Tag Archives: Holkham

22nd Nov 2017 – Winter Specials

A Private Tour today. Rather than a general day of birding, we had a list of target species which we would be looking for, as well as trying to see various other birds on the way. It was a dry day, bright at times, but with a very blustery SW wind which at least had the benefit of being rather mild. A daytime peak of 15.5C is warm for this time of year, though it didn’t always feel like it in the wind!

Our first target was Lapland Bunting. There have been a few in recent weeks in the fields along the coastal cliffs at Weybourne, so we headed over there to start the day. As we walked down the lane, there were a couple of Blackbirds and Robins in the sparse hedges, possibly recent arrivals from the continent for the winter. There had apparently been one or two Lapland Buntings in the clifftop grass earlier, but there were several dogwalkers strolling up and down there now, so we concentrated on the field instead.

Most of the birds were hard to see out in the stubble in the middle of the field at first, and all we saw was occasional groups of birds flying round before landing back down out of view, mainly Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Then the first Lapland Bunting appeared with a group of Skylarks. It was very hard to get onto in flight though and landed back down out in the middle. The birds were very skittish in the wind and we were treated to several more brief flight views of Lapland Buntings over the next few minutes as we waited. We could just hear their distinctive flight calls as they flew round, over the wind.

When an RAF jet came low overhead, all the birds flushed from the middle of the field and it was amazing how many were out there. There were lots of Linnets, in one or two large flocks, plus more Skylarks than we might have thought, watching from the side of the field.

There is a more open area of bare mud close to the side of the field and gradually birds started to land on or around it. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks at first, but then two Yellowhammers flew in too, catching the morning sun. Eventually a Lapland Bunting dropped in, landing in the stubble just beyond the bare patch. We got it in the scope and could just see it creeping around in the stubble, noticeably different from all the other birds we had seen here.

Unfortunately, not all the group managed to see the Lapland Bunting before it flew off again. There were a few other birds to see here too though, particularly a large flock of Pink-footed Geese which must have been feeding or loafing in the fields over towards Sheringham Park. When they were disturbed by one of the passes by the RAF jet, they all flew up calling.

Pink-footed Geese 1Pink-footed Geese – flushed from the fields towards Sheringham Park

One of the Lapland Buntings appeared to land further over, along the other edge of the field, so we walked round to see if we could pick it up from that side. Unfortunately, as we got round there, a dogwalker walked up along the grassy strip on the edge of the field. They then proceeded to walk out into the field along the edge of the stubble, and all the birds flushed and landed back down in the middle.

We made our way back to the gate where we had been earlier and fortunately, some of the birds started to drift back towards that corner. Another Lapland Bunting dropped down into the stubble behind the bare patch and again we managed to get it in the scope, where it was possible to see it creeping around in the stubble. Then a tractor drove up the lane with a flail, to cut the margins of the field. The driver stopped to open the gate and asked us what we were looking at, then very kindly offering to start on the far side of the field so as to minimise the disturbance. We figured this would be a good moment to move on.

Our next stop was at Kelling. There were not many birds in the lane this morning, just a few Blackbirds and Chaffinches, so we walked straight down to the Water Meadow. There were a few birds around the pool – a handful of Teal feeding along the back edge and several Black-tailed Godwits out in the middle, probing into the water with their long bills.

The Spotted Redshank was on the edge of the vegetation on the north edge, where it likes to feed. We stopped for a quick look from the other side, then made our way round for a closer look. Unfortunately, before we could get there, something spooked it and it flew further out and landed on the muddy edge. A juvenile Ruff flew in to join it and a Common Redshank too.

The Spotted Redshank and the Common Redshank fed together on the edge of the water for a few minutes, given us a great side by side comparison in the scope. The Spotted Redshank was a little bigger, longer legged and noticeably paler, more silvery grey above and whiter below. We could also see its much longer, finer bill. The Spotted Redshank is a first winter, we could see its darker wing coverts and tertials. It has been lingering here for several weeks now and looks like it may stay for the winter.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – lingering on the pool at Kelling Water Meadow

Then the Spotted Redshank went to sleep on the edge of the water. We had a quick look for any Jack Snipe around the edge of the pool, but the water level has risen here after the recent rain. The area where they had been roosting is now rather wet and none have been seen since last weekend. We decided not to linger here and moved on.

As we wound our way west along the coast road, we came across a field chock full of Pink-footed Geese. The sugar beet here was harvested a couple of weeks ago now, but still the geese are coming in to feed on the tops left behind by the harvester. We found a convenient layby to pull in for a closer look and there were well over a thousand geese in view and more out of sight in the field. We could see the pink legs and feet on the closest birds as they picked around in the field beside us, as well as their dark heads and delicate bills with a pink band.

Pink-footed Geese 2Pink-footed Geese – feeding in the harvested field by the coast road

With a little bit of time still before lunch, we headed round to Cley. There has been a Black Brant with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese here for several weeks now and in recent days it has been feeding in the Eye Field. As we drove up the Beach Road, we could see lots of Brent Geese feeding out in the grass, but even as we pulled up, small groups were flying off towards the reserve, presumably for a drink and a bathe.

Apparently, the Black Brant had been seen here earlier but there was no sign of it now. We had a good look through at the Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Just behind them, a large flock of Golden Plover were catching the sunshine.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese & Golden Plover – in the Eye Field

With the likelihood that the geese which had flown onto the reserve would return to resume feeding later, we decided to go off and have something to eat ourselves, before coming back for another look. It was rather breezy round at the visitor centre, but we still managed to make use of the picnic tables, as well as enjoying a hot drink from the cafe.

A few Ruff flew up from the reserve and headed off inland over the car park to feed in the fields inland. Something flushed all the Golden Plover from the Eye Field. We could see them whirling around in the distance, before they too flew over us in a series of small groups and headed off inland.

After lunch, we made our way back round to the Eye Field. This time, we quickly located the Black Brant feeding in amongst all the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. In the early afternoon sun, its more solid and cleaner white flank patch really stood out compared to the more muted flank patches on the other geese. Through the scope, we could also see its darker body plumage and more strongly marked white neck collar, complete under the chin and extending further round the sides towards the back of the neck.

Black BrantBlack Brant – with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the Eye Field

The wind was really quite gusty now. A Stonechat appeared close by, landing on the top a gorse bush just the other side of the West Bank from the Beach Road. A male, with a black face, it struggled to remain there in the wind.

StonechatStonechat – struggled to perch on the gorse in the wind

There did not appear to be much out on the reserve today, so we continued on our way west. White-fronted Goose was a particular target for the day, so we headed over to Holkham next. There are still only a very few White-fronted Geese in for the winter here yet, but we parked up overlooking the grazing marshes and started to scan.

At first, all we could see were lots of Greylag Geese down on the grazing marshes in front of us. There were a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. Thankfully it didn’t take us too long to find some White-fronted Geese, although they were a little further over today and tucked in beyond some trees.

Initially, we located a family group of four White-fronted Geese which we got in the scope. We could see the white surround to the base of the bills of the adults catching the sun. They were in the longer grass and mostly sitting down though, so it was hard to see any other details. Fortunately, we then found another pair further round and repositioning ourselves we could get a clear view. These White-fronted Geese were on shorter grass and we could see their distinctive black belly bars.

Red KiteRed Kite – catching the afternoon sun

There was a nice selection of raptors out at Holkham this afternoon too. As usual, we could see several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards. A single Red Kite flew low over the freshmarsh, landing down on the grass for a few minutes before flying off towards the Park. It really shone rusty red in the afternoon sun. A Kestrel flew in and landed in the tree in front of us. The Sparrowhawk was slightly less obliging, flying up out of the same trees just as the gusty wind blew a blizzard of beech leaves out of the park and over the fields. It was hard to work out which was Sparrowhawk and which was leaf!

There is usually at least one Great White Egret on view here, but we couldn’t see one at first today. One of the wardens had just done the rounds and was leaving as we arrived, so we wondered whether they had flown off. Fortunately, as we were standing admiring the geese, a Great White Egret appeared up over the trees out in the middle and flew out over the freshmarsh towards us. It landed down by one of the wet ditches, where we could get it in the scope.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – flew in and landed out on the freshmarsh

With the White-fronted Geese safely in the bag, we carried on west. Our next stop was at Brancaster Staithe. This is often a good place to find waders and from the warmth of the car we could see Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Redshank. Several Oystercatchers were picking over the discarded mussels and the Turnstones were running in and out of the cars. Further out, a Greenshank was feeding up to its belly in the water in the harbour channel.

While the waders were nice, we had really come here to see the Long-tailed Duck which has been feeding in the channel here in recent days. It was low tide now, so there wasn’t much water left, but we did eventually spot the Long-tailed Duck diving a little further out in the harbour, in the deeper part of the channel just behind a muddy bank. Thankfully it then came a little closer, swimming up the channel at first, before half waddling over a submerged sand bar, and then starting to dive again.

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck – the 1st winter drake still in the harbour

We had a good look at the Long-tailed Duck, though it was tricky to photograph because it was diving all the time. It could stay under for some time and then resurface some distance away. It was a first winter drake, rather pale around the head and with a scattering of white feathers in its black upperparts.

It had clouded over now and the light was already starting to fade when we finally got to Titchwell. Our main target here was Yellow-legged Gull, so we hurried out to the freshmarsh. There were already a few Marsh Harriers starting to gather over the reeds either side of the path.

We had been told that an adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the island in front of Island Hide, so we headed straight in there first. When we opened the shutters, we were greeted by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of gulls. They were mainly Black-headed Gulls but, even so, they would take a bit of searching through. There was a line of larger gulls on the island where the Yellow-legged Gull had been earlier, but as we searched through we couldn’t find it. There were just Herring Gulls, a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls there now.

No need to panic! We opened the shutters on the other side of the hide and started to work our way methodically through the massed throng. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find the Yellow-legged Gull. It was quite close, on the near edge of one the islands behind a load of Black-headed Gulls. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was standing in shallow water, so we could see the top halves of its bright custard yellow legs. Its mantle was a shade darker than the Black-headed Gulls around it and it had a clean white head with only limited dark streaking around the eye, very different from most of the other large gulls.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – one of the adults on the freshmarsh at dusk

When the Yellow-legged Gull sat down in the water and went to sleep, we continued to scan through the gulls. The only other gull of note we found was a second Yellow-legged Gull a bit further back – two for the price of one! There was also a nice selection of wildfowl here for the day’s list, including Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck and Wigeon.

With the light going now, we decided to head for home. As we walked back up the main path, we looked out across the reedbed and noticed there were loads of Marsh Harriers all in the air. We stopped for a quick count – 32 all together. It was quite a sight. Another, the 33rd, was still flying in over the reeds the other side of the path. It was a nice end to the day to see them all circling round in the wind, as we walked back towards the car.

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19th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Early Winter Tours today, our last day. It was another frosty start and another glorious, clear, sunny day. There was a light but fresh westerly breeze in the morning but that dropped by the afternoon. Another great day to be out birding!

Today we headed out in the other direction, west along the coast road. As we passed Holkham we could see lots of Pink-footed Geese in the grazing meadows beyond Lady Anne’s Drive. A small group was close to the road, so we pulled up by a convenient gap in the hedge for a closer look. We could see their small bills, mostly dark but for a narrow pink band, and their dark heads.

Pink-footed GoosePink-footed Goose – a group was right by the coast road as we passed by

A little further on, we stopped to have a look out across the freshmarsh. A large white shape flew across the front edge of one of the pool and landed in the rushes. Even at that distance, it was clearly a big heron and could only be a Great White Egret. Through the scope we could see its long, yellow dagger of a bill. A Grey Heron appeared next to it and was not much smaller – a nice size comparison. Then a second Great White Egret appeared on the front edge of the trees out in the middle.

There were a few geese out on this end of the freshmarsh today, mostly Greylags but with a few small groups of pairs of Egyptian Geese scattered among them too. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find a group of three White-fronted Geese in with the Greylags down at the front of the grass. Through the scope, we could see the white-surround to the base of their pink bills. When something flushed the geese and they resettled, more White-fronted Geese had appeared – there was now a tight group of at least thirteen together a little further out.

White-fronted GeeseWhite-fronted Geese – at least 13 were at Holkham today

A handful of Pink-footed Geese out on the freshmarsh here too included a single bird bearing a silvery grey neck collar. We could just read the lettering ‘VLS’ through the scope. It will be interesting to hear back where it has been seen before. There still don’t seem to be so many Wigeon here, but we could still see several flocks over in the distance around the pools to the east. It seems like it has still been rather mild on the continent and numbers of some wildfowl are still rather low. More should arrive in the coming weeks.

A nice selection of raptors put on a show for us this morning. A Red Kite drifted in from over the Park behind us and dropped down towards the grazing marshes. It appeared to land on the grass behind the trees and a Marsh Harrier flew straight in after it. The Red Kite promptly reappeared the other side of the trees, presumably seen off from whatever it had found. Its rusty red tail and underparts positively shone in the morning sun as it banked and turned.

A couple of Common Buzzards were perched out in various trees and bushes. One was a fairly conventional brown bird, but the other was strikingly pale, white below and around the head. As the air started to warm a little, more Marsh Harriers and Buzzards appeared in the air. A Sparrowhawk flew in along the line of the hedge below us amd chased out a second one. The two Sparrowhawks then landed in a tree where we could get them in the scope. A Kestrel was perched on the scaffold tower in the distance.

Continuing on our way west, we stopped again at Brancaster Staithe. A Long-tailed Duck had been reported for the last couple of days in the harbour channel here and it didn’t take us long to find it. It was diving further out in the channel, among the boats at first, but then swam up the channel past us and disappeared into the mouth of one of the muddy creeks.

There were lots of waders around the muddy edges of the creek. Several Bar-tailed Godwits gave us a great opportunity for closer inspection and a discussion of some of the differences between the two godwit species in non-breeding plumage. We could hear a Greenshank calling and quickly located it on the far bank in the sunshine, before a second Greenshank flew in and joined it.

Bar-tailed GodwitBar-tailed Godwit – close views at Brancaster Staithe this morning

There were also a few Dunlin down with the Bar-tailed Godwits and a Ringed Plover on the near edge. Further over, we could see a couple of Grey Plover and Curlew too. Several Turnstone were practically running around our feet until they spotted a Common Gull dropping a mussel, shattering it and then starting to pick it apart. They gathered round, waiting to pick off the scraps.

There were a few Brent Geese feeding round the harbour too, plus a scattering of Wigeon. A little group of Teal gathered down along the near edge of the harbour ramp looked stunning in the morning sunshine.

When the Long-tailed Duck reappeared, it was initially hard to follow. It was diving constantly and made its way even further up the channel away from us. But the tide was going out and it quickly turned back, swimming back down channel and straight past us, giving us a great close view as it went past. It was a first winter drake, rather pale around the head and with some pale feathering in the upperparts.

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck – in the harbour channel at Brancaster Staithe

As the Long-tailed Duck swam back out into the open water downstream, we decided to move on. We made our way west to Thornham Harbour next. As we got out of the car, we saw a flock of small finches drop down towards the saltmarsh beyond the car park. We would come to those in a minute, but first we had a quick look in the harbour channel. There were a few waders down on the mud – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank – but no sign of any Spotted Redshank here.

From up on the seawall, we quickly located the flock of small finches down on the saltmarsh and sure enough they were the Twite which we were looking for. They were feeding on the dry seedheads but were rather nervous as usual and kept flying up and circling round over the harbour before landing back down on the edge of the saltmarsh right in front of us again, back where they had started. We had a great look at them through the scope – their rich orangey-brown-toned breasts and bright yellow bills catching the sun when they perched up on the taller seedheads.

TwiteTwite – around twenty were feeding on the saltmarsh vegetation

There are around twenty Twite here at the moment. This is a traditional wintering spot for the species, although numbers have declined markedly in recent years as the breeding population in the Pennines has declined, which is where most of our wintering Twite come from. There are always a few colour-ringed birds in with them, which help to confirm their origins.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see large flocks of Wigeon and Brent Geese in the distance. A single Red-breasted Merganser was just visible way out in a chink of open water where the harbour channel curved towards the sea, before it swam behind one of the sandbanks out of view. A Curlew was catching the sun down in the muddy channel just below the bank.

CurlewCurlew – warming itself in the morning sun

Continuing on out along the seawall, there were lots of Skylarks on either side, over the grazing meadows and the saltmarsh. A couple of Reed Buntings flew in and landed down amongst the Suaeda bushes just below the bank. A single Common Snipe flew in and landed out in the grass briefly, before heading back out across the saltmarsh. The Twite flew over our heads calling and landed down by a pool out on the grazing marsh for a quick drink, before flying back towards the harbour again.

We stopped for a quick look out across Broadwater. A Little Grebe and a few Coot were both new birds for the day, but otherwise there were just a few dabbling ducks around the reedy margins – mainly Mallard, Teal and Shoveler. In the grazing meadow beyond, a party of Brent Geese had flown in to join the local Greylags feeding on the grass.

Climbing up into the dunes, we had a look out to sea. The Common Scoter were very distant today and very spread out – we could just make out hundreds of tiny dark specks riding the waves out towards the horizon. A pair of Red-breasted Merganser flew in and landed behind the breakers. Otherwise, there was not much visible out on the sea today – just a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

When we got back to the harbour, we had another quick look in the harbour channel. A couple of Rock Pipits were chasing each other around on the mud and up onto the boats moored along the wooden jetties. There was still no sign of any Spotted Redshanks though, until we had started to leave and we spotted one further up the channel from the car. We got out and got the scope on it – we could see its long, needle-fine bill. It was also noticeably paler than the Common Redshank on the mud behind it. The Spotted Redshank was feeding in the water at first, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side, before it climbed out onto a line of rocks and stood where we could see its red legs.

With a bit of time still before lunch, we headed inland for a drive round to see if we could find any flocks of finches and buntings in the fields. We did find a lot of Blackbirds and thrushes feeding on the berries in the more overgrown hedges – including several Redwings and a couple of Fieldfares too.

A little further on, we came across a large flock of finches, coming down to drink in the puddles around a farm gateway. They were mostly Chaffinches, plus a few Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches, but a smart male Brambling flew up too and landed in the hedge just in front of us. We could see its orange breast and shoulders, and its white rump as it eventually flew away ahead of us down the line of the hedge.

Dropping back down via Choseley, we passed a large mixed flock of Linnets and Goldfinches feeding in a strip of wild bird seed mix sown along the margin of a field. There was very little around the drying barns though – just a handful of House Sparrows feeding on some seed scattered in the layby. A group of Golden Plover was feeding in a winter wheat field along with some Lapwings further down.

As we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, a single Chiffchaff was feeding in the sunshine in the yellow autumn leaves of a sycamore. We stopped for lunch in the picnic area, and quickly picked out one of the Mealy Redpolls here, feeding up in the alders with the Goldfinches. We had a chat about the changing taxonomy of the Redpoll complex over lunch – the treatment of these birds is currently in a state of flux, to say the least! A flock of Long-tailed Tits passing through, along with a Goldcrest provided a welcome distraction.

Mealy RedpollMealy Redpoll – feeding up in the alders above the picnic area

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders around the visitor centre were looking rather empty this afternoon. A Coal Tit was a welcome addition to the day’s list, but otherwise there were just a few Chaffinches and Blue and Great Tits. We could hear a couple of Siskin calling from somewhere high in the willows.

A careful scan of the ditches along the path provided a Water Rail feeding quietly down in the wet leaves in the bottom. Unfortunately, as more people gathered around us and started chatting noisily, it scuttled back into cover, although we could still see it feeding under the branches of an overhanging tree.

Water RailWater Rail – feeding down in the ditch below the path

There were just a few Mallard and a single Little Grebe out on the reedbed pool and we couldn’t see any activity on the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’, so we headed straight out to the freshmarsh. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers sang from the bushes out in the reeds as we passed. A Kestrel was perched on the concrete bunker out on the saltmarsh and as we looked at it through the scope a Kingfisher appeared briefly, hovering behind.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh, particularly ducks here for the winter. There are plenty of Wigeon here now and lots of Teal. We got a smart drake Gadwall in the scope and admired the subtle patterning of its plumage. There were a few Shoveler and Shelduck out there too.

TealTeal – good numbers on the freshmarsh for the winter now

A small gathering of gulls around one of the small islands were mostly Black-headed and Herring Gulls, but we did find an adult Yellow-legged Gull in with them. Unfortunately it was swimming on the water and it was impossible to see its custard yellow legs!

There was not a great variety of waders on view, but we could see a good number of Ruff here. One of the Ruff was still in full juvenile plumage, much darker than the others. It was also a female and noticeably smaller than the paler winter adult male it was next to. There were also a few Dunlin out on the mud amongst all the ducks.

There was a better selection of waders out on the Volunteer Marsh today. From the corner by the path to Parrinder Hide we stopped to scan. We could see Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank. A Ringed Plover was feeding on the mud just the other side of the channel, with three more further back. A single Knot was picking around the islands of vegetation out in the middle.

Ringed PloverRinged Plover – there were several on Volunteer Marsh today

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits along the tidal channel at the far side of the Volunteer Marsh, including one on the mud just below the path which gave us a good opportunity to have a closer look at it, reminding ourselves of the differences from the Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier. Most of the Avocets have departed for the winter, but we did find one lonely individual roosting on the spit out on the tidal pools. Otherwise, a single drake Pintail and a Little Grebe were the only other birds of note on here today.

The tide was already on its way in when we got out to the beach. We could see lots of Oystercatchers still down on the bits of the mussel beds which had not yet been covered by the water. We got a Sanderling in the scope, running around on the edge of the sea, dwarfed by an Oystercatcher next to it. The waders were starting to gather ahead of the rising tide and a large flock of forty or so Sanderling then flew in from the west, along with a big party of Bar-tailed Godwits.

Out on the sea, we found a Common Scoter close in, riding the waves just behind the breakers – a better view than the distant dots we had seen earlier! But other than a few more Common Scoter, we couldn’t see anything else on the sea today. There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on razor shells washed up along the tide line, but a quick scan through them failed to locate anything other than the regular species.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on our way back. There were more gulls arriving all the time, coming in before roost – Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. We found the Yellow-legged Gull again, asleep now, but at least we could see half its custard yellow legs above the water now.

There were a few more waders gathering too. There was already a little party of Golden Plover on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide. As we sat and watched, every few minutes another small group would drop in and join them, calling plaintively as they flew in from the fields inland where they had been feeding. A single Knot had appeared on the edge of the gathered Black-headed Gulls and a flock of Turnstone flew in from the beach. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits on here too now and the Ruff had gathered together into a tighter flock ready to roost.

Golden PloverGolden Plovers – gathering on the freshmarsh at dusk

The light was starting to go fast now – the evenings draw in quickly at this time of year. As we made our way back towards the visitor centre, we stopped on the path opposite the reedbed. The Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost over the reeds, and we counted at least 11 before we left, flying round and perched in the bushes. A twelfth then flew in overhead from the direction of Thornham as we walked on.

It was getting dark as we drove back towards Holkham. As we drove along the north side of the park, we could see lines and lines of geese flying overhead in the gathering gloom, thousands of Pink-footed Geese dropping down to the freshmarsh to roost. A typical Norfolk sight at this time of year and a nice way to end the day – and an action-packed three days of early winter birding.

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!

14th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 3

Day 3 of a four day Autumn Tour today. It was a lovely, bright and at times sunny day, but with a nagging, blustery SW wind which didn’t ease until later in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. We turned to see skein after skein of them flying in from the east, presumably coming in from the overnight roost on the flats north of Wells. They flew in over our heads or round over the pines and dropped down onto the grazing marshes to the west of us. It is an amazing sight and sound, watching and listening to the Pink-footed Geese flying in here, a real sound of Norfolk in the winter.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – flying in to the grazing marshes this morning

It was noticeably breezy already when we got out of the car, but as we turned to walk along the track to the west, on the inland side of the pines, we found ourselves in the shelter of the trees and it didn’t seem so bad. It was fairly quiet along here nonetheless, but we did find a pair of Goldcrests feeding in the edge of the pines above us. A Sparrowhawk flew out of the trees and hung in the wind above us for a few seconds.

GoldcrestGoldcrest – feeding in the pines above the path

However, once we got to Salts Hole, we found ourselves out in the wind again. There were lots of Mallard on the pool today, but looking carefully, we could see at least four Little Grebes too. A couple of them were diving out in the centre, but two were stationary at the back long enough for us to get them in the scope.

A Kingfisher zipped across over the grass at the back, but didn’t stop and disappeared again behind the trees. Two Grey Wagtails were more obliging, circling over the pool before landing on the mud at the back of the pool where we could get a good look at them. There have been a lot of Grey Wagtails moving along the coast in the last week or so, so these were probably migrants just stopping off on their way somewhere.

There were lots of Jays in the trees, but all we saw at first was the back end of them as they flew away in front of us. When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, one finally landed in full view, hopping around out in the grass, so we could get a more complete view of it.

It was while we were standing at the gate that we heard Bearded Tits calling and looked back along the path to see several flying through the trees. Even more bizarrely, they then landed in the trees, something we have never seen before. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see them where they landed, but we could hear them calling to each other, half way up through the branches on the other side of the path. They stayed there for a minute or so, before first one and then the others all flew on and dropped down into the reeds in front of Washington Hide, a much more appropriate location for Bearded Tits.

As we walked up the boardwalk towards Washington Hide, we could see a large white shape at the back of the pool in front, a Great White Egret. It was immediately clear just how big it was – much bigger than a Little Egret. We stopped to have a look at it through the scope, admiring its long, dagger-like yellow bill. Then it walked back into the far corner of the pool out of view.

Great White Egret 1Great White Egret – on the pool in front of Washington Hide again

There were Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees behind the hide, but they were well hidden, tucked deep into the trees out of the wind. There was nothing in the sycamores by the boardwalk, so we went into the hide to see what we could see from there. There were lots of ducks on the pool, mostly Wigeon and Teal.

A Marsh Harrier was the first raptor we picked up from here, flying low across over the grazing marsh. A Common Buzzard appeared too and landed on a nearby bush. There has been an Osprey lingering around Holkham Park for a few days now, and scanning over the trees in the distance we spotted it circling over where the lake would be. Three Red Kites circled up out of the trees in the Park too, but whereas the Osprey dropped back down out of view, the Red Kites circled lazily across the grazing marshes to the pines.

We decided to have a quick look out at the beach, as much to admire the view as anything. It was a bit more sheltered on the north side of the pines, but it looked rather windy out to sea. There were lots of gulls feeding distantly offshore and in with them we could see several Gannets. The Gannets were fishing, circling round and plunging headfirst into the water.

Back on the south side of the pines, we continued on west along the main path. The trees around Meals House were being blown round in the wind, and were devoid of birds today, so we decided to make straight for the west end where we hoped there might perhaps be a lingering Yellow-browed Warbler. Unusually, we didn’t encounter a single tit flock on our way there – they all seemed to be hiding deep in the pines today. We did hear an occasional Goldcrest or Coal Tit calling.

The sallows at the west end of the trees at least held a couple of Goldcrests, but there was nothing in the sycamores on the edge of the dunes. It was just too windy today. A Red Kite was hanging in the air out over the dunes. After a quick rest and a careful listen for any signs of life, we decided to start making our way back.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – we finally found a tit flock on our way back

When we got back to the crosstracks, we finally heard Long-tailed Tits calling. We ducked into the trees and found them in a sheltered glade. There were other tits and Goldcrests with them, and we also got a good look at a Treecreeper too. They made their way back out onto the sunny edge of the trees so we followed them. We finally got good views of all the main tit flock species, but we couldn’t find anything else with them while they were in view. They didn’t hang around, and after a quick circuit round a few trees, they disappeared back into the pines again.

As we continued on our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we had great views of a Red Kite which flew towards us over the track and hung in the wind just above us, before drifting back out towards the grazing marshes.

Red KiteRed Kite – hung in the wind above us on our way back

While we ate our lunch back at the picnic tables at Lady Anne’s Drive, listening to the calls of all the geese coming and going, we spotted another Great White Egret flying over the grazing marshes. It dropped down on the edge of a ditch, attracting the attention of one of the local Grey Herons, which chased in after it. It was great to see the two species close together, the Great White Egret being similar in size.

After lunch, we headed over to Holkham Park. We had been told there was a pair of Firecrests earlier, in the holm oaks along the drive, but we couldn’t find them at first. While we were looking and listening for them, we looked across to one of the houses on the edge of the park and noticed a lot of activity in a yew tree in the garden. Getting the scope on it, we could see a couple of Redwings and a Blackcap eating the berries. There were lots of tits coming and going too, and we figured we could get closer to the yew tree from the paths in the Park.

We made our way round there and stood by the yew tree, watching the comings and goings. A Nuthatch made several feeding visits in from the trees nearby and we stopped to watch a couple of Goldcrests in the yew too. At that point, we heard a sharper call behind us and turned to see a Firecrest in the top of some flowering ivy. It flew across into the yew and we had great close view of Goldcrest and Firecrest flicking around together.

FirecrestFirecrest – we finally found the pair on the edge of the Park

The Firecrest was alert, with crown feathers raised and spread, revealing a bright fiery orange crest, which meant it was a male. It disappeared deeper into the yew, but a short while later reappeared in a nearby holm oak. This time it had been joined by a second Firecrest, probably a female, but without their crown feathers raised now it was hard to tell.

There were lots of Fallow Deer under the trees, a little group of which ran across the path in front of us. After stopping to admire the Monument and the view across to Holkham Hall, we continued on down to the lake. It didn’t take us long to find the Osprey. It was in the top of one of its favourite trees over the far side of the water, perched on a dead branch. We got it in the scope and could see it was in the process of devouring a small fish – just the tail was left!

Osprey 1Osprey – perched in the top of one of the trees by the lake

We watched the Osprey for a while, but it seemed fairly settled where it was and, having just eaten, we presumed it wouldn’t be fishing again for a bit. We continued on round to the north end of the lake. There were a few ducks around the edges and several Tufted Duck asleep. It wasn’t until we got to the far end that we finally found a small raft of Common Pochard, a new species for the trip list.

A Kingfisher zipped past low over the water and disappeared behind the trees. Several Great Crested Grebes were out on the lake, a mixture of moulting adults and juveniles. Under the overhanging branches on the island at the north end, we found a couple of Little Grebes, an adult and a not quite yet fully grown juveniles. The juvenile was swimming round the adult, begging to be fed, but the adult Little Grebe looked distinctly disinterested.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – one of several on the lake

As we made our way back along the side of the lake, we could see the Osprey was still in position at the top of its tree. A Great White Egret had now appeared down on the far shore too, perhaps our third of the day! This one was much nearer, and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Great White Egret 2Great White Egret – on the edge of the lake

While we were watching the Great White Egret and taking some photos, we noticed someone walking along the far bank. They stopped, but not soon enough to prevent them flushing the egret. We watched as it flew down the lake and landed again further along. But when we looked up into the trees, we noticed that the Osprey had flushed too.

Figuring that it might have gone fishing again, we made our way slowly along the bank towards the south end of the lake. Unfortunately, we had not even got out of the trees when we saw two people ahead of us pointing cameras at the sky right above their heads. The Osprey then appeared from behind the trees but it was always flying away from us, into the sun. It had already caught another fish and was carrying it off back to its favourite tree to eat it.

Osprey 2Osprey – heading back to its favourite perch with a fish

We made our way back up across the park. On the way, we stopped to admire the herd of Fallow Deer. Most of them had now gathered out in the open in the grass. We watched a particularly striking buck parading through the others. As we walked back through the trees, we found another buck vigorously rubbing its antlers against the fallen branch of a tree, presumably trying to clean off the last of its velvet, although it seems a little late for it still to be doing this.

Fallow DeerFallow Deer – part of the herd in the deer park this afternoon

With everyone suitably tired out after the various walks today, we decided to head round to Stiffkey Greenway for the last hour of the day, where we could have a look out across the saltmarsh from the car park, without having to venture too far on foot. There were plenty of Little Egrets and Curlew out on the saltmarsh, plus several small groups of Brent Geese.

In the distance, we picked out a lone adult Peregrine which was perched out on the sand flats. There were no other raptors hunting here this afternoon though – it was perhaps still a bit early for birds to be coming in to roost.

A couple of Yellowhammers were in the hedge by the car park, so we went round to the sunny side to try to get a good look at them. We got them in the scope, before they flew off and dropped down into the field. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling from the edge of Campsite Wood, so we wandered over for a look. The wind had dropped and the birds had come out onto the sunny side by the car park. There were Blue Tits, Great Tits and a couple of Goldcrests with them, and we found a Chiffchaff flycatching in the top of the hawthorns too. Then, as they moved off back into the trees, it was time for us to head off too.

8th Oct 2017 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was cloudy all day, and although it was spitting with rain first thing (which wasn’t forecast!), thankfully the rain quickly stopped and it even brightened up a little bit.

As we drove west along the coast road, there were lots of geese in the stubble fields beyond Holkham. We slowed down and could see they were mostly Greylags, with a good number of Pink-footed Geese in with them as well as several Egyptian Geese too.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived in the car park, we headed round to take a look in the bushes in the oevrflow car park first. As well as the usual Dunnocks and Robins, we heard a Blackcap calling in the apple trees as we rounded the corner, just in time to see it drop down into the brambles. There were several Blackbirds in the trees, very active, suggesting they had just arrived. A couple of Redwings flew over calling, as did a Grey Wagtail. There were clearly birds on the move and newly arrived in from the continent this morning.

The feeders around the visitor centre held the usual selection of finches and tits, so we made our way straight out to Fen Trail. We were hoping to track down the Yellow-browed Warbler which has probably been here for some time now, but the sallows were fairly quiet. More Redwings were calling from the trees.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s reedbed, particularly several each of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, both of which were new additions for the weekend’s list. There were a few gulls too, loafing and preening, mostly Black-headed Gulls with a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls too. A larger gull at the back of them had a distinctive grey mantle, not as dark as the slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but noticeably darker than the Black-headed Gulls. It was also noticeably pale headed, with limited fine streaking. It was a Yellow-legged Gull, but unfortunately it remained in the deeper water where we couldn’t see its bright yellow legs properly.

Scanning over the reedbed and beyond, we noticed a large heron-like bird flying in from the direction of Brancaster. It was a Bittern and thankfully it kept coming, flying right across in front of us over the reeds at the back of Patsy’s before dropping down somewhere out in front of Fen Hide the other side. A great way to start the morning, with a Bittern!

BitternBittern – flew in from Brancaster & dropped down in front of Fen Hide

Continuing on along the East Trail, there were more birds migrating overhead. Two more Grey Wagtails flew high over calling, as did a flock of Linnets. A couple of groups of Siskins flew out of the wood ahead of us and circled up calling, before flying off west, presumably fresh arrivals from the continent. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew away across the paddocks, that one presumably a local bird.

There were lots of thrushes in the hedges which flew out as we walked along, presumably birds freshly arrived from the continent which had stopped off to feed. As well as more Redwings, we flushed several Song Thrushes, and four Mistle Thrushes flew past us along the line of the hedge, heading purposefully west. When we got to Willow Wood, there were lots of Blackbirds in the trees and feeding down on the edge of the reeds. At one point we thought we heard a harsher ‘tchacking’ call from the trees, which sounded a bit like a Ring Ouzel. But when we stopped to listen properly, it had gone quiet.

At that point we were distracted. There has been a Little Owl around here for the last couple of weeks, and we heard it calling from somewhere over around the paddocks. We walked back to try to see it. It was not on the fence at the back of the paddocks, but as we scanned along the other side of the big hedge, we just noticed a small patch of grey brown hidden in amongst the leaves. When we got it in the scope, we could confirm it was indeed the Little Owl.

Little OwlLittle Owl – half hidden in the top of the hedge

It was hard enough to see, even when you knew where it was, but eventually we all got a good look at the Little Owl. While we were standing there watching it, a blackbird-like shape flew up from the edge of the wood and into the top of an oak tree. It stayed there just long enough to get a quick look at it. It was the Ring Ouzel – we could see the distinctive pale edges to the wing feathers forming a pale panel, although it was a young one, a first winter, lacking a well-marked pale gorget. Then it dropped out of the tree, flew across in front of us and disappeared into the hedge.

We couldn’t see the Ring Ouzel again in the hedge, so we made our way on around Autumn Trail to the back corner of the freshmarsh. With the tide high, this is the place where the Spotted Redshanks like to roost and we immediately located a line of six of them there today. They were with four Greenshanks, but the Spotted Redshanks were all asleep, making them harder to separate. One Spotted Redshank did wake up briefly, just long enough for us to see its long, needle-fine-tipped bill.

Little StintLittle Stint – this juvenile was feeding in the back corner of the freshmarsh

Down on the mud in the near corner, a single Little Stint was feeding. It was nice and close so we could get a good look at it. There were supposed to be two here today, but they were obviously not on speaking terms! There was a lone juvenile Ruff too. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a Kingfisher shot past.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see several perched in the top of the reeds. It was a lovely still day, so they were coming up to feed on the seedheads. There were a couple of small groups here and they were calling constantly. This is also the time of year when Bearded Tits disperse, and some were itching to be on their way this morning. We watched as one group of four circled up out of the reeds and high into the sky, before changing their minds and dropping sharply back into the reeds again.

Bearded Tit 1Bearded Tits – we saw several groups in the reeds today

One group of Bearded Tits started to make their way closer, over towards the path. We walked back to where they seemed to be headed and before we knew it we had them all perched up in the top of the reeds right in front of us. Stunning views!

Bearded Tit 2

Bearded Tit 3Bearded Tits – stunning views along Autumn Trail this morning

The Bearded Tits seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, and stayed perched in the top of the reeds right in front of us for several minutes, before finally deciding to fly a little further back into the reeds. It was a real treat to see them so well and for so long.

We started to make our way back. A crowd had now gathered to try to see the Ring Ouzel, so we didn’t linger. A Little Grebe laughed at us – or them – from out on Patsy’s Reedbed as we passed. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way quickly down along the hedge beside the path, in the opposite direction, but there was no sign of anything more interesting with them.

Making our way slowly back along Fen Trail, the sallows were still quiet. We stopped to listen by the dragonfly pools and finally heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call. It came from somewhere round on Meadow Trail, so we made our way quickly round there. Unfortunately, it didn’t call again and there was no sign of any movement in the trees, apart from a couple of Blue Tits and a few Blackbirds.

It was clear that this Yellow-browed Warbler was not going to make our lives easy, so with the morning passing quickly, we decided to head out onto the reserve. There were lots of people gathered on the main path by the former Thornham grazing marsh pool, and they told us they had seen up to 40 Bearded Tits either side of the path here. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see a large group of at least 15 in the tops of the reeds on the Thornham side. There were more calling from the reeds behind us. It was definitely a good day for Bearded Tits!

CurlewCurlew – very well camouflaged on the saltmarsh

Continuing on our way, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbed. A lone Curlew was down on the near edge of the saltmarsh. It was very well-camouflaged here, among the grasses, but easier to see when it was walking round feeding.

In Island Hide, we stopped to have a look at the Freshmarsh. There were lots of waders on here, principally a very large flock of Golden Plover which had probably flown in from the stubble fields inland to bathe, preen and sleep. Behind them was a long line of Black-tailed Godwits, again mostly asleep. Scattered around the islands and edges were a good number of Ruff, both browner juveniles and paler, orange-legged adults. There were several little flocks of Dunlin too, and we finally found the second Little Stint running around on the top of one of the drier islands among all the Lapwing, looking tiny by comparison.

RuffRuff – a paler winter adult, one of several on the freshmarsh

The biggest surprise on here was when one of the group said they had found a Grey Partridge and we looked over to see a male walking out across the mud. A bizarre sight, it clearly thought it was a wader! It didn’t stay long though, and quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to the bank.

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now, mainly Wigeon and Teal which have returned here for the winter. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from out on the saltmarsh  to bathe and preen, before heading back the way they had just come.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding on the edge of the Freshmarsh

From back up on the main path, a close Black-tailed Godwit was feeding down on the mud below us. A little further along, at the start of the Volunteer Marsh, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. Even though they weren’t side by side, we looked at some of the ways to tell these two species apart in non-breeding plumage.

There were also a few Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh and more waders along the banks of the channel at the far side. Three Grey Plover here were the most notable, all now in their grey non-breeding plumage.

RedshankCommon Redshank – the Volunteer Marsh is a good place to see them up close

After the recent high tides, the Tidal Pools were full of water and most of the islands were flooded. Consequently, there were fewer birds on here than normal. We did see at least four Little Grebes which have presumably now taken up residence here for the winter.

Climbing up into the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. The first birds we saw were three Common Scoter close inshore. A moulting drake Goldeneye was just off the beach the other side. It was pretty calm today, so many of the birds were further out. There were quite a few Great Crested Grebes offshore but the single Red-throated Diver we found was very distant.

With the tide going out now and the mussel beds starting to be exposed again, there were plenty of waders down in the beach. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, we could see a few Turnstone feeding on the mussel beds. Six Knot flew past along the beach. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the gulls along the sand away to the west.

It was time for lunch, so we started to make our way back. We were almost back to the trees, when a big tit flock came towards us, zipping between the sallows. We thought we might find something with all the tits, but despite looking carefully as they worked their way quickly past us, the best we could find was a single Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests. We took a detour round via Meadow Trail, but there was no further sight nor sound of the Yellow-browed Warbler here either.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we made our way back west. We decided to head for Holkham. Several Yellow-browed Warblers had been reported here in the morning, and with the possibility of catching up with other species too, we thought it would be a good place to try.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of four on Salts Hole this afternoon

It was quiet at first in the trees as we made our way west on the path inland of the pines. At Salts Hole, we counted four Little Grebes. As we started to walk on, a Kingfisher flew in, did a quick circuit, landed briefly on the fence at the back, did another quick circuit and disappeared again. There were lots of Jays flying back and forth through the trees.

The sycamores by Washington Hide were empty, but a quick look out across the grazing marsh did at least produce a Common Buzzard, which was new for the weekend’s list. We got to Meals House before we finally found a tit flock. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier, so we thought we were in with a good chance, but the only warbler we could see with them was a single Chiffchaff. As they moved quickly through and across the path, we had a very brief view of a Firecrest in the top of a tree, before it disappeared into the pines.

We continued on to the west end of the pines, where another Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported. When we got there, we could hear Long-tailed Tits deep in the trees. At first we couldn’t tell where they were headed, but after walking back a short way along the path and then up again, we ran into them just as we got back to the west end. Just as we arrived, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling and saw it drop out of the pines, across the path, and into the sallows.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was calling constantly, but it was hard to see deep in the sallows at first. Slowly, it worked its way towards us and we could see it flitting around among the branches. It appeared on the edge briefly, before disappearing back in. Then it reappeared in the top of an ivy-covered tree in full view, but only for a second. Eventually everyone got a look at it, although often it was a matter of only seeing bits of it at a time between the leaves and building up a ‘composite’ view!

After disappearing back into the sallows, the tit flock started to make its way back across the path and the Yellow-browed Warbler eventually followed. We could see it flitting around high in the pines for a while, before it disappeared back into the trees. Although the tit flock came back out of the pines pretty quickly and dropped back into the trees along the edge, we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler again and it had stopped calling. It was time for us to start making our way back.

FirecrestFirecrest – a very blurred shot, the best we could manage, with the light fading!

As we passed Meals House, the tit flock here was back out of the pines and feeding in the birches south of the track. We stopped to look through them. While we were looking, we heard the Firecrest calling from the holm oak right behind us. It was not much easier to see than the Yellow-browed Warbler had been, particularly with the light fading now. Eventually, everyone got a look at it when it came out onto the edge of the tree, before being chased off by a Goldcrest.

Then it was time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days with some memorable birds, a typical Norfolk autumn weekend!

 

23rd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather was not as good as yesterday, cloudy with a bit of very light drizzle on and off first thing. But it dried out quickly and then even brightened up in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. There was no sign of the Cattle Egret in the field with the cows where we saw it yesterday, but then it does seem to be a late riser. As we parked the car, three Common Buzzards were hanging in the air over the small copse by the road.

The field by the permissive path has been recently cultivated and there were quite a few Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings in there this morning. As we walked along the path, we noticed some Stock Doves too. They were hard to see through the hedge so we continued on to the copse at the end and looked back. There were at least six of them and we had a good look at a couple of them in the scope, even though they had flown further over as we walked past. They were with a few Woodpigeons, allowing a good comparison.

Stock DovesStock Doves – there were at least 6 in this field this morning

Down on the footpath along the river, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling. A male Blackcap flicked ahead of us through the trees on the bank, but was hard to see in all the leaves. A Cetti’s Warbler was trying to sing from the brambles the other side of the river, but hadn’t quite got it right yet. A Kingfisher called from deep in the thickest part of the trees beside the water.

As we got to the point where there is a gap in the trees and we could see over to the Fen, we noticed two large white shapes in the water amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were two Spoonbills. We found a point from where we could get one of them in the scope and it was a juvenile, with a dull, fleshy coloured bill. The second Spoonbill walked back to join it and we could see it was an adult, with a longer black bill with a distinct yellow tip.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – 1 of 2 at the Fen today, this one a juvenile

The two Spoonbills had a good preen and then started to walk out view behind the reeds, the adult having a quick look for food on the way, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. There have been large numbers of Spoonbills here in recent weeks, adults and juveniles dispersing from the breeding colony at Holkham. Presumably as birds have started to head off south for the winter, the number has steadily declined so it was nice to see two still here today.

Having had a good look at the Spoonbills, we made our way on and up onto the seawall. The tide was still in and it was a big high tide today, so the channel and harbour the other side were full of water. Normally, this means that many of the waders from the harbour are roosting on the Fen, but there were actually fewer than normal on here today. They had obviously gone off to roost elsewhere.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Fen today – mostly Wigeon and Teal. A couple of Pintail were right down at the front of all the ducks, noticeably larger than the Teal just behind. The drakes of all these species are in their rather drab eclipse plumage at the moment, so they are not looking at their best. There were a few Gadwall too, and the drakes of these are already looking a lot smarter, as they moult earlier.

At this point, it had started to spit with drizzle, so we decided to walk a little further along the seawall. We looked back into the corner of the Fen and could see around 20 Greenshanks roosting in their usual spot. Unlike the godwits and Redshanks, they had come in as normal today. The Kingfisher called again and we turned to see it shooting across the seawall and disappearing out across the saltmarsh.

With the tide so high, we thought it might be difficult to see any waders roosting around the harbour this morning. Looking across in that direction, we spotted a pair of Brent Geese swimming past and behind them we noticed a group of waders roosting, including a Grey Plover still in breeding plumage. So we decided to head round there for a closer look. As we got to the bushes at the end of the seawall, we could hear a Goldcrest calling, presumably a migrant out here. It stayed tucked down out of the drizzle and we didn’t see it.

As we got round to the harbour, the group of waders took off and started to whirl round over the water in a tight flock. Thankfully, most of them landed again and through the scope we could see they were mostly Turnstones and a few Dunlin too. The smart Grey Plover had disappeared, but scanning along the southern edge we found several more Grey Plover roosting and, through the scope, we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits asleep too. An Oystercatcher walked up into view. Out on the tip of Blakeney Point, we could see all the seals hauled out, Grey Seals and Common Seals.

Possibly the same two Brent Geese we had seen earlier then flew in and landed in the harbour channel in front of us. We had a great look at them, presumably a pair, with the larger male sporting a particularly bold white half collar. The Brent Geese are only now returning for the winter, as we saw yesterday, and there are still only small numbers back here so far.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – this pair landed in the harbour channel in front of us

We had been scanning the boats periodically to see if the Kingfisher might be perched on one of them, as it sometimes likes to do, and on one scan we spotted it perched on the roof of an old boat out on the saltmarsh. Unfortunately, just as we tried to get it in the scope, it flew again. It hovered high over one of the saltmarsh channels for a couple of seconds before dropping back down out of view.

As we made our way back to the seawall, we could see one of the Spoonbills circling round. It dropped back down below the bank, but when we got up there we couldn’t see them where they had been on the Fen. A minute or so later, they flew up from behind the reeds, circled round in front of us, and disappeared off towards Morston, holding their necks and bills stretched out in front of them. A few more waders had appeared on the Fen – more Ruff, a handful of Redshank and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits, but it was still quieter than it should normally be.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – a rather tatty individual, basking in the sun

It had brightened up a bit as we walked back along the path towards the road. A tit flock flicked ahead of us through the sallows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called. A small group of Greenfinches flew up from the brambles. There were a few butterflies and dragonflies out now – Red Admiral and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sunshine.

After our experience yesterday, we thought it might be worth another look to see if the Cattle Egret had reappeared. We continued on down the permissive path which leads to the field where the cows are. As we turned the corner and saw all the cattle we immediately noticed a white bird in with them. The Cattle Egret had returned.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – back with the cows later this morning

It was a much better view of the Cattle Egret from here, rather than viewing from the car on the road. We had a good look through the scope, noting its small yellow bill. It also had a wash of light orange on the crown, but otherwise looked quite white. The cows were all being rather lazy, sitting down, so the Cattle Egret wandered off through the grass and back to the ditch beyond. There were a couple of Grey Herons here too.

A couple of members of the group had asked about the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, which had been at Burnham Overy since last Sunday, and were talking about possibly going down after we finished this evening to try to see it. It had not been reported today and has been a real skulker anyway, as is typical for the species – others have stood for 4-5 hours and not seen it. There has also been some trouble with twitchers cutting wire fences and trespassing in the fields to try to see it, so we have been steering clear of the site this week. But we had an hour to spare before lunch and it is a nice walk out beside the harbour, so we decided to head round that way. At least then, the group members concerned could see the lie of the land.

The tide had gone out now so we parked in the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe. We were just setting off when we looked up to see a Peregrine fly overhead and out across the channel. It was a young one, brown above and streaked below, and small so probably a male.We watched it fly off across the saltmarsh. As we got up onto the seawall, there were lots of Starlings and House Sparrows in the bushes. A Jay flew across the field beyond. A smart male Kestrel was perched in the top of the hedge and we got a great look at it before it finally took off.

KestrelKestrel – perched in the hedge at Burnham Overy Staithe

There were lots of waders out in the harbour as we walked out along the seawall. We stopped periodically to look through them. There were quite a few Ringed Plover out on the sandbank and a Grey Plover too. On the bank beyond, we could see more Ringed Plover with some Dunlin and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A Spoonbill appeared nearby, before walking back into one of the saltmarsh channels. Further on, as we turned the corner, there were lots more Redshanks and a few Curlew.

CurlewCurlew – feeding out in the harbour at Burnham Overy

We could see a small crowd of people further along the seawall – waiting for the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to appear. When we got round to them, we asked if there had been any sightings of the bird today and they confirmed there hadn’t. We had a quick chat about the bushes it had been favouring earlier, just in case the others should decide to come back again for a longer vigil later.

We did manage to add a few species to our tour list here. A couple of House Martins appeared overhead, flying back and forth. Most of the swallows and martins have left for the winter now, but there are still a small number lingering. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese circled over the grazing marshes. We decided not to hang around here, so set off back for lunch. We were almost back to the car park when we looked across towards Holkham and saw several thousand Pink-footed Geese in the distance, flying in from the fields and down to the grazing marshes.

After a nice break for lunch on the benches overlooking the harbour, we headed round to Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. After parking at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we set off to walk west on the inland side of the pines. We heard a Goldcrest calling from the holm oaks right at the start but expected to see quite a few of them along here today. However, it was unusually quiet in the trees.

A quick stop at Salts Hole produced four Little Grebes. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese calling from out on the grazing marsh and stopped to have a look at them from the gate before Washington Hide. There were at least a thousand in view, scattered across the grass, and many more besides just out of sight behind the reeds and hedges.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Goose – there were thousands already back at Holkham today

There were a few ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, mostly hiding along the edge of the reeds. A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew in and dropped down into the reeds. A Red Kite circled over Holkham Park, off in the distance. There was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets at first though, until one walked out from behind the reeds and proceeded to walk slowly along the back of the pool, periodically stopping to peer into the reeds. It was clearly very big, tall, long-necked, and sporting a long yellow bill.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – walked across the back of the pool at Washington Hide

After having a good look at the Great White Egret, we carried on west along the path. We had been hoping to run into several tit flocks along here this afternoon, but they were all hiding in the trees. We came across one just before the crosstracks, but they were all deep in a very leafy holm oak. We could see the odd bird when it came out onto the edge, tits, Goldcrests and a couple of Chiffchaffs. But they never came out into the oaks and sycamores in front and quickly disappeared back into the pines behind. We then didn’t hear much more than a couple of Chiffchaffs between there and the west end of the pines, which is rather unusual.

We had not even seen a Hobby on our walk out, which has been a regular feature here in recent weeks. When we got to the end of the pines, we heard a tit flock calling and set off to try to see them. When the Long-tailed Tits started alarm calling, we looked across to see a Hobby scything through the open area of trees. It landed in the top of a pine briefly, where we could just see it through the branches, before turning and flying back out of the trees the way it had come.

Probably spooked by the Hobby, the tit flock moved quickly out of the sycamores and back into the pines. We tried to follow it for a couple of minutes, but it went up into the tops of the trees, where it was hard to see and moved rapidly deeper into the pines. We did see a Treecreeper working its way up the trunks. A quick look in the start of the dunes failed to produce anything, but we didn’t have time to go any further. We started to make our way back

Just the other side of the cross-tracks, a Hobby appeared right over our heads. It flew round above us, then suddenly powered across and scythed vertically down behind an oak tree. Wow! When it reappeared a few seconds later, it was eating something, lifting its feet up to its bill as it flew away, probably a dragonfly as there were lots out here in the sunshine. The Hobby circled round again over the edge of the trees and then landed in the top of a pine. We had to move a few metres back along the path to get the angle, but then we for it in the scope and had a great look at it. A stunning bird.

HobbyHobby – catching insects around the edge of the pines

The Hobby stayed there for some time, looking round, but eventually dropped down from its perch and disappeared away through the trees. We continued our walk back. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we found another tit flock. This time they were out of the pines and in the bushes and poplars on the south side of the path. We got much better views of Goldcrest and Treecreeper. There were Coal Tits and a couple of Chiffchaff with them too, but nothing more exotic today.

As the tit flock moved back into the pines, it was time for us to go too.

17th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was cool and cloudy again, threatening showers first thing, so we donned warm clothes and waterproofs. Then the sun came out and we spent the latter part of the morning shedding layers. It ended up being a lovely autumn day, great birding weather.

Our first destination of the day was Holkham. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked down towards the pines. There were lots of hirundines hawking low over the grazing marsh along the hedge to the west, Swallows and House Martins, looking for food out of the wind in the shelter of the trees. We heard our first Pink-footed Geese of the day – their distinctive higher pitched yelping calls were once again the soundtrack to our morning. A Pheasant out on the grazing marsh was joined by a family group of three Grey Partridge.

Grey PartridgeGrey Partridge – on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we turned west and started to walk along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from the trees. Unfortunately, as we walked through to try to find it, it promptly went quiet. We came out on the edge of the track through to the beach from Lady Anne’s Drive, where the first bird we saw was a Lesser Whitethroat flitting around in the bushes. It seemed to be loosely associated with a mixed tit flock which came along the edge of the trees and disappeared into the pines. It was a great start, but we thought this meant there might be lots of migrants in the woods today.

Continuing on our way west, we heard Treecreeper calling and looked into the trees to see one climbing up the trunk of a very tall pine. We heard Goldcrests calling but they were mostly deeper in the trees and hard to see. We did manage to get on one which was flitting around high up on the edge of the pines. A Jay called from deep in the wood. We had a quick look at Salts Hole, where there were at least three Little Grebes out on the water, diving regularly.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – 1 of at least 3 on Salts Hole

At the gate just before Washington Hide, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. There were quite a few Pink-footed Geese out in the grass and this gave us an opportunity to look at them in the scope. We could see their dark heads and delicate, dark, pink-banded bills, very different from the carrot-billed Greylag Geese we had seen earlier. A small bird was perched on the top of a line of reeds and kept dropping down into the grass looking for food and flying back up to another perch. Through the scope we could see it was a Whinchat, another autumn migrant. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium.

WhinchatWhinchat – feeding out on the grazing marsh

The sycamores outside Washington Hide were quiet, no sign of any migrants here, so we turned our attention back to the grazing marsh. There were several ducks down on the pool in front of the hide – mostly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a single drake Gadwall. A Pintail appeared briefly, upending out in the middle, showing off its pointed rear end, but quickly disappeared behind the reeds again. A very pale Common Buzzard was perched in a bush further back.

Another couple of birders coming out of the hide told us that they had seen a Great White Egret way off over the back of the grazing marsh, but it had landed out of view. There have been several here all year and they bred this summer for the first time, which was great news. It was presumably one of the other Great White Egrets therefore which walked out from behind the reeds on the pool right in front of us, giving us a great view, especially filling the frame through the scope.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – on the pool right in front of Washington Hide

The Great White Egret was clearly big and very long necked. We could see its bright orange-yellow bill. It walked very slowly along the reed edge at the back of the pool, occasionally standing stock still and staring down into the water, looking for fish.

Continuing on west, the trees were surprisingly quiet today, with a distinct lack of tit flocks. Perhaps the tits have taken to feeding more in the pines in the recent windy weather. At Meals House, we heard a couple of Chiffchaffs calling, and a Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Jay showed well in the top of a pine tree. We looked up just in time to see a Hobby flying towards us, which continued on straight over our heads.

There had been a report earlier this morning of a Yellow-browed Warbler at the west end of the pines, so we continued straight on past Joe Jordan Hide. We finally found a tit flock half way from there to the end of the trees. We heard the Long-tailed Tits first, and as they came out onto the edge the other tits followed. A couple of Chiffchaffs flitted around in the sallows in the sun, which had started to shine now.

The tits were clinging to the edge of the pines, not coming out properly into the sallows and trees along the path. It seemed like we would not be able to see the whole flock. Then a small warbler flew across the path and landed in the deciduous tree on the south side, and fortunately it was the Yellow-browed Warbler. Unusually, it stayed where it was for a couple of minutes, scratching and wing stretching, which allowed us all to get onto it. We could see its bold pale supercilium and double pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – with the tit flock, near the west end of the pines

Eventually, the Yellow-browed Warbler flew back across the path and into the sallows on the other side. We thought it might feed there for a while, but it was chased off by one of the Chiffchaffs, and flew up into the trees. We could see it perched high in one of the pines, before it flew again and disappeared back out of view. A Willow Warbler flew across from the sallows too, and then the whole tit flock disappeared back into the pines.

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in Siberia and winter in SE Asia, so North Norfolk might not be the first place you would expect to see one. However, in recent years they have become increasingly common and are now an expected sight at this time of year. It is always great to see the first Yellow-browed Warbler, as it means autumn migration has stepped up a gear.

The pressure was off now, having seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, but we continued on to the end of the pines to see if we could find any other migrants. A Blackcap called from the bushes by the path. There were several dragonflies out enjoying the autumn sunshine – lots of Common Darters, a Ruddy Darter and a few Migrant Hawkers. There were butterflies too – Red Admiral, Comma and several Speckled Wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – a female, basking in the sunshine

It was rather quiet at the end of the pines and in the edge of the dunes. We walked round through the trees, but there were next to no birds in the usually attractive spots. We had a quick look out across the grazing marsh from the edge of the dines, and then decided to make our way back, to see if we could find any more interesting birds en route, now that the sun was out.

There was a tit flock high in the tops of the pines at the crosstracks, possibly the one which the Yellow-browed Warbler had been with earlier, but it was hard to see anything clearly up there. We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling just past Meals House, and we got better views of Goldcrest here, but the birds moved quickly back into the trees.

The highlight of the walk back was a Hobby which was hanging in the air over the edge of the pines, catching insects. At one point, it caught something and hung in the air right over our heads eating it, bringing its feet up to its bill so it could devour what it had caught on the wing. Something disturbed the Pink-footed Geese and there was a cacophony of calling as they took off, although we couldn’t see them through the trees. There were clearly a lot more than we had seen earlier now on the grazing marsh.

HobbyHobby – eating its insect prey right over our heads

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across another tit flock moving between the pines and the poplars on the south side of the path. At first, all we could see were more tits, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, etc, and a couple of Treecreepers. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared with them, flying out from the edge of the pines and into one of the poplars. It disappeared into the trees, but a few minutes later, as the Long-tailed Tits started to make their way back across the path, it appeared again and we could see it up in the poplar. Our second Yellow-browed Warbler of the day! Then it flew back into the pines and we lost sight of it.

We had intended to eat our lunch at the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive, but we got back to find they were all fenced off. There is a new path being constructed and for the dreaded ‘Health & Safety’ reasons, we were deemed incapable of reaching them without injuring ourselves! We got in the car and drove round to Wells Beach, where we ate lunch in the car park instead.

An Arctic Warbler had been found here earlier in the morning, so after lunch we went into the woods to see if we could see it. Thankfully it was showing well when we arrived at the right spot, and very quickly all the group had seen it. We followed it for about 30 minutes, flicking around in the birches, fluttering and flycatching, and had some great views of it. It would disappear into the leafy trees at times, but after a couple of minutes someone would find it again.

Arctic WarblerArctic Warbler – we enjoyed great views of this rarity in Wells Woods today

Arctic Warbler is a very rare visitor here in Norfolk, although it is an annual visitor to the UK, more commonly on the Northern Isles. They breed in arctic forests, from north Scandinavia eastwards, wintering in SE Asia, so this one was rather off course. They can be very hard to see, but this particular Arctic Warbler was unusually obliging! A great bird to see.

Having spent quite a lot of time in the woods today, we decided to do something different and go looking for some waterbirds for the rest of the afternoon. Stiffkey Fen seemed like a good place to go. It was lovely and sunny now, warm out of the wind, which was still rather blustery. There were not so many birds in the trees and bushes this afternoon, but we did flush several Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles as we passed.

It is hard to see the Fen from the path now, as the reeds and brambles have grown tall over the summer. There are one or two places where you can still get a vantage point, and we could see lots of white blobs huddled up on one of the islands on the Fen, a mix of Spoonbills and Little Egrets. There was nowhere easy to set up the scope here, so we decided to have a look from up on the seawall.

Unfortunately, when we got up onto the seawall, we couldn’t see where the Spoonbills were roosting, it was hidden behind the reeds. There were lots of other things to see on here though. A nice selection of waders included several Greenshanks along with lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen. A few Ruff were out in the water with them. We got all the waders in the scope to have a good look at them. More Redshanks were gathering in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall, as the tide was coming in now.

There were plenty of ducks on the Fen – Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal. A single Pintail was busy upending out at the back. A very large and noisy gaggle of Greylags flew in from the neighbouring field. A Kingfisher flew up from the reeds calling, but was gone in a flash of electric blue, over the seawall and out over the saltmarsh.

We made our way round to have a look in the harbour. The tide was coming in fast now. We heard a Kingfisher call and looked round to see it perched on a mooring chain fixed to the far bank of the channel. It was presumably the bird we had seen earlier, heading in this direction. We had a good look at it through the scope, it was back on to us and we could see the stripe of bright blue down its back. Then it dropped down into the water and caught a fish, flying back up to its perch and beating the fish on the chain repeatedly before swallowing it. Then the Kingfisher flew off up the channel.

KingfisherKingfisher – fishing in the harbour channel

Out around the harbour, we could see lots of waders gathering. They were mostly on the shore round out of view, but we could see a large huddle of Oystercatchers and, further over, a big group of Grey Plover. More waders were flying in across the harbour all the time, forced off from where they had been feeding by the rising water. We saw a little flock of Bar-tailed Godwits, several groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, another flock of Grey Plover.

Most of the waders landed out of view, but we did manage to get a few in the scope. A single Dunlin and a lone Turnstone were trying to roost on a spit of mud, but it didn’t take long before it was covered by water and they flew off. Two Sandwich Terns on the same spit were also pushed off by the rising tide. A Curlew was preening down on the front edge of the mud.

While we were scanning through the waders, we found a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A line of Mute Swans swam past us up the channel, with a single Greylag Goose with them. Presumably the Greylag was confused and thought it was a swan!

It was a great spot to stand and take in the view on a sunny autumn afternoon, looking out across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We could see all the seals gathered out on the far point. It made a fitting end to the day, and it was now time to head back. On the way, we stopped along the path and managed to find a spot where we could get the Spoonbills in the scope. As usual, they were mostly asleep, but one or two did wake up briefly, just long enough to flash their spoon-shapes bills before they went back to sleep, at which point it was easier to distinguish them from the white Little Egrets roosting with them.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – roosting on one of the islands at Stiffkey Fen

It had been a great three days of Autumn birding. The weather had not been anywhere near as bad as forecast, and we had mostly managed to dodge the showers, with the help of a hide or two. We had seen lots of birds, including several exciting ones, scarce Autumn migrants and some of the regular delights of birdwatching in Norfolk.