Tag Archives: Grey Wagtail

24th September 2015 – Inland Birding

Day 2 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With few new migrants appearing on the coast yesterday, we decided to head inland to try for something different. After heavy rain overnight, it had pretty much cleared through by the morning, though was still cloudy and a bit damp at first. It brightened up nicely during the day, but was still cool in the blustery west wind.

We drove down to the Wensum Valley first. There had been an Osprey here for some days previously, stopping off on its way south to Africa, and we thought it might be a nice way to start the day today. It has been roaming up and down the river, visiting various fishing lakes. Unfortunately there was no sign of it at its favourite site, or any of its usual haunts. A Common Buzzard sat in the tree overlooking the lakes. Behind us, a Kestrel perched in the top of a hawthorn eyeing us curiously.

IMG_1118Kestrel – not the Osprey we had hoped to see this morning

Still, there were lots of other birds to see here. A Kingfisher zipped back and forth across the lake in front of us. A Grey Wagtail flew over – its very sharp call and, once we then saw it, its bounding flight and very long tail gave it away. A short while later, two Grey Wagtails flew back the other way, right over our heads. There were Siskin here as well – part of the huge influx we have seen in recent weeks. A party of twelve flew in calling and landed in the ash tree right in front of us, dropping down to an alder by the lakes, before flying off again.

Three Stock Doves perched up on the wires. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting the differences from Woodpigeon – the smaller size, lack of a white neck patch and the glossy green there instead, the black spots in the wings. A flock of Golden Plover circled up distantly above the fields beyond. A few lingering Swallows and House Martins flew over.

There was no shortage of Egyptian Geese here. When we arrived, two were in the Osprey’s favourite dead tree, and they stayed there pretty much throughout. Another very noisy party of eight flew in along the river. It was lovely down by the lakes this morning, but it gradually became clear that there had been no sign of the Osprey all morning. We decided to head on inland.

P1090699Egyptian Geese – flashing their white wing panels as they flew over

From there, we made our way down into the Brecks. The region is well known for the Stone Curlews which breed here and early autumn is a good time to look for large post-breeding flocks which gather in favoured fields at this time of year. We tried one of the best sites for them but unfortunately there was lots of disturbance today, people working in the fields and lots of tractors driving back and forth. We drove around the area to see if we could find them at any other sites, but there was no sign. We did see lots of other farmland birds – big flocks of corvids around the pig fields, coveys of both Grey Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, both flushed by tractors in the fields, flocks of finches and lots of Pied Wagtails.

With the morning getting on, we decided to head further into the Brecks to Lynford Arboretum to try to add some woodland birds to the list. We walked round the top part of the arboretum before lunch. There were lots of birds, but they were hard to see at times in the tops of the trees. It was rather windy and they were keeping to cover today. Coal Tits outnumbered the rest, with little groups feeding in the fir trees, plus Blue and Great Tits. We also saw several Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a couple of Nuthatches.

After lunch, we walked further into the arboretum, down to the lake. There was a Marsh Tit calling as we reached the bridge, but it disappeared into the trees as we walked up. We tried the woodland walk to see if we could find it again, but as we got back to the bridge it was there again, calling. It was particularly windy by the lake and all the birds were proving hard to see. We walked back up through the arboretum again, seeing much the same as we had earlier. We had to get ourselves back up to the coast to finish, but with the report of a Barred Warbler at Kelling and “showing well”, we decided to head that way earlier than planned to try to see it.

The walk along the lane was fairly quiet today – obviously lots of people had been up and down there already. A few Chaffinches were in the hedges. There were still several butterflies out in the sunshine – Speckled Woods and Red Admirals. We had seen a single Southern Hawker among the trees in the car park at Lynford Arboretum over lunch, but most of the dragonflies out today were Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. While we were walking down the lane at Kelling a single Migrant Hawker landed on the brambles & nettles along the path, giving us a great opportunity to admire it up close.

P1090718Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sun along the lane at Kelling

Out on the water meadow, we could see the regular pair of Egyptian Geese and a smattering of duck – several Teal and three Shoveler, the latter with their heads down constantly in the water, feeding. A lone Curlew was probing in the grass on the edge. A Little Egret was fishing along the north side and a single Grey Heron sat preening in the sunshine in the reeds along the drainage channel on the Quags.

IMG_1130Stonechat – one of the males down at the water meadow

The Barred Warbler had been seen along the hedge between the path and the water meadow, but there had been no further sign of it for a couple of hours by the time we got there. With all the disturbance up and down the lane, it had presumably hidden itself in cover. A party of Stonechat were feeding around the Quags – at least four, two males and two females.  They were very active, flying back and forth between vantage points, dropping down to the ground after prey or flycatching up into the air. It was hard to keep up with them. There were also lots of Linnet and Goldfinch around the Quags.

P1090734Stonechat – a female perched on the dead thistle head along the lane

It was lovely down by the water meadow in the afternoon sunshine, so we stood for a while just in case the main target might show itself again. Lines of gulls were making their way west overhead, presumably heading off to roost, and a few Black-headed Gulls dropped in to bathe. Finally we were out of time and had to make our way back. A Great Spotted Woodpecker perched in the top of one of the fir trees back by the main road, calling, as we left.

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27th February 2015 – Owls & Other Fowl

Today was originally billed as a Winter Tour in North Norfolk, but by special request, we added in a smidgeon of Owls as well – we just can’t get enough of them.

We started by heading inland, looking for Little Owls. Despite the gloriously sunny morning, which would normally be heaven for sunbathing owls, it began to feel like it wasn’t going to be our day. At our first stop, often the most reliable site, a dog walker was just passing as we arrived and the owls had disappeared. We eventually located one at the very back of the barns, but there was too much haze even to see it properly today. In addition, the stubble field which we have enjoyed so much over the winter, with all its Curlews and Brown Hares, had been ploughed during the week, so was now empty. We moved swiftly on.

P1110953Pied Wagtail – we came across a little group on the edge of a field…

Meandering our way west, we came across a little group of at least 10 Pied Wagtails. They were feeding around the piles of spoil on the edge of a field where sugar beet had been loaded, the ground churned up, with lots of rainwater-filled ruts. As we pulled up to admire them, a single Grey Wagtail appeared in their midst. An uncommon bird in this part of the world at the best of times, it was a nice surprise to see one out here in the middle of nowhere. There were also a couple of Meadow Pipits and a little group of Linnets with the wagtails – clearly taking advantage of a feeding opportunity.

P1110955Grey Wagtail – …was a surprise find amongst them

Further on, we came across a nice mixed flock of Fieldfare, Redwing and Starling feeding in a field of stubble. They were very easily spooked, flying up into the trees along the hedge line at any perceived sign of trouble, before dropping back down again shortly afterwards. Nearby, on the verge, we surprised a lovely pair of Grey Partridge right by the road, which moved away from us stealthily into the vegetation. However, despite the sunshine, we were having no luck with Little Owls. We stopped at several old barns and large oak trees which on other days might have provided us with one or two, but for whatever reason they were not there today.

We were about to give up, but we had one last site to try. We pulled up in view of the barns and there stood not one, but two Little Owls basking in the morning sun! We got a really good look at them, while they were looking at us, heads bobbing up and down (theirs, not ours!) as they did so. Real characters.

P1110965Little Owl – one of the two catching the sun here this morning

From there we headed up to Titchwell. On the way, we stopped to admire a field full of Brown Hares. There were at least ten in one large block of winter wheat today, chasing each other round, but no boxing while we were there. As we climbed out of the car at Titchwell, a Red Kite flew overhead, west over the car park. It stopped to circle over the trees, before heading off along the coast.

It may only be February, but birds are on the move already. Some of our winter visitors are already leaving (or have left!), and others are gathering in sight of the coast, staging, in anticipation of making the journey further north. A lot of the Pink-footed Geese have already departed, but there were small groups flying west along the coast all day today. They are probably heading up to Scotland now, where they will stop for a while before making the journey onwards to Iceland to breed.

P1110973Pink-footed Goose – small groups were moving overhead all day today

As usual, the reserve at Titchwell provided the opportunity to observe an excellent selection of waders. The drained grazing marsh pool held a Ringed Plover and a couple of Redshank, and a small group of Dunlin flew in just as we moved on. There was a nice group of Avocet out on the freshmarsh, though they were roosting with their feet wet, given the continued high water levels.

P1110979Avocet – roosting on the still-flooded freshmarsh

The few remaining small bits of island still showing above the flood also held a few Dunlin, plus several Lapwing, a Turnstone and a Grey Plover. However, the Volunteer Marsh had more variety – more of the same, plus Oystercatcher, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, several Knot. A Spotted Redshank flew over calling, but unfortunately didn’t drop in. On the tidal pools, we added Bar-tailed Godwit. Out on the beach, a little group of Sanderling were chasing in and out of the waves as they broke on the sand. As we walked back later, a single Greenshank had dropped in to the Volunteer Marsh on the rising tide and fed along the edge of one of the channels.

P1110984Black-tailed Godwit – there was a great selection of waders at Titchwell today

There was also a good selection of wildfowl to be seen. Out on the freshmarsh, the ducks and geese were enjoying the raised water levels. A large flock of Brent Geese had flown in from the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. Numbers of ducks were down on recent weeks, but there were still plenty of Teal, plus a smattering of Wigeon and Shoveler and a handful of Gadwall. There were several Pintail as well, although they were hiding at the back  – we got better views of a small group a little further along, out on the tidal pools. The reedbed pool held a few Pochard and Tufted Duck.

P1110993Teal – a stunning male, feeding in the mud on the Volunteer Marsh

There were fewer ducks as well out on the sea than in recent weeks. There was still a decent raft of Common Scoter and a few Goldeneye, but we couldn’t find anything else today. A Red-throated Diver flew past and a Great Crested Grebe was diving further out.

The feeders around the Visitor Centre are always alive with tits and finches. We stopped to scan them and a burst of twittering song from the alders nearby caught our attention. After a little bit of searching, we located the source – a couple of very smart male Siskin. Then it was back to the car for lunch, to the sound of the Bullfinches calling from the sallows and with little groups of Golden Plover passing west overhead.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Burnham Overy. As soon as we got out of the car, a Barn Owl floated silently over the road beside us and started to hunt along the grassy margin of the field opposite. Great to watch and a sign of things to come!

P1120006Little Egret – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels on the falling tide

As usual, the grazing marshes on the walk out were alive with waders. The large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover were whirling round all the time, seemingly spooked by any sudden movement overhead, friend or foe. There were lots of Curlew and, in amongst them, we found a couple of much smaller Ruff. The flooded dips in the grass were ringed with little groups of diminutive Dunlin. Once we got up onto the seawall, there were even more waders out on the saltmarsh.

There were still plenty of geese out on the grazing marshes, but the numbers now are dominated by Brent Geese. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have departed already, but still some small groups remained out on the grass. As we had seen in the morning, more Pinkfeet were still heading west overhead.

Suddenly all the birds behind us took off, the large flocks of Wigeon particularly noisily. We looked round just in time to see a sleek, streamlined shape powering towards us. A small, male Peregrine shot through, down over the reeds and low across the grass towards the Golden Plover flock by the dunes, scattering everything as it went. Interestingly, on our walk back later we were to see exactly the same thing again – it has obviously identified a lucrative food source out on the marshes here.

That was not the only raptor to be seen here. As well as several Marsh Harriers and Kestrels, it didn’t take us long to locate one of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzards, out on one of its favoured posts across the other side of the grazing marshes. A pale Common Buzzard perched on a nearby post provided a useful highlight of the pitfall of Rough-legged Buzzard identification – the Common Buzzard being strikingly creamy-white on head and underparts, but clearly lacking the contrasting black belly patch of its rarer cousin. While we were scanning the marshes, the second Rough-legged Buzzard appeared over the pines and dropped down to land in the dunes, its very pale head and dark belly standing out even at a distance. We walked over into the dunes to get a better look at it through the scope.

IMG_2910Rough-legged Buzzard – one of two today, this one perched up in the dunes

However, the afternoon really belonged to the owls. Holkham and Burnham Overy are often good for Barn Owl, but we had an amazing performance from them today. After the one we had seen on arrival, we picked up a couple more distantly from the seawall, looking towards the pines. Then one appeared in front of us and proceeded to hunt over the seawall itself, where it dropped down suddenly into the grass. The local Kestrel came over for a look and landed a couple of metres away, where the two engaged in a stare-off. As the Barn Owl took off again, we could see it had caught a vole. The Kestrel wouldn’t leave it alone and set off in pursuit, swooping down at it until the Barn Owl dropped into the reeds. The Kestrel then gave up and when the Owl reappeared the vole had gone – hopefully eaten!

P1110998P1120002Barn Owl – there were at least six hunting over the grazing marsh today

There were so many Barn Owls, it was hard to count them all properly. There were at least six in view at one time, so probably more in total out hunting. Eventually the Short-eared Owl appeared – bigger, longer-winged, and better camouflaged than its smaller cousins. It was hunting a bit further over, towards the pines today, but we got great views of it through the scope, quartering back and forth on its stiff wings. From out in the dunes, we could see it hiding in the grass, looking round furtively all the time, its yellow irises flashing in the late afternoon sunlight.

As the light started to fade, we walked back, stopping to admire the view across the saltmarsh as the sun descended to the west. Another great day of winter birding, with a very respectable list of around 90 species for the day, as well as plenty of owls. Not bad!

P1120016Burnham Overy – the sun going down over the saltmarsh