Tag Archives: Burnham Overy Dunes

12th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was a lovely bright, sunny and pleasantly warm morning, but it clouded over early afternoon and then started to spit with rain on and off later on. Nothing to stop us getting out and about though!

Driving down to pick everyone up for the day, we spotted a Peregrine out of the corner of an eye, flying up to land on a church tower. We couldn’t stop, but when we had collected the rest of the group, we headed back and thankfully it was still there. It stared down at us at first, as we got out of the car and we stared back up at it. It quickly settled down and seemed completely unconcerned by our presence below.

Peregrine

Peregrine – great views perched and then preening on the church tower this morning

We watched the Peregrine for some time. It perched looking round at first, then started to preen. When it had finished, it began to doze, closing one eye but still looking round with the other. Several Common Swifts were screaming round over the rooftops as we stood there, always a great sight and sound, although they rather played second fiddle to the Peregrine.

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and headed over to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning. As we walked down across the path over the grazing marshes we could hear Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat singing in the hedges. The former perched up nicely and we saw the latter flitting around in the foliage.

Several Sedge Warblers were singing from the bushes all the way out and there are lots of Reed Warblers in too now. We could hear them singing from the reeds along the edge of the ditches by the path and eventually got good views of one or two at the far end.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one or two showed themselves on the walk out this morning

There were Lapwings, Avocets, Oystercatchers and Redshanks all out on the grazing marshes by the path. A Lapwing put on a nice tumbling display for us and some of the others appeared to be on nests.

There was no shortage of Greylags here and a pair of Egyptian Geese out on the grass too. We added a few ducks to the day’s list, with Shoveler and Gadwall around the small pools. In the channel at the far end of the path, we stopped to admire a smart Little Grebe on the edge of the reeds. A couple of Common Pochard were on the water further back.

Up on the seawall, the tide was out and there were lots of waders down on the mud. There was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits, with one or two in full summer plumage, deep orange on head and neck. A small group of Knot were with them and they too were mostly in bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, we could see several Grey Plover looking very smart in breeding plumage too, with black faces and bellies.

A lone Wigeon was out on the reedbed pool, a nice addition to the weekend’s list, as the vast majority have already headed off back to Russia for the breeding season. Further along, out on the saltmarsh, we could see a sizeable gaggle of Brent Geese still. Some of these are always later to head back to the Arctic, although the majority will have departed by the end of this month.

A small group of waders whirled round over the grazing marsh and landed out on an island in one of the smalls. Through the scope, we could see there was a nice mixture of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, and several of the latter were in breeding plumage, sporting contrasting black belly patches.

Out into the dunes, we turned east. We walked out to one of the favourite places for Wheatears, and quickly found one, a female, down on the short grass. Two more were Wheatears high in the dunes above – what looked like a male and another female. We walked round for better look, trying to get the sun behind us, but could only see the two females now. Big and deep orange underneath, they appeared to be Greenland Wheatears, of the subpecies leucorhoa.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a female, presumably of the Greenland race

Heading back to the boardwalk, we continued on out towards Gun Hill. A trickle of hirundines were moving west now, mostly Swallows, but with a few House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. A sharp call alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail which flew over our heads and continued on west too.

There is no shortage of Meadow Pipits and Linnets out here in the dunes, good to see as both species have declined so markedly in farmland. A male Kestrel perched high in one of the taller dunes. We also found several male Stonechats singing, 2 or 3 on our walk west.

Heading out onto the beach, we stopped to admire a Ringed Plover tucked down in the stones, on its nest out in the middle of the fenced off area. Another Ringed Plover ran in over the stones and we watched as they changed over sitting duty.

We could hear Little Terns but there were none at the top of the beach in the fenced off area. They were all out towards the shore – we could see them flying round, diving into the surf out at the mouth of the channel. One was asleep closer to us, on the sand just across the channel, which we got in the scope and three more flew round over our heads calling, one carrying a fish. There were a couple of Common Terns too, further round, plunge diving in the harbour channel.

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover – we saw several on the beach and around the dunes today

As we walked along beach towards the point, we found more waders. A couple of very smart Turnstones in breeding plumage were feeding in and out of the seaweed covered rocks below us. Two Common Sandpipers flew up from the edge of the water and across the channel calling. There were several more Ringed Plovers too and round in the harbour we found three Bar-tailed Godwits with another Grey Plover out on the mud. A Greenshank flew up calling from the saltmarsh briefly but dropped straight back down into one of the muddy creeks, out of view.

Back at the boardwalk, we made our way back along the seawall. At the reedbed, a Bittern boomed three times in quick succession before going quiet again. A Red Kite was hanging lazily in the air over the fields as we got back to the car.

We had our lunch at Holkham and afterwards, we headed back east. We had been to Cley yesterday and were not intending to go back today, but news of a Temminck’s Stint was too good to resist.

The Temminck’s Stint had been mobile earlier, but then seemed to have settled down on Watling Water. However, when we arrived at Iron Road, we were told it had flown off about half an hour earlier. It had apparently appeared to drop down again towards the pools along the track. We had a good look there, but there was no sign of it, although there were two Ringed Plovers and a Little Ringed Plover.

Other waders were clearly on the move today, as another small mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers dropped in briefly before continuing west. Another Wheatear was on the bank on the far side of the pool and a Hobby flew over, heading off east. It had started to drizzle now, on and off, we so headed round to Babcock Hide on the off chance that the Temminck’s Stint was back.

When we got into the hide, we were delighted to find that the Temminck’s Stint was indeed back out on the mud, having apparently flown back in earlier. We got it in the scope and had great views of it creeping around on the mud around the edge of the pool. It was clearly very small, and we could see its yellow legs and the distinctive scattering of black-centred feathers in its upperparts.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – a well-marked individual on Watling Water

The two Little Ringed Plovers we had seen yesterday were still on the scrape too – and as we had seen with the Common Sandpiper they kept trying to chase the Temminck’s Stint off. Eventually it found a spot where they seemed to lose interest, and stopped to bathe. The Common Sandpiper was still on here too, but had evaded the attention of the plovers as they seemed to focus more on chasing off the stint today!

The rain had now eased off again, and there was still time for a walk out on the East Bank before the end of the day. It didn’t take us long to spot the Spoonbill, a large white shape in the distance, so we headed up along the bank for a closer look. On the way, a scan of Pope’s Pool produced another Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover, as well as another lone drake Wigeon, our second of the day. A Marsh Harrier was perched up in one of the bushes out in the reedbed, drying out after the rain.

We had good views of the Spoonbill from here. It was busy feeding in the north end of the Serpentine, head down, sweeping its bill quickly left to right through the water. Occasionally it would flick its head up when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh appears to be drying out rapidly at the moment, and there was not much water left. Still, we found a few waders – a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits, a Curlew, a Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover. A Wheatear on one of the posts out in front of the shingle ridge was a male Greenland Wheatear, deep orange breasted and with brown tones in its grey back. At the far end of Arnold’s, a Hobby was perched preening on a post.

It was time to head back now. A Marsh Harrier dropped down towards the grazing marsh below the bank, mobbed by Avocets, and then flew off, carrying what appeared to be a small mammal rather than one of the young Greylags we had seen there on our walk out. A Hobby flew past and off over the reedbed, possibly the one we had seen on the post earlier, now dried out. Several more Marsh Harriers were up circling over the reeds as we headed for home.

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21st May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was lovely weather to be out and about – lots of sunshine and only patchy cloud, and a light SW breeze to keep the humidity down.

We started the day with a walk out over the grazing marshes at Burnham Overy. There were lots of warblers singing in the hedges, but they weren’t all making themselves easy to see today. A Blackcap was hiding in the bushes from where it we could hear its melodic song, and the Common Whitethroats were being unusually skulking this morning too. A Cetti’s Warbler typically shouted at us from deep in the undergrowth. A Chiffchaff was more amenable, working its way round the leaves in the tops of an oak tree, alternating looking for food and singing.

6O0A1627Chiffchaff – singing in the top of an oak tree by the path

There were plenty of Sedge Warblers along the path too, and even they were not posing quite as well as they normally do today. A Lesser Whitethroat stuck its head out of a hawthorn briefly, then flew round across the path and into another bush.

An approaching family party of Long-tailed Tits gave themselves away with lots of calling, and we stopped and watched them as they fed in the bushes next to us for a short while, the adults busy collecting food and the sooty faced juveniles begging noisily. As quickly as they arrived, they then departed across the path and away down the hedge line.

6O0A1655Long-tailed Tit – a juvenile enjoying the morning sun in the hedge

Stopping to scan the grazing marshes, we could see lots of geese out on the grass – with the winter geese now almost entirely departed, they were mainly Greylag Geese but also several Egyptian Geese with them. There were waders too, Avocets nesting round the little pools which had benefited from some overnight rain, plus a few Lapwings, Oystercatchers and a Redshank, all of which breed here.

Looking ahead, a large white shape in one of the deeper pools further along was a Spoonbill, feeding vigorously, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round. We hurried along to where we were alongside it and had a fantastic view of it. It was an adult, with mustard wash across the breast, shaggy crest and, when it lifted its head occasionally, a yellow tip to its black bill.

6O0A1683Spoonbill – feeding in one of the shallow ponds by the path

Some video of the Spoonbill feeding is below:

Eventually, the Spoonbill walked up out of the pool and across the grass, descending into another pool a little further back, so we moved on. A Reed Warbler was singing from the feeds by the ditch as we got to the gate at the far end, and another two Reed Warblers were chasing each other round on the other side of the path. Finally, we found a Sedge Warbler performing as they should, perched high on some brambles, out in the open, singing away.

Climbing up onto the seawall, we could see across the harbour. The tide was out but there were not so many waders here now, with most of the birds which had spent the winter here having departed north for the breeding season. There were a few more Avocets and Redshanks out on the mud.

As we walked past the reedbed, we could hear a Reed Bunting singing and found it perched on the top of a bush right out in the middle of the reeds. We heard a Bearded Tit ping briefly, but we couldn’t see any sign of it. A Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds at the back.

Continuing on out along the seawall, there were several Linnets in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh. A Skylark flew in across the path and landed down on the grass. We managed to get it in the scope, just in time to see a small head appear out of the grass next to it, bill open, begging for food, one of its hungry brood. We could hear a Redshank alarm calling and looked over to see a pair on the grazing marsh not far from the fence. The male, much more heavily streaked with black below, was piping loudly from a tussock, while the plainer female fed quietly in the grass.

6O0A1721Redshank – the heavily marked male was piping loudly

The seawall is a great vantage point, so as we walked, we scanned the skies. A small falcon appeared from the direction of the dunes. It was a long way off, but as it turned and flew west over the boardwalk, we could see it was a Merlin. This is a winter visitor here in Norfolk, so this was a late one, which should soon be on its way back to the moors to breed. We watched as it disappeared off towards Scolt Head. A few minutes later, we picked up another falcon, this time a Hobby, circling over the grazing marshes, hawking for insects. In contrast to the Merlin, the Hobby is a summer visitor here.

We could see quite a number of Swifts in the sky too this morning. They seemed to be on the move today, with birds passing west, occasionally stopping to hawk for insects up and down the seawall. We were almost at the boardwalk when we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked across to see it flying over the grazing marshes. It didn’t stop unfortunately, but continued on west, over the seawall behind us and out across the saltmarsh. Another migrant on its way.

From the boardwalk, we walked east into the dunes. We quickly found our target, Wheatears.  One female was down on the short cropped grass, standing still by the entrance to a rabbit burrow. A second female was perched on a fence post a little further along, by the path. As a group of walkers came along the path towards us, this second Wheatear flicked along the line of posts towards us, before finally flying off back into the dunes beyond.

6O0A1705Wheatear – flushed from along the fence line by a group of walkers

It was nice to see the female Wheatears, but we really wanted to find a male. We walked a little further into the dunes, to an area favoured by Wheatears, and quickly found another two females. As we turned and started walking back, a male had appeared with the female from earlier, on the other side of the fence. It was a cracking bird – with a smart black bandit mask. When it turned, it was rich orangey on the throat and breast – a male Greenland Wheatear. The later migrants which pass through here are mostly of the Greenland race, and the males are more richly coloured below than the nominate form which breeds further south.

Given the sunny weather, there were not surprisingly good numbers of butterflies out in the dunes today. Wall Brown was the most numerous, but we also saw a couple of Small Copper and a single Small Heath. The Cinnabar Moths are also on the wing at the moment, brightly coloured day-flying moths, they are unpalatable to predators.

6O0A1713Cinnabar – a brightly coloured, and unpalatable, moth

We would not be able to explore the dunes fully today, so we made our way back to the boardwalk and had a quick look out at the beach. Being a sunny Sunday, there were quite a few people – and dogs – out on the sand. We could see a few Sandwich Terns and Little Terns offshore, but as the tide was out, they were quite distant. We turned to head back.

The seawall was very busy now, as we walked back, with lots of people out for a stroll in the sun. A male Reed Bunting perched up nicely for us, singing in the bushes by the edge of the saltmarsh. We got a much improved view of it, compared to the one we had seen distantly out in the the reedbed earlier.

6O0A1718Reed Bunting – singing on the edge of the saltmarsh on the walk back

We stopped again by the reedbed to listen for Bearded Tits. We hoped we might at least hear one and perhaps see one whizzing over the tops of the reeds. A Bittern booming very distantly was a nice bonus while we listened. We heard snippets of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ at first, but couldn’t see any. Then a male Bearded Tit appeared out in the middle of the reeds briefly, climbing up to the top of a stem, but dropping down again before everyone could get onto it.

We thought that might be the best of it, but we heard more ‘pinging’ closer to us and then another male Bearded Tit came zooming over the reeds towards us. Even better, it came right to the front of the reedbed and dropped down on the edge of grass just below the bank. This time we got a great look at it.

6O0A1731Bearded Tit – this male eventually came right out on the front of the reedbed

It was a real bonus to get such great views of a male Bearded Tit, so we headed back to the car well pleased with the morning’s birding. We made our way round to Holkham for lunch and surprisingly given the weather, Lady Anne’s Drive was not too busy and we were able to get a picnic table. A couple of Jackdaws were hopping over the other tables looking for crumbs. Two Spoonbills flew over while we were eating, heading back to the colony, presumably from the saltmarsh out beyond Wells. We finished our lunch with an ice cream from the van nearby – it felt just like summer in the sunshine!

After lunch, we had a quick walk out west on the inland side of the pines, up to the hides. There were still several warblers singing in the trees – a Blackcap or two, several Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats. We could hear more Long-tailed Tits calling from the pines. We managed to find a Coal Tit, up in the top of a tree, calling, where we could get it in the scope.

We were alerted to the presence of a Jay by various birds alarm calling, and it flew towards us and landed in a pine tree. It perched there for several minutes, preening and enjoying the sunshine, before dropping down to the ground and hunting around in the leaf little close by, giving us a great view.

6O0A1745Jay – sunning itself in a pine tree, on the way out to the hides

Up in the Joe Jordan Hide, there was a steady stream of Spoonbills coming & going. Several were bathing and preening on the edge of the pool in front of the hide, and a couple were still collecting nest material around the edge. When two Spoonbills flew up out of the trees, one looked quite a bit smaller than the other. As they banked, we could see that the smaller one had a very short bill. It was a juvenile, one of this years young, already fledged and presumably taking one of its first flights. They dropped back into the trees again.

There was lots of other activity here. Little Egrets were coming and going too, and a Grey Heron flew in as well. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees. A Marsh Harrier gave us a great close fly by, though it was too quick for the cameras – we were a bit slow in the after lunch lull! We could have sat here enjoying the view for longer, but we had one more destination we wanted to fit in this afternoon, so we packed up and walked back to the car.

We made our way back east and over to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the footpath by the road, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the trees on the other side. A male Marsh Harrier circled up over the wood, calling. As we got across the road and onto the footpath by the river, we found a tree had come down across the path. Thankfully everyone was game to clamber over. With the two stiles here as well, it was a bit of an assault course to get to the Fen today!

Down along the edge of the river, there were more warblers singing – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. From the reeds around the edge of the Fen, we could hear Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler too. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was in now. An Avocet was feeding along the edge of the flooded channel.

6O0A1778Avocet – feeding in the channel below the seawall

We stopped on the bank to scan the Fen. We had glimpsed a Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands on the walk out, but it wasn’t in the same place now. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to find it, on one of the other islands. This is normally a good place for Black-tailed Godwits, but there was only one here today – not in full summer plumage, but this one did at least have some rusty feathering on the breast. The only other waders on here today were the Avocets.

Three Wigeon were feeding on the edge of one of the islands. They are common here in winter, but the vast majority have now left for Russia for the breeding season, leaving just these three behind. Otherwise the Fen was dominated by gulls – as well as the breeding Black-headed Gulls, we could see several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls, and a couple of young (1st summer) Common Gulls.

Walking down along the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance. It seemed to be getting a little closer, so we had a scan of the trees on the far side of the Fen. The Cuckoo was perched on the edge of the last tree. We got the scope on it and could see it singing. Then we continued on round to have a look at the harbour.

IMG_4516Cuckoo – singing from the trees beyond the Fen

The harbour looked rather quiet at first, but as we scanned over the remaining mud, we found more birds. There were plenty of Oystercatchers, with a large group roosting on one of the spits ahead of the incoming tide. There are not so many other waders here now, but a careful scan revealed a few still. A little group of Ringed Plover were well camouflaged on the mud, until they moved. Three Dunlin were nearby, all sporting black belly patches now. A smart summer plumage Turnstone appeared on the mud too.

A small group of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the water, again late lingering winter visitors (most of the many Brent Geese which are here through the winter have long since departed). There are very few terns on Blakeney Point again this year, after the rat infestation last year caused most of them to decamp to Scolt Head instead. There were two Little Terns resting on the mud on the edge of the water. We got them in the scope and could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we started to make our way back, we could hear a Mediterranean Gull calling. Up on the seawall, we stopped to scan the Fen, and heard what we presumed was the same bird calling behind us, over the edge of the harbour. We looked round to see a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull flying across over the saltmarsh. It circled round, encountering some half-hearted aggression from a couple of the Black-headed Gulls, before flying in over the seawall to the Fen. When it dropped down onto one of the islands, we noticed there was another 1st summer Mediterranean Gull on there already.

6O0A1787Mediterranean Gull – a first summer which dropped in to Stiffkey Fen this afternoon

Unfortunately, it was now time to be heading back. On the way, there were several butterflies in the brambles, Peacocks and Red Admirals enjoying the afternoon sun. In the field by the layby, we could see two Red-legged Partridges and several Brown Hares hiding in the fast growing wheat.

6O0A1800Red Admiral – enjoying the afternoon sun on the brambles

It had been a very enjoyable day’s birding today, in the sunshine, to round off a very productive three days. We made our way back to Wells, to end the tour.

30th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 5

Day 5, the final day of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was a lovely day, with sunshine and blue skies, but a nagging easterly wind picked up during the morning.

Our first destination for the day was Burnham Overy Dunes. As we walked out across the grazing marshes we spotted a lone Whimbrel out on the grazing marshes, so we had a quick look at it through the scope.  A little further along, and a second Whimbrel flew low overhead, then was we rounded the hedge we could see two more on the ground, this time much closer.

IMG_3693Whimbrel – we had a good look at two on the grazing marshes

We got a great look at these last two, and could see their boldly marked heads. We talked a little about the identification of Whimbrel versus Curlew, the different body shape of the two being a good clue to identification, as well as the shorter bill of the Whimbrel. We could see the slim body and long wings of the two Whimbrel out on the grass.

There were other waders out on the grazing marshes too. Three Oystercatchers were asleep, possibly waiting for the tide to go out in the harbour. There were quite a few Lapwings and one or two Redshank. All three of these species breed here, unlike the Whimbrel which are just passage migrants. There were also a few ducks out on the pools, and lots of geese all over on the grass, Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese predominating at this time of year.

The summer warblers are now here in force and singing, claiming their territory and trying to attract a mate. A Common Whitethroat sang from the top of the bushes by the gate and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in a sallow just beyond, helpfully breaking into song just after we had been looking at it. There are lots of Sedge Warblers all along the track here, singing from the brambles by the ditches. A resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we approached and we stood for a while to see if we could see it, and it duly zoomed past between bushes a couple of times.

6O0A8963Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes along the track

With the sun out, there were even a few butterflies out today, with both Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell finding some shelter, basking in the wheel ruts out of the wind. We also saw a couple of Small Coppers out in the dunes.

As we approached the seawall, we could head Mediterranean Gulls calling. We looked up to see a couple of them circling over the harbour beyond, their white wingtips flashing bright in the sunshine. While we were watching the Mediterranean Gulls, we noticed Stuart, former proprietor of The Bird ID Company, coming towards us, on his way back from an early morning in the dunes. He stopped for a quick chat about what he had seen.

When we got up onto the seawall, we could see it was high tide. All the mud was covered by water and small groups of waders were roosting around the edges or on little islands of vegetation. There was a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwits closer to us, some already in orange summer plumage, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover further back.  Some of the Grey Plover were already showing quite a bit of black on their bellies.

IMG_3697

Even though they were asleep, with their heads tucked in, and mostly face on to us, we could see the differences in colour and pattern of the underparts between the summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. A small flock of Knot flew past, with some of them too in orange summer plumage. A few Brent Geese were still lingering in the harbour – they should soon be on their way to Russia for the breeding season.

The dunes here are always full of Linnets and Meadow Pipits and there were quite a few already around the boardwalk bushes, along with a couple of Reed Buntings too. We turned west and headed out towards Gun Hill. On the way, we came across several Wheatears feeding on the short grass, which flew ahead of us flashing their white rumps. A lone Willow Warbler was in bushes, presumably a migrant on its way up to Scandinavia.

There had been a Whinchat here earlier, so we wade a circuit of all the bushes looking for it. While we were walking along a narrow path between clumps of brambles, a female Common Redstart flew down into the path in front of us. It got a bit of a shock when it saw us and darted straight back into a small sycamore, flashing its orange red tail as it went. Unfortunately it was all too quick and impossible for most of the group to get onto on such a narrow path. While they stood and watched from a suitable vantage point, one of us circled round the back and tried to see if the Redstart might fly out again, but it had completely disappeared. Despite looking all round the area, we unfortunately couldn’t relocate it, nor could we find the Whinchat.

From the dunes, we could see several Little Terns feeding out over the harbour. We decided to walk round on the beach to see if any were resting on the stones, but we couldn’t get round the tern fence, which extended right out into the water, not where it is normally put. We did stop and scan the beach from here and found a nice selection of waders roosting out on the point over the high tide. There was a nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits feeding along the high tide line, including one colour-ringed bird. Subsequent contact with the ringing scheme has revealed it was ringed at Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania in January!

There was also a single Ringed Plover and a smart summer plumage Turnstone with white face and rusty shoulders. A lone Common Sandpiper fed up and down the tide line before flying off across the harbour. A White Wagtail feeding on the beach with all the waders had presumably stopped off to rest on its journey along the coast, a welcome bonus.

6O0A8995Common Sandpiper – feeding on the beach at Gun Hill at high tide

We had to walk back past Gun Hill to get out onto the beach the other side of the point. A large flock of Sanderling was just in the process of being chased off by a couple of people walking along the sand. There were several more Ringed Plover on the beach behind the tern fence, but further along it had been washed away by the tide and more people were walking through the area where the Little Terns should be settling. We notified the wardens and it should be repaired, but it did mean there were no Little Terns on the beach today.

While we were scanning the beach, we spotted three larger terns flying across the harbour the other side of the point, some distance away from us. They disappeared out of sight behind the dunes but a few seconds later reappeared over our heads. They flew straight out across the beach and turned east over the sea. They were Arctic Terns on their migration north, and it turned out there was a huge passage of them today, as we were also to see later. It was remarkable to think that they were on their way north to the arctic having just come from spending our winter around the antarctic ocean!

As we walked back up into dunes, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked up to see it flying west overhead. Another migrant on its way, it did not stop but as it came low past us it was the first we were able to get onto properly, and we could see a flash of bright yellow underparts.

We made our way back to the boardwalk and continued on past it, east through the dunes. The wind was picking up now, but in a sheltered spot out of the breeze, we found several more Wheatears feeding. As we were walking past them, we heard a loud chacking call and a Ring Ouzel flew out of a bush and disappeared over the dunes in front of us. We could hear it again round the other side, calling from some more bushes, and as we walked towards the sound it flew again. This time it landed briefly on the top of a dune where we could get a look at it. It was a female, with a poorly marked, dull gorget. It then flew off strongly west over the dunes and disappeared from sight.

6O0A9024Wheatear – there were several in the dunes today

There were plenty of Stonechats in the dunes today – they breed here and we saw males singing and a few females and pairs too. But there was no sign of the hoped for Whinchat on our walk towards the pines. As we approached the west end of the trees, we could hear a Woodlark singing, although we had been expecting it as it had been reported here earlier.

The Woodlark was distant at first, a spot hovering over the dunes, but we got closer and eventually we had it hovering right over ours heads, singing its slightly melancholy sounding song. We also got a great look at its distinctive flight profile – broad rounded wings and short tail. It was getting rather windy now and the bushes south of the fence were being blown around, so we couldn’t see any activity around them from where we were.

6O0A9046Woodlark – hovered right over our heads, singing, in the dunes

As we turned to start making our way back, a Ring Ouzel flew past, this time a smart male with bright white gorget. It flew past the bushes and then turned and flew up into the dunes at the end of the pines. Looking away in the other direction, we could see a Spoonbill distantly flying out towards the harbour.

Scanning the bushes as we went back, we finally found a Whinchat. It was perched on top of a small hawthorn bush in the dunes south of the fence. We got the scope on it, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. Perhaps because of the wind, it was feeding on the ground today with the Wheatears, and it kept getting itself tucked down in little sheltered hollows in the dunes where we couldn’t see it. Once everyone had enjoyed OK views of the Whinchat, we carried on back to the boardwalk.

There were now lots of reports from elsewhere along the coast of Arctic Terns and Black Terns passing offshore, so we walked up to the top of a dune to scan the sea. We managed to see another Arctic Tern flying east just offshore, but it was very windy and exposed up here, so we didn’t stay long. As we walked back along the seawall, a Red Kite flew over the grazing marshes nearby, mobbed by a couple of Lapwings.

To get out of the wind, we made our way back to Holkham for lunch. Lady Anne’s Drive was predictably very busy, it being a bank holiday weekend, but we were surprised how many cars were up at the hall. Eventually we found somewhere where we could park and ate our lunch down on the grass, watching a pair of Mistle Thrushes flying back and forth in and out of the trees with food for their young.

With all the terns on the move today, we thought it would be nice to have a look at them from somewhere a bit more sheltered, so we made our way along to Cley after lunch. There were still some Arctic Terns moving, but unfortunately it appeared we had missed the bulk of the Black Terns already. In about half an hour, we saw over 40 Arctic Terns fly past, including one flock of around 20, plus a few Common Terns, a Little Tern, a Fulmar, 2-3 Gannets, and a single Great Skua which landed on the sea. A Grey Seal was lurking just offshore. Not a bad return for our efforts!

There had been a Wryneck reported earlier from Walsey Hills, but they can be elusive at the best of times. When it was seen again, we thought it might be worth a look, with suitable warnings that it might be difficult to see. When we arrived on the steps where it had been reported, there were several people standing around and no one seemed to know when it had last been seen. We hadn’t been there five minutes when someone announced ‘there it is’ and the Wryneck hopped out into view!

6O0A9120Wryneck – showed very well after just five minutes wait!

The Wryneck was quite tricky to get onto at first, feeding on the ground in among the young bracken shoots on the bank. They are also very well camouflaged, with their cryptic plumage, but it quickly hopped out into a clearer patch where we could all get a really good look at it. Wrynecks are a very scarce migrant passing through here these days, so smiles all round – it was a great bird to see!

While we were watching the Wryneck, we learned that there had been five Black Terns out on Arnold’s Marsh. Unfortunately, although they had apparently been there for some time, no one seemed to have told anyone before they flew off! We went for a quick walk up along the East Bank anyway. As we suspected, there were just Sandwich Terns present now, which were still nice to see properly. There were also good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Dunlin, with several now in smart summer plumage.

IMG_3698Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnolds Marsh in the wind

With the blustery wind, we didn’t hang around out here today, but made our way back to the car. Back at Walsey Hills, two Little Grebes were calling, like madmen laughing, and we saw them swim across and disappear into the reeds.

Stiffkey Fen was our last destination for the day. On the walk out, a couple of Blackcaps were singing from the bushes and a few Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. There were lots of gulls out on the Fen, but all we could find here today were Black-headed Gulls. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep in the water down at the front. There were a few ducks, including a single Common Pochard and a couple of late Wigeon.

With the tide out, we were hoping to find some waders in the channel, but there was nothing visible upstream and just a couple of Avocets, a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit opposite the Fen. We walked along to the end of the seawall, but there were several people crossing the water out on the near edge of the harbour with a couple of dogs, so no birds there. The only thing we could see of note from here were three smart summer Common Gulls resting on the mud in the channel.

As we turned to walk back, a Grey Heron flew up out of the reeds on the Fen and landed next to a Little Egret on the edge of the water. It was funny to see them side by side, little and large.

This is normally a good spot for Greenshank, a species we had not yet caught up with on our five days, so we were disappointed not to see one, although they can get out in the smaller muddy channels in the harbour at low tide. We were almost back to the steps when we took a last look up the channel next to the seawall and noticed three waders come round the corner from further up. Through the scope we confirmed they were Greenshank – just in the nick of time!

IMG_3709Greenshank – 2 of the 3 at Stiffkey Fen today

There is the occasional Greenshank which spends the whole winter here, but these are presumably migrants, stopping off on their way back north. They are in summer plumage now, with extensive black spotting down their breasts.

Suddenly the Greenshank took off and flew past us round onto the Fen. Then everything took off, whirling round before landing again – something was clearly spooking all the birds. It was a minute or so later that a juvenile Peregrine finally flew in over the Harbour!

6O0A9184Peregrine – this juvenile flew in from the Harbour

The Peregrine circled over the edge of the Fen for a minute or so, giving us a great view, before flying high across the water and disappearing away over the fields beyond. Having been spooked earlier, all the birds on the Fen were completely disinterested when it finally made its flyby.

It was a great way to end the day, and to round off a very exciting five days of spring birding in Norfolk. The weather had been somewhat mixed this week, but despite its best efforts we had seen a remarkable number of different birds. A very successful tour!

11th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. The middle of November traditionally marks the time when autumn starts to merge into winter, at least as far as the migration season is concerned. However, there are sill birds on the move, arriving here for the winter, and there is still the odd lingering migrant yet to move on. It was a gloriously sunny day today, even warm at times, a perfect day to get out and see some of those birds.

We started at Burnham Overy Staithe. As we climbed up onto the seawall,a small bird flew past us and into the bushes below. It was a Chiffchaff. Presumably a late migrant, it seemed to be in a hurry to be on its way and disappeared off down the line of bushes in a series of long flights. A Common Buzzard perched in a large bush out on the grazing meadows, enjoying the morning sunshine.

img_8390Fieldfare – in the bushes by the seawall at Burnham Overy Staithe

There were lots of Blackbirds in the hawthorns below the seawall, presumably winter migrants arrived from the continent and stopped to refuel on berries. As we walked along, we heard first the tchacking of a Fieldfare, which we found perched in the top in the sunshine, and then the teezing of several Redwings, most of which were less obliging. A Song Thrush completed the set.

6o0a8480Redwing – several were also feeding in the bushes below the seawall

Looking out over the other side, in the harbour, we stopped to look through the waders. The tide was out, so there was lots of exposed mud. First we picked up a Grey Plover with a lone Ringed Plover over on the far bank. Then several more Ringed Plovers appeared, and started to bathe in the shallow water, with a Redshank conveniently close by for size comparison. A little further along, at the bend in the seawall, we could see a good sized flock of Dunlin out on the larger mudflats, feeding feverishly.

As we walked past, we flushed a Little Egret from the near edge of the harbour channel, and it flew out to the mud, flashing its yellow feet as it went. In the channel, we found four Little Grebes together. They proceeded to haul themselves out onto the far bank – always off to see Little Grebes on dry land, they look so ungainly.

6o0a8448Little Egret – with bright yellow feet

Several Rock Pipits had flown around calling, but typically dropped down out of view. Finally one dropped down in front of us and perched nicely on a pile of rocks, appropriately enough! Through the scope, we could see its plain, oily brown upperparts and the dirty ground colour to its black-streaked underparts. We get a lot of Scandinavian Rock Pipits, of the subspecies littoralis, coming to Norfolk for the winter, but we don’t have any British petrosus breeding here.

img_8392Rock Pipit – eventually one perched up nicely for us on a pile of rocks

There were lots of Wigeon out on the grazing marshes. As we stopped to have a look at them in the scope, we could hear them whistling – a real sound of winter on the marshes here. There were plenty of geese too. We were looking straight into the sun on the walk about but we could still see lots of Brent Geese, Pink-footed Geese and Greylags. In with them were 12 Barnacle Geese, presumably feral birds from Holkham Park.

As we passed the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but, despite the lack of wind, they were not to be seen. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us, but was similarly elusive. At least the Reed Buntings were slightly easier to see. A Marsh Harrier perched in one of the bushes at the back of the reeds and another one or two flew backwards and forwards across the channel to and from the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of Starlings on the move today, little flocks passing west overhead constantly on the walk out. Some were not flying so directly as they sometimes do, instead taking advantage of the warm conditions to try to catch flies on the way. A small flock of Golden Plover flew over calling and dropped down on the grass by the dunes. When we got there, we got them in the scope and found a little covey of six Grey Partridges with them!

When we got to the dunes, we turned left and walked out towards Gun Hill. The Isabelline Wheatear was still present earlier in the morning – it has been here for three weeks now – but had not been seen for over an hour when we arrived. Could it have taken advantage of the sunny weather finally to continue its journey? We decided to have a walk round the dunes to see if we could find it.

There was no sign of it where it had been feeding for the past couple of weeks. From the northern edge of the dunes, we stopped to look out towards the sea. We could see lines of wildfowl flying in, migrants arriving for the winter. There were several groups of Brent Geese and a larger flock of Wigeon coming in. A line of around twenty Eider flying west over the sea was a nice bonus, particularly as it included a couple of smart drakes.

There were lots of waders down on the beach. There were plenty of Oystercatcher and a few Sanderling out on the sand. Down around the tidal channel, we found a little mixed flock of Knot and Dunlin – a nice opportunity to compare their relative sizes. Several Turnstones had gathered for a bath.

Out at the point, looking out towards Scolt Head, we picked up two Red Kites circling out over the saltmarsh. They seemed too concerned with swooping at each other to worry about the Marsh Harrier which was trying to have a go at them. There were a few people standing on the top of Gun Hill looking for the Isabelline Wheatear, and as we turned to walk back one of the locals started waving to us. It had reappeared!

img_8405Isabelline Wheatear – looking very sandy in the sun

We stopped to scan in the direction they were all looking and there was the Isabelline Wheatear on the edge of the saltmarsh. It looked particularly pale and sandy in the sunshine. It flitted around the bushes for a few seconds and then disappeared off behind the Suaeda. It was proving very mobile because, by the time we got over to the others, it had flown again to the other side of Gun Hill. We had some nice views of it on the grass and back down to the edge of the saltmarsh again before suddenly it was off again. It flew  off up over Gun Hill and disappeared.

It was around this time that we heard trilling and looked up to see a Waxwing heading towards us.  It flew over our heads and carried on west, unfortunately without stopping.

Having had good views of the Isabelline Wheatear, we decided to walk round onto the beach and head back along the tideline to see what we could find. We didn’t find any Snow Buntings today, but we did come across the Isabelline Wheatear again. The reason we couldn’t find it earlier in the dunes was because it was now out on the beach! There were lots of flies buzzing around the high tide line, and it was busy catching them. Chasing up and down the beach, occasionally flying up after a fly.

img_8451Isabelline Wheatear – catching flies out on the beach today

We watched it for a while, but in the end had to tear ourselves away and head back, taking a detour via the base of the dunes to avoid disturbing it. We walked quickly back along the seawall, stopping briefly to watch a large flock of Linnets and Goldfinches whirling around over the saltmarsh. When they landed, we could see several Golden Plover out there too, surprisingly well camouflaged, despite the bright golden-spangled upperparts we could see through the scope.

The light was better on the walk back, so we stopped at the corner to look at the geese again. This time, we found four White-fronted Geese in with the Pinkfeet. One had its head up for a while, so we could see its pink bill surrounded at the base with white, but then they all went to sleep. Then it was back for lunch, led along the seawall by a pair of Stonechats which flew ahead of us. We ate our lunch sat on the benches looking out over the saltmarsh back towards Gun Hill – a stunning view!

6o0a8464Stonechat – a pair led us back along the seawall

After lunch, we drove back round to Holkham. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes east of Lady Anne’s Drive. While most were distant, a little group of about a dozen were right next to the road, so we stopped for a close look. We could see their pink legs and delicate dark bills with encircled with a pink band.

6o0a8494Pink-footed Goose – showing very well close to Lady Anne’s Drive

As we walked through the pines, we could hear Goldcrests calling high up in the pines. A Jay flew across and started scolding from the trees the other side. Out on the saltmarsh, a large flock of Linnets was whirling round, reluctant to settle.

A little further along, we came across a small group of Brent Geese. Looking through them,  we quickly found the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid which is regular here. It is not as dark or contrasting as a pure Black Brant but is still subtly darker bodied, with a slightly bolder flank patch and more obvious though not complete collar. In with them too was a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose. When it turned, we could see the bold wing stripes which meant it was a juvenile. Along with several or our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brents, that meant we had 2 1/2 subspecies of Brent Goose in one very small flock!

img_8457Black Brant hybrid – out on the saltmarsh at Holkham

At the eastern end of the saltmarsh, we found the Shore Larks in their usual place. We could see several of them flying around before we got there, but when we got closer we noticed there were lots more still down on the ground. There was a mass of bright yellow faces, shining beautifully in the late afternoon sunshine. Shore Larks are always stunning birds, but it was fantastic to watch so many of them in such great light, a real treat.

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They were feeding in the slightly taller vegetation today, picking seeds from the dried seedheads of the saltmarsh flowers. Several of the Shore Larks were hidden from view, which made it harder to get an accurate count, but there were at least 65 today and very probably a few more that we missed. After years of declining numbers it is great to see so many back again this year. While we were watching the Shore Larks, a Tawny Owl started hooting from the pines beyond, a reminder that days are short now.

Out at the beach, the tide was in. There was a surprising amount of swell, given how little wind there was today, which meant we had to climb up into the dunes to get a higher vantage point. Even from there, the ducks kept disappearing in the waves. We did manage to find a couple of Long-tailed Ducks which were not too far out. The large flocks of Common Scoter were more distant but little groups kept flying around and a flash of white in the wing alerted us to two Velvet Scoters in with one of them. They landed on the sea and we could see them in the scope before they started diving and disappeared into the larger flock.

We could see several Great Crested Grebes on the sea too. A little flock of Cormorants flew overhead, heading in to roost. Then it started to get a little misty and, with the light fading, became increasingly difficult to pick out anything different. We decided to head back to the other side of the pines.

Lots of Pink-footed Geese could be heard calling as we walked back through the pines. There was a lovely view across the marshes, with low-lying mist enveloping the bases of the hedges and trees. We watched and waited for a while, with several smaller groups of geese flying in and whiffling down. Then we picked up some bigger skeins in the distance and several thousand flew in together, in a cacophony of yelping calls. Perhaps put off by the mist, several groups flew straight over, perhaps heading out to roost on the flats instead. Many of the others did drop down and disappear into the mist.

6o0a8536Pink-footed Geese – dropping down in the mist to roost

It is quite a sight and sound to watch the Pink-footed Geese coming in to roost on a winter’s evening. Then, with the light fading, we headed for home.

4th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. The last of our scheduled Autumn Migration Tours, we were looking to catch up with some lingering migrants and also see the arrival of many of our winter visitors. It was mostly cloudy all day, but not too windy today, good birding conditions for the time of year.

Our first destination of the day was Burnham Overy Staithe. We climbed up onto the seawall and set off to walk towards the dunes. As we did so, we heard Waxwings calling and looked over to the hawthorns further along just in time to see six of them flying off across the path in front of us and heading off west. A nice way to start the day.

The Waxwings had moved on but the bushes were still alive with birds as we walked past. Lots of thrushes were feasting on the berries, probably fresh in from the continent and hungry after their long journey over the sea. There were plenty of Blackbirds and with them a few Redwings and Song Thrushes. Several Robins chasing around in the bushes were also probably winter migrants. Out on the grazing marsh, a flock of Starlings were down in the brambles and a steady stream of small groups of Starlings were passing west overhead.

It was high tide and small parties of Brent Geese were flying around over the harbour or heading out across the grazing marshes. We could see three grey geese half hidden behind a line of reeds out on the grass and looking more closely we could see that they were White-fronted Geese, the white around the base of their bills showing when they lifted their heads.

img_8064White-fronted Geese – three were on the grazing marshes this morning

Further along, at the corner of the seawall, we could see loads more geese out on the marshes. They were mostly Greylags, larger and paler with a large orange carrot of a bill, and Pink-footed Geese, smaller and darker grey with a more delicate and mostly dark bill. In with them we found four Barnacle Geese. Unfortunately it is hard to know whether they were wild birds which had arrived with the Pink-footed Geese for the winter, or perhaps more likely feral birds from the flock in Holkham Park!

The geese were mostly distant, but two Pink-footed Geese swam in from the harbour and started feeding on the grass at the bottom of the seawall, giving us a closer look at their pink legs and feet and the pink bank around the dark bill.

6o0a7088Pink-footed Goose – two were feeding at the base of the seawall

While we were watching the geese, we received a phone call to let us know that a Great White Egret was flying across the harbour behind us. We turned to see it drop down onto the saltmarsh the other side, over towards Scolt Head. Through the scope we could see its long neck and long yellow-orange dagger of a bill. Even at that range, it was clearly much bigger than the Little Egrets, several of which we could see dotted around the harbour.

We made our way swiftly out to the dunes and turned west towards Gun Hill. There were a few photographers with massive lenses lying prone on the grass ahead of us and we could immediately see their target. The Isabelline Wheatear has been here for almost two weeks now. They are a very rare visitor here – breeding from Turkey across through southern Russia, they winter mostly in Africa, so this one was well off course. It seems to be finding plenty of food in the short grass though.

img_8139Isabelline Wheatear – has been in the dunes for almost two weeks

The more typical Northern Wheatear is a regular passage migrant here, but Isabelline Wheatear is paler and sandier-coloured. In flight, it has a similar black and white tail pattern, but the black terminal band is much broader. A great bird to catch up with here.

After admiring the Isabelline Wheatear for a while, we set off past Gun Hill and out to the beach. The tide was starting to go out and we could see more waders on the emerging mud. A couple of Grey Plover were feeding in a muddy creek. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were in the water by a sandbank along with two Curlew. Further over, we could see a Ringed Plover and several Dunlin. Small groups of Wigeon had gathered on the banks of the harbour channel.

Walking round onto the other side of the point, we started to scan the sea beyond the spit at the eastern end of Scolt Head. A surprise find here was a late adult Arctic Tern, fishing just offshore. It kept flying up and down just beyond the sand and diving periodically into the water. A Red-throated Diver moulting out of summer plumage drifted east and a juvenile Gannet flew past further offshore.

We had been told that there were some Snow Buntings on the beach, so we walked round along the tide line and eventually spotted nine of them flying towards us. They landed out on the beach at first, but then returned to the high water mark where they proceeded to feed on the piles of saltmarsh vegetation which had been washed up, looking for seeds. We edged closer to them and were watching them through the scope when they flew again – and promptly landed right in front of us. Stunning views!

6o0a7206Snow Bunting – there were nine on the beach by Gun Hill today

We made our way back along the beach, stopping to scan through a nice selection of waders which had gathered around the channels out on the sand north of the boardwalk. The silvery grey and white Sanderling contrasting with the much darker and longer billed Dunlin. More Ringed Plover were walking around on the sandbanks. A Bar-tailed Godwit was wading deeper in the water.

Crossing back over the dunes towards the grazing marshes we could hear birds calling plaintively and looked up to see a small flock of Golden Plover whirling over the grass. They settled down again and we had a look at them through the scope. While we were standing there, a flock of about a dozen Blackbirds came in from the direction of the sea and headed inland. Then three Mistle Thrushes flew in calling too and made their way in over the seawall.

It was time lunch, so we made our way quickly back towards the car. Scanning the grazing marshes on the way, we spotted some birds flycatching from the bushes in the distance. They were Waxwings, possibly the ones we had seen earlier having returned or more likely another group. There are large numbers of Waxwings arriving along the coast at the moment. They are irruptive, coming here in very variable numbers each winter, moving out of Scandinavia in response to cold weather or a lack of berries. After a couple of fairly lean winters for them, this looks like being a good Waxwing year!

We hurried back along the seawall and positioned ourselves where we could see them. The Waxwings were perching in the tops of the bushes and making little sallies up into the air after insects. Others were perched in the hawthorns, preening or eating berries. We counted six out on the grazing marshes at first – then as we walked back along the seawall, four were perched in the bushes just below, and we could still see at least four further over. Waxwings are such stunning birds and full of character with their spiky hairstyles! Suddenly they started calling and flew off towards Burnham Overy Staithe.

6o0a7251Waxwings – at least 8 were in the bushes on our way back

After a late lunch at Holkham, delayed due to our time spent admiring the Waxwings, we drove down to the end of Lady Anne’s Drive and walked out through the pines towards the beach. The saltmarshes here used to be a regular site for wintering Shorelarks, but they haven’t been here for nearly five years now. The numbers along the whole Norfolk coast have dropped in recent years and it seemed that seeing large flocks of Shorelarks could be a thing of the past. However, just like with Waxwings it looks like this winter could be a year for Shorelarks. A large flock of Shorelarks has gathered at Holkham in the last couple of weeks.

As we walked down along the edge of the saltmarsh, we could see several people ahead of us. They were not here to see the larks but were walking their dogs – they were off the lead and one of them, a spaniel, was haring about over the whole of the saltmarsh, back and forth. Disturbance from dogs may be one reason why Holkham doesn’t get Shorelarks every year like it used to do. When we got to the place the birds have been favouring, we were pleased to see that some were still left. There were only ten of them though, as we proceeded to stop and admire them.

As we watched them, another flock of about 25 Shorelarks flew back in and joined them. Then another similar sized group returned to. It was hard to count them all, as they were moving all the time and some were hidden in the saltmarsh vegetation but there were at least 62 in total, an amazing number and the most we have seen for many years.

img_8217Shorelark – the Holkham flock numbered at least 62 today, an amazing number

While we were watching them, a covey of nine Grey Partridge strolled out of the dunes and across the path and proceeded to feed on the edge of the saltmarsh, next to the Shorelarks. A very odd combination!

Having enjoyed great views of the Shorelarks, we made our way out to the beach. The tide was out but we stopped by the dunes to look at the sea. We could see lots of Common Scoter scattered across the bay, numbering several hundred in total. Closer inshore, we picked up a group of five Long-tailed Duck just off the beach. Before we made our way down to the shore for a closer look, we had a quick scan of the sea.

We got a glimpse of a diver as it disappeared beneath the water and it looked very contrasting, black and white, and we felt sure we had seen a white flank patch. When it finally resurfaced, our suspicions were confirmed – it was a smart winter plumage Black-throated Diver, a nice find as it is the rarest of the three regular UK divers in Norfolk. It was diving all the time, but each time it reappeared we got it in the scope and eventually everyone got a look at it.

By this stage, the Long-tailed Ducks had unfortunately flown further out into the bay, but we still made our way down to the shore. We got a flock of Common Scoter in the scope for a closer look – they appeared to be almost entirely pale-cheeked females/1st winters. Then a more careful look through the various flocks revealed a couple of Velvet Scoters too, larger and darker faced, with two smaller white spots. They were loosely associating with one of the groups of Common Scoter but still keeping to themselves. Conveniently the Velvet Scoter were at the front of the flock which made them easier to pick out.

The sun was already setting and we were starting to lose the light already, so we made our way back across the saltmarsh, the Shorelarks flying in again and landing right beside us as we did so. There was a little group of Brent Geese in the taller vegetation and we stopped briefly for a look through them. One stood out – it had a slightly white flank patch than the others and a somewhat better marked collar.

It was a Black Brant hybrid – not contrasting enough for a pure Black Brant. This bird is regular here every winter, the progeny many years ago of a wandering Black Brant which got in with the Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese which winter here and ended up pairing up with one of them. The parents are long gone, but the hybrid young still returns.

As we walked back towards the car park we could already hear the high-pitched yelping of Pink-footed Geese. We stopped on the south side of the pines to admire the stunning sunset away to the west, across the grazing marshes. At first, there were only a few small lines of geese which flew over and landed with some Pink-footed Geese which were still feeding on the grass the other side of Lady Anne’s Drive.

Then away in the distance, over Holkham Park, we saw them coming – skein after skein of geese, several thousand strong in total. As they got closer, they were accompanied by a  cacophony of yelping. The Pink-footed Geese circled round against the bright pinks and firey oranges of the sky, before whiffling down onto the grass to roost. It was a truly stunning spectacle – and a great way to end the day. One of the greatest sights and sounds of a North Norfolk winter.

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6o0a7306Pink-footed Geese – coming in to roost at Holkham at sunset

 

15th Oct 2016 – Eastern Promise, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3-day long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today. The easterly winds of the last couple of weeks finally swung round to the south overnight, but there were some new birds arriving overnight and some others still to catch up with. The change in the wind direction meant it was a bit drier, after the morning mist cleared, and brighter and warmer in the afternoon.

It was a bit misty and cool as we arrived at Holkham. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling watched as a flock disappeared off inland from the grazing marshes, heading off to feed on the fields. In the holm oaks right on Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across a small tit flock, the usual Long-tailed Tits, other tits and Goldcrests, but we couldn’t find anything else with them.

As we walked west on the south side of the pines, a variety of thrushes flew out of the trees – Song Thrushes, Redwings and Blackbirds. There were finches on the move again today – with Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls all flying over calling. However, they were eclipsed in number by the Starlings today, with a steady stream of flocks flying west right through the morning, some numbering several hundred birds.

We stopped at the gate before Washington Hide to have a scan of the grazing marshes and watch all the activity. We were just turning to leave when one of the group spotted a Great White Egret approaching. It circled over the fields in front of us a couple of times before disappearing back towards the trees.

6o0a4149Great White Egret – circled over the grazing marshes

The sycamores by Washington Hide were rustling in the breeze and still cool in the morning mist. There was no sign of any tit flock here and we couldn’t find any warblers either, just a couple of Goldcrests hiding in among the leaves. However, as we walked up a Redstart started calling and showed very well, flying backwards and forwards between the trees, perching on the lower branches.

6o0a4162Redstart – showed very well by Washington Hide

While we were watching the Redstart, we heard Bearded Tits calling on and off. Then we just caught sight of a flock as it dropped out of the sky and down into the reeds. We couldn’t see them from the boardwalk by the hide, but as we got back down onto the main path we heard them again and looked up to see six Bearded Tits flying round in circles high over the reeds. Even though they look like quite weak fliers, they can disperse over considerable distances, particularly at this time of year. As we stood watching them, a flock of 80 Redwings flew out of the trees and off south across the marshes. Lots of birds on the move today!

At this point, we heard news that a Dusky Warbler had been found out in Burnham Overy Dunes. This would be a great bird to see, so we set off to walk over that way. We assumed that we could have a better look for warblers in the trees on the way back, once it had brightened up a little. We did hear a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers on the way through the trees, and got a brief look at one when it came to the edge of the sallows in which it was hiding.

Coming out into the dunes, we didn’t stop to search the bushes, but pressed on west. Someone was walking through the top of the dunes and as he went was  flushing lots of thrushes, which flew across in front of us to the bushes beyond the fence. Several Redwings landed in a bush in front of us. We noticed a blackbird with silvery wings heading towards us and when it turned we could just make out a paler off-white gorget – it was a Ring Ouzel. It saw us standing there and circled round, before dropping down again in the dunes further over. A couple of Stonechats perched up in the bushes by the fence.

We made our way quickly over to where the Dusky Warbler had first been found, but there was no sign of it. It had apparently been moving west, so we decided to check out all the bushes out towards Gun Hill. There was no sign of it out there, but we did see another Redstart.

After having a good look round, we happened to notice another birder only 200m or so back east in the dunes from us who suddenly started to hurry back towards the boardwalk. There were still quite a few other people looking for the Dusky Warbler out further west of us too, towards Gun Hill, but there was no shout in our direction. As he passed three more birders who had just been sitting down, they got up and followed him, so we suspected something might have been found. However, checking the news services there was nothing to indicate what it might be. On a hunch, we set off in the direction he had gone, but when we got back towards the boardwalk there was no sign of anyone there. Perhaps he was just in a hurry to get back?

We started to check the bushes this way again, while another birder passed us by and walked back over the boardwalk into the dunes. After a few seconds, he very kindly ran back up to the top of the dunes and shouted over – a small crowd had been sitting in the dunes watching the Dusky Warbler the other side, without telling anyone. Not especially helpful!

We hurried over there, but by the time we arrived, the Dusky Warbler was on the move again. We could hear it calling but it flicked out the back of the bushes where it had been performing for the crowd and flew over the fence beyond. We could just see it flitting around in some vegetation the other side, before it flew further back and then flew off east behind the dunes. Most of the group managed to get a look at it, but it would have been much better for all if the news of its relocation had been put out in a more timely fashion. A nice bird to see, but all a little frustrating!

6o0a4165Common Darter – perched on one of the group’s hats

It had brightened up by the time we got back to the pines and there were lots of insects flying around the trees on the sunny side. When we stopped, we were suddenly surrounded by several Common Darters, several of which decided to perch on people’s faces, arms and hats!

Almost at the far west end of the pines, we heard another Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but it was quite a way from the path.Walking slowly back east, we met someone who had just seen a Radde’s Warbler, but the vegetation here is very dense and after a quick look, it became clear we could struggle to relocate it. We did find yet another Yellow-browed Warbler nearby and this one showed well in an oak tree.

6o0a4170Yellow-browed Warbler – one of at least 6 we saw or heard today

It was to be the story of much of the walk back – the warmer and brighter weather had brought them all out from hiding. We heard or saw at least five Yellow-browed Warblers before we got to the crosstracks. Otherwise, there were a few Chiffchaffs now enjoying all the insects, as well as lots of Goldcrests. We did find a tit flock as we approached the crosstracks, but all we could find with it was one of the Yellow-browed Warblers.

The other side of Meals House, we found another tit flock. There had been a Pallas’s Warbler with these birds the day before yesterday, but it had not been reported since. Despite that, we thought it was most likely still with them, so we stopped to check them out. There was no sign of the Pallas’s at first, but we did find yet another Yellow-browed Warbler. Then the Long-tailed Tits set off east through the trees, with the rest of the flock following in their wake.

We set off in pursuit of the tit flock, and tried to get ahead of them on the boardwalk by Washington Hide. We succeeded but, rather than stopping in the sycamores, the whole flock flew high over the gap and disappeared into the pines the other side. We had a tantalising glimpse of a warbler as they did so. We set off after them again and they made their way very quickly east through the middle of the pines. We could hear the Long-tailed Tits calling from deep in the trees as they made their way as far as Salts Hole and then they went quiet and seemed to disappear.

While most of the group stayed on the path, a couple of us set off into the trees to see if we could find which direction they had gone. Deep into cover, we found The Long-tailed Tits were still there, but they had started feeding lower down in the evergreen holm oaks and were now just calling quietly to each other. We were standing in a small sunny clearing, but the birds were all but impossible to see in the dense foliage. Then the Pallas’s Warbler suddenly appeared right in front of us in the sunshine on the outside of the closest tree. Despite whistling, the rest of the group did not realise and by the time we ran down to tell them the Pallas’s Warbler had disappeared into the trees again.

With all the chasing after tit flocks, it was now getting on, so we made our way back to the car for a rather late lunch. Given the sunny weather, we sat outside on the picnic tables on Lady Anne’s Drive – it could almost have been summer! While we were eating, a Red Kite circled over the grazing marshes beyond. A Jackdaw perched on the post next to us and eyed our food hungrily.

6o0a4181Jackdaw – hanging round the picnic tables at lunchtime

After lunch, we drove round to Burnham Overy Staithe. A Barred Warbler had been in the bushes just the other side of the seawall from the car park for a couple of days. They can be inveterate skulkers sometimes, but this one was much more amenable. As soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see it lumbering around in the brambles just below us. It flew up into the hedge a little further over but kept returning down to the same bushes. We spent some time enjoying watching it.

6o0a4234Barred Warbler – showed well in the bushes at Burnham Overy Staithe

Barred Warblers breed from central and eastern Europe across into Asia and winter in eastern Africa. They are annual visitors here in small numbers, usually blown off course on easterly winds. Most of the Barred Warblers which occur here are 1st winter birds, as was this one – with just faint barring on the flanks.

While we were enjoying the Barred Warbler, we could see a selection of other birds from our vantage point on the seawall. Six Swallows flew in and started hawking for insects just along from us. Out in the harbour we could see flocks of Brent Geese and lots of Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh. A Great Black-backed Gull down in the harbour channel was wrestling with a large flatfish, trying to work out how it might be able to eat it.

We had tried for the Radde’s Warbler at Warham Greens yesterday, but it had proven impossible to see in the cool and windy conditions. With the better weather, it had seemingly been showing much better today, so we headed over there again to try our luck a second time. This time it was in – a small crowd was watching the bird as we walked up. It was hard to see , skulking in the thickets of nettles or the ivy-covered tree trunks, but with a bit of patience and perseverance, we were all able to get good views of it. It was very close, but at one point we had it only a metre or so away from us, down on the ground in the nettles. Great stuff!

6o0a4276Radde’s Warbler – skulking in the nettles

It was a great way to end the day, so we eventually had to tear ourselves away and head back to the car. As we did so, a small party of four Grey Herons flew overhead, making their way west over the track. A reminder that it is migration season and lots of birds are still on the move.

9th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 3

The last day of a three day Private Tour, we were back on the North Norfolk coast today. It was another lovely warm, sunny day, with only a little cloud at times this afternoon, but rather breezy all day.

This morning, we had decided to explore Holkham-Burnham Overy, looking for migrants. We parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive and made our way west on the inland side of the pines. A couple of Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in the bushes a short way in, but otherwise the trees were rather quiet on the walk out – perhaps not a great surprise, given the wind. We could hear tits calling from the pines and the occasional Goldcrest.

A single Little Grebe was diving continually on Salt’s Hole, but otherwise there were just a few Mallard on here. There were more ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. Most surprisingly, there were about a dozen Pintail on here today. They were trying to sleep but looked rather nervous – possibly new arrivals from the continent, which had pitched down onto the pool here after a long journey. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing marshes beyond.

Continuing westwards, we could hear Jays calling and one flew past along the edge of the trees. A Common Buzzard was soaring over the pines, mewing. An occasional Chiffchaff called from the bushes, but it wasn’t until we got almost to the west end of the pines that we managed to see one or two with a flock of tits. At least the dragonflies were enjoying the weather – particularly lots of Common Darters basking in the sunshine in the shelter of the path.

6o0a0620Common Darter – enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the path

Out in the dunes, we were even more exposed to the wind. A couple more Chiffchaffs flitted around in the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat flew over and dived into the cover of some brambles. We flushed a very pale Common Buzzard from the top of the dunes and as it flew away, we noticed a young Peregrine circling towards us – our first of the trip.

6o0a0624Peregrine – circled over the dunes

The middle of the dunes was more sheltered, so we walked out a short distance that way. Despite the protection from the wind, there were few birds in the scattered bushes here. We came across a couple of small groups of Stonechats but there was no sign of the big Meadow Pipit flock in the dunes here today – just a couple of birds flying over. Finally we found our first obvious migrant. A Wheatear perched on the fence as we rounded the corner, but it quickly flicked off and disappeared into the dunes.

Given the windy conditions out in the dunes, we decided to head back to the pines along the fence line. We were quickly rewarded with a party of three Whinchats in a small dune slack out of the wind. They flew to the brambles the other side of the fence and started to feed on the berries. One Whinchat then found a sheltered sunny perch on the edge of the bushes where it remained for some time, giving us great views through the scope.

img_6582Whinchat – found a sheltered perch out of the wind

There were few birds out on the grazing marshes, but we could see a few geese over beyond the pools behind Decoy Wood. Looking through the scope, we found a group of about 20 Pink-footed Geese feeding on their own in a patch of wet grassland. The first party of Pink-footed Geese returned from Iceland last weekend, here now for the winter. Despite the windy conditions, there were a few butterflies still out and about. Of note, we found Small Copper and a rather worn Brown Argus. A Common Lizard scuttled across the path.

6o0a0649Brown Argus – a rather worn individual

With the sun now warming the south side of the pines, there were more birds on the walk back. We came across several flocks of tits, particularly groups noisy of Long-tailed Tits, accompanied by Blue Tits and Coal Tits. In with them, we found several more Chiffchaffs and a couple of Treecreepers.

6o0a0654Long-tailed Tits – we met several groups on the walk back

The Pectoral Sandpiper which had been at Salthouse had not been seen for a couple of days, but a report came through yesterday afternoon that the bird had returned to its favourite area of muddy pools by the Iron Road. With news that it was still present this morning, we headed over that way next. There is limited parking here, so we left the car further along, in the village and walked back.

The Pectoral Sandpiper was on show as we walked up and, even better, was a lot closer than it had been earlier in the week. We were treated to some great views of it, right out on the open mud. Away from the reedy margin, it was rather nervous. It kept crouching down, scanning the sky above, and at one point it found a little notch in a muddy ridge to hide in.

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img_6864Pectoral Sandpiper – showed very well today

There were not many other waders on here today, but there was a single Green Sandpiper on a small pool over towards the back. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Pectoral Sandpiper. On the walk back to the car, a Marsh Harrier flushed a flock of gulls from one of the pools on the grazing marshes, which circled up, together with a group of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff. A large party of Swallows flew low west over the reeds, though it was hard to tell for sure whether they were on their way or just feeding.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way round to the beach car park at Cley and scanned the sea while we ate. There was a steady trickle of Gannets passing by offshore and a single Sandwich Tern flew east. The local Black-headed Gulls had a disagreement over who had territorial rights to stand on the shingle next to us to beg for crumbs.

After lunch, we walked out to have a look at North Scrape. The water level has dropped quite a bit since we were here just a couple of days ago and it doesn’t look as good for waders here now. A Peregrine circling over may also have put them off. Given relatively few birds on here, we didn’t stop and headed round to the other side of the reserve instead.

Round at Teal Hide, we could see quite a few small waders out in the middle of the scrape. Chief amongst them were the Curlew Sandpipers, and we eventually managed to count 14 of them on here today, along with a few Dunlin and two juvenile Knot. A little party of Golden Plover was preening on one of the grassy islands. There has also been a notable increase in the number of Wigeon on here in recent days, as more birds return for the winter.

img_6906Curlew Sandpipers – hiding in amongst the Wigeon

Our main destination for the afternoon was Stiffkey Fen, so we didn’t have too long at Cley today. On the walk out to the Fen, we came across a mixed flock of tits in the hedgerow, once again accompanied by a few warblers – several Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. A couple of tatty Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered about the brambles.

From the path, we could just see a line of large white shapes out on the Fen, looking through the vegetation. There is a much better view from up on the seawall and here we could confirm that they were Spoonbills, twelve of them this afternoon. They were mostly asleep – typical Spoonbill behaviour! – but did wake up  from time to time, stretching their wings and flashing their long, spoon-shaped bills.

img_6911Spoonbills – twelve were at Stiffkey Fen this afternoon

Despite the fact that the tide was out in the harbour, the Fen was packed with waders. Possibly they were seeking shelter from the wind. There was a very large flock of Black-tailed Godwits spread out across the front and scanning through we could see several Ruff in with them. We could hear Greenshanks calling and see several flying around. A couple were standing with a large group of Redshank, roosting at the back, and more were sleeping along the grassy edge of the main island. A Common Sandpiper was picking around on the mud just in front of the Spoonbills and scanning the edges we found a couple of Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper.

There is a good selection of wildfowl on the Fen at the moment too, though the drakes are still mostly in their duller eclipse plumage at this time of year. We could see several Pintail here and, as at Cley, numbers of Wigeon are now increasing as bird return for the winter. A single Common Pochard diving in the deeper water was a nice addition to the weekend’s list.

As we walked round to the harbour, one of the Spoonbills flew over and disappeared out into the middle to feed. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing in the harbour channel and some sizeable groups of mixed large and small gulls preening and roosting out on the mud. Scanning through them, we managed to find a single Mediterranean Gull, a winter adult with white wing tips and black bandit mask.

There were lots of Oystercatchers and quite a few Curlew out on the mud, but not so many other waders today. Quite a few of them were obviously still on the Fen, but with the tide out many were probably tucked down in the channels. What was lacking in raw numbers was made up for in variety, as we managed to find a single Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A few Ringed Plovers popped up out of the channels into view. A couple of Turnstones were bathing down in the main channel.

There was another culprit which was probably disturbing the waders out here today. On one of the higher sandbars on the edge of the harbour, a lone Peregrine was standing, remarkably our third of the day. The area around it had not surprisingly been cleared of birds!

img_6920Peregrine – our third of the day, out in the harbour

It was lovely standing here, looking out over the harbour towards Blakeney Point in the afternoon sunshine, a nice spot to conclude three great days of autumn birding.