Tag Archives: Icterine Warbler

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.

14th August 2015 – Autumn Migrants Arrive

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. With easterly winds and a little flurry of migrants arriving on the coast late the night before, we headed for Holkham & Burnham Overy Dunes.

We parked at Lady Ann’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. There were various warblers calling from the trees. We came across a family party of Chiffchaffs, the young still begging for food, and we heard several Blackcaps tacking loudly. As we walked along, a couple of tit flocks crossed the path ahead of us. We stopped to look through them – a good selection of tits, plus Goldcrests, Treecreepers, more Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. We couldn’t find anything more unusual amongst them.

Most of our Swifts have left us already, but when we looked up at a big group of House Martins hawking for insects low over the pines, we found one or two Swifts still amongst them. A lone Little Grebe was on Salts Hole as we passed.

Past Meals House, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A juvenile Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with contrasting orangey-yellow crown, was jumping about in the grass. A lone goose nearby was clearly not one of the resident feral Greylag Geese – its smaller size, dark head and small mostly dark bill suggested something more interesting. Getting it in the scope, we could confirm it was a lone Pink-footed Goose. We are still a month away from the first geese returning for the winter and we could see that this bird appeared to have a damaged wing. A very small number of mostly sick or injured Pink-footed Geese do remain here for the summer, rather than attempt the long flight up to Iceland to breed.

P1070507Burnham Overy Dunes – on a misty morning

We headed out of the pines and into the dunes. The bushes seemed surprisingly quiet at first – just a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, calling but typically skulking. It was cool and damp in the misty conditions, so perhaps the birds were just keeping under cover? We did flush a couple of coveys of partridges – the first being Red-legged Partridges and the second being the native Grey Partridges which can often be found in the dunes.

As we drove out to Holkham in the morning, news had come through about an Icterine Warbler at the Burnham Overy end of the dunes. With the apparent lack of migrants at the Holkham end, we made our way west. We could see a couple of people standing on the boardwalk as we approached and we made our way round via the dunes so as not to disturb whatever they were watching. It was the Icterine Warbler, clambering around in the bushes, and flicking between them. It was quite showy at first and we got great views of it – its grey-green upperparts and pale lemon-yellow face, blue-grey legs and pale wing panel.

P1070547Icterine Warbler – showed well in the bushes by the boardwalk

When it started to drizzle very lightly, the Icterine Warbler got a little more elusive. We climbed up into the dunes and could see it flitting around in the privet. While we were watching it, a bird flew in over the dunes and dropped down into the bushes the other side of the boardwalk. A Pied Flycatcher, presumably fresh in. We walked over and suddenly it flew up into a hawthorn in front of us. Classic autumn drift migrants. With confirmation that there were seemingly no other migrants out further west, we decided to head back and have another look in the dunes.

We had heard Green Sandpipers calling as we walked out. Then, while we were standing by the boardwalk, six Green Sandpipers flew up from the grazing marsh and circled round in front of us before dropping back down out of view. A little later, we heard Greenshanks calling out across the grazing marshes and a quick scan revealed a flock of nine flying west. Waders are on the move.

As we walked back through the dunes, we caught a flash of white rump as a Wheatear shot past. It landed behind us amongst some dead flower heads on a small ridge on the dunes, where it tried to lurk unseen. Eventually it became a little more obliging and hopped back out onto the path.

IMG_7957Wheatear – hiding in the dunes

There were a couple of juvenile Kestrels on the fence posts by the dunes, looking very pristine with their bright new feathers. A pair bred locally this year. When we looked up at a falcon in the air just above the west end of Holkham Pines we expected it to be another member of the family. It was a Hobby. Two more then appeared with it, the birds were clearly hawking for something – either insects of possibly hirundines over the trees.

Almost back to the west end of the pines, we bumped into another couple of birders scanning over the bushes beyond the fence, just where we had been looking earlier in the morning. The weather had brightened up a bit by this stage and two Redstarts and another Pied Flycatcher had appeared. The others confirmed the birds had come out just as the weather improved. We stood and watched them for a while. While we were doing so, a shape appeared, flying in from the grazing marshes towards the dunes. the distinctive shape, the stiff wings with an odd rowing action in flight, confirmed it was a Short-eared Owl. It flew across and dropped into the dunes out of sight.

After a quiet start, we had ended up seeing quite a haul of migrants during the morning. As time was getting on by this stage, we decided to head back. We came across a couple more mixed flocks of tits and warblers on the way back. Again, we stopped to look through them just in case. A Garden Warbler was the only new bird for the day, following behind one of the groups. A couple of Bullfinch called from the bushes but remained unseen.

P1070565Ruddy Darter – basking on a stone on the path

The insects were more amenable. With the weather having brightened and warmed, there were lots of dragonflies along the path. Most of them were darters – both Common Darter and Ruddy Darter in good numbers – but Migrant Hawker was also a new one for the day. There were also several butterflies – a Painted Lady in the edge of the dunes, several Holly Blues and a few Red Admirals feeding on the Hemp Agrimony flowers by the path.

P1070555Red Admiral – feeding on Hemp Agrimony

In the afternoon, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the path by the road, another Hobby appeared over the trees in front of us, circling overhead before disappearing beyond the hedge. Down in the valley below, a female Marsh Harrier was quartering.

Even as we walked out along the path beside the river, we could see a gathering of large white blobs through the overgrown reeds. When we got to a gap, we confirmed they were indeed the Spoonbills. From up on the seawall, we could see that there were still 20 of them, and they were almost all asleep as usual!

P1070570Spoonbill – still 20 on the Fen today

A couple of them were awake, and we could see they had the shorter, fleshy-coloured bills of juveniles, lacking the adults yellow tip.

IMG_7969Spoonbills – several juveniles were in amongst the flock

As we got up on the seawall, we could hear Common Sandpiper calling. One flew up the tidal creek and disappeared out of sight. We looked back towards the Fen, and a short while later we could hear them again, and this time we turned to see four Common Sandpipers flying past. Meanwhile, a scan of the Fen had revealed at least three more Common Sandpipers out there, meaning a minimum of seven in total.

A Common Snipe flew over as well, in from the direction of the saltmarsh and dropped into the Fen. We could see its long, straight bill as it came overhead. It tucked itself down in the lee of one of the islands at first, where it was hard to see, before climbing up onto the top to preen. Down at the front, behind the reeds, we picked up a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the other islands.

The largest number of waders out on the Fen were Black-tailed Godwits. Many of the ones already there were sleeping but, while we stood on the seawall, a steady stream of more of them flew in from the direction of the harbour, dropping down to bathe and preen. In amongst them, we found a small number of Ruff, already in pale winter plumage, and a greyer Redshank or two as well.

There was a good variety of wildfowl too, though the ducks are all in eclipse plumage at the moment. A little party of four Wigeon were the most interesting, but there were also Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, as well as a few Tufted Ducks.

After scanning the Fen, we decided to walk round to have a look at the harbour. The tide was out, so it was one vast expanse of mud this afternoon. The first thing we saw were several large flocks of Oystercatcher on the highest ground, with smaller numbers of Redshank amongst them. A couple of grey-brown Curlew were rather different from the smaller, darker, shorter-billed Whimbrel nearby, a good comparison. While we were scanning the mud, a couple of Greenshank dropped into the tidal channel in front of us.

IMG_7982Greenshank – one of two in the tidal channel

Further over, half hidden behind one of the sandbars, were the distinctive black bellies of several Grey Plover. However, it was only when they were flushed and landed again out in the open that we could see how many there were. At least 90, and most of them still in summer plumage with black bellied and black faces. In amongst them, several smaller waders were lurking – Knot, again a mixture of bright orange-bellied summer plumage birds and greyer winter ones. A little group of Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Turnstone as well, added to the wide variety of waders for the day’s list.

There was a good selection of gulls, too. Though nothing out of the ordinary, it was good to compare Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls side by side. A single Great Crested Grebe was swimming out in the pit.

P1070577Small Copper – looking a little old and faded now

Then it was time to start heading back. The sun had come out and it was even quite warm, so there were plenty of butterflies along the hedgerow as we made our way, though many of them were looking quite old and faded now. Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods, a Ringlet and a Small Copper, plus Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock.

It had been quite a day in the end – a great selection of Autumn drift migrants in the morning, plus Spoonbills and a good variety of passage waders in the afternoon.

P1070573Stiffkey Fen – the view across Blakeney Harbour to the Point

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27-30th May 2014 – Norfolk at its best (& worst!)

The weather chart had been looking good for this week. Well, good for birds if not good for the actual weather. There had to be something unusual out there waiting to be found.

Tuesday looked the most promising day to start, with the combination of NE winds coming off the continent, together with rain. However, it turned out to be a damp squib, in more ways than one! I tried various sites in the morning, with no sign of any migrants. Still convinced there had to be something good out there, I headed for Blakeney Point. The rain had grown increasingly persistent but seemed to subside for a while, so I set off. I should perhaps have been put off by the people returning bedraggled, having seen nothing, but I pushed on to beyond Halfway House before the rain came back with a vengeance. Very unusual for it to be as bad as this, finally I gave in and trudged back, defeated and disappointed.

Wednesday started overcast and cool, but at least it wasn’t raining. Not to be put off by the day before, I headed straight for Blakeney Point again and set off back over the shingle. I was a short distance before halfway and hadn’t seen anything when I received a phone call to say that no migrants of any note had been seen at the end of the Point so far that morning. Needless to say, that caused my enthusiasm to wane a little. However, I pressed on anyway and just a couple of minutes later I was glad that I did! A small bird flew up from the edge of the saltmarsh which immediately caught my attention. I saw it in flight twice more and I had an idea what it was – it was clearly a small Sylvia warbler and most likely a Subalpine Warbler. However, it disappeared into cover and I couldn’t find it again on my own. Thankfully, several others were also heading out onto the Point and pretty soon I had managed to gather a small group. Together, we scoured the area and eventually relocated the bird. It took us some time to see it properly and finally we were able to confirm that not only was it indeed a Subalpine Warbler, but also that it showed the characters associated with the Eastern form, a very good find indeed.

The rest of the day saw a steady stream of migrants finally reveal themselves. The other highlight was a cracking lemon-yellow Icterine Warbler which suddenly appeared from nowhere in the Plantation. Not one, but two stunning male Black Redstarts feeding together around the buildings were arguably the smartest birds of the day. We also saw Redstart, several Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat and a good selection of other warblers. All-in-all, a great day on the Point.

On Thursday, I had business to attend to or I would have returned to Blakeney Point. Instead, I had to content myself with going to see the female Black-headed Bunting which had been found the evening before at West Runton. A great rarity in this part of the world.

The weather looked less favourable on Friday. While the wind direction looked good overnight, it was gradually moving round, and the clear and sunny conditions suggested birds might move on. Undaunted, I set off along Blakeney Point once again. The walk out revealed rather little – many birds had indeed departed and just a few commoner migrants remained. Still, it is always a beautiful place to walk in the sunshine, and I also finally caught up with the stunning male Snow Bunting which had been lingering on the shingle ridge. The Black Redstarts were still present and the only other bird of interest was a Spotted Flycatcher.

I was tempted to leave, but bumped into some friends sat in the sunshine by the Plantation so decided to join them for lunch. While we were talking, I heard a bird call in the distance which I thought I recognised. It came a bit closer and I suddenly clicked that it was a Bee-eater! I leapt up shouting and a quick scan of the sky revealed two Bee-eaters coming low over the dunes. They passed right over our heads, then headed on west over the old Lifeboat House and away. They have always been one of my favourite birds, ever since I used to thumb through old field guides as a boy, and such a great joy to see them in the skies of Norfolk. The long walk back was broken with a stop for a Siberian Chiffchaff which had been located in the bushes on the edge of the beach – while we were there, it broke into song, a rare sound indeed here and very different from the common Chiffchaffs we had been listening to earlier in the Plantation. A very different day to Wednesday, but once again what a day!

It all goes to show just how exciting birding in Norfolk can be when the conditions are right.Image

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