Tag Archives: Norfolk

21st Dec 2018 – Two Winter Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk today. As ever, the forecasters couldn’t make up their minds over the last few days what the weather would be doing today, but they had finished up typically pessimistic this morning. It was a damp, drizzly, grey and gloomy start, at which point it looked like they might be right, but then it dried up and brightened up and ended up being not too bad at all in the end.

We were heading west today, but on our way we made a quick stop at Holkham first. As we got out of the car, we could hear a pair of Egyptian Geese calling from the trees. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese too, and looked across to see a large flock fly up from the grazing marshes. They came straight over us and headed off inland. A steady succession of skeins flew over, but still more circled back round and landed down on the grazing marshes again. We could still see thousands of geese out on the grass.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – thousands flying up from the grazing marshes again this morning

There were Greylag Geese too, a much smaller flock out in the field in front of us. We could see they were paler grey with a big orange carrot for a bill. Just beyond the hedge, through a gap, we spotted a group of about ten Russian White-fronted Geese. We all had a good look at them through the scope, noting the white surround to the base of their pink pills and their distinctive black belly bars. Then suddenly they took off for no apparent reason and we realised there had been a lot more hidden behind the hedge, about 55 in total. They flew off back over the grazing marshes.

A large white bird also out on the grazing marshes was a Great White Egret. It was obviously very tall and, through the scope, we could see its long yellow dagger of a bill. A Marsh Harrier was perched in a tree in front.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding out on the grazing marshes

By the time we got to Titchwell, it had at least stopped drizzling, although it was still very dull and grey. There were not many cars yet, so we had a quick look round the overflow car park. There were lots of finches in the bushes, feeding on the brambles, mainly Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but with several Greenfinches too. We heard a Bullfinch calling and a smart pink male flew out and across the car park, but disappeared straight into the bushes. We had a couple of brief views of it in the brambles but it would never stay still long enough to get it in the scope.

A flock of Long-tailed Tits came round through the car park, and as we made our way along the path towards the Visitor Centre what was presumably the same flock was calling in the sallows. A Goldcrest appeared in the bushes by the path ahead of us, and we stopped to watch it fluttering around in the branches. A second Goldcrest appeared above our heads, hovering around an ivy-covered trunk. We followed one of the Goldcrests almost all the way to the Visitor Centre.

There were a few more finches on the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre, but the ones the other side had been taken over by a Grey Squirrel. We had a quick look as we passed, but there was no sign of the Water Rail in the ditch, so we continued on out onto the reserve.

As we came out of the trees, several Lapwings and a small group of Golden Plover flew over, heading inland. When we got to the reedbed, we could see a much larger flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing circling over the Freshmarsh. We couldn’t see what had flushed them, possibly a Marsh Harrier, but they quickly landed back down again.

A Water Pipit came up calling from the cut reeds below the path ahead of us. It flew across the path and headed out over the dried up Thornham grazing marsh pool, from where a second Water Pipit flew up to join it. The two of them circled together briefly before the second bird dropped straight back down again, out of view. The first Water Pipit then flew back across the path and disappeared out over the Freshmarsh.

We stopped to look at a couple of Marsh Harriers circling over the back of the reedbed, and noticed four more were perched together in one of the dead trees. Then looking out across the Freshmarsh, four more harriers were hanging in the wind over the bank beyond, at the back of the Volunteer Marsh. One was noticeably smaller, and through the scope we could see the white square at the base of its tail. It was a Hen Harrier, a juvenile, noticeably rusty orange below, streaked darker.

It looked like the three Marsh Harriers were mobbing the Hen Harrier at first, but two drifted off and the Hen Harrier ended up tussling just with one juvenile Marsh Harrier, giving as good as it got. The two of them kept swooping at each other for ages – great to watch and giving us a good view of the Hen Harrier as they did so. At one point, a couple of Carrion Crows joined in too.

Avocet was a key target for the day. Most of them go south for the winter, but a few normally try to cling on here. From Island Hide, we quickly located the group of about 12 Avocets which are lingering here this year. Initially they were rowed up on the end of a long line of Lapwings, but then something spooked all the waders again, and everything took off. The Avocets landed back down with a small group of roosting Shelduck, where the tern island used to be.

Avocet

Avocets – there are still about 12 hanging on here for the winter

The water level on the Freshmarsh is now very high for the winter, and there are not many of the islands left exposed. Consequently, most of the waders are now feeding elsewhere. Apart from the roosting Avocets and the large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover, we managed to find just one Dunlin this morning.

The wildfowl are enjoying all the water. A small flock of Brent Geese had joined with the Greylags on the water in front of the reedbed. They had just dropped in for a wash and brush up before heading back out to the Thornham saltmarsh to feed. There are more diving ducks on here now, with a small raft of Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard next to the geese. The other regular winter ducks here – Wigeon, Teal and a few Shoveler – were mostly over towards the back of the Freshmarsh today.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – flying back out to the saltmarsh to feed

It didn’t seem like the weather could make up its mind. It had been drizzling again briefly while we were in the hide, but now it seemed to be brightening up. So we decided to try our luck and walk out towards the beach. The tide was out and there was not much on Volunteer Marsh, just a rather tame Common Redshank in the channel just below the path.

The Hen Harrier was still playing with the Marsh Harrier over the bank at the far side. We stopped to watch them again, before the Hen Harrier disappeared behind the bank towards the beach. From the top of the bank, we could see the Hen Harrier hunting along the dunes beyond and when it landed in the top of a bush, we got it in the scope and had another good look at it.

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ are very full of water at the moment, and the one remaining island is getting much smaller. It was fairly packed with roosting duck today – lots of Wigeon, Teal and several Shoveler. A wader appeared briefly on the corner from behind the vegetation, and we had a glimpse of a long, needle-fine bill and distinctive white supercilium. We walked further up for a better angle and our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Spotted Redshank.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – roosting on the ‘Tidal Pools’

Out at the beach, we stopped first to scan the sea. One of the locals was just leaving and informed us that there had not been much of note out here today. We quickly found a small raft of Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Goldeneye just offshore. Four brown female Eider were close in, just beyond the mussel beds. Another drake Goldeneye flew in to join them, its green head with white cheek patch shining in a welcome burst of sunshine. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past out to sea, but unfortunately it was too far out for everyone to get onto.

There was a nice selection of waders around the mussel beds, so we walked down the beach for a closer look. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a few Curlew and Grey Plover. Several pale, streaked Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the edge of the sand, and a Black-tailed Godwit was on the mussel bed nearby for comparison. A mixture of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones were running around in between. Scanning carefully, we managed to find a small group of Knot too, and it was good to see them through the scope, feeding next to the Dunlin for comparison.

On our way back, we remembered we had not seen the drake Pintail on the Tidal Pools on our walk out. So we scanned again from the inner edge of the dunes, and from this angle we quickly found it fast asleep on the island with the other ducks. Not the best of views, but another one for the list. The Little Egret which was now feeding in the channel on the Volunteer Marsh right next to the path put on a much better show. We got a good look at its yellow feet.

Little Egret

Little Egret – showing off its yellow feet

The other bird we had not seen on the way out was the Water Rail, and that too we found on the way back. It was feeding just where we had looked earlier, in the ditch by the path, but was still hard to see down in the water underneath all the tree branches. With a bit of patience, it eventually showed very well though.

Water Rails are a bit like buses, and there was also a second one here now, in the ditch on the other side of the path. It was right out in the open when we first saw it, but as soon as it noticed us watching it, it scuttled remarkably swiftly across and squeezed through a small gap underneath the muddy bowl of a fallen tree, where it was well hidden.

Water Rail

Water Rail – one of two we saw on the walk back

It was lunchtime now, and we felt like we had earned it this morning, so we headed round to the White Horse in Holme for a very welcome quick bite of lunch and a chance to warm up in front of the fire. Afterwards, we drove back to Thornham Harbour.

It had clouded over again now and was feeling rather grey again. A Curlew flushed from the saltmarsh as we drove in, but otherwise it initially looked rather quiet here. A car load of photographers were huddled in their vehicle in the car park with their long lenses pointed out at an empty puddle, where there was a distinct lack of any Twite action.

We walked across the car park and down to the sluice just beyond. As we did so a flock of small birds flew up from the saltmarsh just in front of us. We could hear Goldfinch and Linnet and also the distinctive ‘tveeet’ calls of Twite (from which they get their name) as they circled round above us.

Twite

Twite – two of at least ten feeding on the edge of the harbour

After circling several times they landed back down on the edge of the saltmarsh and we got a good view through the scope as they perched up feeding on some of the taller seedheads. It was really good to see Twite and Linnet in the scope together, the former richer brown overall with an orangey breast and yellow bill.

There were at least ten Twite today and one of them was sporting a collection of colour-rings which identify it as an individual which was ringed in Derbyshire earlier in the year. The dwindling Pennine breeding population is the source of our declining winter population of Twite here in Norfolk.

Having admired the Twite, we got back in the car and headed on west. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese were feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field close to the road so we stopped for a quick look. We were just scanning through when one of the group spotted something different in with them. It was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose. We found somewhere we could stop and got out for a better look through the scope.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Pale-bellied Brent Goose – feeding with Pink-footed Geese on harvested sugar beet

Pale-bellied Brent Goose is a different subspecies compared to our regular wintering Russian Dark-bellied Brents. They breed from Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, across through northern Greenland to Canada. Birds from eastern Canada migrate through Iceland to winter mainly in Ireland and it is probably in Iceland that lone or lost birds may join up with the flocks of Pink-footed Geese (it being better to be with them than travel alone!), which bring them to Norfolk in small numbers. While we were watching the geese, we noticed several Ruff feeding in the muddy field in amongst them.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Snettisham. With all the grey cloud again, the light was already starting to go. It didn’t help that today was the shortest day of the year! From up on the seawall, we could see several Goldeneye on the first pit.

The tide was coming in now but there was still a huge expanse of exposed mud. It was not due to be one the biggest tides today, and it was still a couple of hours to high tide, but the waders were already starting to gather. A large brown slick across the mud out in the middle on closer inspection was a huge flock of Golden Plover. Through the scope, we could also see quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits gathered just behind. More waders down on the water’s edge further back were mostly Knot. A big group of Oystercatchers were roosting on the edge of the beach away to the north.

We were hoping to see a Short-eared Owl here this afternoon, but it was damp and grey with a cool breeze and there was perhaps unsurprisingly no sign of any out hunting. Fortunately we did find one hunkered down under a bramble bush, where it had spent the day roosting. It was only half awake and looking towards us, and we could see the short tufts of feathers on the top of its head, its ‘ears’.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

There were lots of ducks and geese on the pits, mainly Greylags and Wigeon. A feral Barnacle Goose was standing on the grass just beyond. A large number of Cormorants had come in to roost on the islands.

It was starting to get dark now, but we could see two white shapes at the far end of the pit. The first was a Little Egret, but the second looked a bit bigger. Through the scope our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Spoonbill. The vast majority of the Spoonbills which were here in the summer have long since headed off south for the winter, with just one or two still remaining here, so this was a real bonus.

Back at the Wash, a large group of Knot had now gathered together in another dark slick spread across the mud, out in the middle. We had thought we might have a quick look at the pit from Rotary Hide, but just at that point something spooked all the waders. All the Golden Plover took off and started to whirl round in the air, and the Knot zoomed back and forth low over the mud, twisting and turning, flashing dark and light.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a huge flock gathered out on the Wash

Knot

Knot – twisting and turning low over the mud

It was a nice way to end our two days out, watching the huge flocks of waders whirling out over the Wash. We had hoped we might be able to catch the first of the geese coming in to roost from here, but it was still a bit early and unfortunately we had to get back to the village in time for a pick-up. While we were waiting in the car at the rendezvous point though, the skeins of Pink-footed Geese started to come over calling, thousands of them. One of the real sights and sounds of Norfolk in the winter and a very fitting finish.

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20th Dec 2018 – Two Winter Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk today. We were lucky with the weather today – dry with some bright spells and even some blue sky at times, albeit with a rather fresh southerly wind and cloudier in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, a pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass in one of the fields and we could see several Teal and a larger group of Wigeon around the edges of the pools.

As we got out of the car, we could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese calling. As it is full moon in a couple of days time, they had possibly been feeding inland overnight rather than roosting here and were therefore in no hurry to head out to the fields again this morning.

The Pink-footed Geese were rather jumpy this morning. Something disturbed them, although we couldn’t see what it was, and about 10,000 birds took off and filled the skies. It was an impressive sight, and sound. A small number flew off over our heads, but most settled straight back down on the grass. A little group landed much closer and we got them in the scope. We could see their pink-legs and feet in the short grass, glowing in the morning sunlight, as well as their small, dark bills with a narrow band of pink.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were thousands in the fields still this morning

A large white bird came up out of the reeds in the distance, in front of Washington Hide. A Great White Egret, it circled round but quickly dropped back down again behind the line of sallows. A very pale buzzard flew over, flashing a white base to the tail as it disappeared off towards the Park, but it was just the regular pale Common Buzzard which can usually be found hanging around here, rather than something rarer.

As we made our way up to the pines, a big flock of Lapwings flew up from the grazing marshes over towards Wells. There were lots Curlews out here too, on the fields beyond The Lookout café, although it is rather hard to see past the new building! Walking along the boardwalk through the trees, we flushed several Jays from the ground which flew up into the pines.

Out on the saltmarsh the other side, a small group of Brent Geese were feeding in the short vegetation. We stopped to look at them, all the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese, here for the winter from their breeding grounds in Siberia. We could see a good number of stripy-backed juveniles in with the adults, suggesting it was a better breeding season in 2018 than it had been last year.

We walked east on the path on the edge of the saltmarsh. As the new cordoned off area came into view, we spotted a large flock of small birds whirling around out in the middle. They were Snow Buntings, we could see the white flashing in their wings as they turned, at least 60 of them. They landed back down on the open sand at the far end of the cordon, so we made our way over for a closer look.

When we got to the fence, we noticed some other birds moving about on the edge of the vegetation out in the middle, the Shorelarks, just what we were hoping to see here today. They were very well camouflaged, and hard to see until they moved, but through the scope we could see their yellow faces and black bandit masks. Smart birds!

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – there were at least 7 already out on the saltmarsh when we arrived

There were at least seven Shorelarks already here, possibly more hiding in the vegetation beyond. Scarce winter visitors here from Scandinavia, this is one of the best places in the country to see them.

The Snow Buntings were very flighty, as usual, and the next thing we knew they flew back over and landed on the sandy path ahead of us. They were feeding along the edge of the dunes, on the tideline, presumably looking for seedheads washed up from the saltmarsh. It looked like they might come straight past us, but then they were off again.

Once we had finished admiring the Shorelarks, we set off towards the beach. The Snow Buntings had landed again on the sand at the far end of the cordon and seemed completely unfazed by us walking past. We could see a variety of different shades, some much paler, whiter birds, some browner – a diverse mixture of ages and sexes, as well as birds from both the Scandinavian and Icelandic races.

Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting – just part of the big flock at Holkham at the moment

The tide was out, which meant there was quite a bit of beach between us and the sea. There were lots of gulls and Oystercatchers down by the sea, and several Cormorants drying their wings on the sandbar beyond. A large flock of Sanderlings whirled round on the shoreline off to the east.

Scanning the sea, we could see several Guillemots on the water, their white faces catching the light. A much larger bird was swimming just offshore beyond the sandbar, a Great Northern Diver. Similarly black above and white below, we could see its large dagger of a bill and black half collar.

There were a few ducks on the sea too, but they were a long way offshore today. We got a distant flock of Common Scoter in the scope, and could see the pale cheeks and dark caps of the females and young birds. One of the scoter flapped its wings and flashed a white panel, a Velvet Scoter, but it was impossible to pick out of the flock on the sea at that distance and unfortunately it didn’t repeat the wing-flap which singled it out from the others. A female Red-breasted Merganser much closer in was much easier to see.

There were several Great Crested Grebes on the sea too, black and white too but much longer-necked than the diver. Then we picked up two much smaller Slavonian Grebes just off the beach a long way off to the west around the bay. We had a look at them through the scope and thought about walking over to get a bit closer but it would probably have meant getting wet feet so thought better of it!

It had been a very productive couple of hours at Holkham, and we still had an hour before we had to pick up someone else in Wells. We decided to pop into the woods there for a quick look to see if we could find any redpolls – they are very mobile and consequently very hit and miss, so they would either be there or not!

The Brent Geese were starting to gather on the old Pitch & Putt course along Beach Road as we drove past. As we walked into the woods, a couple of Little Grebes were on the edge of the reeds on the boating lake, with some Tufted Ducks over towards the back.

It was very quiet at first, as we made our way through the trees, just the odd Robin or Wren calling, and one or two Blackbirds. As we approached the Dell though, we could hear Redpolls calling quietly, and we looked up into the birches ahead of us to see several of them feeding on catkins in the tops. They were against the light here and hard to see clearly, but the more we looked the more we could see. There appeared to be at least fifty of them in total.

We walked quietly underneath them and up onto the dune the other side, where the light was better. From here, we could see they were mostly Mealy Redpolls (the Scandinavian race of Common Redpoll), and we had a good view of several through the scope, including one male with a lovely pinky-red wash on its breast. A smaller, browner one with them was a Lesser Redpoll.

The Redpolls were mobile, moving through the trees, and it was impossible to get a good look at all of them from any one point. They were busily feeding on the catkins and we could see showers of chaff falling like snow from the birches. We couldn’t see any sign of an Arctic Redpoll from here though, so we moved round again to get a different angle and try some other trees.

It took a bit of searching, but eventually we found a much paler Redpoll in with the others. Through the scope, as it moved, we could see it had a plain white rump and thick undertail coverts with a single narrow dark streak. It was the Arctic Redpoll we had been looking for. More specifically, it was a Coues’s Arctic Redpoll, the race we get most often here, also from Scandinavia but from further north than the Mealies. We all managed to get a good look at it before it moved back into the tops. Then suddenly the flock erupted from the trees and flew off.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll

Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – we eventually found one in with the Mealy Redpolls

We still had enough time to walk a quick loop around the far side of the Dell, but we couldn’t find any sign of a tit flock in here today. Then it was back up to Wells to pick up the other member of the group. After a quick break for lunch in the pub in Stiffkey, we carried on east along the coast road to Cley.

We didn’t have enough time to explore the reserve at Cley today, but we wanted to have a quick look at the sea. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post by the Beach Road, and another large flock of Brent Geese was feeding out in the Eye Field. From up on the shingle, it didn’t take long to find our target here – a Red-throated Diver. There were actually quite a few here, mostly a long way offshore, but we eventually got a decent view of one through the scope. There were several Guillemots offshore too.

As we made our way back along Beach Road, we looked across to see all the ducks flush off the reserve. A Marsh Harrier was flying over and had spooked them, surprisingly the first we had seen today. We headed round to Blakeney, and as we pulled up we noticed a male Stonechat on the brambles on the edge of the grazing marshes, right next to where we had parked.

Stonechat

Stonechat – feeding on the edge of the grazing marshes

We were hoping to catch a Barn Owl out here this afternoon, and as we stopped to look at the Stonechat, one flew across the grazing marsh right in front of us. A very good start! It headed off towards the seawall, so we walked round that way to see if we could find it again.

Despite the fact they don’t count, it is impossible not to admire some of the captive ducks and geese in the rather random wildfowl collection by Blakeney Harbour. The large gull on the platform here was also an oddity – with a darker mantle than a Herring Gull, but lighter than a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and odd pinky-yellow legs, it is a Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid. It is a regular here, coming back each winter, to take advantage of the food put out for the ducks.

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid – the regular bird at the duck bird

Out on the seawall, there was no further sign of the Barn Owl. A Curlew was feeding on the sand on the far side of the channel. Several Marsh Harriers were circling out over the reeds in the middle of the Freshes, gathering to roost, and a couple more were having a last patrol out over the saltmarsh. One Marsh Harrier landed in a bush, where we could get it in the scope.

Their high-pitched yelping calls announced a group of Pink-footed Geese coming up off the grazing marshes. We looked across to see several hundred more hiding out in the grass. As we walked out along the seawall, more and more of them took off and headed off inland.

Out over the saltmarsh, a flock of about twenty small birds flew up and circled round, their distinctive bouncy flight helping to identify them as Linnets. From the corner of the bank, we stopped to scan the open mud. There were lots of waders out here, a mixture of small Dunlin running around, larger Grey Plover and Redshank, and larger still Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew, all with different shaped bills and different feeding actions. There were lots of Shelduck too.

It was a great view as the sun set behind the clouds away to the south-west as we walked out, but with the shortest day tomorrow, the light started to go quickly now. We started to make our way back. As we looked across to the far side of the Freshes, we could see another Barn Owl hunting as it came up from behind the reeds. It was a long way off though.

We thought the Barn Owl might come round to our side, but it turned and went back the other way. As we stopped and watched it, we could hear Bearded Tits from the reeds nearby, although they typically kept themselves tucked well down out of the wind. It was time to call it a day, so we made our way back to the car. We had enjoyed a good day out today – let’s see what else tomorrow brings.

16th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. It still had a distinctly autumnal feel this morning, misty and grey first thing. The cloud gradually lifted a bit and even though it remained cloudy, it was dry and mild.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we could see a couple of large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the coast. They landed in a field by the road and through the hedge we could see thousands of them already packed in there. Unfortunately there was nowhere to pull in and we had someone else right behind us, so we couldn’t stop.

Our first destination for the morning was Blakeney. As we got out of the car by the harbour, it was rather misty further out across the saltmarsh. A lone Curlew was busy feeding down in the harbour channel. We stopped by the wildfowl collection briefly – amongst all the captive exotics there were lots of opportunists come to help themselves to all the seed put out, mostly Mallards and Black-headed Gulls.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding in the harbour channel at Blakeney

A gaggle of Brent Geese was feeding out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour, so we got the scope on them for a closer look. There was a gathering of gulls next to them, again mainly Black-headed Gulls with one or two Common Gulls in amongst them. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were perched on the top of the masts of the yachts pulled up at the far end of the car park.

A slightly paler backed large gull was swimming down in the harbour channel. It was not pale enough for a Herring Gull, and too dark for a Lesser Black-backed Gull, with legs neither pink nor yellow, but a rather insipid fleshy colour. It is a regular here, and has been coming back for years, having found rich pickings on the seed in the wildfowl collection. It is a hybrid, probably Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, we could see three Marsh Harriers circling in the mist, slow to get going this morning. One perched in the top of a bush so we could look at it in the scope. A Common Buzzard flew over, heading for the trees over by the village. Then out over the saltmarsh, we spotted a Merlin hunting, flying across low and fast. We got several flashes of it as it darted back and forth and then it eventually landed, perched on a dead branch out in the middle.

The pools below the bank held a few Teal and one or two Redshank. A Little Grebe was busy diving on the largest of them. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a couple of Reed Buntings flew up and across to the saltmarsh. A flock of Linnets was feeding out on the edge of the harbour, and whirled round from time to time.

A pipit flew in over the bank calling, and dropped down onto a small puddle in the cut grass on the edge of the Freshes. It was a Rock Pipit – come in from the salty side for a bathe. As it fed round the edge for a couple of minutes beforehand, we could see it was wearing a yellow colour ring and through the scope we could read the black letters. It is probably from Norway – the Rock Pipits which spend the winter out on the saltmarsh here are of the Scandinavian race, littoralis.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit – a colour-ringed bird, probably from Norway

Looking out into the harbour from the corner of the seawall, we could see lots of waders on the more open mud. Hundreds of small Dunlin were scurrying around busily, with a scattering of the larger Grey Plover standing or walking slowly around in amongst them. Two slightly larger and dumpier grey birds in with the Dunlin were two Knot. There were more Redshank and Curlew too. When something flushed lots of waders from further out in the harbour, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits circled round and we spotted three Common Snipe which came calling out of the mist.

This is a good site for Twite in the winter and there has been a group here for the last few days. As we stood scanning the harbour, they flew in and landed down by the path in the wet grass briefly. Unfortunately, just at that moment, two people decided to walk down the path and flushed them.

Thankfully the Twite didn’t fly far and landed again in the low vegetation a little further along. We walked over and got great views of them in the scope, sixteen of them in total (although they are very well camouflaged even in the low vegetation and not easy to count!). We could see their yellow bills and orangey breasts. Three Skylarks were picking around in the low vegetation too.

Twite

Twite – there were 16 at Blakeney today

On the walk back to the car, we found a pair of Stonechats feeding in the reeds just below the seawall. We stopped to watch them, fluttering up from the tops, flycatching, before landing back and flicking their tails.

Continuing on east along the coast, our next stop was at Sheringham. We wanted to try to see the King Eider which has been lingering offshore here for a couple of weeks now. It has been favouring the water off the west end of the prom, so we started our search there. There were several Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls on the groynes below the cliffs and a 1st winter Caspian Gull flew past, heading west towards a couple of crab boats which were hauling up their pots away to the west, surrounded by gulls.

Looking out to sea, we could see lots of Starlings coming in over the water, in small groups or larger flocks of 50 or so, birds arriving from the continent for the winter. They seemed to be streaming in constantly. Several groups of Starlings came in right towards us and over the cliffs where we were standing. There were a few thrushes in with them, Redwings and Fieldfares. One or two Blackbirds came in low over the sea too.

We picked up a Woodcock coming in next. It seemed to head straight into the face of the cliffs, but a couple of seconds later it circled over the top and came along the path straight towards us. At the last minute it saw us, just before it crashed into us, panicked and went to land on the path just a couple of metres away, then changed its mind and flew up over the bank and off across the golf course. There was a great variety of migrants arriving this afternoon – this Woodcock had possibly come in all the way from Russia for the winter.

There was no sign of the King Eider on the sea off the lifeboat station, so we walked a little further west along the cliffs until we had a better view beyond. We stopped to scan and could see a few Gannets circling out over the water. A small group of Red-throated Divers flew past. There were a few ducks moving offshore too – a flock of Wigeon, then a line of Common Scoter with several Teal following behind – more migrants arriving for the winter.

Finally we spotted the King Eider, but it was a long way back to the east of where we were now. We had a quick look through the scope, but it was rather distant. So we walked back towards the prom to try to get a closer look. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it had disappeared again. A crab boat had motored out to where it had just been.

There are normally one or two Purple Sandpipers which spend the winter here, so we decided to walk down along the prom to see if we could fine one, while keeping our eyes peeled for the King Eider. Half way along, we met a couple of other birders who had found the King Eider again, but it was now a lot further out. Apparently, it had moved offshore in response to the crab boat. It was also steadily drifting east. We had another look at it, but figured we might be able to get a better view from the east end.

We scanned the rocky sea defences as we made our way further. There were lots of Turnstones along the prom, perched on the wall, or feeding on chips thrown down onto the concrete for them. When we got to ‘the tank’, we looked over the railing and could see a Purple Sandpiper feeding with one of the Turnstones on the seaweed covered rocks below us.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – feeding on the sea defences along the prom

Thankfully we had already enjoyed good views of the Purple Sandpiper, before something spooked all the birds along the prom – gulls, feral pigeons, waders, the lot. We couldn’t see any likely threat here, but the Turnstones flew off and took the Purple Sandpiper with them.

Finally, we got a good view of the King Eider from here. It is an immature male, still moulting out of eclipse plumage, but over the last couple of weeks it has been here it is gradually starting to look a bit brighter. We could see the bright orange frontal lobes at the base of the bill, between its regular dives to look for crabs.

King Eider

King Eider – the immature male was still off Sheringham

King Eider is a high arctic species, which is very rare this far south. They breed in arctic Russia and winter along the north Scandinavian coast. Presumably, once this bird completes its moult, it will make its way back north. But in the meantime, it seems to be finding plenty to eat here.

Back at the car, we stopped for lunch in one of the shelters on the top of the cliffs, overlooking the sea. Afterwards, we started to make our way back west.

When we got to Salthouse, we turned towards the beach. There were lots of Wigeon on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh. We parked and walked up over the shingle until we could see the sea. A few Gannets drifted past offshore and one of the first birds we found on the sea was the Great Northern Diver which had been reported here earlier. We had a good look at it through the scope between dives – a big diver with a heavy bill and black half collar.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver – on the sea off Salthouse today

There were several Guillemots and Razorbills further out on the sea today, all busily diving too. A group of at least 18 Pied Wagtails were feeding further up the beach on the top of the shingle, fluttering about looking for insects on the stones.

As we made our way back to the car, we bumped into one of the locals who informed us that the Yellow-browed Warbler was showing well just the other side of Sarbury Hill. We found somewhere to park and walked along the footpath to where it had been. There were a couple of other people there watching it and after a minute or so it flew up into a sycamore in the hedge.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – in a hedge along the footpath between Salthouse & Cley

The Yellow-browed Warbler was hard to see at first, flitting around in the back of the tree and occasionally disappearing down into some thicker hawthorns next to it, but eventually everyone got a good look at it. This is rather late for a Yellow-browed Warbler – they are regular now between mid September and the end of October, but few linger this long. Hopefully it will still find enough food to fuel up before continuing on its journey.

We headed round to Cley beach next, in the hope we might catch up with a Short-eared Owl here. Half way along Beach Road, we stopped to talk to a couple of people up on the West Bank looking out over the marshes beyond. They had just seen a Short-eared Owl, but it had gone down into the vegetation out along the start of Blakeney Point.

We continued on to the car park, intending to have a look out to sea from here while keeping one eye out for the owl. As we got out of the car, a large flock of Golden Plover whirled over the Eye Field, breaking up into smaller groups and joining up again, before drifting away. Their yelping calls alerted us to several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the west. We watched as they whiffled down onto the grazing marshes. Through the scope, we could see a flock of Brent Geese, a couple of Canada Geese and all the Pinkfeet in one view.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – whiffling down to the grazing marshes

Turning our attention to the sea, a quick scan revealed three Velvet Scoters offshore. Through the scope, we could see the two white spots on their dark brown faces and the white in the wing forming a diagonal white stripe on their flanks. A female Common Scoter appeared with them and several Guillemots were offshore too.

With no sign of the Short-eared Owl reappearing, we decided to walk along the shingle to see if we could find the flock of Snow Buntings which had been along here earlier. We had just started walking away when we got a phone message to say the owl was up again and headed our way. We turned back, and had another scan which quickly revealed the Short-eared Owl perched on the top of a post, against the skyline.

One everyone had enjoyed a good look at the Short-eared Owl through the scope, it was off again hunting, flying with distinctive stiff wing beats. It disappeared round behind some gorse bushes and didn’t come out the other side so presumably had landed again. We could see several Marsh Harriers starting to gather over the marshes beyond, before going to roost.

It was getting dark fast now, not helped by the grey and overcast afternoon, but we decided to have a quick look for the Snow Buntings anyway. We got as far as the point where the vegetation is thickest on the top of the shingle, between the pill box and North Scrape, when we head a ‘crest calling and turned to see it fly right past us. It was either a Goldcrest or a Firecrest, though it sounded perhaps more like the latter, presumably fresh in off the sea. It circled round, but unfortunately we lost sight of it in the gloom as it dropped down into the vegetation. We had a quick look where it seemed to go down but there was no sign.

The light was clearly going now, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the car. With more birds arriving this evening, it will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.

4th Nov 2018 – Late Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of Late Autumn Tours in North Norfolk, our last day today. It was another mild and dry day, with some brighter spells in the afternoon. The weather gods had clearly been looking favourably on us this weekend.

The plan was to spend the morning at Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a few Greylag Geese and Wigeon feeding out in the wet grass. Wigeon numbers are just starting to climb here now, as birds return for the winter. At the north end, as we parked and got out of the car, we could see lots of Pink-footed Geese in the field. Most were asleep or loafing, but a small number were awake and busy feeding on the grass.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – quite a few were feeding by Lady Anne’s Drive

We walked through the trees to the beach and turned east on the edge of the saltmarsh. A small flock of Brent Geese dropped in ahead of us, so we stopped to look at them. There were at least two family parties with several juveniles, which is always good to see. We stood on the path, scoping them out in the middle, looking at the striped backs of the juveniles compared to the plain adults.

Then we noticed a couple striding out across the saltmarsh straight towards the geese, their dog running backwards and forwards ahead of them. Presumably they noticed us, because they stopped, called their dog back and put it on the lead. We thought they were going to walk round, but they marched straight up to the geese and flushed them. Then they immediately let their dog off the lead again. Bizarre behaviour and very rude too!

A little further on, we heard a Green Woodpecker calling towards the pines. We followed the sound and spotted it perched in a dead tree in the edge of the dunes. We got it in the scope and had a quick look at it.

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker – perched in a dead tree in the dunes

There were lots of people and lots of dogs out walking already – lots of disturbance around the beach and the saltmarsh. Thankfully we found the Shorelarks feeding quietly on an area of saltmarsh away from the main dog walking route, but the Snow Buntings we had come to see were further out on the edge of the beach and were flushed as we arrived. We watched them fly off and disappear away over the pines way off to the east of the Gap.

We stopped to watch the Shorelarks. There were nine of them, feeding in the low vegetation, picking at the seedheads. When they lifted their heads, we could see their canary yellow faces shining in the morning sun, contrasting with their black masks and collars.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – there were nine feeding on the saltmarsh this morning

While we were watching the Shorelarks, we heard a twittering call and looked up to see three Snow Buntings flying back in. They landed back over towards the beach and were quickly followed by another two. We walked over to get a closer look at them and were  admiring them through the scope when the rest, another 18, also returned. They dropped in with a flurry of variably white wings and we watched all 23 Snow Buntings scurrying about on the sand in a tight group.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – eventually they all flew back in

We left the Snow Buntings where they were and walked over the dunes to the beach. The tide was out and their were lots of gulls and Oystercatchers out on the sand. A few Sanderling were running around too.

Looking out to sea, we spotted a small flock of Common Scoter flying off east towards Wells harbour mouth. We then scanned across and found about another 1,000 Common Scoter still offshore! They were too far out to see if anything different was in with them today. Something had obviously disturbed the Shorelarks, because while we were standing on the edge of the dunes we saw them fly over and land on the beach right out by the sea.

We made our way back to the Gap and walked west on the track on the inland side of the pines. We hoped to find some tits and smaller birds here, and we made a good start. A Blackcap was calling from the bushes, a Goldcrest flicked in and out of a briar climbing up one of the pines and we could hear a Treecreeper calling from deeper in the trees. There were lots of Jays too, busy collecting and stashing acorns at this time of year.

Jay

Jay – we heard and saw several in the Meals today

At Salt’s Hole, there were at least five Little Grebes on the pool, one of which obviously found something amusing because it laughed at us maniacally! There were a few Wigeon with the assembled Mallard on the bank at the back. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling a little further along the path, so we walked over to see if we could catch up with a tit flock but they had disappeared into the pines by the time we got there.

Scanning from the gate just before Washington Hide, a Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds and landed in one of the bushes. A Common Buzzard and a Red Kite were circling over the trees in Holkham Park beyond. We popped into the hide, but there wasn’t much out on the grazing meadows – a few Pink-footed Geese were hiding behind the sallows beyond the pool.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in the bushes in front of Washington Hide

As we continued west along the track, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the reeds, and we could hear a Water Rail squealing too. We stopped again in Joe Jordan Hide, but it was very quiet here too. A couple of Egyptian Geese were down on one of the pools and two Magpies were busy pecking at some bones on the bank in front of the hide.

We decided to walk back for lunch. On the way, there were a few Blackbirds in the bushes and a Redwing perched up nicely for us in the top of a hawthorn by the path. There were still some Starlings coming in over the trees, but otherwise it was fairly quiet here today.

We stopped for lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive. It was to be an early finish this afternoon, so people could get away in good time, but we still had over an hour to play with. We were planning to head along the coast to Kelling to try to see some Waxwings which had turned up there this morning, but over lunch a message came through to say they had flown off, so we decided to head round to Wells instead, to look for the redpolls we had seen earlier in the week.

As we walked in from the car park, there were lots of Little Grebes on the boating lake, along with three Tufted Duck which were a welcome late addition to the weekend’s list.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there were several on the boating lake

When we heard its plaintive piping call, we looked over to see a very smart male Bullfinch perched in a hawthorn by the path. We could hear a Chiffchaff calling from the bushes too, but otherwise there seemed to be very few birds in here this afternoon. It felt like there had been a big clear out of all the migrants which had stopped in here in the last few days. There were still one or two Blackbirds and Redwings, but a lot fewer than had been here earlier in the week. We couldn’t find any sign of the redpolls.

There was not much time left now, but we decided to try somewhere else instead, and headed over to the other side of Wells. Looking round the pools there, we could see lots of Greylags and a good number of Egyptian Geese. Duck numbers here appear to have dropped a bit, but there was still a nice flock of Wigeon and Teal and a single Pintail was asleep in with them. There were still a few Lapwings and one Ruff around the muddy edges or in the wet grass beside the water.

A mixed flock of Greenfinches and Linnets flew round, and the Greenfinches landed on the fence, where we got them in the scope. We had seen a Yellowhammer briefly when it dropped down into the grass, but helpfully two then flew up and came over towards us, landing in the hawthorns by the path. One, a smart yellow-headed male, landed in the top where we got it in the scope. A pair of Stonechats were feeding along the fence line here too, dropping down to the grass below to feed.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – this smart male perched up in the bushes by the path

Unfortunately, we were now out of time, as we had promised to get everyone back in good time today. Thankfully, it wasn’t far back to Wells, where we said our goodbyes. It had been a very enjoyable three days out, with a good selection of lingering autumn rarities and arriving winter visitors.

 

 

28th Oct 2018 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was much better weather today – mostly bright, even sunny at times, though with one or two squally showers we mostly managed to miss and cold in the still blustery NE wind.

With the wind coming in off the continent overnight, we headed down to Wells Woods first, so see what it might have brought us. As we passed the boating lake, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water and one seemed to be laughing at us (their call sounds like mad laughter!).

Armed with a tip off about a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler a short distance along the track, we went to look for it. As we walked along, we could hear the teezing calls of Redwings and the chucking of Blackbirds in the bushes. A large flock of Redpolls, 40-50 strong, flew out of the birches by the boating lake and circled overhead. We could hear the Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deep in a large sallow clump as we approached, but it was immediately clear it would be a devil to see here.

Walking into the trees, round the back of the sallows, we flushed tons of Blackbirds and Redwings – there had clearly been a sizeable arrival of them overnight, birds arriving from the continent for the winter. There were Redpolls in the trees here too, and we watched several rich brown-toned Lesser Redpolls as they dropped out of the birches and into a large hawthorn in front of us.

Round by the Dell, we could hear tits calling in the trees – Blue, Great and Coal Tits, but surprisingly no Long-tailed Tits with them. There were Goldcrests everywhere here, flicking about in the trees, low down in the briars, in every bush. There had clearly been a big arrival of Goldcrests too – amazing to think that these tiny birds, weighing about the same as a 20p piece, can make it all the way across the North Sea.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – there had clearly been a big arrival overnight

There is a more open area, with lots of hawthorns, which is normally good for thrushes when they have just come in, but it was disappointingly quiet today. With the bright weather, there were lots of people out walking in the woods this morning and lots of dogs running round, so perhaps they had all been flushed from here already.

Making our way back into the birches, we managed to locate a second Yellow-browed Warbler, even though it wasn’t calling. This time we got a good look at it, flitting around in the branches of the trees. We could see its striking pale supercilium and two pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we managed to get a good look at the second one this morning

Yellow-browed Warblers are very much an expected feature of autumn in here these days, but amazing to think these small birds make it all the way here from their breeding groups over towards the Urals, on their way south for the winter. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the trees here too.

Continuing on towards the drinking pool, the trees by the path here were also full of Goldcrests. But the bushes round the drinking pool itself were quiet. While we walked through, we did hear a Crossbill calling and looked up to see a nice red male flying over the tops of the pines, disappearing off east. Having only had brief views of them earlier, we decided to head back and see if we could get a better look at the Redpolls next. Several Siskins flew back and forth overhead calling on the way.

Approaching the Dell meadow, someone waved to call us over and told us that a Barn Owl had been hunting over the grass. We stood for a minute and looked, but there was no sign of it now. However, we did see a couple of people walk out of the trees at the far side, and stop to look up into the birches above them. We could see they were looking at a small group of Redpolls, so we walked over to join them.

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll – small and rather rich brown in colouration

The five or six Redpolls closest to us, lower down in the front of the birch, were obvious Lesser Redpolls. They are smaller and darker, more richly coloured, tawny brown on the back with a brighter brown wash on the breast. The three Redpolls higher up were larger and paler. They were mostly facing us and we assumed at first they were all Mealy Redpolls, migrants from further north in Scandinavia.

One of the paler Redpolls was lurking deeper in the branches, so we concentrated on looking at the others first. Then the third bird turned and we could see it looked rather pale frosty above, buff and white-toned on the back rather than grey-brown. It also appeared to have a rather bright white wingbar too.

It climbed higher up and came out where we could get a better look at it. It was face on to us again, but it did look very pale, with more limited streaking on the flanks than the neighbouring Mealy Redpoll and with a pale creamy, chamois wash on the face and breast. It found a catkin to feed on and hung on it above us – we could see the white feathers underneath looked thick and densely padded and it had just a single, narrow dark streak in the middle of its undertail coverts.

Surely it was an Arctic Redpoll? We trained the scope on it, hoping it would turn and we might see the diagnostic white rump. It fed for a minute or two, hanging on the catkin, but then something spooked it and it disappeared into the trees. It looked good, but without seeing the rump, we just didn’t have enough to be 100% sure.

Arctic Redpoll

Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – it’s identity was confirmed the following day

We waited a while to see if the Redpolls would return to the birches where they had been feeding. We were rewarded with the Barn Owl, which reappeared, and started quartering the meadow in front of us. Great views in the sunshine! It landed in one of the trees for a few minutes, where we could get it in the scope, before resuming the hunt.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the Dell Meadow

The Barn Owl flew back into the trees and landed in an area of sparser birches. It seemed to be looking down into the grass below, looking for prey – an unusual place for a Barn Owl to hunt. Then it disappeared on through the trees.

A couple of Bramblings appeared in the tops of the birches, along with one or two Redwings. Two Lesser Redpolls chased through the trees and appeared to go down to drink, but there was no sign of any more Redpolls coming back to feed on the edge. We could still hear them feeding in the tops of the denser birches beyond, but apart from seeing the odd one or two at any time, they were impossible to get a good look at in here.

Postscript – it felt like that would be the end of the story, as we decided to move on. However, on Monday morning, after several hours chasing round after the Redpoll flock, we were able to confirm that there was indeed at least one Coues’s Arctic Redpoll in with them. A nice post-tour confirmation and a great late addition to the day’s list!

As we walked back to the car, the Barn Owl was still hunting, flying around between the trees where the wood is a bit more open. A pair of Bullfinches also perched up briefly in the hawthorns, piping to each other plaintively, before disappearing in.

From Wells, we headed west to Holme. As we got out of the car by the golf course, we could hear Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds calling in the trees. A Fieldfare tchacked noisily too and a steady stream of small flocks of Starlings flew overhead, on their way west. All fresh arrivals from the continent, coming in for the winter.

As we walked out over the golf course, it was very busy – lots of people, and lots of dogs, out enjoying the morning sunshine. We were hoping to find a small group of Shorelarks, which has been feeding on the beach here, but with so much disturbance, it didn’t look promising.

When we got up to the top of the beach, we stopped to scan the sea. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water and a winter-plumage Red-throated Diver was diving as it made its way east just off the beach. There were lots of waders on the wet sand – Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Turnstones. Two Ringed Plovers flew past.

There were some threatening dark clouds just offshore, although they looked like they might miss us. Just in case, we thought we should have a quick look for the Shorelarks now. As they had apparently been feeding that way yesterday, we set off east along the high tideline. As we walked past, several Rock Pipits and Skylarks came up from the saltmarsh just behind the beach. It started to spit with rain briefly, which at least had the advantage of encouraging most of the other people to head back in for cover!

We hadn’t gone too far before we found the Shorelarks, feeding on the top of the beach some distance ahead of us. They were heading away, but we stopped and had a quick look at them through the scope. We were planning to try to walk up a little closer, but before we had a chance they took off and flew towards us. They came right over us, calling softly, and landed on the beach back where we had just been. There were six of them – an extra two, as only four had been reported earlier.

Shorelark

Shorelark – there were six at Holme today

We walked back and found the Shorelarks feeding on the tideline in a sandy slack in the dunes. We got them in the scope, and had some good views. We could see their yellow faces and black bandit masks and collars. A walker came along the shoreline and flushed them, but the Shorelarks flew towards us and landed even closer, even better views. They fed here for a few minutes and they were off again. flying off along the beach behind us.

It was time for lunch, so we headed round to Titchwell and made use of the picnic tables, out of the wind. Afterwards, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders by the visitor centre held just a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but we could hear Bramblings calling in the alders by the main path. We looked up to see two Bramblings feeding above us. There was a tit flock working its way through the trees here too, but we couldn’t find anything different in with the tits.

The dried-up Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was fairly devoid of life – just a single Redshank and a Pheasant. The reedbed pool held just a few Coots and Mallards today, so we continued quickly on to Island Hide. Just before we got to the access ramp, we looked down at the mud in the corner below the path and noticed a Grey Wagtail feeding on the edge of the water. They are not common here, so this was presumably a migrant stopping off on its way.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding on the mud by Island Hide

From the shelter of Island Hide, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh. A winter adult Ruff was feeding on the mud just outside the hide, next to an adult Dunlin still moulting out of breeding plumage, still sporting a rather spotty black belly patch. There were more Dunlin and Ruff on the islands further back.

Ruff

Ruff – an adult in non-breeding plumage

There were still five Avocets on here today. A small number normally try to stay through the winter, while most of the other decide to head south instead. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits too, mostly asleep on the islands. Two Golden Plover were tucked in on the edge of the vegetation but were spooked when all the ducks took off and flew off.

There are plenty of ducks on here now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, as more return from their northern breeding grounds . More of the drake Teal are emerging from eclipse now and regaining their smart breeding plumage. The drake Wigeon on average are a little behind them. The Brent Geese are returning too, as we saw yesterday, and small groups kept dropping in to the Freshmarsh to drink or bathe, from the saltmarsh beyond.

Teal

Teal – many of the drakes are getting back into their smart breeding plumage now

A sharp call alerted to an incoming pipit, but we were in the other part of the hide so didn’t see it come in. We eventually found it, feeding along the edge of the reeds to the side of the hide. Normally we might expect it to be a Water Pipit on here, but this was a Rock Pipit, rather oily brown above and heavily streaked and blotched below. A Water Rail put in a brief appearance next to it, but quickly disappeared back into the reeds. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed.

The wind picked up as a squally shower came in off the sea. It mostly missed us, passing inland to the west, but it did rain for a few minutes. We sat it out in the hide. Once it had cleared through, we decided to head round towards Parrinder Hide for a change of scene, but once we got up onto the main path the wind had dropped a bit too and it looked OK ahead of us, so we continued straight out towards the beach.

As we walked past Volunteer Marsh, a couple of close Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the channel just below the bank. There were more Redshanks on the mud in the wider channel at the far end, along with a single Grey Plover which we got in the scope.

When we got to the beach, the tide was out but we stopped on the edge of the dunes to scan the sea. We could see a line of Common Scoter flying way out in front of the wind turbines and a couple of juvenile Gannets making their way past, but otherwise the sea was quite choppy and we couldn’t see much out on the water.

There were lots of waders out on the mussel beds – mostly Oystercatchers, Curlew and godwits. A Marsh Harrier drifted along the shoreline and over the mussel beds, causing pandemonium and flushing waders. Even though the wind had dropped a bit, it was still breezy and cold out here, so we decided to head back to shelter.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide. With the clocks having gone back last night, it was getting dark early today and the gulls were already gathering to roost. We had a good look through them, to see if anything different had come in, but all we could see were the usual Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

A couple of geese walked across in front of the hide – a single Pink-footed Goose following a lone Greylag, giving a nice comparison. The Pink-footed Goose was one of the two injured birds, with a mangled wing, which has been here all year, though there was no sign of the second today. A flock of Golden Plovers, circled over calling and dropped down onto the mud amongst the ducks.

It was time to start heading back now. As we walked back along the path, a Cetti’s Warbler was practicing its song from the bushes in the reedbed, nice to hear them back as the population here was devastated by the cold weather earlier in the year. We had seen small flock of Starlings flying west all day, but now a huge flock of at least 1,000 birds came over and disappeared on west.

As we got back to the trees, there seemed to be a burst of activity as Blackbirds and thrushes started spiralling up out of the trees. They circled overhead, seemingly getting their bearings, before heading off into the gathering gloom. Having rested up here for the day, they were now looking to continue on their journey. An amazing thing to watch.

As we made our way back, there was one last surprise in store. A shape on the roof of a barn, silhouetted against the last of the light, caught our eye. A quick U-turn confirmed it was a Little Owl. We stopped and wound down the windows. It dropped into a roof vent but stayed perched half in where we could see it watching us. A lovely end to the day and en exciting Autumn weekend.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a barn at dusk on our way back

14th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

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

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

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

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

Wheatear

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

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

Snow Bunting

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

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

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

Gannet

Gannet – several dark grey juveniles were among those flying past

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

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

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

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

Jack Snipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kingfisher

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

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

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

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

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile with 10 Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Gull

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

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

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

Peregrine

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

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

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

Crossbill

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

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

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

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

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

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

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

Waders 1

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

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

Waders 2

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

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

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

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

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

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

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

Waders 5

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

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

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

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

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

Greenshank

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

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

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

Spotted Redshank

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

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

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

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

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

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

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

Red-crested Pochard

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

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

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

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

Avocet

Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

Common Redshank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

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

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

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