Tag Archives: Burnham Overy

15th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely sunny day, a little bit hazier than yesterday with a slightly cooler light ENE breeze which kept the temperatures very comfortable in the low 20sC on the coast. Perfect weather to be out birding again.

We started the day at Titchwell. There was no sign first thing of the Glossy Ibis which had been here yesterday afternoon, but we decided to go anyway and get in before the car park filled up. When we arrived and got out of the minibus, a Goldcrest was feeding in a pine right above where we had parked.

There were next to no cars in the overflow car park yet, so we decided to have a quick walk round before it got busy. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came out of the trees by the entrance track and flew across in front of us. They had a couple of Chiffchaffs in tow too. We then watched them feeding in the brambles and elders in the back of the car park. along with a couple of Blackcaps.

Long-tailed Tit – we followed a flock into the overflow car park

We followed the flock round to the far side. There were a few finches in the car park too, but the Bullfinches feeding in the sallows in the far corner remained well hidden and hard to see. We were surprised to find a Moorhen clambering around high up in the bushes here too – an odd place for one. A couple of Jays flew up into the top of the tall willows behind. A Red Admiral butterfly feeding on the ivy looked very smart in the morning sunshine.

Red Admiral – enjoying the morning sunshine

We made our way round to the Visitor Centre, through the crowds of beachgoers and dog walkers who were rapidly filling up the car park, which is still partly closed. There had apparently been a Pied Flycatcher earlier by the Visitor Centre, so we had a quick look in the trees back to the picnic area, but there was no sign of it there.

Back past the visitor centre, a small flock of Siskins flew through the trees. We had a quick look in the alders by the main path, but they weren’t there. While we were looking, a small skein of around twenty Pink-footed Geese came overhead calling, possibly fresh arrivals from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

With it being so sunny, we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed first and then have a look at the Freshmarsh from the end of Autumn Trail. As we walked up to the screen at Patsy’s, the first thing that caught our eye was a Great White Egret out in the middle, preening. It was striking how big it was, particularly when it stood with its neck stretched up, and we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – on Patsy’s Reedbed pool this morning

Another Great White Egret flew across over the reedbed further back. The one we were watching can’t have seen it – perhaps it heard something, because after the second bird landed in the reeds, the first took off and flew back towards it. It chased it up out of the reeds and we lost sight of the two of them behind the bushes.

Otherwise, there were a few ducks on the pool this morning, mainly Gadwall. Coot was an addition to the trip list here, and there were a couple of Little Grebes too. A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a paler head, quartered over the reed behind.

As we made our way round along East Trail and on to Autumn Trail, there were several Common Darters basking on the path which took off ahead of us. A very smart fresh Shaggy Inkcap toadstool was sticking up out of the short grass on the verge. There were a few squashed Bloody-nosed Beetles and a couple of live ones. We picked one up, which had lost a couple of legs, to move it off the path and it duly obliged by exuding the red liquid from its mouthparts from which it gets its name. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us as we passed.

Shaggy Inkcap – growing in the grass by East Trail

We had spoken to someone earlier who had suggested that most of the waders were at the back of the Freshmarsh, but apart from quite a few Ruff in the top corner, there wasn’t much up this end now. Out in the middle, we could see a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and just a couple of lingering Avocets today. A smaller wader further back still looked like the Little Stint, but it was a long way away from this side. In the distance, the other side of the West Bank path, five Spoonbills flew up and circled round.

A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding on the mud at the base of the reeds, in front of the watchpoint at the end of the path. We had a nice view of them through the scopes, a cracking male with powder grey head and black moustache, and a browner female. Another small group of 5-6 were calling to each other in the reeds and we saw them fly up a couple of times before crashing back in.

As we turned to head back, we heard the group of Bearded Tits calling again and watched them land again in the reeds close to the path. We walked up towards where they had landed and noticed one Bearded Tit on its own in the reeds. The rest of the flock further ahead flew up and over the bank towards Brancaster Marsh, but the lone bird stayed put. It climbed up the reeds right in front of us, giving us a great view, calling for the rest of the group.

Bearded Tit – came up out of the reeds right in front of us

It was a male, with powder blue-grey head and black moustache, probably a young one as it was moulting and the head was not as well marked as some. The Bearded Tit flew up a couple of times but landed again. Eventually it seemed to work up the courage to cross the path, but simply landed again in a dead umbellifer on the bank right next to one of us! After flitting around there for a couple of seconds, it finally flew up and over the bank.

We made our way back and round via Meadow Trail. We stopped at the platform by the dragonfly pool to admire an apple green and bright blue Southern Hawker, which in typical style kept coming back to hover close to us. It was chased at a couple of times by a Migrant Hawker, and then it decided to chase it away over the tops of the sallows. A tandem pair of Willow Emerald damselflies were trying to perch in the reeds below the platform but struggled to find somewhere they could agree to settle.

Willow Emerald damselflies – this tandem pair were trying to settle in the reeds

Walking out on the west bank path, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Thankfully, having had such amazing views of the male earlier, we didn’t need to linger to try to see them here. We stopped by the Reedbed Pool and a scan revealed a good number of Common Pochard up towards the back. A Kingfisher called from one of the channels in the reedbed, but didn’t come out.

Looking out across the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a line of white shapes asleep in the grass. Most were clearly Little Egrets, but the end one looked a little larger, a different shape, and more of a dirty yellowish colour. It was a Spoonbill, presumably one of the ones we had seen distantly over here earlier.

A paraglider was flying over Thornham Harbour and flushing everything. Several flocks of Curlew flew up and circled round nervously. A flock of Golden Plover came in over the path, most of them having lost their summer black bellies already. The Spoonbill woke up and flashed its bill, confirming our ID. A second Spoonbill flew in over the saltmarsh towards us, its black wingtips displaying its immaturity, before it turned and flew back the other way.

With the sun out, and nothing much on the drier mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the west bank path further along. As we walked up, we could hear a Spotted Redshank calling, but presumably it was flying off as we couldn’t see it out on the mud. One of the Great White Egrets was now standing on the edge of the small round island, preening.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits still out in the middle, and a selection of Ruff around the edges. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too – its smaller size, slightly shorter legs and more contrastingly-marked upperparts setting it apart, even before we could see its slightly upturned bill.

Ruff – a juvenile feeding on the Freshmarsh below the main path

There were one or two Dunlin scattered around the islands and edges and a larger group of seven at the far end, below the reeds. We couldn’t find the Little Stint at first, it wasn’t where we had seen it earlier, but scanning carefully we eventually found it on the muddy edge of the island over in front of the fence. It was feeding with its rear end up in the air a lot, which confirmed it was the bird we had seen distantly from the end of Autumn Trail earlier. Odd behaviour, but instantly recognisable as different. A single Common Snipe was feeding just inside the fence.

We wanted to spare our energy for the afternoon, so we decided not to walk on any further and headed back to the car park. There had been a Wryneck earlier seen at Holme, so we decided to have a go to see if we could find it. As we arrived at the pay hut, we were told it had been seen again about 15 minutes before, in the bushes just beyond.

We parked and got out, and the challenge quickly became clear – there was a constant stream of cars up and down the track and people up and down the coastal path the other side of the bushes. Amazing numbers of people for this time of year, albeit it was a beautiful day. We had a slow walk round the bushes, with no success, so stopped to have lunch back at the minibus, before having another go.

We figured it might be worth having a walk through the dunes – no one seemed sure whether there might have been a second Wryneck seen further up towards the Firs, and there are often migrants in here. But as we walked through the bushes, there were very few birds. We did see lots of Small Heath and several Small Copper butterflies.

It was only as we got much closer to the Firs that we started to see things. Several flocks of Curlew came in off the beach, presumably disturbed from where they were feeding, along with a smaller number of Black-tailed Godwits.

Then we came across a Stonechat in the bushes, a female, followed quickly by another two, one a male with a black throat. A rattling call alerted us to a couple of Lapland Buntings passing overhead, but they were high in the bright sky and hard to see as they disappeared off west.

One of the group had lingered further back to take some photographs, and when they walked up to us they thought they had just seen a Whinchat. They weren’t wrong – it had just appeared in the bushes behind us, presumably following the Stonechats. We had a nice view of it, before it flew back further into the dunes – a nice bonus here.

Whinchat – in the dunes with a small group of Stonechats

Everyone was feeling tired now, so the intrepid guide walked back to get the minibus and the others waited at the Firs. We had a quick look at the bushes by the payhut as we drove out, but there had been no further sign of the Wryneck. We decided to head back east to Burnham Overy.

We almost couldn’t get into the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe, but thankfully someone was leaving just as we arrived. We set out along the seawall. There was lots of disturbance in the harbour channel – boats, a paddleboard, swimmers – and we didn’t see many birds until we got to the arm of mud which extends alongside the bend in the seawall.

Scanning the mud, we could see lots of Common Redshanks. Several Turnstones were feeding in alongside the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a couple of Common Gulls too. There were a few Dunlin too, and a couple of Grey Plover.

A small group of white shapes were down in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh further up and through the scope we could confirm they were the Cattle Egrets we had come to look for, nine of them. We walked further up until we were directly opposite and had a nice view as they stood in the vegetation preening.

Cattle Egrets – nine were in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh, preening

The tide was coming in fast now and starting to fill the arm of mud in front of us. The Redshanks were feeding more actively and the Cattle Egrets started to move. First one or two, then the rest of the flock flew down to the water. They seemed to be feeding on the tide out in the shallow water beyond the open mud, in amongst the Redshanks – unusual behaviour for Cattle Egrets but fascinating to watch. Presumably they had even been waiting out on the saltmarsh for the incoming tide.

Looking inland, the other side, a Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields in the distance, getting harrassed by crows. A Grey Heron flew across and landed with the cattle out in the middle. A Mediterranean Gull flew in from the harbour and over the seawall, overhead, flashing its pure white wing tips.

It was a great view, looking out across the harbour in the late afternoon sunshine, or inland to the coast road and beyond. A great way to end our two days, watching the Cattle Egrets out in the harbour. It was time to head back.

6th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was originally meant to be sunny and warm today, but the forecast changed a couple of days ago to rain in the middle of the day and cooler. The rain came early – it was already spitting with drizzle when we met up and it continued on and off through the morning. Thankfully, it was only light and intermittent and it didn’t really stop us getting out, and it dried up in the afternoon.

Having been east along the coast yesterday, we drove west today. A Red Kite drifted over the road as we made our way to Holme. As we got out of the minibus, a Sedge Warbler was singing, but it was keeping tucked down out of view this morning. We could see a couple of dark juvenile Marsh Harriers flying round over the bushes out in the middle of the grazing marsh. When the male flew past, they thought they were going to get fed, but were disappointed when it didn’t stop. Up on the seawall, we could see one of the juveniles standing in a recently cut silage field, presumably trying to find something for itself.

It was already spitting with rain, but we thought we would be OK for an hour or so, based on the forecast. Enough time to get out to the beach and back. It was a very high tide this morning and lots of Redshanks were roosting out on the islands of vegetation on the saltmarsh. Five Little Egrets were roosting too. The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had been forced off the saltmarsh and up into the dunes by the water, and we flushed several as we walked out.

Looking out over the dunes, we could see a Little Tern distantly over the beach. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the water. A Fulmar flew past offshore. When we got out to the beach, we found there was very little sand left exposed. A few Oystercatchers and gulls were roosting on the bit of beach left exposed. We could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past over the sea.

As we walked a little further down along the edge of the dunes, a Ringed Plover ran ahead of us. We had seen one on the nest here recently, but the area where it had been looked to be under water now. A Sanderling appeared on the sand on the edge of the dunes too, still in its dark breeding plumage.


Sanderling – still in dark breeding plumage

One of the Little Terns flew over calling. It started to drizzle more heavily now, so we decided to walk back to get our waterproofs from the minibus. From the dunes, we could see the pair of Little Terns mobbing an Oystercatcher back on the beach. Hopefully they had not been impacted by the high tides.

Little Tern

Little Tern – flew over calling

It had stopped drizzling again when we got back on the coastal path. Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were in feeding in the dunes. Back at the minibus, we layered up just in case. A Cuckoo flew across the grazing marshes on the other side of the track and when we looked across we could see a second Cuckoo perched on the top of some brambles. We had a look at it in the scope. It will not be long now before the adults leave and head off back south, their breeding season over and the surrogate parents left to raise the young.

We wanted to have a quick look in the old paddocks, so we walked back round and up onto the coastal path. But when we got there it started drizzling more heavily again, so we decided to change plans and head round to Titchwell instead, where we could use the hides. When we got to Titchwell, we had a quick look at the latest rainfall radar and realised the rain band looked to be moving over quickly, so we stopped for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards the rain had eased off again, so we headed out onto the reserve.

When we got out to the reedbed, a Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a small sallow. A few Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were flitting round the small pools below the path. A small flock of waders flying in over the saltmarsh turned out to be a Whimbrel with ten Redshank. The latter dropped down on the saltmarsh, but we watched the Whimbrel disappear out over the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool, mainly Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard with a single Tufted Duck. The drakes are now all in their drab eclipse plumage. A single Red-crested Pochard sailed out from the reeds. It looked rather like a female, apart from its bright coral-red bill – it was a drake in eclipse too. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew off over the reeds, flashing their white wing tips.

We continued on to Island Hide. There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mud in front of the hide. One of them was bearing a collection of colour rings including one with the letter ‘E’ and a flag with the number ’27’. This bird is a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, from the very small UK breeding population on the Nene Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a bird from the small UK breeding population

In order to try to help the struggling UK breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits, a number of eggs are now being hatched and raised in captivity each year, before being released once they are fully grown. ‘E27’ is one of those, raised in 2018. After spending the winter in Spain, it has since toured East Anglia.

Most of the birds here are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which are faring much better. There were lots of them out on the Freshmarsh today, and there seemed to be birds moving too. A large flock had flown off as we walked up towards Island Hide, disappearing off west. We saw more flying off or over during the morning, and others dropping in.

A small group of Knot was out with the Black-tailed Godwits when we first arrived and we had a look at them through scope. But they had disappeared when we looked back, possibly out to the beach or perhaps they were on the move today too. We counted 44 Dunlin on the Freshmarsh, but there had apparently been 83 earlier – again waders were obviously dropping in and moving on.


Ruff – scrawny-necked, having already moulted its ruff

There were about a dozen Ruff here today, all of them different colours. They are all males which have finished breeding, and already moulted their ornate ruffs. Some were looking very scruffy, with very scrawny necks. An adult Avocet and a well-grown juvenile were feeding in front of the hide, but there were lots more resting on the islands out in the middle. The Avocets are gathering here to moult now, with birds travelling here from elsewhere, and over 400 were counted here today. A single Spotted Redshank was visible over by the fenced-off Avocet Island but was rather distant from here.

The juvenile Bearded Tits like to feed along the edge of the reeds in front of Island Hide and we looked across to see three working their way round, hopping out onto the edge of the mud. We had a great look at them, tawny brown with black backs and black masks.

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit – three juveniles, on the mud on the edge of the reeds

Spoonbills were reported on the Freshmarsh this morning, but they were apparently over in the back corner and not in view from here. One of the volunteers radioed through to a colleague over by Parrinder to check they were still present, and the reply came through that they were just taking off. We looked over to see six of them flying low towards us, they passed right in front of the hide, before disappearing off west over the bank, presumably heading to to feed.


Spoonbills – five of the six which flew off from the Freshmarsh

There are still lots of gulls out here, and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls loafing around on the islands in with all the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Common Terns were out on one of the islands too.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in over the back from the direction of Brancaster and landed on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. When we walked round, we had a better look from there. They are presumably feral birds from the now established UK breeding population, which tend to wander.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – two of the four which dropped in on the Freshmarsh

We had a closer look at the gulls from Parrinder Hide. There were lots of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, much greyer and scalier than the rather dark brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Several of the juvenile Mediterrnaean Gulls were begging from the adults.

There was a much better view of the Spotted Redshank by the Avocet Island fence from here too. It was still mostly in sooty black breeding plumage but starting to moult now with patches of paler grey emerging. At least four more Spotted Redshanks were right over the far side, on the edge of the reeds. A couple of those were already noticeably whiter below than the others.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – starting to moult out of its black breeding plumage

There were more ducks loafing on the islands over this side of the Freshmarsh, the drake all in drab eclipse plumage. Teal and Shoveler were both additions to the day’s list. Hundreds of Swifts had gathered over the reeds, and we could see a few House Martins and Sand Martins in with them. They were hawking low, trying to find insects in the cool and rain. There had been a steady passage of Swifts moving west along the coast today.

It was lunchtime now, so we set off to walk back. We had a quick look over the wall at Volunteer Marsh, but there wasn’t much on there – a single Curlew, an Oystercatcher, and a Lapwing. We hadn’t got back to the trees before it started to spit with rain again. As we didn’t fancy sitting out in the rain, we decided to divert round via Meadow Trail before lunch. A Song Thrush was singing on Fen Trail, perched right on the top of a dead tree. We stopped to watch a pair of Blackcaps feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide.


Blackcap – a pair were feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide

The drizzle had stopped by the time we got round to Patsy’s and there were lots more warblers in the bushes around the screen, coming out to feed after the rain. We saw several Common Whitethroats and a couple of Chiffchaffs, as well the usual Reed Warblers. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped back and forth across the reeds.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s, mainly Mallard and Gadwall, the drakes all in eclipse. A female Common Pochard with several ducklings was diving out in the middle. Two more Red-crested Pochard were again drakes in eclipse, given away by their bright red bills.

When we finally got back to the Visitor Centre, it was time for a rather late lunch. We were very kindly allowed to eat inside as it was not busy today and the clouds still looked rather threatening. Afterwards, we made our way back east along the coast and stopped again at Burnham Overy Staithe.

As we walked out along the seawall, we saw a distant Spoonbill fly across over the harbour towards the dunes. A male Kestrel landed in the top of the hawthorn bushes on the near edge of the grazing marshes and a couple of Greylag heads popped up from time to time out of the long grass beyond. A Little Grebe was diving in the channel on the edge of the reeds and we stopped to watch a family of Sedge Warblers down in the wet grass below the bank.

There were a few waders out in the harbour. A flock of Redshanks around the small pools on the sandbanks and more with a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the mud on the corner. There were several Oystercatchers too, but it was very disturbed today with several boats in the channel and people walking out over the middle of the saltmarsh and round the edge of the harbour.

We stopped on the corner by the reedbed pool. There were lots of Coot and a few ducks on the water and we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Then a Black Tern appeared over the pool. It circled round over the reeds, giving us a good look at it. It was a very smart adult, still in sooty black breeding plumage. Then as quickly as it had appeared it flew up and over the bank and disappeared out over the harbour. There had apparently been a Black Tern here a couple of days ago, so it was possibly lingering here.

Black Tern

Black Tern – a smart adult, appeared over the reedbed pool briefly

There were some cattle grazing on the marshes further up along the bank, so we walked over. There had been some Cattle Egrets with them earlier this week, but there didn’t seem to be anything there at first today. We stood and looked out over the grazing marshes and we were just about to head back, when the Cattle Egrets suddenly appeared. They were not feeding around the cows, but on a small pool hidden in the long grass in between them. We couldn’t see the Cattle Egrets behind the tall vegetation until they happened to walk out into the open, just in time.

We had a good view of the Cattle Egrets through the scope. They were looking particularly smart, in breeding plumage with a pale orange wash on the top of the head, the back and breast. Then they flew back to join the cows further back and we lost them from view again in the long grass.

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets – feeding on a small pool in between the cows

A Spoonbill flew in over the harbour and out across the grazing marshes, heading for the breeding colony. As we walked back, we were almost at the car park and had stopped to look out over the marshes, when another Spoonbill dropped in behind us into the harbour channel. It would have been a great view, but there were more people out with dogs paddling in the harbour, and they flushed it as we turned round to look at it.

We were heading out again this evening, looking for Nightjars, so it was time to head back now, so we could all have a break and get something to eat.

Nightjar Evening

When we met again in the early evening, the weather was much improved, and the sun was even shining. We headed over first to look for Little Owls at a nearby complex of barns. We were in luck tonight. As we pulled up and started to scan the roofs, we spotted two fluffy juvenile Little Owls perched on the top enjoying the evening sun.

Little Owls

Little Owls – two juveniles enjoying the evening sun on the roof

One of the adult Little Owls appeared on the roof opposite, and one of the juveniles flew over to see if it was going to be fed. We stopped and watched them for a while and there was lots of flying backwards and forwards between the roofs. A second adult appeared on another roof, which we assumed was the other parent, but the first adult flew over straight at it as if it was trying to chase it off. The second Little Owl flew a short distance, but it landed on the same place we had first seen the two juveniles and was ignored thereafter, so it was hard to be sure what its relationship was to the others.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – we could have stayed watching the Little Owls all evening but we wanted to head down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. We drove round some meadows where they like to hunt, but there was no sign initially of any out tonight. We stopped, and walked up onto a bank from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

When we looked back, we found a Barn Owl out hunting the field behind us, where we had just been looking. It flew round and landed on some bales, but by the time we got the scopes out, it was off again. It landed a second time, on a fence below the bank by the reeds, and this time we had a good view, perched looking at us. It dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence. Then it was away over the reeds.

We turned to see a second Barn Owl had flown along the bank right behind us and was disappeared off out over the marshes. It was a striking almost all-white male, a regular bird here. It disappeared away out of view before we could get a good look at it, but thankfully quickly caught something and came back with a vole in its talons.

It flew straight towards us initially, then veered off and disappeared into the trees, presumably heading back to its nest to feed its young. Only a short while later, it was out hunting again. It flew round over the meadows, where we had seen the first Barn Owl, then came past us across reeds and disappeared out over marshes.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the ghostly white male caught a vole

It was time now to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It was quiet as we walked out to the middle, but not long before we heard our first Nightjar calling. We looked over to see it flying round the treetops in the distance. It started churring so we walked over to look for it.

The Woodcock were still roding too. We heard a squeaky call, and looked up to see one flying over, with flicking wingbeats, it distinctive display flight. It or another came right over us a couple of times this evening.

The Nightjar was churring in a dense oak, and impossible to see in the evening gloom. We stood nearby and listened and after a while it dropped out and came towards us over the heath. Then a female appeared, and came in to investigate, hovering right in front of us. We had a great view as it flew round just above our heads.


Nightjar – flew round above our heads

When the female Nightjar flew back towards the trees, a second male came in, and the two of them flew round together calling, the flashing the white in his wings and tail. The first male was still churring out in the middle of the heath, while an intruder was on its territory. These two birds often seem to have dispute, and after a while the first Nightjar flew back off towards its territory.

We stood for a while and listened to the Nightjars churring. Occasionally one would fly in and circle round above us again. A Tawny Owl hooted from deep in the woods behind. The light was fading now, so we set off to walk back. We heard another couple of churring male Nightjars on our way back to the minibus. Then it was time for bed – we had another busy day tomorrow.

17th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. After a misty start, the sun came out and the skies cleared, and it was a lovely bright sunny late autumn / early winter’s day. Great weather to be out.

It was very misty out on the grazing marshes when we arrived at Holkham and drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive. The sun was already starting to burn off the mist as we parked and got out of the car. We could see a couple of Pink-footed Geese in the field right by the north end of the Drive, along with a lone Brent Goose. Another two Pinkfeet flew over calling.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – two were feeding right by Lady Anne’s Drive

There were clearly lots of birds in the hedge on the south side of the trees, so we stopped for a closer look.  The hawthorns were full of Redwings, feeding on the berries, along with a few Song Thrushes, presumably all fresh arrivals from the continent overnight, coming in for the winter. One Redwing was perched on the edge, enjoying the early sun as the mist lifted. Several then dropped down onto the grass in the middle of the grazing marsh to feed, in amongst the ubiquitous Woodpigeons.

A small group of Bullfinches flew along the hedge, flashing their white rumps. A smart pink male perched up in the hawthorns briefly, but quickly dropped back into cover. Four Greenfinches appeared in the trees nearby but quickly flew off east. Then a flash of a small pale bird flying along the brambles stretching out across the far side of the grass, turned out to be a female Blackcap once it landed and we got it in the scope.

The new café, ‘The Lookout’, wasn’t open yet, but we took advantage of the raised ground around it as a vantage point to scan the grazing marshes to the east. A couple of Stonechats perched up in the top of the reeds, waiting for it to warm up. A Common Buzzard flew across and landed on a concrete block out in the middle; nearby a second Buzzard was perched in the top of the hedge.

As we walked through pines, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees. Out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, we turned right and walked along the path below the pines. It was rather quiet along here today, and when we got to the new cordon, erected to help protect the Shorelarks from disturbance, there was no sign of them.

The Shorelarks often like to feed on the beach too, so we continued on to look for them there. We could see a long line of Cormorants drying their wings out on the sand bar beyond. Several gulls were feeding just offshore, mainly Black-headed Gulls, flying up and down over a narrow strip of water, dipping regularly down to pick food from the surface. A couple of gulls were slightly larger, bulkier, with pure white wing tips – two adult Mediterranean Gulls. Then a much smaller gull flew in to join the same group, a dainty Little Gull flashing its dark underwings.

While scanning back and forth through the gulls, another white shape bobbing on the sea caught our eye. As we focused in, we could see it was an Avocet! Swimming out on the sea! This is not something Avocets normally do, although most waders are capable of swimming short distances if required. We assumed it had only landed briefly, but over the following 15 minutes or so we were on the beach, it remained happily out on the sea. Seemingly there were a few Avocets on the move today, with other birds seen flying along the coast, so perhaps this was just a tired migrant stopping for a rest? Whatever it was doing there, it was bizarre to see it!

With a very calm sea, there were not so many duck visible today (they were presumably feeding further out). We did find a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers closer in, off the sandbar. There were a few Gannets flying back and forth offshore too, and when we focused the scope on two distant Gannets resting on the sea, we could see one or two Guillemots on the water in front of them.

There had been a few Meadow Pipits and Skylarks flying over calling, but then we heard the Shorelarks and we turned to see them flying in to the cordoned off area on the saltmarsh behind us. We walked back round for a closer look, and when we got to where the Shorelarks were, we heard Snow Buntings calling. We looked across to the other side of the cordon to see three Snow Buntings fly in and drop down on the edge of the dunes at the back. We didn’t know where to look first!

After a look at the Snow Buntings first, we turned our attention back to the Shorelarks. Very obligingly, they flew across and landed down on the saltmarsh in front of where we were standing. They are very well camouflaged when they are feeding down in the vegetation, and they were hard to count at first, but eventually everyone who was counting managed to see all 12 of them. When they put their heads up, you can see their yellow faces and black bandit masks, and it was a perfect day for watching them today. Their yellow faces glowed in the morning sun, which was shining from behind us. Stunning!

Shorelarks 1

Shorelarks – there were 12 today on the saltmarsh

Shorelarks 2

Shorelarks – their yellow faces shone in the sunshine

Shorelarks are very scarce winter visitors from Scandinavia, in variable numbers from year to year, and Holkham is a very traditional site for them. They feed on the seedheads out on the saltmarsh here. Hopefully the new cordon will encourage them to remain here through the winter again.

Having enjoyed great views of the Shorelarks, we made our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive. ‘The Lookout’ café was now open, so we made a quick stop to use the facilities. A Kingfisher shot across the top of the Drive and disappeared west behind the trees, down the line of the ditch, unfortunately too quick for most to get onto it. A Sparrowhawk was perched on a post in the middle of the grazing marsh.

We walked west from there, on the inland side of the trees. We flushed lots of Blackbirds from down under the trees or the hawthorns as we went. There had clearly been a major arrival overnight from the continent, and more seemed to be arriving now, coming in through the tops of the pines. Three Jays flew across the path and one landed in the poplars.

We could hear tits in the pines and looked up to see a flock of mainly Long-tailed Tits working its way through the tops. A Treecreeper called from somewhere deep in the trees, but we couldn’t see it. A Goldcrest appeared in the pines right above our heads and dropped down to feed low down in a tree right beside us.


Goldcrest – fed just above our heads

There were lots of Mallard on Salts Hole today, and in with them we found at least six Little Grebes, several Coot and three Tufted Duck. A small flock of Wigeon was feeding on the grass beyond, and three Egyptian Geese were calling noisily just behind them. One of the Egyptian Geese flew up into the pine tree, perhaps checking out a potential nest site already.

Two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds in front of Washington Hide, flushing all the ducks. We could see a small flock of Shoveler circling round. As we started to walk in that direction, we looked back at Salts Hole to see two Water Rails fly out of the reeds. One flew across to the other side but the other turned back. Both disappeared straight into the reeds unfortunately, but we could then hear them squealing to each either from either side.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there were at least six on Salts Hole today

There were some more Long-tailed Tits in the Holm Oaks along the side of the track and we stopped to watch two Coal Tits chasing each other in and out of the trees. A quick scan from the gate overlooking the grazing marshes revealed a distant flock of Pink-footed Geese and more Wigeon out on the grass.

From up on the boardwalk to Washington Hide, we watched one of the Marsh Harriers quartering over the reeds. It hovered for a couple of seconds and looked like it was going to drop down after something, but then drifted away to the grazing marshes beyond. We were looking straight into the low sun from here – one of the disadvantages of such a nice day at this time of year – so we decided to press on west. There were a few Common Darter dragonflies still out, enjoying the late sunshine, and one was basking on the wood of the boardwalk by the track.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – hunting over the reeds in front of Washington Hide

The pools and grazing marshes in front of Joe Jordan Hide looked rather quiet at first, but a scan of the grass to the west of the hide revealed eight Russian White-fronted Geese with the Greylags. Compared to the Greylags, the Whitefronts were noticeably smaller, with a more delicate pinkish bill surrounded with white at the base. The White-fronted Geese are just returning now for the winter, but numbers here will depend on the weather and food availability on the continent.

There were a couple of people already in the hide when we arrived, and they told us we had just missed a Great White Egret flying past. It was still almost visible away to the east of us, but hidden behind hedge. When a second Great White Egret was then flushed by a Marsh Harrier from the reeds closer to us, the first flew back in and the two of them chased round over the edge of the grazing marsh and in and out of the hedge. One eventually flew back and landed on the far side of the marshes.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egret – two were chasing around the grazing meadows

On the walk back, we bumped into the tit flock again, where we had seen the Goldcrest earlier. It or another Goldcrest was still in the same tree! A Treecreeper appeared in one of the poplars above us and we watched as it worked its way out along the underside of one of the branches. It was then joined by a second Treecreeper briefly, before the two of them flew back deeper into the trees.

Back at ‘The Lookout’, a large flock of Blackbirds came in over the pines and headed off inland. Unfortunately, with the opening of the new café, the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive have been removed (presumably to encourage people to frequent the new establishment!), so we decided to find somewhere else to eat our lunch. There are still some benches at Burnham Overy Staithe, which had the added advantage of a lovely view overlooking the harbour, particularly on a glorious day like today.

After lunch, we had a quick walk out along the seawall. With the tide in, there were a lot of boats sailing up and down the harbour channel and a lot of disturbance as a consequence. There were not to many waders along the sides of the channel at first – a couple of Grey Plover over the far side, and a Curlew down below us which was catching the afternoon sun.


Curlew – feeding on the edge of the harbour channel

As we got a bit further out, more waders started to appear. A couple of small flocks of Dunlin flew out of one of the side channels and across the harbour towards us. Several Bar-tailed Godwits landed out on a sandbar in the middle of the channel out towards the dunes and were joined by a few Grey Plover. When another boat sailed towards them, they flew again and came across to our side of the harbour.

Round the corner of the seawall is a muddy bay which is less disturbed by passing boats. A large flock of the Dunlin had all gathered here, feeding feverishly on the mud. Looking through we could see several Ringed Plover with them, their distinctive black ringed faces instantly setting them apart. A few more Grey Plover and Redshanks were scattered around the mud too and the Bar-tailed Godwits flew in to join them. It was nice to see all the waders together, to compare sizes, bill shapes and watch the different ways in which they were feeding.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – flushed by a boat and flew in over the harbour

One of the group spotted an Avocet flying across the harbour towards us. It looked like it might drop in with the other waders, but changed its mind and continued on over the seawall towards Holkham.

At the next corner on the seawall, where the path across the grazing marshes meets the bank, a large flock of Brent Geese had gathered to feed on the grass just below us. We could see several stripy-backed juveniles in with the plainer adults, which suggests they have had a better breeding season this year than last. There were also ten or so Barnacle Geese further back, most likely feral birds hopped over the wall from Holkham Park.

One of the adult Brent Geese stood out from the others – it had a much more striking white collar, a slightly paler flank patch and appeared slightly darker, more blackish overall. It is a hybrid Black Brant, an intergrade between two forms of Brent Goose, between our regular Dark-bellied Brent and a Black Brant from NE Siberia or NW North America. It is an old friend – it returns to exactly the same fields every winter, showing us just how site faithful all these geese are.

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – the regular returning bird was on the grazing marshes

The afternoon was getting on and had we wanted to fit in one more thing before it got dark, so we headed back to the car and drove along the coast to the other side of Wells. As we walked down the track heading towards the coast, we flushed several Goldcrests which flew along the hedge ahead of us. There were also a few Blackbirds and Redwings which flew out of the hedge calling, presumably feeding up on the berries after their journey across from the continent. Another large flock of Brent Geese was feeding in the winter wheat here, chattering noisily.

When we got down to the edge of the saltmarsh, there were already a few people gathered here. A Merlin was perched up on the top of a very distant bush, having just been flushed by a wildfowler walking around out on the marshes.

Apparently a male Hen Harrier had flown past before we arrived, but then a second one appeared perched on a bush, also rather distant though clearly visible through the scope. A ringtail Hen Harrier flew in from the east, across the back of the saltmarsh, and dropped straight into the grass, straight to bed. With the clear weather, it appeared the birds had been making the most of it, hunting late rather than coming in early and flying around before going in to roost. The first male Hen Harrier flew back in from the west, and the second came up so we could see the two males flying round together

A large skein of Pink-footed Geese came over from the fields behind us calling, and flew out across the saltmarsh and landed on the flats beyond to roost. One of the group, looking the other way from the rest of us, spotted another Merlin coming in from behind us too. It came over our heads, turned out over the saltmarsh and we watched it fly across against the sky, before it dropped down and landed on a bush, where we got it in the scope. It was much closer than the first one we had seen, but the light was starting to go now.

A Green Sandpiper flew west calling, but we couldn’t see it in the gathering gloom, so we decided it was time to call it a day and head back.

23rd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. It was originally forecast to be sunny today, but by this morning that had changed to cloud all day. So it was to be. It was rather misty first thing, but the cloud lifted through the day. There was still a cool breeze but at least it had dropped considerably compared to yesterday, which meant it didn’t feel quite as cold.

Given the early mist, we headed round to Cley to start the day, thinking we could get out of the weather in the hides. As we walked out to the hides, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles by the ditch – good to head as numbers have dropped dramatically after the cold winter. A Grey Heron was standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk as we passed. We heard a Bearded Tit call and turned to see it fly across and drop straight down into the reeds.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk

From the shelter of Dauke’s Hide, we had a scan of Simmond’s Scrape first. There were a few waders to be found on here. Two Common Sandpipers and two Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of the islands and another seven Tundra Ringed Plovers dropped in to join them. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on here too and a Greenshank which was fast asleep on the island at the back.

The scrapes are dominated by the Avocets now, many of which have small juveniles already. We could see several groups of little ones out on the scrapes or sheltering beneath the adults. The Avocets are very aggressive and will chase off anything which lands anywhere near. It was funny to watch them trying to battle with the local Shelducks.


Avocet – sheltering a single juvenile, with just its one leg visible

Lots of Sand Martins were flying backwards and forwards low over the reeds and the scrapes, looking for insects, together with a few House Martins for company. A couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the reedbed at the back. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were swimming around on the ditch right in front of the hide.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, the first thing we noticed were the Ruff. There were five of them on here, all males and all different! One male was particularly striking, with a fully grown rufous ruff and black crest feathers. The breeding plumage of the other Ruffs was not quite as well developed – a second rufous one and a black one lacked the full crest feathers, as did a white one, and another blackish one didn’t have much of a ruff yet. Unfortunately there was no female today, for them to display to.


Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

There were also still a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on Pat’s Pool, mostly asleep and loafing around on the edge of one of the islands. A second Greenshank was feeding over in a sheltered bay in the far corner but whenever it ventured out into the open, it was chased back in by one of the Avocets.

It was cool in the hides, to we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre to warm up over a cup of coffee. On the way back along the boardwalk, we heard Bearded Tits calling again and looked up to see a female perched in the reeds beside the path ahead of us. A cracking male then flew in and landed just below, before the two of them flew across the boardwalk to the reeds the other side. They were followed by two juvenile Bearded Tits, still with only partly grown tails. We walked up to where they had crossed and had a great view of them climbing up and down in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair flew across the boardwalk with their two juveniles

As we got back to the bridge across the ditch by the road, we heard the Cetti’s Warbler again so we stopped to see if we could find it. We could see a Reed Warbler flicking around low in the reeds along the edge of the water. Then something else flew out, chased it, and then landed in the brambles. It was the Cetti’s Warbler. It sang once and we could just see it perched on the edge of the bush before it dropped into the vegetation.

After our coffee break, we had a look round at the Iron Road. The pool here was fairly quiet today – just a couple of Redshanks and Lapwings and a single Little Ringed Plover lurking in the reeds at the back.

As we walked round to Babcock Hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over and landed in the field the other side of the road. A well-grown Lapwing chick was trying to hide in the grass by the path while one of the adults flew round above calling agitatedly. The pool in front of Babcock Hide was a bit disappointing today. Apart from lots of Greylags, there were just a few Avocets, including a pair with a single chick.

We decided to try our luck out on East Bank instead. The low cloud had lifted a little now and it had started to brighten up a touch. Two male Marsh Harriers had a brief tussle over the reedbed as we got out of the car, before one then headed off over Pope’s Marsh. There were a few Lapwings and Redshanks out on the grazing marsh and we picked up a distant Common Sandpiper on Pope’s Pool. A single drake Wigeon and three Teal on the north end of the Serpentine were notable. Most of the ones that spent the winter here have long since departed, so it will be interesting to see how long these ones stay.


Whimbrel – flew over and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh

As we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, we noticed four largish waders flying in over the reedbed. They were Whimbrel – we could see there down-curved bills, not as long as a Curlew. They dropped down onto Arnold’s so we continued on to there and got them in the scope. We could see their distinctive striped head patterns. They didn’t stay long though, only around 10 minutes. After a preen and a doze, they took off and headed out over the beach and out to sea, presumably on their way to Scandinavia.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on the island at the back again – through the scope we could see their shaggy black crests and mostly black bills. There were not too many waders on here today, but we could see another five Tundra Ringed Plovers and a smart summer plumage Turnstone.

We couldn’t come all this way without a quick look at the sea, so we continued on to the beach. There were lots of Little Terns feeding just offshore, flying up and down just behind the breakers and occasionally diving straight down into the water.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were lots feeding off the end of the East Bank

On the walk back, we had nice views of a male Bearded Tit briefly in the reeds down below the bank. It appeared to be carrying a feather, possibly nest material, before it shot off back behind us along the ditch. One of the Marsh Harriers also showed very nicely, flying round over the reeds just ahead of us, before heading out across the grazing marshes, chased by various Avocets and Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

Given the fresh breeze, we decided to head round to the beach car park and eat our lunch in the shelter there. A few parties of Sandwich Terns flew past over the Eye Field while we ate. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out to North Scrape.

We couldn’t see anything of note on Billy’s Wash, but as we got to the shingle behind North Scrape, a Wheatear flew up. It was a male, quite a bright pale one. It landed on the fence beyond briefly, then flew again, up onto the top of the screen overlooking the scrape. It dropped down onto the picnic table and we thought we might be able to get round for a closer look, but before we could get there it was off again, down onto the grazing marsh beyond.


Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

There was nothing of note on North Scrape, but at that point we received a message to say that there was a White-winged Black Tern along the coast at Burnham Overy. We decided to head round there to see if we could see it.

As we walked out along the track which cuts across the grazing marshes, we heard two Lesser Whitethroats singing in the hedge. In typical fashion, we had a couple of quick glimpses as they flew between bushes, dropping straight into cover. One or two Reed Warblers were singing from the ditch beside the path.

We could see the White-winged Black Tern before we got to the seawall, visible above the reeds as it flew round over the pool in the middle, but it was a better view once we got up to the top. What a stunning bird! Its mostly white upperwings and tail contrasted with its jet black body. When it turned, we could see its black underwing coverts.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – feeding over the reedbed pool at Burnham Overy

The White-winged Black Tern was flying round over the pool with very buoyant wingbeats, occasionally dropping down to the water’s surface, looking for insects. A great bird to watch!

While we were watching the tern, we kept one eye out over the harbour the other side and we noticed a harrier come up over the saltmarsh beyond the harbour channel. It was very slim, with narrow, pointed wings and through the scope we could see the white patch on its uppertail coverts and its faded buff/orange underparts, with a darker hood. It was a Montagu’s Harrier, a young one, a 2nd calendar year. We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh before it gradually worked its way back and out of view.

One or two Spoonbills flew past as we stood up on the bank. As we made our way back across the grazing marshes, we heard a Greenshank calling. While we were looking for it, we turned to see a Spoonbill flying low right over our heads!

There was still a little time left before we had planned to finish today, so we headed round to Wells Woods. A Wood Sandpiper had been reported earlier, on the marshes south of the pines, although the latest update suggested it might have flown off. Still, we walked out for a look. On our way out, another Greenshank flew over the pines calling.

As we scanned the pools and flooded grassland, one of the group spotted a wader which was disturbed from the wet grass by a gull flapping nearby. It was the Wood Sandpiper. Through the scope, we got a good look at it, noting its white spangled upperparts and striking pale supercilium.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

It had proved to be a very productive afternoon and that was a nice way to end the day’s activities. With more to come later tonight!

Nightjar Evening

After couple of hours off to recover and get something to eat, we met again early evening. We headed out to look for owls first. It was still cool and rather breezy – not ideal weather, though not the forecast fog thankfully. We drove to an area of farm buildings where we know Little Owls breed first.

There was no sign of any Little Owls at first, it was a bit too cold to find them out basking! As we walked round, we saw a Brown Hares and a couple of Red-legged Partridge on a farm track. A Grey Partridge ran out across a recently planted potato field, and stood up nicely on the ridges, showing off its black belly patch.

We eventually found a Little Owl but it was hiding on the ridge of one of the farm buildings, tucked in under the cowl on the top of the roof. It was back on to us and we could just see its head and shoulders. It was not a great view of one, but better than nothing!

Our next target was to look for Barn Owls. We drove down to the back of Cley, figuring it might be sheltered from the wind here, and immediately spotted a white shape on a post by the road, a Barn Owl. We drove past and parked some distance beyond, hoping we might be able to see it without disturbing it but it flew off as we got out. It landed again on another post across the field, where we could see it in the scope.

It was a strikingly white Barn Owl, much paler than a normal one, a known individual which has been in the area for a year or so now.  Then it took off again and flew straight back towards us. For about ten minutes, we watched as it flew around hunting in front of us. Great views! A second Barn Owl appeared further back, a normal coloured one, landing on a bush briefly before flying off over the road the other side.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Barn Owl and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from some dense bushes. A male Stonechat perched up nicely where we could see it. It was still rather cool, but we were sheltered from the wind by the trees.

It wasn’t long before we heard the first Woodcock calling, and looked across to see one flying straight towards us. It was roding. the display flight of the male, flying round over its territory with stiff flapping wingbeats. We would see it or hear it several times over the course of the evening.

Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. We positioned ourselves to try to see it, hoping it would fly up to one of its favourite perches to churr. But suddenly two birds appeared, flying up from the edge of the trees. We could see they were both males, both with white wing flashes and white corners to their tails, and they were chasing each other.

The two Nightjars flew in and out of the trees, calling and wing clapping. They held their tails fanned and at an angle to show off the white spots to maximum effect. They landed down on the ground briefly, out of view, but were quickly up again, chasing each other out over the heath. One circled back and flew round just above our heads, calling – amazing views!

Then both the Nightjars headed away and we could one of them churring some way further over. We tried to make our way over as quickly as possible, as sure enough it was on a favoured branch, but just as we got within scope range it was off again. It was great to listen to them churring, but they wouldn’t stay still for long this evening and quickly started to go quiet.

It had been a fantastic display anyway, so we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the car to the sound of more Nightjars churring either side.

21st Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 1

Day 1 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up in the afternoon – a lovely sunny and warm end to the day.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. A Marsh Harrier was calling away towards the village as we got out of the car. As we walked down along Whincover, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing its distinctive rattle from deep in the blackthorn hedge. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too, as we passed – good to hear one here as they have been very scarce in recent weeks, after the cold weather in March.

The cowman had been down and left the gate open, which meant we didn’t have to climb over the stile, and when he drove out into the field to the cows, he flushed a couple of Grey Partridge. They flew across a ditch towards us but despite seeing where they had landed they were hard to see in the long grass. The male spent more time with his neck up, looking around while the female fed – we could see his grey neck and orange face.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – hard to see in the long grass

As we approached the next gate, we could hear the first Sedge Warbler singing, a mad concoction of scratches and rattles, with no real rhythm. There were several Sedge Warblers singing in the brambles and briars along this stretch, up to the seawall, but the first was the best performer, perched in the top of a bush right in front of us, flashing its orange gape as it sang.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – there are lots in now and singing

There were a few Greylags and Egyptian Geese scattered around the grazing marshes, which look very good at the moment, with quite a bit of water still in the pools and flashes. Despite this, there do not appear to be many Lapwing out here currently, hopefully there are more yet to return to nest. There were a few Redshank too.

We could hear a Bittern booming rather intermittently from the reedbed, but it had stopped by the time we got up onto the seawall. There were Bearded Tits calling too, but they kept themselves mostly well down in the reeds. Occasionally, we could just see one whizzing over the tops before dropping back into cover.

A few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the pool in the middle of the reeds. There were one or two Wigeon here too, lingering birds which have not yet departed, on their way back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Little Egrets around the pools and ditches out on the grazing marshes, another bird which was hit hard by the cold weather earlier in the year. Further back, we could see another, larger white bird with a long, snake-like neck. It was a Great White Egret. One of the best ways to distinguish them from Little Egret normally is bill colour (which is normally yellow-orange in Great White Egret), but in breeding condition the Great White Egret‘s bill darkens too. This bird had a nice dark bill – hopefully they will breed at Holkham again this year.

A smart male Wheatear was out in the middle of the grazing marsh too. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. We could see it had brown feathering in the grey of the upperparts and a very rich, burnt orange wash to the throat and breast, suggesting it was a Greenland Wheatear.


Wheatear – a male of the Greenland race

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the direction of the harbour. We could hear their distinctive calls before we could see them. As they flew past us, we could see their white wing tips and deep black hoods.

There was a small flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. Most of them were Dark-bellied Brents, but there is often a Black Brant hybrid out here with them. So, when we got a glimpse of a brighter white flank patch, we assumed initially it would be that bird before it walked out of the vegetation. In addition to the bold and extensive flank patch, it had restricted white neck-side patches and appeared a shade or so lighter than the nearby Dark-bellied Brents. It looked most likely to be a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent intergrade, an interesting bird.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – possibly a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied hybrid

The tide was coming in out in the harbour. A large flock of waders whirled round and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. We could see three sizes of birds as they flew round – the larger Grey Plovers with variable black specking underneath and black armpits, plain grey Knot a size down, and then smaller Dunlin with them. They landed around some pools out on the saltmarsh, where we could get the Grey Plover and Knot in the scope, but the Dunlin disappeared into the vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we noticed a toad crossing in front of us. The dunes here are a very good site for Natterjack Toad and sure enough, when we got close enough we could see the distinctive pale yellow stripe down the middle of the back. It is not very common to see the Natterjacks here, as they are mostly nocturnal, so this was really great to come across out in the daytime.

Natterjack Toad 1

Natterjack Toad – crossed the boardwalk as we were heading out to the dunes

As we got into the dunes, there were three people ahead of us who flushed several Wheatears from the grass. We saw them fly round, flashing their white rumps, before landing on the top of the dune ridge beyond. One female Wheatear then flew back and landed on the path in front of us, before flying up and over the fence.

They had probably also just flushed a Whimbrel, because it flew back in shortly after and landed down on the short grass where it walked around for a minute or so allowing us to get a good look at it. It was clearly smaller than a Curlew, and slimmer in build, with a shorter bill and a more boldly marked, stripy head pattern. Then it flew again, further back, up into the dunes.


Whimbrel – feeding on the short grass in the dunes

There were reports of a couple of Ring Ouzels in the dunes this morning, a regular but scarce migrant through here on its way to the breeding grounds in Scandinavia, so we went looking for them. We walked quite quickly east, up towards the end of the pines, scanning the dunes and the bushes south of the fence, but there was no sign at first. They can be very mobile and when we got almost to the pines, we stopped to scan again.

A Bittern was booming out in the middle of the grazing marsh. It was probably the same one we had heard earlier, but the sound seemed to be coming from closer to us now. A flock of eight Redpoll flew west overhead calling. A little later another single bird flew over us the other way, towards the pines, which looked to be a Mealy Redpoll. A few seconds later it came back west again. They are probably birds which have spent the winter in the UK and are now looking to head back to Scandinavia.

From up in the dunes, we looked back and saw a male Ring Ouzel perched in the brambles some distance away, on the south side of the fence. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it had flown again, up into the dunes, followed by a second Ring Ouzel. We walked quickly back through the middle of the dunes and saw one flying further away in the distance. Then another flew up from behind a bush ahead of us and disappeared round the back of a large dune.

We followed the Ring Ouzels round the dunes again, but there were several people the other side and the birds were on the move again. They really were extremely flighty today. We had another brief view of one perched in a pine tree, before they shot back over the dunes once more. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were a few Swallows on the move now, several singles and pairs, but they flew past us heading east. Most birds on the move along the coast head west, so they were going the wrong way! Five Carrion Crows came in over the dunes from the direction of the sea, heading east too.

We passed the boardwalk and continued on west towards Gun Hill. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits out here, and a male Stonechat singing, but no sign of any migrants on the ground. Several of the Swallows had obviously changed their minds and came back west past us.

Their scratchy ‘kerrick’ calls alerted us to several Sandwich Terns flying past offshore. We had a quick look down on the beach, where a couple of pairs of Ringed Plover were down on the stones behind the rope fence. Someone was flying a drone over the channel between Gun Hill and Scolt Head, which flushed all the Oystercatchers and a large group of Sanderling from the shore.

There was a large school group out in the dunes today, and we could hear them coming out towards Gun Hill. We had a quick look out in the harbour, as they walked past, then headed back away from all the noise. As we got back to the boardwalk, a Natterjack Toad was walking across the path, in the opposite direction to the one we had seen earlier. We couldn’t immediately tell if it was the same one we had seen two hours earlier, but photos confirmed it was a second Natterjack. They are like buses – you wait ages for one Natterjack Toad and then two come along at once!!

Natterjack Toad 2

Natterjack Toad – the second of the day, in almost exactly the same place

We walked quickly back along the seawall and down onto the Whincover track. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the pools nearby and, as we rounded a couple of bushes, we could see a Spoonbill preening just behind.

We stopped to get the Spoonbill in the scope and could see its shaggy nuchal crest, yellow-tipped black bill and mustard wash on the breast, all marking it out as a breeding adult. When it took off, we thought it was about to fly off but the Spoonbill then landed on another pool right next to the track!

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – flew in to one of the pools right by the track

The Spoonbill stood for a minute or so here, looking at us, then started to feed in the pool. With its bill down in the water, it swept it rapidly from side to side as it walked round. It seemed to be very successful here – every few seconds it would flick its head back as it caught something.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbill – we watched it feeding on a shallow pool

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Spoonbill. Nearby, another Whimbrel was feeding on the edge of the grazing marsh, right by the path. We had a good look at it through the scope and could see its pale central crown strips.

A large flock of geese appeared in the sky out over the harbour, flying in towards the grazing marsh. As they got nearer, we could see they were predominantly Pink-footed Geese, about 95 of them. They had been seen about an hour earlier flying over Titchwell and then Burnham Deepdale, so had obviously stopped off somewhere. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since departed, so it was very odd to see such a large flock here now. Where might they have come from?

When the Pink-footed Geese got closer, we could see there were actually two Barnacle Geese with them too. There is a feral group of Barnacle Geese in Holkham Park, but it is possible these two had come from further afield, the way they flew in with the Pink-footed Geese. Perhaps they were even genuine wild birds, looking to head back north.

As we stopped to listen to the Lesser Whitethroat singing again, we heard a shrill call from the other side of the hedge – a Yellow Wagtail. The cows were tucked in the other side, behind the thick vegetation, where we couldn’t see them, but helpfully they started to move out into the middle. As they did, it didn’t take long to see the Yellow Wagtails, three of them, feeding amongst the cows’ hooves. It always looks to be a miracle they don’t get trodden on! There was a very smart male, bright yellow, with two slightly duller females.

We ate our lunch at Burnham Overy Staithe, looking out over the harbour. It was lovely and warm now with the sun out. There were a few more butterflies out now – Holly Blue and Orange Tip, to add to the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock we had seen earlier. After lunch, we headed over to Burnham Norton.

The track out to the seawall was rather muddy, but we picked our way round. There were a few ducks out on the grazing marsh – a few Teal in with the Mallards and Common Pochards in the ditches. There were four more Pink-footed Geese out with the Greylags here, these perhaps more likely to be sick or injured birds which will be unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed. A pair of Lapwing was displaying out over the grass, tumbling and twisting in the sky.



Lapwing – displaying over the grazing marsh

There were more warblers singing here – another Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge, a Willow Warbler in the sallows, and several Sedge Warblers in the brambles. As we approached the corner of the seawall, we could hear a more rhythmic song than the Sedge Warbler’s. It was a Reed Warbler, the first we have heard this year. It was keeping well tucked down in the reeds, as was a second Reed Warbler which then started singing the other side of the path. We could just see this second one moving about in the vegetation.


Avocet – feeding out in one of the channels on Norton saltmarsh

When we stopped to admire a couple of Avocets feeding in the muddy channel below the seawall with a couple of Oystercatchers, one of the group spotted another Spoonbill out on a pool in the saltmarsh. After a minute or so, it took off and flew past us, heading off out across the grazing marsh.

Spoonbill 3

Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh past us

There were some cows out in the middle of the grazing marsh and, scanning carefully with the scope we could see several Yellow Wagtails down in the grass amongst them. There were three more Wheatears along the fence line just in front of them. They were all a bit distant from here, so we thought we would try to make our way round via the middle path to get a closer look.

The freshwater pools by the seawall held a few waders – several Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with the usual Lapwings and Avocets. The ducks included another lingering pair of Wigeon.

The path across the middle of the grazing marshes was not too wet, and we stopped to scan the wagtails again when we got to the cows. We could see at least six Yellow Wagtails here now, feeding in the grass among their hooves, although we had a good scan just in case there were any other wagtails with them. When we got back to the car, a couple of House Martins overhead were a nice addition to the day’s list.

With a little bit of time still before we were due to finish for the day, we headed inland to an area of farmland. There were several Skylarks singing as we got out of the car and a scattering of Linnets in the roughly cultivated fields. We could see a couple of pairs of Red-legged Partridge out in the middle and we flushed two pairs of Grey Partridge from beside the road.

There were at least three Wheatears in the fields here too, despite us being some way from the coast. This is always a popular spot for them. A very pale Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Then it was time for us to make our way back, after an action-packed first day. More tomorrow!

23rd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather was not as good as yesterday, cloudy with a bit of very light drizzle on and off first thing. But it dried out quickly and then even brightened up in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. There was no sign of the Cattle Egret in the field with the cows where we saw it yesterday, but then it does seem to be a late riser. As we parked the car, three Common Buzzards were hanging in the air over the small copse by the road.

The field by the permissive path has been recently cultivated and there were quite a few Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings in there this morning. As we walked along the path, we noticed some Stock Doves too. They were hard to see through the hedge so we continued on to the copse at the end and looked back. There were at least six of them and we had a good look at a couple of them in the scope, even though they had flown further over as we walked past. They were with a few Woodpigeons, allowing a good comparison.

Stock DovesStock Doves – there were at least 6 in this field this morning

Down on the footpath along the river, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling. A male Blackcap flicked ahead of us through the trees on the bank, but was hard to see in all the leaves. A Cetti’s Warbler was trying to sing from the brambles the other side of the river, but hadn’t quite got it right yet. A Kingfisher called from deep in the thickest part of the trees beside the water.

As we got to the point where there is a gap in the trees and we could see over to the Fen, we noticed two large white shapes in the water amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were two Spoonbills. We found a point from where we could get one of them in the scope and it was a juvenile, with a dull, fleshy coloured bill. The second Spoonbill walked back to join it and we could see it was an adult, with a longer black bill with a distinct yellow tip.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – 1 of 2 at the Fen today, this one a juvenile

The two Spoonbills had a good preen and then started to walk out view behind the reeds, the adult having a quick look for food on the way, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. There have been large numbers of Spoonbills here in recent weeks, adults and juveniles dispersing from the breeding colony at Holkham. Presumably as birds have started to head off south for the winter, the number has steadily declined so it was nice to see two still here today.

Having had a good look at the Spoonbills, we made our way on and up onto the seawall. The tide was still in and it was a big high tide today, so the channel and harbour the other side were full of water. Normally, this means that many of the waders from the harbour are roosting on the Fen, but there were actually fewer than normal on here today. They had obviously gone off to roost elsewhere.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Fen today – mostly Wigeon and Teal. A couple of Pintail were right down at the front of all the ducks, noticeably larger than the Teal just behind. The drakes of all these species are in their rather drab eclipse plumage at the moment, so they are not looking at their best. There were a few Gadwall too, and the drakes of these are already looking a lot smarter, as they moult earlier.

At this point, it had started to spit with drizzle, so we decided to walk a little further along the seawall. We looked back into the corner of the Fen and could see around 20 Greenshanks roosting in their usual spot. Unlike the godwits and Redshanks, they had come in as normal today. The Kingfisher called again and we turned to see it shooting across the seawall and disappearing out across the saltmarsh.

With the tide so high, we thought it might be difficult to see any waders roosting around the harbour this morning. Looking across in that direction, we spotted a pair of Brent Geese swimming past and behind them we noticed a group of waders roosting, including a Grey Plover still in breeding plumage. So we decided to head round there for a closer look. As we got to the bushes at the end of the seawall, we could hear a Goldcrest calling, presumably a migrant out here. It stayed tucked down out of the drizzle and we didn’t see it.

As we got round to the harbour, the group of waders took off and started to whirl round over the water in a tight flock. Thankfully, most of them landed again and through the scope we could see they were mostly Turnstones and a few Dunlin too. The smart Grey Plover had disappeared, but scanning along the southern edge we found several more Grey Plover roosting and, through the scope, we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits asleep too. An Oystercatcher walked up into view. Out on the tip of Blakeney Point, we could see all the seals hauled out, Grey Seals and Common Seals.

Possibly the same two Brent Geese we had seen earlier then flew in and landed in the harbour channel in front of us. We had a great look at them, presumably a pair, with the larger male sporting a particularly bold white half collar. The Brent Geese are only now returning for the winter, as we saw yesterday, and there are still only small numbers back here so far.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – this pair landed in the harbour channel in front of us

We had been scanning the boats periodically to see if the Kingfisher might be perched on one of them, as it sometimes likes to do, and on one scan we spotted it perched on the roof of an old boat out on the saltmarsh. Unfortunately, just as we tried to get it in the scope, it flew again. It hovered high over one of the saltmarsh channels for a couple of seconds before dropping back down out of view.

As we made our way back to the seawall, we could see one of the Spoonbills circling round. It dropped back down below the bank, but when we got up there we couldn’t see them where they had been on the Fen. A minute or so later, they flew up from behind the reeds, circled round in front of us, and disappeared off towards Morston, holding their necks and bills stretched out in front of them. A few more waders had appeared on the Fen – more Ruff, a handful of Redshank and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits, but it was still quieter than it should normally be.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – a rather tatty individual, basking in the sun

It had brightened up a bit as we walked back along the path towards the road. A tit flock flicked ahead of us through the sallows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called. A small group of Greenfinches flew up from the brambles. There were a few butterflies and dragonflies out now – Red Admiral and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sunshine.

After our experience yesterday, we thought it might be worth another look to see if the Cattle Egret had reappeared. We continued on down the permissive path which leads to the field where the cows are. As we turned the corner and saw all the cattle we immediately noticed a white bird in with them. The Cattle Egret had returned.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – back with the cows later this morning

It was a much better view of the Cattle Egret from here, rather than viewing from the car on the road. We had a good look through the scope, noting its small yellow bill. It also had a wash of light orange on the crown, but otherwise looked quite white. The cows were all being rather lazy, sitting down, so the Cattle Egret wandered off through the grass and back to the ditch beyond. There were a couple of Grey Herons here too.

A couple of members of the group had asked about the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, which had been at Burnham Overy since last Sunday, and were talking about possibly going down after we finished this evening to try to see it. It had not been reported today and has been a real skulker anyway, as is typical for the species – others have stood for 4-5 hours and not seen it. There has also been some trouble with twitchers cutting wire fences and trespassing in the fields to try to see it, so we have been steering clear of the site this week. But we had an hour to spare before lunch and it is a nice walk out beside the harbour, so we decided to head round that way. At least then, the group members concerned could see the lie of the land.

The tide had gone out now so we parked in the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe. We were just setting off when we looked up to see a Peregrine fly overhead and out across the channel. It was a young one, brown above and streaked below, and small so probably a male.We watched it fly off across the saltmarsh. As we got up onto the seawall, there were lots of Starlings and House Sparrows in the bushes. A Jay flew across the field beyond. A smart male Kestrel was perched in the top of the hedge and we got a great look at it before it finally took off.

KestrelKestrel – perched in the hedge at Burnham Overy Staithe

There were lots of waders out in the harbour as we walked out along the seawall. We stopped periodically to look through them. There were quite a few Ringed Plover out on the sandbank and a Grey Plover too. On the bank beyond, we could see more Ringed Plover with some Dunlin and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A Spoonbill appeared nearby, before walking back into one of the saltmarsh channels. Further on, as we turned the corner, there were lots more Redshanks and a few Curlew.

CurlewCurlew – feeding out in the harbour at Burnham Overy

We could see a small crowd of people further along the seawall – waiting for the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to appear. When we got round to them, we asked if there had been any sightings of the bird today and they confirmed there hadn’t. We had a quick chat about the bushes it had been favouring earlier, just in case the others should decide to come back again for a longer vigil later.

We did manage to add a few species to our tour list here. A couple of House Martins appeared overhead, flying back and forth. Most of the swallows and martins have left for the winter now, but there are still a small number lingering. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese circled over the grazing marshes. We decided not to hang around here, so set off back for lunch. We were almost back to the car park when we looked across towards Holkham and saw several thousand Pink-footed Geese in the distance, flying in from the fields and down to the grazing marshes.

After a nice break for lunch on the benches overlooking the harbour, we headed round to Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. After parking at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we set off to walk west on the inland side of the pines. We heard a Goldcrest calling from the holm oaks right at the start but expected to see quite a few of them along here today. However, it was unusually quiet in the trees.

A quick stop at Salts Hole produced four Little Grebes. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese calling from out on the grazing marsh and stopped to have a look at them from the gate before Washington Hide. There were at least a thousand in view, scattered across the grass, and many more besides just out of sight behind the reeds and hedges.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Goose – there were thousands already back at Holkham today

There were a few ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, mostly hiding along the edge of the reeds. A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew in and dropped down into the reeds. A Red Kite circled over Holkham Park, off in the distance. There was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets at first though, until one walked out from behind the reeds and proceeded to walk slowly along the back of the pool, periodically stopping to peer into the reeds. It was clearly very big, tall, long-necked, and sporting a long yellow bill.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – walked across the back of the pool at Washington Hide

After having a good look at the Great White Egret, we carried on west along the path. We had been hoping to run into several tit flocks along here this afternoon, but they were all hiding in the trees. We came across one just before the crosstracks, but they were all deep in a very leafy holm oak. We could see the odd bird when it came out onto the edge, tits, Goldcrests and a couple of Chiffchaffs. But they never came out into the oaks and sycamores in front and quickly disappeared back into the pines behind. We then didn’t hear much more than a couple of Chiffchaffs between there and the west end of the pines, which is rather unusual.

We had not even seen a Hobby on our walk out, which has been a regular feature here in recent weeks. When we got to the end of the pines, we heard a tit flock calling and set off to try to see them. When the Long-tailed Tits started alarm calling, we looked across to see a Hobby scything through the open area of trees. It landed in the top of a pine briefly, where we could just see it through the branches, before turning and flying back out of the trees the way it had come.

Probably spooked by the Hobby, the tit flock moved quickly out of the sycamores and back into the pines. We tried to follow it for a couple of minutes, but it went up into the tops of the trees, where it was hard to see and moved rapidly deeper into the pines. We did see a Treecreeper working its way up the trunks. A quick look in the start of the dunes failed to produce anything, but we didn’t have time to go any further. We started to make our way back

Just the other side of the cross-tracks, a Hobby appeared right over our heads. It flew round above us, then suddenly powered across and scythed vertically down behind an oak tree. Wow! When it reappeared a few seconds later, it was eating something, lifting its feet up to its bill as it flew away, probably a dragonfly as there were lots out here in the sunshine. The Hobby circled round again over the edge of the trees and then landed in the top of a pine. We had to move a few metres back along the path to get the angle, but then we for it in the scope and had a great look at it. A stunning bird.

HobbyHobby – catching insects around the edge of the pines

The Hobby stayed there for some time, looking round, but eventually dropped down from its perch and disappeared away through the trees. We continued our walk back. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we found another tit flock. This time they were out of the pines and in the bushes and poplars on the south side of the path. We got much better views of Goldcrest and Treecreeper. There were Coal Tits and a couple of Chiffchaff with them too, but nothing more exotic today.

As the tit flock moved back into the pines, it was time for us to go too.

17th April 2016 – Spring Sunshine At Last

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. Having gone first to the east and then to the west on the previous days, it was time to explore the middle. And today the sun was shining!

As we were driving past Holkham, we pulled in briefly to scan the grazing marshes and pools. Just at that moment, the Great White Egret happened to be flying over and we just glimpsed it as it landed at the back behind some reeds. We stopped the car and got out for a better look.

A large white shape on one of the pools was not the Great White Egret but a distant Spoonbill. Then we spotted another Spoonbill in the trees. It climbed up in full view and we could see its shaggy crest blowing in the breeze. A couple more circled round over the trees, before dropping back in out of sight. Finally, three circled up out of the trees and headed off west, presumably off feeding.

Then the Great White Egret reappeared from behind the reeds. Even at range, we could see how big it was and it held its very long neck outstretched as it walked across the pool it was in. We could even just make out its long yellow bill.

6O0A0055Great White Egret – here’s a photo of it a couple of days ago

There were lots of Greylags and Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes. The vast majority of the Pink-footed Geese have long since left, on their way back to Iceland for the breeding season, but we managed to find a small group of about ten still here, grazing over on the old fort. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling, the first of many today – we could see through its translucent white wingtips from below. A few House Martins and Sand Martins were hawking for insects over the pools.

A pair of Marsh Harriers were dive-bombing a Common Buzzard in the trees when we arrived. There was then a constant backdrop of Marsh Harrier activity, with several birds out over the grazing marshes, carrying nest material and dropping down into the reeds.

6O0A0293Marsh Harrier – lots of activity at Holkham this morning

Our next stop was at Burnham Overy. As we set off across the fields to walk out to the seawall, lots of birds were singing – a Yellowhammer in the hedge, a Chiffchaff in the bushes and several Skylarks overhead. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat too, but it was rather distant and drowned out by the Wrens singing in the foreground.

There are lots of Sedge Warblers in now, and we could hear several singing from the bushes either side of the path as we walked out, but they were proving hard to see well at first today. There was a cool NE breeze this morning, and they were all keeping down in the brambles. Eventually, one Sedge Warbler perched up nicely for a minute or two, so we could get a good look at it in the scope.

IMG_2458Sedge Warbler – there are lots back now and singing

Most of the ducks and geese have left, but there were still a couple of Brent Geese on the grass – and a lot more out in the harbour on the saltmarsh, which they seem to prefer at this time of year. We managed to find a single drake Wigeon still, and a small number of Teal hiding in the grass around the edges of the pools, plus a few Shoveler and Gadwall. A lone Little Grebe was in one of the reedy channels.

There were plenty of Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing out on the grazing marshes. The latter two will stay to breed here and they are already starting to display, whereas the Curlew should be on their way north soon. From up on the seawall, the tide was out and we could see a few more waders out on the mud, including a few Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwits, the latter mostly sporting varying amounts of bright rusty red breeding plumage on head and breast. A Greenshank called behind us and we turned to see it flying over the grazing marshes where we had just walked. It flew straight through and didn’t stop, on its way west.

Out at the reedbed, we could hear the Bittern booming. We stood and listened for a minute or so, also hoping that the Bearded Tits might put in an appearance, but it was probably too cold and windy this morning. One Willow Warbler flew past, hopping between the bushes as it made its way inland along the edge of the seawall, presumably a fresh migrant. Another Willow Warbler was singing from a hawthorn in the reedbed – not its usual habitat, so presumably it too would continue on its way soon.

We carried on along the seawall, heading for the dunes where we could get some shelter from the nagging cold breeze. Almost at the Boardwalk, a Whimbrel flew up from the saltmarsh calling, and disappeared off towards the dunes. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets from the seawall on the way out, and even more in the dunes. It is great to see so many of two declining species here.

IMG_2466Meadow Pipit – they are still numerous in the dunes and grazing marshes

We turned east into the dunes and almost immediately flushed a couple of Grey Partridge. They flew across and landed on a marram-covered ridge a little further away, where we could get them in the scope. In a sheltered dune slack we then came across several Wheatear. A smart male was out on the short grass when we arrived but after a quick look through the scope he disappeared. It was quite disturbed in the dunes today, with lots of walkers, cyclists and dogs, which may be why they were more nervous than usual and kept mostly in the dunes behind the fence.

WheatearWheatear – a little shy today, here’s a recent photo

Another local birder walking back the other way reported that there was no sign of any Ring Ouzels today, so we were very pleased when we found a group of them in the dunes. Like the Wheatears, they were very flighty today. We heard them first as they flew up over the dunes some distance before we got to them. It was hard to tell exactly how many there were, as they scattered in different directions, probably at least six.

We crept round to the other side of the dune in the hope of seeing them on the ground, but most of the Ring Ouzels had already disappeared. There were still at least two, which we followed for a while. They kept disappearing into the bushes and brambles. We didn’t want to keep flushing them, so we kept our distance, but still they wouldn’t really come out to feed, eventually flying out each time calling and across to another bush. A couple of times they did come out onto the grass briefly. In the end we left them to it.

IMG_2461Ring Ouzel – very flighty today & mostly hiding in the bushes

The bushes at the end of the pines were rather quiet today – another Lesser Whitethroat singing was the highlight. Probably the same Whimbrel we had seen flying this way earlier was feeding down on the grass beyond. There didn’t seem to be many migrants fresh in overnight, although once it started to warm up there was a constant trickle of Swallows moving west through the dunes. We made our way back.

Back at the reedbed, the Bittern was booming again. It sounded not too far in from the path, but we couldn’t see it in the reeds. We did hear Bearded Tits calling a couple of times and then glimpsed two of them as they zipped off low over the reeds and crashed back in out of sight.

While we were standing by the reeds, a bright white bird flew straight towards us high in the sky. We looked up to see a long white neck stretched out in front and long black legs trailing behind – a Spoonbill. As it came overhead, we even got a great view of its spoon-shaped bill!

6O0A0307Spoonbill – check out the shape of that bill!

On the walk back across the fields, there were a couple more surprises in store. We looked off across the marshes to the east as all the waders and ducks scattered to see a Peregrine stooping down into them. It towered up and made another dive a couple of times without success, before losing interest and circling up high into the sky.

Then a Barn Owl appeared, most unexpectedly. They will fly during the day, but it is unusual to see them out at midday on a sunny spring day. Perhaps it had struggled to find food in the rain the last couple of days, perhaps it has a family to feed already, but whatever the reason it flew across to one of their favourite fields and started to fly round, hunting. We had great views of it in the sunshine. A couple of times it dropped down into the grass, but we didn’t see it catch anything.

6O0A0309Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the day

We had lunch at Holkham. A Goldcrest and a Coal Tit were singing from the holm oaks in the car park as we ate. A Swallow was zooming around the buildings. Then afterwards, we made our way east along the coast road to Stiffkey Fen.

As we got out of the car, we could see a male Marsh Harrier displaying, zooming back and forth over the reeds. Then a female circled up from below. The wind had dropped, the sun was out and it was starting to really warm up now. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up too, taking advantage of the warmth in the air, and the male Marsh Harrier seemed to take offense and had a quick swoop at them.

A Blackcap was singing from the trees and as we walked down the path by the river a Bullfinch flicked out of the hedge and flew off ahead of us calling. A Willow Warbler was singing from the willows, appropriately enough, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the brambles.

As we got up onto the seawall, we could see a Greenshank feeding on the edge of the channel beyond. We just got the scope onto it when it flew a bit further along. A second Greenshank was a little further along, and a little later the two of them flew back together. There has been a Greenshank here all winter, but it was impossible to tell if these were both over-wintering birds or if one or other was a migrant just passing through.

IMG_2472Greenshank – and Black-tailed Godwit in the harbour channel

There was nothing particularly of note on the Fen itself today. Lots of Black-headed Gulls, several Avocets, a small group of roosting Black-tailed Godwits and a few other bits and pieces. So we continued on round towards the harbour. The tide was coming in and there were lots of Redshank and some smart summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the channel.

IMG_2476Black-tailed Godwit – now mostly in summer plumage

As we approached the harbour, a Kingfisher disappeared off out across the saltmarsh in a flash of electric blue, unfortunately too quick for most of the group to get onto. Thankfully it did a better flypast shortly after, when it came back the other way and flew off back towards the Fen. Out on Blakeney Point we could see lots of white shapes and through the scope we could just about see through the heat haze they were mostly Sandwich Terns. There were already over 1,000 counted last week, back for the breeding season.

The tide was rising now and the waders were gathered in flocks on the edge of the mud. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were on the end of a larger roosting flock of Oystercatchers. A Ringed Plover and a few Dunlin were picking about on one of the spits. As the water rose, a Grey Plover flew in and landed with a Dunlin, completely dwarfing it side-by-side on the mud. As all the waders were gradually pushed in by the tide, a large flock of Knot whirled round over the harbour.

While we were watching the waders, one of the group spotted a Goldeneye diving on the edge of the rising water. Then, nearby, a single female Red-breasted Merganser appeared too. At one point, the two of them were diving together. There were lots of Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbour through the winter, but most have already departed north for the breeding season.

However, the highlight of our visit here was the Short-eared Owl which flew across the saltmarsh. It flew in from our left, and we caught sight of it as it approached. It flew across the channel right in front of us, its stiff-winged flight action a bit like rowing, before disappearing off towards Morston. It is always great to see a Short-eared Owl, but the light this afternoon on it was just perfect!

6O0A0322Short-eared Owl – flew across the saltmarsh right in front of us

It was magical down by the harbour in the sunshine this afternoon, listening to the sea beyond, watching the birds pushed in by the tide. In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.

6O0A0326Blakeney Harbour – a glorious place to be in the sunshine this afternoon

11th April 2016 – Early Spring Migrant Day

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, with the brief to avoid some of the main nature reserves. We met up in Brancaster Staithe and set off to explore the coast and see if we could find some spring migrants. It was lovely and sunny for most of the day, but felt quite chilly in a blustery east wind.

Our first stop was at Burnham Overy. As we walked out across the fields, a Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and flew off ahead of us as we approached. There were lots of Curlew in the fields and plenty of Lapwing too, but there are not as many geese here now. Apart from the Greylag and Canada Geese, we could see one Brent Goose on the grazing marshes today and no sign of any Pink-footed Geese.

Just before the seawall, we could hear first one, then two Sedge Warblers singing. They were keeping mostly tucked down out of the wind, although one of them was occasionally songflighting up out of the brambles. We climbed up onto the seawall and walked along a short way so we could view the sheltered side of a favoured bush and then got great views of the more showy one of them perched up.

IMG_2106Sedge Warbler – two were singing in the bushes below the seawall

The tide was in out in the harbour and it was a big tide today, so that the saltmarsh was pretty much all covered. A few waders were braving it on the remaining islands – we could see a couple of Grey Plover and a little group of Black-tailed Godwit looking very smart now in their rusty summer plumage. When a Marsh Harrier flew low across the flooded saltmarsh, two Snipe flew up in alarm. They circled round a couple of times and only when the danger had passed did they eventually land back pretty much where they had taken off from.

A Bittern boomed once from the reeds further long, but it was hard to hear above the wind. Unfortunately it then went quiet and there was no sound when we got to where it had been booming. We heard a brief ‘ping’ from a Bearded Tit and got the briefest glimpse as one dropped down into the reeds, too quick for everyone to get on to. It was too windy today for Bearded Tits – they were keeping well down in the reeds today.

Just beyond the reeds, a big white shape out on one of the pools on the grazing marsh was a Spoonbill. We could see it, head down, sweeping its bill vigorously from side to side as it walked back and forth through the water. It was probably only exploring the pools here because the tide was so high in the harbour and unfortunately it didn’t linger long. We just got it in the scope for a few seconds before it took off.

IMG_2109Spoonbill – feeding on one of the pools out on the grazing marsh

As the Spoonbill flew across in front of us, we got a good view of its long neck, held outstretched in flight (unlike the Little Egrets), and we could even see the spoon-shaped bill. It looked like it might be heading out over the saltmarsh, but then turned and dropped down behind the seawall, presumably heading for the pools near the path in the direction we had just come.

There is no shortage of Linnets here, and we could hear several flying past as we walked along. A male then perched up in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh and we got a better look at it, starting to develop a bit of reddish flush on the breast and on the patch above the bill.

IMG_2121Linnet – perched in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh

Out at the boardwalk, we turned east and headed into the dunes. We had hoped it might be more sheltered here, but the wind was still whistling through. At the first more sheltered area, we found a little group of Linnets feeding on the short turf. It was only when we walked a little further that we found a Wheatear. First one, then a couple more – two smart males, with bold black bandit masks, and a more subtle female.

WheatearWheatear – this photo from the dunes a few days ago

It was hard going walking into the wind, and the group did not want to walk too far today, so we decided to turn round and make our way slowly back. Another Wheatear flew across in front of us as we returned towards the boardwalk and two were then feeding on the short grass on the edge of the grazing marshes, along with a Skylark and a Goldfinch!

The tide had started to go out now, and a bit of dryish land was appearing out on the saltmarsh as the water level dropped. As well as lots of Black-headed Gulls, a few Brent Geese had returned to feed there. A quick scan revealed the friendly face of the winter resident Black Brant hybrid again. Subtly a shade or so darker in body plumage than our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese, it also sports a slightly bolder white flank patch. The progeny of a wandering Black Brant from NE Siberia / NW North America and one of our own Brent Geese, it returns to the same area to winter every year.

IMG_2145Black Brant hybrid – out on the saltmarsh again

We stopped back at the reedbed again, but this time we climbed down the bank and stood at the bottom of the seawall, where it was less exposed to the wind and quieter. After a short wait, this time we could hear the Bittern booming properly. Perhaps understandly, it kept itself tucked well down in the reeds, as did the Bearded Tits. We heard one again, but they were obviously still keeping low out of wind.

A little further back, along the path across the marshes, we stopped to listen to a Chiffchaff singing. It sounded a little odd. Rather than a jaunty, alternating series of ‘chiffs’ and ‘chaffs’, this one repeated the same syllable several times in succession – ‘chaff-chaff-chaff, chiff-chiff-chiff’. It sounded slightly reminiscent of Iberian Chiffchaff, previously considered a race of our Chiffchaff but now treated as a species in its own right, but it wasn’t quite right for that either. it is suggested that Iberian Chiffchaff and Common Chiffchaff hybridise in Spain, but some Chiffchaffs just seem to pick up a little bit of Spanish language on their winter holidays. An interesting bird to listen to.

A request as to whether we might be able to see a Mediterranean Gull today saw us make a short diversion to a local Black-headed Gull colony. A few pairs of Mediterranean Gull nest in with them and it didn’t take us long to find one, despite the windy conditions. A smart adult, with jet black head extending further down the back of the head than the actually dark chocolate brown hood of the Black-headed Gull, and a heavier blood red bill. It then turned round to flash its white wingtips. A second Mediterranean Gull flew over the throng.

IMG_2151Mediterranean Gull – in with the Black-headed Gulls

After lunch, we drove west, cutting across inland to the Wash coast. Several Ring Ouzels have taken up temporary residence in paddocks at Snettisham, and after our longer walk this morning, this was a much easier place to get to. The Ring Ouzels were on show pretty much as soon as we arrived. The female appeared first, on the grass at the back. Much like a Blackbird, but with a conspicuous white gorget, the female’s is slightly brown tinged whereas the male’s is purer white. We watched her hopping about on the short grass, amongst the numerous Rabbits.

The female Ring Ouzel was spooked a couple of times and flew down into an overgrown ditch / hedge just behind. Coming out gingerly again a minute or so later back onto the grass. The second time she did so, we noticed the male Ring Ouzel in a bush in the hedge. The female flew up to join him and a Blackbird appeared next to them, just for comparison. While we were waiting for the Ring Ouzels to re-emerge, a couple of Lapwings also delighted us with some vigorous display flights, swooping and tumbling over the paddocks.

IMG_2160Ring Ouzel – the male flew up into the hedge

We had a gentle stroll into the south end of the Coastal Park. We could hear several Willow Warblers singing from deep in the bushes, but eventually we found one close to the path and watched it flitting around, appropriately enough in a young willow tree. There were lots of other warblers singing here too – Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap are all returning migrants, but the Cetti’s Warbler is a resident, here all year round though more vocal now than through the winter and still very skulking.

From over towards the Wash, we could hear Golden Plover calling. Up on the seawall, we could see the tide was now a long way out. Right out on the edge of the water, we could just make out a huge oil slick of waders smeared across the mud. It was hard to make out any detail at this range, even through a scope, but we know they were mostly Knot, thousands and thousands of them. Nearby, a smaller and slightly more golden brown slick was the Golden Plover. Suddenly, something spooked them and all the waders took to the air. They all swirled round for a minute or two, making different shapes in the sky as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing white underwings in the sun and darker upperparts. It was obviously not a major alert as they quickly settled back down, but not before having treated us to a great display.

Walking back towards the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. We looked across to see six circling over the grazing marshes inland. As they turned, we could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills. These were the only Pink-footed Geese we saw today. Of the tends of thousands which spend the middle of the winter here, most have long gone, making their way back towards Iceland to breed via an extended stopover further north, perhaps in eastern Scotland. A smaller number linger here longer, but even these have mostly gone north now. In contrast, a couple of Swallows flying over were returning for the summer.

Back round along the coast at Holme, we parked by the seawall and walked out to the paddocks. A few Avocets were out on the saltmarsh pools, commuting from there back and forth towards Redwell Marsh. A Little Egret in one of the channels stopped to preen, showing us its ornate plumes which it develops in the breeding season – the two long ‘aigrettes’ down the back of the head blowing in the breeze and the puffy mass of feathers over the back and tail. These were the feathers for which the species was hunted extensively, particularly in the 19th Century.

IMG_2175Redstart – still lingering in the paddocks

A Redstart has been frequenting the paddocks at Holme for a few days now. Like the Ring Ouzels, this bird is just taking a break here on its way north. As we rounded the corner, the first bird we saw in the paddocks was the Redstart, perched low on one side of a large hawthorn bush. It was a stunning spring male – black face, bright orange breast and belly, and grey back. Its white forehead shone in the afternoon sunshine when it turned to face us. It kept dropping down to the ground, looking for insects, flashing the orange-red tail from which it gets its name when it flew, before flying back up to the bush. We had a great view of it through the scope.

A Pied Flycatcher had been reported earlier in the day, further along at the Firs. Another classic spring migrant, stopping off here on its way, but this one probably fresh in this morning. We just had enough time still to make our way along there and see if we could find it. Thankfully, when we arrived in the car park there were a couple of friendly faces there and they pointed us straight to where the Pied Flycatcher was perched in a pine tree. Once again a smart male, mostly black above and white below but with a white flash in the wings and a blob of white on the forehead above the bill, slightly browner wing feathers suggested it was most likely a 1st summer male.

IMG_2210Pied Flycatcher – stopped off in the pines at Holme

We watched it flycatching, making frequent sorties out from the trees before flying back to a perch. It was mostly dropping down to ground, presumably finding more insects down there than flying round in the air in the later afternoon, even though it had tucked itself into a sheltered sunny spot in the trees. We had a great look at it – then it was time to call it a day and head back. As well as all the other things we had seen, it had been great to catch up with Wheatears, Ring Ouzels, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher all in a day – a classic day of early spring migrants here on the North Norfolk coast.

7th April 2016 -An Introduction to Norfolk

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, for visitors from the USA. The target was to see a good variety of species, rather than chasing rarities, so we set off to see as many different birds as we could, in as relaxed a fashion as possible. It was windy and cold to start, but we managed to work round the April showers and had some brighter, calmer weather to end the day.

We met in Wells and a quick early morning detour brought us to the local Black-headed Gull colony. A careful scan and we found a smart adult Mediterranean Gull in with them, its jet black head setting it apart from the ironically named Black-headed Gulls (which actually have chocolate brown hoods in summer). It was perched down in the marram grass, preening, so we couldn’t see its white wing tips, but we did admire its contrasting white eye shadow and heavy, deep-red bill.

IMG_1738Mediterranean Gull – just after a Black-headed Gull landed in front

There were lots of Brent Geese flying around over the saltmarsh but it was cold and exposed in the brisk wind, so we beat a hasty retreat after we had seen our target bird here. A Chiffchaff was singing from the trees as we made our way back to the car.

There had been a few Pink-footed Geese at Lady Anne’s Drive yesterday, so we made a quick stop there on our way west. On the way, a Red Kite drifted over the field beside the road. There was no sign of the geese today, but we did get to see a nice selection of other wildfowl – Shelduck, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. The Northern Lapwing stole the show though – such stunning birds, we are all too often in danger of taking them for granted but they are appreciated in all their glory by those who have not seen them before! The spiky black crest and iridescent green upperparts really stand out.

IMG_1750Lapwing – one or our most stunning birds

There were also a couple of Mistle Thrushes out on the grass, big bold and heavily spotted below. The plan was not to linger here, and we were on our way back up the Drive when a small bird appeared on the verge. A smart male Wheatear, he flicked up onto a fence post when we stopped and then dropped down into the field beyond out of view when we tried to reverse back. This bird was in exactly the same place we had seen a Wheatear yesterday, so presumably it was the same one.

Our next stop was at Burnham Overy Staithe. On the way there, we had a brief stop on the main road to admire a pair of Grey Partridge in a field before approaching traffic meant we had to move on. We parked in the harbour car park and set off along the seawall.

We could hear a Chiffchaff singing from the bushes and possibly a second was then spotted flitting around in the Alexanders on the bank. So many of the Chiffchaffs have already arrived that it can be hard to tell now which are onward-bound migrants stopping off and which are here for the summer. A Willow Warbler which flew along the bank towards us was most likely a migrant. It landed in the brambles close by, before flying on towards the village. The Sedge Warblers are also in in numbers now and we could here several singing from the brambles below the seawall, a constant rolling medley of trills, whistles and scratchy notes. We got one in the scope and admired its bold pale supercilium.

IMG_1779Sedge Warbler – several were singing along the seawall

We could hear one or two Little Grebes cackling maniacally from the reeds and eventually spotted one in the ditch, although it kept diving as it swam away from us. There were several Tufted Ducks in the ditch too.

On the other side of the seawall, a Spoonbill took off from the saltmarsh but unfortunately flew away from us. We had OK flight views, if a little distant – we could see the long bill held out in front, the neck outstretched in flight. We turned our attention to the waders in the harbour. As well as the Redshanks and Oystercatchers, a little group of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot were feeding on the mud just below the bank. The Black-tailed Godwits are now really starting to acquire their rusty summer plumage, but the Knots were still in full winter attire. Known as Red Knot on North America, after their summer garb, they should probably be called Grey Knot here!

IMG_1754Knot – still in their grey winter plumage

Out on the sandbank in the middle of the harbour channel, we could see a group of Brent Geese. Nearby, were some small waders and a closer look through the scope revealed they were Ringed Plover, with a single silvery grey Sanderling in with them. There were actually quite a lot of Ringed Plover out on the sand, perhaps birds on their way further north, rather than just the small number of birds which breed here. There was also a Grey Plover with them and a little further along were a few Bar-tailed Godwit. Over on the other side of the channel we could see an Avocet too.

We walked on to the reedbed, which seemed a little quite at first today. We finally located some of the few lingering here Pink-footed Geese – a flock of about thirty was out on the grazing marshes beyond. While we were watching them, we heard a Bittern booming from the reeds – a remarkable sound, a little like a foghorn! We dropped down off the seawall onto the path below, out of the wind, to get a better listen to it. It boomed several times while we were there, not far into the reeds today, but it stayed well hidden. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from deep in the bushes, similarly reluctant to show itself.

A glimpse of a Snipe dropping down onto the grazing marshes saw us walk a little further on and we were busy scanning the grass for it when a Spoonbill flew just above our heads. It may have come up from the reedbed pool and low over the reeds out of sight, but as it flew right over us we could see its spoon-shaped bill clearly. We could see grey clouds approaching from the west now, so we beat a hasty retreat and got back to the car just in time, as it started to rain.

A quick stop back at Holkham to use the facilities and we made a short diversion into the Park to have a look at Holkham Hall. As well as the resident herd of Fallow Deer, there was a large flock of feral Barnacle Geese on the lawn. Over by the lake, a pair of Grey Herons chased each other off over the grass, and we could see several Swallows hawking for insects around the island.

We took a diversion inland from here, to try to find some farmland birds. A couple more Red Kites hung in the air next to the road. Another pair of Grey Partridge were feeding out on some water meadows. We stopped to look at a party of Rooks feeding in a field. The rain was intermittent but began to fall more heavily now, which meant the birds were a bit harder to find.

At Choseley, there were lots of Brown Hares and Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped to watch three Wheatear which were making there way up the road, flitting between the hedges and occasionally landing in the road itself. We could see a Yellowhammer distantly on the wires, but then several flew in and landed in the bare field in front of us, including a very bright yellow-headed male. It was time for lunch now, so we headed on down to Titchwell.

After lunch, we made our way out to the Visitor Centre. The feeders in front were rather quiet, apart from a Chaffinch and a couple of tits. The feeders the other side looking similarly devoid of life at first and there was no sign of any Bramblings , so we we went for a quick look in the ditch by the main path. Almost immediately, we found the Water Rail feeding among some fallen branches on the bank, once again getting great views of this often very secretive species.

P1190766Water Rail – still feeding in the ditch by the main path

We could hear a Siskin singing from the alder trees above and when we turned round it was on the bird table below – a smart male.

P1190792Siskin – a nice bright male on the bird table

Back to the feeders again and quickly more birds started to appear now – a lovely bright green male Greenfinch dropped in, then a stunning Goldfinch. The Bramblings had obviously been hiding on the ground below the feeders, in amongst the wooden pallets, because first a female flew into the bushes, followed shortly after by a male. We got a good look at them while they were in the bushes, but when they dropped down to the ground again they were much harder to see once more.

While we were focused on the Bramblings one of the group saw a white shape fly across the grazing meadow beyond. It could only be one thing, so we hurried back over and sure enough there was a Barn Owl hunting out over the long grass. There is often a Barn Owl to be found here later in the afternoon, but this was an early outing even by its standards! It flew off away from us at first, then made a circuit back and right across in front of us, dropping down into the grass a couple of times.

P1190824Barn Owl – out early over the grazing meadow today

Even better, the Barn Owl then flew towards us and landed on the fence right at the front. It was half hidden behind some reeds at first, but then it helpfully flew along a couple of posts and landed again where we had a much clearer view. Stunning!

P1190830Barn Owl – then perched obligingly on a fence post right in front

When the Barn Owl finally flew off again, we made our way out onto the reserve. A pair of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the sallows by the path.

P1190835Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the sallows by the main path

We stopped by the grazing meadow pool, which is still pretty much dried out, save for a couple of puddles. There were several wagtails out on the mud and a closer look through the scope confirmed there were at least four White Wagtails. The continental European version of our (mostly) British Pied Wagtail, they have a much paler grey back. Lurking right over at the back, half in the reeds, preening, we eventually found one of the Water Pipits. They are getting into summer plumage now, with a lovely pale pink wash on the breast. Nearby, even more obscured from view, we managed to locate another two Water Pipits. But there was no sign of any Little Ringed Plovers on here at this stage.

The reedbed pool on the way out yielded a distant Great Crested Grebe and a pair of Red-crested Pochard, plus a few Common Pochard. We could hear Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds, but they were not inclined to show themselves. Perhaps they were put off by the strength of the wind earlier, even if it was now starting to ease off. A Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the bushes in the reeds and, as we walked on towards the freshmarsh, one was displaying, dropping down out of the sky in a rollercoaster of tumbles, swoops and loop-the-loops.

The freshmarsh is still pretty full of water, so we didn’t stop at Island Hide today. There were lots of Brent Geese enjoying the conditions, flown in from feeding out on the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. We could see some very dark clouds gathering to the northwest and although we had thought they might miss us, it gradually became clear we were in for a heavy shower. We got to Parrinder Hide just as the rain started. All the birds either huddled down or flew off to find shelter elsewhere.

IMG_1792Brent Geese – just as the rain started to fall

There were various distractions from the hide as the rain fell. A nice selection of duck included some smart Teal just below the hide. The Gadwall is one of the most under-rated of wildfowl and we had time to admire a drake on the mud, the intricate patterning of its plumage.

IMG_1800Gadwall – a drake with its intricately marked plumage

The water levels have started to drop a little, which might be encouraging some of the waders. A lone Snipe was feeding on the exposed mud along the edge of the bank, incredibly well camouflaged against the cut reeds and dead vegetation. A single Grey Plover flew in and started preening as the rain began to ease. Known as Black-bellied Plover in North America, we usually see them in the winter when they lack their black bellies – hence the name Grey Plover is more appropriate here.

IMG_1813Grey Plover – flew in to preen as the rain eased

One the rain stopped, we made our way over to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were several Avocet just below the hide, and we watched as they fed, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow mud. Apart from lots of Shelduck, plus a few Redshank and more Grey Plover, there didn’t appear to be much else of note on here today.

P1190857Avocet – more were on the Volunteer Marsh today

The Tidal Pools were also rather quiet, so we continued on to the beach. There was a little raft of Common Scoter just offshore. We had a look at them and talked about the distinguishing differences from the American equivalent, Black Scoter. Further over, out in the middle of the Wash, we could just make out a vast flock of Common Scoter looking a but like a distant oil slick. In the other direction, over towards Brancaster, we could see a little group of Red-breasted Merganser out on the sea.

The tide was coming in, but there were still a few waders out on the shore. We just had enough time to find a Turnstone and a small party of Dunlin, both additions to the day’s list, before all the waders were pushed off by the incoming sea. The dark clouds seemed to be missing us now, but with more out west, we decided to make our way back just in case.

Back at the reedbed pool, the Great Crested Grebe was now right down at the front. We had just got it in the scope when a second appeared and they started to display. At first, they swam to face each other, crests raised and proceeded to turn away in turn, preening their back feathers as they did so. After a minute or so, they seemed to lose interest and swam off in opposite directions, but a short while later the male swam back with a bill full of vegetation. This time they stood upright, paddling vigorously with their feet, breast to breast. They are fantastic looking birds and it is always a stunning display to watch.

IMG_1826Great Crested Grebes – this pair were displaying today

One of the drake Red-crested Pochard had also swum down to the front so we got a much better view of that too, orange punk hairstyle, bright coral-red bill, and all.

IMG_1849Red-crested Pochard – showing well on the way back

We could hear the pinging calls of Bearded Tits again, but this time they sounded much closer. The wind had dropped and it was now quite calm and still, which probably helped. A quick scan and we picked up a small group working their way low down along the edge of the reeds just across the water. We got then in the scope and could see a couple of males and a female, the males with powder blue heads and black moustaches (not beards!). Even better, a pair then flew across to the reed by one of the pools just below the main path. We hurried back just in time to get really close views of them working their way across. Cracking views!



IMG_1864Bearded Tit – a male striking various poses

The walk back was further enlivened with a much closer Water Pipit out on the grazing marsh ‘pool’. When we stopped to look at it, we could found two Little Ringed Plovers as well on here, lurking over towards the back. A Stoat ran along the far edge of the reeds an out across the mud, pursued as it did so by 8-10 wagtails, a mixture of Pied and White Wagtails. We then took a detour round via the Meadow Trail to the Visitor Centre, which was further rewarded with a Willow Warbler in the willows and a Goldcrest too.

Then it was time to call it a day and head back to Wells to finish. A last Wheatear on the hedge beside the road at Holkham rounded off the day.

3rd March 2016 -Back to North Norfolk

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. As a journey east along the coast had already been made earlier in the week, we decided to head west. It was a lovely bright, clear, sunny morning – a perfect day to be out birding.

A request was made to look for Shore Larks. None of the regular wintering birds had been seen for a week, but they have gone missing and then reappeared before, so it was worth a look at least. And Burnham Overy is a great place to walk, with lots of other things to see on the way. We parked at Overy Staithe and could hear the plaintive calls of Grey Plovers as we got out of the car. Two were on the mud in the harbour, looking resplendent in the sunshine, along with several Ringed Plovers. Nearby, in the harbour channel, were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.

IMG_8963Red-breasted Merganser – a pair were in the harbour channel

There were lots more waders along the edges of the channel as we walked out along the seawall. As well as more Ringed Plovers and Grey Plovers, there were lots of Redshanks, chasing each other round now and calling, plus a handful of Dunlin. A flock of dark, blackish-brown Turnstones wheeled round landed on the sandbank and in amongst them a very pale silvery grey wader was a single Sanderling.

IMG_9134Grey Plover – there were plenty along the edges of the harbour channel

There are normally a few godwits here too, but there was no sign of any out on the mud this morning. Predictably, the Black-tailed Godwits were out on the wet grass the other side of the seawall, feeding in amongst the flocks of Wigeon and Brent Geese. Several of them are now just starting to get their first brighter orange feathers of summer plumage. More surprisingly, the Bar-tailed Godwits were out on the grass as well today – they normally prefer the salty mud. It had rained hard overnight and there were actually lots of waders around the pools and puddles – lots of Curlew, a big flock of Dunlin and a single Ruff – which were all spooked repeatedly and whirled round in the sky before landing back down.

The Brent Geese were commuting between the harbour channel, the reedbed pool and the grazing marshes. A large group of them settled quite close to the seawall, so we stopped for a quick scan through them. It didn’t take long to find the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid in with them. Even looking into the sun, we could see that it was sporting a much more obvious, more solid white flank patch and bolder white collar than the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Up close, through the scope, we could see that its back and belly were subtly darker than the others, but not black enough to be a pure Black Brant. This bird has been returning to the same fields here every winter for several years now and can normally be found in with the Brent flocks here, a pitfall for the unwary.

IMG_8974Black Brant hybrid – in with the regular wintering Dark-bellied Brents

Further out towards the dunes, we could see a Red Kite circling lazily. It flushed the large flock of Golden Plovers lurking out in the grass and they whirled round, catching the sun and flashing alternately dark and white as they turned. The Red Kite landed and we could see there was a second bird already down on the ground. A third Red Kite was flying along the dunes to the west, out towards Gun Hill. The sunny weather was presumably getting the raptors out.

As we got out through the dunes to the beach, we stopped for a quick scan of the sea. A couple of Great Crested Grebes were already coming into summer plumage, but the Red-throated Diver was not, still very white-faced in its winter garb. A couple more Red-throated Divers flew past distantly. The beach was looking stunning in the early spring sunshine and, even better, as we turned to make our way west we had it all to ourselves at first – a magical place to be.

P1170726Burnham Overy – we had the beach to ourselves at first

As we walked along the beach, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling from out towards the saltmarsh and a skein of about 150 birds appeared in the sky from behind the dunes. The numbers of Pink-footed Geese have already dropped substantially, with the peak here for the winter normally between November and early February. Many have already departed on their way further north, where they will stop off to feed up before continuing on to Iceland for the summer. These birds seemed to be on their way, taking advantage of the weather, as they flew out over Scolt Head Island towards the sea.

P1170730Pink-footed Geese – on their way back towards Iceland after the winter

There were quite a few waders up on the top of the beach, roosting around the high tide line. Several Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings flew off down towards the shore as we walked along. Then we noticed a couple of smaller birds picking around the piles of dead seaweed and saltmarsh vegetation ahead of us and a quick look confirmed they were Snow Buntings.

We edged our way towards them so we could get a better look. Snow Buntings can be remarkably tame if approached with care and not startled and these were no exception. We eventually found six of them today, four together here and another two further along. As we stood quietly, they made their way quietly right towards us. Great birds!



IMG_9129Snow Buntings – six were on the beach today

We watched the Snow Buntings feeding along the edge of the dunes for some time. Eeventually we had to tear ourselves away, as some dog walkers were approaching behind us and we wanted to explore the rest of the beach before it got disturbed. Despite being first out along the beach, there was no sign of the Shore Larks here again today. They were getting moved about constantly by dogs and people last time we saw them, so perhaps it is no surprise they have chosen somewhere quieter to feed or moved on already. Out in the harbour channel from beyond Gun Hill we could see several more Red-breasted Mergansers and a single Goldeneye. A flock of waders roosting on the mud beyond was mostly Grey Plovers and Dunlins but with a couple of Knot in there too.

On the walk back, there were even more raptors up than there had been on the way out. As well as several Red Kites still, there were numerous Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards circling in the clear blue sky. In the harbour channel, normal service was resumed as the Bar-tailed Godwits flew back out onto the mud. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling, and we managed to pick it out high in the sky, flashing its pure white wing tips as it circled.

We made a brief stop at Brancaster Staithe on our way past, as we continued on our way west. As usual, there was a good selection of waders around the harbour. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding along the waters edge and a single Black-tailed Godwit was on the mud nearby. Turnstones were running around the car park between the cars. More surprising was a single Common Snipe in one of the muddy channels. Further over, towards Scolt Head, three more Red Kites were spiralling up on the edge of the water. We often get a movement of Red Kites along the coast on warm days in the spring, and it seemed like this was happening today.

IMG_9143Siskin – managed to find a place on the busy feeders

After lunch at Titchwell, we walked out onto the reserve. The feeders around the visitor centre were packed with finches, as usual. A couple of Siskin managed to find a space on the feeders in front, amongst all the Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Round on the other side of the visitor centre, a female Brambling was hiding in the tree above the feeders there, before dropping down briefly grabbing a seed and disappearing back into the bushes to eat it.

The Water Rail was in its usual place in the ditch beside the main path. It was slightly hidden from view at first, lurking under the overhanging vegetation at the back, but gradually worked up the courage to come out into view, digging around in the damp rotting leaves. A Song Thrush flew down and started feeding nearby too.

P1170760Water Rail – in its usual ditch

There were lots of pipits and quite a few Pied Wagtails around the still dried-up grazing meadow ‘pool’ today. Most of the pipits were Rock Pipits, oily green above and dirty below, so we had a good look at a couple of those first. Then we found a single cleaner, whiter Water Pipit towards the back. We got it in the scope and had three different pipits together at one point, as well as Water and Rock, a single Meadow Pipit walked into the same view as well!

While we were admiring the pipits, we could hear a Kingfisher calling from the reeds right in front of us. It was a devil of a job to see at first, although it perched up in a tangle where we could just get onto it through the swaying reeds in front. Eventually, it flew out of the reeds, across the path and perched up in full view in a bush on the edge of the main reedbed briefly, before flying away down one of the channels.

P1170802Kingfisher – hiding in the reeds

There was a bit more activity on the reedbed pool today. As well as the regular Greylag Geese and Coot, there was a small group of Tufted Ducks at the back and a single female Common Pochard diving in front of them. Three Red-crested Pochards swam out from behind the reeds, the two drakes now looking particularly replendent with their bright orange punk haircuts and coral red bills. A single Great Crested Grebe in smart summer plumage swam out from the reeds as well.

Out on the freshmarsh, the water level is still very low and the management work is now underway. One of the islands is being fenced in to protect the breeding Avocets from mammalian predators, having not raised a successful brood here for the last two years. With all the disturbance, there was still a remarkable number of birds on here, although much quieter than normal. As well as a smattering of ducks, mainly Teal and Gadwall, there were big flocks of Golden Plover and Dunlin out on the exposed mud.

Given all the disturbance, we moved swiftly on to look at the Volunteer Marsh. As well as lots of Redshank, Curlew and Shelduck plus several Grey Plover and a couple of Ringed Plovers, much as usual, a couple of Black-tailed Godwit were feeding in the channel right by the path. It was great to see them up close. A little further along, three Avocets were doing the same.

P1170836Black-tailed Godwit – starting to show a few orange summer feathers

Out on the Tidal Pools, there were several Bar-tailed Godwits and we spent a little time looking at the differences between the two species. At one point, we even managed to get Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit in the same view together, providing a really  good opportunity to compare them. There was also a nice close Knot, dumpy and grey, a much better view than the ones we had seen distantly earlier. Further along, there were not as many ducks on the pools today, just a couple of female Pintail and a single Goldeneye.

IMG_9172Bar-tailed Godwit – several were on the Tidal Pools

The tide was still quite high out on the beach. A quick scan of the sea revealed four Common Scoters fairly close inshore so we got those in the scope first to have a good look at them. Further out, a long slick of black on the sea revealed itself to be several hundred more Common Scoters diving offshore for shellfish. There were lots of Great Crested Grebes still out on the water, but mostly a long way out given the fairly calm conditions today, but no sign of any other grebes off here today.

On the walk back, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting distantly over the back of the reedbed by the east bank. It perched on the top of a post for a few seconds so we could get it in the scope. Further along, another distant Barn Owl appeared, way over towards Thornham village. It was only when we were almost back to the visitor centre that we found a closer Barn Owl – there is usually one hunting over the grazing meadow here late in the day. It did a quick circuit of the grass, dropping down to the ground at one point, before landing on one of the fence posts.

IMG_9181Barn Owl – hunting over the grazing meadow as usual

It had clouded over by this stage, late in the afternoon, but we had enjoyed such fabulous weather for most of the day, so we couldn’t complain. We wanted to make a quick circuit round the back of Titchwell to look for Rough-legged Buzzards, hoping that they might be out hunting here. The birds which have spent much of the winter around Choseley had not been reported for almost a week now, but one had been seen over the reserve earlier in the morning. When something has not been reported for a day or two, people often stop looking, so we reasoned they may still be in the area.

As we drove up past the drying barns,we stopped to scan the fields. There are always lots of Brown Hares here, but at this time of day they were all busy feeding rather than boxing. While we were looking at one, the head of a Grey Partridge appeared out of the winter wheat behind it – we could see its orange face. There was no shortage of black and white-faced Red-legged Partridges up here too, the lucky ones which have managed to survive the shooting season.

We swung round onto Chalkpit Lane and stopped to scan the trees where the Rough-legged Buzzards had liked to perch through the winter. Bingo! There was a Rough-legged Buzzard! We hopped out of the car and got it in the scope quickly, noting its very pale whitish head and contrasting blackish belly patch. Then it dropped out of the hedge and flew low across the field and over the road in front of us. We could see its very white tail with a clear black terminal band as it swooped down at something in the field. It flew along the hedge for some way, before disappearing over the other side and out of view. Fantastic stuff, a great way to end the day.

Rough-legged Buzzard Choseley 2016-01-06_1Rough-legged Buzzard – here’s one from earlier in the winter

There was still one surprise in store for us. As we drove up along Chalkpit Lane towards the main road, we could see a funny shape in the middle of the road in front of us. It was not dissimilar in size to a partridge, but was clearly the wrong shape. As we got closer we could see it was a Woodcock! We slowed down and it walked up into the verge as we pulled up right alongside. It was clearly rather surprised, because it stood in the grass for several seconds only a metre or so from the car. Stunning. Then it came to its senses and flew up and over the hedge.

We headed for home, with another Barn Owl on the way back rounding things off nicely.