Tag Archives: Great White Egret

14th Oct 2020 – Private Autumn Day Tour

A Private Autumn single day tour in North Norfolk today. It was mostly cloudy today but mostly dry – we managed to largely dodge the showers, particularly in the afternoon. A brisk NE wind held lots of promise for migrants coming in from the continent.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. Walking in towards the woods from the beach car park, we could see several Little Grebes on the Boating Lake as usual and a few Coot and Mallard to get the day’s list started.

Little Grebe – there were several on the boating lake as usual this morning

As soon as we got into the birches, we found our first tit flock. There were lots of birds flitting around in the trees overhead – Long-tailed Tits, Blue and Coal Tit, Goldcrests and a Treecreeper. Small groups of Redwings flew back and forth overhead and we could hear their teezing calls.

Walking round the north side of the Dell, we flushed more Redwings and several Blackbirds from the bottom, under the trees. We cut across the middle, over the main track and out into the more open area the other side. There were loads of Redwings here too, feeding on berries in the bushes and out on the grass on the grazing marshes beyond. Looking through them, we managed to find one or two Song Thrushes as well. There had clearly been a big arrival of thrushes here in the last 24 hours, mainly Redwings, coming here from Scandinavia for the winter.

Redwing – there had been a big arrival in the last 24 hours

A couple of Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes beyond, a juvenile with bright red wing tags (unfortunately too far away to read the identifying code), and an adult female with much more pale creamy colouring on the leading edge of the wings. Two Red Kites were hanging in the air over the trees in the Park at the back.

The Marsh Harriers kept flushing all the ducks from the grazing marshes, the flocks Wigeon and Teal flying round before settling again around the pools. There were a few Curlew and Lapwing, and several Pied Wagtails out on the wet grass too.

Small groups of Redpolls kept flying back and forth overhead calling while we were scanning the grazing marshes and as we walked on a little further a few flew in and landed in the top of a large birch tree in front of us. We had a much better view of them now, and got one or two in the scope, admiring the red ‘polls’ on their foreheads and black chin patches. These birds looked rather small and brown, Lesser Redpolls. More dropped in to join them and others flew out – there was lots of coming and going.

Lesser Redpoll – several landed in the birches

Continuing round, two Sparrowhawks were up over the pines in the distance, chased by two Carrion Crows, swooping in and out of the treetops. Two male Blackcaps popped up in the top of a large clump of Hawthorn and briar.

Back out on the main track, there were lots of Goldcrests in the birches, as we caught the tail end of another tit flock as it disappeared into the pines. There was nothing of note in the bushes round the Drinking Pool but a couple of Bramblings were calling in the pines and we had a fleeting view high in the trees and then saw one of them flying off.

Goldcrest – there were lots of exhausted migrants in today

Continuing west on the main track, we stopped to watch some more Goldcrests feeding in some sycamores right by the path. We had some great views of them, down at eye level. While they do breed here, numbers are swollen in autumn by arrivals from the continent. We marvelled at how these tiny birds weighing no more than a 20p coin, can manage to fly all the way across the North Sea. When they arrive they are not surprisingly exhausted and hungry and therefore very confiding.

We were just in the process of discussing how you might tell a Firecrest from a Goldcrest when we had a shout from a friend deeper in the trees in front of us that he had just found one! It was very active, flitting around in the oaks, and hard to see. We had a few quick glimpses and then lost track of it. While we were looking round in the trees for the Firecrest, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared too, but again we only managed frustratingly brief views of it before we lost track of it.

The Goldcrests seemed to be working their way slowly east through the trees, so we walked back out onto the track and followed them. We could hear more wheezy calls from Bramblings a little further along and walked back where a smart male finally gave itself up nicely in some birches, turning round and showing off its bright orange breast and shoulders.

Brambling – this male gave itself up in the birches by the track

There were no Goldcrests this far down – we seemed to have overshot the flock – so we walked back a few metres until we found them again. Suddenly out popped a boldly marked head low in an oak tree right in front of us, like a rather like Goldcrest but with additional stripes, black through the eye and a striking white supercilium above. It was the Firecrest and we had great views of it now as it performed in front of our eyes.

Firecrest – reappeared low in an oak tree right in front of us

We continued to follow the Goldcrests and we were rewarded again when the Yellow-browed Warbler reappeared in a small sycamore beside the track. It fed here for a couple of minutes now, giving us the chance to get a better look at its stripes, a striking yellowish supercilium and double wing bars.

Having enjoyed great views of Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler, we decided to start walking back. There was a report of some other birds in the open area by the Dell now, so we cut back in and walked slowly in through the grass and round the brambles and hawthorns.

A Lesser Whitethroat flicked out ahead of us, and we watched it feeding in the brambles. At this time of year, they are mainly ‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroats passing through, birds of the race blythi, also known as Siberian Lesser Whitethroats and coming to us from much further east. Sure enough, this was an Eastern Lesser Whitethroat, with the brown of the mantle continuing as a shawl up over the back of the head. We could hear its quiet tacking calls as it worked its way round.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat – of the race blythi

We found a smart male Bullfinch in the brambles too, and still lots of Redwings and Redpolls, but no sign of the Redstart now which was seen here earlier. As we made our way back to the main track, a couple of Redpolls flew in and landed briefly in the hawthorns ahead of us. A flash of a streaky but pale rump on one indicated it was a Mealy Redpoll, the flammea race of Common Redpoll which comes here from Scandinavia in the autumn.

Cutting back in round the east side of the Dell, we had another look in the birches on our way back to the car park. Several Blackcaps flitted ahead of us and a couple of Bullfinches were in the brambles. There was a tit flock in the trees here again, the light was better this time. We spent some time looking through them – lots of Goldcrests but nothing more unusual.

Back out to the car park, we picked up lunch and walked over to the harbour. Up on the seawall, we ate our lunch while we scanned the channel and the mud and sands opposite. There were a few Cormorants diving in the channel itself and a couple of closer Brent Geese on the far side. We could see lots more Brent Geese further out on the sands and they started to fly back in past us and back into the harbour, presumably to feed.

Brent Geese – flying in past us along the harbour channel

The waders were rather distant at first here today, right up on the back of the mud towards East Hills. Through the scope, we could see lots of Knot, together with several Dunlin and Turnstones. A couple of Ringed Plover were well camouflaged on one of the patches of shingle. There was a scattering of Curlew and a good number of Oystercatchers here too.

A dark shape hunched right out on the middle of the sands, as we thought it might, resolved itself into a Peregrine through the scope, loafing out on a sand bar. Presumably it had been hunting the waders and had stopped for a rest.

So when something flushed all the Knot, we thought at first the Peregrine might be the culprit, but it was still on the sand in the same place. We watched as the Knot whirled round in a tight flock, back and forth, twisting and turning, flashing grey and white. Four larger birds with them were Bar-tailed Godwits. All of them landed together on the edge of the channel, giving us a much better view, the godwits squabbling in the shallow water.

We stopped at the beach cafe for a welcome hot drink. We had a few possible options for the afternoon, but there had been a small number of Pallas’s Warblers appearing along the coast this morning and we thought we would try for the one which had been reported already several times, out at Burnham Overy Dunes. We parked in the car park at the staithe, and walked out along the seawall, hoping to pick up a few waders en route.

Curlew – feeding on the edge of the harbour channel

A close Curlew was feeding down on the near edge of the harbour channel as we set off and more were out on the grazing meadows the other side. Our attention was caught by three Moorhen just beyond the ditch. Two seemed to be fighting, one pinned down by the other, while the third looked on. When the fighting birds separated, one tried to run off but was chased all the way along the bank by the other, pecking at its heels. The third ran along too a few seconds later, not wanting to be left behind.

There were a couple of Grey Plovers down beside the harbour channel further along and two Ringed Plovers out on the sandbank in the middle, along with a few Brent Geese and Wigeon. Looking out over the saltmarsh beyond, we could see a few white shapes, which were all Little Egrets.

Grey Plover – on the edge of the harbour channel

Past the corner on the seawall, there were lots of Dunlin on the open muddy inlet, along with a couple more Ringed Plover, and lots of Redshanks too. A Stonechat perched up briefly on the brambles.

The cattle were rather distant today, out in the middle of the grazing marshes looking over towards Holkham. We did see a few white birds flying round amongst them, at least three Cattle Egrets, but they kept landing out of view behind a line of reeds. The large flock of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh was very well camouflaged against the other burnt colours of autumn vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we turned west to walk out to Gun Hill. We had already been told that the Pallas’s Warbler had not been seen again, for at least the last couple of hours, but we thought we should try our luck anyway. We flushed yet more Redwings from the bushes on the way and there were more Goldcrests in the low privet and bramble out in the dunes. The Goldcrests were unbelievably tame – just arrived over the North Sea, exhausted, they simply have to feed and have no time to worry about people. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find any sign of the Pallas’s Warbler here.

We climbed up onto the higher dunes to look out over the beach. There were lots of Cormorants drying their wings on the sandbank at the entrance to the channel, and a single Sanderling running along the shoreline nearby.

After a sit down, it was time to start walking back. We had a better view of the Cattle Egrets on the return journey. We got a couple in the scope, feeding in between the legs of the cows, and managed to count at least seven out there now. They were still rather distant though, out on the grazing marshes.

As we drove back east, we stopped briefly at Holkham. There were lots of Cormorants loafing in the trees, presumably getting ready to roost. The first Great White Egret was out on a small pool on the grazing marsh. Then we found a second in with the Belted Galloway cows along with a Grey Heron (they probably had an identity crisis and thought they were Cattle Egrets too!). A third Great White Egret appeared further back, and with a bit of careful scanning we found a fourth away in the distance.

Great White Egret – in with the cows along with a Grey Heron

That would have been more than enough, but what may have been a fifth Great White Egret flew in just as we were packing up. This is another species which has colonised in a remarkably short space of time, and gone from being rare to not uncommon now. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the near edge of the marshes, presumably getting ready to go to roost. Unfortunately it was time for us to call it a day too.

23rd Sept 2020 – Private Tour & Wader Spectacular, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk. It was a very different day to yesterday. Heavy rain overnight thankfully cleared through early, but it was much cooler, grey and cloudy, with some showers through the morning. After the Wader Spectacular yesterday, we would spend the day today looking for Autumn migrants and other interesting birds along the coast.

After our failure to even get in the (still partly closed) car park yesterday, we headed over to Titchwell first. There was no problem with parking today – it helped being early, but the weather had an effect too, with many fewer beachgoers clogging it up all day. It was nice that people could actually get in and do some birdwatching today!

The rain had stopped by the time we arrived, so we had a quick look round the overflow car park before it got busy. There was very little at first, until we got right round to the far corner, where we found several Blackcaps feeding in the elders, along with Blackbirds and a Song Thrush.

We headed straight out onto the reserve. We had just got onto the main path, beyond the Visitor Centre, and turned to scan the grazing meadow through the gap in the trees. A very distant Common Buzzard was perched on top of a bush over towards Thornham, but a white dot on the brambles below caught our eye. We were not even sure it was a bird at that range, but we set up the scope to look just in case. A shrike!

Red-backed Shrike – very distant, right over the back of Thornham GM

The shrike looked rather pale-headed at first, perched face on to us, but after a while it dropped down to the ground and came back up to the same bush with its back to us. We could see a bit more of it now and it looked good for a young (1st winter) Red-backed Shrike. Another good find, our second in four days. We let everyone at the Visitor Centre know, and a few of the staff came out for a look.

As we continued on along path, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the tall willows. We stopped to look through them, just in case, but all we could find today were a couple of Chiffchaffs with them. As we came out of the trees, a Greenshank came up off the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh and flew past us, disappeared round the back of the trees behind us.

A quick look out at Reedbed Pool produced a few Common Pochard out on the water, an addition to the trip wildfowl list. A young Hobby was hunting distantly over the back of the reedbed and up over Willow Wood beyond.

It was a still morning and we had just said it might be good for Bearded Tits when we heard their pinging calls ahead of us. A flock of about eight of them flew up and landed again in the reeds quite close to the main path. We walked up and stood opposite where they had landed. After a few seconds they started to climbed up into the tops of the reeds to feed on the seedheads. We had fantastic views, several males with powder grey heads and black moustaches accompanied by a few grey-brown females.

Bearded Tit – great views in the reeds by the main path

A Great White Egret flew out of the reedbed and landed briefly on the Freshmarsh while we were watching the Bearded Tits. Then it flew again and came straight towards us, before turning and flying across the path just in front of us. It was another great view – we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill, long trailing black legs, and deep slow wingbeats. We watched as it headed out over the saltmarsh the other side.

Great White Egret – flew over the bank & out across the saltmarsh

There were more Bearded Tits in the reeds up by Island Hide – it was certainly a great morning for them. We had a quick look at the Freshmarsh, where we could see a couple of Spoonbills out in the middle, and a large gathering of godwits, including a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits come in to roost over high tide.

Our key target for the morning was to see if we could find any Lapland Buntings out on the beach. More people were arriving on the reserve now, and we were worried that they might get flushed again, so we decided to head straight out to Thornham Point, before it got too busy. We could come back to look at the Freshmarsh at our leisure later.

It was high tide, and the Volunteer Marsh was pretty much completely covered in water. A small group of Common Redshank had gathered on one of the sandy islands at the back of the Tidal Pool. One bird was standing separate from them, in the water, and instantly looked paler. A Spotted Redshank, we could see its long, needle-fine bill and prominent white supercilium.

Spotted Redshank – on the back of the Tidal Pool

A line of birds roosting on the spit a little further up included several Grey Plovers, a couple of them still with their summer black bellies, plus a few Knot, Turnstones, Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers. They had all come in here from the beach to roost over high tide.

Out onto the beach, we turned left and headed out towards Thornham Point. A Snow Bunting flew in with a small group of Sanderling and landed on the edge of the water ahead of us. It ran up the sand and we watched it picking around on the high tide line. We walked past slowly, so as not to spook it, but we needn’t have worried. It was very tame, as they often are, and allowed us past just a few metres away, unconcerned by our presence.

Snow Bunting – feeding on the high tide line along the beach

There were several small groups of waders on the shore all the way up. Groups of silvery-grey Sanderling running in and out of the waves like clockwork toys. We stood still and one ran straight past us. One or two Ringed Plovers were mixed in with them and several Turnstones were feeding higher up on the high tide line.

Sanderling – the clockwork toys of the beach

A couple of people coming back along the beach told us that a Lapland Bunting was still out on the beach Thornham Point, so we quickened our step. We wanted to get out there before it got disturbed. One person had already overtaken us, and more were coming out onto the beach behind. We bumped into the Snow Bunting again out at the Point – the same one we saw earlier, it must have flown past us with the Sanderlings.

As we walked round the Point, we thought we would find the person who had gone ahead of us watching the Lapland Bunting, but they had disappeared. We would only find out a couple of days later that they had flushed the Lapland Bunting and made a quick getaway before we arrived!

We walked slowly past the piles of debris on the high tide line, unaware that the bird had flown off, when suddenly something flicked up from behind a large pile of dead vegetation just in front of us. Thankfully it landed again a few feet ahead – the Lapland Bunting! It had obviously flown back after the other person had left.

We stood still and got the Lapland Bunting in the scope. It was almost too close, fill the frame views at minimum magnification! Like the Snow Bunting earlier, but even more so, it was totally unconcerned by our presence, busy feeding. It worked its way down to the end of the piles of debris and then came back right past us within only a couple of metres. We had it all to ourselves – we could see the hint of a rusty chestnut collar and its black bib. Stunning!

Lapland Bunting – stunning close views feeding out on the Point

We had seen dark clouds away to the west earlier, and now it started to rain. We were rather exposed out on the beach, so we went to seek shelter round the other side of the Point. We thought we might get round to the tower, but the saltmarsh had flooded over the high tide and was impassable without boots. Thankfully the rain quickly stopped. A Great White Egret was out on the flooded saltmarsh in the middle of Thornham Harbour.

Back out on the beach, the Lapland Bunting was still feeding along the high tide line as we passed by. A couple of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. We had seen them flying up and down as we walked out and they were now diving into the water. Several Gannets were plunge diving off the Point too, including a couple of dark juveniles and white adults with black-tipped wings. As we started to walk back, we kept one eye on the sea and picked up an Arctic Skua flying past low over the water offshore. A nice bonus.

We had more great views of Sanderlings again on the walk back. When we got back to the main path, we stopped again for another quick look at the sea. Several Great Crested Grebes were out on the water and a single Red-throated Diver flew in and landed further out. We could see more shower clouds approaching, so we waited on the beach in the lee of the dunes. The worst of the rain passed to the east of us, and just the edge of the rain caught us and was thankfully over very quickly.

As we set off back along the main path, the waders were still roosting on the Tidal Pool. The Spotted Redshank was now in with the Common Redshanks, preening, giving us a good side by side comparison. Two Great White Egrets were now flying round together out over the saltmarsh.

Back at the Freshmarsh, the Bar-tailed Godwits were starting to fly out to the beach in groups, calling, ready to feed on the falling tide. A canteen of Spoonbills was roosting out in the middle now – we counted fourteen. They mostly asleep, as Spoonbills often do, but one was awake and feeding and a couple were preening. While we were standing here, one Spoonbill took off and flew right over our heads, heading out to the saltmarsh to feed.

Spoonbill – one flew out over our heads

There were Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the bank now, and a female climbed up into the top to feed on a seedhead. A Reed Warbler was flitting around in the reeds too. A careful scan round the reeds on the far side revealed a Water Rail feeding quietly on the edge of the mud.

We had a more careful look through the waders now. There were about ten Avocets still, and a few Ruff. Another Spotted Redshank called and we watched it fly across the bank close to us before heading out over the saltmarsh – a different bird to the one we had seen earlier, this time a dusky grey juvenile.

There was a group of smaller waders on the mud over by the reeds. A look through them reveled two slightly larger and longer-billed juvenile Curlew Sandpipers in with several streaky-bellied Dunlin. We had a good view of them through the scope. They were gradually working their way over close to Island Hide, so we thought we would go in for a closer view. But just at that moment a Kestrel flew in from the saltmarsh, dipped down low between Island Hide and the reeds and spooked them. They landed again but back further out.

Curlew Sandpipers – two juveniles with one of the Dunlin

Looking across the reedbed, we could see two Hobbys now, hawking back and forth over the trees around Fen Hide. We walked back to the Visitors Centre, and decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed and along the Autumn Trail before lunch, so turned out along Fen Trail.

A Coot was the highlight on Patsy’s, along with a couple more Common Pochard. Round on East Trail, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits on the edge of Willow Wood but again couldn’t find anything with them.

Continuing on down to the far end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back of the Freshmarsh. There didn’t appear to be much different here at first, but scanning across we noticed a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull in the middle of a long line of gulls on the water. Three nice juvenile Ruff were feeding on the edge of the reeds in front and there were more Bearded Tits here, calling and flying across over the reeds.

It was time to head back – we would already be having a late lunch now. One of the Hobbys was now hawking over the front of Willow Wood, but disappeared round the back and appeared to land out of view. We could see more dark clouds approaching and hoped we might get back before they arrived, but we had only made it as far as Fen Hide when it started to rain. We ducked in, and were very glad of the shelter and our timing because the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour for about twenty minutes.

By the time it stopped and we could make our way back to the bus now it was definitely a late lunch! Afterwards we drove back east along the coast road to Wells and parked in the beach car park. As we walked in towards the Woods, at least ten Little Grebes were out on the boating lake.

In through birches and round under the trees on the north side of the Dell, it all seemed very quiet, and we couldn’t find any sign of a tit flock. Round at the Dell meadow, we met someone just leaving who told us that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was still around, but he hadn’t seen it. We cut in through trees where we had seen it the other day.

There were a few more people in here, under the trees, waiting for it to reappear and as we walked round the Red-breasted Flycatcher flicked across in front of us, up in the trees. We had a quick view of it from beneath, before it moved back further through the trees along the path. We knew it would be following its usual circuit, but someone there objected to us following it down the path, insisting we should wait for it to come back here. No problem. We walked out and round the long way to the other side.

There were a couple of more friendly locals here and we joined them on the bank. After a minute, the Red-breasted Flycatcher reappeared low down in the back of the trees, where we had watched it the other day. It was hard to see until it moved, but we could follow it as it flicked across to the next tree and everyone got onto it.

Red-breasted Flycatcher – still doing its usual circuit round under the trees

When it got to the trees above a small pool, the Red-breasted Flycatcher froze and stayed still. It was not feeding as actively and we soon realised why when it dropped down to the water to bathe. Afterwards it flew up into a nearby tangle to preen and dry itself. Great to watch.

It flicked up again and we lost sight of it in the back of the trees. Then we picked it up again, seemingly going back on its circuit, so we walked back round the long way to where we had first seen it today. The person who had told us we should wait here had given up and gone. We stood in the trees and the Red-breasted Flycatcher flew in and landed right in front of us, just a couple of metres away. Great views! We stood quietly and watched it, perching still in the trees before making little sallies after insects.

The Red-backed Shrike here was reported as still present too, but had moved a couple of fields from where we had found it the other day. As we walked down the track past the caravan site, a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew up off the grazing marshes and disappeared off inland.

When we got to the bales by the cattle field, we found a couple of people watching the Red-backed Shrike on the fence. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, much better views than the one at Titchwell this morning. A two Red-backed Shrike day!

Red-backed Shrike – our second of the day, still at Wells

We could see some Pink-footed Geese down in the grass in the next field over. Several flocks flew up calling, their distinctive yelping calls the sound of the winter here, and we watched as they headed off inland. There were still some down in the grass, so we got them in the scope, admiring their dark head and delicate dark bills with a variable pink band around.

Pink-footed Geese – flying up from out on the grazing marsh

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days, with some really good birds, and not to forget the wonderful Wader Spectacular yesterday. Lots to live long in the memory.

20th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular, our last day. It was a cloudier day today, though still dry, and the wind though still fresh and from the NE, was perhaps not quite as strong as it had been. Today we would be heading up to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular at Snettisham.

It was an early start to catch the tide, but as we were driving up to Wells to pick the rest of the group up, we found a car across the road with its hazard lights on. We thought there might have been an accident or something, but a woman got out and explained they had decided to close the road to move static caravan. It was obviously not official, and they hadn’t sought any permission to close the road so we were not sure how legal it was, but there was no time to argue and no choice but to go the long way round. The woman just shrugged and gave us a sheepish smile. Consequently, we were slightly later than planned getting away.

On the drive across to the Wash, we passed several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed, coming up from the marshes where they had spent the night. There was flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws in the fields and a Barn Owl on a post by the road, but we had no time to stop now.

When we got to the Wash and up onto the seawall, the tide was already coming in fast, pushed in ahead of time by the fresh NE wind. We made our way straight down to Rotary Hide today, and stopped in front to scan. Huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers were gathered out on the mud, along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Waders – gathered on the mud ahead of the rapidly rising tide

The waders were all shifting nervously, whether driven by the rapidly rising tide or perhaps there had been a predator around normally. There were no small waders down on the near edge today. The Knot on the edge of the flock out in the middle, those closest to the water, were constantly being caught by the tide and they kept flying up and over the others, landing again on the drier mud higher up.

As we walked down towards the far corner of the Wash, it was a struggle to keep up with the tide today. We did keep stopping to watch every time the waders went up. The Oystercatchers started to give up first, flying up in big groups and in overhead calling noisily, before circling down onto the pit behind us.

Oystercatchers – gave up first and flew in overhead to the pit

Before we could even get to the corner, suddenly all the Knot and other waders went up. We couldn’t see any sign of the Peregrine, but they were definitely nervous and put on quite a show, whirling round out over the Wash. The latest WeBS count total of Knot this week was 68,000 – incredible to see them all in the air together.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot spooked and took off
Waders – whirling round in the air
Waders – different flocks going in different directions

It was amazing to watch all the Knot and other waders up in the sky. Some tried to land back on the mud, but were immediately spooked again. Different flocks were going in different directions. Despite the wind, we could hear was the beating of thousands and thousands of pairs of wings. Some of the Knot started to come in, low overhead – mesmerising to look up and watch – while others towered up over the Wash.

Waders – some of the Knot started to come in low overhead

We turned to watch the Knot coming in and start to drop down onto the pit, but for some reason they wouldn’t settle on the south end today. We watched the birds flying round and round, backwards and forwards, low over the pit in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ today!). The birds which had gone high turned back out over the Wash. Some of the others went back out and landed again in the final corner of mud.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle in front of the new hide today

We walked on down to the end. Those Knot which had landed again were quickly forced off, and came in over us again. Tens of thousands were still towering high in the sky. Small flocks of Dunlin flew past out over the Wash, presumably now looking to roost along the shore further up.

There was now nothing left out on the Wash and any remaining mud was covered with water. There were still huge flocks of Knot high in the sky, but we decided to go into the hides to see what was on the pit.

Shore Hide was empty – everyone had gone down to see the new hide. Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting on the concrete blocks out in the middle. We got them in the scopes – one was helpfully awake and we could see its long spiky bill with a needle-fine tip. A juvenile Common Tern was still lingering here, standing on one of the other concrete blocks nearby.

A Little Stint landed on the shore of the shingle island in front of the hide. There was nothing else on there today, and we watched it picking around on the shore between the blobs of foam. It was a juvenile – we could see its distinctive pale ‘braces’. After a while it flew off again. Then a Common Sandpiper landed on the island next and walked around on its own in the middle for a bit.

Little Stint – landed on the island in front of Shore Hide

Scanning the islands further up the pit, there were next to no Knot on any of the islands closest to the seawall today. Only one of the islands across on the other side of the pit was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. A lot of Dunlin (mostly) on one of the nearer islands was more socially distanced. We scanned through, to see if we could find anything more unusual in with them, but couldn’t find anything today.

Looking towards the south end, we could see that the Knot which had come in today were concentrated on the bank, with the Oystercatchers. They were still shuffling nervously.

As we walked round to South Hide, a young Peregrine circled overhead and gradually drifted out over Wash. Perhaps this is why everything was so nervous today. We watched it stoping down, flushing all the Curlews and godwits from out on the saltmarsh. There was a lot of water on there today, with only the taller bushes and higher islands still exposed – a combination of the big tide, backed by the blustery NE wind. Three Marsh Harriers were hunting out over the Wash further back too.

Peregrine – circled over as we walked down to South Hide

With social distancing restrictions in force, we had to wait to get into South Hide today, but thankfully not long. When we donned our masks and got inside, we found the two shingle islands at this end still mostly empty. One Little Stint and a small cluster of Knot was on one, but that was it. Two Common Sandpipers flew round calling below the hide.

Most of the Knot were still on the bank. We watched them jostling nervously. They would settle for a bit, then one end would start to move and a wave would pass through the flock.

We went round to have a look at the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’. It was largely empty now apart from a line of photographers in the corner, packed shoulder to shoulder, lying down at the low camera windows. Every time the Knot on the far bank flew up, there was a cacophony as a barrage of camera shutters fired in unison. Perhaps the amount of noise was putting the birds off from landing on the closer islands?

Two Little Stints and the two Common Sandpipers were now running around on one of the islands. A single Avocet was roosting in with the Oystercatchers gathered on one end, a different variation in monochrome. The last bird in the flock, standing in the water at the end, was a smartly marked juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit.

A line of Knot peeled off from the bank and headed back out. It was an hour after high tide already, so we figured we should go outside and back round to the bank to try to catch the birds as they returned to the Wash. But when we got out, there was still no sign of any mud. With the wind and the amount of water today – the path was even flooded in one spot now – the tide was going to be really slow to go out. The Knot which had come up off the bank flew straight back in and dropped down again in to the pit.

Still, we walked down to the edge of the Wash and got into position. We didn’t have to wait too long before some mud started to reappear in the top corner and once it started, the tide began to go out as quickly as it had come in.

Finally, the Knot started peeling off from the pit again. We were in the perfect position, and they came low in lines making a beeline for the mud, came right over our heads.

Waders – the Knot started flying back out in lines, right overhead

Suddenly we heard a loud whoosh and a larger group came up and flew out towards us. The young Peregrine was over the pit, and spooking everything. We watched it stoop down a couple of times towards the bank, but it didn’t have any height and it looked like it didn’t quite know what to do. It flew further up the pit and flushed all the Knot from the island that end too. We watched as they flew out in lines, low over the bank and out onto the Wash.

The Knot quickly settled in big groups out on the mud, but then the Peregrine circled up from the pit and drifted out over the Wash. Instant pandemonium – the waders all erupted again, taking off, whirling round. The flocks made some amazing shapes, as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing dark and light.

Waders – all flushed by the Peregrine
Waders – the flocks made some amazing shapes. Shark?
Waders – flashed light and dark as they twisted and turned

The Peregrine appeared to successfully get one separated from the flock at one point, but despite chasing after it, it lost it. Again, probably showing its inexperience. A second Peregrine appeared further back, flushed everything behind. It was an amazing show, truly spectacular, and we were endebted to the Peregrines for stirring everything up. We just stood and watched transfixed, to the sounds of the flocks’ wings and oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The waders eventually resettled on the mud, as the Peregrines drifted off. We started to scan through the flock nearest to us. There were several pale silvery grey and white Sanderlings with the Knot now, and the very last bird on the end was a lone juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. We could see the pale peachy wash on its breast and its long downcurved bill.

We could still see an adult Peregrine, on a post in the distance, on the saltmatsh beyond the mud. The waders much further back, in the next bay, were still being stirred up. Presumably the juvenile Peregrine was trying its luck back there now. The waders this end were mostly settled, and started to go to sleep. Occasionally a flock would take off and fly further out across the mud, twisting and turning, catching the sun which had started to come out now.

As we turned to head back, a shout went out and we looked out across the Wash to see a Great Skua flying low over the water beyond the flocks of waders.

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we had to take a diversion inland to get there. There was so much traffic on the coast road, it had back up from the traffic lights at Heacham. Unheard of in late September, it was like midsummer! The car park at Titchwell is still partly closed and once again was full – they were only letting one in and one out. We were lucky to arrive just as someone was leaving and get straight in.

We decided on an early lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted overhead and a Common Darter was basking on the bench in the sunshine. After lunch, we headed out on to the reserve. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees as we filled out the test and trace form at the Visitor Centre.

Thornham grazing marsh was flooded with saltwater where the pool used to be, after the high tide had come in. A single Stock Dove was out in the vegetation and several Curlews were feeding on the saltmarsh beyond.

A large mob of Greylags was on the Reedbed Pool, but scanning through we managed to find a few Common Pochard in with them, and Coot and Little Grebes right at back. A pair of Gadwall was in the channel just beyond.

A young Hobby was hunting low over the reeds, out in the middle, shooting back and forth. It caught something, presumably a dragonfly, and circled up over the trees by the visitor centre. A Sparrowhawk emerged from the trees and chased after it, presumably trying to steal its catch. It was quite a dogfight for a bit, amazing to watch, before the Sparrowhawk gave up. The Hobby finished its meal and we watched it hunting over Willow Wood at the back of the reedbed.

Up by Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still rather windy and they were keeping well down today. We stopped to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further up. There were not as many waders on here today. A few Avocets were still here, feeding over towards the back, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Quite a few Ruff, paler adults and browner juveniles, were closer to the bank. Otherwise, there were a couple of Dunlin and two Golden Plover on one of the islands, in with the Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls.

Ruff – a juvenile, close to the main west bank path

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now as birds return for the winter, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and more Gadwall. They are not looking their best at this time of year though – with the drakes mostly in their dull eclipse plumage.

A Grey Heron was standing motionless, fishing out in the middle of the deeper water towards the back. Next time we looked, there was a Great White Egret next to it. It was good to see the two of them side by side, so we could really appreciate the large size of the Great White Egret.

Great White Egret – appeared out on the Freshmarsh, next to the Grey Heron

There had been some Lapland Buntings on the beach this morning, and someone walking back now told us they were still there, although they had apparently flown up the beach a bit further along to the west. We decided to go to try to look for them.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Curlew and Common Redshanks on the mud by the channel at the far end. A lone Brent Goose flew over. There was still a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, despite it being close to low tide now, and not much on here either.

The tide was a long way out when we got to the beach, and we couldn’t see anything obvious on the sea. There were lots of people around the mussel beds and not many waders. We set off west along the tide line. Unfortunately there was no sign of any buntings now. Several beachgoers were walking out here, and presumably they had been flushed.

We continued on up to Thornham Point, where we found a little group of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach. A party of Brent Geese was loafing out on the sand closer to the sea. Rounding the corner, we found several Spoonbills out in the middle of Thornham Harbour. Two flew off as we appeared, but there were still seven preening out on the saltmarsh.

Spoonbills – preening out in the middle of Thornham Harbour

It was time to head back now – after a very early start, everyone was tired now and still had journeys home ahead of them. The memories of this morning’s Wader Spectacular would linger long, a great final day to end the tour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Admiral – enjoying the morning sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaggy Inkcap – growing in the grass by East Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whinchat – in the dunes with a small group of Stonechats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

8th Mar 2020 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 3

Day 3 of our three day Winter, Brecks & Goshawks tour, our last day today. It was a rather blustery morning, with the winds dropping in the afternoon, and mostly dry and bright – we managed mostly to dodge the showers. We spent the day up on the North Norfolk coast.

Holkham was our destination for the morning. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see lots of ducks out on the floods on the grazing marsh, mainly Wigeon, with a scattering of Shoveler, Teal and one or two Gadwall. We parked at the north end and as we walked up towards the pines, we stopped to admire a smart pair of Grey Partridge feeding very quietly right by the fence behind the parking attendants’ hut.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – this pair was feeding by Lady Anne’s Drive

There was a blustery wind blowing, so we elected to go round to the hides first, rather than out onto the beach. As we walked west along the track on the inland side of the pines, there were a few tits calling in the trees. We stopped briefly at Salts Hole, where four Little Grebes were diving out on the water. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were out on the grass beyond.

Diverting up onto the boardwalk by Washington Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret out on the grazing marshes. Its large size was immediately apparent and through the scope we could see its long yellow bill. Way off in the distance, we could just make out a few White-fronted Geese over by the road, behind the hedge, but we hoped to see some closer from the next hide.

A Chiffchaff was calling in the bushes by the track the other side of Meals House – it would be nice to think it might be an early spring migrant, but it was just as likely an overwintering bird here.

The first thing we saw when we got into Joe Jordan Hide was the lone Spoonbill asleep down on the pool below the wood, bright white in the morning sunshine. It did wake up at one point and flash its spoon-shaped bill, revealing that it was an immature bird – it also lacked the shaggy crest of the breeding adults. It then hopped into the shelter of the rushes on the edge of the pool. It was the only one we saw here today, the others possibly hiding from the wind in the trees.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

There were two more Great White Egrets out on the grazing marshes from here, feeding together out in a particularly thick clump of rushes. It was amazing that such a large white bird could completely disappear in the vegetation at times.

There was no sign of the large flock of wintering White-fronted Geese on the old fort today. Most of the Greylags were sleeping out on the marshes and scanning carefully through we did manage to find six White-fronted Geese in with them. They didn’t hang around though, for no apparent reason waking up and flying off, presumably to find the rest of the flock.

Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to move on. As we walked out earlier, a runner had mentioned there had been a Short-eared Owl out on the beach, so we thought we would check in case it was hunting along the north side of the pines. When we got out into the dunes, there was no sign of the owl, but we did find three Stonechats flitting around in the bushes, the single male singing quietly, and several song-flighting Meadow Pipits fluttering up and parachuting back down.

The large raft of several thousand Common Scoter which has been in the bay all winter was directly offshore from here today, so we stopped for a quick look through them. The tide was out so, despite them being not too far offshore, they were distant from the dunes and it was very choppy. We did manage to pick out a Velvet Scoter in with them, but it was impossible to get everyone onto it in the conditions. More surprisingly, a pair of Pintail and a drake Shoveler were in with the scoter flock too.

It was more sheltered on the north side of the pines, so we decided to walk back through the dunes. It was a good call as it gave us the chance to scan the beach and saltmarsh on the way. We picked up a pair of Ringed Plovers roosting on the shingle, perhaps not for long given the number of dogs running round loose on the beach. Then we picked up five small birds flying round out on the saltmarsh in the distance. As they turned we could see they were fairly pale with contrasting black tails – Shorelarks!

We had a quick look at them from where we were – there was a spaniel running around out on the saltmarsh and heading in their direction and we worried they might fly off. Then we hurried over for a closer look. The Shorelarks were feeding in the low saltmarsh vegetation, but still remarkably hard to see until they lifted their heads. Then their canary yellow faces and black masks gave them away.

Shorelark

Shorelarks – two of the five which were feeding out on the saltmarsh

When the Shorelarks are not feeding in the cordoned-off area at the other end of the beach they can be hard to find, so it was great that we had bumped into them. By the end of this month, they will probably be off to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

Snow Buntings were on the target list for the day too, so we walked east to the cordon to see if we could find them there. Some people we passed had said they were on the beach at the far end, so we headed over there first. There was no sign of them on the beach and it was very windy and sand-blasted here. A quick scan of the sand bars produced a few Sanderling running around on the beach.

Another person further back on the inland side of the dunes waved to us, and as we started to walk over we realised he was watching a small group of Snow Buntings which were feeding between us in a sheltered gap in the dunes. We had a good look at them as they fed. There were six of them at first, but gradually they ran up and disappeared into the dunes.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – six were feeding in the shelter of the dunes

It was then heads down for the walk back, into the wind. It was a relief to get to the Gap and the shelter of the pines. It was time for lunch now, so we took advantage of the Lookout Cafe to get a welcome hot drink and some food, and use the facilities.

The wind seemed to have eased a bit after lunch. It was bright and sunny now and we commented how there was no sign of any of the forecast showers – indeed the forecast had changed and was now not predicting any until mid afternoon. We set off west, but stopped where we had seen the White-fronted Geese very distantly from the other side early this morning.

There were lots of Greylags and Egyptian Geese in the field, and in with them were still at least 50 White-fronted Geese. We parked and got out, being careful not to spook them, and got them in the scope. We could see the white surround to the base of their bills and distinctive black belly bars.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – there were at least 50 still in the field this afternoon

Thankfully, we had all had a chance to get a really good look at the White-fronted Geese when it started to spit with rain. How ironic, given the change to the forecast! We could see some dark clouds now out to the west, so we hopped back into the minibus and drove through a sharp shower and back out into the sunshine.

As we drove through Titchwell village, we noticed a Barn Owl hunting the grassy field by the road. We had just pulled up and were about to get out to watch it, when a young Common Gull which was flying over swooped down straight at it. The Barn Owl dropped sharply, clearly as surprised as we were at this act of unprovoked aggression! It then turned and made a zig-zagging beeline for the hedge, where it dropped down under the bushes in the bottom, looking round nervously. After convincing itself that the coast was clear, it flew out of the back of the hedge and straight into the back of the wood beyond.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hiding under the hedge after being attacked by a Common Gull

Carrying on past Titchwell, we stopped next at Thornham Harbour. There was no sign of any Twite around the old coal barn. A Black-tailed Godwit in the harbour channel was our first of the weekend and a Curlew was feeding on the saltmarsh opposite. With the wind having dropped, we decided to have a quick walk up to the corner of the seawall to see what we could see.

There were plenty of Common Redshank out in the muddy channels and one or two more Curlews. A small group of Linnets kept flying up from the vegetation in front of us and a Little Egret was on the edge of the saltmarsh just below the bank. Scanning further out in the harbour channel, we picked up a much paler wader. Through the scope, we could confirm it was a Spotted Redshank in silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. We could see the prominent white supercilium bridging the base of the bill, which was long and needle-fine at the tip.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – in the harbour channel at Thornham again

Spotted Redshanks winter in very small numbers here – they are mainly passage migrants, passing through in spring and autumn. There have been two commuting between Thornham and Titchwell this winter, but they disappear into the tidal creeks and can be very hard to find at time. Looking further out, we could see a few Knot and Grey Plover on the tidal flats and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser in the outer channel through the sands.

We headed round to Titchwell next, to finish the afternoon. As we got out of the minibus and stopped to use the facilities, we heard the distinctive calls of Mediterranean Gulls and looked up to see a succession of birds flying in and out overhead.

Checking in at the Visitor Centre, there had been no sign of any Woodcock today but we were told that there were three Red-crested Pochard on Patsy’s Reedbed. We went that way first and quickly found them out on the water. The two drakes were already looking resplendent in the afternoon sun, but then they started displaying to the female, with their bright orange punk haircuts raised. One of the males was more successful, and we watched the pair mating while the second drake played gooseberry!

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – displaying and mating on Patsy’s Reedbed

Otherwise, there were not many other ducks on here today. Two or three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air out over the reedbed or over towards Brancaster. A Chinese Water Deer appeared on the edge of the reeds briefly.

Back round on the main path, there were a few Common Pochards on the reedbed pool. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes in the reeds. The water level on the freshmarsh is very high again and there was no sign of the shallow islands which had started to be exposed a couple of weeks ago.

There were lots of Avocets trying to find any shallow water in which to feed and most were gathered right in front of Island Hide, so we went in for a closer look. They were right up to their bellies in the water and either swimming or could just get their feet onto the bottom to kick themselves up to try to reach the mud with their bills.

Avocet

Avocet – trying to feed up to its belly in the deep water

There was very little else on the Freshmarsh apart from the gulls, which have taken over the large ‘Avocet Island’ again this year, where the Avocets are supposed to nest. We walked round to Parrinder Hide for a closer look at some Mediterranean Gulls. Another group of Avocets flew in over the saltmarsh, presumably feeding at the moment out in the harbour channels at low tide, and more were roosting in the water where one of the islands would normally have been.

Inside the fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ we could see lots of gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls, claiming the ground ahead of the breeding season. In with them we counted at least 40 Mediterranean Gulls, all adults coming into breeding plumage with white-speckled jet black hoods contrasting with bright white eyelids, bright red bills and white wing tips. It was good to compare the two species side by side.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there were at least 40 this afternoon on the Freshmarsh

Otherwise, all we could find here today was a single Knot which was roosting on one of the few taller bits of island which were above the water. There was no sign of the Water Pipit again, perhaps not a surprise with so little of the water’s edge exposed. We decided to head out towards the beach.

The tide was in now and with a bigger tide today, Volunteer Marsh was under water. As we walked past, we noticed a couple of little groups of Teal next to the path. The drakes were looking stunning in the afternoon sun and they were calling and displaying.

We walked out to the Tidal Pool to see if we could find some more waders. There were several godwits on here – mostly Black-tailed Godwits, with some starting to show some brighter rusty feathering as they begin to moult into breeding plumage.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – starting to moult into breeding plumage

We managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the edge of the mud – paler and more heavily streaked above that the Black-tailed Godwits – but surprisingly there were not more roosting here given the tide was in. On the spit where they normally gather there were just two Grey Plovers today. There were still quite a few Oystercatchers on the island, together with several Turnstones.

The tide was right in and there was next to no beach left. We had a quick scan of the sea, but all was quiet here – a lone seal and a single distant Great Crested Grebe. As we started to make our way back, a Skylark was dust bathing on the path. It was very confiding and seemed reluctant to stop what it was doing to make way and let us come past.

Unfortunately, we had to get back now, so those with longer journeys back could get away. As we made our way back east along the coast road, a Barn Owl was hunting where we had seen the one earlier, but this time a different paler bird.

 

 

18th Feb 2020 – Return of the Owls

An Owl Tour today. After yet more windy weather over the weekend, as Storm Dennis swept across the country, it was nice that conditions had improved today and we could get out looking for owls. The wind had dropped, although it got more blustery again through the day. It was dry and we even had some bright sunny periods through the morning.

After a prompt get away, we headed straight down to the marshes and before we even got out of the minibus we could see a Barn Owl out hunting over the grass by the road. It did a circuit of the field, round over the edge of the reeds and then disappeared round behind a hedge.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – our second of the morning, perched on a post

Walking up onto the bank, we could see another Barn Owl on a fence post down on the marshes the other side. We got the scope on it, and could see it was scanning the long grass below intently. Then it took off, hovered, and dropped sharply down into the vegetation. When it came up again, we could see it had a vole in its bill, which it quickly transferred to its talons. It made a beeline back over the grass towards the trees beyond. At this time of day, Barn Owls are often robbed of their catch and it took evasive action as a Rook flew towards it, before disappearing with its prey back into the wood.

Looking back the other side, there were now two different Barn Owls hunting the fields there. We watched them for a few minutes, until they both disappeared, presumably heading in to roost. A Kestrel flew across and landed in the top of the hedge briefly, the main prey-stealing culprit here!

The other raptors were coming out too now. Two Red Kites drifted out of the trees and across the marshes. A Common Buzzard circled up inland and flew in towards us, mobbed by two Jackdaws. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the marshes in the distance. There were other things to see here as well. A small flock of Curlews were feeding in the grass around a small flood which had appeared after all the recent rains. The local mob of teenage Mute Swans had gathered round it too. A Brown Hare ran across the grass. A Song Thrush was in full song back in the trees.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – hunting in the morning sun

The Barn Owl we had seen catch a vole earlier now appeared out of the trees again, presumably having digested its earlier prey. With the low morning sunshine behind us, it was beautiful light as we watched it working its way methodically around the grazing marsh. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, but didn’t catch anything more. Then it flew back and landed in the trees on the edge of the wood. It perched there for a while, sunning itself, and we watched it in the scope before it dropped down onto a fence post just below. Then it set off again, purposefully, along the edge of the grass, across the road, and then turned sharply and disappeared into the trees.

Presumably, the Barn Owl was heading into roost. It was good that we had managed an early start to catch them out hunting, as there was no sign of any of the three Barn Owls we had seen this morning. We decided to move on. We headed inland, parking on the edge of some fields before setting off down a footpath.

There were a few tits and Chaffinches in the trees, and one or two Robins in the hedges this morning. As we rounded the corner, two Mistle Thrushes flew out and off across the neighbouring field. A couple of Common Buzzards were hanging in the breeze in the sunshine.

As we got to the far side of the wood, we turned to look back along the edge. The Tawny Owl was there as usual, in a big hole in one of the trees. We got the scope on it and watched as it seemed to stare back out at us. After a while, it closed its eyes and went back to dozing. Tawny Owl may be the commonest of our regular owls but is also the most nocturnal, so it is always a privilege to see one like this in the daytime.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its regular hole again

After enjoying watching the Tawny Owl for a while, we decided to move on. We headed inland to look for Little Owls next. Although the wind had dropped from recent days, there was still a rather brisk and fresh breeze, so we weren’t sure how many would be out enjoying the morning brightness today. At the first site we checked, there was no sign of any owls, but when we pulled up in a gateway overlooking the sheltered side of some barns, we could see a small round shape on the roof.

Once we got out of the minibus and set up the scope, we could see it was indeed a Little Owl, perched in a spot out of the wind and facing into the morning sun. A second Little Owl was just a few metres further down the roof, tucked in on the frame of one of the ventilation windows.

Little Owl

Little Owl – one of two, sunning itself on the roof of one of the barns

We had a look at some more barns, a little further up the road, but there were no more Little Owls out today. We were probably lucky to find the two we had seen, given the cool breeze. So we decided to switch our attention to the next owl on our target list – Short-eared Owl.

After the long drive over to the Wash, we stopped briefly to look at some Pink-footed Geese feeding in a strip of unharvested sugar beet in a field by the road down towards the beach at Snettisham. When we got out and up onto the seawall, the tide was out and a vast expanse of grey mud stretched all the way between Norfolk and Lincolnshire, visible in the distance.

When we got down towards Rotary Hide, we set up the scopes. With the tide out, most of the waders were very distant, but there was still a good scattering of Dunlin out on the mud closer to us and several Ringed Plover too. We could see a few Grey Plover and Knot plus one or two Turnstones with them, but despite having a good scan through the birds which were nearer to the shore there was no sign of the Little Stint which we have seen here on previous days. A couple of small groups of Golden Plover flew in and out. There were lots of Shelduck spread out over the mud too.

Our main target here was Short-eared Owl, so we made our way round to check-out the area where they normally like to roost. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting periodically from the brambles as we passed. At the first set of bushes we scanned, we found one tucked in the brambles. It was dozing, and we couldn’t see its staring yellow eyes from here, but we all had a good look through the scope.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – tucked into the brambles today

A bit further on, we stopped to scan again. We couldn’t find any other Short-eared Owls today, but we did have a different view of the first one again. Now it woke up and started preening, and we finally got a chance to see its distinctive yellow eyes, and even its short ‘ear’ tufts at one point.

There were not so many ducks on the pits at first today, but something seemed to spook lots of wildfowl from somewhere and lots flew in and landed on the water. As well as a good number of Wigeon, there were several Shoveler, one or two Gadwall and a few Tufted Ducks. We got the scope on a smart drake Goldeneye, admiring its green head, bold white cheek patch and eponymous bright golden-yellow eye. A Little Grebe was busy diving in the lee of one of the small rocky islets. When something spooked them, a large flock of noisy Greylag Geese flew in off the fields just inland.

On our way back, we stopped again to scan the mud out on the Wash. A Bar-tailed Godwit had now appeared, just beyond the channel, and there were a couple of Grey Plover and a Knot even closer, on the small pools just below us. A careful scan with the scope of the Dunlin failed to produce any sign of the Little Stint, and we were packing up when we looked away to the north and caught sight of a very small, paler wader out on the mud.

Putting the scope up again, we confirmed it was the elusive Little Stint. It was very mobile today though, in the freshening wind, and we had to keep relocating it as it got swept away several times when it took off. It was often in the company of one or two Dunlin or a Turnstone, when it certainly looked small, but it was when it ran past a Curlew that you could really appreciate just how tiny it was! One of probably just a handful of Little Stints wintering in the UK, it seems to like it here – what is probably the same bird has returned to the same area of mud for the last two winters at least. Come the spring, it will be heading off to the arctic to breed.

Grey Plover and Knot

Grey Plover & Knot – feeding on the mud on the edge of the Wash

We were heading to Titchwell to have lunch, but we took a small detour inland to Sedgeford. We were hoping to catch the Eastern Yellow Wagtail here, but there was no sign of it on its currently most favoured muck heap by the road. Another birder driving back from the other muck heap down the lane opposite told us it had not been seen down there either, for several hours at least. We stopped for a minute to watch several Brown Hares chasing round in the stubble field and then continued on our way. We had lots to pack in this afternoon and unfortunately had no time to wait to see if the wagtail might reappear later.

Titchwell was surprisingly busy for midweek and mid-winter, but the picnic tables were free when we arrived so we made good use of one for lunch and a welcome hot drink. We wouldn’t have time to explore the reserve whole today, but we had planned to have a quick look to see if we could see the Woodcock. One of the volunteers coming back to the Visitor Centre told us there was no sign of it now, so we diverted instead out onto the main path, where a Barn Owl had just been seen over the grazing meadow.

The Barn Owl was down in the long grass and rushes when we arrived but after a short wait it came up again. It seemed to be struggling in the freshening wind, and again dropped down into the vegetation for a while. When it came up again, it put on a much better show for us, eventually working its way down over the grass just beyond the fence. It landed briefly on one of the fence posts but was off again almost immediately and disappeared round towards the road.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – hunting over the Thornham grazing meadow

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – put on a good show for us early this afternoon

A Common Buzzard was feeding on something further back in the field while we were watching the Barn Owl, so we got that in the scope too. A second Buzzard was on a fence post just behind and several Red-legged Partridges were in the grass closer to us. When the Barn Owl disappeared, we walked on round via Meadow Trail. A small group of Long-tailed Tits was feeding in the cut branches placed on the ground in the trees. We couldn’t find any sign of the Woodcock either now, so we decided to head back to the minibus and move on. The very tame Reeve’s Muntjac was chomping on the grass where the feeders used to be, behind the Visitor Centre.

Back at Holkham, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was whirling round out in the middle as we got out of the minibus. There were several Spoonbills on the pools today. First we found two together, busily feeding with their heads down in the water, sweeping their bills from side to side as they walked round. Three more were much further back, way off towards the pines, but flew in to join them, and a sixth Spoonbill flew out of the trees and disappeared off east.

Spoonbill

Spoonbills – two of six we saw today, feeding busily

For a very large and bright white bird, the Great White Egrets made themselves surprisingly harder to find today. We eventually found one, right back in front of the pines, down in a rushy ditch where it was hard to see until it put its head up. Then if flew up, with slow and heavy wingbeats and landed again behind a sparse line of reeds. All the while, there was a second Great White Egret much closer to us, but it had managed to hide itself completely in the rushes until it eventually walked into view.

There are still quite a few lingering (Russian) White-fronted Geese at Holkham, but there were none down on the grazing marshes today. They were feeding further back, on the grass in the middle of the old Iron Age fort, and we could just see a few of them over the rim of the grassy bank. We thought we might find another Barn Owl or two out hunting here, but there were none out this afternoon.

Our next stop was at Wells. There was no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard on its usual bushes when we arrived. We got out of the minibus and set off down the track towards the bank and we hadn’t gone too far before the Rough-legged Buzzard flew back in. It looked like it would land straight away, but instead flew on, up over the fields towards the Freeman Street car park, flushing all the Brent Geese. It was strikingly pale and, as it turned, we could see its bright white tail with broad black terminal band. It even stopped to hover at one point, rather like an over-sized, slow-motion Kestrel!

Rough-legged Buzzard 1

Rough-legged Buzzard – flew in over the fields

After flying round for a few minutes, the Rough-legged Buzzard returned to its normal bushes and landed on the top of one of them. Now, we could get a better look at it through the scope – its very pale white head and neck contrasting with the dark blackish belly patch. It was hard to see its feathered legs though, through the leaves and branches.

Rough-legged Buzzard 2

Rough-legged Buzzard – eventually landed on one of its favourite bushes

We continued on to the bank and stopped to scan the marshes beyond. There were a few Pink-footed Geese out on the grass and we got them in the scope, noting their dark heads and delicate, mostly dark bills. A passing farmer in a truck seemed like he would have preferred to run us over, although unfortunately we had all stepped to the side to let him pass, and when he drove out across the fields in the distance, he flushed a lot more Pink-footed Geese from over towards the pines. This can be a good place for owls in the late afternoon, but we couldn’t see any here today. It had clouded over progressively though and was no rather grey and cool in the strengthening breeze.

We cut back inland for one last stop on our way back. As we walked down the footpath across the meadow, two more Red Kites and a Common Buzzard hung in the air above the hillside behind us. There was no sign of the regular Barn Owl here this evening – it wasn’t out hunting and we couldn’t see it around the box where it likes to roost either. We were rather later than normal though, so it was hard to tell whether it had already gone off further afield, or was in no hurry to come out tonight given the weather.

We had a quick listen in the trees, but there were no Tawny Owls hooting yet. It is increasingly late before it gets properly dark now, and with the wind and threat of rain approaching, we decided to call it a night and not hang on any longer. Having enjoyed such great views of the Tawny Owl earlier this morning, and four different Barn Owls out hunting,  not to mention the Little Owls and Short-eared Owl, we did not feel like we were short of owls today

13th Feb 2020 – Lucky with the Weather

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. After the recent inclement weather, we were lucky (despite the date!) – the wind was light and it was mostly bright with sunny intervals, just the briefest of light drizzle as a shower passed to the south of us early afternoon, and a lovely end to the day. The forecast for today up until a couple of days ago had been for yet more wind and rain – fortunately, as is often the case, it couldn’t have been much more wrong!

After meeting up in Wells, we made our way to the edge of town. As we got out of the minibus, we could already see the Rough-legged Buzzard perched on the top of its usual bushes across the field. We got the scope straight on it, and admired its very pale head, contrasting with the dark blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – still perched on its usual bushes this morning

The Rough-legged Buzzard was quite active this morning, and kept taking off and flying round, flashing its white tail with black terminal bar. It never went far though, and kept returning to its perch on the bushes after a few seconds. It seemed to be mainly hunting down along the edge of the field just below where it was perched – dropping down into the grass at one point, and later stopping to hover there just a metre or so above the ground.

There were other raptors here too. We got a couple of darker Common Buzzards in the scope, very different from the Rough-legged Buzzard. Three or four different Marsh Harriers circled up, including a very dark juvenile, a pale-headed female and a grey-winged male. A Kestrel flew in and landed on the hedge.

A Barn Owl was still out, hunting along the grassy bank. It was a wet night last night, and after all the recent wind it was probably hungry and therefore out feeding during daylight hours. It would be the first of several we would see today.

There were lots of Lapwings around the flood in the ploughed field in front of us and a little group of Golden Plovers on the grass further back. A few Skylarks came up from the fields and a pair of Grey Partridge flew in and landed on the verge at the front of the nearest one.

Moving on, we stopped again at Holkham. A quick check of a field by the road revealed a Mistle Thrush feeding in amongst all the Egyptian Geese. A little further on, as we pulled up overlooking the grazing marshes, all the geese were in the air – we could see a couple of people walking around out in the middle. They gradually started to settle again, with mostly Greylags on the grass at first, although we picked out a more distant group of Barnacle Geese too. Most of the Pink-footed Geese seemed to disappear off over the park.

We could hear the distinctive yelping calls of White-fronted Geese and a couple of largish flocks of 30-60 flew back in but seemed reluctant to land again. Some came down behind the trees but eventually a small number dropped down onto the grazing marshes in view. We got three in the scope, noting their black belly bars and white surround to their pink bills.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – eventually a few settled back down on the grazing marshes

There were lots of Lapwing and Curlew out on the grazing marshes too, and scanning one of the larger pools we found a small group of roosting Avocet, in with the Shoveler and Teal. More Avocet have been returning over the last week or so, having spent the winter further south. Spring is in the air!

A large white shape out on the grazing marshes was a Great White Egret. Through the scope, we could see its long, dagger-shaped, yellow bill. A second Great White Egret flew out from behind the trees and landed beyond the reeds at the back. A smaller white shape appeared in a field of taller grass and clumps of rushes – a Cattle Egret. Looking more carefully, we realised there were actually six Cattle Egrets there, as more flew up from further over and came in to join the first. We watched them actively running around between the clumps, catching frogs.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – one of two on the grazing marshes this morning

News had come through now that the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had been seen again this morning over at Sedgeford, so we set off inland to try to see it. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the road as we made our way there. As we pulled up on the verge just north of the village, we looked over to the muck heap in the edge of the field alongside to see three wagtails fly up and land on the top. In with the Pied Wagtails was the Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

We got out quietly and were watching the Eastern Yellow Wagtail as it started to feed on the side of the heap, but a lorry came thundering down the road and the wagtails all took off. We heard the Eastern Yellow Wagtail call several times, a raspy, grating call, very different from the typical call of ‘our’ Western Yellow Wagtail, as it flew over the road and out into the field the other side.

We crossed the road and could see the Eastern Yellow Wagtail out on the bare ground with the Pied Wagtails and several Meadow Pipits. Then something spooked them again, and the Eastern Yellow Wagtail flew up and disappeared. There were lots of other birds here – several Fieldfares feeding out in the field and a small covey of Red-legged Partridges walking down along the edge.

Several Yellowhammers were in the hedges and dropping down to the ground in the lane, including some very smart yellow-headed males. A large flock of Chaffinches was feeding along the edge of the field and in with them we could see 4-5 Bramblings. They have been in short supply this winter, so it was nice to catch up with some today.

We set off down the lane to see if the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was on the other muck heap further along, with all the Chaffinches, Bramblings and Yellowhammers flying down along the hedges either side, ahead of us. A large flock of Linnets was swirling round further along, but there was no sign of the wagtail, so we walked back.

When we got back to the first muck heap, by the road, the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was back. We had a great view of it now, as it fed on the sides of the heap and around the puddles at the base in the sunshine. It is a striking bird, with yellow underparts and a grey head with bold white supercilium. Having been found here originally just before Christmas, it looks like it may stay here through the winter now.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – still feeding around its favoured muck heaps

We were heading for Titchwell next, but we called in at Thornham Harbour on our way. The water level in the harbour channel was still quite high and there were just a couple of Common Redshanks and a single Black-tailed Godwit here at the moment, with a flock of Brent Geese further out in the harbour. Three Rock Pipits flew in and landed in the vegetation just beyond the channel. There was no sign of the Twite, so we didn’t stop – we had plenty of other things we wanted to try to fit in this afternoon.

Round at Titchwell, there were loads of Goldfinches twittering in the tops of the trees in the car park. We decided to have a quick whisk round the reserve before a late lunch. We were told there was no sign of the Woodcock on Fen Trail, but we had a quick look on our way round anyway. We couldn’t find it now either, and there was no sign of any Water Rails in the ditches by the main path, so we set out onto the reserve. There were a few Common Pochard with the Gadwall on the reedbed pool and we heard a quick burst of Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them.

There were not so many waders on the Freshmarsh today – a small group of Avocets asleep, and a Black-tailed Godwit asleep with them, and several pairs of Avocets busy feeding in the shallow water. There were lots of Teal around the edges of the water and several Shoveler busy shovelling, the drakes of both looking very smart now in their breeding plumage.

Teal

Teal – the drakes are looking very smart in full breeding plumage now

We were hoping to find a Water Pipit here, but at first all we could find were Rock Pipits. First one flew towards us from the direction of the reedbed, but carried on over our heads and dropped down on to the saltmarsh the other side of the bank. Then we looked across to see several small birds land on the pile of bricks in front of Parrinder Hide – but through the scope, we could see they were three Rock Pipits accompanied by a Reed Bunting, the former presumably having come in for a freshwater bath.

Scanning the cut reeds along the edge of the bank beyond the hide through the scope, we could see a small bird in the vegetation. At last, a Water Pipit! It was hard to see at this range, so we walked quickly round to Parrinder Hide, but by the time we got round there needless to say it had disappeared again. Thankfully, after a bit of scanning, we found it on Avocet Island, on the ground behind the fence.

The Water Pipit had obviously had a bathe, as it was now busy preening. The Rock Pipits had been bathing too, and a couple of them flew up and landed on the fence, in the same view. The Water Pipit was clearly much cleaner, white below, with finer black streaks, and less swarthy above, greyer headed with a clear white supercilium. The Water Pipit finished preening and flew up onto the fence too, before flying back over to the bank out to the east of the hide. We watched it back down in the cut reeds before it walked further back out of view.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding down at the front of Volunteer Marsh from the hide

Someone in the hide asked whether we had seen a Knot and was quite insistent there should be one on the Freshmarsh because it was on the recent sightings board! We pointed out that they only drop in here occasionally and are normally to be found on the saltmarsh or out on the beach. We popped into the other side of Parrinder Hide and just about the first bird we saw on the saltmarsh out on Volunteer Marsh was a Knot! It was with a Grey Plover nearby, and feeding down at the front was a muddy-faced Curlew. When we walked back out, we could see a small flock of Knot had now dropped into the Freshmarsh too, for a quick bathe.

Out at the Tidal Pool, one of the first birds we found was a Red-breasted Merganser. It was diving in the shallow water and seemed to be pulling at something or probing around one of the smaller islands. They are more commonly seen out on the sea than on here. A single pair of Pintail were fast asleep towards the back and a Little Grebe was dozing below the vegetation along the edge. A Water Rail swam out from the edge and we watched as it make its way straight across the deeper water in the middle. It came out and ran nervously across one of the low muddy islands before swimming across the last strip of water to the safety of the vegetated bank the other side.

There were not so many waders on here now – with the tide out, they were mostly feeding out on the beach. There were a few Common Redshanks, and it was nice to compare a single Bar-tailed Godwit on one of the small islands with a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the water down at the front.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding down at the front of the Tidal Pool

There were a lot more Bar-tailed Godwits feeding out on the beach. A few Turnstones were feeding on the top of the mussel beds and several Dunlin were running around on the sand nearby. Scanning the sea, we could see a few Great Crested Grebes offshore. A couple of Eider and a small group of Goldeneye were rather distant today. We couldn’t immediately see much else out there today, so we walked back for lunch at the Visitor Centre. A Coal Tit coming into the feeders was an addition to the day’s list.

After lunch, we made our way back east along the coast road. On the way, we stopped to look at a small group of Pink-footed Geese in a field beside the road, the first we had seen on the ground today. We stopped again briefly at Holkham, overlooking the grazing marshes where we had stopped earlier. We were immediately rewarded with three Spoonbills on a small pool, just what we were hoping to find here. We watched them feeding, walking round quickly, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow water. The Spoonbills are starting to return already, ahead of the breeding season, having spent the winter down on the south coast.

A Barn Owl appeared over the grassy field next to us. We watched it flying round hunting, turning into the wind and doing a transect across over the grass, before flying back to the near edge and turning into the wind to do it again. It landed on a post for a rest, where we had a good look at it in the scope. Then when it started hunting again, we saw it drop sharply down into the tall grass. We could just see it seemed to be ‘mantling’ over something, with its wings open, and sure enough it came back up with  vole in its talons, landing on a post again briefly before flying off with it over the hedge. Looking out across the grazing marsh, we could see a second Barn Owl off in the distance.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – hunting the field as we looked out over the grazing marshes

We stopped next at Lady Anne’s Drive. There is a lot of water still on the marshes here after the recent rains, and they were alive with ducks, particularly big numbers of Wigeon, which were looking very smart in the late afternoon sunshine.

Walking up towards the pines, a Grey Partridge was feeding on the grass just beyond the fence. It is quite tame, so we stopped to admire it. The larger covey which spent the winter here appears to have broken up now, with birds pairing up for the breeding season already. This male seems to be on its own. Looking over beyond The Lookout cafe as we walked towards the pines, we could see another Barn Owl in the distance, perched on a post.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – this lone male was on the grass by the fence

It was a big high tide this morning and the saltmarsh was under water first thing, which was why we hadn’t ventured out onto the beach here earlier today. The Shorelarks hadn’t been seen for the last few days – they always tend to get more mobile when the saltmarsh is wet – and we figured our best chance would be later in the day, to give it a chance to dry out. But there was still quite a lot of standing water on the saltmarsh when we walked out through the pines and the people we met walking back confirmed there was no sign of them again this afternoon.

There were lots of other birds feeding on the saltmarsh as we walked out towards the cordon, lots of Skylarks, several Meadow Pipits and a few Rock Pipits, and a large flock of Linnets. There were just a few more Skylarks in the cordon so with reports of some Long-tailed Ducks just offshore, we continued on out to the beach.

It didn’t take long to find the three Long-tailed Ducks, feeding in the breakers just beyond the sand bar. They were diving constantly, but in the low afternoon light we had a great look at them when they surfaced. A small group of Common Scoter were just offshore too, including several drakes and they were so close we got a good look at the yellow stripe which runs down the front of their bills. A much larger slick of Common Scoter, thousands strong, was much further out, too far for us to be able to pick anything out in with them today.

There were lots of birds on the sandbar, lots of gulls, Cormorants and Oystercatchers, and running around in and out of their legs were several small silvery-grey Sanderlings. We still hadn’t seen the Snow Buntings, and we couldn’t see any sign of them out on the beach now, so we walked a little further along and spotted them as they flew up from behind the dunes by the gap at the far end of the cordon.

The Snow Buntings landed again and we stood on the edge of the dunes and watched as they came running along the tideline towards us. We had a great look at them until they got to the end of the line of washed-up vegetation and then they were off again. They whirled round in the air and looked like they would land again a bit further back, but then turned and headed off. We counted over 50 of them as they disappeared off towards Wells.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – we eventually found the flock of 50+ on the edge of the beach

The late afternoon light was stunning now, out on the beach and it was a great view across the saltmarsh and dunes as we walked back towards the Gap. When we got back to The Lookout, we could see a couple of people looking intently out at the bank beyond and when we got so we could look down the line of the ditch, we could see a Barn Owl on a post.

We got the Barn Owl in the scope and had a look at it – and let a couple of young children who were watching it excitedly with their parents have a look through the scope too. Then it took off and flew straight towards us, landing on another post much closer still. Then yet another Barn Owl appeared on the fence further back – the wet weather last night had really brought them out in force this afternoon!

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – on a post by The Lookout as we made our way back

The light was starting to go now, so we made our way back to Wells. It had been a great day and we had been really lucky with the weather today.

 

8th Feb 2020 – Winter, Broads & Brecks, Day 2

Day 2 of our three-day Winter, Broads & Brecks tour today. It was a cloudy start, with some brighter intervals through the day, with a moderate SW wind. With one eye on the forecast for tomorrow, we decided to spend the day in North Norfolk today.

There had been no reports of the Waxwing yesterday at Salthouse, but we heard a suggestion it was possibly still there. We went to look anyway, first thing, but there was no sign of it in the churchyard, where it had been, and no berries left on its favoured hedge. We scanned the trees in the village, and found several Greenfinches and Starlings and House Sparrows in the hedge. Rather than waste any more time, not knowing if it was even still here, we decided to move on. We had a lot of other things we wanted to try to squeeze in today.

When we got to Wells, the Rough-legged Buzzard was perched more obligingly on its usual bush. We got out of the minibus an trained the scopes on it. We could see its very pale head, contrasting with its dark blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – perched on its usual bush this morning

There were lots of Lapwings and gulls in the ploughed field in front of the layby, including several different ages of Herring Gull which we took a closer look at (by popular request!). A Sparrowhawk flew past, flushing everything, and disappeared behind the hedge.

After having a good look at the Rough-legged Buzzard, we carried on round to Holkham, and parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. There were lots of ducks around the pools out on the grazing marsh – lots of Wigeon, a few Shoveler and one or two Teal. As well as several Redshanks, there were two Ruff feeding out on the grass quite close to the fence, giving a good comparison. We could see the distinctive scaly appearance caused by the pale fringes to the upperparts feathers on the Ruff.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding out on the grazing marsh, with the Redshank

As we walked up towards The Lookout cafe, we could see several Grey Partridges feeding on the grass. A nice orange-faced male was very close to the fence, and as we walked up it stopped feeding and lifted its head up, showing off its dark, kidney-shaped belly patch. A second male was feeding with a duller, browner female a little further back.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – showing off its dark belly patch

Scanning from the Lookout, while some of the group went inside to use the facilities, someone standing there mentioned that he had found what he thought was a Peregrine way out, down in the grass. Looking through his scope, it was indeed a Peregrine, an adult. We trained our scopes on it too – we could just see its head and shoulders, its dark cap extending down in a broad, rounded moustache. Two Rock Pipits flew in for a quick bathe on the pools before flying back out over the pines. We could see small numbers of Brent Geese dropping in further back too.

Heading out towards the beach, we met someone who had been out with us yesterday who told us that the Shorelarks were not in the cordon this morning. Armed with that knowledge, we thought we would check the saltmarsh west of the Gap first instead. As we walked out, several small flocks of Linnets flew over along with one or two Skylarks. But there were two dogs having a high old time, running backwards and forwards around over the whole saltmarsh that side, their owners miles away and oblivious, and needless to say there were no birds left there.

As we turned to walk across the Gap, we saw a large flock of Snow Buntings in the distance. They flew up from the saltmarsh off towards the cordon, over the dunes and dropped down towards the beach. A small group of Skylarks flew in and landed on the shingle, where we might have hoped the Shorelarks would drop in instead!

We walked through the back of the dunes the other side and cut through a gap to the beach. The first thing we saw was a large flock of scoter gathered like a black oil slick just offshore. There were hundreds of Common Scoter, lots of pale-cheeked browner females accompanied by a good number of plainer, blacker drakes. Looking with the scopes, we could see several Velvet Scoters in with them, but they were very hard to pick out, not helped by the fact that the flock was constantly on the move and diving.

Most of the Velvet Scoters were females or young males, but we did find one adult male with bright yellow edges to the bill and white tick mark surrounding the eye. Eventually everyone got onto at least one of the Velvet Scoters, though it took some time to get your eye in, despite the fact that this group was not far offshore. A larger group of Common Scoter was much further out – we didn’t even attempt to try to find the Velvet Scoters in that group! There were a few Red-breasted Mergansers mixed in with the scoters too.

When we finally took our attention off the rafts of seaduck, we noticed a large flock of Snow Buntings had appeared out on the sand. We got them in the scope, and counted 48 of them. They were flushed by two people walking along the beach and flew round, over the dunes behind us and then almost overhead, before landed again on the beach, much closer to us. We had a great view of them now.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – we counted 48 out on the beach today

Further over, along the beach to the east of us, we could see lots of birds on the sandbank beyond the channel, presumably where there was less disturbance. Through the scopes, we could see several silvery-grey Sanderlings running in and out of the Oystercatchers and gulls. A few Cormorants were drying their wings further back.

When we walked along the beach and cut back in towards the cordon, we found that the Shorelarks had now reappeared. We scanned from up in the dunes first, and could see them feeding down on the saltmarsh inside the fence. They were much closer from round the other side, and we had a much better view of them. Their canary yellow faces caught the sunshine when they lifted their heads.

Shorelark

Shorelark – the five reappeared in the cordon this morning

We walked back, and stopped for lunch in The Lookout. As we made our way back to the minibus afterwards, a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over and dropped down towards the grazing marshes out in the middle, the only ones we saw here today.

A little further on, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes again. The first thing we found was a group of White-fronted Geese out on the grass. As we scanned across, we counted at least fifty of them, the white surrounds to the base of their bills (the white ‘front’) showing clearly as they lifted their heads.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – we counted at least 50 on the grazing marshes today

A Great White Egret feeding in one of the rushy pools stood out a mile off, being very large and very white. A second flew across over the back and landed beyond the reeds. When another white bird flew out from behind the trees, it immediately looked different, its head and neck held extended out in front as it flew. It was a Spoonbill – the first two birds have returned already for the summer just in the last couple of days, so it was great to see one today. Spring must be on its way! It landed on the largest of the pools, and we got it in the scope, watching it feeding, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round through the shallow water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – one of the first two birds to return here for the summer

Several Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes and we picked out a Red Kite distantly over the trees too. Then a Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail, smaller and lighter built and flashing the white square at the base of its tail. It flew low west over the grazing marsh, quartering and disappeared round behind the trees.

Back in the minibus, we drove west inland next, over to Sedgeford. As we pulled up, we could see three people looking intently at the muck heap right by the main road. We quickly got out and sure enough, the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was right there. If only it was always so easy! We watched it feeding on the mud around the base of the heap. It has been a bit more erratic in its appearances in the last few days, so it was great to find it so obliging.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – still lingering by its favoured muck heaps

There were lots of gulls loafing in the ploughed field opposite. When a large group circled up and overhead, we looked up to see a Mediterranean Gull in with them, its white wingtips translucent against the blue sky. It was rather hard to pick out though, and despite looking through the flock out in the field, we couldn’t find another one with all the Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls there. Thankfully, numbers are already starting to increase now and we would see some more later.

We made our way down to the coast at Thornham next. As we drove down the road to the harbour, we could see ten small birds circling over the narrow strip of saltmarsh right beside it – the Twite. They clearly wanted to come in to land, but there were too many people walking down the road and they wouldn’t settle. They circled round several times, then flew back to the old coal barn and landed on the roof. We piled out, and had a great view of them, the sunshine catching their yellow bills and burnt orange breasts.

Twite 2

Twite – flew round and landed on the roof of the old coal barn

When the Twite flew again, they dropped down and landed on the saltmarsh, to feed on the seed heads. Something spooked them again, and seven flew straight back up to the barn roof, but three Twite remained down on the saltmarsh. One perched up nicely and we could see it was sporting a set of coloured rings – this bird wintered at Thornham last winter too, and was originally ringed in Derbyshire in May 2018.

Twite 1

Twite – a colour-ringed bird, regular in winter here, originally ringed in Derbys in May’18

There were no different waders in the harbour channel, so we got back in the minibus and drove over to Titchwell next. A quick check in at the Visitor Centre confirmed that one of the Woodcock was in situ again, so we made our way straight round to look for it. A large crowd was gathered on the narrow boardwalk, and we had to wait a few minutes until we eventually got to a place where we could see it. It was then fill the frame views in the scope, albeit of just its head and the top of its body where it was hiding down amongst the moss covered branches.

Woodcock

Woodcock – hiding in the sallows close to the boardwalk

Continuing round, back to the main path, we had a quick look for Water Rails in the ditch. There was no sign of any, but we did see a Chiffchaff flitting around in the bushes just below the pass. As we walked on, a couple of Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air, up over the back of the reedbed. Several Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were in amongst the Greylags and Canada Geese on the reedbed pool.

Hundreds of Golden Plovers and Lapwings were whirling round over Freshmarsh, as we walked out, gradually landing back again. The water level has finally gone down now, and there are more islands exposed, much to the appreciation of the waders. the nearest ones were now covered in the Golden Plover. There were lots of Avocets too, with numbers steadily climbing again now with one eye on spring already, up to seventy today. A single Black-tailed Godwit was asleep in the middle of them.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – gathered on the islands on the Freshmarsh

There were lots of gulls on here too – they seem to appreciate the shallower water. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, but looking through them, we found several Mediterranean Gulls too. We got two adults in scope, one already getting some of its black hood. There were lots of Teal gathered round the edges of the Freshmarsh, with the drakes looking stunning now, particularly in the late afternoon sun.

We had a quick look in Parrinder Hide, but there was no sign of any Water Pipit around the islands or along the reedy edges below the bank, so we carried on out towards the beach. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, we could see the tide was now comng in quickly. The small channel below the bank was filling fast, and the Redshanks had climbed up the bank beyond. Looking down the wider channel at the far side, we could see several Curlew, more Redshanks, a single Grey Plover and a couple of Knot.

The Tidal Pool has been really good for waders, since it has returned to being tidal again. We scanned the SE corner first, but there was no sign of any different shanks down there now. A little further along, there were two Black tailed Godwits feeding close to the path. The spit further back was full of roosting waders, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits mixed with a smaller number of Grey Plover, Knot and Dunlin. More were flying in all the time, coming in off beach to roost here over high tide. There were lots of Oystercatchers too, roosting higher up on the island, and a scattering of Turnstones along the far edge.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – roosting on the Tidal Pool over high tide

Beyond waders, there were several Pintail, including several smart drakes, busy upending with the Mallards out on the water. We could see their long, pin-shaped central tail fathers. Four Little Grebes were hiding along the bank.

We had a quick look out at the sea. The tide was in now and the beach was covered. There were a few Goldeneye out on the water, closer in, and one or two Great Crested Grebes, but most of the birds were much further out. A drake Eider flew in and landed on the sea, and another group of eight flew past much further out, along the horizon. We picked out a distant Red-throated Diver too, but it dived before anyone could get onto it and we couldn’t relocate it.

As we started to walk back, we stopped to scan the far corner of the Tidal Pool again. This time we found a Spotted Redshank, tucked in on the edge of one of the small islands at the back, roosting.

We stopped again in Parrinder Hide. We could see the Marsh Harriers gathering out over the reedbed. A distant Barn Owl appeared, flying through the back of the reedbed and disappearing round towards the church. A few Pied Wagtails started to drop in to the islands ahead of going to roost in the reedbed. A Water Pipit appeared too, perched on the fence. We got it in the scope, before it flew further along to a post, but it didn’t linger and then flew off shortly after.

The light was starting to go now, so we walked back. There was a stunning moon, rsiing over the bank at the back, and we stopped for a quick look at it in the scope. It is not just the birds which are worth stopping to look at! The Marsh Harriers were still coming in, and we counted at least 15 in the air together as we passed the reedbed. Lots of Little Egrets were coming in to roost too. A Barn Owl was perched on a post at the back, before taking off and flying over the bank.

It was time to head for home. We had enjoyed a really productive day and made the most of the good weather ahead of tomorrow.