Tag Archives: Hunstanton

12th May 2021 – Cameras at the Ready

A Private Tour today, with the focus on trying to photograph birds rather than just looking at them. It was meant to be a sunny morning, with cloud increasing in the afternoon and the possibility of showers. Instead, there was more patchy cloud this morning and it was sunny and warm this afternoon – the wrong way round!

We spent the morning at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in, a male Greenfinch was on the ground feeding on the short grass. We could hear various warblers singing: Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. But none of them wanted to pose for the cameras. We had a quick look out at the Wash from the outer seawall, but the tide was in and there wasn’t a lot flying past out over the sea.

As we set off up the middle of the Coastal Park, we could hear the distinctive rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat now. It flew across to a large hawthorn on the edge of the reeds where we watched it feeding on one of the longer branches for a minute or so. When it was joined by a second, the two of them flew out and across to the bushes over on the seawall.

Lesser Whitethroat – in one of the hawthorns

There were lots of Goldfinches and Linnets in the bushes, and more warblers, as we made our way north. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling ahead of us in the brambles and flew up into a hawthorn next to the path, where it gave a quick burst of song. It only perched there briefly though, and quickly flew across to the other side of the path, disappearing back into the thicker vegetation.

Cetti’s Warbler – perched up singing briefly

A steady succession of Swallows came low over the bushes, migrants on their way, heading south round the Wash. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove as we walked up towards its favourite tree and when two Turtle Doves flew past away from us and disappeared into the bushes, we thought that was it. We stopped to admire a male Stonechat which perched on some low bushes in the middle, and a female appeared nearby too.

Stonechat – the male in a low briar

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the male Turtle Dove purring now from its favourite tree. Had it flown back while we weren’t looking. Then another Turtle Dove started purring from somewhere in the bushes off to our right, in the direction where the pair had disappeared earlier, so presumably different birds. We set up the scope and had a good view of the lone male perched in the branches of a dead tree.

Turtle Dove – purring from a dead tree

Then we noticed a Barn Owl flying around over the short grass out in the middle, beyond the bushes. We didn’t know which way to look! As we walked on along the path, the Turtle Dove took off and launched into its display flight. We found the Barn Owl again, but it was always rather distant ahead of us. We figured we would catch up with it somewhere later.

From up on the seawall again, the tide was going out now and there were lots of Oystercatchers out on the mud. A woman stopped to talk to us, she was a volunteer with the Wash Wader Ringing Group looking for one satellite Oystercatcher with them. Without a current fix, it was like looking for a needle in haystack! More Oystercatchers were still commuting from where they had been roosting on the marshes inland out to the beach.

As we walked across by the crossbank to the inner seawall, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, along with another Lesser Whitethroat, and a couple more Common Whitethroats. Climbing up onto the inner seawall, the Barn Owl was now hunting over the bank just a little further up. It disappeared behind the bend in the bank, so we went through the gate and walked round on top. The Barn Owl was on a fence post just round the corner and took off when it saw us, but thankfully did a nice fly round, coming straight past below us.

Barn Owl – flew past below us

Turning our attention to Ken Hill Marshes, we picked up a Sparrowhawk disappeared away low over the water. In the reeds beyond, we could see a distant Great White Egret alongside a Little Egret. A good size comparison – the former completely dwarfing the latter.

There were plenty of ducks out on the pools, Shoveler, Gadwall and one or two lingering Wigeon. Four Barnacle Geese were presumably feral birds rather than genuine high Arctic breeders. Two Whimbrel were out on the short grass – one flew off and one disappeared down into a pool out of view as a small group of people walked along the footpath, but both reappeared after they had made it to the seawall.

We hadn’t had sight nor sound of the Cuckoo up to now, but as we walked back we heard it singing and looked ahead of us to see it perched in a dead tree. When we got alongside it, we watched it singing for a couple of minutes. A Chaffinch appeared on the branch next to it, and after a while worked up the courage to chase it off, at which point it was joined by one of the local Meadow Pipits.

Cuckoo – appeared as we started to walk back

Further on, we stopped again. There were several Mute Swans flying round, mostly young birds with dull bills. An adult with a brighter orange bill was bathing in the ditch on the edge of the marshes. There were several Common Swifts zooming about over the pools and one or two swept past us over the bank and the bushes the other side. We had a go at photographing them as they passed – never easy at that speed!

Common Swift – flew past us over the bank

A Mediterranean Gull started calling, a distinctive plaintive miaowing, and we turned to see it circling over the nesting Black-headed Gulls, its white wingtips translucent against the sun. A Chiffchaff posed on the outside of one of the hawthorns below the path briefly. Then we made our way back to the minibus.

As we headed back round to the north coast, we made a diversion into Hunstanton and stopped by the lighthouse. The Fulmars were only just coming above the clifftop occasionally today, but one or two gave some very nice photo opportunities.

Fulmar – circling over the cliffs

There were several House Sparrows in the fenced off vegetation on the top of the cliff and a male posed nicely on the fence. A very smart metallic Starling dropped onto the grass close to us to collect more insects – its bill was already pretty full with a large larva and a couple of flies.

Our mission for the afternoon was to find a feeding Spoonbill. After a break for a pizza in Thornham, we carried on east to Burnham Norton. Three Whimbrel were feeding out on the short grass as we got out of the vehicles. The path out towards the seawall was a bit muddy, but we managed to negotiate it without getting our feet wet.

Two Common Swifts were circling above us and started mating on the wing. They separated but stayed together and then did it again a bit further over. While we were watching the Swifts, we picked up two Hobbys way off in the distance. We watched them catching insects high above the reedbed.

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds along here and we could hear one or two Reed Warblers too but they were much harder to see. We finally got to see a couple of them, chasing around in the corner of the ditch below the seawall. A flock of four Yellow Wagtails flew over high, calling. They appeared to drop towards the herd of cows out in the middle of the marshes, so we made a mental note to have a look for them on our way back.

Walking along the seawall, the tide was out and we couldn’t see any Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh. The only white shapes flying in and out now were Little Egrets. There were lots of waders along here, several Avocets chasing each other in the muddy channel on the near edge of the saltmarsh and Redshanks flying back and forth over the bank. There were Lapwings here too, and one or two were displaying, singing as they performed their tumbling and rolling display flight.

Lapwing – displaying over the seawall

There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they head off to Siberia for the breeding season. But it looked like we might be out of luck with our main target here today. When we reached the junction with the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marshes, we turned for one last scan over the saltmarsh. And there they were, two Spoonbills flying in from the direction of Gun Hill.

One of the Spoonbills landed in one of the big channels and we could just see it distantly from the seawall. The tide was out and there are a couple of baitdiggers’ paths out to the channel here, so we walked out to the edge, picking our way and jumping over some of the narrower runnels. Eventually we got much closer. The Spoonbill was feeding constantly in the shallow water, and appeared to be finding lots of food, regularly flicking its head back as it snapped at something.

Spoonbill – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels

Eventually the Spoonbill disappeared round the next corner in the channel, out of view. As we made our way back to the seawall, the second Spoonbill dropped in with it. A couple of small squadrons of Cormorants flew past, heading back towards Holkham.

We dropped down onto the path the other side and walked back through the middle of the grazing marshes. The distinctive foghorn of a Bittern booming drifted over to us from the reeds. There were herds of cows on both sides of the path, but looking through the reeds we couldn’t see anything with the ones on the left of the path. We stopped at a gate from where we could see the cows the other side – they were all walking in towards the reeds by the path, and we couldn’t see anything with them at first. Two Wheatears, a smart male and a closer female, were out on the grass just beyond, migrants stopping off on their way north.

It was hard to see through the throng of cows by the reeds at first, but as some started to move further down away from us, we could see a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding round the feet of one of them. The male with bright day-glo yellow underparts and head, the female rather creamier yellow and shades of greenish-brown.

Yellow Wagtail – a bright yellow male

The cows moved further down so we continued on along the path to the next gate, which is where they seemed to be heading. We had just arrived when another small group of Yellow Wagtails seemed to drop in with the original pair. It is always worth looking through flocks of wagtails at this time of year, as they often contain birds from the continent with different variations of head colour.

In amongst these wagtails, we did indeed find an odd looking one. It had a greyish head and a bold white supercilium, very different to the yellowish heads of the others. It looked too bright for a female, with a very bright yellow vent and belly, but grading to paler yellow on the lower breast and pale yellowish white on the upper breast and throat, and a greenish mantle. With the paler throat, it clearly wasn’t an adult male either. These wagtails are very variable, and the different forms frequently intergrade in the zones where they meet, but the best fit for this one seemed to be a 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race which is found across much of continental Europe but is a regular visitor here in spring.

Blue-headed Wagtail – probably a 1st summer male

We spent some time watching the wagtails feeding in among the cows, although they became harder to see as the cows all pressed in closer to the gate. They seemed to have gathered waiting to be fed. Then when the wagtails suddenly took off and flew over the reeds, we continued on our way back.

A Little Egret was feeding in the ditch ahead of us as we got back to the parking area. As we stood by the vehicles for a minute or two, several Brown Hares were running round over the grass. A Barn Owl flew past along the edge of the grazing marshes, disappearing off along the side of the road. Time for us to call it a day.

31st May 2015 – Better than Forecast in the West

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours. The weather forecast for today was terrible – rain and wind. But thankfully it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as forecast, we mostly dodged the showers, and we still had a cracking day out with a total of 99 species seen and heard during the day!

We headed to Titchwell first. With heavy rain forecast, we thought we could get out of the rain and in the hides and at least still see some birds. There had been some rain overnight, but it was not even raining when we arrived. And the car park was empty. Empty on the Sunday of half term week – unheard of!

P1010456Titchwell – an empty car park of Sunday of half term week

We walked out to the visitor centre and had just stopped to look at the feeders when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl hunting over the grazing meadow beyond. It had presumably struggled to feed in the rain overnight and was making the most of the dryer weather. We walked out onto the main path and could see it out over the grass. It flew round in front of us several times, with its eyes down focused on the ground below, hovering periodically. Once it dropped down but came up again empty-taloned. Stunning birds. At one point a cracking male Marsh Harrier flew across just behind it as well. It was non-stop action this morning!

P1010485Barn Owl – hunting over the Thornham grazing meadow this morning

There were several Reed Warblers singing on the walk out and a couple of Sedge Warblers as well, but as we got in sight of the reedbed pool we could see several warblers flicking about on the edge of the reeds by the pools next to the main path. One flew across and we could see its rich, dark chestnut upperparts – a Cetti’s Warbler. As we stopped to watch, we realised that there were actually at least two Cetti’s Warblers collecting food on the edge of the reeds and carrying it back into the bushes. Another was singing nearby and in response the male Cetti’s Warbler flew up to the brambles and perched up singing. Great views of this usually so elusive species. There were several Reed and Sedge Warblers flying around here as well and we got good views of those too.

The reedbed pool held its usual good selection of diving ducks. There were several Red-crested Pochards, including a nice close pair with the male flaunting his bright orange punk haircut. There were also a few Common Pochard for comparison and a couple of Tufted Duck. A Little Grebe disappeared into the reeds.

IMG_5157Red-crested Pochard – check out that haircut

It was a bit damp, but still not raining, as we made for Island Hide. The first thing we saw was the throng of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits out on the freshmarsh, over 120 of them today, in various plumages from winter to almost full summer, grey to bright rusty orange. From this side of the marsh, there looked to be a slightly disappointing selection of waders here today – but later on we could see how first impressions could be deceptive. However, there were the usual Avocets to admire.

P1010527Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo

The prize for the most out-of-place bird went to the White-faced Whistling Duck which was out on the freshmarsh. Native to Africa and South America, it is a common bird in captivity and had presumably escaped from a collection somewhere. It didn’t look too pleased to be here. Three Barnacle Geese also flew in and landed on the freshmarsh. We do sometimes get birds from a presumed wild origin, most often arriving with Pink-footed Geese in the winter, but there is a large feral population so that is the most likely origin for today’s birds. Plastic fantastic today!

IMG_5180White-faced Whistling Duck – presumably an escapee

There were lots of other ducks to see. Most of the species which are common over the winter have already departed, but the odd straggler sometimes remains. The single female Pintail which has been lingering here recently was still present today. There was also just one female Teal, the first we have seen here for a while. We saw lots of both species more regularly over the winter months. As well as these lonely individuals, there were several families of Mallards with ducklings, and still quite a few Shoveler and Gadwall.

P1010556Shoveler – this smart drake dropped down in front of the hide briefly

There have been several 1st summer Little Gulls out on the freshmarsh for some time now. Numbers have varied, but recent counts have been as high as 11. We had no trouble finding Little Gulls today, but there were no more than 4 to start with. They were mostly walking around on the islands, feeding. At one point, we had a Little Gull and a Black-headed Gull side by side in the scope, which really highlighted how ‘Little’ they are. It was only later in the day, as we walked back from the beach, that we found more of them as a bigger group flew in and started hawking for insects over the water, calling. At that point we could count a minimum of 9 Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds.

P1010511Little Gull – one of the 9+ 1st summers on the freshmarsh today

It had brightened up a little as we walked from Island Hide round to Parrinder Hide, but we could see darker clouds and rain moving in from the west. We got our game plan just right, as were safely in the hide as it passed over us. It got a bit misty and grey for a time, but it didn’t stop us seeing lots of birds – and only sitting in the Parrinder Hide did we realise how many waders were actually out on the islands.

IMG_5193Snipe – appeared from the dense vegetation to feed on the bank

A Common Snipe was one of the first birds we picked up. It was flushed out of the dense vegetation below the bank by a family of Mallard and proceeded to skulk around before getting a bit of confidence and coming out to feed on the mud. Such cryptically patterned birds, they can blend in so it was great to see it out in the open. The longer we looked, the more we saw. A couple of Dunlin appeared from behind one of the islands, sporting their summer black bellies. A Common Sandpiper disappeared into the far corner along the bank, bobbing its tail, before it later flew out and perched on one of the piles of bricks. A chestnut coloured summer plumage Sanderling appeared briefly on the shore of one of the islands.

There have been several Little Ringed Plovers in front of Parrinder Hide in recent weeks, but the first plover we picked up today was a Ringed Plover. After a while, we realised there were several feeding unobtrusively around the margins. A closer look confirmed these were all Tundra Ringed Plovers, of the smaller, darker tundrae race which passes through here on its way north at this time of year. Even better, a slightly larger, slightly paler Ringed Plover then flew in. It was aggressive towards the tundrae race birds, trying to chase them off. This was one of the more southern race birds (hiaticula), which is the race which breeds here. There were also several Little Ringed Plovers as usual – their golden yellow eye rings gave them away.

P1010548Tundra Ringed Plover – two races of Ringed Plover were present today

Once it brightened up a little again we decided to head out towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were quiet again, but we did manage to find a single Brent Goose out on the saltmarsh opposite. The bigger group which had been lingering here until recently appears finally to have departed back to Russia. We had heard a Cuckoo singing distantly while we were in Parrinder Hide but as we arrived at the beach another one flew in over the sand and disappeared over the dunes.

There was a good variety of waders on the rocks below the beach to add to the day’s list. A handful of Bar-tailed Godwit were all in winter plumage still, as were a couple of Grey Plover. The latter flew round at one point, flashing their black armpits. The Turnstones were keeping to the shelter on the far side of the rocks, but one did walk up onto the top so we could get a good look at it. Several more Sanderling were feeding on the beach as well, in a mixture of plumages.

The sea has been fairly quiet of late, but a single Great Crested Grebe was just offshore today. While we were looking at it, we could see a long line of black shapes much further out – a big raft of Common Scoter. There were also a few Sandwich and Common Terns flying around out over the sea.

We walked back via the Meadow Trail, where we paused briefly to admire all the Southern Marsh Orchids now coming out and several Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies hiding in the grass on the meadow. The detour out to Patsy’s Reedbed added Bullfinch calling from the bushes. A pair of Little Grebes appeared to be nest building below the screen. Most of the Red-crested Pochards were loafing around here as usual.

P1010570Little Grebe – one of the pair on Patsy’s Reedbed

While we were looking out from the screen, we hadn’t noticed a squally shower sneaking up behind us. As it started to rain, we made a quick dash for the safety of Fen Hide while it passed over us. And that was the only time we really got rained on today. Once the rain stopped, we headed back for lunch. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Spotted Flycatcher which had been seen in the car park earlier.

After lunch, we drove along the coast to Holme. We had wanted to try to see the Turtle Doves in the paddocks, but it was very exposed and windy there. The best we could do was a Common Whitethroat and a Linnet having a bath in a puddle. Otherwise, it was disappointingly quiet. Rather than press on into the dunes, we decided on a quick change of plan and headed somewhere more sheltered.

We carried on along the coast and round the corner of the Wash, heading south to Dersingham Bog. It was much better out of the wind, in the lee of the trees and the ‘cliff’. Almost as soon as we got out of the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing. There were several Blackcaps singing too. Down in the Bog, we followed the call of a Stonechat and found a family party. We could see the male and female at first and from the way they were behaving we knew they had young stashed nearby. As we walked past them along the path, the streaky juvenile Stonechats came out and we could see they had been colour-ringed in various combinations.

IMG_5212Stonechat – the adult male

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the distinctive song of a Tree Pipit. We followed the sound and found it perched in the top of a small tree high up on the hillside above us. We got a pretty good look at it in the scope. Then it took off singing and flew over the way we had just come. We walked back and it flew up again, parachuting down in the top of an oak tree right above our heads. We got great views of it this time.

IMG_5231Tree Pipit – parachuted into the top of an oak tree above our heads

As we walked on round, a Red Kite came out of the trees and circled lazily round us over the Bog. Up in the trees, we came across several tits feeding, including our first Coal Tit of the day. A Nuthatch was climbing up and down a Pine Tree. But the surprise here was a Firecrest singing. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it in the dense fir trees, our way towards it blocked by thick rhododendrons, but a Goldcrest singing nearby allowed us a great comparison of the two songs.

Once we got back to the car, it was time to start making our way back to base. However, we still had enough time for a couple of quick stops en route. Taking a detour round via the seafront at Hunstanton, we stopped to watch the Fulmars pulling aerobatic manoeuvres above the cliffs. It was still very windy, and with the wind blowing in from the wash, they seemed to be enjoying the resulting updraft along the cliff face.

P1010584Fulmar – aerobatic moves in the strong winds today

Heading back along the north coast, we diverted up to the drying barns at Choseley. A Corn Bunting was singing from the wires – we listened to the sound like jangling keys – and was joined by a second. A smart male Yellowhammer was bathing in a puddle. A Grey Partridge was calling from behind a hedge and a couple of Brown Hares ran off as we drove along. Someone had poured several piles of grain out on the concrete pad by the drying barns and the birds had arrived to take advantage – another Corn Bunting, lots of Yellowhammers, Linnet, Chaffinches and a couple of Stock Doves.

P1010605Corn Bunting – singing on the wires at Choseley

As we drove back home, we reflected on what a great day we had enjoyed, compared to our expectations having seen the weather forecast this morning. It really is worth going out whatever the weather, and certainly whatever the forecaster says the weather is going to be!