Tag Archives: Norfolk

14th Apr 2021 – Back to Work

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. After 6 months (to the day!) since our last tour, with everything in between cancelled due to COVID restrictions, it was very nice to be able to get back out again. The plan was to try to pick up some lingering winter visitors, as well as try to find some early spring migrants. It was mostly bright, with sunny intervals, cool in the morning particularly in the northerly breeze but warming up nicely in the afternoon, and with just a brief shower at lunchtime.

We started the day at Snettisham. Stopping by the entrance to the car park, a Barn Owl was hunting over the grass down along the inner seawall, flying across the road in front of us and disappearing off into the Coastal Park. A pair of Goldcrests were flitting around in some conifers by the pavement, the male singing and fluffing out its bright gold and flame-coloured crown feathers.

The fields either side of the road here can be good for Ring Ouzels at this time of year, but all we could find this morning were a couple of unringed Ouzels (also known as Blackbirds!). There were lots of Curlews feeding out on the grass too. We set off to walk up to the gate into the Coastal Park and a Greenfinch was singing and doing its fluttering song-flight over the garden of the nearby cottage. The sweet, descending scale of a Willow Warbler drifted out from the bushes. We could hear the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls too.

As we got to the gate, a couple with a rather lively dog were just ahead of us, the dog running in and out of the bushes either side of the path, significantly reducing our chances of seeing anything. We diverted up onto the outer seawall, and looked out across the Wash. We received a message to say that an Osprey had been seen over Ken Hill Marshes, just behind us, but had flown south. So we scanned across that way and picked up a large bird or prey way off in the distance, hovering slowly. Even through the scopes, it was right at the limit, too far to make out any detail, but as it broke off from hovering and turned, we could see it was very long-winged, a distinctive flight silhouette – the Osprey, but not the best views of one we have ever had!

The tide was in. Some more dogwalkers down along the beach further up flushed several Ringed Plovers as they walked along. There were lots of birds out on the water, but rather than seaduck they turned out to be several rafts of Teal and Wigeon, along with a small party of Cormorants and, further out, lots of large gulls.

Chaffinch – this very smart male perched up beside the path as we passed

As we dropped back down off the seawall and onto the path through the Coastal Park, a couple of Sedge Warblers were singing, and we eventually found one perched half way up a small bush in the reeds. There were lots of Chiffchaffs and one or two Blackcaps singing too, the early returning summer breeding warblers, although number of returning birds have probably been held up by the cold northerly winds over the last couple of weeks. A very smart male Chaffinch perched up on the top of a Hawthorn as we passed and there were lots of Linnets all the way up. We came across the Barn Owl again, hunting over the grassy area in the middle of the Coastal Park.

Linnet – a male; there were lots in the Coastal Park

There was a distinct lack of migrants moving overhead today, again a consequence of the northerly winds, but as we got up towards the crossbank, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling and picked it up high in the sky approaching from the south. The first couple of calls sounded pretty conventional, but the next two or three had a distinctly rasping quality to them. Yellow Wagtails come in lots of different forms, and it would have been interesting to see this one on the ground, but unfortunately we watched as it flew off north into the distance.

Walking across to the inner seawall, we climbed up to the top and scanned the grass to the north of the crossbank. There were no cows out, which explained why the wagtail didn’t stop. The Barn Owl was out hunting here now. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and a couple of Skylarks, along with a pair of Grey Partridge. Two smaller, slimmer, shorter-billed birds in with a small group of Curlew were confirmed as two Whimbrel through the scope. They were a bit distant, but turning our attention across to Ken Hill Marshes the other side, we realised there was another Whimbrel on the grass just beyond the ditch. We had a really good view of the striped crown on this one.

There were lots of Avocets, Redshanks and Lapwings on the new pools. Scanning carefully, we found several Common Snipe around the vegetated islands too. There was a nice selection of wildfowl, lots of ducks including a single pair of Pintail. In with the commoner geese, we found a single Pink-footed Goose, its smaller size, dark head and more delicate and mostly dark bill distinguishing it from the nearby Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, although a few are still lingering, some having been shot and winged and unable to make the journey back to Iceland. Our first Marsh Harrier of the day was hunting out over the water.

Barn Owl – out hunting all the time we were in the Coastal Park

The Barn Owl seemed to be following us! It flew back south over the crossbank as we turned to head back along the inner seawall. Most of the way, it kept flying off ahead of us, before coming back again. Great to watch, but it must have been hungry to be out mid-morning, and we didn’t see it catch anything all the time it was in view. A single Swallow and a Sand Martin flew past, surprisingly the only hirundines we saw here this morning. Back to the minibus, another Grey Partridge was out with the Curlew now and a Sparrowhawk came in low from the direction of the marshes. There was still no sign of any Ring Ouzels in the paddocks though.

One request for this morning was to try to see some waders, and there is no better place than Snettisham for that! The tide was already going out fast by the time we got down to the pits and up on the seawall by the Wash. Looking out across the mud, we could see thousands of birds out here still, loads of Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher. A Grey Plover moulting into breeding plumage looked very smart with its black face and white-spangled upperparts. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the mouth of the channel, most already in their orange summer attire, feeding up before heading off to Iceland to breed. A similarly dressed Bar-tailed Godwit further up on the water’s edge was noticeably different, with the rusty colour extending right down under the tail.

Wash Waders – there were thousands of birds out on the mud still

Unlike many of the other waders, the Avocets don’t spend the winter here but there are already lots back. There was a liberal scattering across the mud all the way down to the hides. We just wanted to have a quick look at the southern pit today, which has been taken over by hundreds of breeding gulls. Scanning from the causeway, in amongst the more numerous Black-headed Gulls we found a few Mediterranean Gulls, with their more extensive jet black hoods and white wing tips, and a single Common Gull too.

Avocet – there are lots back already

We had lots we wanted to try to pack in today, so we moved on. A brief check of some paddocks at Hunstanton, where there had been Ring Ouzels a few days ago, failed to produce any here either. Rounding the corner of the coast, we drove into some dark clouds and a sharp shower. It had already stopped by the time we got to Holme, but it was now rather cool and cloudy and a couple of brief stops listening for Grasshopper Warblers drew a blank. We did manage to get a hot drink down at The Firs and stopped to eat our lunch. A young Peregrine flew through quickly towards Thornham before circling back more slowly a little later and five more lingering Pink-footed Geese were out on the grazing marshes.

Our next stop was at Titchwell. We wouldn’t have long here today, but we wanted to have a quick look at the Freshmarsh at least, so we headed straight out. As we got out of the trees on the main path, a Red Kite drifted out across the reedbed and another was hunting out over the dunes. A few Pied Wagtails were feeding out on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh. The reedbed pool produced a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard, but a Little Grebe remained hidden in the reeds and we could only hear it laughing at us. There were still quite a few Brent Geese here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and the saltmarsh the other side of the west bank. In the next month or so, they will be off back up to Russia to breed.

Brent Geese – still here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and saltmarsh

We stopped on the bank by one of the benches to scan the Freshmarsh. Apart from several Avocets, there were no many waders on here. The water level is still quite high, and there is not much exposed mud. On the small area which has appeared in front of Parrinder Hide, we could see two Little Ringed Plovers which have returned already for the breeding season. With the hides closed, they were not particularly close but we could see their golden yellow eye-rings through the scopes.

Little Ringed Plovers – these two were out in front of the closed Parrinder Hide

The large, fenced off island has been taken over by gulls again, with several pairs of Mediterranean Gull in among the Black-headed Gulls. We were hoping to find some Sandwich Terns on the Freshmarsh, but there weren’t any now – there had been earlier, but presumably they had gone out to the sea. Some very smart Teal were feeding just below us, on the near edge of the water. A couple of the drakes were squabbling and the more aggressive displayed too, squashing itself up before throwing its head back. Sometimes, one or two may stay all summer but most will be moving on soon.

Teal – displaying just below the main path

A small falcon came in high over the Freshmarsh now, grey-brown and compact, a Merlin. It carried on across Volunteer Marsh and when it got out to the dunes it turned and disappeared off to the east. Another lingering winter visitor here. We decided to make a quick dash out to the beach to see if we could find a Sandwich Tern out there. A single Redshank was hiding in the channel at the front of Volunteer Marsh and there were a few Curlew in the wide channel at the far end. We couldn’t see anything of note on the Tidal Pool today.

The sea was quiet. After a couple of minutes scanning with the scopes, we did manage to pick up a Sandwich Tern flying past – mission accomplished! A single Great Crested Grebe still out on the sea was a nice bonus. Most of the waders were further up along the beach towards Thornham Point, and despite the shimmer we managed to pick out a few Sanderling in the haze. A couple of Turnstone flew in and landed on the mussel beds, along with a flock of Knot.

With time getting on now and a few more things to try to squeeze in to the itinerary this afternoon, we decided to head straight back. As we walked back past the reedbed, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds.

Continuing on east along the coast road, we stopped past Burnham Overy at the top of Whincover. There had been four Ring Ouzels seen from the track earlier this morning, so we thought we would try our luck as we were passing. With no further reports since, it was probably no surprise we couldn’t find them where they had been and another lone Pink-footed Goose and a Little Grebe were the best we could find out on the grazing marshes.

We were just about to give up and head back when we received a message to say that three had been seen again somewhere nearby, although the location given didn’t make sense. We had an idea where they might mean and thankfully we guessed right – we were almost down the seawall towards Burnham Overy Staithe when a revised message come through with the right directions.

Scanning the field, we thought for a few minutes like our luck might be out again. We could see a couple of Blackbirds, two Mistle Thrushes and a Song Thrush, but no sign of any Ring Ouzels. They do have a habit of disappearing into cover when they are disturbed though, so we carried on down the seawall and kept looking. Thankfully it didn’t take too long until a smart male Ring Ouzel appeared on a fence post on the edge of the field. It dropped down onto the grass and started feeding, and through the scopes we had a good view of its bright white gorget and silvery-edged wings.

Ring Ouzel – we finally managed to catch up with this male

With another target in the bag, we set off back along the seawall towards Whincover. A Great White Egret was flying away from us across the grazing marshes – we could see that its bill was dark, rather than yellow, as the colour changes in the breeding season which can be a pitfall for the unwary. Back along the track across the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing away in full view now in one of the briar clumps.

Sedge Warbler – singing from the briar patches by the track

Our last destination for the afternoon was going to be back at Wells, but on the way there we made a very brief stop. We had surprisingly failed to come across any Spoonbills on our travels so far, but now we could see several distantly in the trees and flying in and out. As it was, we needn’t have worried.

There was meant to be a Grey Phalarope on the pools at Wells, which we were hoping to see to end the day. It had apparently flown off at dawn but had thankfully reappeared after a couple of hours. We knew it was favouring the far side of the pool east of the track, right in the far corner and only visible from further down, but as we walked down the track towards there we met a couple looking through their scope the wrong way. They told us that the phalarope had apparently flown off again, across the pool west of the track, just a few minutes before we arrived. Our hearts sank – we were just too late! We stopped anyway and lifted our binoculars and the first thing we saw was the Grey Phalarope flying straight towards us! It came right over our heads, and then flew back to its favoured spot over in the far corner.

Grey Phalarope – flew right over our heads on its way back to its favoured corner

A large white shape over at the back of the pool to the east was another Spoonbill. Before we could get to the corner, it took off and flew straight towards us, passing over the track just behind us. A much better view than the ones we had seen on our brief stop on the way here.

Spoonbill – flew off over the track behind us

From the edge of the track at the far side of the pools, we set up our scopes again and looked back into the far corner. Sure enough, the Grey Phalarope was back in its favourite spot in the south-east corner of the eastern pool. It was swimming round in between several Avocets which were busily upending in the deep water, presumably stirring up the mud at the bottom and bringing food up for the phalarope to pick up.

It was a nice way to end the day, and it was now time to head for home. Despite the cool northerlies, we had succeeded in seeing a very selection of spring migrants, as well as picking up a good number of lingering winter visitors. It was great to be out again – hopefully we can now slowly get back to normal and resume a full programme of tours as planned in the coming months.

If you would like to come out birding in Norfolk, we are ready to go!

Jan/Feb 2021 – Through Winter, now into Spring

I am conscious that I haven’t written any blog posts for several months now – COVID-19 has meant no tours have run since last October, with a succession of national lockdowns interspersed with ‘tiered’ regional restrictions which have meant it has not been possible to operate.

As we head into spring, hopefully there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Following last week’s announcement by the Government, we are planning to restart tours on a limited basis from April 12th and then look to run a full programme from May 17th. If you might be interested in joining us, please check the website to see what we have planned or contact me directly.

In the meantime, this is what I have been up to, keeping busy over the last couple of months…

2021: Happy New Year

In Norfolk, we found ourselves put into Tier 4 from Boxing Day. Normally, my son and I would have a ‘big day’ on January 1st, trying to find as many species as possible up and down the coast to see in the New Year. With the restrictions in place, that wouldn’t be possible this year, but we did manage a couple of short trips out locally.

We drove down to the beach at Weybourne for a walk on New Year’s Day. Our journey there took us over Kelling Heath, where fortuitously a Waxwing was feeding on rosehips right next to the road. We stopped briefly to watch it – they have been in very short supply this winter, so it was a real bonus to be able to catch up with one so close to home today. One of everyone’s favourites, and a great way to start the year.

Waxwing – feeding on rosehips by the road on New Year’s Day

Continuing on down to Weybourne, we had only just walked up onto the beach when the lingering juvenile Iceland Gull flew up from the shingle in front of us. A scarce bird in Norfolk in most winter’s, and another good one to get 2021 underway. A walk along the beach didn’t produce much else, but the Iceland Gull patrolled up and down the shore past us a couple of times.

Iceland Gull – this juvenile has been lingering along the North Norfolk coast

Driving back along the coast road, we stopped briefly half way down Beach Road at Cley. As we climbed up the West Bank, a Kingfisher was perched on the concrete sluice the other side. A lone Canada Goose was out on the grazing marshes, lots of Pintail were asleep on the brackish pools and the hoped for Barn Owl was picked up hunting in front of the Mill.

On Jan 2nd, we went for a walk at Holkham. Heading down through the trees in the park produced a selection of commoner woodland birds and the lake added a few ducks to the slowly growing year list. But the surprise of the day was finding six Cattle Egrets (or should that be ‘Deer Egrets’?!) in the park feeding in amongst the Fallow Deer.

Cattle Egrets – four of the six feeding in the park among the deer

It was a nice gentle start to the 2021 birding year, but little did we realise that would be the end of it. On the evening of January 4th it was announced we were all going into a new National Lockdown the following day. That was that!

Staying Local

At first, staying local meant turning my attention to the garden and the surrounding fields. We are lucky with owls here, and regularly, early morning or late afternoon, one or two of our local Barn Owls could be found out hunting.

Barn Owl – often found out hunting early morning or late afternoon

We also have a pair of Little Owls here. On sunny days, they like to perch up somewhere and warm themselves and this year one of them has sometimes used a holly tree outside the back door of the house, from where it watches us coming and going.

Little Owl – watching from a sunny spot in the holly tree

The garden has delivered some surprises this lockdown – as well as an occasional Grey Heron or a pair of Mallard, we often get one or two Teal drop in to the overgrown pond at the back of us here, but a Water Rail there on January 10th was more unexpected. However, possibilities in the immediate area are always going to be slightly limited and there are only so many times you can walk up and down the footpath here, particularly with the rest if the village using it, and the ground getting increasingly muddy.

Still within the local area, there are lots of woods and footpaths which I have never explored, so I set off on foot to see what I could find. The fields and hedgerows held small number of winter thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings come here from Scandinavia for the winter.

Redwing – small flocks could be found in the fields

Some of the fields have game cover or wild bird seed mix strips along their edges, and one area in particular held impressive numbers of Bramblings, with a flock of at least 100 in one location. There were smaller numbers of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls around too, plus a few Common Crossbills in the conifer blocks.

The best find of early January were the Hawfinches. They used to breed in many of the local parks when I was a boy, but they have sadly declined to the point where they only seem to be regular now in the Brecks. Variable numbers also still come to the UK from the continent in winter, and I often wonder if birds could still be lingering in some of their traditional haunts, as they are surprisingly unobtrusive creatures for so big a finch. Still it was a big surprise out on one of my walks to see two Hawfinches fly in over the fields and land in some trees behind some houses on the edge of the village.

I encountered the Hawfinches regularly over the next couple of weeks, with a maximum of four on a couple of occasions, but mostly they were distant in the tops of the trees or flying over. Then on 18th Jan, I was walking along a track out of the woods and a lone Hawfinch flew up from the verge in front of me. It landed in some bare branches above my head, looking down at me, before flying back into the trees. Just a moment of luck – that was the only time I got close and I never did see one in the same spot again!

Hawfinch – flushed from the verge and landed in the tree above my head

The other highlight locally were the Goshawks. Once confined to the Brecks in Norfolk, they finally seem to be spreading more widely, and lots of people seem to have found them locally to them across the county in the last couple years. A succession of lockdowns has probably helped, with people forced to explore closer to home. There seem to be very good numbers of juveniles around at the moment, presumably birds dispersing after a good breeding season last year. The best time to look for them is on sunny days from the turn of the year, when Goshawks can be found displaying – perfect timing for Lockdown 3.0!

Goshawk – seem to be expanding rapidly now in Norfolk

The little things matter in lockdown too. It got colder around the end of January and this seemed to stimulate a bit of movement. A female Stonechat took up residence on the fence around a field full of sheep, the first I have ever seen locally. Common enough on the coast in winter, and in some of the bigger river valleys in Norfolk, but rarer than hens’ teeth in the agricultural desert that is much of inland Norfolk.

A couple of milder days at the start of February lulled some creatures into a false sense that spring was imminent. A Peacock on my walk on 4th was my first butterfly of the year and my first Hoverfly (Eristalis tenax) appeared in the garden that afternoon. A drake Goosander flying over the woods was a bit of a surprise late one afternoon, as was a Marsh Harrier flying high north towards the coast at dusk on another evening.

Then the snow arrived on 8th February and over the next couple of days, we found ourselves with up to a foot of lying snow, the most I have seen here for many years. Where the hedges have been grubbed out along the road out of the village and the verge had been helpfully mown flatter than a billiard table just the week before, the snow was drifting in the wind too. So that day was a stay at home day.

It was a surprise to find one of the local Barn Owls out hunting in the worst of the snow and wind that morning, before it then more sensibly settled onto a post on the edge of the meadow where it was more sheltered to see if it could hear something in the grass below. Obviously already hungry and with a problem with one of its eyes, it didn’t seem like it would survive a prolonged period of snow (spoiler alert: somehow it did and it is still here!).

Barn Owl – out hunting in the worst of the snow
Barn Owl – then tried to find food from the fenceposts

There was an arrival of Woodcock on the coast before and during the snow, presumably fleeing even colder weather on the continent. People close to the coast reported big numbers – on the beach, in coastal scrub and fields and even on the lawn in some lucky peoples’ gardens! This arrival didn’t seem to percolate this far inland though. We always have a few Woodcock which spend the winter in the woods here and numbers seemed to be much as usual.

Woodcock are normally very nocturnal, and seldom seen during the day unless flushed, but when they are struggling to feed and hungry in snowy or icy conditions, they can sometimes be found out in the middle of the day. Despite searching all the places where I have seen Woodcock locally in the past, the most I could find in the snow here were birds flying past or deep in the trees which flew off before I even saw them. We have had them on the lawn here before, in the snow, but no such luck this year.

There were also reports of large numbers of Common Snipe and smaller number of Jack Snipe elsewhere, displaced by the snow. We always have two or three Green Sandpipers which spend the winter in farm ditches locally, and I had regularly seen one or two on my walks prior to the snow, but otherwise we have few wet areas suitable for waders. It was not a great surprise therefore that I had failed to even see a single Common Snipe so far this year. So when a Common Snipe was reported by one of the other birders in the village from the ditch where the Green Sandpipers could often be found, I was very pleased to be able to catch up with it. The next day, I then flushed two Common Snipe from the old farm pond behind the house – just like buses!

Given the lack of snipe here, I thought a Common Snipe would be the best I could hope for. It was therefore an even bigger surprise the following day, when I stopped on my daily walk to scan the ditch where the Common Snipe was still feeding, and as I looked further back I noticed some bright golden mantle stripes bobbing up and down. A Jack Snipe! The first I have ever seen locally.

Jack Snipe – found feeding in a ditch locally, in the snow

Having scoured the woods in the local area for a daytime-feeding Woodcock, I received a message one day from one of the other birders in the village that he had seen one early that morning on the edge of the small copse directly across the lane from our garden! I had looked in there most mornings, on my way out for a walk, and had not seen anything. Surely it wouldn’t still be there now, but I had to have a quick look just in case.

There was no sign of it where it had been earlier, but after walking up and down on the edge of the copse several times, I noticed a rusty brown lump not far into the trees. The Woodcock! It was out in an open patch, on the ice which had been a large puddle, presumably trying to feed in the damp edges just above, where the lying snow was less deep. It froze when it saw me, presumably not realising that its wonderful cryptic plumage did not provide much camouflage against a background of white snow!

Woodcock – finally I got to see one out in the daytime

After a week, the weather changed and the snow melted very quickly. The waders – Woodcock, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe – all disappeared, the snipe not helped by the rapid rise in water levels in the ditches over the next few days. Finally able to get out further afield again, it became clear that other things had been forced to move by the snow too – there was no sign of the Hawfinches or Stonechat now, and numbers of Bramblings in the fields seemed to have dropped too.

For the last week or so of February, temperatures then rose so that for a while it felt like spring. The insects responded quickly, with my first Common Wasp of the year on on 20th and several Honey Bees gathering pollen around the snowdrops on 21st. Two Brimstone butterflies were out in the sunshine in the woods on 24th and over the following days the bee list expanded with Early and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, and Yellow-legged (Andrena flavipes) and Gwynne’s Mining Bees (A. bicolor) all in the garden.

Honey Bee – one of several gathering pollen around the snowdrops

There had already been several reports of Common Cranes on the move elsewhere over the previous few days, but that is another species we struggle with here. They wander from the Broads in early spring but tend to follow the coast or the major river valleys, and seldom seem to wander over the open fields in the agricultural middle of the county. I was really missing not having seen them in the Broads this year, one of the highlights of Jan and Feb for me. I was therefore delighted when I was out on my daily walk on 26th February in the sunshine and heard bugling high overhead. I turned to see a small group of five Common Cranes circling in the sun. After a few seconds they broke off and continued on their way west.

Common Cranes – these five flew over in the sunshine

I was pleased enough to see them, but when I got home later I noticed a message on the newswires that the Cranes had actually flown over my village a few minutes before I saw them. I hope they didn’t go over my house – it is still one I need for my garden list!

It remained warm right to the end of the month. A Chiffchaff singing in the garden on 27th February may be our earliest ever here, and seemed to be part of quite a widespread arrival across the county that day. With a sunny morning on 28th, it felt like a day for raptors so I stood on the lawn for a while scanning as the local Buzzards started to circle up. I probably saw upwards of 15 Common Buzzards and four Sparrowhawks, but nothing more exotic.

I left my scope on the lawn and walked out through the gap in the tall hedge at the back, onto the footpath beyond, to scan the fields to the south. As I emerged, I noticed a pale shape hovering over the rough grass field just beyond the hedge. It looked the wrong shape for one of the Barn Owls which usually like to hunt over there, before it turned and the penny dropped. It was a cracking silvery-grey male Hen Harrier! And for once I didn’t have a camera with me.

I ran back into the house and grabbed one, but by the time I got back out, the Hen Harrier was working its way down the field away from me, into the sun. I set off down along the footpath, and for a few seconds when it got to the far end of the field it looked like it was going to work its way back again. But then it disappeared round behind the trees and was gone. I have only ever seen one Hen Harrier here before, also a male, back in early 2011. It just goes to show what you can sometimes find when you are forced to stay home. As I walked back into the house, a Peacock butterfly was basking on the steps in the sun.

Peacock – basking on the steps in the sun

The weather has turned cooler again at the moment. The last three days have been dull, grey, foggy and have given me a chance to sit down in the office and write this. But it finally feels like spring is just around the corner and I cannot wait to get out again and explore the rest of Norfolk in just a few weeks time.

14th Oct 2020 – Private Autumn Day Tour

A Private Autumn single day tour in North Norfolk today. It was mostly cloudy today but mostly dry – we managed to largely dodge the showers, particularly in the afternoon. A brisk NE wind held lots of promise for migrants coming in from the continent.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. Walking in towards the woods from the beach car park, we could see several Little Grebes on the Boating Lake as usual and a few Coot and Mallard to get the day’s list started.

Little Grebe – there were several on the boating lake as usual this morning

As soon as we got into the birches, we found our first tit flock. There were lots of birds flitting around in the trees overhead – Long-tailed Tits, Blue and Coal Tit, Goldcrests and a Treecreeper. Small groups of Redwings flew back and forth overhead and we could hear their teezing calls.

Walking round the north side of the Dell, we flushed more Redwings and several Blackbirds from the bottom, under the trees. We cut across the middle, over the main track and out into the more open area the other side. There were loads of Redwings here too, feeding on berries in the bushes and out on the grass on the grazing marshes beyond. Looking through them, we managed to find one or two Song Thrushes as well. There had clearly been a big arrival of thrushes here in the last 24 hours, mainly Redwings, coming here from Scandinavia for the winter.

Redwing – there had been a big arrival in the last 24 hours

A couple of Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes beyond, a juvenile with bright red wing tags (unfortunately too far away to read the identifying code), and an adult female with much more pale creamy colouring on the leading edge of the wings. Two Red Kites were hanging in the air over the trees in the Park at the back.

The Marsh Harriers kept flushing all the ducks from the grazing marshes, the flocks Wigeon and Teal flying round before settling again around the pools. There were a few Curlew and Lapwing, and several Pied Wagtails out on the wet grass too.

Small groups of Redpolls kept flying back and forth overhead calling while we were scanning the grazing marshes and as we walked on a little further a few flew in and landed in the top of a large birch tree in front of us. We had a much better view of them now, and got one or two in the scope, admiring the red ‘polls’ on their foreheads and black chin patches. These birds looked rather small and brown, Lesser Redpolls. More dropped in to join them and others flew out – there was lots of coming and going.

Lesser Redpoll – several landed in the birches

Continuing round, two Sparrowhawks were up over the pines in the distance, chased by two Carrion Crows, swooping in and out of the treetops. Two male Blackcaps popped up in the top of a large clump of Hawthorn and briar.

Back out on the main track, there were lots of Goldcrests in the birches, as we caught the tail end of another tit flock as it disappeared into the pines. There was nothing of note in the bushes round the Drinking Pool but a couple of Bramblings were calling in the pines and we had a fleeting view high in the trees and then saw one of them flying off.

Goldcrest – there were lots of exhausted migrants in today

Continuing west on the main track, we stopped to watch some more Goldcrests feeding in some sycamores right by the path. We had some great views of them, down at eye level. While they do breed here, numbers are swollen in autumn by arrivals from the continent. We marvelled at how these tiny birds weighing no more than a 20p coin, can manage to fly all the way across the North Sea. When they arrive they are not surprisingly exhausted and hungry and therefore very confiding.

We were just in the process of discussing how you might tell a Firecrest from a Goldcrest when we had a shout from a friend deeper in the trees in front of us that he had just found one! It was very active, flitting around in the oaks, and hard to see. We had a few quick glimpses and then lost track of it. While we were looking round in the trees for the Firecrest, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared too, but again we only managed frustratingly brief views of it before we lost track of it.

The Goldcrests seemed to be working their way slowly east through the trees, so we walked back out onto the track and followed them. We could hear more wheezy calls from Bramblings a little further along and walked back where a smart male finally gave itself up nicely in some birches, turning round and showing off its bright orange breast and shoulders.

Brambling – this male gave itself up in the birches by the track

There were no Goldcrests this far down – we seemed to have overshot the flock – so we walked back a few metres until we found them again. Suddenly out popped a boldly marked head low in an oak tree right in front of us, like a rather like Goldcrest but with additional stripes, black through the eye and a striking white supercilium above. It was the Firecrest and we had great views of it now as it performed in front of our eyes.

Firecrest – reappeared low in an oak tree right in front of us

We continued to follow the Goldcrests and we were rewarded again when the Yellow-browed Warbler reappeared in a small sycamore beside the track. It fed here for a couple of minutes now, giving us the chance to get a better look at its stripes, a striking yellowish supercilium and double wing bars.

Having enjoyed great views of Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler, we decided to start walking back. There was a report of some other birds in the open area by the Dell now, so we cut back in and walked slowly in through the grass and round the brambles and hawthorns.

A Lesser Whitethroat flicked out ahead of us, and we watched it feeding in the brambles. At this time of year, they are mainly ‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroats passing through, birds of the race blythi, also known as Siberian Lesser Whitethroats and coming to us from much further east. Sure enough, this was an Eastern Lesser Whitethroat, with the brown of the mantle continuing as a shawl up over the back of the head. We could hear its quiet tacking calls as it worked its way round.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat – of the race blythi

We found a smart male Bullfinch in the brambles too, and still lots of Redwings and Redpolls, but no sign of the Redstart now which was seen here earlier. As we made our way back to the main track, a couple of Redpolls flew in and landed briefly in the hawthorns ahead of us. A flash of a streaky but pale rump on one indicated it was a Mealy Redpoll, the flammea race of Common Redpoll which comes here from Scandinavia in the autumn.

Cutting back in round the east side of the Dell, we had another look in the birches on our way back to the car park. Several Blackcaps flitted ahead of us and a couple of Bullfinches were in the brambles. There was a tit flock in the trees here again, the light was better this time. We spent some time looking through them – lots of Goldcrests but nothing more unusual.

Back out to the car park, we picked up lunch and walked over to the harbour. Up on the seawall, we ate our lunch while we scanned the channel and the mud and sands opposite. There were a few Cormorants diving in the channel itself and a couple of closer Brent Geese on the far side. We could see lots more Brent Geese further out on the sands and they started to fly back in past us and back into the harbour, presumably to feed.

Brent Geese – flying in past us along the harbour channel

The waders were rather distant at first here today, right up on the back of the mud towards East Hills. Through the scope, we could see lots of Knot, together with several Dunlin and Turnstones. A couple of Ringed Plover were well camouflaged on one of the patches of shingle. There was a scattering of Curlew and a good number of Oystercatchers here too.

A dark shape hunched right out on the middle of the sands, as we thought it might, resolved itself into a Peregrine through the scope, loafing out on a sand bar. Presumably it had been hunting the waders and had stopped for a rest.

So when something flushed all the Knot, we thought at first the Peregrine might be the culprit, but it was still on the sand in the same place. We watched as the Knot whirled round in a tight flock, back and forth, twisting and turning, flashing grey and white. Four larger birds with them were Bar-tailed Godwits. All of them landed together on the edge of the channel, giving us a much better view, the godwits squabbling in the shallow water.

We stopped at the beach cafe for a welcome hot drink. We had a few possible options for the afternoon, but there had been a small number of Pallas’s Warblers appearing along the coast this morning and we thought we would try for the one which had been reported already several times, out at Burnham Overy Dunes. We parked in the car park at the staithe, and walked out along the seawall, hoping to pick up a few waders en route.

Curlew – feeding on the edge of the harbour channel

A close Curlew was feeding down on the near edge of the harbour channel as we set off and more were out on the grazing meadows the other side. Our attention was caught by three Moorhen just beyond the ditch. Two seemed to be fighting, one pinned down by the other, while the third looked on. When the fighting birds separated, one tried to run off but was chased all the way along the bank by the other, pecking at its heels. The third ran along too a few seconds later, not wanting to be left behind.

There were a couple of Grey Plovers down beside the harbour channel further along and two Ringed Plovers out on the sandbank in the middle, along with a few Brent Geese and Wigeon. Looking out over the saltmarsh beyond, we could see a few white shapes, which were all Little Egrets.

Grey Plover – on the edge of the harbour channel

Past the corner on the seawall, there were lots of Dunlin on the open muddy inlet, along with a couple more Ringed Plover, and lots of Redshanks too. A Stonechat perched up briefly on the brambles.

The cattle were rather distant today, out in the middle of the grazing marshes looking over towards Holkham. We did see a few white birds flying round amongst them, at least three Cattle Egrets, but they kept landing out of view behind a line of reeds. The large flock of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh was very well camouflaged against the other burnt colours of autumn vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we turned west to walk out to Gun Hill. We had already been told that the Pallas’s Warbler had not been seen again, for at least the last couple of hours, but we thought we should try our luck anyway. We flushed yet more Redwings from the bushes on the way and there were more Goldcrests in the low privet and bramble out in the dunes. The Goldcrests were unbelievably tame – just arrived over the North Sea, exhausted, they simply have to feed and have no time to worry about people. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find any sign of the Pallas’s Warbler here.

We climbed up onto the higher dunes to look out over the beach. There were lots of Cormorants drying their wings on the sandbank at the entrance to the channel, and a single Sanderling running along the shoreline nearby.

After a sit down, it was time to start walking back. We had a better view of the Cattle Egrets on the return journey. We got a couple in the scope, feeding in between the legs of the cows, and managed to count at least seven out there now. They were still rather distant though, out on the grazing marshes.

As we drove back east, we stopped briefly at Holkham. There were lots of Cormorants loafing in the trees, presumably getting ready to roost. The first Great White Egret was out on a small pool on the grazing marsh. Then we found a second in with the Belted Galloway cows along with a Grey Heron (they probably had an identity crisis and thought they were Cattle Egrets too!). A third Great White Egret appeared further back, and with a bit of careful scanning we found a fourth away in the distance.

Great White Egret – in with the cows along with a Grey Heron

That would have been more than enough, but what may have been a fifth Great White Egret flew in just as we were packing up. This is another species which has colonised in a remarkably short space of time, and gone from being rare to not uncommon now. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the near edge of the marshes, presumably getting ready to go to roost. Unfortunately it was time for us to call it a day too.

11th Oct 2020 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Tour in Norfolk, our last day. The weather was much better than yesterday – the showers much less frequent and even some nice bright intervals and patches of blue sky. There was a rather fresh and cool NW wind though on the coast today which made it feel a little colder.

Our first destination for the morning was Kelling. There were several Chaffinches and a couple of Greenfinches around the village as we got out of the minibus, and a small group of Goldfinches feeding in the tops of the birches by the school. We could hear more Chaffinches calling in the next hedge over as we started down the lane, and several flew out of the bushes ahead of us. They had possibly arrived from the Continent overnight and roosted here.

There had been reports of a large movement of Redwings inland at dawn, and we had thought we might see some thrushes on the move here today. But they had clearly come in overnight and moved quickly through. There were none moving now on the coast, and all we could find here were several Blackbirds in the bushes down the lane. We could here Bullfinches calling and several Robins ticking in the hedges as we walked along.

We stopped at the gate north of the copse to scan the Water Meadow. A Brown Hare ran across the field beyond. A family of Mute Swans, two adults and five dusky grey cygnets, were wading through the wet mud in the middle of the meadow. We remarked how good it was looking for a Jack Snipe now, how if you could walk about in the middle you would be sure to flush one, but despite a good scan we couldn’t see anything in view from the gate. There were lots of places to hide and they are always most active at dawn and dusk too.

A Marsh Harrier was flying over the field the other side of the track, flushing lots of Red-legged Partridges from stubble. A Reed Bunting flew ahead of us along the hedge as we continued north. There were more Blackbirds and finches in the bushes as we got out into the open.

A couple of dogs came past us and ran down the track, their owner following a couple of minutes later. Lots of ducks and Curlew came up off the Water Meadow as the dogs raced round the corner. Some of them resettled, but a flock of Teal flew off west.

Curlew – flew up from the Water Meadow

With a mixture of dark shower clouds and patches of blue sky, it was a good day for rainbows. Our first of the day was a corker – a double, with the inner one double sided too. The first of many today.

Rainbow – it was a good day for them today

When we got to the gap in the hedge where we could see across to the water, several of the Curlew had landed again on the grass. There was a mixture of ducks on the pool, still a couple of Teal, several Shoveler, one or two Gadwall and a small group of Wigeon feeding in the grass. A single Little Grebe was diving continually out in the middle.

We stopped to scan the Quags from the crosstracks. Two Common Snipe came up from the beck and disappeared off west. A Stonechat flew in and landed in the dead umbellifers on the bank, then across into the reeds in the beck. A single Egyptian Goose and two Little Egrets were out in the middle.

As we carried on down to the corner, another Common Snipe came up from the edge of the Water Meadow. A couple more Reed Buntings chased each other in and out of the reeds, and another Stonechat was perched up in the top of the brambles in the corner, a smart male. We had a look in the grass in the corner of the Water Meadow where it had been trampled by the cattle, but there was no Jack Snipe here either.

Stonechat – perched in the top of the brambles

Continuing on down the track, a Linnet landed in the brambles briefly. We could already see small groups of Gannets passing just offshore, beyond the shingle ridge, so we carried on up and over to the beach to see what else we could see.

Standing on the shingle ridge, we could see small groups of auks whizzing past offshore – this continued pretty much all the time we were on the beach. There were a few auks on the sea closer in too, so we continued down to the lee of the pill box and set up the scopes. We had a nice view of a couple of Razorbills on the sea, up and down riding the waves. A Guillemot was close in too and a Red-throated Diver.

There was steady passage of Gannets past all morning too. One small group stopped and spent a few minutes shallow diving offshore. A juvenile Gannet was resting on the sea very close in, just beyond the breakers. We had a great look at it as it drifted past us with the tide. After a while, it took off and flew further out.

Gannet – resting on the sea just offshore

The wind was not really strong enough to get other seabirds close inshore, but we did pick up three or four Great Skuas passing by. The first was very distant, but later we had one closer in, chasing a Great Black-backed Gull, trying to get it to regurgitate it’s last meal. We could see the Great Skua’s white wing flashes. A single Arctic Skua flew past very distantly too, and what was presumably the same bird paused briefly to chase a distant tern.

There was a trickle of wildfowl moving west this morning – always interesting to see migration in action at this time of year. Two groups of three Brent Geese, and several small flocks of Wigeon and Teal flew past, birds arriving here for the winter from Russia and across Northern Europe. We picked up a distant flock of Common Scoter too, but then we had two lone birds much closer flying west which were much easier to see, the first a pale cheeked female or juvenile, then a black male.

Brent Geese – arriving for the winter, coming in from Russia

There were not many waders moving today, but there was quality rather than quantity. The first wader we spotted, a small dark bird flying west just behind the breakers, was a Purple Sandpiper. Not a common sight passing by here, although we do get small numbers which spend the winter along the coast. Otherwise, we singles of Knot, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

There were a few passerines moving too. Several Rock Pipits flew west along the beach just in front of us. A Skylark came in over the beach calling too.

We could have spent all day here, watching the birds moving, arriving. It is slightly addictive, you never know what will come past next. But we could see lots of gulls off Weybourne beach, so with a shower approaching in over the sea we decided to head back and drive round there for a closer look. A Brown Hare was sheltering from the north wind behind the brambles on the hillside above the track, looking towards the sun and enjoying a bit of warmth as it poked out between the clouds.

Brown Hare – enjoying some sunshine, sheltered from the wind

As we walk back up the lane, we stopped again at the gate. There were a couple of people here now with scopes and they thought they might have seen a Jack Snipe. They were not sure though, and it could have been a Common Snipe. We stopped to scan, but they showed us where it had disappeared into a very thick area of rushes. A Brambling called overhead as we waited but despite giving it a few minutes, the Jack snipe didn’t reappear, so we decided to move on.

Round at Weybourne, there was only a small group of gulls on the beach to the west, beyond the fishermen – Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, we couldn’t see anything of more interest. There was a black bird on the beach further west, preening. It was hard to see clearly through the spray coming off the sea, but it looked like a Shag through the scope. We walked over the shingle and up onto the low cliffs beyond for a closer look., but by the time we got there the Shag had gone, presumably flown back out to sea. A small group of Turnstones were busy feeding on the top of the cliff, flicking over the small stones.

Turnstones – turning stones on the top of the beach

Looking to the east, we could see many more gulls scattered all along the base of the cliffs towards Sheringham. Again it was hard to see far, with the combination of the misty spray off the waves and the shade from the cliffs. We scanned through the closer ones, but couldn’t see anything unusual.

We needed to use the facilities, so we drove back to Cley now. It was time for lunch too, and we wouldn’t say no to a welcome hot drink from the cafe. Thankfully it was dry now so we could sit outside on the picnic tables to eat. From up by the Visitor Centre, we scanned Pat’s Pool. There were lots of ducks, particularly Gadwall, and several Shelduck. Two lingering Avocets were feeding in the shallower water. A Marsh Harrier flew past over the reeds beyond.

A message came through that there was indeed a Jack Snipe at Kelling, from the gate where we had looked earlier, though it was hard to see. So after lunch, we went back for another look. The Bullfinches were still calling in the lane as we walked along, and this time flew across in front of us, the male flashing pink underneath in the sunshine. A Chiffchaff was in a hawthorn overhanging the lane now too.

There was no sign of the Jack Snipe from the gate when we arrived. They can be very elusive at the best of times, so we scanned carefully around the tussocks and wet mud. A Common Snipe came up out of rushes and flew off, and a little later what may have been the same or another dropped back in to the same area. Several Curlew flew in too. A Grey Heron was walking about between a couple of cows further back. Three Pied Wagtails were flitting around in the mud.

It was starting to look like we might be out of luck again. Then the two cows started to come a bit closer, and they had still not made it to the wet mud when they flushed a small bird from the thick grass at the back – a Jack Snipe. It towered straight up, and broke the skyline above the hillside beyond. As well as its small size, we could see its shorter bill compared to Common Snipe. It turned and dropped straight down again, down into the thickest rushes and brambles at the back.

We figured the Jack Snipe might not come out from there for a while, so we set off back. We were told that a Purple Sandpiper had been on a small pool back along the coast at Salthouse, maybe the one we saw past Kelling earlier. It can be very disturbed here, but we thought it worth a look as we were passing.

When we got to Beach Road, we had a quick look through the gulls in the field opposite, but there was nothing different with them here either. We could see lots of people walking out along the shingle towards Gramborough Hill now, right past the pool, and several dogs, so we didn’t fancy our chances. We had a quick look anyway, and not surprisingly there was nothing there now.

It was exposed out by the beach and very blustery here in the wind. Another shower blew in as we walked back to the minibus, so we decided to head inland for the rest of the afternoon. We drove down to the Brecks to look for Stone Curlews.

We stopped by an empty rutted field and scanned over the hedge. There was no sign of any Stone Curlews initially, but a little further along the field we found some. A small group were very close, and flew up when they saw us peering over the hedge, but thankfully they circled round and landed straight back down again. Some others were still standing in the field, and as we scanned across we counted at least eleven here, although some were hard to see in the ruts.

We had a great view of a couple of the Stone Curlew now through the scopes, their bright yellow legs, irises and bill bases catching the afternoon sun. Well worth the journey down to see them.

Stone Curlew – good views in the bare field this afternoon

The Stone Curlews gather together in large groups at the end of the breeding season. Numbers are dropping now, as they head off to Iberia or North Africa for the winter, but we knew there had been more than this here in the last few days.

We drove further down the road and stopped in a gateway to scan across to a distant bare stoney field. There were more Stone Curlews, further away than the ones we had just seen, but we counted at least twelve. There were lots more places for them to hide here though, so there were probably quite a few more. Always a nice way to wrap up a trip this time of year, with the autumn gathering of Stone Curlews.

There were a few other birds here too. A large flock of Linnets out in the middle, kept flying up, whirling round and dropping back to feed in a weedy strip on the far side of the field in front. We had seen a big flock of sparrows here a few weeks ago too, but there was no sign of them now. Carefully scanning the nearby brambles we did find a small group of sparrows though, three Tree Sparrows with single House Sparrow. They perched up nicely on top, giving us a good view in the scopes.

There had been several Red-legged Partridges out in the closer field, and we were just about to leave when one of the group spotted a covey of seven Grey Partridges off to the right. They came out into the open and ran out across the middle of the field to the far side. A nice view and a nice late bonus.

Grey Partridges – part of a covey of seven

It was time to head back now. As we drove back north, we admired the last rainbows of the day as we drove towards and then into a brief heavy shower.

10th Oct 2020 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a four day Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was meant to be dry this morning, at least at first, but it had already started raining by the time we met up. It remained very grey with drizzle on and off for most of the morning, but brightened up a bit more in the afternoon, with the showers becoming more intermittent and even some sunny intervals.

The forecast for a dry and bright start to the morning had evaporated overnight, but as there seemed to be a window of drier weather coming, we headed straight down to Wells first to try for the Red-backed Shrike again.

The Little Grebes were present as ever, but there was no sign of the Tufted Ducks as we walked in past the boating lake this morning. We made our way quickly along the main track and as we got round and out of the shelter of the trees, we were caught by the wind and realised it was rather breezy already.

It was a bit better along the track down beside the caravan park, with the shelter from the reeds. We had a quick look at the marshes and scanned the fences as we passed. There were several Curlews, Lapwings and Pied Wagtails on the first field again. A Kestrel flew over and was chased away by one of the Pied Wagtails.

There were lots of ducks on the large flood in the second field, mainly Teal, plus a couple of Mallard and a few Wigeon on the grass nearby. Further over, we could see a small group of Pink-footed Geese with a pair of Egyptian Geese.

Pink-footed Geese – out on Quarles Marsh with a pair of Egyptian Geese

It was very windy again as we got out into the open past the caravan site, and already starting to spit with rain. We stopped to scan and found a couple of Stonechats working their way along the fence line where the shrike had often been recently. We walked down the track opposite again, but it was starting to rain properly now, and there was still no sign of the shrike. We figured it would be unlikely to come out in this weather, so we turned back. We could always try again later, but as it turned out it was not seen again.

It was raining more heavily when we got back on the main track, but we cut in round on the east side of the Dell. A Redwing was sheltering from the rain deep in a hawthorn. We did find a tit flock in the birches, but it was hard to see much with the rain dripping from the leaves and we couldn’t see anything obviously different with it.

Redwing – sheltering from the rain in a hawthorn

Back in the car park, we checked the weather forecast and the rainfall radar. It looked like there was likely to be rain on and off all morning here, so we decided to drive over to the Broads in the hope that it would be starting to ease off by the time we arrived.

It was already late morning by the time we got to Martham Ferry, but it had indeed thankfully stopped raining. We walked down to the riverside path and when we found a place where we could see over the reeds, stopped to scan the grazing marshes over the other side of the river. Almost immediately we spotted two large grey birds walking around near the cows, a pair of Common Cranes. They were rather distant but we managed to get them in the scope – a good start.

Common Cranes – we could see a pair distantly across the river

Continuing on down the path, a Cetti’s Warbler called from the brambles in the reeds on the edge of the fishing lakes. A dark shape in the first field was just a Carrion Crow, but in the second field we found our main target here, the Glossy Ibis.

Glossy Ibis – in the fields by the river at Martham Ferry

It was quite close, and we had a great view of the Glossy Ibis through the scope. It was feeding busily, walking and probing in the wet grass, then it stopped to preen. Glossy Ibis mostly breeds around the Mediterranean, heading to Africa for the winter.

The breeding population has increased dramatically in Iberia since the 1990s and the number reaching the UK has similarly grown, with influxes typically occurring after drought in Spain has caused more birds to disperse. Glossy Ibis is now a regular visitor to the UK, but still a great bird to see – even if it does look slightly out of place here on a grey and drizzly October morning!

There was a single Black-tailed Godwit in the field too, which came over to feed alongside the Glossy Ibis at one point. A Common Snipe flew over calling. A small gaggle of Greylags and Canada Geese was in the wet grass further back and two Grey Herons flew in. A rather dark looking Common Buzzard was perched in a bare tree at the back and a male Marsh Harrier flew over.

A large flock of Redwings came up from behind the trees at the back and flew across, disappeared round the back of the fishing pits, followed quickly by a second smaller group. There were well over 100 Redwing in total, presumably freshly arrived from Scandinavia here for the winter and now dispersing inland.

There were rather grey clouds approaching from the west now, so we decided to head back to the minibus. A lone Pink-footed Goose flew over calling.

It was good to get the two distant ones earlier, but we decided to have a quick drive round next to see if we could find some closer Cranes. There were none at the first site we tried. On our way back, we turned down a side road and stopped to scan the fields. It was rather misty, but we could see a large group of tall grey birds in the distance, Cranes.

Common Cranes – 15 of the 21 we found this morning

We realised we could see the Cranes better from a high point on the main road, so we drove back round. We were worried they might be too close to the path, but they were settled in the back of the field and allowed us to view them from the verge at a discrete distance. It was a great view of them here, feeding in a weedy field with a small flock of Greylags. We counted 21 in total, including three families, each pair of adults with a single browner juvenile, raised this summer.

Common Cranes – feeding in a weedy field
Common Cranes – one of three families, with a browner juvenile

Having enjoyed great views of the Cranes, we set off to find somewhere for lunch, and a hot drink. The weather was much improved now, brighter, and even with some patches of blue sky, so we sat outside on a convenient picnic table.

After lunch, we headed round on the coast road to Waxham. On the way, we stopped to look through a mass of gulls feeding in a field that was just being cultivated. Amongst the mostly Black-headed Gulls we found a couple of Mediterranean Gulls, and got everyone onto a nice winter adult with pure white wing tips and black bandit mask.

We had been told about a Black Redstart at Waxham earlier, on the scaffolding on the house on the corner, but there was no sign of it now. There were people in the house and lots of people coming and going from the beach, lots of cars on the narrow road. We walked up to the churchyard to see if it might be there, but drew a blank there too.

We decided to have a look at the beach. As we got up to the dunes, a Grey Seal was just offshore and a juvenile Red-throated Diver was diving nearby, very close in. We walked down to the shore and had great views of it as it resurfaced repeatedly in the breakers just in front of us.

Red-throated Diver – this juvenile was diving just off the beach

There was a steady stream of Gannets flying past further out over the sea. An Oystercatcher landed briefly on the rocks. As another shower blew in over the beach, we sought shelter in the gap in the seawall. Another adult Mediterranean Gull flew past just offshore.

There was still no sign of the Black Redstart around the house on the corner. With a long drive back, we decided to set off back to North Norfolk now. The journey was better than expected today, and the weather had now improved, bright and sunny by the time we got back to the north coast. We decided to stop off at Stiffkey for a quick scan out over the saltmarsh.

There a a liberal scattering of Curlew, Redshank and Little Egrets over the saltmarsh. A couple of Marsh Harriers were hunting out at the far edge, towards the beach. We managed to find a small group of Brent Geese feeding in the vegetation out towards Blakeney Pit. A Greenshank flew across calling and dropped down again into a large creek out of view.

A Spoonbill appeared out on the saltmarsh away to the west, presumably coming up out of one of the small pools where it had been feeding. It was joined by a Little Egret, noticeably smaller and slimmer. While we were watching it, a second Spoonbill appeared nearby. Most of the Spoonbills which spent the summer here have gone south already – many normally spend the winter in Poole Harbour – but there are still a small number clinging on here, for now at least.

Spoonbill – joined by a Little Egret out on the saltmarsh

It was a productive quick stop for half an hour, but it was now time to head back. We had managed to see a lot today, despite the weather.

23rd Sept 2020 – Private Tour & Wader Spectacular, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk. It was a very different day to yesterday. Heavy rain overnight thankfully cleared through early, but it was much cooler, grey and cloudy, with some showers through the morning. After the Wader Spectacular yesterday, we would spend the day today looking for Autumn migrants and other interesting birds along the coast.

After our failure to even get in the (still partly closed) car park yesterday, we headed over to Titchwell first. There was no problem with parking today – it helped being early, but the weather had an effect too, with many fewer beachgoers clogging it up all day. It was nice that people could actually get in and do some birdwatching today!

The rain had stopped by the time we arrived, so we had a quick look round the overflow car park before it got busy. There was very little at first, until we got right round to the far corner, where we found several Blackcaps feeding in the elders, along with Blackbirds and a Song Thrush.

We headed straight out onto the reserve. We had just got onto the main path, beyond the Visitor Centre, and turned to scan the grazing meadow through the gap in the trees. A very distant Common Buzzard was perched on top of a bush over towards Thornham, but a white dot on the brambles below caught our eye. We were not even sure it was a bird at that range, but we set up the scope to look just in case. A shrike!

Red-backed Shrike – very distant, right over the back of Thornham GM

The shrike looked rather pale-headed at first, perched face on to us, but after a while it dropped down to the ground and came back up to the same bush with its back to us. We could see a bit more of it now and it looked good for a young (1st winter) Red-backed Shrike. Another good find, our second in four days. We let everyone at the Visitor Centre know, and a few of the staff came out for a look.

As we continued on along path, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the tall willows. We stopped to look through them, just in case, but all we could find today were a couple of Chiffchaffs with them. As we came out of the trees, a Greenshank came up off the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh and flew past us, disappeared round the back of the trees behind us.

A quick look out at Reedbed Pool produced a few Common Pochard out on the water, an addition to the trip wildfowl list. A young Hobby was hunting distantly over the back of the reedbed and up over Willow Wood beyond.

It was a still morning and we had just said it might be good for Bearded Tits when we heard their pinging calls ahead of us. A flock of about eight of them flew up and landed again in the reeds quite close to the main path. We walked up and stood opposite where they had landed. After a few seconds they started to climbed up into the tops of the reeds to feed on the seedheads. We had fantastic views, several males with powder grey heads and black moustaches accompanied by a few grey-brown females.

Bearded Tit – great views in the reeds by the main path

A Great White Egret flew out of the reedbed and landed briefly on the Freshmarsh while we were watching the Bearded Tits. Then it flew again and came straight towards us, before turning and flying across the path just in front of us. It was another great view – we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill, long trailing black legs, and deep slow wingbeats. We watched as it headed out over the saltmarsh the other side.

Great White Egret – flew over the bank & out across the saltmarsh

There were more Bearded Tits in the reeds up by Island Hide – it was certainly a great morning for them. We had a quick look at the Freshmarsh, where we could see a couple of Spoonbills out in the middle, and a large gathering of godwits, including a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits come in to roost over high tide.

Our key target for the morning was to see if we could find any Lapland Buntings out on the beach. More people were arriving on the reserve now, and we were worried that they might get flushed again, so we decided to head straight out to Thornham Point, before it got too busy. We could come back to look at the Freshmarsh at our leisure later.

It was high tide, and the Volunteer Marsh was pretty much completely covered in water. A small group of Common Redshank had gathered on one of the sandy islands at the back of the Tidal Pool. One bird was standing separate from them, in the water, and instantly looked paler. A Spotted Redshank, we could see its long, needle-fine bill and prominent white supercilium.

Spotted Redshank – on the back of the Tidal Pool

A line of birds roosting on the spit a little further up included several Grey Plovers, a couple of them still with their summer black bellies, plus a few Knot, Turnstones, Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers. They had all come in here from the beach to roost over high tide.

Out onto the beach, we turned left and headed out towards Thornham Point. A Snow Bunting flew in with a small group of Sanderling and landed on the edge of the water ahead of us. It ran up the sand and we watched it picking around on the high tide line. We walked past slowly, so as not to spook it, but we needn’t have worried. It was very tame, as they often are, and allowed us past just a few metres away, unconcerned by our presence.

Snow Bunting – feeding on the high tide line along the beach

There were several small groups of waders on the shore all the way up. Groups of silvery-grey Sanderling running in and out of the waves like clockwork toys. We stood still and one ran straight past us. One or two Ringed Plovers were mixed in with them and several Turnstones were feeding higher up on the high tide line.

Sanderling – the clockwork toys of the beach

A couple of people coming back along the beach told us that a Lapland Bunting was still out on the beach Thornham Point, so we quickened our step. We wanted to get out there before it got disturbed. One person had already overtaken us, and more were coming out onto the beach behind. We bumped into the Snow Bunting again out at the Point – the same one we saw earlier, it must have flown past us with the Sanderlings.

As we walked round the Point, we thought we would find the person who had gone ahead of us watching the Lapland Bunting, but they had disappeared. We would only find out a couple of days later that they had flushed the Lapland Bunting and made a quick getaway before we arrived!

We walked slowly past the piles of debris on the high tide line, unaware that the bird had flown off, when suddenly something flicked up from behind a large pile of dead vegetation just in front of us. Thankfully it landed again a few feet ahead – the Lapland Bunting! It had obviously flown back after the other person had left.

We stood still and got the Lapland Bunting in the scope. It was almost too close, fill the frame views at minimum magnification! Like the Snow Bunting earlier, but even more so, it was totally unconcerned by our presence, busy feeding. It worked its way down to the end of the piles of debris and then came back right past us within only a couple of metres. We had it all to ourselves – we could see the hint of a rusty chestnut collar and its black bib. Stunning!

Lapland Bunting – stunning close views feeding out on the Point

We had seen dark clouds away to the west earlier, and now it started to rain. We were rather exposed out on the beach, so we went to seek shelter round the other side of the Point. We thought we might get round to the tower, but the saltmarsh had flooded over the high tide and was impassable without boots. Thankfully the rain quickly stopped. A Great White Egret was out on the flooded saltmarsh in the middle of Thornham Harbour.

Back out on the beach, the Lapland Bunting was still feeding along the high tide line as we passed by. A couple of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. We had seen them flying up and down as we walked out and they were now diving into the water. Several Gannets were plunge diving off the Point too, including a couple of dark juveniles and white adults with black-tipped wings. As we started to walk back, we kept one eye on the sea and picked up an Arctic Skua flying past low over the water offshore. A nice bonus.

We had more great views of Sanderlings again on the walk back. When we got back to the main path, we stopped again for another quick look at the sea. Several Great Crested Grebes were out on the water and a single Red-throated Diver flew in and landed further out. We could see more shower clouds approaching, so we waited on the beach in the lee of the dunes. The worst of the rain passed to the east of us, and just the edge of the rain caught us and was thankfully over very quickly.

As we set off back along the main path, the waders were still roosting on the Tidal Pool. The Spotted Redshank was now in with the Common Redshanks, preening, giving us a good side by side comparison. Two Great White Egrets were now flying round together out over the saltmarsh.

Back at the Freshmarsh, the Bar-tailed Godwits were starting to fly out to the beach in groups, calling, ready to feed on the falling tide. A canteen of Spoonbills was roosting out in the middle now – we counted fourteen. They mostly asleep, as Spoonbills often do, but one was awake and feeding and a couple were preening. While we were standing here, one Spoonbill took off and flew right over our heads, heading out to the saltmarsh to feed.

Spoonbill – one flew out over our heads

There were Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the bank now, and a female climbed up into the top to feed on a seedhead. A Reed Warbler was flitting around in the reeds too. A careful scan round the reeds on the far side revealed a Water Rail feeding quietly on the edge of the mud.

We had a more careful look through the waders now. There were about ten Avocets still, and a few Ruff. Another Spotted Redshank called and we watched it fly across the bank close to us before heading out over the saltmarsh – a different bird to the one we had seen earlier, this time a dusky grey juvenile.

There was a group of smaller waders on the mud over by the reeds. A look through them reveled two slightly larger and longer-billed juvenile Curlew Sandpipers in with several streaky-bellied Dunlin. We had a good view of them through the scope. They were gradually working their way over close to Island Hide, so we thought we would go in for a closer view. But just at that moment a Kestrel flew in from the saltmarsh, dipped down low between Island Hide and the reeds and spooked them. They landed again but back further out.

Curlew Sandpipers – two juveniles with one of the Dunlin

Looking across the reedbed, we could see two Hobbys now, hawking back and forth over the trees around Fen Hide. We walked back to the Visitors Centre, and decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed and along the Autumn Trail before lunch, so turned out along Fen Trail.

A Coot was the highlight on Patsy’s, along with a couple more Common Pochard. Round on East Trail, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits on the edge of Willow Wood but again couldn’t find anything with them.

Continuing on down to the far end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back of the Freshmarsh. There didn’t appear to be much different here at first, but scanning across we noticed a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull in the middle of a long line of gulls on the water. Three nice juvenile Ruff were feeding on the edge of the reeds in front and there were more Bearded Tits here, calling and flying across over the reeds.

It was time to head back – we would already be having a late lunch now. One of the Hobbys was now hawking over the front of Willow Wood, but disappeared round the back and appeared to land out of view. We could see more dark clouds approaching and hoped we might get back before they arrived, but we had only made it as far as Fen Hide when it started to rain. We ducked in, and were very glad of the shelter and our timing because the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour for about twenty minutes.

By the time it stopped and we could make our way back to the bus now it was definitely a late lunch! Afterwards we drove back east along the coast road to Wells and parked in the beach car park. As we walked in towards the Woods, at least ten Little Grebes were out on the boating lake.

In through birches and round under the trees on the north side of the Dell, it all seemed very quiet, and we couldn’t find any sign of a tit flock. Round at the Dell meadow, we met someone just leaving who told us that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was still around, but he hadn’t seen it. We cut in through trees where we had seen it the other day.

There were a few more people in here, under the trees, waiting for it to reappear and as we walked round the Red-breasted Flycatcher flicked across in front of us, up in the trees. We had a quick view of it from beneath, before it moved back further through the trees along the path. We knew it would be following its usual circuit, but someone there objected to us following it down the path, insisting we should wait for it to come back here. No problem. We walked out and round the long way to the other side.

There were a couple of more friendly locals here and we joined them on the bank. After a minute, the Red-breasted Flycatcher reappeared low down in the back of the trees, where we had watched it the other day. It was hard to see until it moved, but we could follow it as it flicked across to the next tree and everyone got onto it.

Red-breasted Flycatcher – still doing its usual circuit round under the trees

When it got to the trees above a small pool, the Red-breasted Flycatcher froze and stayed still. It was not feeding as actively and we soon realised why when it dropped down to the water to bathe. Afterwards it flew up into a nearby tangle to preen and dry itself. Great to watch.

It flicked up again and we lost sight of it in the back of the trees. Then we picked it up again, seemingly going back on its circuit, so we walked back round the long way to where we had first seen it today. The person who had told us we should wait here had given up and gone. We stood in the trees and the Red-breasted Flycatcher flew in and landed right in front of us, just a couple of metres away. Great views! We stood quietly and watched it, perching still in the trees before making little sallies after insects.

The Red-backed Shrike here was reported as still present too, but had moved a couple of fields from where we had found it the other day. As we walked down the track past the caravan site, a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew up off the grazing marshes and disappeared off inland.

When we got to the bales by the cattle field, we found a couple of people watching the Red-backed Shrike on the fence. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, much better views than the one at Titchwell this morning. A two Red-backed Shrike day!

Red-backed Shrike – our second of the day, still at Wells

We could see some Pink-footed Geese down in the grass in the next field over. Several flocks flew up calling, their distinctive yelping calls the sound of the winter here, and we watched as they headed off inland. There were still some down in the grass, so we got them in the scope, admiring their dark head and delicate dark bills with a variable pink band around.

Pink-footed Geese – flying up from out on the grazing marsh

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days, with some really good birds, and not to forget the wonderful Wader Spectacular yesterday. Lots to live long in the memory.

22nd Sept 2020 – Private Tour & Wader Spectacular, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour arranged in North Norfolk to coincide with a Wader Spectacular. It was a lovely bright & sunny day, with blue skies, hitting the heady heights of 25C in the afternoon. With a big high tide this morning, we were heading up to Snettisham to see the flocks waders today.

We could see large flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash already as we made our way out. When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was still out, which meant we had a bit more time today, so we stopped to scan. A large mass of Oystercatchers and godwits was gathered on the mud up by the sailing club, a mixture of Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwits. Lots of Shelduck were bobbing about on the water just offshore.

More smaller waders were still feeding busily on the mud across the channel. A Curlew Sandpiper flew across, identifiable by its white rump, and when it landed we got it in the scope. There were lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers out here too. We found a Spotted Redshank in a muddy pool – we could see its long, needle-fine bill when it lifted its head from feeding. Two Knot flew and landed close in on the beach just below the bank.

Four Swallows flew past low over the near edge of the mud. They were on their way south, migrants heading off on the long journey to Africa for the winter, a reminder that the seasons are changing.

The tide was coming in fast now, and the waders started peeling off the mud to the north of us, lines of Oystercatchers and godwits flying past, landing again on the mud further up.

Black-tailed Godwits – flying past to land again further up the Wash

We made our way down further and stopped again in front of Rotary Hide. The waders were now spread out like a vast slick on the mud, tens of thousands of Knot (there were 68,000 here at the last count, last week) and thousands of Oystercatchers (over 6,000 last week).

The Oystercatchers were walking away from the rising tide, the ones caught by the water marching through others which were still standing on dry mud, so the whole flock seemed to be moving across the mud like an amorphous blob.

The Knot were very jumpy, and kept flying up, whirling round low over the mud, before resettling. A young Marsh Harrier drifted across from the saltmarsh and out over the flocks, putting everything up. Instant chaos! We watched the Knot twisting and turning in unison, flashing alternately dark and light in the morning sunshine, making different shapes in the sky.

Marsh Harrier – drifted over the flocks and put everything up
Waders – twisting and turning in the morning sun
Waders – the flocks made various shapes as they swirled round

Further back, a Peregrine was putting up all the Knot up in the next bay over too. They looked like clouds of grey smoke in the sky. Most of them flew over and joined the flocks already gathered closer to us.

Continuing down to the grassy bank at the end of the path, the tide was still coming in fast. The waders were all increasingly concentrated in the last remaining corner of mud which was not covered by water.

Waders – increasingly concentrated in the last corner of the mud

As usual, the Oystercatchers gave up first, peeling off in waves and flying in past us. Then suddenly all Knot went up. It was spectacular watching the tens of thousands of birds take to the sky. Some flew in overhead, towards the pit behind us, while others towered up into the sky above.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot took to the sky

There was not much left out on the Wash now, just the Curlews in the corner by the saltmarsh, where they would stay to roost. The Knot were starting to drop down to the pit, so we made our way quickly round to South Hide. Relative few Knot had come in yet. There were some on the bank with the Oystercatchers, shuffling nervously, and the island at the bottom of the bank was full. A Common Sandpiper was feeding in the vegetation on the bank in front of them.

There were no Knot at all on the islands in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ again today!). There were lots of large lenses poking out of the camera windows and it didn’t help that one photographer had his lens out of the top window with his leg sticking out of the lower level one, waving around! But there was also shooting on the fields inland today, which kept spooking all the Greylags and probably didn’t help encourage the waders to settle.

More Knot started to drop in to join the others on the bank. We could see a large flock high over the pit, with a thick wispy line of birds dropping from it like a thread as they seemed to come down in an orderly queue. But many of the Knot already on the bank kept taking off again and flying round, which meant most of the flock never came in. They were just too nervous today and wouldn’t settle properly.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle properly even on the bank today

We looked back out towards the Wash and we could see that most of the Knot were still out there, whirling round over the water. We went back out of the hide, back to the bank to watch.

A small flock of Siskins came across in front of us, low over the saltmarsh, and we heard a Redpoll calling overhead too. More migrants, this time probably arriving here for the winter. A Chiffchaff started calling and came up out of the suaeda. A flock of Meadow Pipits on the grass behind had also probably dropped in on their way south.

Lots of Knot were flying back and forth low out over the Wash, looking for somewhere to resettle. Thousands more were still high in the sky above. There was a small curl of mud or shallow water still just beyond the edge of the saltmarsh, and some of the birds dropped down to land here. They were nervous though, and kept flying up and round, twisting and turning again.

Something disturbed many of the Knot and Oystercatchers from the pit behind us – they all took off and flew back out to the Wash in a thick line. Added to the others, they stirred everything up again, and everything whirled round again.

Waders – Knot and Oystercatchers flushed from the pit
Waders – continued to whirl round out over the Wash

Eventually more of the birds started to settle out on the margin of the Wash, as the tide started to recede and more mud appeared. Lots of the Knot were now further out, round in the next bay. A Peregrine was still stirring them up, putting up huge clouds.

We decided to have a quick look in Shore Hide. As we walked up, we flushed a young Wheatear ahead of us from the path. It landed on the short grass, but was flushed again by someone who walked past in front of us as we were watching it in the scope. It landed again on the open area closer to the hide, close to the path, and proved to be remarkably tame, letting us walk right past it. Another migrant, stopping off on its way south.

Wheatear – feeding on the short grass by the path

There were not many waders on the pit now. Some Dunlin on one of the islands towards the north end, but we couldn’t find anything different in with them, lots of Common Redshanks, and still some Knot and Oystercatchers on the bank to the south. There were several Spotted Redshanks roosting out on the concrete blocks in middle – one was awake and we got a good look at it through the scope.

A young Peregrine came in, low over the pit, flushing everything. All the Common Redshank flew up, and the Peregrine headed straight into the middle of them, right in front of the hide. It stalled, and didn’t seem to know what to do next, which one to go for, at which point it had missed its opportunity.

Peregrine – first had a go at a flock of Common Redshanks on the pit

The Peregrine then flew over to the bank at the southern end of pit. The remaining Knot started to flush in a panic, and the Peregrine disappeared into their midst. Did it land? We couldn’t see exactly what happened in the ensuing melee, but somehow it managed to grab a Knot and came up with it in its talons. It was struggling to carry it – presumably the Knot was still alive because we could see the Peregrine still pecking at it as it flew up and away over the new hide.

That was quite a show! We headed back out to the edge of the Wash, where the waders were settled again now. Another wave of Knot came up from the pit, remarkable there was anything still on there after the Peregrine had been through. They flew in a long line over our heads, and low out across Wash.

Waders – another wave flying back overhead and out to the Wash

There was lots of exposed wet mud now, and the waders were all spread out across the Wash. We scanned through some of the closer flocks, and found lots of pale silvery grey Sanderling with them now. Presumably they had roosted up along the beach again. The flocks would shuffle occasionally, fly up and round, a quick twist and turn, and then resettle closer to the waters edge. But in the absence of another visit from the Peregrine, the best of the show was over. We decided to make our way back.

As we walked along the path towards Rotary Hide, we could see a couple of people pointing their lenses down at something in the vegetation on the beach. We walked over and could see they were looking at a young Knot just a few metres from them. We had seen one with a broken wing on the rising tide out on the mud near here earlier, so we initially presumed this would be the same bird. But as we got closer we could see it looked fit and well, perhaps just a tame bird arrived from Arctic Greenland having never seen a human before.

Knot – this remarkably tame young bird was on the beach

When we got to the main road, we found a massive tailback again, all the way from the Heacham traffic lights – unbelievably busy for a weekday in late September! It was a gloriously sunny day now though. We had to take a diversion inland again, and round to Titchwell. With the numbers of people obviously heading to the beach today, it was perhaps no surprise that the car park at Titchwell, still partly closed as an attempted Covid restriction, was full.

We were waved past, not even allowed to pull up. Apparently the car park had been full since early this morning, probably beachgoers again enjoying the nice weather on the sand and clogging up the restricted parking for the day, meaning people wanting to actually visit the reserve can’t even get in! It is not often you end up hoping for the weather to deteriorate!

We headed back round to Thornham Harbour for lunch. While we ate, we scanned the saltmarsh. We could see a large flock of Golden Plover in the vegetation and a group of Brent Geese on the beach beyond. More importantly we could see several people out at Thornham Point, across the Titchwell side of the harbour, clearly not seeing any Lapland Buntings. They had been on the beach this morning, but had obviously been disturbed. That was one of our main targets for Titchwell this afternoon, so we decided to head elsewhere.

The Brown Shrike had been reported early this morning still at Warham Greens by one person, but not seen by anyone since. We decided to head over that way to see if it might reappear.

We stopped at Wells. There were lots of geese on the big pool east of the track, mainly Greylags and Canadas, but scanning through we found two Barnacle Geese with them. Presumably feral birds from Holkham, where they breed, but nice to see anyway. There were plenty of ducks too, Wigeon and Teal, a few Shoveler, and we picked out a single Pintail.

The pools have been drying up fast in the recent warm weather, and there were not so many waders on here now, a few Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff on the larger pool to the east. The pool on the west side is now dry, but as we walked down the track, we found a single Common Snipe on the mud by the channel on the far edge.

As we walked in through the bushes beyond, they were rather quiet at first, although it was the heat of the afternoon now. In the hawthorns over by the seawall, we found a mixed flock of finches, mainly Goldfinches and Linnets. Several Wall butterflies came up out of the grass, and we watched a pair chasing each other, displaying.

Wall butterfly – we watched this pair chasing each other

From up on the seawall, we had a look at the Western pool but couldn’t see anything of note. Looking out over the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a distant Red Kite and a Marsh Harrier over the dunes out towards the beach beyond.

We followed the coastal path east. As we walked through the small copse, there were lots of Ivy Bees on the flowering ivy in the sunshine. A fairly recent colonist here, they seem to be doing very well not and numbers are steadily increasing. Out of the copse, a flock of Long-tailed Tits came down along the hedge. We watched as they all passed us, but couldn’t see anything unusual with them. A Blackcap called from deep in the brambles. As we moved on, three Swallows flew west along the hedge, more migrants heading off on their long journey.

We walked down to where the Brown Shrike had been for the last few days, but we were told by people leaving as we arrived that it still hadn’t been seen again. We checked round the area where it had been favouring and found a Redstart up along the first hedge, flicking in and out down to the mown margin of the field, looking for insects. We managed to get it in the scope, but we were looking into the sun.

Three Grey Partridge, flew up from the edge of the field and we could see a single Red-legged Partridge much further up. We tried the hedge where we had seen the shrike the other day, but all we found here was another Redstart. The light was behind us now, so it was a better view of this one. We could see the flash of its red tail as it flew in and out ahead of us.

Redstart – one of two in the hedges here this afternoon

It was lovely being out in the sunshine, and very warm now out of the wind, but after an early start this mornign, we decided it was time to head back. We figured we would have another chance tomorrow if the shrike did reappear later, but it was never seen again so it was the right call. There would be lots of other good things to see tomorrow though.

20th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular, our last day. It was a cloudier day today, though still dry, and the wind though still fresh and from the NE, was perhaps not quite as strong as it had been. Today we would be heading up to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular at Snettisham.

It was an early start to catch the tide, but as we were driving up to Wells to pick the rest of the group up, we found a car across the road with its hazard lights on. We thought there might have been an accident or something, but a woman got out and explained they had decided to close the road to move static caravan. It was obviously not official, and they hadn’t sought any permission to close the road so we were not sure how legal it was, but there was no time to argue and no choice but to go the long way round. The woman just shrugged and gave us a sheepish smile. Consequently, we were slightly later than planned getting away.

On the drive across to the Wash, we passed several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed, coming up from the marshes where they had spent the night. There was flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws in the fields and a Barn Owl on a post by the road, but we had no time to stop now.

When we got to the Wash and up onto the seawall, the tide was already coming in fast, pushed in ahead of time by the fresh NE wind. We made our way straight down to Rotary Hide today, and stopped in front to scan. Huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers were gathered out on the mud, along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Waders – gathered on the mud ahead of the rapidly rising tide

The waders were all shifting nervously, whether driven by the rapidly rising tide or perhaps there had been a predator around normally. There were no small waders down on the near edge today. The Knot on the edge of the flock out in the middle, those closest to the water, were constantly being caught by the tide and they kept flying up and over the others, landing again on the drier mud higher up.

As we walked down towards the far corner of the Wash, it was a struggle to keep up with the tide today. We did keep stopping to watch every time the waders went up. The Oystercatchers started to give up first, flying up in big groups and in overhead calling noisily, before circling down onto the pit behind us.

Oystercatchers – gave up first and flew in overhead to the pit

Before we could even get to the corner, suddenly all the Knot and other waders went up. We couldn’t see any sign of the Peregrine, but they were definitely nervous and put on quite a show, whirling round out over the Wash. The latest WeBS count total of Knot this week was 68,000 – incredible to see them all in the air together.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot spooked and took off
Waders – whirling round in the air
Waders – different flocks going in different directions

It was amazing to watch all the Knot and other waders up in the sky. Some tried to land back on the mud, but were immediately spooked again. Different flocks were going in different directions. Despite the wind, we could hear was the beating of thousands and thousands of pairs of wings. Some of the Knot started to come in, low overhead – mesmerising to look up and watch – while others towered up over the Wash.

Waders – some of the Knot started to come in low overhead

We turned to watch the Knot coming in and start to drop down onto the pit, but for some reason they wouldn’t settle on the south end today. We watched the birds flying round and round, backwards and forwards, low over the pit in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ today!). The birds which had gone high turned back out over the Wash. Some of the others went back out and landed again in the final corner of mud.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle in front of the new hide today

We walked on down to the end. Those Knot which had landed again were quickly forced off, and came in over us again. Tens of thousands were still towering high in the sky. Small flocks of Dunlin flew past out over the Wash, presumably now looking to roost along the shore further up.

There was now nothing left out on the Wash and any remaining mud was covered with water. There were still huge flocks of Knot high in the sky, but we decided to go into the hides to see what was on the pit.

Shore Hide was empty – everyone had gone down to see the new hide. Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting on the concrete blocks out in the middle. We got them in the scopes – one was helpfully awake and we could see its long spiky bill with a needle-fine tip. A juvenile Common Tern was still lingering here, standing on one of the other concrete blocks nearby.

A Little Stint landed on the shore of the shingle island in front of the hide. There was nothing else on there today, and we watched it picking around on the shore between the blobs of foam. It was a juvenile – we could see its distinctive pale ‘braces’. After a while it flew off again. Then a Common Sandpiper landed on the island next and walked around on its own in the middle for a bit.

Little Stint – landed on the island in front of Shore Hide

Scanning the islands further up the pit, there were next to no Knot on any of the islands closest to the seawall today. Only one of the islands across on the other side of the pit was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. A lot of Dunlin (mostly) on one of the nearer islands was more socially distanced. We scanned through, to see if we could find anything more unusual in with them, but couldn’t find anything today.

Looking towards the south end, we could see that the Knot which had come in today were concentrated on the bank, with the Oystercatchers. They were still shuffling nervously.

As we walked round to South Hide, a young Peregrine circled overhead and gradually drifted out over Wash. Perhaps this is why everything was so nervous today. We watched it stoping down, flushing all the Curlews and godwits from out on the saltmarsh. There was a lot of water on there today, with only the taller bushes and higher islands still exposed – a combination of the big tide, backed by the blustery NE wind. Three Marsh Harriers were hunting out over the Wash further back too.

Peregrine – circled over as we walked down to South Hide

With social distancing restrictions in force, we had to wait to get into South Hide today, but thankfully not long. When we donned our masks and got inside, we found the two shingle islands at this end still mostly empty. One Little Stint and a small cluster of Knot was on one, but that was it. Two Common Sandpipers flew round calling below the hide.

Most of the Knot were still on the bank. We watched them jostling nervously. They would settle for a bit, then one end would start to move and a wave would pass through the flock.

We went round to have a look at the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’. It was largely empty now apart from a line of photographers in the corner, packed shoulder to shoulder, lying down at the low camera windows. Every time the Knot on the far bank flew up, there was a cacophony as a barrage of camera shutters fired in unison. Perhaps the amount of noise was putting the birds off from landing on the closer islands?

Two Little Stints and the two Common Sandpipers were now running around on one of the islands. A single Avocet was roosting in with the Oystercatchers gathered on one end, a different variation in monochrome. The last bird in the flock, standing in the water at the end, was a smartly marked juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit.

A line of Knot peeled off from the bank and headed back out. It was an hour after high tide already, so we figured we should go outside and back round to the bank to try to catch the birds as they returned to the Wash. But when we got out, there was still no sign of any mud. With the wind and the amount of water today – the path was even flooded in one spot now – the tide was going to be really slow to go out. The Knot which had come up off the bank flew straight back in and dropped down again in to the pit.

Still, we walked down to the edge of the Wash and got into position. We didn’t have to wait too long before some mud started to reappear in the top corner and once it started, the tide began to go out as quickly as it had come in.

Finally, the Knot started peeling off from the pit again. We were in the perfect position, and they came low in lines making a beeline for the mud, came right over our heads.

Waders – the Knot started flying back out in lines, right overhead

Suddenly we heard a loud whoosh and a larger group came up and flew out towards us. The young Peregrine was over the pit, and spooking everything. We watched it stoop down a couple of times towards the bank, but it didn’t have any height and it looked like it didn’t quite know what to do. It flew further up the pit and flushed all the Knot from the island that end too. We watched as they flew out in lines, low over the bank and out onto the Wash.

The Knot quickly settled in big groups out on the mud, but then the Peregrine circled up from the pit and drifted out over the Wash. Instant pandemonium – the waders all erupted again, taking off, whirling round. The flocks made some amazing shapes, as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing dark and light.

Waders – all flushed by the Peregrine
Waders – the flocks made some amazing shapes. Shark?
Waders – flashed light and dark as they twisted and turned

The Peregrine appeared to successfully get one separated from the flock at one point, but despite chasing after it, it lost it. Again, probably showing its inexperience. A second Peregrine appeared further back, flushed everything behind. It was an amazing show, truly spectacular, and we were endebted to the Peregrines for stirring everything up. We just stood and watched transfixed, to the sounds of the flocks’ wings and oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The waders eventually resettled on the mud, as the Peregrines drifted off. We started to scan through the flock nearest to us. There were several pale silvery grey and white Sanderlings with the Knot now, and the very last bird on the end was a lone juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. We could see the pale peachy wash on its breast and its long downcurved bill.

We could still see an adult Peregrine, on a post in the distance, on the saltmatsh beyond the mud. The waders much further back, in the next bay, were still being stirred up. Presumably the juvenile Peregrine was trying its luck back there now. The waders this end were mostly settled, and started to go to sleep. Occasionally a flock would take off and fly further out across the mud, twisting and turning, catching the sun which had started to come out now.

As we turned to head back, a shout went out and we looked out across the Wash to see a Great Skua flying low over the water beyond the flocks of waders.

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we had to take a diversion inland to get there. There was so much traffic on the coast road, it had back up from the traffic lights at Heacham. Unheard of in late September, it was like midsummer! The car park at Titchwell is still partly closed and once again was full – they were only letting one in and one out. We were lucky to arrive just as someone was leaving and get straight in.

We decided on an early lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted overhead and a Common Darter was basking on the bench in the sunshine. After lunch, we headed out on to the reserve. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees as we filled out the test and trace form at the Visitor Centre.

Thornham grazing marsh was flooded with saltwater where the pool used to be, after the high tide had come in. A single Stock Dove was out in the vegetation and several Curlews were feeding on the saltmarsh beyond.

A large mob of Greylags was on the Reedbed Pool, but scanning through we managed to find a few Common Pochard in with them, and Coot and Little Grebes right at back. A pair of Gadwall was in the channel just beyond.

A young Hobby was hunting low over the reeds, out in the middle, shooting back and forth. It caught something, presumably a dragonfly, and circled up over the trees by the visitor centre. A Sparrowhawk emerged from the trees and chased after it, presumably trying to steal its catch. It was quite a dogfight for a bit, amazing to watch, before the Sparrowhawk gave up. The Hobby finished its meal and we watched it hunting over Willow Wood at the back of the reedbed.

Up by Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still rather windy and they were keeping well down today. We stopped to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further up. There were not as many waders on here today. A few Avocets were still here, feeding over towards the back, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Quite a few Ruff, paler adults and browner juveniles, were closer to the bank. Otherwise, there were a couple of Dunlin and two Golden Plover on one of the islands, in with the Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls.

Ruff – a juvenile, close to the main west bank path

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now as birds return for the winter, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and more Gadwall. They are not looking their best at this time of year though – with the drakes mostly in their dull eclipse plumage.

A Grey Heron was standing motionless, fishing out in the middle of the deeper water towards the back. Next time we looked, there was a Great White Egret next to it. It was good to see the two of them side by side, so we could really appreciate the large size of the Great White Egret.

Great White Egret – appeared out on the Freshmarsh, next to the Grey Heron

There had been some Lapland Buntings on the beach this morning, and someone walking back now told us they were still there, although they had apparently flown up the beach a bit further along to the west. We decided to go to try to look for them.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Curlew and Common Redshanks on the mud by the channel at the far end. A lone Brent Goose flew over. There was still a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, despite it being close to low tide now, and not much on here either.

The tide was a long way out when we got to the beach, and we couldn’t see anything obvious on the sea. There were lots of people around the mussel beds and not many waders. We set off west along the tide line. Unfortunately there was no sign of any buntings now. Several beachgoers were walking out here, and presumably they had been flushed.

We continued on up to Thornham Point, where we found a little group of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach. A party of Brent Geese was loafing out on the sand closer to the sea. Rounding the corner, we found several Spoonbills out in the middle of Thornham Harbour. Two flew off as we appeared, but there were still seven preening out on the saltmarsh.

Spoonbills – preening out in the middle of Thornham Harbour

It was time to head back now – after a very early start, everyone was tired now and still had journeys home ahead of them. The memories of this morning’s Wader Spectacular would linger long, a great final day to end the tour.

19th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular. It was another sunny day, more blue skies, and although it was breezy again it wasn’t quite as windy as yesterday.

We made our way down to Stiffkey Greens to start the day. The wind seemed to have dropped a bit overnight, so we thought we might stand a chance of finding a few migrants in the coastal bushes. The tide was in, and it was a big tide today backed by the ENE wind, so the saltmarsh was completely covered. A small group of people were out in the water in wetsuits and bathing caps, trying to rescue a sailing boat which had come adrift from somewhere and was floating out in the middle of where the saltmarsh would be later.

The coastal path to the west is often a bit quieter, but the track to the east was flooded by the tide today, so there were more people than usual along here – blackberry pickers, dog walkers, holidaying families with young children out for a walk. Consequently, we didn’t find much in the bushes on the way down to the whirligig.

We kept stopping to scan the flooded saltmarsh, where lots of birds had been displaced by the height of the water today. Little groups of Redshanks were trying to roost around the small islands of vegetation and bushes which were still exposed, with others flying round in lines low over the water looking for somewhere to land. We heard a Greenshank calling, and looked out to see it flying across.

A Spoonbill flew past, heading off east, presumably to roost on Stiffkey Fen. Several Little Egrets were also standing out in the clumps of vegetation, with others flying past. Everything was looking for somewhere to roost over the high tide. Flocks of ducks were flying round too, mainly Wigeon, the males flashing their white wing coverts. A couple of Brent Geese flew past.

Little Egret – looking for somewhere to roost over high tide

Lots of small birds had been pushed off the saltmarsh by the tide today too. A small flock of Skylarks came up over the stubble field just inland. Several Reed Buntings were calling in the brambles and suaeda bushes. Four small birds flew low across over the water in the distance. We only caught them as they disappeared off east – they looked like Lapland Buntings, but they were too far out to be sure and we lost sight of them behind the bushes.

A couple of Marsh Harriers were out hunting, patrolling up and down the lines of higher ground. Continuing on to the whirligig, it was still a bit too windy, despite lighter winds than yesterday, and the brambles here were quiet. There was more activity in the bushes just beyond, several Blackcaps flitting around in the brambles and elders, two or three Blackbirds and a Song Thrush, the latter possibly a continental migrant in for the winter. A Brown Hare sunning itself under the brambles had possibly also been pushed in off the saltmarsh.

A Wheatear flew up off the field beyond the hedge and landed on the top of a hawthorn. It was swaying around, struggling to perch in the wind, before it dropped back down out of view.

Wheatear – struggled to perch on the top of the hedge in the wind

We decided to head back and find somewhere more sheltered. When we got back to the car park, we turned to look out over the saltmarsh and noticed a distinctive large gull flying past. It looked very white-headed, pale grey-mantled and contrastingly dark-winged with dark greater coverts, with a very white tail base and black terminal band. We managed to just grab a couple of photos before it headed away. It was a young Caspian Gull, in its 1st calendar year, 1st winter – not a place we usually expect to see one, a welcome bonus.

Caspian Gull – flew past over the saltmarsh as we reached the car park

We headed for Wells and down beach road where we parked in the beach car park. As we walked in past the boating lake towards the trees, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water.

Cutting in through the birches towards the Dell, we found a couple of birders watching a Redstart. We stopped, and a Pied Flycatcher was flicking about in the trees above too. A good start, and a sign that things had possibly arrived overnight. The birds appeared to be following a tit flock – warblers and flycatchers will often do that here and finding the tits is often the best way to find everything else.

Long-tailed Tit – there were several flycatchers and warblers with the tits

They started to move away rapidly through the birches and we didn’t want to lose them. We could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling much further ahead now, so we followed as quickly as we could. We managed to get ahead of them, and were suddenly surrounded by birds – lots of tits, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits; tiny Goldcrests; one or two Treecreepers working their way up the trunks; a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

A Pied Flycatcher appeared and perched up nicely on a small birch in front of us, making occasional sallies out after insects. Hard to tell if it was the same one we saw earlier, but probably not – there were several in here today.

Pied Flycatcher – perched up in one of the small birches

Following the flock round through the trees on the north side of the Dell, we saw a small shape come up out of the bracken on the top of the bank. It was a Yellow-browed Warbler, and we watched it flicking around in the birches. It disappeared further into the trees and we lost sight of it in all the foliage. We walked round to the other side, and eventually the flock worked its way towards us. The Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the birches again here briefly.

The tit flock headed on through the trees and we had to take a path away from them to get round to where they appeared to be going. It only took a few seconds, but when we got to the other side they had completely disappeared – as they have a habit of doing!

We decided to walk across to the more open area to the south, to see if we could find anything in the bushes. There is a gap at the back where you can see out across the grazing marshes, and as we rounded the hawthorns a bird flew up onto the barbed wire fence right in front of us – a Red-backed Shrike!

Red-backed Shrike – appeared on the barbed wire fence in front of us

The Red-backed Shrike dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence a little further along. We had a longer view of it through our binoculars now – we could see it was very similar to the Brown Shrike we had seen yesterday, also a 1st winter. It was more heavily marked with dark crescents on its upperparts, greyer on the head and nape, and longer-winged too. We were looking into the light from here, and we didn’t notice until we looked at the photos later this it was actually missing its left eye.

It dropped down again, and then shot off across the field to the fence on the other side. We got it in the scope now, and had some more prolonged views. Red-backed Shrikes used to be common breeding birds in the UK, but after a long decline died out as regular breeders in the 1980s, a victim of loss of habitat and intensification of agriculture. They are now mainly scarce passage migrants here, dropping in on their way between their breeding grounds on the continent and their wintering areas in West Africa, although the odd pair sometimes still stays to breed. A nice find for the group!

There were lots of Curlews out on the grazing marshes, and a flock of Pink-footed Geese loafing in the grass in the field beyond. We had a look at them in the scopes too. Two Red Kites were hanging in the air further back towards the main road.

Back on the main path, we made our way on west. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the birches by the track and we heard Long-tailed Tits in here too, but they disappeared out the back and along the far edge of the field beyond before we could get a look through them.

There was nothing at the drinking pool – it is very dry now – and not much activity in the deciduous trees further west. As we turned to come back, one of the group spotted some movement under the bushes, a Redstart. We stopped to watch it, sitting motionless for several minutes before flitting across and landing again. As we started to to walk on, we noticed a second Redstart under the trees a little further along.

Redstart – one of two, feeding quietly under the trees

We planned to head back to the Dell to try to find one of the tit flocks again. On our way, we met someone who said that there had been a Red-breasted Flycatcher earlier by the main path, with the tits. There was no sign of them there, so we continued round into the Dell meadow. We found a tit flock in the birches on the north side and had just stopped to look through them when we received a message to say the Red-breasted Flycatcher was across the other side.

The tits moved deeper into the trees, so we went across to look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher. Unfortunately it had moved off again and disappeared – it wasn’t clear whether it was with the tits now or on its own. It had been a long morning, and it would be getting late for lunch if we spent too long chasing round now, so we decided to head back to the car park to get something to eat.

After lunch back in the car park in the sunshine, and a sit down, we headed back in to the woods to look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher again. We walked round the east side of the Dell first, where it had been earlier. We quickly found a tit flock in the trees here, but it was moving fast. We managed to follow it, but it disappeared over the main track and off towards the caravan site before we could tell if there was anything interesting with it.

Back round to the north side of Dell, a Yellow-browed Warbler had just been seen in here again. We couldn’t find it now, but we did see three Pied Flycatchers, and two or three Chiffchaffs in the birches. We seemed to be chasing our tails, so we walked back out to the main path, planning to look in the birches the other side and regroup, and immediately found a tit flock. We had only just stopped to look through them when we got a call from a friend to say that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was back in the trees in the south-east corner of the Dell.

We hurried round and the Red-breasted Flycatcher was now showing well, flitting around down low in the tangles of branches beneath the birches. It was another young bird, a 1st winter – with a dull pale buffy-orange wash across its breast (the adult males had a more obvious orange-red breast). When it perched it would occasionally cock its tail up, and it was possible to see the white sides to the base of the black tail. It seemed to be settled here now, on its own, doing a small circuit up and down in the trees.

Red-breasted Flycatcher – eventually showed well low down under the birches

We spent some time sitting on the bank watching it quietly feeding under the trees. Red-breasted Flycatcher is another scarce visitor here, more in autumn than spring. They breed in Eastern Europe, up through southern Scandinavia and migrate to West Asia for the winter. Another great autumn migrant for us to catch up with.

It had been very productive in the Woods today, but we had spent enough time in the trees now, so we made our way back out to the car park. There was still a bit of time, so we walked over to loon in the harbour. The beach was busy, but there were lots of waders out on the mud the other side of the harbour channel, so we set up the scopes to look through them.

There were lots of Oystercatchers, Grey Plovers and Knot. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were on the wet sand opposite, and we had a good look at them through the scopes. A few Turnstones were feeding along the far edge of the channel and further back, we found a couple of Ringed Plovers. A small group of Brent Geese was on the mud too.

There would be plenty of time for more waders tomorrow. It had been a great day, with some really good birds. For now, it was time to call it a day – we had an early start planned for tomorrow.

18th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular. It was a gloriously sunny day with wall-to-wall blue skies, pleasantly warm out of the blustery ENE wind.

On our way over to Holkham, two Red Kites hung in the air over the trees just west of Wells. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a small group of Egyptian Geese out on the grass, and as we got out of the minibus a couple of Marsh Harriers were enjoying the wind over the bank off to the east.

We set off west on the inland side of the pines, where we thought it would be more sheltered from the wind. A Brambling was calling its wheezy call and we had just found it perched high in a poplar near the path when we had to get out of the way for a Land Rover coming down the track. When we looked back it was gone. A fresh arrival, come here from Scandinavia for the winter.

There would be rather too many Land Rovers going back and forth along the first part of the track today, often the same vehicle five, six, or more times. Apparently they are filming a Land Rover corporate video here at the moment, racing up and down the beach in vehicles and careering over various other parts of the estate. They were certainly getting their carbon budget soaring this morning, with all the toing and froing. A Chiffchaff was singing in the bushes. And, as we walked on west, a very pale Common Buzzard came over the tops of the trees above our heads.

We hadn’t gone too much further when we encoutered our first tit flock. We could hear the Long-tailed Tits calling at first, before finding them in the trees, along with Coal, Blue and Great Tits, one or two Treecreepers, several Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. When a small warbler flew up into the top of a young oak, we caught a flash of a bold yellowish-white supercilium and a couple of pale wing bars. A Yellow-browed Warbler!

The Long-tailed Tits were on the move and the Yellow-browed Warbler quickly dropped back out of view, deeper into the trees. We could see the flock still moving through parallel with the path and a little further on, it came back out to the trees on the side of the track. The Yellow-browed Warbler flew across and landed in the top of an oak the other side, above the track. We were standing underneath, and could see it flitting around in the leaves towards the top, directly above our heads.

As the flock moved on again, the Yellow-browed Warbler flew back across the track and disappeared into the trees once more. We continued to follow but just before we got to Salts Hole, it crossed back and disappeared deeper into some thick holm oaks on the edge of the pines, where we lost sight of them.

Yellow-browed Warblers used to be very scarce visitors here, wandering off course on their way between their breeding range east of the Urals to wintering sites in SE Asia. But over the last 30 or so years, they have become increasingly common here and are now expected from mid-September. As their breeding range has expanded westwards, birds are now routinely wintering in western Europe.

Scanning across Salts Hole, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water. A Kingfisher popped up on a post at the back, then flew across to the reeds the other side. It didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do, as it flew backwards and forwards in front of the reeds several times, before flying up into a holm oak where it landed. Then it was quickly off again and disappeared round the reeds.

Kingfisher – spent several minutes zooming around Salts Hole

A little further on, there is a muddy pool in the reeds by the track, and as we passed by the Kingfisher flew in and landed in a tangle right next to us, just a few feet away. Unfortunately it didn’t stay long – presumably it saw us, because it quickly flew off again and we watched it disappeared away over the track ahead of us, in a flash of electric blue.

When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, we stopped to scan across the grazing marshes. There had apparently been a Redstart on the fence here earlier but it had flown up over the bushes and there was no sign of it now. Further back, over the reeds, we picked up a distant group of Pink-footed Geese flying in, which dropped down out of view beyond.

When we got to Washington Hide, we walked up onto the boardwalk for a better view. We could now see the Pinkfeet out on the grass in the distance, and got them in the scope for a closer look. A Great White Egret flew in over the reeds, and dropped in at the back of the pool out of view. A few moments later, a second Great White Egret flew in and attempted to land on the pool too, but was quickly chased off by the first.

Several Common Darters were basking on the handrail of the boardwalk, as we set off west again. Just before Meals House, we stopped to watch several Goldcrests feeding in the holm oaks. We had a great view of them, the adults with their golden crown stripes and a juvenile still with an all grey head, at least until another fleet of Land Rovers appeared, and we had to get out of the way again.

Goldcrest – we stopped to watch several in the holm oaks before Meals House

There was too much disturbance around Meals House, which is where the Land Rover crew is basing themselves, lots of vehicles and people. We had a quick look in the sycamores, but there was nothing in there today. The only good news was that once we got beyond Meals House, we would not be bothered by the Land Rovers any more.

Before the crosstracks, we came across another tit flock – we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and see birds flitting around in the holm oaks. but the trees here were just catching the wind and the birds stayed in the thicker trees and didn’t come out to the more open ones by the path.

Just beyond the crosstracks, we heard a Pied Flycatcher calling. At first, we could just see it flicking around deep in an oak tree, but it remained frustratingly out of view. It moved into a thicker tangle behind, then across to a small hawthorn next to the oak. Suddenly it flew out, making a sally after an insect, which it caught. This time it landed right on the front of the hawthorn and we finally got a good look at it. A migrant, on its way south probably from Scandinavia, stopping off here to feed before continuing on its way to West Africa.

Pied Flycatcher – finally landed in the open, on the front of the hawthorn

There was a good selection of butterflies, enjoying the sunshine in the more sheltered spots today. A smart Red Admiral basking on the path, a Small Copper feeding on ivy flowers, a Speckled Wood resting on a branch. There were a few dragonflies too – as well as the ever-present Common Darters, we saw a few Migrant Hawkers and one apple-green Southern Hawker hawking around the edges of the trees. A Willow Emerald damselfly was hanging on a branch over the path by a small group of sallows, a recent colonist, it is amazing how quickly it has spread.

Willow Emerald damselfly – on a branch overhanging the path

Out of the trees, we walked up into the edge of the dunes. Someone we passed told us there was a Redstart in the next valley, so we walked round to where we could get a clear view. The Redstart flicked round out of view behind some bushes, a flash of an orange-red tail. We stationed ourselves at the end of the valley and waited for it to reappear.

There were several Stonechats here, flitting from the bushes down to the ground and back up again. Eventually the Redstart reappeared and gave itself up properly. Several times it perched nicely on the top of one of the small bushes, where we could get it in the scopes. Another nice migrant on its way from Scandinavia to Africa.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, we could see the herd of cattle distantly in the top corner. From time to time, a white shape would appear in the long grass in between them, the Cattle Egrets. We counted at least four, the maximum we could see simultaneously, but there could have been more. Another Great White Egret was stalking along the edge of the reeds out on the pool on the edge of the grazing marsh, looking the other way towards Decoy Wood. Through the scopes, we could see its long dagger-like yellow bill.

A Green Woodpecker yaffled from behind the natterjack pools and we looked across to see it fly up and across past us, heading for the pines. A small group of Siskins came out of the trees and flew over, heading off west – we saw, and particularly heard, quite a few small parties today. An orange Wall butterfly posed nicely in the short grass on the dunes.

On the walk back, another Brambling flew over calling and dropped down into the bushes by the ditch beyond the reeds. Presumably the same Pied Flycatcher flitted across the path and landed briefly in the cherry trees just before the crosstracks. A Bullfinch called and perched briefly in the bushes by the path in front of Washington Hide, where three late Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds. The Kingfisher was still flying around Salts Hole as we passed.

There is nowhere to sit in The Lookout now, as all the tables have been removed, so we drove over the road and up to the car park by the Park for lunch. It was better here, out of the wind. A perfect place for a post-lunch nap on the grass in the sunshine, but we didn’t have time for dozing this afternoon.

A Brown Shrike had been found earlier this morning at Warham Greens, a short drive along the coast, so we decided to head over there to try to see it. We managed to find a parking space on Garden Drove and walked down the track towards the saltmarsh. Permission had been granted to go into the edge of the field, so we walked along the mown weedy margin to where several people were already gathered. The large open field meant we could maintain social distancing and avoid ‘mingling’ between bubbles, while all enjoying the bird.

We were quickly looking at the Brown Shrike, perched low down, in the dead umbellifers at the bottom of the hedge. It kept dropping down to the ground on the margin after insects, before flying back up to another perch. We had great views of it in the scopes. Brown above, with a more chestnut crown in the sunshine, and a distinct blackish mask.

Brown Shrike – feeding from the umbellifers on the edge of the field

It was a young Brown Shrike, a 1st winter, with dark scallop markings on its scapulars but otherwise a rather plain brown mantle, not as strongly-marked as a similar-looking young Red-backed Shrike would be above.We could see the rather short primary projection too, another good distinguishing feature.

Brown Shrikes breed across Russia and spend the winter in India and east into SE Asia, so this young bird was a long way off course. They are rare visitors to the UK, and this was only the second one to be identified in Norfolk. An interesting bird for us to catch up with.

Another Redstart was flicking in and out of the umbellifers close to the shrike, flashing its orange red tail. A Whimbrel flew in off the saltmarsh calling, across in front of us, and disappeared off over the field inland.

Back to the minibus, we drove further east to Stiffkey. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was up in the trees in the small copse by the permissive path as we walked down beside the road, but we couldn’t see anything in with them today.

It was quiet along the riverbank, a bit windy out here today. When we got to one of the places where we could get a view over the reeds, we could see the Spoonbills gathered on the island. Some were asleep, but others were awake and preening, so we could see their distinctive bills. We counted at least 18 today, a good number considering the tide was out, although some were sitting down and there might have been a few more. Two took off and flew over past us, before turning and heading out towards the harbour.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 18 roosting on the island

When we got up onto the seawall, we couldn’t see the Spoonbills. Where they are roosting at the moment is hidden behind the reeds from here. There were lots of Greylags, plus a few Canada Geese loafing on the grass. A liberal scattering of moulting ducks too, included Wigeon, Teal and Mallard. A Pintail was swimming out on the water – though now in dull eclipse plumage, the size and shape still sets it apart from the others.

A few Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits were scattered round among all the wildfowl. We walked further up and looked back to see a single Green Sandpiper, tucked in on the edge of the reeds, working its way along the this strip of mud beyond the water. A Common Buzzard perched up on the edge of the poplars at the back was busy eating something.

The tide was still out in the Harbour. We could see all the seals hauled out on the sandbars beyond Blakeney Point, in the distance. A Greenshank flew past down the creek, and landed on the shore of the channel a bit further up, by the boats. Another three Spoonbills flew out past us, heading from the Fen out into the Harbour to feed in the muddy creeks.

Spoonbills – flying out from the Fen to feed in the Harbour

Looking out into the pit, we could see a couple of Brent Geese. They are just starting to return here for the winter now, back from their breeding grounds in Siberia. There was a good selection of waders too, if a little distant – Knot, Grey Plover, Oystercatchers, Curlew, a single Bar-tailed Godwit. There were lots of gulls loafing on the mud too.

We continued round and down to the edge of the harbour, where we stood admiring the view in the later afternoon sunshine. The Greenshank was now feeding on the edge of the channel opposite, giving us lovely views.

Greenshank – feeding in the harbour channel

It is a magical spot here, and we could have sat for hours, but it was time to head back. It had been an exciting first day – two more days to look forward to.