Tag Archives: Goldcrest

13th October 2015 – Full of Eastern Promise

Another Autumn Tour today. With winds from the east, it has been very exciting here in recent days, so we set out to catch up on a few of the recent attractions and check out if there had been any new arrivals.

We started at Stiffkey, with the intention of walking west from Greenway towards Warham Greens. With the wind veering NE and picking up, with cloud and rain, it felt like there might have been some new birds in overnight. The coastal hedges here seemed like a good place to look.

It was very exposed out along the edge of the saltmarsh, with the wind gusting over 30mph, and at first the bushes seemed rather quiet. We scanned the saltmarsh as we walked – there were plenty of Brent Geese in now, feeding on the eel grass, plus lots of Curlew and Redshank and several Little Egrets. A couple of Marsh Harriers were out quartering the saltmarsh.

P1110513Brent Geese – when they first arrive, they all like to feed on the saltmarshes

We could hear a couple of Goldcrests calling from the bushes, but couldn’t see them at first. They were obviously keeping down out of the wind. Then we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits and two Goldcrests with them were more obliging. Still, there didn’t seem as many here as in recent days.  We flushed a few Song Thrushes from the hedges as we walked, and a Redwing, but there was nothing to suggest any significant numbers had come in overnight. We were making our way back when a red tail flicked over a bush by the path and disappeared – presumably a Redstart, although it didn’t show itself again. As we stood and waited to see if it might reappear, a Blackcap hopped up to feed on the blackberries.

P1110499Blackcap – feeding on blackberries

We had a quick look in campsite wood – and the place was absolutely alive with Goldcrests. We stopped to watch them dropping down out of the trees into the bushes out on the campsite to feed, then zooming back up into the trees again. There had been a report of a couple of Firecrests further along, in some trees on the edge of the campsite, but all the crests had moved on by the time we got there. While it was amazing to watch all the Goldcrests feeding feverishly, it was a struggle to see the birds in the canopy of the wood itself. Eventually, we decided to move on.

We made our way east along the coast to Beeston Common. There has been an Isabelline Shrike here for a couple of days already, and it has been a real performer. It was on form again today – perched high in the top of a hawthorn as we arrived, for all to see. We watched it in the scope for a while, then it set off on  a sally out across the common, catching a bee and taking it back to the bush to incapacitate and then eat it.

IMG_1976Isabelline Shrike – showing well at Beeston Common

It flew around several times, moving between bushes, looking around all the time for prey. Even when it started to rain lightly at one point, it still sat up in the bushes. It was great to watch. Some video of it from yesterday is below.

After that crowd-pleasing performance, we had a short walk over the common to see what else we could see. There has been a Yellow-browed Warbler or two here in recent days, but we couldn’t find the tit flock today – it was just a bit too windy out there. We decided to head back to the car.

We drove to Cley and, after a stop at the Visitor Centre, we drove round to the beach car park. The morning had already gone, so we ate our lunch in the beach shelter out of the wind. While we were eating, we kept one eye on the sea. Seawatching can always produce interesting birds, with a decent onshore wind. There were plenty of Gannets going past today, adults with black-tipped white wings and lots of slaty-grey juveniles. And a steady stream of little groups of auks – mostly Guillemots, but we also picked up several blunt-billed Razorbills too.

P1110527Gannet – one of the many juveniles past today

While we were eating, the vigilence paid off. We picked up a distant Sooty Shearwater flying past, alternately arcing up high over the sea and dipping down to skim low over the waves. We could see its dark underparts, ruling out the commoner Manx Shearwater. After we had finished eating and suitably emboldened by the shearwater, we decided to move round to the side of the shelter to have a more concerted effort at seawatching.

It certainly paid off! Next up, another Sooty Shearwater came past, much closer this time, giving us all a great view. Then a skua appeared low over the sea to our left, heading our way. We got it in the scope and could see that it was a Pomarine Skua and a super smart adult to boot. As it came past we could even see the ‘spoons’ – the elongated, spatulate central tail feathers which project out the back, characteristic of the species. Stunning! Then another shearwater appeared, a bit further out and this time keeping very low over the sea. It was fairly dark again, but shorter winged and dumpier than the Sooty. It was a Balearic Shearwater from the Mediterranean. To round things off nicely, a Great Skua flew past us next – big, bulky & dark, with steady and deliberate wingbeats. We hadn’t intended to seatwatch today, and only gave it about half an hour, so this was an amazing return. If only every day seawatching could be as good as this!!

There was still no real sense of any major new influx of passerines on the wind, so we decided to make our way back to Holkham to try to catch up with the star bird there – a Red-flanked Bluetail which had been found lurking in some dense sallows yesterday. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and made our way west along the inner edge of the pines. We were serenaded by the yelping of Pink-footed Geese as we walking. At Salts Hole, we stopped to admire the Little Grebes. At least 5 today, there was lots of territorial chasing going on and lots of maniacal laughter.

P1110536Little Grebe – one of the pairs at Salts Hole

A little further along, we heard a Marsh Tit calling. We could see it moving around in the low elm suckers alongside the path. It was fascinating to watch – it pulled a dried leaf from one of the trees and took it to a nearby perch, where it starting pecking at the leaf violently. It gradually became clear that the leaf was curled over and after a second or two the Marsh Tit pulled out a caterpillar. It had obviously cocooned itself into a leaf, but the Marsh Tit had realised it was hiding in there and had taken the leaf off to extract it. Very clever.

We detoured up the boardwalk by Washington Hide. The trees here can be very good for birds, but it was just too exposed and gusty there today and they were quiet, apart from yet more Goldcrests. We stopped to look at a small party of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. In the bushes down on the edge of the reedbed, several Redwings were feeding on berries. A Sparrowhawk flew in and landed in a hawthorn, looking round hungrily.

The pool in front of Washington Hide was fairly empty today, and we were just walking back down the boardwalk when a large white shape started to take off from one of the ditches just to the east. The Great White Egret had obviously been hiding in there, out of view, today. We watched it fly across and then drop down into another ditch further over, out of view again.

P1110546Great White Egret – flying between ditches this afternoon

We continued our way west, stopping occasionally to watch the tit flocks or the Goldcrests coming down to bathe in a puddle. A very white Common Buzzard has returned to the bushes over by the church – it was there last winter and was causing some confusion again today.

There is always lots to see here, but we had really come hoping to see the Red-flanked Bluetail and time was getting on, so we made our way to the trees where it had been showing. We hadn’t been there long, when it suddenly appeared from the sallows behind and started to feed on the brambles. We could see the bright blue tail as it flicked around on the bushes, and the deep orange flank patches. Once an almost mythical rare visitor here, they are now turning up more often, but are still an absolute delight to see.

P1110554Red-flanked Bluetail – a record shot in poor light this afternoon

It has been hassled repeatedly by the local Robins and obviously didn’t fancy spending too long out in the open, so darted back into the sallows. Having seen it so easily, we hung around a short while to see if we could see it again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. However, while we were waiting we did hear a Yellow-browed Warbler calling loudly from the sallows. When a bird appeared on the edge of the sallows immediately after, we thought that would be it – but it turned out to be a Firecrest instead. It didn’t stay long and disappeared back into the bushes.

We didn’t have time to linger too long, so set off back to the car. We still had time for one last bird – on our way back, another Firecrest had been seen in the holm oaks beside the path. We arrived just in time to see it flicking around amongst the branches, before it suddenly darted out and disappeared into the trees behind.

It was time to call it a day, but it had been a great Autumn day out – with some top quality rare visitors and a classic seawatching session in the middle!

11th October 2015 – Go West

The third and final day of a long weekend of tours today. With the wind in the east, it felt like there should be some migrants around, so we started off in Wells Woods.

We walked up to the bushes by the lifeboat station first. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way in towards us and in amongst them were a couple of Goldcrests, the first of many we would see today. A Song Thrush sat in the sea buckthorn, a grey-backed continental migrant, presumably fresh in overnight. There were lots of Brent Geese out on the other side of the harbour, with plenty of waders scattered amongst them, mainly Oystercatcher and Curlew. A couple of little flocks of Sanderling were feeding along the sandy shoreline.

We walked into the trees, with lots of Goldcrests calling from the trees above our heads. There are always Goldcrests in the woods here, but there seemed to be more than usual. However, the walk up to and around the Dell was rather quiet. It was cool, it had rained overnight, and there was a very flesh easterly, so perhaps the birds were seeking the more sheltered areas?

We worked our way round onto the main path and walked west. We hadn’t gone far when we heard a pipit calling over the trees, a rather weak and weedy ‘speez’. There are several pipits with a similar call, the commonest of which here is Tree Pipit, but it didn’t sound like a Tree Pipit. It called several times in quick succession and we turned to look for it, but couldn’t see it as it disappeared over. Very frustrating!

There were also lots of thrushes coming in. We could hear little groups calling continually over the trees, a mixture mainly of Song Thrushes and Redwings. A single Mistle Thrush appeared in the tops of the pines briefly, before flying off west towards Holkham. There were also finches calling overhead – Siskins and a few Redpolls again, and more Bramblings today. We heard a couple of single birds calling, and then a flock of four silent birds circled over. We could see there orange breasts contrasting with much whiter underparts.

We struggled to find the tit flocks today. We found one, but it moved quickly away from us into the top of the pines, where it was very hard to follow. We could see Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, and several more Goldcrests. We could hear Treecreepers calling. Most likely, given the cool and windy conditions, the birds had moved deeper into the pines to feed.

We made our way west to the trees beyond the drinking pool, and then turned back. It was only when we got back by the Dell, that we came across another tit flock. They were in the tops of the pines once again, but from higher up in the dunes we could get a better look at them. We watched them for a while, seeing all the same regular species – Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits, and lots of Goldcrests. Then suddenly a crest started calling from low down in the tree right beside us. We turned to see a black and white striped face – a Firecrest. It fed in the tree in front of us for a few seconds, then flew off to join the rest. It was hard work in the trees today so, after a couple of hours, we decided to head west to Titchwell to look for some waders and wildfowl instead.

We had a bit of time before lunch once we arrived, so we walked out along the Fen Trail towards Patsy’s Reedbed. Another flock of tits passed overhead as we walked along the boardwalk – there was no escaping the Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests today! A Common Darter was basking in the sunshine out of the wind on the back of Fen Hide.

P1110202Common Darter – out of the wind and in the sun on the back of Fen Hide

As we walked up to Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see a steady stream of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit flying across the path ahead of us, up over the hedge and down onto the stubble field beyond. There were a lot more Ruff around the muddy edges and islands as well – we counted at least 35 on Patsy’s Reedbed today.

IMG_1884Ruff – one of at least 35 on Patsy’s Reedbed today

The waders kept flying back and forth between the fields and the water. We could see quite a few 1st winter Black-tailed Godwits, with retained juvenile patterned wing coverts but plain grey upperparts. However, one Black-tailed Godwit was still mostly in juvenile plumage – quite rusty coloured on the breast.

IMG_1890Black-tailed Godwit – the middle bird still mostly in bright juvenile plumage

There were plenty of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today as well – mostly Mallard, Wigeon and Teal. A small number of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the water. On the edge of one of the islands, we could see the unmistakable bright orange hairdo of a couple of drake  Red-crested Pochard. Nearby, a couple of pale-cheeked females were sleeping. As we scanned back and forth, more appeared – at least 10 Red-crested Pochard in total today. It had been a productive session out here, but it was time to head back for lunch – so that we could do the main part of the reserve afterwards.

IMG_1873Red-crested Pochard – an orange-headed male & two pale-cheeked females

We walked out onto the reserve after lunch. The grazing marsh pool held a couple of Lapwing, two Ringed Plover and a Redshank. The recent rain had left a couple of puddles, but it is still largely drained. A Kingfisher flashed past along the edge of the reeds and disappeared over the back. The reedbed pool was rather quiet today, with no sign of the raft of Common Pochard which has been there recently.

As we approached Island Hide, we could see a crowd of photographers clustered around the railings along the access ramp. When we got to them, we could see why. There were lots of Goldcrests in the sallows, feeding feverishly on the sunny side, out of the wind. We stood and watched them for a while as they fluttered around only a few feet in front of us. They were obviously fresh in from over the sea, and were desperately looking for food. Interestingly, as we returned back this way later in the afternoon, the sallows were quiet as most of the birds had obviously moved off inland towards the trees.

P1110234Goldcrest – a fresh arrival, looking for food in the sallows

As we stood and watched the Goldcrests, a single Chiffchaff appeared in the same bushes with them, also fluttering around close in front of us looking for food. Again, it was probably fresh in from the continent.

P1110218Chiffchaff – probably also a fresh arrival in the sallows

As usual, there were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh. The waders were dominated by a large flock of Golden Plover roosting on one of the islands. We got them in the scope and could see their golden-spangled upperparts. Several Black-tailed Godwits were also sleeping out there, together with two Avocets. Numbers of the latter are now well down from the huge numbers of late summer. A few Dunlin were scattered around the muddy margins.

Among the ducks, the males are now gradually emerging from eclipse. The drake Teal are a really variable mixture of brown eclipse and smart breeding feathers. There were still lots of rusty brown Wigeon as well as a scattering of Pintail in various states of moult.

P1110207Teal – a moulting drake, with a mixture of old eclipse and new breeding feathers

We made our way on towards Parrinder Hide, but as we got to the junction in the path, we could see a Curlew Sandpiper further along, by the main tidal channel out on the Volunteer Marsh. We continued on along the main path until we were level with it – and got a great look at it through the scope as it fed on the mud, initially with a couple of Dunlin, before walking and running off on its own.

IMG_1902Curlew Sandpiper – feeding out around the Volunteer Marsh again today

There were a few other waders out on the Volunteer Marsh as well, a good smattering of Redshank, Curlew and Grey Plover, plus a couple of Ringed Plover. A single Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and landed out on the mud. A Greenshank flew over calling and disappeared off towards Thornham saltmarsh.

P1110385Curlew – also feeding out on the Volunteer Marsh

Having come this far, we decided to continue out towards the beach. The Tidal Pools held the usual selection of waders – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Grey Plover, plus more Dunlin sleeping on the muddy spits. The tide was on its way in, but there were still lots of birds around the rocks out on the beach. We could see lots of dumpy grey Knot among the Oystercatchers, as well as a few Turnstones. Looking more closely, we picked out a couple more Bar-tailed Godwits as well. A long line of Sanderling were running along the beach down towards the water’s edge.

The sea itself was rather quiet today. A single Great Crested Grebe was diving close in just off the rocks, but still more were further out on the choppy waters. A lone Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore. It was quite cool out on the beach, so we decided to head back.

We hadn’t been in to Parrinder Hide on the way out, so we stopped off their on our way back. With the rising tide, a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot had now gathered to roost on the freshmarsh. Nervously in and out of the vegetation on the bank were at least four Snipe.

P1110325Snipe – at least four were feeding along the bank from Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Shoveler feeding in the deeper water right in front of the hide, helpfully keeping their heads almost permanently down in the water. The drakes are really starting to emerge from eclipse now.

P1110281Shoveler – a drake emerging from eclipse

Back at the junction with the main path, a quick glance at the Volunteer Marsh was just in time to catch a Greenshank dropping in nearby. It only stayed for a second or two, before it was chased off by a Pied Wagtail!

Back at the drained grazing marsh pool, we stopped to look at a Chinese Water Deer which was feeding along the edge of the reeds right at the back. Down at the front, right on the edge of the reeds, we spotted a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly. We had heard one or two calling overhead earlier in the morning, so it was nice to actually see one now.

We swung back round via Meadow Trail. Even though it was cool and breezy, the sun was shining, so we thought it might be worth looking for migrants in the bushes. No surprises, we came across another flock of Long-tailed Tits and lots of Goldcrests. There had been the continual sound of Song Thrushes and Redwings coming in overhead through most of the afternoon, and we saw several new arrivals dropping into the bushes later on today, fresh in from Scandinavia.

As we wound our way round towards Fen Trail, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sallows further in. There has been one here for a while now, but it had proven rather elusive all day today. We stood at one likely spot and scanned, but there was no sign of it. Still it was nice to get one again today – making a full house for the long weekend! Then it was time to head for home.