Tag Archives: Jack Snipe

10th May 2021 – Wagtails & Waders

Another socially distanced small group day tour today, where we didn’t use the minibus. We met on site at Cley in the morning for a couple of walks, travelling in convoy onto Wells mid afternoon to finish the day there. It was cloudy at times with some nice sunny intervals in between, with an increasingly gusty wind in the afternoon, and we mostly managed to avoid the showers.

We set off from the Visitor Centre car park along The Skirts path. We hadn’t gone more than a few metres when a warbler flew up from the alexanders by the path into an elder bush nearby. A Garden Warbler, rather plain grey and featureless with a stocky build and heavy bill. Presumably a migrant, which had dropped in overnight and was now feeding up. It disappeared into the bush, and we could just see it from time to time looking out from behind the branches.

Garden Warbler – probably a migrant fresh-in overnight

The breeding warblers are now back in numbers. As we walked on along the path, a Common Whitethroat flew up into the top of a bush, singing . A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling a little further up, in the hedge across the road, and we could see it moving around in the blackthorn. A Willow Warbler was nearby too. A couple of Long-tailed Tits flitted past. When we heard Lesser Redpoll calling, we looked over to see a party of four flying west, more migrants on the move this morning.

Common Swifts have been passing through in the last few days and from the path we could see several distantly over the reedbed. As we stopped to look at them, a Great White Egret flew over too, big and white with long black legs and feet and a dark bill. In breeding condition, a Great White Egret‘s bill darkens so is no longer the long yellow-orange dagger it is otherwise, a pitfall for the unwary. It dropped down somewhere beyond Bishop Hide out of view.

Great White Egret – and Common Swift over the reedbed

From up on East Bank, we could see a steady passage of Swallows going west. More Swifts and lots of Sand Martins were hawking out over the marshes.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, a large white shape distantly behind the Serpentine was a Spoonbill. It was busy feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the shallow pools. Then suddenly it walked up out of the water and took off, flying off west over the path and away over the reeds.

Spoonbill – flew off west

We could hear a Yellow Wagtail singing and eventually found it feeding amongst the clumps of grass, a very smart canary yellow male. There were obviously others on the move today, and when we heard one call we looked across to see a female Yellow Wagtail drop in with a Pied Wagtail up by the Serpentine. A female Wheatear was running around out on the grass too.

Then a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail appeared nearby, with a grey blue head and prominent pale supercilium. The heads of yellow wagtails vary across Europe, with the British Yellow Wagtail having a yellow head and those from across central continental Europe and southern Scandinavia having blue-grey heads, so this one was probably on its way there from its wintering grounds Africa. It flew up and landed amongst the cows much further back, where we lost sight of it behind one cow lying down.

There were fluffy Lapwing chicks down in the grass along with their parents along with several Redshanks. Both those species breed here, but the two Whimbrel feeding in the grass are migrants stopping off to refuel. A lone Black-tailed Godwit on the Serpentine looked like it might be a young bird which will not migrate up to its breeding grounds in Iceland this year.

Duck numbers have thinned out significantly over the last few days, as many are now heading off back to northern Europe after having spent the winter here. A pair of Barnacle Geese were in with the Greylags and Canada Geese, presumably feral birds rather than genuine wild Arctic breeders.

Barnacle Geese – the first pair, behind the Serpentine

There were more waders out on Arnold’s Marsh – a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, several Curlew over on the saltmarsh in one corner, a smart Grey Plover with summer black face and belly and two Bar-tailed Godwits over the back.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea. There were several Sandwich Terns flying past, along with a single distant Little Tern, and an even more distant Gannet out towards the horizon. But the sea is fairly quiet at this time of year, so we didn’t linger and set off to walk back. A couple more Sandwich Terns flew in over Arnold’s Marsh as we passed, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills.

Sandwich Tern – flew over Arnold’s Marsh

Somebody who had come out to see the Blue-headed Wagtail we had seen earlier had now found two Grey-headed Wagtails which had dropped in too, so we headed back to see if we could see those too. We just got back in time to see them running around on the grass amongst he cows, before all the wagtails took off and we watched as all six flew off strongly west. It was proving to be a really good day for yellow wagtails! Grey-headed Wagtails breed in northern Scandinavia, a scarce migrant through here and our third yellow wagtail subspecies of the day.

Now we heard a report that a Golden Oriole had been seen flying west past Muckleburgh Hill, just a couple of miles east of us and heading our way. There had been several Golden Orioles seen further east in NE Norfolk too this morning, but none this far west. Still we scanned the sky just in case and after just a few minutes we picked the Golden Oriole up flying over the back of Snipe’s Marsh, presumably having come over the back of Walsey Hills. Unfortunately it was only in view for a few seconds before it disappeared round the back of North Foreland wood. We scanned the other side in case it came out there but it looked like it might have dropped in.

We decided to wait for a bit in case it came out again. An Iceland Gull was reported flying west past Salthouse now, and we managed to see it very distantly before it dropped down out of view, into the fields way off east from us. The Visitor Centre was on the line the Golden Oriole was flying, so we decided to walk back for an early lunch and keep our eyes peeled in case it came out in our direction, but it wasn’t seen again so may have slipped out the back. A male Marsh Harrier circled over as we walked back.

After lunch, we set off back along The Skirts path, past the East Bank and down Attenborough Walk. We stopped to scan through the gulls gathered on Pope’s Marsh, but the Iceland Gull obviously hadn’t decided to join them today. There were now two pairs of Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marsh. We were hoping to find a Whinchat, but just past the gate to Babcock Hide we found a pair of Stonechats instead.

Stonechat – the male

We turned onto Iron Road and walked up to scan the pool. It appeared to be empty at first, but looking more carefully we found several small waders lurking round the edges – two Little Ringed Plovers, and three different Common Sandpipers. An Egyptian Goose was lying down in the grass beyond.

Common Sandpiper – one of three at Iron Road

Continuing on to the bridge over the main drain, we found two female Wheatears on the dry mud on the edge of the channel. It was the wrong time of day really, so perhaps no surprise that there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls here now.

After walking back to the car park, we travelled in convoy on to Wells for the rest of the afternoon. Scanning the pools from the parking area, we could see a couple of Brent Geese out on the grass and two of three Teal on the water, our first of the day. There were lots of Lapwings, with several fluffy juveniles, and a few Redshanks here too.

Walking a short distance down the track, we quickly located one of the Jack Snipe which have been lingering here, on the pool east of the track. It was right out in the open, on the bare mud between the clumps of rushes, probably the best views of it we have had here in the last few weeks. It was busy feeding, probing in the mud. We could see its comparatively short bill and bright golden mantle stripes. Then suddenly something spooked it and it ran back into the rushes out of view.

Jack Snipe – showing very well today

There were several Common Sandpipers here again today, at least four, and two Wood Sandpipers east of the track too, all migrants stopping off to refuel here on their journeys north to breed. Through the scopes, we could see the Wood Sandpipers’ spangled backs and pale superciliums, a little larger, longer legged and longer necked than the Common Sandpipers. Another Wood Sandpiper called behind us and we turned to see it emerging from the thicker clumps of rushes on the pool west of the track.

Wood Sandpiper – one of three here today

There was another Yellow Wagtail here this afternoon, another bright yellow male – they really were an ever-present theme today. This one was quite close to the track, feeding on the mud, at least when it wasn’t being chased off by one of the Lapwings. It obviously thought the Yellow Wagtail posed a grave threat to its young, which were feeding on the edge of the rushes nearby. Lapwings are obviously not the brightest of parents!

Yellow Wagtail – a smart male by the track

Continuing on round to the west pool, the bushes were quiet today, although it was mid afternoon now and the wind had picked up quite a bit. We had a quick scan of the pool from the low bank. There were lots of Avocets on nests on the island, and more Lapwings, but we couldn’t see any other waders on here today. A Brown Hare ran straight towards us along the grass verge on the edge of the pool until it realised we were standing there, froze looking at us for a few seconds, and ran off back the way it had come.

Unfortunately after an action-packed day full of spring migrants it was time to call it a day and head back now.

3rd May 2021 – More Warblers & Waders

Another Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with rain and an increasingly blustery wind spreading in during the afternoon. As ever, we made the most of the dry weather and still managed to see some very good birds as the weather deteriorated.

We started the day at Cley. We could hear the Grasshopper Warbler today from the car park as soon as we got out of the minibus, so we made our way straight over the road. A couple of people were watching it, reeling away in the back of a bush, but it was partly obscured. When it dropped down through the bush and started reeling again from the other side, we had a slightly better view.

Then suddenly the Grasshopper Warbler took off and flew down over the reeds parallel with the path, landing in some low vegetation, where it started reeling again. It was a great view now, just a few metres from the path, perched up in full view on a curl of brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler – still showing well

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing back in the hedge by the car park now. We decided to move on and walked on down along The Skirts path. There were several Sedge Warblers and one or two Reed Warblers singing along here, but neither were particularly easy to see today. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds and a Lesser Redpoll flew low overhead calling and disappeared off west.

A Common Whitethroat was singing ahead of us in the bushes by the path and perched up nicely in the top of one. Another male was singing further up. We realised why – a female was there too – and one of the males obviously encroached of the other’s territory resulting in the two of them chasing round after each other.

Common Whitethroat – one of two rival males on The Skirts

Continuing on up onto the East Bank, we could see at least two families of tiny Lapwing chicks still on the grazing marshes. There were Redshanks displaying too, and several Avocets at the back on Pope’s Pool.

We heard our first Yellow Wagtails calling and looked over to see at least five around the feet of the cows, including a couple of smart canary yellow males. They were very mobile, flying round a couple of times, before they were off, carrying on west. But all the time there were more dropping in – it was to be a real theme of the morning, with lots of Yellow Wagtails on the move.

It was breezier today and the ducks were tucked down in the grass. We could still see several Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Shelduck, but it took a bit more scanning to find one or two drake Wigeon too.

Being a bit windier, it didn’t feel like a day for Bearded Tits, which was one species on the wish list. But when we heard one calling, we looked down to see a smart male climbing up the reeds on the far side of the ditch just below the path. It perched out in the open for a few seconds on the outside edge of the reeds, giving us a very good view of its powder grey head and black moustache (not really a beard!), before it flew back along the ditch. A second bird, a female was calling nearby too, and flew past after it. The two of them disappeared deeper in to the reeds. We got good views of several Sedge Warblers along here too.

Sedge Warbler – lots around in the reeds now

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled over calling and two Sandwich Terns flew west over the brackish pools. There had apparently been a Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh earlier. Some of the Dunlin were now asleep in the vegetation on one of the islands on the brackish pool, but looking through we could see it was not with them. Dunlin numbers were down compared to yesterday, so some had probably gone off elsewhere. A small flock of Knot flew in and landed on the edge of the island. Mostly in grey non-breeding plumage, one was just starting to get patchy orange-red underparts. The two drake Pintail were still out on the water, upending.

Turning our attention to Arnold’s Marsh now, we could see only three Dunlin on here now. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwits, and several Ringed Plover. As we started to make our way back, a Whimbrel flew west behind us.

Two more Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with cows, and we heard more calling overhead. A Little Grebe was now on Don’s Pool, along with a female Common Pochard, both of which will probably breed here.

Common Pochard – a female on Don’s Pool

On the walk back along The Skirts, we could see at least one Marsh Harrier again. Several Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over North Scrape. A Greenfinch flew overhead calling.

A Grey-headed Wagtail had dropped in just along the coast at Kelling earlier this morning and had lingered for the last couple of hours. We got a message to stay that it was still there now, so we thought we would go over to try to see it. But as we had seen, the wagtails were very actively on the move this morning, so by the time we got there it was perhaps no surprise that it had finally decided to fly off.

We did see a Blackcap in the lane, and a Chiffchaff was singing down by the copse. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats and lots of Linnets in the bushes around the Water Meadow pool. A quick look at the pool itself produced a Common Sandpiper and a Stock Dove (a species we had only just talked about needing to see!). We decided we would be better to try out luck elsewhere, so we started to walk back. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the field nearby, and we could see it moving around in the top of a low hawthorn.

We drove back west inland and stopped just before we got to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area – two Brent Geese were out on the grass in front of the pool west of the track. A moulting male Ruff was feeding on the edge of the water, just starting to get part of its barred grey ruff now. Two Little Ringed Plovers were further back.

A short way down the track, we had a better view of one of the Little Ringed Plovers, with its golden eye ring clear now. Then we noticed a small snipe with a distinctive bobbing action in amongst the clumps of rushes close to the track, a Jack Snipe. We had a great view of it as it fed around the base of the rushes, its golden mantle stripes contrasting with its dark upperparts.

Jack Snipe – bobbing up and down in the rushes

We could see a dark cloud approaching from the west, so we walked back to the minibus for lunch under the shelter of the tailgate, while we waited for the shower to pass over.

Two Grey Partridges were in the field opposite. A lone Egyptian Goose was over the back with the Greylags but walked up to the front on its own. Two Common Swifts flew in low over the east pool and right over us, disappearing on west into the drizzle.

Common Swift – one of two which flew past over lunch

After lunch, once the shower had cleared through, we set off back down the track. There were two Yellow Wagtails now, bright yellow males again in the rushes close to the path just to the east, before they flew out to the islands in the middle.

There were more hirundines now, after the rain, hawking low over the pools, and there were several House Martins with them now. A male Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the bushes beyond in the wind, which was starting to pick up.

Marsh Harrier – a pale male over the bushes

We carried on round to take a look at the western pool. There were lots of Avocets down in the grass and lots of Swallows flying round low over the water, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting. We climbed up onto the seawall for a better look. It was windy up here, but looking out over the saltmarsh towards the harbour we could see a Common Tern patrolling up and down one of the main channels. We carried on up to the corner for a closer look, and could see another three Common Terns further back.

A distant Spoonbill was feeding out on the saltmarsh. One or two Whimbrel were a bit closer, down in the vegetation. Two adult Common Gulls flew past calling. Then a Hobby whipped through overhead, disappearing off into the allotments at Wells, presumably a fresh migrant on its way back for the summer.

We had been lucky with a dry interlude, but we could see more dark clouds approaching so we set off to walk back. The Common Gulls were now on one of the pools, with all the Black-headed Gulls. The two male Yellow Wagtails were back by the track, in the rushes on the other side now, and had been joined by a female.

Yellow Wagtail – three were feeding close to the track

It started to rain again, so we headed back to the minibus. We hoped we might drive through it, but it still looked rather grey out to the west when we arrived at Burnham Overy. It was only spitting with rain though as we set off down the track, even if it was getting noticeably windier now.

At least 22 Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass from the gate by the stile, with 2 Curlew in with them providing a good comparison, noticeably bigger and longer-billed. There was no sign of any Ring Ouzels now though in the fields either side – presumably they had retreated to the hedges.

Whimbrel – some of the 22 on the grazing marshes

A little further along, we picked up two injured Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marsh, unable to fly north for the summer. Several Common Pochard were on the small pools over by the reeds. We carried on along the track to the seawall. The Sedge Warblers along here were unusually quiet due to the deteriorating weather, with just one singing rather half-heartedly.

Up on the seawall, there was an impressive gathering or hundreds of Swallows over the reedbed and pool. Migrants on their way west, they were presumably finding food and would have a place to roost in the reeds.

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a distant Little Tern over the main harbour channel, so we walked down the seawall to the corner for a closer look. There were three Little Terns here now, flying up and down over the water, stopping to hover and then plunging in to the channel. One of them caught a fish, and the three of them chased up high calling.

There were Avocets and Redshanks on the mud, but from the corner we could see two Grey Plovers on the edge of the harbour channel too, one in breeding plumage with black face and belly. One or two Spoonbills were still flying back and forth.

Spoonbill – flying over the harbour in the rain

It was cold and windy up here and starting to rain harder now. As we walked back to the track, we could see a Great White Egret flying across beyond the reeds and landing in the distance out on the grazing marsh.

With the deteriorating weather, we decided we would try something that didn’t require walking, rather than finish early. So we drove over to Choseley to look for the Dotterel which had been reported there earlier. We started scanning from the top of the field. We were only part way down when we noticed a flock of Golden Plover flying in and they landed behind us, out of view. A couple of Red legged Partridges were easy to see, but it was a big field with lots of places to hide a lone Dotterel in the rain, lots of dips and dead ground, so it would take quite a bit of time to search the whole field.

We messaged someone we knew who had been here earlier, and they told us where the Dotterel was when they saw it, much further along nearer the far end of the field, so drove down to focus our efforts there. Once we knew exactly where to look, it didn’t take long to find the Dotterel now. It was actively moving round the stony field, running a short distance then stopping, extremely hard to see when it stopped still.

Dotterel – just the one here today

Dotterel are just passage migrants through here, stopping off in traditional fields on their way north each spring, between their wintering grounds in North Africa and Scandinavia where they will breed. Having enjoyed good views of the Dotterel, we drove back up to the top of the field for a quick look at the flock of Golden Plover, several resplendent now in breeding plumage with black faces and bellies (rather like their grey-spangled cousin we had seen at Burnham Overy earlier).

The Dotterel was a great way to wrap up a successful day’s spring birding, so we headed for home happy.

2nd May 2021 – Warblers & Waders

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright morning, cloudier in the afternoon, but the weather gods were kind to us and the showers held off until after we had finished. Still feeling rather cool for the time of year, in the brisk N breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Cley. With the hides still closed for the foreseeable future, we set the scope up in the picnic area to scan Pat’s Pool first. Out on the islands, we could see plenty of Avocets, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and a single moulting male Ruff. A Marsh Harrier circled out over the reedbed beyond and there were at least three Common Swifts zooming back and forth over the hides, along with a selection of Swallows, House Martins & Sand Martins.

We couldn’t hear the Grasshopper Warbler from up in the picnic area this morning, so we walked across the road to The Skirts path to see if we could find it. Several Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler were singing in the reeds and Little Egrets were flying back and forth.

We walked a short way up along the path and now we could hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us. It sounded distant at first so we carried on, then realised we had walked past and it was now behind us. It was reeling quite quietly, and we managed to locate it very low down in the nettles and reeds close to the path. It perched nicely where we could see it and we had a very good view just a few metres away.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling by the path again this morning

The Grasshopper Warbler stopped reeling and crawled down into the vegetation out of sight. When it came up again it was a bit further back, and it reeled again briefly from low in the reeds. Then it disappeared further back still, out of sight. We walked on, but we could still hear it reeling on and off behind us.

There were more Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers along here – the former easy to see, but the latter typically keeping well down out of view. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the blackthorn across the road and a Common Whitethroat sang from the top of hedge above.

Sedge Warbler – singing along The Skirts path

Up onto the East Bank, we noticed we had just missed a message about a White-tailed Eagle over the reserve. We scanned the sky, but there was no sign now – apparently it had gone through very quickly. Three Common Buzzards were circling very high above us. A Little Grebe was down on Don’s Pool, below the bank.

There were a couple of families of Lapwings, each with three small, fluffy chicks – little more than balls of fluff on legs. We heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked over to see it land briefly among the cows, a smart canary yellow male. It didn’t stay long, but took off and carried on its way west. Yellow Wagtails used to breed along the coast here, but these days are just passage migrants.

Lapwing chick – a ball of fluff on legs

Further up, we stopped again to scan the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There was a good selection of ducks still, including several Wigeon and Teal, plus a scattering of Shoveler and Gadwall. We got a drake Gadwall in the scope to admire the complexity of its delicate patterning.

There were more Lapwings displaying here, along with several Redshanks, and two distant Bar-tailed Godwits in the longer grass further back. The islands on Pope’s Pool were adorned with the usual selection of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants.

There were lots more Sedge Warblers on the edge of the reedbed from the East Bank, and finally a Reed Warbler put in a brief appearance too. There were several Meadow Pipits in the grass and a steady passage of hirundines over, mainly Swallows and a few House Martins.

Up at the brackish pools, a Little Egret was feeding close to the path. A couple of smart drake Pintail were upending out on the water further back, showing off their long, pin-shaped tails. There were lots of Dunlin roosting around the edges of the islands on here too.

Over the other side of the path, there were more Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh and several Ringed Plovers with them. A Turnstone dropped in on the shingle islands. Further back, we could see several more Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlews.

We had heard two Mediterranean Gulls calling as we walked up and they had appeared to drop towards the brackish pools, but there was no sign of them with the Black-headed Gulls here now. But when we heard more Mediterranean Gulls calling, we looked up to see four smart black-hooded adults flying in straight towards us. They came right overhead, their white wingtips translucent against the blue sky.

Mediterranean Gulls – these four smart adults came right overhead

Continuing on to the beach, there were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth, with some quite close in today. We could even see the yellow tip to the long, black bill on one of them. A Great Crested Grebe in breeding plumage was more of a surprise – they do spend the winter on the sea here, but are less common offshore at this time of year.

As we walked back along the East Bank, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and looked down to see a female briefly on the edge of the ditch below the bank. It flew up, and out over the reedbed, its long tail dipping behind it, before dropping deeper in. Two more Yellow Wagtails, this time females, were out among the cows now – a miracle they don’t get trodden on as they look for insects around the cow’s feet and noses.

Back along The Skirts path, two Marsh Harriers were displaying over the reedbed, the female towering up high, the male twisting and turning below before diving down into the reeds. A Common Buzzard came low overhead.

Common Buzzard – came over The Skirts

We went back to the Visitor Centre to make use of the facilities, and then decided on an early lunch out on the picnic tables in the sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its rattling song just across the road, and when it flew over to the brambles in front of us, we could see it had been bathing and was still drying out.

After lunch, we drove west to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area first. We could see several Little Ringed Plovers and a moulting male Ruff on the pool west of the track. Two Brent Geese were out on the grass and more Lapwing chicks were hiding in there too.

As we walked down the track, we could see a Common Snipe in the rushes on the pool to the east. Stopping to scan, we found one of the lingering Jack Snipe too, in the rushes a bit further out. Smaller, shorter-billed, and with a different head pattern, lacking a central crown stripe compared to its commoner cousin. A very distant Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on the edge of the water over in the very furthest corner. A Grey Heron was lurking in the rushes close to the track, presumably eyeing up the ducklings and Lapwing chicks.

Grey Heron – lurking in the rushes

As we walked through the bushes beyond, a Sparrowhawk zipped through and a Red Kite drifted overhead. A Whimbrel flew over the seawall, heading out towards the harbour beyond. Scanning the western pool from the low bank, we could see another Common Sandpiper and another moulting male Ruff, before they were chased off by one of the Lapwings.

We climbed up onto the seawall for a better view. There were lots of Avocets nesting on the island, and more feeding on the saltmarsh the other side of the seawall. Three Avocets were having a disagreement on the mud, two were obviously a pair and engaged in some synchronised jumping between chasing after the third bird together. There were several Oystercatchers on the mud too.

Avocets – arguing on the mud

We could see a distant Spoonbill further out on the saltmarsh, although once it dropped down into one of the muddy channels to feed we could then just see its head and neck occasionally when it looked up. There were more Brent Geese out here too.

A male Marsh Harrier drifted in over the bushes and we could see it had something in its talons. The female circled up with it and we expected to see a food pass. But the male dropped down and landed in the grass and the female drifted off over the fields beyond. The male took off again and flew out over the fields too, and it was looking as if it wasn’t going to share what it was carrying until finally the female came close again and the male dropped its prey for the female to catch.

On our way back to the car park, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes. A Spoonbill was now on the pool west of the track, a much better view than the one we had seen earlier, we could see the yellow tip to its black bill, its shaggy nuchal crest and the mustard yellow wash on its breast.

Spoonbill – on one of the pools on our way back

Our final destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Burnham Overy, hoping to catch up with some Ring Ouzels which had been here for the last few days. As we walked down the track towards the grazing marshes, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing and a couple of Long-tailed Tits were in the hedge beyond.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges ran out from the grassy margin into the cultivated field on the way down. Beyond the stile, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes and the first thing we noticed were a pair of Grey Partridges trying to hide out on the short grass, looking rather like a couple of large clods of earth.

Grey Partridges – a pair on the grazing marshes

While we were looking at the Grey Partridges, we realised the Ring Ouzels were further back in the same field, just over a ridge and largely out of view. They were only briefly visible to the taller members of the group, before disappearing altogether into the dip in the ground. From further up along the track, we could look back and had a better view of the dead ground. Now we could see there were three Ring Ouzels, two males with bright white gorgets, and a duller browner female.

Ring Ouzel – one of the white-gorgetted males

There were quite a few geese out on the grazing marshes, mainly Greylags, but looking through them carefully we found one lingering Pink-footed Goose. With most of the other Pinkfeet having long since flown back north on their way to Iceland for the breeding season, a few birds which were shot and winged during wildfowling here are largely unable to fly and will have to remain.

Three grey-backed White Wagtails were round the small pools further along by the track, and there were a few Skylark out on the short grass. On the other side, we could see a female Pochard and a Little Grebe. A nice close Little Ringed Plover here meant we could see its distinctive golden-yellow eyering through the scope.

We continued on and just up onto the seawall. The tide was low now, and we could only see the regular Avocets and Redshanks in the harbour. It was cold up here in the wind now and with our day almost at an end anyway, we set off back. A flock of at least 21 Whimbrel in the grassy fields by the stile now was a nice way to finish the day.

17th April 2021 – A Socially Distanced Group Walk

A small group day tour with a socially distanced difference today. Rather than using the minibus, we met on site in the morning and walked out to explore the dunes. As there were only a few of us, we then travelled on in convoy in the afternoon to visit a couple of different places. The weather was good – sunshine and blue skies for most of the day, although the light NE breeze had a slight chill to it, coming in off the North Sea.

We met in a small car park looking out over the grazing marshes. A couple of Red-legged Partridges were out in the middle of the field behind us and Skylarks were singing in the blue sky. A Red Kite circled lazily over the field on the other side of the road. We could see a Great White Egret on the grazing marshes way off in the distance.

Heading down the track, a Chiffchaff was singing and a male Blackcap flicked up onto the top of the hedge ahead of us. At the bottom, looking through the gap in the hedge we could see a pair of Grey Partridges in the next field, the male standing upright, its orange face visible above the long grass. A distant Spoonbill flew high west, presumably heading out onto the saltmarsh to feed. We could hear Bullfinches calling in the hedge and a Song Thrush was feeding out on the grass.

Continuing on down the track, the blackthorn is in full flower now, but the Lesser Whitethroats are not in yet. They are late this year, a lot of migrants seem to be delayed by the persistent cool northerly airflow we have had for the last couple of weeks. Out on the grazing marsh opposite, we could see lots of Greylags and Linnets, several each of Avocets and Lapwings. At least the Sedge Warblers are in already and singing – one was belting out its song from a patch of briar next to the path.

Sedge Warbler – singing by the track

Cetti’s Warblers are resident here all year round, but they are always one of the most elusive of species, normally skulking deep in thick cover and heard more often than seen. So it was a surprise to see one perched up in the top of the brambles by the track today and even more of a surprise that it stayed there, out in full view, for several minutes.

Cetti’s Warbler – unusually showy today

We could hear a couple of Mediterranean Gulls calling, and picked up a young bird (in its 2nd calendar year) circling high over the grazing marshes. Around the pools, we could see a nice selection of lingering winter ducks – Teal, Shoveler, a few Wigeon still – plus a drake Common Pochard. A Little Grebe was swimming in the water. A Little Ringed Plover appeared on the mud with a couple of Avocets and we could see its golden yellow eye ring. When it flew round, we realised there were another two Little Ringed Plovers further back and there was a bit of territorial aggression.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in. A small group of waders was visible roosting on a small spit on the saltmarsh, amongst the vegetation. In with a couple of Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank, we picked out one paler grey Knot. A Grey Plover further out in the harbour flew across.

Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, back to Iceland for the breeding season. Most of the geese here in the summer are Greylags, but distantly beyond the reedbed pool and half hidden behind a line of reeds we could just see two smaller geese, with darker heads, two lingering Pinkfeet. One clearly had a very mangled wing, and probably both birds had been shot and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland. The Brent Geese always linger longer and there were still quite a few out on the saltmarsh, although it won’t be long now before they too are off, back to Russia for them.

A Reed Bunting perched on top of a bush on the edge of the reedbed calling. A small group of five Golden Plover circled in the distance, dropping down in front of dunes. We walked on to the last corner of the seawall for a closer look. A couple of Lapwings were displaying overhead, always a great sight and sound at this time of year. A big female Sparrowhawk was feeding on a kill out on the grass.

When we got to the boardwalk, we turned east through the dunes. This is usually a good place for migrants and to see migration in progress, but it was disappointingly quiet. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits but not much else today, not even any Wheatears in their favourite place or any hirundines on the move. The NE wind was obviously holding things back still. We continued on to the end of the pines and scanned out to sea. Two very distant Sandwich Terns were offshore. The view wasn’t bad too!

Dunes – a great view, looking out towards Holkham Beach

There were no obvious migrants in the bushes at the end of the dunes, so we stopped to scan the grazing marshes the other side. A small group of Curlews were feeding out in the grass and a slimmer, darker bird was nearby but obviously separate from them, doing its own thing. It was a lone Whimbrel, a passage migrant which passes through here in spring.

It would be more sheltered on the southern edge of the pines, so we carried on east along the path to see if there was anything fresh in along there. We heard another Sedge Warbler and a couple of Chiffchaffs singing. Then as we got almost to the crosstracks, we heard a Reed Warbler. It seemed to be close to a path in through the reeds, so we headed in to see if we could see it. It was keeping well down at first, but just as we were turning to leave it appeared in a low sallow bush. The first one we have seen or heard this year, a fresh arrival back from Africa just in the last day or two.

As we got back to the main path, we heard a Willow Warbler singing in the sallows ahead of us, and we could see it silhouetted against the sky. Having sung a perfectly normal Willow Warbler song several times, it then sang again and added some Chiffchaff song at the end. It is not unusual to find ‘mixed singers’ sometimes. A bona fide Chiffchaff was singing nearby and the Willow Warbler then set off after it, chasing it round and round, in and out of the bushes and all the way up into the pines beyond, which we haven’t seen them do before. Perhaps its mixed song was also leading to some species confusion!

Willow Warbler – an interesting ‘mixed singer’

All hides are still closed at the moment, but we walked on to Joe Jordan Hide and looked over the wall below. A Great White Egret flew in from the west, low over the pools out in the middle. It had a noticeably dark bill, not the usually bright yellow dagger, which they develop just in the breeding season, a pitfall for the unwary!

Two Spoonbills were already on the further pool when we arrived, busy bathing and preening. After a while, another Spoonbill dropped out of the trees onto the nearer pool and started feeding, sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water. We had a good view of it now, we could see its shaggy nuchal crest and, when it lifted its head, its yellow-tipped bill, both indicating it was an adult in breeding condition.

Spoonbill – a smart breeding adult

After a snack and a short rest, we set off to walk back. The Willow Warbler was singing again in the same place we had seen it earlier. We stopped to listen to it, hoping to hear more mixed singing, but at first all we got was the beautiful descending scale of pure Willow Warbler song. Eventually, it switched and we got several variations, of mixed chiffs and chaffs.

Back on the seawall, the two Pink-footed Geese were a little easier to see now. Another Great White Egret flew past, heading out across the grazing marshes, it too sporting an all dark bill with bright facial skin.

Great White Egret – flew past on our walk back

Back at the cars, it was time for a late lunch in the edge of the field, looking out across the grazing marshes, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we headed east along the coast road to Wells.

Scanning from the car park, we quickly picked out a Ruff on the closest pool, disappointingly grey and still not really showing any sign of acquiring breeding plumage. There were a couple of Common Snipe on here too.

At the back of the pool the other side of the track, a large white shape was another Spoonbill, standing preening. There were lots of gulls on here too and in among all the Black-headed Gulls, we picked out an immature Common Gull and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, their yellow legs catching the sun as they swam past. A male Marsh Harrier drifted over, flushing quite a few birds from the water and attracting the ire of the local Lapwings, which chased it over in our direction.

Marsh Harrier – chased towards the car park by the local Lapwings

Two wagtails dropped in by the cattle pens. They both had grey backs and sharply demarcated black crowns, although one was slightly patchy in the middle. One stopped to bask in the sun and we could see the grey of its back extending down between its wings. Two White Wagtails, the continental equivalent of our Pied Wagtail, stopping off on their way north.

We walked on down the track to the far corner and looked back across the pool to the east. It didn’t take long for the Grey Phalarope to appear in its favoured corner, swimming out from behind the rushes. Still in grey non-breeding plumage, it looked like a diminutive gull from a distance, grey and white and swimming around on the water. Through the scopes, we could see its black mask. These arctic-breeding waders normally spend the non-breeding season out at sea off W Africa, and are rare here in spring. After northerly gales a couple of weeks, several were blown in and have lingered along the coast.

Grey Phalarope – swimming around right in the far corner

We walked on through the bushes, which were rather quiet, a distinct lack of migrants and freshly arrived warblers here too, a recurring theme it seems today. We climbed up onto the small bank overlooking the western pool and scanned the margins. Another male Ruff was over the back, this one starting to moult into breeding plumage with extensively black patterned head and neck.

A Swallow zipped over and was joined by a second over the field beyond. Then two Sand Martins appeared with them. Had they just arrived or have they been lingering here, finding insects around the pools? Our first hirundines of the day, and a very welcome sign that spring migration is still happening, birds are getting through despite the cold airflow.

A small wader flew up from the middle of the densely vegetated island – a snipe, but rather small and with a shortish bill, a Jack Snipe! It landed before anyone could really get onto it and disappeared into the vegetation on the far edge. We scanned the place it had landed and after a few seconds a Common Snipe walked out. Surely we didn’t get that one wrong – the first bird definitely looked too small?

We climbed up onto the seawall, a little further away but we had a better view of the island from up here. We could see the Common Snipe again, and then we saw some movement in front of it and the Jack Snipe showed itself. A bit smaller, and significantly more secretive, the Jack Snipe could completely disappear in the low vegetation but at times we had a great view of the two snipe species side by side. As well as being smaller with a shorter bill, we could see the Jack Snipe‘s more contrasting golden mantle stripes and the different head pattern, lacking the Common Snipe‘s central crown stripe.

We still had a little bit of time to play with so we headed back to the cars and decided to move on for one last stop. Further east still, we parked by the quay at Morston. There had been a Ring Ouzel in the field by the car park, but it had been spooked by a flyover Red Kite before we arrived and flown into the hedge. There were still several Blackbirds and Song Thrushes out on the grass.

While we waited for it to arrive, we walked on to the harbour, where a Whimbrel had been feeding on the mud right down at the front. We arrived just in time to see it spooked by a photographer, but thankfully it landed on the saltmarsh behind. A little later, another one appeared on the mud on the far side of the channel. We could see its striped crown. A Greenshank was busy feeding in the channel a bit further along.

Whimbrel – feeding on the mud in the harbour channel

There was still no sign of the Ring Ouzel emerging from the hedge, but two more Ring Ouzels had been reported earlier, a little further along the coast path, in the horse paddocks. We walked down for a look, but we couldn’t see any there either. Then we received a message to say the Ring Ouzel was back out by the car park. We turned and could already see it distantly on the short grass, so we walked back for a better look.

Ring Ouzel – finally showed well in the field by the car park

The Ring Ouzel performed very well now, feeding on the grass. A smart male, like a Blackbird with a bright white gorget, pale silvery wing edges and scaly fringes below. Ring Ouzels are scarce passage migrants here, these ones probably on their way from their wintering grounds in the Atlas Mountains, up to Scandinavia for the breeding season. They are normally mountain or moorland birds, but stop off here in fields along the coast before heading out across the North Sea. One we had hoped to see today, and we managed to squeeze it in right at the last.

The Red Kite drifted over again and the Ring Ouzel flew back up into the hedge. It was time for us to call it a day and make our separate ways home.

Jan/Feb 2021 – Through Winter, now into Spring

I am conscious that I haven’t written any blog posts for several months now – COVID-19 has meant no tours have run since last October, with a succession of national lockdowns interspersed with ‘tiered’ regional restrictions which have meant it has not been possible to operate.

As we head into spring, hopefully there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Following last week’s announcement by the Government, we are planning to restart tours on a limited basis from April 12th and then look to run a full programme from May 17th. If you might be interested in joining us, please check the website to see what we have planned or contact me directly.

In the meantime, this is what I have been up to, keeping busy over the last couple of months…

2021: Happy New Year

In Norfolk, we found ourselves put into Tier 4 from Boxing Day. Normally, my son and I would have a ‘big day’ on January 1st, trying to find as many species as possible up and down the coast to see in the New Year. With the restrictions in place, that wouldn’t be possible this year, but we did manage a couple of short trips out locally.

We drove down to the beach at Weybourne for a walk on New Year’s Day. Our journey there took us over Kelling Heath, where fortuitously a Waxwing was feeding on rosehips right next to the road. We stopped briefly to watch it – they have been in very short supply this winter, so it was a real bonus to be able to catch up with one so close to home today. One of everyone’s favourites, and a great way to start the year.

Waxwing – feeding on rosehips by the road on New Year’s Day

Continuing on down to Weybourne, we had only just walked up onto the beach when the lingering juvenile Iceland Gull flew up from the shingle in front of us. A scarce bird in Norfolk in most winter’s, and another good one to get 2021 underway. A walk along the beach didn’t produce much else, but the Iceland Gull patrolled up and down the shore past us a couple of times.

Iceland Gull – this juvenile has been lingering along the North Norfolk coast

Driving back along the coast road, we stopped briefly half way down Beach Road at Cley. As we climbed up the West Bank, a Kingfisher was perched on the concrete sluice the other side. A lone Canada Goose was out on the grazing marshes, lots of Pintail were asleep on the brackish pools and the hoped for Barn Owl was picked up hunting in front of the Mill.

On Jan 2nd, we went for a walk at Holkham. Heading down through the trees in the park produced a selection of commoner woodland birds and the lake added a few ducks to the slowly growing year list. But the surprise of the day was finding six Cattle Egrets (or should that be ‘Deer Egrets’?!) in the park feeding in amongst the Fallow Deer.

Cattle Egrets – four of the six feeding in the park among the deer

It was a nice gentle start to the 2021 birding year, but little did we realise that would be the end of it. On the evening of January 4th it was announced we were all going into a new National Lockdown the following day. That was that!

Staying Local

At first, staying local meant turning my attention to the garden and the surrounding fields. We are lucky with owls here, and regularly, early morning or late afternoon, one or two of our local Barn Owls could be found out hunting.

Barn Owl – often found out hunting early morning or late afternoon

We also have a pair of Little Owls here. On sunny days, they like to perch up somewhere and warm themselves and this year one of them has sometimes used a holly tree outside the back door of the house, from where it watches us coming and going.

Little Owl – watching from a sunny spot in the holly tree

The garden has delivered some surprises this lockdown – as well as an occasional Grey Heron or a pair of Mallard, we often get one or two Teal drop in to the overgrown pond at the back of us here, but a Water Rail there on January 10th was more unexpected. However, possibilities in the immediate area are always going to be slightly limited and there are only so many times you can walk up and down the footpath here, particularly with the rest if the village using it, and the ground getting increasingly muddy.

Still within the local area, there are lots of woods and footpaths which I have never explored, so I set off on foot to see what I could find. The fields and hedgerows held small number of winter thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings come here from Scandinavia for the winter.

Redwing – small flocks could be found in the fields

Some of the fields have game cover or wild bird seed mix strips along their edges, and one area in particular held impressive numbers of Bramblings, with a flock of at least 100 in one location. There were smaller numbers of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls around too, plus a few Common Crossbills in the conifer blocks.

The best find of early January were the Hawfinches. They used to breed in many of the local parks when I was a boy, but they have sadly declined to the point where they only seem to be regular now in the Brecks. Variable numbers also still come to the UK from the continent in winter, and I often wonder if birds could still be lingering in some of their traditional haunts, as they are surprisingly unobtrusive creatures for so big a finch. Still it was a big surprise out on one of my walks to see two Hawfinches fly in over the fields and land in some trees behind some houses on the edge of the village.

I encountered the Hawfinches regularly over the next couple of weeks, with a maximum of four on a couple of occasions, but mostly they were distant in the tops of the trees or flying over. Then on 18th Jan, I was walking along a track out of the woods and a lone Hawfinch flew up from the verge in front of me. It landed in some bare branches above my head, looking down at me, before flying back into the trees. Just a moment of luck – that was the only time I got close and I never did see one in the same spot again!

Hawfinch – flushed from the verge and landed in the tree above my head

The other highlight locally were the Goshawks. Once confined to the Brecks in Norfolk, they finally seem to be spreading more widely, and lots of people seem to have found them locally to them across the county in the last couple years. A succession of lockdowns has probably helped, with people forced to explore closer to home. There seem to be very good numbers of juveniles around at the moment, presumably birds dispersing after a good breeding season last year. The best time to look for them is on sunny days from the turn of the year, when Goshawks can be found displaying – perfect timing for Lockdown 3.0!

Goshawk – seem to be expanding rapidly now in Norfolk

The little things matter in lockdown too. It got colder around the end of January and this seemed to stimulate a bit of movement. A female Stonechat took up residence on the fence around a field full of sheep, the first I have ever seen locally. Common enough on the coast in winter, and in some of the bigger river valleys in Norfolk, but rarer than hens’ teeth in the agricultural desert that is much of inland Norfolk.

A couple of milder days at the start of February lulled some creatures into a false sense that spring was imminent. A Peacock on my walk on 4th was my first butterfly of the year and my first Hoverfly (Eristalis tenax) appeared in the garden that afternoon. A drake Goosander flying over the woods was a bit of a surprise late one afternoon, as was a Marsh Harrier flying high north towards the coast at dusk on another evening.

Then the snow arrived on 8th February and over the next couple of days, we found ourselves with up to a foot of lying snow, the most I have seen here for many years. Where the hedges have been grubbed out along the road out of the village and the verge had been helpfully mown flatter than a billiard table just the week before, the snow was drifting in the wind too. So that day was a stay at home day.

It was a surprise to find one of the local Barn Owls out hunting in the worst of the snow and wind that morning, before it then more sensibly settled onto a post on the edge of the meadow where it was more sheltered to see if it could hear something in the grass below. Obviously already hungry and with a problem with one of its eyes, it didn’t seem like it would survive a prolonged period of snow (spoiler alert: somehow it did and it is still here!).

Barn Owl – out hunting in the worst of the snow
Barn Owl – then tried to find food from the fenceposts

There was an arrival of Woodcock on the coast before and during the snow, presumably fleeing even colder weather on the continent. People close to the coast reported big numbers – on the beach, in coastal scrub and fields and even on the lawn in some lucky peoples’ gardens! This arrival didn’t seem to percolate this far inland though. We always have a few Woodcock which spend the winter in the woods here and numbers seemed to be much as usual.

Woodcock are normally very nocturnal, and seldom seen during the day unless flushed, but when they are struggling to feed and hungry in snowy or icy conditions, they can sometimes be found out in the middle of the day. Despite searching all the places where I have seen Woodcock locally in the past, the most I could find in the snow here were birds flying past or deep in the trees which flew off before I even saw them. We have had them on the lawn here before, in the snow, but no such luck this year.

There were also reports of large numbers of Common Snipe and smaller number of Jack Snipe elsewhere, displaced by the snow. We always have two or three Green Sandpipers which spend the winter in farm ditches locally, and I had regularly seen one or two on my walks prior to the snow, but otherwise we have few wet areas suitable for waders. It was not a great surprise therefore that I had failed to even see a single Common Snipe so far this year. So when a Common Snipe was reported by one of the other birders in the village from the ditch where the Green Sandpipers could often be found, I was very pleased to be able to catch up with it. The next day, I then flushed two Common Snipe from the old farm pond behind the house – just like buses!

Given the lack of snipe here, I thought a Common Snipe would be the best I could hope for. It was therefore an even bigger surprise the following day, when I stopped on my daily walk to scan the ditch where the Common Snipe was still feeding, and as I looked further back I noticed some bright golden mantle stripes bobbing up and down. A Jack Snipe! The first I have ever seen locally.

Jack Snipe – found feeding in a ditch locally, in the snow

Having scoured the woods in the local area for a daytime-feeding Woodcock, I received a message one day from one of the other birders in the village that he had seen one early that morning on the edge of the small copse directly across the lane from our garden! I had looked in there most mornings, on my way out for a walk, and had not seen anything. Surely it wouldn’t still be there now, but I had to have a quick look just in case.

There was no sign of it where it had been earlier, but after walking up and down on the edge of the copse several times, I noticed a rusty brown lump not far into the trees. The Woodcock! It was out in an open patch, on the ice which had been a large puddle, presumably trying to feed in the damp edges just above, where the lying snow was less deep. It froze when it saw me, presumably not realising that its wonderful cryptic plumage did not provide much camouflage against a background of white snow!

Woodcock – finally I got to see one out in the daytime

After a week, the weather changed and the snow melted very quickly. The waders – Woodcock, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe – all disappeared, the snipe not helped by the rapid rise in water levels in the ditches over the next few days. Finally able to get out further afield again, it became clear that other things had been forced to move by the snow too – there was no sign of the Hawfinches or Stonechat now, and numbers of Bramblings in the fields seemed to have dropped too.

For the last week or so of February, temperatures then rose so that for a while it felt like spring. The insects responded quickly, with my first Common Wasp of the year on on 20th and several Honey Bees gathering pollen around the snowdrops on 21st. Two Brimstone butterflies were out in the sunshine in the woods on 24th and over the following days the bee list expanded with Early and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, and Yellow-legged (Andrena flavipes) and Gwynne’s Mining Bees (A. bicolor) all in the garden.

Honey Bee – one of several gathering pollen around the snowdrops

There had already been several reports of Common Cranes on the move elsewhere over the previous few days, but that is another species we struggle with here. They wander from the Broads in early spring but tend to follow the coast or the major river valleys, and seldom seem to wander over the open fields in the agricultural middle of the county. I was really missing not having seen them in the Broads this year, one of the highlights of Jan and Feb for me. I was therefore delighted when I was out on my daily walk on 26th February in the sunshine and heard bugling high overhead. I turned to see a small group of five Common Cranes circling in the sun. After a few seconds they broke off and continued on their way west.

Common Cranes – these five flew over in the sunshine

I was pleased enough to see them, but when I got home later I noticed a message on the newswires that the Cranes had actually flown over my village a few minutes before I saw them. I hope they didn’t go over my house – it is still one I need for my garden list!

It remained warm right to the end of the month. A Chiffchaff singing in the garden on 27th February may be our earliest ever here, and seemed to be part of quite a widespread arrival across the county that day. With a sunny morning on 28th, it felt like a day for raptors so I stood on the lawn for a while scanning as the local Buzzards started to circle up. I probably saw upwards of 15 Common Buzzards and four Sparrowhawks, but nothing more exotic.

I left my scope on the lawn and walked out through the gap in the tall hedge at the back, onto the footpath beyond, to scan the fields to the south. As I emerged, I noticed a pale shape hovering over the rough grass field just beyond the hedge. It looked the wrong shape for one of the Barn Owls which usually like to hunt over there, before it turned and the penny dropped. It was a cracking silvery-grey male Hen Harrier! And for once I didn’t have a camera with me.

I ran back into the house and grabbed one, but by the time I got back out, the Hen Harrier was working its way down the field away from me, into the sun. I set off down along the footpath, and for a few seconds when it got to the far end of the field it looked like it was going to work its way back again. But then it disappeared round behind the trees and was gone. I have only ever seen one Hen Harrier here before, also a male, back in early 2011. It just goes to show what you can sometimes find when you are forced to stay home. As I walked back into the house, a Peacock butterfly was basking on the steps in the sun.

Peacock – basking on the steps in the sun

The weather has turned cooler again at the moment. The last three days have been dull, grey, foggy and have given me a chance to sit down in the office and write this. But it finally feels like spring is just around the corner and I cannot wait to get out again and explore the rest of Norfolk in just a few weeks time.

11th Oct 2020 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Tour in Norfolk, our last day. The weather was much better than yesterday – the showers much less frequent and even some nice bright intervals and patches of blue sky. There was a rather fresh and cool NW wind though on the coast today which made it feel a little colder.

Our first destination for the morning was Kelling. There were several Chaffinches and a couple of Greenfinches around the village as we got out of the minibus, and a small group of Goldfinches feeding in the tops of the birches by the school. We could hear more Chaffinches calling in the next hedge over as we started down the lane, and several flew out of the bushes ahead of us. They had possibly arrived from the Continent overnight and roosted here.

There had been reports of a large movement of Redwings inland at dawn, and we had thought we might see some thrushes on the move here today. But they had clearly come in overnight and moved quickly through. There were none moving now on the coast, and all we could find here were several Blackbirds in the bushes down the lane. We could here Bullfinches calling and several Robins ticking in the hedges as we walked along.

We stopped at the gate north of the copse to scan the Water Meadow. A Brown Hare ran across the field beyond. A family of Mute Swans, two adults and five dusky grey cygnets, were wading through the wet mud in the middle of the meadow. We remarked how good it was looking for a Jack Snipe now, how if you could walk about in the middle you would be sure to flush one, but despite a good scan we couldn’t see anything in view from the gate. There were lots of places to hide and they are always most active at dawn and dusk too.

A Marsh Harrier was flying over the field the other side of the track, flushing lots of Red-legged Partridges from stubble. A Reed Bunting flew ahead of us along the hedge as we continued north. There were more Blackbirds and finches in the bushes as we got out into the open.

A couple of dogs came past us and ran down the track, their owner following a couple of minutes later. Lots of ducks and Curlew came up off the Water Meadow as the dogs raced round the corner. Some of them resettled, but a flock of Teal flew off west.

Curlew – flew up from the Water Meadow

With a mixture of dark shower clouds and patches of blue sky, it was a good day for rainbows. Our first of the day was a corker – a double, with the inner one double sided too. The first of many today.

Rainbow – it was a good day for them today

When we got to the gap in the hedge where we could see across to the water, several of the Curlew had landed again on the grass. There was a mixture of ducks on the pool, still a couple of Teal, several Shoveler, one or two Gadwall and a small group of Wigeon feeding in the grass. A single Little Grebe was diving continually out in the middle.

We stopped to scan the Quags from the crosstracks. Two Common Snipe came up from the beck and disappeared off west. A Stonechat flew in and landed in the dead umbellifers on the bank, then across into the reeds in the beck. A single Egyptian Goose and two Little Egrets were out in the middle.

As we carried on down to the corner, another Common Snipe came up from the edge of the Water Meadow. A couple more Reed Buntings chased each other in and out of the reeds, and another Stonechat was perched up in the top of the brambles in the corner, a smart male. We had a look in the grass in the corner of the Water Meadow where it had been trampled by the cattle, but there was no Jack Snipe here either.

Stonechat – perched in the top of the brambles

Continuing on down the track, a Linnet landed in the brambles briefly. We could already see small groups of Gannets passing just offshore, beyond the shingle ridge, so we carried on up and over to the beach to see what else we could see.

Standing on the shingle ridge, we could see small groups of auks whizzing past offshore – this continued pretty much all the time we were on the beach. There were a few auks on the sea closer in too, so we continued down to the lee of the pill box and set up the scopes. We had a nice view of a couple of Razorbills on the sea, up and down riding the waves. A Guillemot was close in too and a Red-throated Diver.

There was steady passage of Gannets past all morning too. One small group stopped and spent a few minutes shallow diving offshore. A juvenile Gannet was resting on the sea very close in, just beyond the breakers. We had a great look at it as it drifted past us with the tide. After a while, it took off and flew further out.

Gannet – resting on the sea just offshore

The wind was not really strong enough to get other seabirds close inshore, but we did pick up three or four Great Skuas passing by. The first was very distant, but later we had one closer in, chasing a Great Black-backed Gull, trying to get it to regurgitate it’s last meal. We could see the Great Skua’s white wing flashes. A single Arctic Skua flew past very distantly too, and what was presumably the same bird paused briefly to chase a distant tern.

There was a trickle of wildfowl moving west this morning – always interesting to see migration in action at this time of year. Two groups of three Brent Geese, and several small flocks of Wigeon and Teal flew past, birds arriving here for the winter from Russia and across Northern Europe. We picked up a distant flock of Common Scoter too, but then we had two lone birds much closer flying west which were much easier to see, the first a pale cheeked female or juvenile, then a black male.

Brent Geese – arriving for the winter, coming in from Russia

There were not many waders moving today, but there was quality rather than quantity. The first wader we spotted, a small dark bird flying west just behind the breakers, was a Purple Sandpiper. Not a common sight passing by here, although we do get small numbers which spend the winter along the coast. Otherwise, we singles of Knot, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

There were a few passerines moving too. Several Rock Pipits flew west along the beach just in front of us. A Skylark came in over the beach calling too.

We could have spent all day here, watching the birds moving, arriving. It is slightly addictive, you never know what will come past next. But we could see lots of gulls off Weybourne beach, so with a shower approaching in over the sea we decided to head back and drive round there for a closer look. A Brown Hare was sheltering from the north wind behind the brambles on the hillside above the track, looking towards the sun and enjoying a bit of warmth as it poked out between the clouds.

Brown Hare – enjoying some sunshine, sheltered from the wind

As we walk back up the lane, we stopped again at the gate. There were a couple of people here now with scopes and they thought they might have seen a Jack Snipe. They were not sure though, and it could have been a Common Snipe. We stopped to scan, but they showed us where it had disappeared into a very thick area of rushes. A Brambling called overhead as we waited but despite giving it a few minutes, the Jack snipe didn’t reappear, so we decided to move on.

Round at Weybourne, there was only a small group of gulls on the beach to the west, beyond the fishermen – Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, we couldn’t see anything of more interest. There was a black bird on the beach further west, preening. It was hard to see clearly through the spray coming off the sea, but it looked like a Shag through the scope. We walked over the shingle and up onto the low cliffs beyond for a closer look., but by the time we got there the Shag had gone, presumably flown back out to sea. A small group of Turnstones were busy feeding on the top of the cliff, flicking over the small stones.

Turnstones – turning stones on the top of the beach

Looking to the east, we could see many more gulls scattered all along the base of the cliffs towards Sheringham. Again it was hard to see far, with the combination of the misty spray off the waves and the shade from the cliffs. We scanned through the closer ones, but couldn’t see anything unusual.

We needed to use the facilities, so we drove back to Cley now. It was time for lunch too, and we wouldn’t say no to a welcome hot drink from the cafe. Thankfully it was dry now so we could sit outside on the picnic tables to eat. From up by the Visitor Centre, we scanned Pat’s Pool. There were lots of ducks, particularly Gadwall, and several Shelduck. Two lingering Avocets were feeding in the shallower water. A Marsh Harrier flew past over the reeds beyond.

A message came through that there was indeed a Jack Snipe at Kelling, from the gate where we had looked earlier, though it was hard to see. So after lunch, we went back for another look. The Bullfinches were still calling in the lane as we walked along, and this time flew across in front of us, the male flashing pink underneath in the sunshine. A Chiffchaff was in a hawthorn overhanging the lane now too.

There was no sign of the Jack Snipe from the gate when we arrived. They can be very elusive at the best of times, so we scanned carefully around the tussocks and wet mud. A Common Snipe came up out of rushes and flew off, and a little later what may have been the same or another dropped back in to the same area. Several Curlew flew in too. A Grey Heron was walking about between a couple of cows further back. Three Pied Wagtails were flitting around in the mud.

It was starting to look like we might be out of luck again. Then the two cows started to come a bit closer, and they had still not made it to the wet mud when they flushed a small bird from the thick grass at the back – a Jack Snipe. It towered straight up, and broke the skyline above the hillside beyond. As well as its small size, we could see its shorter bill compared to Common Snipe. It turned and dropped straight down again, down into the thickest rushes and brambles at the back.

We figured the Jack Snipe might not come out from there for a while, so we set off back. We were told that a Purple Sandpiper had been on a small pool back along the coast at Salthouse, maybe the one we saw past Kelling earlier. It can be very disturbed here, but we thought it worth a look as we were passing.

When we got to Beach Road, we had a quick look through the gulls in the field opposite, but there was nothing different with them here either. We could see lots of people walking out along the shingle towards Gramborough Hill now, right past the pool, and several dogs, so we didn’t fancy our chances. We had a quick look anyway, and not surprisingly there was nothing there now.

It was exposed out by the beach and very blustery here in the wind. Another shower blew in as we walked back to the minibus, so we decided to head inland for the rest of the afternoon. We drove down to the Brecks to look for Stone Curlews.

We stopped by an empty rutted field and scanned over the hedge. There was no sign of any Stone Curlews initially, but a little further along the field we found some. A small group were very close, and flew up when they saw us peering over the hedge, but thankfully they circled round and landed straight back down again. Some others were still standing in the field, and as we scanned across we counted at least eleven here, although some were hard to see in the ruts.

We had a great view of a couple of the Stone Curlew now through the scopes, their bright yellow legs, irises and bill bases catching the afternoon sun. Well worth the journey down to see them.

Stone Curlew – good views in the bare field this afternoon

The Stone Curlews gather together in large groups at the end of the breeding season. Numbers are dropping now, as they head off to Iberia or North Africa for the winter, but we knew there had been more than this here in the last few days.

We drove further down the road and stopped in a gateway to scan across to a distant bare stoney field. There were more Stone Curlews, further away than the ones we had just seen, but we counted at least twelve. There were lots more places for them to hide here though, so there were probably quite a few more. Always a nice way to wrap up a trip this time of year, with the autumn gathering of Stone Curlews.

There were a few other birds here too. A large flock of Linnets out in the middle, kept flying up, whirling round and dropping back to feed in a weedy strip on the far side of the field in front. We had seen a big flock of sparrows here a few weeks ago too, but there was no sign of them now. Carefully scanning the nearby brambles we did find a small group of sparrows though, three Tree Sparrows with single House Sparrow. They perched up nicely on top, giving us a good view in the scopes.

There had been several Red-legged Partridges out in the closer field, and we were just about to leave when one of the group spotted a covey of seven Grey Partridges off to the right. They came out into the open and ran out across the middle of the field to the far side. A nice view and a nice late bonus.

Grey Partridges – part of a covey of seven

It was time to head back now. As we drove back north, we admired the last rainbows of the day as we drove towards and then into a brief heavy shower.

12th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. It was another cloudy, grey and dull day, but the winds were lighter today and it stayed dry. Much better conditions to be out birding on the coast again.

We started the day at Sheringham Cemetery. As we arrived, we met two other local birders just leaving who told us that one of the Ring Ouzels which had been seen here yesterday had been present earlier but had since flown off. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler here yesterday too, so we decided to go and have a look for that first, then check the bushes where the Ring Ouzels had been feeding in case any had come back.

As we walked round towards the far corner, a Green Woodpecker flew up from the short grass and landed round the back of a pine tree over by the fence. We could just see its head looking round the side of the trunk from time to time. Then it dropped down into the grass nearby and started feeding again, where we could get a better look at it through the scope.

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker – feeding on the grass in the cemetery

There was no sign initially of the Yellow-browed Warbler in the corner where it had been yesterday but while we were looking for it, we noticed a tit flock coming across the cemetery. We decided to follow that across to the allotments to see if it was with them. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and a couple of Goldcrests, but no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler.

Having left the bushes in peace for a while, we walked over to see if anything had come back. There were lots of Blackbirds now – we counted eight which flew out and there were still two or three in the hawthorns, plus a couple of Song Thrushes, but still no further sign of any Ring Ouzels.

While we were checking out the bushes, one of the group was looking over behind us and spotted a warbler in the trees in the corner. The Yellow-browed Warbler was back! We hurried over and found it flitting in and out of a large oak. It was also very vocal now, calling regularly, a distinctive sharp ‘tsooeet’. Almost all of the group eventually got a good look at it when it came out on the front of the tree a couple of times, although it was hard to get onto at times in the leaves. We could see its creamy yellow supercilium and double wing bars.

We were a bit later than hoped now, but we headed down to the prom anyway. The tide was quite well out already and there was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on the sea defences, but there were lots of Turnstones feeding on some food put out on the prom or loafing around on the rocks.

Turnstone

Turnstone – there were lots feeding on the prom

We had thought, with the improvement in weather conditions, that there might be some birds moving today, so we wanted to have a look out to sea. We did find a couple of small groups of Razorbills and a lone Guillemot on the sea. A handful of Gannets flew through west, and a single Red-throated Diver flew east. But there was no sign of anything else moving today, no ducks, waders or small birds coming in.

Heading back west, we stopped again at Walsey Hills. The warden there quickly pointed us to the Jack Snipe which was asleep on an island of mud against the reeds at the back of Snipe’s Marsh. It was well camouflaged amongst the stumps of cut reed, bu we could see its golden yellow mantle and crown stripes. From time to time it would give a quick burst of it’s distinctive bouncing action and once or twice it woke up and flashed its bill, shorter than a Common Snipe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – mostly asleep on Snipe’s Marsh, but did wake up at one point

After watching the Jack Snipe for a bit, we headed in along the footpath through the trees. There were lots of tits around the feeders and we heard several Chiffchaffs as we made our way through to the willows at the back. There had been a Siberian Chiffchaff in here for the last couple of days, but we couldn’t find it. We saw one rather pale Chiffchaff, but it was rather too green in the upperparts to fully fit the bill and seemed to be calling like a regular Chiffchaff to boot.

We did see another Yellow-browed Warbler which called a couple of times before eventually flicking up higher into one of the trees where we could see it. There was a Blackcap in here too.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – eventually flicked up into the top of one of the trees

We went round to Cley for lunch and the weather was nice enough now to make use of the picnic tables outside. A small flock of Ruff came up off the scrapes and flew off inland. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reserve, flushing everything. A Yellowhammer flew over high west calling, presumably a migrant. And a small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over – our first of the day today.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – smaller numbers arriving today

There had been a Hooded Merganser found at Titchwell earlier this morning, and we learnt that it was still present this afternoon, so we decided to head over there to try to see it. As we made our way west along the coast road past Holkham, a small line of five Jays flew high over the fields beside the road, more birds on the move.

The car park at Titchwell was already very full, with lots of people interested to see the Hooded Merganser. We managed to find somewhere to park and headed straight round to Patsy’s Reedbed. The Hooded Merganser was asleep at first over by the reeds at the back but then woke up and swam round a couple of times so we could get a good look at it.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser – a smart drake, on Patsy’s Reedbed

Hooded Merganser is a rare visitor from North America, with only 12 accepted records, although no occurrences before 2000 were accepted. The situation is complicated by the fact that Hooded Merganser is very common in captivity and escapes are frequent. The Titchwell bird showed no signs of having been in captivity – we couldn’t see any rings on its legs and it was fully winged. In fact when shooting started in the distance, from the fields across the main road, all the ducks took off and the Hooded Merganser flew round strongly before eventually dropping back down towards the reedbed pool.

Interestingly, a male Hooded Merganser had been photographed flying past Titchwell back on 18th September. What was thought possibly to be the same bird the turned up in Worcestershire the following day. Was this the same bird back again or had it not gone to Worcestershire after all? Where had it been in the interim?

The Pintail was also on the pool here again, at least until the shooting started. A female Stonechat perched up on the top of the hedge behind us. A male Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed and drifted over towards us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled out from the reedbed

The Autumn Trail is still open, so we walked round to the far corner of the Freshmarsh. We were hoping to find Water Rail and Bearded Tits and although we heard the former squealing and the latter pinging from the reeds, neither showed themselves for the group.

We got the scope on some Bar-tailed Godwits and then some Black-tailed Godwits and one of the latter helpfully walked into the middle of a group of the former to give us a good side-by-side comparison. There were plenty of Avocets and the regular selection of ducks too.

Walking back round along Meadow Trail, we heard a Marsh Harrier calling and looked up to see a young male displaying high in the sky overhead. Not a common sight at this time of year, and the tumbling was a little bit half-hearted. Out on the main West Bank, the Water Shrew was feeding on the side of the path again.

A small crowd had gathered by the reedbed pool, where the Hooded Merganser was now asleep out in the middle of the water. We continued on towards Island Hide, where a Water Rail was showing well on the edge of the reeds. We had a great view of it in the scope.

Some Bearded Tits had been showing along the edge of the reeds too, but had now apparently disappeared round the corner. We were told that some Bearded Tits had also been showing well earlier in the reeds by the main path just beyond the hide and thankfully they were still there. We had fantastic views of a pair, which kept working their way up into the tops of the reeds before flying a short distance further along, the male Bearded Tit with powder blue/grey head and black moustache.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – showing very well in the reeds right by the main path

Interestingly, the pair of Bearded Tits appeared to be followed by a Cetti’s Warbler. After the Bearded Tits flew a short way further down, then the Cetti’s Warbler would flick up out of the reeds too and land again a little further along. It did this several times – not something we have ever seen before. It is normally hard enough just to see a Cetti’s Warbler!

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Bearded Tits. As we walked back towards the Visitor Centre, a flock of about thirty Siskins buzzed around the trees above the path. A small taster of what we were to see tomorrow!

10th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. After a cloudy morning we had a brief spell of light rain through the middle of the day, which thankfully passed over while we were having lunch, before it brightened up in the afternoon, although there was a chill to the light NE wind all day. We made our way east along the coast this morning.

There has been a Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne Camp for over a week now. A rare visitor from southern Europe, it is a young bird which overshot on its first return journey north from Africa and ended up in Norfolk. It can normally be viewed from Muckleburgh Hill, as the Camp itself is private land, so we headed over there first thing to see if we could see it.

As we walked in through the trees there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A Common Whitethroat was songflighting from the top of the hedge. We watched three Lesser Whitethroats chasing each other round the bushes, with one perching up in the top of a hawthorn briefly. A Garden Warbler was singing on the front side of Muckleburgh from deep in the blackthorn and we had a quick view of it as it flew across.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing from the bushes on Muckleburgh Hill

There were a few people gathered looking for the Great Spotted Cuckoo but there was no sign at first, as someone was walking about in the trees out  on Weybourne Camp where it had been seen earlier. Eventually, when the disturbance ceased, the Great Spotted Cuckoo flew out and landed on the brambles in the distance over by the coast. It was rather distant and there was already a bit of heat haze despite the cloud, so it was hard to see at first unless you knew where it was. Then it turned and its pale underparts caught the light and it was much easier to see. We all had a look at it through the scope before it dropped down behind the brambles and disappeared.

We decided to have a walk round the hillside bushes. A male Linnet was singing from the top of the gorse just behind us, already getting pinkish-red on the breast. A pair of Yellowhammers flew over calling and dropped into a bush, the male perching up on the outer edge briefly.

Linnet

Linnet – singing from the top of the gorse

A Willow Warbler was singing but from somewhere deep in the trees, its lovely descending scale a real sound of spring. A Chiffchaff showed itself much better, feeding low down on the outside of the bushes and we could even see it had been ringed. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its distinctive rattle and when we got back to where we had heard the Garden Warbler earlier it was still singing. We could see it moving through the blackthorn, and it showed itself briefly. There had been a Wood Warbler in the trees on the other side yesterday, so we stopped to listen but there was no sign of it today.

We moved on to Kelling. As we parked in the village, a Greenfinch was singing from the treetops. A Common Buzzard was being chased by a Rook which was then joined in its efforts by a Jackdaw. A pair of Swallows were perched on the wires as we walked underneath.

Swallow

Swallow – perched on the wires looking at us we walked underneath

Walking down the lane towards the coast, the bushes were quieter than normal. A couple of Blackcaps were singing in the hedges down towards the copse, but we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat more distantly off across the field. We stopped by the gate overlooking the Water Meadow, but there were no Yellow Wagtails with the cows today.

As we looked over the brambles, we could see a Wood Sandpiper on the edge of the pool on the Water Meadow, so we walked on to the track at the end where we could get a better view of it in the scope. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and clear pale supercilium. Wood Sandpiper are spring migrants, passing through here in small numbers on their way north to Scandinavia in May, so they are always nice to see.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – feeding on the pool on the Water Meadow

There were also two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the muddy margins of the pool. Four Whimbrel flew west calling over towards the coast. The pair of Egyptian Geese have two goslings and the male tried to show off his courage by chasing off a harmless pair of Gadwall.

There were lots of Sand Martins feeding low over the water, hawking for insects, and more were perching on the wires, preening. They breed in the sandy cliffs along the coast both west and east of here. A Reed Bunting was singing from the brambles behind us and we could see lots of Brown Hares in the field up beyond the Water Meadow.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – feeding around the Water Meadow

There had apparently been two Wheatears on the Quags earlier, so we walked round there to look for them. We couldn’t find them now, so they had possibly moved on already. As we walked up the hill beyond, behind the beach, we could see the Great White Egret which had been reported at Salthouse, away in the distance. Its long white neck was sticking out of one of the ditches and through the scope we could see its dagger-shaped yellow bill.

A male Stonechat was perched in the bushes down towards the beach, and further on we found the female on the fence. We did find a couple of Wheatears around the gun emplacements, more migrants stopping off on their way north, but with quite a few along the coast today they may not have been the ones which were down on the Quags earlier. We had a good look at the female through the scope, perched on the bunkers and feeding down on the short grass. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were singing all around us, always great to hear.

With grey clouds building to the south, we decided it would be prudent to walk back. Two Avocets had dropped in on the Water Meadow pool now to feed. Two Red-legged Partridges were hiding in the winter wheat just the other side and when we got back to the gate by the copse we could see a Grey Partridge in the field beyond – nice to see the two species in quick succession to compare them. It was starting to spit with rain now, so we headed back to the minibus.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back west to Cley. On our way, we had a quick look from the Beach Road at Salthouse, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret in the ditches here now. After a quick stop at the NWT Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove down to Cley Coastguards and had lunch in the shelter, out of the rain. We got distracted a couple of times looking at the sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were plunge diving offshore and then two Little Terns flew west. Further out, two Gannets flew the other way. Five Common Scoters were swimming and diving out on the sea, and we had a look at them in the scope, lingering winter visitors.

While we were eating, the rain stopped and it started to brighten up. We noticed a Wheatear on the pillbox further along the beach and then found another two on the fence posts by the Eye Field, including a smart male. They worked their way along the edge of the field past us. A Skylark was feeding on the short grass in the overflow car park right next to us while we were watching the Wheatears.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were at least three by the Eye Field over lunch

While we were eating, we had seen three Golden Plovers circling round over the Eye Field. They had landed in the grass, and now we could see them just beyond the fence. One was looking very smart with a dark face and belly, a ‘northern’ male. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grass behind the beach away to the west.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a smart black-faced ‘northern’ male

After lunch, we drove back round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were several Common Pochard on Snipes Marsh, including a female with two ducklings. They are rare breeders here so it is always good to see evidence of confirmed breeding.

As we walked up the East Bank, we could hear several Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds. A Bearded Tit was ‘pinging’ and we turned to see it climbing up into the top of the reeds on the edge of a channel. It was a juvenile, so presumably there was a family party here. A couple of Sedge Warblers flew across the channel and we could see them in the bottom of the reeds on the other side. Further along, we found another Reed Warbler in the ditch the other side of the bank, perched on the reeds singing where it was much easier to see.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one of several singing in the reeds along the bank

There was a small group Black-tailed Godwits and a single Dunlin with a black belly patch feeding out on Pope’s Marsh, so we had a look at them through the scope. Further up on the mud by the Serpentine, we could see a Little Ringed Plover. We had a quick look at it from here and it was good that we did because by time we had walked up there, it had disappeared. There were a few Shoveler and Teal around the Serpentine.

Up at Arnold’s Marsh, we found a few more waders. As well as another small group of Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Bar-tailed Godwits over towards the back. One was mostly in rusty breeding plumage, so we had a look at it through the scope and could see the rusty colour extended down under the tail. There were a few Curlew here too and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the stony island, next to a Sandwich Tern. Another Wheatear was hopping around on the saltmarsh at the front.

It was decidedly cool in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s, with the cool easterly breeze having picked up a touch since the rain earlier. It was much nicer round the back in the sunshine, out of the wind. Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to walk back. A drake Wigeon on Pope’s Pool was a late lingering winter visitor – most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already left on their way back to Russia to breed.

We had a quick walk down to the pool on the Iron Road. There were a few waders on here today, including another Wood Sandpiper and three Common Sandpipers. A Jack Snipe was more of a surprise. It was hiding in the vegetation at first, and we could just see it creeping around, before it eventually came out a little more, and we could see it bouncing up and down.

There were lots of Pied Wagtails on the bare mud around the pool and in with them we could see three paler ones, with silvery grey backs – White Wagtails from the continent. A shrill call alerted us to a bright male Yellow Wagtail which flew in and landed at the feet of one of the cows in front of us. It didn’t stop long and almost immediately was off again and flew off west.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – dropped in with the cows by the Iron Road briefly

We still had time for one last stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down the path by the road, two male Marsh Harriers quartered the fields. There were more warblers singing here – Blackcap in the trees, and Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler along the bank of the river the other side.

Up on the seawall, a pair of Avocets and several Shelduck were down in the harbour channel beyond. There were lots of Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh in the harbour. They should be heading off soon now, on their way up to Siberia for the breeding season. We could see the seals too, distantly out on the sandbars beyond Blakeney Point.

There were a few waders still on the Fen – five Black-tailed Godwits, including one moulting into breeding plumage which gave a nice contrast to the rusty Bar-tailed Godwit we had seen at Cley earlier, as well as several Redshanks. A Green Sandpiper was feeding on the edge of the mud at the back and a Little Ringed Plover was walking around on one of the grassy islands.

Marsh Harrier

Unfortunately it was time to head back. One of the Marsh Harriers was still quartering the field by the path as we made our way back to the minibus, giving us a great view of it. As we drove back into Wells, a Common Cuckoo flew across the road to wrap up the day.

It had been a good first day, with a nice selection of spring migrants. We were looking forward to more tomorrow.

14th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

Day 4 of a four-day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was meant to rain all day today and, although it was wet at times, it was nowhere near as bad as we might have feared based on the forecast. The wind was very light in the morning, but swung round to the north and picked up a bit more in the afternoon.

With the forecast of rain, we headed over to Cley first thing, so we could take shelter in the hides. But when we got there, it wasn’t raining, so we decided to make the most of it and drove round to the beach first.

As we walked along the shingle, a large flock of Linnets came out of the weedy vegetation the other side of the fence accompanied by Goldfinches and followed by a number of Meadow Pipits. We were looking for a Snow Bunting, which had been here for a few days, but there was no sign of it with these other birds here.

Continuing on to where the vegetation grows out over the open shingle, we walked through amongst the sparse tall weeds around the edge. A couple of Skylarks came up from the edge of the grass and disappeared off towards the Eye Field, and then a Wheatear flew out and landed on a lump of concrete on the beach. It was looking rather bedraggled, presumably from the wet vegetation, and stood there watching us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this bedraggled individual was feeding out on the edge of the beach

Just a couple of metres further along, we noticed something moving on the shingle right in front of us, as we almost trod on the Snow Bunting. It was feeding quietly on the top of the beach, where some low weeds were growing through the stones. Snow Buntings are often very tame, coming from places where they probably are not used to seeing people, and this one was very accommodating. It was a male, but rather dark grey and brown, an Icelandic Snow Bunting of the insulae subspecies.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – feeding quietly on the top of the shingle ridge

A large flock of Ringed Plover flew round over the sea and landed back on the beach some distance further up ahead of us. Looking through the scopes, we could see there were a few Dunlin with them too, but the birds were remarkably hard to see on the stones and part of the flock was hidden from view over a rise in the beach.

There was quite a bit of activity over the rather calm sea this morning, so we stood for a while and scanned out over the water. A steady stream of Gannets came past, mostly flying east, a variety of different colours and ages, from dark grey-brown juveniles, to the white adults with black-tipped wings, and various stages in between.

Gannet

Gannet – several dark grey juveniles were among those flying past

Several Red-throated Divers were swimming on the water and we had a closer look at both an adult still mostly in breeding plumage and one already in grey and white winter attire. A Shag flew west along the shoreline, past us.

At this time of year, birds are arriving from the continent for the winter and there was a nice selection of wildfowl coming in over the sea today. A steady stream of small lines of Brent Geese flew past low over the sea, coming back from their breeding grounds in Russia, and we saw several flocks of Wigeon and Teal too. Two Red-breasted Mergansers flew past just off the beach together with a couple of Teal and a few Common Scoter went past further out.

Looking inland, a Marsh Harrier was standing down on the short grass on the edge of North Scrape, but there didn’t seem to be much else on there today. A Common Snipe and two Redshank were feeding on Billy’s Wash. Remarkably, the rain was still holding off – despite it being forecast to rain all morning – so we thought we would push our luck and head round to the East Bank for a walk. A pair of Grey Seals was bobbing in the water just off the beach, watching the people walking past, as we made our way back to the car.

The East Bank car park was quite full, so we parked at Walsey Hills instead. We stopped to have a look at Snipe’s Marsh first. We could see a Little Egret feeding on the mud amongst the cut reeds, but there didn’t appear to be any waders here at first. However, a careful scan around the edges eventually produced the hoped for Jack Snipe, well spotted by one of the group, asleep in the reeds on one side.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – showed well, sleeping on the edge of reeds

We had a good look at the Jack Snipe through the scope. It woke up at one point and we could see its bill, thicker and shorter than a Common Snipe. We could also see the distinctive head pattern. A Water Rail ran across the mud the other side but disappeared into the reeds before anyone could get onto it. Helpfully it re-emerged a little later and walked back the other way.

There seemed to be some smaller birds on the move this morning, and we could hear Chaffinches calling overhead as we stood by Snipe’s Marsh. One or two Bramblings gave their wheezy calls too. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from time to time from the reeds and a Bullfinch was calling over by North Foreland wood.

There looked to be some darker clouds approaching now, so we decided to have a quick look in the trees at Walsey Hills. As we walked along the footpath, we could hear Robins and a Chiffchaff calling. We had been lucky with the weather up until now but at this point it finally started to rain. We walked up to the top to have a look in the trees, but beat a hasty retreat.

It was time to head for the hides and get out of the weather. Having been to the Visitor Centre to get our permits, we walked quickly out along the boardwalk and straight into Dauke’s Hide. As soon as we got inside, someone very kindly pointed out a Kingfisher, which was perched down on the mud right in front.

The Kingfisher was wrestling with a stickleback. It had dropped it on the mud, but hopped down and picked it up and proceeded to beat it against the small mound it was standing on. It dropped it again and stood looking down at it, before finally picking it up once more and eating it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – was wrestling with a stickleback on the mud in front of the hide

We enjoyed stunning views of the Kingfisher – it kept coming closer to the hide, perching on a post in the channel just in front. Eventually, it flew off up the channel but a few minutes later it was back again on its favourite post.

Dragging our attention away from the Kingfisher, we noticed a Little Stint with ten Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape. It was hard to see properly from Dauke’s, particularly to get an angle for the scopes, so we hurried round to Avocet Hide for a closer look. The Little Stint was noticeably smaller than the accompanying Dunlin, with a shorter bill and cleaner white underparts.

Little Stints have been thin on the ground this autumn. The passage of juveniles through here way outnumbers adults, so it could be that they have had a poor breeding season, or perhaps just the persistent westerlies mean that the numbers reaching here have been low. Either way, it was nice to catch up with one today.

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile with 10 Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape

The Dunlin and Little Stint were spooked by something and flew back across to Simmond’s Scrape, so we went back round to Dauke’s Hide. The Kingfisher had disappeared, but a Water Rail was now running around down in front of the hide, giving great views.

There were a few other waders out on Simmond’s Scrape today, including a Curlew, and a couple of Ringed Plovers. A flock of Golden Plover dropped in. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool.

There are lots of ducks back for the winter already, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. Looking through them carefully, we found a single Pintail, a drake starting to moult out of eclipse plumage. There was a big RSPB group in Dauke’s Hide today, so there was nowhere for us to sit. They had given up looking at the birds though and had settled in to eat their lunch. Eventually, all the loud discussions about double cherry bakewells and their different home made chutneys started to make us hungry, so we decided to head somewhere more appropriate to eat our lunch. Thankfully, the rain had now stopped again.

The shelter round at the beach car park was the perfect spot, out of the wind, which had now swung round to the north. After lunch, we had a quick look out at the sea. There were still lots of Gannets moving, plus one or two plunge diving just offshore now. Several Sandwich Terns were patrolling up and down. A Razorbill flew past, and a Guillemot was diving, out on the sea just off the beach.

There had apparently been an arrival of Blackbirds and Robins overnight, with a few seen around Cley first thing, so we thought we would see if there was any sign of activity down at Kelling Water Meadow. However, the lane was disappointingly quiet, just a few Chaffinches in the trees. Perhaps it had been too disturbed during the morning to hold anything here. There were lots of Pheasants in the fields, and Red-legged Partridges calling – this is a shooting estate after all. Rooks and Jackdaws were flying around the trees or on the hillside beyond the Water Meadow.

Down at the pool, the first thing we noticed were the gulls. There were quite a few Black-headed Gulls, but one young bird immediately stood out. It was a young Mediterranean Gull, a 1st winter. Continuing down to the corner for a better look, we found another two Mediterranean Gulls on here as well, a second 1st winter and also a 2nd winter. There were a few Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – one of three immatures on the Water Meadow this afternoon

It was rather exposed when we got out of the shelter of the lane, and it was spitting with rain again. With the lack of any obvious sign of any migrants, we decided to head somewhere more sheltered.

On our way back west, we had a look up at the church tower and could see the Peregrine back again. It didn’t look particularly happy though, facing in to the wall and hunched up, presumably sheltering from wind & drizzle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – eventually it even turned its head to look round.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower, sheltering from the wind & rain

Wells Woods seemed like a good place to finish, where we could get out of the northerly breeze. Several Little Grebes were diving out on the boating lake as we passed. We made our way in and up to the Dell, before we came to a tit flock. One of the first birds we got our binoculars on was a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was feeding in a small birch and we all managed to get a good look at it. A Goldcrest flew into one of the low bushes right next to us to feed, giving us a chance to appreciate just how small they are.

Their glipping calls alerted us to some Common Crossbills in the pines and we quickly realised they were right above our heads. We watched them flying down to the lower branches to find cones, before taking them higher up to deal with. They have been rather few and far between over the last year or so here, so it was great to see them and quite well.

Crossbill

Common Crossbill – feeding above our heads in the pines by the Dell

We followed the tit flock as it made its way through the trees for a few mins. As well as all the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, we could hear Treecreeper and Chiffchaff calling. Eventually, the Long-tailed Tits led the other high up into the pines and they disappeared.

It was a productive few minutes, and a nice way to end the tour, in Wells Woods. We got as far as the drinking pool, but it was time to head back, with people wanting to get away quickly. It had been a very good four days too, with a nice selection of different Autumn birds.

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was still very windy today, but otherwise it was mostly bright and fairly sunny, apart from a band of sharp showers which passed over late morning. It was very warm too, up to 25C in the afternoon – unseasonally warm for mid October and t-shirt weather out of the wind!

It was forecast to be a big spring high tide this morning, so we planned to head over to Snettisham to watch the waders. However, with such a strong southerly wind, it would undoubtedly hold the tide back and stop it from completely covering the mud. So we figured the waders would remain out on the Wash today and consequently it wasn’t worth a really early start to get there well ahead of the tide.

The tide was already in when we arrived just after 9am, and we could see all the waders gathered in the far corner, just as we thought they would be. As we walked down towards the far end of the seawall, something spooked them and all the waders took off. We stopped to watch them all swirling round, making different shapes in the sky, before they quickly settled again down on the last remaining bay of mud.

Waders 1

Waders – 80,000 Knot were swirling over the Wash today

Carrying on to the end of the path, we set up the scopes to look more closely at the vast flocks of birds gathered in the tiny corner of mud. They looked like oil slicks spread over the surface. Closest to us were the Oystercatchers, a much darker, black mass. The Bar-tailed Godwits were nearby, more loosely grouped. Through the scopes we could see their pale backs streaked with dark. The Curlews were widely scattered on the drier mud at the back. Along the edge of the water was one vast throng of Knot, packed in shoulder to shoulder, looking almost like a pebble beach!

Waders 2

Waders – mainly Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and lots of Knot!

More Oystercatchers were still flying in to join the crowd already gathered, shining white and black as they caught the low early morning light. Then suddenly everything was up again, thousands and thousands of waders, whirling round over the mud in vast flocks, twisting and turning. What a spectacle! We would see what we assumed was the reason – a couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the spit of saltmarsh just beyond.

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

They settled again, but not for long. We could see more Knot come up in huge flocks further back, many of them coming over to the nearer group to settle. Then they were all up and swirling again.

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

This time we spotted a different culprit – a young Peregrine. It made several passes over and round the huge flocks which twisted and turned, before drifting back over the saltmarsh. It had a quick tussle with one of the Marsh Harriers and then settled on a fence post out in the vegetation behind the mud.

The waders eventually settled again. The tide was already starting to go out again, and there was a bit more mud exposed already. This time the various groups were less concentrated in the corner and we could see different species. There were lots of Grey Plover and more flew in and joined them, flashing their black armpits as they flew. Out on the mud, close to the massed Knot, we could see a tight group of Sanderling, much paler than the other waders, shining white and silvery grey in the low sunshine.

Waders 5

Waders – the flocks catching the morning sunshine massed on the mud

Beyond the flocks of waders, lit up by the sun shining behind us, we could see dark clouds approaching from the south. We got round to the shelter of the South Screen just in time, as a sharp burst of heavy rain passed overhead. Even though most of the waders were still out on the Wash today, there were a few different species still to keep us amused while we sheltered from the rain here.

At least 13 Greenshanks were roosting in with a larger group of Redshanks on the back of the closest island, along with a few Turnstones. A large group of Oystercatchers were sleeping on the shingle bank further back, and down on the waters edge below then were several more Redshank and a single Knot.

The warden came in to shelter from the rain. He had been doing a count today and was able to tell us we had been watching 80,000 Knot out on the Wash. Wow! He also told us there were four Spotted Redshanks further back, roosting on one of the small islands out in the middle of the pit. When the rain finally eased off, we could see them in the distance, much paler than the Redshanks in front of us, but not as pale as the Greenshanks.

The Greenshanks woke up and started getting restless. One or two started feeding, running through the water, sweeping their bills quickly from side to side feeling for food. Several of the Redshanks woke up too and started bathing, throwing themselves headlong into the water and flapping. A Grey Plover appeared on the island just behind Greenshanks.

Greenshank

Greenshank – there were several roosting on the south end of the pit

Then the Redshanks and Greenshanks started to take off in small groups and seemed to head back out towards the Wash. There were other birds here too. A Rock Pipit was chasing round with the Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings, down on the gravel margins in front of the hide. There was a good selection of ducks and geese on view, including a Canada x Greylag hybrid with the Greylag Geese. A Little Grebe was busy diving close to the near bank.

There was a gap in the clouds and the rain stopped for a while, so we took advantage and walked round to Shore Hide, before another squally band of rain passed over, producing quite an impressive rainbow over the north end of the pit. There was still one Spotted Redshank on the small island, right out in front of the hide giving us a much better view from here. We could see its long, needle-fine bill. A single feral Barnacle Goose was in with the Greylags at the back.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – there was still one on the pit when we got round to Shore Hide

When the rain stopped again, we headed out of the hide and started to make our way back to the car. There had been a report of some Snow Buntings in with the flock of Linnets along the shore. We walked back along the shingle and quickly found the Linnets but there was no sign of anything with them. The tide was now well out and several Ringed Plovers and little groups of Dunlin were now feeding on the closer mud.

When we got round to Titchwell, it was already time for an early lunch. The car parks were very busy, and we found the last space in the overflow car park, but thankfully the picnic area was empty. While we ate, a Swallow and three or four House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees, feeding up before continuing on their way south. A Goldcrest was singing in the edge of the pines behind us.

After lunch, we headed out along Fen Trail. It was very warm now out of the wind, but it was still breezy in the trees and we couldn’t find any sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler here. We couldn’t find the flock of Long-tailed Tits either – they had probably gone somewhere more sheltered, taking the Yellow-browed Warbler with them. A Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows.

There were lots of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine – lots of Common Darters and Migrants Hawkers buzzing round the sallows or basking on the boardwalk.

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, the first thing we spotted were the Red-crested Pochard. There were six of them here today, including three smart drakes, numbers having gone up as the latter have emerged from eclipse plumage and from hiding. There were also lots of Gadwall and several Shoveler.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s Reedbed today

There were a few gulls coming and going from Patsy’s Reedbed, but not much else, so we set off back towards the main path and the rest of the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes on the edge of the concrete tank road, but the rest of the bushes on Fen Trail and round on the Meadow Trail were quiet.

As we made our way up along the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. Another Red-crested Pochard, a female, was out with a few Gadwall on the water. There was a big crowd gathered on the path outside Island Hide, and we thought they might be watching the Jack Snipe, so we hurried up to join them. A snipe had been seen earlier disappearing into the vegetation but when we looked where they were pointing, all we could see was bits of a Common Snipe showing through the weeds as it fed.

From inside Island Hide, we had a better view of the Common Snipe when it finally poked its head round the edge of the vegetation. There were lots of Ruff out on the Freshmarsh still too, and a small number of Avocet which are lingering here, after most have gone further south for the winter. Otherwise, there were not many other waders here today.

Avocet

Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

There are lots of duck out on the Freshmarsh now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, together with a few Shoveler. The drakes are all still largely in dull eclipse plumage, so not looking at their best.

With the Jack Snipe not showing, we decided to head out to the beach, and come back to have another look later. As we walked out along the west bank path, a flock of Golden Plover flew in and circled over the Freshmarsh several times nervously, before eventually landing out in the middle.

A couple of Redshank were feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, in the channel just below the path. At the far end, there were more waders out on the muddy banks. An Oystercatcher was working its way round just below us and out along the edge of the water we could see Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, a Grey Plover and more Redshank. A Little Egret flew in, flashing its yellow feet, and started looking for fish in the muddy water.

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – in the muddy channel on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were empty, so we continued on to the beach. The tide was out, but we found a sheltered spot in the lee of the dunes and scanned the sea. There were a few Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a single Red-throated Diver. We could see a distant flock of Common Scoter, out towards the wind turbines, but they were hard to pick up on the water and easiest to see when they flew.

While we were scanning offshore, we noticed a tern fishing way off to the west. It’s agile flight, dipping down frequently to the water’s surface, and dark upperparts contrasting with white underneath immediately set it apart – a juvenile Black Tern. It spent ages flying up and down just offshore away to the west of us, gradually working its way back towards us, before it eventually flew past just offshore.

It is quite late for a Black Tern off here, though not unprecedented. Still, it was a nice bird to see. While we were watching the Black Tern, one of the group noticed a small raptor coming in low over the waves. When we all got onto it, we could see it was a Merlin. It eventually came in low over the beach at Thornham Point, though it was impossible to tell whether it was a new arrival from the continent or a local bird skimming over the waves to avoid the wind.

There were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, along with several small groups of Brent Geese. We made our way down for a closer look and had good views of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits side by side. It was very windy out on the sand though, so we put our heads down and walked back up the beach.

We wanted to have another look for the Jack Snipe, and when we got back almost to Island Hide we were told it had been seen briefly earlier but had gone back to sleep in the vegetation. Thankfully, someone walked back with us and showed us exactly where it was. From up on the main path, all we could see was the Jack Snipe‘s eye staring back at us, and only when the wind blew the vegetation back so we could see it!

There was a slightly better view from Island Hide. We could see more of the Jack Snipe, and had good comparison views of a Common Snipe next to it – we could see the different head pattern on the Common Snipe, with the single pale golden stripe over the eye and a pale central crown stripe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

A couple of helicopters taking off from one of the hotels in the village created a lot of disturbance, flushing most of the birds from the freshmarsh, and the Jack Snipe finally woke up and started bouncing up and down. Unfortunately, rather than starting to feed, it walked deeper into the weedy vegetation and disappeared.

There high-pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese overhead. Several of them dropped down onto the Freshmarsh with the already gathered horde of Greylags. We also spotted a Yellow-legged Gull which dropping in briefly with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls for a bathe and a preen.

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. As we walked back to the car, three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reedbed out on the Thornham grazing marsh, silhouetted against the late sun, gathering before going in to roost.