Tag Archives: North Norfolk

18th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today, our last day. It was another lovely bright, sunny crisp day with blue skies. There was a fresh breeze from the east, but it was not as cold or as blustery as had been forecast. Another great day to be out on the coast.

With reports of a mixed flock of redpolls in Wells Woods again yesterday, we decided to pop in here briefly first thing. As we walked down towards the boating lake, we heard Redpolls calling and looked up to see five fly off over the pines towards the beach. A good start, but it was marred by meeting another birder leaving who told us he had seen the big flock first thing, but they had flown off and he hadn’t been able to find them for an hour since.

We stopped at the boating lake to see if there was anything on there this morning. A pair of Gadwall on the bank were new for the weekend’s list. Another pair of Gadwall swam out of one of the channels in the reeds the other side, the drake keeping very close to the female, which we could understand when another drake swam out in pursuit. There were a few Little Grebes and a Tufted Duck out on the water too. A Kingfisher called as it flew out from the far bank, but disappeared round the corner before anyone could get onto it.

As we walked on along the main track, we could hear Bullfinches calling, but they were hidden from view, probably down in the brambles somewhere in the reeds. It was clear that more thrushes had arrived overnight. A Fieldfare flew in and landed in the top of a tall poplar, where we got it in the scope. Then a Redwing flew up into the birches behind us, calling. As we continued on, we flushed lots of Blackbirds and several more Redwings from the bushes by the path.

Blackbird

Blackbird – it appeared there had been another arrival overnight

When we were almost level with the edge of the Dell, we heard more Redpolls calling and looked up to see a large flock of 30 or so flying in from the direction of the caravan park. There appeared to be a fairly high proportion of pale birds in the flock – Mealy Redpolls – but they flew straight across the track and disappeared behind the trees, heading in the direction of the Dell.

We walked round and out to the middle of the Dell meadow, flushing a rather pale Common Buzzard from the trees on the sunny edge as we did so. We stopped here for a while and scanned the birches all around, expecting the redpolls to be feeding here, but there was no sign of them. A Siskin flew over calling.

As we walked into the trees, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling, but it promptly went quiet. We had a quick look along the path on the east side of the Dell for the redpolls, then round to the birches by the toilet block to try there. The sun was catching the trees in the open glade here and a Chiffchaff flew across and started flycatching from the tops. We watched it for a while, picking at the undersides of the leaves too, before it was joined in the same tree by a second Chiffchaff. It will be interesting to see if they try to overwinter here, or move on again once the weather turns colder.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the birches

There was no sign of the redpolls anywhere in the birches between there and the boating lake, just a flock of Long-tailed Tits which worked their way quickly through the trees above our heads. We had planned to spend the day further west along the coast today, so we decided to resume plan ‘A’.

On our way west along the coast road, we stopped briefly to admire a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a field just before Titchwell village. A single Greylag Goose was with them – though it was impossible to tell whether it was an Icelandic bird which had travelled with them or a local one which had just got in with the wrong crowd.

There were lots of people when we got to Thornham Harbour, out walking, making the most of it and taking the air on a sunny Sunday morning. We had a quick look in the harbour channel, but all we could see were a couple of Common Redshanks. There were just a couple more Common Redshanks around the sluice – perhaps it was just too disturbed here today.

As we climbed up onto the seawall, a male Stonechat was perched up on one of the signs by the gate, but it was flushed by walkers and flew down towards the grazing marsh. We found it again perched on a fence post across the grass, together with a female Stonechat. A Meadow Pipit appeared out of the grass below them.

A large flock of Curlew flew in from the direction of Holme, and dropped down towards the saltmarsh. From the corner of the seawall, we could see they had joined another group which were already roosting out there. We counted almost 100, but more Curlews continued to arrive in small groups while we stood and looked out across the harbour. A large group of Teal were roosting in the sunshine along the muddy bank of the channel opposite.

Curlew

Curlews – flying in to roost on the saltmarsh

There were a few groups of Linnets and Skylarks flying around the seawall, but nothing seemed to settle with all the people walking back and forth. We decided to walk out to the beach. A quick look at Broadwater as we passed revealed just a few ducks – mainly Mallard and Gadwall but with a pair of Shoveler and some distant Wigeon too – and several Coot.

There were lots of people out on the beach too today, so not many waders on the sand in front of us. There were more looking away to the east, on the sand banks in front of the harbour, principally a large roost of Oystercatchers, though a few silvery grey Sanderling were busy running around on the shoreline nearby. A single Ringed Plover flew past. Something obviously disturbed the Curlews from the saltmarsh because they flew out over the beach and landed here too, joining the Brent Geese and Cormorants drying their wings out on the sand.

The sea was much choppier today. A very distant flock of Eider flying west in front of the wind turbines was hard to see, but thankfully then two flew east just behind the breakers a little later which were much easier for everyone to get onto. There were several small groups of Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea, which we got in the scope, and one or two Great Crested Grebes, but there didn’t appear to be much else out on the water today. A few Gannets and Guillemots flew past.

On the walk back, three Little Grebes had appeared out of the reeds on Broadwater. We were aiming for Titchwell for the afternoon, but we decided to make a short diversion inland on the way there to see if we could find any flocks of farmland birds. All the usual likely fields and hedges were rather quiet – there is still plenty of food available, so the bigger flocks have not really gathered yet. A Sparrowhawk flushed from the hedge and flying down the verge behind us was the highlight.

We stopped for lunch at the picnic tables by the visitor centre. The feeders held a good selection of commoner finches, including one or two Greenfinch which are always nice to see these days. A Coal Tit popped in briefly too.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. Three Marsh Harriers were circling over the back of the reedbed, but there was nothing on the pool here today. Looking out over the saltmarsh, we could see a Curlew, a Redshank and a Little Egret. Another Curlew and a lone Grey Plover were roosting on the Lavendar Marsh pool.

There were lots of birds out on the Freshmarsh, so we popped into Island Hide to scan through. The first thing we were struck by were the Teal. There were lots of them and several were dabbling on the wet mud right in front of the hide. In the afternoon sunshine, the drakes were looking stunning. There were a few Shelduck here too and a handful of Shoveler. A large mob of Wigeon were feeding over the back, in the enclosure on the fenced off island.

Teal 2

Teal – looking stunning now, in the afternoon sun

Despite it being just after high tide, there were not as many waders roosting on here as we might have expected. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits, but they were right over in the far corner. Most of the Avocets have left for the winter, but ten are still hanging on here, hoping to be able to avoid the need to move further south. Most of these were also over towards the back, but one Avocet was feeding around the edges of the nearest island.

Four Dunlin were feeding busily on the mud in front of us, and there was another larger flock of Dunlin further over, in front of Parrinder Hide. A single Ringed Plover was with them. The Wigeon were very nervous, and kept irrupting at intervals from the fenced off island, before flying back in to feed. After one such irruption, a Common Snipe appeared from hiding on one of the other islands nearby and promptly went back to sleep on the edge of the vegetation where we could see it.

Dunlin

Dunlin – one of the four feeding on the mud in front of Island Hide

A scan along the edge of the reeds the other side of the hide had failed to reveal the hoped for Water Rail. Then as we were about to leave, one of the group spotted the back end of a Water Rail disappearing into the vegetation. Thankfully, after a few seconds it reappeared and we watched it working its way in and out of the reeds along the edge.

Water Rail

Water Rail – on the edge of the reeds from Island Hide

We headed round to Parrinder Hide next. On the way, a small flock of Brent Geese flew in from Thornham saltmarsh and came low right over our heads as they dropped in towards the Freshmarsh, for a bathe and a drink. The first few misjudged the depth of the water, which is quite shallow at the moment, and aborted their first landing attempt, eventually being more successful a bit further back, where the water is deeper.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – flew right in over our heads

We couldn’t see anything different on the Freshmarsh from Parrinder Hide and there was no sign of the Water Pipit from there this afternoon. One Golden Plover dropped in to the mud in front of the hide, unusually all on its own. We decided to head out towards the beach.

There were a few Common Redshank on Volunteer Marsh and a Little Egret feeding in the channel below the main path. More Redshank were gathered on the tidal channel which stretches back at the far end, along with a few more Black-tailed Godwits and one or two Curlew. We stopped to have a better look at one of the Black-tailed Godwits in the scope.

More waders were roosting out on the one remaining island on the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’, where the water level is now very high again. There were mostly Oystercatchers and Grey Plovers, along with a few Common Redshank. Two paler waders asleep on the front edge of the island were two Greenshank – through the scope we could see their green legs.

Out at the beach, the tide was in. Scattered along the shoreline to the west were lots of Oystercatchers and gulls, and running around in between them were several Sanderling and Turnstones. It was quite choppy now, looking out to sea, and hard to see anything on the water, so we decided to escape the chilly breeze and head back.

As we passed the Tidal Pools, we heard a Spotted Redshank calling. It was obviously on the move, and seemed to have gone over the bank towards the Volunteer Marsh. But as we looked across to all the waders roosting on the island, we could see two slightly paler birds standing next to a Common Redshank. Through the scope, despite the fact that they were asleep, we could see they were two Spotted Redshanks, noticeably more silvery grey above, more obviously spotted with white on the wings. Looking through the Grey Plover from here, we found a single Knot roosting in with them too. A smart drake Pintail was swimming round in front of the island now as well.

We had expected to find the other Spotted Redshank feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, but when we got over the bank we could still hear it calling over towards the Freshmarsh. When we got to the junction with the path to Parrinder Hide, we looked across and found it on the edge of a group of Black-headed Gulls. We had a look at it through the scope and could see its distinctive bill, longer and finer than a Common Redshanks. It was still calling constantly, possibly trying to entice the other Spotted Redshanks in from the Tidal Pools.

By the time we got into Parrinder Hide, it had flown again. Following the calls, it had disappeared round the back of the fenced-off island, out of view. Other birds were starting to gather, and there were more Golden Plover on the Freshmarsh now. More and more gulls were arriving too, and looking through them we found a single Yellow-legged Gull in with the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull – roosting on the Freshmarsh

It was starting to get dark, so we closed up all the windows in the hide and started to walk back. We could already see several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed, and we watched as one after another, six more drifted in high from the west, over the Thornham saltmarsh, dropping slowly over the path and down towards the reeds, getting ready to roost. There were Little Egrets coming in to roost too, one at a time, in over the saltmarsh.

We had enjoyed an exciting three day’s of birding on the coast, and it was now time for us to head for home too. There were still a couple of late surprises in store though. As we drove back east along the coast road, we spotted a Little Owl perched on the roof of a barn by the road. A little further on a Woodcock flew across the road in front of us, silhouetted against the last of the evening’s light as it flew up and over the hedge. They were coming out for the night, just as we were calling it a day.

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17th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. After a misty start, the sun came out and the skies cleared, and it was a lovely bright sunny late autumn / early winter’s day. Great weather to be out.

It was very misty out on the grazing marshes when we arrived at Holkham and drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive. The sun was already starting to burn off the mist as we parked and got out of the car. We could see a couple of Pink-footed Geese in the field right by the north end of the Drive, along with a lone Brent Goose. Another two Pinkfeet flew over calling.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – two were feeding right by Lady Anne’s Drive

There were clearly lots of birds in the hedge on the south side of the trees, so we stopped for a closer look.  The hawthorns were full of Redwings, feeding on the berries, along with a few Song Thrushes, presumably all fresh arrivals from the continent overnight, coming in for the winter. One Redwing was perched on the edge, enjoying the early sun as the mist lifted. Several then dropped down onto the grass in the middle of the grazing marsh to feed, in amongst the ubiquitous Woodpigeons.

A small group of Bullfinches flew along the hedge, flashing their white rumps. A smart pink male perched up in the hawthorns briefly, but quickly dropped back into cover. Four Greenfinches appeared in the trees nearby but quickly flew off east. Then a flash of a small pale bird flying along the brambles stretching out across the far side of the grass, turned out to be a female Blackcap once it landed and we got it in the scope.

The new café, ‘The Lookout’, wasn’t open yet, but we took advantage of the raised ground around it as a vantage point to scan the grazing marshes to the east. A couple of Stonechats perched up in the top of the reeds, waiting for it to warm up. A Common Buzzard flew across and landed on a concrete block out in the middle; nearby a second Buzzard was perched in the top of the hedge.

As we walked through pines, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees. Out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, we turned right and walked along the path below the pines. It was rather quiet along here today, and when we got to the new cordon, erected to help protect the Shorelarks from disturbance, there was no sign of them.

The Shorelarks often like to feed on the beach too, so we continued on to look for them there. We could see a long line of Cormorants drying their wings out on the sand bar beyond. Several gulls were feeding just offshore, mainly Black-headed Gulls, flying up and down over a narrow strip of water, dipping regularly down to pick food from the surface. A couple of gulls were slightly larger, bulkier, with pure white wing tips – two adult Mediterranean Gulls. Then a much smaller gull flew in to join the same group, a dainty Little Gull flashing its dark underwings.

While scanning back and forth through the gulls, another white shape bobbing on the sea caught our eye. As we focused in, we could see it was an Avocet! Swimming out on the sea! This is not something Avocets normally do, although most waders are capable of swimming short distances if required. We assumed it had only landed briefly, but over the following 15 minutes or so we were on the beach, it remained happily out on the sea. Seemingly there were a few Avocets on the move today, with other birds seen flying along the coast, so perhaps this was just a tired migrant stopping for a rest? Whatever it was doing there, it was bizarre to see it!

With a very calm sea, there were not so many duck visible today (they were presumably feeding further out). We did find a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers closer in, off the sandbar. There were a few Gannets flying back and forth offshore too, and when we focused the scope on two distant Gannets resting on the sea, we could see one or two Guillemots on the water in front of them.

There had been a few Meadow Pipits and Skylarks flying over calling, but then we heard the Shorelarks and we turned to see them flying in to the cordoned off area on the saltmarsh behind us. We walked back round for a closer look, and when we got to where the Shorelarks were, we heard Snow Buntings calling. We looked across to the other side of the cordon to see three Snow Buntings fly in and drop down on the edge of the dunes at the back. We didn’t know where to look first!

After a look at the Snow Buntings first, we turned our attention back to the Shorelarks. Very obligingly, they flew across and landed down on the saltmarsh in front of where we were standing. They are very well camouflaged when they are feeding down in the vegetation, and they were hard to count at first, but eventually everyone who was counting managed to see all 12 of them. When they put their heads up, you can see their yellow faces and black bandit masks, and it was a perfect day for watching them today. Their yellow faces glowed in the morning sun, which was shining from behind us. Stunning!

Shorelarks 1

Shorelarks – there were 12 today on the saltmarsh

Shorelarks 2

Shorelarks – their yellow faces shone in the sunshine

Shorelarks are very scarce winter visitors from Scandinavia, in variable numbers from year to year, and Holkham is a very traditional site for them. They feed on the seedheads out on the saltmarsh here. Hopefully the new cordon will encourage them to remain here through the winter again.

Having enjoyed great views of the Shorelarks, we made our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive. ‘The Lookout’ café was now open, so we made a quick stop to use the facilities. A Kingfisher shot across the top of the Drive and disappeared west behind the trees, down the line of the ditch, unfortunately too quick for most to get onto it. A Sparrowhawk was perched on a post in the middle of the grazing marsh.

We walked west from there, on the inland side of the trees. We flushed lots of Blackbirds from down under the trees or the hawthorns as we went. There had clearly been a major arrival overnight from the continent, and more seemed to be arriving now, coming in through the tops of the pines. Three Jays flew across the path and one landed in the poplars.

We could hear tits in the pines and looked up to see a flock of mainly Long-tailed Tits working its way through the tops. A Treecreeper called from somewhere deep in the trees, but we couldn’t see it. A Goldcrest appeared in the pines right above our heads and dropped down to feed low down in a tree right beside us.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – fed just above our heads

There were lots of Mallard on Salts Hole today, and in with them we found at least six Little Grebes, several Coot and three Tufted Duck. A small flock of Wigeon was feeding on the grass beyond, and three Egyptian Geese were calling noisily just behind them. One of the Egyptian Geese flew up into the pine tree, perhaps checking out a potential nest site already.

Two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds in front of Washington Hide, flushing all the ducks. We could see a small flock of Shoveler circling round. As we started to walk in that direction, we looked back at Salts Hole to see two Water Rails fly out of the reeds. One flew across to the other side but the other turned back. Both disappeared straight into the reeds unfortunately, but we could then hear them squealing to each either from either side.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there were at least six on Salts Hole today

There were some more Long-tailed Tits in the Holm Oaks along the side of the track and we stopped to watch two Coal Tits chasing each other in and out of the trees. A quick scan from the gate overlooking the grazing marshes revealed a distant flock of Pink-footed Geese and more Wigeon out on the grass.

From up on the boardwalk to Washington Hide, we watched one of the Marsh Harriers quartering over the reeds. It hovered for a couple of seconds and looked like it was going to drop down after something, but then drifted away to the grazing marshes beyond. We were looking straight into the low sun from here – one of the disadvantages of such a nice day at this time of year – so we decided to press on west. There were a few Common Darter dragonflies still out, enjoying the late sunshine, and one was basking on the wood of the boardwalk by the track.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – hunting over the reeds in front of Washington Hide

The pools and grazing marshes in front of Joe Jordan Hide looked rather quiet at first, but a scan of the grass to the west of the hide revealed eight Russian White-fronted Geese with the Greylags. Compared to the Greylags, the Whitefronts were noticeably smaller, with a more delicate pinkish bill surrounded with white at the base. The White-fronted Geese are just returning now for the winter, but numbers here will depend on the weather and food availability on the continent.

There were a couple of people already in the hide when we arrived, and they told us we had just missed a Great White Egret flying past. It was still almost visible away to the east of us, but hidden behind hedge. When a second Great White Egret was then flushed by a Marsh Harrier from the reeds closer to us, the first flew back in and the two of them chased round over the edge of the grazing marsh and in and out of the hedge. One eventually flew back and landed on the far side of the marshes.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egret – two were chasing around the grazing meadows

On the walk back, we bumped into the tit flock again, where we had seen the Goldcrest earlier. It or another Goldcrest was still in the same tree! A Treecreeper appeared in one of the poplars above us and we watched as it worked its way out along the underside of one of the branches. It was then joined by a second Treecreeper briefly, before the two of them flew back deeper into the trees.

Back at ‘The Lookout’, a large flock of Blackbirds came in over the pines and headed off inland. Unfortunately, with the opening of the new café, the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive have been removed (presumably to encourage people to frequent the new establishment!), so we decided to find somewhere else to eat our lunch. There are still some benches at Burnham Overy Staithe, which had the added advantage of a lovely view overlooking the harbour, particularly on a glorious day like today.

After lunch, we had a quick walk out along the seawall. With the tide in, there were a lot of boats sailing up and down the harbour channel and a lot of disturbance as a consequence. There were not to many waders along the sides of the channel at first – a couple of Grey Plover over the far side, and a Curlew down below us which was catching the afternoon sun.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding on the edge of the harbour channel

As we got a bit further out, more waders started to appear. A couple of small flocks of Dunlin flew out of one of the side channels and across the harbour towards us. Several Bar-tailed Godwits landed out on a sandbar in the middle of the channel out towards the dunes and were joined by a few Grey Plover. When another boat sailed towards them, they flew again and came across to our side of the harbour.

Round the corner of the seawall is a muddy bay which is less disturbed by passing boats. A large flock of the Dunlin had all gathered here, feeding feverishly on the mud. Looking through we could see several Ringed Plover with them, their distinctive black ringed faces instantly setting them apart. A few more Grey Plover and Redshanks were scattered around the mud too and the Bar-tailed Godwits flew in to join them. It was nice to see all the waders together, to compare sizes, bill shapes and watch the different ways in which they were feeding.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – flushed by a boat and flew in over the harbour

One of the group spotted an Avocet flying across the harbour towards us. It looked like it might drop in with the other waders, but changed its mind and continued on over the seawall towards Holkham.

At the next corner on the seawall, where the path across the grazing marshes meets the bank, a large flock of Brent Geese had gathered to feed on the grass just below us. We could see several stripy-backed juveniles in with the plainer adults, which suggests they have had a better breeding season this year than last. There were also ten or so Barnacle Geese further back, most likely feral birds hopped over the wall from Holkham Park.

One of the adult Brent Geese stood out from the others – it had a much more striking white collar, a slightly paler flank patch and appeared slightly darker, more blackish overall. It is a hybrid Black Brant, an intergrade between two forms of Brent Goose, between our regular Dark-bellied Brent and a Black Brant from NE Siberia or NW North America. It is an old friend – it returns to exactly the same fields every winter, showing us just how site faithful all these geese are.

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – the regular returning bird was on the grazing marshes

The afternoon was getting on and had we wanted to fit in one more thing before it got dark, so we headed back to the car and drove along the coast to the other side of Wells. As we walked down the track heading towards the coast, we flushed several Goldcrests which flew along the hedge ahead of us. There were also a few Blackbirds and Redwings which flew out of the hedge calling, presumably feeding up on the berries after their journey across from the continent. Another large flock of Brent Geese was feeding in the winter wheat here, chattering noisily.

When we got down to the edge of the saltmarsh, there were already a few people gathered here. A Merlin was perched up on the top of a very distant bush, having just been flushed by a wildfowler walking around out on the marshes.

Apparently a male Hen Harrier had flown past before we arrived, but then a second one appeared perched on a bush, also rather distant though clearly visible through the scope. A ringtail Hen Harrier flew in from the east, across the back of the saltmarsh, and dropped straight into the grass, straight to bed. With the clear weather, it appeared the birds had been making the most of it, hunting late rather than coming in early and flying around before going in to roost. The first male Hen Harrier flew back in from the west, and the second came up so we could see the two males flying round together

A large skein of Pink-footed Geese came over from the fields behind us calling, and flew out across the saltmarsh and landed on the flats beyond to roost. One of the group, looking the other way from the rest of us, spotted another Merlin coming in from behind us too. It came over our heads, turned out over the saltmarsh and we watched it fly across against the sky, before it dropped down and landed on a bush, where we got it in the scope. It was much closer than the first one we had seen, but the light was starting to go now.

A Green Sandpiper flew west calling, but we couldn’t see it in the gathering gloom, so we decided it was time to call it a day and head back.

9th Nov 2018 – Late Autumn Rarities

A Private Tour today on the North Norfolk coast. It was a lovely sunny start to the day, and very mild out of the SE breeze, although there was a bit more cloud around at times in the afternoon. With several lingering rarities still along the coast, we decided on a day catching up with some of our scarcer winter visitors together with a bit of ‘twitching’!

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see some groups of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Several birds were right next to the road, so we stopped for a closer look. We could see their pink legs (and feet!), and small, dark bill with a pink band.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – showing well by Lady Anne’s Drive

While we were watching the Pink-footed Geese, we looked up to see a large white bird flying away from us across the grazing marsh. It was a Great White Egret – we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill. Great White Egrets have bred here for the last couple of years, but can be harder to find in winter, so this was a bonus.

Several small groups of Wigeon flew in to the pool on the other side of the road, but by the time we turned our attention to that side, they had gone back out to graze on the grass. We carried on up to the end of the Drive. A digger was clearing one of the ditches, piling the mud out on the bank, and two Grey Herons were standing by to take advantage of anything edible which it scooped out. As we got out of the car and scanned, a Marsh Harrier was quartering the marshes and a Kestrel was hovering nearby.

We walked through the pines and out onto the beach. Several Brent Geese were feeding out on the saltmarsh, so we stopped briefly to look at them through the scope. As we set off again, walking east, two Red Kites were hanging in the air over the dunes, flashing burnt rusty red as they circled in the morning sunshine. A Marsh Harrier flew past, a young bird, chocolate brown with a pale head, and then a rather pale Common Buzzard flew in over the saltmarsh and almost over our heads. The raptors were obviously out in force this morning enjoying the fine weather!

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – this very pale bird flew in off the saltmarsh

When we got out to the newly cordoned-off area of the saltmarsh, we could see a couple of small birds creeping about in the vegetation which caught the light. Looking more closely, we could see they were Shorelarks. We got them in the scope and could see their bright yellow faces, shining in the morning sunshine, contrasting with their black bandit masks and collars. Looking carefully, we counted six at first but then another five or so more flew in to join them.

Shorelark

Shorelark – one of at least eleven at Holkham today

Shorelarks are scarce and localised winter visitors to the UK most winters, and Holkham is a very traditional site for them. However, they are very vulnerable to disturbance and the beach here has become increasingly popular, particularly with dog walkers. Hopefully, the new fence, which was erected this week by the wardens, will help to keep disturbance to a minimum and will encourage them to remain here again for the winter.

While we were watching the Shorelarks, we could see a flock of Snow Buntings feeding further over, but by the time we had finished looking at the Shorelarks, they had disappeared. We walked over to the beach and scanned the shingle, as Snow Buntings can be very hard to spot when they get in the stones. But the next thing we knew they flew back in, flashing white in their wings and twittering, and landed behind us on the edge of the saltmarsh again.

Snow Buntings 1

Snow Buntings – flew back in to the saltmarsh

We stopped to admire the Snow Buntings for a while, as they fed on the sparse seedy vegetation. They were very active, running around on the sand, occasionally flying up and landing again, always on the move.

After watching the Snow Buntings for a while, we turned our attention to the sea. Scanning the water, we spotted a few seaduck out in the Bay. They were not easy to see at first though – even though the sea looked fairly flat, it was surprising choppy, enough to hide the birds. First we came across two female Eider, with long wedge-shaped bills. Then we found three darker birds with two white spots on their faces, Velvet Scoter. They were busy diving for shellfish, but the white spots caught the sunlight when they surfaced.

A couple of Gannets flew past, white adults with black wingtips. Then we noticed a larger gathering of Gannets further out. One had obviously found a shoal of fish and attracted the others as they were all busy feeding. We watched as one after another folded back its wings and plunged headlong into the water.

There were a few other birds out on the sea too – a winter plumage Red-throated Diver, its white face catching the light, and several Great Crested Grebes too. A couple of Guillemots were not playing ball though, diving constantly so that they were impossible to see.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach too, plus several Oystercatchers, and a few Sanderling and Turnstone were flying back and forth out along the shoreline. A small group of Brent Geese were fast asleep right down by the water’s edge. Something had obviously spooked the Snow Buntings again, because they suddenly flew up over the dunes and landed out on the beach in front of us. We watched them busily preening in the sunshine before they eventually plucked up the courage to fly back again.

Snow Buntings 2

Snow Buntings – flew out onto the beach to preen for a while

As we made our way back towards the Gap, the two Red Kites were still circling over the dunes – there must have been some carrion out there which they couldn’t resist. When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, three more were circling out over the grazing marshes on the other side of the pines.

Then, as we drove back towards the main road, we stopped to watch yet another Red Kite circling very close by. It dropped down into the grass and came back up with a rat in its talons. We couldn’t tell whether it had already been dead or not, but the Red Kite carried it out into the middle of the field and started to devour it.

Red Kite

Red Kite – feeding on a dead rat it found out on the grazing marshes

From Holkham, we headed east along the coast road to Kelling. There have been some Waxwings here for the last few days and we could see several large lenses pointed up into the dead tree right next to where we parked. They were right above our heads as we got out! Thankfully they didn’t seem to be in the least bit worried by us, and we walked across the road from where we could get a better angle to look at them.

With their punk haircuts and multi-coloured wing markings, Waxwings are one of the most charismatic birds and always worth a diversion to see. There were at least five of them here today. They occasionally dropped down to a neighbouring garden to feed on the rowan tree, then flew back up into the top of a dead tree, where they perched, digesting.

Waxwing 1

Waxwings – we saw at least five at Kelling today

Up close, through the scope, we could make out all the details of the Waxwings wings – including the small red waxy tips to its secondaries, from which it gets its name, as well as the yellow tip to the tail and the rusty undertail.

Waxwing 2

Waxwing – showing the small red waxy tips to the secondaries

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from admiring the Waxwings. We were heading back to Cley for lunch, so we stopped at Salthouse on the way there. There had been no mention of the ‘Eastern’ Stonechat all morning, so after a clear night last night it seemed like it had most likely gone, continuing on its journey.

We had a quick look anyway, and there was no sign. Hopefully the Sparrowhawk which was in the bushes close to where it had been favouring, had not had a Stonechat shaped meal! There was a family of Mute Swans on duck pond and a flock of Canada Geese out on the grazing marshes. A Lapwing and a Curlew both flew past, and several Meadow Pipits came up ‘seep-seeping’ out of the grass.

We carried on to Cley for lunch. As we sat down at the picnic tables, a slightly ominous line of dark grey cloud blew in from the south. It hung over us for precisely as long as we sat out eating and then, as soon as we stood up, it cleared again and went back to sunshine!

While we were eating, we could see a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding on Pat’s Pool. There were obviously lots of ducks out on North Scrape, as we could see when they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier, and flew round, mainly Wigeon and Teal.

After lunch, we went for a quick walk up along the East Bank. We stopped to look at some Greylag Geese out on the grazing marsh, with their large orange carrot-bills, very different from the Pink-footed Geese we had looked at earlier. There were lots of ducks out on Pope’s Pool, mainly Wigeon and Teal again. There were some closer Shoveler and Gadwall on the Serpentine, as well as more Teal. As we stopped to admire them, a Common Snipe flew across the water but ran straight into the long grass on the other side.

Teal

Teal – feeding on the Serpentine

It had clouded over again now, and with the wind seemingly having picked up a touch, we headed for the shelter to scan Arnold’s Marsh. There were plenty of Dunlin on here, scattered about in the shallow water, as well as a Grey Plover walking along the near edge, just beyond the vegetation. There were also several Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, three Shelduck asleep at the back, and a few Cormorants drying their wings on the island.

Continuing on out towards the beach, a Little Egret was feeding in the reeds on the brackish pools. It seems to like it here!

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding in the reeds on the brackish pools

Looking out to sea, we spotted two Common Eider just offshore. They were drifting quickly west, but through the scope we could see their wedge-shaped bills. A female Common Scoter was also close in on the sea, dark-capped and pale-cheeked. More Gannets circled out over the sea and a large bull Grey Seal swam past.

We had one last target for the day, so we turned to head back. Suddenly, all the ducks erupted from North Scrape again. We scanned over the marshes, but we couldn’t see a Marsh Harrier out there this time. Then we noticed a Peregrine come up from behind the reeds. We watched as it circled round a couple of times, then it powered down towards the other scrapes and we lost sight of it behind the reeds as it shot across in front of Dauke’s Hide.

On the way back, we had a quick scan of the main drain, which produced a couple of Little Grebes. Then we drove further east along the coast road to Sheringham. There has been a young drake King Eider lingering off here for the last week or so. There were only one or two people looking for it now, late in the day, and they had lost sight of it. We scanned up through the flags, marking the position of the crab pots, and quickly relocated it again.

The King Eider is not at its smartest at the moment. It is just in its second winter and is still moulting out of its duller eclipse plumage, but it was still a treat to be able to watch this high arctic species so well south of its normal range. It was busy diving, presumably looking for the very crabs for which this area is so famous!

The light was fading fast now. Lots of Black-headed Gulls were gathered down on the beach below the cliffs, for a quick bath before heading off to bed. It had been a very enjoyable day out, but it was time for us to head off too now.

4th Nov 2018 – Late Autumn, Day 3

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

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

Pink-footed Goose

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

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

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

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

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker – perched in a dead tree in the dunes

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

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

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – there were nine feeding on the saltmarsh this morning

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

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – eventually they all flew back in

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

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

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

Jay

Jay – we heard and saw several in the Meals today

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

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

Marsh Harrier

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

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

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

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

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

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there were several on the boating lake

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

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

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

Yellowhammer

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

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

 

 

2nd Nov 2018 – Late Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of Late Autumn Tours in North Norfolk today. It was a glorious sunny day today, with blue sky and with winds falling light. A great day to be out.

As we made our way west along the coast road, we stopped briefly just outside Burnham Overy Staithe to admire a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a stubble field by the road. We could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding in the stubble as we drove past this morning

Our first destination for the morning was Holme. As we got out of the car, a large flock of Starlings flew low over us, heading west. It was to be a feature of the morning, with a constant stream of Starlings moving, many passing low over the  beach. These are birds arriving from the continent for the winter, coasting here before turning inland.

There were small numbers of Chaffinches moving too first thing, and three Jackdaws west over the beach looked like they might be migrants too. A Skylark was singing, but others looked like they might be fresh arrivals, also on the move. As we walked across the golf course, a Sparrowhawk flew low over the fairway and into the dunes, presumably hoping to find some tired migrants in the bushes.

When we got over to the saltmarsh, we could see several people with binoculars and telescopes walking through the vegetation. They flushed several small groups of birds as they went – mainly Skylarks and Linnets. But as one flock came up, we heard a Shorelark call and it seemed to drop over the dunes towards beach with all the other birds.

We walked over the dunes but all we could see were a couple of Skylarks down on the high tideline. We couldn’t see where everything else had gone.

We stopped to scan the beach, looking through the waders dotted about on the sand. There were lots of Oystercatchers and Redshank, several Turnstones, silvery white Sanderling running up and down in front of the waves and a single Knot. All along the shoreline, Cormorants were standing, drying their wings in the morning sunshine.

There were lots of dog walkers out now, particularly on the beach towards Old Hunstanton. As the dogs raced around on the sand, they flushed all the birds down that end, which flew up past us. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and Brent Geese shining in the morning light as they passed by, we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits with them too.

There didn’t seem to be much on the sea, looking out from here. A lone Red-breasted Merganser flew past. As we stood and watched, we started to notice flocks of Teal coming in low over the waves, 20-50 at a time. They poured past all the time we were watching, hundreds by the time we left, all birds arriving here from the continent for the winter. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese came in off the sea too – we watched one flock all the way in from out towards the wind farms. Real migration in action

Then we noticed a large, dark bird coming along the beach straight towards us. It was a juvenile Pomarine Skua, presumably blown inshore by last week’s storms and now scavenging along the shoreline here.

There was no sign of any Shorelarks out on the beach here, so we started to walk back the other way. As we did so, a Shorelark flew over calling and we watched it drop down over the far side of saltmarsh, on the edge of the dunes. Unfortunately, by the time we got round there, we found two people walking along the tideline, and there was no sign of it. We turned back to continue east and we hadn’t gone more than a few metres when the Shorelark flew past again.

This time it dropped down on an open area of saltmarsh, and we could see where it landed. We walked over and had a good look at the Shorelark through the scope out in the open, before it ran across and disappeared into the vegetation. We made our way round to the other side, to see if we could find it again, and it ran out of the saltmarsh right in front of us. It was just a few metres away and we had a great view of it through our binoculars. We could see its bright yellow face catching the sun as it turned, with a black bandit mask.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we could only find one on the beach today

Eventually the Shorelark ran back into the vegetation. There has been a flock of over ten here in recent days, so this one was probably looking for the rest of them. We decided to walk up a little further along the beach, to see if we could find the flock and to have a look at the sea up towards Gore Point.

We didn’t quite get that far, but we stopped to scan the sea from the beach. There were lots of Great Crested Grebes offshore, their white winter faces and necks shining in the morning light as they crested the waves. There were three grebes together not far offshore, diving and drifting with the tide. One looked much smaller than the others and through the scope we could see it was a Slavonian Grebe with two Great Crested Grebes.

Otherwise, all we could see off here today was a young Gannet diving offshore, way off in the distance. We decided not to continue along the beach, so we turned and headed back to the car. As we got there, we heard Fieldfares chacking, and looked up to see a large flock flying over. They were quite spread out, but they continued to pass overhead for several seconds. A couple of Redwings flew over with them, teezing.

Fieldfare

Fieldfare – a large flock flew over as we got back to the car

Our next stop was at Thornham Harbour. All we could find in the channel by the road was a single Common Redshank, perhaps because there were several people walking around here now, out enjoying the lovely morning. There were a couple more Redshank by the sluice and further out along the edge of the harbour, two Greenshank were roosting on the muddy bank. They really stood out, their much whiter underparts glowing in the sunshine.

Up on the seawall, we made our way along to the corner where we stood for a while and scanned. A large flock of Curlew flew past with a single Bar-tailed Godwit in with them. They circled round and landed down on the saltmarsh out in the middle, joining an even larger group which was already roosting there, well camouflaged in the vegetation. There were two Grey Plover feeding down on the muddy island in the harbour channel and they were joined by a couple more Bar-tailed Godwits which gave us a chance to get a good look at them in the scope. Further out, a couple of Ringed Plover were roosting on the edge of the channel.

Looking out to the middle of the harbour, we could see lots of gulls roosting, mainly Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. Around the edges of the channels, we could see lots of Brent Geese, lots of Wigeon and a few Shelducks. A Little Egret flew in, flashing its yellow feet, and landed in the mud just below the bank.

Little Egret

Little Egret – flew in and landed in the muddy channel next to us

Several Linnets flew back and forth across the saltmarsh, in small groups. But when another four small finches flew past, their distinctive call immediately attracted our attention. They were Twite, once a common wintering bird along the coast here, but now mainly restricted to a handful of sites of which this is the best.

The Twite flew past us and out over the saltmarsh, getting almost to Holme before they circled back round and flew in past us again. They had picked up a few friends, as there were eight of them now. They wouldn’t settle though, and they circled round and back out towards Holme again. When they came round past us for a third time, this time they headed for their favourite tree in the field nearby and landed. They were silhouetted against the sun though, so it wasn’t a great view.

The Twite showed no sign of moving, so we turned our attention back to the harbour. Eventually, they took off again and we heard them calling as they flew in behind us. This time, two of them dropped down to the puddles on the seawall to drink. We had a quick look at them through the scope – their yellow bills catching the sun – before they flew off again and disappeared out over the saltmarsh.

As we made our way back, a small flock of Linnets flew in and landed on some seedheads on the edge of the saltmarsh below the path. Through the scope, we could see they were duller and darker, with grey bills. Tide coming in fast now.

Our final destination for the day was Titchwell. It was time for lunch when we arrived, and we ate watching the finches and tits on the feeders by the Visitor Centre. After lunch, we made a quick trip back to the car park to get the scope, where a Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows by the path.

Walking out along the main path, we couldn’t see anything of note on the former pool on the Thornham grazing marsh, which is now getting very overgrown. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling in the reeds, but there was nothing at all on the reedbed pool. A couple of Coot were feeding in one of the reedbed channels.

Avocets

Avocet – there were still seven on the Freshmarsh today

The Freshmarsh looked rather quiet today, when we arrived. The reeds in front of Parrinder Hide looked freshly cut, so we suspected the wardens had been clearing vegetation on here and had probably scared a lot of birds off. There were still a few waders on here, most notably seven lingering Avocets and a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits which had presumably flown in to roost from the beach on the rising tide. A single Dunlin was feeding in front of Parrinder Hide.

While we were watching, a few Ruff flew in and landed down onto the mud, winter adults with pale scalloped upperparts. Several groups of Golden Plovers dropped in too, but they were rather nervous and wouldn’t settle, flying up again and whirling round in the sunshine, flashing alternately golden brown and white. Great to watch!

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a large flock whirled round over the Freshmarsh

Small groups of Brent Geese commuted in and out from the saltmarsh too. There are plenty of ducks here now, as birds have returned for the winter – Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon. The drakes are now moulting out of eclipse plumage and back into their breeding finery, slowly getting back to their best. A single Greylag and one of the two injured Pink-footed Geese, which have spent the whole year here, were feeding on one of the closer islands. There were two Egyptian Geese here too.

We had already seen one Red Kite, very distantly hanging in the air over the fields inland. Then when everything flushed from the Freshmarsh, we looked up to see a Red Kite drifting over. It made a beeline directly out towards the beach, and was swiftly followed by a second Red Kite which followed it.

Red Kite

Red Kite – one of two which passed over the Freshmarsh this afternoon

It was nice in the sunshine up on the West Bank path today, so we didn’t feel any rush to go into the hides. With the weather so calm and the light so good, we decided to head straight up to the beach. The tide was in when we got to the Volunteer Marsh, but a nice close Common Redshank was feeding along the muddy edge just below us.

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh on the way out

All the waders were roosting on the one remaining island on the no-longer ‘tidal’ pools today, which was why they were not on the Freshmarsh. There were lots of Oystercatchers, Grey Plover and Dunlin. Several much paler birds really stood out and through the scope, we could see they were four Spotted Redshanks and three Greenshank. We had a good look at the Spotted Redshanks, noting their longer, needle-fine bills and white stripe over the lores.

Carrying on to the beach, the sea was in and covering all the mussel beds. The Turnstones had taken to roosting on the concrete blocks of the old bunker and looking more closely we could see there was a single Purple Sandpiper hiding in with them. We walked down the beach and got it in the scope for a closer look.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – on the concrete blocks out on the beach

The Purple Sandpiper dropped down to feed on the beach with the Turnstones, picking around in the pile of razorshells left behind by last week’s storms. There were several Sanderling running around on the sand too, in and out of the waves like clockwork toys, and a larger group trying to roost on the beach further down. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding along the edge of the water.

Looking out to sea, we could still see lots of Great Crested Grebes, but with the sea much calmer than this morning they were all now very distant. Three Razorbills in a small group were diving offshore, not easy to see despite the gentle swell, and three Common Eider flew east offshore. There were still more small skeins of Pink-footed Geese coming in off the sea – we could hear their high-pitched yelping calls as they flew in over the beach.

As we walked back along the main path, we stopped to admire one of the Spotted Redshanks which had now moved to the Volunteer Marsh. It was feeding with a Common Redshank in the channel just below the bank, very close to the path, giving us a great, close-up, side-by-side comparison. We could even see the small downward kink in the tip of the Spotted Redshank‘s bill through our binoculars – it was too close for a scope!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – showing very well on the way back

A Little Egret was fishing here too. As the tide was going out, small fish and invertebrates were trapped in the pools or trying to escape over the small weirs created by the mud, providing easy prey for the birds. We watched the Spotted Redshank catch a large shrimp. It seemed to play with it for several minutes, dropping it back in the water, picking it up and turning it in its bill, then dropping it again. We thought it might lose it at one point but eventually it seemed to have enough and with a bit of effort, managed to swallow it.

Lots of other waders had gathered in the wider channel which runs back away from the path too. We stopped to admire a Bar-tailed Godwit on the mud, and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper channel nearby. A Grey Plover was positively glowing in the last of the afternoon’s light, and there were plenty of Redshank and a few Curlew here now too. A couple of smart drake Teal swam past.

Suddenly a large dark shape came hurtling towards us low over the Volunteer Marsh. It turned at the last minute and crash-landed on the path beside us, just a couple of metres away. It was a Woodcock, presumably a fresh arrival in off the sea from the continent. It took a couple of seconds to get its bearings, saw us, and then flew off quickly over the bank.

Back at the Freshmarsh, the gulls were starting to gather to roost. We stopped to look through them. They were mainly Black-headed Gulls, with an increasing number of larger ones, mainly Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. One caught our eye – slightly darker than the Herring Gulls but not as dark as a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was chunky too, with a heavy bill, and a rather white head with limited and fine dark streaking around the eye. It was an adult Yellow-legged Gull, but unfortunately it waded into the deeper water and hid its yellow legs from view.

The Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost too now. We could see three or four over the back of the reedbed or over the trees beyond. The light was starting to go, so we made our way back to the car. As we got back to the car park a flock of Long-tailed Tits was feeding in the trees and we managed to pick out a Blackcap feeding in the sycamore with them just as we packed up to go.

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

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

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

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

Waders 1

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

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

Waders 2

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

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

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

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

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

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

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

Waders 5

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

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

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

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

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

Greenshank

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

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

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

Spotted Redshank

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

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

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

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

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

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

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

Red-crested Pochard

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

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

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

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

Avocet

Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

Common Redshank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

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

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

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

11th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. After a damp and cloudy start, the skies cleared and it was bright, sunny and even quite warm. After heading out with coats and hats, we were desperately shedding layers by mid-morning! There was a rather blustery south wind all day, which meant some of the smaller birds were keeping down in cover though.

We started the day at Holkham. Parking at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling as we got out of the car and several small skeins came over up off the grazing marshes and flew off over our heads, heading out to feed from where they had probably roosted last night.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying off from the grazing marshes early morning

At the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we turned left on the path which runs west on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of metres before we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the trees. It came into a large oak above our heads but was high up in the leafy branches and proved impossible to see in the early gloom and wind.

A second Yellow-browed Warbler called from the holm oaks the other side of the tracks. We could see movement in the dark leaves, but it moved through too quickly to get on and both birds went quiet. We decided to try again later, if need be, when it had brightened up a bit. A good start, with two calling Yellow-browed Warblers, anyway.

A little further along the path, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits feeding high in the tall poplars. We stopped for a minute to see if we could find anything else with them. There were some other tits, including a couple of Coal Tits, and we heard Goldcrest and Treecreeper calling, but they moved quickly up into the tops of the pines and disappeared deeper into the trees.

At Salts Hole, there were at least six Little Grebes around the pool, back for the winter. A lone Curlew was feeding in the field behind. There were lots of Jays out today, busy collecting and stashing acorns, and we saw three flying across the back of the pool, between the trees.

We stopped again at the gate just before Washington Hide, to scan the grazing marshes. The first thing we noticed was a Short-eared Owl, circling high above the grass, flying with its distinctive stiff-winged action. It seemed nervous, looking round, possibly fresh in over the sea from Scandinavia. It flew back towards the pines and disappeared over the trees.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – out over the grazing marshes, possibly a fresh arrival

A Cetti’s Warbler singing in the edge of the reedbed was good to hear, having lost most of our resident birds over the cold weather last winter. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reedbed too, a dark chocolate brown young bird with green wing-tags, presumably tagged in the nest here. It was joined by a male and the two of them grappled talons briefly.

A Great White Egret flew in and seemed to land down on the pool, hidden in the reeds. From up on the boardwalk, we could see it perched on a post. It quickly dropped down and we watched it fishing in the shallow water from the comfort of Washington Hide. After a few minutes, it flew off round the back of the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing on the pool in front of Washington Hide

There was quite a bit of raptor activity visible from here this morning, as well as more Marsh Harriers, we saw a couple of Common Buzzards, including a rather pale bird perched out in one of the bushes on the grazing marsh, a Kestrel hovering out over the grass, and a distant Sparrowhawk circling.

As we carried on west, we could hear lots of Song Thrushes ticking in the trees – there had obviously been a large arrival of them overnight. There were Chaffinches and Bramblings calling overhead too, also freshly arrived for the winter. We heard a couple more flocks of tits from the path, but they were very hard to see in the wind, even if it was now brightening up nicely. They seemed to be hiding up in the pines or in the denser holm oaks, rather than out in the deciduous trees by the path.

At the cross-tracks, we came across another flock and could hear several Chiffchaffs calling here too, with them. Another Yellow-browed Warbler called from just into the trees, so we walked in along the path, but by the time we got round to where it had been the tits had disappeared up into the pines again.

We decided to carry on through to the north side of the pines, where it would be more sheltered from the wind. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it from deep in the trees. As we emerged from the pines, we flushed several Song Thrushes which had been feeding down on the grass, rather grey-brown birds from the continent, duller than our resident Song Thrushes.

We heard yet another Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but this time it was out in the scattered pines in the open dunes, so we figured we had a chance of getting a look at this one. Thankfully it was quite vocal, presumably another fresh arrival, and we managed to track it down. Eventually almost all the group got a good look at it, as it flitted around among the branches. A second Yellow-browed Warbler was calling in the woods, from the denser pines beyond.

As we walked a short distance through the dunes, more Song Thrushes were coming in overhead in singles or small groups. A little flock of Bramblings flew in overhead, and we heard a small group of Crossbills glipping as they flew west over the pines, although we couldn’t see them above the trees from this angle. A couple of Stonechats were perched on the top of the brambles in the dunes.

Climbing up to the top of the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. There were quite a few birds out in the bay today – several Red-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe, a Guillemot, and a raft of Common Scoter. A Sandwich Tern flew past offshore, presumably a lingering summer visitor, as did a few small lines of Brent Geese, just arriving back from Russia for the winter.

It was quite amazing to just stand here looking out over the sea and just watch the birds arriving in from the continent. In particular, we saw lots of Skylarks coming in, with several flocks flying up over the dunes past us and in over the pines and other groups continuing on west just offshore. A Red Kite circling out over the beach may have been on the move too, before coming in over the dunes past us.

It was windy again back on the south side of the pines, and harder to see the birds again. We did hear several Redwings calling in the trees, and eventually got good views of one perched in the top of a pine tree. Several Song Thrushes were feeding up on the berries in a hawthorn bush, after their long journey.

Continuing on out of the pines at the west end and into the dunes, we flushed lots more Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap was calling from the brambles but we didn’t see it. Up on the top of the dunes, we heard a Redstart calling in a hawthorn bush. As we walked round the back, it flew across and disappeared into a dense clump of privet. Two Grey Herons flew in high over the beach, more migrants just arriving for the winter.

Yet another Yellow-browed Warbler called and we turned to see a couple of people looking into a holly bush out in the dunes. The bird was remarkably hard to see, despite it being just a very small bush, but eventually it came out onto the more sheltered side to those members of the group who hadn’t seen the Yellow-browed Warbler earlier could finally get a good look at one.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – one taken a couple of days ago in the woods

These tiny warblers breed over in Russia, just west of the Urals, and should be migrating south east to winter in Asia. Instead some Yellow-browed Warblers head off west and arrive on our shores. They used to be very rare here, but in the last twenty years have become regular visitors at this time of year. Still, they are always a pleasure to see and to marvel at their remarkable migration.

It was already after midday and stomachs were starting to rumble, so we headed back towards the car. It was lovely and sunny now, and warm too if still rather breezy. There were lots of dragonflies along the path in the more sheltered spots, Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. We saw several butterflies out too, Red Admirals on the brambles, a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper.

A Hobby was patrolling along the edge of pines, taking advantage of the updraft from the wind, probably looking for dragonflies. A couple of times it passed by over us, and we could see its swept back pointed wings and orange trousers.

Hobby

Hobby – patrolling along the edge of the pines

Surprise of the day was a Kingfisher which flew over our heads as we walked back along the path on the edge of the pines – not normally where you expect to see one, although they are often seen out on the marshes here. Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another tit flock and this time got good views of a Treecreeper climbing up a tree trunk.

It was time for a late lunch when we finally got back to the car. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese still loafing around in the fields alongside Lady Anne’s Drive, while we ate. Afterwards, we set off to explore the coast east of Wells.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – loafing in the fields by Lady Anne’s Drive over lunch

The wet fields east of Wells by the coastal path are full of wildfowl a the moment. We could predominantly see big numbers of Wigeon and Teal, the drakes still mostly in their dull eclipse plumage. In amongst them we found a single Pintail too. There are lots of geese here, but Greylags, Canadas and Egyptian Geese, although we saw plenty of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead calling.

There were a few waders in with all the wildfowl. We could see several Ruff feeding in the long grass around the pools, along with a small number of Lapwing, and three or four Black-tailed Godwits in the edge of the water, hiding in amongst all the Wigeon.

A large flock of Linnets and Greenfinches was feeding in the edge of the field nearby and further back we could see a couple of bright male Yellowhammers perched up in the bushes catching the sun. As we walked down along the track between the pools, we flushed several Reed Buntings from the wet grass. A pair of Stonechats flew along the fence line ahead of us, perching on the posts or on the bushes either side.

Stonechat

Stonechat – a pair flew along the path ahead of us

At the next pool we came too, we were looking into the sun and it was hard to keep the scopes steady in the wind. All we could find here today were Teal and Mallard, sheltering in the grass around the edges. There were lots of Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh the other side and a couple of Redshank down in one of the muddy channels.

We decided to have a walk on along the coast path to finish the day. There were still more Song Thrushes and Chaffinches coming in, little flocks flying in over the saltmarsh and disappeared inland over the fields, or flying over our heads heading west along the coast. But there were few migrants in the bushes by the path this afternoon – as well as being windy, there were lots of people and dogs out for a walk and it was probably a bit too disturbed here.

As we walked, we stopped periodically to scan the saltmarshes. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling out in the distance, and eventually we were rewarded with a Hen Harrier too, a ringtail. We stopped and watched it as it quartered low over the marsh, flashing the white square at the base of its tail as it turned. A second Hen Harrier appeared briefly, away to the east in the distance, but didn’t come our way. After a while, the first dropped down into the vegetation.

We continued on as far as Garden Drove, but the trees at the north end were more exposed to the wind, and it was hard to see anything in here. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and saw them as they flew out of the trees and headed off inland along the hedgerow. There were a few other tits with them, but we couldn’t see anything else.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time here, as we had to get back and a couple of members of the group had decided to stop on the path where we had seen the Hen Harrier rather than continue walking, so we didn’t want to leave them too long. The Hen Harrier was up again, quartering the marshes as we got back.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, quartering the saltmarshes

It was a nice way to end our first day out, watching the Hen Harrier out over the marshes. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…