Tag Archives: Little Stint

19th Sept 2017 – Relaxed Autumn Birding

A Private Tour today. It was to be a relaxed day of general birding on the North Norfolk coast. After getting caught by a brief shower first thing, the clouds cleared, the blue sky appeared and the sun came out. It was even quite warm by the end of the day. A lovely day to be out.

Our first stop for the morning was to be Stiffkey Fen. On our way there, we drove slowly past the wet meadows just east of the village, trying to work out where the cows were today. A Sparrowhawk came out of the hedge beside the road and flew low over the tarmac ahead of us before swooping up into a tree the other side. We eventually found the cows towards the eastern end of the meadow and even before we pulled up, we could see a white shape with them. It was a Cattle Egret.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – with the cows at Stiffkey again today

The Cattle Egret has been hanging around with the cows here on and off for a while now. We managed to stop the car for a minute, while there was no traffic, and have a look at it through binoculars. We could see its short yellow bill. A couple of Grey Herons were loafing next to the cows too.

After parking a little further along the road, we walked out towards Stiffkey Fen. A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees beside the road, but we couldn’t see them from the path. As we started down the footpath by the river, a Chiffchaff was calling above our heads and flitting about in the willows, and a Goldcrest appeared with it briefly too. We could hear Long-tailed Tits in the bushes by the river and caught the back of a mixed tit flock, with Blue Tits and Great Tits too. A Greenfinch and a Chaffinch flushed from the brambles as we walked past.

When we got to a gap in the trees where the brambles and reeds are low enough to see over, we had a look out across the Fen. The first thing we saw were the Spoonbills, nine of them. We had a quick look at them from here, then headed up onto the seawall for a better view. It was not long after we got up onto the seawall that it started to rain. We took shelter down by the sluice and thankfully it was just a brief shower.

From back up on the seawall, we had a good look at the Spoonbills. Some were asleep, as usual, but one was busy preening and when it lifted its head we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. Another two Spoonbills were walking around in the shallow water, one was an adult but the other was a juvenile with a fleshy-coloured bill. The juvenile was chasing behind the adult, bobbing its head up and down and begging for food. The adult kept trying to walk away, but there was no respite.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – four of the nine on the Fen today

The tide in the harbour was already half way out, so a lot of the waders had already left the Fen and gone out into the harbour to feed. There were several Redshanks down in the harbour channel below the seawall. We could hear Greenshanks calling, but couldn’t see them in their usual place on the Fen. They were hiding behind the reeds today, and the next thing we knew they flew up and over the seawall, heading off across the saltmarsh and out into the harbour. A Kingfisher flew the same way too, up from the river in front of us, across the reeds and over the seawall.

There were still a few waders left on the Fen, mostly Ruff which we had a look at through the scope. A Black-tailed Godwit was fast asleep in the middle of a big group of feeding Ruff. There was a single Avocet on here too today, looking slightly lonely.

A good number of Greylag Geese were scattered around the islands on the Fen and, in between them, we could see a variety of ducks. The drakes are mostly not at their best at the moment, in their rather drab eclipse plumage. We did manage to get a smart drake Gadwall in the scope, but it was just too far to appreciate the fine detail and complexity of its feather patterns. There are plenty of Teal and Wigeon on here now, in addition to all the Mallard. Over at the back, we found a small group of Pintail too.

At that point, something spooked all the birds on the Fen and most of them took to the air. We didn’t see what it was, there was no sign of a raptor about and it might have been the geese taking off noisily to head off to the fields, but whatever it was, by the time things settled down again, there were much fewer birds left behind. Many of the ducks and waders headed off to the harbour to feed, so we decided to head round that way ourselves.

As we walked round to the harbour, we could see several waders down on the mud in the channel. They were mostly Redshank, but in with them was a single Grey Plover, so we had a good look at it through the scope, already in its grey non-breeding plumage. When we got to the corner, we stopped to look at the harbour. A Greenshank flew up from the channel and off across the mud. We heard the Kingfisher call again and looked across to see it perched on the gunwale of one of the boats in the channel. We got it in the scope, but it didn’t stay long and flew off back up the channel.

Blakeney HarbourBlakeney Harbour & Point – after the sun came out

The sun was shining now and it was a fantastic view across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We stood for a while and admired the view, while we scanned for birds out on the mudflats. Most of the waders were presumably further out, out of view down in the Pit. We could still see quite a few from here though – a nice selection including Oystercatchers, more Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, a few Curlew and a little group of Turnstone.

Four Brent Geese flew in and landed distantly on the edge of the water down in the Pit. They have only just started to return from the Russian breeding grounds in the last couple of days and these are the first ones we have seen here this autumn. In a few weeks time, the area will be busy with them, but it was great to see the first ones return.

As we turned to head back, we bird call, a sound like two stones being knocked together, and turned to see a Stonechat perched on the top of a Suaeda bush on the edge of the saltmarsh. It was joined by a second Stonechat and the two of them gradually worked their way towards us, dropping down out of view, but returning to perch right on top of the bushes.

StonechatStonechat – one of a pair on the edge of the saltmarsh

On the walk back, with the sun out, there were several butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the warmth along the hedgerow beside the path, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes.

Our next destination was Cley and we set off to walk out along the East Bank. There were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes to the east, Greylags, Canadas and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling away in the distance, presumably birds just flying in, but we couldn’t see them.

We heard Bearded Tits too, calling from the reedbed, but they too remained elusive, keeping down out of the breeze. A Swallow flew low across the grazing marsh, over the bank and west on across the reeds. It was followed by several more. They are on their way down to Africa for the winter already, and these were the only hirundines we saw today. Autumn is definitely here already.

Scanning the wet grass down on the grazing marshes, we found quite a few waders, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. A single Common Snipe was busy probing away into the mud in amongst the tussocks, but then shuffled off out of view. At the north end of the Serpentine, we came across a small group of Dunlin out on the open mud. We were just looking at them when two Little Stints flew across to join them. We had a great view of the two species side by side in the scope.

Little StintLittle Stint – one of two juveniles on the edge of the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh had a lot of birds on it, but they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. A couple of Curlew were feeding at the back. Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the stony island. After resting our legs for a few minutes in the hide, we continued on to the beach. We could hear a Water Rail squealing from the north edge of the reedbed, tucked well in and out of view.

The sea looked quiet at first. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, low over the sea. Two Sandwich Terns flew across a bit closer in. There has been a lot of wildfowl returning in the past few days, and it wasn’t long before we picked up a single Brent Goose flying past offshore, with three Cormorants following close behind, taking advantage of it to make their short journey easier. A little while later, another 13 Brent Geese flew pas in a line, all just returning from their Russian breeding grounds for the winter.

A couple of large groups of Shelduck flew past over the sea too. The adult Shelducks fly off to the Wadden Sea to moult at the end of the breeding season. Once their moult is complete, they start to return here and these are some of the first to return. A couple of Curlew flew past too, also returning from Europe for the winter.

ShelduckShelducks – returning after going to the Wadden Sea to moult

We headed back for lunch back at the visitor centre, stopping on the way to admire the two Little Stints which were now busy bathing in a small pool on the edge of the grazing marsh. While we were eating our lunch, we noticed a large white shape circling over the hides. It was a Spoonbill and after a minute or so it flew off west.

After lunch, we headed out to the main hides. There had been a report of four Curlew Sandpipers on Simmond’s Scrape earlier, but when we got there we could only find one and it was on Pat’s Pool. It was nice and close though, so we had a good look at it through the scope, a juvenile with scaly patterned back and a peachy wash across the breast. After a few minutes, it flew back to join the Dunlin on Simmond’s.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – feeding on Pat’s Pool and then Simmond’s Scrape

There were lots more Little Stints on Simmond’s Scrape too. They were rather hard to see at first, very small and creeping about on the low vegetation on the wetter islands, but the more we looked the more we found. In the end, we could see at least 9 Little Stints on the scrape, all juveniles. There were three Ringed Plover out on the islands too.

There were a few other waders on here too. Several Lapwing looked particularly irridescent in the sunshine, well worth a quick look through the scope at their glossy green, purple and bronze tinged upperparts. There were a few more Ruff here and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits half hidden in the deep water, with their heads under probing vigorously in the mud below. Three more Avocets were asleep on Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding in the deep water in front of the hide

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers which flew up over the reeds at the back of the scrape at one point. A Little Egret was feeding up and down on the water along the front edge.

As we walked back to the car, it was lovely in the sunshine, listening to the wind in the reeds. It was an early finish today, then back home to put our feet up.

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15th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour today. It was forecast to be cool and rather windy, though not as bad as the last few days, and with a risk of showers. It was sunny when we set off inland, but we drove into the cloud on the coast. We headed up to north-west Norfolk for the day.

Our first destination was Thornham Harbour. A Curlew was feeding in the edge of the saltmarsh right next to where we parked. Several Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting flew up into the bushes as we got out of the car, and a Skylark flew over and dropped down beyond the car park.

A quick look in the harbour channel opposite produced a Greenshank feeding down on the mud, which flew off calling as we approached. A couple of Redshanks and a single Bar-tailed Godwit were a little further along and stayed to let us get a good look at them.

As we got up onto the seawall, a Wheatear flew across the grazing marsh in front of us, flashing its white rump as it went, and landed on a fence post a little further back. Looking inland, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards circling up over the trees, despite the cold and cloudy weather. A single Stock Dove was feeding in the grass out in the middle.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – one of many skeins arriving today

Loud yelping calls overhead alerted us to a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flying past high above us. They were to be a feature of the day today, with groups passing overhead at regular intervals all morning and still to a lesser extent during the afternoon. The Pink-footed Geese are just arriving back for the winter here, after spending the breeding season up in Iceland. Small numbers have been seen over the last few days but this was the first day with a really large number of geese coming in. Impressive stuff, migration in action.

There were hirundines on the move today too. We saw several small groups of Swallows and House Martins making their way west as we walked from the harbour and out along the seawall.

We stopped at the corner to look out across the harbour. There were several waders down in the channel, mostly Redshanks and several more Bar-tailed Godwits. We had a good look at them in the scope. Further over, we picked up a little group of Black-tailed Godwits bathing in the water. An obliging Curlew was feeding on the mud just below the seawall.

CurlewCurlew – feeding on the mud just below the seawall

A Marsh Harrier was out quartering the saltmarsh. It flew in from the direction of Titchwell, across the harbour and on towards Holme. As it passed over, it flushed lots of birds out of the vegetation below. Lots of waders flew up calling, Redshanks and Curlews, a couple of Little Egrets appeared out of the muddy channels, and a big flock of Linnets circled up above it.

Continuing on along the seawall, we spotted another Wheatear further up perched on a fence post. It kept dropping down onto the grassy bank and then returning to another post, gradually working its way towards us. At one point, it found a caterpillar. It took it back to a fence post, then dropped down into the grass to deal with it. When the Wheatear returned to the fence, it was now very close to us and we had a great look at it through the scope before it flew past and landed again behind us.

WheatearWheatear – 1 of 2 along the fence along the sea wall at Thornham

There were lots of Meadow Pipits down in the grass, but they were very hard to see until they flew. Suddenly they all took off and flew off towards Holme and we could see just how many had been there. Four Skylarks flew in and landed briefly, but were swiftly off again, over the seawall, and disappeared out over the saltmarsh. A little further on, we found another Skylark down in the grass closer to us. It was a young bird – we could see it still had several retained juvenile feathers – but unfortunately it seemed to be suffering with an injured leg, as it was hopping unsteadily through the grass.

With the rain still holding off, we decided to continue on towards the beach. There were lots of Coot out on Broadwater, and three Gadwall in with them. A family of Mute Swans appeared from behind the reeds. Much further over, towards The Firs, we could also see several Little Grebes. A small group of Wigeon flew in and circled over the water before continuing on west, possibly new arrivals.

The calls of several Long-tailed Tits alerted us to an approaching tit flock. They flew towards us from the direction of the dunes and landed in a lone elder bush just in front of the reeds. For a couple of seconds, the small bush was packed with birds – as well as the Long-tailed Tits, we could see several Blue Tits, a Coal Tit and a single Chiffchaff with them. But they didn’t linger here and quickly turned and flew back towards the dunes.

From up in the dunes, we had a quick look out to sea. A single adult Gannet flew past. One of the group picked up a lone duck out on the sea and through the scope we could see it was a moulting Eider, a 1st summer male. Further over, towards the mouth of the Wash, a long line of black dots was a large raft of Common Scoter, but they were too far away to make out much detail even with the scope.

As we made our way back to the car, we were caught by a shower. Thankfully it was not too heavy and the wind was at our backs now. It passed over quickly, before we got back to the car. As we crossed the sluice, the Greenshank flew in and landed briefly, before being spooked by our approach and disappearing off again.

It started to spit with rain again when we got to Titchwell, so we decided to have an early lunch and hope it passed over. It was the right thing to do, because it rained for most of the time we were eating, sheltering under the umbrellas on the tables outside the visitor centre. When it stopped, we got ready to head out onto the reserve. A quick look at the feeders added Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Great Tit to the day’s list. We didn’t get far along the path before the heavens opened, so we beat a retreat back to the visitor centre. This rain was mercifully brief and it had already started to ease off when we got back. Once it had stopped, we set off to have another go.

Thornham grazing marsh and the reedbed were rather quiet today. There were quite a few Lapwing on the saltmarsh pool. A small flock of Golden Plover circled over. A Little Egret flew in and landed at the back of the saltmarsh pool. We heard a Bearded Tit call from the reeds but it was too windy to see it out there today. We hurried on to Island Hide to get out of the wind.

RuffRuff – still lots feeding on the freshmarsh

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud right in front of the hide when we arrived. Most were adults, in grey and white non-breeding plumage now. Looking through them, we found a few browner juveniles too. Looking at the males and females side by side, we could see the big size difference between them.

Dunlin numbers have increased recently and there were about 50 on the freshmarsh today. The three Little Stints were very distant at first, but when something spooked all the waders they flew round and landed again much closer. Through the scope, we could see them feeding with Dunlin, giving us a much better impression of just how ‘little’ they really are. There were a few Ringed Plover on the grassy islands too.

The number of Avocet here has really dropped now as most have left for the winter. There were still seven on the freshmarsh, although they were quite a long way back at first. Thankfully when all the waders flushed, they came much closer too. The Black-tailed Godwits on the freshmarsh were all distant too, but there were some Bar-tailed Godwits roosting a little nearer. One of them in particular was still sporting rather rusty-coloured underparts, still moulting out of breeding plumage.

A shout from someone round the other side of the hide kindly alerted us to a Bearded Tit, which was feeding low down along the edge of the reeds. There had been no sign of any Bearded Tits when we arrived and, given the wind, we thought we might struggle to see one today. We had a good look at it through the scope as it hopped around on the mud, in and out of the base of the reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – feeding on the mud opposite Island Hide

We could see that the Little Stints were now closer to the main path, so while it was dry outside, we decided to make our way round to Parrinder Hide. On the way, we stopped to admire the Little Stints and found that they were right next to the path. We had a great view of them just below us, feeding on the edge of one of the muddy islands. They really are tiny – amazing to think that they are on their way from the arctic down to Africa for the winter, stopping here to refuel.

All three Little Stints were juveniles. We could see the prominent pale ‘braces’ on their mantles. There was noticeable variation between them, seeing the side by side and so close to us. One was more richly coloured, rusty and orange, and one was rather greyer than the other two.

Little StintLittle Stint – 1 of the 3 juveniles, showing well, right by the main path

Tearing ourselves away from the Little Stints, we headed round to Parrinder Hide. One of the first birds we saw from here was a juvenile Spotted Redshank just in front of the hide, presumably the same bird we saw here a couple of days ago. It was with a Common Redshank, giving us a great opportunity to look at the differences between the two. The Spotted Redshank had a noticeably longer and finer bill, a much bolder white supercilium and more extensive pale spots on the wings.

The juvenile Spotted Redshank was feeding in a shallow pool in the wet mud, mostly picking at the surface as it walked around, though it did briefly do some rapid sweeping side to side with its bill in the water. While we were watching it, we also picked up an adult Spotted Redshank further over. In winter plumage, the adult was noticeably paler, with silvery grey upperparts and whiter underparts, paler than the Common Redshank too.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – the juvenile, just in front of Parrinder Hide again

There were more Ruff here and we had a better view of the Black-tailed Godwits, noting their plain grey backs compared to the more obviously streaked backs of the Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier. A single Common Snipe was feeding in the grass on the edge of the island just inside the fence.

The gulls on the freshmarsh are mostly Black-headed Gulls at the moment. From round at Island Hide earlier, we had found a Mediterranean Gull with them at one point. A winter adult, we were admiring its pure white wing tips when it took off and flew away over the reeds. From Parrinder Hide, we spotted an adult Yellow-legged Gull on one of the islands. Through the scope, we could see its custard yellow legs and grey mantle a shade darker than the Black-headed Gulls it was with. There was also a single Lesser Black-backed Gull and later a few Herring Gulls flew in to bathe, and three young Common Gulls dropped in too.

Most of the male ducks are in duller eclipse plumage at the moment, but some of the resident birds are starting to emerge already. There were a couple of pairs of Gadwall in front of Parrinder Hide, the drakes already in their rather smartly patterned grey and black plumage. A real connoisseur’s duck! There were also lots of Teal on the freshmarsh, a few Wigeon and Shoveler and some Shelduck, but no sign of the Garganey which had been here earlier.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

With the weather having brightened up a little, we made our way out to the beach. There were some nice close Black-tailed Godwits right by the path at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, which gave us some great views. The water was high in the channel as the tide was just going out, but right at the back, we could see a single Grey Plover on the edge of the mud. It had already largely moulted to winter plumage, with just a few scattered black feathers in its underparts still.

There were several Little Grebes down towards the back of the Tidal Pools today, presumably moved back in for the winter now. There were more waders on here too, more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks at first, then further along towards the beach, we could see a line of roosting birds out on one of the spits. Through the scope, we could see there were several Grey Plover, including one stunning bird still mostly in breeding plumage, with black face and belly. Nearby were a couple of Turnstones and further back, in the vegetation, were two Bar-tailed Godwits.

Grey PloverGrey Plover – stunning still mostly in breeding plumage

Out at the beach, the tide was in. The wind had picked up this afternoon and swung more to the north, which meant the sea was very choppy now and it was hard to see anything out on the waves. Despite the increase in the wind, there didn’t seem to be much moving offshore. There were a few waders out on the beach towards Brancaster, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers but running in and out between their legs, like clockwork toys, were several Sanderling too.

It was rather exposed out on the beach so, with time running out, we decided to start to walk back. Two white shapes flew up out of the saltmarsh way off towards Thornham as we walked – a Spoonbill and a Little Egret together. For a moment, it looked like the Spoonbill might fly over in our direction but unfortunately it quickly dropped down again out of view. Two Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over Thornham grazing marsh and made their way over the trees, presumably heading off to roost.

There were not many insects or other subjects of non-ornithological interest today, perhaps not a surprise given the weather (it was not the sort of day for butterflies or dragonflies!), but on the way back, two things worthy of note did put in an appearance. First, a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle ran across the path. Then, almost back to the trees, we almost trod on a young Smooth Newt on the path.

Smooth NewtSmooth Newt – we nearly trod on this on the path on the way back

Then it was back to the car and time to head for home.

12th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 1

A Private Tour today, the first of two days. It was a lovely bright day, sunny at times, although with a nagging and blustery westerly wind. We headed up into north-west Norfolk for the day.

With a big high tide expected this morning, we headed up to Snettisham. It was not going to be big enough to force all the waders off the Wash today, but it should have been enough to concentrate them into the last corner of mud.

When we arrived, the tide was already coming in fast. We stopped to scan the mud and could immediately see a large mob of Oystercatchers gathered ahead of the rising water, a big black smear across the grey mud. The smear was moving too, flowing, as the birds walked en masse, steadily and sedately away from the incoming water.

Oystercatchers 1Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud ahead of the rising tide

Further over, we could see a scattering of paler grey dots. Through the scope we could see they were Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Most of the Knot were further down the Wash today, in the next bay round, but we could see them from time to time when they took off and whirled round, thousands and thousands of them.

Some smaller waders were taking advantage of the remaining mud to feed. There were plenty of Dunlin and Ringed Plover in front of all the Oystercatchers. A couple of Turnstone and a lone Knot flew in and landed on the mud down in front of us, on the nearside of the channel. The Knot tried to go to sleep, but with the tide still rising it wasn’t long before they were all pushed off again. A small party of Golden Plover flew past.

We continued on down the path, trying to keep ahead of the tide. A line of Bar-tailed Godwits were standing in the water close to the Oystercatchers. Through the scope, we could see that some were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage. Some of the Grey Plover further over were also still looking smart, with black faces and bellies still, not yet moulted into their drabber grey winter plumage.

Several Common Terns flew past, in and out of the pits behind us, calling. Two Sandwich Terns were flying around over the water and landed on the shore in with the Oystercatchers. Through the scope, we could see the yellow tip to the black bill of the adult Sandwich Tern.

A raft of ducks had gathered on the water at the mouth of the channel, swimming in with the tide. Most of them were Mallard, but in with them we could see a couple of Wigeon. A single Pintail flew in and landed with them too. Three Teal flew off.

With the time getting on towards high tide, it quickly became clear that the tide would not rise as high as predicted today. The blustery wind was holding back the water. Something flushed the Knot, possibly they were just jumpy in the wind, but they landed back down where they had come from and didn’t come round onto the bay in front of us today. More Oystercatchers were trying to roost further north, along the seawall, but were disturbed. A couple more huge flocks of them flew in and landed down on the mud with the ones already in front of us. The Curlew had already retreated to the edge of the saltmarsh and gone to sleep.

Oystercatchers 2Oystercatchers – flying into join the others on the mud

As the tide went slack, we could see a couple of Marsh Harriers out over the saltmarsh. They flushed a couple of Greenshanks which flew round in front of us. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. We turned and headed into Shore Hide to look at the pits.

There were loads of geese on the pits today, mostly Greylags, but in with them we could see a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese too. They had taken up occupation of many of the islands. In between them, we could see several Common Terns. They were mostly juveniles, particularly the three or four in front of the hide. An adult flew in to join them carrying a fish, but none of the youngsters seemed to show any particular interest in being fed.

With most of the waders staying out on the Wash today, there were not so many out on the islands in the pit. Just one of the islands had any waders on it and that one was jam-packed, mostly with Black-tailed Godwits. Around the edge were the Common Redshanks and in between the godwits we could just make out some Knot wedged in too.

There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here and they were roosting in their usual place, out in the middle of the water. They were hard to see at first among all the Greylags, but eventually the melee cleared enough for us to see that there were 14 Spotted Redshanks, mostly silvery grey and white winter adults. One bird still had significant remnants of breeding plumage, being heavily specked with black below. There were also several dusky juveniles.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – some of the 14 roosting on the pit today

Having had a good look round the pit, we decided to head back to the car. As we walked along the path, something spooked all the birds on the pit. It may have just been just the Greylag Geese taking off to head to the fields to feed at first, but once they took to the air calling noisily, everything else followed.

All the waders which had been packed in on the island took off. Several big flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot flew up and headed back towards the Wash, passing low over our heads as they did so. All we could hear was the beating of the Knots’ wings as they came over us. The Black-tailed Godwits were not beating their wings as quickly and did not produce the same effect.

WadersBlack-tailed Godwits & Knot – flying back to the Wash

Our next destination was Titchwell. When we got round there, we thought we might not be able to park at first, the car parks were full to bursting. In the end, we found a single space along the entrance road.  Unbelievably busy for a midweek day out of high season! As we got out of the car, a tit flock was feeding in the trees by the road, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits. We could hear a Coal Tit and a Treecreeper calling and a Chiffchaff was singing half-heartedly. A Goldcrest flitted around in a hawthorn just in front of us.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – in the trees along the entrance road

Over an early lunch at the visitor centre, a Common Buzzard circled lazily overhead. After lunch, a quick look at the feeders produced a few Chaffinches and a single Greenfinch, as well as a few more tits. Then we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we passed the grazing marsh on the Thornham side, a Kestrel was hovering out over the grass. A Marsh Harrier circled distantly out across the saltmarsh. Passing the reedbed, we heard Bearded Tits calling close to the path but they were keeping well tucked down out of the wind today. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover too.

There were just a few Mallard on the reedbed pool today, and a single Teal appeared at the front. A Curlew was out on the saltmarsh opposite.

CurlewCurlew – out on the saltmarsh

From the shelter of Island Hide, we stopped to scan the freshmarsh. There are still lots of Ruff here, one of the most confusing of the waders. The adults are now in winter plumage, whitish below and grey brown above. The darker juveniles come in a range of buffs, browns and tawnies and look rather different to the grown-ups. With the males and females side by side, we could see the big size difference between the two, which just adds to the confusion.

RuffRuff – a buff/brown juvenile

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings in the deeper water over towards the reeds. Most of the Avocets have departed now, gone south for the winter, but we found a small number still lingering here. Two juvenile Little Stints had been reported earlier and it didn’t take us long to find them, feeding around the edge of one of the muddy islands out in the middle. They looked tiny next to the Black-headed Gulls. A juvenile Spotted Redshank dropped in briefly nearby.

While we were looking through the waders, we could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically. We kept looking over and scanning the edge of the reeds. One of the group went over and camped down in that end of the hide, and was eventually rewarded with a brief view of one down in the base of the reeds. Unfortunately, it had gone back in by the time the rest of us got over there. It really was a bit too windy here today, even the normally sheltered edge of the reeds was being caught by the wind.

As we walked round to Parrinder Hide along the main path, we had another scan of the freshmarsh and realised the Little Stints were much closer now to here. We stopped to look at them and through the scope we could see their prominent pale mantle lines or ‘braces’. They are on their way from the arctic tundra, where they were born, to the Mediterranean or Africa for the winter, stopping off here to feed on the way.

Little StintsLittle Stints – the two juveniles out on the freshmarsh today

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we saw several Lapwings fly up and circle round before dropping back down into the vegetation further over. We realised there were quite a few Golden Plover out there too, but they were extremely well camouflaged against the golds and oranges of the saltmarsh plants. When we got them in the scope, they were easier to pick out.

From Parrinder Hide, there were several more Golden Plovers out on the islands amongst the sleeping ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon. We got one of the Golden Plovers in the scope so we could get a better look at it, admiring its gold spangled upperparts. A flock of Golden Plover then appeared overhead, calling plaintively. They dropped down to join the others on the freshmarsh, possibly some of the ones we had seen out on the saltmarsh earlier.

Golden PloverGolden Plover – several were out on the islands in the freshmarsh

A sharp ‘tchuit’ call alerted us to an incoming Spotted Redshank, which dropped down into the water just to the left of the hide. A juvenile, presumably the one we had seen earlier, it started to feed close to the hide, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the deeper water as it walked round in circles. We got a great look at it, its needle fine bill, neat white supercilium and rather dusky grey overall plumage, speckled with pale on the back and wings.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this juvenile showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

A quick look through the gulls from this side, produced nothing but Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls at first. Then we picked up a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull on one of the islands further over. We could see its custard-yellow legs and slightly darker upperparts compared to the Black-headed Gulls next to it.

While the weather was good, we decided to head out to the beach next. There was not much on the Volunteer Marsh at first, until we got almost to the bank at the far end and looked down along the channel. There were quite a few waders out on the muddy banks, mostly more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. However there were three Grey Plover too and one was still in pretty much full breeding plumage, with black face and belly and white spangled upperparts. It looked stunning. The other two were already in much greyer winter plumage.

A Greenshank flew up from the freshmarsh behind us, calling, and flew off across the path and out towards Thornham Harbour. The tidal pools were rather quite, except for a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a single young Great Crested Grebe which was swimming in circles with its stripey head mostly down in the water, trying to spot potential prey.

Out at the beach, the tide was still going out. There were a few waders out on the mussel bed, mostly Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, with a few Turnstones in with them. There were lots of Herring Gulls out here too. Scanning the sea, we picked up a female Common Scoter just offshore and a couple more Great Crested Grebes. Two Gannets flew past further out, as did a single Sandwich Tern. We couldn’t see anything else immediately offshore, and with some dark clouds behind us, we decided to head back.

As we walked back past the tidal pools, we heard a Whimbrel calling in the distance. We scanned and picked up two Whimbrel flying towards us, and they eventually came almost over our heads before continuing on west without stopping. A very obliging Black-tailed Godwit was feeding by the path as we passed.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding by the path on the tidal pools

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped for a quick scan again. There were more Black-headed Gulls here now and in amongst them we found a single 1st winter Mediterranean Gull, which proceeded to sit down and go to sleep. A single Dunlin had appeared and was feeding with the two Little Stints now, giving a great size comparison and again highlighting just how small the Little Stints are.

After a sit down and a cup of tea back at the visitor centre, we made our way back to the car. On the way home, we headed inland round via Choseley. Pulling up alongside the drying barns, all looked very quiet, so we carried on inland.

A flock of Goldfinches on the wires was the first thing of note we came across. A little further on, another bigger flock of birds on the wires were Linnets. We pulled up to take a quick look and noticed a few birds around the puddles in the edge of the field the other side of the road. They flew up into the hedge and we picked up first a Yellowhammer then a larger bird in the top of the bush above it. It was a single Corn Bunting, a real bonus. It was then joined by a Reed Bunting too.

The last bird of note was a Sparrowhawk which we disturbed from the road. It flew off low ahead of us, less than a foot above the tarmac, for some way until it found a gap in the hedge and disappeared. A nice end to the first day, lets hope for more tomorrow.

26th July 2017 – Wader Wonderland

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was cloudy most of the day, but we didn’t really get the rain we had been forecast earlier in the week, just a few spits and spots late morning or early afternoon, barely enough to notice.

After an early start, we made our way across towards the Wash in good time to catch the rising tide. On our way, a Red Kite circled over beside the road and a couple of Red-legged Partridges seemed to be hell bent on destruction, playing chicken in the road.

Making our way down to the edge of the Wash, we stopped first as soon as we got up on the seawall. The tide was coming in but there was still a lot of exposed mud. The waders were gathering, but they were still quite spread out, a large black slick of Oystercatchers and, much further out, an enormous mass of Knot and others.

On the tip of the mud on the far side of the channel, we could see a gathering of terns, large Sandwich Terns with a yellow-tipped black bill, medium-sized Common Terns with a black-tipped orange-red bill and a few much smaller Little Terns, with a black-tipped yellow-bill and white forehead. But the tide was coming in fast and they couldn’t really settle, being continually pushed  in by the rising water. Several Shelducks were feeding in the shallow water, just off the mud and two or three Little Egrets were already pushed off by the rising tide and flew over the seawall to the pits.

Little Stint 1Spot the Little Stint – with Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Dunlin

A steady stream of smaller waders were taking advantage of the last of the mud to feed along the near edge below the seawall. There were lots of black-bellied Dunlin, together with a selection of Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. A Grey Plover put in a brief appearance with them too. A tiny Little Stint appeared with them, lingering on the mud just long enough for us to get the scope on it and everyone to get a good look. A moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its rusty red underparts now spotted with white, dropped in briefly on the other side of the channel.

The tide was coming in fast now, pushing all the waders ahead of it, so we moved further up along the seawall and stopped for another scan. The large mass of waders further out on the mud was being pushed further and further in too. The Oystercatchers were walking, like an amorphous blob flowing across the mud, but some of the Knot would periodically fly up and round, before landing again further in.

Wader Spectacular 1Knot – whirling round before landed on the mud further up

The Redshank gave up the battle early, flying off the Wash and onto the pits to roost. They streamed past in groups and a loud ‘tchweet’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank flying in with them. A large number of the Dunlin flew in to the pits too. There were lots of godwits further out on the mud but a lone Bar-tailed Godwit appeared on the near edge, stopping to bathe in a small pool, and a Black-tailed Godwit was nearby on the edge of the main channel.

Wader Spectacular 2Waders – progressively concentrated onto the remaining corner of mud

The Oystercatchers, Knot, godwits and Curlews were progressively concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud, tens of thousands of waders packed in shoulder to shoulder. The Oystercatchers threw in the towel first, peeling off in lines and flying in past us, calling noisily.

Wader Spectacular 3Knot – erupting from the Wash as the last mud is covered with water

The Knot waited until the last moment, until it almost seemed like they wouldn’t come in at all, but we could see they were up to their bellies in the water. There was no exposed mud left for them. Finally they erupted into thick clouds and flew towards us in waves. As the first wave came in, as we could hear the beating of thousands upon thousands of wings coming over us, a mobile phone started to ring noisily nearby and drowned out the sound, annoying. Thankfully a second wave came in shortly after and we got to appreciate the full experience, looking up at all the birds as they flew low overhead, listening to the whirring of wings.

Wader Spectacular 4Knot – thousands came flying in over our heads in vast flocks

We turned to watch the flocks of Knot starting to drop down into the pits behind us. While lines of them streamed down, thousands circled over nervously, waiting their turn. There didn’t seem to be enough room for all of them today, as a couple of large flocks circled back out over the Wash.

As the sky cleared of birds, we made our way over to Shore Hide. The water level on the pits is rather high at moment, so the islands are smaller than they often are. A couple of them were completely coated in waders, mainly Knot, the ones around the edge pushed into the edge of the water. A lot of the Knot are still in their bright orange summer plumage at the moment, but others are already in grey winter plumage.

KnotKnot – packed in tightly onto the islands on the pits

Looking more closely, it was possible to see other birds in with them. A single Avocet and one Oystercatcher stood above the hordes but looked trapped, surrounded. There were several Common Terns in there too, surprisingly hard to see in the throng. The black bellies of the smaller Dunlin stood out, particularly as they gathered around the edges.

As the mass of waders on the island shuffled and shifted, a Curlew Sandpiper appeared close to the edge briefly, with the Dunlin. We had a good look at it in the scope before in shuffled back into the throng of Knot behind. A Little Stint was playing hard to spot until a Moorhen spooked the waders on the island and several of them flew round. The Little Stint appeared right on the front of the island, but was still hard to see, running in and out of the legs of the roosting Knot.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – spot the odd one out, in with the Knot and Dunlin

The waders tend to largely sort themselves by species or relatives on the pits when they roost. The Oystercatchers were gathered mostly to the south of us on the bank of the pit. There were not so many godwits on here today – they had possibly gone on to the fields to roost instead.

There were some large groups of Redshank over by the far bank and other out in the middle. We took a closer look at the latter and found it was actually a mixture of Common and Spotted Redshanks. There were at least 17 Spotted Redshanks in the flock, mostly asleep. They were all adults and had to a greater or lesser degree moulted out of summer plumage – some had their black underparts extensively flecked with white now, but others were already predominantly in silvery grey winter plumage.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – four of the seventeen, with three Common Redshanks

There were lots of geese around the far bank, Greylags and Egyptian Geese. Looking across, we could see two smaller birds running around on the grass between them, two Common Sandpipers. A lone Tufted Duck was diving out in the middle of the water.

Round at the viewing screen at the south ends of the pit, we found yet more small waders packed tightly onto the islands, more Dunlin here and slightly fewer Knot. There were just a few Dunlin sleeping along the water’s edge to the left of the hide, and another Little Stint was with them. Out in the open, we got great views of it through the scope as it ran up and down, feeding actively.

Little StintLittle Stint – great views from at the south end of the pits

We turned our attention to the Dunlin and we were just checking through them to see if there was something more interesting hiding in with them when they started to shuffle and then all started to take off. A Moorhen ran right across the middle of the island, and spooked all the waders. Everything flew off. A few started to drift back in, landing on some of the other islands or the edge of the pit further back, but most headed back out towards the Wash.

The Knot back in front of Shore Hide were showing no signs of shifting, but we headed back out to the edge Wash anyway. The tide was already retreating fast and quite a bit of mud had been exposed. There were already quite a few Knot and other waders out on the Wash, but they were already quite distant. A couple of seals zipped past in the muddy channel at the front, carried out by the fast flowing water. A young Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of gulls and terns out on the mud too. We were just looking through them when a local birder came over and kindly alerted us to a Black Tern which was in with them. We were very thankful he did, as the Black Tern was completely hidden behind a couple of Common Terns at that stage. Eventually it shuffled forwards and we could see it properly – it was a moulting adult, still largely black but with extensive white feathering around the face.

Some small groups of Dunlin started to fly across from the pits and low out across the mud, but there was no sign of the rest of the Knot moving. It started to spit with rain so we decided to head back to the car. On the way, someone pointed out two Little Stints not far out on the mud, which we stopped to look at briefly. Hard to tell whether these were the birds we saw on the pits or different ones. As we walked along the path, several small groups of Common Swift flew low overhead, on their way south already. It felt like Summer was over already.

The rest of the day was to be spent round at Titchwell. We still had an hour or so before lunch when we got there, so we decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. The feeders by the visitor centre added a few common species to the list for the day – Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. A juvenile Robin was picking around for crumbs under the picnic tables.

At this time of year the male ducks are all in dull eclipse plumage, moulting. We picked out a few Shoveler and Gadwall amongst the Mallard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving out on the water. There were several Little Grebes scattered around the pool and a single stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe too. A Sedge Warbler zipped back and forth low over the water between the clumps of reeds and a Reed Warbler was flycatching from the bottom of the bulrushes down at the front.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed behind, dark chocolate brown with a pale golden head. There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds and swooping low over the water, mainly House Martins but with a few Sand Martins in with them. Then it was lunch time, so we headed back to the picnic area.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a juvenile circled over the reedbed

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was cool and windy now, and spitting with rain. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but all we saw was a quick shape skim over the tops and drop in out of view. We headed for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud in front of the hide. They have returned from their tundra breeding grounds and are already moulting rapidly to winter plumage. Some still have lots of brightly coloured feathers but others have more scattered summer feathers remaining and are getting increasingly grey brown. Needless to say, it is a confusing mix for the unwary, particularly with an increasing number of smaller females coming back too now.

RuffRuff – moulting rapidly to winter plumage now

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide too and more further back in the deeper water. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the freshmarsh – a smart summer male, with deep rusty underparts continuing right down under the tail. With the tide out now, the other Bar-tailed Godwits would be out on the beach.

There is no shortage of Avocets here at the moment, with the breeding birds and brown-backed juveniles joined by more birds which have gathered here to moult. Several were feeding in front of the hide, giving us a chance to watch their distinctive feeding action, sweeping their bills from side to side through the top of the mud.

AvocetAvocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were fewer other waders on here today. Perhaps some were out on the beach too, but it felt like a few had moved on overnight. There were a few Spotted Redshanks and we got a better look at them here compared to at Snettisham. They were feeding actively here, so we could see their distinctive needle-fine bills, longer than a Common Redshank’s. A small group of Golden Plover were on one of the islands over towards Parrinder Hide, still bearing their black summer bellies.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – showing off its needle-fine bill

There are lots of gulls on here at the moment, mostly Black-headed Gulls, adults and recently fledged juveniles. We could see a couple of Mediterranean Gulls over the far side too, and got an adult in the scope. It had already moulted largely to winter plumage, with a mostly white head with black bandit mask, but still sporting a heavier, brighter red bill than the Black-headed Gulls and pure white wing tips. A Little Gull appeared too, looking very small next to a Black-headed Gull. It was a young one, a first summer – there have been a few hanging around here for several weeks now.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling, we looked across to the reedbed to see a single bird fly in and land in the top of the reeds right on the edge. It dropped down and we could see it working its was along the bottom of the reeds at the start of the open mud. It disappeared deeper in, but the next time we looked over there were five Bearded Tits in the base of the reeds. They were all tawny brown juveniles. At one point they came right out onto the mud, where we could get a really good look at them.

Bearded Tits

Round at Parrinder Hide, the birds were much the same as we had seen from Island Hide, but we got closer views of the gulls in particular. There were several more Mediterranean Gulls visible from this side, adults in different stages of moult, with white-speckled black heads and several juveniles, with scaly grey-brown upperparts. A second Little Gull, also a young 1st summer bird, had appeared on one of the islands, this one with much more obvious black feathers on its wings.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – a scaly-backed juvenile

A lone Knot had dropped in onto the freshmarsh now, still in orange summer plumage. It was a bit of a contrast to see it on its own here, after seeing tens of thousands of Knot in vast flocks at Snettisham earlier. A single Common Snipe was the only addition to the day’s list here, feeding in amongst the vegetated islands out to the left of the hide.

There was some darker cloud some distance away over the ridge, but it was a bit brighter at the moment, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. The tide was out but there were quite a few people walking around over the mussel beds which meant there were not many waders feeding out here today. There were quite a few more Bar-tailed Godwits, as predicted, and Oystercatchers, but nothing else of note. The sea was quite calm and their were lots of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

On the way back from the beach, we could see five large white shapes out on the saltmarsh, in the distance out towards Thornham Harbour. Through the scope we could see they were Spoonbills – not the best view at that range though. One did take off and fly towards us, but only got halfway across the saltmarsh before dropping down again behind the concrete bunker, presumably to feed in one of the muddy channels.

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped to admire a Spotted Redshank which was feeding close to the path now. One of the Little Gulls was also on one of the muddy islands just below the bank. It had stopped to preen but was disturbed by a Moorhen which walked towards it – it seemed to be a bit of a theme today!

Little GullLittle Gull – a 1st summer on the freshmarsh

It had been an early start and it was now time to head back to the car. There were still a few last birds to add to the list for the day though. As we drove round and out of the car park, a Bullfinch flew across in front of us and disappeared into the bushes the other side. A Song Thrush flicked up from the corner and perched in a small elder tree. Then it was time to head for home.

2nd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a sunny start to the day, hot and humid. While we didn’t see any of the forecast thunder storms this afternoon, we did have some cloud and some rather patchy light rain late on, certainly not enough to really hinder us overly though.

The start of the day saw us heading inland to explore some farmland. We found somewhere to park by a convenient track and as we got out of the car, a Blackcap was singing from the willows nearby. A Reed Warbler was a bit more of a surprise here, singing from the same area as the Blackcap. It was not really classic Reed Warbler territory, but they do sometimes turn up in different habitat. A smart male Yellowhammer was perched up on the wires.

As we walked up the track, there were lots of finches which came out of the hedges and flew up to the wires. They were mostly Linnets, including a fine red-breasted male, plus a few Goldfinches and a single Greenfinch. A Lesser Whitethroat started singing from deep in the hedge, a little warble followed by a dry rattle, and eventually we got a couple of glimpses of it as it flew off back the way we had come. A Common Whitethroat was calling along here as well.

The surprise here was a Marsh Harrier which we flushed out of the hedge ahead of us. It came flapping out across the track, heading out over the field the other side before circling over us. It looked like it was probably a young bird from last year, so presumably just wandering round the area.

Marsh Harrier 1Marsh Harrier – flushed out of the hedge ahead of us

A Red-legged Partridge ran off along the track ahead of us. Another Yellowhammer started singing from the top of the hedge. Then we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits which made their way quickly passed us along the line of bushes before flying up into some trees nearby. We could hear a Goldcrest singing too.

At the top of the hill, we stopped at a convenient gap in the hedge to scan over the fields. There were quite a few raptors on view now. A Kestrel was perched on a post. As the air began to heat up, several Common Buzzards started to circle up in the distance. A couple of Brown Hares were sitting opposite each other across a large open field, but they didn’t seem inclined to engage in any boxing today.

As we started to make our way back to the car, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling. It flew across the track behind us, out across the field, and after a few seconds flew back across the track in front of us. Yellow Wagtails used to be fairly common breeding birds in Norfolk but have declined alarmingly in recent years. A very few pairs still cling on in north Norfolk, breeding in farmland.

There were a few butterflies out this morning. A Speckled Wood was particularly accommodating, perching nicely in the sunshine on some ivy for a minute or so, for the photographers in the group.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – perched nicely in the sunshine for us

Our destination for the afternoon was to be Titchwell. As we drove back round and down towards the coast, we found several Red Kites out hunting now over the fields beside the road.

The main car park at Titchwell was full when we arrived, so we had to park in the overflow area. Even here, there were already quite a few cars and people. We had hoped to find one of the Turtle Doves here, but it was probably too disturbed. We stopped to watch a family of Long-tailed Tits. One of the youngsters perched out in the open, frozen in an odd pose, for some time. It seemed to be sunning itself! While we were watching it, we heard something hit one of the cars nearby and turned to see a Cetti’s Warbler flying off. It seemed to be unaffected by its collision and started singing again as soon as it got back into cover.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – this juvenile appeared to be sunning itself

There were also a few dragonflies on the brambles in the car park – a Four-spotted Chaser, Blue-tailed Damselfly and Azure Damselfly.

Four-spotted ChaserFour-spotted Chaser – on the brambles in the car park

We had a look out at the field beyond the gate at the far end, but there was no sign of the Turtle Doves here either today. There were quite a few Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Oystercatchers, plus plenty of the ubiquitous Woodpigeons!

Before heading out to explore the reserve, we decided to have an early lunch. Afterwards, we made our way over to the visitor centre and then on up the main path. When we got to the reedbed, we could hear Reed Warblers singing and had nice views of a couple as they clambered around at the base of the reeds by one of the small pools. There were Sedge Warblers here too and we stopped to compare the two songs. Another Cetti’s Warbler showed itself briefly in the small sallows nearby a couple of times.

The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ is still dry and fairly devoid of life – apart from lots of Woodpigeons and a single Little Egret in the ditch along the edge. There was more to see on the reedbed pool. In the back corner, we could see three drake Red-crested Pochards and we had a good look at them through the scope. A Little Grebe was diving in one of the reedbed channels nearby, until it was chased off by a Coot.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but at first the fleeting glimpses as they zoomed off over the reeds meant they were too fast for everyone to get onto. We noticed that several were flitting back and forth across the channel in the reeds, so eventually everyone at least got flight views.

There were lots of Black-headed Gulls flycatching over the reeds or the water and a single Common Tern was hovering over the reedbed pool. While we stood scanning the reeds, we heard a Mediterranean Gull calling and turned to see it flying off inland. After that, there was a steady stream of Mediterranean Gulls flying in and out of the freshmarsh in ones and twos, all adults with jet black hoods and white wing tips, their distinctive call giving them away every time.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – several were coming and going from the freshmarsh

While we were standing by the reedbed, we could hear a Marsh Harrier calling. We looked up to see a tiny dot, high in the sky against the clouds. It was a male and it was displaying. We were treated to a spectacular sky dance, as it tumbled, somersaulted, looped-the-loop, twisted and turned. It gradually lost height as it made each loop and eventually dropped like a stone into a bush in the reedbed.

It was nice to get into Island Hide and out of the sun today. There was a nice selection of waders out on the freshmarsh. As well as the numerous Avocets (and quite a few Avocet chicks), there was a nice crowd of Bar-tailed Godwits roosting in the water, and a number of Black-tailed Godwits asleep on the island nearby. A single Black-tailed Godwit helpfully joined the Bar-taileds to allow us to get a side-by-side comparison.

AvocetAvocet – lots on the freshmarsh, this one colour-ringed

There was a single Ruff on the nearest island, a bright rufous necked male though with no ruff yet, together with a few Redshanks. The Little Stint was lurking on the back of the island where it was hard enough to see anyway, let alone when it was hiding behind all the birds legs in front! We eventually got a good look at it through the scope. A Little Ringed Plover was less helpful, and flew off before we could all see it.

While we were carefully looking through the waders, someone else in the hide quiet announced ‘Spoonbill‘ and we looked over to see a very large white bird in the water next to all the godwits. Surely we couldn’t have missed that? We confirmed that it had in fact just dropped in. We had a great look at it through the scope, it was an immature Spoonbill, with extensively fleshy-coloured bill, presumably one of last year’s brood. It preened for a while, before starting to feed, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – this immature dropped into the freshmarsh

A single Little Tern was resting on the island over towards Parrinder Hide and more Common Terns were scattered around the Freshmarsh. A couple more Mediterranean Gulls appeared on the edge of the fenced off ‘gull island’. A Little Gull had been reported from here over the last couple of days and after a careful scan we found what we presumed was that bird over towards Parrinder Hide, asleep. It was a first summer Little Gull, but quite advanced, with quite an extensively black head.

Then when we scanned back towards the bank, we found another Little Gull on the water over there, this one with a mostly pale winter-type head. We made our way out of the hide and up onto the main path, where we could get much better close views of this second Little Gull.

Little GullLittle Gull – one of two 1st summers on the Freshmarsh today

There were some ominous dark clouds now starting to gather to the south, so we headed round to Parrinder Hide next. The birds were much the same as we had seen from the other side, apart from a drake Common Pochard and a pair of Egyptian Geese in the fenced off island. One of the group picked up a family party of five Bearded Tits working their way along the base of the reeds right over the other side of the Freshmarsh – through the scope, we got slightly better views than we had earlier of them in flight.

We did also get a slightly better view of the three main ‘Littles’ from here – the Little Stint, the Little Tern and the darker headed of the two first summer Little Gulls. They all looked suitably diminutive next to their larger cousins, in particular the Little Stint was dwarfed by anything it stood close to. At one point it was chased off by an agressive Black-tailed Godwit.

Little StintLittle Stint – looking really tiny next to the Black-headed Gulls and Shelduck

It looked like the dark clouds might be passing away to the south of us, so we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. There wasn’t anything of note on the Volunteer Marsh, although we paused briefly to watch a Skylark dustbathing on the path nearby. A quick stop at the Tidal Pools revealed a small party of four Turnstones scattered over the islands. Two of the Turnstones were looking particularly smart in their summer plumage, with white faces and rich chestnut in the upperparts.

TurnstoneTurnstones – these two moulting into summer plumage

We could see a Little Tern hovering out over the Tidal Pools as we walked up, but now we were here, it settled down onto one of the islands and we realised there was actually a pair of them. We had a quick look at them in the scope.

Little TernLittle Tern – one of a pair on the Tidal Pools today

At this point it started to spit with rain. Given the very dark clouds just to the south, we thought it would be safer to head back to Parrinder Hide rather than continue on to the beach. As it was, the small amount of rain there was had all but stopped when we got back to the hide. Still, we sat inside for a few minutes while we waited to see what the weather was doing.

The Little Ringed Plover had reappeared on the edge of the nearest island, making our return visit worthwhile. We could see its golden yellow eye ring. Something spooked the flock of Bar-tailed Godwits which shifted them around and we looked over to see a single Knot had appeared with them, although it didn’t linger. Two Spoonbills flew west over the water in front of us and dropped down towards Thornham. These were adults, so different from the one we had seen earlier.

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – showing off its golden yellow eye ring

Given the rain seemed to have stopped, we set off to walk back. We had only just got onto the main path, when the rain started again. Typical! We hurried back to Island Hide to shelter. It rained quite hard for just a couple of minutes before it stopped once again. It did allow us to find a few birds we had not seen earlier.

A single drake Teal had appeared on the edge of one of the islands. Most of the Teal which spend the winter here have long since departed, but one or two are still lingering along the coast, so this was a bonus for the trip list. We had heard a Cuckoo earlier in the distance, but now we picked one up flying in from the trees beyond Patsy’s Reedbed, before landing in one of the dead trees over the far side of the reedbed. It was distant, but we got an OK view through the scope. There were now lots of Common Swifts hawking for insects over the back of the Freshmarsh in the rain.

We thought we could hear a Bittern booming, but there was just too much noise in the hide. Thankfully, we we walked round via Meadow Trail, we heard it again, much closer now and definitely a Bittern! A Chiffchaff was singing from the dead branches at the top of a tree and we heard a couple of Bullfinches calling from the sallows but couldn’t see them.

A quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed at least added Mute Swan to the day’s list – there was nothing much else of note out on there. A large group of Avocets flew in from the Freshmarsh, calling noisily. They landed on one bank for a few minutes before flying off back from where they had just come. The highlight here was a male Marsh Harrier perched up on a dead sapling in the reeds.

Marsh Harrier 2Marsh Harrier – a male, perched up in the reeds

As it started to spit with rain again, it was looking like it could get worse, so we beat a retreat back to the car. It was already getting late so we headed for home.

 

Jan 2017 – Happy New Year, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6o0a2995Spotted Redshank – 1 of 2 at Thornham Harbour

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

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

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

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

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

img_9684Glaucous Gull – a juvenile at Cley

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

6o0a3141Snow Bunting – a 1st winter Scandinavian male

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

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

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

16th Oct 2016 – Eastern Promise, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today, our final day. With rain forecast for the morning, and having bagged most of the best birds along the coast in the last couple of days, we decided to head for Titchwell where we could get some shelter in the hides.

A couple of Dotterel were belatedly reported from Choseley yesterday. We had no idea if the report was genuine, but we diverted round that way for a brief look first, just in case. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of any Dotterel in the fields, but a little group of five Golden Plover flew over calling, as did a Yellowhammer. At that stage the rain started, so we headed down to Titchwell.

The car par was already surprisingly busy when we arrived, and we couldn’t find any spaces in the first section. There didn’t seem to be much activity in the bushes around the overflow car park – most of the birds were probably sheltering from the wind and rain – so we headed straight out towards the reserve. At first the feeders by the visitor centre appeared quiet, but something spooked a load of finches from the ground behind and they flew up into the trees. In with them, we found a couple of Brambling and one helpfully then dropped down onto one of the feeders where we could get a better look at it.

6o0a4340Brambling – two were on the feeders by the visitor centre first thing

Given the rain, we decided to head straight out to the shelter of Island Hide. It proved to be a wise move, as the rain got stronger for a time while we were in there. We did have a quick look at the grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way, which was once again pretty empty, and the reedbed pool which held just a few Gadwall and a couple of Coot today.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh, particularly large numbers of duck now – mainly Teal and Wigeon, plus smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, and a few Shelduck. Some of the drakes are now starting to emerge from drab eclipse plumage, & looking correspondingly smarter.

6o0a4346Teal – starting to emerge from eclipse plumage now

There was a good selection of waders too, and while we waited for the rain to ease we set about looking through them. Most of the larger waders were in the deeper water over towards the back, a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and about 15 Avocets still (most of the Avocets have now gone south for the winter). On the mud at the edge of the reeds, the Ruff had presumably found some shelter from the wind. A party of three Greenshanks stood with them calling for a while, before they flew off west.

Looking around the various islands,we could see several Golden Plover and Lapwing in the grass. A few Dunlin and Ringed Plover were running around in amongst them too. Then we found a Little Stint – it was hard to see at first, being so small in the taller vegetation, but we all eventually got a good look at it when it came out onto a small pool. A Jack Snipe on the nearest island came out into the open for a time, where we could see it bobbing up and down continuously as it walked along slowly feeding, before disappearing into the vegetation again.

By this stage the rain had eased, so we decided to walk round to Parrinder Hide. As we got round to the junction in the path, we had a quick look over the bank at Volunteer Marsh, which was rewarded with a nice close Curlew Sandpiper and two nearby Dunlin. We watched the Curlew Sandpiper for a while as it fed on the mud just the other side of the channel, before it walked into the water and started bathing, giving us a great view of its white rump in the process. Then it flew off further back and we headed for the hide.

6o0a4385Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile gave great views on the Volunteer Marsh

From round at the Parrinder Hide, you get a different view of the freshmarsh. At first, we saw many of the same birds that we had seen from the other side, but then one of the group picked up a different Curlew Sandpiper on one of the islands, another juvenile but this one much paler, lacking any orangey wash on the breast now and already moulting some of its upperparts to grey first winter feathers. We also found a second Little Stint, a much duller individual than the first. Three Spoonbills were asleep over the back of the fresmarsh, until two decided to wake up and fly off over the bank.

A Jack Snipe appeared on the edge of the mud directly opposite the hide, much closer than the one we had seen earlier, giving us great views as it crept in and out of the vegetation. We could see the golden yellow back strips contrasting with the otherwise very dark upperparts, and the dark central crown strip. This was presumably our second of the day, as it was in a very different place to the first, and there have been at least two Jack Snipe at Titchwell recently.

img_7712Jack Snipe – showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Meadow Pipits on the grass in front of Parrinder Hide and we had been looking for a Rock Pipit in with them. While everyone was looking at the Jack Snipe, a sharp call alerted us to an incoming pipit but it didn’t sound strident enough for a Rock and we looked across to see a very smart Water Pipit drop in, the first we have seen here this autumn. With very white underparts with black streaks, a well marked white supercilium and white wing bars, and the greyish head and neck contrasting with the browner mantle, it is a very different bird to the more swarthy Rock Pipits.

img_7659Water Pipit – the first we have seen at Titchwell this autumn

Between the Jack Snipe and the Water Pipit, we didn’t know which way to look. Then both worked their way round so they were together, saving us that decision!

img_7719Water Pipit & Jack Snipe – together, in the same scope view

For once the forecast was right and the rain stopped. It hadn’t even hindered our ability to see a great variety of birds! We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. We had very nice views of a close Grey Plover, and what was presumably the same Curlew Sandpiper we had seen earlier from the path was now in front of the hide.

6o0a4442Grey Plover – nice views on the Volunteer Marsh from Parrinder Hide

With the improvement in the weather, we decided to make our way out towards the beach. On the other side of the Volunteer Marsh, along the near edge of the channel next to the main path, we had a nice close Black-tailed Godwit. Just across the channel on the other side, a Turnstone (or perhaps a ‘Turn-mud’) was turning over the dried and cracked plates of mud looking for invertebrates. Perhaps this was the same bird we had seen doing exactly the same thing here three weeks ago?

6o0a4475Black-tailed Godwit – right by the main path on the Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools added a few Little Grebes for the day’s list and a flock of Starlings which flew across from there to the saltmarsh included the striking all-white leucistic bird which has been hanging around the area for some weeks now. Out at the beach the tide was out, so the waders were all down feeding on the mussel beds. As well as lots of Oystercatchers, we could see a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the waves down on the edge of the beach but another came and landed right in front of us on the sand briefly.

We walked halfway down the beach to the comparative shelter of the concrete blocks, giving us a bit of protection from the brisk southerly breeze, and started to scan the sea. A nice close Velvet Scoter was the main prize, diving for shellfish just offshore. There were lots of Common Scoter way off in the distance towards the Wash but one drifted closer in just behind the Velvet Scoter giving us a much better view. There were also several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea closer inshore, but a couple of Red-throated Divers were much further out and hard to get onto given the choppy water. Two Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Gannets flew west.

img_7753Velvet Scoter – diving for shellfish offshore

The other highlight out at the beach was watching lots of different birds coming in over the sea, presumably fresh from the continent, migration in action! Several small groups of Brent Geese flew in and a few landed on the beach. Flocks of Chaffinches, Starlings and thrushes all got to dry land safely. An exhausted Fieldfare just made it to the mussel beds and crashed down out of view, but was promptly chased off by several of the waders and was forced to rest out in the open on the beach. We picked up a Grey Heron coming in, some way out to see initially. It eventually flew in over the beach and dropped down onto the tidal pools.

6o0a4480Grey Heron – flew in from the sea and over the beach

Despite the early rain, it had been an action packed morning but it was now time to start heading back for lunch. We walked back round via the Meadow Trail, and not far in from the main path we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deep in the sallows. It was a bit windy here today and we had all enjoyed good views of Yellow-browed Warbler already in the last couple of days, so we didn’t linger.

Back at the visitor centre, a couple of birders told us that a White-fronted Goose had been seen in the cut maize field by the reserve entrance road, so we made a short detour to see that. It was feeding on its own by a small pool out in the field, so we had a nice look at it through the scope, an adult with white blaze around the bill and black belly bars.

img_7767White-fronted Goose – in the field by the reserve entrance road

We had lunch in the sunshine in the car park today. While we were eating, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling on the sunny edge of the sallows at the far end. Most of the group decided to focus on refuelling, but for those that didn’t we had brief views of the Yellow-browed Warbler flitting around in the trees.

News had come through during the morning that a Cattle Egret had been seen coming in off the sea at Cley and it had later been located with the cows out on Blakeney Freshes. As it would be a new bird for several of the group, we decided to drive back that way and try to see it in the afternoon. When we got to Blakeney, we parked by the harbour and walked round towards Friary Hills which is a good vantage point from which to scan. We had just got past the duck pond when a couple coming back the other way told us that they had just watched the Cattle Egret fly off towards Cley, where they had lost it to view.

Back to the car, we climbed in again and drove round towards Cley, pulling up briefly at the entrance to Friary Hills to confirm the news of the Cattle Egret‘s departure with a couple local birders. From the West Bank at Cley, it was immediately apparent there were no cows left out on the marshes, they had all been taken in for the winter already. Cricket Marsh did at least provide Canada Goose and Rook as additions to the weekend list, so perhaps he journey wasn’t entirely wasted!

Climbing up onto the West Bank by the main sluice to scan the marshes, we happened to look back towards Blakeney where we could see some cows out in the distance over on the Freshes. Just at that moment, we a saw small egret fly up from with them and head off away from us back to where the Cattle Egret had originally been seen. Back in the car and we drove back round to Friary Hills.

When we got up onto the top we were told that the Cattle Egret had indeed reappeared with the cows here, but had been flushed by a Marsh Harrier and had flown up from the nearest herd and dropped back out of view behind the reeds with a more distant group. Thankfully it then flew out and joined the cows and we watched it for some time, walking about, in with cows at times but also stalking around on its own in the low lying boggy areas of the marsh.

img_7789Cattle Egret – in with the cows

We had a good look at the Cattle Egret through the scope – we could see its short yellow-orange bill and small size, with scale being provided by a Grey Heron which was close to it at one point. It was always a little distant and never came back to the closer group of cows while we were there. We did talk about walking out along the bank around the Freshes to get a closer look, but there was little enthusiasm for the walk and it was lovely standing up on Friary Hills in the afternoon sun, scanning the marshes and watching the Cattle Egret with the cows.

There were other birds to see here too. A Green Sandpiper flew around over the marshes a couple of times and a Common Snipe or two did the same. There were lots of Wigeon down on the grazing marshes below us, and a huge cloud flew in to join them when they were flushed from the eastern part of the Freshes by a group of walkers. In with them, we could see a few Teal and a single Pintail.

Several species of raptor were enjoying the sunshine. A couple of Common Buzzards perched on some fenceposts, preening, before flying round and hovering out over the grass. Several Marsh Harriers quartered back and forth over the reeds, unfortunately never quite getting close enough to the Cattle Egret to flush it back towards us. A Sparrowhawk flew in from hunting out over the marshes and disappeared over the trees behind us.

There were still a few migrants to see from here too. Several little flocks of thrushes, particularly Redwings, flew overhead. Two Fieldfares were feeding down in the grass with a flock of Starlings. It was a lovely way to end what had been a very exciting three days of birding, with some very good birds seen and great company.