Tag Archives: Grey-headed Wagtail

11th May 2021 – Spring Serenade

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with intermittent dark clouds spreading in particularly from early afternoon and bringing with them some torrential showers. Thankfully we mostly managed to avoid being caught out in the worst of them.

We started the day at Snettisham. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Cuckoo was singing, but it had gone quiet by the time we were ready to set off. As we walked into the Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing in the bushes, Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Chiffchaffs too and we spotted one flicking around in some nearby trees.

Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing this morning

While we were watching the Chiffchaff, we heard a Turtle Dove purring from the bushes. We walked round on the path to try to locate it, and a second male started singing further over, one either side, stereo Turtle Doves! We had a couple of brief glimspses – first of a pair chasing through the bushes, then a male which flew up quickly and then slowly floated back down in display flight. One of the male Turtle Doves was purring now in a bush not far from the path but it was tucked in somewhere out of view. We caught a glimpse of that one as it slipped out the back and then went quiet. The other male was still purring in the thicker bushes the other side.

We walked in further and up onto the outer seawall. Looking out over the Wash, the tide was slowly going out. We had seen a couple of small groups of Oystercatchers flying past earlier, and there were now lots gathered on the exposed mud to the north. Four Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore, a Dunlin dropped in with them briefly and then another four Bar-tailed Godwits arrived. They were all either females or young birds, lacking the breeding male’s bright rufous underparts. Five Grey Plover flew past out over the water, a couple of them sporting their summer black faces and bellies. There were lots of Brent Geese on the beach too and two Common Terns distantly over the water.

When we turned round, we could see a Barn Owl hunting the other side, following the inner seawall. It was out late this morning – either the cold spring weather is not helping it to fatten up ahead of the breeding season, or it has hungry young to feed already, although there was no sign of it flying back to feed them.

Barn Owl – out hunting late

We walked back down into the bushes and up through the middle of the park. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sea buckthorn on the seawall and there were lots of Linnets in the bushes. When some darker clouds rolled overhead and it started spitting with rain briefly, there were suddenly lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low above us. Presumably migrants on their way over which were pushed down by the weather.

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we looked up to see it perched in a dead tree. Now we had a great view of it through the scopes, with its rufous scaled back and black and white barred panel on the side of its neck. We stood for a while just listening to it now – a wonderful sound of spring, once common but now rare, and still declining at an alarming pace, a victim of the industrialisation of farming here and our obsession with flailing hedges and tidying up any areas of scrub in the countryside. Catch it while you still can!

Turtle Dove – purring in the branches of a dead tree

A pair of Stonechats were alarm calling from the clumps of low gorse nearby, presumably with young in the nest somewhere. The Barn Owl appeared again, weaving in and out of the bushes over the grass.

As we carried on further, finally we heard a Cuckoo calling again, and could see it in the distance, in a tree right at the north end of the park. We got it in the scopes, but it was mobbed by a Meadow Pipit and took off. It flew our way, past us through the bushes, and landed in the same tree where the Turtle Dove was still purring. Two of the classic sounds of spring, both declining, together. We walked back, but the Cuckoo was off again before we could get there.

Carrying on north, we climbed up onto the seawall again. The tide had gone out considerably, with a lot more exposed mud, and the Oystercatchers and Brent Geese were widely scattered. A huge flock of thousands of Knot and Grey Plover flew round out in the middle, half way across to Lincolnshire, catching the light as they twisted and turned.

The Wash – looking out over the mud

We walked along the crossbank to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of ducks out here on the pools, including a late lingering Wigeon. A Russian White-fronted Goose swimming across one of the pools was a surprise, as most of the wild wintering geese have long since departed. A little further up, we picked out a single Pink-footed Goose too, with a small group of the resident Greylags. The Pink-footed Goose was probably winged and injured by wildfowlers, now unable to fly north with the others but still capable of feeding happily on the marshes, so perhaps the White-fronted Goose was too.

There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets out on the pools. Scanning carefully, we picked out a small group of Black-tailed Godwits at the back. A Ringed Plover together with a small group of Dunlin were feeding on a muddy island closer to us. A lone Whimbrel was down on the short grass nearby.

The Yellow Wagtails were on the move today. We had already heard and seen a few flying south overhead, and a group of four had just gone over. We were just about to move off, when we heard Yellow Wagtails call and turned to see a large group dropping down towards the grass on the near edge of the marshes. There were about a dozen of them, and it is always worth scanning through to see if any of their scarcer cousins are travelling with them. And there were two very smart male Grey-headed Wagtails together down on the grass.

Grey-headed Wagtails – two males in the flock

Looking through the rest of the flock, there were mostly yellow-headed British Yellow Wagtails, males and females, but one female had a noticeably greyer head and paler white supercilium. It is not possible to conclusively identify female Blue-headed Wagtails, as female British Yellow Wagtails are variable in appearance, but this looked like a good candidate.

Then we found another male Grey-headed Wagtail further over. This one appeared to have a tiny speck of white above the lores. All these yellow wagtails are considered just subspecies and they do interbreed – perhaps this little speck of white was a tiny remnant of historic intergradation with Blue-headed Wagtails where they meet in northern Scandinavia?

Grey-headed Wagtail – the third male

They may just be treated as subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail and therefore not separate ‘ticks’ on the official list, but taxonomy is in a constant state of flux these days and definitions change of what makes a species (Eastern and Western Yellow Wagtail have recently been separated). Like many other families, the yellow wagtails with their myriad forms defy our crude attempts to put them into neat boxes. They are fascinating and beautiful things and well worth recording on our lists, species or not!

Having marvelled at the various Yellow Wagtails for a while, we started to make our way back along the seawall. The Cuckoo was singing from another dead tree, but dropped down before we got back level with it. We found it again and had a good view of it perched in the bushes by the outer seawall, before it was chased off by a Meadow Pipit again.

Cuckoo – on the bushes on the outer seawall

The sun was out and things had warmed up now. The Swifts were very high and we picked up a distant Hobby very high over the marshes, catching insects. There were several Common Buzzards up too, and some other distant raptors beyond the range of our scopes. The Turtle Dove was still in purring away in its favourite tree as we passed. We could see more dark clouds approaching from the south, so we made our way back to the minibus.

We made our way round to Holme and stopped briefly on Beach Road to use the facilities. Then we drove down the track past the payhut to park, and climbed up onto the seawall. It was grey but dry here, although the dark clouds we had seen from Snettisham were passing to the west of us and it looked to be raining over there. Two Hobbys were zooming back and forth low over the reeds out on the grazing marsh hawking for insects.

We could see dark clouds coming our way now, so we decided to have lunch down under the shelter of the minibus tailgate. One of the Hobbys landed on a bramble bush out on the grazing marsh briefly and a Great White Egret flew over. We waited for the shower to pass.

After lunch, it had stopped raining and we went back up onto the seawall again. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds now. A lone Whimbrel appeared down on the grass closer to us. There were lots of Brent Geese still lingering on the saltmarsh. It shouldn’t be long before they are off back up to Siberia for the breeding season now. Another shower arrived, so we retired to the minibus again. It appeared to be brighter away to the east, so we decided to head round that way.

Brent Geese – almost time to leave

We diverted inland via Ringstead, scanning the fields while waiting for some more darker clouds to blow through, then swung round to Choseley. A single Corn Bunting was perched in the middle of a bright yellow oilseed rape field. We started to scan the field where the Dotterel had been recently, finding two Wheatears out amongst the stones, but it was starting to rain again now.

Corn Bunting – in the middle of the oilseed rape

There was a report of a Temminck’s Stint at Stiffkey Fen, so we decided to drive further east to see if we could get out of the worst of the weather. At first, things deteriorated as we simply drove into torrential rain. But we could see brighter skies ahead of us and by the time Stiffkey it had stopped raining, even if we were still just under the edge of the darker clouds.

It was cool and breezy now and there weren’t many birds singing as we walked out beside the river. We headed straight out and up onto the seawall, and it was good we didn’t dawdle. There were a couple of people already there and we saw them lift their heads and start to scan with their binoculars as we got to the top of the steps – everything on the Fen had taken off. We stopped and heard the Temminck’s Stint call, as it flew over the seawall just ahead of us. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and dropped down into a channel out of view. Just in time!

The Common Sandpiper which had been feeding on the Fen had returned, so we could still see that working its way round one of the islands. We decided to walk on round to the edge of the harbour to see if we could see into the channel where the stint had landed. We could see a small area of mud, but it was obviously further round the corner, still out of view from here.

There were still plenty of Brent Geese here too. With the tide out, there were lots of gulls loafing on the mud. Further back, we could see terns flying back and forth over the remaining water in the pit, lots of Common Terns and one or two Little Terns. We could see seals in the distance too, hauled out on the sandbank beyond the far end of Blakeney Point.

It was starting to spit with rain again, but it was time to head back anyway. A Garden Warbler was singing in the sallows as we walked back beside the river and we heard a Kingfisher call as it flew upstream along the channel behind the bushes and brambles. Then it was back up to the road to finish.

10th May 2021 – Wagtails & Waders

Another socially distanced small group day tour today, where we didn’t use the minibus. We met on site at Cley in the morning for a couple of walks, travelling in convoy onto Wells mid afternoon to finish the day there. It was cloudy at times with some nice sunny intervals in between, with an increasingly gusty wind in the afternoon, and we mostly managed to avoid the showers.

We set off from the Visitor Centre car park along The Skirts path. We hadn’t gone more than a few metres when a warbler flew up from the alexanders by the path into an elder bush nearby. A Garden Warbler, rather plain grey and featureless with a stocky build and heavy bill. Presumably a migrant, which had dropped in overnight and was now feeding up. It disappeared into the bush, and we could just see it from time to time looking out from behind the branches.

Garden Warbler – probably a migrant fresh-in overnight

The breeding warblers are now back in numbers. As we walked on along the path, a Common Whitethroat flew up into the top of a bush, singing . A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling a little further up, in the hedge across the road, and we could see it moving around in the blackthorn. A Willow Warbler was nearby too. A couple of Long-tailed Tits flitted past. When we heard Lesser Redpoll calling, we looked over to see a party of four flying west, more migrants on the move this morning.

Common Swifts have been passing through in the last few days and from the path we could see several distantly over the reedbed. As we stopped to look at them, a Great White Egret flew over too, big and white with long black legs and feet and a dark bill. In breeding condition, a Great White Egret‘s bill darkens so is no longer the long yellow-orange dagger it is otherwise, a pitfall for the unwary. It dropped down somewhere beyond Bishop Hide out of view.

Great White Egret – and Common Swift over the reedbed

From up on East Bank, we could see a steady passage of Swallows going west. More Swifts and lots of Sand Martins were hawking out over the marshes.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, a large white shape distantly behind the Serpentine was a Spoonbill. It was busy feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the shallow pools. Then suddenly it walked up out of the water and took off, flying off west over the path and away over the reeds.

Spoonbill – flew off west

We could hear a Yellow Wagtail singing and eventually found it feeding amongst the clumps of grass, a very smart canary yellow male. There were obviously others on the move today, and when we heard one call we looked across to see a female Yellow Wagtail drop in with a Pied Wagtail up by the Serpentine. A female Wheatear was running around out on the grass too.

Then a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail appeared nearby, with a grey blue head and prominent pale supercilium. The heads of yellow wagtails vary across Europe, with the British Yellow Wagtail having a yellow head and those from across central continental Europe and southern Scandinavia having blue-grey heads, so this one was probably on its way there from its wintering grounds Africa. It flew up and landed amongst the cows much further back, where we lost sight of it behind one cow lying down.

There were fluffy Lapwing chicks down in the grass along with their parents along with several Redshanks. Both those species breed here, but the two Whimbrel feeding in the grass are migrants stopping off to refuel. A lone Black-tailed Godwit on the Serpentine looked like it might be a young bird which will not migrate up to its breeding grounds in Iceland this year.

Duck numbers have thinned out significantly over the last few days, as many are now heading off back to northern Europe after having spent the winter here. A pair of Barnacle Geese were in with the Greylags and Canada Geese, presumably feral birds rather than genuine wild Arctic breeders.

Barnacle Geese – the first pair, behind the Serpentine

There were more waders out on Arnold’s Marsh – a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, several Curlew over on the saltmarsh in one corner, a smart Grey Plover with summer black face and belly and two Bar-tailed Godwits over the back.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea. There were several Sandwich Terns flying past, along with a single distant Little Tern, and an even more distant Gannet out towards the horizon. But the sea is fairly quiet at this time of year, so we didn’t linger and set off to walk back. A couple more Sandwich Terns flew in over Arnold’s Marsh as we passed, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills.

Sandwich Tern – flew over Arnold’s Marsh

Somebody who had come out to see the Blue-headed Wagtail we had seen earlier had now found two Grey-headed Wagtails which had dropped in too, so we headed back to see if we could see those too. We just got back in time to see them running around on the grass amongst he cows, before all the wagtails took off and we watched as all six flew off strongly west. It was proving to be a really good day for yellow wagtails! Grey-headed Wagtails breed in northern Scandinavia, a scarce migrant through here and our third yellow wagtail subspecies of the day.

Now we heard a report that a Golden Oriole had been seen flying west past Muckleburgh Hill, just a couple of miles east of us and heading our way. There had been several Golden Orioles seen further east in NE Norfolk too this morning, but none this far west. Still we scanned the sky just in case and after just a few minutes we picked the Golden Oriole up flying over the back of Snipe’s Marsh, presumably having come over the back of Walsey Hills. Unfortunately it was only in view for a few seconds before it disappeared round the back of North Foreland wood. We scanned the other side in case it came out there but it looked like it might have dropped in.

We decided to wait for a bit in case it came out again. An Iceland Gull was reported flying west past Salthouse now, and we managed to see it very distantly before it dropped down out of view, into the fields way off east from us. The Visitor Centre was on the line the Golden Oriole was flying, so we decided to walk back for an early lunch and keep our eyes peeled in case it came out in our direction, but it wasn’t seen again so may have slipped out the back. A male Marsh Harrier circled over as we walked back.

After lunch, we set off back along The Skirts path, past the East Bank and down Attenborough Walk. We stopped to scan through the gulls gathered on Pope’s Marsh, but the Iceland Gull obviously hadn’t decided to join them today. There were now two pairs of Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marsh. We were hoping to find a Whinchat, but just past the gate to Babcock Hide we found a pair of Stonechats instead.

Stonechat – the male

We turned onto Iron Road and walked up to scan the pool. It appeared to be empty at first, but looking more carefully we found several small waders lurking round the edges – two Little Ringed Plovers, and three different Common Sandpipers. An Egyptian Goose was lying down in the grass beyond.

Common Sandpiper – one of three at Iron Road

Continuing on to the bridge over the main drain, we found two female Wheatears on the dry mud on the edge of the channel. It was the wrong time of day really, so perhaps no surprise that there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls here now.

After walking back to the car park, we travelled in convoy on to Wells for the rest of the afternoon. Scanning the pools from the parking area, we could see a couple of Brent Geese out on the grass and two of three Teal on the water, our first of the day. There were lots of Lapwings, with several fluffy juveniles, and a few Redshanks here too.

Walking a short distance down the track, we quickly located one of the Jack Snipe which have been lingering here, on the pool east of the track. It was right out in the open, on the bare mud between the clumps of rushes, probably the best views of it we have had here in the last few weeks. It was busy feeding, probing in the mud. We could see its comparatively short bill and bright golden mantle stripes. Then suddenly something spooked it and it ran back into the rushes out of view.

Jack Snipe – showing very well today

There were several Common Sandpipers here again today, at least four, and two Wood Sandpipers east of the track too, all migrants stopping off to refuel here on their journeys north to breed. Through the scopes, we could see the Wood Sandpipers’ spangled backs and pale superciliums, a little larger, longer legged and longer necked than the Common Sandpipers. Another Wood Sandpiper called behind us and we turned to see it emerging from the thicker clumps of rushes on the pool west of the track.

Wood Sandpiper – one of three here today

There was another Yellow Wagtail here this afternoon, another bright yellow male – they really were an ever-present theme today. This one was quite close to the track, feeding on the mud, at least when it wasn’t being chased off by one of the Lapwings. It obviously thought the Yellow Wagtail posed a grave threat to its young, which were feeding on the edge of the rushes nearby. Lapwings are obviously not the brightest of parents!

Yellow Wagtail – a smart male by the track

Continuing on round to the west pool, the bushes were quiet today, although it was mid afternoon now and the wind had picked up quite a bit. We had a quick scan of the pool from the low bank. There were lots of Avocets on nests on the island, and more Lapwings, but we couldn’t see any other waders on here today. A Brown Hare ran straight towards us along the grass verge on the edge of the pool until it realised we were standing there, froze looking at us for a few seconds, and ran off back the way it had come.

Unfortunately after an action-packed day full of spring migrants it was time to call it a day and head back now.

12th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast, our last day. It was a lovely bright, sunny day today, still slightly cool in the light NE breeze but warming up nicely out of it.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. When we parked and got out of the minibus, we could hear Skylark and Common Whitethroat singing, and a Yellowhammer calling from the hedge behind us.

As we walked down the lane, we could see a small group of Common Swifts hawking low over the trees. They are just arriving back here now from Africa and these would be birds on the move, just pausing briefly to feed. There were more warblers singing along here – a couple of Common Whitethroats with their scratchy songs, a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the hedge across the field before appearing in the top of an ivy-covered oak tree, plus Blackcap and Chiffchaff too. Crossing the stile, we heard our first Sedge Warblers of the day and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of the hedge

As we were walking along the path, we saw a brown shape in the bushes right beside us. It wasn’t a bird, but a mouse, more precisely a Wood Mouse. It was completely unconcerned by our presence, standing just a couple of metres away watching it, while it fed on the young leaves and buds.

Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse – feeding in the bushes right by the path

Most of the pools on the grazing marshes along here are very dry, so there are not many nesting waders here this year. There were still a few Oystercatchers and one or two Lapwings in the grass. There was a bit more water on the edge of the reedbed, where the cows were making a nice muddy edge. A Common Sandpiper was enjoying the fruits of their labours, but was hard to see. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling.

Looking out across the grazing marsh towards Holkham, we could see a large white bird flying towards us. Its long bowed wings with leisurely flight action and long black legs identified it as a Great White Egret, even before we could see its long dagger-shaped yellow bill as it passed by low overhead. There were several Little Egrets flying back and forth too, and a very distant Spoonbill. We had hoped to find the Purple Heron which had been feeding in the ditches here for the last week or so, but there was no sign of it today. With the improvement in the weather, perhaps it had finally decided to move on.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew low overhead as we crossed the grazing marshes

There were more Sedge Warblers singing in the bushes and ditches either side of the path and a Reed Warbler started up down in the reeds. It was good to hear the songs of both species – the metronomic Reed Warbler very different from the mad buzzing unstructured song of the Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – one of several singing from the bushes by the track

From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was still out in the harbour. There were a few Avocets, Redshanks and Shelducks feeding on the mud, and a Curlew roosting in the vegetation beyond, but no other waders here today. A couple of Little Terns were hovering over the harbour channel further back. A large flock of Brent Geese flew up from the saltmarsh out in the middle – they should be leaving soon now, on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

The pool out in the reedbed had a selection of ducks on it. As well as the usual Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard, we could see a single drake Wigeon, a lingering bird after most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already departed. A Little Grebe was out in the middle of the pool too, and another laughed at us from the reeds. A Bearded Tit called and flew out of the reedbed, up over the bank right past us, before disappearing down into the reedy ditch round the corner of the path.

The grazing marshes beyond the reedbed are still wetter, with more breeding waders as a conseuqence, Lapwings, Avocets and Redshanks around the small pools. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the marshes, including at least one pair with goslings. A single Pink-footed Goose was sitting down in the grass further back, presumably a sick or injured individual which couldn’t make the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. When two Muntjac walked out of the reeds and across the grazing marsh it caused pandemonium, the geese with their necks up honking and all the waders alarm calling.

On the way out to the dunes, there were a few Linnets and Reed Buntings in the suaeda below the bank on the harbour side, which we stopped to admire. A Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes by the boardwalk was most likely a migrant, just stopping off here on its way further north.

Into the dunes, and there were lots more Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding in the short grass. Then over the first ridge we found several Wheatears too, including a couple of smart males, with black bandit masks. Interestingly they appeared to be rather pale southern birds, with silvery grey backs and creamy throats, rather than the darker birds with more rufous underparts which often predominate as the season progresses, and which are presumably heading further north.

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two rather pale males in the dunes

There were lots more butterflies out in the dunes now in the warmer weather, including our first Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Heath of the year, as well as Small Copper and several Wall Browns.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – our first of the year, out in the dunes

We found a couple of pairs of Stonechats in the dunes, both with fledged young already. Good to see they are doing well here this year. We could hear a Cuckoo calling further up, and looked over just in time to see it fly up out of the bushes and up into the pines. A Willow Warbler was singing in the willows beyond the fence too. The walk out here had taken quite some time and we had one eye on the clock, as we didn’t want to be too late back for lunch. We didn’t have much time, but we wanted to have a quick look in the bushes over by the pines, so we pressed on quickly.

As we walked up over the dunes, a female Common Redstart flicked across and disappeared into the thicker bushes on the stop. We stood and waited to see if it might reappear but when someone appeared round the back of the bushes we saw a male Redstart briefly under the bushes before it was spooked and disappeared deeper in. We gave it another minute, but there was no sign of either of them reappearing, so we moved on.

There had been a Wryneck here yesterday and at this point we were informed it was still around today. It had been seen earlier on the short grass beyond the fence but hadn’t been seen for some time. We had a quick look, but we were out of time now and had to start heading back. As we turned to go, someone called over to say the Wryneck was now in the bushes in the dunes. Thankfully it wasn’t long before it appeared, feeding on a bare area at the base of a large privet clump. We had a nice view of it through the scope, before it flew back into the bushes and disappeared.

Wryneck

Wryneck – still in the dunes this morning

We had thought with the clear weather last night that the Wryneck might have moved on, so it was great to catch up with it. They bred more widely in the UK historically but are now just scarce migrants here, passing through in small numbers on their way up to Scandinavia.

On the walk back, we stopped for a better look at one of the male Wheatears in the dunes. Then we stopped again at the boardwalk, where a Whimbrel was feeding round the pools on the edge of the saltmarsh. We could see its short bill and pale crown stripe through the scope. Another migrant stopping off here on its way north.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh

When we got back to the path across the grazing marsh, a Spoonbill was feeding on one of the pools close to the path. We could see it sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water as it walked round with its head down. It disappeared behind a bank, but then walked out onto the front edge where we could see its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy nuchal crest, a smart breeding adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on the pools on the grazing marsh on the way back

While we were watching the Spoonbill, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked over to see it dropping down behind one of the cows right beside path. We walked back and could see it in the long grass. It was a female and rather a dark grey one too, with a rather limited pale supercilium just in front of the eye, but unfortunately it was off again almost immediately.  It appeared to be a female of the thunbergi subspecies, known as Grey-headed Wagtail, which breeds in the north of Scandinavia.

Grey-headed Wagtail

Grey-headed Wagtail – a female Yellow Wagtail of the thunbergi race

When we got back to the minibus, we stopped for a rest and scanned back over the marshes towards the dunes. There were some distant raptors circling over the middle of the grazing marshes, a kettle of Common Buzzards, and when we looked more closely we could see a very distant Hobby in the same view, hawking for insects. A Marsh Harrier was much closer, a male hunting over the field on the other side of road.

Driving round to Holkham, we were not expecting to be able to get in to Lady Anne’s Drive on a sunny Sunday, but it was not too busy today and, even better, the Lookout cafe was surprisingly quiet. We stopped here for lunch.

After lunch, we had a quick walk west along the path on the inland side of the pines. There were more warblers singing, despite it being the early afternoon lull and warm here today – Blackcap, Chiffchaff and a single Willow Warbler still singing its sweet descending scale. There were a few Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path and more butterflies out in the sunshine, including Speckled Wood and Orange Tip here.

We made our way straight out to Joe Jordan Hide and when we opened the flaps we could see three Spoonbills out on the edge of the pool below the wood. One was noticeably smaller and whiter, with a short bill. It was one of the first fledged juveniles of 2019, a ‘teaspoon-bill’, and speaking to one of the wardens was the first time one had been seen outside the breeding colony. It was begging for food, nodding its head vigorously up and down and chasing after one of the adults.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the first juvenile of 2019 to leave the breeding colony!

There were a couple of Mistle Thrushes down in the grass in front of the hide. They were  collecting food, and flew up into the trees behind the hide, where presumably they had nestlings. An Egyptian Goose was down on the edge of the nearest pool and a Marsh Harrier was hunting up and down one of the reedy ditches further back. We could see all the Cormorants in their big stick nests in the taller trees.

It was lovely sitting in the hide watching the comings and goings out on the marshes here, not least because the hide was out of the wind and warmed nicely by the sunshine, but we had one other thing we wanted to do this afternoon, so we had to tear ourselves away and walk back. On the way, we stopped to look at a recently emerged Hairy Dragonfly basking on the branch of a holm oak, where it was very well camouflaged and impossible to see until you knew where it was. Back almost to Lady Anne’s Drive, we head a Chaffinch alarm calling and looked up to see a Jay in the poplar trees.

Round at Wells, we stopped to scan the flooded fields which were full of waders and wildfowl. We quickly found a couple of Wood Sandpipers, down on the edge of the water, feeding in and out of the vegetation. We could see their white-spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. There were several larger Redshanks with them, and in the grass nearby were several Lapwings with small fluffy juveniles running around.

On the pool the other side of the track, a Greenshank stood out from the Redshanks with its bright white underparts catching the sun and paler grey upperparts. A couple of Common Snipe were sleeping on the edge of the vegetation out in the middle and we found a Common Sandpiper right over the far side, bobbing its way along the muddy bank.

Red Kite

Red Kite – drifted over the track behind us

A Red Kite drifted over lazily behind us, and someone further along the track shouted and pointed up to alert us to a Peregrine circling over. As we watched the Peregrine disappearing over towards Wells, we could see a big flock of around 30 Common Swifts hawking high in the sky on the edge of town.

It was a nice way to end the day, standing here in the afternoon sunshine. It had been a very enjoyable three days, with lots of interesting spring migrants, but it was time to pack up and head for home.

25th Aug 2017 – Summer Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was a lovely sunny summer’s day, warm with light winds – perfect weather. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in good time before the tide came in, but it was worth it!

As we arrived up on the seawall, there was still plenty of exposed mud out on the Wash. It was quite a vista – a vast slick of birds was spread across the surface, shining bright in the morning sun.

6O0A6529The Wash – with a vast slick of waders in the morning sun

We stopped to watch the birds for a while. The tide was coming in very quickly, and periodically large groups of Knot would fly up ahead of the rising water and land again further up the mud. Just beyond them, the Oystercatchers were walking more methodically away from the tide.

Down at the front, on the nearside of the channel, flocks of smaller waders kept flying in and landing briefly, while others were trying to sleep, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone. A lone Knot, a juvenile, was feeding down on the edge of the mud just below the path, giving us a great opportunity to look at one up close, rather than being mesmerised by the thousands further out on the mud.

6O0A6553Ringed Plover & Dunlin – trying to sleep ahead of the rising tide

Very quickly, the mud in front of where we were standing was covered by the tide, so we made our way further along the seawall. Here we stopped again to take a closer look at the vast flocks of waders. Through the scope, we could see that the Knot were a mixture of colours, many in grey non-breeding or juvenile plumage but a few still in orange breeding plumage.

There were lots of Bar-tailed Godwits too, some of those in rusty summer plumage still, with the red colour extending right down under the tail. A single Black-tailed Godwit down at the front was already in grey winter plumage. A lone Grey Plover appeared, also already in grey non-breeding plumage. There were birds other than waders too. A small group of terns had gathered on the mud ahead of the rising tide, a mixture of Common and Sandwich Terns. A raft of Shelduck was bobbing around on the water.

Then something spooked the Knot and they all took off, thousands upon thousands of them in the air at once. They swirled round, flashing white and dark as they twisted and turned, like a huge wave. It was mesmerising to watch.

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6O0A6574Knot – thousands twisting and turning

Eventually the Knot calmed down and started to land again, back down on the mud. As the birds above hung in the air waiting for a landing slot, the sky went dark with a thick cloud of birds.

6O0A6578Knot – the vast flock landing again on the mud

Some of the waders leave the Wash early, not waiting for the tide to come right in. The Common Redshanks started to fly past us in small groups. A sharpt ‘tchuit’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank which came in off the mud and past us in with them. Some small flocks of Dunlin also flew in over the seawall and dropped down to the pit beyond.

We walked further along, down to the corner where the waders were starting to gather in the last mud to be covered by the tide. On the way, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us. A Yellow Wagtail flew over our heads, calling.

6O0A6598Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

As the water continued to rise quickly, the area of exposed mud progressively shrank and the waders were increasingly concentrated into the last corner. The Oystercatchers started to give up the fight against the tide and peeled off in lines, flying past us piping before circling round and dropping down to the banks of the pit behind us.

We could see that many of the Oystercatchers were moulting, with gaps in their wings visible as they flew over our heads. Many waders come to the Wash to moult at this time of year, feeling safer out on a vast muddy estuary in big flocks, and with plenty of food to fuel the growth of the new feathers.

6O0A6588Oystercatchers – the first to leave as the tide covered the remaining mud

Finally the Knot started to take off too. They came in several waves today, each tens of thousands of birds strong. As each wave flew in and over our heads, all we could hear was the simultaneous beating of thousands of pairs of wings. An amazing experience.

We watched as the Knot circled over the pits behind us. They couldn’t all land at once, so they split into smaller groups, some swirling high overhead, others flying back out towards the Wash.

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6O0A6606Knot – finally taking off in vast waves & flying in to roost

Once most of the Knot had left the mud, we turned to walk to Shore Hide. A Common Sandpiper flew past over the water, calling, flicking its bowed wings, and disappeared up along the channel higher into the saltmarsh.

In the hide, the birds were very nervous. The waders normally don’t like the island directly in front of the hide, but the next one over is normally packed with Knot. There were fewer waders on here today. A large group of Knot and Dunlin were shuffling around on one half of it but they were very jumpy, repeatedly taking off and flying round before landing again. Some bigger groups of Knot were packed tightly into a couple of islands further over.

6O0A6633Knot, Dunlin & Redshank – shuffling nervously on one of the islands

Pretty soon, we realised why the birds were so nervous. Suddenly all the waders erupted from the islands and started to swirl backwards and forwards over the pit. A young Peregrine appeared amongst them. It took a couple of half-hearted stoops at a wader separated from the flock, a Dunlin managed to evade it by swooping down low over the water and the Peregrine pulled up sharply.

The Peregrine was inexperienced and had lost the element of surprise. A Common Tern started to chase after it. So the Peregrine flew straight towards us and over the hide, disappearing behind and back out to the Wash to try its luck out there. The waders settled down again, but were still noticeably nervous.

Many of the terns  had settled back on the island right in front of the hide. They were mostly Common Terns, probably birds which have bred here, and there were several juveniles still. A couple of adults flew in with fish, but they didn’t always find the youngster they presumably planned to give it to. In with the Common Terns was a much smaller juvenile Little Tern. On the next island over, there were more Little Terns here too, several juveniles a yellow-billed adult.

6O0A6644Little Tern – a juvenile in with the Common Terns

The Common Redshank were mainly over on the far bank. A smaller group of about twenty or so birds was asleep in the middle of the pit, with the Greylag Geese and Cormorants. Through the scope, we could see they were a mixture of duller, greyer Common Redshanks and paler Spotted Redshanks.

We made our way round to the viewing screen at the southern end of the pit next. On our way there, we could see lots of Knot still circling out over the Wash, possibly disturbed by the Peregrine. The tide was still high and there was no exposed mud, but perhaps some of them had chosen to try to roost with some of the larger waders out on the saltmarsh today.

From down at the viewing screen, we could see there were fewer smaller waders at this end of the pit today. There were lots of Oystercatchers, with a single Avocet in with them, plus quite a few Black-tailed Godwits roosting here. Some geese flew in over the bank and landed on the water, with several Canada Geese amongst the Greylags. A couple of Egyptian Geese were sleeping on the bank. A family of Moorhen walked around the gravel bank along the edge to one side of the hide.

6O0A6646Oystercatchers – roosting at the southern end of the pit

By now, it was already a good time after high tide, so we walked back out to look at the Wash again. The water was already receding, and there was lots of exposed mud. Quite a few waders were already out there, but they were still very jumpy. When they all flew up, we could see a Peregrine flying across behind them, carrying something in talons. It had clearly been more successful out here then over the pit earlier. A young Marsh Harrier set off after it, clearly with one eye on its prey, but the Peregrine seemed unperturbed and continued away across the saltmarsh.

It was a lovely warm morning and there was quite a bit of raptor activity here today. A Common Buzzard circled up over the mud, chased by a Kestrel. Over across the other side of the saltmarsh, by the seawall, a Marsh Harrier was tussling with a Red Kite, the latter circling lazily and avoiding the Marsh Harrier effortlessly.

A Common Sandpiper flew past again, along the channel in front of us, and a Greenshank flew the other way, calling. The rest of the waders were very slow coming off the pits today. As we stood here for a few minutes, several lines of Oystercatchers flew past and landed back out on the mud, and a few small groups of Dunlin flew out to join them. Time was getting on now, so we decided to make our way back to the car.

We headed round to Titchwell next. The overflow car park was busy today, perhaps not a great surprise given the lovely weather. After our early start, it was time for an early lunch. As we sat eating in the picnic area, a Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows. A couple of Common Darters were basking on one of the benches and several Migrants Hawkers and Speckled Woods were flying around in the sunshine.

6O0A6656Common Darter – basking on a bench in the picnic area

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. We had a quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre, which held a nice selection of finches and tits. Out along the main path, a Blackcap was calling in the bushes down in the ditch.

As we passed the Thornham grazing marsh, we heard a Bearded Tit calling in the reeds, but despite waiting for a minute or so, it didn’t show itself. The reedbed pool was quiet, but as we scanned over the reeds, we spotted a group of Spoonbills flying up from the back of the freshmarsh beyond. We could see their long outstretched necks as they flew, their bills held straight out in front. They flew towards us, eight of them, before three peeled off and headed out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Harbour and the other five circled round and dropped back onto the freshmarsh.

6O0A6673Spoonbills – five of the eight which flew up from the freshmarsh

There were plenty of waders out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. Several Ruff were feeding on the mud right in front of the hide, a mixture of tawny-brown juveniles and grey/white adults now in non-breeding plumage. A juvenile female (traditionally called a Reeve) was much smaller than the juvenile males around it. Further over we could see lots of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwits, some of the latter still sporting the remnants of their rusty orange summer plumage.

6O0A6727Ruff – a tawny brown juvenile

Looking more carefully around the islands, we found a Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the mud, running along, bobbing up and down. Two Ringed Plover were feeding on the same island, close by. Over towards the main bank, a smaller juvenile Little Ringed Plover was bathing. A Common Snipe was feeding on the edge of the reeds, probing its long bill deep into the wet mud.

When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to see it flying in over the main bank. It flew towards us and dropped in on the edge of the mud in front of the hide briefly. It helpfully stayed just long enough for us to have a good look at it, then flew off again calling.

6O0A6687Greenshank – dropped down on the edge of the mud briefly

The ducks are all in dull brown eclipse plumage at the moment. There are quite a few Teal back here now and we did see a couple of Shoveler too.

Bearded Tit was a particular request for the day, but at first all we had was the occasional ‘pinging’ call coming from the reeds. Each time we heard them, we looked over and eventually found a single Bearded Tit working its way low down along the edge of the reeds. We got it in the scope, but it was a little distant. Then two more Bearded Tits called from the reeds just across from the hide and we managed to get good views of these in the scope as they hopped around just beyond the edge of the mud.

With the Bearded Tits in the bag, we made our way round to Parrinder Hide. There had been a male Grey-headed Wagtail here for the last couple of days, the northern Scandinavian race of Yellow Wagtail, but we were told it could be elusive. There were lots of wagtails out on the islands, plenty of Pied Wagtails and at least four regular Yellow Wagtails, but no sign of the one we were looking for.

We decided to continue out to the beach. As we walked along the path beside the Volunteer Marsh, a Black-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the channel below us, giving great views. We stopped briefly to scan the channel at the far end and found a couple of Grey Plover feeding on the mud, looking stunning still in breeding plumage, with jet black faces and bellies.

6O0A6738Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh by the main path

The beach was very busy today. Several people were out on the mussel beds and two dogs were running around on there too, so there were comparatively fewer waders than usual. There were still plenty of Oystercatchers and a few Curlew, plus a couple of little groups of Turnstone.

There was not much to see out to sea today either. A quick scan produced two Great Crested Grebes out on the water. So we decided to start walking back.

When we got back to the freshmarsh, we stopped for another scan. Looking over at the island in front of Parrinder Hide, we could still see loads of wagtails in the vegetation. As we scanned across a dark slate-grey head appeared in the leaves, followed by a bright yellow throat and breast – the Grey-headed Wagtail!

It was hard to see, as it was running around and kept disappearing into the low vegetation on the island, but eventually everyone got a really good look at the Grey-headed Wagtail. A striking bird. The Little Ringed Plover we had seen earlier was also showing very well now, on the mud just below the path..

6O0A6740Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile, feeding on the mud below the main path

It was hot and sunny now, so it was nice to get back to the shade of the trees. Unfortunately, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car. We didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, after our busy morning up on the Wash, but we had seen a few nice birds. It had been a stunning spectacle today, a morning well spent and well worth the early start!