Tag Archives: Holkham

14th Nov 2019 – Rain to Shine

A Private Tour today, based in North Norfolk. It was a grey and wet morning, but the rain stopped in the afternoon and we had some glorious autumnal sunshine to end the day. The rain didn’t stop us though, and we saw some great birds.

We met in Wells. A Rough-legged Buzzard had taken up residence around the fields between the Beach Road and the west side of town over the last three days, so we thought we would start by looking for that. We had a quick drive up along Beach Road but there was no sign of it looking from there.

As we drove out of Wells towards Holkham, we spotted a raptor on the top of a hawthorn bush, but as we pulled up we could see it was just a Common Buzzard. But then we noticed something large which was hovering over the fields behind it – the Rough-legged Buzzard. We pulled into the car park and as it was not raining now we piled out. The Rough-legged Buzzard was still hovering, and we could see its dark belly contrasting with its very pale head, and its white tail with a wide black terminal band.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew over towards us, and landed on the top of a bush on the bank north of the car park. We walked up the track to the old sewage works for a closer look, flushing a second Common Buzzard from the trees as we did so, much darker than the Rough-legged. We got the scope on the Rough-legged Buzzard and had a great look at it.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – a juvenile, flew in and landed on a bush

There were lots of other birds here too. A covey of Grey Partridges was in the cover crop in the field next to the track, although they were hard to see. We managed to get one in the scope so we could see its orange face. Several Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch were in the bushes, and a flock of Linnets flew round over the field. A drake Pintail flew over.

It started to rain harder again now, so we walked back to the minibus, and drove west, along the coast road to Titchwell. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was working its way through the trees in the car park as we got out and on the walk to the Visitor Centre we stopped to watch a Goldcrest feeding low down in the sallows by the path. There were Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders and a Coal Tit popped in briefly.

Heading out along the main path, there was no sign of any Water Rail in the ditch today – even if the raindrops dripping off the trees into the water made it look like there might be something moving in the bottom. There were a couple of Little Egrets on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh and as we stopped to look we noticed some movement in the vegetation down near the front, a Water Pipit. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it flew and landed in some taller vegetation out of view and a minute or so later flew off.

There was a Marsh Harrier over the reedbed at the back of the old pool. As it flew out over the saltmarsh, it flushed several Curlews and Redshanks which flew up calling loudly. A Common Snipe flew out too – we could see its long bill as it circled round. The Reedbed Pool on the other side of the path produced a Tufted Duck in with the Mallards. A Cetti’s Warbler called in the reeds.

We continued on to Island Hide, where we could get out of the weather. There were lots of Golden Plovers roosting on the islands. They were surprisingly well camouflaged against the mud and low vegetation.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – roosting on the islands on the Freshmarsh

A few much smaller Dunlin were on the edges of the islands. A small flock of Knot flew in and started bathing in the shallow water, and when we got the scope on them, we could see a lone Ringed Plover on the island behind. Further back a long line of Avocets were mostly asleep, standing on one leg. Several Lapwings were on the low island, all facing into the rain with their backs to us.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Freshmarsh too – Wigeon, Teal, one or two Shoveler, and several Gadwall. Small groups of Brent Geese flew in and out from the saltmarsh where they were feeding.

The rain wasn’t too bad, so we carried on round to Parrinder Hide. One or two Reed Buntings were feeding in the vegetation below the path and flew up ahead of us, perching up in the reeds, flicking their tails agitatedly.

When we got into Parrinder Hide, there was another Water Pipit on the island in front. This time, we could get the scope on it and get a better view – white below with well-defined black streaks on the breast, well-marked pale supercilium and off-white wingbars.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding on one of the islands on the Freshmarsh

We were closer to the Golden Plover here and, despite the poor light, they looked noticeably golden-spangled on the upperparts. A single Grey Plover appeared on one of the islands behind, much more monochrome.

There were several Wigeon on the islands in front of the hide too – the drakes looking good now, mostly out of drab eclipse plumage, some still with remnants. A few Shelduck were now out with the Gadwall and Avocet in middle. On closer inspection, there was one Pintail with them too.

From round on the other side of Parrinder Hide, we had a look over Volunteer Marsh. There were lots more Wigeon and Teal out here, well hidden where they were feeding in the tall vegetation. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew in too. One or two Grey Plover were out on the mud and several Redshanks were in front of the hide along with a few smaller, dumpy Knot.

Knot

Knot – on the Volunteer Marsh in front of Parrinder Hide

Our hope was that the rain would stop early afternoon, so we went back to the Visitor Centre for an early lunch. Afterwards, we drove back west to Holkham. It was still raining when we arrived, but we could see brightness and blue sky to the south, which was hopefully heading our way.

As we parked on Lady Anne’s Drive, there were a small number of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadow either side – five on one side, two the other. Lots more geese flew in as we got our stuff together – Greylags with their deeper honking, and the Pinkfeet with their higher-pitched ‘ang-ang’ calls, which landed on the grass further back.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – there were some close ones on the grazing marshes at Holkham

Several Jays flew up and down over the trees and, as we walked up towards the pines, we noticed a covey of Grey Partridge out on the grass right behind the parking attendants’ hut.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – a covey was in the grass right next to Lady Anne’s Drive

As we made our way out along the edge of the saltmarsh, the sky started to brighten up. There were lots of Brent Geese out feeding in the saltmarsh vegetation and a large flock of Linnets whirled round before dropping back in.

As we got to the cordon at the east end, we saw first another group of Linnets fly up, and then we spotted the six Shorelarks taking off too. We didn’t see what had spooked them, but the Shorelarks flew past out over the dunes, and carried on west. Lots of Skylarks came up from the saltmarsh too now, and we watched them flying round together over the Gap, before the Shorelarks appeared to go down onto the beach over in that direction.

We decided to walk back west along the beach to look for them. As we made our way out past the cordon, we spotted another covey of Grey Partridges in the saltmarsh beyond the fence. A swan coming in over the beach caught the low sunlight, contrasting with the remains of the dark cloud behind – very evocative. It was a lone Whooper Swan, presumably freshly arrived over the sea, coming in for the winter most likely from Iceland, probably heading for the Ouse Washes.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – a single bird flew in over the beach

We stopped for a quick scan of the beach, and there looked to be lots going on. Big numbers of gulls and a line Cormorants out on the sand, Oystercatchers scattered between them and small groups of Sanderlings scuttling up and down the shoreline.

We could see a small group of Common Scoter on the sea just beyond the breakers, all pale-cheeked females or immatures. As a few more flew in to join them, we noticed one with white wing patches, a Velvet Scoter. It landed and we got it in the scope, a fraction bigger than the Common Scoters and with a very different face pattern, with two smaller pale spots.

There were five Red-breasted Mergansers just off beach too, and we had a great view of those through the scope. Several Great Crested Grebes were offshore, along with a single Red-throated Diver. Scanning away to the west, we picked up two Slavonian Grebes just offshore a bit further over.

Holkham beach

Holkham beach – when the sun eventually came out

Now the weather had brightened up, suddenly there were lots of people out for a walk, and lots of dogs running around on the sand. Looking back, we still couldn’t see the Shorelarks in cordon, so we walked west along the beach to see if we could find them over where they had landed earlier. A couple of people had just walked through the area and there was no sign now. We knew they regularly return to the cordon, so we walked back to have another look just in case.

When we got back, we found the Shorelarks were indeed back in the cordon, down at the eastern end. We had a quick look through the scope, and then walked round for a closer view. A Ringed Plover was on the saltmarsh ahead of us and a Rock Pipit flew in. It kept flying up and landing next to the Ringed Plover – for some reason it seemed to want to feed close to it.

The Shorelarks had moved out into the middle, and as we walked round to the path on the southern side of the saltmarsh we had a great view of them, their bright yellow faces shining in the low autumnal afternoon sunshine. Great birds!

Shorelark

Shorelark – there were six on the saltmarsh looking great in the afternoon sun

Mission accomplished, we walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese now out on Quarles Marsh, behind the Lookout cafe. A large flock of Egyptian Geese were down on the grazing marsh and as we stopped to look at them we noticed several Brown Hares nearby too.

We drove round to Stiffkey Greenway to finish the day. We were a bit later than planned, after running round after the Shorelarks, and the light was already starting to go. We had apparently already missed a Hen Harrier which had flown past before we arrived.

As we scanned over the saltmarsh, we did find a Merlin perched on a small bush. It was quite a way off, but we could see it in the scope. Someone else pointed out an even more distant Peregrine, perched on a post off on the edge of Blakeney Harbour. An owl was hunting way off out at East Hills, although we could only see it as it broke the skyline now. It looked like a Short-eared Owl, and this was confirmed later by someone who was watching from further west tonight.

More and more Little Egrets started flying past, in small groups, heading off to roost. The light was really going now. It had been a great day, but it was time to head for home.

 

 

13th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Migration tour, our last day. It was a damp and misty morning with drizzle on and off, but we managed to make the best of it, and it dried out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather breezy.

We started the day at Holkham. It was grey and drizzling as we got out of the minibus on Lady Anne’s Drive, to the sound of small parties of Pink-footed Geese flying over in the mist.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Goose – small groups flew over calling in the mist

A Common Gull was feeding on the short grass opposite and conveniently walked over to a Black-headed Gull for a nice side-by-side comparison. Further back, we spotted a covey of Grey Partridges. They were hard to see in the dull conditions, in amongst the lumps of mud where the channels on the grazing marsh have just been excavated, so we walked over to The Lookout cafe where we could get a bit of elevation and get a better look at them. Several Jays came out of the trees, and headed off up Lady Anne’s Drive.

Walking west on the track on the inland side of the pines, we could hear tits in the trees and then a Yellow-browed Warbler called further up. We walked on to see if we could locate it, but by the time we got to where it had been it had gone quiet again and there was no movement in the trees by the track.

We stopped briefly at Salts Hole. A lone Tufted Duck flew off with the Mallards as we walked up. There are several Little Grebes on here now, where they spend the winter, and they seemed to be laughing at us, out in the drizzle.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there are several on Salts Hole for the winter

We stopped again to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide, but got distracted by a tit flock calling from the trees the other side. One of the group went over to look at the grazing marsh, and a Great White Egret and a Grey Heron feeding over the grass on the edge of a shallow reedy channel. It was a good size comparison – the Great White Egret at least the size of the heron. A second Great White Egret was more hidden, in a ditch a little further back.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches on the grazing marsh

The sycamores behind Washington Hide were all quiet, although we could still hear the tits just to the east, in the pines and holm oaks. We decided to go into the hide for a sit down and a chance to dry off a little.

Looking away to the left, we could see that the second Great White Egret had now come over to the reedy channel with the first, along with a second Grey Heron. They were then joined by a third Great White Egret which flew in. Quite an impressive assemblage of herons and quite unthinkable just a few years ago, when Great White Egret was a rarity here. They have bred here this year for the second year in a row.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets – from Washington Hide, we could see three now (and two Grey Herons)

There were not many geese out on the grazing marshes today. Presumably most of the Pink-footed Geese had flown inland to feed on the stubble fields, which they do at this time of year. We did manage to find a distant collection of geese – a small group of five Pinkfeet with Greylags and a couple of Canada Geese.

There was quite a bit of activity down in the bushes in the reeds in front of the hide. There were several Song Thrushes flying in and out, presumably migrants dropping in fresh from the continent. A Ring Ouzel had been seen here earlier, and at one point it flew up into the top of a hawthorn bush. It was tricky to see, hidden in amongst the leaves, but through the scope we could make out it was a male, with a white crescent on its breast. It dropped down out of view.

As the drizzle eased off, more thrushes appeared in the bushes, coming up to preen and dry themselves out. There were several Redwings now, with bold pale superciliums and rusty patches on their flanks. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared in the tops of the bushes and then a Marsh Harrier came up out of the reeds too, as the rain stopped.

We walked back down to the gate and looked out at the bushes on the edge of the reeds. There were several Song Thrushes, grey-backed continental birds, clearly migrants coming here for the winter, but no further sign of the Ring Ouzel. While the weather was better we decided to carry on west. A closer Pink-footed Goose was on its own with a small gaggle of Greylags on the grazing marshes just beyond the trees.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – on the grazing marsh with a few Greylags

Just before the crosstracks, a Red Kite drifted out from the pines and over the bushes. It probably flushed another Ring Ouzel, as we could hear it as it flew off chacking.

There had been several Yellow-browed Warblers in the last couple of days in the sallows just beyond the crosstracks, so we walked on to see if we could find one. There were already a few people looking and we had only just walked up when we heard one calling. Triangulating the various calls there were at least two, possibly three, but they played cat and mouse with us for a while. We heard them calling and caught brief glimpses as they flew out of the bushes or perched briefly when they landed, before disappearing in.

A large oak tree provided some shelter from the wind and there was a bit of activity in the bushes in front of it. First a Chiffchaff flitted around in the ivy. Then one of the Yellow-browed Warblers flew up into a large hawthorn right in front of the oak. Now we finally had a good chance to get a proper look at one, although even here it was so active, flicking in and out of the leaves, that it was never easy to latch onto without a bit of patience. It seemed to like this tree, as it came back into it a couple of times while we watched.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we eventually got good views of one in the trees

We had already heard a few Siskins over the pines on our walk out to here, but now a succession of flocks started coming overhead, calling. At first, we wondered whether it was the same flock coming round and round, but the number of birds changed each time and they were all heading quickly west. Then a message came through to say that large numbers of Siskins were on the move along the coast. We must have seen over 500 here in about 30 minutes, but even that underestimated the scale of the Siskin migration underway.

There were other birds moving too today. Two Bramblings flew in over the pines calling and circled overhead, and a few Song Thrushes were still coming in too, flying in over the trees and dropping down into the bushes.

We decided to continue on to the west end, to see if we could find anything else fresh in. As we got to the gate overlooking the grazing marshes at the end of the pines, we could see lots of white shapes feeding in with the cattle away to the south. We had a better view from higher up, just in the start of the dunes. They were a long way off, but through the scope we counted eight Cattle Egrets and three Great White Egrets, another amazing collection of birds which would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, such is the pace of colonisation of these species.

Out in the open in the dunes, the weather was not particularly pleasant – the wind had picked up, and it was still drizzling on and off. We had a quick walk round the start of the bushes, flushing a couple of Song Thrushes out, but with it getting towards lunchtime now too we didn’t have time to venture any further.

However, now we could really appreciate the true scale of the Siskin movement. Birds had been moving over the pines, which we couldn’t see on the south side of the trees. From out in the open, we could see flocks pouring through, 60-250 birds at a time, 2-3 flocks per minute. Amazing to watch! Real migration in action. There were a few Chaffinches on the move too now, and a small flock dropped into the pines around us as we walked back into the trees, a harbinger of what was to come in the afteroon.

After the walk back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped for lunch in The Lookout cafe and a welcome hot drink to warm up. By the time we had finished lunch, the rain had stopped again. We drove east along the coast road to Blakeney, where a pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes on the grazing marsh as we parked.

We thought we would have a quick walk around Friary Hills, which would be comparatively sheltered from the weather and a good place from which to observe the birds passing by overhead. There were lots of Blackbirds in the hawthorn hedge, which flushed out as we walked along and flew up into the trees the other side. Several Song Thrushes came out too, and a single Fieldfare, our first of the autumn. Four Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in here too, probably all migrants stopping off to refuel.

Blackbird

Blackbird – there were lots feeding in the hedge at Friary Hills

The Siskins appeared to have largely dried up now, but they were replaced by Chaffinches. Small flocks were passing over constantly, not on quite the scale of the Siskins earlier but on any other day they would be very impressive numbers moving. Amazing to think that these are all birds arriving here for the winter, mostly from the continent.

Down at the end of the track, a tit flock was moving quickly through the trees. A quick scan and we found a Yellow-browed Warbler in with them. It showed well, if briefly again, up in the sycamores, before the flock moved on. We tried to follow them back along the top path but they seemed to disappear back into the gardens beyond.

We stopped for a few minutes at the top, partly just to admire the view but also to see if any of the tits were still working their way in our direction through the bushes. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the Freshes, and a couple of Grey Herons down with the cows, although there were no egrets with them here. As we walked back down the hill, a young Peregrine came in from the Freshes and disappeared inland over our heads.

Peregrine

Peregrine – flew over as we walked back down the path

To get round to the seawall, we had to walk past the duck pond with its motley collection of wildfowl. A colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull was feeding on the food put out for the ducks on one of the platforms. After emailing the scheme co-ordinator, we discovered it was ringed as a youngster in Suffolk in 2010. Although it was seen all the way down in Morocco at one point (in 2014), in recent years it seems to have found Cley and Blakeney more to its liking. It was good to see the Hooded Merganser was still present in the collection here too and hadn’t escaped!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull – ringed as a chick in Suffolk in 2010

Walking out along the seawall to the harbour, a smart male Marsh Harrier quartered the grazing marshes on the other side of the bank.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – we watched this smart male out over the Freshes

From the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. There were a few waders out on the mud – mostly Curlews and Redshanks. A small group of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone dropped in and started feeding busily. Further out, a couple of distant Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding in one of the deeper channels and there were plenty of Brent Geese out on the sandbars.

There seemed to be several small flocks of waders flying in. When a flock of Turnstone came in over the Glaven channel in front of us, we could see a couple of Dunlin in with them but also a much smaller wader at the back. It was clearly a stint, probably a Little Stint. Unfortunately, despite our best hopes, it didn’t land on the mud in front of us, but carried on out into the harbour and seemed to drop down out of view.

A Scandinavian Rock Pipit flew over the saltmarsh calling and dropped down into the vegetation out of view. Even out here, there were more Chaffinches still coming in or flying west in small groups, with the odd Siskin mixed in with them. It had been an amazing day for visible migration today, with all the finches moving and the thrushes in the bushes. Now it was unfortunately time to head back and wrap up an exciting four days of Autumn Migration.

22nd Sept 2019 – Autumn Migration, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Migration tour today. It was another bright and sunny morning, with the temperature soaring to a heady 27C, although the wind picked up in the afternoon and it clouded over later. Thankfully, the rain helpfully held off until after we had finished for the day.

Our first destination for the day was going to be Burnham Overy, but as we made our way over there we drove round via some old barns beside the road. Once again, the Little Owl was sunning itself in the window frame, just where we had seen it a couple of days ago. Always a good way to start the day!

We parked at the head of the track which goes out across the grazing marshes and stopped to scan the fields first. A small group of Golden Plovers was tucked down in the middle of one of the fields, well camouflaged in the stubble. A Pheasant was down along the back edge and looking more closely we found several Grey Partridges with it. A Red Kite circled over and flushed all the Golden Plover, which whirled round calling. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese kept flying up from the grazing marshes and heading over us inland to feed.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying inland to feed first thing

Even from here, we could see a couple of white shapes with the cows way out on the grazing marshes which through the scope we could confirm were Cattle Egrets. We set off down the track for a closer look. A Chiffchaff calling in the hedge popped up onto the top briefly.

What was possibly part of the same covey of Grey Partridges was now on the other side of the hedge, on the edge of the grazing marsh which meant we got a much closer view of them, when they came out from the edge. We heard a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper calling overhead, but couldn’t see them from where we were on the tree-lined track.

The cows were now at the far side of the grazing marsh, below the seawall. As we got to the end of the track, closer to them, we could see one or two Cattle Egrets. But the cows were feeding around the edge of a reed-fringed pool and some were hidden from view. Gradually more appeared from the vegetation or out of the ditch, until we were sure we could see at least six Cattle Egrets here.

From up on the seawall, we had an even better view. The pool is rapidly drying out and the Cattle Egrets were having great success catching and eating frogs which were revealed in the bottom. It was a bit gruesome, but we watched one throwing its catch around to try to kill it and then swallowing it whole. Some video of the moment is below. Three more of the egrets then also caught themselves frogs just while we were standing there watching.

Cattle Egret 1

Cattle Egret – we watched several of them catching and eating frogs

Having watched the Cattle Egrets for a while, we turned our attention to the harbour the other side. There were lots of waders feeding on the mud just below the seawall on our side – mostly Redshanks, but a single juvenile Knot and a few Dunlin were in with them.

Further over, out in the middle of the harbour, we could see a line of Grey Plovers roosting on a sand bar, some of them still sporting the remnants of their summer black bellies and faces. There were also a few Ringed Plovers, Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits out in the harbour, and a single Sanderling on the sand on our side of the main channel.

There are always hundreds of Brent Geese here through the winter, but they are only just starting to return from their breeding grounds in Russia now. We could see ten distantly out in the harbour. There were several Wigeon along the side of the channel, including one smarter drake already seemingly moulting out of its dull eclipse plumage.

We walked back along the seawall to scan the reedbed pool, which produced a couple of Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were staying tucked down out of the breeze today. A Kingfisher zipped in over the mud behind us and round over the reedbed, in a flash of electric blue. It carried on right past us and seemed to be heading out across the grazing marsh, but changed its mind and did another fly past back the other way before dropping down into one of the pools in the reeds.

A Marsh Harrier came in over the harbour, flushing all the waders and ducks. It then flew in over the seawall past us, a juvenile with dark chocolate brown body and pale head.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in over the harbour

The sound of Pink-footed Geese yelping was a constant backdrop to the morning, with groups coming and going from the grazing marshes. At one point, a large group seemed to have been flushed from the stubble fields inland where they had been feeding and flew back in. We watched as they whiffled down to join the others already in the grass. While we were scanning from here, we spotted two Great White Egrets flying off away from us towards Holkham.

Continuing out to the boardwalk, a small flock of Swallows came overhead and disappeared off east. Looking out the other way, we picked up three Grey Herons flying high west out over Scolt Head. There were obviously still a few birds on the move today. The bushes around the boardwalk were very quiet today, but there was a lot of disturbance with people and dogwalkers coming and going from the beach and dunes. We picked up a distant Whinchat perched on the suaeda out on the saltmarsh, a nice migrant stopping off on its way south.

While standing here, we heard a single short rattling call – a Lapland Bunting. It then went quiet and we didn’t see where it went. However, a couple of minutes later it came back over calling again, a rattle and a sharp ‘teu’. This time we picked it up flying overhead and we watched it as it disappeared away to the west over Gun Hill. Lapland Buntings are scarce winter visitors here in very variable numbers. They were in very short supply last winter, but the early signs are that it might be a good autumn for them so fingers crossed for a better winter this time.

Continuing out through the dunes to Gun Hill, there were several Stonechats in the bushes, and a Whinchat with them. We got a much better view of this one, as it perched on the top of the bushes, flying up trying to catch flies. The Whinchat was noticeably paler than the Stonechats, with a prominent pale supercilium. There were lots of Linnets in the bushes here too.

The tide had come in quickly in the harbour as we had walked out. The sandbar they had been on was under water, and the Grey Plovers were now roosting up on the saltmarsh with several Redshanks. A large flock of Ringed Plovers was on the opposite bank of the channel, and several Dunlin and one or two Turnstone were with them, thought they were constantly getting flushed by the boats sailing back and forth.

It was lovely out in the dunes in the sunshine, looking out over the harbour, but we had a long walk back ahead of us. Back on the seawall, the Pink-footed Geese were very jumpy, not helped by first a light aircraft and then a helicopter coming low over them – surprising there still aren’t better restrictions to prevent disturbance here.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – constantly getting spooked by aircraft today

Four Red Kites circled over in the sunshine, as we got back to the reedbed. Down on the track across the grazing marshes several of the Cattle Egrets were feeding with the cows on the short grass by the path now.

Cattle Egret 2

Cattle Egret – feeding around the cows’ feet on the way back

When we got back to the minibus, we drove round to Holkham for lunch at the Lookout cafe. After we had recovered from the morning’s walk, we set off west along the track on the inland side of the trees. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling but they were high in the pines. A Hobby appeared briefly over the tops.

As we got to Salt’s Hole, a Kingfisher zipped across the water at the back and swooped into the trees out of view. There were several Little Grebes out on the water, and they were very active today, chasing each other round, calling like madmen laughing at us. A Jay flew across the back.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – chasing each other round the pool

We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling behind us and turned to find a couple in the holm oaks. They paused briefly but then zipped through and disappeared into the trees round the side of the pool. More birds followed but frustratingly most didn’t stop – we saw Coal Tit and Chaffinch as they came through, but just heard and caught a glimpse of Goldcrest.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – one or two paused briefly in the holm oaks

Carrying on along the track, the wind had picked up and the trees were being caught by the breeze once we got out of the shelter of the poplars on the south side of the track. Two juvenile Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds in front of Washington Hide as we walked up but the sycamores behind the hide were quiet. We could hear more tits deep in the trees opposite.

Continuing west, we stopped as another tit flock flew out of the pines by Meals House, but they flew straight through the sycamores and disappeared into the thick holm oaks in the garden. We were hoping to find some migrants with the tits along the track here this afternoon, but it seemed to be a recurring theme that the flocks were not stopping to feed in the deciduous trees by the path, possibly due to the wind.

We were rewarded with good views of a Hobby above the pines, presumably hunting for dragonflies and other insects. It kept coming out into view over the path and then disappearing back over the treetops, circling.

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects over the edge of the pines as we walked out

We had a quick look from Joe Jordan Hide. There had apparently been several Great White Egrets on the pool here earlier, but there was no sign of them now. There were plenty of raptors though. A Peregrine flew in and starting chasing pigeons through the trees in Decoy Wood. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grazing marsh and a Red Kite over the park beyond. One of the very pale Common Buzzards was perched in the top of one of the bushes.

The trees just to the west of the crosstracks were less exposed to the wind but still seemed to be quiet, so we decided to try our luck somewhere else. As we walked back along the track, another Red Kite hung over pines where the Hobby had been earlier.

We drove round to Wells Woods for one last roll of the dice, thinking that it might be a bit more sheltered in the trees there. Their seemed to be a fair few migrants turning up fresh in elsewhere along the coast this afternoon – flycatchers and a Yellow-browed Warbler – so we figured there had to be something in the woods along here somewhere. The ice cream van is strategically places by the gate, and we couldn’t resist the temptation – we ate our ice creams as we walked into the trees.

As we walked through the birches it started to cloud over and the wind picked up even more. Some of the trees were being lashed by the breeze now, and we couldn’t find any birds at first. Undeterred, we continued round the Dell, and on the far side we walked into a tit flock. Suddenly there were birds everywhere and we didn’t know where to look.

There were lots of tits – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits. A Goldcrest was flitting around low down in a yew trees, giving us a great look. We heard a Treecreeper calling and first one appeared on the trunk of a tree, then a second flew in behind us and landed low down on a pine, working its way slowly up the side.

Then the flock were off, moving quickly through the birches in the Dell. We tried to follow and it seemed like we might have lost them until we walked into the middle of them again on the bank on the north side of the Dell, more Long-tailed Tits and another nice Goldcrest low down in a bush right above our heads.

A small bird then flew in to the lower branches of a pine above us. It seemed wrong for a Goldcrest and when we looked at it, we could see it was very clean white below. Then it turned its head and flashed its long pale superilium – a Yellow-browed Warbler! It flitted around in the pine for a few seconds, but then as the Long-tailed Tits all flew past into the birches, it followed and we lost sight of it.

The tit flock moved really quickly from there, round the east side of the Dell. We followed, but we just got glimpses of the birds as they flew past us between the trees. Then they seemed to stop for a couple of minutes in the sallows either side of the main path. We tried to find the Yellow-browed Warbler again as the flock crossed the path, but there was no sign of it. All we could find were two Chiffchaffs which stopped to feed in a small oak. Then the flock disappeared through the bushes towards the caravan park, where we couldn’t follow. It would have been nice to see the Yellow-browed Warbler for longer, but at least we had seen it!

It was time to call it a day now and get everyone back.

8th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. The wind had dropped after yesterday and after a cloudy start, there were lots of bright sunny intervals and it even warmed up nicely by the afternoon.

With a light easterly wind over southern Norway overnight, and northerlies still to bring birds in to the North Norfolk coast, we thought it worth a look to see if we could find any drift migrants carried across the North Sea. We headed down to Wells Woods first thing. There were several Little Grebes out on the boating lake as we walked in along the track. It sounded like they were laughing at us – did they know something we didn’t?

A Chiffchaff flitted ahead of us and perched in the top of a hawthorn and a Blackcap was hopping around in a dense patch of brambles, feeding on the berries. But both were more likely local birds than migrants. As we walked into the birches it seemed rather quiet, there were just a few Coal Tits calling from the trees. We walked round the Dell, hoping to run into one of the tit flocks, but there was nothing here.We stopped to watch a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers high in the pines.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – we stopped to watch a pair high in the pines

So we changed tack and walked across the main track to check out the bushes the other side. There were a couple of Greenfinches in the trees, a Jay appeared briefly in a pine and a couple of Muntjacs were out on the grazing marshes beyond. Not what we were hoping to find. As we walked back through the birches, we heard the yelping calls of a flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over behind us.

We walked back along the main track but thought we would cut through round the east side of the Dell just in case we could find a tit flock here. There were just a couple of Chiffchaff and Blackcap calling at first, but when we got back to the birches by the toilet block we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. Suddenly we were surrounded by so many birds, we didn’t know where to look!

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the tit flock

As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue and Great Tits and several Coal Tits, feeding actively in the trees all around us. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around in the branches of the big old pine tree above us and higher up, a Treecreeper worked its way up the trunk. A Green Woodpecker called and flew past through the tops.

There were warblers with them, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Then we caught a glimpse of a different warbler high up in one of the birch trees. It was greenish above with a yellow wash on its throat, and plain faced, lacking the distinct supercilium of the Chiffchaffs, with rather a beady dark eye as a result. It was a bit bigger too, and moved more heavily through the foliage.

The warbler kept disappearing into the leaves and a couple of times we thought it had possibly moved off, before it reappeared again. Gradually, over several minutes, we built up a composite picture of it. It had a distinct pale panel in the secondaries when we could see its wings and, viewed from underneath, it seemed to have a rather broad bill with an bright orange base. It was obviously one of the Hippolais warblers, with Icterine Warbler far and away the most likely here, particularly given the conditions. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to tell apart from the very similar Melodious Warbler and we just couldn’t the primary projection, the clinching identification criteria.

As the tit flock moved back through the trees away from us, the warbler did finally disappear. We thought it might have gone with the tits, so we set off after them. It was hard to see the birds deep in the birches but eventually the flock came out onto the edge of the main track. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the warbler with them. Frustrating!

Rather than waste the whole day trying to find it again, we decided to move on and drove round to Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, a large flock of Pink-footed Geese was circling round over the grazing marshes and as we got out they whiffled down and disappeared from view.

We made our way west along the track on the inland side of the pines and it wasn’t far before we found another tit flock. We had good views of another Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the pines, but we couldn’t see anything different in with them before they disappeared into the trees. Carrying on, there were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole and a Kestrel hovering over the grazing marshes beyond.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – in the sycamores behind Washington Hide

We walked up the boardwalk behind Washington Hide. This can be a good area for migrants, but the only bird we could find in the sycamores was a single Chiffchaff. There was more activity on the pool in front of the hide – as we walked round on the boardwalk we spotted a Great White Egret standing on the post in the middle of the pool, preening. We got the scope on it and had a look, admiring its long, dagger-shaped yellow orange bill, as a Grey Heron walked past below for a good size comparison. Then it was pushed off by a Cormorant which decided it was a good place to dry its wings.

Great White Egret 1

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

There were three other large white birds around the edges of the pool, which were three Spoonbills. We watched as they worked their way in and out of the reeds, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallows.

Carrying on along the path, we headed for Joe Jordan hide. The trees behind Meals House were very quiet too – it seemed like we might be out of luck trying to find any migrants here. Then just before we got to the crosstracks, we heard the distinctive call of a Pied Flycatcher in the trees. It flicked across the path in front of us into a large oak tree, where we managed to get a few glimpses of it. Then it disappeared out the back.

We walked slowly along the track, and could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling again in a large hawthorn beside the path ahead of us. Just as we tried to position ourselves to see it, a second Pied Flycatcher flicked up in the small oak right beside us. It shot across the path but when we tried to follow it, we lost track of it. Then we turned round and it was back in the small oak tree again. We were in a better position now and we stood back and had a great view of it when it flicked out and landed on the outside of the tree.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – eventually flicked out onto the outside of the oak

We could still hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from deeper in the trees, and then the second bird appeared in the small oak too. But when we looked at it, it wasn’t calling and the sound was still coming from further back. There were actually at least three here! Pied Flycatchers are migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia south for the winter. There had obviously been a small fall of them on the coast today.

We had a quick look out at the grazing marshes from up in Joe Jordan Hide. We could see lots of Pink-footed Geese down in the grass from here. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and circled out over the grass. It flushed a big flock of Meadow Pipits which circled up above it, determined to keep it below them where they could see it! A Common Buzzard was perched on the scaffold tower out in the middle and a Kestrel flew across in front of the hide with something in its talons.

We decided to set off back, so we wouldn’t be too late for lunch. With the sun out, it was very warm now out of the wind in the lee of the trees. There were lots of dragonflies – Common and Ruddy Darters which flushed from the bushes by the track as we passed, and clouds of Migrant Hawkers zipping back and forth on the edge of the trees.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker – there were lots out along the track in the sun today

After lunch back at the Lookout Cafe, we set off back east. We were aiming to finish the day at Stiffkey, but we still had a little extra time available so we called in at Wells again. We had stopped to check out the pools here on our first morning, but had not managed to look around the bushes as it started to rain, so we thought we would try again now.

As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret working its way along the back edge of the pools on the left of the track, our second of the day. We had a look at it in the scope, before it disappeared from view behind the vegetation. A Green Sandpiper, a Common Redshank and two Common Snipe were on the pools this side too.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – on the pools at Wells this afternoon

We set off down the track. There were a few more Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Egyptian Geese today, presumably more birds arriving back from Iceland, but no sign of any Barnacles. There had apparently been some Pintail here this morning, but despite scanning through the ducks carefully, we couldn’t find any. There was no sign of the Garganey either, but lots of the ducks were asleep in the grass at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the pools and more Ruff today. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was wheeling round over the stubble field beyond, but we couldn’t see why. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was feeding on the mud with five Dunlin, a bit distant in the heat haze but nice to see one to keep up our unbroken record across each of the three days! We could hear Greenshank calling and when we got to the far side, we looked back to see four on the mud behind the vegetation along the far edge.

As we got to the bushes beyond the pools, we could hear a soft tacking call, more of a ‘tsk’ than a hard ‘tack’, and as we turned to watch a Lesser Whitethroat came out of the leaves and started to feed on the blackberries. It was grey-brown on the back, with a soft grey head, slightly darker mask and bright white throat and underparts.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – feeding on the blackberries

As we carried on round through the bushes, we found at least two more Lesser Whitethroats. A Common Whitethroat flew across and landed on the top of some low brambles briefly and we heard one or two Blackcaps calling, a distinctly harder ‘tack’ than the Lesser Whitethroat. There were Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches in the bushes too, as well as a few Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer which flew off towards the fields beyond.

Our last stop was at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path between the hedges on the verge is too overgrown to walk down, so we had to make our way carefully along the road today, until we got to the footpath down by the river. A cacophony of shooting started up over the fields inland – with the close season now, presumably it was some sort of clay pigeon shooting event. There were a few House Martins still circling round the house on the hill, but there was not much to see in the bushes along the path this afternoon.

As we got to the point where the brambles are low enough to see over the Fen, we realised something was wrong. The islands were half empty, and the geese were walking nervously away from the side nearest the road, honking. Five duck flew up and disappeared off, three Pintail leading, followed by a pair of Wigeon. There should have been around 35 Spoonbills on here, but we could only see two.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were only two left on the Fen after all the shooting

From up on the seawall, we could see that the noise of all the shooting had scared almost everything off. We could still see the two Spoonbills in with all the Greylags, but there were no ducks at all. The island at the back, closest to the noise and which is normally packed with roosting birds, was completely empty. There were very few waders on the Fen either – just three Greenshank (joined briefly by a fourth) and much fewer Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Ruff than normal. We did manage to find a single Green Sandpiper along the far shore. All in all, very disappointing.

We decided to walk round to the harbour. There were still a few people and boats around, enjoying the sunshine, but there was a lot less disturbance here than last week. The Spoonbills were out on the saltmarsh. They were rather distant and hard to count, with some hidden in the vegetation and quite a bit of heat haze now, but we could see at least 25 here. The two which were left on the Fen flew overhead and out to join the others. Numbers have already started to drop in the last few days, and it won’t be long now before they have left us, heading down to the south coast for the winter.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – the two flew out to join the others in the harbour

It was just after high tide, and there were lots of gulls roosting on the mud on the edge of the harbour. In with them, we found a few waders – several Ringed Plovers, a few Black-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone. A flock of Redshank flew in and landed in the shallow water behind them. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans was in the water further along and on the sandbank beyond them we could see more waders – a large roost of Oystercatchers, lots of godwits and a few Grey Plover, still sporting their summer black faces and bellies.

The surprise of the afternoon was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver swimming in the harbour, just off one of the spits of mud out in front of us. Presumably it had come into the harbour to get away from the choppy sea in all the wind yesterday. Its red throat was hard to see, but we could see its grey head, dark back and uptilted bill.

When a little flock of small waders shot across over the harbour, we looked up to see a distant falcon heading straight in towards us. It was clearly in a long stoop, coming very fast, but we couldn’t make out what it was at first, head on. When it got almost to the near shore, it changed its angle and dropped quickly down. It turned sharply and we watched as it chased after a small wader which had taken off from the mud and was trying to fly away over the water. It was now clear what it was, a Hobby. The wader quickly got away, and the Hobby circled up over the water and drifted in towards us, before flying off west.

Hobby

Hobby – came in over the harbour after the waders

It was great to watch the Hobby in action and a lovely way to wrap up what had been an exciting three days of Autumn birding in Norfolk.

12th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 3

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

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

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

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of the hedge

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

Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse – feeding in the bushes right by the path

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

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

Great White Egret

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

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

Sedge Warbler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two rather pale males in the dunes

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

Brown Argus

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

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

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

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

Wryneck

Wryneck – still in the dunes this morning

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

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

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh

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

Spoonbill

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

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

Grey-headed Wagtail

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

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

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

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

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

Spoonbills

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

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

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

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

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

Red Kite

Red Kite – drifted over the track behind us

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

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

22nd Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 3

Day 2 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was another glorious, sunny day but a bit cooler than yesterday, in a fresher ENE wind. Still, it was lovely weather to be out again. We spent most of the day further east along the north Norfolk coast today.

Holkham has been very busy over Easter, with the car park filling up as lots of visitors came out enjoying the good weather, so we figured we would need to get in and out early. As we walked west on the inland side of the pines, there were lots of warblers singing in the trees and bushes – Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler.

A Swallow flew over the pines heading east and we heard a Greenshank flying over too, calling. We saw our first Jays of the weekend in the poplars and lots of Speckled Wood butterflies flying over the path.

Jay

Jay – we saw several in the woods at Holkham

Salts Hole was quiet – part from the noisy Egyptian Geese flying in and out of the trees. Continuing on to Washington Hide, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling and the more rhythmic song of a Reed Warbler singing too in the reedbed, but both stayed well hidden.

Continuing on to Joe Jordan Hide, the first things we spotted as we opened the flaps were the two Cattle Egrets. They were some way off at first, not with the cows, feeding in a low-lying wet area further back. Then they flew in to join the cattle, coming a bit closer where we could get a better look at them in the scope. We watched one of them picking insects off the back of a calf which was lying down in the grass.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret – the two were still with the cattle at Holkham

There was lots of Spoonbill activity this morning, with regular comings and goings as birds flew down from the trees to the big pool below and back up again. One or two birds were bathing, while others were feeding in the shallow water or looking for nest material around the margins.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was lots of coming and going this morning

A Grey Heron was standing motionless out on one of the smaller wet areas in the grass and several Little Egrets flew in and out of the trees too. A selection of ducks, Avocets and Redshanks were also down around the pools. A Mistle Thrush was feeding down in the grass below the hide.

We could have spent a lot longer here, but we wanted to move on before it got too busy. By the time we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, there were lots of cars already parked most of the way down towards the main road now, and lots of people, dogs and horses, mostly heading straight out to the beach. We made a quick visit to The Lookout café, to use the facilities, and a Little Ringed Plover dropped down onto the pool in front calling. Then we made quick escape!

We drove east to Kelling next. There were a few warblers singing as we walked up the lane, including one or two Lesser Whitethroats rattling in the hedge. When we got to the copse, we found a few people looking for the Pied Flycatcher which had been seen here earlier, but there had been no sign of it for over an hour apparently. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were singing in the trees.

Rather than linger here, we continued straight on to the Water Meadow. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing up and down, feeding along the muddy edge, and a single Ruff was also feeding on the margin at the back. A dusky grey Spotted Redshank, still moulting into breeding plumage, was feeding out in the deeper water in the middle amongst several noisy Black-tailed Godwits. A nice selection of spring migrant waders.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – gradually moulting into breeding plumage

With lots of people coming down to look for the flycatcher, it was busy down here now, with a steady stream of people walking past the pool. There had been a Wood Sandpiper here earlier but that had apparently flown off, and there was no sign of any Green Sandpiper or Greenshank either. In spring, birds are in a hurry to get to their breeding grounds, so they often don’t stay long. A lone Dunlin did fly in and drop down onto the shore while we were there, a migrant stopping off briefly to feed.

We walked back up the lane to where the cows were grazing at the other end of the Water Meadow. We could just see one or two Yellow Wagtails in the long grass, but there was still no sign of the Blue-headed Wagtail which had been with them earlier. Again it had presumably moved on quickly.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – still two with the cows when we arrived

Two of the locals who just arrived from Cley told that two Wood Sandpipers were showing well from the East Bank there, so we decided to head straight over. As we parked at Walsey Hills, we noticed a Common Buzzard flying out of the trees with a big gap in one wing – possibly it had been shot at. It didn’t seem to be affecting its flying ability too badly though, and we watched as it decided to have a tussle with a second paler Buzzard over the trees.

Common Buzzards

Common Buzzard – fighting over the wood

A quick walk out on the East Bank was instantly rewarded with the two Wood Sandpipers, feeding on the small pools just below bank. They were very close and we had a really good look at them, dainty little birds with white-spangled upperparts and a noticeable pale supercilium. Wood Sandpipers are passage migrants here, passing through from their wintering grounds in Africa to breed in Scandinavia, and as we had found at Kelling can often move on quickly in spring, so it was great to catch up with them.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – two were showing very well, close to the East Bank

There was a smart rusty male Ruff on the pools here too, just moulting into breeding plumage. It had already lots most of its pale grey/brown and white winter plumage, but was yet to get an ornate ruff and headdress. Male Ruffs have a two stage moult, getting a new set of body feathers first, before moulting the head and neck again later. There is no point carrying round that ruff for any longer than is necessary! Over the next month or so, this bird will acquire the rest of its breeding plumage before moving on to its breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

Ruff

Ruff – moulting into breeding plumage, but no ruff yet

It was rather cool up on the bank in the fresh easterly breeze. We had a quick scan of the rest of the marshes but otherwise we could only see a few ducks on Serpentine, mainly Teal and Gadwall. There were a few gulls on Pope’s Pool. It was already around 1pm so we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we drove back towards Salthouse for a quick look at the Iron Road. The pools here are drying out fast now, and looked to be quiet at first when we scanned from the road. Still, we walked down for a closer look and found a nice selection of birds still. The highlight was a smart White Wagtail which was feeding on the dried out mud on the front edge. We could see its bright silvery-grey upperparts, contrasting with the black top to its head.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the dry margin of the pool at Iron Road

There were a few waders too. Two Little Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged down on the dry mud, two Dunlin were picking around the edge of the water, and there were several Ruff towards the back, including a couple of females, Reeves. One of the Reeves was noticeably much smaller than the male Ruff it was with. A Marsh Harrier flew round low over the reeds beyond.

Carrying on back west, we stopped next at Stiffkey Fen. Two Grey Partridges were in the field across the road – we could see their heads when they stood up. The male was mostly keeping lookout, with the female presumably feeding, as it only put its head up once or twice. There were more warblers singing here – a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the hedge, and one or two Blackcaps in the copse. A Yellowhammer flew over.

From the path down along the river, we could see a Green Sandpiper on the Fen beyond, but by the time we had got the scopes up it had disappeared behind the reeds. Continuing on up onto the seawall, we found two Green Sandpipers now feeding along the back edge. Four Little Ringed Plovers were flying round, chasing each other. There were also lots of Avocets, a few Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits, and a single Grey Plover on the mud at the back.

There are always lots of gulls on the Fen through the summer, with a good number of breeding pairs of Black-headed Gulls. As we looked through, we could see two or three Common Gulls in amongst them. Then we noticed the Little Gull standing on the edge of one of the islands. It was much smaller than the Black-headeds, with white wing-tips and brighter orange legs. It is still moulting into breeding plumage, lacking a complete black hood yet. It took off, and we watched it hawking over the water, dip feeding, very agile, more like a tern, its pale silvery-grey upperwings contrasting with its blackish underwings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – dip feeding out over the water

After making our way back to the van, we continued on our way west to Wells. As we walked down the track, we scanned the pools. There were lots of ducks here on the flooded fields – Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, and a few lingering Wigeon. Scanning through carefully, we found the pair of Garganey in with them, what we had come to see. Through the scopes we could see the bold white head stripe on the drake, when it lifted its head from feeding, and the ornate plumes on the grey back.

Garganey

Garganey – a pair, on the pools at Wells

There were lots of waders on the pool on the other side of the track. Two Spotted Redshanks were feeding in the shallow water, one was noticeably more dusky grey than the other, further advanced in its moult into its black breeding plumage. There was a Greenshank and another Wood Sandpiper with them too. There were certainly plenty of spring passage waders dropping in along the coast today.

A few Ruff were out on the pools too and scanning the clumps of rushes and wet grass carefully, we found two Common Snipe feeding. A Golden Plover flew overhead calling, and dropped down onto the grass at the back of the pool, presumably another migrant heading north.

There had apparently been a Jack Snipe seen earlier on another pool by the seawall, so we went over to look for it. We found several more Common Snipe here, but no sign of the Jack Snipe. Presumably it had gone into the thick grass and gone to sleep, as they typically do. Another Common Sandpiper was feeding along the bottom of the bank at the back. A male Marsh Harrier was displaying, twisting and tumbling high overhead.

It was time to wrap up now and head back. We had enjoyed a great three days out, with lots of spring migrants, in lovely weather and great company. Classic Norfolk April birding.

24th Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. We would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for lingering winter visitors and early spring migrants. It was another lovely sunny day, but cooler than yesterday in an increasingly gusty westerly breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a few ducks around the pools beside the road, mainly Shoveler and a few Wigeon. Three Little Egrets flew across as we parked and we could see a Grey Heron at the back of the grazing marsh as we got out.

There was a keen wind blowing across, so after donning an extra layer, we scanned the grass. There were lots of Curlew in the next field over and a Lapwing started singing nearby. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard circled low over the marshes.

A small bird out in the short grass caught our eye. It was a Wheatear, a smart male with grey back and black bandit mask. A migrant stopped off here to feed on its way north. As we walked up towards the pines, we could see lots more small birds in the grass the other side. These were Meadow Pipits, there were at least 30 of them, again probably migrants which had broken their journey here. There were two Pied Wagtails too, but hard to tell whether these were migrants or local birds here.

It was a big high tide this morning and when there is standing water on the saltmarsh the Shorelarks can be elusive. So we planned to walk west first down to the hides. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard a Chiffchaff singing from the top of a hawthorn bush next to the path. It flew up into the first of the poplars and we stopped to look at it, the earliest of our returning breeding warblers.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing from one of the poplars

Just at that moment, we received a message to say that five of the Shorelarks were out on the beach, so we turned round and headed straight out there to try to see them. As we walked east along the edge of the saltmarsh, there were not many birds, possibly due to the high tide or the number of people out walking their dogs. A small flock of 16 Pink-footed Geese flew west overhead, possibly birds heading off on their way back to Iceland for the breeding season.

As we got to the cordon, we had still not managed to find the Shorelarks. There were four Ringed Plovers out on the short vegetation the other side of the rope and a couple of Meadow Pipits. A Tawny Owl hooted from the pines, despite it being the middle of the morning. After scanning all around with no joy, we decided to make our way out to the beach. But there was still a lot of water on the sand over towards the dunes and it was too wet for anyone without wellies to cross, so we turned to head back.

As we walked back alongside the cordon fence, we looked out across the saltmarsh again and noticed two birds out the in the low vegetation over towards the pines. Shorelarks! We hurried round and it was good that we did. We all managed to get a good look at them in the scope, noting their yellow faces and black masks. Then two dog walkers set off right out across the middle of the saltmarsh, taking a short cut to the beach, and flushed them. The Shorelarks flew out over the dunes and appeared to drop down to the beach beyond.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we had good views in the scope before they were flushed

We were still standing on the path when we noticed four more people walking right through the middle of the saltmarsh. Presumably they had flushed another three Shorelarks, because we saw them flying round with a couple of Skylarks. They landed on the saltmarsh in front of us, but a bit further back than the earlier two. At least now, we could get some more prolonged views of them in the scope.

While we were watching the Shorelarks, a Red Kite drifted west along the pines behind us, then out across the saltmarsh to the dunes. As we started to walk back, we looked across to the dunes and saw another raptor out there. It wasn’t the Red Kite this time – it was a Hen Harrier. It was a ringtail and we could see the white square at the base of its tail as it quartered back and forth over the dunes, presumably trying to flush pipits from the grass.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, quartering the dunes

After flying up and down through the dunes for a couple of minutes, the Hen Harrier continued on its way west. It cut across the saltmarsh at the Gap, before flying up and over the pines. We made our way back that way too. When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive and had a quick stop to use the facilities at The Lookout café, we could see that the Meadow Pipits which had been out on the grass earlier had moved on.

As we resumed our earlier aborted walk west on the inland side of the pines, we stopped to admire a flock of tits in the trees. There were lots more Chiffchaffs singing in the trees further along the path – they had arrived in force now. With the air warming up, the Common Buzzards were circling up now calling.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up as the air warmed

We stopped for a quick look at Salts Hole. Three Tufted Ducks were busy diving over towards the back and a Little Grebe was doing the same in front of the reeds on the side. Scanning the grass out beyond, we spotted two Mistle Thrushes collecting nest material. Four Red Deer were out on the marshes just the other side of Meals House.

Other than the Chiffchaffs, there were not many other migrants or other signs of fresh arrivals until we got almost to the crosstracks. We could hear the cracking of the opening cones in the sunshine and we looked up into the pines to see several Bramblings feeding on the released seeds. There were a few Siskins in the trees too. They had presumably stopped off here for a last feed up before heading out over the North Sea. One or two of the Bramblings were singing their wheezing song too.

As we walked up towards Joe Jordan Hide we could already see a Great White Egret on the marshy edge of one of the pools in front. We had a better view from up in the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – on the marsh in front of Joe Jordan Hide

A Spoonbill dropped down to bathe in the water. Through the scope, we could see its yellow-tipped black spoon-shaped bill and its bushy nuchal crest, indicating it was a breeding adult. There are quite a few Spoonbills back now and we had expected a bit more activity from them today, but this was the only one we saw while we were sitting in the hide. After a good wash and brush up, it flew back up into the trees.

There were lots of Cormorants up in the trees too. Several Avocets were feeding up to their bellies in the deep pools. Occasionally a Marsh Harrier would drift across. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the marshes and looking through them carefully, we could see two smaller geese in with them. They were Pink-footed Geese – when they looked up from feeding we could see their dark heads and smaller, mostly dark bills.

By the time we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we were feeling hungry so we stopped for an early lunch at The Lookout café. Afterwards, we headed along the coast to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre at Titchwell revealed only  Chaffinches and a few tits. But round the other side a Brambling was feeding on the seeds with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches and a Greenfinch dropped in too. Out onto the main path, and a quick scan produced a Water Rail feeding down in the ditch.

Water Rail

Water Rail – still in the ditch by the main path

We had heard Mediterranean Gulls flying over the Visitor Centre, but once we got out of the trees we could see them flying in and out of the freshmarsh, heading inland to feed in the fields. Against the light, we could see their translucent white-tipped wings, very different from the Black-headed Gulls which were also flying in and out with them.

The Water Pipits have been mostly on the old pool on Thornham grazing marsh in the last week or so, but when we stopped to look for them we couldn’t see one at first. We tried a different angle from a bit further up and one of the group spotted something appear from behind the reeds down at the front. It was the Water Pipit.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – out on the Thornham GM pool

With the vegetation growing up on the old pool here now, it was hard to see at times, but we all eventually had a good look at the Water Pipit through the scope. It is starting to moult into summer plumage now and was looking distinctly pink-tinged on the breast, with much reduced streaking.

While we were watching the Water Pipit, a large flock of Golden Plover flew over. They had probably been disturbed from the fields where they were feeding by something and were zooming round at speed, twisting and turning, their underparts flashing white in the sun as they banked. At one point, they came low over our heads and all we could hear was the whooshing of lots of beating wings. A little further on, several Common Pochard were diving in one of the reedbed channels.

In the Visitor Centre earlier, we had been told that some Bearded Tits had been showing well by the path today. With the breeze having picked up considerably, we didn’t fancy our chances but as we walked along the path we heard a couple of Bearded Tits calling to each other. Then we just glimpsed one as it flew across the small pool below the path and disappeared into the reeds at the back.

We stood to watch and a female Bearded Tit appeared low down in the reeds. It was hard to see in the vegetation at first, but then climbed up and perched in full view. When it turned side on, we could see its long tail. Then it flew towards us over the water and disappeared down behind the reeds in front.

That was great – it is always nice to actually see a perched Bearded Tit rather than just a long tail disappearing over the reeds – but the male is the big prize, with its powder blue-grey head and long black moustaches. Another Bearded Tit appeared working its way through the reeds at the back of the pool, low down just above the water, another female, and while we were looking at it we realised it was being followed by a male.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we enjoyed great views of a pair low down in the reeds

Some of the reeds around the pools here have just been cut, so the Bearded Tits were coming right out into the open. They were climbing up through the piles of cut reed and then dropping down to the water, climbing about in the cut reed stems and picking at the water surface. We had some fantastic views of them today! Eventually, the pair of Bearded Tits flew across and disappeared into the reeds below the bank too, so we decided to move on.

The water level on the Freshmarsh has dropped a little but is still fairly high, which means there are still not many exposed islands. Great for ducks! Several Teal were feeding in the shallower water just below the bank, including some smart drakes which we stopped to admire. A little further back, there were pairs of Shoveler scattered liberally about, mostly swimming in circles with their heads under the water and their long shovel bills hidden from view. There were a few Gadwall too and chattering flocks of Brent Geese were commuting back and forth from the saltmarsh the other side of the bank.

Avocet

Avocet – flying out to Thornham saltmarsh to feed

There are lots of Avocets back here now and several of those were flying in and out from the Thornham saltmarsh to feed too. Others were feeding up to their bellies in the deep water on the Freshmarsh. A small flock of Knot had flown in to rest in the shallower water by the small island by the junction to Parrinder Hide. We had a look at them through the scope, before they were off again, over the bank to Volunteer Marsh to feed.

A little further back, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits was also roosting. With their longer legs, they could rest in the slightly deeper water. Some of them are now starting to moult into breeding plumage and their were several smart rusty birds amongst the mostly grey-brown winter individuals in the group. Further back still, there were five Ruff around the pile of bricks which normally sits on one of the other islands, but which is still under water. Through the scope, we could see their scaly-patterned backs.

Continuing on to Parrinder Hide, we got the scope on a pair of Mediterranean Gulls in with all the Black-headed Gulls loafing around in front of the hide. It was great to see them on the ground together, so we could get a better look at the Mediterranean Gulls’ jet black heads with bright white eye rings, heavier and brighter red bills and bright white wing tips. There were lots more Mediterranean Gulls in with all the Black-headed Gulls on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ further back, which the gulls have now annexed as a breeding colony.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – a pair of adults loafing on the Freshmarsh

Back on the main path, we stopped to scan the Volunteer Marsh. The tide was out now, but having been covered by water earlier it was obviously attractive to the Knot which were now feeding in and out of the patches of vegetation. A Curlew at the front managed to extract a long worm out of the mud and took it over to wash it in a rather muddy puddle! There were a couple of Redshanks down in the channel too.

Curlew

Curlew – probing for worms in the mud on Volunteer Marsh

The no longer tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were very full of water now and rather devoid of any birds, so we continued straight on out to the beach. With it being a big tide, the water was a long way out now, so we walked down to the concrete blocks to scan the sea.

There were a couple of other people there who had just spotted a diver offshore. We managed to get it in the scope and confirmed it was actually a Black-throated Diver, the rarest of the three regular species off here. Otherwise, all we could find out on the sea were a few Great Crested Grebes but as well as being low tide it was very choppy now in the wind. Two brown female Eider flew past offshore.

It seemed like we might be better off looking for waders here and we really wanted to see Bar-tailed Godwit. With the water a long way out, there were just Oystercatchers feeding on the mussel beds, which were well above the tideline now. All the other waders were feeding out on the sand to the west, closer to the sea, so we walked down for a better loon.

We quickly found a couple of Turnstones and one or two Sanderling running along the shoreline. Then scanning along the water’s edge, we located our first Bar-tailed Godwit. It was still in non-breeding plumage, but through the scope we could see its distinctive dark-streaked upperparts, slightly upturned bill and comparatively short legs. Further over, there were more godwits, plus Grey Plovers and a little group of Dunlin feeding on the shore with some more Knot for comparison.

It was rather exposed and windy out on the beach, so we decided to walk back. We swung round via Meadow Trail to Patsy’s Reedbed on our way. There was no sign of any snipe down at the front today, which we were hoping to see, but there were one or two Marsh Harriers hanging in the breeze over the reeds.

Unfortunately it was time to call it a day now too. By the time we got back to the van, everyone was suitably tired out after a great couple of days birding. Time to head for home.