Tag Archives: Jack Snipe

18th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. It was a nice, bright start to the morning and, although it clouded over later, it stayed largely dry until dark.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we thought we might stop for a better look at the Cattle Egrets. We were looking into the sun and the cows were huddled in one corner of the field, but there appeared to be white shapes in with them as we drove past. We parked in the layby just beyond and crossed the road. A flock of Fieldfares flew across the field, landing in the hedge close to where we parked and started tucking in to the berries. As we walked down along the path, we flushed a couple of Blackbirds and a Song Thrush from the bushes there. A Stock Dove flew out of the game cover as we passed.

When we got down to the corner overlooking the wet grazing marsh where the cows were, we couldn’t see any sign of the Cattle Egrets. The cows were on the edge of a ditch, so we wondered whether the egrets might be hiding at first. While we waited to see if they might emerge, we scanned the pools in the grass. There was a nice selection of ducks – Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and a single female Pintail with them too. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding around the muddy edge.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – flew over our heads early this morning

A flock of Long-tailed Tits came along the hedge past us, calling noisily. A Marsh Harrier circled up over the trees behind us before flying over our heads. A Yellowhammer flew over the road calling. And it quickly became clear that the Cattle Egrets weren’t there. We would be coming back this way later, so we decided not to linger and headed back to the car.

As we made our way on east past Cley, we could see a small flock of Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh by the entrance to Babcock Hide. There was nothing behind us, so we pulled up and had a quick look at them from the car. One immediately stood out – more contrasting than the regular Dark-bellied Brents, blacker bodied with a brighter white flank patch. It was the Black Brant. We managed to get a quick look at it before something spooked the geese and they all took off. They circled round and dropped down onto Watling Water, out of view.

Our next stop was at Weybourne. We decided to have a quick look at the beach first. There were a couple of groups of gulls on the shingle but nothing particularly interesting with them today – a mixture of Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew past together with a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a great side-by-side comparison.

There were several Turnstones down on the beach too, although they should perhaps have been better named Turn-fish today. A large number of small flatfish were washed up after last weekend’s storms and have been providing sustenance for the gulls and the Turnstones.

TurnstoneTurnstone – turning over a flatfish instead!

One of the group spotted a Great Crested Grebe flying past just offshore. It is quite an incongruous sight, but they winter quite commonly on the sea here. A single Ringed Plover flew past some way out too, presumably a fresh arrival coming in for the winter. Two Gannets circled way out on the horizon, catching the sun. A Rock Pipit flew west over the beach along with a Meadow Pipit. Otherwise there was not much happening out at sea this morning, so we decided to explore the fields instead.

As we walked up the hill on the edge of the grass beside the stubble, we flushed several Skylarks which flew round and landed again out in the field. A little group of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass calling. Then up towards the top of the field, a large flock of Linnets flew up from the stubble and wheeled round before landing again. We had really come to look for Lapland Buntings, a few of which have been in the stubble here in recent days, but at first we couldn’t find any.

As we got up towards the old Coastguard Cottages, we could see more activity out in the middle of the field so we thought we would try walking up along the track towards the mill. We would not be looking into the sun from there too, as we had been from the cliff side. When we got to the field gate half way up the track, we stopped to scan and were instantly rewarded with a Lapland Bunting. Even better, it was out in an open area of bare mud, where we could get it in the scope. Great views – we couldn’t believe our luck! They are more often just seen flying round or skulking in the stubble.

Lapland BuntingLapland Bunting – showed very well on an area of bare mud

We watched the Lapland Bunting for some time. It was strikingly pale, off-white below and around the face. It appeared to be a male, with a ghosting of a black bib. It was feeding with a couple of Skylarks and Linnets. It would disappear into the furrows from time to time and then reappear somewhere different. At one point it looked like it might be bathing in a furrow with a couple of Meadow Pipits. Then a Weasel appeared. It ran across the field to the open muddy area and all the birds started to chase after it, mobbing it.

After the Weasel had been seen off, all the birds flew round and the Lapland Bunting circled over the open area again before heading out across the field. A second Lapland Bunting appeared from somewhere and followed it, the two of them then dropping down into the stubble out of view.

Our next destination was Kelling Water Meadow. As we walked up the lane, there were a few Blackbirds still in the hedges, arrivals from the continent for the winter stopping off here to refuel on the berries. Otherwise, there were just a few Chaffinches on the walk out until we got to where the thick hedges run out. Then a female Stonechat flew up from the grassy verge and landed in a hawthorn beside us.

StonechatStonechat – this female flew up from the verge beside us

There did not appear to be many birds on the pool here today. Three Teal were feeding at the back. One of the things we had hoped to see was the Spotted Redshank which has been lingering here for some months now, but all we could find was a single Common Redshank. A Curlew flew in calling and landed along the muddy edge, followed shortly after by a single Black-tailed Godwit.

The other species we wanted to see here was Jack Snipe, so we made our way round to the area they have been favouring. They are hard to see at the best of times – they sleep most of the day, hiding deep in the grass, beautifully camouflaged. The water level has increased here in recent days too, which also doesn’t help – it seems to have driven them into the thickest vegetation. When one of the group called out almost immediately to say he had found a bird with a long bill walking in the grass on the edge of the water, it seemed too good to be true. It was – a Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the water. Still, nice to see.

We stood and scanned the grass for a couple of minutes. Then something caught the eye – the vaguest darker shape deep in the grass, and a golden yellow stripe at a different angle to the vegetation. Through the scope we could see it was indeed a Jack Snipe. It was asleep, but we could see its eye staring at us. It half woke at one point, and started to bob up and down a little, the distinctive action of a Jack Snipe.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe – hiding deep in the grass

After enjoying the Jack Snipe for a while, we set off back up the lane. About half way back, we heard Bullfinches calling and a smart pink male flew out of the hedge andup the track ahead of us. It landed in a small tree with some Chaffinches, before flying back towards us and landing in the back of the hedge. We could hear it calling plaintively and a second Bullfinch answering nearby. Then it disappeared round behind the hedge.

We wanted to try to get better views of the Black Brant so we headed back to Cley next. There were only twenty or so Brent Geese off the East Bank, where it had been reported after we had seen it earlier, but it was not with them now. So we headed round to Beach Road instead. There was a much bigger flock of Brent Geese on one of the grazing meadows by the road here and a couple of cars had stopped to look at them. We joined them and after a couple of seconds the Black Brant appeared at the back of the flock.

Black BrantBlack Brant – feeding with the Brent Geese by Beach Road early afternoon

Through the scope, we got a really good look at the Black Brant. The white flank patch was really striking in the sunshine, very different to the more muted patches on the Dark-bellied Brents. When the Black Brant lifted its neck, we could also see its much bolder white collar, complete below the chin.

While we were watching the Black Brant, a small flock of Starlings flew over the reserve towards us, and across the road just beyond us. One of them was strikingly pale brown, but unfortunately it appeared to be just a leucistic Starling rather than anything rarer. Our timing was fortunate, because after a few minutes all the Brent Geese took off and disappeared much further out to the south side of Eye Field to join an even larger flock of Brents already there.

We continued on along Beach Road to the car park at the end and climbed up onto the shingle to have a quick look at the sea. A Grey Seal was swimming past just off the beach. A Red-throated Diver was on the sea rather distant and was diving constantly which made it harder to see. The wind had picked up a little and the sea was rather choppy too. Another Red-throated Diver flew past, along with a couple of distant Guillemots and a single adult Gannet. It was time for lunch, so we ate in the beach shelter out of the fresh breeze.

After lunch, we headed round to the East Bank. There were a few more Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh here now, along with several larger flocks of Wigeon. We could see more ducks out on the Serpentine, but as we walked up towards them to have a closer look we noticed a little group of waders feeding on the mud at the north end. One was noticeably smaller than the others, so we hurried straight up there and sure enough it was a Little Stint in with a group of Dunlin.

Little StintLittle Stint – with a larger Dunlin in front

It has been a good year for Little Stints here, with a maximum count of over 40 juveniles earlier in the autumn. However, Little Stint is predominantly a passage migrant here and numbers dwindled through October, as birds moved on towards their wintering grounds around the Mediterranean or to Africa. Winter Little Stints are not unprecedented in Norfolk but are unusual, so it will be interesting to see if this one stays here now. It was a juvenile moulting to 1st winter plumage, still with quite a few retained juvenile scapulars.

As well as the Dunlin and Little Stint, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding down in the water here. There was a nice selection of ducks on the Serpentine too. As well as all the Wigeon and Teal, there were several Shoveler, a small party of Gadwall and a few Pintail, the drakes of which are now looking very smart. Further back, several Cormorants were drying their wings on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool.

A Curlew was feeding on the brackish pools behind the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh, but it was nice to get in the shelter out of the breeze. There didn’t seem to be much out here at first, apart from a number of Common Redshanks, but looking carefully around the edges we found several more Dunlin and three Grey Plover. A Little Egret was fishing on the pool just in front, shaking one foot at a time in the mud out in front of it, trying to flush out some food.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding on the pool on the front edge of Arnold’s Marsh

With the evenings drawing in early now and a couple more things we wanted to do yet, we headed back to the car. It turned out that the Cattle Egrets had moved and were in a different field today, which is why we hadn’t found them earlier. This was more than a little unusual – one of them has been coming to the same field just about daily since mid September!

However, we didn’t have any trouble finding the Cattle Egrets now we knew where they were hiding today. We parked outside the pub in Stiffkey and they were out in the field opposite, with the cows. We had a great view of them feeding around the cows hooves, picking at the grass.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – one of the two still at Stiffkey, but in a different field today!

Our final destination for the day was at Warham Greens. As we walked up the track, we flushed several Blackbirds from the hedge. Then a small group of six Redwings flew out ahead of us too and circled round calling, before landing in the top of the hedge along the edge of one of the fields. A Common Buzzard was surveying the scene from the top of the roof of the old barn and as we walked past several Stock Doves flew out too.

From the end of the track, we stopped and scanned out across the saltmarsh. There were plenty of Little Egrets and Redshanks out in the grass, plus a few Golden Plover and Brent Geese. A Barn Owl flew through the hedge beside us and disappeared away along the edge of the saltmarsh, before landing in the bushes in the Pit.

A large flock of Fieldfares appeared over the hedge, and flew down to the Pit, landing in the tops of all the bushes and it the hedges either side. A little later, more Fieldfares appeared from over the hedge the other side of us, accompanied by a small group of Redwings. It was hard to tell, but perhaps all these thrushes had only just arrived from Scandinavia for the winter and were stopping to feed up here.

It didn’t take long to spot our first Hen Harrier, a cracking grey male which flew across the saltmarsh in front of us. It dropped down into the bushes and almost immediately we picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier which flew up and started quartering the saltmarsh further back. We saw at least 4 possibly 5 Hen Harriers this evening. Another two ringtails appeared together away in front of East Hills. Then a grey male, possibly the same as earlier having sneaked out unseen or possibly a different bird, flew in from the left. It is a real treat to see so many of them.

The light started to go, as a band of dark cloud arrived from the west. We had enjoyed lovely weather all day, which was very welcome, and thankfully only now did it start to spit lightly with rain. We decided to call it a night.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – lines and lines of them flew out to roost at dusk

As we walked back up the track, there were several Grey Partridge calling from the fields. We could hear Pink-footed Geese too and looked up to see lines and lines of them in the sky, flying towards us. They were heading out to roost on the flats beyond the saltmarsh and it was really evocative as they flew over our heads. A great way to end the day.

Advertisements

2nd Nov 2017 – Autumn meets Winter

A Late Autumn day tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a nice day, with high cloud but dry and mild and with light winds. A good day to be out birding. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast road.

On our way, as we passed Stiffkey, we had a quick look in the wet field beside the road just beyond the village. The cows were very close to the verge and there, with them, were not one but now two Cattle Egrets. There is nowhere to stop here but we managed to pull over where other cars could pass and wound down the windows for a closer look.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – one of two at Stiffkey now

One of the two Cattle Egrets was standing right out in the open, and we got a good look at it through our binoculars – we could see its short yellowish bill. But it was spooked by another car passing us and flew further back. The second Cattle Egret managed to hide itself very successfully behind a cow at first, but eventually the cow moved out of the way and we could see that one well too, before it then flew further back into the field to join the first.

While we were watching the Cattle Egrets, a pipit flew up from the edge of the pool behind and circled over calling. We could hear a shrill, sharp call, though not as piercing as a Rock Pipit. It sounded like a Water Pipit – and helpfully was seen there again later by someone else at the site.

Our first destination proper for the day was Kelling. We parked in the village and walked up along the lane towards the beach. There were lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches in the hedges, which flew off ahead of us as we made our way along. These were presumably mostly migrants, just arriving here for the winter.

A male Bullfinch flew out calling and landed briefly in the top of the next hedge over across the field. A Reed Bunting and a couple of Yellowhammers perched up in the top of a hawthorn with some of the Chaffinches, just long enough for us to get a good look at them. A Blackcap was not so obliging, flitting across the track and disappearing into the densest blackthorn.

When we got to a gap in the hedge, we stopped to scan the fields. A flock of about 30 Fieldfares was perched in the top of the bushes just across the field and we were able to get them in the scope, before they flew off west over the track ahead of us, chacking. They were followed by a group of Starlings. This was to be a theme of the day, with flocks of Starlings passing overhead west continually all day, birds arriving in from the continent for the winter.

There were other birds moving today too. Several Skylarks passed high overhead calling as we walked along the lane, seemingly on their way west. We heard Redpolls calling overhead too. In the hedge north of the copse, a Goldcrest was probably also a migrant arrived for the winter. When we got to the edge of the Quags, a female Stonechat was flycatching from the brambles and was joined by a couple of Meadow Pipits which flew up from the grass and stopped there to preen.

Looking across at the pool on the Water Meadow, a flock of about twenty Dunlin were busy feeding feverishly on the exposed mud along the near edge. A Common Redshank was with them. Further back, we found the Spotted Redshank weaving in and out of the rushes on the edge of the island. We got it in the scope and could immediately see how much paler it was than its commoner cousin, with a more strongly marked white supercilium and a longer, much finer bill.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – lingering for several weeks here now

The Spotted Redshank, a 1st winter bird with darker grey retained juvenile wing coverts and tertials, has been lingering here for several weeks now – it will be interesting to see how much longer it stays here. The Spotted Redshank walked past a Common Snipe which was also feeding on the edge of the island.

There were a couple of other Common Snipe round the muddy edges of the pool too, helpfully feeding out in the open. The Jack Snipe are considerably more skulking – that one would take a bit more effort! Two Black-tailed Godwits flew in and circled over the pool nervously. They eventually dropped down into the water briefly, but changed their minds and took off again, flying off west.

At that point we noticed a report of a Sabine’s Gull which had apparently flown west past Cromer about 20 minutes earlier. It was headed our way, so we made our way straight to the beach to see if we could catch up with it. It later transpired the Sabine’s Gull had turned back and then appeared off Cromer again, so we didn’t manage to see it. But we did pick up a handful of Little Gulls moving west offshore – including a couple of slightly closer adults flashing alternately pale grey above and black underwings as they flapped.

Red-throated DiverRed-throated Diver – there were several on the sea off Kelling today

There were a few Gannets offshore too, mostly distant today though in the rather calm conditions. Several Red-throated Divers were closer in, including one diving just off the beach, in winter plumage now, dusky grey and white, with a rather pale face. A small group of female or juvenile Eider flew west, big chunky ducks with heavy wedge-shaped bills. While we were scanning the sea, a party of eleven Snow Buntings flew east along the shore line past us, calling. We could see as they dropped down onto the beach halfway towards Weybourne, so we set off to see if we could get a closer look.

We found the Snow Buntings again as they flew round and landed on the shingle some way ahead of us still. We got them in the scope and marvelled at how well camouflaged they are against the stones. A couple of them were running around on a patch of sand and were much easier to see. They all started to run up the beach towards a small patch of low sand cliff, and appeared to be feeding there, which gave us an opportunity to get much closer.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting – great views feeding along the edge of the beach

In the end, we had great close views of the Snow Buntings. There were some annual weeds growing at the top of the sand and the Snow Buntings were feeding on the plentiful seed, up on the top of the cliffs or looking for seed which had fallen off and landed down below. We could see the flock consisted of a mixture of paler Scandinavian birds (of the subspecies nivalis) and darker Icelandic Snow Buntings (insulae). After watching them for a while at close quarters, we left them busy feeding.

On our walk back to the Water Meadow, a female Stonechat was feeding on the brambles on the edge of the Quags, along with a Reed Bunting. We stopped by the pool to have a look for Jack Snipe. As we stood there, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker call and we looked up to see it flying over our heads. There are no trees out here, so it landed on fence post instead, before continuing on its way west.

Jack Snipe are nowhere near as obliging as the Common Snipe, and spend a lot of their time skulking in the vegetation around the pool. They tend to be most active at dawn and dusk too and sleep for much of the day. After some very careful scanning, we just managed to spot a hint of a shape hidden deep in the grass. Getting the scope on it, we could see it was a Jack Snipe.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe – skulking in the grass by the Water Meadow

The Jack Snipe was asleep at first, brilliantly camouflaged in the tussocks of brown grass and rushes, and all but impossible to see unless you knew where it was. By changing our angle of view, we managed to build up a composite view of bits of it. Just occasionally it would wake for a couple of seconds and then sometimes it would start its characteristic bobbing motion, at which point it was marginally easier to find! It edged round a little and we found a spot from where we could see its face and bill through the vegetation.

While we were watching the Jack Snipe, the Spotted Redshank also put on a great performance for us, feeding up and down along the front edge of the pool, only a few metres away from us at times.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and head back up the lane towards the car. We were halfway back when three small birds flew up from the weedy vegetation in the beck by the path. They were three Lesser Redpoll and they helpfully landed in the top of one of the low trees just behind us, waiting for us to move on so they could move back to where they were feeding. We could see they were small and quite dark brown-coloured.

Lesser RedpollLesser Redpoll – three were feeding in the lane on our walk back

There has been a Black Brant with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Cley for a couple of weeks now, so we decided to go on a wild goose chase before lunch! The geese had been reported on the grazing marshes off the East Bank this morning, but there was no sign of any here when we got round there. The flock also likes to feed in the Eye Field, so we decided to have a quick look there next and sure enough there were the Brent Geese.

Some of the Brent Geese were feeding on the grass right by the road, so we pulled up carefully in the car and opened the windows. One of the closest birds to us was the Black Brant! It’s brighter white flank patch, contrasting more with its darker blackish body plumage, meant it immediately stood out from the duller Dark-bellied Brent Geese. We had a really good look at it from the car.

Black BrantBlack Brant – feeding right next to the Beach Road at Cley

We then parked at the end of the road and had a look at the geese through the scope from the West Bank. We could see the Black Brant’s much better marked white collar, connecting under the chin and wrapping round a long way at the back too. Our regular wintering Dark-bellied Brents breed in northern Russia, with the Black Brant coming from for north-east Siberia or across the Pacific in NW North America. Occasionally Black Brants get lost and get in with the Dark-bellied Brents, at which point they may remain with them – this bird is probably a regular returnee, having been seen here for several winters now.

As we walked back to the car, a couple of Rock Pipits were chasing each other round the fishing boats and tractors on the edge of the beach. We headed back towards the visitor centre for lunch, but on the way back along the Beach Road one of the group spotted a wader flying over from the direction of the reserve. A Greenshank – it disappeared over the West Bank in the direction of Blakeney Harbour.

It was mild today, so we were able still to sit outside and eat our lunch at the picnic tables overlooking the reserve at Cley. As we ate, a large skein of Pink-footed Geese about a thousand strong came up from the fields in the distance beyond North Foreland wood. They came along the edge of the ridge and as they got closer we could hear their distinctive high-pitched yelping calls. Almost at the car park, they turned towards the reserve and started to whiffle down, losing height rapidly, before landing on the scrapes. Quite a spectacle!

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – quite a sight, hundreds whiffling down towards the reserve

After lunch, we made our way round to Walsey Hills. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier and we thought we would like to try to get a look at it. A pair of Little Grebes were diving on the pool and we could hear a couple of Water Rails squealing from the reeds.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was frequenting the sallows at the back of Walsey Hills, a very dense area of cover. We headed out into the field at the back, where we could get a good look at the far edge of the trees. At first, all we could see were several tiny Goldcrests flitting around in the sallows. A flock of tits flew in from the wood and made their way through the trees. Then we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler call. We could just see it in the trees, but it disappeared behind a trunk and didn’t come out the other side. It was a good start, but we would like a better view.

After a few minutes, someone shouted to say the Yellow-browed Warbler was visible from the path through the trees, but by the time we got round there it had disappeared again. There was a better view of the trees from back out in the field and thankfully the Yellow-browed Warbler reappeared there after a couple of minutes. It never came out onto the edge, but we could see it flicking around in the leaves, noting its bright pale supercilium and wing bars. Amazing to think this tiny warbler had come all the way from the Urals, or even beyond!

We headed back across the road to the East Bank next. A Stock Dove flew up from the grazing marsh and disappeared off inland over the trees. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds behind Don’s Pool, but the most we could see of them was the occasional long-tailed shape darting across before diving back into cover.

WigeonWigeon – feeding out on the grazing marshes in good numbers now

There were good numbers of ducks out on the grazing marshes. More Wigeon have returned now and there were several good sized groups feeding down in the grass below the bank. There were plenty of Teal too, particularly around the Serpentine, where a more careful scan also revealed a few Pintail and Gadwall. There were a few waders here too, several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Serpentine and further back, on Pope’s Pool, we could see a little group of Dunlin and a few Redshank.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh. Looking carefully through all the Dunlin on here we found a single diminutive Little Stint with them, running round on the edge of one of the shingle spits. There were also several Grey Plover, Curlew and a single Turnstone on here, plus more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. A big flock of Linnets whirled round repeatedly, before dropping back down onto the saltmarsh to feed.

CurlewCurlew – there were several on Arnold’s and around the brackish pools

We continued on to the beach to have another quick look out to sea. Although the wind had finally swung round to the north-west, it was still rather too light to blow anything inshore. A small flock of Ringed Plover flew past along the beach. Further out, a lone Common Scoter flew west, as did a single Brent Goose. We picked up a small group of six Shelduck flying in over the sea, presumably returning from the continent where they had gone to moult. Several Kittiwakes were circling distantly, feeding offshore.

As we made our way back along the East Bank, the sun was already going down. We stopped to watch a Little Egret feeding on the brackish pools in the evening light – shaking its feet ahead of it in the mud, trying to stir up fish or other invertebrates from the shallows. When it lifted its feet out of the water, we could see they were bright yellow, contrasting with its black legs.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding in the brackish pools

The light was already starting to fade but we still had time for one more quick stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Greenway. The evenings draw in much earlier now, after the clocks have changed. As we pulled up into the car park, several small groups of Little Egrets were making their way west to roost.

We were hoping to catch up with some raptors to end the day. A distant Merlin appeared briefly against the sky, but we lost it as it dropped down against the saltmarsh again. A Peregrine was easier to see, standing out on the sand in the distance and a Common Buzzard perched in the top of the bushes at the back edge of the saltmarsh. We did manage to find a couple of Hen Harriers, but they were distant today. First a grey male appeared, way out in front of East Hills, but it almost immediately dropped down onto the saltmarsh out of view. Then a little later a ringtail appeared in the same area. It at least flew around for a while, but the light was really going now and it was very hard to get everyone onto against the dark of the trees.

With the evening drawing in, it was time to call it a day and head back to Wells. It had been a great day out, with some good birds, a nice mixture of late autumn migrants and winter visitors.

27th Feb 2017 – Seaducks, Divers & Grebes

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. The request was particularly to look for seaducks, divers and grebes, but there would be time for other birds too. It was cloudy but bright in the morning, but heavy showers were forecast for the afternoon. As it was the weather gods were smiling on us – we sat out one brief shower in the hide at Titchwell and didn’t see another until we were back in the car at the end of the day.

With the target to see some birds on the sea, we started the day at Thornham Harbour with a walk out towards Holme Dunes. As we parked the car, a lone Brent Goose was feeding on the saltmarsh by the road close by. It looked up briefly, but seemed disinterested in our presence.

6o0a8198Brent Goose – feeding in the harbour at Thornham

The tide was just going out and the tidal channel was still full of water. From up on the seawall, we could see a few waders on the areas of open mud – Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as several Redshank. The Twite have been rather elusive here this winter, tending to come and go, so it was no surprise that two small birds feeding down on the edge of the saltmarsh were a pair of Linnet.

6o0a8206Curlew – several were feeding on the mud in the harbour

Looking out across the harbour towards the sea, we could see a few ducks diving in the deeper part of the channel in the distance. Through the scope, we could see there were several Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of female Goldeneye. A Great Crested Grebe was just offshore beyond.

As we walked along the seawall, there were Skylarks singing over the grazing meadows behind us. A couple of Reed Buntings flew out from one of the bushes below the bank, as did a Wren. When two more small birds flitted across the saltmarsh below us, we expected those to be Linnets again, but a quick look revealed they were Twite. Through the scope, we could see their yellow bills and orange-washed breasts. They fed for a time in the vegetation on the edge of the mud, before eventually disappearing off back into the saltmarsh.

img_0953Twite – we found a pair on the saltmarsh on our walk out

Six geese flying in from the east over the harbour were Pink-footed Geese. We heard them calling and watched as they dropped down towards the grazing marshes to the west. Looking across, we could see a large flock of geese already down on the grass. Through the scope, we could see that the vast majority were Pink-footed Geese too. But then a head came up with a distinctive white surround to the base of the bill – two White-fronted Geese were hiding in with the Pinkfeet.

A shrill call high overhead alerted us to a displaying Marsh Harrier, a male, flying up and down with exaggerated, flappy wingbeats. Two more Marsh Harriers, females, flew in over the saltmarsh and, behind us, another two circled up over the grazing marshes. The bright conditions were obviously encouraging a burst of Marsh Harrier display activity this morning.

6o0a8240Marsh Harrier – this male was displaying overhead

A quick look out across Broadwater from the edge of the dunes added Tufted Duck and Common Pochard to the day’s list. A few Mallard and a pair of Shoveler were lurking in the reeds. A few Greylag Geese and a big flock of Curlew were in the fields beyond.

From the top of the dunes, we set ourselves up to scan the sea. Almost the first bird we set eyes on was a Great Northern Diver. It was not far offshore, but diving regularly and drifting east. It was clearly big and we got it in the scope and could see the contrast between the blackish upperparts and white throat and breast, with a black half collar.

Scanning the sea, we could see several Red-breasted Mergansers out on the water. Five large, heavy ducks flying in from the east were Eider – three all dark females and two 1st winter drakes, with contrasting white breasts. They landed on the sea further out where we could see them distantly. A little later, we looked back and found two smart drake Eider in the same area. There were a couple of Common Scoter out here too today, a blackish drake and a pale-cheeked female.

The Long-tailed Ducks have become more elusive in recent days. It is possible they have already started to move back north, although they may just have moved further offshore. Fortunately a few obliged us by flying in this morning. First, we picked up a lone Long-tailed Duck flying in from way out to sea, but it turned east and eventually landed some way away, off Thornham Point. We could just make it out through the scope. Then a pair flew in and landed out beyond the Red-breasted Mergansers. They were still distant, but we could see there was a smart male and browner female. The fourth Long-tailed Duck, a female, was even more obliging, and landed with the mergansers where we could get a much better view of it. To round out the total, a fifth flew past a little later.

While we were looking through the ducks, we picked up a Slavonian Grebe on the sea. It was clearly small, next to the Red-breasted Mergansers. It had a flat crown, white cheeks and a neatly defined black cap. Red-throated Diver is the most regular diver species here and we found one or two out on the sea. Black-throated Diver is the rarest so it was a bonus to find one just as we were about to call it a day. We were alerted to it by a flash of its white flank patch as it dived. It was rather distant, but when it surfaced again we could also see its very contrasting black and white colouration, and sleeker, slimmer structure compared to the Great Northern Diver we had seen earlier.

After such a fantastically productive morning here, we decided to head back to the car. Three species of diver and an excellent selection of seaduck was a great return for our efforts. A Little Grebe on Broadwater on the way back made it three species of grebe for the site today too!

As we walked back along the seawall, we could hear Twite calling. We assumed it would just be the pair we had seen earlier, but a flock of around 25 Twite flew up from the saltmarsh and across the path in front of us. A couple of males flashed bright pink rumps as they flew past. They dropped down by a pool on the grazing marsh for a quick drink, before flying back to the saltmarsh again. We had another good look at them through the scope.

6o0a8254Twite – a flock of about 25 had appeared on the walk back

There had been a Glaucous Gull reported by some pig fields inland from here yesterday, so we decided to have a quick drive round to see if we could find it. We did find a large flock of gulls loafing in a field by an irrigation reservoir, but all we could see there were Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. There didn’t appear to be many gulls around the pig fields today.

The buntings were more obliging. There has been a big flock of Yellowhammers here through the winter and there must have been at least 60 here still today. Several were bathing in a puddle as we arrived, including some stunningly yellow males. They were rather flighty, constantly flying between the hedges and the field the other side. However, when they perched up in the hedge we could get a good look at them.

6o0a8275Yellowhammer – at least 60 in the flock today

As well as the Yellowhammers, there have been good numbers of Corn Bunting here and there were still at least 6 here today.We could hear one singing when we got out of the car, the song often compared to jangling keys, but we couldn’t see it through the hedge. Then one flew over as we walked along the road, we were alerted to it by its distinctive liquid ‘pit’ call. Finally we managed to get three in the scope, perched up together in the top of a small tree. They are getting so scarce now, it is always a delight to see Corn Buntings.

There were other things to see here too. There were several Reed Buntings in with the Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding in a recently sown field, much more delicate birds then the similarly grey Woodpigeon. A couple of Red Kites hung in the air over a nearby wood. When a Kestrel flew over the field, all the Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings scattered.

Our destination for the afternoon was Titchwell. After lunch by the visitor centre and a welcome hot drink, we made had a look at the feeders. There were a few Greenfinches with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but the highlight was a couple of female Bramblings which dropped in to join them. The Water Rail was in the ditch by the main path as usual, but was lurking under a tangle of vegetation bathing today.

6o0a8282Water Rail – lurking under a tangle of vegetation bathing

The dried out grazing meadow ‘pool’ looked devoid of life at first. We repositioned ourselves further along the path, so we could see round behind the reeds at the front. At that point, one of the group spotted a bird right down at the front – the Water Pipit we had been looking for. We had a great view of it through the scope, noting its white underparts neatly streaked with black, and well-marked white supercilium.

img_1011Water Pipit – showed very well on the grazing meadow ‘pool’

A single Great Crested Grebe was at the back of the reedbed pool, asleep amongst the ducks. While we were scanning around the edges of the pool, a small wader flicked up and dropped down on a patch of cut reed at the front. We had a very restricted view, with a line of reeds in front. Looking through with the scope we managed to see there was a Common Snipe feeding there, but the bird we had just seen fly in was smaller than that. Then, just behind it, we caught sight of a Jack Snipe.

The Jack Snipe flew across the water at the front and landed on another patch of cut reed the other side, out of view. By walking a little further along the path and looking back, we were able to find it again, though we still had to look through the reeds in the front. It was very well camouflaged, with its bright golden mantle stripes in amongst the reed stems, but the Jack Snipe was feeding with its distinctive bobbing action. Great to watch!

We could see dark clouds approaching from the west, so we made our way quickly round to Parrinder Hide to scan the Freshmarsh from there. As we walked round, a huge flock of Golden Plover flew up from the fenced off island and most of them seemed to drift off inland. We got into the hide just in time, as a squally shower blew in.

There is still a good variety of ducks on the Freshmarsh at the moment – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. The birds huddled up against the rain. There were also good numbers of gulls again, but we couldn’t find anything other than Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Herring Gull on here today.

6o0a8324Teal – a smart drake, huddled up facing into the rain

There were lots of Redshank in particular on the Freshmarsh today. Perhaps they had been flushed off the Volunteer Marsh by something? Several Knot flew in too and landed in with the gulls. A noisy little group of Oystercatcher were gathered in a circle giving a piping display. There were also lots of Avocet on here – numbers are continuing to increase as birds return after the winter. A colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit stood pointing into the rain.

img_1018Black-tailed Godwit – a colour-ringed bird in the rain

Thankfully the rain blew through quickly. Once it stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were several Knot, Grey Plover and Curlew on the mud in front of the hide when we walked in, but almost immediately something flushed all the birds and the waders all flew off. The Redshanks had gone over to join the others on the Freshmarsh – we could see them all busy bathing and preening from the window at the back of the hide.

As it was starting to brighten up again, we decided to make a bid for the beach. From round on the main path, we stopped to watch a couple of Knot and a couple of Dunlin which dropped back in together on the mud, a nice chance to compare the two species.

6o0a8332Shoveler – several were out on the Tidal Pools

The Pintail were all out on the Tidal Pools today, along with more Shoveler and Mallard. There were also a few waders on here, in particular several Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. This provided a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Bar-tailed Godwit being obviously smaller, shorter-legged and with paler, buffier upperparts streaked with dark.

The tide was coming in again out at the beach. Large groups of Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit were gathered along the shoreline. There was quite a lot of seaweed scattered across the sand today and we could see several silvery Sanderling feeding in amongst it.

There was a flock of Scoter further offshore and through the scope we could see they were mostly Velvet Scoter with a smaller number of Common Scoter in with them. Even better, a single Velvet Scoter was much closer in and we could see the distinctive twin smaller white spots on its face. A couple of Common Scoter were closer in too, and when it turned head on, we could see the yellow stripe down the top of the bill on the drake. Otherwise, the sea here was much quieter than it had been at Holme this morning – just a few Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye. Still, Velvet Scoter was a nice bird to round out the set of our seaduck for the day.

As we made our way back along the main path, we stopped for another look at the Jack Snipe. There were now two Common Snipe on the same side of the pool as the Jack Snipe, we could see their pale central crown stripes. The Common Snipe were out in the middle of the patch of cut reed, but typically the Jack Snipe was more secretive, still keeping nearer to cover at the edge of the tall reeds. However, it had worked its way out to the edge of a little puddle where we could see it better, its shorter bill and dark central crown.

img_1043Jack Snipe – feeding on the edge of the reedbed pool

On the way back, we cut round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. The water level is being kept high on here this year – attractive for the Tufted Ducks, Common Pochard and Coot which were all diving on here. Several Marsh Harriers were starting to gather over the reedbed, ahead of going to roost. A Cetti’s Warbler sand from the bushes.

The afternoon was getting on and it was starting to get dark, but when we turned to look behind us we could see another bank of dark clouds approaching from the west, so we decided to make our way back. We had heard Bullfinches calling on the way out and seen a couple of shapes disappearing off into the bushes. On the way back, they were more helpfully feeding in the top of a small tree, picking at the buds. The three females were perched in full view, while the pink male lurked a little further back. A couple of Jays called noisily from the sallows and we flushed a Muntjac from beside the boardwalk, which scuttled off into the undergrowth.

We got back to the car just in time, as a wintry shower blew through. We had been remarkably lucky with the weather today and we didn’t mind a bit of rain now we were on our way home.

22nd Jan 2017 – Winter Birds & Owls, Day 3

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Winter & Owl Tours, our final day. Once again, it was a frosty start and then a gloriously sunny winter’s day, great weather for being out. We headed up to north-west Norfolk today.

Our first destination was Titchwell, but on the way there we spotted a large flock of Brent Geese in a field beside the road. The winter wheat was coated with frost and they were huddled together in a tight group. We stopped for a quick look – they looked quite smart in the early sunshine.

6o0a4152Brent Geese – huddled together in a tight flock on a frosty morning

The car park at Titchwell wasn’t too full yet. A couple of Long-tailed Tits appeared on the sunny edge of the trees opposite as we parked up. Then we made our way down to the visitor centre. There were not too may birds on the feeders yet, a few tits and a Goldfinch or two, but more action below where several Moorhens, Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were tidying up the spillage.

There were a few birds up in the alders nearby, mostly Goldfinches. But a careful look through revealed a Redpoll. It was quickly joined by three more. We got them in the scope and confirmed they were Mealy Redpolls, quite pale around the face, grey brown above with prominent pale lines down the middle of their mantles and, when they hung upside down and parted their wings, we could see the pale ground colour to their rumps. One was a smart male, with a lovely pink wash on its breast, in addition to the darker red poll on the front of its head.

img_0081Mealy Redpoll – four were feeding in the alders by the visitor centre

img_0098Mealy Redpoll – one of the four was a very smart pink-breasted male

When the Mealy Redpolls flew back away from us through the trees, we set off onto the reserve. A careful look in the ditch by the path revealed a Water Rail. We watched it for a while, digging in the leaf litter on the side before running further along in the water in the bottom. While we were standing there, a Sparrowhawk zoomed low through the trees only a few metres in front of us.

6o0a4234Water Rail – in the ditch by the main path

As we came out of the trees, the reserve was quite a picture, with the low winter sun catching on the tops of the reeds. A quick stop by the now dry again Thornham grazing marsh pool revealed a single Water Pipit feeding out on the mud. We had a good look at it before it wandered over to one side and disappeared into the rushes.

On the other side of the path, the reedbed pool was almost completely frozen. A pair of Mute Swans had managed to crack through the ice and created a small pool for themselves right in the middle. A Marsh Harrier circled up out of the reeds at the back. We heard a Cetti’s Warbler sing half-heartedly from the brambles in the reedbed and looked across just in time to see it fly down and disappear into the reeds.

The freshmarsh was also almost completely frozen. A Little Grebe was diving in the one area of open water around the tallest island over in the back corner. It was surrounded by ducks – Mallard, Gadwall and Teal – also trying to feed. More ducks were standing around in groups on the ice, sleeping.

A large flock of waders flew up from the fenced off island. We could hear Golden Plover calling and a couple of smaller groups broke away from the larger numbers of Lapwing and headed off inland. With the water levels still very high on here, there were not very many islands left poking out of the ice. A small muddy remnant over towards Parrinder Hide held three Ringed Plover, as well as a few Lapwing and a lone Golden Plover. Otherwise, that was about it for waders on here today, not a surprise given the ice.

6o0a4170Bar-tailed Godwit – our first of the day, on the Volunteer Marsh

There was more to see on the Volunteer Marsh, though that too was fairly icy today, despite the salinity of the water on there these days. A Bar-tailed Godwit seemed to be finding plenty of food in the mud, despite it sliding around on the ice. A couple of Knot down on the edge of the channel below the path were joined by two Dunlin, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them side by side. There were also a couple of Grey Plover and several Redshanks on here.

6o0a4184Knot – one of two along the edge of Volunteer Marsh today

More birds were hiding out on the Tidal Pools, which had not frozen. The Avocets had come on here from the freshmarsh, about 13 of them braving out the winter in Norfolk, and they were sleeping on the spit at the back. There were also more godwits on here, as well as a few more Bar-tailed Godwits there were a couple of close Black-tailed Godwits too, always good to get a chance to compare these two very similar species.

There were more duck on here than usual, lots of roosting Teal and Shoveler around the edges. Over towards the back, we could see several Pintail asleep too. The Little Grebes are always on here in the winter, but they were very close to the path today. We watched them diving, puffing out their feathers when they surfaced and then flattening them down again just before going back underwater.

6o0a4197Little Grebe – diving close to the main path on the Tidal Pools

Our main targets here today were out at the sea. We stood up in the dunes with the sun on our backs and scanned the water. There have been good numbers of sea duck here in recent weeks and counts have continued to climb in the last few days. They were a little distant today, but we were not disappointed. The first thing we saw were the Long-tailed Ducks. They were hard to count, as birds were diving constantly, but there were at least 100 all together in one enormous raft, probably more. In recent years, numbers of wintering Long-tailed Duck in Norfolk have been quite low, so to see this many together is a real treat.

Further out we could see a huge raft of scoter. They would be predominantly Common Scoter, but they were too far off to sort through properly. Thankfully, there was a long line of much closer birds. Again, they were mainly Common Scoter but looking through them carefully, we could see a good number of Velvet Scoter with them too. The female Common Scoter have extensive pale cheeks, but the female Velvet Scoter have two smaller white dots on their faces. On some, you could also see the white wing flash on the Velvet Scoter and one helpfully flew past, showing off the white patch in the wing perfectly.

In with the closer group of scoter was a single Scaup. It was a first winter drake, its upperparts now quite extensively grey as it gradually moults out of its brown juvenile plumage. We could also see a few Goldeneye scattered over the sea. Four Common Pochard flew round out over the rafts of seaduck, presumably looking for somewhere to go, with so much water inland frozen over.

There were plenty of Great Crested Grebe out on the water, but one of the reserve volunteers picked up a couple of smaller grebes with them, two Slavonian Grebes. We had hoped to see some divers too, but they were all rather distant. There were a few Red-throated Divers moving again, but eventually we located a single Black-throated Diver on the sea. Even if it was a long way off, we could see the distinctive white rear flank patch between dives.

That seemed like a great selection of birds for the sea, so we decided to make our way back. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a Kingfisher whizzed in from the saltmarsh and disappeared away over the mud, too fast for everyone to get onto. Thankfully, as we were almost back to the grazing marsh pool, another Kingfisher flew right past us and dropped down into one of the channels on the saltmarsh. Again, they were probably looking for places to feed with much of the fresh water frozen over.

There was a small crowd on the main path staring out at the saltmarsh, so we stopped to look. Down in the grass, we could see a Jack Snipe. They have a very distinctive feeding action – bobbing up and down all the time, as if their legs are on springs – so we knew immediately what it was. Through the scope, we had a great view of it.

img_0122Jack Snipe – feeding out on the edge of the saltmarsh

Then it was back to the car, stopping briefly to admire another Water Rail on the other side of the path to the one we had seen earlier this morning. There were also two Muntjac under the sallows and while we were looking at them, yet another Water Rail scurried past.

It was already lunchtime, but we decided to drive the short distance to Thornham Harbour and eat there. We couldn’t find any sign of the Twite around the harbour, but it was perhaps not a surprise as it was unusually busy here today, with lots of people out for a walk in the winter sunshine. We did hear a Spotted Redshank calling and turned in time to see it fly round over the saltmarsh and drop down out of view. Another Kingfisher was perched on a mud bank out along the edge of the harbour, glowing electric blue in the sun.

After lunch, we walked out along the bank towards Holme. When we got out to the dunes where we could look out over Broadwater, we were not surprised to find that it was mostly frozen. A few ducks, mostly Mallard and Gadwall, were sleeping around the edge of the reeds. There were more ducks further over, but the light was not so good from here – we were looking into the sun. Still, we could see a nice selection, including a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard. But there was no sign of the Ferruginous Duck from here, so we decided to walk round to the other side of Broadwater for a better look.

From round on the boardwalk by the NOA Car Park Hide, it didn’t take us long to find the Ferruginous Duck. It was asleep at first, over by the edge with all the other ducks, but we could see its distinctive rust-coloured body plumage and bright white undertail. Even with its head tucked in while sleeping, it would open its eye occasionally and we could see the white iris. Then it was disturbed by one of the Mallards and woke up, swimming out into the middle of the water to join the local Tufted Ducks. It didn’t stay there long and promptly swam back to the bank and went back to sleep.

img_0152Ferruginous Duck – woke up and swam out into the middle with the Tufted Ducks

Ferruginous Duck is a very scarce visitor to the UK, from southern Europe and further east. However, it is also a very common duck in captivity, and it is always hard to tell whether the ones which turn up here have come from the wild population or escaped from someone’s collection. Still, it is an interesting bird to see.

While we were watching the Ferruginous Duck, we could hear a Fieldfare calling. We looked round to see it perched in the top of a bush by the car park. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, but as soon as the camera came out, a Magpie hopped up through the bush and flushed it. It was a shame, as it looked very smart in the winter sunshine.

We walked back to the beach and stopped for a quick scan of the sea. One of the first birds we set eyes on was a Black-throated Diver. It was much closer than the one we had seen earlier at Titchwell. It was still hard to get everyone onto, as it was diving constantly, but we all got a really good look at it in the end. There was another first winter male Scaup off Holme too. We could also see quite a few Red-breasted Mergansers out on the water and a small group of Eider. A close-in Guillemot was nice to see too.

There were a few seals out to sea as usual. We could see a crowd gathered further along the beach to the east, on the edge of the water, but only when they moved round could we see that they had been surrounding a Grey Seal pup. We walked over and the crowd had largely dispersed as we arrived. The pup seemed to be breathing heavily and had shown no signs of moving when everyone had been so close to it, so we messaged one of the reserve wardens about it, just in case.

6o0a4240Grey Seal pup – on the beach at Holme

We left the seal pup on the beach and made our way back up through the dunes and along the seawall back to Thornham Harbour. There was still not sign of the Twite, but we did see a Greenshank in the harbour and a Stonechat perched on a bush by the seawall. Out across the grazing marshes, a Sparrowhawk was perched on a post in the distance.

The sun was already starting to sink in the sky and the temperature was dropping again. We made our way inland and started to drive round the farmland inland. We could see lots of Yellowhammers flying round in the hedges and so we pulled up in a convenient layby. In the small tree in the hedge nearby, we could see a single Corn Bunting – it was immediately obvious, given its much larger size. Then all the buntings flew and disappeared across the field behind the hedge.

We carried on our drive and eventually came to another place where lots of birds have been feeding in a plot planted with wild bird seed cover. The hedge beside the field was full of birds, masses of Reed Buntings and a good number of Yellowhammers too. We could hear Tree Sparrows calling and looked along the hedge to see several perched up with all the buntings, we counted at least eight there and at least another two calling in the hedge behind us. Tree Sparrows are an increasingly rare bird in southern Britain, so it was great to see them still clinging on here.

img_0160Buntings – the hedge was full of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers

The birds in the hedge would gradually thin out, as they flew down into the field to feed. Then, periodically something would spook them and the field would erupt and everything would fly back to the hedge. When it did, we could see there were lots of Chaffinches here too, but they would fly up into the tops of the trees rather than into the hedge with the buntings.

It was great to watch all these birds – bringing back memories of how winter flocks in farmland used to be everywhere. But the light was starting to fade now as the sun began to set, so it was time to head for home, after a fantastic three days of winter birding.

Jan 2017 – Happy New Year, 2017

There is a tradition in certain birding circles for New Year’s Day, which sees birders heading out to make a start on their ‘Year List’. On the 1st January, all species become ‘year ticks’ again, so there is an incentive to see commoner birds as well as rarer ones once more. Even though we are not obsessive year listers, we decided to head out on New Year’s Day this year to see how many species we could see.

The weather forecast was dreadful, rain all day and increasingly blustery, cold north winds. Unfortunately, for once, the Met Office turned out to be right. Not ideal birding conditions. Undaunted, and armed with waterproofs, we set out to see what we could see.

A Little Owl sheltering under the roof of a barn was a good start, given the conditions. A stop at Holkham produced 22-23 Shorelarks out on the saltmarsh and the regular Black Brant hybrid with a small group of Dark-bellied Brent Geese there too. There were a couple of small groups of Pink-footed Geese by Lady Anne’s Drive and a party of 36 White-fronted Geese on one of the grazing meadows by the main road. A Great White Egret out on the freshmarsh was a nice bonus.

6o0a2978Great White Egret – out on Holkham Freshmarsh in the rain

Titchwell was our next port of call. A Chiffchaff was flitting around beside the path from the car park but there were no Bramblings around the visitor centre as we walked out, so we decided to have a look on the way back. A Water Rail was feeding in the ditch by the main path and, following a tip off, we found a Jack Snipe on the Thornham grazing marsh pool. While we were watching it, it was promptly joined by a second Jack Snipe! The Water Pipit was slightly less accommodating, lurking in the vegetation at the back, but at least we managed to find it.

We hurried out to the sea to try to collect some seaduck. There have been large numbers of Long-tailed Ducks and Velvet Scoter off the coast this winter, but they were hard to find today in the swell and with rain and spray driven in on the wind. A couple of Velvet Scoter helpfully flew past, flashing their white wing patches, and an Eider flew in and landed close inshore. It took some time, but eventually we managed to find some Long-tailed Ducks and then beat a hasty restreat.

The pools at Titchwell gave us a really nice selection of waders, as hoped. A Greenshank helpfully flew up from the back of the tidal pools, and the unseasonal Little Stint on the freshmarsh was distinctly unexpected at this time of year. We got the set of dabbling ducks, including several smart Pintail, and a detour round via Patsy’s Reedbed added Coot and Tufted Duck.

Stopping to eat a nice hot pasty back at the visitor centre, a Brambling appeared at the feeders and a Mealy Redpoll was perched low down on one the alders where it was easy to see. Even better, a pair of Bullfinches flew over calling and landed in the top of a tree briefly. This can be a tricky species to find on a day like today.

Thornham Harbour was our next destination. As we got out of the car, the flock of wintering Twite helpfully flew up from the saltmarsh by the car park. We walked round to get a better look at them and could hear Spotted Redshank calling. It was hard to work out where it was coming from at first, in the wind, but a look from the old sluice revealed two Spotted Redshanks calling quietly to each other on the mud just below. It was not a day for photography today, but we couldn’t resist getting the cameras out, as they were posing so well!

6o0a2995Spotted Redshank – 1 of 2 at Thornham Harbour

A drive round through the farmland inland and we managed to find various flocks of finches and buntings, including a few Corn Buntings. Even better, while searching through one of the flocks, we found several Tree Sparrows perched up in a hedge – a hard bird to see in Norfolk these days! We were told about some geese feeding in a cut beet field nearby and drove round to find a large flock of Pink-footed Geese. A quick scan through them produced the hoped for Tundra Bean Geese – two of them, their bright orange legs showing up well despite the dim light.

There was olnly an hour or two of light left, so we had to decide where to finish the day. Holkham Park seemed like a good option, out of the wind and with the possibility of a few woodland birds. The trees produced Treecreeper and Goldcrest. The lake added Common Pochard to the day’s list, although a Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid was not eligible for inclusion. Walking back to the car, a Grey Wagtail flew away over the trees calling, another bonus. Then, with the light fading, we headed for home. A drive round some suitable farmland on the way produced a Barn Owl out hunting – a great way to end the day.

Back at home, with a nice hot mug of tea to warm us up, we went through the list and added up the day’s total – 110 species. This was a great number, particularly given the weather conditions. It just goes to show, you really can see birds in any weather if you put your mind to it!

The following day, we went out again (albeit a late start today!), to try to catch up with a few of the species we didn’t have time to get to on the 1st. The weather was much better, still cold and windy, but with sunny spells and only the odd shower. Unfortunately, we missed the Waxwings at Cromer – they had flown off by the time we arrived. A Purple Sandpiper at Sheringham was some compensation on the way back, and a male Stonechat feeding out on the rocky sea defences among the waves was a bit of a surprise.

The blustery north winds had blown in several Glaucous Gulls and one was roving up and down between Blakeney and Salthouse. We eventually managed to catch up with it on Simmond’s Scrape at Cley, a biscuit-coloured juvenile, with pale wingtips. We were lucky, as it didn’t stay here long. A Water Pipit was feeding nearby, on the mud on the edge of the scrape.

img_9684Glaucous Gull – a juvenile at Cley

Round at Salthouse, we walked out to see the flock of Snow Buntings which have been frequenting the beach here this winter. There were about 40 of them there today, a mixture of Scandinavian and Icelandic birds.

6o0a3141Snow Bunting – a 1st winter Scandinavian male

On our walk back to the car, the Glaucous Gull had reappeared on the pool at the end of Beach Road. We had a quick look at it before all the gulls flushed and it disappeared out onto the sea. As we drove back to the main road, we spotted another juvenile Glaucous Gull flying in from the east over the fields, our second of the day!

On the drive back home today, with the light fading, we spotted several Woodcock flying out of the trees from the car.

It just goes to show, winter birding can be exciting in Norfolk, whatever the weather!

4th Dec 2016 – Winter Wonders, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Winter Tours in North Norfolk today, our last day. After a frosty start, it was a glorious, sunny winter’s day. Great weather to be out birding.

On our way west, the excitement started already. A Peregrine swept over the road and stooped down at a flock of Woodpigeons in a field. Unfortunately it disappeared behind a hedge so we couldn’t see if it was successful. A few feathers floated past either lost in the panic or in a chase. We also passed several small flocks of Pink-footed Geese in fields where the sugar beet had recently been harvested, looking for food.

Our first destination was Snettisham. It was high tide when we arrived, but not a really big one. Although the tide was already in, there was still lots of mud left uncovered. We could see some huge flocks of Knot out on the mudflats as we arrived at the seawall, tight groups thousands strong glinting white in the morning sunshine. As we made our way along the seawall, they suddenly took flight and started whirling round. It was quite a display, flashing alternately bright white underneath and dark grey as they wheeled and banked.

6o0a13896o0a13956o0a13996o0a1404Knot – swirling over the Wash

It didn’t take long to find out the reason for the Knots’ nervousness. A Peregrine appeared, circling over the mud at the front of the melee. It turned and powered back into the swirling flocks, flying fast and low over the mud, and the next thing we knew we could see two Peregrines circling together further back. After chasing after the waders for a few minutes, seemingly unsuccessfully, they seemed to lose interest and drifted away south.

The Knot gradually returned to the mud and as things settled down again we had a look for other waders out on the Wash. A large flock of Oystercatchers had been relatively unperturbed by the Peregrines, and they had remained standing out on the mud all along. There were also plenty of Dunlin, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits. The flocks of Golden Plover commuted back and forth between the fields inland and the mud.

There was a nice selection of ducks too. Lots of Shelduck and Teal, plus a good number of Wigeon, mostly out along the edge of the mud. Scanning through them, we found a little group of Pintail out on the water, the drakes starting to look very smart now. Three Pink-footed Geese flew inland over our heads, calling, but in with the flocks of roosting waders we found a single Pink-footed Goose still out on the mud. For some reason, this one seemed to be strangely reluctant to leave the roost today. Perhaps it thought it was a wader!

We made our way along to Rotary Hide. It was a beautiful morning, but unfortunately from here we were looking straight into the sun. We could see several Goldeneye down on the pit below us, including a couple of very smart drakes. One of the drakes was preening, flapping its wings and showing off the extensive white flashes. There were also a few Tufted Duck and several Little Grebes. The light was better from Shore Hide, looking back up the length of the pit. There was a nice selection of dabbling ducks down this end, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler.

As we were leaving, we could see a pair of Goldeneye on the northern pit. The drake started to display, throwing its head back, kicking with its back legs, and ending up with its head and bill pointing vertically. It did it several times and it was great to watch.

6o0a1495Goldeneye – a displaying drake on the pits today

Leaving Snettisham, we made our way back along the coast road, stopping briefly at Holme to use the facilities, then on to Thornham Harbour. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see some waders in the harbour channel and the first bird we saw was a Greenshank, looking strikingly pale in the winter sunshine. It was with a Redshank,which looked much duller, darker grey by comparison, as well as being a little smaller.

Even more interesting, the Greenshank was carrying a set of colour rings. The arrangement of colours is used to identify the individual bird – only one should be fitted with this combination. Checking subsequently, it would appear that this bird was ringed in NE Scotland, and has also been seen at Titchwell this winter, although we are all still awaiting the details of its movements.

6o0a1531Greenshank – this colour-ringed bird was ringed in NE Scotland

There were some other waders here as well. A little further along, a second Greenshank was feeding in the shallow water with another Redshank. There were also a couple of Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew, and a single Little Egret too.

We made our way up onto the seawall, and walked along to the first corner. There was a nice selection of waders visible in the harbour from here, including a couple of Grey Plover. We looked up to see a small falcon flying towards us. It was a Merlin, flapping hard to gain height before it flew overhead and disappeared off west towards Holme.

It was time for lunch, so we headed round to Titchwell. As we ate in the car park, a flock of Long-tailed Tits worked its way through the trees nearby. After lunch, we walked over to the visitor centre. The feeders there were very busy – as well as a selection of tits, there were lots of finches. We watched several Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch feeding before we picked up a Brambling in the bushes behind. It dropped down to the ground below the feeders.

Walking out along the main path, the grazing marsh ‘pool’ looked rather devoid of life at first. A closer look revealed a Jack Snipe in the ditch along one side, bobbing up and down constantly as it fed. We could see its golden straw mantle stripes and shorter bill than a Common Snipe. Then we picked out a Water Pipit at the back, in the far corner. Again, in the bright morning light its white underparts really stood out.

The freshmarsh is completely flooded at the moment. The water levels have been raised to kill off the vegetation on the islands, most of which are now underwater. Consequently, there are fewer birds here now. The ducks still seem to like it, with plenty of Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler out there today. Flocks of Brent Geese kept flying in from the saltmarsh to bathe and preen.

6o0a1563Brent Geese – flying in to bathe and preen on the freshmarsh

With the water levels high on the freshmarsh, many of the waders are now on the other pools. There were plenty of Curlew, Redshank and Grey Plover as well as several Black-tailed Godwit on the Volunteer Marsh. One Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the channel right below the path, giving us great views.

6o0a1596Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

There were a couple of female Teal feeding on the mud, skimming their bills back and forth over the surface, feeding on the algae there. A stunning drake Teal was standing on the mud the other side of the channel, calling. It looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine – they really are very pretty ducks.

6o0a1601Teal – looking stunning in the sunshine

However, it was the Tidal Pools where most of the action was at today. As soon as we came over the bank from the Volunteer Marsh, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water. A couple of Little Grebes were diving just beside the path, giving us great views.

6o0a1638Little Grebe – diving just by the path on the tidal pools

There were more ducks on here today, the usual Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler, together with several Pintail now. One was a smart drake, which we watched in the scope for a while. It was upending constantly, but eventually we got a good look at it. They have not yet quite grown their long pin-shaped central tail feathers, but still sport a rather pointed rear end.

On the muddy spit out in the middle, we could see several waders asleep. Most of the Avocets which spent the summer here have long since departed, but a few hardy individuals try to stay over the winter. There were still ten today, although they were all asleep with their bills tucked in. One of the two Spotted Redshanks was awake and we got a good look at it through the scope, noting its silvery grey upperparts, paler than a Common Redshank, and its long, fine, needle-tipped bill.

img_9156Spotted Redshank – one of two on the tidal pools today

A single Ringed Plover was roosting with a couple of Dunlin at first, but when they all flew round it disappeared. Right at the far end of the tidal pools, we found it again, this time accompanied by a second Ringed Plover. A third tried to join them but one of the others tired to see it off. It appeared to be displaying – flying round with exaggerated wingbeats, then landing on a small island and bowing deeply at the interloper.

6o0a1681Ringed Plover – displaying on the tidal pools

A Kingfisher appeared, on the concrete bunker behind the beach, and it had a fish in its bill. It proceeded to beat it on the bunker’s edge repeatedly, presumably to kill or stun it, before eating it. It then flew round to the bushes on the edge of the water to look for more. We could hear a Water Rail squealing and looked over to see it working its way along the edge of one of the islands, probing in the vegetation.

img_9177Kingfisher – catching fish on the tidal pools

Then we made our way out onto the beach. One glance at the sea and we could see lots of sea ducks flying round. In amongst the dark-winged Common Scoter, we could see several Velvet Scoter with their obvious white wing patch. There were loads of Long-tailed Ducks too. They have been rather scarce in recent years, so it is great to see so many of them here at the moment. There were at least twenty this afternoon, and probably a lot more – they are hard to count in the swell, even though it is not that big!

One of the locals kindly came over to point out that there was a Great Northern Diver close inshore, so we walked down to the water for a closer look. It was diving constantly, but we managed to get a good view of it between dives. The ducks had now settled back onto the sea again, so we managed to get both Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck in the scope. There were waders to look at on the beach too – Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Sanderling and lots of noisy Oystercatchers.

The sun was starting to go down and it was cold on the beach, so we started to walk back. We paid a brief visit to Parrinder Hide. There were lots of Wigeon feeding on the bank right outside the windows of the hide – amazingly close! A few more Wigeon were on the water in front, along with a single drake Pintail, again looking very smart but lacking his full length of tail.

6o0a1720Wigeon – a smart drake, feeding on the bank right outside Parrinder Hide

There was a single Common Snipe from the hide too, feeding along the water’s edge at the bottom of the bank. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, probing its long bill into the soft ground.

6o0a1774Common Snipe – also feeding on the bank outside Parrinder Hide

Making our way back towards the visitor centre, we could see several Marsh Harriers circling over the back of the reedbed. There were at least six, or at least that was the number we had in the air together. Another couple flew in over the saltmarsh from the Thornham direction.

6o0a1800Marsh Harrier – flying in to roost at dusk

There was a glorious sunset away to the west this evening, a beautiful orange sky against which to watch the Marsh Harriers flying in. It was also a lovely way to draw an end to a great weekend.

img_9181Sunset – looking towards Thornham from Titchwell

13th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of Early Winter tours today, our last day. It was a lovely day, dawning sunny and clear and remaining so through most of the day. A great day to be out on the coast.

We met in Wells. As we got into the car, a Red Kite circled lazily over the harbour, flushing all the Brent Geese which were feeding out on the saltmarsh. On our way west along the coast road, we stopped to look at some geese in a winter wheat field. As well as a large number of Greylags, there were also several Pink-footed Geese, smaller and with a darker head and bill, plus a couple of Egyptian Geese and a family of Brent Geese.

6o0a8685Red Kite – circled over Wells Harbour this morning

Titchwell was our destination for the morning. The overflow car park was still quiet, so we decided to have a quick look to see what was in there. A couple of Bramblings were calling wheezily from the bushes, but flew off as we tried to walk round to see them. Two Greenfinch flew out of the hedge as well. Round at the visitor centre, we found one Brambling which was on the feeders briefly before dropping down to feed on the ground below. A Chaffinch nearby was suffering badly from the papilloma virus, with its legs and feet covered in growths.

As we walked out onto the reserve, we stopped to scan the Thornham grazing marsh. There was a large flock of Pink-footed Geese loafing down in the grass. Over at the back we spotted two Common Buzzards, one on a fencepost and one on the top of a large hawthorn, enjoying the morning sun. A male Stonechat was perching in the tops of the tall vegetation at the front, periodically dropping down to the ground.

As we walked up to the dried up ‘pool’ on the Thornham side, a Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds. A Grey Heron was standing in the sunshine in front of the reeds in the far corner. A Water Rail called from deep in the reeds down at the front, sounding a little like a squealing pig.

Scanning the mud, we picked up a Water Pipit on the edge of the vegetation right at the back. Its white underparts really stood out in the morning light. While we were watching it, two more Water Pipits flew in calling. One landed out in the open, much closer to us, and we got it in the scope briefly before it flew down to the front behind the reeds. As well as the whiter ground colour to the underparts, we could see the more obvious pale supercilium than the Rock Pipit we had been watching on Friday. A little further on, a Chinese Water Deer was feeding out on the saltmarsh.

With the high water levels on the freshmarsh at the moment, we were intending to walk straight past Island Hide but as we were alongside we heard another Water Rail down in the vegetation near the bridge. As we walked down towards the hide to look for it, it scurried out under the trees and disappeared into the reeds beyond. We could still hear it calling further back and with our best Water Rail impression, we were able to coax it back towards us and out onto the mud in amongst the sallow roots. Another two Water Rails then started duetting in the vegetation just beyond. While we were trying to see the Water Rail, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from out in the main reedbed.

We stopped on the bank just past Island Hide to scan the freshmarsh. The ducks seem to appreciate the high water levels. There were lots of Teal, mostly asleep but a few were feeding just below us. The adult drakes are now mostly out of eclipse and looking very smart again. A few Wigeon were grazing on the bits of the islands that weren’t under water. In amongst them, we could see a few Gadwall and Mallard and a little group of Shoveler were swimming around further back. Little groups of Brent Geese kept flying in and out from the saltmarsh.

6o0a8748Teal – there are lots on the freshmarsh

There are not so many waders on here now. Most of the Avocets have left for milder climes, but nine were still here today, sleeping in a little huddle. There are more Ruff, with a good number still around the remaining islands. It was hard to know how many Dunlin there were, as they were scattered around and running in and out of the taller vegetation. In with them, we found a single Ringed Plover. A small flock of Golden Plover flew in, whirled round over the water and flew off again inland.

img_8500Avocets – still nine on the freshmarsh today

There were not so many gulls on the freshmarsh on the walk out this morning. We did quickly locate a single adult Yellow-legged Gull. It was sitting on the water, so we couldn’t see its yellow legs, but we could see its darker grey mantle and relatively unstreaked white head.

img_8508Yellow-legged Gull – this adult was loafing around on the freshmarsh all day

Outside Parrinder hide, we stopped to talk to a couple of locals who were standing with their scopes pointed back along the edge of the freshmarsh. It turned out that a Jack Snipe had been seen earlier but had disappeared some time ago in towards the bank, behind the reeds. Our timing was spot on because, while we were talking to them, someone spotted it come back out onto the island.

We watched the Jack Snipe through the scope for a few minutes while it worked its way back along the edge of the island. Unusually, it wasn’t bouncing much today – the distinctive feeding Jack Snipe action. Then suddenly and for no apparent reason it flew off, over the main path, and dropped down out of view onto the saltmarsh beyond. There were also two Common Snipe asleep on the island, so we had a look at those too, noting in particular the pale central crown stripe which Jack Snipe lacks.

img_8517Jack Snipe – feeding on the island from Parrinder Hide

From inside Parrinder Hide, we could see two more Common Snipe feeding along the bank out of the right hand side. The reeds have been cut back here, giving them fewer places to hide and they were much closer than the ones we had just been looking at. They gave great views as they probed in the wet grass along the edge of the freshmarsh.

6o0a8708Common Snipe – two were feeding just outside Parrinder Hide

While we were watching the Common Snipe, we happened to look a little further back along the water’s edge and noticed a Water Pipit working its way towards us. It was picking around in the cut reeds.We hadn’t seen or heard it fly in, and apparently one had been here earlier, so it is possible this was a different bird to the three we had seen on the Thornham grazing marsh pool. It certainly seemed more heavily marked below than the two we had managed to get in the scope.

This was an even better view than the closer Water Pipit we had seen earlier, on our walk out. It looked like it might come all the way to the hide at one point, but turned and started to work its way back away from us again.

img_8545Water Pipit – possibly our fourth today, from Parrinder Hide

There didn’t look to be a lot on the Volunteer Marsh, so we started out to walk towards the beach. As we were back on the main path, we stopped to look at a single Black-tailed Godwit on the mud. Just at that moment, all the waders scattered, flying off in different directions. We looked up to see a stunning adult Peregrine which flew across the path right in front of us. The light was perfect and we could see all the plumage details,but unfortunately cameras were not at the ready! It dropped away over the saltmarsh and turned, powering low out towards the beach.

As we walked towards the tidal pools, we could hear a Kingfisher calling. When we got over the bank, a quick scan back along the bushes revealed it perched distantly in the far corner. Still we had a look at it through the scope, shining bright blue in the morning sun. There are always Little Grebes on here during the winter, and today was no exception. We counted seven, with two diving just below the main path. Two female Pintail were upending out in the middle.

6o0a8738Little Grebe – one of the seven we counted on the tidal pools

Out at the beach, the tide was out. As we arrived, all the waders on the mussel beds were flushed by people walking along the shoreline. There were lots of Oystercatchers, several Grey Plover and a good sized flock of Knot. They landed again a little further over towards Brancaster. Once we had walked down the beach a little, they started to drift back again. We picked up several godwits, both Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit. A few silvery grey Sanderlings were running up and down on the edge of the sea.

There were several small parties of Common Scoter on the sea, the majority of them pale-cheeked brown females. A single adult drake was closer in, just behind the breakers, and we had a good look at it in the scope. We could even see the yellow stripe down the front of its bill. A Guillemot was diving in the surf too and a couple of Great Crested Grebes drifted past. A single Red-breasted Merganser flew across and a distant juvenile Gannet made its way slowly east.

Back at the tidal pools, the Kingfisher had come much closer. It was perched in the vegetation on the edge of the small island nearest the beach, a much better view than we had on the walk out. There were also a few more waders roosting on the spit, including a Black-tailed Godwit and a Bar-tailed Godwit side by side, giving us a great opportunity to compare the two species.

img_8610Kingfisher – gave better views on the tidal pools on the walk back

After lunch back at the car, we drove over to Holme. A quick chat with one of the wardens who happened to be driving past suggested there may still be a Waxwing present (there had been several here earlier in the week). We had a walk round behind the paddocks but there was no sign of it. Several Blackbirds and Redwings were enjoying the hawthorn berries though, and a few Greenfinches. A couple of Mistle Thrushes landed briefly before flying off over the saltmarsh.

Coming back along Broadwater Road, we took a little detour out towards Redwell Marsh. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese appeared to come up from the grazing marshes to the east and flew off towards the Wash. We could hear a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes down by the river, and looked up to see a late Chiffchaff flitting around in the trees.

6o0a8750Pink-footed Geese – flying off towards the Wash

Our final stop of the day was at Thornham Harbour. We had hoped to catch up with some Twite here, but they seem to be rather elusive at the moment and there was no sign of them. As we walked out along the seawall towards Holme, we did have four Lapland Buntings which flew over calling.

As we walked up towards the boardwalk overlooking Broadwater, we could hear more Water Rails squealing. A young Sparrowhawk sent a flock of Starlings scattering, before landing on a fence post. A covey of Grey Partridge exploded from the edge of the saltmarsh as we passed. On the Broadwater itself, there were lots of Gadwall and Coot, along with three Tufted Ducks.

As we walked back, the tide was coming in fast. There were loads of gulls gathered out on the mud, being pushed in by the rising water. We could hear Greenshanks calling and eventually spotted them when they were forced out from where they were hiding on the saltmarsh and flew up and down looking for somewhere dry to land.

Tomorrow night is full moon, and it is also going to be a ‘supermoon’. More properly known as perigee-syzygy, this is when the full moon is at its closest point to the Earth, and it appears bigger and brighter than normal. Tonight was almost a full moon and only a fraction smaller (the closest approach is actually at 11.23am tomorrow morning!).

It was a fairly clear evening, so we were treated to a stunning ‘supermoon’ rise as we got back to the car. Flocks of Pink-footed Geese flying across the saltmarsh in front of us, calling, only added to the atmosphere. It was a great way to end our three days birding.

6o0a8784-001Supermoon – rising over Thornham Harbour