on the grazing marshes. Back at the car we were treated to the spectacle of huge flocks circling round and dropping in to the fields against the backdrop of a stunning sunset. A spectacular way to end a very exciting day.

Sunset HolkhamSalt’s Hole at sunset

31st October 2014 – Late Migrants on the Coast

It was great to get out on tour again on the North Norfolk coast today. We spent the day in the Cley area, looking for late migrants and spending some time watching the winter wildfowl and waders. The Brent Geese are still arriving for the winter – we saw lots of small groups coming in off the sea. However, there was already a nice flock in the Eye Field and it was good to see plenty of young birds.

P1090425Brent Geese – lots of family parties were in the Eye Field

Our first stop was North Scrape, where we quickly located the three Grey Phalaropes. One of them showed well, swirling round in circles on the water, picking at the surface and swimming around amongst the massed throngs of wildfowl. While we were sitting there, lots of migrants were arriving from the continent for the winter. Flocks of thrushes were flying in off the sea and overhead – Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and a single Mistle Thrush. Small numbers of Starlings were also seen coming in, and small flocks were moving west along the coast all day, along with a steady stream of Chaffinches. A Brambling dropped in with the Goldfinches and Linnets feeding by the beach, along with lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and a pair of Stonechats, the first of several we came across today.

P1090416Stonechat – we saw several of these charismatic birds along the coast

On our way back to the car park, we stopped to watch a flock of Golden Plover. Initially asleep, they were spooked by a couple of crows and swirled round in front of us before dropping back into the grass. While we were standing there, a single Woodcock flew in over the beach and right past us, disappearing over the reserve.

P1090419Golden Plover – sleeping in the Eye Field

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the reserve. Lots of wildfowl are now gathering on the scrapes – especially Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall. There were still several other waders around, including a few Avocets, Ruff and lots of Black-tailed Godwits. The Marsh Harriers eventually put on a good show, with the highlight being four birds circling together over Pope’s Marsh.

In the afternoon, we explored the coast to the east. At Walsey Hills, we couldn’t find the reported Yellow-browed Warbler but did see a male Blackcap gorging himself on late autumn berries. Wherever we went, there were freshly arrived Blackbirds and Song Thrushes in the hedgerows. A Bullfinch called ahead of us but wouldn’t come out. However, two treats were still awaiting us. Down by the beach, a flock of finches flew away from us. Expecting them to be the usual Linnets, a characteristic buzzing ‘tveeet’ alerted us to the presence of Twite. When we finally tracked them down, there were at least 27 Twite, with a much smaller number of Linnets alongside, a real treat as they have become very scarce in recent winters.

IMG_1750Twite – we came across a flock of at least 27 along the coast

On the pools behind the beach we were alerted to the presence of Purple Sandpiper – thankfully, as it appeared to be particularly tame and we could easily have walked straight past it! A lovely way to end the day, in the evening glow.

P1090490Purple Sandpiper – a very tame bird!

P1090429Common Darter – lots of these were still out in the sunshine today