Tag Archives: Lapland Bunting

15th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely sunny day, a little bit hazier than yesterday with a slightly cooler light ENE breeze which kept the temperatures very comfortable in the low 20sC on the coast. Perfect weather to be out birding again.

We started the day at Titchwell. There was no sign first thing of the Glossy Ibis which had been here yesterday afternoon, but we decided to go anyway and get in before the car park filled up. When we arrived and got out of the minibus, a Goldcrest was feeding in a pine right above where we had parked.

There were next to no cars in the overflow car park yet, so we decided to have a quick walk round before it got busy. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came out of the trees by the entrance track and flew across in front of us. They had a couple of Chiffchaffs in tow too. We then watched them feeding in the brambles and elders in the back of the car park. along with a couple of Blackcaps.

Long-tailed Tit – we followed a flock into the overflow car park

We followed the flock round to the far side. There were a few finches in the car park too, but the Bullfinches feeding in the sallows in the far corner remained well hidden and hard to see. We were surprised to find a Moorhen clambering around high up in the bushes here too – an odd place for one. A couple of Jays flew up into the top of the tall willows behind. A Red Admiral butterfly feeding on the ivy looked very smart in the morning sunshine.

Red Admiral – enjoying the morning sunshine

We made our way round to the Visitor Centre, through the crowds of beachgoers and dog walkers who were rapidly filling up the car park, which is still partly closed. There had apparently been a Pied Flycatcher earlier by the Visitor Centre, so we had a quick look in the trees back to the picnic area, but there was no sign of it there.

Back past the visitor centre, a small flock of Siskins flew through the trees. We had a quick look in the alders by the main path, but they weren’t there. While we were looking, a small skein of around twenty Pink-footed Geese came overhead calling, possibly fresh arrivals from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

With it being so sunny, we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed first and then have a look at the Freshmarsh from the end of Autumn Trail. As we walked up to the screen at Patsy’s, the first thing that caught our eye was a Great White Egret out in the middle, preening. It was striking how big it was, particularly when it stood with its neck stretched up, and we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – on Patsy’s Reedbed pool this morning

Another Great White Egret flew across over the reedbed further back. The one we were watching can’t have seen it – perhaps it heard something, because after the second bird landed in the reeds, the first took off and flew back towards it. It chased it up out of the reeds and we lost sight of the two of them behind the bushes.

Otherwise, there were a few ducks on the pool this morning, mainly Gadwall. Coot was an addition to the trip list here, and there were a couple of Little Grebes too. A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a paler head, quartered over the reed behind.

As we made our way round along East Trail and on to Autumn Trail, there were several Common Darters basking on the path which took off ahead of us. A very smart fresh Shaggy Inkcap toadstool was sticking up out of the short grass on the verge. There were a few squashed Bloody-nosed Beetles and a couple of live ones. We picked one up, which had lost a couple of legs, to move it off the path and it duly obliged by exuding the red liquid from its mouthparts from which it gets its name. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us as we passed.

Shaggy Inkcap – growing in the grass by East Trail

We had spoken to someone earlier who had suggested that most of the waders were at the back of the Freshmarsh, but apart from quite a few Ruff in the top corner, there wasn’t much up this end now. Out in the middle, we could see a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and just a couple of lingering Avocets today. A smaller wader further back still looked like the Little Stint, but it was a long way away from this side. In the distance, the other side of the West Bank path, five Spoonbills flew up and circled round.

A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding on the mud at the base of the reeds, in front of the watchpoint at the end of the path. We had a nice view of them through the scopes, a cracking male with powder grey head and black moustache, and a browner female. Another small group of 5-6 were calling to each other in the reeds and we saw them fly up a couple of times before crashing back in.

As we turned to head back, we heard the group of Bearded Tits calling again and watched them land again in the reeds close to the path. We walked up towards where they had landed and noticed one Bearded Tit on its own in the reeds. The rest of the flock further ahead flew up and over the bank towards Brancaster Marsh, but the lone bird stayed put. It climbed up the reeds right in front of us, giving us a great view, calling for the rest of the group.

Bearded Tit – came up out of the reeds right in front of us

It was a male, with powder blue-grey head and black moustache, probably a young one as it was moulting and the head was not as well marked as some. The Bearded Tit flew up a couple of times but landed again. Eventually it seemed to work up the courage to cross the path, but simply landed again in a dead umbellifer on the bank right next to one of us! After flitting around there for a couple of seconds, it finally flew up and over the bank.

We made our way back and round via Meadow Trail. We stopped at the platform by the dragonfly pool to admire an apple green and bright blue Southern Hawker, which in typical style kept coming back to hover close to us. It was chased at a couple of times by a Migrant Hawker, and then it decided to chase it away over the tops of the sallows. A tandem pair of Willow Emerald damselflies were trying to perch in the reeds below the platform but struggled to find somewhere they could agree to settle.

Willow Emerald damselflies – this tandem pair were trying to settle in the reeds

Walking out on the west bank path, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Thankfully, having had such amazing views of the male earlier, we didn’t need to linger to try to see them here. We stopped by the Reedbed Pool and a scan revealed a good number of Common Pochard up towards the back. A Kingfisher called from one of the channels in the reedbed, but didn’t come out.

Looking out across the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a line of white shapes asleep in the grass. Most were clearly Little Egrets, but the end one looked a little larger, a different shape, and more of a dirty yellowish colour. It was a Spoonbill, presumably one of the ones we had seen distantly over here earlier.

A paraglider was flying over Thornham Harbour and flushing everything. Several flocks of Curlew flew up and circled round nervously. A flock of Golden Plover came in over the path, most of them having lost their summer black bellies already. The Spoonbill woke up and flashed its bill, confirming our ID. A second Spoonbill flew in over the saltmarsh towards us, its black wingtips displaying its immaturity, before it turned and flew back the other way.

With the sun out, and nothing much on the drier mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the west bank path further along. As we walked up, we could hear a Spotted Redshank calling, but presumably it was flying off as we couldn’t see it out on the mud. One of the Great White Egrets was now standing on the edge of the small round island, preening.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits still out in the middle, and a selection of Ruff around the edges. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too – its smaller size, slightly shorter legs and more contrastingly-marked upperparts setting it apart, even before we could see its slightly upturned bill.

Ruff – a juvenile feeding on the Freshmarsh below the main path

There were one or two Dunlin scattered around the islands and edges and a larger group of seven at the far end, below the reeds. We couldn’t find the Little Stint at first, it wasn’t where we had seen it earlier, but scanning carefully we eventually found it on the muddy edge of the island over in front of the fence. It was feeding with its rear end up in the air a lot, which confirmed it was the bird we had seen distantly from the end of Autumn Trail earlier. Odd behaviour, but instantly recognisable as different. A single Common Snipe was feeding just inside the fence.

We wanted to spare our energy for the afternoon, so we decided not to walk on any further and headed back to the car park. There had been a Wryneck earlier seen at Holme, so we decided to have a go to see if we could find it. As we arrived at the pay hut, we were told it had been seen again about 15 minutes before, in the bushes just beyond.

We parked and got out, and the challenge quickly became clear – there was a constant stream of cars up and down the track and people up and down the coastal path the other side of the bushes. Amazing numbers of people for this time of year, albeit it was a beautiful day. We had a slow walk round the bushes, with no success, so stopped to have lunch back at the minibus, before having another go.

We figured it might be worth having a walk through the dunes – no one seemed sure whether there might have been a second Wryneck seen further up towards the Firs, and there are often migrants in here. But as we walked through the bushes, there were very few birds. We did see lots of Small Heath and several Small Copper butterflies.

It was only as we got much closer to the Firs that we started to see things. Several flocks of Curlew came in off the beach, presumably disturbed from where they were feeding, along with a smaller number of Black-tailed Godwits.

Then we came across a Stonechat in the bushes, a female, followed quickly by another two, one a male with a black throat. A rattling call alerted us to a couple of Lapland Buntings passing overhead, but they were high in the bright sky and hard to see as they disappeared off west.

One of the group had lingered further back to take some photographs, and when they walked up to us they thought they had just seen a Whinchat. They weren’t wrong – it had just appeared in the bushes behind us, presumably following the Stonechats. We had a nice view of it, before it flew back further into the dunes – a nice bonus here.

Whinchat – in the dunes with a small group of Stonechats

Everyone was feeling tired now, so the intrepid guide walked back to get the minibus and the others waited at the Firs. We had a quick look at the bushes by the payhut as we drove out, but there had been no further sign of the Wryneck. We decided to head back east to Burnham Overy.

We almost couldn’t get into the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe, but thankfully someone was leaving just as we arrived. We set out along the seawall. There was lots of disturbance in the harbour channel – boats, a paddleboard, swimmers – and we didn’t see many birds until we got to the arm of mud which extends alongside the bend in the seawall.

Scanning the mud, we could see lots of Common Redshanks. Several Turnstones were feeding in alongside the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a couple of Common Gulls too. There were a few Dunlin too, and a couple of Grey Plover.

A small group of white shapes were down in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh further up and through the scope we could confirm they were the Cattle Egrets we had come to look for, nine of them. We walked further up until we were directly opposite and had a nice view as they stood in the vegetation preening.

Cattle Egrets – nine were in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh, preening

The tide was coming in fast now and starting to fill the arm of mud in front of us. The Redshanks were feeding more actively and the Cattle Egrets started to move. First one or two, then the rest of the flock flew down to the water. They seemed to be feeding on the tide out in the shallow water beyond the open mud, in amongst the Redshanks – unusual behaviour for Cattle Egrets but fascinating to watch. Presumably they had even been waiting out on the saltmarsh for the incoming tide.

Looking inland, the other side, a Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields in the distance, getting harrassed by crows. A Grey Heron flew across and landed with the cattle out in the middle. A Mediterranean Gull flew in from the harbour and over the seawall, overhead, flashing its pure white wing tips.

It was a great view, looking out across the harbour in the late afternoon sunshine, or inland to the coast road and beyond. A great way to end our two days, watching the Cattle Egrets out in the harbour. It was time to head back.

22nd Sept 2019 – Autumn Migration, Day 3

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

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

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

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying inland to feed first thing

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

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

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

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

Cattle Egret 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in over the harbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – constantly getting spooked by aircraft today

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

Cattle Egret 2

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

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

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

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – chasing each other round the pool

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

Long-tailed Tit

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

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

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

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

Hobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9th March 2018 – A Different Type of Snowy!

A Private Tour today, with a difference. It was to be an early start, a full day ranging widely up and down the coast, with a particular list of target birds to go after. We had to be flexible too – as anything can happen! Thankfully, the weather was kind to us – sunny in the morning, cloudier but dry in the afternoon, with light winds.

As we set off from the meeting point, a Barn Owl was still out hunting and flew across one of the fields by the road as we passed. A good way to start the day, with that being one of the species we were after. A little further on, and a Fieldfare flew over – another one we wanted to see today.

The first part of the morning was to be spent looking for gulls. In particular, we were hoping to catch up with one of the Iceland or Glaucous Gulls which have been along the coast in the last week. They have been very mobile though, some may even have moved on already, and we knew it would be a real challenge to find them today. Still, nothing ventured.

On our way down to the coast, we took a quick detour via Felbrigg Park. As we drove in along the access road, we spotted some thrushes in the small trees out in the grass. As well as a couple of Redwings, which flew off as we got out of the car, we managed to get two Fieldfares in the scope, better views than we had of the flyover on our way here.

Then it was on to the beach at Cromer. As we walked up to the clifftop, it was immediately clear there were not many gulls here today. A quick scan of the sea did produce a Shag swimming past just offshore though, quite a scarce bird here and a welcome surprise.

Shag

Shag – swimming past Cromer, viewed from the clifftop

There are sometimes more gulls on the beach the other side of the pier, so we walked down to that end of the prom for a closer look. There were some gulls here, but just Great Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed Gulls, not what we were looking for. We decided to head back to the car and try our luck further east along the coast.

Back on the clifftop, we continued to scan the sea. We spotted a Fulmar flying past offshore and watched as it circled up and came in towards the top of the cliffs. It joined three more Fulmars we hadn’t noticed before, a short distance away to the west of us, which were flying in and out of the sandy cliff face, presumably prospecting for potential nest sites.

Our next stop was along the coast at Mundesley. There had been a Glaucous Gull here earlier in the year, although it has become more elusive recently and has not been seen for a few days. Again, we started by walking over to the top of the cliffs and scanning the sea below. There were a lot more gulls here, which at least gave us something to work through. We had checked out quite a lot of them to no avail and we were looking quiet a long way back to the north when we picked up a juvenile gull on the sea with very pale wing tips. It seemed to have long pointed wings and looked good for an Iceland Gull, one of our targets.

It was a long way off from here, so we followed the path down the cliffs and set off along the beach. Fortunately, when we got there, the gull we had been watching was still present and we could confirm it was indeed a juvenile Iceland Gull. We had a good look at it through the scope, swimming round, before it tucked its head in and went to sleep. We could see its long wings, paler than the rest of its body, and its bill which appeared mostly dark from a distance but close up could be seen to have a diffuse pale base.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull – a juvenile on the sea off Mundesley

We had a good scan of the rest of the gulls out on the sea as we walked back to the steps, but could not find anything else of note. We did manage to spot a Guillemot out on the sea and three Red-throated Divers flying past in the distance. A Grey Plover and a Sanderling flew along the shore. As we climbed back up the cliffs, a Stonechat landed on a bush not far from the steps.

It was still early, so we decided to have a short drive further down the coast to Walcott. Gulls have sometimes been seen on the groynes here, but when we arrived there were just a few Herring Gulls there. However, as we got out of the car, several pipits flew up from the stubble field on the other side of the road. They sounded mostly like Meadow Pipits, but a couple of them flew towards some wires which spanned the middle of the field.

As we watched the pipits, they joined another bird which was already on the wires. It looked a different shape – plumper, with a more rounded head and shorter bill. A quick look through the scope and we could see it was actually a Lapland Bunting, not what we were expecting here! It appeared to be singing too.

Lapland Bunting

Lapland Bunting – a surprise bonus, singing from the wires

Through the scope, we could see the Lapland Bunting‘s rusty nape and the black outline to its ear coverts and bib. They are scarce winter visitors here, but can sometimes be found in fields around the coast. Stubble fields are often a particular favourite.

Making our way back along the coast, we stopped at West Runton. There has been a large roost of gulls over high tide on one of the ploughed fields here, but there was no sign of any gull there today. A flock of about twenty Brent Geese flew east offshore, presumably heading off back to the continent. The sea was in already when we walked down to the beach, and there were next to no gulls here either. A little flock of Redshank and Knot, accompanied by a single Dunlin, was feeding on the water’s edge but flew off ahead of the rising tide.

Purple Sandpiper was on the target list, so we made our way over to Sheringham next. As we walked along the prom, we could see lots of Turnstones picking around on the shingle or perched on the rocks. There were a few more gulls here, but nothing we hadn’t seen already, apart from better views of several Common Gull.

On the rocky sea defences below the Funky Mackerel cafe, feeding unobtrusively and very well camouflaged apart from its bright yellow-orange legs and bill base, was a Purple Sandpiper. It was beautifully lit and almost looked purple, but was perhaps more subtle shades of grey.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – feeding on the rocks below the prom at Sheringham

Purple Sandpipers are great birds, full of character. We watched as this one shuffled around or clambered up and down the boulders. It was picking at the algae growing on the face of the rocks.

We walked down to the far end of the prom. A distant Gannet flying past offshore was the only other bird of note, but it was nice to see another two Fulmar‘s prospecting the cliffs here and they gave us a nice fly by as they continued on west. A Rock Pipit flew past calling and we looked up to see a Common Buzzard circling high over the town – possibly a bird on the move already.

Fulmar

Fulmar – one of several prospecting the cliffs at Cromer & Sheringham

The immediate possibilities for gulls along the coast here were just about exhausted, so we decided to change tack and look for some other birds now. As we continued on our way west, a quick stop by Walsey Hills added three Little Grebes and a Common Pochard on Snipe’s Marsh. There were lots of Brent Geese out on the grazing marshes opposite, but no sign of the Black Brant with them today. A drake Pintail was swimming down one of the channels.

When we got to Holkham, we decided to stop for an early lunch. There were lots of Wigeon out on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive, along with a few Teal and Shoveler and a pair of Egyptian Geese. As well as Oystercatchers, Redshank and a flock of Curlew, we managed to spot several Common Snipe round the edges of the grassy pools. When the Snipe froze and looked nervously into the sky, we noticed a Red Kite drifting lazily over.

A Little Egret was hiding in one of the ditches and a Great White Egret flew over in the distance. As we made our way down towards the pines, we stopped to look at the Pink-footed Goose with the injured wing, which seems to be permanently here now. That was another species on the target list, so good to see it up close.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – the regular bird with the injured wing

Out on the saltmarsh the other side, we made our way east. It was fairly quiet out here today, so we headed straight towards the Shorelarks favourite spot. While we were still some way off, we could see a couple standing sensibly on the edge of the saltmarsh and three photographers right out in the middle. We saw the photographers look up, scan round and then go charging across to the other side. As they stopped again, we noticed nine small birds flying away, disappearing off towards Wells. They had flushed the Shorelarks!

Thankfully, by the time we had walked out to join the couple – who were none too impressed with the behaviour of the photographers either – six Shorelarks had flown back in and landed down on the saltmarsh well away from their pursuers. We stood and watched them from a discrete distance – admiring their yellow faces and black bandit masks.

Shorelark

Shorelark – one of the six which flew back in after they had been flushed

Woodcock was another species on the list, but they can be very tricky to find during the day. We made our way back to the car via the pines. It was generally very quiet in the trees, although we did come across a tit flock – Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and a Treecreeper. We did manage to find a Woodcock, but it flew up from underneath a tree before we got anywhere near it and all we saw of it was a large rusty brown shape disappearing off through the pines.

At that stake, we noticed a missed call and then several messages to say that a Snowy Owl had been seen just along the coast at Scolt Head. Thankfully, we were almost back at the car and it was not very far away, so we got round there very quickly, before the crowds arrived. We could see a couple of people out on the saltmarsh as we walked out and they helpfully called us to say we would be best viewing from up on the seawall.

It was very easy to spot the Snowy Owl as it was being mobbed by two Red Kites, which were flying round and diving down at it repeatedly. We could see an enormous greyish-white bird on the ground beneath them. This was definitely not a species which was on the list, but only because it is so unusual here that it wasn’t even considered as a possibility! The last record of one in Norfolk was back in March 1991.

Snowy Owl 1

Snowy Owl – a big surprise to see this today

The Snowy Owl was quite a dark bird, possibly a young female, heavily marked with thick black bars above and finer bars below, on a white background. The face was more contrasting white. It sat on a shingle beach on the edge of Scolt Head Island, looking round. We joined the others out on the saltmarsh and had a great view of it through the scope.

Snowy Owl 2

Snowy Owl – the first in Norfolk since 1991

Having watched the Snowy Owl for a while, enthralled, we decided we should move on and try to see something else before the end of the day. We headed round to Titchwell. As we walked down the path towards the visitor centre, a smart male Brambling appeared in the sallows nearby. Another one from the target list.

Brambling

Brambling – a male, in the bushes on the way from the car park

There were not so many birds on the feeders in front of the visitor centre, and just Chaffinches and Greenfinches on the ones the other side. We headed straight out onto the reserve. The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was very quiet – no sign of any Water Pipits. The reedbed pool had Tufted Duck and more Common Pochard. As we stood and scanned, a Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds and a Barn Owl was out hunting along the bank at the back.

The water level on the freshmarsh remains quite high, so there were few birds of note here today. The one thing of interest is the number of Mediterranean Gulls which are now back on the reserve. Several pairs flew back and forth calling and we could see at least 15 with the Black-headed Gulls on the fenced off island.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are lots back at Titchwell now

There were a few waders on the Volunteer Marsh – Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshanks and several Avocets. A big flock of Linnets flew up from the islands of vegetation. There was a lot of water on the Tidal Pools too and not much on here either, apart from a few Gadwall and a Little Grebe.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

What we had really come here to look for though was out on the sea, so we made our way quickly out onto the beach. It didn’t take long to locate our target – three Long-tailed Ducks out on the water. They were rather distant at first, but a little while later we found them much closer, at least 14 of them now, and we could see the long tails on several of the drakes.

There were other ducks out here too – the headline being a flock of six (Greater) Scaup, plus several Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye and a small number of Common Scoter. There were plenty of Great Crested Grebes offshore too. Looking down along the shore, we added Bar-tailed Godwit to the list and had a better look at a Sanderling.

With everyone suitably exhausted after such a mammoth day along the coast, we made our way back. A Sparrowhawk flashed past across the saltmarsh and disappeared out over the reeds. The light was already starting to go as we headed for home, but what an amazing day it had been.

5th-6th Dec 2017 – Two Winter Days

A Private Tour across two days, this was not a standard tour but we had a specific list of birds we wanted to see. December can be a very good month to go looking for some of our scarcer wintering species. We were blessed with good weather too – a bit dull under the blanket of cloud, but dry and rather mild for the time of year.

Tuesday 5th December

Our first destination was down in the Brecks at Santon Downham. We wanted to catch up with the Parrot Crossbills which have been here for a couple of weeks now. They were initially to be found around the picnic site at St Helen’s, but have started to wander more widely into the forest now, where they can be much harder to locate. Fortunately, our luck was in today. As we drove into the car park we could see a cluster of long lenses by the side of the road, pointing up into a small clump of trees.

As we got out of the car in the car park, we could hear Parrots Crossbills calling – they have a deeper and less sharp call, more of a ‘peek, peek’ than the familiar ‘glip, glip’ of Common Crossbills. We looked across and could see one or two perched in the top of the beech tree in the corner of the car park by the road.

There seemed to be more Parrot Crossbills – and better light – on the other side of the trees, where all the cameras were focused, so we started to make our way round. Just at that moment, the Parrot Crossbills started to drop down to a tiny puddle in the road, right in front of the assembled photographers (though it took them a while to notice!). We were a little further away, but still only about 10 metres from them. Stunning!

6O0A3517Parrot Crossbills – coming down to drink at the puddle in front of us

We had a great view of the Parrot Crossbills while they were drinking. A couple of times they spooked, for no apparent reason, and flew back up into the trees but quickly returned to the puddle again. It was amazing how many could pack themselves into the tiny area of water! We could see their deep, heavy bills, much bigger than a Common Crossbill’s, and their big heads with thick necks. Parrot Crossbills use their large bills and cheek muscles to prise open the tightest of pine cones to get at the seeds.

6O0A3546

6O0A3528Parrot Crossbills – amazing how many could fit into a tiny puddle!

There were a variety of different colours amongst the Parrot Crossbills. The more obvious males were red or orange, some of the latter with a scattering of golden yellow feathers. The females were grey-green, with a brighter yellow-green rump. There seem to be a high proportion of young birds in this group, 1st winters, with a varying number of pale tipped greater coverts forming a pale bar across the wing.

After dropping down to drink several times, the Parrot Crossbills flew up into one of the beech trees and sat around preening and calling. One or two of them started to pick at the beech nut capsules, trying to extract the seeds. Then most of them flew and landed in some pine trees in the middle of the car park where we could watch them doing what they do best, snipping of the pine cones and then taking them to a convenient branch where they could methodically work their way round them prising open the scales and extracting the seeds.

Having succeeded with our first target so quickly, we now had time on our side. We decided to head straight on to the Broads to look for the next bird on the list – Taiga Bean Goose. After the long drive across to Buckenham Marshes, we parked in the car park and headed out along the track. A Marsh Harrier drifted across the grazing marshes, flushing all the Rooks from down in the grass.

A short way down the track, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes, particularly looking out towards the corner by the railway which the Taiga Bean Geese usually favour when they are here. There was no sign of them, although they do have a remarkable ability for such a large bird to hide in the dips in the ground. There was a big flock of Canada Geese and a small group of feral Barnacle Geese further over towards the river. A pair of Pink-footed Geese flew in calling and landed out on the grass in the distance.

At that point, we received a message to say that the Taiga Bean Geese had not been seen at either Buckenham or nearby Cantley so far this morning. They had done something similar yesterday, only appearing later in the day, and we had plenty of time on our hands, so we were not completely discouraged. We walked a bit further and stopped to scan for the geese again, on the off chance that they had reappeared and were just hiding. A smart adult Peregrine flew across and landed on one of the gates out in the middle.

IMG_9171Peregrine – landed on one of the gates in the middle of the grazing marsh

We decided to walk out to the river, checking for the geese on the way, and hoping they might fly in while we were there. If not, we could always then go somewhere else for a couple of hours and come back for another go later in the day.

Something flushed all the ducks from the pools down by the river – a good number of Wigeon and Teal, plus a few Shoveler with them. They all gradually settled back down again and when we got down to that end of the track, we had a better look at them. There were a few Greylags out here too and another three Pink-footed Geese flew in to join them. But there was still no sign of the Taiga Bean Geese hiding out on the grazing marshes the other side.

6O0A3560Wigeon – there were several hundred on the marshes by the river

A couple of Dunlin were still left on a muddy island on one of the pools and the Lapwing which had also been disturbed gradually started to settle down around them. Two Ruff flew in across the grazing marshes and dropped down out of view. We had a quick look out across the river, then turned to head back. We heard a Water Pipit call earlier, on the way out, but hadn’t seen it, and at that moment either it or another Water Pipit flew over our heads calling and disappeared off towards Strumpshaw.

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes again, as we had done several times on the way out, but this time we noticed a line of geese had appeared while we had been looking out across the river, right over the far side, against the reeds. Where they were, they could only really be one thing and, setting up the scope quickly, we confirmed they were the Taiga Bean Geese. We could see their rather wedge-shaped heads and long bills, and as they turned and caught the light, we could see the quite extensive patches of orange on their bills.

IMG_9227Taiga Bean Geese – at the far side of the grazing marsh, against the reeds

A little further back along the track, we were a little bit closer and stopped for another look. We could see at least 13 Taiga Bean Geese, but some were well hidden down on the edge of the ditch, so there were possibly the full 18 which is the maximum which have been reported in the last few days.

Taiga Bean Geese are a declining winter visitor to the UK. They have particular habitat requirements and only winter regularly at two sites – here in the Yare Valley in Norfolk or up on the Slamannan plateau in Scotland. The numbers coming here have dropped steadily in recent years, from several hundred in Norfolk in the 1980s and 1990s to just around 20 in the last few years. In milder winters, they have often only stayed for a shorter time, but recently have sometimes departed in early to mid January, having just arrived in late November.

The Taiga Bean Geese will probably take on an increased significance from the start of 2018. When the BOU British List moves to adopt the IOC World Bird List taxonomy from 1st January, Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose will be treated as separate species (they are currently treated as two subspecies of Bean Goose). For those who are interested in ‘ticks’, it will be prudent to come and see the wintering Taiga Bean Geese while you still can!

As we walked back to the car, a pair of Stonechats were feeding along the side of the track, perching up in the tall dead willowherb seedheads. We had enjoyed a remarkably productive morning, with the two of our main target species already under our belts, either of which could easily have taken us much of the day to find.

6O0A3567Stonechat – perched in some dead willowherb

Snow Bunting was the next species on the list, so we headed down to the coast. There are several beaches where you can see flocks of these winter visitors here, but the best option today seemed like the area around Happisburgh and Eccles, where a large group had been seen in recent days. There had also been a Desert Wheatear at Eccles in recent days, but it appeared to have done a bunk overnight – fortunately it was not a target for us today. However,  there were a couple of other things of peripheral interest which we could also possibly see in the area.

Cart Gap seemed like the best place to park, so we stopped for lunch there. After we had eaten, we noticed another Norfolk birder returning to his car and went over to ask for an update on what was about. He told us that he had seen the Snow Buntings but they were a good distance south of us, so we got back in the car and drove round closer to Sea Palling.

As we crossed onto the beach, a beach buggy of sorts was being driven north along the sand. We had no idea what it was doing out here, but as it disappeared round the corner of the dunes, we saw a flock of small birds fly up from the beach and land back down again. The Snow Buntings. We walked further up and found them on an area of shingle on the top of the beach. They flew towards us and landed on the sand up by the dunes. We could see a patch of the sand which looked a different colour there and they gathered into a tight group around it, feeding – someone has put seed out for them here.

6O0A3580Snow Buntings – coming in to seed put out on the beach for them

There was a good size flock of Snow Buntings here – probably at least 60 birds in total. They flew off and landed on the stones again, before coming back to the seed. We watched them for a while – there appeared to be a mixture of paler Scandinavian and darker Icelandic birds in the flock. Eventually, they flew up and landed back in the dunes.

It had been cloudy all day, but the sky seemed to have darkened and the light was fading already. We had a quick scan of the beach and out to sea, but couldn’t immediately see anything beyond a few gulls and a single seal just offshore. Rather than try to drive back round to Eccles, in the limited time we had before it was likely to get dark, we decided to walk back up there along the beach. It wasn’t too far and it was nice to have a walk after spending quiet a bit of time in the car today.

We crossed to the track inland of the dunes and stopped briefly by the field where the Desert Wheatear had been. Three Shorelarks had been reported here earlier this morning, but there was no sign of those either now, thankfully also not a target for today, though always nice to see. What we really hoped to see here was the Arctic Redpoll which had been feeding in the edge of a beet field a little further north, so we didn’t linger here.

When we arrived at the beet field, there was no sign of anything feeding in the weeds along the edge and at first the hedge looked empty too. There was a large bush sticking out from the hedge much further down and we could see there were some birds perched on the near side of it. We got them in the scope and could see they were Redpolls, a good start.

There appeared to be a mixture of darker Lesser Redpolls and slightly paler Mealy Redpolls, but one bird in the middle of the bush stood out. It was face on to us, busy preening, but looked much paler, whitish below, paler faced. It turned briefly and puffed itself up and we could see a large pale rump. It was the Arctic Redpoll. Once again we were fortunate, because after watching it for a few minutes, all the Redpolls took off and flew away across the field, presumably heading off to roost.

It was starting to get dark by the time we got back to the car, passing the Snow Buntings again on our way. It had been a very successful day.

Wednesday 6th December

With the pressure off, after all our successes yesterday, there was only one more species on the list of the most likely targets which we really wanted to find today, Lapland Bunting. There have been a few in the clifftop fields at Weybourne for a few weeks now, but they can be very mobile and elusive. We headed over there to see what we could find.

As we walked down the track towards the Coastguards Cottages, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. We looked across to see hundreds of them circling over the fields before dropping down out of view to feed on an area of recently cut sugar beet. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling, an odd place to find this species, so possibly a migrant.

When we got to the gate, the stubble field which the Lapland Buntings have been favouring looked quite deserted. Appearances can be deceptive though. We could see some Skylarks flying round and landing in the grass on the clifftop, so we made our way round to that side. Unfortunately, as we walked over the hill, we met a dog walker coming the other way right along the edge of the stubble, just where we had planned to look, flushing all the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits out of the grass as he approached us.

Most of the birds appeared to drop back down into the stubble, down at the bottom of the hill. Then we spotted a flock of Linnets down there too, which flew up, circled round, and dropped back in to the stubble not far in from the grassy edge. That looked the best place to try. Finally, as we walked slowly down the hill, carefully scanning through the Skylarks which flew up from the stubble as we passed, we heard a Lapland Bunting calling, a distinctive dry rattle, followed by a clipped ringing ‘teu’. It didn’t appear to have come up out of the field but flew in from behind us, high overhead, and dropped down into the stubble over where we were headed.

At least we had seen a Lapland Bunting in flight – now finding one out in the middle of the stubble would be a bigger challenge. We continued on down the hill and stood on the grass opposite where it had seemed to land, scanning the field, but we could barely see anything in the vegetation. We needed a break, and after a while we got one. The Linnets took off and whirled round over the field. As they came back in low over the stubble, a Lapland Bunting flew up to join them and this time we could see where it landed.

Even though we had seen roughly where it had landed, it still took us quite a while to find the Lapland Bunting on the ground. We scanned back and forth across the area repeatedly, at first finding nothing but Skylarks and the odd Linnet. Finally it came out of the thick stubble into a slightly more open patch, and we got a good look at it through the scope. It was creeping around like a mouse, head down, not like the much bolder Skylark just behind it. We managed to stay on the Lapland Bunting for several minutes, despite it disappearing in and out of the stubble and furrows at times. Eventually we lost sight of it again and we decided to head back to the car.

Black Redstart was also on the wanted list, but we knew it would be unlikely we could find one at this time of year. There had been the odd one reported in very disparate parts of the coast in recent weeks, but they all seemed to be one day birds, possibly just passing through. As we still had some time available, we thought we might as well give it a go on the off chance. Sheringham can be a good place for them sometimes and, although there had been no reports from there for over two weeks, it seemed worth the long shot – especially as it was not far away.

We had a good look around the Leas, the ornamental garden and the boating lake, round the back of some of the buildings they sometimes favour, but not surprisingly we drew a blank. We decided to have a walk along the prom and a look out to sea. There were a few Red-throated Divers moving offshore and a Guillemot was diving out on the sea. Four Common Scoters flew east.

6O0A3604Turnstones – feeding on seed put out for them on the Prom

There were lots of Turnstones along the Prom, with a large group feeding on some seed put out for them by ‘The Tank’. There are usually at least a couple of Purple Sandpipers on the sea defences along here too and just past there we found one, feeding on one of the seaweed encrusted slipways. It flew back towards ‘The Tank’ and we followed it, finding it feeding on the concrete blocks just below the Prom.

We started to make our way back and a second Purple Sandpiper was feeding on the blocks further back. We watched it slipping and sliding on the seaweed as it tried to clamber up and down the faces of the concrete.

6O0A3618Purple Sandpiper – feeding on the seaweed-encrusted sea defences

We had already found all the target species which we had identified as likely possibilities prior to the tour. Rather than enjoy a couple of hours of general birding on our way back along the coast for the rest of the afternoon, looking for some of the other specialities you can find on a winter’s day in North Norfolk, with a long drive ahead, the decision was made to head for home. We called it a day: mission accomplished.

22nd Nov 2017 – Winter Specials

A Private Tour today. Rather than a general day of birding, we had a list of target species which we would be looking for, as well as trying to see various other birds on the way. It was a dry day, bright at times, but with a very blustery SW wind which at least had the benefit of being rather mild. A daytime peak of 15.5C is warm for this time of year, though it didn’t always feel like it in the wind!

Our first target was Lapland Bunting. There have been a few in recent weeks in the fields along the coastal cliffs at Weybourne, so we headed over there to start the day. As we walked down the lane, there were a couple of Blackbirds and Robins in the sparse hedges, possibly recent arrivals from the continent for the winter. There had apparently been one or two Lapland Buntings in the clifftop grass earlier, but there were several dogwalkers strolling up and down there now, so we concentrated on the field instead.

Most of the birds were hard to see out in the stubble in the middle of the field at first, and all we saw was occasional groups of birds flying round before landing back down out of view, mainly Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Then the first Lapland Bunting appeared with a group of Skylarks. It was very hard to get onto in flight though and landed back down out in the middle. The birds were very skittish in the wind and we were treated to several more brief flight views of Lapland Buntings over the next few minutes as we waited. We could just hear their distinctive flight calls as they flew round, over the wind.

When an RAF jet came low overhead, all the birds flushed from the middle of the field and it was amazing how many were out there. There were lots of Linnets, in one or two large flocks, plus more Skylarks than we might have thought, watching from the side of the field.

There is a more open area of bare mud close to the side of the field and gradually birds started to land on or around it. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks at first, but then two Yellowhammers flew in too, catching the morning sun. Eventually a Lapland Bunting dropped in, landing in the stubble just beyond the bare patch. We got it in the scope and could just see it creeping around in the stubble, noticeably different from all the other birds we had seen here.

Unfortunately, not all the group managed to see the Lapland Bunting before it flew off again. There were a few other birds to see here too though, particularly a large flock of Pink-footed Geese which must have been feeding or loafing in the fields over towards Sheringham Park. When they were disturbed by one of the passes by the RAF jet, they all flew up calling.

Pink-footed Geese 1Pink-footed Geese – flushed from the fields towards Sheringham Park

One of the Lapland Buntings appeared to land further over, along the other edge of the field, so we walked round to see if we could pick it up from that side. Unfortunately, as we got round there, a dogwalker walked up along the grassy strip on the edge of the field. They then proceeded to walk out into the field along the edge of the stubble, and all the birds flushed and landed back down in the middle.

We made our way back to the gate where we had been earlier and fortunately, some of the birds started to drift back towards that corner. Another Lapland Bunting dropped down into the stubble behind the bare patch and again we managed to get it in the scope, where it was possible to see it creeping around in the stubble. Then a tractor drove up the lane with a flail, to cut the margins of the field. The driver stopped to open the gate and asked us what we were looking at, then very kindly offering to start on the far side of the field so as to minimise the disturbance. We figured this would be a good moment to move on.

Our next stop was at Kelling. There were not many birds in the lane this morning, just a few Blackbirds and Chaffinches, so we walked straight down to the Water Meadow. There were a few birds around the pool – a handful of Teal feeding along the back edge and several Black-tailed Godwits out in the middle, probing into the water with their long bills.

The Spotted Redshank was on the edge of the vegetation on the north edge, where it likes to feed. We stopped for a quick look from the other side, then made our way round for a closer look. Unfortunately, before we could get there, something spooked it and it flew further out and landed on the muddy edge. A juvenile Ruff flew in to join it and a Common Redshank too.

The Spotted Redshank and the Common Redshank fed together on the edge of the water for a few minutes, given us a great side by side comparison in the scope. The Spotted Redshank was a little bigger, longer legged and noticeably paler, more silvery grey above and whiter below. We could also see its much longer, finer bill. The Spotted Redshank is a first winter, we could see its darker wing coverts and tertials. It has been lingering here for several weeks now and looks like it may stay for the winter.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – lingering on the pool at Kelling Water Meadow

Then the Spotted Redshank went to sleep on the edge of the water. We had a quick look for any Jack Snipe around the edge of the pool, but the water level has risen here after the recent rain. The area where they had been roosting is now rather wet and none have been seen since last weekend. We decided not to linger here and moved on.

As we wound our way west along the coast road, we came across a field chock full of Pink-footed Geese. The sugar beet here was harvested a couple of weeks ago now, but still the geese are coming in to feed on the tops left behind by the harvester. We found a convenient layby to pull in for a closer look and there were well over a thousand geese in view and more out of sight in the field. We could see the pink legs and feet on the closest birds as they picked around in the field beside us, as well as their dark heads and delicate bills with a pink band.

Pink-footed Geese 2Pink-footed Geese – feeding in the harvested field by the coast road

With a little bit of time still before lunch, we headed round to Cley. There has been a Black Brant with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese here for several weeks now and in recent days it has been feeding in the Eye Field. As we drove up the Beach Road, we could see lots of Brent Geese feeding out in the grass, but even as we pulled up, small groups were flying off towards the reserve, presumably for a drink and a bathe.

Apparently, the Black Brant had been seen here earlier but there was no sign of it now. We had a good look through at the Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Just behind them, a large flock of Golden Plover were catching the sunshine.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese & Golden Plover – in the Eye Field

With the likelihood that the geese which had flown onto the reserve would return to resume feeding later, we decided to go off and have something to eat ourselves, before coming back for another look. It was rather breezy round at the visitor centre, but we still managed to make use of the picnic tables, as well as enjoying a hot drink from the cafe.

A few Ruff flew up from the reserve and headed off inland over the car park to feed in the fields inland. Something flushed all the Golden Plover from the Eye Field. We could see them whirling around in the distance, before they too flew over us in a series of small groups and headed off inland.

After lunch, we made our way back round to the Eye Field. This time, we quickly located the Black Brant feeding in amongst all the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. In the early afternoon sun, its more solid and cleaner white flank patch really stood out compared to the more muted flank patches on the other geese. Through the scope, we could also see its darker body plumage and more strongly marked white neck collar, complete under the chin and extending further round the sides towards the back of the neck.

Black BrantBlack Brant – with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the Eye Field

The wind was really quite gusty now. A Stonechat appeared close by, landing on the top a gorse bush just the other side of the West Bank from the Beach Road. A male, with a black face, it struggled to remain there in the wind.

StonechatStonechat – struggled to perch on the gorse in the wind

There did not appear to be much out on the reserve today, so we continued on our way west. White-fronted Goose was a particular target for the day, so we headed over to Holkham next. There are still only a very few White-fronted Geese in for the winter here yet, but we parked up overlooking the grazing marshes and started to scan.

At first, all we could see were lots of Greylag Geese down on the grazing marshes in front of us. There were a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. Thankfully it didn’t take us too long to find some White-fronted Geese, although they were a little further over today and tucked in beyond some trees.

Initially, we located a family group of four White-fronted Geese which we got in the scope. We could see the white surround to the base of the bills of the adults catching the sun. They were in the longer grass and mostly sitting down though, so it was hard to see any other details. Fortunately, we then found another pair further round and repositioning ourselves we could get a clear view. These White-fronted Geese were on shorter grass and we could see their distinctive black belly bars.

Red KiteRed Kite – catching the afternoon sun

There was a nice selection of raptors out at Holkham this afternoon too. As usual, we could see several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards. A single Red Kite flew low over the freshmarsh, landing down on the grass for a few minutes before flying off towards the Park. It really shone rusty red in the afternoon sun. A Kestrel flew in and landed in the tree in front of us. The Sparrowhawk was slightly less obliging, flying up out of the same trees just as the gusty wind blew a blizzard of beech leaves out of the park and over the fields. It was hard to work out which was Sparrowhawk and which was leaf!

There is usually at least one Great White Egret on view here, but we couldn’t see one at first today. One of the wardens had just done the rounds and was leaving as we arrived, so we wondered whether they had flown off. Fortunately, as we were standing admiring the geese, a Great White Egret appeared up over the trees out in the middle and flew out over the freshmarsh towards us. It landed down by one of the wet ditches, where we could get it in the scope.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – flew in and landed out on the freshmarsh

With the White-fronted Geese safely in the bag, we carried on west. Our next stop was at Brancaster Staithe. This is often a good place to find waders and from the warmth of the car we could see Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Redshank. Several Oystercatchers were picking over the discarded mussels and the Turnstones were running in and out of the cars. Further out, a Greenshank was feeding up to its belly in the water in the harbour channel.

While the waders were nice, we had really come here to see the Long-tailed Duck which has been feeding in the channel here in recent days. It was low tide now, so there wasn’t much water left, but we did eventually spot the Long-tailed Duck diving a little further out in the harbour, in the deeper part of the channel just behind a muddy bank. Thankfully it then came a little closer, swimming up the channel at first, before half waddling over a submerged sand bar, and then starting to dive again.

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck – the 1st winter drake still in the harbour

We had a good look at the Long-tailed Duck, though it was tricky to photograph because it was diving all the time. It could stay under for some time and then resurface some distance away. It was a first winter drake, rather pale around the head and with a scattering of white feathers in its black upperparts.

It had clouded over now and the light was already starting to fade when we finally got to Titchwell. Our main target here was Yellow-legged Gull, so we hurried out to the freshmarsh. There were already a few Marsh Harriers starting to gather over the reeds either side of the path.

We had been told that an adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the island in front of Island Hide, so we headed straight in there first. When we opened the shutters, we were greeted by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of gulls. They were mainly Black-headed Gulls but, even so, they would take a bit of searching through. There was a line of larger gulls on the island where the Yellow-legged Gull had been earlier, but as we searched through we couldn’t find it. There were just Herring Gulls, a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls there now.

No need to panic! We opened the shutters on the other side of the hide and started to work our way methodically through the massed throng. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find the Yellow-legged Gull. It was quite close, on the near edge of one the islands behind a load of Black-headed Gulls. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was standing in shallow water, so we could see the top halves of its bright custard yellow legs. Its mantle was a shade darker than the Black-headed Gulls around it and it had a clean white head with only limited dark streaking around the eye, very different from most of the other large gulls.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – one of the adults on the freshmarsh at dusk

When the Yellow-legged Gull sat down in the water and went to sleep, we continued to scan through the gulls. The only other gull of note we found was a second Yellow-legged Gull a bit further back – two for the price of one! There was also a nice selection of wildfowl here for the day’s list, including Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck and Wigeon.

With the light going now, we decided to head for home. As we walked back up the main path, we looked out across the reedbed and noticed there were loads of Marsh Harriers all in the air. We stopped for a quick count – 32 all together. It was quite a sight. Another, the 33rd, was still flying in over the reeds the other side of the path. It was a nice end to the day to see them all circling round in the wind, as we walked back towards the car.

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.

2nd Dec 2016 – Winter Wonders, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Winter Tours in North Norfolk today. It was a nice morning, cloudy with some brighter intervals, but the cloud thickened in the afternoon and brought some misty drizzle with it at times.

Our first stop was at Blakeney. As we set out towards the seawall, a small group of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh the other side of the harbour channel. The first half dozen were our regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese but a pair a few metres further on were more interesting. One of the pair was much paler on the flanks and belly. It was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and it appeared to be paired with a male Dark-bellied Brent. It really stood out next to the Dark-bellieds.

6o0a0923Pale-bellied Brent Goose – this one is paired with a Dark-bellied Brent

Dark-bellied Brent Geese breed in arctic Russia and come here for the winter in large numbers. Pale-bellied Brent Geese breed from Svalbard across Greenland into the Canadian High Arctic. We regularly get a small number of Pale-bellied Brents in with our regular wintering flocks of Dark-bellied Brents.

While we were looking out over the saltmarsh beyond, suddenly lots of birds took to the air. A flock of Golden Plover whirled overhead. Low over the vegetation we picked up a Hen Harrier further back, quartering the marshes. A ringtail, it flashed its white rump patch as it flew away from us.

As we walked out past the harbour, a Rock Pipit flew across and landed on one of the small boats tied up on the water, where we could get it in the scope. We flushed several Meadow Pipits from the grassy banks of the seawall and a few Reed Buntings too. We heard the distinctive calls of a Lapland Bunting flying over, a dry rattle ‘t-t-t-t’ and a ringing ‘teu’, but it was long way out over the grazing marshes and we didn’t manage to find it.

There were various waders which flushed from the saltmarsh as we walked past, Curlews and Redshanks. A Little Egret was busy feeding in one of the channels. A group of Turnstone ran along a path ahead of a couple of dogs until they got too close and the Turnstone flew off towards the channel.

At the corner of the seawall, we stopped to look at a small flock of Dunlin on the edge of the harbour. A smart drake Goldeneye surfaced on the water just behind and then a raft of duck appeared in the channel. As well as a few more Goldeneye, there were several Red-breasted Mergansers with their spiky haircuts. While we were admiring them a rather nondescript brown duck bobbed up in their midst. It was a 1st winter female Scaup, normally difficult to find here in the winter but this appears to be a good year for them.

There were a few more waders here now too. A Ringed Plover and a Grey Plover, both picking at the surface with their short bills. An Oystercatcher too. The tide was starting to go out and more mud was beginning to appear. A little further along the seawall, where the harbour starts to open out, there were some bigger numbers of waders and sifting through them we found a small group of dumpy Knot and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits closer to us. The Bar-tailed Godwits were much further over.

We had seen a female Marsh Harrier earlier, on our walk out, flying over the reeds out in the middle of the Freshes. When all the Wigeon erupted from the grazing marshes, we turned to see a male Marsh Harrier flying towards us. It turned slightly and cut out across the saltmarsh, flying past us and flushing all the Brent Geese as it went.

6o0a0942Marsh Harrier – a smart, grey-winged male

There were a few Skylarks feeding on the short vegetation on the inland side of the seawall, which flushed as we approached. They circled round and landed again on the edge of an open area. A slightly smaller bird was with them now and through the scope we could confirm it was a Lapland Bunting. It was creeping around in the short grass at first and hard to see, but then it flew a short distance towards us and landed out in the open where we could get a great view of it through the scope.

img_9054Lapland Bunting – feeding with Skylarks below the seawall

The Skylarks were nervous and kept flying round. The Lapland Bunting also flew around a couple of times and landed back on the short grass. Then suddenly it was off, calling as it went.

Lapland Buntings can be very hard to find out in the open, so this was a great way to cap off our walk here. As we started to walk back, we could see five or six small birds perched on the fence and a closer look confirmed there were five Twite.They had obviously been bathing in the puddles by the path and were now busy preening. We got them in the scope and could see their yellow bills and burnt orange faces.

img_9074Twite – five were preening on the fence after having a bathe

The sixth bird was a single Linnet which perched on the fence near the Twite for comparison for a few seconds. We could see it had a grey bill and was not as brightly coloured on the face as the Twite.

Back to the car, and we made our way further east to Salthouse. We parked at the end of Beach Road and walked east along the edge of the shingle towards Gramborough Hill. Local photographers have been putting seed out for the Snow Buntings here, so when a small group of buntings appeared from around the back of the Hill, we initially thought they would be the Snow Buntings. They headed south, inland across the grazing marshes, which would be an odd direction for Snow Buntings to go and when they turned and dropped down, with the fields behind them, we could see they were actually more Lapland Buntings.

There were at least 15 Lapland Buntings in the flock, a very good number, but they kept on going and we lost sight of them as they flew off west. We weren’t finished though, and yet another lone Lapland Bunting circled over the grazing marshes calling a few minutes later before dropping down into the grass out in the middle.

The day’s delivery of seed had just been put out for the Snow Buntings and we didn’t have to wait long before they flew back in to enjoy it. They landed on the top of the shingle ridge first, where they had a good vantage point to check for any danger, before running down the slope to where the food was waiting for them. There were at least forty of them here today, although not all of them came down to feed.

6o0a1033Snow Buntings – coming down to feed on feed put out on the shingle ridge

The Snow Buntings can be quite tame and we had great close views of them when they came down to the food. Looking at the flock, we could see a variety of different looking birds, some much paler ones amongst a mass of darker, browner ones. We get two different races here in the winter from different breeding areas. The duller ones are predominantly female Snow Buntings of the Icelandic race, insulae, whereas the paler ones are from Scandinavia, of the race nivalis.

6o0a1017Snow Bunting – of the Scandinavian race, nivalis

Regardless of where they come from, the Snow Buntings are always great to watch. Along with Lapland Buntings, they are our two sought after winter buntings, so we had enjoyed a very successful morning getting such great views of both species.

We walked back over Gramborough and along the remains of the now flattened shingle ridge. The sea looked fairly quiet but we did see a loose groups of six Red-throated Divers flying past distantly. Another Red-throated Diver was on the sea, along with a single Guillemot, but both were hard to see out in the swell and diving constantly. A couple of Grey Seals surfaced just offshore and were much more obliging – they seemed to come in to investigate a couple of fishermen down on the beach. Back to the car and a very obliging group of Turnstones had flown in to feed on some food put out for them. We watched them feverishly turning the stones over – they had a lot to choose from here!

6o0a1092Turnstone – very tame, feeding by the Beach Road at Salthouse

It was already time for lunch, but we still wanted to make one last stop at the Iron Road before heading back to the visitor centre at Cley. Rather than have lunch here, the group decided on a late lunch back at the visitor centre, so we set off straight away to see what we could find. The water level on the pool by Iron Road has gone down nicely and there was a good flock of Dunlin on here today. However, apart from a Redshank, we couldn’t immediately see anything else. With time pressing, we headed out along Attenborough’s Walk.

There were four Pink-footed Geese on the grazing marshes close to the path, which flew off as we passed. A little further along, we could see a large flock of Brent Geese. The vast majority were Dark-bellied Brents, as we would expect here, but a quick look at them and we found our second Pale-bellied Brent Goose of the day, right at the front of the flock.

6o0a1163Pale-bellied Brent Goose – with Dark-bellied Brent behind for comparison

There were lots of Dunlin right in front of Babcock Hide but they were very nervous and kept flying round. A single Common Snipe, feeding on one of the islands nearby, took fright when they did so and landed much further back, out of sight in some taller vegetation. A single Ruff (or, more accurately, a female Reeve) was picking around on one of the islands further back, in amongst a large flock of sleeping Teal. Two Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies in the deeper water.

6o0a1145Dunlin – one of several feeding right in front of Babcock Hide

At first all we could see were dabbling ducks out on the water, but then one of group picked up a Long-tailed Duck which emerged from behind one of the reed islands in the deep water right at the back. It was diving constantly, but when it surfaced we could get a good look at it through the scope. We could see its white face with large dark brown cheek patch. Long-tailed Ducks are mostly found out on the sea in winter, where they dive for shellfish. Occasionally one may wander to an inland water for a short time, especially after gales. This one is unusual in that it has been on this small pool for over a month now. It must be finding something good to eat here!

We didn’t linger too long in Babcock Hide, and stopped only briefly on the walk back to the car to admire a pair of Stonechats on the fence. We made our way quickly back to the visitor centre for a late lunch. As it was so mild, we decided we would eat outside on the picnic tables, but we were only half way through when the weather turned. Some low cloud blew in and brought with it some misty drizzle, so we retreated to the car.

After lunch, we drove back west along the coast road to Stiffkey. We wanted to finish the day at the harrier roost, but with the weather having deteriorated we thought it best to watch from here today. When we arrived, we were told we had already missed a ringtail Hen Harrier and a Merlin – it seemed bird may have come in early tonight given the conditions.

As we stood and scanned the saltmarsh, a Brambling flew over calling and headed inland over the campsite. Looking away to the west, we picked up a distant grey male Hen Harrier flying low over the vegetation. Unfortunately, it dropped quickly down out of view, before everyone could get onto it. Then a second grey male appeared over in the same area, but it was even less obliging. The Hen Harriers were flying straight into the roost this evening, without flying round, probably due to the mist. Even when it temporarily brightened up a little, there was no sign of a pick-up in Hen Harrier activity.

The light was starting to go and we were just thinking our luck had run out when a large bird flew in from the fields behind us, just a short distance to our left. It was a ringtail Hen Harrier and we could see its white rump patch as it flew out across the saltmarsh, before disappearing out into the mist. That was a great way to end, so we called it a day and headed for home.

 

 

29th Sept 2016 – Hi, Honey

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today. It was raining when we met up in Wells, but thankfully the weather front cleared through on our way east along the coast and it was dry, and even sunny at times, through the rest of the day. A very gusty, blustery WSW wind had its pluses and minuses!

It had looked like it might be too wet and windy for Stiffkey Fen this morning, but as the rain appeared to be clearing, we decided to give it a go. A small group of House Martins were flying around over the copse by the path. A Goldcrest stopped to preen in the trees above our head as we walked down by the river. As we walked down along the footpath, we could hear Greenshanks and Wigeon calling from the Fen. As we got to the steps, a small group of Pink-footed Geese were flying west just beyond the seawall – a harbinger of things to come this morning.

From up on the seawall, there is a great view across Stiffkey Fen. It was immediately clear there were lots of birds, but no Spoonbills, which we had really hoped to see. The tide was already on its way out, so perhaps they had already made their way out onto the saltmarsh to feed. There were lots of other birds though. Stacks of duck having arrived here for the winter included lots of Wigeon and Teal, plus a fair few Pintail. In amongst them, we could see quite a few Ruff and down towards the front, lots of Black-tailed Godwits.

A few Greenshank flew off calling, four in total, towards the saltmarsh. It was only when we got a bit further along that we could see there were still 19 Greenshank roosting on the Fen, round behind the reeds. On the other side of the seawall, we heard calling and turned round to see two Kingfishers flying off from the fence around the sluice outfall. They shot past us and over the gate out towards the fields.

img_7441Greenshank – one of at least 23 at Stiffkey Fen today

We walked on round towards the harbour. One of the Greenshanks had dropped down into the channel and was feeding in the shallow water opposite the seawall. We got a nice look at it through the scope. Nearby, on the mud, there were lots of Redshank and a couple of Grey Plover too.

Scanning across the harbour, we could see lots of birds out on the emerging mudflats exposed by the receding tide – Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Grey Plover. There were a few Bar-tailed Godwits too, and we got one in the scope along with a few Black-tailed Godwits for comparison. In amongst the Black-tailed Godwits’ legs, were several Turnstones.

Much further over, out to sea, we could see three or four juvenile Gannets plunge-diving off the Point. There was also a steady stream of little groups of Pink-footed Geese arriving in off the sea, perhaps fresh in from Iceland for the winter. Even further out, we could just make out a Marsh Harrier battling in against the wind, still a long way out over the sea. Another migrant presumably just making its way on from the continent.

It was at this point, scanning between the mud around the harbour and the sea beyond, that we picked up a very distant bird coming in over the sandbar at the entrance to Blakeney Harbour, about 2km away. It was quite low over the sand and beating its wings hard. It was clearly a buzzard and immediately looked long-tailed and small-headed so, despite the distance, we had a pretty good idea what it was. Thankfully, having battled in to the headwind for a while, it tacked and came straight over the harbour towards us. Gradually we were able to confirm our suspicions – it was a juvenile Honey Buzzard, possibly fresh in from over the sea.

6o0a3095Honey Buzzard – this juvenile battled in against the wind over Blakeney Harbour

As it came in over the mud on the nearside of the harbour, all the birds took flight and the Honey Buzzard several of the local gulls started mobbing it. It started to circle higher and we lost it for a minute in the melee. When we picked it up again it was just to the east of us and flying in over the saltmarsh on its own. When it got over the fields, it turned back west towards Stiffkey Fen, flying behind us, where it attracted the attention of the local crows and a male Marsh Harrier, which also started to mob it. At that point it changed direction again and drifted off east and away.

Through the scope, we could see the Honey Buzzard’s distinctive shape – as well as the long tail with several basal bars and small cuckoo-like head, we noted the pale patch under the primaries contrasting with the darker and strongly barred secondaries, the dark carpal batch and underwing coverts. The yellow cere confirmed it was a juvenile. Honey Buzzard is a distinctly uncommon bird here at this time of year, with just a few seen on migration, so this was a great bird to see. More than compensating us for the lack of Spoonbills perhaps!

Making our way back up onto the seawall, another flock of Pink-footed Geese was making its way west and started to whiffle down onto the Fen for a rest and bathe, presumably tired after a long journey over the sea. It was great to watch and listen to them as they dropped down and we got a good look at them through the scope, alongside the local Greylags for comparison.

6o0a3103Pink-footed Geese – dropped into the Fen for a rest on their way

As we walked back along the seawall towards the footpath, we stopped for one last scan and noticed a large white bird in among all the geese on one of the islands. A Spoonbill, at the very last! Even better it was not asleep! It was an adult, preening itself with its long black bill with distinctive yellow tip. A perfect finish to a very successful couple of hours here.

img_7458Spoonbill – had appeared on the Fen on our way back

We had planned to visit Cley today, but with reports of a Lapland Bunting at Weybourne for the last few days, we decided to continue on to there first. We parked in the car park and walked west along the coastal footpath. It was exposed and very blustery here, but at least the sun was out now.

A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass beside the path and we could see a flock of Goldfinches further along in the bushes, but otherwise it was rather quiet here. We stopped a couple of times to scan the rough grass the other side of the fence and we had not gone too far when we heard the distinctive call of a Lapland Bunting – a dry rattle interspersed with a rather clipped but ringing ‘teu’. It flew in over the low ridge beyond the fence and circled over, but dropped back into the long grass on the ridge out of view. We stopped for a few minutes to see if it might reappear, but there was no further sign. It was perhaps too disturbed at this time of day, with walkers and dogs, for it to come out closer to the path. Still, it was nice to see it in flight and hear it.

Back to Salthouse and we stopped at the Iron Road. The muddy pool here is looking increasingly dry now and there were no birds on the remaining mud. A Little Egret was feeding in the low reeds at the back and a dark juvenile Marsh Harrier flew past. Another flock of Pink-footed Geese were flying in from the east and dropped down onto the marshes before they got to us.

On our way to Babcock Hide, as small bird flew across the grazing marshes and disappeared in the direction of the hide before we could get a good look at it – a Whinchat. Fortunately, looking back in the direction from which it had come, we found a second Whinchat perched on some dead thistles. We had a much better view of that one through the scope.

img_7467Whinchat – on the grazing meadow on the way to Babcock Hide

With little change in the water levels recently, the mud around the scrape from Babcock Hide was also looking rather dry. The ducks are enjoying it here though – mostly Teal, but also a handful of Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler. This is a good place to see birds moving along the coast though, and as we sat there a party of seven Swallows flew through on their way west and about 80 Lapwings flew over too.

After lunch round at the Cley visitor centre, we made our way out to the hides in the middle of the reserve. There were some nice waders right in front of Teal Hide – a mixture of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Three Ruff picked their way across the mud just beyond the bank – a very educational mixture of two larger juvenile males and a single much smaller winter adult female.

6o0a3129Ruff – smaller adult female in front, larger juvenile males behind

Doing a good job of hiding in the vegetation around the edge of the island, we found the two Little Stints which had been reported earlier. Tiny waders, they were picking around on the mud in amongst all the short rushes. A Dunlin just behind them provided a nice size comparison, highlighting just how small they are.

A female Marsh Harrier circled out over the scrape from the reedbed and flushed all the birds, and the smaller waders all landed again out in the open. It was only at this point that we realised there were actually four Little Stints on here, all smart juveniles. They stood with all the Dunlin out in the open for a few seconds, then made their way quickly back into the cover on the island.

A Greenshank had been sleeping over on the far side of the scrape, but had also been flushed by the Marsh Harrier and landed on the near edge just along from the hide. It was walking towards us and we had a good look at it, looking very smart in the afternoon sunshine. Before it got to the hide, it took off and flew straight across right in front of us and dropped over behind us.

6o0a3143Greenshank – flew across right in front of Teal Hide

The mass arrival of Pink-footed Geese was a real theme of the day today and yet another flock dropped in to Simmond’s Scrape briefly, on their way west. Work is underway to reprofile the scrape at the moment and it was probably the approach of the returning excavator (after what appeared to be a rather extended lunch break) which quickly flushed them again. Their higher pitched, yelping calls contrasting with the deeper honking of the local Greylags.

6o0a3138Pink-footed Geese – another flock dropped into Simmond’s Scrape briefly

With all the activity, there was nothing much on Simmond’s Scrape today. A nice Comma butterfly was enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the hides by the door to Dauke’s. There were also lots of dragonflies around the reserve, despite the wind – Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers.

6o0a3150Comma – enjoying the afternoon sun

It was still very blustery round at the beach car park, but we made our way along the back of the beach towards North Scrape. A Whinchat perched up on the fence at the end of the Eye Field, but apart from a few Shelduck and smattering of other ducks, North Scrape itself looked disappointingly quiet. A few juvenile Gannets were circling offshore and plunge diving.

With a dark shower cloud approaching, we decided to make our way quickly back. As it was, there were no more than a couple of spots of rain. As we drove back along Beach Road, first a Stonechat and then a Wheatear flew up and landed on the fence posts.

6o0a3157Wheatear – on the fence along Beach Road

There was still time for one last quick stop, so we headed back for the shelter of Wells Woods. It was quiet initially walking through the trees – the blustery wind was penetrating even deep into the woods. As we made our way into the Dell, we came across a large tit flock. It was moving quickly, over our heads and back the way we had come. We tried to follow it, but lost it for a few minutes, eventually hearing the Long-tailed Tits calling and catching up with it just as it set off again.

Finally the birds found a slightly more sheltered spot in the trees, with even a bit of late afternoon sunshine catching the leaves, and stopped moving quite so quickly. At this point, we got a little time to watch them. As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue, Great and Coal Tits in the flock. With them were at least three Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, a couple of Treecreepers and lost of Goldcrests. The Chiffchaffs were flitting around in the low brambles and wild roses, occasionally flycatching for insects. We had great views of a couple of Treecreepers climbing up the pines.

When the tit flock started to move off again it seemed to be heading up into the tops of the pines, so we went back and carried on through the Dell. When we got to the other side, we realised we were running out of time, so we turned to head back towards the car. We hadn’t gone far when we found ourselves surrounded by the tit flock again. Watching a tiny Goldcrest down in a wild rose at our feet was a great way to end two very exciting days of autumn birding.

6o0a3177Goldcrest – feeding down at our feet

6th April 2016 – Migrants & Showers

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was forecast to be windy with April showers, so we set off to see as much as we could while dodging the rain. With native German- and English-speakers, we even managed some instant translation of species names, with a little help from modern technology!

We met in Salthouse this morning. Our first stop was down at Beach Road. A Ruff (Kampfläufer) was feeding on one of the pools beside the road, along with a couple of Avocet (Säbelschnäbler). We had not even got out of the car when we spotted our first Wheatear (Steinschmätzer). There were actually several out on the short grass around the pools. One was nice and close and we got really good views of it through the scope until it flew further back. A few Skylarks (Feldlerche) were flying around as well, with one towering high into the sky singing, despite the weather.

WheatearWheatear – this photo taken a couple of days ago

There were a few Meadow Pipits (Wiesenpieper) on the move this morning – several flew overhead calling while we stood by the road. Then a squally shower came through and we beat a hasty retreat back to the car. We were just pondering whether to get out again once it passed over when we heard  the sharp call of a bird approaching. We got out just in time to see a Yellow Wagtail (Schafstelze) flying towards us. Unfortunately, it didn’t land but continued on west.

The Eye Field at Cley is often a good place to see wagtails on the ground, so we made our way round there next. We pulled up on the road next to the pool just in time to see three wagtails fly across the field towards us and drop in next to the water. These were White Wagtails (Bachstelze), the continental European race of our Pied Wagtail and a regular early migrant along the coast here, most easily distinguished by their pale grey backs rather than the black or darker grey of the Pied Wagtails. We got out of the car and got them in the scope, with just enough time for us all to get a good look at them before they continued on their way. As we were to discover later, there were quite a few White Wagtails on the move today. A Swallow (Rauchschwalbe) swept through too, on its way west.

We parked in the car park and had a quick walk along the path to see if there was anything else in the Eye Field today. The best we could find were a couple more Wheatears – one flew across in front of us, flashing its white tail. A report of an interesting diver had us take a quick look at the sea from the beach shelter, but we couldn’t find it. We did see a single Great Crested Grebe (Haubentaucher) on the water. A couple of Common Scoter (Trauerente) and three Ringed Plovers (Sandregenpfeifer) flew past.

It seemed like a good idea to find a more sheltered spot, so we made our way west along the coast to Holkham. As we pulled up on Lady Anne’s Drive to scan the fields and marshes, another Wheatear flew over the fence and landed on the edge of the road right in front of us. It hopped around picking at the ground for a minute or so, before flying over into the field the other side.

P1190560Wheatear – feeding on the edge of Lady Anne’s Drive

We got out to have a closer look at the four Pink-footed Geese (Kurzschnabelgans) still out on the grazing marsh. The vast majority of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the worst of the winter here have long since departed, but a few tardy individuals are still lingering here. They were asleep at first but eventually one woke up and started feeding, allowing us a proper view of its dark head and short, dark bill with a pink band around the middle.

A Marsh Harrier (Rohrweihe) flew towards us over the grass. It appeared to be hunting, quartering low across the field. It seemed to spot something and dropped down towards the ground a couple of times, but never actually landed. Whatever it was after was in a dip at first, but when it moved we could see that it was a Brown Hare. When the Marsh Harrier dipped down at it, the Hare started trying to box it away. The pursuit continued for several minutes, the Hare moving a few metres and the Marsh Harrier setting off after it again, before it finally gave up and flew off.

P1190578Marsh Harrier – spent several minutes attacking a Brown Hare

There was a nice selection of ducks on the floods the other side of the Drive. Some smart Teal (Krickente), a pair of sleeping Shoveler (Löffelente) and a pair or two of Gadwall (Schnatterente). A Grey Heron (Graureiher) was stalking along the edge of the reeds further over.

There were not many other cars on Lady Anne’s Drive today, so we parked right down at the end and set off to walk west. At that point it started to rain, so we sat out the squall in the car. It blew through really quickly on the blustery wind, so we soon continued on our way.

It was more sheltered along the path. The migrant warblers are now starting to return for the summer. There were lots of Chiffchaffs (Zilpzalp) singing in the trees but a Blackcap (Mönchsgrasmücke) was not quite so vocal and immediately went quiet when we stopped to listen to it. A Sedge Warbler (Schilfrohrsänger) was singing away out in the reeds, but we couldn’t see it. Likewise a Cetti’s Warbler (Seidensänger), although this species is one of only two resident rather than migrant warblers. There were lots of tits and Goldcrests (Wintergoldhähnchen) in the holm oaks and a single Treecreeper (Waldbaumläufer) which was uncharacteristically skulking in a dense evergreen. A Mistle Thrush (Misteldrossel) was feeding out on the grass.

IMG_1544Pink-footed Goose – one of the few still remaining here

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes and found another Pink-footed Goose, this one all on its own. With several Greylag Geese (Graugans) nearby, we had a good opportunity to look at the differences between these two species. A few Egyptian Geese (Nilgans) and a pair of Canada Geese (Kanadagans) added to the day’s list, even if neither really belong here! Three Tufted Duck (Reiherente) were on Salt’s Hole.

The Marsh Harriers were displaying over the reedbed. We could hear one calling and watched it circle high up into the air before performing a series of little swoops. A couple of Red Kites (Rotmilan) drifted out from over the pines.

P1190598Red Kite – two drifted overhead from the pines

With a bit of brighter weather, we made our way all the way along as far as Joe Jordan Hide. There was a lot of activity around the trees. The Cormorants (Kormoran) are bust nesting now and birds were continually making their way in and out of the trees with nest material. Little Egrets (Seidenreiher) were coming and going too. We had hoped we might see a Spoonbill (Löffler) or two, but the first large bird we saw fly out of the trees turned out to be something different – a Great White Egret (Silberreiher).

IMG_1578Great White Egret – flew out of the trees and out across the marshes

The Great White Egret flew across the marshes and eventually landed some distance away on a small pool. Unfortunately it was partly obscured by a fence and thin line of reeds in front, but through the scope we could appreciate its very large size, long neck and very long dagger-shaped yellow-orange bill. Presumably this is still the same bird which we saw regularly over the winter here, although it has not been reported here for a few weeks now. After a while it flew back over and circled over the trees, given us great flight views, before dropping down out of view.

We were given a few tantalising glimpses of Spoonbills in the trees and were planning to start making our way back when we saw another shower approaching. Just as it cleared, a couple of Spoonbills circled up into full view and flew across above the bushes, necks outstretched and showing off their long bills. Perfect timing!

We made our way back to the car and set off back up Lady Anne’s Drive but we hadn’t gone very far when a large white shape on the pool just the other side of the fence caused us to stop and get out again. A Spoonbill was feeding out in the water, head down, sweeping its bill constantly from side to side as it walked. We got it in the scope and had great close up views of it – even the spoon-shaped bill when it periodically stopped feeding momentarily and lifted its head up.

IMG_1616Spoonbill – check out the spoon-shaped bill

It was a smart adult in breeding plumage, with a bushy crest on the back of its head, yellow tip to its bill, a bare yellow patch under its chin and a dirty yellowish wash across its breast.

IMG_1624Spoonbill – a very smart adult

It was ironic that, having waited to get a view of the Spoonbills at the hide earlier, we were now treated to such stunning views of one right by the road! Still it was a great way to end the morning and in the end we had to tear ourselves away to get some lunch.

After lunch, we made our way back east along the coast. The Lapland Buntings (Spornammer) which have been around Blakeney for most of the winter seem to have largely left now, presumably returned to the continent. However, one or two have been reported still in the last few days so, with the weather improving a bit, it seemed worth a look. We parked by the harbour in Blakeney and set off to walk along the seawall, stopping briefly to admire the bright yellow legs of one of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Heringsmöwe).

P1190667Lesser Black-backed Gull – by the harbour again

It was a bit blustery out on the seawall, but not as bad as it might have been. Several flocks of Brent Geese (Ringelgans) flew up from the saltmarsh and flew out towards the Pit. A Curlew (Grosser Brachvogel) was wading deep in the harbour channel and several Oystercatchers (Austernfischer) were nearby.

When we got out to the area where the Lapland Buntings have been favouring in recent weeks, by the gate, all seemed rather quiet. It quickly became clear that the seed which the local photographers had been putting out for them had all been eaten and was no longer being replenished. We had a good look round, up and down the track, but it seemed like we might be out of luck. Several Skylarks were feeding down in the grass, given great views. We had seen a couple more White Wagtails by one of the pools on the walk out and another was tucked in behind a muddy ridge out of the wind, singing. This one we got in the scope and got a much better look at.

IMG_1630White Wagtail – singing out of the wind

We walked a little further along the seawall, but all we could find were more Skylarks and a Meadow Pipit with a rather rich pink flush to its breast. A glimpse of something distantly in flight, chasing a couple of Skylarks round, looked like it might be a Lapland Bunting, but we lost sight of it before we could get a good look at it. We decided we must be out of luck and started to walk back, stopping to admire a little group of Brent Geese on the edge of the harbour.

IMG_1651Brent Geese – feeding on the saltmarsh on the edge of the harbour

When we got back to the gate, a small crowd had gathered. They were looking rather forlornly out across the grass in one direction. As we walked past them, we noticed two small birds in the grass behind them. The first was a Skylark, but the second was a Lapland Bunting, only about two metres from their backs!

It appeared to be a female Lapland Bunting, lacking the black face of the males. It was too close to get the scope on it at first, but we watched with binoculars as it picked around where the seed had previously been spread. As it worked its way back along the path a short distance, we were able to get it in the scope and have a really close look at it before it flew off back into the longer grass. Great stuff and made all the better by the wait and the appearance just when we had all but given up!

IMG_1684Lapland Bunting – just one remains from the group present over the winter

There was just enough time to have a quick look in at Cley on our way back.Two Black-tailed Godwits (Uferschnepfe) were squabbling out on the mud, flashing their black tails. Many more were scattered around the water, most now showing variable amounts of bright rusty-orange summer plumage. There were lots of Avocets feeding on the scrape too. A pair just in front of the hide were perfectly synchronised, sweeping their bills from side to side in time. They should soon be settling down to nest on here. A little group of Ruff should be on their way north soon.

P1190727Avocet – should soon be nesting on the scrapes

A smaller wader right at the front of the scrape was a Green Sandpiper (Waldwasserläufer). A small number spend the winter in Norfolk, mostly inland, but this was most likely a spring migrant, stopping off on its way north.

IMG_1736Green Sandpiper – a migrant, on its way north

A small wader further over, on one of the islands, was a lone Dunlin (Alpenstrandläufer), still in grey and white winter plumage. Two other small waders which flew in and landed on the closest island were Little Ringed Plovers (Flussregenpfeifer). They ran round from the back, right to the front of the island where we could see their golden-yellow eye-rings clearly through the scope.

IMG_1719Little Ringed Plover – one of two on the scrape today

It was a great way to end the day, with a nice selection of waders. The local Marsh Harriers were soaring over the reedbed and we could hear Bearded Tits (Bartmeise) ‘pinging’ from deep in the reeds, though they were keeping well hidden as usual in the blustery wind. We had been remarkably fortunate with the weather and successfully dodged most of the showers today, seeing quite a few good birds in the process.

25th March 2016 -Early Spring Sun

A Good Friday day tour today in North Norfolk. The weather forecast was for blue skies and sunshine, and so it turned out, even if there was still a lingering chill in the wind at times. It really felt like spring – at last!

We started the day at Blakeney. On the walk out along the seawall, a very smart male Marsh Harrier drifted across the freshmarsh towards us and across the path just ahead of us, flashing its silvery grey wings with black wingtips. The tide was in and it was quite a big tide today. A flock of Oysterctachers was roosting up on one of the dry saltmarsh islands and several small groups of Brent Geese were flying round the harbour.

We could see a small crowd gathered down by the gate as we approached – a phalanx of photographers waiting for the Lapland Buntings. We joined the line and it wasn’t long before we spotted one creeping around in the grass in front of us. Helpfully then it stopped and perched up on a small ridge of bare earth. It preened itself briefly and then started singing. This is a rare treat, to hear Lapland Buntings singing in the UK. The song itself is not really anything to write home about though!

It was not a great view of the Lapland Bunting in the grass, but thankfully one then flew out and landed on the path right in front of us, giving us amazing views. The local photographers have been liberally sprinkling seed around the area and the Lapland Buntings have been happily taking advantage. Even though they are normally rather skulking birds, they can be very tame and certainly these do not seem concerned unless people get too close.

IMG_0925Lapland Bunting – we had some great views of them today

We stayed a while and watched the comings and goings of the Lapland Buntings. There were at least 8 here today. Some of the males are rapidly developing their summer plumage now – their faces are going increasingly black. One male in particular was singing continually from behind us, out on the edge of a large puddle.

IMG_0845Lapland Bunting – a couple of the males were singing

IMG_0902Lapland Bunting – some of the males are now getting very black faces

IMG_0828Lapland Bunting – the females are more subtly coloured

There were other birds taking advantage of the seed and we had great views of Skylarks and Reed Buntings coming down in front of us too. Unfortunately, a Jack Snipe was less accommodating. It flew up from the long grass and disappeared over the seawall and down the other side, before anyone could really get onto it. A Stonechat perched up more distantly on a post and a male Marsh Harrier started displaying high in the sky above the reedbed.

IMG_0867Skylark – also coming down to the seed

With such a clear day, we had hoped there might be some more obvious signs of visible migration, early birds on the move along the coast. But the only two birds we saw which appeared to be migrants were two Pied Wagtails which flew in along the line of the seawall and continued on west without stopping. Perhaps the lingering chill in the air was just enough to keep a lid on things.

Eventually we decided to tear ourselves from the Lapland Buntings and move on. Out in the harbour, the tide had started to go out. There were more waders now out on the mud, a scattering of Knot and Dunlin, a few Grey Plover and some distant Bar-tailed Godwits. Some of the Brent Geese were now out on the mud too and scanning through them we found a single Pale-bellied Brent with all the regular Russian Dark-bellied Brents. A smart Lesser Black-backed Gull was standing on the muddy edge of the harbour when we got back to the car, its yellow legs glowing in the sun.

P1190207Lesser Black-backed Gull – showing off its yellow legs

It seemed like a good day to look for some early migrants. We drove round to Cley and walked along the north side of the Eye Field, but there was no sign of the hoped for early Wheatear, just Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a flock of Starlings feeding out on the grass. A quick look at the sea as we walked back produced a handful of birds moving – a Knot, 2 Dunlin, 3 Brent Geese and a distant Red-throated Diver, all flying W. A quick look at Salthouse failed to locate any obvious migrants either.

A tip-off about a Little Ringed Plover saw us walking out along the East Bank next. There were lots of Lapwings and Redshanks out on the wet grazing marshes below. Both breed here and the Lapwings are displaying now. Further along, on the Serpentine, we found several Ruff – a group of three included one white-headed male, another male with a regular dappled grey-brown head, and a smaller female (a Reeve).

IMG_0979Ruff – a white-headed male on the Serpentine

It took a careful scan to find a Little Ringed Plover – it was further over, well camouflaged with its back to us on the mud at the back. While we were watching it, a second Little Ringed Plover appeared with it. It was hard to see their yellow eye-rings from this distance, but they are smaller and more elongated in the rear than Ringed Plovers, with a longer, dark bill. At the other end of the same pool, we then found a third Little Ringed Plover – there has obviously been a big arrival of them in recent days, as they are only summer visitors here. A pair of Pintail upending on the Serpentine were a nice addition to the day’s list.

IMG_0997Pintail – a pair were still on the Serpentine

Further along, at Arnold’s Marsh, there were lots more waders. A good number of Avocets are feeding out here at the moment, along with plenty of Dunlin and the usual selection of Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew. On one of the stony spits we found a couple of Ringed Plovers – despite the heat haze, we could see their shorter black-tipped orange bills. A flock of Linnets was down at the front on the saltmarsh.

There were several Marsh Harriers over the reeds on Pope’s Marsh and one perched in the top of a bush out in the main Cley reedbed. Scanning the ridge inland, we could see lots of Common Buzzards circling up. One which drifted towards us over the grazing marshes looked like a candidate for a possible migrants, until it folded its wings back and dropped sharply into North Foreland wood. Then it was time to head back for lunch.

In the afternoon we drove over to Holkham. This was not without an amount of trepidation, as the car park can get extremely busy on a sunny bank holiday, and so it proved as Lady Anne’s Drive was packed. Thankfully our gamble that some people would be leaving now was also correct and we managed to find a space not too far from the trees. A quick scan of the grazing marshes either side produced a small group of Pink-footed Geese. The vast majority of the birds which spent the winter here left in February, but small numbers linger in the area for a while longer, so we took advantage to get a good look at them in the scope. A Red Kite circled over the grass just in front of us.

The vast majority of people were just walking straight out to the beach and back, but we turned west along the path on the inland side of the pines, which was much quieter. We hadn’t gone too far before we heard a Chiffchaff singing from the trees. Some overwinter here, but this was most likely a returning summer migrant. Chiffchaff is generally the first migrant warbler to hear singing, a real sign that spring is just around the corner. A Jay perched in a tree nearby seemed to be enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

P1190220Jay – enjoying the afternoon sunshine

We stopped to have a look at Salts Hole. A raft of ducks out on the water consisted of no less than 17 Tufted Duck, plus a couple of Wigeon. Nearby, a couple of Little Grebes were diving continually. Six Common Buzzards circled high over the trees, calling, but were most likely just the local birds enjoying the warmth in the air.

P1190226Goldcrest – lots were feeding in the Holm Oaks along the path

Just past Salts Hole, the Holm Oaks alive were alive with Goldcrests. The trees here were in full sun, out of the wind, and we could see lots of small insects around the leaves. The Goldcrests were having a field day, picking at the leaves or making little flycatching sorties out from the branches. We stopped to watch them and checking through them carefully we found a Firecrest which appeared briefly in the top of a pine tree. Unfortunately, it promptly disappeared out over the tops of the Holm Oaks.

We walked back a short distance to see if the Firecrest might appear the other side of the trees, and when we turned round and carried on our way, it had reappeared again where it had first been. This time, it dropped down out of the pine into the front of the Holm Oaks just in front of us, at eye level. We got fantastic views of it now, picking at the underside of the leaves and flycatching between the branches. Firecrests really are one of the most stunning little birds.

P1190280Firecrest – came out to feed in the Holm Oaks just in front of us

There were several butterflies out in the sunshine along the path too. A bright orange Comma was basking in the sunshine on the grassy bank in front of the trees and a Small Tortoiseshell was doing the same on the mud from the gate a little further along. We continued on along the path to Joe Jordan Hide.

P1190237Comma – out in the spring sunshine

There were lots of Greylag Geese loafing around on the grass from the hide. Scanning through them, we found a group of six smaller geese in amongst them. These were White-fronted Geese. There is a flock of them here all winter and although many seem to have departed, a small number seem to be lingering still. A more careful scan through the Greylags with the scope revealed there were 12 in total at first, but a few more flew in to join them later, so there were at least 20 when we left.Through the scope, we could see the white blaze around the base of their bills and their distinctive black belly bars.

Several Marsh Harriers were flying in and out of the trees or landing down in the tall grass between the hide and the pool. A Kestrel appeared and started hovering over the bank in front of us, but it seemed to lose interest quickly and flew back into the trees. It then kept dropping down onto the grass in front of the pines, picking up and eating earthworms – obviously much less effort than hovering! A Barn Owl flew out of the trees as well and started quartering the rough grass down below us. It seemed to have more luck than the Kestrel, because it dropped down to the grass and the next thing we knew it had a vole in its bill which it promptly swallowed whole.

IMG_1013Barn Owl – caught a vole down in the grass

We had heard a Mediterranean Gull calling as we walked out and from the hide we heard the same call again. Looking over to the water to the left of the hide, where there were lots of Black-headed Gulls, we could see a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flying back and forth, flashing their pure white wing tips. They landed on the water and through the scope we could see that they were two smart adults in summer plumage, sporting extensive jet black hoods.

A good number of Pheasants appear to have survived the shooting season and were feeding out on the grass. A pair of Red-legged Partridges appeared too, and started calling. They were obviously having a shout-off against their neighbours, because we could hear another Red-legged Partridge calling back from further over. By comparison, the Grey Partridges were much quieter. They could easily have been overlooked, creeping around in the grass below us, looking rather like the molehills they were in amongst, but the male stood up at one point so we could see his orange face and kidney-shaped blackish-brown belly patch. The drabber female continued to feed quietly nearby.

IMG_1027Grey Partridge – a pair were creeping around quietly on the grass

We had hoped we might see a Spoonbill here, as they have started to return after the winter (talking to one of the wardens later, up to 8 are now back). At first, all we could see in the trees were Cormorants, loafing around on their guano-stained  nests. Then a Spoonbill flew up, but all too briefly as it disappeared again before anyone could get onto it. We waited patiently and even when a Marsh Harrier flew low into the trees, it just managed to flush eight Little Egrets out from exactly where the Spoonbill had landed. Finally a Spoonbill gave itself up properly, flying up out of the trees and circling round in full view of everyone before it dropped back in. That was a nice note to end on, so we walked back slowly in the sunshine to the car.