Tag Archives: Curlew Sandpiper

14th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It may be autumn, but it felt more like summer, with wall-to-wall blue skies and thankfully a nice light southerly breeze on the coast which kept the temperatures from getting too hot. Not great conditions for migrants perhaps, but fantastic weather to be out birding in Norfolk.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. As we got out of the minibus and removed our face masks, we could hear a Greenshank calling, presumably flying over. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post in front of us, in the morning sunshine. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling.

We heard geese calling, the low honking of Greylags, and turned to see a large flock several hundred strong come up from the fields the other side of the road. They flew in over us, calling noisily, and circled round to land over the back of one of the pools.

Greylag Geese – flying in from the fields to the pools

The pools are rapidly drying out now, but the Greylags had landed in the deeper water at the back. In amongst them, we could see lots of Wigeon and Teal, all the drakes now in their drab eclipse plumage. There were several Ruff around the muddy edges and three Dunlin on the front of one of the islands. A flock of Black-tailed Godwit in the deeper water was almost lost in with all the geese.

On the other side of the track, the pools have gone with just some damp mud in the middle. There were no waders on here now, but a small group of Egyptian Geese were feeding in the grass and a Grey Heron and Little Egret on the edge of the deeper channel at the back.

As we walked down the track, a Common Whitethroat flicked out of the bushes. At the far end, we could hear a Kingfisher calling and after a couple of minutes it came up out of a ditch and flew across the track in front of us, in a flash of electric blue. Another flock of Meadow Pipits flew overhead calling. They have been on the move this week, so these were possibly migrants which had stopped here overnight.

There were lots of people out in the sunshine, and a dog running around between the bushes. Perhaps not surprising that there were few birds in here at first, until we got round to the seawall. Here the bushes held lots of finches – Goldfinches, Linnets and Greenfinches – plus several Reed Buntings, Blackcaps and more Common Whitethroats.

As we walked along the seawall, a Chaffinch was feeding on the ground and a Wall butterfly flitted ahead of us. When it finally landed, we edged forward to take some photos, before it was flushed by a couple of joggers coming the other way. This was the first of several we saw here today.

Wall butterfly – by the path on the seawall

Continuing down to the corner, we stopped to look at the western pool. A Green Sandpiper was feeding in the shallow water tucked in the corner and a single Common Snipe was asleep on the bank at the back.

Looking behind us, some people were walking towards us along the bank, and a Wheatear was on the path ahead of them. Thankfully, it just flew down to a post on the edge of the saltmarsh below the bank so we could get a good look at it. Then it dropped down to the ground below to catch something, before flying up to another post further back, flashing its white rump.

Wheatear – flushed from the path down to the edge of the saltmarsh

A flock of geese flew up from the fields off to the south. They were a long way off, but they looked small, dark. Through the scope, we could see they were Pink-footed Geese and as they got a bit closer, we could just hear their yelping calls, much higher pitched than the Greylags we had seen earlier.

Another couple of larger flocks of Pink-footed Geese came up behind them – they clearly weren’t going far because they didn’t form into skeins and remained in untidy groups. We watched them as they flew over Wells town and started to whiffle down towards Quarles Marsh beyond. There were probably up to 1,000 Pink-footed Geese in total, already returned from Iceland. Here for the winter, a reminder that summer is over, even if it didn’t feel like it today!

Pink-footed Geese – several flocks came up from the fields inland

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a couple of white shapes, one larger than the other, a Spoonbill and a Little Egret. The Spoonbill disappeared down into a channel to feed, out of view. We could see its head a couple of times before it came back up out and into view. Almost immediately it took off. It flew in, long neck and bill stretched out in front, towards the pools, but perhaps seeing no other Spoonbills there it turned and disappeared off to the east.

Scanning the rest of the saltmarsh, there were lots more Little Egrets, several Curlew and Redshank. A smart Grey Plover still sporting its summer black face and belly, was in one of the muddy channels. It was time for coffee, so we made our way down off the seawall and back round through the bushes. A small party of Swallows came over, migrants on their way west.

After a break for coffee, we continued east along the coast road to Cley. After a quick stop at the Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove round to the beach car park. It was very busy at the beach today – even the overflow was filling up fast. We walked out over the shingle and off to the east, away from the crowds.

Looking out to sea, it was very calm and not surprisingly there didn’t appear to be many birds offshore. Lots of gulls were following a fishing boat. It was warm now and there were not many birds in the vegetation on the beach either. We were hoping to find a Whinchat along the edge of the Eye Field, but the best we could muster were several Pied Wagtails by the small pool.

Over the ridge in the Eye Field, we stopped to scan the reserve. It was a lovely view, and very pleasant with the light breeze in our faces. North Scrape is almost dry now, but we did pick up a Hobby out over the reedbed beyond, hawking back and forth low over the reeds for insects. On the walk back, a Wheatear had appeared on the shingle by the pill box with the Pied Wagtails now.

Wheatear – our second of the day, on the beach at Cley

A very distant Gannet was now offshore and we picked up a large flock of waders flying past. We could see the larger ones were Knot and presumably the smaller ones were Dunlin, but they were a long way out at first. The Knot continued on west, but the smaller waders started to zigzag inshore. They were indeed Dunlin but as they turned, we caught a flash of a couple of white rumps – it looked like there were a couple of Curlew Sandpipers in with them. But rather than continue coming in, they now carried on west.

We stopped for lunch in the car park, and afterwards headed round to Walsey Hills. There was no space and we had several cars behind us, so we drove on, turned round and came back on the right side of the round. Thankfully there were now a couple of parking spaces.

Three juvenile Little Grebes were on Snipes Marsh, one of which looked very ungainly as it climbed out onto the mud. We set off up the East Bank, where two adult Little Grebes kept surfacing in the thick weed on Don’s Pool. There were plenty of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine too, several Common Darters along path and a very obliging Migrant Hawker which landed in the vegetation beside us so we could get a closer look at it.

Migrant Hawker – landed in the vegetation beside the path

Scanning the mud of the Serpentine, we quickly picked out the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with several Redshanks. It was busy preening, and as it opened its wings we could see its white rump, as well as its long, downcurved bill.

Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile was still on the Serpentine

There was a single Common Snipe in the far corner too and a Green Sandpiper which was feeding along the near edge of the water and hard to see behind the low bank. A large flock of Curlew was sleeping in the grass beyond. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds further back still.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, there were just two Sandwich Terns out here today. More Curlew and Common Redshanks were scattered around. Several Shelducks were out here too – mostly juveniles, as the majority of the adults have gone off to moult in huge flocks on favoured estuaries, many to the Continent and the Waddensee. One or two adults are left behind to look after the young, and we picked out one here today, noticeably brighter and redder-billed than the juveniles.

There were obviously a couple of Gannets feeding just offshore here. We caught sight of a dark juvenile as it plunge-dived, then watched a sub-adult circle over the beach, before flying off east along the shingle ridge. Then it was back to the minibus and we drove back west to Stiffkey Fen to finish the afternoon.

A Chiffchaff was singing in the trees as we walked down along the permissive path, and several Blackcaps were in the trees down by the river. When we got to a spot where we could just about see through a gap in the vegetation to the Fen beyond, we could see a big gathering of large white shapes on one of the islands.

We counted at least 45 Spoonbills today – they were hard to count as some were sat down or hidden behind the others – and mixed in with lots of Little Egrets too. Viewing was rather restricted from here too. The Spoonbills were mostly asleep – as they normally are when they roost here over high tide. It won’t be long before they are heading off, so it is good to see such a large number still here today.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 45 today, mixed in with the Little Egrets

Continuing on, as we got up onto the seawall, a Greenshank flew in along the harbour channel below and over the bank towards the Fen. We could just see a few Little Egrets from here, and a single Spoonbill, as they were mostly hidden behind the reeds from here today. As the Fen has started to dry out, they have moved where they like to roost.

Beyond the Little Egrets, we picked up a Green Sandpiper in front of the reeds at the back with a couple of Ruff. From further along, we could see another Green Sandpiper in the corner over by the hide, along with seven Greenshanks and lots of Redshanks. A Knot was half hidden in amongst all the Black-headed Gulls on the shore of the island in the middle.

There were lots of moulting ducks, mainly Mallard, Wigeon and Teal, but we found several Pintail asleep in with them. The drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, but we did find one awake and swimming in the water, which showed off its still pointed tail as it upended.

Further along still, we looked back into the front corner. Five more Greenshanks were tucked in here and a single Gadwall was on the mud nearby. A Water Rail squealed from down in the reeds below us and we heard two or three Cetti’s Warblers singing while we stopped to scan the Fen.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was coming in quickly now. A Marsh Harrier flew across over the saltmarsh and disappeared up the harbour. Scanning the edges of the pit, we could see small groups of waders on the remaining shingle islands, more Knot, a few Turnstones and Oystercatchers. There was a lot of disturbance out in the harbour today, lots of people walking on the shore, lots of boats – a large flock of Oystercatchers and Knot flew up from where they had been trying to roost across and disappeared off towards Warham.

It was lovely standing here in the sunshine, looking out across the harbour towards the Point, quite a view. A Kingfisher shot past over the channel and disappeared off east. It was time to head back.

6th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk, our last day. The weather gods were still shining on us – it was a cloudy start, but with sunny intervals which increased into the afternoon, slightly chilly early on but warming up nicely.

The tide was not high enough for a full-on Wader Spectacular this morning, but it was almost there. Certainly enough to push all the waders right up against the saltmarsh, which should provide a pretty good spectacle anyway. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time for the tide. On the drive over, a Red Kite over the road eyeing up some roadkill was a new bird for the tour list.

We could see all the waders swirling around even before we got out to the seawall – something was stirring them up today. When we got out to the edge of the Wash, there was still quite a lot of exposed mud. A large slick of Oystercatchers was still smeared across the shore away to out right, up by the sailing club.

There were lots of smaller waders scattered around the small pools on the mud below us, lots of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a few Knot. One or two silvery-grey Sanderling were with them on the beach a little further along. Scanning through them, we found a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers out on the mud too. We got them in the scope – scaly backed, longer billed and clean white below compared to the nearby Dunlin, with a variable pale peachy wash across the breast.

The tide was coming in fast. The Oystercatchers were peeling off from the mud and flying past us, catching the low morning sun peeking through the clouds behind us. They landed again out on the mud higher up. The water was pushing the small waders up onto the beach in front of us too. Two Curlew Sandpipers dropped in and went straight to sleep in amongst the stones and samphire, with a third following them in shortly after.

Curlew Sandpipers – trying to roost on the beach below us

Eventually the rising tide pushed everything off the beach in front of us, so we made our way further down, towards Rotary Hide. More birds were flying in all the time from around the Wash. While we were watching all the mass of birds gathering on the mud, we noticed something coming in fast and low over the water, a Peregrine.

As the Peregrine got towards the mud, chaos erupted. All the Knot took to the sky at once, thousands of birds in a vast flock. They swirled round, twisting and turning, making different shapes like a fast-changing cloud. Always amazing to watch.

Waders – the Knot all take to the air as the Peregrine appears
Waders – thousands of birds in the flock head out over the water
Waders – the flock starts to twist and turn
Waders – making some amazing shapes, like a huge cloud
Waders – thousands of Knot, flying together in unison

The Peregrine seemed to have moved on, so after a while the Knot settled back down. The Oystercatchers had barely reacted and were now increasingly concentrated on the edge of the rapidly rising tide. We continued on further down, to the grass opposite the last remaining area of mud.

A sizeable flock of Knot was in front of the Oystercatchers, on the far side of the deep channel in front of us. Most were in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but there were still several sporting the remnants of their orange summer attire. There were quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too, and some of those were still in breeding plumage as well, the rusty orange colour of their underparts continuing down under their tails. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was standing in the water beyond, looking slightly lost.

We watched as the Knot and godwits were pushed in by the tide, walking up ahead of the rising water, increasingly squashing them into the mass of Oystercatchers behind.

Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

The Oystercatchers were on the move too – the whole flock seemed to be flowing slowly across the mud, away from the approaching water, as those on the edge walked further up, passing through other which were hoping the water wouldn’t reach them. The march of the Oystercatchers – one of the many favourite moments of the whole spectacle.

We thought there were quite a few waders on the mud in front of us, but there were thousands more further round the shore just out of view. All the waders were still jumpy. We could see a few raptors out over the saltmarsh beyond – Common Buzzards and one or two Marsh Harriers – but they were too far back to be causing any trouble.

Presumably the Peregrine was still in the area, because suddenly a vast flock of Knot erupted in the distance, from the next bay, beyond the line of saltmarsh at the back of the mud in front of us. It looked like a huge cloud and again we watched as it twisted and turned before settling back down out of view.

Waders – another vast flock of Knot came up from further round the shore

The waders closer to us kept flying up too, partly out of nervousness, partly as they shifted higher up ahead of the tide. Increasingly, the whole flock was packed into the last corner of remaining mud and then the tide started to slow and go slack. We could see more Sanderlings in with the other waders now, and a good number of Grey Plover, most still sporting their summer black faces and bellies, to a greater or lesser extent.

Waders – concentrated into the last remaining corner of the mud

We waited a short while to see if anything would spook the waders, but they increasingly settled down to roost. While most of the waders would stay out on the mud over high tide today, we had watched a few flying in to the pit, including the Curlew Sandpipers earlier. We decided to have a look in Shore Hide and see what was on there.

When we got into the hide, we immediately noticed a large white bird in with the Greylags just behind the island right in front. Despite it being asleep and not flashing its bill we could see it wasn’t one of the escaped domesticated white geese this time, but a lone Spoonbill. In the absence of any more of its kind it had obviously decided the geese were the next best thing. It did wake up briefly a couple of times, particularly when a Little Egret flew in calling and landed next to it briefly.

Spoonbill – roosting in front of Shore Hide with the Greylags

There were not so many waders on here today, with most of the birds staying out on the Wash. There were a few Oystercatchers which had come in, roosting on the shingle bank to the south of the hide. One of the low islands, furthest from the hide, was fairly full with all of the Black-tailed Godwits which seem to come in regardless and lots of Common Redshanks.

Out in the middle, more Greylags and Cormorants were roosting on the partly submerged lumps of concrete. Half hidden in amongst them we could see six or seven Spotted Redshanks, their usual favoured roosting spot. They were asleep, hiding their long, needle-fine bills, but they were noticeably paler than the Common Redshanks, more silvery grey above and whiter below.

Scanning one of the other low islands, we found another lone Spotted Redshank in with yet more Greylags. It had a noticeably limp, which was perhaps why it wasn’t roosting with the others. Initially it was awake, so this time we could see its distinctive bill, and the well-marked white supercilium extending over the bill and back to the eye, before it went to sleep. Through the scopes, we could also see it still had one or two black summer feathers which had not yet been moulted. A Turnstone and a single Dunlin appeared from between the geese and joined it.

There were several juvenile Common Terns still on the pit. At one point, an adult flew in and landed on the tern island with a large fish in its bill. It’s youngster had obviously gone elsewhere, as the adult perched on the edge calling for it for a while, before it flew off again still carrying the fish. A single eclipse drake Pintail out on the water was the only duck of note. A Common Sandpiper flew round calling, but we couldn’t see it.

It was well past high tide now, so we went back out to the edge of the Wash. The water was already starting to recede and the waders had started to spread out a little. We stood on the shore to watch. There was a trickle of hirundines, Swallows and Martins, making their way south and a single Common Swift, reminding us that it won’t be long now before they have all left us again for the winter.

Waders – starting to spread out as the tide recedes

Rather than walking down the mud to follow the tide, the flocks kept flying up and landing again nearer the edge of the water. It was quite impressive, but in the absence of the local Peregrine now they quickly settled back down again.

A lot of the Oystercatchers landed on the mud in front of where we were standing. Some groups of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and joined them, giving us a good close look at them through the scopes. One of the godwits was carrying a white leg flag and through the scope we could see it had the letters ‘CX’ on it. There is a very active ringing group on the Wash, and it was one of theirs – but it will be interesting to learn if it has been anywhere since it was ringed.

When the large group of birds in front of us took off and whirled round, it was particularly impressive, looking into a huge mass of Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – looking into the massive flock which took off in front of us

Even though it wasn’t one of the biggest tides today, we had still had a great morning and everyone agreed it was well worth the early start. We were heading for Titchwell next though and speaking to a couple of the volunteers at Snettisham we were told that the car park had filled up early yesterday, with half of it still closed off. We decided to head round now to try to make sure we didn’t get caught out.

When we got to Titchwell, we were glad we had gone early. There weren’t many spaces left and thankfully one of the volunteers was on hand in the car park to help us find somewhere to park. Thanks, Les!

We still had time before lunch, so we decided to head round along Fen Trail first, to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Little Grebe was diving continually in the water just below the screen. A couple of Tufted Ducks and Coot a little further back were new birds for the trip list. But otherwise there wasn’t much on here today.

The Autumn Trail is open at the moment, so we continued on round in that direction. There were lots of Bloody-nosed Beetles on the path (several of which were move to avoid them getting trodden on) and a couple of Common Darters basking on the hard surface. The hedges and Willow Wood were rather quiet, although it was the middle of the day now.

As we got to the end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back corner of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff, and a little group of Dunlin tucked into the far corner, along with a Grey Heron. An adult Spotted Redshank appeared, silver grey and white, before taking off and calling as it flew over the bank towards Brancaster.

Further out, in the middle of the Freshmarsh, we could see a bigger flock of waders – hundreds of godwits, both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed, and smaller numbers of Knot – despite it being well after high tide now. Smaller groups of Dunlin were scattered around the edges of the islands and in with them we found a party of five juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, as well as singles of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover. A single Common Snipe was half hidden in the behind the fence on the edge of Avocet Island.

When most of the waders took to the air, we looked across to see a Peregrine stooping at them. It was a young bird, inexperienced, and didn’t seem to know quite what to do. It circled up and then stooped again, but each time seemed to fail to find a possible target. When it circled up higher, we noticed a second falcon, much higher and more distant in the sky beyond and through the scopes we could see it was a Hobby.

Peregrine – repeatedly buzzing the waders on the Freshmarsh

The Peregrine had another swoop at the waders on the Freshmarsh, before drifting off west. As we followed it, it was joined by a second Peregrine, another juvenile and we watched the two of them head off towards Thornham. We turned our attention back to the Freshmarsh, but it wasn’t long before one of the Peregrines was back again and stirring things up again.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the watchpoint, but they didn’t show themselves. We decided to head back for lunch now, and looked up to see another Common Swift flew off west low over the reeds.

We had lunch back in the picnic area in the sunshine, with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies and Common Darters basking on the benches. Checking the news, we could see that the first Pink-footed Geese of the winter had returned this morning – small flocks had been seen over Titchwell earlier and further east to Holkham. It would prove to be a feature of the afternoon, with the first flock we saw coming over the car park as we packed away our lunch things.

Next, we headed back out along the main West Bank path. A stop at the Reedbed Pool added a couple of Common Pochard to the trip list. As we walked on towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling but despite it not being too windy the best we had were a couple of brief views as they flicked across between patches of reeds. A couple of Sedge Warblers were more obliging – one flyatching from the top of the reeds, the other way working its way round the edge of one of the pools.

As it was sunny, and the recent SW winds had dried out the mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further along. The big flock of godwits was still out in the middle and a quick count of the Bar-tailed Godwits suggested at least 450, a very good number for here. There were still a few Avocets out here too, in the deeper water further back. Two Golden Plover flew over high calling and dropped down to join the throng.

Waders – a large flock of Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits was on the Freshmarsh

Numbers of smaller waders appeared to have declined since earlier – perhaps not a surprise after the repeated attentions of the Peregrine. There was still a small group of Dunlin on the edge of the island in front of the godwits, but only two Curlew Sandpipers with them now. There had been a Little Stint here yesterday but there was no sign of it now, so we decided to continue out towards the beach.

Volunteer Marsh was quiet, apart from a couple of Curlews and some Redshanks on the banks of the channel at the far side, and there were more of the same, plus a Little Egret on the Tidal Pool. We continued on to the beach. There were quite a lot of people out here again today, and quite a few prams! With older children mostly heading back to school, the staycationer mix has shifted to families with younger offspring.

Despite the people, there were a few waders down on the mussel beds, Oystercatchers, a few Knot and Turnstones. As we stood and scanned, the godwits finally seemed to decide to come out from the Freshmarsh to feed and we watched groups of both species flying out across the beach. One of the Curlew Sandpipers flew out too, flashing its distinctive white rump.

Looking out to sea, we picked up a very distant group of Common Scoter flying across and when they landed on the sea in front of the wind turnbines we could see a line of several hundred already out there. Already returned from further north, they will now spend the winter off here or round to the mouth of the Wash. Otherwise, there were two or three Great Crested Grebes on the water closer in and one or two Gannets flying round right out on the horizon.

When we heard the distinctive yelping calls of Pink-footed Geese in the distance, we looked out to sea to see several flying in towards us, fresh arrivals here for the winter, fresh in from their breeding grounds in Iceland or possibly having stopped over night in Scotland on their way here. They were in several small groups rather than one skein, but we counted 45 in total.

It was time to start heading back – after an early start, we would have a slightly earlier finish today. We stopped again to scan the Freshmarsh, and the five Curlew Sandpipers had reappeared with more Dunlin. Two Little Ringed Plovers were now down on the mud on the edge of the reeds near Parrinder Hide. Further back, we could see a Spotted Redshank but not the pale silvery grey adult we had seen earlier – this time a dusky grey fresh juvenile.

Scanning the reeds over the other side, we found three Bearded Tits working their way along the edge just above the mud. We got them in the scopes for a closer look. A small party of Swallows and House Martins came across the Freshmarsh, a couple of the Swallows pausing just long enough to take a drink before continuing on their way west.

More yelping calls alerted us to another small skein of Pink-footed Geese coming in behind us over the saltmarsh. We watched as they flew high overhead and continued on east, presumably heading for their traditional roost site at Holkham.

Pink-footed Geese – one of several skeins we watched arriving

It was a nice way to end the tour – watching autumn migration in action, with birds arriving here, the changing of the seasons.

5th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly bright with some sunny intervals and although it clouded over for a bit around the middle of the day, the rain (which wasn’t in the forecast!) skirted round to the west and north of us. Another nice day to be out birding.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the permissive path beside the road, a Common Buzzard flapped up out of the copse ahead of us. As we got into the trees, a Chiffchaff was singing – not too unusual at this time of year, and possibly a young bird practicing.

There were more warblers in the trees down by the river, as we came across the back end of a mixed tit flock, Blackcaps, more Chiffchaffs and a brief Reed Warbler. Warblers will often join up with the roving tit flocks at this time of year. The flock was moving quickly through the trees and we tried to follow them. They crossed over to the Fen, where we caught them a couple of times through a gap in the vegetation and at one point we had several Long-tailed Tits feeding in one the sallows above us. A Bullfinch was piping plaintively further back.

It was quite breezy this morning, but sheltered down beside the river. There were lots of insects along here – several Speckled Woods and a smart orange Comma butterfly basking on the bushes. A couple of Migrant Hawkers were hawking back and forth across the path and one of two Common Darters were enjoying the sunshine on the vegetation.

Comma butterfly – basking on the bushes by the path

When we got to the point on the path where you can look across to the Fen beyond, we could see a sizeable collection of large white blobs over towards the far corner. Spoonbills! The vegetation is quite tall now though, so it is hard to see clearly from here, so we continued on and up onto the seawall. There were lots of Linnets and Goldfinches on the bushes as we walked out and looked back across the Fen.

We had a much better view of the Spoonbills from here, and we could see that there was indeed still a good number of them. Most were doing what Spoonbills seem to like to do best – sleeping – but one or two were preening and a juvenile was relentlessly pursuing an adult nearby, bobbing it head up and down and demanding to be fed. It was hard to get an accurate count with so many asleep in a tight bunch, but there were at least 44 Spoonbills here and probably a few more than that.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 44 still on the Fen today

The Spoonbills gather here at the end of the breeding season, with most of the birds probably coming from the breeding colony at Holkham. It has become quite a spectacle to see them at this time of year. They will be heading off south at some point this month, so it was good to find we hadn’t missed them yet.

Close to the Spoonbills, a group of pale looking waders were roosting in the shallow water, ten Greenshanks waiting out the high tide here. There was a big flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the island and a group of Common Redshanks over at the back. A scattering of Ruff were feeding on the muddy edges and scanning round the margins of the Fen, we found two Green Sandpipers. We walked a bit further up and looked back to the other side, which produced five more Greenshanks to add to the total.

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the Fen and plenty of ducks, mostly moulting Mallard, the drakes in drab eclipse plumage, but also with a few Wigeon and Teal. A small group of Shoveler were feeding, heads down, in the deeper water in the far corner.

Black-headed Gulls were coming and going, with a large group loafing on the islands and others preening in the shallow water. A single Common Gull in with them allowed a good opportunity to compare. A grey-winged male Marsh Harrier came up out of the reeds at the back and landed briefly in one of the trees.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was in. It was a big tide today too, so the saltmarsh was flooded with just the tops of the taller bushes poking out above the water. Two Kingfishers shot across, flashing electric blue, following the course of the channel before cutting across the saltmarsh towards the harbour.

There were a few more Redshank out here, and some Curlew out here, and we could see two Knot trying to roost on one of the shingle islands in the distance. There were lots of seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point, and we could even hear one barking at one point.

News came through that the Wryneck had been seen again at Weybourne Camp, so we decided to head over there and have a go for that, and we thought we might possibly pick up some things over the sea at the same time. We parked at Weybourne beach and walked west along the coast path. The sea looked disappointingly quiet, but as we got almost to the small group of people gathered staring over the fence across the Camp, we did come across a single Wheatear in the short grass.

Wheatear – feeding on the short grass on the edge of Weybourne Camp

There was no sign of the Wryneck and we were told it had not been seen for the last hour, but there were lots of other birds. Several Stonechats were flitting between the bushes and the short grass, including a couple of still streaky juveniles. One or two Common Whitethroats and a Lesser Whitethroat popped up out of the brambles from time to time.

A Guillemot was pulled out on the beach, lying on the shingle some distance above the receding tide now. It looked like it might be unwell, but could perhaps have just been resting.

Guillemot – pulled out on the beach at Weybourne

There had been a Spotted Flycatcher seen here earlier, and after a while it reappeared on the front edge of the pines, perching on a dead branch where we could get it in the scope. It kept flying off and coming back. There had apparently been a Pied Flycatcher seen on the Camp too this morning, but it is private land, fenced off with a particularly aggressive barbed wire fence, and the bird was not visible from the coast path.

Still, it all hinted that there were some migrants around today, which was supported by the Meadow Pipits which came in off the sea and or our heads, a couple of singletons and a small flock of seven, fresh arrivals coming in for the winter.

Then someone called that the Wryneck had appeared – it had flown up and was perched in some dead branches sticking out of one of the bramble clumps. We got it in one of the scopes quickly, and it stayed just long enough for most of the group to get a quick look, before it dropped down again. We waited a short while to see if it would reappear again, but it didn’t. Those who hadn’t seen it were not fussed about missing it, so we decided to move on. As we walked back along the coast path, a small flock of Knot flew past just offshore – more migrants on the move.

Knot – flew past offshore as we walked back

We drove round to the Visitor Centre at Cley to make use of the facilities and have our lunch on the picnic tables there. Scanning Pat’s Pool from the picnic area, we could see that the three juvenile Curlew Sandpipers we had seen yesterday were still present, albeit they were very distant from here.

After lunch, we could see some rather ominous dark clouds to the west and it was clearly raining offshore. It was forecast to remain dry here all day (not that this means anything!), and we figured the worst of the cloud should miss us, so we decided to head back to Kelling to walk down the lane to the coast. With some migrants around this morning, we hoped we might find something in the bushes here this afternoon.

It was rather cool in the lane with the grey cloud and the freshening breeze. There is normally a good selection of butterflies and dragonflies along here, but the only thing we came across today was a single Willow Emerald damselfly hanging on an overhanging wild rose branch. A single Chiffchaff hooeeted from the copse, but otherwise there were disappointingly few birds on the walk down.

Willow Emerald damselfly – hanging on a rose branch over the lane

There were a few ducks on the Water Meadow – Teal, Wigeon, Mallard – and a few gulls flying in and out from the water. The best birds on here today were two Little Grebes. Three Egyptian Geese flew over and landed on the Quags as we carried on along the cross-track.

The bushes above the track to the Hard produced just a single Stonechat and there was only one Pied Wagtail out on the short grass on the Quags. We walked a short way up the permissive path towards the gun emplacements, and stopped to scan the sea. Another Stonechat was in the bushes here but we couldn’t see anything passing offshore.

It was clear there were no migrants to be found here, so we decided to head back and try something different. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over and landed in the top of one of the trees by the school when we got back to the minibus.

It was a bit of a drive from here down to the Brecks, but when we got there we pulled off the road to scan a large area of pig fields. Almost as soon as we got out, we could see a Stone Curlew out in the middle. They can be remarkably well camouflaged down in the bare stony ground and there is restricted visibility from here, but the more we scanned, the more we found, until we could see at least six.

One Stone Curlew was not too far out, so we got it in the scope and had a closer look, its bright yellow iris, black-tipped yellow bill and rather knobbly yellow legs all helping to give it a rather prehistoric appearance.

Stone Curlew – one of six we could see from our first stop

The Brecks is the most important breeding area for Stone Curlews in the UK, and they traditionally gather together at the end of the breeding season, so it is another must see sight at this time of year. There was a Wheatear feeding out in the pig field here too.

Driving on, we scanned some other fields but couldn’t see any more Stone Curlews at first. Then we stopped at another gateway and scanned the pig fields from here more distantly. They were a long way off from here, but we counted another 15 Stone Curlews giving us over 20 in total, a respectable total, particularly given there are probably only just over 200 pairs in the Brecks.

There was a huge flock of sparrows feeding in the weedy vegetation on the front edge of the pig field. It was impossible to make out any detail when they were feeding down in the vegetation, and not much easier when they weren’t given the distance and a lot of shimmer coming off the stubble field in front. But when a small group of them flew across and landed in the top of a nearby bramble bush, we could make out several Tree Sparrows in with the fifteen or so birds in view. How many might there be in the whole flock?

It was unfortunately not quite as windy here – either the wind had dropped, or it was not as strong inland as on the coast – but we decided to have a quick look to see if there were any raptors up enjoying the breeze. We stopped somewhere with a good vista looking across the forest and got out to scan over the trees. All we could see from here were just one or two Common Buzzards.

We hadn’t been here very long when one of the group saw a large black bird flying over the field away to our right. A Raven? Unfortunately, it disappeared behind the trees just as the rest of us turned to look. We walked round and scanned the sky the other side and had another glimpse of it as it appeared to drop down to the fields beyond the next hedge. It did look like a Raven, so we hopped back in the bus quickly and drove back up the road.

Sure enough, there was the Raven in the field. We got it in the scope and could see its massive bill. At one point, it was harassed by a Carrion Crow, which looked tiny next to it. It was a nice bonus to end with – Ravens are spreading east but are still scarce birds in Norfolk. With a long drive back, we unfortunately had to call it a day.

4th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly cloudy, with a fresh SW breeze, but warm and most importantly it stayed dry for us, a nice day to be out again.

We started the day at Wells. As soon as we got out of the minibus, we could see Spoonbills at the back of the pool off to the right. There were seven of them at first – five were standing together in the water, mostly asleep (which is what Spoonbills generally seem to spend most of their time doing!), but two were awake. One was walking round after the other bobbing its head up and down – one of this year’s juveniles still begging its parent relentlessly to be fed.

Spoonbills – there were 10 on the way back

There was lots of wildfowl on the same pool too, masses of Greylag Geese with a good number of Canada and Egyptian Geese thrown in too. This is not the time of year to admire ducks, with the drakes currently in their drab eclipse plumage, but there were plenty of Wigeon and Teal, plus a few Shoveler and a single Pintail right over at the back.

We could see a good selection of waders too, with particularly good numbers of Ruff. A small group of juvenile Ruff, in shades of tawny, brown and buff, were feeding on a muddy pool close to the track a bit further up, whereas the grey and white adults were further out in the middle.

Across the other side of the track, the pool is slowly drying out and a Green Sandpiper was feeding out in the middle of the wet mud. We got it in the scope and a Wood Sandpiper appeared alongside, giving us a nice comparison. We could see the latter’s better-marked white supercilium and the more prominent pale spotting on its upperparts.

Wood Sandpiper – feeding out on the wet mud to the west of the track

A few Pheasants were in the field next to where we had parked, which had recently been cultivated. A Stock Dove flew in and landed with the Woodpigeons, giving us a nice side by side comparison.

As we set off down the track, we met someone coming back the other way who told us they had seen a Spotted Redshank on the pool earlier. We stopped for another scan, but couldn’t see it anywhere. Another Green Sandpiper was now down with the juvenile Ruff much closer to us now. A Marsh Harrier was down in the grass at the back of the pool, which we got in the scopes as it had a quick fly around. The Spoonbills had multiplied too, up to ten now.

As we started walking again, the Spotted Redshank flew up from behind the vegetation at the far side, alerting us with its distinctive ringing ‘tchewitt’ call. It flew across the track ahead of us, showing off the ‘cigar’ of white up its back, and lack of white in the wing versus its commoner cousin. We could see it was a dusky grey juvenile as it dropped down behind the vegetation along the channel the other side. From further up, we could only just see it through the tall grass.

Continuing on past the pools, we came out into the area of open bushes beyond. There were lots of small birds flitting about here, with a nice selection of warblers including several Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and one or two Lesser Whitethroats. A Reed Warbler called from the reeds behind us and another appeared in the bottom of the bushes.

We could hear Greenfinches and one or two Chaffinches calling and lots of Goldfinches which kept flying back and forth between the bushes. Round by the seawall, there were several Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers in with them too. One or two of the latter perched up on top long enough for us to get a better look at them.

Yellowhammer – there were several in the bushes beyond the pools

Peering over the reeds towards the westernmost pool, a Kingfisher shot past over the ditch in front of us in a flash of electric blue. We could see more waders on the pool here. A couple of Common Snipe were tucked under the vegetation on the bank at the back, and two Common Sandpipers were running around on the mud. A Greenshank was asleep in the far corner with yet another Green Sandpiper working its way along the bank beyond.

Lots of Black-headed Gulls were dropping in to the shallow water to drink and preen. Scanning across through them, we noticed one with pure white wing tips, not black like the Black-headed Gulls. When it turned round, we could see it had a heavier, brighter red bill too, and a more of a black bandit mask rather than a distinct black spot behind the eye. It was an adult Mediterranean Gull in non-breeding plumage, already having moulted out its summer black hood.

Mediterranean Gull – an adult in non-breeding plumage

From up on the seawall, we had a wider view of more of the pool. From here, we could get a better look at the plovers which had appeared from behind the grass at the back. Three Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud alongside two Ringed Plovers, the latter distinctly larger, and bigger-headed with more distinct black and white rings round. There were three Dunlin with them too.

From up on the seawall, it was high tide out in the harbour. We could see a few Curlew, Redshanks and Oystercatchers roosting out in the vegetation on the saltmarsh. A Common Sandpiper flew over the water and landed on the support of an old bridge which has long since washed away. A couple of Common Buzzards circled high out towards the beach and drifted off west, and a distant Marsh Harrier was hunting the dunes.

There were a few hirundines on the move this morning, small groups making their way west, mainly Swallows and House Martins. A group of Swallows stopped to hawk over the grassy fields beyond the pools for a while. We picked up a couple of Common Swifts on their way west too. Most of them have already left us, and there are just a few stragglers still making their way off, reminding us that summer is over.

There had apparently been a Whinchat in the bushes earlier, but scanning from the seawall still didn’t reveal it, just more of the same warblers, finches and buntings which we had seen earlier. A couple of young Kestrels were feeding down in the grass in one of the fields.

We started to make our way back round. We climbed up onto the bank overlooking the pool west of the track to see if we could see the Spotted Redshank again, but it was looking nervous already as a skein of Greylags flew over honking noisily and it flew up calling, circled round over the mud and then disappeared further up behind the reeds.

Spotted Redshank – this dusky juvenile was feeding on the pools

As we continued back to the track, a Great White Egret flew over in front of us. We could see its long dagger-like yellow bill and long black legs and feet trailing behind, and we watched as it dropped down in the reeds at the back of the pool behind the Spoonbills.

Back at the minibus, we stopped quickly to scan the fields. A couple of small birds on the fence halfway across the field were Whinchats. We got the scopes on them and realised there were actually four of them, and they kept dropping down to the ground beyond before coming back up. We could see their pale peachy-orange breasts and well-marked pale superciliums. Migrants stopping off here to feed on their way south to spend the winter in Africa.

Our next destination was Cley. We stopped at the Visitor Centre car park to use the facilities and scan Pat’s Pool from the picnic area. Even though it was distant, we picked up a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpiper from here. One was feeding in the shallow water with a couple of Dunlin, in and out of the roosting ducks and Lapwings. A larger flock of Dunlin were in the water beyond.

Most of the hides on the reserve remain closed still but Bishop Hide has finally been opened at least, so we decided to head down to try for a closer look. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds as we walked along the Skirts path. When we turned onto the bridge across the ditch, a couple of people were photographing something down below, so we stopped to look. A Water Vole was busy munching on water lily leaves just a couple of metres away, completely unconcerned at all the attention it was attracting.

Water Vole – feeding just below the bridge on the way to Bishop Hide

Thankfully the hide was fairly empty, so masks on and no problem with social distancing to worry about. We couldn’t see any sign of the Curlew Sandpipers where they had been, although most of the Dunlin were now feeding behind the island where we couldn’t see them. There were lots of Lapwings, several Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, and two Avocets still, all out in view.

We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times from the reeds in front of the hide, but they were keeping well hidden in the breeze today. Amongst the ducks scattered around, several Gadwall were a new addition to the list.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long for the Curlew Sandpipers to reappear, three of them now, all juveniles. They were busy feeding around the clumps of mud at the back of one of the lower islands. Through the scopes, we could see their longish, decurved bills, pale peachy washed breasts, clear white underparts and neat scaly brown upperparts. Noticeably different to the Dunlin, when you got your eye in.

Curlew Sandpiper – one of three juveniles on Pat’s Pool

Curlew Sandpipers breed way up in Central Siberia and winter in Africa. The adults migrate earlier and mostly take a more direct route overland, but many of the juveniles take a more coastal route which brings them to us at this time of year. Amazing to think of the journey these young birds were making, without any input from the adults.

Having had a good look at the Curlew Sandpipers, we decided to make our way back to the Visitor Centre for lunch. On the way back along the path, a tiny Harvest Mouse shot across in front of us and disappeared into the grass the other side.

After lunch, we drove the short distance along to Walsey Hills. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Little Grebes were continually diving in the water on Snipe’s Marsh and two Green Sandpipers were feeding on the mud beyond, in front of the reeds. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling from over towards North Foreland Wood and we looked over at a dead tree on the front edge to see it perched towards the top.

Making our way up along the East Bank, another Little Grebe, an adult this time, was down on Don’s Pool. There were a few Dunlin on the Serpentine and a single Redshank, with a large group of Curlew mostly asleep in the grass beyond.

Suddenly the Curlew all took to the air, calling, and we turned to see a falcon chasing after a small wader in front of Arnold’s Marsh, a Hobby! The Hobby, a young bird and inexperienced, was shaken off by its target fairly quickly. It turned and came fast and low across the grass the other side of the Serpentine, and disappeared inland past us.

Hobby – chasing waders over Arnold’s, then turned and flew off inland

From the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh, we could see lots more Dunlin out in the water. They were very nervous after the Hobby had been through and flew up and whirled round a couple of times. A flash of a white rump in amongst them alerted us to a Curlew Sandpiper and when they finally settled down we could see it through the scopes. Otherwise, there were more Curlew and Redshank here.

A large mob of Sandwich Terns were roosting and preening around a couple of the low shingle islands in the middle, and kept spooking and flying up noisily too. A single Common Tern was in with then initially before deciding to socially isolate on an island of its own. It won’t be long now before all the terns will be leaving us and heading south to warmer climes for the winter.

Sandwich Terns – a large mob were roosting on Arnold’s Marsh

Out at the beach, more Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore. We picked up a few very distant Gannets and one or two Cormorants, but couldn’t see anything else on the sea today. However, a small flock of fifteen Knot did fly past just offshore, presumably migrants just arriving, probably heading for the Wash.

Back at Snipe’s Marsh, a Common Sandpiper had now appeared with the Green Sandpipers. A Wryneck had been reported at Weybourne again this afternoon, but by the sounds of things was very elusive – we didn’t have time to try now, one for tomorrow perhaps. We decided to try instead for the Little Stint which had apparently been reported on North Scrape earlier.

There had been a few Wheatears and Whinchats around Eye Field earlier, but we couldn’t see any from the beach car park. As we walked along the beach towards North Scrape, we came across a couple of people staring into the weedy vegetation on the shingle. They told us that a Wheatear had been seen in here, but they couldn’t find it. It was actually out on the stones just a couple of metres from them! Very tame, we had a great view of it before it disappeared back into the vegetation.

Wheatear – feeding out on the shingle on the beach at Cley

Further on, we came across some Whinchats and another Wheatear along the Eye Field fence. They kept flying on a short distance ahead of us and by the end of the field we had amassed four Whinchats in total. They eventually moved over into the vegetation on the shingle and perched on the tops eyeing us as we passed.

Whinchat – one of four along the edge of Eye Field, giving us a hard stare

Some movement down in the vegetation on the shingle ahead of us caught our eye and we caught the back end of a family of Weasels as they scuttled into cover.

There was no sign of the Little Stint on North Scrape, but there were lots of Dunlin, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, a single Greenshank down at the front and a lone Knot. While we were scanning the mud, we heard Whimbrel calling behind us and turned to see three flying in off the sea. They flew in over North Scrape, then turned and flew back out to the sea again, before flying back in once more.

It was time to start heading back now. We had seen a huge group of Red-legged Partridges in a stubble field way off inland as we were sitting at North Scrape – released en masse for shorting. Then as we walked back past Eye Field, a covey of Grey Partridge flew up from the grass close to the fence.

When we heard Whimbrel calling again, we looked over to see three flying in off the sea – hard to tell if they were new birds coming in or the same three we had seen earlier which had for some strange reason gone back out to sea. However, the two Gadwall we picked up coming in over the sea from some way out were certainly fresh arrivals, probably coming in from the continent for the winter.

Always great to see migration in action and a nice way to wrap up our first day.

23rd Aug 2020 – Back to Work, Wader Spectacular

After over 5 months of no tours due to Covid, it was good to get out with a small group again today – socially distanced and with due precautions of course. Tours from now on will operate as scheduled, but with reduced group sizes for the time being, so if you do want to come out with us in the coming months, please do get in touch.

A Wader Spectacular today, it was an early start to get up to the Wash ahead of the rising tide. We were blessed with good weather, a bit breezy first thing, but dry and bright with some sunny intervals, especially early afternoon.

The journey over to Snettisham out out to the edge of the Wash was uneventful. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was just coming in and a big expanse of mud still stretched off into the distance ahead of us. There was a large gathering of waders up to the north of us still, a big black slick of Oystercatchers, surrounded by Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A selection of smaller waders was down on the near edge of the mud below us, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Turnstones. A colour-ringed Curlew appeared with them, but flew again before we could read the code.

Oystercatchers 1

Oystercatchers – flying past, away from the rising tide

The water was coming in fast across the flats, and as it reached them the Oystercatchers and other waders started to take off, flying past us in long lines low. They headed out over the water before landing again in the middle of the still exposed mud to the south. Further out, a large flock of smaller waders whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light, and we looked up to see another mass of waders high overhead. Thousands of Golden Plovers, unlike the others, they feed in the fields and just go out onto the mud of the Wash as a safe place to roost.

In no time at all, all the mud in front of us had disappeared. We made our way further down along the seawall, passing several Sanderlings on the shingle below the bank on the way. The water had caught up with the mass of Oystercatchers again, and we watched for a while as they walked slowly across the mud, away from the rising tide. From a distance, it looked like the whole mass was a flowing liquid. Then we had to move further up still to keep ahead of the rapidly rising tide.

Oystercatchers 2

Oystercatchers – walking up the mud ahead of the tide

The Oystercatchers started to peel off, flying in past us in long lines, calling noisily, heading for the pit behind us to roost. There was still a bit of mud left uncovered and we could see lots of Curlews in the far corner, gathered on the dry mud on the edge of the saltmarsh. There was still no sign of the vast flocks of Knot gathering here, but we could see some smaller groups flying up occasionally further out, round the edge of the Wash – we figured the vast hordes were still gathered further out along the shore, out of sight.

We were still watching the Oystercatchers when a huge cloud appeared out in the distance. It looked like smoke at first, but as it came a little closer we could see it was tens of thousands of birds, mainly the Knot that we had been waiting for. Rather than landing on the remaining arc of mud closer to us, the birds decided to make an early beeline for the pits today and we stood in awe as they came overhead in waves, thousands, tens of thousands at time.

Waders 1

Waders – thousands of Knot coming in off the Wash

Waders 2

Waders – thousands of birds coming right overhead

We turned and watched the birds swirling over the pit behind us, the skies now chock full of birds. They were nervous – some started to drop down to roost, while others towered back up and turned into the wind, heading back out towards the Wash. More Knot were still flying in above us, coming in underneath the flocks which had turned back and were now high in the sky, layers of thousands of birds moving in different directions. We could hear the beating of thousands of pairs of wings over the wind – mesmerising!

Waders 3

Waders – thousands of Knot swirling over the pit

Some of the Knot landed back out on the Wash on the remaining mud, huddled in the last corner. We stood and waited and it wasn’t long before the rising tide eventually forced them off too, wave after wave, in overhead and down onto the pit. Then we turned and headed down to South Hide.

Waders 4

Waders – another wave, taking off from the Wash

Waders 5

Waders – thousands more, making their way in over our heads

The small temporary hide was rather busy today, so we waited outside. Thankfully it didn’t take long before enough people had left and we could get in (socially distanced, and wearing the required face coverings, of course). There was an impressive gathering of Knot on the islands in front of the hide, packed in tight shoulder to shoulder, still jostling nervously. Some still wearing the remains of their orange breeding plumage, but others already moulted into grey winter dress.

Knot

Knot – packed in shoulder to shoulder on the islands

Lots of Dunlin were gathered along the front of the hordes, in front of the Knot, many still sporting their black belly patches. Scanning through carefully, tucked in amongst them, we could see one which looked different, slightly larger, longer-billed, more neatly scaled on the back, and peachy buff on the breast, with a clean white belly. It was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, on its way from the breeding grounds way up in Central Siberia to spend the winter in Africa. Travelling on its own, its parents having left several weeks before, an impressive feat of hard-wired navigation. It was busy preening, and when it opened its wings we could see its distinctive white rump. When the crowd shuffled, it disappeared back into the throng.

Curlew Sandpiper 1

Curlew Sandpiper – showing its white rump, as it preened

The pit was covered in birds. The flatter islands were covered in Knot and Dunlin and the gravelly banks on the sides of the pit were covered in Oystercatchers, with Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks packed in along the shore below. There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here at this time of year, and we eventually found them out in the middle, roosting in the rocks in amongst the Cormorants and geese, rather distant from this end. A Moorhen with a brood of five small chicks worked its way round the edge of the pool below the hide and a Brown Hare ran across the grassy bank beyond.

Shore Hide looked emptier now, so we made our way back round. As we walked out beyond the boardwalk, a Common Swift flew past, heading south along the edge of the Wash. Many have left already, heading back to Africa after the breeding season, and just a few stragglers remain. A reminder that summer is almost over. A couple of Yellow Wagtails called and there were a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the grass as we passed.

There were a few terns on the small island in front of Shore Hide, mainly Common Terns, a mixture of adults and juveniles waiting for their parents to come back in from fishing out on the Wash, to be fed. Just a single Little Tern was in with them at first, smaller, yellow-billed and with a distinctive triangular white forehead patch. As we watched, more appeared, and by the time we left there were six Little Terns, including two juveniles. We later heard there had been quite a movement of Little Terns along the coast today.

Terns

Little Terns – in with the Common Terns in front of Shore Hide

There were a few waders at the back of the island, Black-tailed Godwits, plus Common Redshanks and a handful of Knot in with them. We had a better view of the Spotted Redshanks from here too, out in the middle, already in their silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. Mostly asleep, occasionally one would wake up briefly and flash its long needle-tipped bill. A scan with the scope of the mass of Knot and Dunlin gathered on the islands further out produced a brief view of a Little Stint, but unfortunately it disappeared back into the masses as quickly as it appeared, before anyone could get a look at it. A Common Sandpiper flew past calling.

The waders were already starting to shift nervously now, so we made our way back out to the edge of the Wash. Even as we walked out of the hide, a large flock of Knot took off behind us and headed low over the bank and back out over the water. Even though it was almost an hour after high tide, there was still no exposed mud though – possibly the rather fresh west wind was holding up the tide this morning. The Knot turned round and headed back into the pit, presumably telling the others there was still time to wait yet.

Scanning out across the water, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards and Kestrels on the posts out on the saltmarsh in the distance. Gradually the mud started to reappear and the Oystercatchers started to fly back out in lines, landing in the shallow water. The Curlews started to reappear from where they had roosted on the saltmarsh, and were joined by a long line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers, the latter still with their summer black faces and bellies.

The Knot were slow to leave the pit today but eventually the first wave erupted, coming up low over the bank, over our heads and out low over the water. Presumably because that wave didn’t return, after a while another mass then came up from the south end of the pit, the ones we had been watching from South Hide earlier, a long line of thousands and thousands of birds. A third wave came up from behind us and back out low over our heads, to the sound of thousands of pairs of wings beating – very impressive again.

Waders 6

Knot – thousands of birds heading back out to the Wash

Waders 7

Knot – an amazing spectacle, as they fly back out low overhead

As more mud appeared, some terns and gulls appeared out on the Wash – including a Sandwich Tern and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. There was still one island full of Knot left on the pit behind us, despite the vast numbers we had already watched fly back out to the Wash, but they were showing no signs of shifting. We decided to start making our ways back and it want until we were back past Rotary Hide that they flew back out behind us.

We made our way round to Titchwell next, but struggled to find anywhere to park at first. Half the car park is still closed off, as part of Covid measures, but with much higher numbers of staycationing visitors here this year, with correspondingly more beachgoers and dogwalkers wanting to park, it is resulting in a major squeeze in parking spaces. Hopefully at some point soon, the rest of the car park will be opened. While the group went off to the picnic area for lunch, eventually a space was secured.

We ate our lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area. Several Common Darters and a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies were basking on the benches in the sun. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling in the sallows. After a break, we headed out to the reserve, past the Visitor Centre and out along the main West Bank path.

As we got out of the trees, we could feel the wind had dropped and it was very pleasant out on the path now. A Marsh Harrier flew in over the saltmarsh from the direction of Thornham, flushing a few Curlew and Lapwing. Two bright white Little Egrets stood out in the vegetation.

We stopped to look at the reedbed pool, which held a few Gadwall, Mallard and Coot. A pair of Mute Swans were in the channel just beyond. We had started to walk on, when we looked back to see a Great White Egret dropping into the reeds at the back.

Out at the Freshmarsh, we stayed out in the sunshine and scanned from the bank. After the blustery westerly winds of the last few days, the water had been blown back and the mud closest to us was getting rather dry. Still, there were a few Ruff feeding below us along the edge of the reeds, a tawny brown juvenile and a very different-looking adult, paler, white below and grey above.

Ruff

Ruff – a grey and white adult feeding on the mud below the bank

There were several little groups of Dunlin scattered around the edges of the islands and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper loosely associating with one of them, although it seemed to prefer to feed on its own on the mud closer to the path.

Curlew Sandpiper 2

Curlew Sandpiper – our second juvenile of the day, feeding on the Freshmarsh

Five large white shapes on one of the islands further back were Spoonbills, and doing what they like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally one would wake up briefly, just long enough to flash its long spoon-shaped bill – we could see a mixture of juveniles, with fleshy bills and at least one adult, with a yellow-tipped black bill. A few Golden Plover were in with the moulting ducks nearby. There were still plenty of Avocets scattered around too.

The Great White Egret appeared above the reeds before dropping back down again. Then the next time it flew up it came out and landed in the open on the mud. It didn’t stay long though, and flew straight back towards the reedbed pool. We could easily have spent the whole afternoon here, but we didn’t have much time so we decided to walk on towards the beach.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh – a few Redshank and Curlew in the channel at the far end and a Little Egret fishing in the water on the corner, occasionally lifting its yellow feet out so we could see them. The Tidal Pools were still rather full, despite the tide being out now – they don’t seem to be draining freely again.

We were looking out over the water when one of the group spotted a Wheatear on a post behind us. It dropped down to feed on the dead vegetation washed in by the tide, before flying back up to the post flashing its white rump and then posing nicely for us. A migrant on its way south, just stopping off here. A flock of Linnets perched in the top of the suaeda nearby.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a fresh migrant, feeding on the saltmarsh by the Tidal Pools

It was time to head back. As we walked past the Freshmarsh, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but they remained tucked down out of sight in the reeds, presumably working their way along the the muddy edge right at the bottom. A Reed Bunting was more obliging and perched up in the tops. Back at the reedbed pool, the Great White Egret was just visible, standing stock still, fishing, just behind the reeds at the front. We had a better view of its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing in the Reedbed Pool, close to the main path

It had been a great day – the amazing spectacle of the waders on the Wash and a very pleasant couple of hours at Titchwell afterwards. A perfect way to restart the Autumn Tours.

 

21st Sept 2019 – Autumn Migration, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Migration tour today. It was another sunny day, with wall to wall blue skies. It was warm too, up to 22C in the afternoon, but there was a rather nagging blustery ESE wind which possibly kept some of the smaller birds tucked down today.

We started the day at Wells. As we got out of the minibus, the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret out in the grass to the left of the track. It was obviously big, with a long snake-like neck. It flew across to the back of the pool and started working its way along the edge. Through the scope, we could see its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret 1

Great White Egret – feeding along the back edge of the pool

We scanned the pool to the east. We were looking into the light, but we could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits gathered in the water over towards the back. Several Ruff were feeding on the muddy edges of the water.

There were lots of ducks too, mainly Wigeon and Teal returned for the winter, sleeping in the shallow water. Two Pintail were swimming nearby. The drakes are still in their drab eclipse plumage, lacking the very long pin-shaped tail feathers, but Pintail still show a rather pointed tail in other plumages which is noticeable even at a distance, as well as an elegant silhouette.

There were hundreds of geese in the stubble fields beyond the pools, in front of us and away to the east. From here, we could see mostly Greylags but small groups of Pink-footed Geese kept flying in from the west and dropping down out of sight. It was only later we would see how many Pink-footed Geese were really feeding there.

As we walked down along the track, a Grey Heron flew in across the pool off to the right. It crossed the track and flew straight over towards the Great White Egret, which was still making its way along the edge the other side. As the Grey Heron swept down at it, the Great White Egret took off and flew away towards the saltmarsh. The Grey Heron took over feeding along the back edge.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – chased off by a Grey Heron

The bushes beyond the pools have been good for warblers in recent weeks, so we carried on down the track to take a look. They were ringing in the bushes today, and the nets were up, so there was quite a bit of disturbance. The wind didn’t help our search either. We heard one or two Chiffchaffs, a couple of Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat calling from deep in the bushes as we walked round. A small group of Greenfinches flew out calling, and we found a few Blue Tits.

Over towards the western edge, where it was a bit quieter and a bit more sheltered we managed to find a few more birds. There were lots of Goldfinches in the hawthorns together with a couple of Reed Buntings. Two male Blackcaps appeared in the brambles and we were able to get a good look at them feeding there in the scope.

From up on the seawall, we scanned the saltmarsh out towards Wells harbour. There were a few Oystercatchers and Redshanks on the mud, and Curlews well camouflaged in the vegetation. A flock of Linnets whirled round and dropped back down onto the saltmarsh. A Swallow flew past – a migrant on its way to Africa for the winter.

We had a look at the westernmost pool from up on the bank. There were plenty of Teal asleep in the short grass, along with a few Mallard, and yet more Greylags. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding in the mud. A Common Buzzard was perched on a bush over the back.

As we started to make our way back, several thousand geese came up from the stubble fields away to the east. They were mostly Pink-footed Geese – we could hear their yelping calls. Most flew up and headed out towards the saltmarsh, but a few circled round above us. The Greylags came up from the fields too, but flew over much lower and dropped down on the pools.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – thousands flew up from the stubble fields

A Jay flew in determinedly from the east and we watched it disappear west all the way to Wells. Then as we walked back up the track past the pools, we looked across to see another flock of at least eight Jays come out of Wells and disappear inland over the ridge behind the town. They were on the move again today. Almost back to the minibus, a  Yellowhammer came up in the bushes by the track. It flew over and landed in the top of a hawthorn, where we could get it in the scope.

We made our way east along the coast road to Cley next. We parked by Walsey Hills and had a quick walk in along the footpath to see if we could find any migrants in the trees. Even though it was a bit more sheltered in here, it was fairly quiet apart from the hum of bees around the ivy flowers. There were a few Blue Tits and a Great Tit around the feeders, and a brown-headed young Blackcap in the bushes. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the willows at the back. We heard a Rook calling and looked up to see it chasing a Kestrel high overhead in the blue sky, in an aerial duel that still seemed to be ongoing when we looked up again a few minutes later.

Across the road, we made our way up along the East Bank. There were a couple of Little Grebes on Don’s Pool, diving in the blanket weed. Several Common Darters were basking on the path ahead of us, sheltered from the wind by the taller vegetation along the edges. With the wind blowing the reeds about there was no sign of anything out in the reedbed today.

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking on the East Bank path

The grazing meadows are looking very dry now, and the three Grey Herons and two Little Egrets were gathered by one of the main ditches across the middle which still has water in it. Whether it was the cattle standing around the Serpentine, of the fact that it too is now starting to dry out, there were no waders at all on here today. There were lots of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits running around on the dried mud around the cows’ feet. A single Wheatear was on the top of the bank at the back of the Serpentine – another migrant stopping off on its way south.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, there were still four Sandwich Terns on one of small islands towards the back. There had been a couple of Curlew Sandpipers out here recently, but there was no sign today, just three Dunlin, as well as several Redshanks and a few Curlew. Lots of Cormorants had come in from the sea to loaf and dry their wings.

When we got out to the beach, we could see one or two Gannets passing by offshore. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew past distantly, before someone picked up one on the sea closer in. It was an adult still in breeding plumage, and it was just possible to see its red throat when it turned and caught the light. A second Red-throated Diver was also on the sea further over, and a Guillemot zipped past in a whirr of wings.

As we turned to walk back, we spotted another Wheatear on the shingle beyond the fence behind us. We watched it through the scope before it flew and dropped over the edge out of view. As we got back towards the road, a rather tatty Red Kite was hanging in the wind over North Foreland wood.

Red Kite

Red Kite – hanging in the wind over North Foreland wood

We stopped for lunch back at the Visitor Centre and took the opportunity to look at the Bird Photographer of the Year exhibition in the education centre. After lunch, we decided to have a look out from the hides.

There had been a couple of things reported on Simmond’s Scrape this morning, so we headed out to Dauke’s Hide first. As we walked in, we could see a Green Sandpiper feeding on the mud right in front. A great view and a new wader for the trip list.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – feeding in front of Dauke’s Hide when we arrived

There were lots of Dunlin scattered around the scrape busy feeding, so we started to look through them to see if we could find the Curlew Sandpiper. But before we could, something spooked them and they all flew off.

A dusky grey juvenile Spotted Redshank was feeding in the far corner and when it came out into the water where we could see it, we got a good look through the scope at its long dagger-shaped bill, and could even see the small downward tweaked tip.

Twenty juvenile Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with a flock of about thirty Curlews, possibly fresh arrivals back from the continent for the winter. We got the scope on some Black-tailed Godwits which were out on Pat’s Pool to compare, much plainer grey-brown backed now in non-breeding plumage. Two Greenshank flew in calling, and landed on the near edge of Pat’s Pool too.

Greenshanks

Greenshanks – flew in calling and landed on Pat’s Pool

We could see all the Dunlin were round on the other scrape too now, so we walked round to Teal Hide to have another go at finding the Curlew Sandpiper. The Dunlin were all feeding along the back edge against the reeds, and scanning through carefully we quickly found the Curlew Sandpiper with them. But before we could all get a look at it through the scope, the birds all spooked again and we watched as they flew back over to Simmond’s Scrape.

We followed them, back to Dauke’s Hide, and this time we managed to get good prolonged view of the Curlew Sandpiper feeding along the back edge. It was feeding with the Dunlin at times, so we could see it was a little bigger, with a slightly longer bill. It was a juvenile, white on the belly, with a peachy wash on the breast and scaly back. Amazing to think that it was born this summer right up in central Siberia and is making its own way down to Africa.

The two Greenshank were on here too now, and the Spotted Redshanks had multipled. One juvenile was feeding with a Common Redshank at the back, but the original bird was now making its way along the edge of the scrape towards us, much closer than it had been.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two juveniles on Simmond’s Scrape

A Kingfisher shot in over the water, turned over the ditch and flew across right in front of the hide. If you weren’t quick, you missed it, but the Kingfisher then helpfully flew back the other way, looped round over the scrape and did a third pass right in front in a flash of electric blue.

As we made our way back to the car park, we could hear a Grey Partridge calling from somewhere out on the grazing marsh, behind the reeds. One of the highlights of this time of year is the autumn gathering of Stone Curlews down in the Brecks, and it seemed a good opportunity to escape the breezy conditions on the coast and head inland to see if we could find them.

It is a bit of a drive down to the Brecks, but everyone agreed it was well worth it. As soon as we got out of the minibus, we could see one Stone Curlew out in the bare field ahead of us. It was settled down just over a ridge initially – we could still see its head and back, its bright yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill. It stood up and walked a short distance across the field – the light was perfect, low behind us, and its yellow legs shone in the sunshine.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of at least twenty we could see today

Scanning the field, we realised we could see more Stone Curlews further back, mostly settled down behind clumps of vegetation or small banks of earth. The more we looked, the more we found. Three more Stone Curlews flew in and landed out in the middle. Another four ran out from where they were hidden and joined the first one we had seen. There were at least twenty we had seen now and probably many more hidden where we still couldn’t see them. But we had great views of the nearer ones!

A Tree Sparrow was calling from the thick hedge away along the edge of the field, but we couldn’t see it. Six Common Buzzards circled up over the trees at the back, and two Red Kites closer to us. It was a great way to end the day, with the Stone Curlews becoming more active the later it got, but we had to tear ourselves away and head back.

8th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. The wind had dropped after yesterday and after a cloudy start, there were lots of bright sunny intervals and it even warmed up nicely by the afternoon.

With a light easterly wind over southern Norway overnight, and northerlies still to bring birds in to the North Norfolk coast, we thought it worth a look to see if we could find any drift migrants carried across the North Sea. We headed down to Wells Woods first thing. There were several Little Grebes out on the boating lake as we walked in along the track. It sounded like they were laughing at us – did they know something we didn’t?

A Chiffchaff flitted ahead of us and perched in the top of a hawthorn and a Blackcap was hopping around in a dense patch of brambles, feeding on the berries. But both were more likely local birds than migrants. As we walked into the birches it seemed rather quiet, there were just a few Coal Tits calling from the trees. We walked round the Dell, hoping to run into one of the tit flocks, but there was nothing here.We stopped to watch a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers high in the pines.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – we stopped to watch a pair high in the pines

So we changed tack and walked across the main track to check out the bushes the other side. There were a couple of Greenfinches in the trees, a Jay appeared briefly in a pine and a couple of Muntjacs were out on the grazing marshes beyond. Not what we were hoping to find. As we walked back through the birches, we heard the yelping calls of a flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over behind us.

We walked back along the main track but thought we would cut through round the east side of the Dell just in case we could find a tit flock here. There were just a couple of Chiffchaff and Blackcap calling at first, but when we got back to the birches by the toilet block we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. Suddenly we were surrounded by so many birds, we didn’t know where to look!

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the tit flock

As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue and Great Tits and several Coal Tits, feeding actively in the trees all around us. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around in the branches of the big old pine tree above us and higher up, a Treecreeper worked its way up the trunk. A Green Woodpecker called and flew past through the tops.

There were warblers with them, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Then we caught a glimpse of a different warbler high up in one of the birch trees. It was greenish above with a yellow wash on its throat, and plain faced, lacking the distinct supercilium of the Chiffchaffs, with rather a beady dark eye as a result. It was a bit bigger too, and moved more heavily through the foliage.

The warbler kept disappearing into the leaves and a couple of times we thought it had possibly moved off, before it reappeared again. Gradually, over several minutes, we built up a composite picture of it. It had a distinct pale panel in the secondaries when we could see its wings and, viewed from underneath, it seemed to have a rather broad bill with an bright orange base. It was obviously one of the Hippolais warblers, with Icterine Warbler far and away the most likely here, particularly given the conditions. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to tell apart from the very similar Melodious Warbler and we just couldn’t the primary projection, the clinching identification criteria.

As the tit flock moved back through the trees away from us, the warbler did finally disappear. We thought it might have gone with the tits, so we set off after them. It was hard to see the birds deep in the birches but eventually the flock came out onto the edge of the main track. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the warbler with them. Frustrating!

Rather than waste the whole day trying to find it again, we decided to move on and drove round to Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, a large flock of Pink-footed Geese was circling round over the grazing marshes and as we got out they whiffled down and disappeared from view.

We made our way west along the track on the inland side of the pines and it wasn’t far before we found another tit flock. We had good views of another Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the pines, but we couldn’t see anything different in with them before they disappeared into the trees. Carrying on, there were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole and a Kestrel hovering over the grazing marshes beyond.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – in the sycamores behind Washington Hide

We walked up the boardwalk behind Washington Hide. This can be a good area for migrants, but the only bird we could find in the sycamores was a single Chiffchaff. There was more activity on the pool in front of the hide – as we walked round on the boardwalk we spotted a Great White Egret standing on the post in the middle of the pool, preening. We got the scope on it and had a look, admiring its long, dagger-shaped yellow orange bill, as a Grey Heron walked past below for a good size comparison. Then it was pushed off by a Cormorant which decided it was a good place to dry its wings.

Great White Egret 1

Great White Egret – on the pool in front of Washington Hide

There were three other large white birds around the edges of the pool, which were three Spoonbills. We watched as they worked their way in and out of the reeds, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallows.

Carrying on along the path, we headed for Joe Jordan hide. The trees behind Meals House were very quiet too – it seemed like we might be out of luck trying to find any migrants here. Then just before we got to the crosstracks, we heard the distinctive call of a Pied Flycatcher in the trees. It flicked across the path in front of us into a large oak tree, where we managed to get a few glimpses of it. Then it disappeared out the back.

We walked slowly along the track, and could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling again in a large hawthorn beside the path ahead of us. Just as we tried to position ourselves to see it, a second Pied Flycatcher flicked up in the small oak right beside us. It shot across the path but when we tried to follow it, we lost track of it. Then we turned round and it was back in the small oak tree again. We were in a better position now and we stood back and had a great view of it when it flicked out and landed on the outside of the tree.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – eventually flicked out onto the outside of the oak

We could still hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from deeper in the trees, and then the second bird appeared in the small oak too. But when we looked at it, it wasn’t calling and the sound was still coming from further back. There were actually at least three here! Pied Flycatchers are migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia south for the winter. There had obviously been a small fall of them on the coast today.

We had a quick look out at the grazing marshes from up in Joe Jordan Hide. We could see lots of Pink-footed Geese down in the grass from here. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and circled out over the grass. It flushed a big flock of Meadow Pipits which circled up above it, determined to keep it below them where they could see it! A Common Buzzard was perched on the scaffold tower out in the middle and a Kestrel flew across in front of the hide with something in its talons.

We decided to set off back, so we wouldn’t be too late for lunch. With the sun out, it was very warm now out of the wind in the lee of the trees. There were lots of dragonflies – Common and Ruddy Darters which flushed from the bushes by the track as we passed, and clouds of Migrant Hawkers zipping back and forth on the edge of the trees.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker – there were lots out along the track in the sun today

After lunch back at the Lookout Cafe, we set off back east. We were aiming to finish the day at Stiffkey, but we still had a little extra time available so we called in at Wells again. We had stopped to check out the pools here on our first morning, but had not managed to look around the bushes as it started to rain, so we thought we would try again now.

As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret working its way along the back edge of the pools on the left of the track, our second of the day. We had a look at it in the scope, before it disappeared from view behind the vegetation. A Green Sandpiper, a Common Redshank and two Common Snipe were on the pools this side too.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – on the pools at Wells this afternoon

We set off down the track. There were a few more Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Egyptian Geese today, presumably more birds arriving back from Iceland, but no sign of any Barnacles. There had apparently been some Pintail here this morning, but despite scanning through the ducks carefully, we couldn’t find any. There was no sign of the Garganey either, but lots of the ducks were asleep in the grass at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the pools and more Ruff today. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was wheeling round over the stubble field beyond, but we couldn’t see why. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was feeding on the mud with five Dunlin, a bit distant in the heat haze but nice to see one to keep up our unbroken record across each of the three days! We could hear Greenshank calling and when we got to the far side, we looked back to see four on the mud behind the vegetation along the far edge.

As we got to the bushes beyond the pools, we could hear a soft tacking call, more of a ‘tsk’ than a hard ‘tack’, and as we turned to watch a Lesser Whitethroat came out of the leaves and started to feed on the blackberries. It was grey-brown on the back, with a soft grey head, slightly darker mask and bright white throat and underparts.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – feeding on the blackberries

As we carried on round through the bushes, we found at least two more Lesser Whitethroats. A Common Whitethroat flew across and landed on the top of some low brambles briefly and we heard one or two Blackcaps calling, a distinctly harder ‘tack’ than the Lesser Whitethroat. There were Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches in the bushes too, as well as a few Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer which flew off towards the fields beyond.

Our last stop was at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path between the hedges on the verge is too overgrown to walk down, so we had to make our way carefully along the road today, until we got to the footpath down by the river. A cacophony of shooting started up over the fields inland – with the close season now, presumably it was some sort of clay pigeon shooting event. There were a few House Martins still circling round the house on the hill, but there was not much to see in the bushes along the path this afternoon.

As we got to the point where the brambles are low enough to see over the Fen, we realised something was wrong. The islands were half empty, and the geese were walking nervously away from the side nearest the road, honking. Five duck flew up and disappeared off, three Pintail leading, followed by a pair of Wigeon. There should have been around 35 Spoonbills on here, but we could only see two.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were only two left on the Fen after all the shooting

From up on the seawall, we could see that the noise of all the shooting had scared almost everything off. We could still see the two Spoonbills in with all the Greylags, but there were no ducks at all. The island at the back, closest to the noise and which is normally packed with roosting birds, was completely empty. There were very few waders on the Fen either – just three Greenshank (joined briefly by a fourth) and much fewer Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Ruff than normal. We did manage to find a single Green Sandpiper along the far shore. All in all, very disappointing.

We decided to walk round to the harbour. There were still a few people and boats around, enjoying the sunshine, but there was a lot less disturbance here than last week. The Spoonbills were out on the saltmarsh. They were rather distant and hard to count, with some hidden in the vegetation and quite a bit of heat haze now, but we could see at least 25 here. The two which were left on the Fen flew overhead and out to join the others. Numbers have already started to drop in the last few days, and it won’t be long now before they have left us, heading down to the south coast for the winter.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – the two flew out to join the others in the harbour

It was just after high tide, and there were lots of gulls roosting on the mud on the edge of the harbour. In with them, we found a few waders – several Ringed Plovers, a few Black-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone. A flock of Redshank flew in and landed in the shallow water behind them. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans was in the water further along and on the sandbank beyond them we could see more waders – a large roost of Oystercatchers, lots of godwits and a few Grey Plover, still sporting their summer black faces and bellies.

The surprise of the afternoon was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver swimming in the harbour, just off one of the spits of mud out in front of us. Presumably it had come into the harbour to get away from the choppy sea in all the wind yesterday. Its red throat was hard to see, but we could see its grey head, dark back and uptilted bill.

When a little flock of small waders shot across over the harbour, we looked up to see a distant falcon heading straight in towards us. It was clearly in a long stoop, coming very fast, but we couldn’t make out what it was at first, head on. When it got almost to the near shore, it changed its angle and dropped quickly down. It turned sharply and we watched as it chased after a small wader which had taken off from the mud and was trying to fly away over the water. It was now clear what it was, a Hobby. The wader quickly got away, and the Hobby circled up over the water and drifted in towards us, before flying off west.

Hobby

Hobby – came in over the harbour after the waders

It was great to watch the Hobby in action and a lovely way to wrap up what had been an exciting three days of Autumn birding in Norfolk.

7th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a grey start, brightening up, with some spells of sunshine and blue sky, but it was very windy, with a very strong NW wind which eased off a touch in the afternoon. At least it was dry today, and we made the most of it.

To start the day, we drove east along the coast road to Kelling. As we pulled up in the village, a Red-legged Partridge flew out of one of the driveways, across the road behind us and away over the school. Walking up the lane, we heard several Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling in the hedges, most likely local birds rather than migrants. There were a few Chaffinches and Robins too. A Common Buzzard hung in the wind over Muckleburgh Hill, and was mobbed by a couple of passing Rooks, but just shifted a wing nonchalantly to evade them.

When we got to the gates by the copse, we spotted a Green Sandpiper down in the pool in the wet grass. A second Green Sandpiper called and dropped in nearby, flashing dark with a contrasting white tail and belly, but it was immediately chased off by the first, which then flew round and landed back down on the pool. There were several Common Snipe hiding down in the wet grass closer to us too. They were surprisingly hard to see, crouched down in the holes left by the cows’ footprints, but as they moved round we counted eleven in total.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – we counted 11 hiding in the wet grass

We carried on down to the pool on the Water Meadow. There were lots of gulls on the water, huddled up against the north edge trying to get out of the wind, but they were just Black-headed Gulls and a few Herring Gulls. Three Sand Martins were skimming backwards and forwards low over the water, looking for insects.

There were several ducks on the pool, Teal, Gadwall and a lone Shoveler as well as six Egyptian Geese, including the resident pair with their two fully grown young still. But a couple came down with two dogs, which started yapping at us as they passed, and then still barking as they walked along the cross track and they managed to flush most of the ducks.

Scanning the bushes beyond the Quags from the cross track, we could see several Stonechats up on the hillside, on the edge of the cattle field, so we walked round for a closer look. The Stonechats were dropping down from the brambles or the barbed wire to the ground to look for food in the short grass. They had found a relatively sheltered spot in the lee of the fence line.

There were wore Stonechats in the brambles and long grass beyond the fence. A paler bird with them hopped up onto a curl of bramble, a Whinchat. We got it in the scope, noting its pale supercilium and pale peachy orange wash on its breast, much paler overall than the female Stonechats. All the birds were keeping well down in the vegetation, trying to get out of the wind, but we found a second Whinchat a little further over when it popped up briefly. Whinchats are just passage migrants here, stopping off on their way south.

As we continued down past the Quags, we heard a Swallow alarm calling, and looked over to see a young Sparrowhawk shoot fast and low over the grass. We walked up the path up to the gun emplacements. The bushes down by the beach were quiet today. A couple of Swallows were still lingering around the gun emplacements, and there were a few Pied Wagtails in field with cows.

We looked out to sea from the high point here. With a strong northerly wind, we had expected to see some birds moving offshore today, but we couldn’t see anything apart from a few Sandwich Terns. We walked back down and climbed up onto the shingle ridge. It was a rough sea today, whipped up by the wind, and we watched the waves crashing on the beach. A distant Gannet flew past.

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of Bishop Hide

After walking back up the lane, we drove round to Cley next. We thought we would try to get out of the wind in the hides. We called in to Bishop Hide first, where there were a few Avocets still on Pat’s Pool, including a juvenile feeding close to hide.

There were fewer Black-tailed Godwits on here than normal, possibly due to the wind, but those that were here were over in the far corner by the reeds. Two slightly smaller birds asleep in the water next to them were Spotted Redshanks. We had a look at them through the scope, two dusky grey juveniles. After a while they woke up and started preening, so we could see their long, needle-tipped bills.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – these two juveniles were on Pat’s Pool today

We could see a couple of little groups of Dunlin on the mud right over the far side. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were over with them, paler and with more patterned upperparts than the Black-tailed Godwits, and with a slight upturn to their long straight bills. A Green Sandpiper flashed across in front of the hide and a Water Rail squealed from somewhere in the reeds.

As we set off to walk round to the main hides, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds close to path. We stopped to look, but the reeds were being lashed from side to side by the wind, so it was pretty clear they would not be coming out.

When we got out into the middle, we had a quick look in Avocet Hide. The mud on Whitwell Scrape is quickly drying out now, and there was nothing to see, no sign of any of the Green Sandpipers which have been on there for much of this week. However, just as we got into Dauke’s Hide, a Green Sandpiper flew past and landed on back on one of the remaining pools, where we had just looked on Whitwell Scrape, with a Common Redshank.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – flew in and landed on Whitwell Scrape with a Common Redshank

Simmond’s Scrape was a bit windswept today and was consequently a little disappointing. Three juvenile Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in deeper water in front of hide, Icelandic birds with an orangey wash on their necks.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – an Icelandic juvenile on Simmond’s Scrape

The waders which were here were very flighty today, often the case in the wind. We couldn’t see the Spotted Redshanks on Pat’s Pool now, but at one point they flew back in past the hide, over the scrape and disappeared off over the reeds. The Dunlin were very jumpy too, mostly hidden up behind the reeds on the edge of Pat’s, but they kept flying out into the middle and back in again.

There were clearly a few waders moving today, migrants arriving. As we sat in the hide, we heard a Greenshank calling and looked over to see it drop down on Simmond’s Scrape. We had a look at it through the scope – it was a distinctive bird, already with a few greyer winter scapulars.

Greenshank

Greenshank – dropped in calling onto Simmond’s Scrape

It was time for lunch, we we walked back to the Visitor Centre. The sun was out, and we managed to find a sheltered spot out of the wind. After lunch, the wind seemed to have dropped a little, so we thought we might brave the East Bank.

We drove round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were just a couple of Teal on Snipe’s Marsh today, not even any sign of the resident Little Grebe. We walked over to the East Bank, and found a Little Grebe on Don’s Pool instead. A Curlew flew over the grazing marsh calling but there was no sign of the flock out in the grass today. Pope’s Pool at the back was dry now, but there was still water in the Serpentine so we continued up for a look.

There were a few Avocets along the shore of the Serpentine, along with one or two Redshanks and several Shelducks. There were more birds along the north edge where it was a bit more sheltered, in the lee of the reeds. We could see a small group of about twenty Dunlin scattered round, feeding in the mud and shallow water, and five Common Snipe with them. We we walked up and looked through them closely, we found a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them. There had been no reports of Curlew Sandpiper at Cley in the last few days, so it had presumably just dropped in here to feed.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – feeding with Dunlin on the Serpentine

The shelter at Arnold’s Marsh provided a welcome respite from the wind. There were lots of Sandwich Terns roosting out on the marsh, but they were very jumpy and kept taking off, flying round and settling again. All the Curlews were on here, roosting on the saltmarsh over in the back corner. Otherwise, all we could see were a scattering of Common Redshank.

Quite a few Wigeon in huddled groups out on the water were possibly fairly fresh in, coming back from Russia for the winter. We watched a small group of six Teal battling in along the shingle ridge, buffeted by the wind.

We decided to brave the beach, and have a quick look out to sea. As we walked up along the bank, a couple of Little Egrets were down on the brackish marsh and a Grey Heron had found a sheltered spot in the sun out of the wind behind the marram grass. One or two Meadow Pipits came up out of grass calling but dropped back in.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnold’s Marsh

The Sandwich Terns all spooked again, but this time after circling round they flew out over the shingle ridge to the sea. When we got to the beach, we could see some feeding offshore, but many obviously didn’t fancy the weather and the choppy sea and headed straight back in to Arnold’s.

Scanning offshore, we picked up three very distant Arctic Skuas busy chasing terns offshore. Another two Arctic Skuas flew past a little closer in, and one turned and came straight in towards us. It had seen a Sandwich Tern nearer to us and started to chase after it. We watched as they twisted and turned, but the tern quickly gave up and dropped whatever it was carrying. The Arctic Skua dropped down to the water’s surface and picked it up, before flying back out and continuing on its way west. The skuas are kleptoparasites, feeding by stealing the food of other seabirds. The pirates of the North Sea!

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua – came in to chase after a Sandwich Tern

Three Gannets flew past offshore, two white adults with black wingtips and a darker-winged immature. A Fulmar came past too, low over the waves, with stiff wings. It was too windy to stay out here long, so after enjoying the spectacle for a bit we turned to head back in.

As we got back towards the road, a big flock of noisy Greylags flew in over the grazing marshes. They had clearly just been flushed by a microlight aircraft which came over just behind them, flushing everything. A small group of eight darker geese, Pink-footed Geese, flew over too. They seem to be a little early returning from Iceland this year and it was surprising how many small groups we had seen.

We decided to try to get out of the wind inland to finish the afternoon, so we drove down to the Brecks. We wanted to make the pilgrimage to see the annual post-breeding gathering of Stone Curlews, which peaks at this time of year. We pulled up by their favoured field, and peaked over the hedge, careful to not disturb any close by. Immediately we could see six Stone Curlews hunkered down behind line of earth and weeds in field.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlews – one of the 20 or so we could see in the field this afternoon

We had a great view of the Stone Curlews in the scope, their bright yellow irises catching the sun. They were amazingly well camouflaged, the colour of the sandy soil. Then we scanned the rest of the field and counted at least twenty. There were probably a lot more we couldn’t see, with the birds tucked down out of the wind, and lots of dead ground in the field where they could hide out of view. With only around 200 pairs nesting in the East of England, even 20 is an impressive total! A large group a Lesser Black-backed Gulls was loafing in field too.

It was well worth the diversion down to see the Stone Curlews, and a nice way to end the day. It was time to head back – a good chance for a doze in the back!

6th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a grey and drizzly start, but although it brightened up during the morning, another band of heavy showers passed through quickly in the afternoon. Still, we successfully managed to dodge the rain, and had a great day, notching up a surprisingly long list despite the weather.

To start the day, we popped down to Wells. As we got out of the minibus, a juvenile Marsh Harrier drifted across the fields, chased by a Kestrel. Looking across to the pools, we could see lines of Black-tailed Godwits flying up and heading off inland to feed. A flock of Ruff flew up with one group of godwits too.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits – flying inland to feed

We set up the scope and started to scan the pools, there were still lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the edge of the water and a lone Common Snipe probing busily in the mud. Otherwise, the pools were dominated by the geese – lots of Greylags, and a small group of Canada Geese. Ten Barnacle Geese were unusual here, but most likely feral birds, possibly from the small population at Holkham or even further afield. The Egyptian Geese numbered a substantial 38 today.

There were lots of ducks too, though all in drab plumage at this time of year. As well as plenty of Teal and Shoveler, we could see lots of Wigeon around the edges of the pool today. Numbers are increasing steadily now as birds return from Russia for the winter. One small duck stood out, puddling on the mud at the back. With its strongly marked face pattern, brighter supercilium and white spot at the base of the bill, it was a Garganey. A nice bonus.

Walking down the track, there were one or two Reed Buntings still in the bushes. A flock of Linnets circled over out in the middle and came down to bathe in one of the shallow pools. A Yellowhammer flew over calling. A lone Green Sandpiper was feeding on the mud on the other side of the track.

Their yelping calls alerted us to four Pink-footed Geese which circled and dropped in on the mud with the other geese. Through the scope, we could see their dark heads, delicate bills and the pink band on the bill of the adults, though it was much duller on the single juvenile with them. They have just started to return from Iceland in the last few days, a sure sign that Autumn is definitely here!

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – four dropped in on the mud with the other geese

A distant Red Kite was hanging in the air way off to the east. We had planned to have a walk round the bushes further down the track, but we could see dark clouds approaching from the west, so we decided to head back to minibus. It started to spit with rain, so we were glad we did.

We had planned to head over to the Wash this morning and we drove through some rain as we made our way there. The tide would not be big enough to push all the waders off the mud today, but would still come in enough to bring some of them close enough for us to see them.

As we got up onto the seawall at Snettisham, the rain had stopped. The tide was coming in steadily but there was still lots of exposed mud, and it was possible that the blustery SW wind was holding back the water somewhat. There were lots of waders on the mud over by the sailing club, so we walked back the other way along the seawall.

A large flock of Oystercatchers was roosting on the mud, looking like a black slick. There were several little groups of Golden Plover hunched down in amongst the clods of mud, remarkably well camouflaged despite their golden speckled upperparts. Lots of Knot were sleeping on the mud too and equally well hidden until they moved. From time to time the birds would lift and fly round, at which point we could see just how many were really there.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – a large flock was roosting on the mud

There were some much closer Knot feeding just below the seawall and we had a closer look at them through the scope. They were all juveniles, some rather grey but others with a much stronger orangey wash on the breast. Scanning the mud and the sand beyond, we found good numbers of Ringed Plovers and one or two Dunlin. A little flock of Sanderling running round on the sand then flew off past us, higher up the shore. There were a few Turnstones too, including one still in bright breeding plumage, with orange-chestnut stripes in its upperparts.

Along the shore, there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits still feeding. Through the scope, we found a Bar-tailed Godwit with them, still in breeding plumage with its chestnut underparts extending all the way down under its tail. There were more Bar-tailed Godwits on the mud nearby. A colour-ringed Curlew was the same bird we had seen in almost the same spot a few days ago.

A group of Sandwich Terns was loafing on the mud with some Black-headed Gulls. Just as we got close enough to have a good look through them through the scope, the one Mediterranean Gull took off and flew inland past us, an adult flashing its white wing-tips. Several Common Terns flew in round the edge of the Wash and joined the Sandwich Terns.

We could see what looked like clouds of smoke off in the distance, further out round the Wash. On closer inspection, they were huge flocks of Knot. Something had spooked them from the mud and we watched as they whirled round, the flocks changing shape as they twisted and turned in unison.

There were a few Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits along the seawall, which flew up ahead of us as we walked along. Little groups of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the mud just below. The hirundines are on the move now, leaving us for the winter. We watched a steady passage of Swallows and House Martins flying past, skimming low over the mud, or up over the seawall behind us, heading south.

It started to spit with rain again, so we made our way down to the hides. A single Greenshank was roosting on its own on the pit before the causeway. There were more waders on the mud on the near edge of the Wash, including several Grey Plovers, still with mostly black faces and bellies yet to finish their moult out of breeding plumage, and one or two closer Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – closer on the mud as we walked down to Rotary Hide

We sheltered in Rotary Hide as a squally shower passed over. Scanning the pit away to the south, we could see several Spoonbills roosting with the Little Egrets tucked in tight along the edge at the far end of the pit. The islands at the north end of the pit were largely empty today as the waders prefer to roost out on the mud unless they are forced in here, but three Spotted Redshanks were sleeping out in the middle in amongst the Greylags. So when the rain stopped, we walked on down to Shore Hide.

Through the scope, we had a much closer view of the Spotted Redshanks from here, but we couldn’t see the Spoonbills from this angle, so we walked on down to South Hide. Two Yellow Wagtails flew over calling and dropped down into the grass, a Skylark came up from beside the path and a Reed Bunting flew up from track and landed in the suaeda just in front of us. A Sparrowhawk shot past, low over the grass, and chased after a Meadow Pipit as it flew up. They twisted and turned for a few seconds, but the pipit managed to evade it and the Sparrowhawk gave up and flew off over the inner seawall.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – sleeping on the edge of the pit

From South Hide, we could now see the three Spoonbills roosting on the edge of the pit. They were mostly asleep – typical Spoonbills – but woke up once or twice to look round or have a quick preen, flashing their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.

There were more waders at this end, mostly Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the islands. A few Knot were huddled together in with them. Three Avocets were still feeding in the water. Something must have disturbed the waders out on the Wash, because we could see some large flocks whirling round over the mud in the distance. Several larger groups of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks flew in and streamed down onto the islands to join the birds already here. A few more Knot came in with them, but most still preferred to stay out on the mud.

Waders

Waders – Black-tailed Godwits and Knot roosting on the islands on the pit

It was getting on for lunch time, so we decided to make our way back. As we walked out towards the Wash, a Marsh Harrier drifted high over and flushed the large flock of Oystercatchers roosting out in middle, which whirled round before resettling. We made our way round to Titchwell for lunch. The sun was out now and we could even sit out on the picnic tables.

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. A Chiffchaff was singing in one of the sallows by the main path and we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still very windy here and they were not surprisingly keeping their heads down. With the wind, there were few ducks on the reedbed pool today.

We were told that a Curlew Sandpiper was fairly close to the west bank further up along the path, so we walked past Island Hide to scan the mud on the edge of the Freshmarsh. We quickly found the Curlew Sandpiper in with a small group of Dunlin. It was a juvenile, with scaly patterned back and peachy-buff wash on the breast, slightly bigger, paler and longer-billed than the Dunlin. Three more Curlew Sandpipers were feeding further back, all juveniles too. Amazing to think that they were raised in Central Siberia this summer and are making their way down to Africa for the winter.

Curlew Sandpipier

Curlew Sandpiper – one of four juveniles on the Freshmarsh today

The sun was shining here but we could see some ominous grey clouds away to the west, more rain coming our way. We walked back to Island Hide. Two Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud just outside the hide, and a single Little Ringed Plover was with them. It was noticeably smaller and differently shaped. A juvenile, we could make out a ghosting of the distinctive golden yellow eye ring shown by the adults.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile on the mud outside Island Hide

There were lots of Ruff out on the mud, a confusing mixture of paler adults and browner juveniles, the former with brighter orange legs and the latter with duller yellow-flesh legs, the large males and much smaller females. A single Common Snipe was on the mud over by the reeds.

Two Bearded Tits were feeding on the edge of the reeds, hopping about out on the mud. We had a good view in the scope, both tawny brown juveniles. Later another group of Bearded Tits appeared low down in the reeds a bit further back, including a male with powder blue head and black moustache. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across low over the reedbed, its grey wing panels catching the sunshine.

A Water Rail appeared out of the reeds to the right of the hide next. We watched it as it worked it’s way along the edge, in and out of the reeds, then came right came out into the open in the deeper water in the small channel between the islands.

Water Rail

Water Rail – appeared on the edge of the reeds

The cloud arrived and it started to rain, quickly turning heavy. The birds all stopped feeding and turned into the rain. Some lifted their heads, and pointed their bills up to let the water flow off as they were battered with raindrops. Some sought shelter, hiding behind the tufts of vegetation. It was interesting to watch how the different birds reacted to the weather. A Common Sandpiper appeared on edge of island out in middle.

Ruff in rain

Ruff – a juvenile, being battered by the rain

The rain quickly eased off, and all waders started feeding again. Lots had sought shelter on the mud on the edge of the reeds and there were now lots of Ruff and Dunlin gathered there. The Avocets had come over to the edge too from where they had been feeding or roosting further back, and stood preening now, trying to dry off.

It continued to drizzle on and off for a bit, so we stayed in the hide in the dry. When it finally stopped, the sun came out and it was suddenly back to blue skies. We decided to head round to Patsy’s. As we walked back along the main path, a small skein of 27 Pink-footed Geese flew over the visitor centre, calling, heading west. More birds arriving back from Iceland.

There were several Blackcaps calling in the trees behind Fen Hide and Blue Tits and Goldfinches feeding in the brambles by Tank Road. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way quickly along the hedge. We looked up in the trees to see if the Turtle Doves might be there drying themselves out, but there were just a couple of Woodpigeons today.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed, including Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard, all additions to the day’s list. There were several Little Grebes scattered round the pool too. We sat in the sunshine for a while. Several House Martins were flying round over the reeds and dipping down to the water. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the hedge behind us, but was quickly chased off by a second Lesser Whitethroat.

It was time to head back now. As we got back to the minibus and were just loading up, we looked up to see a Turtle Dove fly across car park and land in the trees at the back, with the Woodpigeons. We got the scope out again and watched it preening in the sunshine. We could see the rusty fringed feathers on its upperparts and black and white striped patch on the side of its neck.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – preening in the sunshine in the trees in the car park

With the UK population having declined by more than 90%, it is always a treat to see a Turtle Dove these days. This one will soon be leaving us, heading off to Africa for the winter, running the gauntlet of the guns in France and Spain, which still allow the shooting of Turtle Doves despite their precipitous decline. We just hope it will make it back again here next year.

It was a great way to end the day, with a Turtle Dove, but always a sobering thought that one year they may not return.

4th Sept 2019 – The Wash & the Coast

A Private Tour today, in NW Norfolk. The plan was to spend the morning up on the Wash, watching the Wader Spectacular, and then the afternoon at Titchwell afterwards. It was cloudy first thing, before starting to brighten up as expected. But we were caught out by a band of heavy rain mid morning which wasn’t in the forecast. At least the sun then cam out in the afternoon and we managed to dry out and enjoy the rest of the day.

As we made our way in to Snettisham, we stopped to look at the gulls on the sailing pit. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, along with one or two Common Gulls, but we did manage to find a Mediterranean Gull in with them. It was an adult, with pure white wing tips and bright orange-red bill, moulting out of breeding plumage and losing its black hood.

Up on the seawall, there was still lots of exposed mud – we were in good time to watch the waders gathering. A large flock of Oystercatchers was already roosting away to our right along the shore by the sailing club. They wouldn’t be able to stay there long, as it would soon be under water. In front of them, there were lots of Golden Plover and Knot, the former surprisingly hard to see on the mud until we got them in the scope. There were lots of Sandwich Terns gathered on the mud nearby today too.

Waders 1

Oystercatchers & Sandwich Terns – gathering on the mud already when we arrived

Along the edge of the water, were lots of Black-tailed Godwits. We got them in the scope next and found a single Bar-tailed Godwit in with them, smaller and shorter-legged, still moulting out of breeding plumage with its patchy rusty underparts extending down under the tail. There were lots more Bar-tailed Godwits across the channel, along with more Knot.

We could hear the ‘pooee’ calls of the little groups of Ringed Plover, as they flew in and dropped down onto the mud close to us, in front of the channel. In with them were a few Dunlin and Turnstone, one of the latter still in bright chestnut and pied breeding plumage, as well as one or two Sanderling.

A Curlew Sandpiper appeared down on one of the small pools in front of too – a juvenile, with scaly back, peachy-buff wash across its breast and clean white underparts, as well as a noticeably longer bill than the Dunlin. It disappeared into a channel and we initially thought it was the same bird which then appeared much closer to us. In fact it was a second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, as the first reappeared back where we had seen it shortly after.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – one of two juveniles pushed in by the rising tide

Birds were dropping down on the mud and moving on ahead of the tide all the time. A Spotted Redshank appeared briefly in front of us, staying just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope. A single Grey Plover appeared on the mud just across the channel, still sporting the black face and belly of breeding plumage. A Common Sandpiper picked its way past us along the edge of the channel. Three Common Snipe flew past.

It was still rather cloudy at first and little groups of Swallows were passing through, hawking for insects low over the beach. A mixed group of Swallows and House Martins paused for a few minutes in front of us, looking for food around the seawall before moving on. They are on their way south now, heading off to Africa for the winter. We had seen a large gathering of hirundines on the wires as we arrived this morning, presumably having roosted there overnight, so perhaps these same birds were now continuing their journey south.

As the water covered the remaining mud in front of us, the last of the Oystercatchers took off and flew low over the water, across to where the mud was still exposed. We made our way further down that way too. It was finally starting to brighten up now, we could even see some strips of blue sky out over the Wash, coming our way, just as had been forecast.

Down at the corner, opposite the edge of the saltmarsh, we watched as the waders were all pushed up ahead of the tide. The Oystercatchers walked ahead of the rising water, flowing almost like the tide themselves. There were already quite a lot of Knot gathered on the mud, but not the 65,000+ of recent days. That was because a lot of them were still further round the edge of the Wash and gradually they were forced round closer to us, into the last corner of mud which would remain exposed.

Waders 2

Knot – more large flocks flew in from further out around the Wash as the tide rose

At this point it started to cloud over again and even spit with light drizzle. The forecast had mentioned the chance of a shower, so we were not too worried and continued to enjoy the spectacle. Lots of Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were gathering in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh. As the other waders became increasingly concentrated the Osytercatchers started to give up and peel away in lines, flying past us and dropping down onto the pit behind to roost, piping noisily.

Waders 3

Massed Waders – Oystercatchers, Knot and Godwits packed into the last corner of mud

Waders 4

Oystercatchers – starting to peel off and head in past us to the pit

As the Knot became increasingly tightly packed in the corner where the mud was rapidly disappearing, it started to rain more heavily. Just at the wrong moment – this wasn’t in the weather forecast! Most of the other people gathered to watch the spectacle gave up and went into the hides, but with the Knot surely about to take off, we decided to persevere for the finale. But the Knot didn’t leave. It was past the point they would normally take off and they were pressed tight up against the saltmarsh, up to their bellies. They were clearly reluctant to take off given the weather and that seemed to outweigh their normal fear of being so close to or in the vegetation.

The visibility deteriorated as the rain started to fall harder and the wind picked up so, with the Knot refusing to leave, we gave in and walked over to Shore Hide. The hide was fairly busy but at least we were out of the rain. Despite the fact that the Knot were not filling the islands, there were things to see here. A Spoonbill was asleep out in the middle with the Greylag Geese and Cormorants. It did wake up at one point and have a quick preen, when the rain stopped briefly, so we could see its yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – roosting out in the middle with the Greylags and Cormorants

Also in with the geese and Cormorants, we found a small group of Spotted Redshanks. They were much more active today, preening busily when the rain eased off for a time. We counted at least seven today, but there could have been more, hidden in between the geese.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – there were at least seven today roosting on the pit

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Dunlin on the island in front of the hide. The next nearest island out to the left held many more Dunlin today, presumably taking advantage of the absence of many Knot. Looking through them carefully, we found one juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, presumably one of the two we had seen out on the mud earlier.

When the rain eased off, the Knot obviously decided to finally leave the Wash. Large flocks spiralled down onto the islands until they were largely filled, the birds packed in tightly shoulder to shoulder.

Waders 5

Knot – finally came in to the pit to roost

We had hoped to see out the rain in the hide, as we could see from the rainfall radar that it was just a narrow band of cloud passing over us, but it started to rain more heavily again. There seemed to be a series of squalls, easing off and then starting up again, but having got wet people were now starting to get cold and there was a request to head back to the minibus to warm up. We walked back in driving drizzle, getting wet through again, and sure enough we could now see the cloud breaking and a band of blue sky appearing away to the west, heading our way. If only we had been able to hang on another 10 minutes!

We drove round to Titchwell with the heater on full blast which at least started to dry us out. It was dry when we got there and it was already starting to brighten up considerably, but we still stopped for a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre. The sun was out by the time we had finished – it felt like a completely different day. We had a bit of time before lunch still, so we decided to walk round to Patsy’s Reedbed and the Autumn Trail.

There were Chiffchaffs calling in the sallows and when we got round to the Tank Road we could see lots of birds in the hedge on the back of the car park. Several of them were coming down to bathe in a small puddle just beyond the gate, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Linnets, so we edged over for a closer look.

We looked up in the taller trees to see two Turtle Doves. They were busy preening, presumably come out into the sunshine to dry off. We had a great view of them through the scope, admiring their rusty edged back feathers and black and white striped neck patches.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – two were preening in the tall trees when the sun came out

With the UK population having declined by over 90%, it is always a privilege to see Turtle Doves. They will soon be on their way south to Africa for the winter, when  they will have to run the gauntlet of shooters in France and Spain, where they are still bizarrely allowed to be shot. Let us hope they can survive the journey and return here next year.

We turned our attention back to the puddle where the birds were bathing, and the bushes beyond. Lots of birds were hoping around on the ground, on the concrete track, including one or two Chiffchaffs and a male Blackcap, as well as the aforementioned finches and several Dunnocks.

There was lots of activity in the hedge the other side too, as a tit flock was working its way through the brambles. As well as the tits, there were a few warblers with them. First a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles – we could see its bright rusty-edged wing feathers – then a much greyer bird flew in too, a Lesser Whitethroat. We watched the Lesser Whitethroat feeding on the blackberries in full view for several minutes, great views of this often rather secretive species.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – fantastic views as it fed on blackberries

From the screen at Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see lots of ducks out on the water – Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard, a couple of Teal and a single eclipse drake Wigeon. There were several Little Grebes too, and a pair of Mute Swans with their four well-grown cygnets.

A good number of hirundines were hawking for insects over the pool, mainly Swallows and House Martins, but we found a couple of brown-backed Sand Martins in with them. There were four Swifts zooming back and forth over the reeds beyond too. Most of our Swifts have already left, their brief summer visit here to breed over and these ones were probably passing through, pushed down lower to feed by this morning’s rain with the hirundines.

The Autumn Trail is open new, so we walked on round to the back corner of the Freshmarsh. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came up out of the reedbed and across the path towards Willow Wood as we passed. It was a bit breezy now, so perhaps not surprisingly we did not come across any Bearded Tits here today. There were a few Teal and Ruff on the mud in the corner. More notably, we could see a little group of waders roosting over by the fence on the back of Avocet Island and through the scope we could see they were five Spotted Redshanks with two Black-tailed Godwits.

Then it was back for a late lunch. We found a table in the picnic area in the sun and it was lovely and warm out of the breeze. There were lots of dragonflies buzzing round now – several Migrant Hawkers and a Southern Hawker, and a line of Common Darters sunning themselves on the bench.

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was a bit breezy as we walked out past the reedbed today. There were a few ducks on the Reedbed Pool, but we headed on out to Island Hide. The juvenile Little Ringed Plover was in exactly the same place we had seen it yesterday, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers still, but there was no sign of the Lapwing which has been right next to the hide in recent days. There were more Ruff over on the edge of the water, but two juveniles gave great views as they fed right outside the windows.

Ruff

Ruff – one of two juveniles right outside Island Hide today

A good sized flock of Dunlin were feeding in the shallow water between here and Parrinder Hide and looking through them we quickly located a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them. A second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was much further back too.

Scanning along the edge of the reeds, we had a quick view of one juvenile Bearded Tit out on the edge of the mud briefly, but the wind was catching the reeds and they were keeping mostly hidden today. A Water Rail appeared and walked quickly along the edge too before disappearing back in. There were a few Ruff feeding over here as well today, along with a single Knot, possibly the same bird which had been right outside the hide yesterday.

From up on the main path, it didn’t look like there was anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we continued out towards the beach. There was just a single Common Redshank on the near edge of Volunteer Marsh, but scanning down the channel at the far end we found a Curlew, two Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover and a Little Egret. The non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ have filled up with water after the recent big high tides, and there was nothing on the one remaining island today.

All the waders were feeding out on the beach, with the tide now out and the mussel beds exposed. There were lots of Oystercatchers, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Turnstones. A couple of small groups of Grey Plover flew in from behind us.

Looking out to sea, we could see a good number of Great Crested Grebes on the water today. Two Fulmars flew in from the west and circled just offshore. But the surprise of the afternoon was a Grey Heron, which we watched working its way in over the sea, well offshore initially. It was probably coming in from Scandinavia for the winter, migration in action!

There were a few gulls on the freshmarsh on our way back, but no sign of the Golden Plover now which had apparently dropped in while we out at the beach. We did find an adult Yellow-legged Gull, next to a much darker-backed Lesser Black-backed Gull, and we could even see its yellow legs before it sat down and went to sleep.

It was time to make our way back now. On the journey home, we stopped to watch a male Marsh Harrier hanging in the wind over a stubble field beside the road, being mobbed by  a Carrion Crow. And two Stock Doves in a field were the last addition to the day’s list.

It was a shame about the rain this morning – it had only lasted less than an hour, but just at the wrong moment! Despite that, we had still enjoyed a great day out and seen lots of good birds.