Tag Archives: Cley

18th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. It was a nice, bright start to the morning and, although it clouded over later, it stayed largely dry until dark.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we thought we might stop for a better look at the Cattle Egrets. We were looking into the sun and the cows were huddled in one corner of the field, but there appeared to be white shapes in with them as we drove past. We parked in the layby just beyond and crossed the road. A flock of Fieldfares flew across the field, landing in the hedge close to where we parked and started tucking in to the berries. As we walked down along the path, we flushed a couple of Blackbirds and a Song Thrush from the bushes there. A Stock Dove flew out of the game cover as we passed.

When we got down to the corner overlooking the wet grazing marsh where the cows were, we couldn’t see any sign of the Cattle Egrets. The cows were on the edge of a ditch, so we wondered whether the egrets might be hiding at first. While we waited to see if they might emerge, we scanned the pools in the grass. There was a nice selection of ducks – Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and a single female Pintail with them too. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding around the muddy edge.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – flew over our heads early this morning

A flock of Long-tailed Tits came along the hedge past us, calling noisily. A Marsh Harrier circled up over the trees behind us before flying over our heads. A Yellowhammer flew over the road calling. And it quickly became clear that the Cattle Egrets weren’t there. We would be coming back this way later, so we decided not to linger and headed back to the car.

As we made our way on east past Cley, we could see a small flock of Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh by the entrance to Babcock Hide. There was nothing behind us, so we pulled up and had a quick look at them from the car. One immediately stood out – more contrasting than the regular Dark-bellied Brents, blacker bodied with a brighter white flank patch. It was the Black Brant. We managed to get a quick look at it before something spooked the geese and they all took off. They circled round and dropped down onto Watling Water, out of view.

Our next stop was at Weybourne. We decided to have a quick look at the beach first. There were a couple of groups of gulls on the shingle but nothing particularly interesting with them today – a mixture of Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew past together with a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a great side-by-side comparison.

There were several Turnstones down on the beach too, although they should perhaps have been better named Turn-fish today. A large number of small flatfish were washed up after last weekend’s storms and have been providing sustenance for the gulls and the Turnstones.

TurnstoneTurnstone – turning over a flatfish instead!

One of the group spotted a Great Crested Grebe flying past just offshore. It is quite an incongruous sight, but they winter quite commonly on the sea here. A single Ringed Plover flew past some way out too, presumably a fresh arrival coming in for the winter. Two Gannets circled way out on the horizon, catching the sun. A Rock Pipit flew west over the beach along with a Meadow Pipit. Otherwise there was not much happening out at sea this morning, so we decided to explore the fields instead.

As we walked up the hill on the edge of the grass beside the stubble, we flushed several Skylarks which flew round and landed again out in the field. A little group of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass calling. Then up towards the top of the field, a large flock of Linnets flew up from the stubble and wheeled round before landing again. We had really come to look for Lapland Buntings, a few of which have been in the stubble here in recent days, but at first we couldn’t find any.

As we got up towards the old Coastguard Cottages, we could see more activity out in the middle of the field so we thought we would try walking up along the track towards the mill. We would not be looking into the sun from there too, as we had been from the cliff side. When we got to the field gate half way up the track, we stopped to scan and were instantly rewarded with a Lapland Bunting. Even better, it was out in an open area of bare mud, where we could get it in the scope. Great views – we couldn’t believe our luck! They are more often just seen flying round or skulking in the stubble.

Lapland BuntingLapland Bunting – showed very well on an area of bare mud

We watched the Lapland Bunting for some time. It was strikingly pale, off-white below and around the face. It appeared to be a male, with a ghosting of a black bib. It was feeding with a couple of Skylarks and Linnets. It would disappear into the furrows from time to time and then reappear somewhere different. At one point it looked like it might be bathing in a furrow with a couple of Meadow Pipits. Then a Weasel appeared. It ran across the field to the open muddy area and all the birds started to chase after it, mobbing it.

After the Weasel had been seen off, all the birds flew round and the Lapland Bunting circled over the open area again before heading out across the field. A second Lapland Bunting appeared from somewhere and followed it, the two of them then dropping down into the stubble out of view.

Our next destination was Kelling Water Meadow. As we walked up the lane, there were a few Blackbirds still in the hedges, arrivals from the continent for the winter stopping off here to refuel on the berries. Otherwise, there were just a few Chaffinches on the walk out until we got to where the thick hedges run out. Then a female Stonechat flew up from the grassy verge and landed in a hawthorn beside us.

StonechatStonechat – this female flew up from the verge beside us

There did not appear to be many birds on the pool here today. Three Teal were feeding at the back. One of the things we had hoped to see was the Spotted Redshank which has been lingering here for some months now, but all we could find was a single Common Redshank. A Curlew flew in calling and landed along the muddy edge, followed shortly after by a single Black-tailed Godwit.

The other species we wanted to see here was Jack Snipe, so we made our way round to the area they have been favouring. They are hard to see at the best of times – they sleep most of the day, hiding deep in the grass, beautifully camouflaged. The water level has increased here in recent days too, which also doesn’t help – it seems to have driven them into the thickest vegetation. When one of the group called out almost immediately to say he had found a bird with a long bill walking in the grass on the edge of the water, it seemed too good to be true. It was – a Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the water. Still, nice to see.

We stood and scanned the grass for a couple of minutes. Then something caught the eye – the vaguest darker shape deep in the grass, and a golden yellow stripe at a different angle to the vegetation. Through the scope we could see it was indeed a Jack Snipe. It was asleep, but we could see its eye staring at us. It half woke at one point, and started to bob up and down a little, the distinctive action of a Jack Snipe.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe – hiding deep in the grass

After enjoying the Jack Snipe for a while, we set off back up the lane. About half way back, we heard Bullfinches calling and a smart pink male flew out of the hedge andup the track ahead of us. It landed in a small tree with some Chaffinches, before flying back towards us and landing in the back of the hedge. We could hear it calling plaintively and a second Bullfinch answering nearby. Then it disappeared round behind the hedge.

We wanted to try to get better views of the Black Brant so we headed back to Cley next. There were only twenty or so Brent Geese off the East Bank, where it had been reported after we had seen it earlier, but it was not with them now. So we headed round to Beach Road instead. There was a much bigger flock of Brent Geese on one of the grazing meadows by the road here and a couple of cars had stopped to look at them. We joined them and after a couple of seconds the Black Brant appeared at the back of the flock.

Black BrantBlack Brant – feeding with the Brent Geese by Beach Road early afternoon

Through the scope, we got a really good look at the Black Brant. The white flank patch was really striking in the sunshine, very different to the more muted patches on the Dark-bellied Brents. When the Black Brant lifted its neck, we could also see its much bolder white collar, complete below the chin.

While we were watching the Black Brant, a small flock of Starlings flew over the reserve towards us, and across the road just beyond us. One of them was strikingly pale brown, but unfortunately it appeared to be just a leucistic Starling rather than anything rarer. Our timing was fortunate, because after a few minutes all the Brent Geese took off and disappeared much further out to the south side of Eye Field to join an even larger flock of Brents already there.

We continued on along Beach Road to the car park at the end and climbed up onto the shingle to have a quick look at the sea. A Grey Seal was swimming past just off the beach. A Red-throated Diver was on the sea rather distant and was diving constantly which made it harder to see. The wind had picked up a little and the sea was rather choppy too. Another Red-throated Diver flew past, along with a couple of distant Guillemots and a single adult Gannet. It was time for lunch, so we ate in the beach shelter out of the fresh breeze.

After lunch, we headed round to the East Bank. There were a few more Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh here now, along with several larger flocks of Wigeon. We could see more ducks out on the Serpentine, but as we walked up towards them to have a closer look we noticed a little group of waders feeding on the mud at the north end. One was noticeably smaller than the others, so we hurried straight up there and sure enough it was a Little Stint in with a group of Dunlin.

Little StintLittle Stint – with a larger Dunlin in front

It has been a good year for Little Stints here, with a maximum count of over 40 juveniles earlier in the autumn. However, Little Stint is predominantly a passage migrant here and numbers dwindled through October, as birds moved on towards their wintering grounds around the Mediterranean or to Africa. Winter Little Stints are not unprecedented in Norfolk but are unusual, so it will be interesting to see if this one stays here now. It was a juvenile moulting to 1st winter plumage, still with quite a few retained juvenile scapulars.

As well as the Dunlin and Little Stint, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding down in the water here. There was a nice selection of ducks on the Serpentine too. As well as all the Wigeon and Teal, there were several Shoveler, a small party of Gadwall and a few Pintail, the drakes of which are now looking very smart. Further back, several Cormorants were drying their wings on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool.

A Curlew was feeding on the brackish pools behind the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh, but it was nice to get in the shelter out of the breeze. There didn’t seem to be much out here at first, apart from a number of Common Redshanks, but looking carefully around the edges we found several more Dunlin and three Grey Plover. A Little Egret was fishing on the pool just in front, shaking one foot at a time in the mud out in front of it, trying to flush out some food.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding on the pool on the front edge of Arnold’s Marsh

With the evenings drawing in early now and a couple more things we wanted to do yet, we headed back to the car. It turned out that the Cattle Egrets had moved and were in a different field today, which is why we hadn’t found them earlier. This was more than a little unusual – one of them has been coming to the same field just about daily since mid September!

However, we didn’t have any trouble finding the Cattle Egrets now we knew where they were hiding today. We parked outside the pub in Stiffkey and they were out in the field opposite, with the cows. We had a great view of them feeding around the cows hooves, picking at the grass.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – one of the two still at Stiffkey, but in a different field today!

Our final destination for the day was at Warham Greens. As we walked up the track, we flushed several Blackbirds from the hedge. Then a small group of six Redwings flew out ahead of us too and circled round calling, before landing in the top of the hedge along the edge of one of the fields. A Common Buzzard was surveying the scene from the top of the roof of the old barn and as we walked past several Stock Doves flew out too.

From the end of the track, we stopped and scanned out across the saltmarsh. There were plenty of Little Egrets and Redshanks out in the grass, plus a few Golden Plover and Brent Geese. A Barn Owl flew through the hedge beside us and disappeared away along the edge of the saltmarsh, before landing in the bushes in the Pit.

A large flock of Fieldfares appeared over the hedge, and flew down to the Pit, landing in the tops of all the bushes and it the hedges either side. A little later, more Fieldfares appeared from over the hedge the other side of us, accompanied by a small group of Redwings. It was hard to tell, but perhaps all these thrushes had only just arrived from Scandinavia for the winter and were stopping to feed up here.

It didn’t take long to spot our first Hen Harrier, a cracking grey male which flew across the saltmarsh in front of us. It dropped down into the bushes and almost immediately we picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier which flew up and started quartering the saltmarsh further back. We saw at least 4 possibly 5 Hen Harriers this evening. Another two ringtails appeared together away in front of East Hills. Then a grey male, possibly the same as earlier having sneaked out unseen or possibly a different bird, flew in from the left. It is a real treat to see so many of them.

The light started to go, as a band of dark cloud arrived from the west. We had enjoyed lovely weather all day, which was very welcome, and thankfully only now did it start to spit lightly with rain. We decided to call it a night.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – lines and lines of them flew out to roost at dusk

As we walked back up the track, there were several Grey Partridge calling from the fields. We could hear Pink-footed Geese too and looked up to see lines and lines of them in the sky, flying towards us. They were heading out to roost on the flats beyond the saltmarsh and it was really evocative as they flew over our heads. A great way to end the day.

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2nd Nov 2017 – Autumn meets Winter

A Late Autumn day tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a nice day, with high cloud but dry and mild and with light winds. A good day to be out birding. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast road.

On our way, as we passed Stiffkey, we had a quick look in the wet field beside the road just beyond the village. The cows were very close to the verge and there, with them, were not one but now two Cattle Egrets. There is nowhere to stop here but we managed to pull over where other cars could pass and wound down the windows for a closer look.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – one of two at Stiffkey now

One of the two Cattle Egrets was standing right out in the open, and we got a good look at it through our binoculars – we could see its short yellowish bill. But it was spooked by another car passing us and flew further back. The second Cattle Egret managed to hide itself very successfully behind a cow at first, but eventually the cow moved out of the way and we could see that one well too, before it then flew further back into the field to join the first.

While we were watching the Cattle Egrets, a pipit flew up from the edge of the pool behind and circled over calling. We could hear a shrill, sharp call, though not as piercing as a Rock Pipit. It sounded like a Water Pipit – and helpfully was seen there again later by someone else at the site.

Our first destination proper for the day was Kelling. We parked in the village and walked up along the lane towards the beach. There were lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches in the hedges, which flew off ahead of us as we made our way along. These were presumably mostly migrants, just arriving here for the winter.

A male Bullfinch flew out calling and landed briefly in the top of the next hedge over across the field. A Reed Bunting and a couple of Yellowhammers perched up in the top of a hawthorn with some of the Chaffinches, just long enough for us to get a good look at them. A Blackcap was not so obliging, flitting across the track and disappearing into the densest blackthorn.

When we got to a gap in the hedge, we stopped to scan the fields. A flock of about 30 Fieldfares was perched in the top of the bushes just across the field and we were able to get them in the scope, before they flew off west over the track ahead of us, chacking. They were followed by a group of Starlings. This was to be a theme of the day, with flocks of Starlings passing overhead west continually all day, birds arriving in from the continent for the winter.

There were other birds moving today too. Several Skylarks passed high overhead calling as we walked along the lane, seemingly on their way west. We heard Redpolls calling overhead too. In the hedge north of the copse, a Goldcrest was probably also a migrant arrived for the winter. When we got to the edge of the Quags, a female Stonechat was flycatching from the brambles and was joined by a couple of Meadow Pipits which flew up from the grass and stopped there to preen.

Looking across at the pool on the Water Meadow, a flock of about twenty Dunlin were busy feeding feverishly on the exposed mud along the near edge. A Common Redshank was with them. Further back, we found the Spotted Redshank weaving in and out of the rushes on the edge of the island. We got it in the scope and could immediately see how much paler it was than its commoner cousin, with a more strongly marked white supercilium and a longer, much finer bill.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – lingering for several weeks here now

The Spotted Redshank, a 1st winter bird with darker grey retained juvenile wing coverts and tertials, has been lingering here for several weeks now – it will be interesting to see how much longer it stays here. The Spotted Redshank walked past a Common Snipe which was also feeding on the edge of the island.

There were a couple of other Common Snipe round the muddy edges of the pool too, helpfully feeding out in the open. The Jack Snipe are considerably more skulking – that one would take a bit more effort! Two Black-tailed Godwits flew in and circled over the pool nervously. They eventually dropped down into the water briefly, but changed their minds and took off again, flying off west.

At that point we noticed a report of a Sabine’s Gull which had apparently flown west past Cromer about 20 minutes earlier. It was headed our way, so we made our way straight to the beach to see if we could catch up with it. It later transpired the Sabine’s Gull had turned back and then appeared off Cromer again, so we didn’t manage to see it. But we did pick up a handful of Little Gulls moving west offshore – including a couple of slightly closer adults flashing alternately pale grey above and black underwings as they flapped.

Red-throated DiverRed-throated Diver – there were several on the sea off Kelling today

There were a few Gannets offshore too, mostly distant today though in the rather calm conditions. Several Red-throated Divers were closer in, including one diving just off the beach, in winter plumage now, dusky grey and white, with a rather pale face. A small group of female or juvenile Eider flew west, big chunky ducks with heavy wedge-shaped bills. While we were scanning the sea, a party of eleven Snow Buntings flew east along the shore line past us, calling. We could see as they dropped down onto the beach halfway towards Weybourne, so we set off to see if we could get a closer look.

We found the Snow Buntings again as they flew round and landed on the shingle some way ahead of us still. We got them in the scope and marvelled at how well camouflaged they are against the stones. A couple of them were running around on a patch of sand and were much easier to see. They all started to run up the beach towards a small patch of low sand cliff, and appeared to be feeding there, which gave us an opportunity to get much closer.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting – great views feeding along the edge of the beach

In the end, we had great close views of the Snow Buntings. There were some annual weeds growing at the top of the sand and the Snow Buntings were feeding on the plentiful seed, up on the top of the cliffs or looking for seed which had fallen off and landed down below. We could see the flock consisted of a mixture of paler Scandinavian birds (of the subspecies nivalis) and darker Icelandic Snow Buntings (insulae). After watching them for a while at close quarters, we left them busy feeding.

On our walk back to the Water Meadow, a female Stonechat was feeding on the brambles on the edge of the Quags, along with a Reed Bunting. We stopped by the pool to have a look for Jack Snipe. As we stood there, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker call and we looked up to see it flying over our heads. There are no trees out here, so it landed on fence post instead, before continuing on its way west.

Jack Snipe are nowhere near as obliging as the Common Snipe, and spend a lot of their time skulking in the vegetation around the pool. They tend to be most active at dawn and dusk too and sleep for much of the day. After some very careful scanning, we just managed to spot a hint of a shape hidden deep in the grass. Getting the scope on it, we could see it was a Jack Snipe.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe – skulking in the grass by the Water Meadow

The Jack Snipe was asleep at first, brilliantly camouflaged in the tussocks of brown grass and rushes, and all but impossible to see unless you knew where it was. By changing our angle of view, we managed to build up a composite view of bits of it. Just occasionally it would wake for a couple of seconds and then sometimes it would start its characteristic bobbing motion, at which point it was marginally easier to find! It edged round a little and we found a spot from where we could see its face and bill through the vegetation.

While we were watching the Jack Snipe, the Spotted Redshank also put on a great performance for us, feeding up and down along the front edge of the pool, only a few metres away from us at times.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and head back up the lane towards the car. We were halfway back when three small birds flew up from the weedy vegetation in the beck by the path. They were three Lesser Redpoll and they helpfully landed in the top of one of the low trees just behind us, waiting for us to move on so they could move back to where they were feeding. We could see they were small and quite dark brown-coloured.

Lesser RedpollLesser Redpoll – three were feeding in the lane on our walk back

There has been a Black Brant with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Cley for a couple of weeks now, so we decided to go on a wild goose chase before lunch! The geese had been reported on the grazing marshes off the East Bank this morning, but there was no sign of any here when we got round there. The flock also likes to feed in the Eye Field, so we decided to have a quick look there next and sure enough there were the Brent Geese.

Some of the Brent Geese were feeding on the grass right by the road, so we pulled up carefully in the car and opened the windows. One of the closest birds to us was the Black Brant! It’s brighter white flank patch, contrasting more with its darker blackish body plumage, meant it immediately stood out from the duller Dark-bellied Brent Geese. We had a really good look at it from the car.

Black BrantBlack Brant – feeding right next to the Beach Road at Cley

We then parked at the end of the road and had a look at the geese through the scope from the West Bank. We could see the Black Brant’s much better marked white collar, connecting under the chin and wrapping round a long way at the back too. Our regular wintering Dark-bellied Brents breed in northern Russia, with the Black Brant coming from for north-east Siberia or across the Pacific in NW North America. Occasionally Black Brants get lost and get in with the Dark-bellied Brents, at which point they may remain with them – this bird is probably a regular returnee, having been seen here for several winters now.

As we walked back to the car, a couple of Rock Pipits were chasing each other round the fishing boats and tractors on the edge of the beach. We headed back towards the visitor centre for lunch, but on the way back along the Beach Road one of the group spotted a wader flying over from the direction of the reserve. A Greenshank – it disappeared over the West Bank in the direction of Blakeney Harbour.

It was mild today, so we were able still to sit outside and eat our lunch at the picnic tables overlooking the reserve at Cley. As we ate, a large skein of Pink-footed Geese about a thousand strong came up from the fields in the distance beyond North Foreland wood. They came along the edge of the ridge and as they got closer we could hear their distinctive high-pitched yelping calls. Almost at the car park, they turned towards the reserve and started to whiffle down, losing height rapidly, before landing on the scrapes. Quite a spectacle!

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – quite a sight, hundreds whiffling down towards the reserve

After lunch, we made our way round to Walsey Hills. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier and we thought we would like to try to get a look at it. A pair of Little Grebes were diving on the pool and we could hear a couple of Water Rails squealing from the reeds.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was frequenting the sallows at the back of Walsey Hills, a very dense area of cover. We headed out into the field at the back, where we could get a good look at the far edge of the trees. At first, all we could see were several tiny Goldcrests flitting around in the sallows. A flock of tits flew in from the wood and made their way through the trees. Then we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler call. We could just see it in the trees, but it disappeared behind a trunk and didn’t come out the other side. It was a good start, but we would like a better view.

After a few minutes, someone shouted to say the Yellow-browed Warbler was visible from the path through the trees, but by the time we got round there it had disappeared again. There was a better view of the trees from back out in the field and thankfully the Yellow-browed Warbler reappeared there after a couple of minutes. It never came out onto the edge, but we could see it flicking around in the leaves, noting its bright pale supercilium and wing bars. Amazing to think this tiny warbler had come all the way from the Urals, or even beyond!

We headed back across the road to the East Bank next. A Stock Dove flew up from the grazing marsh and disappeared off inland over the trees. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds behind Don’s Pool, but the most we could see of them was the occasional long-tailed shape darting across before diving back into cover.

WigeonWigeon – feeding out on the grazing marshes in good numbers now

There were good numbers of ducks out on the grazing marshes. More Wigeon have returned now and there were several good sized groups feeding down in the grass below the bank. There were plenty of Teal too, particularly around the Serpentine, where a more careful scan also revealed a few Pintail and Gadwall. There were a few waders here too, several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Serpentine and further back, on Pope’s Pool, we could see a little group of Dunlin and a few Redshank.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh. Looking carefully through all the Dunlin on here we found a single diminutive Little Stint with them, running round on the edge of one of the shingle spits. There were also several Grey Plover, Curlew and a single Turnstone on here, plus more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. A big flock of Linnets whirled round repeatedly, before dropping back down onto the saltmarsh to feed.

CurlewCurlew – there were several on Arnold’s and around the brackish pools

We continued on to the beach to have another quick look out to sea. Although the wind had finally swung round to the north-west, it was still rather too light to blow anything inshore. A small flock of Ringed Plover flew past along the beach. Further out, a lone Common Scoter flew west, as did a single Brent Goose. We picked up a small group of six Shelduck flying in over the sea, presumably returning from the continent where they had gone to moult. Several Kittiwakes were circling distantly, feeding offshore.

As we made our way back along the East Bank, the sun was already going down. We stopped to watch a Little Egret feeding on the brackish pools in the evening light – shaking its feet ahead of it in the mud, trying to stir up fish or other invertebrates from the shallows. When it lifted its feet out of the water, we could see they were bright yellow, contrasting with its black legs.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding in the brackish pools

The light was already starting to fade but we still had time for one more quick stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Greenway. The evenings draw in much earlier now, after the clocks have changed. As we pulled up into the car park, several small groups of Little Egrets were making their way west to roost.

We were hoping to catch up with some raptors to end the day. A distant Merlin appeared briefly against the sky, but we lost it as it dropped down against the saltmarsh again. A Peregrine was easier to see, standing out on the sand in the distance and a Common Buzzard perched in the top of the bushes at the back edge of the saltmarsh. We did manage to find a couple of Hen Harriers, but they were distant today. First a grey male appeared, way out in front of East Hills, but it almost immediately dropped down onto the saltmarsh out of view. Then a little later a ringtail appeared in the same area. It at least flew around for a while, but the light was really going now and it was very hard to get everyone onto against the dark of the trees.

With the evening drawing in, it was time to call it a day and head back to Wells. It had been a great day out, with some good birds, a nice mixture of late autumn migrants and winter visitors.

21st Oct 2017 – Migrants & Winter Visitors Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. It was a nice bright start to the day, but the wind increased during the morning as ‘Storm Brian’ swept across the UK. Thankfully, being on the east coast, it was nowhere near as windy here as it was in the west of the country, but it was still rather gusty at times. It clouded over a bit too, in the afternoon, but remained dry all day and we had a good day out.

Given the nice weather first thing, we decided to have a quick look in Wells Woods to see if any migrants had arrived overnight. There are lots of Little Grebes now on the boating lake – we counted at least 17 as we walked past – but no ducks other than the local Mallards.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of at least 17 on the boating lake today

We set off into the woods but it was quiet at first in the trees. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling further over, towards the east side of the Dell. On our way round there, a Treecreeper flew in and landed on the trunk of a large old pine tree in front of us. We watched it for a minute or so as it picked its way around the furrows in the bark, before it disappeared round the other side of the tree.

TreecreeperTreecreeper – flew in to the trunk of an old pine tree in front of us

At first we could only find three Long-tailed Tits together. They were calling constantly and had possibly lost the rest of the flock. They disappeared off the way we had come, but as we walked out onto the main path, we found the rest of the group. They were in a sheltered spot initially, but quickly moved round to the breezier side of the trees where they were harder to follow.

The tit flock was on the move, and didn’t seem to know which was they were going, They first started to head over to the caravan site, then changed their minds and went back to the edge of the Dell, before starting to fly over to the west side of the meadow. There was a nice selection of the commoner tits and a few Goldcrests, but it was hard to see the whole flock. In the end, they disappeared into the trees and we left them to it.

The bushes in the more open areas by the track still held a few thrushes – several Blackbirds and a Redwing or two – plus a handful of Chaffinches, but not the number of migrants that they have produced in the last few days. It seemed like there had not been much in the way of new birds in overnight, and earlier arrivals had already mostly moved off inland. A Bullfinch flew out of the brambles and away ahead of us, flashing its white rump. There were a few Curlews in the nearer fields, and we could see small flocks of Pink-footed Geese dropping into the fields further south.

The drinking pool seemed like a good place to check, as it would be relatively sheltered. As we walked in, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the pines beyond, but it took us a while to locate them. Thankfully, they worked their way round to the pool and many of them dropped down into the smaller trees round the edge. We had great views of the tits and in particular a couple of Goldcrests which were feeding low down right in front of us.

GoldcrestGoldcrest – one of several feeding in the bushes round the drinking pool

As the tit flock moved back up into the pines, we decided to make our way back and try our luck elsewhere. The wind had already started to pick up now, and we really noticed it as we got out of the trees. When we got back to the car, we headed off east along the coast to Cley.

There has been a Black Redstart hanging around here for a few days now and today it had taken up residence on the roof of the wardens house. As we walked out to the hides, we could see it flitting around on the tiles. The sun was on the east side of the roof, which was also most sheltered from the wind. Presumably it was finding insects up there because, as well as the Black Redstart, there were also two Pied Wagtails on the roof.

Black RedstartBlack Redstart – on the roof of the warden’s house at Cley

Black Redstarts breed in small numbers in Norfolk, mainly around Great Yarmouth. This one is presumably a migrant, heading from the breeding grounds in northern Europe to winter around the Mediterranean.

The boardwalk out to the hides was also in the sun, and sheltered from the wind by the tall reeds either side. There were lots of Common Darter dragonflies along here, basking in the sunshine on the bare wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – basking in the sun along the boardwalk

At the end of the boardwalk, we headed for Dauke’s Hide first. There were lots of ducks out on Simmond’s Scrape – mainly Wigeon and Teal, now returned in larger numbers from Russia and northern Europe for the winter. They were very jump in the wind, and kept flying up into the air, taking everything else up with them, before landing again.

There have been good numbers of Little Stints at Cley this autumn and the same was still true today. There were at least 7 on Simmond’s Scrape while we were there, although they were hard to count. They really are tiny birds and were easily lost from view among the ducks or around the back edges of the islands. They were all juveniles – amazing to think they are making their way unguided from the Arctic down to Africa for the winter.

Little StintLittle Stint – a juvenile, one of at least 7 on Simmond’s Scrape

There were not so many other waders on here this morning. This might be partly due to the ducks, which caused them all to take flight several times when we were there, not helped by the two Marsh Harriers which were quartering over the reeds most of the time but would occasionally drift over the edges of the scrapes, presumably enjoying the mayhen which ensued.

There were three Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water along the edge of the scrape, and a couple of Ruff in among the ducks. A little group of Dunlin included some already in winter plumage and a couple of juveniles with black spotted bellies. A lone adult was still sporting most of its large black belly patch, a remnant from its breeding plumage. A single Common Snipe flew in and landed in the cut dead reeds in the back corner, where it immediately became very difficult to see!

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported here earlier, but we couldn’t find it – presumably it had flown off at some point, when all the ducks flushed. We did find a Ringed Plover out on the grass in the middle of one of the islands. When something else landed with it, we looked over and were surprised to see a dumpy, much darker wader – a Purple Sandpiper.

Through the scope, we could see the Purple Sandpiper’s yellow legs and bill base. It was a first winter bird, still with its retained pale-fringed juvenile wing coverts. It stayed just long enough for us all to get a good look at it through the scope. Then suddenly all the ducks erupted again, as the Marsh Harrier drifted across the back of the scrapes, and the waders took to the air too. Unfortunately, despite most of the birds quickly returning to the water, the Purple Sandpiper had disappeared.

One of the smartest birds on here today was a Starling. We don’t tend to look at them as much as we should, as they are not uncommon here especially in winter, but this one was probing in the grass for invertebrates, on the bank right in front of the hide, and demanded our attention. It looked particularly striking in its fresh plumage, with striking white or pale brown tips to the feathers head and body feathers. A real stunner!

StarlingStarling – feeding in the grass in front of the hide, a stunning bird close-up

There are not so many birds on Pat’s Pool at the moment, but we popped into Teal Hide for a quick look. The highlight was a single Avocet in a line of roosting Black-headed Gulls and Ruff. Most of the Avocets here have left already, but there are still a very few hanging on along the coast. There seem to be fewer than recent years, so perhaps they know something we don’t about the coming winter!

The Ruff here today were mainly juveniles, faded now to a variety of pale, buff, stone, ecru underparts. A single winter adult with them was much paler, whitish below, and with obvious bright orange legs and bill base.

AvocetAvocet & friends – with a few Ruff and Black-headed Gulls

Then it was back to the visitor centre for lunch. It was rather windy now, but not enough to stop us from making the use of the picnic tables and enjoying the view across the reserve.

After lunch, we made our way round to the beach car park. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see a small group of Brent Geese in the Eye Field. There was a Black Brant here a couple of days ago and a quick glance through the flock revealed an obviously different bird – much darker, blackish bodied, than the accompanying Dark-bellied Brents, with a brighter, cleaner white flank patch. A smart Black Brant.

Black BrantBlack Brant – with the Brent Geese in the Eye Field

This was our second Black Brant in two days, presumably another returning individual, which has got attached to a group of Dark-bellied Brents in Siberia and now remains with them all year, migrating back and forth to Norfolk. It didn’t appear to have such a strongly marked neck collar as yesterday’s Black Brant at first, but it was feeding and hunkered down against the wind. When it lifted its head, the extensive neck collar, connecting under the chin and almost joining at the back of the neck, was more obvious.

There had been several Gannets circling offshore earlier, we had seen them distantly from the hides before lunch, so we had a quick look out to sea. Unfortunately they had moved further offshore or along towards Salthouse now – we could still see them, a mixture of black-tipped white-winged adults, dusky grey juveniles and some in betweens. Otherwise, there was not much happening out to sea, no wildfowl moving today. We did see a few distant auks, Guillemots and Razorbills, flying past.

To finish off our visit to the reserve at Cley today, we headed round to the East Bank to head out to Arnold’s Marsh. It was rather windy up on the East Bank, but the wind was at our backs on the walk out. We could just about hear the Bearded Tits calling at the back of Don’s Pool, but it was not the day to be looking for them today – Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, and typically remain tucked deep down in the reedbed on days like today.

There was a good smattering of ducks out on the grazing marshes to the east as we walked out, mostly Wigeon and Teal. Looking through more carefully, we found a few Pintail asleep in the grass and a few Gadwall too. Several juvenile Ruff were feeding on the mud at the north end of the Serpentine.

We took shelter from the wind in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh. There was a nice selection of waders out on the water here, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks along with several Curlew. Around the edges and the islands we found three Ringed Plovers and two Grey Plovers. Then it was a brisk walk back into the wind!

For our final stop, we finished the day with a visit to Kelling Water Meadow. As we walked up along the lane, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling from deep in the hedge. Several Blackbirds flushed ahead of us from where they were feeding on the berries, as we saw this morning, probably birds lingering having arrived over the last couple of days.

There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler reported from the copse here earlier and we arrived to find a small crowd leaving. We were told it had been in the hedge on the sheltered north side and after only a minute or so it appeared among the leaves. It flitted about for a while, long enough for us to get a good look at it, before it disappeared back into the trees as a flock of tits moved through.

Continuing on down to the Water Meadow, we stopped at the gate on the cross track and looked back over the pool. Three small waders on the mud were the three lingering juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, so we had a good look at those through the scope. A little bigger and sleaker than a Dunlin, with a longer, more downcurved and Curlew-like bill, cleaner white and buff below with delicately scaled upperparts. They have been around here for a while now, stopping off to feed on their way down from the breeding grounds in central Siberia to Africa for the winter. Presumably they will be on their way again sometime soon.

Further back, in the most distant corner of the pool, we could see a couple of larger waders and through the scope, we could see that they were two Spotted Redshanks. These birds have been lingering here for several weeks now too. Like the Curlew Sandpipers, they are both young birds, reared in the Arctic in the summer and now making their way south. There were a couple of Common Snipe feeding with them, but there was another Common Snipe closer, on the edge of the island, which we got a better look at. There have been one or two Jack Snipe here in recent days, but we couldn’t find them today.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshanks – gave great close views after everyone else had gone

One of the Spotted Redshanks is much paler than the other – the paler one is more advanced in its moult, with more silvery grey moulted first winter feathers in its mantle and scapulars. The second bird is now starting to moult and we could see a smattering of new feathers here, but it still appears rather dusky by comparison.

There were a few other birds here too, while we stood and watched the waders. A Fieldfare flew past behind us and we caught it as it continued on west, over the hill and into the sun, the only one of the weekend. A flock of Linnets flew across the Quags calling and a Stonechat zipped across and disappeared over the hedge.

The Spotted Redshanks made their way along the east side of the pool and down towards the top corner, so we made our way along behind the reeds and were soon treated to great close-up views of them as they fed just a few metres away from us. We could see their long, needle-fine bills, with a slight kink at the tip. They were feeding busily, in and out of the grass around the edge of the pool.

Then it was time to head back. The nights are drawing in now and the light was already starting to fade as we wended our way along the coast road to finish the day.

12th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Tour today. It looks like we are set for some warmer weather, with southerly winds bringing mild air up from southern Europe by the weekend. It was already sunny today, and warm out of the slightly fresh SW wind. A lovely day to be out and about.

With the Red-necked Phalarope still lingering at Kelling, we headed straight round there first thing this morning. As we walked up the lane, there were lots of Blackbirds in the hedges, which flew off ahead of us. We flushed a couple of Song Thrushes and two Mistle Thrushes flew out of the bushes and away across the field towards Muckleburgh Hill too. It felt like a lot of migrants had come in overnight.

There were lots of Dunnocks along the lane too today, always hard to tell whether these are just local birds but it seemed like there were more than usual, so presumably some of these were migrants too. There were also finches feeding on the berries – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches in the hedges. A single Yellowhammer appeared with them briefly at one point. As we got to the copse, a couple of Siskin flew over calling and disappeared away to the west.

When we got down to the Water Meadow, we could see the Red-necked Phalarope straight away. It was hiding behind the island, so we set off towards the far corner, from where we would be able to see it. When we got to the cross track, we noticed a group of smaller waders feeding on the mud on the near edge of the water. There were three juvenile Curlew Sandpipers together with a couple of Dunlin, so we stopped for a closer look. We could see the Curlew Sandpipers were slightly larger, longer-legged and longer-billed, with cleaner, scaly upperparts and paler below.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – one of the two here, this photo taken a few days ago

A couple of Spotted Redshanks were feeding in the deeper water just behind the Curlew Sandpipers. One of the Spotted Redshanks was noticeably darker, a rather dusky bird, still pretty much in full juvenile plumage. The other Spotted Redshank was much paler, white below and paler grey above, but with the same dusky grey wings – another young bird which was already much more advanced on its way in its moult to 1st winter plumage.

At that point, the Red-necked Phalarope flew in to join them. It landed in the water by the Spotted Redshanks and started swimming in circles, stirring up the mud below and picking at the surface at anything which it managed to stir up. We had a great look at it through the scope, and then it started to work its way down to the front and along the edge of the vegetation just in front of us. The Red-necked Phalarope is still pretty much in full juvenile plumage, its dark upperparts with distinctive pale golden lines on the mantle and scapulars.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – showed really well again today

There was a really nice selection of other waders on the Water Meadow today too. A couple of juvenile Ruff came down to join the Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers at the front. Further back were a single Black-tailed Godwit, one Curlew and a lone Common Redshank. A Common Snipe was feeding unobtrusively on the front edge of the island and we looked across to the wet grass the other side and saw three more Common Snipe there too.

Continuing on round the Quags, a Reed Bunting perched up nicely in the brambles by the path. There was a good sized flock of Linnets feeding on the dried up pool out in the middle of the grass – occasionally they spooked and all flew around in a tight group. As we started to walk up the hillside behind the beach, a couple more small flocks of Linnets came west along the back of the beach, flying purposefully, so presumably migrants on the move. There were a few other birds moving today, most notably a couple of Rock Pipits which flew over us calling.

Looking towards the sea, we noticed a small falcon flying low and fast behind the bushes between us and the beach.  A Merlin! It continued out across the Quags, skimming just above the grass, at which point it flushed the big flock of Linnets. They all flew up in alarm and tried to climb up higher into the sky and the Merlin set off after them. We watched for several minutes as the Merlin swooped at them. It managed to separate one Linnet from the flock and the two of them towered higher into the sky, the Linnet trying to stay above the pursuing falcon. Whenever the Merlin dived at it, the Linnet just managed to evade it, but it was touch and go for a while before the Merlin finally gave up and flew on west. Exciting stuff!

At this point we noticed a message saying that four Common Cranes had just been seen flying west over Cley. This meant that they had probably already passed us by – most likely flying west along the ridge inland before dropping down to the coast as they usually do, rather than coming over us. We therefore were not expecting to see them as we raised our binoculars and scanned over the marshes to the east, but there they were. The Cranes were distant, but we could see their distinctive long-necked, long-legged silhouette through the scope as they turned. A real bonus!

A quick look out to sea, and we noticed a single Brent Goose flying past over the water, presumably just arriving back from Russia for the winter. Otherwise, there did not appear to be a lot moving out to sea today and it was quiet too past the gun emplacements, so we set off back down to the Water Meadow. We had heard a Stonechat earlier, and just caught a glimpse of it as it disappeared round behind the reeds, so it was nice to see a pair of them on the fence on the edge of the Quags on our way back past. A single Redpoll flew over calling and disappeared away to the west.

As we walked back past the Quags, we could hear a Bearded Tit calling. When we worked out where the sound was coming from, we could see it perched in the tops of the reeds, swaying in the breeze. From round on the cross track, we had a much better view – it was a female and it appeared to be on its own. It flew a short distance a couple of times and dropped down into the reeds, but each time quickly climbed back up to the tops and started calling.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this lone female was down at the Quags today

The Bearded Tit appeared to be looking for more of its own kind. Some birds disperse away from their breeding reedbeds at this time of year, but they are more often seen in small groups. Eventually, after calling for a while to no avail, it took off, climbed into the sky and set off west.

We set off back up the lane. We heard the Yellowhammer calling again and, as we stopped to try to see it, a couple of Goldcrests came out of the same tree. We followed them up the lane, eventually getting a brief view of one at very close quarters in the hedge right next to us. A tit flock came down the lane the other way and we stopped to admire a couple of Long-tailed Tits. A Chiffchaff was feeding in the garden of the village school.

With the sun out, the raptors started to circle up. Two Common Buzzards appeared over Muckleburgh Hill and a third circled over our heads calling. It was quite warm along the lane now ,out of the wind. There were several butterflies out, Red Admirals, and dragonflies including lots of Common Darters and one or two Migrant Hawkers.

Common BuzzardCommon Buzzard – circled over the lane, calling

Our next destination was Cley, and before lunch we decided to have a look up along the East Bank. A Mute Swan and Coot on Don’s pool were additions to the day’s list, but the Aylesbury Duck with the Mallards did not count! Out on the grazing marshes the other side, we could see lots of Canada Geese loafing in the grass.

There were a few waders out on the grazing marshes and along the Serpentine too. We stopped for a closer look at a couple of Lapwing – stunning birds, particularly in the sunshine when their glossy green upperparts shone bronze and purple too. There were lots of Ruff – neat brown and buff juveniles, paler white and grey-brown adults, with males and females of very different sizes. A single Common Snipe was hard to see feeding in the wet grass until it ran across out in the open.

At the end of the Serpentine, a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits had gathered to feed, most up to their bellies in the water. The majority were in plain grey non-breeding plumage, but one still had extensive rusty feathering on its breast, the remainder of its summer attire.

RuffRuff – an adult and two juveniles

Several small skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in from the east. We could hear their distinctive high-pitched yelping calls. There were a couple of Greylag Geese too – we could see their paler grey heads and large orange carrot bills.

There were more ducks out on the grazing marshes here. Most of the drakes are still in dull eclipse plumage, but increasingly some are starting to regain their smart breeding dress. The largest number were Wigeon, feeding out on the grass. There were quite a few Teal and Shoveler along the edges of the Serpentine too. Further back, we found first a female Pintail and then a couple of drakes which were starting to look smarter again. There were a few Gadwall sleeping in amongst the Canada Geese as well.

WigeonWigeon – there is a good number now out on the grazing marshes

A stop at the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh gave us a chance to sit down and get out of the breeze. There were more waders on here – more Curlew, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Ruff and Dunlin. Scanning through a group of Dunlin, we found a much paler, whiter wader in with them – a lone Sanderling. It had probably just stopped off here briefly on its journey.

A couple of Ringed Plover were hiding in the saltmarsh in the middle – we could just see their black and white heads sticking out. Further over, we found two Grey (aka Black-bellied!) Plover on the islands and, right at the back, a big flock of Golden Plover hunkered down too.

When all the waders flushed, we couldn’t see the cause at first. A few minutes later a Peregrine appeared, just as everything had started to settle down, and spooked them all again. It chased round after a big flock of Black-tailed Godwits first, then seemed to head back towards Salthouse, before we picked it up again over the beach, chasing a Redshank. Like the Merlin we had seen earlier, the Peregrine chased after the Redshank relentlessly for several minutes, swerving, climbing, stooping at it repeatedly and passing within what looked like millimetres of it, before we eventually lost sight of them.

Out at the beach, the sea looked fairly quiet still. We picked up a single Great Crested Grebe out on the water and a Razorbill or two as well. Two or three Gannets were circling out in the distance and periodically plunging into the sea. There did not appear to be much moving offshore, with a couple of Ringed Plover flying in off the sea being the highlight.

Time was getting on now, so we set off back to the car. There were several Little Egrets on the brackish lagoons and one fishing right down the front of Arnold’s Marsh. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling out in the reedbed, but they were keeping well tucked down today out the wind. Then it was back to the Visitor Centre for a late lunch.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding on the front of Arnold’s Marsh

After lunch, we headed out to the hides in the middle of the reserve. As we walked out along the boardwalk, a pair of Stonechats were perched on the fence posts on the edge of the reedbed. They would periodically flycatch out over the reeds, hovering before flicking back to one of the posts.

From Dauke’s Hide, we could see there were lots of birds on Simmond’s Scrape today. It didn’t take long to find our first target. Scanning carefully around the islands, we found several Little Stints. On our first count we got to nine, then shortly afterwards we got up to thirteen. They were mostly quite widely scattered, but when all the small waders flushed from time to time, they would bunch up together for a while after they landed. By the end, we had managed to count at least 18 Little Stints on here today, an impressive number.

Little StintsLittle Stints – two of at least 18 on here today, all juveniles

We got some of the Little Stints in the scope and had a closer look at them. We could see they were small, particularly when one walked past a Dunlin, which in itself is not a big wader, at which point they looked tiny! They were all juveniles – we could see their pale mantle braces and split supercilium.

There were three Curlew Sandpipers on here too, again all juveniles. They were feeding separately, but occasionally one or other of them would fly in with one of the little groups of Dunlin and land on the front edge of the nearest island, where we could get a really good look at it.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – a juvenile, in front of a juvenile Dunlin

In with the Little Stints on the drier mud in the middle of the islands, there were a few Ringed Plovers too. At one point, a lone Knot appeared at the back briefly, with a single Dunlin and one of the Curlew Sandpipers. Otherwise, the waders on here were mostly more Ruff, along with a few Lapwing and one or two Redshank. We could hear Greenshank calling from time to time, but did not manage to see one on either of the scrapes. A Common Snipe was more obliging, feeding for a while in the grass on the far side of the channel in front of the hide.

We had heard a couple of Cetti’s Warblers singing earlier today, but as is typical they were keeping well hidden. So when one started calling just outside the windows of the hide, we didn’t really expect to see it, but there it was on the edge of the reeds. Unfortunately, it did not stay very long and quickly darted back into the reeds before everyone could get a good look at it, before flying across the channel and disappearing into the vegetation the other side.

Cetti's WarblerCetti’s Warbler – perched just briefly in the reeds right outside the hide

The Water Rail put on a better performance. The next time we glanced over towards the reeds just outside the hide, we noticed something moving at the base out of the corner of our eye. A quick look confirmed it was a Water Rail. It was well hidden in the reeds at first, but gradually came out into the open, picking its way furtively in and out of the vegetation.

It worked its way towards us and soon the Water Rail was right out in the open just outside the hide window. Stunning views and so close we almost had to zoom out to take a photo! It was nervous, but stayed out in view for several minutes before finally deciding it preferred the shelter of the reeds.

Water RailWater Rail – stunning views right outside the window of the hide

A while later, the Water Rail crept out of the reeds again. This time it picked around for a few minutes, gradually working its way out into the open, before starting to swim out through the open, cut vegetation towards the channel. It obviously didn’t fancy swimming right across the open water, because it suddenly took off and flew over to the other side, dropping into the reeds and squealing as it did so.

There are lots of Pink-footed Geese at Cley at the moment, unusually so for this time of the year. There were several thousand loafing around on the islands at the back of Simmond’s Scrape, and on the grazing marshes beyond. Periodically groups would fly in and out – it is amazing to watch and listen to the skeins of Pinkfeet as they fly in to join the throng.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – there were several thousand at Cley today

There had been no sign of any Marsh Harriers earlier today, but finally when the waders all scattered, we looked up to see a female flying past, over the scrape. We made our way to Avocet Hide next, and when just the small waders all took off again, we looked across to see a Sparrowhawk flying low over the grass at the back of the scrape, rounding off a very nice selection of raptors today.

We had hoped we might catch a few early gulls coming in to bathe on Whitwell Scrape before going to roost, although possibly given the sunny weather, birds would be slower to come in today. There were a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls dropping in and we could see a single young (1st calendar year) Common Gull and a Herring Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls.

Then it was time to make our way back. A few Collared Doves on the wires and a Stock Dove which flew off from the grazing marsh were the final additions to today’s list. We will see what tomorrow will bring!

22nd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a glorious sunny day, warming up through the morning so we were shedding layers after a cool couple of days, with light winds. A glorious day to be out on the coast.

After meeting in Wells, we made our way east to Cley. The car park at the bottom of the East Bank was surprisingly busy, but we managed to park at Walsey Hills which was empty. As we walked back to the East Bank, we could hear tits calling in North Foreland wood, but there was too much traffic to catch them properly and we couldn’t see them.

There were lots geese out on the grazing marshes on Pope’s Marsh, mainly Greylags with smaller numbers of Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. A few Teal were dabbling around the small pools in the grass. Further over, we could see more ducks, a selection of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler. We managed to pick out a rather distant Pintail on Pope’s Pool too.

There were fewer waders out here today, but still a number of Lapwing down in the grass and several Ruff around the Serpentine, mostly brown juveniles. A Common Snipe was preening in the grass along the far edge. A Greenshank flew in calling landed behind us on Snipe’s Marsh. We could hear a couple of Water Rails squealing out in the reeds the other side.

RuffRuff – there were still several on Pope’s Marsh, mostly juveniles

A raptor circling over the reeds as we looked across the reedbed turned out to be a Common Buzzard. They do drift over this way occasionally, but we wondered whether perhaps this was a sign that they were going to be on the move again today, taking advantage of the warmth in the air. So it would prove to be, as we saw a number circling up and heading west throughout the day. A Marsh Harrier was more predictably circling up over the reeds too.

Skylarks have been scarce recently, but we heard several calling overhead as we walked out. Perhaps it was the glorious sunny weather we were treated to this morning which has brought them out? A Reed Bunting perched up nicely in the top of the reeds. A Reed Warbler was slightly less obliging, feeding low along the edge of the ditch by the reedbed until we turned to look at it, at which point it disappeared back into the reeds, before flying off.

We heard Bearded Tits several times as we walked out along the bank, but they were hard to see at first. One perched up briefly out in the middle, but just before flying off and disappearing back down into the reeds further back. It was not until we got to the main drain that a noisy flock of six Bearded Tits flew in and landed in the reeds in front of us, climbing up into the tops for a few seconds before dropping back down again.

Bearded TitsBearded Tits – circling up, thinking about setting off

The Bearded Tits have been very active and vocal in the last few days here. This is the time of year when they disperse and they are getting itchy feet. Sure enough the six Bearded Tits took off and flew round, starting to circle up higher into the sky. It looked like they might be off, but a minute or so later, after we had lost sight of them, they dropped back steeply into the reeds where they had just left.

There have been Otters on and off in the main drain at Cley for some weeks now. A quick scan down the channel and we spotted a head sticking out of the weed which is now carpeting the water. A second head surfaced nearby. The two Otters started to swim towards us, ducking under the weed, looking for food. We could see the little patches of reed along the edge of the channel shaking as they swam through them. They were busy looking for food as they approached the sluice right below us, it was great to watch the heads pop out of the weed and then their long bodies and tails curve into the water as they dived. It was hard to tell how many there were now, at one point some of the group thought a third Otter had joined them.

OtterOtter – eating a crab in the main drain right by the sluice

We weren’t sure what the Otters would do at the sluice, whether they might come up out of the water, but they ended up swimming straight through. We could see the reeds rustling the other side and then a head popped up out of the weed again. This time it had caught something and we watched it holding it in its front paws and crunching on it. It looked rather like a crab and looking at photos later confirmed this. While the first Otter swam with its crab across the channel and into the reeds the other side, we could hear the second crunching on something just below us, out of sight in the reeds by the sluice.

Once it had finished its crab, the first Otter swam back across the channel into the reeds the other side. We could hear the two of them calling, but they didn’t come back out again for a few minutes. It had been great to watch them fishing, but we decided to move on.

As we walked down the East Bank earlier, we had been told that a Red-necked Phalarope had been seen on Sea Pool this morning. We were looking into the light at Arnold’s Marsh from here, so we decided to head straight along to Sea Pool instead. It didn’t take long to find the Red-necked Phalarope, exactly where it had been earlier, along the edge of the reeds on the far side, but we had to walk some way further along so we were not looking straight into the sun.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – a ‘record shot’ of the juvenile this morning

Given the sun, there was quite a bit of heat haze from the expanse of shingle in front and it was always rather distant, but we had a good look at the Red-necked Phalarope as it swam in and out of the reeds. We could see its black mask, golden-straw striped dark back and needle like bill.

While we were standing admiring the Red-necked Phalarope, we also kept looking out over the sea the other side. There were small numbers of geese and ducks moving offshore, Brent Geese and Wigeon coming in from Russia for the winter, little flocks of Teal and a more distant line of Common Scoter.

A couple of very distant Gannets flew past, right out in front of the windfarm. Three Sandwich Terns were still fishing offshore. A Red-throated Diver helpfully flew closer in and we could get it in the scope. One of the group picked up a bird flapping across the surface of the water and it turned out to be a Guillemot being chased by a Grey Seal. The Grey Seal gave up and the Guillemot swam off in the other direction.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up from Pope’s reedbed. Beyond, over the hillside behind, we noticed three more Common Buzzards circling up on a thermal. They really were on the move this morning.

Walking back, it was better light to look at Arnold’s Marsh from this side. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits here, along with several Redshank and Curlew. We could see a small group of Dunlin preening or dozing in the saltmarsh on the near side, and as we walked back towards them, two Dunlin were feeding in the edge of the water. A smaller wader walked out next to them, a Little Stint,but unfortunately it promptly took off and we watched it fly away west, over the East Bank.

On our way back along the bank, a Kingfisher flew off over the reeds but was too quick for most of the group to get onto. As we walked towards the car, we could see a Grey Heron standing on the edge of the reeds on Snipe’s Marsh and a couple of Little Grebes were busy diving the other side.

It was already midday by the time we got back to the car, so it was decided to have an early lunch and use the facilities back at the visitor centre. It was lovely sitting out in the sunshine today. We looked up at one point to see three more Common Buzzards circling overhead.

Common BuzzardCommon Buzzard – one of several moving today

After lunch, we drove round to the beach car park and set off to walk out to North Scrape. The cows were all feeding on the north side of Eye Field and in between them we noticed a small group of Golden Plover, which we stopped to look at in the scope. There were lots of Starlings feeding down in the grass too.

As we walked across the shingle, several Meadow Pipits came up from the vegetation and a little flock of Linnets flew up from the weeds. A couple of Pied Wagtails were feeding around the muddy edge of the pool. There were several Wheatear here a week or so back, but they had all moved off ahead of the recent cool weather. We were just saying how it the sort of day when more Wheatear could appear when one landed on the post right in front of us.

WheatearWheatear – landed on a post right in front of us

The Wheatear stayed on the post for about a minute, looking at us nervously, while we watched it through binoculars. Then it flew off across the shingle, flashing its white rump. We could still see it further over, hopping about on the stone in amongst the vegetation.

North Scrape has been rather full of water in recent weeks and consequently somewhat devoid of waders. After recent management work on the reserve, it has gone from one extreme to the other and is now a large expanse of mud. It is looking really good for waders now, and no surprise that most of the waders have moved in here from the other scrapes.

North ScrapeNorth Scrape – lots of exposed mud after recent management work

The light can be difficult on North Scrape, looking into the sun, and the birds can be distant, but we quickly located two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers down the left side. They were with a couple of Ruff and through the scope we could see their long, downcurved bills and peachy-orange wash across the breast.

Across the other side, a Ringed Plover walked out from behind the reeds, quickly followed by a Little Stint. It was tiny in comparison! More birds followed, and we had counted five Little Stints and six Ringed Plover before they were spooked by something and flew round. There were plenty of Dunlin on here too, and when everything landed again they were even more distant. Still, as they started to feed and spread out, we could make out at least ten Little Stints in with them. A Greenshank was slightly easier to see, when it walked out from behind the reeds, much closer, with a Redshank nearby for comparison.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear was on the fence across the other side of the shingle from the path, on the edge of the Eye Field. It was quickly joined by a second Wheatear which flew up from the grass – they had multiplied in the short time we had been out at North Scrape! A little further on, what was possibly a third Wheatear flew across the shingle to where they had been a few moments earlier.

Our destination for the second half of the afternoon was Kelling. As we started walking down the lane, we could hear Chiffchaffs calling from the hedge. A couple of Greenfinches were lurking in the top of the blackthorn but finally hopped out and showed themselves. A Chaffinch flew in to join them.

Out in the stubble field, we could see lots of Red-legged Partridges. They have been released here in big numbers for shooting. We flushed a Pheasant from beside the path too. As we got to the copse, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. We looked up into the trees to see them feeding there. It was a mixed tit flock – as well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue Tits and Great Tits, and at least one Chiffchaff too. Unfortunately there was nothing rarer with them today!

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – we came across a mixed tit flock in the lane

A Hornet was buzzing backwards and forwards low around the bushes and ivy on the edge of the copse, it seemed to be looking for food. Suddenly it seemed to spot a spider in the middle of its web and it went for it, diving into the web. The spider dropped off its web onto the nettles below, while the Hornet struggled to free itself from the strands of silk at first. Once it was free, the Hornet buzzed around the nettles to see if it could find it, but the spider had sensibly disappeared into cover.

A Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge along the lane just north of the copse unfortunately did not hang around long enough for everyone to see it, disappearing into the bushes as a couple of people walked past from the other direction.

It is hard to see the Water Meadow over the brambles at first now, as you walk up along the lane.  We could see a few Ruff and a Redshank or two around the edge of the water. Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls had dropped in to bathe. It was only when we got almost to the cross track, and looked back, that we spotted the Curlew Sandpiper. It was feeding in the shallow water on the near edge, wading up to its belly. Two Dunlin were on the mud nearby. Through the scope, we got a much better view of this Curlew Sandpiper than we had of the two on North Scrape earlier.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – this juvenile showed much better on the Water Meadow

After watching the Curlew Sandpiper for a few minutes, we carried on down towards the beach. The Quag looked rather quiet, so we turned right and started to make our way up the hill before the beach. We flushed a couple of Meadow Pipits from the rough grass as we passed. Three Stonechats flew across the path in front of us and landed out on some tall stems in the middle of teh grass. A Linnet flew in to join them.

We had another quick look out to sea. A couple more Gannets flew past offshore, closer in than the ones we had seen earlier, which meant everyone could get onto them this time. Another line of distant Common Scoter flew past too, but it didn’t seem as lively as it had been earlier this morning.

It was time to start heading back now, so we walked back to the car and set off back towards Wells. There was still time for one last surprise though. We had looked for the Cattle Egret in the field east of Stiffkey on our way out earlier this morning, but it hadn’t been with the cows. Pulling up on the road on the way back, we spotted the Cattle Egret immediately, out with the cows. Thankfully, there were no cars coming along the road and we were able to pull up and spend a couple of minutes looking at it. That was a nice way to end the day.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – a good way to round off the day, back with the cows

19th Sept 2017 – Relaxed Autumn Birding

A Private Tour today. It was to be a relaxed day of general birding on the North Norfolk coast. After getting caught by a brief shower first thing, the clouds cleared, the blue sky appeared and the sun came out. It was even quite warm by the end of the day. A lovely day to be out.

Our first stop for the morning was to be Stiffkey Fen. On our way there, we drove slowly past the wet meadows just east of the village, trying to work out where the cows were today. A Sparrowhawk came out of the hedge beside the road and flew low over the tarmac ahead of us before swooping up into a tree the other side. We eventually found the cows towards the eastern end of the meadow and even before we pulled up, we could see a white shape with them. It was a Cattle Egret.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – with the cows at Stiffkey again today

The Cattle Egret has been hanging around with the cows here on and off for a while now. We managed to stop the car for a minute, while there was no traffic, and have a look at it through binoculars. We could see its short yellow bill. A couple of Grey Herons were loafing next to the cows too.

After parking a little further along the road, we walked out towards Stiffkey Fen. A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees beside the road, but we couldn’t see them from the path. As we started down the footpath by the river, a Chiffchaff was calling above our heads and flitting about in the willows, and a Goldcrest appeared with it briefly too. We could hear Long-tailed Tits in the bushes by the river and caught the back of a mixed tit flock, with Blue Tits and Great Tits too. A Greenfinch and a Chaffinch flushed from the brambles as we walked past.

When we got to a gap in the trees where the brambles and reeds are low enough to see over, we had a look out across the Fen. The first thing we saw were the Spoonbills, nine of them. We had a quick look at them from here, then headed up onto the seawall for a better view. It was not long after we got up onto the seawall that it started to rain. We took shelter down by the sluice and thankfully it was just a brief shower.

From back up on the seawall, we had a good look at the Spoonbills. Some were asleep, as usual, but one was busy preening and when it lifted its head we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. Another two Spoonbills were walking around in the shallow water, one was an adult but the other was a juvenile with a fleshy-coloured bill. The juvenile was chasing behind the adult, bobbing its head up and down and begging for food. The adult kept trying to walk away, but there was no respite.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – four of the nine on the Fen today

The tide in the harbour was already half way out, so a lot of the waders had already left the Fen and gone out into the harbour to feed. There were several Redshanks down in the harbour channel below the seawall. We could hear Greenshanks calling, but couldn’t see them in their usual place on the Fen. They were hiding behind the reeds today, and the next thing we knew they flew up and over the seawall, heading off across the saltmarsh and out into the harbour. A Kingfisher flew the same way too, up from the river in front of us, across the reeds and over the seawall.

There were still a few waders left on the Fen, mostly Ruff which we had a look at through the scope. A Black-tailed Godwit was fast asleep in the middle of a big group of feeding Ruff. There was a single Avocet on here too today, looking slightly lonely.

A good number of Greylag Geese were scattered around the islands on the Fen and, in between them, we could see a variety of ducks. The drakes are mostly not at their best at the moment, in their rather drab eclipse plumage. We did manage to get a smart drake Gadwall in the scope, but it was just too far to appreciate the fine detail and complexity of its feather patterns. There are plenty of Teal and Wigeon on here now, in addition to all the Mallard. Over at the back, we found a small group of Pintail too.

At that point, something spooked all the birds on the Fen and most of them took to the air. We didn’t see what it was, there was no sign of a raptor about and it might have been the geese taking off noisily to head off to the fields, but whatever it was, by the time things settled down again, there were much fewer birds left behind. Many of the ducks and waders headed off to the harbour to feed, so we decided to head round that way ourselves.

As we walked round to the harbour, we could see several waders down on the mud in the channel. They were mostly Redshank, but in with them was a single Grey Plover, so we had a good look at it through the scope, already in its grey non-breeding plumage. When we got to the corner, we stopped to look at the harbour. A Greenshank flew up from the channel and off across the mud. We heard the Kingfisher call again and looked across to see it perched on the gunwale of one of the boats in the channel. We got it in the scope, but it didn’t stay long and flew off back up the channel.

Blakeney HarbourBlakeney Harbour & Point – after the sun came out

The sun was shining now and it was a fantastic view across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We stood for a while and admired the view, while we scanned for birds out on the mudflats. Most of the waders were presumably further out, out of view down in the Pit. We could still see quite a few from here though – a nice selection including Oystercatchers, more Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, a few Curlew and a little group of Turnstone.

Four Brent Geese flew in and landed distantly on the edge of the water down in the Pit. They have only just started to return from the Russian breeding grounds in the last couple of days and these are the first ones we have seen here this autumn. In a few weeks time, the area will be busy with them, but it was great to see the first ones return.

As we turned to head back, we bird call, a sound like two stones being knocked together, and turned to see a Stonechat perched on the top of a Suaeda bush on the edge of the saltmarsh. It was joined by a second Stonechat and the two of them gradually worked their way towards us, dropping down out of view, but returning to perch right on top of the bushes.

StonechatStonechat – one of a pair on the edge of the saltmarsh

On the walk back, with the sun out, there were several butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the warmth along the hedgerow beside the path, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes.

Our next destination was Cley and we set off to walk out along the East Bank. There were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes to the east, Greylags, Canadas and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling away in the distance, presumably birds just flying in, but we couldn’t see them.

We heard Bearded Tits too, calling from the reedbed, but they too remained elusive, keeping down out of the breeze. A Swallow flew low across the grazing marsh, over the bank and west on across the reeds. It was followed by several more. They are on their way down to Africa for the winter already, and these were the only hirundines we saw today. Autumn is definitely here already.

Scanning the wet grass down on the grazing marshes, we found quite a few waders, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. A single Common Snipe was busy probing away into the mud in amongst the tussocks, but then shuffled off out of view. At the north end of the Serpentine, we came across a small group of Dunlin out on the open mud. We were just looking at them when two Little Stints flew across to join them. We had a great view of the two species side by side in the scope.

Little StintLittle Stint – one of two juveniles on the edge of the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh had a lot of birds on it, but they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. A couple of Curlew were feeding at the back. Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the stony island. After resting our legs for a few minutes in the hide, we continued on to the beach. We could hear a Water Rail squealing from the north edge of the reedbed, tucked well in and out of view.

The sea looked quiet at first. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, low over the sea. Two Sandwich Terns flew across a bit closer in. There has been a lot of wildfowl returning in the past few days, and it wasn’t long before we picked up a single Brent Goose flying past offshore, with three Cormorants following close behind, taking advantage of it to make their short journey easier. A little while later, another 13 Brent Geese flew pas in a line, all just returning from their Russian breeding grounds for the winter.

A couple of large groups of Shelduck flew past over the sea too. The adult Shelducks fly off to the Wadden Sea to moult at the end of the breeding season. Once their moult is complete, they start to return here and these are some of the first to return. A couple of Curlew flew past too, also returning from Europe for the winter.

ShelduckShelducks – returning after going to the Wadden Sea to moult

We headed back for lunch back at the visitor centre, stopping on the way to admire the two Little Stints which were now busy bathing in a small pool on the edge of the grazing marsh. While we were eating our lunch, we noticed a large white shape circling over the hides. It was a Spoonbill and after a minute or so it flew off west.

After lunch, we headed out to the main hides. There had been a report of four Curlew Sandpipers on Simmond’s Scrape earlier, but when we got there we could only find one and it was on Pat’s Pool. It was nice and close though, so we had a good look at it through the scope, a juvenile with scaly patterned back and a peachy wash across the breast. After a few minutes, it flew back to join the Dunlin on Simmond’s.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – feeding on Pat’s Pool and then Simmond’s Scrape

There were lots more Little Stints on Simmond’s Scrape too. They were rather hard to see at first, very small and creeping about on the low vegetation on the wetter islands, but the more we looked the more we found. In the end, we could see at least 9 Little Stints on the scrape, all juveniles. There were three Ringed Plover out on the islands too.

There were a few other waders on here too. Several Lapwing looked particularly irridescent in the sunshine, well worth a quick look through the scope at their glossy green, purple and bronze tinged upperparts. There were a few more Ruff here and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits half hidden in the deep water, with their heads under probing vigorously in the mud below. Three more Avocets were asleep on Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding in the deep water in front of the hide

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers which flew up over the reeds at the back of the scrape at one point. A Little Egret was feeding up and down on the water along the front edge.

As we walked back to the car, it was lovely in the sunshine, listening to the wind in the reeds. It was an early finish today, then back home to put our feet up.

13th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 2

A Private Tour today, the second of our two days. It felt really autumnal today. Storm Aileen blew in overnight, bringing heavy rain and gale force winds, gusting up to 60mph first thing this morning. Thankfully it had calmed down a little by the time we met up, the rain had stopped and there were even some brighter intervals, but the wind was still gusting up to 48mph through the morning. Undaunted, we went out to see what we could see.

Our first destination was Stiffkey Fen. On the way there, three Red Kites hung in the air over the road, enjoying the breeze. We were met by a very gusty wind when we got out of the car, but it was not so bad once we got into the shelter of the hedge along the path. A Kestrel was standing out in the middle of a recently cultivated field, presumably looking for invertebrates. Easier work than trying to hover in the wind!

As we got into the trees, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. A tit flock came through the wood and seemed to be making for the sunny sheltered edge along the roadside. We could just see some of the tits in the trees above us, but they were hard to see today with the movement of the branches and leaves. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling too.

Down beside the river, we flushed a couple of Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles. We could hear a Blackcap calling from the bushes too, but the birds were harder than usual to see along here, presumably they were keeping tucked well down today. The sun came out and in the shelter of the hedges a few butterflies even appeared – a couple of Red Admirals and Speckled Woods. A Green Sandpiper flew low overhead calling, presumably coming up from the Fen before continuing on its way west.

There is one spot along the path where it is possible to see over the brambles across to the Fen. We knew it was likely to be windy up on the seawall, so we stopped to look from here first. The first thing we saw was the Spoonbills. There were 12 of them at first, mostly asleep, but two were awake and walking around. A closer look revealed that it was a juvenile, one of this year’s young raised just along the coast, which was pursuing its parent begging for food. Every time the adult Spoonbill stopped, the juvenile kept pecking at its bill, so the adult kept walking. The youngster then followed behind, bobbing its head up and down. The pester power was relentless!

Spoonbills 1Spoonbills – this juvenile kept begging for food from its parent

There were lots of geese on the Fen, mostly Greylags but a few Canada Geese too. There are more ducks on here too now, in various stages of moult. As well as all the local Mallard, there were Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal. A couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle.

After a good look from the path, we decided to brave the seawall. It was not quite as windy up here as we had feared and we had a good view out across the harbour. The tide was on its way in and the channel below the seawall was starting to fill up. Several Redshank were still feeding on the remaining mud along the edge, along with a Curlew.

There is a much better view of the Fen from up on the seawall. There were lots of waders asleep in the water just beyond the reeds, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the islands, in amongst the ducks and geese, we could see several Ruff, including one with a strikingly white head. Over in their usual corner, a dozen Greenshank were already in to roost, standing in the water out of the wind. A single Redshank was with them and through the scope, we had a good comparison between the two, the Greenshank being much paler, sleeker and slightly larger too.

As the tide was rising out in the harbour, more birds flew in to roost. Another three Spoonbills came in to join the twelve already out on the Fen. More Redshank flew in from the harbour. A Greenshank took advantage of the opportunity for a quick last feed on the edge of the mud down in the harbour channel before flying up over the seawall and across to join the others.

We decided to walk round to have a look out in the harbour. On the way, a Common Buzzard was hovering out over the edge of the saltmarsh. There were not so many small birds along here today – we flushed a Meadow Pipit from the grass and a Common Whitethroat from the weeds beside the path.

The water out in the harbour was already quite high and a lot of the waders were already roosting out of view. We could still see quite a few Oystercatchers and Curlew. A small party of Turnstone, accompanied by a single Dunlin, flew in and landed on the near shore, amongst all the Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A single Bar-tailed Godwit flew west, before another five flew in and dropped down out of view. Out on the end of Blakeney Point, we could see a number of seals hauled out on the beach.

It was a bit exposed and breezy out on the edge of the harbour, so we started to make our way back. The Spoonbills on the Fen had multiplied in our absence, with more birds flying in from the harbour and saltmarsh ahead of the rising tide. One flew off towards Morston as we walked back, but their were still 26 now out on the Fen when we got back to count them. An adult Spoonbill was still being pursued around the island by a begging juvenile – quite possibly the two birds we had seen much earlier!

Spoonbills 2Spoonbills – most of the 26 which were on the Fen on our walk back

It was nice to get off the seawall and back into the shelter of the hedge beside the path. We could hear Bullfinches calling from the sallows, but couldn’t see them today. The tit flock was still feeding in the trees. When we got back to the car, we could see a flock of Lapwing out in the field next door and when we stopped to scan, we found a couple of Stock Doves here too. One of the Stock Doves was helpfully standing next to a Woodpigeon, giving us a nice side-by-side comparison through the scope.

There has been a Pectoral Sandpiper at Cley for the last few days and news had come through that it was still present this morning, so we headed round to try to see it next. We parked at the base of the East Bank and started to walk up. There were lots of martins flying low over the pools on the edge of the reedbed and skimming the bank in front of us, so we stopped to watch them. They were mostly House Martins, flashing a white rump as they banked but in with them were several plain brown backed Sand Martins too. We got some really close up views as they zoomed round us, hawking for insects.

Sand MartinSand Martin – hawking for insects around the East Bank

Further along the path, we could see a small group of people. We assumed they were watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, so we walked up to join them, but when we got there they pointed to the bird they were watching (which they thought was it) and it was a Ruff! There was no immediate sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper here, and we were not entirely sure whether it had actually been seen where they were looking, so we started to walk slowly on along the bank, scanning the grass and pools carefully, to see if we could refind it.

Then all the birds erupted from the grass and started to whirl round and a shout from further along alerted us to an incoming Hobby. It flew fast and low right past us, skimming over the grass, before stopping to chase something back towards the road, climbing suddenly and sharply before stooping vertically back down again. It then made for all the hirundines over the pools, which scattered, before the Hobby climbed higher and flew off over North Foreland wood.

HobbyHobby – flew right past us low over the grazing marsh

When the birds all settled again, there was still no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper. There were plenty of Ruff down around the Serpentine, and lots of Black-tailed Godwits further over in the grass. As we made our way further on, we found a couple of Dunlin on the mud. At the north end of the Serpentine, an Avocet was feeding out in the water and a very pale silvery grey and white winter plumage Spotted Redshank was on the mud nearby. The Spotted Redshank waded out into the water and started feeding too, sweeping its bill rapidly from side to side, just like the juvenile we had seen at Titchwell yesterday.

There were plenty of Greylag Geese already out on the grazing marshes, but some high pitched yelping calls alerted us to another six geese flying in behind us. These were Pink-footed Geese, probably freshly arrived from Iceland for the winter. They circled over the grass but seemed to decide not to land and continued on east. A short while later they reappeared and dropped down onto the grass behind Arnold’s Marsh. Here we could get the Pink-footed Geese in the scope, noting their small size relative to the Greylags, their dark heads and dark pink-banded bills.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – six, probably just arriving from Iceland for the winter

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s gave us somewhere welcome to get out of the wind. There were quite a lot of waders out on the water and we settled in to work our way through them. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with a few Curlew. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a couple which were more strongly marked on the back, browner, streaked with black, two Bar-tailed Godwits.

On our first scan, their were just a couple of Dunlin but as we looked back we came across another group of four. A slightly larger wader was with them and through the scope we could see it was a Curlew Sandpiper, a juvenile. We could see the peachy wash across its breast and unstreaked white belly. Its bill was a little longer than the Dunlins’ and cleanly downcurved, rather like a miniature Curlew (hence its name!).

We had seen a large mob of Sandwich Terns out over the sea beyond the shingle bank and they started to fly in and land on one of the smaller islands. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting their black bills with small yellow tips. They were in winter plumage now, with white crowns and the black on their heads now restricted to a line running back from the eye to the shaggy crest at the back.

Sandwich TernsSandwich Terns – came in to land on one of the islands

At that point, someone came into the shelter and informed us that the Pectoral Sandpiper had reappeared, back at the south end of the Serpentine. Thankfully it didn’t take us long to locate it, when it ran out along the edge of a muddy pool, before disappearing back into the grass. Thankfully, with a bit of patience, it showed very well and we had several very good looks at it through the scope. It kept going into the long grass out of view but after a while it would come out onto the edge again. We could see its distinctive streaked breast, cleanly demarcated from the white belly.

Pectoral SandpiperPectoral Sandpiper – this photo of it taken a couple of days ago!

The Pectoral Sandpiper gradually worked its way a little closer towards us along the edge of the pool. Suddenly it stopped on the mud and stood up tall, then took off and flew across the water, landing down on the front edge behind the grass where we couldn’t see it. We had already had a great view, so we decided to head back to the visitor centre for lunch. It was a relief to get off the East Bank and out of the wind!

After lunch, we decided to have a quick look out on the reserve. There is management work underway at the moment on Whitwell Scrape, with a large excavator digging it out. This is causing a lot of disturbance to the other main scrapes, but we thought it worth a quick look just in case something had dropped down on here. On the walk out, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbed, this one a dark chocolate brown juvenile.

There didn’t seem to be much on Simmond’s Scrape when we looked out from the hide. Scanning carefully, we did find a couple of Ringed Plover out on one of the islands, with a single Dunlin. A Ruff was over the far side, picking its way along the edge. A couple of Shoveler were feeding down in front of the hide, barely raising their heads out of the water.

ShovelerShoveler – almost raising its head out of the water

A Little Egret flew in and started feeding along the near edge of the scrape. A family of Mute Swans were in the channel in front of the hide. The Pied Wagtails liberally scattered around the islands seemed to be the only ones completely unconcerned with all the machinery working nearby.

Another Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds the other side of the scrape, a dark male we could just see some small patches of grey in the upperwing and the paler underwings with black wingtips. A little while later, another Marsh Harrier flew back the other way, from the direction of North Scrape – a different bird again, this one a female.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a dark male flying over the reeds behind Simmond’s Scrape

There was not much on Pat’s Pool either, a few more Ruff, a handful of Black-tailed Godwits, some Lapwings and a few assorted gulls and ducks. We were just thinking about heading back to the visitor centre when we noticed a rather black cloud approaching behind the hide. The worst of the rain passed to the south of us, but we could hear rumbles of thunder as it did so. When it cleared through, we made our way back. A Common Whitethroat flicked ahead of us in and out of the brambles along the Skirts path.

It was already starting to ease, but we decided to finish the day with a visit to Kelling, hoping to get out of the wind. As we set off along the lane, a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches flew up into the dense blackthorn hedge from the stream. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaffs calling and a little further along one perched out briefly on the sunny edge of the hedge. There were a few more butterflies out in the sunnier more sheltered spots. The stubble field half way down was full of Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants, released ready for the shooting season.

We made our way down to the Water Meadow. At first the pool looked rather quiet, but the more carefully we looked, the more we found. By the end we had counted at least three Redshanks and five Ruff around the reedy edges. When we got down to the cross track and looked back at the muddy margin on the near side, we could see a Green Sandpiper over in the far corner. A couple of Dunlin down in the near corner caught our eye, just as a Common Snipe sneaked out of cover and walked across the mud, before disappearing back into the grass.

Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper – on the back of the pool at Kelling WM

Continuing on along the path down towards the beach, it was fairly quiet at first, a Cetti’s Warbler calling from the reeds being the only bird of note. When we got to the corner and turned onto the path up the hill, we saw movement around the fence. A male Stonechat appeared and perched on the top strand of wire, and a Common Whitethroat appeared on the wire below. Turning to look back across the Quags, a careful scan produced a single Wheatear out on the short grass in the middle.

From half way up the hill, we turned to scan the sea. There were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back west just offshore. An Arctic Skua appeared, flying low over the sea just behind them. We noticed a Great Crested Grebe swimming out on the water and as we watched it, a drake Eider took off from the sea just behind it and flew past us. We got the Great Crested Grebe in the scope, but after a minute it took off and flew off west too.

After that little flurry of activity, the sea went a little quiet. We were out of time anyway, so we turned and started to make our way back. The wind had dropped now and the sun was out, with blue skies overhead as we got back to the car. The wind had not stopped us today and we had enjoyed a very successful day out despite its best efforts. It had been a productive two days out, with a very good variety of birds seen.