Tag Archives: Great White Egret

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.

16th Nov 2019 – Autumn vs Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Late Autumn / Early Winter Tour. It was a much nicer day today, dry with much lighter winds, and even some sunny moments in the afternoon. We spent the day on the coast between Holkham and Stiffkey.

With some new members of the group joining us this morning, we stopped again just on the outskirts of Wells first thing. There was no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard at first – the raptors were mostly sitting around this morning, and it felt a bit cooler than yesterday. A Red Kite was perched up in a tree by the old railway cutting and a Common Buzzard was down in the long grass on the edge of one of the fields. A Kestrel landed in the bushes just in front of us.

There were quite a few Golden Plovers and Lapwings in the wetter fields again, and periodically they flew up and circled round. A Great White Egret flew over from the direction of Wells Harbour and we watched it disappear off towards Holkham. A small flock of Greylags was feeding in the cover crop showing off their carrot-like bills, with a Muntjac just behind them. There were several Grey Partridges in the field too but they were very hard to see in the vegetation unless they moved.

Two Fieldfares appeared in the top of a tree by one of the houses on the edge of Wells, behind us. A Bullfinch called from the thick hedge in front of us, and then flew out and past us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker then did exactly the same. There were lots of finches in the bushes, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, and a few Linnets out in the field.

As the temperature started to increase so the raptors started to become more active. The Red Kite took off and flashed its forked tail as it circled, and several Common Buzzards came up now. The Marsh Harriers started to hunt too – we watched a distant dark male, then a paler male flying in along the bank. When the Marsh Harrier dinked down at the bank, we figured there must something there but we couldn’t see it, hidden by bushes in front of us. We walked just into the edge of the field to look round the brambles and realised it was the Rough-legged Buzzard!

It was perched in a bush half way down the bank, and we had a good view of the Rough-legged Buzzard through the scope. We could see the way its pale head contrasted with its dark, blackish belly. Eventually it took off, and we could see its pale tail with black terminal band as it flew up and over the bank and disappeared.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – perched in a bush

We decided to move on, and drove round to Holkham, where we parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. After all the recent rain, there is a good amount of water now on the grazing marshes and there were lots of Wigeon and a couple of Shoveler around the edge of the pools. A small flock of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits was feeding on the edge of the water just beyond the fence.

Four Grey Partridges flew across and landed just behind a gate back along the road, but ran back out into the middle as people approached. Further up, another larger covey of Grey Partridges was out in the middle of the marshes, well camouflaged among the clods of earth where the channels have been excavated recently.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – there were a couple of coveys by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we walked up towards the pines, there were a couple of Brent Geese and an Egyptian Goose out on the grazing marsh, and a Brown Hare too. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in and circled over the marshes calling. A few Jays back and forth in and out of the trees.

As we walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines, the trees were rather quiet today. Presumably most of the tits were feeding up in the pines. There were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole, along with a couple of Coot and a few Wigeon. We wanted to try to see the Hume’s Warbler which had taken up residence in the trees just beyond the crosstracks and, knowing we might need a little bit of time to pin it down, we pressed on west without stopping in the hides.

There were a few people looking for the Hume’s Warbler when we got there. It had been seen earlier but had disappeared into the bushes. A Chiffchaff was flitting around where it had been seen. Then we heard it call briefly from the back of the sallows. A tit flock came out – Long-tailed Tits, Blue, Great and Coal Tits too. There were one or two Goldcrests in the bushes. We got a glimpse of something small and pale which flew across, but we couldn’t find it again.

We walked round to the back of the sallows and met another couple of people who told us they had just been watching the Hume’s Warbler in one of the oak trees but it had now disappeared through the sallows. Back round the other side again, it reappeared, flying up out of the sallows and back up into the oak briefly. We could see it flitting around in the leaves but only a few of the group got onto it before it disappeared deeper into the tree.

It was a frustrating few minutes. We walked round to the back of the oaks but the Hume’s Warbler had now disappeared again. There was a shout to say it had been found, but there were just a couple of Goldcrests.

Then we heard it calling further back behind us. We hurried back round to where we had started and sure enough it had just reappeared. The Hume’s Warbler was flitting around in the tops of some sallows, against the light. Then it flew across the path to some thicker bushes. It seemed to have disappeared again, but then appeared on some brambles growing up between the sallows. Finally, we got a good view of it.

Hume's Warbler

Hume’s Warbler – eventually showed well in the bushes at Holkham

Hume’s Warbler is a rare visitor here, mostly in late autumn. They breed in the mountains of Central Asia and winter mostly in India, so this one was well off track. It seemed to flick off to the right and into the sallows, but when we looked back there was still a Hume’s Warbler in the brambles. Could there be two? We assumed we were just mistaken, but it turned out later that the Hume’s Warbler had indeed been joined by a second bird.

We made our way back to the crosstracks and up to Joe Jordan Hide next. As we looked out across the marshes, we could see a Great White Egret half hidden in the rushes. When a second Great White Egret flew in and landed nearby, the first took off and flew straight at it, chasing it back off over the hedge before returning to its feeding spot.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets – one chased off the second when it flew in

Two Marsh Harriers were in the bushes along the line of the ditch just behind and several more were in the taller trees behind the old fort. A Red Kite was perched up in the tress too, and a second one drifted across in front of the hide.

It was time to head back for lunch. We stopped in the Lookout cafe for a hot drink, and after lunch we headed out through the pines. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and there were lots of people at Holkham now, but they were mostly heading straight out to the beach. We walked west along the edge of the saltmarsh, where a large flock of Linnets wheeled round and disappeared back down into the saltmarsh vegetation.

When we got to the cordoned-off area, the Shorelarks were down at the far end. We walked round for a closer look and got them in the scope. There were six of them again, feeding in the short vegetation, looking for seeds, occasionally stopping to preen. Smart birds, their bright yellow faces were shining in the sunshine.

Shorelark

Shorelark – six were on the saltmarsh at Holkham again

After enjoying the Shorelarks for a while, we continued on through the gap in the dunes, and stopped to scan the sea. There were lots of gulls on the beach – Black-headed, Common, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls. A few Sanderlings were running around on the sandbank in between them, and a few more were whirling round in a tight flock flashing white in the bright light.

There were a few Common Scoters out in the breakers, diving for shellfish. Much further out, we could see a load more, looking a bit like a big dark oil slick, possibly around a thousand birds. There were several Red-breasted Mergansers very close in, just off the beach, and a Great Crested Grebe nearby too.

Then a diver appeared – rather black and white, with a prominent white rear flank patch, it was a Black-throated Diver. It was very close in too, so we walked down teh beach to the edge of the water for a closer look. The Black-throated Diver had moved off to the left, back towards the sea, as we approached, but then came back up the channel and resurfaced right in front of us. Fantastic views, so close in – a real treat!

Black-throated Diver

Black-throated Diver – diving just off the beach at Holkham

There were two of three Slavonian Grebes further out. They are so small, they were hard to see. They kept diving and kept disappearing behind the waves, but eventually everyone got a look at them through the scope. There was a Red-throated Diver further out too, much paler than the Black-throated Diver, with a much whiter face.

As we walked back round via the cordon, the Shorelarks were still there, but with the sun having gone behind a cloud they weren’t shining as brightly now and didn’t attract as many admiring glances as they had done on the way out. Lots of Pink-footed Geese were flying in over the pines, calling. After a quick stop to use the facilities in the Lookout cafe, as we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive, there were now quite a few Pinkfeet on the grazing marsh nearby.

Our last stop of the day was round at Stiffkey. After all the distractions at Holkham out on the beach, we were later than we had planned and the light had already started to go. We had already missed a couple of Hen Harriers flying in, but we were pointed out a very distant Merlin, which was little more than a dark dot out on a bush on the saltmarsh.

A Peregrine flew in off the beach over the saltmarsh away to the west and disappeared off inland. Then another Merlin flew across in front of us, a male this time, grey backed. It flew quickly, dropping down low over the ground, before landing on a bush away to our left.

A ringtail Hen Harrier flew in from the west, over the saltmarsh and out to the low dune ridge out in front of us, before disappearing away behind. A short while later, presumably the same bird came back in over the saltmarsh, off to the east of us, then flew across low over the vegetation in front of us. It was getting dark now, but we could see the white patch at the base of its tail.

As the light faded, more and more Little Egrets flew past, heading in to roost. It was time for us to call it a day too. It had been another exciting one, and we still had another day to look forward to tomorrow.

6th Nov 2019 – A Gentle Day Out

A Private Tour today. With mobility limitations we wouldn’t be able to walk too far today, but that never stops us from getting out and seeing a great selection of birds. It was a lovely day to be out too – bright with sunny intervals in the morning and light winds. Perfect weather to be out birdwatching on the coast.

Our main destination for today would be Titchwell – with a mixture of hides and benches there are lots of places to stop. As we walked in from the car park, we could hear Long-tailed Tits in the sallows and we sopped to watch them working their way though the branches. A Coal Tit appeared in the alders above our heads too.

When we got to the Visitor Centre, we stopped for a quick look at the feeders out front, where Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch were all added to the day’s list. We could hear the distinctive sound of a large flock of Pink-footed Geese calling as they flew over somewhere over towards the road, and we eventually caught sight of them through a gap in the trees as they disappeared off towards Thornham. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up over the trees too, enjoying the morning sunshine.

After a quick look in the sightings book to check what had already been seen this morning, we walked out of the door on the far side of the Visitor Centre. There were lots of Goldfinches in the tops of the alders here and, looking up, we spotted a smart male Brambling in with them. It dropped down through the branches, stopping for a minute in the sunshine where its bright orange breast glowed in the light.

Then the Brambling dropped again and seemed to head right down to the ground. We found it round on the far side of the gazebo, feeding on the path just a few metres from everyone stood there looking at the feeders. It was a great view of it as it picked its way around in the fallen leaves.

Brambling

Brambling – feeding on the path right by the Visitor Centre

Continuing out to the main path, we had just started to scan the ditches when we notice a couple of people standing further up, staring down to the side of the path. Sure enough, they were watching the Water Rail. It was hard to see under the tangle of branches at first, although the movement as it tossed the leaves aside looking for food gave it presence away.

Then it moved out into the open where we could see it better, its long red-based bill, slaty-blue underparts and black-streaked brown upperparts. Water Rails are typically very secretive birds but this is always a good place to look for them through the winter and this one seemed completely unconcerned by the small crowd which quickly gathered to watch it.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch below the main path

Out of the trees, as we walked along beside the reedbed, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the vegetation. A few people had stopped to watch a Marsh Harrier out over the saltmarsh the other side of the path, and as we passed them we heard the shrill call of a Kingfisher from the reedbed. It flew up out of the reeds and perched briefly in one of the small sallows, just long enough for everyone to get onto it before it was off again. A flash of electric blue as it shot away up the channel through the reeds.

The reedbed pool held a small group of Tufted Ducks and a pair of Mallards and a single juvenile Mute Swan and a few Coot were in the surrounding channels. A little further on, a single Grey Plover and a Redshank were out on the Lavender Marsh pool. A Little Egret preening out on the saltmarsh too really stood out, whereas the slaty-grey Brent Geese were much better camouflaged.

When we turned round to look behind us, we spotted a Great White Egret flying in from the east, over the reedbed. Even though it was silhouetted against the light and it was hard to see its yellow bill, its large size was immediatey obvious, with slow, deliberate wingbeats and long trailing black legs. It flew over the path behind us and we watched as it disappeared off west, towards Thornham.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew west over the main path and off towards Thornham

It was all action out here on the main path, and we hadn’t even got to the Freshmarsh yet! A Marsh Harrier had been quartering out over Thornham Point earlier but the next time we looked out that way three Red Kites were circling over the bushes. They were busy chasing each other and it seemed like perhaps they had found some food as one dropped something and the other two swooped down after it, one of them catching it again. They were then joined by two Marsh Harriers and they call circled together – the raptors were obviously enjoying the good weather!

Finally we made it down into Island Hide and a welcome chance to sit down. There were lots of Teal feeding on the mud just outside the hide, several of the males now starting to look very smart in their regained breeding plumage, the sun catching their bright green speculums.

Teal

Teal – feeding on the mud outside Island Hide

Further back, there were lots of Shoveler, mostly asleep. A closer pair were busy feeding, swimming round with their heads permanently down in the water, hiding their distinctive huge bills. There were a few Shelduck out on the water too, but most of the Wigeon were right over the far side, in front of Parrinder Hide.

There was a nice selection of waders too. On the nearest island, a large number of what at first sight seemed to be lumps of mud were actually hundreds of Golden Plover. Through the scope, we had a better view, their golden-spangled upperparts catching the sunlight. They feed inland in the fields, but come on here to roost or when disturbed, so they were mostly asleep.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – several hundred were roosting on the Freshmarsh today

Further back, a line of white shapes all standing on one leg in the deeper water were Avocets. There are still a good number here, even if a lot of them have already moved off south for the winter. A handful were awake  and busy feeding nearby, sweeping their distinctive bills back and forth through the water. There were a few gulls in a line on the end of the Avocets – mostly Black-headed Gulls, with their winter black dot behind the eye, and a single Common Gull too.

On the other end of the Avocets was a smaller group of large grey waders, which through the scope we could see were Bar-tailed Godwits. A single Knot was hiding in amongst them and a Ruff appeared with them too. More waders were flying in all the time – it was going to be high tide soon, so birds were coming in from the beach to roost. More Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Turnstones dropped in too. There were a few Dunlin scattered around the islands too.

A Water Pipit called as it flew in and dropped down at the edge of the reeds. Unfortunately it didn’t stop long and flew off over the hide. Thankfully, a short while later it reappeared and dropped down on the mud again. This time we could get it in the scope – grey above and off-white below, marked with clean black streaks. From back out on the main path, we could see two more Water Pipits on one of the islands in the middle of the Freshmarsh, along with a much swarthier Rock Pipit and a couple of Pied Wagtails.

We had a better view of the Dunlin from up here, with a couple feeding on one of the smaller muddy islands just below the bank. A small flock of Knot flew in from the beach and dropped in to bathe in the shallow water. There were a couple of Lapwings out on the islands further back too. A single Greylag Goose was busy preening on one of the islands below us too. A succession of small groups of Brent Geese commuted in and out from the saltmarsh behind us, coming in to bathe.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – commuting in to bathe on the Freshmarsh

We made our way slowly round to Parrinder Hide. An Avocet was feeding in front of the hide, giving us a much closer look. Two Common Redshank were in the water to the left of the hide too and there were three more Ruff on the edge of one of the closer islands.

There were more ducks right in front of the hide here, at least until a Marsh Harrier drifted over and flushed everything, but we still had a better view of a couple of the Wigeon feeding on one of the islands. The harrier flushed all the Golden Plover too, which whirled round above the water in a tight flock before settling back down, calling noisily.

One of the Water Pipits was still feeding out on the short vegetation on the big island to the right of the hide, and it was a great, closer view of it from here, even if we were looking slightly into the light – one of the drawbacks of a sunny day!

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide

Time was already getting on, so we decided to start to make our way slowly back for lunch. There were still a few more distractions on the way – another Red Kite circled over the reedbed and when we got back to the trees, a few Siskins were feeding high in the alders above the path with the Goldfinches.

We stopped for lunch back at the Visitor Centre. When the Grey Squirrel wasn’t occupying the one feeder, a succession of finches and tits kept coming in and out. One or two Bramblings came in to feed on the ground below, with the Woodpigeons and Moorhens.

It felt like we had pushed the limits a little of how far we should walk today already this morning, so we decided on a more relaxed afternoon. Back to the minibus, we drove round to Thornham Harbour next. A Rock Pipit was perched on the gunwale of one of the old boats by the coal barn – looking very different to the Water Pipits we had been watching earlier.

There was still quite a lot of water in the harbour channel, but the muddy edges held four godwits – three Bar-tailed and a single Black-tailed Godwit with them. From the minibus, we had a great look at them feeding together, the Black-tailed Godwit darker, grey backed and longer-legged compared to the Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – one of three feeding in the harbour channel

A large flock of Linnets flew up from the saltmarsh and whirled round. There are a small number of Twite back already for the winter, but we couldn’t see them with the Linnets – just a few Goldfinches. We weren’t getting out to look for them this afternoon, so we moved on.

From Thornham, we drove inland on some of the smaller roads. We had seen some Pink-footed Geese dropping down this way earlier, so we thought we would have a quick look for them. There were lots of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges in the road – the shooting season has only just begun and there are still loads of the birds released this year running around and they seem to like sitting in the roads!

A seed mix strip on the side of the road held lots of finches, including a large number of Greenfinches which is always good to see given how they have declined. A little further on, and we spotted a small group of Pink-footed Geese flying in. We stopped and watched as they whiffled down towards a distant recently-harvested sugar beet field. We could see lots more geese down on the ground already, a couple of fields over, through a gap in the hedge, so we decided to drive round to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got round to the other side, a large flock of Fieldfares flew up from the field, beside the road. The Pink-footed Geese had cleverly picked a part of the field to feed in which was mostly hidden from here, but we could see several up on the ridge, their dark heads and small mostly dark bills very different from the Greylag we had seen at Titchwell earlier.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field

A lone Egyptian Goose was in the field too, feeding on its own but it walked off towards the Pinkfeet as we drove up. A little further on, a Common Buzzard was perched out in the same field. From a gap in the hedge, we could see the winter wheat field the other side of the road was full of gulls, Lapwings and Golden Plover. A single Brown Hare was in amongst them all.

Looping back down to the coast road, we headed for Brancaster Staithe. As we drove down to the harbour, the tide was still just going out and a Little Egret was feeding in the flat calm water just off the shore.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding in the channel at Brancaster Staithe

From the comfort of the minibus we could see a nice selection of waders. Several Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers were standing around on a muddy island out in the water. Over the other side of the channel, we could see several more Bar-tailed Godwits. Someone was washing mussels  over on one side of the harbour, and as he walked away from the pile of shellfish landed on the shore, loads of Turnstones hurried in to see what they could fined amongst them.

A few Brent Geese were down in the water just on the edge of the parking area and several Pied Wagtails were running around on the stones, gathering here ahead of heading off to roost together. A sign that time was getting on, and the light was already beginning to go. It was time to head back.

Even on the way, we had a few more surprises. Four Red Deer were feeding in a stubble field, inlcuding one stag with a fine set of antlers. A little further on, we pulled up by a gateway to find a Common Buzzard feeding on a dead rabbit just a few metres away, with a second Buzzard on the gatepost beside it.

It had been a great day – and a good demonstration of how you don’t necessarily need to walk too far to see lots of wildlife along the coast here.

13th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Migration tour, our last day. It was a damp and misty morning with drizzle on and off, but we managed to make the best of it, and it dried out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather breezy.

We started the day at Holkham. It was grey and drizzling as we got out of the minibus on Lady Anne’s Drive, to the sound of small parties of Pink-footed Geese flying over in the mist.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Goose – small groups flew over calling in the mist

A Common Gull was feeding on the short grass opposite and conveniently walked over to a Black-headed Gull for a nice side-by-side comparison. Further back, we spotted a covey of Grey Partridges. They were hard to see in the dull conditions, in amongst the lumps of mud where the channels on the grazing marsh have just been excavated, so we walked over to The Lookout cafe where we could get a bit of elevation and get a better look at them. Several Jays came out of the trees, and headed off up Lady Anne’s Drive.

Walking west on the track on the inland side of the pines, we could hear tits in the trees and then a Yellow-browed Warbler called further up. We walked on to see if we could locate it, but by the time we got to where it had been it had gone quiet again and there was no movement in the trees by the track.

We stopped briefly at Salts Hole. A lone Tufted Duck flew off with the Mallards as we walked up. There are several Little Grebes on here now, where they spend the winter, and they seemed to be laughing at us, out in the drizzle.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there are several on Salts Hole for the winter

We stopped again to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide, but got distracted by a tit flock calling from the trees the other side. One of the group went over to look at the grazing marsh, and a Great White Egret and a Grey Heron feeding over the grass on the edge of a shallow reedy channel. It was a good size comparison – the Great White Egret at least the size of the heron. A second Great White Egret was more hidden, in a ditch a little further back.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches on the grazing marsh

The sycamores behind Washington Hide were all quiet, although we could still hear the tits just to the east, in the pines and holm oaks. We decided to go into the hide for a sit down and a chance to dry off a little.

Looking away to the left, we could see that the second Great White Egret had now come over to the reedy channel with the first, along with a second Grey Heron. They were then joined by a third Great White Egret which flew in. Quite an impressive assemblage of herons and quite unthinkable just a few years ago, when Great White Egret was a rarity here. They have bred here this year for the second year in a row.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets – from Washington Hide, we could see three now (and two Grey Herons)

There were not many geese out on the grazing marshes today. Presumably most of the Pink-footed Geese had flown inland to feed on the stubble fields, which they do at this time of year. We did manage to find a distant collection of geese – a small group of five Pinkfeet with Greylags and a couple of Canada Geese.

There was quite a bit of activity down in the bushes in the reeds in front of the hide. There were several Song Thrushes flying in and out, presumably migrants dropping in fresh from the continent. A Ring Ouzel had been seen here earlier, and at one point it flew up into the top of a hawthorn bush. It was tricky to see, hidden in amongst the leaves, but through the scope we could make out it was a male, with a white crescent on its breast. It dropped down out of view.

As the drizzle eased off, more thrushes appeared in the bushes, coming up to preen and dry themselves out. There were several Redwings now, with bold pale superciliums and rusty patches on their flanks. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared in the tops of the bushes and then a Marsh Harrier came up out of the reeds too, as the rain stopped.

We walked back down to the gate and looked out at the bushes on the edge of the reeds. There were several Song Thrushes, grey-backed continental birds, clearly migrants coming here for the winter, but no further sign of the Ring Ouzel. While the weather was better we decided to carry on west. A closer Pink-footed Goose was on its own with a small gaggle of Greylags on the grazing marshes just beyond the trees.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – on the grazing marsh with a few Greylags

Just before the crosstracks, a Red Kite drifted out from the pines and over the bushes. It probably flushed another Ring Ouzel, as we could hear it as it flew off chacking.

There had been several Yellow-browed Warblers in the last couple of days in the sallows just beyond the crosstracks, so we walked on to see if we could find one. There were already a few people looking and we had only just walked up when we heard one calling. Triangulating the various calls there were at least two, possibly three, but they played cat and mouse with us for a while. We heard them calling and caught brief glimpses as they flew out of the bushes or perched briefly when they landed, before disappearing in.

A large oak tree provided some shelter from the wind and there was a bit of activity in the bushes in front of it. First a Chiffchaff flitted around in the ivy. Then one of the Yellow-browed Warblers flew up into a large hawthorn right in front of the oak. Now we finally had a good chance to get a proper look at one, although even here it was so active, flicking in and out of the leaves, that it was never easy to latch onto without a bit of patience. It seemed to like this tree, as it came back into it a couple of times while we watched.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we eventually got good views of one in the trees

We had already heard a few Siskins over the pines on our walk out to here, but now a succession of flocks started coming overhead, calling. At first, we wondered whether it was the same flock coming round and round, but the number of birds changed each time and they were all heading quickly west. Then a message came through to say that large numbers of Siskins were on the move along the coast. We must have seen over 500 here in about 30 minutes, but even that underestimated the scale of the Siskin migration underway.

There were other birds moving too today. Two Bramblings flew in over the pines calling and circled overhead, and a few Song Thrushes were still coming in too, flying in over the trees and dropping down into the bushes.

We decided to continue on to the west end, to see if we could find anything else fresh in. As we got to the gate overlooking the grazing marshes at the end of the pines, we could see lots of white shapes feeding in with the cattle away to the south. We had a better view from higher up, just in the start of the dunes. They were a long way off, but through the scope we counted eight Cattle Egrets and three Great White Egrets, another amazing collection of birds which would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, such is the pace of colonisation of these species.

Out in the open in the dunes, the weather was not particularly pleasant – the wind had picked up, and it was still drizzling on and off. We had a quick walk round the start of the bushes, flushing a couple of Song Thrushes out, but with it getting towards lunchtime now too we didn’t have time to venture any further.

However, now we could really appreciate the true scale of the Siskin movement. Birds had been moving over the pines, which we couldn’t see on the south side of the trees. From out in the open, we could see flocks pouring through, 60-250 birds at a time, 2-3 flocks per minute. Amazing to watch! Real migration in action. There were a few Chaffinches on the move too now, and a small flock dropped into the pines around us as we walked back into the trees, a harbinger of what was to come in the afteroon.

After the walk back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped for lunch in The Lookout cafe and a welcome hot drink to warm up. By the time we had finished lunch, the rain had stopped again. We drove east along the coast road to Blakeney, where a pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes on the grazing marsh as we parked.

We thought we would have a quick walk around Friary Hills, which would be comparatively sheltered from the weather and a good place from which to observe the birds passing by overhead. There were lots of Blackbirds in the hawthorn hedge, which flushed out as we walked along and flew up into the trees the other side. Several Song Thrushes came out too, and a single Fieldfare, our first of the autumn. Four Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in here too, probably all migrants stopping off to refuel.

Blackbird

Blackbird – there were lots feeding in the hedge at Friary Hills

The Siskins appeared to have largely dried up now, but they were replaced by Chaffinches. Small flocks were passing over constantly, not on quite the scale of the Siskins earlier but on any other day they would be very impressive numbers moving. Amazing to think that these are all birds arriving here for the winter, mostly from the continent.

Down at the end of the track, a tit flock was moving quickly through the trees. A quick scan and we found a Yellow-browed Warbler in with them. It showed well, if briefly again, up in the sycamores, before the flock moved on. We tried to follow them back along the top path but they seemed to disappear back into the gardens beyond.

We stopped for a few minutes at the top, partly just to admire the view but also to see if any of the tits were still working their way in our direction through the bushes. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the Freshes, and a couple of Grey Herons down with the cows, although there were no egrets with them here. As we walked back down the hill, a young Peregrine came in from the Freshes and disappeared inland over our heads.

Peregrine

Peregrine – flew over as we walked back down the path

To get round to the seawall, we had to walk past the duck pond with its motley collection of wildfowl. A colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull was feeding on the food put out for the ducks on one of the platforms. After emailing the scheme co-ordinator, we discovered it was ringed as a youngster in Suffolk in 2010. Although it was seen all the way down in Morocco at one point (in 2014), in recent years it seems to have found Cley and Blakeney more to its liking. It was good to see the Hooded Merganser was still present in the collection here too and hadn’t escaped!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull – ringed as a chick in Suffolk in 2010

Walking out along the seawall to the harbour, a smart male Marsh Harrier quartered the grazing marshes on the other side of the bank.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – we watched this smart male out over the Freshes

From the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. There were a few waders out on the mud – mostly Curlews and Redshanks. A small group of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone dropped in and started feeding busily. Further out, a couple of distant Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding in one of the deeper channels and there were plenty of Brent Geese out on the sandbars.

There seemed to be several small flocks of waders flying in. When a flock of Turnstone came in over the Glaven channel in front of us, we could see a couple of Dunlin in with them but also a much smaller wader at the back. It was clearly a stint, probably a Little Stint. Unfortunately, despite our best hopes, it didn’t land on the mud in front of us, but carried on out into the harbour and seemed to drop down out of view.

A Scandinavian Rock Pipit flew over the saltmarsh calling and dropped down into the vegetation out of view. Even out here, there were more Chaffinches still coming in or flying west in small groups, with the odd Siskin mixed in with them. It had been an amazing day for visible migration today, with all the finches moving and the thrushes in the bushes. Now it was unfortunately time to head back and wrap up an exciting four days of Autumn Migration.