Tag Archives: Grey Phalarope

17th April 2021 – A Socially Distanced Group Walk

A small group day tour with a socially distanced difference today. Rather than using the minibus, we met on site in the morning and walked out to explore the dunes. As there were only a few of us, we then travelled on in convoy in the afternoon to visit a couple of different places. The weather was good – sunshine and blue skies for most of the day, although the light NE breeze had a slight chill to it, coming in off the North Sea.

We met in a small car park looking out over the grazing marshes. A couple of Red-legged Partridges were out in the middle of the field behind us and Skylarks were singing in the blue sky. A Red Kite circled lazily over the field on the other side of the road. We could see a Great White Egret on the grazing marshes way off in the distance.

Heading down the track, a Chiffchaff was singing and a male Blackcap flicked up onto the top of the hedge ahead of us. At the bottom, looking through the gap in the hedge we could see a pair of Grey Partridges in the next field, the male standing upright, its orange face visible above the long grass. A distant Spoonbill flew high west, presumably heading out onto the saltmarsh to feed. We could hear Bullfinches calling in the hedge and a Song Thrush was feeding out on the grass.

Continuing on down the track, the blackthorn is in full flower now, but the Lesser Whitethroats are not in yet. They are late this year, a lot of migrants seem to be delayed by the persistent cool northerly airflow we have had for the last couple of weeks. Out on the grazing marsh opposite, we could see lots of Greylags and Linnets, several each of Avocets and Lapwings. At least the Sedge Warblers are in already and singing – one was belting out its song from a patch of briar next to the path.

Sedge Warbler – singing by the track

Cetti’s Warblers are resident here all year round, but they are always one of the most elusive of species, normally skulking deep in thick cover and heard more often than seen. So it was a surprise to see one perched up in the top of the brambles by the track today and even more of a surprise that it stayed there, out in full view, for several minutes.

Cetti’s Warbler – unusually showy today

We could hear a couple of Mediterranean Gulls calling, and picked up a young bird (in its 2nd calendar year) circling high over the grazing marshes. Around the pools, we could see a nice selection of lingering winter ducks – Teal, Shoveler, a few Wigeon still – plus a drake Common Pochard. A Little Grebe was swimming in the water. A Little Ringed Plover appeared on the mud with a couple of Avocets and we could see its golden yellow eye ring. When it flew round, we realised there were another two Little Ringed Plovers further back and there was a bit of territorial aggression.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in. A small group of waders was visible roosting on a small spit on the saltmarsh, amongst the vegetation. In with a couple of Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank, we picked out one paler grey Knot. A Grey Plover further out in the harbour flew across.

Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, back to Iceland for the breeding season. Most of the geese here in the summer are Greylags, but distantly beyond the reedbed pool and half hidden behind a line of reeds we could just see two smaller geese, with darker heads, two lingering Pinkfeet. One clearly had a very mangled wing, and probably both birds had been shot and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland. The Brent Geese always linger longer and there were still quite a few out on the saltmarsh, although it won’t be long now before they too are off, back to Russia for them.

A Reed Bunting perched on top of a bush on the edge of the reedbed calling. A small group of five Golden Plover circled in the distance, dropping down in front of dunes. We walked on to the last corner of the seawall for a closer look. A couple of Lapwings were displaying overhead, always a great sight and sound at this time of year. A big female Sparrowhawk was feeding on a kill out on the grass.

When we got to the boardwalk, we turned east through the dunes. This is usually a good place for migrants and to see migration in progress, but it was disappointingly quiet. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits but not much else today, not even any Wheatears in their favourite place or any hirundines on the move. The NE wind was obviously holding things back still. We continued on to the end of the pines and scanned out to sea. Two very distant Sandwich Terns were offshore. The view wasn’t bad too!

Dunes – a great view, looking out towards Holkham Beach

There were no obvious migrants in the bushes at the end of the dunes, so we stopped to scan the grazing marshes the other side. A small group of Curlews were feeding out in the grass and a slimmer, darker bird was nearby but obviously separate from them, doing its own thing. It was a lone Whimbrel, a passage migrant which passes through here in spring.

It would be more sheltered on the southern edge of the pines, so we carried on east along the path to see if there was anything fresh in along there. We heard another Sedge Warbler and a couple of Chiffchaffs singing. Then as we got almost to the crosstracks, we heard a Reed Warbler. It seemed to be close to a path in through the reeds, so we headed in to see if we could see it. It was keeping well down at first, but just as we were turning to leave it appeared in a low sallow bush. The first one we have seen or heard this year, a fresh arrival back from Africa just in the last day or two.

As we got back to the main path, we heard a Willow Warbler singing in the sallows ahead of us, and we could see it silhouetted against the sky. Having sung a perfectly normal Willow Warbler song several times, it then sang again and added some Chiffchaff song at the end. It is not unusual to find ‘mixed singers’ sometimes. A bona fide Chiffchaff was singing nearby and the Willow Warbler then set off after it, chasing it round and round, in and out of the bushes and all the way up into the pines beyond, which we haven’t seen them do before. Perhaps its mixed song was also leading to some species confusion!

Willow Warbler – an interesting ‘mixed singer’

All hides are still closed at the moment, but we walked on to Joe Jordan Hide and looked over the wall below. A Great White Egret flew in from the west, low over the pools out in the middle. It had a noticeably dark bill, not the usually bright yellow dagger, which they develop just in the breeding season, a pitfall for the unwary!

Two Spoonbills were already on the further pool when we arrived, busy bathing and preening. After a while, another Spoonbill dropped out of the trees onto the nearer pool and started feeding, sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water. We had a good view of it now, we could see its shaggy nuchal crest and, when it lifted its head, its yellow-tipped bill, both indicating it was an adult in breeding condition.

Spoonbill – a smart breeding adult

After a snack and a short rest, we set off to walk back. The Willow Warbler was singing again in the same place we had seen it earlier. We stopped to listen to it, hoping to hear more mixed singing, but at first all we got was the beautiful descending scale of pure Willow Warbler song. Eventually, it switched and we got several variations, of mixed chiffs and chaffs.

Back on the seawall, the two Pink-footed Geese were a little easier to see now. Another Great White Egret flew past, heading out across the grazing marshes, it too sporting an all dark bill with bright facial skin.

Great White Egret – flew past on our walk back

Back at the cars, it was time for a late lunch in the edge of the field, looking out across the grazing marshes, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we headed east along the coast road to Wells.

Scanning from the car park, we quickly picked out a Ruff on the closest pool, disappointingly grey and still not really showing any sign of acquiring breeding plumage. There were a couple of Common Snipe on here too.

At the back of the pool the other side of the track, a large white shape was another Spoonbill, standing preening. There were lots of gulls on here too and in among all the Black-headed Gulls, we picked out an immature Common Gull and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, their yellow legs catching the sun as they swam past. A male Marsh Harrier drifted over, flushing quite a few birds from the water and attracting the ire of the local Lapwings, which chased it over in our direction.

Marsh Harrier – chased towards the car park by the local Lapwings

Two wagtails dropped in by the cattle pens. They both had grey backs and sharply demarcated black crowns, although one was slightly patchy in the middle. One stopped to bask in the sun and we could see the grey of its back extending down between its wings. Two White Wagtails, the continental equivalent of our Pied Wagtail, stopping off on their way north.

We walked on down the track to the far corner and looked back across the pool to the east. It didn’t take long for the Grey Phalarope to appear in its favoured corner, swimming out from behind the rushes. Still in grey non-breeding plumage, it looked like a diminutive gull from a distance, grey and white and swimming around on the water. Through the scopes, we could see its black mask. These arctic-breeding waders normally spend the non-breeding season out at sea off W Africa, and are rare here in spring. After northerly gales a couple of weeks, several were blown in and have lingered along the coast.

Grey Phalarope – swimming around right in the far corner

We walked on through the bushes, which were rather quiet, a distinct lack of migrants and freshly arrived warblers here too, a recurring theme it seems today. We climbed up onto the small bank overlooking the western pool and scanned the margins. Another male Ruff was over the back, this one starting to moult into breeding plumage with extensively black patterned head and neck.

A Swallow zipped over and was joined by a second over the field beyond. Then two Sand Martins appeared with them. Had they just arrived or have they been lingering here, finding insects around the pools? Our first hirundines of the day, and a very welcome sign that spring migration is still happening, birds are getting through despite the cold airflow.

A small wader flew up from the middle of the densely vegetated island – a snipe, but rather small and with a shortish bill, a Jack Snipe! It landed before anyone could really get onto it and disappeared into the vegetation on the far edge. We scanned the place it had landed and after a few seconds a Common Snipe walked out. Surely we didn’t get that one wrong – the first bird definitely looked too small?

We climbed up onto the seawall, a little further away but we had a better view of the island from up here. We could see the Common Snipe again, and then we saw some movement in front of it and the Jack Snipe showed itself. A bit smaller, and significantly more secretive, the Jack Snipe could completely disappear in the low vegetation but at times we had a great view of the two snipe species side by side. As well as being smaller with a shorter bill, we could see the Jack Snipe‘s more contrasting golden mantle stripes and the different head pattern, lacking the Common Snipe‘s central crown stripe.

We still had a little bit of time to play with so we headed back to the cars and decided to move on for one last stop. Further east still, we parked by the quay at Morston. There had been a Ring Ouzel in the field by the car park, but it had been spooked by a flyover Red Kite before we arrived and flown into the hedge. There were still several Blackbirds and Song Thrushes out on the grass.

While we waited for it to arrive, we walked on to the harbour, where a Whimbrel had been feeding on the mud right down at the front. We arrived just in time to see it spooked by a photographer, but thankfully it landed on the saltmarsh behind. A little later, another one appeared on the mud on the far side of the channel. We could see its striped crown. A Greenshank was busy feeding in the channel a bit further along.

Whimbrel – feeding on the mud in the harbour channel

There was still no sign of the Ring Ouzel emerging from the hedge, but two more Ring Ouzels had been reported earlier, a little further along the coast path, in the horse paddocks. We walked down for a look, but we couldn’t see any there either. Then we received a message to say the Ring Ouzel was back out by the car park. We turned and could already see it distantly on the short grass, so we walked back for a better look.

Ring Ouzel – finally showed well in the field by the car park

The Ring Ouzel performed very well now, feeding on the grass. A smart male, like a Blackbird with a bright white gorget, pale silvery wing edges and scaly fringes below. Ring Ouzels are scarce passage migrants here, these ones probably on their way from their wintering grounds in the Atlas Mountains, up to Scandinavia for the breeding season. They are normally mountain or moorland birds, but stop off here in fields along the coast before heading out across the North Sea. One we had hoped to see today, and we managed to squeeze it in right at the last.

The Red Kite drifted over again and the Ring Ouzel flew back up into the hedge. It was time for us to call it a day and make our separate ways home.

14th Apr 2021 – Back to Work

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. After 6 months (to the day!) since our last tour, with everything in between cancelled due to COVID restrictions, it was very nice to be able to get back out again. The plan was to try to pick up some lingering winter visitors, as well as try to find some early spring migrants. It was mostly bright, with sunny intervals, cool in the morning particularly in the northerly breeze but warming up nicely in the afternoon, and with just a brief shower at lunchtime.

We started the day at Snettisham. Stopping by the entrance to the car park, a Barn Owl was hunting over the grass down along the inner seawall, flying across the road in front of us and disappearing off into the Coastal Park. A pair of Goldcrests were flitting around in some conifers by the pavement, the male singing and fluffing out its bright gold and flame-coloured crown feathers.

The fields either side of the road here can be good for Ring Ouzels at this time of year, but all we could find this morning were a couple of unringed Ouzels (also known as Blackbirds!). There were lots of Curlews feeding out on the grass too. We set off to walk up to the gate into the Coastal Park and a Greenfinch was singing and doing its fluttering song-flight over the garden of the nearby cottage. The sweet, descending scale of a Willow Warbler drifted out from the bushes. We could hear the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls too.

As we got to the gate, a couple with a rather lively dog were just ahead of us, the dog running in and out of the bushes either side of the path, significantly reducing our chances of seeing anything. We diverted up onto the outer seawall, and looked out across the Wash. We received a message to say that an Osprey had been seen over Ken Hill Marshes, just behind us, but had flown south. So we scanned across that way and picked up a large bird or prey way off in the distance, hovering slowly. Even through the scopes, it was right at the limit, too far to make out any detail, but as it broke off from hovering and turned, we could see it was very long-winged, a distinctive flight silhouette – the Osprey, but not the best views of one we have ever had!

The tide was in. Some more dogwalkers down along the beach further up flushed several Ringed Plovers as they walked along. There were lots of birds out on the water, but rather than seaduck they turned out to be several rafts of Teal and Wigeon, along with a small party of Cormorants and, further out, lots of large gulls.

Chaffinch – this very smart male perched up beside the path as we passed

As we dropped back down off the seawall and onto the path through the Coastal Park, a couple of Sedge Warblers were singing, and we eventually found one perched half way up a small bush in the reeds. There were lots of Chiffchaffs and one or two Blackcaps singing too, the early returning summer breeding warblers, although number of returning birds have probably been held up by the cold northerly winds over the last couple of weeks. A very smart male Chaffinch perched up on the top of a Hawthorn as we passed and there were lots of Linnets all the way up. We came across the Barn Owl again, hunting over the grassy area in the middle of the Coastal Park.

Linnet – a male; there were lots in the Coastal Park

There was a distinct lack of migrants moving overhead today, again a consequence of the northerly winds, but as we got up towards the crossbank, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling and picked it up high in the sky approaching from the south. The first couple of calls sounded pretty conventional, but the next two or three had a distinctly rasping quality to them. Yellow Wagtails come in lots of different forms, and it would have been interesting to see this one on the ground, but unfortunately we watched as it flew off north into the distance.

Walking across to the inner seawall, we climbed up to the top and scanned the grass to the north of the crossbank. There were no cows out, which explained why the wagtail didn’t stop. The Barn Owl was out hunting here now. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and a couple of Skylarks, along with a pair of Grey Partridge. Two smaller, slimmer, shorter-billed birds in with a small group of Curlew were confirmed as two Whimbrel through the scope. They were a bit distant, but turning our attention across to Ken Hill Marshes the other side, we realised there was another Whimbrel on the grass just beyond the ditch. We had a really good view of the striped crown on this one.

There were lots of Avocets, Redshanks and Lapwings on the new pools. Scanning carefully, we found several Common Snipe around the vegetated islands too. There was a nice selection of wildfowl, lots of ducks including a single pair of Pintail. In with the commoner geese, we found a single Pink-footed Goose, its smaller size, dark head and more delicate and mostly dark bill distinguishing it from the nearby Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, although a few are still lingering, some having been shot and winged and unable to make the journey back to Iceland. Our first Marsh Harrier of the day was hunting out over the water.

Barn Owl – out hunting all the time we were in the Coastal Park

The Barn Owl seemed to be following us! It flew back south over the crossbank as we turned to head back along the inner seawall. Most of the way, it kept flying off ahead of us, before coming back again. Great to watch, but it must have been hungry to be out mid-morning, and we didn’t see it catch anything all the time it was in view. A single Swallow and a Sand Martin flew past, surprisingly the only hirundines we saw here this morning. Back to the minibus, another Grey Partridge was out with the Curlew now and a Sparrowhawk came in low from the direction of the marshes. There was still no sign of any Ring Ouzels in the paddocks though.

One request for this morning was to try to see some waders, and there is no better place than Snettisham for that! The tide was already going out fast by the time we got down to the pits and up on the seawall by the Wash. Looking out across the mud, we could see thousands of birds out here still, loads of Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher. A Grey Plover moulting into breeding plumage looked very smart with its black face and white-spangled upperparts. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the mouth of the channel, most already in their orange summer attire, feeding up before heading off to Iceland to breed. A similarly dressed Bar-tailed Godwit further up on the water’s edge was noticeably different, with the rusty colour extending right down under the tail.

Wash Waders – there were thousands of birds out on the mud still

Unlike many of the other waders, the Avocets don’t spend the winter here but there are already lots back. There was a liberal scattering across the mud all the way down to the hides. We just wanted to have a quick look at the southern pit today, which has been taken over by hundreds of breeding gulls. Scanning from the causeway, in amongst the more numerous Black-headed Gulls we found a few Mediterranean Gulls, with their more extensive jet black hoods and white wing tips, and a single Common Gull too.

Avocet – there are lots back already

We had lots we wanted to try to pack in today, so we moved on. A brief check of some paddocks at Hunstanton, where there had been Ring Ouzels a few days ago, failed to produce any here either. Rounding the corner of the coast, we drove into some dark clouds and a sharp shower. It had already stopped by the time we got to Holme, but it was now rather cool and cloudy and a couple of brief stops listening for Grasshopper Warblers drew a blank. We did manage to get a hot drink down at The Firs and stopped to eat our lunch. A young Peregrine flew through quickly towards Thornham before circling back more slowly a little later and five more lingering Pink-footed Geese were out on the grazing marshes.

Our next stop was at Titchwell. We wouldn’t have long here today, but we wanted to have a quick look at the Freshmarsh at least, so we headed straight out. As we got out of the trees on the main path, a Red Kite drifted out across the reedbed and another was hunting out over the dunes. A few Pied Wagtails were feeding out on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh. The reedbed pool produced a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard, but a Little Grebe remained hidden in the reeds and we could only hear it laughing at us. There were still quite a few Brent Geese here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and the saltmarsh the other side of the west bank. In the next month or so, they will be off back up to Russia to breed.

Brent Geese – still here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and saltmarsh

We stopped on the bank by one of the benches to scan the Freshmarsh. Apart from several Avocets, there were no many waders on here. The water level is still quite high, and there is not much exposed mud. On the small area which has appeared in front of Parrinder Hide, we could see two Little Ringed Plovers which have returned already for the breeding season. With the hides closed, they were not particularly close but we could see their golden yellow eye-rings through the scopes.

Little Ringed Plovers – these two were out in front of the closed Parrinder Hide

The large, fenced off island has been taken over by gulls again, with several pairs of Mediterranean Gull in among the Black-headed Gulls. We were hoping to find some Sandwich Terns on the Freshmarsh, but there weren’t any now – there had been earlier, but presumably they had gone out to the sea. Some very smart Teal were feeding just below us, on the near edge of the water. A couple of the drakes were squabbling and the more aggressive displayed too, squashing itself up before throwing its head back. Sometimes, one or two may stay all summer but most will be moving on soon.

Teal – displaying just below the main path

A small falcon came in high over the Freshmarsh now, grey-brown and compact, a Merlin. It carried on across Volunteer Marsh and when it got out to the dunes it turned and disappeared off to the east. Another lingering winter visitor here. We decided to make a quick dash out to the beach to see if we could find a Sandwich Tern out there. A single Redshank was hiding in the channel at the front of Volunteer Marsh and there were a few Curlew in the wide channel at the far end. We couldn’t see anything of note on the Tidal Pool today.

The sea was quiet. After a couple of minutes scanning with the scopes, we did manage to pick up a Sandwich Tern flying past – mission accomplished! A single Great Crested Grebe still out on the sea was a nice bonus. Most of the waders were further up along the beach towards Thornham Point, and despite the shimmer we managed to pick out a few Sanderling in the haze. A couple of Turnstone flew in and landed on the mussel beds, along with a flock of Knot.

With time getting on now and a few more things to try to squeeze in to the itinerary this afternoon, we decided to head straight back. As we walked back past the reedbed, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds.

Continuing on east along the coast road, we stopped past Burnham Overy at the top of Whincover. There had been four Ring Ouzels seen from the track earlier this morning, so we thought we would try our luck as we were passing. With no further reports since, it was probably no surprise we couldn’t find them where they had been and another lone Pink-footed Goose and a Little Grebe were the best we could find out on the grazing marshes.

We were just about to give up and head back when we received a message to say that three had been seen again somewhere nearby, although the location given didn’t make sense. We had an idea where they might mean and thankfully we guessed right – we were almost down the seawall towards Burnham Overy Staithe when a revised message come through with the right directions.

Scanning the field, we thought for a few minutes like our luck might be out again. We could see a couple of Blackbirds, two Mistle Thrushes and a Song Thrush, but no sign of any Ring Ouzels. They do have a habit of disappearing into cover when they are disturbed though, so we carried on down the seawall and kept looking. Thankfully it didn’t take too long until a smart male Ring Ouzel appeared on a fence post on the edge of the field. It dropped down onto the grass and started feeding, and through the scopes we had a good view of its bright white gorget and silvery-edged wings.

Ring Ouzel – we finally managed to catch up with this male

With another target in the bag, we set off back along the seawall towards Whincover. A Great White Egret was flying away from us across the grazing marshes – we could see that its bill was dark, rather than yellow, as the colour changes in the breeding season which can be a pitfall for the unwary. Back along the track across the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing away in full view now in one of the briar clumps.

Sedge Warbler – singing from the briar patches by the track

Our last destination for the afternoon was going to be back at Wells, but on the way there we made a very brief stop. We had surprisingly failed to come across any Spoonbills on our travels so far, but now we could see several distantly in the trees and flying in and out. As it was, we needn’t have worried.

There was meant to be a Grey Phalarope on the pools at Wells, which we were hoping to see to end the day. It had apparently flown off at dawn but had thankfully reappeared after a couple of hours. We knew it was favouring the far side of the pool east of the track, right in the far corner and only visible from further down, but as we walked down the track towards there we met a couple looking through their scope the wrong way. They told us that the phalarope had apparently flown off again, across the pool west of the track, just a few minutes before we arrived. Our hearts sank – we were just too late! We stopped anyway and lifted our binoculars and the first thing we saw was the Grey Phalarope flying straight towards us! It came right over our heads, and then flew back to its favoured spot over in the far corner.

Grey Phalarope – flew right over our heads on its way back to its favoured corner

A large white shape over at the back of the pool to the east was another Spoonbill. Before we could get to the corner, it took off and flew straight towards us, passing over the track just behind us. A much better view than the ones we had seen on our brief stop on the way here.

Spoonbill – flew off over the track behind us

From the edge of the track at the far side of the pools, we set up our scopes again and looked back into the far corner. Sure enough, the Grey Phalarope was back in its favourite spot in the south-east corner of the eastern pool. It was swimming round in between several Avocets which were busily upending in the deep water, presumably stirring up the mud at the bottom and bringing food up for the phalarope to pick up.

It was a nice way to end the day, and it was now time to head for home. Despite the cool northerlies, we had succeeded in seeing a very selection of spring migrants, as well as picking up a good number of lingering winter visitors. It was great to be out again – hopefully we can now slowly get back to normal and resume a full programme of tours as planned in the coming months.

If you would like to come out birding in Norfolk, we are ready to go!

11th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. A grey and windy day, there were spits of rain at times while we were out but with some careful manoeuvring round the county we were able to avoid the worst of the rain this afternoon. Despite the inauspicious weather, we had a very successful day out.

Our destination for the first part of the day was Titchwell. There weren’t many cars yet when we arrived, so we had a quick walk round the overflow car park first, but it was very quiet, no sign of any hungry migrants stopping off to feed here today. There was nothing on the new squirrel-proof feeders by the Visitor Centre either, so we headed straight out towards the reserve.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we found a tit flock in the trees by the main path

We hadn’t gone far along the main path when we ran into a tit flock in the trees. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits flying back and forth across the path, along with a few Blue Tits and Great Tits. We managed to find a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest in with them too. We heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deeper in the sallows but it did not come out.

As we walked out past the reedbed, a male Marsh Harrier flew over the Thornham grazing marsh and chased a couple of crows out over the saltmarsh. We arrived at the reedbed pool just as a Pintail disappeared into reeds, but everyone managed to get on a Tufted Duck, and a Common Pochard with a couple of Coot at the front, all additions to our trip list.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – chasing crows over Thornham Marsh

Out at the Freshmarsh, the water level is currently low, as reserve staff are strimming the islands and margins, coupled with the strong SW wind which tends to push the water away from the bank anyway. Consequently, there were not so many birds on here today and what was here was all gathered right at the back. Several Avocets were also additions to the tour list.

We decided to carry on out towards the beach, but as we walked on we noticed everything spook. We looked up to see a juvenile Peregrine flying over. It didn’t really have a go at anything on the Freshmarsh, but carried on west and disappeared off towards Thornham.

Out at the Volunteer Marsh, there were several Redshanks and Curlews feeding in the muddy channel at the far end.

Redshank

Redshank – one of several on Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools are now tidal again, after storms reopened the channel which allows the water to drain. As the tide was already well out, the water level was down, and there were more waders on here today. We could see several Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, a Grey Plover, and a couple of little groups of Dunlin at the back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Tidal Pools

There were more waders out on the beach, down on the mussel beds. We had a nice comparison of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits in the same scope view and careful scanning revealed a single Knot. The sea looked rather quiet by comparison, although we did find a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A dark juvenile Gannet and a Razorbill both flew past.

Our main target here today was to try to see the Grey Phalarope which had turned up yesterday out at Thornham Point. It was still present this morning, but as we walked west along the beach we got a message to say it had flown off, flushed by a Hobby. It had flown off and come back previously, so we decided to press on anyway. By the time we got out to the Point, it was back on its favoured pool.

A couple of Scandinavian Rock Pipits flushed from the saltmarsh as we positioned ourselves on one side of the pool. The Grey Phalarope was over at the back at first, picking around in the samphire. Then it waded into the water and started swimming around, eventually coming right down to the near edge, in front of us.

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope – on one of the saltmarsh pools at Thornham Point

The Grey Phalarope was a young bird, a first winter, with some new grey feathers on its back but still with retained darker juvenile feathers on the back of its neck and wings. We could even make out the remains of the creamy orange wash on the front of its neck. Grey Phalaropes breed in the high Arctic and spend the rest of the year out at sea, migrating down to the coast of South Africa for the winter. They are very prone to be being blown inshore on autumn storms, when they are scarce visitors here. A great bird to see.

Having spent some time watching the Grey Phalarope feeding, we set off to walk back. We went into Parrinder Hide this time, to see if there was anything over the back of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff out on the mud and we could now see there were more Avocets in the deeper water over towards the back, along with a nice selection of the commoner dabbling ducks.

It was already getting on for lunchtime, so we set off back along the main path. We hadn’t gone far when we found a couple of people looking at a small mammal on the edge of the path. It was a Water Shrew, feeding on the remains of snails which had been crushed underfoot on the path. They are normally quite secretive, so it was amazing to see one out in the open like this, seemingly completely unconcerned by all the people passing by.

Water Shrew

Water Shrew – feeding on the main path on the way back

We ate our lunch by the Visitor Centre. There were a few Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders and a large Brown Rat underneath! A couple of Siskins flew over calling.

Afterwards, we walked out along Fen Trail. We found a tit flock again, but it moved too quickly back through the trees to see if there was anything interesting with it. There were more more tits in the trees by the Tank Road, and a Goldcrest which was busy preening deep in the elders.

Out at Patsy’s Reedbed, there were more ducks, including a moulting drake Pintail at the back, to make up for the one which had disappeared into the reeds earlier. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing out in the middle and a Mediterranean Gull dropped in with them briefly. A first winter, its heavier dark bill and black bandit mask gave it away, but it didn’t linger and flew off again west past us.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – dropped in on Patsy’s Reedbed pool briefly

We had got away with the weather so far today, but now it started to spit with rain. A quick look at the forecast suggested some rain was approaching, so we made our way back to the car park. It looked like it would remain dry further south until later this afternoon, so we decided to head inland. A covey of Grey Partridges ran across the road in front of us. Then as we got out onto the A148, it started to rain.

As we got to the Brecks, we drove out of the rain again, so it was dry when we got to our destination, even if it was grey and rather windy still. We had come to look for the Stone Curlews which gather here in the autumn. They were hard to find at first, but we managed to locate one then two, hiding behind the ridges of soil and clumps of nettles, trying to shelter from the wind. Gradually they became more active, and we counted up to eight Stone Curlews from here. We had nice views of them through the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we counted 27 still in the fields today

There were lots of gulls in the fields too, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Scanning through them, we found an adult Yellow-legged Gull first. It was colour-ringed, with a red ring, but it was too far away to read the lettering. We found a Caspian Gull next, an immature in its 2nd winter/2nd calendar year, but it flew off back to the next field, out of view, before everyone could get onto it. Then we picked out a second Yellow-legged Gull, this time also a 2nd winter. There were probably a lot more other gulls there too, but most were out of view from here.

Given we were upwind from them and the Stone Curlews were sheltering from the wind from this direction, we drove round to the other side of the field to try to see if there were more there that we couldn’t see. We were much further away, but scanning with the scope we could now see where the other Stone Curlews were hiding. The light was fading and they were very well camouflaged against the bare stony ground, but we counted at least 28 Stone Curlews from here. Numbers are gradually dropping now, as birds head off south for the winter, but that was still an impressive total.

As we drove back, we quickly ran into heavy rain. We had been very lucky, managing to avoid the worst of the weather today.

20th Oct 2017 – Migrants & Winter Visitors Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. It was cloudy all day but not too windy and, thankfully, the only shower fell while we were having lunch – and it was mercifully brief!

With lots of thrushes and finches arriving in over the last few days, we decided to start with a visit to check out the hedges at Warham Greens. As soon as we parked, we could hear several Blackbirds alarm calling.

As we walked up along the track, lots of birds came out of the hedges and flew on ahead of us. As well as lots more Blackbirds, there were plenty of Song Thrushes and a few Redwings too. They had probably all just arrived in from the continent and were taking a break to refuel on all the berries. We saw several tiny Goldcrests along here too – amazing to think that a bird so small can make it all the way across the North Sea. A Blackcap was typically elusive, climbing through the hedge before zipping across the track in front of us.

We stopped by a gate and looked across the grassy field beyond to some old barns. There were several Stock Doves on the roof. Here we saw a couple of Yellowhammers perched in the top of the hedge, with a Reed Bunting for company. A Chiffchaff flew across the track and dropped into the bushes at the base of a large sycamore. A Redwing perched up nicely for us in the top of the hedge.

Continuing on up the track, a little flock of Golden Plover flew over, calling. We could hear some rather noisy Grey Partridge out in one of the fields, but couldn’t see where they were through a thick hedge. A Sparrowhawk flew off across a field, disappearing into a hedge before emerging the other side a minute or so later, presumably after a quick rest.

As we were walking past a large oak tree, a sharp call caught our attention and we looked up to see a small bird flitting around in the leaves. It was a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was hard to see at first, high in the tree, but eventually we all got a good look at it, particularly as it dropped out of the tree and into the hedge, before working its way back up the track.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – flitting around high in an oak tree

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in Siberia and winter mainly in Asia. They have become increasingly common in autumn here over the last 30 years, as the species has extended its breeding range westwards. Still, it a great bird to see and amazing to think that this small bird probably started its journey over at the Urals.

At the top of the track, we emerged out onto the coastal path and stopped to scan the saltmarsh. There were lots of Little Egrets scattered around, so common now it is amazing to think how rare they were only 20 years ago. A flock of Golden Plover down in the vegetation was very well camouflaged and hard to see until you looked through the scope. We could hear several Curlew calling from time to time, and eventually one landed close enough so we could get it in the scope.

There are always lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and today was no exception, with numbers having increased steadily even in the last few days, as more return for the winter. Most of the birds which come here at this time of year are Russian Dark-bellied Brents, but it is always worth checking through the groups carefully. Sure enough, as we looked through them, one bird instantly stood out. It was much darker, blackish, with a bright white flank patch and much more extensive white collar. It was a Black Brant.

Black BrantBlack Brant – probably a returning individual, with the Dark-bellied Brents

Black Brant is one of the other subspecies of Brent Goose. It breeds in NW North America and far eastern Siberia, wintering either side of the Pacific. It is a regular visitor here, with lost birds mixing with Dark-bellied Brent Geese in Russia and migrating to western Europe with them. Some of these birds then return winter after winter with the same group of Brents and there has been a Black Brant here in the winter for several years now. This is the first time we have seen it this winter, so it was a welcome surprise to find it here today.

Looking out beyond the saltmarsh, out towards the beach, we could see lots of waders on the sand flats in the distance. Through the scope, we could just make out a flock of Knot, accompanied by a few Grey Plover. In one of the tidal channels nearby, we picked out three ducks – Red-breasted Mergansers. But they were all very distant and hard to see much detail, even with a scope.

There were not so many flocks of thrushes coming in off the sea today, but there were still lots of birds moving. A steady stream of flocks of Starlings of various sizes flew west along the edge of the saltmarsh this morning. A flock of Lapwing flew over us. There were a few Chaffinches and Skylarks coasting too.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – we saw several this morning in the hedges and down by the Pit

We had a quick look in the Pit, but it was fairly quiet today, suggesting there was perhaps not so much fresh in overnight last night. We did flush a few more Redwings from the bushes, one perching nicely in the top for us briefly, plus several Chaffinches and a couple of Yellowhammers. A large flock of Goldfinches kept coming & going, between the bushes round the Pit and the weedy vegetation on the edge of the saltmarsh. A male Stonechat put in a brief appearance down in the Suaeda too.

There were a few raptors out over the saltmarsh today. Three Marsh Harriers were quartering out along the edge of the beach pretty much all the time we were there. As we were leaving, we spotted a Red Kite flying lazily over the back of the saltmarsh and when we turned to head back, we noticed a second Red Kite circling over the field just behind us.

Red KiteRed Kite – the second of two at Warham Greens today

The walk back up the track was fairly uneventful – with fewer birds flushed from the hedgerows now, but still lots of Blackbirds, thrushes and a few Goldcrests. We were almost back to the car when we found a mixed flock of finches – mostly Chaffinches and Greenfinches but with at least one Brambling too. We heard the Brambling call, but unfortunately couldn’t see it in the thick vegetation.

We had a bit of time still before lunch, so we decided to head further east and have a look for the Cattle Egret at Stiffkey. As we drove past, we had a quick scan of the field, but the cows were lying down and there appeared to be no sign of the Cattle Egret with them. Being white, it normally sticks out like a sore thumb! We decided to have a quick look out at Stiffkey Fen, and then go back to the cows again afterwards.

As we walked down along the path beside the river, we could hear a Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the trees. It sounded as if it was making its way towards the near edge, so we walked back and could just see it up in the trees. It was very vocal, calling continually for a couple of minutes before going quiet. Our second Yellow-browed Warbler of the morning!

There were more birds along the path too. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles. A Yellowhammer called from the trees the other side of the river. We could hear Bullfinches calling plaintively and looked up to see a nice pink male fly past. We flushed more Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings from the brambles as we passed. Almost out to the seawall, a Chiffchaff called from the sallows.

Half way along, we stopped to look out at the Fen from the path. We could see lots of Ruff along the northern edge, below the reeds, and several smaller waders with them. Just as we got the scope onto them, they all took off. Several of the Ruff flew off inland, but two of the smaller waders landed on the mud in the middle of the Fen. One was a Dunlin but the other was a juvenile Little Stint, a nice surprise. We were just admiring the Little Stint through the scope when it took off and we didn’t see where it went.

Out on the seawall, we had another scan of the Fen, but we couldn’t see the Little Stint again, just a group of about ten Ruff where it had been. There was a nice selection of ducks on here, mostly Teal and Wigeon, but also quite a few Pintail, including some increasingly smart drakes as they emerge from eclipse plumage.

Looking out to Blakeney Harbour, the tide was out. A nice close Grey Plover was on the mud on the side of the channel, a juvenile, looking slightly golden-tinged on its upperparts. There were lots of Oystercatchers out on the sand in Blakeney Pit. As we scanned, we picked up a mixed flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and Sanderling which landed out on a sandbank with them. A big flock of Dunlin and Turnstone flew past.

There were also lots of Brent Geese and Wigeon out in the harbour. Several groups of gulls were loafing, Herring Gulls and big brutes of Great Black-backed Gulls. On the sand flats beyond the habour, we could see lots of seals hauled out, and through the scope we could see several Gannets diving into the sea beyond them.

As we turned to walk back, a Kingfisher was calling from down along the river channel, but we didn’t see it. The Yellow-browed Warbler showed itself again briefly on our way back past.

We continued on along the path and stopped down at the corner overlooking the grazing marshes. We were immediately informed that the Cattle Egret was back, but not in view. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long before it walked out from behind the cows and we got a really good view of it through the scope. This Cattle Egret has been lingering here for some time now – perhaps it will stay until the cows are taken in for the winter? There were also two Grey Herons, lots of ducks, and several Ruff on the muddy flash here.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – still lingering with the cows at Stiffkey

After we had all had a good look at the Cattle Egret, we headed back to the car and drove back to Holkham for a late lunch. While we were eating, the cloud thickened again and it start to rain. Thankfully it was just a shower and it quickly passed over, although it remained rather cool and cloudy.

After lunch, we headed into Holkham Park. The walk in through the trees was fairly quiet, perhaps with the weather clouding over and the breeze picking up they had retreated now. There are always lots of Fallow Deer in here and we saw several groups of females and a few bucks barking to defend their territories.

Fallow DeerFallow Deer – we saw lots in the Park again today

We made our way straight down to the lake, but there was no sign of the Osprey in any of its favourite trees. We couldn’t find it fishing at the north end of the lake either. We did find a nice variety of ducks on the lake – including Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck – plus several Great Crested Grebes and Little Grebes.

Turning round, we walked down to the south end of the lake to see what we could find there. A quick scan revealed a juvenile Scaup in with a raft of Tufted Duck. It swam off out into the middle of the lake as we approached, but we had a good look at it through the scope, noting its pale surround to the bill and cheek spot.

ScaupScaup – a juvenile, with the Tufted Duck on the lake

There were a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the lawn in front of the hall, but still no sign of the Osprey anywhere, so we set off back to the car. With everyone tired of walking, we decided to have a quick look out at the freshmarsh to finish the day. It turned out to be a good call. As soon as we pulled up, we could see a Great White Egret out on the edge of a ditch. By the time we had got out of the car, there were now two Great White Egrets. A second bird had appeared further back and was preening in the base of the sallows. Three species of egret in a day!

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – one of two out on the freshmarsh late this afternoon

Scanning around the various pools, we picked up three Avocets on the edge of one of the more distant ones. There are not many Avocets around now, with most having left for the winter, so we stopped to look at them through the scope. As we did so, we noticed another small pale bird nearby. It was small and swimming in circles, in and out of the ducks nearby, a Grey Phalarope. A real bonus!

We had a good look at the Grey Phalarope before something flushed all the ducks and waders and it settled again on the water even further back. The geese down on the grass below us were almost entirely Greylags. Still, we scanned through them carefully to see if we could find anything else. We had almost given up when a family of three Russian White-fronted Geese walked out from behind the bushes, two adults with black belly bars and white fronts and a plainer juvenile. This is a regular wintering site for Russian White-fronts but these are the first we have seen here this winter. Nice to see them returning now.

It had been a really productive stop here, with lots of birds coming and going, but it was now time to call it a day and head for home. Here’s hoping for more of the same tomorrow!

13th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 2

Day 2 of a four day Autumn Tour today. It was a more mixed day weather-wise, mostly dry apart from a brief squally shower this morning, but with a rather blustery SW wind all day, gusting up to 40mph at times. Still, it didn’t hold us back and we had another great day out.

After meeting in Wells, we headed west along the coast to Titchwell for the day. There were lots of geese in the stubble fields by the road – lots of Greylags with a good number of Pink-footed Geese and a few Egyptian Geese too.

At Titchwell, the main car park was slowly starting to fill up, so we went for a quick look round the overflow car park before it got too busy. There were several Blackbirds in the apple trees – possibly some of them were freshly arrived from the continent overnight – and a couple of Redwings were calling from the hedge as we walked past. We flushed several finches from the brambles, a few Chaffinches and a noisy flock of Greenfinches. A Brambling flew over calling, as did a single Grey Wagtail. Otherwise, there were not that many birds in here this morning, so we decided to head out onto the reserve. A Redwing flew across in front of us and perched briefly in the top of the trees, before diving into cover.

A Grey Phalarope (also confusingly called a Red Phalarope, for our North American tour participants!) had appeared at Titchwell yesterday, so after enjoying great views of the Red-necked Phalarope yesterday, we thought we would go to look for the Grey today. Before we got out of the car park, we received a message to say that it had just flown in closer and was now showing very well in front of Parrinder Hide, so we headed straight round there.

When we got out onto the main path, we could see some dark clouds heading our way, so we didn’t linger to scan for birds on the way out. A Bearded Tit was pinging from the reeds by the Thornham grazing marsh dry pool and zipped across the tops before diving back into cover. A single Eurasian Curlew was very well camouflaged standing in the vegetation out on the saltmarsh, whereas the Little Egret stood out like a sore thumb!

There were quite a few people in Parrinder Hide already, but we managed to find space for all of us. Just in time, as a squally shower passed over. Within a minute or so of us arriving, the Grey Phalarope appeared from behind the reeds. Unusually for a phalarope, it seemed to have realised it was a wader and was feeding along the edge of the water, walking around on the mud. Normally they prefer to swim! It picked its way steadily towards the hide and was soon only a few metres away from us – great views.

Grey Phalarope 1Grey Phalarope – mostly feeding like a wader rather than swimming today

Up close like this, we could see the Grey Phalarope was a young bird, moulting into 1st winter plumage. It had already moulted its mantle and scapulars extensively, with new pale grey feathers, but still retained several white-fringed black juvenile feathers, particularly on its wings. It was also a little bit chunkier, with a slightly thicker, heavier bill than yesterday’s Red-necked Phalarope, which was still mostly in juvenile plumage.

The Grey Phalarope worked its way up and down on the mud, doing a little circuit, occasionally flying back out of sight behind the reeds, before making its way back out again along the muddy water’s edge. At one point it, when it got to the nearest point of the mud, it flew across and landed down right in front of the hide windows. From time to time, it would swim across the water, but it seemed to prefer to head back each time to the mud.

Grey Phalarope 2Grey Phalarope – flew right in front of Parrinder Hide

Whenever the Grey Phalarope disappeared from view behind the reeds, we turned our attention to the other birds out on the scrape. There was a nice selection of waders. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting out in the shallow water. Through the scope, we could see there was a mixture of paler adults and more richly coloured juveniles. As one preened, we could see its barred tail. Nearby, a big group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding. We could see their much plainer, darker grey-brown upperparts.

There were several Ruff out on the freshmarsh too, a mixture of paler adults and browner juveniles. A small flock of Eurasian Golden Plover flew in and landed on one of the islands out in the middle, where they proceeded to bathe and preen before going to sleep.

There were several little groups of Dunlin around the scrape too. They were rather jumpy in the wind and mobile, flying around and feeding in different places, before getting spooked again. At first the two Little Stints were hard to find. They were not feeding with the Dunlin, but at first we located them on their own along the mud the other side, in front of the reeds. The Little Stints were skittish too, and flew round and across in front of us, before dropping down between the islands.

DunlinDunlin – this small flock flew round and landed in front of Parrinder Hide briefly

There are plenty of ducks here now, with large numbers of Eurasian Teal and Eurasian Wigeon in particular having returned for the winter already. Most of the drakes are still in rather drab eclipse plumage, but some are starting to moult out already. A small group of Wigeon walked across to graze on the island opposite the hide, with a smart drake in amongst them. There were lots of Teal right in front of the windows, which gave us a great opportunity to look at the differences in moult progress between them. The drake Gadwall are mostly already back in breeding plumage.

TealEurasian Teal – this drake is just starting to moult out of eclipse plumage

There were a few passerines on the freshmarsh too. Little flocks of Linnets kept fluttering about on the edge of the water. A couple of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the short grass on the islands and a Meadow Pipit or two appeared with them. A Skylark flew in and dropped down on the grass.

Eventually, with the weather improving, we decided to head out towards the beach. We popped into the other side of the Parrinder Hide, but the Volunteer Marsh from this side looked largely deserted, apart from several Redshanks. A female Eurasian Kestrel was perched on one of the fence posts along the edge of the bank. As we left the hide, the Kestrel flew off across the mud, flushing the Redshanks which called noisily and several Linnets which had been hiding in the vegetation.

KestrelEurasian Kestrel – perched on the fence posts on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

There were more waders on the far side of the Volunteer Marsh, in the tidal channel viewable from the main path. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks, plus a couple of Curlew. But towards the back, occasionally hiding down in the muddy creeks, we found our first Grey (aka Black-bellied) Plover of the day.

There is still quite a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, but as soon as we got over the bank, we could see several Black-tailed Godwits, and a couple were very close to the path. We got a great look them as they fed in the deep water. A Little Grebe was diving nearby, but quickly swam over and hid beneath the vegetation overhanging the bank as we walked up.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Tidal Pools

Further over, we could see a couple of small flocks of Eurasian Oystercatchers out on the saltmarsh and one of the spits which juts out into the water. A closer look through the scope revealed several Grey Plover roosting on the spit too, but most of the birds were hiding on the other side of the spit, in the lee of the wind. A flock of Ruddy Turnstone flew in and landed down in the saltmarsh with the Oystercatchers.

We continued on to the beach and stopped to scan the sea from the other side of the dunes, out of the wind. Our attention was drawn to a Great Crested Grebe hauled out on the sand on the edge of the water. It didn’t look particularly well. There were several more Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a careful scan revealed a single Red-throated Diver though it was a little too far out to see easily in the swell and we lost it when it dived. Two Common Scoter close inshore were much easier to see.

Common ScoterCommon Scoter – these two were swimming just offshore

There were not many birds moving offshore today, though we did manage to pick up a handful of Brent Goose flying in for the winter and a little party of three Shelducks, probably returning after going over to the continent to moult out at the Waddensee.

The tide was already coming in fast and the mussel beds were covered. A large flock of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting on the sand towards Brancaster, but as the tide continued to rise they took off and flew in over the beach and off towards the reserve. There were also several silvery grey and white Sanderling running around on the beach like clockwork toys.

It was already midday now, so we decided to start walking back slowly for lunch. We stopped again at the Tidal Pools where more waders had gathered to roost. Through the scope, we had a good look at a mixed group of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers. A single (not so Red) Knot appeared from behind them and started to bathe in the shallow water. A smart Redshank close to the path looked particularly striking with the sun highlighting its red legs and red-based bill.

RedshankRedshank – its red legs and bill base catching the sun

We stopped briefly at the Freshmarsh to see if anything new had arrived in our absence. A few more Golden Plover had flown in and gone to sleep on the islands. There had been a Dotterel here with them briefly yesterday, though there were also a lot more Golden Plover then, and there was no sign of it at all today.

When we got back to the trees, we took a diversion around Meadow Trail. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler here earlier, but it was always going to be difficult to see today given the wind. At first, all we could find were a few tits and a single Chiffchaff. There were several Common Darter dragonflies basking in the sunshine out of the wind on the boardwalk which we flushed as we walked along.

Common DarterCommon Darter – basking in the sunshine on the boardwalk

Then as we got round to the dragonfly pool, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sallows. Unfortunately, it had chosen the windy side of the boardwalk, and it was deep in the bushes – there seemed little chance it would come out this side. We had a quick look along Fen Trail, in case it worked its way through that way, but there was no sign. A flock of Long-tailed Tits had just gone across the path and possibly it was following behind them.

As we were eating lunch in the picnic area, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling again, from deep in the sallows between where we were sitting and Fen Trail. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling too, and we were hopeful initially they might be working their way through the trees towards us, but instead they disappeared off in the other direction. A Sparrowhawk flew over and several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese headed off east.

While we were getting ready to move on again, we were informed that several Bramblings had been showing around the feeders at the Visitor Centre. We stopped by the first set of feeders, where they had been on the ground, and waited a while. All we could see were Chaffinches feeding here. It was only when we went round to the feeders the other side that we discovered they had moved round there. We were treated to great views of at least two female Bramblings and two very smart males. There were also a few Siskins in the tops of the alders.

BramblingBrambling – a smart male around the feeders behind the Visitor Centre

After enjoying the Bramblings, we set off out along Fen Trail again. There was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler this time. A Kingfisher called from the dragonfly pool, but we didn’t see it. We carried on round to Patsy’s Reedbed, where there were fewer birds today. A smattering of ducks included just one Tufted Duck. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding along the bank at the front. As we continued out along East Trail, we flushed a couple of Song Thrushes from the hedge ahead of us. A tight flock of about thirty Siskin flew past us and headed off west.

We stopped at the end of Autumn Trail to scan the back of the freshmarsh. It didn’t take long to find three Spotted Redshanks, asleep by the fence at the back of the Avocet Island. We thought the corner of the scrape round the back here might have been more sheltered from the wind, but it was whistling through here too. It seemed an unlikely day for good views Bearded Tits, given the wind, but one male did fly in and land very close to us. Unfortunately it was too quick for everyone to get onto, shuffling up into the top of the reeds, which were swaying around in the breeze, before flying off over the bank.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male appeared only briefly in the tops of the reeds

The afternoon was getting on now, so we made our way slowly back to the Visitor Centre. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of Willow Wood and landed in one of the dead trees on the edge of the reedbed as we passed. We had obviously tired everyone out, because they immediately sank down onto the benches and picnic tables when we got back. We stopped just long enough to see a couple of Bramblings, back the other side of the centre now, then managed to get everyone moving again towards the car before they got too settled.

Rather than another walk, we decided to have a quick drive round via Choseley to see what we could see next. It was rather windy up on the ridge and nothing was very settled. There was a big flock of Goldfinch in the hedge and several coveys of Red-legged Partridges in the fields. We flushed a few Brown Hares as we drove past, which sprinted off across the fields – or across the road in front of us in one case.

At this point, we received a message to say there was a Bean Goose back along the coast, so as this was on our way back, we decided to head straight over there. We found somewhere to park and were directed to the bird, which was with a flock of Pink-footed Geese in a stubble field by the road. We could immediately see its day-glo orange legs and patterning on the bill, very different from the more muted pink on the Pink-footed Geese, so everybody had a quick first look at it through the scope.

There are two subspecies of Bean Goose we get here, treated by some now as separate species in their own right. Tundra Bean Goose occurs quite frequently in with the flocks of Pink-footed Geese in the winter. Taiga Bean Goose is considerably rarer here. There are two regular wintering sites for Taiga Bean Goose in the UK – on the Slamannan Plateau in Scotland and down at Cantley & Buckenham Marshes in the Norfolk Broads – and they are very unusual away from these sites. We were immediately struck by the large amount of orange on this birds bill. Then it stood up amongst the Pinkfeet and lifted its head – it was head and shoulders above the other geese – it had to be a Taiga Bean Goose!

Taiga Bean Goose 1Taiga Bean Goose – a rare visitor here, away from a regular wintering site in the Broads

There was also a single Barnacle Goose down with the Pinkfeet, but it didn’t get as much attention as its more exotic – distant – relative. We do get wild Barnacle Geese here from time to time but there is also a feral population a short distance away at Holkham, and this bird had most likely just come from there.

The Taiga Bean Goose was getting a bit of hassle from the Pink-footed Geese, which would occasionally chase or peck out at it. It came out into the stubble in front of the other geese, stopped to preen, then took off on its own and flew up towards the road. It landed out of view in a dip in the ground, but by working our way along behind the hedge on the other side of the road, we managed to find a place from which we could see it.

Taiga Bean Goose 2Taiga Bean Goose – not much smaller than the Greylags

The Taiga Bean Goose was very close now, feeding this time with a small group of Greylag Geese. We could see it was a big goose, not much smaller than the Greylags, and with a long, thin, almost swan-like head and neck. The bill was long and thin and extensively marked with orange, very different from the stubbier bill of a Tundra Bean Goose. We had a great view and watched it for several minutes at close quarters. Eventually, the geese started to work their way back down the field, so we decided to leave them to it.

It was a very nice surprise to catch up with not only a Bean Goose, but a Taiga Bean Goose at that, on our way home. A great way to end another exciting day out.

 

7th Oct 2017 – Autumn Weekend, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was forecast to be cloudy all day, with rain expected early afternoon. Although largely correct for once, thankfully the rain held off until later than expected and meant we could get a good day out in the field.

As we drove east along the coast road at the start of the day, we had a quick look out at the cows on the grazing meadow east of Stiffkey village. There was no sign of the Cattle Egret, but this was not a surprise. This bird appears to be a late riser! We would have a proper look later.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the permissive path, three flocks of Goldfinches flew over, totalling about 60 birds. They might be locals, but there were finches on the move today so perhaps these were on their way somewhere too. A Redwing flew over ‘teezing’, and headed off inland. Two Stock Doves were feeding in the recently sown field. A helicopter flew over somewhere towards the coast, drowning out all the birds – we couldn’t see it but we could certainly hear it and it sounded low.

When the helicopter had passed, we could hear tits calling in the trees on the other side of the road, Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits. As we set off down the footpath alongside the river, a Dunnock called from the trees and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes.

There are a couple of places along the path where you can see over the reeds to the Fen and there looked to be a slightly disappointing number of birds on here today, particularly considering it was a big high tide in the harbour, which normally means birds come in here to roost. At that point we realised why, as the helicopter came back again, the other way. It was flying low over the north side of the Fen and spooked all the birds which were left. A lot of the ducks disappeared out towards the Harbour.

When we got up onto the seawall, we could see there was not much left on the Fen. There were still a few ducks – Wigeon, Teal, a couple of Gadwall and a few Shoveler – but not the number which should be here now. At first we could see next to no waders, apart from a couple of Ruff, but we heard Greenshanks calling and round in the corner we found a group of 21 of them asleep. With them were a few Redshank and Ruff and a handful of Black-tailed Godwits.

Because the tide was in, the channel and the harbour were full of water. We could see a line of roosting Oystercatchers on Blakeney Point, with a number of seals pulled out on the beach at the far end. On the near side of the harbour, a few more Oystercatchers were roosting on a spit with half a dozen Bar-tailed Godwits. Numbers of Brent Geese are steadily increasing for the winter now, and we could see a small group flying round further along towards Morston.

We stood on the seawall for a few minutes, scanning out towards the harbour. There were clearly birds moving today, though not in any great number. Two Skylarks flew high west. Two Yellowhammers flew past us too, but these were probably local birds and they dropped into the hedge further along. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned to see it disappearing into the sallows along the river.

Birds were slowly returning to the Fen, but it was clear they probably wouldn’t come back in big numbers this tide now. A couple of flocks of Redshanks flew back in from the harbour, and two more Black-tailed Godwits. A large mob of Greylag Geese flew back in from the fields. We decided we would be better to head on somewhere else. As we started to walk back along the path, a large flock of Wigeon flew in over the seawall and circled over the Fen nervously, calling.

Red KiteRed Kite – flew past us at Stiffkey Fen

We looked back from the path across the water and noticed a large raptor circling over the small ridge to the east of the Fen. It was a Red Kite. It banked and turned towards us before flying lazily over the north edge of the Fen and straight past us, heading west.

The Cattle Egret tends to appear mid-morning and we had now reached the time when it should normally be with the cows. As we started walking down the path to see if it had arrived yet, some people coming the other way confirmed that it was there already. As soon as we got to the corner, we could see it – an obvious white shape out in the grass. We watched it for a while, walking around among the cows’ legs. One cow in particular was more active, and the Cattle Egret followed it closely for several minutes. Two Grey Herons among the cows too were much more static in their approach.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – back feeding with the cows again mid morning

When two or three of the cows walked down into the edge of the wet ditch at the back of the field, the Cattle Egret quickly spotted them and flew over to join them. It walked down into the ditch and disappeared from view, so we decided to move on.

There had been a Red-necked Phalarope at Kelling for a few hours yesterday afternoon, but it had been flushed and flown off out to sea. At that point, news came through that it was back, so we decided to make our way straight round there, before it flew off again.

When we arrived in Kelling, there were lots of cars parked in the village – the phalarope was obviously proving a popular draw today. We had to park further up along the road, and as we got out of the car, we thought we could hear a Crossbill. It was just a couple of calls, but when we stopped to listen carefully, there was nothing. Perhaps we were mistaken. However, as we crossed the main coast road and started to walk into the lane, we heard the Crossbill again. There it was, perched in the top of the fir tree, a smart male.

Common CrossbillCommon Crossbill – appeared briefly in the top of a fir tree in Kelling

It stayed perched there for a couple of minutes, long enough for us to get a good look at it through scope. It was a Common Crossbill, a scarce bird here, probably dispersing in search for cones. We did look extra carefully, given the recent arrival of several rarer and larger-billed Parrot Crossbills into the Northern Isles, but we just confirmed what we already knew (Parrot Crossbill has a different call) – it was definitely a Common Crossbill. Then a Chaffinch flew up and chased it from its perch and the Crossbill disappeared.

There were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches in the bushes along the lane. Three more Redwings flew over calling, and headed off inland. Several small groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over too, heading west, possibly fresh arrivals, just back for the winter from Iceland.

Pink-footed Geese 1Pink-footed Geese – several small groups flew over us this morning

Down at the Water Meadow, we found several people watching the Red-necked Phalarope. We had a quick look at it through the scope from the path, then round to the far corner which it seemed to be favouring for a closer look.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – we enjoyed great views of this juvenile at Kelling

The Red-necked Phalarope was still in juvenile plumage, with a dark back marked with bold pale straw coloured lines. We watched it for a while, swimming, spinning round, picking for food which it stirred up to the surface. As we stood quietly, it gradually came closer giving us a great close view of it.

There were a few other birds around the Water Meadow. Two Common Snipe were preening in the rushes in the back corner, and several Redshank and a Ruff were feeding along the muddy edges. A Grey Heron was standing on the island in the middle. As the Red-necked Phalarope made its way steadily further back again, we decided to move on.

Just along the coast at Cley, a Grey Phalarope had been around since yesterday too, so we decided to head round to try to see that next, two phalaropes for the price of one. We parked at Walsey Hills and walked along to the East Bank, but when we got there we met another local birder walking back who told us it had just flown off. Very annoying, as it had seemed to be the more settled of the two phalaropes!

The Grey Phalarope had apparently headed off towards the reserve, so we went to Bishop Hide to see if it was on Pat’s Pool, as it had been on there at one point yesterday. As we walked along the path, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds the other side of the ditch. We turned to see four fly off across the tops of the reeds, but although there were still some calling nearby, they kept well tucked in out of the fresh breeze.

There was no sign of the Grey Phalarope on Pat’s Pool, but there were some other waders on here. We counted 9 Little Stints in one little group, all juveniles, and a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper with them. There have been unusually large numbers of Little Stints here at Cley in the last week or so, up to 40 at one point. Presumably it was a good breeding season for them up in the arctic. Even today, they outnumbered the Dunlin on Pat’s Pool!

Little StintsLittle Stints – 5 of the 9 on Pat’s Pool today

It was perhaps surprising there were any waders on here at this point. One of the group noticed a female Marsh Harrier lurking half-hidden in the reeds on one of the islands out in the middle of the scrape. Normally the Marsh Harriers tend to spook all the waders as they fly over, so we were not sure if they didn’t see her there or were not so afraid of her when she was on the ground.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – lurking on one of the islands in the middle of Pat’s Pool

It was already lunchtime, so we decided to get something to eat and see if any news surfaced on the current whereabouts of the Grey Phalarope. We could have another look for it ourselves afterwards. So while the group walked the short distance along to the visitor centre, the leader went to pick up the car from Walsey Hills. Only half way there, news came through that the Grey Phalarope was back on the pools off the East Bank. Having picked up the car and driven to the visitor centre, the group were in agreement – we should go to try to see the Grey Phalarope before we stopped to eat.

This time we managed to park at the East Bank and we walked straight out. The Grey Phalarope was on show as we arrived, swimming around on a small pool, in and out of the reeds along the edge. Our second phalarope species of the day!

Grey PhalaropeGrey Phalarope – our second phalarope species of the day

The Grey Phalarope was rather similar to the Red-necked Phalarope we had seen earlier, swimming around in a similar fashion. However, it was noticeably slightly chunkier and particularly heavier billed. Although it too was born this summer, it was more advanced in its moult, having already moulted its mantle and scapulars to grey first winter feathers.

We stopped on the bank for a while to have a look at Pope’s Marsh. There were lots of Greylag Geese and ducks around the Serpentine, and a careful look through revealed at least six Pintail. They were all in female or dull eclipse plumage, so not looking their best and not so easy to pick out at this time of year.

Their loud yelping calls alerted us to a couple of thousand Pink-footed Geese which came up from the fields up on the ridge behind Walsey Hills. Some headed out onto the reserve but a large group landed down on the grazing marsh behind the Serpentine, where we could get a good look at them through the scope.

Pink-footed Geese 2Pink-footed Geese – some of the birds landed on the grazing marsh

We were very pleased with our decision to come straight out for the Grey Phalarope, but it was now definitely time to get something to eat, so we headed back to the visitor centre for a rather later than planned lunch. While we were eating, a helicopter flew low over the north side of the reserve, flushing all the geese and ducks from the Eye Field and Billy’s Wash. We looked over to see it was the same one we had seen flushing all the birds from Stiffkey Fen earlier, and it appeared to be just a charter helicopter, not an emergency or survey aircraft. Surely there was no need to fly low up and down the coast like this, flushing all the birds from several conservation areas? Was this just irresponsible flying?

Annoying helicopterHelicopter – flying low up and down the coast today over several reserves

After lunch, we headed round to the beach. We had a quick look at the sea, but it seemed to be fairly quiet, just a few Gannets in the distance. There were a few people seawatching by the beach shelter and someone shouted ‘large shearwaters’. We quickly looked across to see just two dark juvenile Gannets flying past. A single Red-throated Diver flew past too, and a couple of lone Teal and Wigeon, presumably just odd birds returning from the continent for the winter.

We made our way along the beach to have a look out at North Scrape. When we arrived, there were several waders right at the front – mostly Ruff, but a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was with them. We had a good view of it through the scope, before the waders all flew a little bit further back.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper & Ruff – feeding on the mud on North Scrape

Scanning the rest of the birds on the scrape more carefully then, we found another two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers further over. Otherwise, it was mostly ducks on here – lots of Wigeon and Teal and a few Shelduck. There were several more Ruff hiding in with them.

As we made our way back along the beach to the car park, a line of sixteen Brent Geese flew past over the sea, more fresh arrivals coming back from Russia for the winter. A group of small waders flew in off the sea too, three Ringed Plover and a single Dunlin.

It had been forecast to rain earlier in the afternoon, but had held off until now. However, as we got back to the car, it started to spit with rain. It was not too hard and it eased off again as we made our way back west to Warham. We parked and walked down along one of the lanes towards the saltmarsh. The wind had picked up and it started to rain again. The hedges and fields along the lane were very quiet.

When we got out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, it was rather exposed. There was not much immediately in view – just a few Brent Geese, Curlews and Little Egrets. A quick scan revealed a flock of Golden Plover hunkered down out in the middle, very well camouflaged against the saltmarsh vegetation. Time was getting on now anyway and we had enjoyed a good day, so we decided to call it and head back to the warm and dry.

21st January 2016 – Winter Rarity Hunting

A Private Tour today. The mission was somewhat different to normal tours – with a concerted effort to find some of the lingering rarities which are around North Norfolk at the moment, as well as catching up with some of our scarcer wintering species. It was going to be an all action day!

It dawned very frosty and with a bit of lingering fog, although the sun was already doing its best to burn that off. We met in Wells and, after a quick look in the harbour on the way which didn’t produce anything noteworthy today, we made our way along to Holkham where we pulled in just off the road to scan the grazing marshes below.

We quickly located a good selection of geese. A long line of birds on the frozen grass beyond the hedge revealed themselves to be mostly White-fronted Geese, with an obvious white blaze around the base of their all-pink bills and orange legs. In with them, was a small group of Pink-footed Geese, very dark-headed with pink legs and a small, mostly dark bill with a pink band around it. There were also plenty of Greylag Geese too, much larger and paler with a large orange carrot of a bill, and a pair of Egyptian Geese.

IMG_5352White-fronted Geese – out on the frozen grass at Holkham

We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling and see odd groups flying back and forth in front of the pines, but it was only when we moved so that we could see round past the hedge and look out further over on the freshmarsh, that we could see just how many were out there.  Thousands of birds were huddled together out on the grass and around the frozen pools. The Pink-footed Geese roost on the marshes here and would normally fly inland to feed during the day, but perhaps the lingering fog and frost had caused them to stay this morning. They were quite a sight!

A careful scan of the marshes and a white shape was just visible half-hidden in the reeds towards the back. When it put its neck up, we could see through the scope that it was the Great White Egret that has been hanging around here for several months. It was hard to see well in the reeds, but thankfully it flew, first to a small area of marsh nearby and then across and into the trees where it perched on a branch in full view.

IMG_5353Great White Egret – flew up into the trees where it was easier to see

That was a great way to start, then we carried on west along the coast. With the remains of the fog burning off slowly, we made another stop at Brancaster Staithe to have a quick look in the harbour. A smart drake Red-breasted Merganser and a pair of Goldeneye were diving in the harbour channel. A little posse of Brent Geese were chattering noisily from the water’s edge, before flying off over the saltmarsh to feed.

P1150205Brent Geese – gathering in the harbour channel

There was a nice selection of waders on view here too. A group of Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers were roosting on the edge of the water, with a Curlew standing head and shoulders above them. Nearby, a Black-tailed Godwit gave a good opportunity to go through the key differences from the Bar-taileds. A couple of Grey Plovers were higher up on the mud. Where someone had hauled up and washed a load of Brancaster mussels, two Turnstones were picking around in the debris. Down on the sandbars in the channel, we could see several Redshanks but a Greenshank unfortunately only flew up briefly as a Marsh Harrier passed overhead, before dropping down out of sight again.

IMG_5365Bar-tailed Godwits & Oystercatchers – roosting in the harbour

The sun was now starting to come through more strongly, burning off the mist, so we decided to have a drive round via Choseley to see if we could find the Rough-legged Buzzard. Driving along the lane, we spotted a harrier working its way low along a hedge beyond, into the sun from us. It looked slim-built so we tried to catch up with it. As it dropped ahead of us along the side of the road, we got a flash of a white rump patch and it landed briefly, before continuing its journey east across the fields. We could confirm it was a Hen Harrier, a ringtail, working the hedges.

Scanning the hedges all around, we could see our first Buzzard but it was clearly too dark, a Common Buzzard. Over the other side of the road, two more Common Buzzards were perched up in the morning sun, and away in the distance beyond we could see yet another. They were all out warming up in the sunshine, but try as we might we could not find a Rough-legged Buzzard doing the same. We drove round to the corner south of the drying barns, were a couple of cars were just leaving. When we asked what they had seen, we were told they had been watching the Rough-legged Buzzard and, even better, it was still in view. Unfortunately, a quick look confirmed it was actually another Common Buzzard, looking rather pale-breasted in the morning sunshine, but not like a Rough-legged Buzzard should. We had a quick and unsuccessful drive round some of the Rough-legged Buzzard’s other favourite haunts and then decided to move on.

We had a particular request to try for the Pallid Harrier today, which has been gracing various sites around Norfolk since we first saw it back in mid-November. In recent weeks it has been seen inland, around the village of Flitcham, but it typically only makes intermittent flights over the fields here, before disappearing off to hunt elsewhere.

We arrived and stationed ourselves at one end of the fields where a small group were scanning the thick hedge and cover strip in front. There were lots of Chaffinches flying up and down from the field to the hedge and in with them we could see a few Bramblings. Three Yellowhammers flew into the hedge as well and perched up so we could get them in the scope. We could hear Tree Sparrows calling as well. The Pallid Harrier had made a pass over the stubble field here about twenty minutes before we arrived, so we waited hopefully for it to return.

Thankfully we hadn’t been waiting very long when we got a surprise. There were others looking out over the fields a short way further along the road, but they hadn’t shouted anything across to us. It was only when a minibus pulled up alongside that we were kindly informed that the Pallid Harrier was actually being watched in a tree over there! We hastened down and sure enough, there it stood. We got a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_5369Pallid Harrier – perched up in a tree at Flitcham

We were just making our way a little further along to join the crowd there for a closer view when it became clear it had taken off – apparently, someone had got a little too enthusiastic and had tried to go into the field, so scaring it off. Very helpful! It disappeared off over the fields beyond, so we had a quick look to see if it would loop round and do a circuit over the stubble again, but there was no sign of it. We had a number of other things we wanted to see today, and with our main target here achieved, we decided to move on.

As we walked along the road, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling again and when all the finches flew up into the hedge from the weedy strip beyond, we got a good view of a Tree Sparrow right in front of us. Historically a common farmland bird here, they are now getting very scarce and it is always nice to catch up with them. There were also lots of Bramblings in the hedge here too.

P1150210Brambling – lots were in the hedges at Flitcham

We made our way back towards the coast, and dropped down towards Titchwell via Choseley. We pulled up to talk to another birder in the layby where we had been earlier and were told the Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported again about half an hour earlier. A quick scan and there it was, perched in a tree in the distance. It really stood out with its striking pale head and contrasting black belly patch, very unlike the Common Buzzards we had seen earlier.

IMG_5375Rough-legged Buzzard – flashing its black-banded white tail in flight

We had a quick look through the scope, then drove round to get a better look. The Rough-legged Buzzard was still perched in the tree across the field in front of us, watching us. Then suddenly it dropped down and flew a short distance across the field, flashing its distinctive mostly white tail as it did so, before flying up into another tree. When it landed we could see why – it had joined another Rough-legged Buzzard which was already sitting there. Two Rough-legged Buzzards for the price of one! We had a fantastic view of them in the scope. In the end we had to tear ourselves away.

IMG_5389Rough-legged Buzzards – two sat in a tree together!

We had originally thought we might have a look at Titchwell, but a discussion about some of the other good birds along the coast led to a change of plan. With our luck running, we had seen most of the birds we had hoped to catch up with quite quickly, so we had time to play with. We hopped in the car and headed back east, all the way to Cley.

There has been a Grey Phalarope in the area for several days now and it had been showing this morning from the new Babcock Hide on what used to be Pope’s Marsh. We made our way out to the hide and as soon as we got in there, we could see everyone looking at the mud below. There was the Grey Phalarope, right in front of the hide. Stunning views!

P1150282Grey Phalarope – right in front of Babcock Hide

Grey Phalaropes are more often to be seen swimming, twirling in circles to stir up the water and picking for food brought to the surface, or even out on the sea. They are mostly pelagic in the winter, surviving out in the Atlantic, generally only forced in by adverse weather. This one had presumably been blown inshore by the storms we had last week, and had come in to feed up on the marshes.

The water levels have gone down on Watling Water, the new pool in front of Babacock Hide, for the first time. There was a great selection of other waders out on the exposed mud. There were lots of Dunlin, with three larger Knot in with them, down by the water’s edge – a good chance to see the two alongside. A good number of Ruff were feeding higher up the mud, along with a few Redshank. Around the edges of the islands, we could see a few Snipe, well camouflaged against the reeds.

There were several Pied Wagtails around the drier margins of the mud, along with a number of Meadow Pipits. Then, from behind one of the islands, a Water Pipit appeared with them. Larger than the Meadow Pipits, greyer brown and less streaked above and plainer, whiter below.

IMG_5399Water Pipit – feeding around the edge of Watling Water

Having seen what we wanted to see so quickly, and so well, we had time to try something else. We drove further along the coast to Weybourne to look for the flock of Redpolls which has been feeding in the fields here for some weeks now. However, the field was harvested a week or so back and when we arrived the few remaining weeds were quiet. We walked up and down the road briefly, but all we could find was a Grey Wagtail which flew up and landed on the wires above briefly. It seemed like our luck had finally run out.

We were just packing up to leave when a flock of about 20 small finches flew in and circled overhead, before dropping down and landing in the hedge nearby. They were Redpolls and we could just see around half of them perched in the top. They were mostly face on to us and several were clearly rather brown around the cheeks and even washed onto the upper breast, Lesser Redpolls. One was clearly different, very frosty around the cheeks and breast, contrasting strongly with the black chin and red ‘poll’, with no brown tones on the underparts and bolder black streaks on the flanks – this was a Mealy Redpoll. Another bird hopped up from lower down in the hedge, and perched back on. It was less distinctive than the first from this angle, but still had a grey (rather than brown) face and looked a rather cold grey brown above with a distinctive pale rump streaked through with black – another Mealy Redpoll.

Unfortunately, they didn’t stop long and flew off strongly west over the field. Still, we couldn’t believe our luck that they should just drop in for us like that. We wanted to end the day at the raptor roost, but we still had a little time to play with, so we drove back to Cley and stopped at the Visitor Centre.

A Red-necked Grebe has been around the reserve for the last few days and was reported from Pat’s Pool today – supposedly visible from the Visitor Centre. We had a quick scan from the car park, but couldn’t see it anywhere around the open water. With the water levels very high, four Avocets were huddled together on the edge of one of the few remaining islands. We decided to pop into the Visitor Centre and get a hot drink to go and use the facilities quickly. While we were waiting, the Red-necked Grebe suddenly appeared close to the bank, wrestling with a small fish. It was distant, but we could see it clearly through the scope.

IMG_5402Red-necked Grebe – a record shot, on Pat’s Pool today

It disappeared again, then as we returned to the car we could see it further out on the water, diving. We got a better look at it from the car park and it quickly became clear why it was hiding close to the edge. It caught another fish and immediately a Black-headed Gull flew over and started to harass it. The Red-necked Grebe dived, but when it resurfaced half way to the bank, the gull was after it again. This happened three times, before the Red-necked Grebe got over to the bank and finally swallowed its catch.

We finished the day at Warham Greens. There was a nice flock of Linnets and Yellowhammers in the hedge of the walk down to the front, with the odd Reed Bunting in with them. When we arrived, one of the first birds we saw was a Barn Owl which was hunting up and down over the rough grass on the edge of the saltmarsh.

P1150355Barn Owl – hunting along the front at Warham Greens

We had really come for the raptors. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the back of the saltmarsh and a single ringtail Hen Harrier drifted in from the east, further back. In the end we saw 2-3 ringtail Hen Harriers, one flying closer across the saltmarsh and away inland, presumably for some last hunting, and another perched preening out in front of us. Then we picked up a Peregrine standing on a sandbar out on the beach. We just needed a Merlin to complete the set here and a careful scan of the saltmarsh eventually produced its reward, with one perched on the top of a bush. Then we decided to head back.

What a day! Pallid Harrier, two Rough-legged Buzzards, Grey Phalarope, Great White Egret, Red-necked Grebe, Water Pipit, Mealy Redpoll, plus a host of other good raptors, waders, geese, ducks and farmland birds. There aren’t many places you could see all of those – welcome to Norfolk in winter.

31st October 2014 – Late Migrants on the Coast

It was great to get out on tour again on the North Norfolk coast today. We spent the day in the Cley area, looking for late migrants and spending some time watching the winter wildfowl and waders. The Brent Geese are still arriving for the winter – we saw lots of small groups coming in off the sea. However, there was already a nice flock in the Eye Field and it was good to see plenty of young birds.

P1090425Brent Geese – lots of family parties were in the Eye Field

Our first stop was North Scrape, where we quickly located the three Grey Phalaropes. One of them showed well, swirling round in circles on the water, picking at the surface and swimming around amongst the massed throngs of wildfowl. While we were sitting there, lots of migrants were arriving from the continent for the winter. Flocks of thrushes were flying in off the sea and overhead – Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and a single Mistle Thrush. Small numbers of Starlings were also seen coming in, and small flocks were moving west along the coast all day, along with a steady stream of Chaffinches. A Brambling dropped in with the Goldfinches and Linnets feeding by the beach, along with lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and a pair of Stonechats, the first of several we came across today.

P1090416Stonechat – we saw several of these charismatic birds along the coast

On our way back to the car park, we stopped to watch a flock of Golden Plover. Initially asleep, they were spooked by a couple of crows and swirled round in front of us before dropping back into the grass. While we were standing there, a single Woodcock flew in over the beach and right past us, disappearing over the reserve.

P1090419Golden Plover – sleeping in the Eye Field

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the reserve. Lots of wildfowl are now gathering on the scrapes – especially Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall. There were still several other waders around, including a few Avocets, Ruff and lots of Black-tailed Godwits. The Marsh Harriers eventually put on a good show, with the highlight being four birds circling together over Pope’s Marsh.

In the afternoon, we explored the coast to the east. At Walsey Hills, we couldn’t find the reported Yellow-browed Warbler but did see a male Blackcap gorging himself on late autumn berries. Wherever we went, there were freshly arrived Blackbirds and Song Thrushes in the hedgerows. A Bullfinch called ahead of us but wouldn’t come out. However, two treats were still awaiting us. Down by the beach, a flock of finches flew away from us. Expecting them to be the usual Linnets, a characteristic buzzing ‘tveeet’ alerted us to the presence of Twite. When we finally tracked them down, there were at least 27 Twite, with a much smaller number of Linnets alongside, a real treat as they have become very scarce in recent winters.

IMG_1750Twite – we came across a flock of at least 27 along the coast

On the pools behind the beach we were alerted to the presence of Purple Sandpiper – thankfully, as it appeared to be particularly tame and we could easily have walked straight past it! A lovely way to end the day, in the evening glow.

P1090490Purple Sandpiper – a very tame bird!

P1090429Common Darter – lots of these were still out in the sunshine today