Tag Archives: Muckleburgh Hill

10th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 1

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

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

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

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing from the bushes on Muckleburgh Hill

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

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

Linnet

Linnet – singing from the top of the gorse

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

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

Swallow

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

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

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

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – feeding on the pool on the Water Meadow

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

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

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – feeding around the Water Meadow

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

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

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

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

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

Wheatear

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

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

Golden Plover

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

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

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

Reed Warbler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Wagtail

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

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

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

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

Marsh Harrier

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

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

16th October 2015 – More from the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. Norfolk has been enjoying a real purple patch in the last week, with a succession of rare vagrants from the east turning up in the county, brought to us on an ongoing easterly airflow originating from far across onto the continent. We set out to try to catch up with a few of those today.

Our first stop saw us drive east along the coast to Beeston Common, just beyond Sheringham. It was overcast and blustery when we arrived, but that doesn’t seem to put off our first target. As soon as we got out onto the Common we could see the Isabelline Shrike perched atop a hawthorn bush, looking all around. We got it in the scope and watched it catch a wasp and eat it.

IMG_2003Isabelline Shrike – still present on Beeston Common today & showing well

Suddenly it flew towards us, and landed in another bush much closer by. It was obviously actively looking for food, as it flew again to another perch. It dropped sharply down to the ground, but disappeared deep into a holly when it flew back out so we couldn’t see what it had caught this time. We waited a few minutes and it reappeared on our side of the holly, before flying across back to the hawthorn it had just come from.

From there, it dropped down into the grass again and this time flew up with a small frog. It took it into the hawthorn and we could just see it through the scope, impaling the frog on a thorn. Shrikes are also traditionally known as ‘butcher birds’, as they will store excess food in a ‘larder’ by impaling them on a thorny bush or even barbed wire for later consumption. The Isabelline Shrike seemed unsure whether to eat its frog now or leave it for later. It appeared to eat a little, then moved back to the outside of the bush to resume hunting, before changing its mind and dropping back in to eat some more. Fascinating to watch.

There have been thrushes arriving in numbers for days now, and out on the common we saw a Blackbird or two drop into the bushes and a large flock of Redwing flew over our heads calling. A Sparrowhawk flew over as well – there is a real bounty for predators at the moment, with many small birds arriving here exhausted from the continent.

Having enjoyed such great views of the Isabelline Shrike, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. Heading back west along the coast, we stopped at Muckleburgh Hill next. An Olive-backed Pipit had been found here yesterday, but it had been very elusive. They have a habit of creeping surreptitiously through the grass unseen, so it seemed like it might be difficult for us to see this one. A text message also confirmed that it had been elusive so far this morning. We thought we might as well have a go.

When we finally found the assembled crowd, the Olive-backed Pipit was on show, but getting everyone onto it was easier said than done at first. It was creeping around on an area of cut bracken, amongst the dead stalks and short regrowth, so had lots of places to hide. We kept getting glimpses of it. Frustrating. Finally it crept over to a more obvious place under a large rowan tree and proceeded to work its way round the edge of the taller bracken at its base. Now everyone got onto it, we managed to get it in the scopes and get some cracking views.

IMG_2040Olive-backed Pipit – eventually showed very well at Muckleburgh Hill

Olive-backed Pipits breed in Siberia and just into European Russia, migrating down to India and south Asia for the winter. They are a rare visitor to our shores, though they turn up more often these days than they used to. They are still a great bird to see and full of character, as they creep around pumping their tails slowly up and down.

We left the crowd to it, and continued our way back west, stopping off next at Stiffkey Greenway. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier in the morning, but had disappeared off to the west along the coastal path. There were lots of people here, birdwatchers as well as dog walkers and joggers, so we didn’t fancy our chances of seeing it. This is a good site to look for other recent arrivals in the coastal bushes, so we decided to go for a walk anyway.

Scanning the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Brent Geese out amongst the vegetation. A Greenshank dropped in on the path out across the marshes and started to feed around the small pools. A Grey Plover was on the path further out and there were lots of Curlew and Redshank. Several of the scattered pools also held a Little Egret.

P1110756Brent Geese – feeding out on the saltmarsh

There were not so many birds in the hawthorns and brambles as there have been in the last couple of days. Perhaps fewer new birds had arrived overnight, or possibly they had already moved off inland, disturbed by all the activity up and down the path. We did see plenty of Goldcrests in the bushes, and flushed a steady stream of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. There were several finches – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, though they were keeping down in the bushes out of the wind. We caught up with a tit flock – Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits – working their way through the gorse around the whirligig. In amongst them we found a couple of Chiffchaff.

We only went as far as the eastern track at Warham Greens. As we walked out at the whirligig, a small falcon swept up along the edge of the saltmarsh and powered away behind us, a Merlin. We scanned the marshes out towards East Hills and initially picked up nothing more than a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Then a smaller, sleeker, slimmer-winged harrier swept up above the horizon briefly before dropping back down and resuming quartering low over the vegetation. Through the scopes we could see the paler underparts and square white patch at the base of the tail – its was a young ringtail Hen Harrier.

With no sign of the shrike and time getting on towards lunch, we decided to walk back. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a bush cricket which walked out onto the muddy path – a Short-winged Conehead.

P1110778Short-winged Conehead – a type of bush cricket, on the coastal path

We ate lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive and afterwards walked west along the path on the inner edge of the pines. It was fairly quiet at first, apart from the ubiquitous Goldcrests and the regular Little Grebes on the pool at Salts Hole. Just beyond there, we could see some other birders on the top of a low bank, scanning the bushes in the reeds by the path. There has been another Isabelline Shrike here at Holkham in the last few days (there have been an unprecedented three in Norfolk!), but apparently we had just missed it. It had dropped down from one of the bushes and disappeared. We decided to walk a little further along to the gate, from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

There was no sign of the shrike from further along either, but we did see a rather late Common Whitethroat in a low rose bush by the gate. There are lots here in the summer, but this one should probably be well on its way towards Africa by now. Out on the grazing marshes, we could see a few Pink-footed Geese together with the Greylags. It was while we were scanning the marshes, that someone coming along the path broke the news to us that the shrike had reappeared further back along the path.

We walked back quickly and there it was – perched up in a wild rose bush amongst the reeds, our second Isabelline Shrike of the day. How greedy! It was rather similar to the one that we had seen at Beeston Common in the morning, but noticeably more extensively marked with dark chevrons on its pale underparts. There is typically some variation between individuals.

IMG_2046Isabelline Shrike – our second of the day, at Holkham

When it flew down again, we continued on our way west along the path. We stopped periodically to scan through the Goldcrests, in case there might be something more interesting in amongst them. It has been amazing just how many there were here in recent days – it would be fascinating to know how many have come in from the continent and moved on inland this week.

Just past the crosstracks, we came to the clump of sallows which the Red-flanked Bluetail has been frequenting, since Monday at least. There is always something of a dilemma – whether to try to see it flicking around quietly in the sallows, or whether to wait our by the brambles where it likes to come to feed on blackberries occasionally. We decided on the latter.

We didn’t have to wait too long until the Red-flanked Bluetail put in a typically brief appearance on the brambles. It perched for a few seconds feeding on the blackberries, but it was mostly hidden within the foliage. Then it flew across the front. Most of the group got a glimpse – a flash of the blue tail as it went. We waited again and then got a repeat performance – the Bluetail fed on a blackberry from within the brambles and then flashed off. It was clearly nervous – the local Robins have been giving it a hard time, chasing it away.

IMG_2062Red-flanked Bluetail – showing off its orange flank patches

Finally, on its third visit of our vigil, the Red-flanked Bluetail came out onto the brambles in full view. We could see its rather Robin-like appearance front on, but lacking the red (orange!) breast and instead sporting two orange flank patches and a triangular white throat patch. We were missing its best feature from this angle, but it even did the decent thing and turned round, flashing its bright blue tail at us. What a cracker! Than it darted off back into the sallows.

IMG_2076Red-flanked Bluetail – helpfully turned around to show off its bright blue tail

Red-flanked Bluetails breed in the Siberian taiga and migrate down to spend the winter in SE Asia. They were almost a mythical rarity in the UK in years gone by but only in the last 10-15 years have they become annual visitors and are now almost an expected find after a period of east winds at this time of year. This is probably because they have been expanding their breeding range steadily westwards and now breed in eastern Finland. Still, that does not detract at all from the delight at seeing one – electric blue tail, and all.

After great views such as those, we set off back suitably elated. Once again, we paused regularly to check through the flocks of Goldcrests and tits on the way back. Two Swallows hawking for insects low over the pines around Washington Hide were another unseasonal surprise, with most of their brethren well on their way to Africa by now.

There had been a Pallas’s Warbler in the trees further along from Lady Anne’s Drive towards Wells during the day, so we thought we might walk that way and try to see it. Unfortunately, the weather started to close in a little on our way back and the light levels dropped early. The trees where the Pallas’s Warbler had been were quiet. It had been a tiring day in the field and energy levels were waning by this stage, so we decided to make our way slowly back. But what a day it had been – 2 Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit and Red-flanked Bluetail amongst others. We needed to leave something for tomorrow!