Tag Archives: Greenshank

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was still very windy today, but otherwise it was mostly bright and fairly sunny, apart from a band of sharp showers which passed over late morning. It was very warm too, up to 25C in the afternoon – unseasonally warm for mid October and t-shirt weather out of the wind!

It was forecast to be a big spring high tide this morning, so we planned to head over to Snettisham to watch the waders. However, with such a strong southerly wind, it would undoubtedly hold the tide back and stop it from completely covering the mud. So we figured the waders would remain out on the Wash today and consequently it wasn’t worth a really early start to get there well ahead of the tide.

The tide was already in when we arrived just after 9am, and we could see all the waders gathered in the far corner, just as we thought they would be. As we walked down towards the far end of the seawall, something spooked them and all the waders took off. We stopped to watch them all swirling round, making different shapes in the sky, before they quickly settled again down on the last remaining bay of mud.

Waders 1

Waders – 80,000 Knot were swirling over the Wash today

Carrying on to the end of the path, we set up the scopes to look more closely at the vast flocks of birds gathered in the tiny corner of mud. They looked like oil slicks spread over the surface. Closest to us were the Oystercatchers, a much darker, black mass. The Bar-tailed Godwits were nearby, more loosely grouped. Through the scopes we could see their pale backs streaked with dark. The Curlews were widely scattered on the drier mud at the back. Along the edge of the water was one vast throng of Knot, packed in shoulder to shoulder, looking almost like a pebble beach!

Waders 2

Waders – mainly Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and lots of Knot!

More Oystercatchers were still flying in to join the crowd already gathered, shining white and black as they caught the low early morning light. Then suddenly everything was up again, thousands and thousands of waders, whirling round over the mud in vast flocks, twisting and turning. What a spectacle! We would see what we assumed was the reason – a couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the spit of saltmarsh just beyond.

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

They settled again, but not for long. We could see more Knot come up in huge flocks further back, many of them coming over to the nearer group to settle. Then they were all up and swirling again.

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

This time we spotted a different culprit – a young Peregrine. It made several passes over and round the huge flocks which twisted and turned, before drifting back over the saltmarsh. It had a quick tussle with one of the Marsh Harriers and then settled on a fence post out in the vegetation behind the mud.

The waders eventually settled again. The tide was already starting to go out again, and there was a bit more mud exposed already. This time the various groups were less concentrated in the corner and we could see different species. There were lots of Grey Plover and more flew in and joined them, flashing their black armpits as they flew. Out on the mud, close to the massed Knot, we could see a tight group of Sanderling, much paler than the other waders, shining white and silvery grey in the low sunshine.

Waders 5

Waders – the flocks catching the morning sunshine massed on the mud

Beyond the flocks of waders, lit up by the sun shining behind us, we could see dark clouds approaching from the south. We got round to the shelter of the South Screen just in time, as a sharp burst of heavy rain passed overhead. Even though most of the waders were still out on the Wash today, there were a few different species still to keep us amused while we sheltered from the rain here.

At least 13 Greenshanks were roosting in with a larger group of Redshanks on the back of the closest island, along with a few Turnstones. A large group of Oystercatchers were sleeping on the shingle bank further back, and down on the waters edge below then were several more Redshank and a single Knot.

The warden came in to shelter from the rain. He had been doing a count today and was able to tell us we had been watching 80,000 Knot out on the Wash. Wow! He also told us there were four Spotted Redshanks further back, roosting on one of the small islands out in the middle of the pit. When the rain finally eased off, we could see them in the distance, much paler than the Redshanks in front of us, but not as pale as the Greenshanks.

The Greenshanks woke up and started getting restless. One or two started feeding, running through the water, sweeping their bills quickly from side to side feeling for food. Several of the Redshanks woke up too and started bathing, throwing themselves headlong into the water and flapping. A Grey Plover appeared on the island just behind Greenshanks.


Greenshank – there were several roosting on the south end of the pit

Then the Redshanks and Greenshanks started to take off in small groups and seemed to head back out towards the Wash. There were other birds here too. A Rock Pipit was chasing round with the Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings, down on the gravel margins in front of the hide. There was a good selection of ducks and geese on view, including a Canada x Greylag hybrid with the Greylag Geese. A Little Grebe was busy diving close to the near bank.

There was a gap in the clouds and the rain stopped for a while, so we took advantage and walked round to Shore Hide, before another squally band of rain passed over, producing quite an impressive rainbow over the north end of the pit. There was still one Spotted Redshank on the small island, right out in front of the hide giving us a much better view from here. We could see its long, needle-fine bill. A single feral Barnacle Goose was in with the Greylags at the back.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – there was still one on the pit when we got round to Shore Hide

When the rain stopped again, we headed out of the hide and started to make our way back to the car. There had been a report of some Snow Buntings in with the flock of Linnets along the shore. We walked back along the shingle and quickly found the Linnets but there was no sign of anything with them. The tide was now well out and several Ringed Plovers and little groups of Dunlin were now feeding on the closer mud.

When we got round to Titchwell, it was already time for an early lunch. The car parks were very busy, and we found the last space in the overflow car park, but thankfully the picnic area was empty. While we ate, a Swallow and three or four House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees, feeding up before continuing on their way south. A Goldcrest was singing in the edge of the pines behind us.

After lunch, we headed out along Fen Trail. It was very warm now out of the wind, but it was still breezy in the trees and we couldn’t find any sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler here. We couldn’t find the flock of Long-tailed Tits either – they had probably gone somewhere more sheltered, taking the Yellow-browed Warbler with them. A Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows.

There were lots of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine – lots of Common Darters and Migrants Hawkers buzzing round the sallows or basking on the boardwalk.

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, the first thing we spotted were the Red-crested Pochard. There were six of them here today, including three smart drakes, numbers having gone up as the latter have emerged from eclipse plumage and from hiding. There were also lots of Gadwall and several Shoveler.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s Reedbed today

There were a few gulls coming and going from Patsy’s Reedbed, but not much else, so we set off back towards the main path and the rest of the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes on the edge of the concrete tank road, but the rest of the bushes on Fen Trail and round on the Meadow Trail were quiet.

As we made our way up along the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. Another Red-crested Pochard, a female, was out with a few Gadwall on the water. There was a big crowd gathered on the path outside Island Hide, and we thought they might be watching the Jack Snipe, so we hurried up to join them. A snipe had been seen earlier disappearing into the vegetation but when we looked where they were pointing, all we could see was bits of a Common Snipe showing through the weeds as it fed.

From inside Island Hide, we had a better view of the Common Snipe when it finally poked its head round the edge of the vegetation. There were lots of Ruff out on the Freshmarsh still too, and a small number of Avocet which are lingering here, after most have gone further south for the winter. Otherwise, there were not many other waders here today.


Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

There are lots of duck out on the Freshmarsh now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, together with a few Shoveler. The drakes are all still largely in dull eclipse plumage, so not looking at their best.

With the Jack Snipe not showing, we decided to head out to the beach, and come back to have another look later. As we walked out along the west bank path, a flock of Golden Plover flew in and circled over the Freshmarsh several times nervously, before eventually landing out in the middle.

A couple of Redshank were feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, in the channel just below the path. At the far end, there were more waders out on the muddy banks. An Oystercatcher was working its way round just below us and out along the edge of the water we could see Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, a Grey Plover and more Redshank. A Little Egret flew in, flashing its yellow feet, and started looking for fish in the muddy water.

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – in the muddy channel on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were empty, so we continued on to the beach. The tide was out, but we found a sheltered spot in the lee of the dunes and scanned the sea. There were a few Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a single Red-throated Diver. We could see a distant flock of Common Scoter, out towards the wind turbines, but they were hard to pick up on the water and easiest to see when they flew.

While we were scanning offshore, we noticed a tern fishing way off to the west. It’s agile flight, dipping down frequently to the water’s surface, and dark upperparts contrasting with white underneath immediately set it apart – a juvenile Black Tern. It spent ages flying up and down just offshore away to the west of us, gradually working its way back towards us, before it eventually flew past just offshore.

It is quite late for a Black Tern off here, though not unprecedented. Still, it was a nice bird to see. While we were watching the Black Tern, one of the group noticed a small raptor coming in low over the waves. When we all got onto it, we could see it was a Merlin. It eventually came in low over the beach at Thornham Point, though it was impossible to tell whether it was a new arrival from the continent or a local bird skimming over the waves to avoid the wind.

There were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, along with several small groups of Brent Geese. We made our way down for a closer look and had good views of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits side by side. It was very windy out on the sand though, so we put our heads down and walked back up the beach.

We wanted to have another look for the Jack Snipe, and when we got back almost to Island Hide we were told it had been seen briefly earlier but had gone back to sleep in the vegetation. Thankfully, someone walked back with us and showed us exactly where it was. From up on the main path, all we could see was the Jack Snipe‘s eye staring back at us, and only when the wind blew the vegetation back so we could see it!

There was a slightly better view from Island Hide. We could see more of the Jack Snipe, and had good comparison views of a Common Snipe next to it – we could see the different head pattern on the Common Snipe, with the single pale golden stripe over the eye and a pale central crown stripe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

A couple of helicopters taking off from one of the hotels in the village created a lot of disturbance, flushing most of the birds from the freshmarsh, and the Jack Snipe finally woke up and started bouncing up and down. Unfortunately, rather than starting to feed, it walked deeper into the weedy vegetation and disappeared.

There high-pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese overhead. Several of them dropped down onto the Freshmarsh with the already gathered horde of Greylags. We also spotted a Yellow-legged Gull which dropping in briefly with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls for a bathe and a preen.

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. As we walked back to the car, three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reedbed out on the Thornham grazing marsh, silhouetted against the late sun, gathering before going in to roost.

17th Dec 2016 – Birding through the Mist

A Private Tour today with a regular client, with some particular target birds we wanted to see. Unfortunately, there was some intermittent and patchy thick mist along the coast for a time today, but by trying to dodge it and making the most of the sunnier spells, we still managed to amass a great tally of birds for the day.

We met in Wells and made our way west along the coast. There were lots of Blackbirds and a few Redwings in the hedges as drove along, feeding on the berries. Our first destination for the day was Titchwell.

As we walked out along the main path, a Water Rail ran along the bottom of the ditch beside us, a nice way to start the day. The grazing meadow pool had been flooded by the high tide, which was just receding, so there were no birds that we could see. It was still a bit misty, so we thought we would have a look on the way back. As we passed, a juvenile Peregrine flew in over the saltmarsh and headed off towards Thornham.

img_9434Sunrise – over Island Hide and the reedbed

There was a lovely hazy sunrise looking out over the reedbed as we headed out to the freshmarsh. The water level is very high still at the moment, but still there were lots of Lapwings on here. They were very nervous and kept flying round calling. Twelve Avocets, bravely hanging on through the winter, were not so fidgety and stayed mostly asleep in the shallows. There was a nice selection of wildfowl on here as usual – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and three Pintail, a drake and two females.

6o0a2235Teal – lots on the freshmarsh, the drakes are looking very smart now

Volunteer Marsh was still under water, so we hurried past to the tidal pools beyond. There were lots of waders on here, roosting over the high tide. A line of godwits consisted of a mixture of both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, a nice comparison side by side. A single much smaller Knot was in with them. Further over, a couple of Grey Plover were roosting with a little mixed group of Turnstones and Dunlin.

Over at the back, we could see a flock of sleeping Common Redshank and nearby were several noticeably paler birds.  Two Greenshank  were roosting up on the mud behind. Another paler bird was in the water just behind the line of duller grey Common Redshank, and through the scope we could confirm it was a single Spotted Redshank. When looked back again later, two more Spotted Redshanks had appeared with it.

6o0a2115Common Redshank – its legs shining in the morning sunshine

The main point of our visit here today was to have a look at the sea and our primary target was Long-tailed Duck. There have been up to 70 here for the last couple of weeks, an unprecedented number in recent years. We were not disappointed. As we climbed up into the dunes, we could see that the sea was alive with ducks, including lots of Long-tailed Ducks. Amazing!

6o0a2010Long-tailed Ducks – around 70 were on the sea here today (these from yesterday)

We managed to get onto one or two adult male Long-tailed Ducks – stunning birds with their incredibly long and narrow tail feathers. The drakes are much whiter than the females and immature birds which make up the majority of the birds here. They also have a striking pink saddle over the bill, and we could even make that out on them as it glowed in the sunshine.

Apart from the Long-tailed Ducks, there were hundreds of Common Scoter offshore. In with them, there are also an impressive number of Velvet Scoter too, many more than we usually get here at this time of year. We got some great views of them too today, with the sea flat and calm.

The rest of the gathering was made up of five Scaup, plus several Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye. It is amazing to watch all these ducks out on the sea at the moment. Many of them are diving for shellfish and we saw several coming up with large razorshells in their bills. The staff and volunteers on the reserve were doing a wildfowl count while we were there today and their final tallies were impressive, including 73 Long-tailed Ducks and 46 Velvet Scoter! We just enjoyed watching them all.

As well as the ducks, there were other birds on the sea too. A Slavonian Grebe was diving in with the ducks and several Great Crested Grebes were offshore too. A lone Guillemot drifted past. There were several divers too, though they were mostly a bit more distant and harder to see on the edge of the mist. There were three Great Northern Divers, and thankfully one of them appeared in front of the ducks straight out from us, giving us a great look at it.

6o0a2134Bar-tailed Godwits – gathered on the shore as the tide started to go out

The only Black-throated Diver today was quite a long way out and further to the west from where we were standing, so we decided to walk along the beach to try to get everyone onto it. There were more waders on the shore now, with the tide starting to go out, including a nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits.

We had just positioned ourselves to start scanning the sea again, level with where we thought the Black-throated Diver should be, when the fog descended around us, blowing in over the saltmarsh behind us. We waited here a few minutes to see if it would clear. A couple of times, the sun looked like it would break through, but each time it disappeared again into the mists and our hopes were dashed. We amused ourselves watching several Turnstones and Sanderling picking along the pile of razorshells washed up along the high tide line. Finally, we came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to clear any time soon, so reluctantly we started to walk back.

6o0a2153Sanderling – feeding on the piles of shells along the high tide line

On the way back, we stopped briefly in the Parrinder Hide. From here, you couldn’t even see across the freshmarsh today. A nice Common Snipe feeding on the bank just outside the hide was some compensation.

6o0a2228Common Snipe – feeding on the bank outside Parrinder Hide

The grazing meadow pool was now hidden in thick fog. So much for our hoped for better look on the way back! We had a quick look in the alders by the main path and visitor centre but couldn’t find any redpolls here today. We did find a single Siskin feeding in amongst the Goldfinches up in the tops of the trees.

While we waited for the fog to clear, we decided to have a quick look round in Thornham Harbour. A single Greenshank was feeding in the bottom of the harbour channel by the car park, along with a Redshank, a Curlew and a Little Egret. Several Rock Pipits were flying round, landing on the boats or the old barn. We had hoped to catch up with the Twite here,  but despite being seen earlier they had disappeared again. Two Linnets were the best we could manage.

6o0a2241Greenshank – feeding in the channel at Thornham Harbour

The fog seemed to lift a little, so we decided to have a go for the geese up at Choseley. As we drove up away from the coast however, we ran into the fog again, which seemed even thicker than before. We could see a few Pink-footed Geese out in the recently harvested sugar beet field, feeding on the discarded tops, but there were a lot fewer geese here than yesterday and we couldn’t see all of them. There was no sign of the Todd’s Canada Goose here today, amongst those Pink-footed Geese that we could see.

The Pink-footed Geese will usually return to the same field to feed for several days, so many had presumably been put off from landing by the fog. While we were there, we could hear calling constantly overhead, and saw several groups fly over in occasional breaks in the sky. Many geese were presumably loafing in other fields nearby, but we just couldn’t see them today. We decided to try something different instead.

As we drove back east along the coast road, the sun finally broke through the fog and it suddenly became bright and clear. Another target for the day was Snow Bunting, so we made a beeline for Salthouse where we knew we could find some. There were some dog walkers going through the area as we walked up, the dogs off the lead and running all over the shingle ridge. Needless to say, there was no sign of the Snow Buntings at first.

Thankfully, after just a couple of minutes, three Snow Buntings flew back in. They perched nervously on the top of the ridge at first, checking to see if the coast was clear, before coming down to a pile of seed which had been put out for them. Great stuff.

6o0a2254Snow Buntings – coming to seed on the shingle ridge

The days are short at this time of year, so we wanted to make the most of the remaining light. We headed swiftly round to Blakeney for our final stop. Walking past the duck pond, a lone large gull sitting on the top of a severed tree trunk caught our eye. It is a regularly returning bird and it does not fit any species – among other things, its mantle is too dark grey for Herring Gull and slightly too light for Lesser Black-backed Gull, and its legs an odd fleshy colour. It looks like a Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid.

6o0a2262Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid – most likely

As we walked out along the seawall, a Water Rail appeared in one of the channels on the edge of the saltmarsh. It started to walk along in the water at the bottom, until something spooked it and it darted quickly back into cover.

It was very disturbed along the bank this afternoon, with loads of people out for a walk. We did manage to find 12 Barnacle Geese with a flock of Brent Geese out on the Freshes. We could hear Pink-footed Geese further over, towards Cley, and they started to fly off overhead, skein after skein, heading west. We managed to find a handful of Skylarks on the rough ground on the edge of the grazing marsh, but nothing else today.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have long here today. Very quickly, we started to lose the light as the sun dropped. The temperature fell and the mist started to return. We walked back to the car, led by a pair of Stonechats, flying ahead of us along the fence just below the seawall. It was a slightly frustrating day, given the weather, but looking back at what we had seen, we had amassed an impressive total for the day, including most of our main targets. All on one of the shortest days of the year!

6o0a2276Stonechat – led us back along the seawall

4th Dec 2016 – Winter Wonders, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Winter Tours in North Norfolk today, our last day. After a frosty start, it was a glorious, sunny winter’s day. Great weather to be out birding.

On our way west, the excitement started already. A Peregrine swept over the road and stooped down at a flock of Woodpigeons in a field. Unfortunately it disappeared behind a hedge so we couldn’t see if it was successful. A few feathers floated past either lost in the panic or in a chase. We also passed several small flocks of Pink-footed Geese in fields where the sugar beet had recently been harvested, looking for food.

Our first destination was Snettisham. It was high tide when we arrived, but not a really big one. Although the tide was already in, there was still lots of mud left uncovered. We could see some huge flocks of Knot out on the mudflats as we arrived at the seawall, tight groups thousands strong glinting white in the morning sunshine. As we made our way along the seawall, they suddenly took flight and started whirling round. It was quite a display, flashing alternately bright white underneath and dark grey as they wheeled and banked.

6o0a13896o0a13956o0a13996o0a1404Knot – swirling over the Wash

It didn’t take long to find out the reason for the Knots’ nervousness. A Peregrine appeared, circling over the mud at the front of the melee. It turned and powered back into the swirling flocks, flying fast and low over the mud, and the next thing we knew we could see two Peregrines circling together further back. After chasing after the waders for a few minutes, seemingly unsuccessfully, they seemed to lose interest and drifted away south.

The Knot gradually returned to the mud and as things settled down again we had a look for other waders out on the Wash. A large flock of Oystercatchers had been relatively unperturbed by the Peregrines, and they had remained standing out on the mud all along. There were also plenty of Dunlin, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits. The flocks of Golden Plover commuted back and forth between the fields inland and the mud.

There was a nice selection of ducks too. Lots of Shelduck and Teal, plus a good number of Wigeon, mostly out along the edge of the mud. Scanning through them, we found a little group of Pintail out on the water, the drakes starting to look very smart now. Three Pink-footed Geese flew inland over our heads, calling, but in with the flocks of roosting waders we found a single Pink-footed Goose still out on the mud. For some reason, this one seemed to be strangely reluctant to leave the roost today. Perhaps it thought it was a wader!

We made our way along to Rotary Hide. It was a beautiful morning, but unfortunately from here we were looking straight into the sun. We could see several Goldeneye down on the pit below us, including a couple of very smart drakes. One of the drakes was preening, flapping its wings and showing off the extensive white flashes. There were also a few Tufted Duck and several Little Grebes. The light was better from Shore Hide, looking back up the length of the pit. There was a nice selection of dabbling ducks down this end, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler.

As we were leaving, we could see a pair of Goldeneye on the northern pit. The drake started to display, throwing its head back, kicking with its back legs, and ending up with its head and bill pointing vertically. It did it several times and it was great to watch.

6o0a1495Goldeneye – a displaying drake on the pits today

Leaving Snettisham, we made our way back along the coast road, stopping briefly at Holme to use the facilities, then on to Thornham Harbour. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see some waders in the harbour channel and the first bird we saw was a Greenshank, looking strikingly pale in the winter sunshine. It was with a Redshank,which looked much duller, darker grey by comparison, as well as being a little smaller.

Even more interesting, the Greenshank was carrying a set of colour rings. The arrangement of colours is used to identify the individual bird – only one should be fitted with this combination. Checking subsequently, it would appear that this bird was ringed in NE Scotland, and has also been seen at Titchwell this winter, although we are all still awaiting the details of its movements.

6o0a1531Greenshank – this colour-ringed bird was ringed in NE Scotland

There were some other waders here as well. A little further along, a second Greenshank was feeding in the shallow water with another Redshank. There were also a couple of Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew, and a single Little Egret too.

We made our way up onto the seawall, and walked along to the first corner. There was a nice selection of waders visible in the harbour from here, including a couple of Grey Plover. We looked up to see a small falcon flying towards us. It was a Merlin, flapping hard to gain height before it flew overhead and disappeared off west towards Holme.

It was time for lunch, so we headed round to Titchwell. As we ate in the car park, a flock of Long-tailed Tits worked its way through the trees nearby. After lunch, we walked over to the visitor centre. The feeders there were very busy – as well as a selection of tits, there were lots of finches. We watched several Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch feeding before we picked up a Brambling in the bushes behind. It dropped down to the ground below the feeders.

Walking out along the main path, the grazing marsh ‘pool’ looked rather devoid of life at first. A closer look revealed a Jack Snipe in the ditch along one side, bobbing up and down constantly as it fed. We could see its golden straw mantle stripes and shorter bill than a Common Snipe. Then we picked out a Water Pipit at the back, in the far corner. Again, in the bright morning light its white underparts really stood out.

The freshmarsh is completely flooded at the moment. The water levels have been raised to kill off the vegetation on the islands, most of which are now underwater. Consequently, there are fewer birds here now. The ducks still seem to like it, with plenty of Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler out there today. Flocks of Brent Geese kept flying in from the saltmarsh to bathe and preen.

6o0a1563Brent Geese – flying in to bathe and preen on the freshmarsh

With the water levels high on the freshmarsh, many of the waders are now on the other pools. There were plenty of Curlew, Redshank and Grey Plover as well as several Black-tailed Godwit on the Volunteer Marsh. One Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the channel right below the path, giving us great views.

6o0a1596Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

There were a couple of female Teal feeding on the mud, skimming their bills back and forth over the surface, feeding on the algae there. A stunning drake Teal was standing on the mud the other side of the channel, calling. It looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine – they really are very pretty ducks.

6o0a1601Teal – looking stunning in the sunshine

However, it was the Tidal Pools where most of the action was at today. As soon as we came over the bank from the Volunteer Marsh, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water. A couple of Little Grebes were diving just beside the path, giving us great views.

6o0a1638Little Grebe – diving just by the path on the tidal pools

There were more ducks on here today, the usual Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler, together with several Pintail now. One was a smart drake, which we watched in the scope for a while. It was upending constantly, but eventually we got a good look at it. They have not yet quite grown their long pin-shaped central tail feathers, but still sport a rather pointed rear end.

On the muddy spit out in the middle, we could see several waders asleep. Most of the Avocets which spent the summer here have long since departed, but a few hardy individuals try to stay over the winter. There were still ten today, although they were all asleep with their bills tucked in. One of the two Spotted Redshanks was awake and we got a good look at it through the scope, noting its silvery grey upperparts, paler than a Common Redshank, and its long, fine, needle-tipped bill.

img_9156Spotted Redshank – one of two on the tidal pools today

A single Ringed Plover was roosting with a couple of Dunlin at first, but when they all flew round it disappeared. Right at the far end of the tidal pools, we found it again, this time accompanied by a second Ringed Plover. A third tried to join them but one of the others tired to see it off. It appeared to be displaying – flying round with exaggerated wingbeats, then landing on a small island and bowing deeply at the interloper.

6o0a1681Ringed Plover – displaying on the tidal pools

A Kingfisher appeared, on the concrete bunker behind the beach, and it had a fish in its bill. It proceeded to beat it on the bunker’s edge repeatedly, presumably to kill or stun it, before eating it. It then flew round to the bushes on the edge of the water to look for more. We could hear a Water Rail squealing and looked over to see it working its way along the edge of one of the islands, probing in the vegetation.

img_9177Kingfisher – catching fish on the tidal pools

Then we made our way out onto the beach. One glance at the sea and we could see lots of sea ducks flying round. In amongst the dark-winged Common Scoter, we could see several Velvet Scoter with their obvious white wing patch. There were loads of Long-tailed Ducks too. They have been rather scarce in recent years, so it is great to see so many of them here at the moment. There were at least twenty this afternoon, and probably a lot more – they are hard to count in the swell, even though it is not that big!

One of the locals kindly came over to point out that there was a Great Northern Diver close inshore, so we walked down to the water for a closer look. It was diving constantly, but we managed to get a good view of it between dives. The ducks had now settled back onto the sea again, so we managed to get both Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck in the scope. There were waders to look at on the beach too – Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Sanderling and lots of noisy Oystercatchers.

The sun was starting to go down and it was cold on the beach, so we started to walk back. We paid a brief visit to Parrinder Hide. There were lots of Wigeon feeding on the bank right outside the windows of the hide – amazingly close! A few more Wigeon were on the water in front, along with a single drake Pintail, again looking very smart but lacking his full length of tail.

6o0a1720Wigeon – a smart drake, feeding on the bank right outside Parrinder Hide

There was a single Common Snipe from the hide too, feeding along the water’s edge at the bottom of the bank. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, probing its long bill into the soft ground.

6o0a1774Common Snipe – also feeding on the bank outside Parrinder Hide

Making our way back towards the visitor centre, we could see several Marsh Harriers circling over the back of the reedbed. There were at least six, or at least that was the number we had in the air together. Another couple flew in over the saltmarsh from the Thornham direction.

6o0a1800Marsh Harrier – flying in to roost at dusk

There was a glorious sunset away to the west this evening, a beautiful orange sky against which to watch the Marsh Harriers flying in. It was also a lovely way to draw an end to a great weekend.

img_9181Sunset – looking towards Thornham from Titchwell

9th May 2016 – Nightingales & More

A very relaxed, part day Private Tour today, a birthday present for one of the participants. The request was to go looking for Nightingales and anything else which might be around within close proximity. Once again, it was a glorious sunny day with a pleasant cool easterly breeze on the coast.

It was a later than normal start as we drove to a local site which is a regular place for Nightingales. They are best listened for at dawn or dusk, but will sing right through the day, particularly early in the season. We had only just got out of the car when we heard our first Nightingale singing. It was being rather drowned out by a Song Thrush singing too, at first, so we walked further round to try to hear it better.

As we made our way along the edge of the trees, we could hear croaking, a bit like a frog, which was the Nightingale calling and just saw it flit away into cover – it had obviously been perched up in a sunny spot. As we walked back towards the car, a Goldcrest was singing in the trees. Then the Nightingale started singing again, closer to us this time, so we stopped to listen to it for a while. Magical.

We walked on in the other direction. There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes, particularly Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs. A Lesser Whitethroat called from deep in cover. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Then a Treecreeper started singing from the trees. As we walked along, a second Nightingale started singing close by. Again, we stopped to listen to it, but this one was tucked down deep in some bushes and wouldn’t come out to show itself. Still, it was great to just stand there and listen to it singing.

We carried on further and heard a Cuckoo calling in the distance. We followed the sound and were told it had been seen flying round in some poplars. It took a few minutes walking up and down as it flew back and forth through the trees out of view, before it eventually perched up in full view for us to see it. There were several butterflies out in the hedgerows in the warm sunshine, particularly Speckled Woods and Orange Tips.

6O0A2390Speckled Wood – several butterflies were out in the sunshine

We were just listening to the second Nightingale again, when another couple of local birders called to us from further along. A Spotted Flycatcher was making sallies out from a dense clump of sallows, catching insects. We could see it flicking around and perched up briefly in amongst the leaves, before it disappeared deeper into cover. There have been good numbers of migrant Spotted Flycatchers passing through in recent days, but it would be nice to think that this one might hang around here.

6O0A2395Blackcap – this male had just finished bathing in the beck

From here, we drove down to the coast and had a short walk along the lane at Kelling before lunch. A Blackcap perched in the blackthorn preening, having just finished bathing in the beck below. Several Chiffchaffs and lots of Common Whitethroats were singing. A smart male Chaffinch was also singing, just above our heads.

6O0A2398Chaffinch – the males are very smart at this time of year

There was not much on the Water Meadow itself today. The resident Egyptian Geese have four fast growing goslings and the male insists on chasing any duck which tries to stop here, as well as some of the waders! There was a single drake Shoveler on the water as we walked down, which was swiftly moved on. A lone drake Teal was trying to hide from view on the island. An Avocet had been left alone and was feeding quietly along one edge. There were several Sand Martins and Swallows hawking for insects over the water.

We walked round the Quag and a smart male Stonechat was perched in the brambles, dropping down occasionally to the ground below to look for insects. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits out in the grass too, plus a few Skylarks. We walked up the hill beyond, scanning the sea as we went, where a few Sandwich Terns were flying past. In the top of the sheep field, we found three Wheatears out on the short grass and one flew over and landed on a fence post in front of us.

6O0A2408Wheatear – there were at least three in the sheep field still today

It was a bit exposed and breezy on the top of the hill, and slightly cool with it, so we dropped back down and set off to walk back. Opposite the Water Meadow, our attention was caught by a movement on the edge of the field just beyond the reeds. We couldn’t see it at first, but by carefully positioning ourselves so we could see through the vegetation we could see a smart female Whinchat on the electric fence. Unfortunately, she quickly dropped down out of view.

We walked back round the corner, from where we could see the whole of the fenceline, but there was no sign of the Whinchat there now. When we got back to the gate, we discovered why – she had flown all the way across to the other side of the field and through the scope we could now get a better look at her.

We had lunch at Cley and afterwards walked out onto the reserve. The tame Reed Bunting was singing from the top of one of its usual trees but the Sedge Warbler was a little more shy and tried to keep itself half hidden behind the emerging leaves.

6O0A2297Reed Bunting – this tame male sings to passers by from the bushes by the boardwalk

There was a nice selection of waders on Pat’s Pool again today. The Ruff are looking particularly smart at the moment, with their brightly coloured ruffs, and no two of the males are alike. Two rather different chestnut-ruffed males were in front of the hide, at least they were when they were not being chased away by the over-protective breeding Avocets! A couple of iridescent black-ruffed males were further over but the smartest Ruff of all was hiding right over the back – a delightful combination of golden buff and shiny black. Even better, he had his ruff slightly fluffed up in the presence of a female (‘Reeve‘) nearby.

6O0A2286Ruff – this male was in front of the hide, before being chased off by an Avocet

A Greenshank walked towards the hide just below the bank right in front of us and seemed like it would pass close by until the Avocet intervened again just at the crucial moment. However, we still had a great look at it on its way and when it landed again a little further on. We also spent some time watching the Avocets feeding, sweeping their bills back and forth through the shallows.

6O0A2448Greenshank – before being chased off by the Avocet

There were a couple of large groups of Black-tailed Godwits on both Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. Relatively few are now left which are in full rusty orange summer plumage – presumably many of the adults have now departed on their way north to Iceland, and a greater proportion of non-breeding first summer birds remain.

6O0A2470Black-tailed Godwit – this one only in partial summer plumage

There were fewer small waders on the scrapes here than in recent days, but apparently a Peregrine had been hanging around earlier in the day. Still, there were a couple of small flocks of tundrae Ringed Plovers with two summer plumage black-bellied Dunlin in with them.

At one point a Reed Warbler appeared low down in the reeds in front of the hide, just across the other side of the channel. Having heard a few singing, it was nice to be able to see one too.

6O0A2460Reed Warbler – perched in the reeds in front of Dauke’s Hide

We had intended to finish the day with a gentle walk out to the East Bank, but when we got back towards the Visitor Centre the prospect seemed to become less appealing and a request was made to head for home instead. It was only back at the car that we discovered that a bag had been left behind in one of the hides, so while one of the group waited in the Centre, the other two of us walked back. We successfully retrieved the bag and were also rewarded for our efforts with two Bearded Tits which flew past us calling and dropped down into the reeds just beyond the boardwalk.

15th April 2016 – Singing in the Rain

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. It was forecast to rain today, and it did, but thankfully it was never as heavy as we had been promised. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast in search of migrants.

As we drove along the coast road, it was overcast and damp. At Walsey Hills, a small group of Swallows and Sand Martins had gathered on the wires. There are lots of our breeding hirundines in now, so these could have been locals or birds stopping off on their way further north.

6O0A0174Swallows & Sand Martins – on the wires at Walsey Hills

Our first stop was at Kelling. A Song Thrush was singing half-heartedly by the school. A little further along, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the hedge across the other side of the field and then a Chiffchaff started up from the bushes by the lane. Many of the first warblers are now back on territory, and newly arrived they will often sing almost regardless of the weather.

From the first gate overlooking the Water Meadow, a scan of the fields revealed a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Both adults, we got them in the scope and could see their jet black hoods and white wing tips. Otherwise, the Water Meadow itself looked fairly quiet from here at first. On the other side of the lane, a ‘dopping’ of Shelducks had gathered in a field and were inspecting the rabbit burrows along the edge for suitable nest sites.

6O0A0177Shelducks – pairing up and looking for nest sites

Another small warbler flicked across the path and disappeared into the alexanders on the other side. When we got up to where it had gone, we finally managed to get a good look at it and could see that it was a Willow Warbler. Presumably a migrant, it was feeding actively in the dense vegetation alongside the hedge. We followed it for a while, getting occasional views of it as it worked its way to the edge. As it continued up along the hedge row, it gave a quick burst of song. A Goldcrest came down the hedge the other way and landed in the top of a hawthorn beside us – possibly also a migrant, stopping to feed up before heading out across the North Sea.

6O0A0182Willow Warbler – feeding in the alexanders by the path

We had really hoped to find the Yellow Wagtails which have been here for a couple of days now and just as we got to the end of the tall hedge, so that we could see out across the Water Meadow again, we heard them calling. They came up out of the rushes and flew round. Most dropped straight down back out of view in the tall grass, but three landed on the top of some tall posts. Even better, the Blue-headed Wagtail which has been in with them was one of the three! Through the scope, we could see it’s dark blue-grey cap and contrasting white supercilium, a smart male. Then it dropped down out of view as well.

IMG_2294Blue-headed Wagtail – here’s a photo of it from yesterday

Several of the Yellow Wagtails flew out and landed on the short grass by the pool, so we could get a better look at them. Bright dayglo yellow, they looked stunning running around among the daisies. But the Blue-headed Wagtail did not come out to join them.

There were several other birds on the Water Meadow. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese have four goslings. There were also a few Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, and a couple of Avocet too. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects low over the water and a single House Martin flew in to join them, flashing its white rump patch. A Common Whitethroat started calling from the bushes behind us, before flying out onto the brambles and bursting into song – another of the warblers to have returned for the summer just in the last couple of days.

Round by the Quags, a male Stonechat was perched on a post at the edge of the sheep field. It kept dropping down to the short grass to feed. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets along the path up the hill and at least seven Wheatears in the sheep field from the top path. They seemed to be trying to stay just out of view, over the crest of the ridge, but thankfully they kept running out where we could see them.

6O0A0186Stonechat – a male, down by the Quags

A large white bird came high overhead, heading west. Head – and long bill – held stretched out in front and long legs trailing behind, it was a Spoonbill. It didn’t show any signs of stopping, but carried straight on towards Salthouse. We figured it might eventually come down over towards Cley, so thought we would have a look for it on our way that direction later.

There had been no more than light drizzle so far, but it started to rain a little harder now, so we turned round and started to make our way back. We thought perhaps more of the wagtails might have come out onto the short grass, where it was not so wet, but once again there were only a few Yellow Wagtails out in view.

Back at the gate, we stopped for another last scan and a pale shape dropping down into the grass, out of the brambles at the back caught our eye. When it flew back up again we could confirm what it was, a female Common Redstart. This bird was in exactly the same place yesterday, but despite looking on our way past this morning, we hadn’t seen it. It had been very hard to see yesterday too though, and kept disappearing into the brambles or flying over the top into the other side, on the edge of the sheep field, out of view. As it flew between the fence posts, we could see the flash of its orange-red tail and eventually it perched up on the brambles for a few seconds so that we could get it in the scope. Redstart is always a very nice spring migrant to catch up with, as they can be tricky to see at this time of year here.

Our next stop was at Salthouse, down at the end of Beach Road. Scanning from the car, we could see lots of Wheatears out on the short grass, at least a dozen. One or two were a bit nearer to the road, so we got out for a closer look.

IMG_2305Wheatear – at least a dozen were at Salthouse today

Thankfully, we didn’t have to go far from the car, as it was raining a little more persistently now – all the action here came to us! Three more Yellow Wagtails flew in and landed close by as well. Further over, we could see a White Wagtail as well – its pale silvery-grey back contrasting with the black cap, setting it immediately apart from its close relative the Pied Wagtail.

6O0A0188Yellow Wagtail – three were at Salthouse too

It is not just passerines on the move or arriving for the breeding season, waders are a feature of spring too. A Little Ringed Plover was feeding down by one of the small pools in the grass. Through the scope, we could see its golden yellow eye-ring. We could hear the distinctive laughing call of a Whimbrel approaching and looked up to see it fly west overhead. From the other direction, we heard a Greenshank calling and turned round to see two fly in from the west and drop down on one of the pools over by the shingle ridge. Both the Whimbrel and the Greenshanks are just stopping off here on their way further north.

IMG_2312Greenshanks – these two dropped into the pools by the beach at Salthouse

Making our way further back west, a quick stop by Walsey Hills for a scan and we relocated the Spoonbill we had seen flying over earlier. It was out on the pool at Pope’s Marsh and doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! We had a look at it through the scope, although it wouldn’t show off its bill for us.

IMG_2333Spoonbill – sleeping out on Pope’s Marsh

After a break for lunch, we set out to explore the reserve at Cley. The rain had eased off a bit now, but it was still nice to get into the shelter of the hides. Pat’s Pool held a good selection of waders. A Ruff was right down at the front with a couple of Redshank.The male Ruff are in the process of moulting into summer plumage now, and were a mixture of blotchy colours.

6O0A0205Ruff – just moulting into summer plumage

We eventually found the Green Sandpiper when it walked out of a sheltered bay, into view. The lack of the white ‘spur’ on the side, between the breast and wings, is a good way to distinguish from  Common Sandpipers at a distance. A couple of Snipe were lurking round the edges of the scrape. There are no shortage of Avocets here now – paired up and ready for the breeding season.

6O0A0203Avocet – there are lots on the scrapes now

There are always plenty of Black-tailed Godwits here, and most of them are looking very smart now, having moulted into summer plumage. However, one of the godwits stood out, with deep rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, whereas a Black-tailed Godwit should have a black-barred white belly. This was a very smart summer plumage male Bar-tailed Godwit. Round on Simmond’s Scrape, another Bar-tailed Godwit was lacking any deep rusty colour below, a female.

6O0A0224Black-tailed Godwit – looking smart in summer plumage

Also on Simmond’s Scrape, there was a group of smaller waders on the mud on one side. Including at least 12 Dunlin, many of these were also started to attain breeding plumage, sporting small black belly patches and increasingly brightly coloured upperparts. In with them were several Ringed Plovers. A few Lapwing were on the grassy bank in front of the hide.

6O0A0228Lapwing – on the bank right in front of the hide

Given the rain, we had not seen any raptors so far today, but once it eased off a bit, the first Marsh Harrier flew in over the scrape and landed in one of the bushes in the reedbed beyond. A Water Rail squealed from the reeds but did not show itself.

Back to the car, and we had a quick drive round to the beach car park to see if there were any migrants around the Eye Field, but it looked pretty quiet here today so we didn’t linger. A Sparrowhawk perched on a gate by the road meant that the detour was worthwhile.

We rounded off the day with a walk out along the East Bank. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the reedbeds on either side.The Spoonbill had disappeared, but a few Wigeon out on Pope’s Marsh were new for the day, and a couple more Little Ringed Plovers were out in the grass.

6O0A0233Marsh Harrier – several came out once the rain eased

We took advantage of the new shelter and had a good look at Arnold’s Marsh. There were lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plover out on here, as well as more Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. A single Grey Plover was also an addition to the day’s list.

We had time for a quick look at the sea. All we could see at first were a few Cormorants, but then three ducks appeared, a drake and two female Common Scoter. They were diving continually, which made them hard for everyone to get onto at first. A single Red-throated Diver flew past. Then it was time to head back.

The weather had been far from perfect, but the rain had not really been bad all day today – and we had managed a very decent haul of birds despite the conditions. Once again, well worth going out!

3rd-5th November 2015 – Titchwell Manor Tour

This year’s Titchwell Manor Tour started on Tuesday night, with a short meeting to discuss the plans for the next two days followed by a delicious dinner in the award winning restaurant at the hotel. The following morning, we met at 8.30am for a full day’s birding in the field. The weather was not at its most accommodating. We were forecast showers – we ended up getting light rain and mist most of the day. As usual, it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing some very good birds.

We headed east along the coast to Holkham first. We stopped half way along Lady Anne’s Drive to admire a flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding on the grazing marshes. There were several hundred on either side of the road today – but many more had probably roosted here and flown inland to feed at first light. It was nice to get a good look at them through the scope. Helpfully, a couple of Greylag Geese were even in the same view to compare at one point.

P1120427Pink-footed Geese – along Lady Anne’s Drive this morning

While we were watching them, two Fieldfare flew over calling and dropped down onto the grass. Thrushes and Blackbirds are continuing to trickle in over the North Sea from Scandinavia for the winter.

There was light rain falling as we walked west on the inland side of the pines. We heard the odd Goldcrest calling, but otherwise the trees were rather quiet today. The tit flocks often seem to retreat deeper into the pines when the weather is inclement. We stopped at Salts Hole to admire a flock of Wigeon which had dropped in to bathe, the drakes now looking very smart as they finish emerging from eclipse plumage. As usual, there were several Little Grebes on here as well today.

IMG_2610Little Grebe – at least 5 on Salts Hole today

It was hard to see right across the grazing marshes this morning because of the mist. However, a white shape in a distant tree stood out even through the gloom. It was a very pale Common Buzzard, with almost completely white underparts. It flew down onto the grass and we got the scope on it. Well known to us, it is often in the trees here. Common Buzzards are variable in appearance and very pale birds are increasingly common, creating a pitfall for the unwary.

The rain started to fall harder, so we sought the shelter of Washington Hide only a little further along the path. There were several ducks on the pool below the hide, including several Shoveler and Shelduck. The drake Shoveler is rather similarly coloured to Shelduck, so it was good to have an opportunity to compare the two. A Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the bushes, getting wet. For a while it stood with its wings outstretched, presumably trying to shake off the water. A second Marsh Harrier appeared nearby and began to do the same.

It was while we were watching the Marsh Harriers that a large white shape suddenly flew in towards us and started to drop down towards the pool below. This Great White Egret has been hanging around at Holkham for over two months now, but it is not always in view and spends lots of its time out in the ditches, so it was nice to catch up with it today. It did a nice circuit walking round the pool for us – we could see just how big it was and admire its long dagger-shaped yellow bill.

IMG_2629Great White Egret – dropped in to the pool in front of Washington Hide

After a short while, the rain eased a bit, so we set off again to walk a little further west. The view from the Joe Jordan Hide seemed rather quiet at first. Carefully scanning the fields, we spotted the head of a small dark goose appear from the grass and, as it turned to face us, we could see it had a distinctive white surround to the base of its bill. There is normally a small flock of White-fronted Geese at Holkham through the winter, visitors here from their breeding grounds in Russia, but this was the first returning one we had seen this autumn. As we watched, we could see that there was actually a small family party of White-fronted Geese, two adults followed by 3 juveniles.

When the skies started to brighten up a fraction, that seemed to be the cue for several raptors to appear, as if by magic. A Sparrowhawk flew up into the tops of the trees in front of the hide briefly, an adult male with slate grey upperparts and orange-barred underparts. The scaffold tower had been devoid of life since we had arrived in the hide, but scanning again and an adult Peregrine had appeared on the top of it, presumably coming out to try to dry itself off.

The rain seemed to have eased as well, so we decided to start making our way back. There were a few more birds about along the path now. We stopped to listen to a couple of Goldcrests and heard our first tit flock of the morning approaching. There were several Long-tailed Tits calling but at first they flew past us through the very tops of the pines. We watched as they moved ahead of us and saw the flock drop down into the bushes near Meals House. We walked back quickly and could see Long-tailed Tits in the birches first, quickly joined by a few Goldcrests. Then we picked up first one then two Chiffchaffs in amongst them. The flock was moving quickly all the time, and as fast as they had arrived they disappeared back in the direction they had just come.

The other side of Meals House, almost back to Washington Hide, we heard more Long-tailed Tits calling and stopped to watch a small flock drop down to feed in a small sycamore by the path. Suddenly a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the same tree, a real bonus. Breeding in Siberia and migrating down to Asia for the winter, they are an increasingly regular visitor here mainly in Autumn, but always a great bird to see. It flicked about among the branches for a few seconds, easier to see now that there are much fewer leaves left on the trees. We could see its bright supercilium and double wing bars. This flock was not hanging around either and quickly moved off along the path towards Washington Hide. We walked back that way, but couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler with the tits again.

Yellow-browed Warbler Tresco 2015-10-22_4Yellow-browed Warbler – here’s one from a couple of weeks ago

We decided to have a quick look at the beach, so walked along to the end of the boardwalk. There were only a few people on the beach today, and a single horse rider. Scanning the edge of the sea beyond the sand, we picked up a moulting Red-throated Diver just offshore. A single Gannet flew past, just on the edge of the mist. Further along, we found a Slavonian Grebe on the sea, another nice surprise. Unfortunately it was a little distant and, being so small, it was hard to see at times among the waves. We might otherwise have been tempted to walk out for a better look, but it started raining again at that point and it was already getting on to lunch time, so we decided against it.

As we made our way back along boardwalk, the tits had appeared in the sycamores again. There was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler at first, but then it flew across the clearing into the pines on the other side, before quickly disappearing into the trees.

We stopped for lunch in Wells, then walked out to have a look at the harbour. Despite the tide being just past high, there were lots of birds along the shoreline. In particular, there was a fantastic selection of waders. Scanning through the throng, we could see lots of Oystercatcher, several Ringed Plover, a few each of both Grey and Golden Plover, a good number of dumpy Knot and several small flocks of silvery grey Sanderling, with a smattering of browner Dunlin in amongst them, lots of Curlew and Redshank and singles each of Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone. Not a bad haul! There were also plenty of Brent Geese feeding out on the mud.

IMG_2636Brent Geese – there were many feeding on the mud by the harbour

As we had been scanning harbour, the mist started to descend again. As it did so, despite it being over two hours to sunset, the light started to fade rapidly. Our hope had been to catch some raptors coming in to roost to finish the day, but now it looked like we would need to hurry if we were to catch them. We bid farewell to the harbour and made our way further east along the coast to Stiffkey.

By the time we got there it was raining again. Visibility was so poor we couldn’t even see the trees on East Hills, it seemed like we might be out of luck. There were lots of Little Egrets, Brent Geese and Curlews. A lone Greenshank was feeding quietly in one of the deeper channels – more common here as  a passage migrant, a few do stay right through the winter out on the saltmarshes. We also heard Rock Pipits calling overhead.

Then a positive sign as a Marsh Harrier flew west across the marshes in front of us – perhaps we might still see some raptors come in to roost. A Short-eared Owl also appeared briefly, perched up on the top of a bush. It sat there for a while, then dropped down again out of view as the rain picked up once more. Again, it felt like we might be out of luck and we walked back to the car to take shelter.

As we stood there watching, finally the weather brightened up a little. The rain stopped and the mist lifted, and there was even a little patch of clear sky which appeared above us. We heard Mistle Thrushes calling, and one flew into the top of fir tree in front of us; a single Redwing flew overhead; a Song Thrush darted across the car park and dived into the hedge.

As the mist lifted, we scanned the marshes to the west again and over towards East Hills, which had emerged from the clouds. Almost immediately we picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier. It flew back and forth for a while, chased by a Carrion Crow. Smaller and slimmer than a Marsh Harrier, we could see the distinctive square white patch at the base of the tail through the scope.

We thought that might be the best of it given the weather this evening and were just thinking about leaving when the bird we had been hoping to see appeared. A stunning silvery-grey male Hen Harrier flew in from the east, chased by a Herring Gull. It shook off its pursuer, then decided to drop in onto one of the low posts out on saltmarsh to preen and dry off before going into roost. It sat there for ages, giving us great views through the scope. Then, with the light fading, it was time to call it a night.

IMG_2645Hen Harrier – a male out on the sat preening out on the saltmarsh

We were still not completely finished. On our way back to Titchwell Manor, we stopped to admire a Barn Owl quartering the fields beside the road. Then it really was time for a well deserved rest.

The following morning, Thursday, we met again and made our way the short distance down the road to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh. Although the main car park was starting to fill up (even on a damp mid-week November morning!), it was still early enough that the overflow car park was quiet. There were lots of finches feeding in the bushes which were still full of berries – Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. We could hear two Bullfinches calling from opposite sides and a female hopped up into the sallows in front of us before flying off in the direction of the other call. We heard a Brambling call, but it flew off unseen as we rounded the corner.

There were several thrushes here too – Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, and one or two Redwings calling as they flew out of the bushes. A smart Jay flew down to the grassy edge in front of us, where it picked up an acorn and flew off with it. There were no oak trees nearby – perhaps it had stashed it there earlier?

P1120291Jay – picked up an acorn from the grass

We walked out onto the reserve and stopped by the still drained grazing marsh pool. Almost the first bird we saw as we scanned across was a smart Water Pipit. The more we looked, the more we saw – there were at least four Water Pipits out on the mud this morning. We got a good look at them in the scope, noting the neatly black-streaked white underparts and pale supercilium. At one point we even had two Water Pipits and a duller, darker, swarthier Rock Pipit in the same view together – a great comparison of these closely related species.

With only a few puddles, there were not surprisingly few other birds – singles of Redshank, Dunlin and Little Egret. We had heard several Cetti’s Warblers singing as we walked out and one flew across the reeds in front of us, giving the classic glimpse of a Cetti’s Warbler. It was another cloudy morning, but then it started to rain so we made a dash for Island Hide and some shelter.

We had seen lots of Lapwings take off from the reserve and fly off inland as we walked out. Once we got near the hide, we could hear why. The reserve staff were strimming the vegetation along the edge of freshmarsh and all the birds had fled over into the far corner. They were all bunched up together, a huge flock of mainly Teal and Lapwing.

As we started to scan through, we began to pick up some other birds amongst them. There were six Avocets, all asleep at first although we did manage to see them awake later. A few Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies in the deeper water, all mostly in grey winter plumage now. A little flock of Dunlin was scampering about on the exposed mud. Among the Lapwing, we managed to find a single Ruff. In with the Teal, there were lots of Gadwall and a few Shoveler. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from the direction of Brancaster and dropped down onto the water to bathe and preen.

Thankfully it didn’t rain for long, and that was to be the only rain we saw this morning. After it stopped, we decided to make our way out towards the beach while the weather was clear. At the Volunteer Marsh, we paused to admire a Greenshank tucked down in a little muddy channel. It was trying to sleep but kept getting buffeted by the wind. It was standing on one leg, but we could see that that one at least was reassuringly the correct colour – green.

IMG_2651Greenshank – trying to sleep in a muddy channel on the Volunteer Marsh

A single Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the channel right beside the path, giving us a great chance to watch it up close. As it bent down to probe its bill deep into the mud it would periodically lower its tail so we could see the black feathers from which it gets its name.

IMG_2668Black-tailed Godwit – showing off how flexible its bill is

Scanning across the mud, we could also see lots of Shelduck and a scattering of waders – several Curlew, Grey Plover and Redshank.

P1120306Redshank – note its rather dark grey colouration

Out on the Tidal Pools, there were more birds today, with some of them probably sheltering from the disturbance out on the freshmarsh as well as roosting over high tide out on the beach. There were several little groups of Wigeon and Brent Geese feeding on the islands of saltmarsh. In with the Teal out on the water, we picked out five Pintail. Unfortunately there was no sign of a smart drake today, but they are still very elegant ducks.

There were a few waders out on the mud – several more Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Redshank and Dunlin. Then out in the deeper water we spotted two paler waders, feeding feverishly up to their bellies, jabbing their bills rapidly into the water. We couldn’t see their red legs at first, until one of them came out onto the mud to preen, but they were Spotted Redshanks – much paler than the Common Redshanks, whiter below and silvery grey above, with a longer, needle fine tipped bill.

IMG_2682Spotted Redshank – paler than Common Redshank with a longer, finer bill

Out on the beach, the tide was fast coming in. The rocks were covered but there were still lots of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits standing on the water’s edge. Several silvery-white Sanderling were running in and out of the waves and a single Turnstone was patrolling the beach. Pushed up by the rising tide, they eventually had enough and flew off to roost as we stood there. A few Knot flew past as well.

Out on the sea, the first thing we could see was a small group of Red-breasted Mergansers. They were not too far out and correspondingly easy to see, although they were diving constantly. In fact, there were pretty good numbers of Red-breasted Merganser offshore today. Also close in, a single winter-plumaged Red-throated Diver was preening just offshore. Further out, there were several Great Crested Grebes on the water and we picked up a single Long-tailed Duck, though it was hard to make out much detail on it at that range. Small flocks of Common Scoters were flying round but even further out in the haze, towards the Lincolnshire coast! A couple of Gannet flew past.

We wanted to have a look in at Parrinder Hide, so we set off back. We stopped briefly to admire a Little Egret feeding on the Volunteer Marsh on our way. It was using its feet to try to disturb fish from the muddy bottom of the channel – we could see it moving its legs whenever it stood still, staring down into the water.

P1120318Little Egret – fishing on the Volunteer Marsh

The warden had stopped strimming now and the birds had started to spread back out over the whole of the freshmarsh. There were a few more waders in, including several bright-spangled Golden Plover, but nothing else that we hadn’t seen more distantly earlier. However, the highlight was a very smart Common Snipe which walked along the water’s edge and started feeding just below the front of the hide, giving us stunning close-up views. When it wasn’t moving it was remarkably well camouflaged in among the dried out cut rushes and reeds.

P1120405Common Snipe – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

We walked back round via Meadow Trail and out towards Patsy’s Reedbed, stopping on the way to watch a flock of Long-tailed Tits which came through the trees above our heads. There were fewer ducks on Patsy’s than in recent weeks, though three Tufted Ducks provided a welcome addition to the trip list. A couple more Snipe were feeding along the shore and lots of Black-tailed Godwit and Lapwing were mostly sleeping on the islands.

Then it was time for us to head back for a late lunch at Titchwell Manor before the tour concluded. Despite the weather being at times inclement it had been a remarkably successful couple of days with an excellent list of species seen, including a couple of more unusual visitors, late migrants and a selection of our regular wintering birds. Great birding.

2nd October 2015 – Final Spectacular

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. An early start and we headed up to Snettisham for our last Wader Spectacular of the year. It was a big spring tide and the timing was perfect, giving us enough time to get there and watch the tide rise after dawn. It was a glorious day again – a cold start, with some cloud, but mostly sunny through the rest of the day.

It was an early start as we drove west towards the Wash. As we passed Holkham, a large flock of Pink-footed Geese was just rising from the grazing marsh to head off inland to feed. Further west, we saw more groups of Pink-footed Geese flying over.

As we got up onto the seawall at Snettisham, the waders were already whirling round. There was still a lot of exposed mud, but something was making them nervous. The flocks made some great shapes in the sky as they swept around.

P1100338 P1100350 P1100370We were greeted to a great swirling flock as we arrived

The Wash was looking stunning in the early morning light. We had arrived in good time, and there was still a lot of exposed mud. We knew that, as the tide rose, it would all disappear. It was a big tide today.

P1100371The Wash – looking towards King’s Lynn

As the tide rose, we could see the waders gathering. There were lots of Oystercatcher, mostly standing rather sedately, looking distinctly unflustered by the rising tide. The Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits were more of a seething mass, we could see the flock flowing up across the mud as the water rose.

Closer in, a growing flock of Dunlin were still feeding feverishly on the edge of the rapidly filling channel. A single pale silvery-grey Sanderling dropped in with them, as did several Ringed Plover. A Greenshank appeared on one of the small pools on the mud and started to look for food.

IMG_1377Greenshank – feeding on one of the pools by the seawall

As the tide rose, the waders were progressively pushed into tighter flocks.

P1100382Waders – progressively pushed together by the rising tide

There was a single moulting Eider out on the mud amongst the waders. It looked slightly incongruous as it walked amongst them.

IMG_1413Eider – a single moulting bird was out on the mud with the waders

Gradually, as the waters rose, the waders started to peel off in small groups and head for the gravel its behind. The Oystercatchers seemed to go first, followed by little groups of Knot.

P1100398Waders – starting to fly off to the pits

P1100403Oystercatchers – flying in from the Wash to roost

P1100417Knot – small groups peeling off from the mud at first

As the flock of waders became ever more concentrated on to a smaller and smaller area of mud, eventually the bigger flocks started to take off in spectacular numbers.

P1100461Waders – eventually the bulk of the flock took to the air

P1100473 P1100481 P1100503They made some amazing shapes again as they swirled round

There were an estimated 60,000 Knot present alone today. It was truly spectacular to see them as the bulk of them took to the air.

P1100513 P1100524 P1100533 P1100538Waders – vast numbers of Knot came off the Wash and overhead

After the bulk of the waders had left the mud, we headed for the hides. It was amazing to see the birds packed tightly onto the small islands, jostling for position. As more birds flew in and landed amongst them, the flock rearranged itself in a seething mass.

P1100563Knot & Black-tailed Godwits – packed tightly onto the islands

With the birds roosting on the old gravel pits, we got a chance to look through and pick out a couple of different species. We had heard a Spotted Redshank calling earlier, as the waders were flying in to the pits. Out roosting in the middle, up to their bellies in the water, we found four of them. They were mostly asleep, but woke up just long enough for us to get a good look at their long, needle fine bills.

IMG_1416Spotted Redshank – four roosting on the gravel pits

The islands close to the hide are mainly deserted – there is probably just too much noise and too many cameras. However, a Turnstone dropped down in front of us briefly, a moulting adult still sporting some rusty feathers in its upperparts left over from summer. A Grey Plover also flew into one of the tern islands giving us a great close-up view through the scope.

IMG_1449Grey Plover – on one of the now deserted tern islands

There were other things to look at too, from the hide. Lots of ducks, particularly a growing number of Wigeon in for the winter. Most are still in eclipse plumage, but one or two drakes were starting to get greyer body feathers and the distinctive yellow flash up the forehead. Amongst them were several Teal and Shoveler, and a single moulting drake Pintail (though we had seen a few more out on the Wash earlier).

A Kingfisher flashed past right below the front of the hide. It disappeared quickly along the edge of the put but a couple of minutes later it was back again flying the other way.

The waders were slow to leave the pits today and head back to the Wash. We ventured out from the hide as the first groups of Oystercatcher and Knot peeled off, to find the mud already starting to reappear. A steady trickle of Oystercatcher came back over and a couple of lines of Knot, flying low out of the pits and over the bank. The Bar-tailed Godwits all appeared from over on the fields further north and dropped back down on the mud. A small party of Avocet were out feeding in the shallow water.

We could see a Peregrine sat on a fence post over the other side of the mud. It seemed to be eyeing the waders carefully, but they seemed either not to notice it or perhaps unperturbed as long as it was resting. We watched it for a while and then took our eyes off it.

IMG_1450Peregrine – on a fence post beyond the waders, eyeing them up

Suddenly, the waders on the mud erupted and started to swirl round again. With the sun now out, they looked stunning, really shining white as their underparts caught the morning light. As we looked at them, we could see the Peregrine powering through the middle of them. It didn’t seem to be interested in chasing after any of them – perhaps it was doing it just for fun?

P1100586 P1100590Knot – swirling around again as the Peregrine came over

It had been a spectacular morning, but we finally tore ourselves away and made our way back along the coast. We made for Holkham and parked on Lady Anne’s Drive. Over lunch, we watched a pair of Red Kite circling over the grazing marshes and listened to the noise of the growing flock of several thousand Pink-footed Geese.

P1100609Pink-footed Geese – the flocks are now growing fast as birds return

After lunch, we walked west on the inland side of the pines. We encoutered several small flocks of tits, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, together with Treecreepers and Goldcrests. Little groups of Siskin called overhead as they buzzed in and out of the pines. At Salts Hole, we stopped to admire the regular Little Grebes out on the water.

P1100640Little Grebe – one of at least 4 on Salts Hole today

We had almost got to the crosstracks, when we bumped into a couple of birders who had just seen a Yellow-browed Warbler. We looked for it for a minute or so, but they didn’t know whether it had moved through with a tit flock or was still in the tree. We decided to walk on to see if we could connect with the tits again. A little further on, we spoke to someone else who had seen several Yellow-browed Warblers on the edge of the pines in that area. Walking up and down that stretch of the path, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call and finally managed to get on it, flitting around in the top of a small sycamore. It was hard to see at times amongst the leaves, but eventually popped out into the open, before flying over the path and into the pines.

Satisfied, we made our way back to the crosstracks and had a quick look for another Yellow-browed Warbler which had been seen there, near to where the first had been reported. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling as we approached, so followed the sounds of the tits. We found a couple of Goldcrests feeding low down in the saplings. Then the Yellow-browed Warbler flew across the path and landed in the top of a holm oak. We could see its bright whitish supercilium and double wing bars. Then it flew up into the tops of the pines and disappeared.

There were lots of insects out in the warm sunshine – dragonflies including lots of Common Darters and a few Migrant Hawkers, plus several species of butterfly.

P1100656Comma – enjoying the sunshine this afternoon

We had really hoped to get a better look at the Pink-footed Geese but there was no sign of them from Joe Jordan hide, on the fields where they had seemed to land earlier. We could see they had headed back towards Lady Anne’s Drive. We walked back to see if we could see them there, stopping briefly to admire three Marsh Harriers circling over the freshmarsh, two of them talon-grappling. A Redstart hopped up briefly in a tree in front of us before flying off across the path towards Salts Hole. The Pink-footed Geese had seemingly headed back towards the hides by the time we got back to the car, but it was already time to call it a day and head for home.

15th September 2015 – Cley & Beyond

A Private Tour today, based in the Cley area. A relaxed day of general autumn birdwatching, we headed out to see what we could find.

With a cloudy start and a little bit of drizzle at first, we headed down to the reserve at Cley Marshes first and the shelter of the hides. As it was, we didn’t need it with the weather drying up before we got there. The first thing we noticed as we opened up the hide window was a stream of House Martins and Swallows pouring west. Apparently there had been a very big movement of House Martins in particular along the coast during the early morning and we were just in time to catch the tail end of the rush hour! It continued at a slower pace all day, with little groups of hirundines moving through. Real migration in action.

It was a good thing we headed to the hides first thing. The other thing we immediately noticed out on the scrapes were the waders. We could hear the distinctive ringing call of Greenshank and looked out to see a little group of six feeding actively on Simmond’s Scrape. A little while later they flew over to Pat’s Pool where a seventh Greenshank was sleeping. A tight flock of about 20 Dunlin was also out on the edge of the mud and a closer look revealed two smaller waders amongst them. With their white bellies and pale faces and short bills, we could see that they were Little Stints.

IMG_0568Little Stints – two diminutive juveniles were in amongst the larger Dunlin

There was quite a bit of disturbance over the other side of the reserve, with the warden out cutting grass on his tractor. Unfortunately, he had obviously managed to get it stuck in the mud and had to get a bigger tractor in to drag it out! That was to our benefit as it had probably flushed a lot of waders off Billy’s Wash or North Scrape and some of them came over to the scrapes on our side. The highlight was a Wood Sandpiper which dropped into Simmond’s Scrape briefly. We managed to get a great look at it in the scope, noting its well-marked pale supercilium and spangled upperparts, before it flew across and dropped into the vegetation out of view. There were also at least two Green Sandpipers around today and one dropped in right down at the front outside the hide.

IMG_0544Green Sandpiper – feeding right in front of the hide

There was a good selection of commoner species too. Several long-billed Black-tailed Godwits, most of the adults now in grey winter plumage but also several more patterned juveniles in with them. A single Redshank flew in and three scaly-backed gingery juvenile Ruff worked their way along the front edge of the scrape.

P1090224Ruff – a buff-brown juvenile, one of three in front of Dauke’s Hide

The waders were very flighty today and it didn’t help when the warden came over to our side to mow the back of Simmond’s Scrape. Many of the birds flew over to Pat’s Pool while he did so, so we moved round to Teal Hide. A scan of Pat’s Pool from there added three young Little Ringed Plovers to the morning’s tally, very well camouflaged hiding on the drier mud and vegetation of the island.

The number of ducks is now steadily increasing, as birds arrive for the winter. There are lots of Wigeon now, their distinctive whistling call a real feature of the coast from here on, and good numbers of Teal. In with them, we found a smaller number of large-billed Shoveler and a few Gadwall. Although the odd drake Gadwall was starting to gain breeding plumage already, most of the male ducks are still in rather drab and female-like eclipse plumage. It is not the best season to admire wildfowl in all its finery at the moment.

P1090225Marsh Harrier – circling over Pat’s Pool

One of the reason the birds are jumpy at the moment is the regular appearance of birds of prey overhead, looking to cash in on the presence of so much potential prey. A female Marsh Harrier circled over, scattering all the ducks and waders, including a couple Common Snipe which had obviously been in hiding in the vegetation around the margin of the Simmond’s. At that point, the flock of Dunlin and Little Stint went back to Pat’s Pool. A short while later, everything scattered from there and we turned to see a Sparrowhawk with something in its talons. The Sparrowhawk landed on the bank and started to pluck its unfortunate victim, looking round nervously. We got a fantastic view of it in the scope as it sat and fed.

IMG_0574Sparrowhawk – plucking its unfortunate prey on the bank

We had enjoyed a great morning in the hides but the impact of all the disturbance, warden and raptors, had served to clear out a lot of the birds we had been enjoying. We decided to head round to the beach. On the walk back to the car along the boardwalk, a small bird appeared on the fence along the edge of the reeds. It was a Whinchat, an autumn migrant stopping off on its way south, and we watched it dropping down into the grass and back up to a prominent viewpoint, working its way along the fenceline. While we were watching it, we could hear the distinctive calls of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds, but they weren’t prepared to show themselves in the cool and breezy conditions.

IMG_0590Whinchat – on the fence by the boardwalk

We parked round at the beach car park and walked east along the shingle. A couple of Gannets soared gracefully past, a white adult with neat black wing tips and a darker immature bird. There were also still a couple of Sandwich Terns feeding offshore, plunging down into the waves just off the beach.

There wasn’t much on North Scrape today, probably not a surprise given all the disturbance this morning. Further east we picked up our first Curlew of the day on the brackish pools. Arnold’s Marsh was also a little quiet. The highlight was our only Avocet of the day – most of the birds which were around the reserve over the summer appear to have departed (from the scrapes we can see, at least!). Two graceful Pintail were feeding quietly at the back. Lots of Meadow Pipits were zooming round. A Little Egret fed quietly in the pools the other side of the East Bank, flashing its bright yellow feet.

P1090264Little Egret – feeding on one of the brackish pools

After such a productive morning, we had worked up an appetite by now so we drove back round to the visitor centre for lunch. We even managed to sit outside! In the afternoon, we drove west along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The trees along the path were laden with berries – blackberries and lots of haws. A couple of Migrant Hawkers buzzed about our heads. A Speckled Wood basked out of the wind.

P1090265Speckled Wood – basking in a moment of sunshine this afternoon

The Fen itself has far too much water on it at the moment, so that there was almost nothing left of the islands in view. The big flock of noisy Greylag Geese dominated what was left, with a few Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff clustered in amongst them on the small area of remaining dry land. There were a few ducks, particularly Wigeon again and a few more Pintail. Unfortunately, there was no sign of any Spoonbills her today. We decided to walk round and check out the mud in the harbour.

As we walked along the seawall, a piping call alerted us to a Kingfisher. It shot over the bank from the direction of the Fen and low across the channel beyond, flashing electric blue on the back before dropping down into one of the channels out on the saltmarsh.

IMG_0618Greenshank – feeding in the saltwater channel at low tide

A couple of Greenshank were feeding in the saltwater channel, very elegant birds with pale heads and light grey backs. There were more waders on the mud alongside, mostly darker grey Redshanks but in with them a Grey Plover. A second Grey Plover flew in, this one sporting the remnants of its summer black belly, and the two began calling mournfully. With several Curlews calling too, it was a real soundtrack to the saltmarsh in winter!

IMG_0600Grey Plover – moulting rapidly out of summer plumage

Out in the harbour there were lots of gulls gathered on the mud and large numbers of Oystercatcher. With them, we picked up two distant Bar-tailed Godwits. Further over, towards Blakeney Point, we could see as many as 19 Little Egrets gathered in the deepest remaining water, feeding. Numbers of Brent Geese are growing steadily now, as the birds return from Russia for the winter, and we could see several small groups out on the mud.

IMG_0648Whimbrel – a very obliging bird feeding by the seawall

As we turned to head back, a Whimbrel flew past and appeared to drop down out of view on the saltmarsh. Back at the seawall, we discovered it had landed on the edge of the channel. We stood and watched it for a while and it worked its way right towards us, picking regularly at the stones as it clearly found plenty of food. We got stunning views of it, smaller and shorter-billed than the Curlew with a distinctive head pattern which it flashed at us as it bent down to pick up morsels from the mud. While we were standing there a young Brown Hare (a Leveret) came running along the path in front of us. It only seemed to notice us at the last minute, turning sharply and racing off back whence it came.

IMG_0638Whimbrel – close up, great views of the distinctive head pattern

We still had a little time left, so it seemed like a good idea to have a look at the saltmarshes a little further west. We drove into Stiffkey and down to the coast. On our way, we could see dark grey clouds gathering in front of us. From the car park, we could see some large white shapes on the saltmarsh but we could also see the rain approaching. We decided to sit it out and a good thing too as a heavy squall passed over. Flocks of Golden Plover flew up from the saltmarsh and headed inland overhead as it came in. Finally, the sky started to brighten again beyond and we walked out through the last drops of rain into the sunshine, with a beautiful rainbow in the sky behind us.

P1090278Stiffkey – the rainbow behind us after the rain passed over

We were glad we did so. Not only was it a great view, but we could see the Spoonbills fly round as the sun came out. Thankfully they dropped back down to the saltmarsh ahead of us. When the path came out into the open where we could see them, we discovered they were now quite close by, five Spoonbills. We got great views of them feeding in the saltmarsh pools, sweeping their spoon-shaped bills from side to side, yellow-tipped in the adult and dark in the four juveniles. One of the young birds started begging from the adult, chasing it round endlessly, calling and bouncing its head up and down. We have seen the young Spoonbills doing this since the summer, but even now they are not giving their parents any peace!

IMG_0686Spoonbill – one of five feeding on the saltmarsh

There were several Marsh Harriers out quartering the saltmarsh and just before we turned to head back, a quick scan revealed another large bird further out. Its distinctive rowing wing action immediately gave its identity away, a Short-eared Owl. It circled up high into the sky – a real bonus.

We thought that would be a good way to end and, with more grey clouds gathering, we started to walk back. However, the day had not finished yet. A short way down the path, a Barn Owl appeared hunting over the field just inland. We only got a quick glimpse of it, but as we came out of the bushes into a more open area we stopped to scan the field and a Whinchat appeared on the top of some dead umbellifers along the margin. Then a second Whinchat popped up nearby. Several Brown Hares were also in with them. Further up the field, another bird perched up on the tall stubble – a Wheatear sunning itself. It looked stunning in the afternoon sun with the dark grey clouds gathering beyond.

IMG_0693Wheatear – perched up in the sunshine between the rain

A Sparrowhawk shot through low across the field, scattering the little group of birds we had been watching, as we packed up and continued on our way back. But just round the corner, we spotted the Barn Owl again, hunting along the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh. We watched it working its way away from us, before it dropped down into the Suaeda where we could just see it perched through the scope, before it continued up into the campsite wood beyond. What a great way to finish the afternoon, but it was now time for us to call it a day and head home.

5th September 2015 – When the North Wind Blows

An Autumn Tour today. It felt like Autumn too! The temperature just hit a maximum of 14C in the cold and blustery North winds, which were gusting over 35mph at times. At least it was mostly dry, with even some sunny intervals at times.

We headed along the coast to Titchwell first – seeking the benefit of hides to offer us some shelter from the wind and the threat of some early showers. Walking out onto the reserve along the main path, we stopped briefly to look at the grazing meadow pool. Despite the recent rain, this is still very dry. A few Lapwing were out around the shallow pools and a pair of Red-legged Partridge were sheltering from the wind below the reeds.

Out on the reedbed pool, there were a few Gadwall on the water. A closer scan through them revealed a slightly larger duck, dark-capped and pale-cheeked, a female Red-crested Pochard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving at the back and a single Tufted Duck at the front. There were lots of hirundines out over the reeds, mostly House Martins, flying low as they tried to find insects in the wind. In amongst them we picked up a couple of late Swifts, the first we have seen for a few days now – most of our Swifts have already departed.

While we were still on the main footpath, we saw a commotion over the freshmarsh and all the birds took to the air. We couldn’t see what caused it from where we were standing, but a big group of Lapwing and Ruff flew over the path ahead of us and dropped down on the saltmarsh. Small groups of Lapwing were also huddled round the small pools and in amongst them we could see a few Redshank and a single Grey Plover.

P1080820Dunlin – a flock of around 60 on the freshmarsh today, all juveniles

The water levels on the freshmarsh have dropped again, after all the rain last week, and there were more waders around once more today. In particular there were more Dunlin than during the week, with a tight flock of around 60 feeding on the exposed mud. All of them were juveniles, with black-streaked bellies. They were very jumpy – not helped by the wind which often seems to make the birds more nervous – and kept taking to the air and whirling round. On the edge of the islands, there were quite a few Ringed Plover today as well – at least 10.

Many of the waders were sheltering from the combined effects of the impending high tide out on the beach and the North wind. There was a good flock of roosting Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly now in winter plumage but with several juveniles and the odd bird still sporting the remnants of orange summer underparts. Amongst them were a few Knot – much smaller, dumpier and greyer. Another flock of Knot flew back in and landed on the edge of one of the larger islands with a group of Turnstone. Several more Turnstone were sheltering amongst the bricks on one of the smaller islands. The high tide and wind had also brought a number of gulls in off the beach – a good selection of the regular species, including both Great & Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Plenty of the ever-present Avocets were still out on the freshmarsh, though not in the record numbers of a month or two ago. We watched one feeding in front of the hide, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked forward. There were also still good numbers of Ruff – the adults now in winter plumage, plus many browner juveniles.

P1080826Ruff – paler winter plumage adult to left, browner juvenile to right

The waders were getting spooked easily in the wind, but when everything went up in unison again, in a mass panic, a scan of the sky revealed a young Peregrine flying over.It didn’t attempt to chase after anything but was still seen off by one of the local Lapwings. There are also increasing numbers of duck now on the reserve. It has been a feature of the last few days, with flocks of ducks arriving over the sea from the continent. A large flotilla of Wigeon out on the freshmarsh probably contained several birds which may have arrived from Russia that very morning.

We had looked along the edge of the reeds from Island Hide for any Bearded Tits, but it seemed unlikely we would see any today in the windy conditions. However, from round at Parrinder Hide one was visible across the freshmarsh, working its way low along the base of the reeds on the edge of the mud. We got it in the scope and got a quick look at it before it disappeared back into cover. The other highlight from this side of the freshmarsh was the group of 10 Spotted Redshanks in the corner by the bank. All now in silvery grey winter plumage, we admired their needle fine bills.

P1080869Volunteer Marsh – completely flooded by the tide & wind today

A combination of a reasonably big high tide and the North wind meant that the Volunteer Marsh was completely flooded by the sea today. However, there was a lot more activity (or inactivity!) on the tidal pools. Many more waders were roosting on here, sheltering from the wind and waves on the beach. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers hiding in amongst the saltmarsh vegetation and several Grey Plovers on one of the spits of mud. Hiding on one of the small islands we found a single Greenshank in amongst a small group of Redshank, much greyer backed compared to the browner Redshanks. Several Black-tailed Godwits had come out here to feed around the edges of the mud.

P1080841Black-tailed Godwit – several feeding on the tidal pools today close to the path

It was very windy out on the beach – the sand was being whipped up as we climbed over the remains of the dunes. The tide was very high, and the sea was very rough. However, the view was stunning – it is always amazing to see the power of the sea on day’s like today. There was even some blue sky!

P1080865The beach – high tide & big waves in the wind

There were several Gannets passing by offshore, and four birds arced past us quite close in. We could see an adult in the lead, with black-tipped white wings, two dark grey juveniles and an immature bird in between. A little group of waders came along the shoreline – four Dunlin accompanying a single Sanderling. The latter presumably didn’t fancy running in and out of the waves on the beach on a day like today!

P1080856Gannets – passing by offshore, over a rough sea

Is was blustery and exposed out on the beach, so we didn’t hang around. We walked quickly back along the path. We had just about walked past the grazing meadow pool when a quick glance back and we spotted a Common Sandpiper feeding on the mud in the front corner.

We took the detour round via Meadow Trail to Patsy’s. The sallows along Meadow Trail itself were quiet, but further along and out of the wind by the junction to Fen Trail we came across a large mixed flock of tits – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, together with one or two Chiffchaffs and a few Chaffinches.

There were lots of moulting ducks on the islands on Patsy’s Reedbed, mostly Mallard and Gadwall, plus a couple of Shoveler and Common Pochard. There were not many waders, apart from several more Ruff, mostly brown-toned juveniles. However, a single Snipe feeding on the bank was a nice addition to the day’s list. Always smart birds to see.

IMG_0364Snipe – feeding on the bank round at Patsy’s Reedbed

After scanning Patsy’s Reedbed, we had a quick look round along the Autumn Trail. There were lots of Common Darters sheltering from the wind along the path, trying to warm up in the sunnier intervals.

P1080881Common Darter – trying to bask out of the wind on the Autumn Trail


A Bloody-nosed Beetle was also making its way slowly along the path and further along a Common Toad walked past. Round at the back of the freshmarsh, another Common Sandpiper flew across from the edge of the reeds towards the bank ahead of us, out of view. Then we headed back to the car for lunch. A Bullfinch was calling from the trees in the car park, but wouldn’t show itself.

P1080892Bloody-nosed Beetle – walking along the Autumn Trail

After lunch, we drove back along the coast to Warham Greens. We were hoping for some passerines to add to our tally for the day and this is always a good place to look for warblers in early autumn. However, it was still just too windy today, despite the wind easing a touch. We flushed a Whimbrel from the edge of the saltmarsh, and it flew a short distance and landed again, so that we could get a good look at it in the scope. There were some big flocks of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh, very hard to see roosting amongst the vegetation but a couple of times they were spooked and flew round in a tight flock. A single Greenshank flew west, calling.

IMG_0370Whimbrel – feeding out on the saltmarsh

Further out, two Marsh Harriers were quartering the saltmarsh. Much closer, a Kestrel was hovering over the grass by the path. The trees and hedges were quiet today but we did manage to find a few passerines in the bushes in the shelter of the old pit. Several Reed Buntings flew up from the Suaeda bushes by the path as we approached and dropped down into cover. In amongst the brambles and elder bushes  we could hear a couple of Blackcaps calling and a smart male flew across and landed briefly in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared from the brambles, looking very smart with powder-grey crown and grey-brown back. Not surprisingly, given the weather, there was no sign today of the Barred Warbler which has been in the bushes in the pit recently. We didn’t hang around too long, and headed back to get out of the wind. On the way back, a Sparrowhawk flew up along the path ahead of us.

From there, we drove on to Stiffkey Fen. In the wood alongside the path, we came across another tit flock, but they were hard to see in the shelter of the trees. A Blackcap was calling from the brambles by the river, but did not venture out. At the Fen itself, we were disappointed to see that the water level was still very high and there were almost none of the islands left exposed. It looked like it might be a wash out as we walked out but then, amongst a small flock of Black-headed Gulls, we noticed a larger white shape, a single Spoonbill. Even better, it was not up to its usual tricks – this Spoonbill was awake!

IMG_0382Spoonbill – this adult was on the Fen briefly this afternoon

From up on the seawall, we could get the scope on the Spoonbill. It was busy preening, but when it stopped we could see its spoon-shaped bill, The yellow tip confirmed it was an adult. There was very little else of note out on the Fen today – a few Ruff and, as elsewhere along the coast, an increasing number of duck. However, a closer scan through the Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Wigeon revealed a couple of Pintail feeding on one of the islands. Unfortunately, all the ducks are in eclipse plumage at the moment so the males are not looking their best, in more female-like brown plumage.

On the other side of the seawall, there was a very noisy dog which had been allowed by its owner to run amok. It was swimming about in the creek and barking loudly. Needless to say, there were no birds left. We walked round to the harbour and could see a selection of the usual birds out on the mud – lots of Oystercatcher, several Curlew and Redshank, and lots of assorted gulls. Closer, a Grey Plover and a Turnstone were feeding in the creek in front of us.

P1080911Blakeney Harbour – the view across to Blakeney Point from Stiffkey Fen

It was still very windy, so again we didn’t linger too long out in the harbour before we headed back to the Fen. By now, the unruly dog had gone. As we walked back along the seawall, a Common Sandpiper flew along the opposite bank of the creek in front of us. It landed for a while, bobbing its tail up and down, before flying off again onto the saltmarsh. A Whimbrel flew in calling. Then a Greenshank dropped into the creek with a couple of Redshank. It fed for a while along the opposite side and we got a good look at it in the scope.

IMG_0390Greenshank – dropped in to the muddy creek to feed

There was no sign of the Spoonbill when we got back – we had been lucky to see it when we did. There was nothing else new on the Fen and, with the afternoon getting on, it was unfortunately time to call it a day.

14th August 2015 – Autumn Migrants Arrive

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. With easterly winds and a little flurry of migrants arriving on the coast late the night before, we headed for Holkham & Burnham Overy Dunes.

We parked at Lady Ann’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. There were various warblers calling from the trees. We came across a family party of Chiffchaffs, the young still begging for food, and we heard several Blackcaps tacking loudly. As we walked along, a couple of tit flocks crossed the path ahead of us. We stopped to look through them – a good selection of tits, plus Goldcrests, Treecreepers, more Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. We couldn’t find anything more unusual amongst them.

Most of our Swifts have left us already, but when we looked up at a big group of House Martins hawking for insects low over the pines, we found one or two Swifts still amongst them. A lone Little Grebe was on Salts Hole as we passed.

Past Meals House, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A juvenile Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with contrasting orangey-yellow crown, was jumping about in the grass. A lone goose nearby was clearly not one of the resident feral Greylag Geese – its smaller size, dark head and small mostly dark bill suggested something more interesting. Getting it in the scope, we could confirm it was a lone Pink-footed Goose. We are still a month away from the first geese returning for the winter and we could see that this bird appeared to have a damaged wing. A very small number of mostly sick or injured Pink-footed Geese do remain here for the summer, rather than attempt the long flight up to Iceland to breed.

P1070507Burnham Overy Dunes – on a misty morning

We headed out of the pines and into the dunes. The bushes seemed surprisingly quiet at first – just a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, calling but typically skulking. It was cool and damp in the misty conditions, so perhaps the birds were just keeping under cover? We did flush a couple of coveys of partridges – the first being Red-legged Partridges and the second being the native Grey Partridges which can often be found in the dunes.

As we drove out to Holkham in the morning, news had come through about an Icterine Warbler at the Burnham Overy end of the dunes. With the apparent lack of migrants at the Holkham end, we made our way west. We could see a couple of people standing on the boardwalk as we approached and we made our way round via the dunes so as not to disturb whatever they were watching. It was the Icterine Warbler, clambering around in the bushes, and flicking between them. It was quite showy at first and we got great views of it – its grey-green upperparts and pale lemon-yellow face, blue-grey legs and pale wing panel.

P1070547Icterine Warbler – showed well in the bushes by the boardwalk

When it started to drizzle very lightly, the Icterine Warbler got a little more elusive. We climbed up into the dunes and could see it flitting around in the privet. While we were watching it, a bird flew in over the dunes and dropped down into the bushes the other side of the boardwalk. A Pied Flycatcher, presumably fresh in. We walked over and suddenly it flew up into a hawthorn in front of us. Classic autumn drift migrants. With confirmation that there were seemingly no other migrants out further west, we decided to head back and have another look in the dunes.

We had heard Green Sandpipers calling as we walked out. Then, while we were standing by the boardwalk, six Green Sandpipers flew up from the grazing marsh and circled round in front of us before dropping back down out of view. A little later, we heard Greenshanks calling out across the grazing marshes and a quick scan revealed a flock of nine flying west. Waders are on the move.

As we walked back through the dunes, we caught a flash of white rump as a Wheatear shot past. It landed behind us amongst some dead flower heads on a small ridge on the dunes, where it tried to lurk unseen. Eventually it became a little more obliging and hopped back out onto the path.

IMG_7957Wheatear – hiding in the dunes

There were a couple of juvenile Kestrels on the fence posts by the dunes, looking very pristine with their bright new feathers. A pair bred locally this year. When we looked up at a falcon in the air just above the west end of Holkham Pines we expected it to be another member of the family. It was a Hobby. Two more then appeared with it, the birds were clearly hawking for something – either insects of possibly hirundines over the trees.

Almost back to the west end of the pines, we bumped into another couple of birders scanning over the bushes beyond the fence, just where we had been looking earlier in the morning. The weather had brightened up a bit by this stage and two Redstarts and another Pied Flycatcher had appeared. The others confirmed the birds had come out just as the weather improved. We stood and watched them for a while. While we were doing so, a shape appeared, flying in from the grazing marshes towards the dunes. the distinctive shape, the stiff wings with an odd rowing action in flight, confirmed it was a Short-eared Owl. It flew across and dropped into the dunes out of sight.

After a quiet start, we had ended up seeing quite a haul of migrants during the morning. As time was getting on by this stage, we decided to head back. We came across a couple more mixed flocks of tits and warblers on the way back. Again, we stopped to look through them just in case. A Garden Warbler was the only new bird for the day, following behind one of the groups. A couple of Bullfinch called from the bushes but remained unseen.

P1070565Ruddy Darter – basking on a stone on the path

The insects were more amenable. With the weather having brightened and warmed, there were lots of dragonflies along the path. Most of them were darters – both Common Darter and Ruddy Darter in good numbers – but Migrant Hawker was also a new one for the day. There were also several butterflies – a Painted Lady in the edge of the dunes, several Holly Blues and a few Red Admirals feeding on the Hemp Agrimony flowers by the path.

P1070555Red Admiral – feeding on Hemp Agrimony

In the afternoon, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the path by the road, another Hobby appeared over the trees in front of us, circling overhead before disappearing beyond the hedge. Down in the valley below, a female Marsh Harrier was quartering.

Even as we walked out along the path beside the river, we could see a gathering of large white blobs through the overgrown reeds. When we got to a gap, we confirmed they were indeed the Spoonbills. From up on the seawall, we could see that there were still 20 of them, and they were almost all asleep as usual!

P1070570Spoonbill – still 20 on the Fen today

A couple of them were awake, and we could see they had the shorter, fleshy-coloured bills of juveniles, lacking the adults yellow tip.

IMG_7969Spoonbills – several juveniles were in amongst the flock

As we got up on the seawall, we could hear Common Sandpiper calling. One flew up the tidal creek and disappeared out of sight. We looked back towards the Fen, and a short while later we could hear them again, and this time we turned to see four Common Sandpipers flying past. Meanwhile, a scan of the Fen had revealed at least three more Common Sandpipers out there, meaning a minimum of seven in total.

A Common Snipe flew over as well, in from the direction of the saltmarsh and dropped into the Fen. We could see its long, straight bill as it came overhead. It tucked itself down in the lee of one of the islands at first, where it was hard to see, before climbing up onto the top to preen. Down at the front, behind the reeds, we picked up a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the other islands.

The largest number of waders out on the Fen were Black-tailed Godwits. Many of the ones already there were sleeping but, while we stood on the seawall, a steady stream of more of them flew in from the direction of the harbour, dropping down to bathe and preen. In amongst them, we found a small number of Ruff, already in pale winter plumage, and a greyer Redshank or two as well.

There was a good variety of wildfowl too, though the ducks are all in eclipse plumage at the moment. A little party of four Wigeon were the most interesting, but there were also Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, as well as a few Tufted Ducks.

After scanning the Fen, we decided to walk round to have a look at the harbour. The tide was out, so it was one vast expanse of mud this afternoon. The first thing we saw were several large flocks of Oystercatcher on the highest ground, with smaller numbers of Redshank amongst them. A couple of grey-brown Curlew were rather different from the smaller, darker, shorter-billed Whimbrel nearby, a good comparison. While we were scanning the mud, a couple of Greenshank dropped into the tidal channel in front of us.

IMG_7982Greenshank – one of two in the tidal channel

Further over, half hidden behind one of the sandbars, were the distinctive black bellies of several Grey Plover. However, it was only when they were flushed and landed again out in the open that we could see how many there were. At least 90, and most of them still in summer plumage with black bellied and black faces. In amongst them, several smaller waders were lurking – Knot, again a mixture of bright orange-bellied summer plumage birds and greyer winter ones. A little group of Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Turnstone as well, added to the wide variety of waders for the day’s list.

There was a good selection of gulls, too. Though nothing out of the ordinary, it was good to compare Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls side by side. A single Great Crested Grebe was swimming out in the pit.

P1070577Small Copper – looking a little old and faded now

Then it was time to start heading back. The sun had come out and it was even quite warm, so there were plenty of butterflies along the hedgerow as we made our way, though many of them were looking quite old and faded now. Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods, a Ringlet and a Small Copper, plus Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock.

It had been quite a day in the end – a great selection of Autumn drift migrants in the morning, plus Spoonbills and a good variety of passage waders in the afternoon.

P1070573Stiffkey Fen – the view across Blakeney Harbour to the Point