Tag Archives: North Norfolk

4th Jan 2018 – New Year of Birds

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A different type of tour today, it was to be a whistlestop journey along the coast, from east to west, trying to pick up as many interesting birds as we could in the time available. The weather was not particularly amenable, with some light drizzle through the morning and then thickening cloud in the afternoon after a brief spell of blue sky around the middle of the day. Thankfully, it didn’t start to rain again until just after we had finished and we were on our way back.

Our first destination was Cromer. There has been a juvenile Iceland Gull on the golf course here for several days. We parked and walked back along the pavement, scanning the grass and it didn’t take long to find it, walking around on one of the fairways not far from the side of the road.

Iceland GullIceland Gull – showing very well on the fairway at Cromer Golf Course!

We had a good look at the Iceland Gull. We could see it was a rather delicate large gull with longish wings, pale biscuit colour overall, with paler wingtips. The eye was dark and the bill mostly so, with a hint of a paler base developing, confirming it as a juvenile.

Further along the edge of the road, we met a couple of people looking for some Redpolls which had been seen going into a weedy area by the edge of the golf course. When one of the greenkeepers drove past, they flew up and looked as if they might land in a large hawthorn bush. Unfortunately instead they disappeared round behind it. We waited a while to see if they might reappear, but after the greenkeepers had driven past a couple more times and nothing had come out we figured they must have gone somewhere else. With a busy schedule for the day, we headed off.

Our next stop was at Salthouse. We were hoping to see the flock of Snow Buntings here, but they have been very mobile, roaming up and down several miles of the shingle ridge, right up to the end of Blakeney Point, so we needed a bit of luck. Unfortunately, our luck was out – there was no sign of them in any of the places they have been favouring. It was not particularly pleasant standing up on the shingle in the drizzle, so we decided to carry on our way west rather than wait to see if they would reappear.

We did add a few other birds to the day’s list while we were at Salthouse. Scanning offshore, we picked up a couple of Guillemots out on the sea and a couple of Red-throated Divers flew past. A Skylark and a Meadow Pipit were feeding around one the small pools on the edge of the grazing marsh. A few Wigeon were scattered about the grass too and a drake Shoveler was on one of the pools below the shingle ridge. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead calling.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – several skeins flew over us at Salthouse

After negotiating our way round an unscheduled road closure, we managed to get onto Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham. A small covey of Grey Partridge were on the grass not far from the side of the drive. An Egyptian Goose flew past, flashing its bold white wing patches.

The Shorelarks out on the saltmarsh here had not been reported yesterday, but we thought it was worth a quick look anyway. As we walked through the pines, a birder coming back the other way told us there was no sign of them. We went out to look for ourselves anyway, but the best we could manage was a large flock of around 30 Skylarks. There was quite a lot of water on the saltmarsh today. It was still drizzling steadily, so we headed back to Lady Anne’s Drive.

As we walked back towards the car, a small group of Bullfinches flew up from the brambles beside the ditch and landed a little further along – we could see a couple of smart pink males and at least one female. A flock of about 100 Brent Geese had appeared on the grazing marsh by the car park while we were out on the saltmarsh. A quick look through them revealed that one was slightly darker than the others, with a slightly brighter white flank patch. It was the regular Black Brant hybrid which is often with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese here.

Black Brant hybridBlack Brant hybrid – second from left, with the Dark-bellied Brents

There were lots of Pink-footed Geese calling noisily, flying over and landing in the fields. We could see a few Marsh Harriers out over the grass and a Common Buzzard or two perched in the trees or flying round. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the main road, a Stonechat perched on the fence and kept dropping down to the ground to look for food.

StonechatStonechat – feeding from the fence beside Lady Anne’s Drive

A little further on and we stopped again to look at the grazing marshes. There was quite a bit of water on there today, after all the recent rain, and at first there didn’t seem to be much in the way of birdlife. But then we spotted a Great White Egret flying in from the east and it dropped down by the edge of one of the ditches. Even before it landed, we could see just how big it was and when it touched down we could see its long yellow bill.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – flew in and landed out on the grazing marsh

This is often a good place to see geese, but there didn’t seem to be too many out here today. There were a few Greylags, but more of them seemed to be in the fields by the road today. A careful scan eventually brought its reward – first a little group of Pink-footed Geese and then, just beside them, a pair of White-fronted Geese, the one we were really looking for here. We could see their distinctive dark belly stripes and, when they raised their heads, the white surround to their bills.

Looking out to the west, we also spotted a single Red Kite circling out over the grazing marshes. Then it was time to carry on our way west. We got as far as Titchwell on the coast road and turned in land. As we headed up the road towards Choseley, a couple of Red-legged Partridges were in the fields, but the area around the drying barns was very busy and there were no birds here today.

It was starting to brighten up nicely now. Continuing on inland, we came across a huge flock of finches in the hedge beside the road. We stopped the car and got out for a closer look – there were lots of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Linnets. A couple of Greenfinches perched unobtrusively in the bushes. Looking carefully threw the throng, we eventually found a couple of Bramblings with them too.

A little further on, we spotted several Yellowhammers dropping down into the middle a field. They had disappeared out of view, so we decided to have another look here on our way back. The last field we checked seemed to have many more birds – there were lots of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers in the hedge which kept dropping down into the cover strip below. We could hear Tree Sparrows calling and it wasn’t long before one appeared in the hedge too.

As we got back into the car, an approaching tractor driving down the road flushed a Sparrowhawk from the hedge and it flew straight towards us and landed in the trees right next to us. Needless to say, as we opened the window and raised the camera, it was off! We were on a roll now, and back to the first field where we had seen the Yellowhammers land earlier and we arrived just in time to see several birds fly up out of the crop. Two larger birds flew across and landed in the top of the hedge on the far side – two Corn Buntings, the bird we had hoped to see here. While we were watching the Corn Buntings in the scope, we spotted a couple of Stock Doves flying over too.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding in Thornham Harbour

It had clouded over again when we arrived in the car park at Thornham Harbour. We met one of the local wildlife photographers just packing up to leave and he told us he had just been watching the Twite on the edge of the saltmarsh immediately beyond the car park so we hurried straight over. We couldn’t see them at first as they were hiding down in the vegetation on the other side of the channel. There were a couple of Redshank and a single Black-tailed Godwit out on the mud.

We were just scanning for the Twite when they flew up out of the vegetation and straight towards us. They circled over and landed down by the puddles in the car park just behind us. We had a great look at them as they drank, there were about 20 of them in total. We could see their orange faces and yellow bills. They didn’t stay there too long though and the next thing we knew they were off again, out across the saltmarsh.

TwiteTwite – came down to the puddles in the car park to drink

After the Twite had flown off, a Rock Pipit flew past us and landed on a post just in front of us. They are fairly common winter visitors to the saltmarshes along the coast, Scandinavian Rock Pipits rather than our British ones which favour rocky coasts.

Rock PipitRock Pipit – landed on a post just in front of us

Having seen the Twite, our main target here, so quickly we made our way straight round to Titchwell next. After a quick bite to eat, we headed out to explore the reserve.

The main birds we wanted to see here today were out at the sea, so with the wind starting to pick up a bit, we made our way fairly quickly in that direction. A quick look in the ditches by the path failed to produce the hoped for Water Rail. Thornham grazing marsh and the reedbed pool looked rather quiet, although a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from deep in the reeds. A single Common Snipe was out on Lavendar Marsh, along with lots of Lapwing.

The water level on the freshmarsh is very high now and there are not many places for waders here. The tiny remnant of the island by the junction to Parrinder Hide had about twenty Ruff huddled round it, along with 5 Avocet which have decided to try to slug it out here rather than head south for the winter. There were a few more Lapwing too. Further out, the top of Avocet Island still protruded from the water and was fairly covered in Golden Plovers.

There were lots of duck out on the freshmarsh, enjoying all the water. As well as the usual Teal, Wigeon and Mallard, Gadwall was a welcome addition to the day’s list here. It was really nice to see quite a few Pintail too, including several very smart drakes. There was a raft of diving ducks around the taller island over towards the back – several Common Pochard and a couple of Tufted Ducks – but we couldn’t see the Red-crested Pochard which had been reported earlier. A big flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh out towards Brancaster and landed out on the water to bathe & preen.

There were more waders on the mud on Volunteer Marsh. From the main path, we could see several Ringed Plover and a Grey Plover, as well as a number of Redshanks and a Curlew or two. There were more waders down along the muddy channel which runs away beside the bank at the far end, including several Black-tailed Godwits, but no sign of the Spotted Redshank that had been reported here earlier. With the tide out now, it could easily have been hiding in the bottom of the channel somewhere.

Ringed PloverRinged Plover – one of several on the Volunteer Marsh

A single Dunlin with all the Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the Tidal Pools was the only bird of note, but we didn’t really stop to look here. Then it was on to the beach. We got ourselves into the shelter of the dunes and started to scan. There was an excellent variety of birds out here today.

Just about the first birds we found out on the sea were the Long-tailed Ducks. There were about 12 of them, diving just offshore, including some very smart long-tailed drakes. Also just offshore, we could see a few Common Scoter and Goldeneye. We picked up a drake Red-breasted Merganser on the sea too, before a group of about eight more flew in. A single female Eider rounded off the great selection of seaduck.

There had been a Great Northern Diver off here earlier, but that took a little longer to find, mainly because it was diving constantly. Eventually we got that in the scope too. A distant Great Crested Grebe was another addition to the list. While we were looking at all the birds on the sea, we kept one eye on what was flying past. A small gull, flashing alternately pale silvery grey/white upperparts and black underwings was an adult Little Gull, closely followed by two more. Several have been lingering offshore here in recent days.

There were lots of waders out on the beach too. Scanning through them carefully produced several Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plovers, Turnstone and Oystercatchers. Unusually, a single Sanderling took a bit of finding amongst all the Dunlin out on the sand today.

Having done so well out on the beach, we started to make our way back at a more leisurely pace. Scanning carefully around the Tidal Pools, we finally located two Spotted Redshanks. They were asleep, tucked down behind one of the islands, but one woke up long enough to flash its long, needle fine bill and more prominent pale supercilium than the regular Common Redshanks.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on the way back. There was still no sign of the Red-crested Pochard, nor any Water Pipit around the remnants of the islands, but there was a single Goldeneye diving out on the water. The Golden Plover were very nervous, flying up continually, whirling round calling plaintively, before landing down again.

Golden PloverGolden Plover – periodically whirling round nervously over the freshmarsh

It was starting to get dark now, so we continued on our way back towards the car. We stopped briefly by the reedbed where the Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost. We counted 18 all in the air together at one point. Then it was time to head for home.

We had missed a few birds today – not a surprise given the weather and the fact that we didn’t have time to stop and wait for things to appear – but even so we had managed to see some very good ones. And, when we added up the total at the end of the day we had amassed a very respectable 97 species (96 seen, and the Cetti’s Warbler which we had just heard). A good way to start the year!

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19th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Early Winter Tours today, our last day. It was another frosty start and another glorious, clear, sunny day. There was a light but fresh westerly breeze in the morning but that dropped by the afternoon. Another great day to be out birding!

Today we headed out in the other direction, west along the coast road. As we passed Holkham we could see lots of Pink-footed Geese in the grazing meadows beyond Lady Anne’s Drive. A small group was close to the road, so we pulled up by a convenient gap in the hedge for a closer look. We could see their small bills, mostly dark but for a narrow pink band, and their dark heads.

Pink-footed GoosePink-footed Goose – a group was right by the coast road as we passed by

A little further on, we stopped to have a look out across the freshmarsh. A large white shape flew across the front edge of one of the pool and landed in the rushes. Even at that distance, it was clearly a big heron and could only be a Great White Egret. Through the scope we could see its long, yellow dagger of a bill. A Grey Heron appeared next to it and was not much smaller – a nice size comparison. Then a second Great White Egret appeared on the front edge of the trees out in the middle.

There were a few geese out on this end of the freshmarsh today, mostly Greylags but with a few small groups of pairs of Egyptian Geese scattered among them too. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find a group of three White-fronted Geese in with the Greylags down at the front of the grass. Through the scope, we could see the white-surround to the base of their pink bills. When something flushed the geese and they resettled, more White-fronted Geese had appeared – there was now a tight group of at least thirteen together a little further out.

White-fronted GeeseWhite-fronted Geese – at least 13 were at Holkham today

A handful of Pink-footed Geese out on the freshmarsh here too included a single bird bearing a silvery grey neck collar. We could just read the lettering ‘VLS’ through the scope. It will be interesting to hear back where it has been seen before. There still don’t seem to be so many Wigeon here, but we could still see several flocks over in the distance around the pools to the east. It seems like it has still been rather mild on the continent and numbers of some wildfowl are still rather low. More should arrive in the coming weeks.

A nice selection of raptors put on a show for us this morning. A Red Kite drifted in from over the Park behind us and dropped down towards the grazing marshes. It appeared to land on the grass behind the trees and a Marsh Harrier flew straight in after it. The Red Kite promptly reappeared the other side of the trees, presumably seen off from whatever it had found. Its rusty red tail and underparts positively shone in the morning sun as it banked and turned.

A couple of Common Buzzards were perched out in various trees and bushes. One was a fairly conventional brown bird, but the other was strikingly pale, white below and around the head. As the air started to warm a little, more Marsh Harriers and Buzzards appeared in the air. A Sparrowhawk flew in along the line of the hedge below us amd chased out a second one. The two Sparrowhawks then landed in a tree where we could get them in the scope. A Kestrel was perched on the scaffold tower in the distance.

Continuing on our way west, we stopped again at Brancaster Staithe. A Long-tailed Duck had been reported for the last couple of days in the harbour channel here and it didn’t take us long to find it. It was diving further out in the channel, among the boats at first, but then swam up the channel past us and disappeared into the mouth of one of the muddy creeks.

There were lots of waders around the muddy edges of the creek. Several Bar-tailed Godwits gave us a great opportunity for closer inspection and a discussion of some of the differences between the two godwit species in non-breeding plumage. We could hear a Greenshank calling and quickly located it on the far bank in the sunshine, before a second Greenshank flew in and joined it.

Bar-tailed GodwitBar-tailed Godwit – close views at Brancaster Staithe this morning

There were also a few Dunlin down with the Bar-tailed Godwits and a Ringed Plover on the near edge. Further over, we could see a couple of Grey Plover and Curlew too. Several Turnstone were practically running around our feet until they spotted a Common Gull dropping a mussel, shattering it and then starting to pick it apart. They gathered round, waiting to pick off the scraps.

There were a few Brent Geese feeding round the harbour too, plus a scattering of Wigeon. A little group of Teal gathered down along the near edge of the harbour ramp looked stunning in the morning sunshine.

When the Long-tailed Duck reappeared, it was initially hard to follow. It was diving constantly and made its way even further up the channel away from us. But the tide was going out and it quickly turned back, swimming back down channel and straight past us, giving us a great close view as it went past. It was a first winter drake, rather pale around the head and with some pale feathering in the upperparts.

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck – in the harbour channel at Brancaster Staithe

As the Long-tailed Duck swam back out into the open water downstream, we decided to move on. We made our way west to Thornham Harbour next. As we got out of the car, we saw a flock of small finches drop down towards the saltmarsh beyond the car park. We would come to those in a minute, but first we had a quick look in the harbour channel. There were a few waders down on the mud – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank – but no sign of any Spotted Redshank here.

From up on the seawall, we quickly located the flock of small finches down on the saltmarsh and sure enough they were the Twite which we were looking for. They were feeding on the dry seedheads but were rather nervous as usual and kept flying up and circling round over the harbour before landing back down on the edge of the saltmarsh right in front of us again, back where they had started. We had a great look at them through the scope – their rich orangey-brown-toned breasts and bright yellow bills catching the sun when they perched up on the taller seedheads.

TwiteTwite – around twenty were feeding on the saltmarsh vegetation

There are around twenty Twite here at the moment. This is a traditional wintering spot for the species, although numbers have declined markedly in recent years as the breeding population in the Pennines has declined, which is where most of our wintering Twite come from. There are always a few colour-ringed birds in with them, which help to confirm their origins.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see large flocks of Wigeon and Brent Geese in the distance. A single Red-breasted Merganser was just visible way out in a chink of open water where the harbour channel curved towards the sea, before it swam behind one of the sandbanks out of view. A Curlew was catching the sun down in the muddy channel just below the bank.

CurlewCurlew – warming itself in the morning sun

Continuing on out along the seawall, there were lots of Skylarks on either side, over the grazing meadows and the saltmarsh. A couple of Reed Buntings flew in and landed down amongst the Suaeda bushes just below the bank. A single Common Snipe flew in and landed out in the grass briefly, before heading back out across the saltmarsh. The Twite flew over our heads calling and landed down by a pool out on the grazing marsh for a quick drink, before flying back towards the harbour again.

We stopped for a quick look out across Broadwater. A Little Grebe and a few Coot were both new birds for the day, but otherwise there were just a few dabbling ducks around the reedy margins – mainly Mallard, Teal and Shoveler. In the grazing meadow beyond, a party of Brent Geese had flown in to join the local Greylags feeding on the grass.

Climbing up into the dunes, we had a look out to sea. The Common Scoter were very distant today and very spread out – we could just make out hundreds of tiny dark specks riding the waves out towards the horizon. A pair of Red-breasted Merganser flew in and landed behind the breakers. Otherwise, there was not much visible out on the sea today – just a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

When we got back to the harbour, we had another quick look in the harbour channel. A couple of Rock Pipits were chasing each other around on the mud and up onto the boats moored along the wooden jetties. There was still no sign of any Spotted Redshanks though, until we had started to leave and we spotted one further up the channel from the car. We got out and got the scope on it – we could see its long, needle-fine bill. It was also noticeably paler than the Common Redshank on the mud behind it. The Spotted Redshank was feeding in the water at first, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side, before it climbed out onto a line of rocks and stood where we could see its red legs.

With a bit of time still before lunch, we headed inland for a drive round to see if we could find any flocks of finches and buntings in the fields. We did find a lot of Blackbirds and thrushes feeding on the berries in the more overgrown hedges – including several Redwings and a couple of Fieldfares too.

A little further on, we came across a large flock of finches, coming down to drink in the puddles around a farm gateway. They were mostly Chaffinches, plus a few Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches, but a smart male Brambling flew up too and landed in the hedge just in front of us. We could see its orange breast and shoulders, and its white rump as it eventually flew away ahead of us down the line of the hedge.

Dropping back down via Choseley, we passed a large mixed flock of Linnets and Goldfinches feeding in a strip of wild bird seed mix sown along the margin of a field. There was very little around the drying barns though – just a handful of House Sparrows feeding on some seed scattered in the layby. A group of Golden Plover was feeding in a winter wheat field along with some Lapwings further down.

As we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, a single Chiffchaff was feeding in the sunshine in the yellow autumn leaves of a sycamore. We stopped for lunch in the picnic area, and quickly picked out one of the Mealy Redpolls here, feeding up in the alders with the Goldfinches. We had a chat about the changing taxonomy of the Redpoll complex over lunch – the treatment of these birds is currently in a state of flux, to say the least! A flock of Long-tailed Tits passing through, along with a Goldcrest provided a welcome distraction.

Mealy RedpollMealy Redpoll – feeding up in the alders above the picnic area

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders around the visitor centre were looking rather empty this afternoon. A Coal Tit was a welcome addition to the day’s list, but otherwise there were just a few Chaffinches and Blue and Great Tits. We could hear a couple of Siskin calling from somewhere high in the willows.

A careful scan of the ditches along the path provided a Water Rail feeding quietly down in the wet leaves in the bottom. Unfortunately, as more people gathered around us and started chatting noisily, it scuttled back into cover, although we could still see it feeding under the branches of an overhanging tree.

Water RailWater Rail – feeding down in the ditch below the path

There were just a few Mallard and a single Little Grebe out on the reedbed pool and we couldn’t see any activity on the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’, so we headed straight out to the freshmarsh. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers sang from the bushes out in the reeds as we passed. A Kestrel was perched on the concrete bunker out on the saltmarsh and as we looked at it through the scope a Kingfisher appeared briefly, hovering behind.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh, particularly ducks here for the winter. There are plenty of Wigeon here now and lots of Teal. We got a smart drake Gadwall in the scope and admired the subtle patterning of its plumage. There were a few Shoveler and Shelduck out there too.

TealTeal – good numbers on the freshmarsh for the winter now

A small gathering of gulls around one of the small islands were mostly Black-headed and Herring Gulls, but we did find an adult Yellow-legged Gull in with them. Unfortunately it was swimming on the water and it was impossible to see its custard yellow legs!

There was not a great variety of waders on view, but we could see a good number of Ruff here. One of the Ruff was still in full juvenile plumage, much darker than the others. It was also a female and noticeably smaller than the paler winter adult male it was next to. There were also a few Dunlin out on the mud amongst all the ducks.

There was a better selection of waders out on the Volunteer Marsh today. From the corner by the path to Parrinder Hide we stopped to scan. We could see Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank. A Ringed Plover was feeding on the mud just the other side of the channel, with three more further back. A single Knot was picking around the islands of vegetation out in the middle.

Ringed PloverRinged Plover – there were several on Volunteer Marsh today

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits along the tidal channel at the far side of the Volunteer Marsh, including one on the mud just below the path which gave us a good opportunity to have a closer look at it, reminding ourselves of the differences from the Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier. Most of the Avocets have departed for the winter, but we did find one lonely individual roosting on the spit out on the tidal pools. Otherwise, a single drake Pintail and a Little Grebe were the only other birds of note on here today.

The tide was already on its way in when we got out to the beach. We could see lots of Oystercatchers still down on the bits of the mussel beds which had not yet been covered by the water. We got a Sanderling in the scope, running around on the edge of the sea, dwarfed by an Oystercatcher next to it. The waders were starting to gather ahead of the rising tide and a large flock of forty or so Sanderling then flew in from the west, along with a big party of Bar-tailed Godwits.

Out on the sea, we found a Common Scoter close in, riding the waves just behind the breakers – a better view than the distant dots we had seen earlier! But other than a few more Common Scoter, we couldn’t see anything else on the sea today. There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on razor shells washed up along the tide line, but a quick scan through them failed to locate anything other than the regular species.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on our way back. There were more gulls arriving all the time, coming in before roost – Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. We found the Yellow-legged Gull again, asleep now, but at least we could see half its custard yellow legs above the water now.

There were a few more waders gathering too. There was already a little party of Golden Plover on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide. As we sat and watched, every few minutes another small group would drop in and join them, calling plaintively as they flew in from the fields inland where they had been feeding. A single Knot had appeared on the edge of the gathered Black-headed Gulls and a flock of Turnstone flew in from the beach. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits on here too now and the Ruff had gathered together into a tighter flock ready to roost.

Golden PloverGolden Plovers – gathering on the freshmarsh at dusk

The light was starting to go fast now – the evenings draw in quickly at this time of year. As we made our way back towards the visitor centre, we stopped on the path opposite the reedbed. The Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost over the reeds, and we counted at least 11 before we left, flying round and perched in the bushes. A twelfth then flew in overhead from the direction of Thornham as we walked on.

It was getting dark as we drove back towards Holkham. As we drove along the north side of the park, we could see lines and lines of geese flying overhead in the gathering gloom, thousands of Pink-footed Geese dropping down to the freshmarsh to roost. A typical Norfolk sight at this time of year and a nice way to end the day – and an action-packed three days of early winter birding.

14th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 3

Day 3 of a four day Autumn Tour today. It was a lovely, bright and at times sunny day, but with a nagging, blustery SW wind which didn’t ease until later in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. We turned to see skein after skein of them flying in from the east, presumably coming in from the overnight roost on the flats north of Wells. They flew in over our heads or round over the pines and dropped down onto the grazing marshes to the west of us. It is an amazing sight and sound, watching and listening to the Pink-footed Geese flying in here, a real sound of Norfolk in the winter.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – flying in to the grazing marshes this morning

It was noticeably breezy already when we got out of the car, but as we turned to walk along the track to the west, on the inland side of the pines, we found ourselves in the shelter of the trees and it didn’t seem so bad. It was fairly quiet along here nonetheless, but we did find a pair of Goldcrests feeding in the edge of the pines above us. A Sparrowhawk flew out of the trees and hung in the wind above us for a few seconds.

GoldcrestGoldcrest – feeding in the pines above the path

However, once we got to Salts Hole, we found ourselves out in the wind again. There were lots of Mallard on the pool today, but looking carefully, we could see at least four Little Grebes too. A couple of them were diving out in the centre, but two were stationary at the back long enough for us to get them in the scope.

A Kingfisher zipped across over the grass at the back, but didn’t stop and disappeared again behind the trees. Two Grey Wagtails were more obliging, circling over the pool before landing on the mud at the back of the pool where we could get a good look at them. There have been a lot of Grey Wagtails moving along the coast in the last week or so, so these were probably migrants just stopping off on their way somewhere.

There were lots of Jays in the trees, but all we saw at first was the back end of them as they flew away in front of us. When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, one finally landed in full view, hopping around out in the grass, so we could get a more complete view of it.

It was while we were standing at the gate that we heard Bearded Tits calling and looked back along the path to see several flying through the trees. Even more bizarrely, they then landed in the trees, something we have never seen before. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see them where they landed, but we could hear them calling to each other, half way up through the branches on the other side of the path. They stayed there for a minute or so, before first one and then the others all flew on and dropped down into the reeds in front of Washington Hide, a much more appropriate location for Bearded Tits.

As we walked up the boardwalk towards Washington Hide, we could see a large white shape at the back of the pool in front, a Great White Egret. It was immediately clear just how big it was – much bigger than a Little Egret. We stopped to have a look at it through the scope, admiring its long, dagger-like yellow bill. Then it walked back into the far corner of the pool out of view.

Great White Egret 1Great White Egret – on the pool in front of Washington Hide again

There were Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees behind the hide, but they were well hidden, tucked deep into the trees out of the wind. There was nothing in the sycamores by the boardwalk, so we went into the hide to see what we could see from there. There were lots of ducks on the pool, mostly Wigeon and Teal.

A Marsh Harrier was the first raptor we picked up from here, flying low across over the grazing marsh. A Common Buzzard appeared too and landed on a nearby bush. There has been an Osprey lingering around Holkham Park for a few days now, and scanning over the trees in the distance we spotted it circling over where the lake would be. Three Red Kites circled up out of the trees in the Park too, but whereas the Osprey dropped back down out of view, the Red Kites circled lazily across the grazing marshes to the pines.

We decided to have a quick look out at the beach, as much to admire the view as anything. It was a bit more sheltered on the north side of the pines, but it looked rather windy out to sea. There were lots of gulls feeding distantly offshore and in with them we could see several Gannets. The Gannets were fishing, circling round and plunging headfirst into the water.

Back on the south side of the pines, we continued on west along the main path. The trees around Meals House were being blown round in the wind, and were devoid of birds today, so we decided to make straight for the west end where we hoped there might perhaps be a lingering Yellow-browed Warbler. Unusually, we didn’t encounter a single tit flock on our way there – they all seemed to be hiding deep in the pines today. We did hear an occasional Goldcrest or Coal Tit calling.

The sallows at the west end of the trees at least held a couple of Goldcrests, but there was nothing in the sycamores on the edge of the dunes. It was just too windy today. A Red Kite was hanging in the air out over the dunes. After a quick rest and a careful listen for any signs of life, we decided to start making our way back.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – we finally found a tit flock on our way back

When we got back to the crosstracks, we finally heard Long-tailed Tits calling. We ducked into the trees and found them in a sheltered glade. There were other tits and Goldcrests with them, and we also got a good look at a Treecreeper too. They made their way back out onto the sunny edge of the trees so we followed them. We finally got good views of all the main tit flock species, but we couldn’t find anything else with them while they were in view. They didn’t hang around, and after a quick circuit round a few trees, they disappeared back into the pines again.

As we continued on our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we had great views of a Red Kite which flew towards us over the track and hung in the wind just above us, before drifting back out towards the grazing marshes.

Red KiteRed Kite – hung in the wind above us on our way back

While we ate our lunch back at the picnic tables at Lady Anne’s Drive, listening to the calls of all the geese coming and going, we spotted another Great White Egret flying over the grazing marshes. It dropped down on the edge of a ditch, attracting the attention of one of the local Grey Herons, which chased in after it. It was great to see the two species close together, the Great White Egret being similar in size.

After lunch, we headed over to Holkham Park. We had been told there was a pair of Firecrests earlier, in the holm oaks along the drive, but we couldn’t find them at first. While we were looking and listening for them, we looked across to one of the houses on the edge of the park and noticed a lot of activity in a yew tree in the garden. Getting the scope on it, we could see a couple of Redwings and a Blackcap eating the berries. There were lots of tits coming and going too, and we figured we could get closer to the yew tree from the paths in the Park.

We made our way round there and stood by the yew tree, watching the comings and goings. A Nuthatch made several feeding visits in from the trees nearby and we stopped to watch a couple of Goldcrests in the yew too. At that point, we heard a sharper call behind us and turned to see a Firecrest in the top of some flowering ivy. It flew across into the yew and we had great close view of Goldcrest and Firecrest flicking around together.

FirecrestFirecrest – we finally found the pair on the edge of the Park

The Firecrest was alert, with crown feathers raised and spread, revealing a bright fiery orange crest, which meant it was a male. It disappeared deeper into the yew, but a short while later reappeared in a nearby holm oak. This time it had been joined by a second Firecrest, probably a female, but without their crown feathers raised now it was hard to tell.

There were lots of Fallow Deer under the trees, a little group of which ran across the path in front of us. After stopping to admire the Monument and the view across to Holkham Hall, we continued on down to the lake. It didn’t take us long to find the Osprey. It was in the top of one of its favourite trees over the far side of the water, perched on a dead branch. We got it in the scope and could see it was in the process of devouring a small fish – just the tail was left!

Osprey 1Osprey – perched in the top of one of the trees by the lake

We watched the Osprey for a while, but it seemed fairly settled where it was and, having just eaten, we presumed it wouldn’t be fishing again for a bit. We continued on round to the north end of the lake. There were a few ducks around the edges and several Tufted Duck asleep. It wasn’t until we got to the far end that we finally found a small raft of Common Pochard, a new species for the trip list.

A Kingfisher zipped past low over the water and disappeared behind the trees. Several Great Crested Grebes were out on the lake, a mixture of moulting adults and juveniles. Under the overhanging branches on the island at the north end, we found a couple of Little Grebes, an adult and a not quite yet fully grown juveniles. The juvenile was swimming round the adult, begging to be fed, but the adult Little Grebe looked distinctly disinterested.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – one of several on the lake

As we made our way back along the side of the lake, we could see the Osprey was still in position at the top of its tree. A Great White Egret had now appeared down on the far shore too, perhaps our third of the day! This one was much nearer, and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Great White Egret 2Great White Egret – on the edge of the lake

While we were watching the Great White Egret and taking some photos, we noticed someone walking along the far bank. They stopped, but not soon enough to prevent them flushing the egret. We watched as it flew down the lake and landed again further along. But when we looked up into the trees, we noticed that the Osprey had flushed too.

Figuring that it might have gone fishing again, we made our way slowly along the bank towards the south end of the lake. Unfortunately, we had not even got out of the trees when we saw two people ahead of us pointing cameras at the sky right above their heads. The Osprey then appeared from behind the trees but it was always flying away from us, into the sun. It had already caught another fish and was carrying it off back to its favourite tree to eat it.

Osprey 2Osprey – heading back to its favourite perch with a fish

We made our way back up across the park. On the way, we stopped to admire the herd of Fallow Deer. Most of them had now gathered out in the open in the grass. We watched a particularly striking buck parading through the others. As we walked back through the trees, we found another buck vigorously rubbing its antlers against the fallen branch of a tree, presumably trying to clean off the last of its velvet, although it seems a little late for it still to be doing this.

Fallow DeerFallow Deer – part of the herd in the deer park this afternoon

With everyone suitably tired out after the various walks today, we decided to head round to Stiffkey Greenway for the last hour of the day, where we could have a look out across the saltmarsh from the car park, without having to venture too far on foot. There were plenty of Little Egrets and Curlew out on the saltmarsh, plus several small groups of Brent Geese.

In the distance, we picked out a lone adult Peregrine which was perched out on the sand flats. There were no other raptors hunting here this afternoon though – it was perhaps still a bit early for birds to be coming in to roost.

A couple of Yellowhammers were in the hedge by the car park, so we went round to the sunny side to try to get a good look at them. We got them in the scope, before they flew off and dropped down into the field. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling from the edge of Campsite Wood, so we wandered over for a look. The wind had dropped and the birds had come out onto the sunny side by the car park. There were Blue Tits, Great Tits and a couple of Goldcrests with them, and we found a Chiffchaff flycatching in the top of the hawthorns too. Then, as they moved off back into the trees, it was time for us to head off too.

8th Oct 2017 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was cloudy all day, and although it was spitting with rain first thing (which wasn’t forecast!), thankfully the rain quickly stopped and it even brightened up a little bit.

As we drove west along the coast road, there were lots of geese in the stubble fields beyond Holkham. We slowed down and could see they were mostly Greylags, with a good number of Pink-footed Geese in with them as well as several Egyptian Geese too.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived in the car park, we headed round to take a look in the bushes in the oevrflow car park first. As well as the usual Dunnocks and Robins, we heard a Blackcap calling in the apple trees as we rounded the corner, just in time to see it drop down into the brambles. There were several Blackbirds in the trees, very active, suggesting they had just arrived. A couple of Redwings flew over calling, as did a Grey Wagtail. There were clearly birds on the move and newly arrived in from the continent this morning.

The feeders around the visitor centre held the usual selection of finches and tits, so we made our way straight out to Fen Trail. We were hoping to track down the Yellow-browed Warbler which has probably been here for some time now, but the sallows were fairly quiet. More Redwings were calling from the trees.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s reedbed, particularly several each of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, both of which were new additions for the weekend’s list. There were a few gulls too, loafing and preening, mostly Black-headed Gulls with a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls too. A larger gull at the back of them had a distinctive grey mantle, not as dark as the slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but noticeably darker than the Black-headed Gulls. It was also noticeably pale headed, with limited fine streaking. It was a Yellow-legged Gull, but unfortunately it remained in the deeper water where we couldn’t see its bright yellow legs properly.

Scanning over the reedbed and beyond, we noticed a large heron-like bird flying in from the direction of Brancaster. It was a Bittern and thankfully it kept coming, flying right across in front of us over the reeds at the back of Patsy’s before dropping down somewhere out in front of Fen Hide the other side. A great way to start the morning, with a Bittern!

BitternBittern – flew in from Brancaster & dropped down in front of Fen Hide

Continuing on along the East Trail, there were more birds migrating overhead. Two more Grey Wagtails flew high over calling, as did a flock of Linnets. A couple of groups of Siskins flew out of the wood ahead of us and circled up calling, before flying off west, presumably fresh arrivals from the continent. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew away across the paddocks, that one presumably a local bird.

There were lots of thrushes in the hedges which flew out as we walked along, presumably birds freshly arrived from the continent which had stopped off to feed. As well as more Redwings, we flushed several Song Thrushes, and four Mistle Thrushes flew past us along the line of the hedge, heading purposefully west. When we got to Willow Wood, there were lots of Blackbirds in the trees and feeding down on the edge of the reeds. At one point we thought we heard a harsher ‘tchacking’ call from the trees, which sounded a bit like a Ring Ouzel. But when we stopped to listen properly, it had gone quiet.

At that point we were distracted. There has been a Little Owl around here for the last couple of weeks, and we heard it calling from somewhere over around the paddocks. We walked back to try to see it. It was not on the fence at the back of the paddocks, but as we scanned along the other side of the big hedge, we just noticed a small patch of grey brown hidden in amongst the leaves. When we got it in the scope, we could confirm it was indeed the Little Owl.

Little OwlLittle Owl – half hidden in the top of the hedge

It was hard enough to see, even when you knew where it was, but eventually we all got a good look at the Little Owl. While we were standing there watching it, a blackbird-like shape flew up from the edge of the wood and into the top of an oak tree. It stayed there just long enough to get a quick look at it. It was the Ring Ouzel – we could see the distinctive pale edges to the wing feathers forming a pale panel, although it was a young one, a first winter, lacking a well-marked pale gorget. Then it dropped out of the tree, flew across in front of us and disappeared into the hedge.

We couldn’t see the Ring Ouzel again in the hedge, so we made our way on around Autumn Trail to the back corner of the freshmarsh. With the tide high, this is the place where the Spotted Redshanks like to roost and we immediately located a line of six of them there today. They were with four Greenshanks, but the Spotted Redshanks were all asleep, making them harder to separate. One Spotted Redshank did wake up briefly, just long enough for us to see its long, needle-fine-tipped bill.

Little StintLittle Stint – this juvenile was feeding in the back corner of the freshmarsh

Down on the mud in the near corner, a single Little Stint was feeding. It was nice and close so we could get a good look at it. There were supposed to be two here today, but they were obviously not on speaking terms! There was a lone juvenile Ruff too. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a Kingfisher shot past.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see several perched in the top of the reeds. It was a lovely still day, so they were coming up to feed on the seedheads. There were a couple of small groups here and they were calling constantly. This is also the time of year when Bearded Tits disperse, and some were itching to be on their way this morning. We watched as one group of four circled up out of the reeds and high into the sky, before changing their minds and dropping sharply back into the reeds again.

Bearded Tit 1Bearded Tits – we saw several groups in the reeds today

One group of Bearded Tits started to make their way closer, over towards the path. We walked back to where they seemed to be headed and before we knew it we had them all perched up in the top of the reeds right in front of us. Stunning views!

Bearded Tit 2

Bearded Tit 3Bearded Tits – stunning views along Autumn Trail this morning

The Bearded Tits seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, and stayed perched in the top of the reeds right in front of us for several minutes, before finally deciding to fly a little further back into the reeds. It was a real treat to see them so well and for so long.

We started to make our way back. A crowd had now gathered to try to see the Ring Ouzel, so we didn’t linger. A Little Grebe laughed at us – or them – from out on Patsy’s Reedbed as we passed. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way quickly down along the hedge beside the path, in the opposite direction, but there was no sign of anything more interesting with them.

Making our way slowly back along Fen Trail, the sallows were still quiet. We stopped to listen by the dragonfly pools and finally heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call. It came from somewhere round on Meadow Trail, so we made our way quickly round there. Unfortunately, it didn’t call again and there was no sign of any movement in the trees, apart from a couple of Blue Tits and a few Blackbirds.

It was clear that this Yellow-browed Warbler was not going to make our lives easy, so with the morning passing quickly, we decided to head out onto the reserve. There were lots of people gathered on the main path by the former Thornham grazing marsh pool, and they told us they had seen up to 40 Bearded Tits either side of the path here. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see a large group of at least 15 in the tops of the reeds on the Thornham side. There were more calling from the reeds behind us. It was definitely a good day for Bearded Tits!

CurlewCurlew – very well camouflaged on the saltmarsh

Continuing on our way, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbed. A lone Curlew was down on the near edge of the saltmarsh. It was very well-camouflaged here, among the grasses, but easier to see when it was walking round feeding.

In Island Hide, we stopped to have a look at the Freshmarsh. There were lots of waders on here, principally a very large flock of Golden Plover which had probably flown in from the stubble fields inland to bathe, preen and sleep. Behind them was a long line of Black-tailed Godwits, again mostly asleep. Scattered around the islands and edges were a good number of Ruff, both browner juveniles and paler, orange-legged adults. There were several little flocks of Dunlin too, and we finally found the second Little Stint running around on the top of one of the drier islands among all the Lapwing, looking tiny by comparison.

RuffRuff – a paler winter adult, one of several on the freshmarsh

The biggest surprise on here was when one of the group said they had found a Grey Partridge and we looked over to see a male walking out across the mud. A bizarre sight, it clearly thought it was a wader! It didn’t stay long though, and quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to the bank.

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now, mainly Wigeon and Teal which have returned here for the winter. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from out on the saltmarsh  to bathe and preen, before heading back the way they had just come.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding on the edge of the Freshmarsh

From back up on the main path, a close Black-tailed Godwit was feeding down on the mud below us. A little further along, at the start of the Volunteer Marsh, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. Even though they weren’t side by side, we looked at some of the ways to tell these two species apart in non-breeding plumage.

There were also a few Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh and more waders along the banks of the channel at the far side. Three Grey Plover here were the most notable, all now in their grey non-breeding plumage.

RedshankCommon Redshank – the Volunteer Marsh is a good place to see them up close

After the recent high tides, the Tidal Pools were full of water and most of the islands were flooded. Consequently, there were fewer birds on here than normal. We did see at least four Little Grebes which have presumably now taken up residence here for the winter.

Climbing up into the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. The first birds we saw were three Common Scoter close inshore. A moulting drake Goldeneye was just off the beach the other side. It was pretty calm today, so many of the birds were further out. There were quite a few Great Crested Grebes offshore but the single Red-throated Diver we found was very distant.

With the tide going out now and the mussel beds starting to be exposed again, there were plenty of waders down in the beach. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, we could see a few Turnstone feeding on the mussel beds. Six Knot flew past along the beach. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the gulls along the sand away to the west.

It was time for lunch, so we started to make our way back. We were almost back to the trees, when a big tit flock came towards us, zipping between the sallows. We thought we might find something with all the tits, but despite looking carefully as they worked their way quickly past us, the best we could find was a single Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests. We took a detour round via Meadow Trail, but there was no further sight nor sound of the Yellow-browed Warbler here either.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we made our way back west. We decided to head for Holkham. Several Yellow-browed Warblers had been reported here in the morning, and with the possibility of catching up with other species too, we thought it would be a good place to try.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of four on Salts Hole this afternoon

It was quiet at first in the trees as we made our way west on the path inland of the pines. At Salts Hole, we counted four Little Grebes. As we started to walk on, a Kingfisher flew in, did a quick circuit, landed briefly on the fence at the back, did another quick circuit and disappeared again. There were lots of Jays flying back and forth through the trees.

The sycamores by Washington Hide were empty, but a quick look out across the grazing marsh did at least produce a Common Buzzard, which was new for the weekend’s list. We got to Meals House before we finally found a tit flock. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier, so we thought we were in with a good chance, but the only warbler we could see with them was a single Chiffchaff. As they moved quickly through and across the path, we had a very brief view of a Firecrest in the top of a tree, before it disappeared into the pines.

We continued on to the west end of the pines, where another Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported. When we got there, we could hear Long-tailed Tits deep in the trees. At first we couldn’t tell where they were headed, but after walking back a short way along the path and then up again, we ran into them just as we got back to the west end. Just as we arrived, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling and saw it drop out of the pines, across the path, and into the sallows.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was calling constantly, but it was hard to see deep in the sallows at first. Slowly, it worked its way towards us and we could see it flitting around among the branches. It appeared on the edge briefly, before disappearing back in. Then it reappeared in the top of an ivy-covered tree in full view, but only for a second. Eventually everyone got a look at it, although often it was a matter of only seeing bits of it at a time between the leaves and building up a ‘composite’ view!

After disappearing back into the sallows, the tit flock started to make its way back across the path and the Yellow-browed Warbler eventually followed. We could see it flitting around high in the pines for a while, before it disappeared back into the trees. Although the tit flock came back out of the pines pretty quickly and dropped back into the trees along the edge, we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler again and it had stopped calling. It was time for us to start making our way back.

FirecrestFirecrest – a very blurred shot, the best we could manage, with the light fading!

As we passed Meals House, the tit flock here was back out of the pines and feeding in the birches south of the track. We stopped to look through them. While we were looking, we heard the Firecrest calling from the holm oak right behind us. It was not much easier to see than the Yellow-browed Warbler had been, particularly with the light fading now. Eventually, everyone got a look at it when it came out onto the edge of the tree, before being chased off by a Goldcrest.

Then it was time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days with some memorable birds, a typical Norfolk autumn weekend!

 

17th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was cool and cloudy again, threatening showers first thing, so we donned warm clothes and waterproofs. Then the sun came out and we spent the latter part of the morning shedding layers. It ended up being a lovely autumn day, great birding weather.

Our first destination of the day was Holkham. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked down towards the pines. There were lots of hirundines hawking low over the grazing marsh along the hedge to the west, Swallows and House Martins, looking for food out of the wind in the shelter of the trees. We heard our first Pink-footed Geese of the day – their distinctive higher pitched yelping calls were once again the soundtrack to our morning. A Pheasant out on the grazing marsh was joined by a family group of three Grey Partridge.

Grey PartridgeGrey Partridge – on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we turned west and started to walk along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from the trees. Unfortunately, as we walked through to try to find it, it promptly went quiet. We came out on the edge of the track through to the beach from Lady Anne’s Drive, where the first bird we saw was a Lesser Whitethroat flitting around in the bushes. It seemed to be loosely associated with a mixed tit flock which came along the edge of the trees and disappeared into the pines. It was a great start, but we thought this meant there might be lots of migrants in the woods today.

Continuing on our way west, we heard Treecreeper calling and looked into the trees to see one climbing up the trunk of a very tall pine. We heard Goldcrests calling but they were mostly deeper in the trees and hard to see. We did manage to get on one which was flitting around high up on the edge of the pines. A Jay called from deep in the wood. We had a quick look at Salts Hole, where there were at least three Little Grebes out on the water, diving regularly.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – 1 of at least 3 on Salts Hole

At the gate just before Washington Hide, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. There were quite a few Pink-footed Geese out in the grass and this gave us an opportunity to look at them in the scope. We could see their dark heads and delicate, dark, pink-banded bills, very different from the carrot-billed Greylag Geese we had seen earlier. A small bird was perched on the top of a line of reeds and kept dropping down into the grass looking for food and flying back up to another perch. Through the scope we could see it was a Whinchat, another autumn migrant. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium.

WhinchatWhinchat – feeding out on the grazing marsh

The sycamores outside Washington Hide were quiet, no sign of any migrants here, so we turned our attention back to the grazing marsh. There were several ducks down on the pool in front of the hide – mostly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a single drake Gadwall. A Pintail appeared briefly, upending out in the middle, showing off its pointed rear end, but quickly disappeared behind the reeds again. A very pale Common Buzzard was perched in a bush further back.

Another couple of birders coming out of the hide told us that they had seen a Great White Egret way off over the back of the grazing marsh, but it had landed out of view. There have been several here all year and they bred this summer for the first time, which was great news. It was presumably one of the other Great White Egrets therefore which walked out from behind the reeds on the pool right in front of us, giving us a great view, especially filling the frame through the scope.

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

The Great White Egret was clearly big and very long necked. We could see its bright orange-yellow bill. It walked very slowly along the reed edge at the back of the pool, occasionally standing stock still and staring down into the water, looking for fish.

Continuing on west, the trees were surprisingly quiet today, with a distinct lack of tit flocks. Perhaps the tits have taken to feeding more in the pines in the recent windy weather. At Meals House, we heard a couple of Chiffchaffs calling, and a Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Jay showed well in the top of a pine tree. We looked up just in time to see a Hobby flying towards us, which continued on straight over our heads.

There had been a report earlier this morning of a Yellow-browed Warbler at the west end of the pines, so we continued straight on past Joe Jordan Hide. We finally found a tit flock half way from there to the end of the trees. We heard the Long-tailed Tits first, and as they came out onto the edge the other tits followed. A couple of Chiffchaffs flitted around in the sallows in the sun, which had started to shine now.

The tits were clinging to the edge of the pines, not coming out properly into the sallows and trees along the path. It seemed like we would not be able to see the whole flock. Then a small warbler flew across the path and landed in the deciduous tree on the south side, and fortunately it was the Yellow-browed Warbler. Unusually, it stayed where it was for a couple of minutes, scratching and wing stretching, which allowed us all to get onto it. We could see its bold pale supercilium and double pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – with the tit flock, near the west end of the pines

Eventually, the Yellow-browed Warbler flew back across the path and into the sallows on the other side. We thought it might feed there for a while, but it was chased off by one of the Chiffchaffs, and flew up into the trees. We could see it perched high in one of the pines, before it flew again and disappeared back out of view. A Willow Warbler flew across from the sallows too, and then the whole tit flock disappeared back into the pines.

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in Siberia and winter in SE Asia, so North Norfolk might not be the first place you would expect to see one. However, in recent years they have become increasingly common and are now an expected sight at this time of year. It is always great to see the first Yellow-browed Warbler, as it means autumn migration has stepped up a gear.

The pressure was off now, having seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, but we continued on to the end of the pines to see if we could find any other migrants. A Blackcap called from the bushes by the path. There were several dragonflies out enjoying the autumn sunshine – lots of Common Darters, a Ruddy Darter and a few Migrant Hawkers. There were butterflies too – Red Admiral, Comma and several Speckled Wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – a female, basking in the sunshine

It was rather quiet at the end of the pines and in the edge of the dunes. We walked round through the trees, but there were next to no birds in the usually attractive spots. We had a quick look out across the grazing marsh from the edge of the dines, and then decided to make our way back, to see if we could find any more interesting birds en route, now that the sun was out.

There was a tit flock high in the tops of the pines at the crosstracks, possibly the one which the Yellow-browed Warbler had been with earlier, but it was hard to see anything clearly up there. We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling just past Meals House, and we got better views of Goldcrest here, but the birds moved quickly back into the trees.

The highlight of the walk back was a Hobby which was hanging in the air over the edge of the pines, catching insects. At one point, it caught something and hung in the air right over our heads eating it, bringing its feet up to its bill so it could devour what it had caught on the wing. Something disturbed the Pink-footed Geese and there was a cacophony of calling as they took off, although we couldn’t see them through the trees. There were clearly a lot more than we had seen earlier now on the grazing marsh.

HobbyHobby – eating its insect prey right over our heads

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across another tit flock moving between the pines and the poplars on the south side of the path. At first, all we could see were more tits, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, etc, and a couple of Treecreepers. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared with them, flying out from the edge of the pines and into one of the poplars. It disappeared into the trees, but a few minutes later, as the Long-tailed Tits started to make their way back across the path, it appeared again and we could see it up in the poplar. Our second Yellow-browed Warbler of the day! Then it flew back into the pines and we lost sight of it.

We had intended to eat our lunch at the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive, but we got back to find they were all fenced off. There is a new path being constructed and for the dreaded ‘Health & Safety’ reasons, we were deemed incapable of reaching them without injuring ourselves! We got in the car and drove round to Wells Beach, where we ate lunch in the car park instead.

An Arctic Warbler had been found here earlier in the morning, so after lunch we went into the woods to see if we could see it. Thankfully it was showing well when we arrived at the right spot, and very quickly all the group had seen it. We followed it for about 30 minutes, flicking around in the birches, fluttering and flycatching, and had some great views of it. It would disappear into the leafy trees at times, but after a couple of minutes someone would find it again.

Arctic WarblerArctic Warbler – we enjoyed great views of this rarity in Wells Woods today

Arctic Warbler is a very rare visitor here in Norfolk, although it is an annual visitor to the UK, more commonly on the Northern Isles. They breed in arctic forests, from north Scandinavia eastwards, wintering in SE Asia, so this one was rather off course. They can be very hard to see, but this particular Arctic Warbler was unusually obliging! A great bird to see.

Having spent quite a lot of time in the woods today, we decided to do something different and go looking for some waterbirds for the rest of the afternoon. Stiffkey Fen seemed like a good place to go. It was lovely and sunny now, warm out of the wind, which was still rather blustery. There were not so many birds in the trees and bushes this afternoon, but we did flush several Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles as we passed.

It is hard to see the Fen from the path now, as the reeds and brambles have grown tall over the summer. There are one or two places where you can still get a vantage point, and we could see lots of white blobs huddled up on one of the islands on the Fen, a mix of Spoonbills and Little Egrets. There was nowhere easy to set up the scope here, so we decided to have a look from up on the seawall.

Unfortunately, when we got up onto the seawall, we couldn’t see where the Spoonbills were roosting, it was hidden behind the reeds. There were lots of other things to see on here though. A nice selection of waders included several Greenshanks along with lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen. A few Ruff were out in the water with them. We got all the waders in the scope to have a good look at them. More Redshanks were gathering in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall, as the tide was coming in now.

There were plenty of ducks on the Fen – Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal. A single Pintail was busy upending out at the back. A very large and noisy gaggle of Greylags flew in from the neighbouring field. A Kingfisher flew up from the reeds calling, but was gone in a flash of electric blue, over the seawall and out over the saltmarsh.

We made our way round to have a look in the harbour. The tide was coming in fast now. We heard a Kingfisher call and looked round to see it perched on a mooring chain fixed to the far bank of the channel. It was presumably the bird we had seen earlier, heading in this direction. We had a good look at it through the scope, it was back on to us and we could see the stripe of bright blue down its back. Then it dropped down into the water and caught a fish, flying back up to its perch and beating the fish on the chain repeatedly before swallowing it. Then the Kingfisher flew off up the channel.

KingfisherKingfisher – fishing in the harbour channel

Out around the harbour, we could see lots of waders gathering. They were mostly on the shore round out of view, but we could see a large huddle of Oystercatchers and, further over, a big group of Grey Plover. More waders were flying in across the harbour all the time, forced off from where they had been feeding by the rising water. We saw a little flock of Bar-tailed Godwits, several groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, another flock of Grey Plover.

Most of the waders landed out of view, but we did manage to get a few in the scope. A single Dunlin and a lone Turnstone were trying to roost on a spit of mud, but it didn’t take long before it was covered by water and they flew off. Two Sandwich Terns on the same spit were also pushed off by the rising tide. A Curlew was preening down on the front edge of the mud.

While we were scanning through the waders, we found a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A line of Mute Swans swam past us up the channel, with a single Greylag Goose with them. Presumably the Greylag was confused and thought it was a swan!

It was a great spot to stand and take in the view on a sunny autumn afternoon, looking out across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We could see all the seals gathered out on the far point. It made a fitting end to the day, and it was now time to head back. On the way, we stopped along the path and managed to find a spot where we could get the Spoonbills in the scope. As usual, they were mostly asleep, but one or two did wake up briefly, just long enough to flash their spoon-shapes bills before they went back to sleep, at which point it was easier to distinguish them from the white Little Egrets roosting with them.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – roosting on one of the islands at Stiffkey Fen

It had been a great three days of Autumn birding. The weather had not been anywhere near as bad as forecast, and we had mostly managed to dodge the showers, with the help of a hide or two. We had seen lots of birds, including several exciting ones, scarce Autumn migrants and some of the regular delights of birdwatching in Norfolk.

13th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 2

A Private Tour today, the second of our two days. It felt really autumnal today. Storm Aileen blew in overnight, bringing heavy rain and gale force winds, gusting up to 60mph first thing this morning. Thankfully it had calmed down a little by the time we met up, the rain had stopped and there were even some brighter intervals, but the wind was still gusting up to 48mph through the morning. Undaunted, we went out to see what we could see.

Our first destination was Stiffkey Fen. On the way there, three Red Kites hung in the air over the road, enjoying the breeze. We were met by a very gusty wind when we got out of the car, but it was not so bad once we got into the shelter of the hedge along the path. A Kestrel was standing out in the middle of a recently cultivated field, presumably looking for invertebrates. Easier work than trying to hover in the wind!

As we got into the trees, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. A tit flock came through the wood and seemed to be making for the sunny sheltered edge along the roadside. We could just see some of the tits in the trees above us, but they were hard to see today with the movement of the branches and leaves. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling too.

Down beside the river, we flushed a couple of Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles. We could hear a Blackcap calling from the bushes too, but the birds were harder than usual to see along here, presumably they were keeping tucked well down today. The sun came out and in the shelter of the hedges a few butterflies even appeared – a couple of Red Admirals and Speckled Woods. A Green Sandpiper flew low overhead calling, presumably coming up from the Fen before continuing on its way west.

There is one spot along the path where it is possible to see over the brambles across to the Fen. We knew it was likely to be windy up on the seawall, so we stopped to look from here first. The first thing we saw was the Spoonbills. There were 12 of them at first, mostly asleep, but two were awake and walking around. A closer look revealed that it was a juvenile, one of this year’s young raised just along the coast, which was pursuing its parent begging for food. Every time the adult Spoonbill stopped, the juvenile kept pecking at its bill, so the adult kept walking. The youngster then followed behind, bobbing its head up and down. The pester power was relentless!

Spoonbills 1Spoonbills – this juvenile kept begging for food from its parent

There were lots of geese on the Fen, mostly Greylags but a few Canada Geese too. There are more ducks on here too now, in various stages of moult. As well as all the local Mallard, there were Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal. A couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle.

After a good look from the path, we decided to brave the seawall. It was not quite as windy up here as we had feared and we had a good view out across the harbour. The tide was on its way in and the channel below the seawall was starting to fill up. Several Redshank were still feeding on the remaining mud along the edge, along with a Curlew.

There is a much better view of the Fen from up on the seawall. There were lots of waders asleep in the water just beyond the reeds, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the islands, in amongst the ducks and geese, we could see several Ruff, including one with a strikingly white head. Over in their usual corner, a dozen Greenshank were already in to roost, standing in the water out of the wind. A single Redshank was with them and through the scope, we had a good comparison between the two, the Greenshank being much paler, sleeker and slightly larger too.

As the tide was rising out in the harbour, more birds flew in to roost. Another three Spoonbills came in to join the twelve already out on the Fen. More Redshank flew in from the harbour. A Greenshank took advantage of the opportunity for a quick last feed on the edge of the mud down in the harbour channel before flying up over the seawall and across to join the others.

We decided to walk round to have a look out in the harbour. On the way, a Common Buzzard was hovering out over the edge of the saltmarsh. There were not so many small birds along here today – we flushed a Meadow Pipit from the grass and a Common Whitethroat from the weeds beside the path.

The water out in the harbour was already quite high and a lot of the waders were already roosting out of view. We could still see quite a few Oystercatchers and Curlew. A small party of Turnstone, accompanied by a single Dunlin, flew in and landed on the near shore, amongst all the Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A single Bar-tailed Godwit flew west, before another five flew in and dropped down out of view. Out on the end of Blakeney Point, we could see a number of seals hauled out on the beach.

It was a bit exposed and breezy out on the edge of the harbour, so we started to make our way back. The Spoonbills on the Fen had multiplied in our absence, with more birds flying in from the harbour and saltmarsh ahead of the rising tide. One flew off towards Morston as we walked back, but their were still 26 now out on the Fen when we got back to count them. An adult Spoonbill was still being pursued around the island by a begging juvenile – quite possibly the two birds we had seen much earlier!

Spoonbills 2Spoonbills – most of the 26 which were on the Fen on our walk back

It was nice to get off the seawall and back into the shelter of the hedge beside the path. We could hear Bullfinches calling from the sallows, but couldn’t see them today. The tit flock was still feeding in the trees. When we got back to the car, we could see a flock of Lapwing out in the field next door and when we stopped to scan, we found a couple of Stock Doves here too. One of the Stock Doves was helpfully standing next to a Woodpigeon, giving us a nice side-by-side comparison through the scope.

There has been a Pectoral Sandpiper at Cley for the last few days and news had come through that it was still present this morning, so we headed round to try to see it next. We parked at the base of the East Bank and started to walk up. There were lots of martins flying low over the pools on the edge of the reedbed and skimming the bank in front of us, so we stopped to watch them. They were mostly House Martins, flashing a white rump as they banked but in with them were several plain brown backed Sand Martins too. We got some really close up views as they zoomed round us, hawking for insects.

Sand MartinSand Martin – hawking for insects around the East Bank

Further along the path, we could see a small group of people. We assumed they were watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, so we walked up to join them, but when we got there they pointed to the bird they were watching (which they thought was it) and it was a Ruff! There was no immediate sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper here, and we were not entirely sure whether it had actually been seen where they were looking, so we started to walk slowly on along the bank, scanning the grass and pools carefully, to see if we could refind it.

Then all the birds erupted from the grass and started to whirl round and a shout from further along alerted us to an incoming Hobby. It flew fast and low right past us, skimming over the grass, before stopping to chase something back towards the road, climbing suddenly and sharply before stooping vertically back down again. It then made for all the hirundines over the pools, which scattered, before the Hobby climbed higher and flew off over North Foreland wood.

HobbyHobby – flew right past us low over the grazing marsh

When the birds all settled again, there was still no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper. There were plenty of Ruff down around the Serpentine, and lots of Black-tailed Godwits further over in the grass. As we made our way further on, we found a couple of Dunlin on the mud. At the north end of the Serpentine, an Avocet was feeding out in the water and a very pale silvery grey and white winter plumage Spotted Redshank was on the mud nearby. The Spotted Redshank waded out into the water and started feeding too, sweeping its bill rapidly from side to side, just like the juvenile we had seen at Titchwell yesterday.

There were plenty of Greylag Geese already out on the grazing marshes, but some high pitched yelping calls alerted us to another six geese flying in behind us. These were Pink-footed Geese, probably freshly arrived from Iceland for the winter. They circled over the grass but seemed to decide not to land and continued on east. A short while later they reappeared and dropped down onto the grass behind Arnold’s Marsh. Here we could get the Pink-footed Geese in the scope, noting their small size relative to the Greylags, their dark heads and dark pink-banded bills.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – six, probably just arriving from Iceland for the winter

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s gave us somewhere welcome to get out of the wind. There were quite a lot of waders out on the water and we settled in to work our way through them. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with a few Curlew. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a couple which were more strongly marked on the back, browner, streaked with black, two Bar-tailed Godwits.

On our first scan, their were just a couple of Dunlin but as we looked back we came across another group of four. A slightly larger wader was with them and through the scope we could see it was a Curlew Sandpiper, a juvenile. We could see the peachy wash across its breast and unstreaked white belly. Its bill was a little longer than the Dunlins’ and cleanly downcurved, rather like a miniature Curlew (hence its name!).

We had seen a large mob of Sandwich Terns out over the sea beyond the shingle bank and they started to fly in and land on one of the smaller islands. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting their black bills with small yellow tips. They were in winter plumage now, with white crowns and the black on their heads now restricted to a line running back from the eye to the shaggy crest at the back.

Sandwich TernsSandwich Terns – came in to land on one of the islands

At that point, someone came into the shelter and informed us that the Pectoral Sandpiper had reappeared, back at the south end of the Serpentine. Thankfully it didn’t take us long to locate it, when it ran out along the edge of a muddy pool, before disappearing back into the grass. Thankfully, with a bit of patience, it showed very well and we had several very good looks at it through the scope. It kept going into the long grass out of view but after a while it would come out onto the edge again. We could see its distinctive streaked breast, cleanly demarcated from the white belly.

Pectoral SandpiperPectoral Sandpiper – this photo of it taken a couple of days ago!

The Pectoral Sandpiper gradually worked its way a little closer towards us along the edge of the pool. Suddenly it stopped on the mud and stood up tall, then took off and flew across the water, landing down on the front edge behind the grass where we couldn’t see it. We had already had a great view, so we decided to head back to the visitor centre for lunch. It was a relief to get off the East Bank and out of the wind!

After lunch, we decided to have a quick look out on the reserve. There is management work underway at the moment on Whitwell Scrape, with a large excavator digging it out. This is causing a lot of disturbance to the other main scrapes, but we thought it worth a quick look just in case something had dropped down on here. On the walk out, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbed, this one a dark chocolate brown juvenile.

There didn’t seem to be much on Simmond’s Scrape when we looked out from the hide. Scanning carefully, we did find a couple of Ringed Plover out on one of the islands, with a single Dunlin. A Ruff was over the far side, picking its way along the edge. A couple of Shoveler were feeding down in front of the hide, barely raising their heads out of the water.

ShovelerShoveler – almost raising its head out of the water

A Little Egret flew in and started feeding along the near edge of the scrape. A family of Mute Swans were in the channel in front of the hide. The Pied Wagtails liberally scattered around the islands seemed to be the only ones completely unconcerned with all the machinery working nearby.

Another Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds the other side of the scrape, a dark male we could just see some small patches of grey in the upperwing and the paler underwings with black wingtips. A little while later, another Marsh Harrier flew back the other way, from the direction of North Scrape – a different bird again, this one a female.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a dark male flying over the reeds behind Simmond’s Scrape

There was not much on Pat’s Pool either, a few more Ruff, a handful of Black-tailed Godwits, some Lapwings and a few assorted gulls and ducks. We were just thinking about heading back to the visitor centre when we noticed a rather black cloud approaching behind the hide. The worst of the rain passed to the south of us, but we could hear rumbles of thunder as it did so. When it cleared through, we made our way back. A Common Whitethroat flicked ahead of us in and out of the brambles along the Skirts path.

It was already starting to ease, but we decided to finish the day with a visit to Kelling, hoping to get out of the wind. As we set off along the lane, a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches flew up into the dense blackthorn hedge from the stream. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaffs calling and a little further along one perched out briefly on the sunny edge of the hedge. There were a few more butterflies out in the sunnier more sheltered spots. The stubble field half way down was full of Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants, released ready for the shooting season.

We made our way down to the Water Meadow. At first the pool looked rather quiet, but the more carefully we looked, the more we found. By the end we had counted at least three Redshanks and five Ruff around the reedy edges. When we got down to the cross track and looked back at the muddy margin on the near side, we could see a Green Sandpiper over in the far corner. A couple of Dunlin down in the near corner caught our eye, just as a Common Snipe sneaked out of cover and walked across the mud, before disappearing back into the grass.

Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper – on the back of the pool at Kelling WM

Continuing on along the path down towards the beach, it was fairly quiet at first, a Cetti’s Warbler calling from the reeds being the only bird of note. When we got to the corner and turned onto the path up the hill, we saw movement around the fence. A male Stonechat appeared and perched on the top strand of wire, and a Common Whitethroat appeared on the wire below. Turning to look back across the Quags, a careful scan produced a single Wheatear out on the short grass in the middle.

From half way up the hill, we turned to scan the sea. There were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back west just offshore. An Arctic Skua appeared, flying low over the sea just behind them. We noticed a Great Crested Grebe swimming out on the water and as we watched it, a drake Eider took off from the sea just behind it and flew past us. We got the Great Crested Grebe in the scope, but after a minute it took off and flew off west too.

After that little flurry of activity, the sea went a little quiet. We were out of time anyway, so we turned and started to make our way back. The wind had dropped now and the sun was out, with blue skies overhead as we got back to the car. The wind had not stopped us today and we had enjoyed a very successful day out despite its best efforts. It had been a productive two days out, with a very good variety of birds seen.

7th Sept 2017 – Early Autumn Action

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. The weather was good – sunny and warm in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon but still staying dry until after dark. A great day to be out. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast.

Our first stop this morning was at Stiffkey Fen. As we made our way down along the footpath, a Marsh Harrier flew low over the field beside us. Through binoculars, we could see it was carrying green wing tags, but it was too far away for us to read the all-important code on them. It hung in the air or a second over the trees and was joined by  second Marsh Harrier, this time a dark chocolate brown juvenile. As we continued along the path, a Green Woodpecker flew over the field and disappeared across the path behind us.

In the trees down by the river, a couple of Chiffchaffs were calling. We could hear a flock of Long-tailed Tits coming, and as we came out of the trees we found a mixed tit flock moving ahead of us. In with the tits were several Blackcaps and a single Reed Warbler too, feeding high up in the sallows. As we walked on along the path, we flushed a good number of Greenfinches from the brambles, where they were feeding on the blackberries, along with a couple of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. A small number of lingering House Martins were still fluttering around the eaves of the house on the hill and a Mistle Thrush over.

The vegetation is tall along here now, so it is hard to see much of the Fen from the path. However, through a gap in the trees we could make out a long line of large white shapes over towards one side, amongst all the geese. A big group of Spoonbills. There is a better view from up on the seawall and now we could see them properly and count them – 39 in total, all in one group.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – 39 in one flock, out on Stiffkey Fen, all asleep!

The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! Just occasionally one would lift its head briefly, but it was still great to see so many together like this, the product of a productive breeding season here this summer.

On the way out, we had heard the distinctive ringing call of Greenshanks. We found them in one corner of the Fen, a flock of 24 of them roosting together. They come in to here from the muddy channels out on the saltmarsh to roost over high tide. There was a big flock of Redshank too, closer to us, just beyond the reeds. The tide was already going out fast and first the Redshanks started heading back out, calling noisily.  Several of them dropped down onto the mud beside the harbour channel just beyond the seawall and they were joined by a single Greenshank, giving us a great comparison side by side through the scope.

There were also lots of Black-tailed Godwit asleep here, roosting on the Fen, but they seemed to be showing no inclination to head back out to the harbour. Several Ruff were picking around the islands among the masses of Greylag Geese and ducks. There were plenty of Mallard and a few Gadwall, but numbers of Teal are starting to increase as well now as birds return for the winter and we found a handful of Wigeon in amongst them too.

It was already looking like a good day for raptors. A Hobby flew in low and fast over the saltmarsh and zipped away inland across the field just beyond the Fen. Then we looked up to see seven Common Buzzards circling in the sunshine. They were trying to make their way west, but turned to head out over the edge of the saltmarsh, looking for thermals. There were clearly a few Common Buzzards on the move today, as these would not be the only ones we saw.

Common BuzzardsCommon Buzzards – 2 of the 7 which circled west this morning

Continuing along the path out towards the harbour, a small group of Meadow Pipits flew over calling, also on the move today, heading west. A female Yellowhammer which flew off calling from the top of the hedge was most likely a local bird.

Out in the harbour, the number of waders is increasing steadily now. With the tide going out fast, they were starting to spread out across the mud. We could see lots of black and white Oystercatchers and several Curlew. A cracking Grey Plover still in full breeding plumage caught our attention, with jet black face and belly surrounded in gleaming white. Stunning. There were lots more Grey Plover further out on the mud, in various different stages of moult to greyer winter plumage.

There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding out on the mud now, and in with them we could see several smaller waders. The larger, dumpier, greyer ones were Knot, the smaller ones were Dunlin. A Ringed Plover stood out with its black and white ringed head. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was further out on the mud.

As we turned to walk back, a Stonechat appeared on a low Suaeda bush next to the path. It flicked across to the other side and then more Stonechats appeared following it, there was clearly a little group of them. They didn’t appear to be a family party, so most likely this was a small post-breeding group which you sometimes get at this time of year. After they had gone, we flushed a Whitethroat which was skulking in the vegetation by the path.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – there were several out in the sunshine this morning

On the way back, there were several insects out enjoying the sunshine. We saw several Speckled Wood butterflies and a nice selection of dragonflies – Migrant Hawker, plus Common Darter and Ruddy Darter. We picked up the tit flock again, in the sallows by the path, and while we were following them we heard a couple of Bullfinches calling plaintively, getting a brief glimpse of them as they flew across overhead. A Cetti’s Warbler sang rather half-heartedly from the river bank. singing. Then back at the car, we stopped to look at the Stock Doves with the Woodpigeons in the field beside us. The metallic green neck patch on the one we got in the scope was really shining in the sun.

Our next destination was Cley. We still had a bit of time before lunch, so we made our way round to the beach car park. On our way there, a Wheatear flicked across the road right in front of the car, flashing its white rump. It landed on the West Bank right beside us, so we stopped to get a closer look at it. But another car pulled up right behind us and they were impatient, clearly in a great hurry to get to the car park beyond, and honked their horn. The Wheatear promptly flew off. We drove into the car park and stopped, and as we got out we saw the car behind in discussion with the attendant. Presumably they didn’t want to pay, as they turned round and headed back up Beach Road. So much for them being in such a hurry to get here!

We headed out along the beach towards North Scrape. Thankfully there were several more Wheatears on the fence posts along here, so we got a chance to stop and look at them at our leisure. Smart birds, autumn migrants stopping off to feed on their way south. There was no sign of any of the Whinchat with them though, which had been reported earlier. A Green Sandpiper was calling incessantly out on Billy’s Wash, but we couldn’t see it from the path.

WheatearWheatear – one of several along the Eye Field fence today

Out at North Scrape, yet another Wheatear was perched obligingly on the reed screen, reluctant to leave the area of strimmed grass where it had presumably been feeding. There seemed to be lots of water on the scrape and didn’t look to be much of note on there at first, mostly a few ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck.

There was the grand total of five waders on the edge of the nearest island so we had a quick look at them. A juvenile Ruff and two Redshank were predictable enough, but the two smaller ones turned out to be a Curlew Sandpiper with a lone Dunlin. The Curlew Sandpiper was a juvenile, with a peachy orange wash across the breast and scaly back. We got a good view through the scope, at one point the two of them were feeding together, the Curlew Sandpiper noticeably bigger and with a longer, more down-curved bill.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – a juvenile on North Scrape

A real long distance migrant, it was remarkable to think that this Curlew Sandpiper had stopped off here to feed on its way from arctic Siberia, where it was raised over the summer, to Africa for the winter.

As we got up to walk back, we could see someone photographing the Wheatears along the fence line back towards the car park. Just beyond, we could see another smaller bird perched on the fence. Through the scope we confirmed that it was the Whinchat. We had a quick look from here, then hurried back along the path before it might be flushed. The photographer was so focused on one of the Wheatears that she hadn’t seen it. Thankfully it was still there when we got there and we got a good look at it through the scope.

WhinchatWhinchat – had reappeared on the fence on our way back

The Whinchat was more strongly marked than the Wheatears, patterned brown and black on the upperparts and with a noticeable pale supercilium. It dropped down from the fence and flew into the field, where it perched on a dead dock seedhead for a while, scanning the ground below for insects, occasionally dropping down into the grass. Eventually it moved further out into the field and was lost to view. As well as more Wheatears, we flushed several Meadow Pipits and Linnets from the vegetation on the shingle on the walk back.

After lunch back at the visitor centre, we headed out to the hides. There was a nice selection of waders on Simmond’s Scrape. Several Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff were feeding down at the front, giving us better views than we had had of them earlier. A couple of Common Snipe were hiding down in the wet grass on the edge of the scrape, only really visible when they ran up and across the bank, striking birds with their long bills and golden stripes.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding down at the front of the scrape

Further back, two Knot were busily feeding on the wet mud with a small flock of Dunlin. A Common Sandpiper was feeding along the back edge of the scrape, bobbing up and down as it worked its way along the edge of the grass. We could hear another Green Sandpiper and looked out of the side of the hide to see it on the edge of the water out behind Whitwell Scrape. A Greenshank flew past calling.

There were two more Spoonbills here on the scrape. One was asleep, just like the birds we had seen earlier, but a juvenile Spoonbill was walking round on island, pecking at the mud. It seemed like it had not got the hang of feeding yet – it should be in the water! But at least we could see its distinctive spoon-shaped bill, plain fleshy brown on a juvenile.

A few Black-headed Gulls were dotted around the scrape, now in winter plumage and lacking their summer brown heads. Further over were three larger gulls and one of them caught our attention. It was smaller than the two Great Black-backed Gulls it was with, and we could see that although it was obviously a young bird, juvenile/1st winter or 1st calendar year, it already had a strikingly pale whitish head. It was hard to see properly at first, hiding behind the larger gulls, but eventually it came out and our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Caspian Gull.

Caspian GullCaspian Gull – appeared briefly on the scrape

After a good look at the Caspian Gull through the scope, we discussed some of the finer identification points with the benefit of some photos. The rather solid grey-brown wing coverts with neat pale edges and contrasting dark tertials with bright white ‘thumbnail’ tips are all juvenile feathers. It has already moulted its mantle extensively, with lots of new and rather plain grey 1st winter feathers. Caspian Gulls are regular here at this time of the year, but they are mostly seen coming in very late in the evening on their way to roost, so it was great to see one so well in the middle of the afternoon.

At that point, everything flushed and scattered as a Hobby appeared overhead. It was joined by a second Hobby, the two of them buzzing the scrapes, scything through the startled birds. One of them stooped at an unsuspecting Dunlin, the latter successfully taking evasive action as the Hobby turned and climbed again sharply. They made a pass or two right in front of the hide, giving us stunning close up views.

HobbyHobby – one of two which started buzzing the scrapes

Then two Marsh Harriers joined in, circling out over the scrape, possibly hoping to take advantage of the general pandemonium. The two Hobbys started to mob the Marsh Harriers, stooping at them, trying to drive them back to the reedbed. It was real all-action stuff! We didn’t know where to look.

Hobby vs Marsh Harrier 1

Hobby vs Marsh Harrier 2Hobby – mobbing one of the local Marsh Harriers

Eventually, the Hobbys gave up and moved on. As things started to settle down again, four more Common Buzzards circled over the reeds and drifted off west over the hide. The Spoonbills had taken off too, even the adult which had been sleeping almost constantly since we arrived had woken up. They circled round and landed in front of the hide, on the edge of the nearest island, giving us a great view now. We could see the adult Spoonbill’s black bill with distinctive yellow tip, very different from the juvenile’s fleshy bill.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – the adult coming into land, flashing its yellow bill tip

Most of the small waders had cleared out after the Hobbys and Marsh Harriers had done their stuff. We walked round to Teal Hide and had a quick look on Pat’s Pool. The Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff and Lapwing had all settled back down onto the scrape, but other than that there were just a couple of Dunlin and a single Ringed Plover left on here.

After walking back to the car, we headed out to East Bank. A single Sand Martin flew past over the reeds – numbers of hirundines are steadily dropping now as birds head off south already. Apart from a large gaggle of Greylags and Canada Geese, we could see a few Lapwing down in the grass with several moulting juvenile Starlings in amongst them. A Ruff and a Common Snipe were hiding down on the edge of one of the small pools. Four Avocets were busy feeding, up to their bellies out on the Serpentine.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – hiding in the grass on Pope’s Marsh

Further over, on Pope’s Pool, there were lots of Teal and Redshank. Looking through them carefully, we found a single Spotted Redshank too, paler silvery grey above and white below compared to the Common Redshanks. Its feeding action stood out too, walking around in circles with its long bill down in the water, sweeping it from side to side.

The biggest surprise of the day came when we were scanning the grazing marsh to the east of the East Bank. We picked up a tight flock of small birds flying directly towards us low over the grass. As they flew up and over the bank we could see they were Tree Sparrows, eight of them. They used to be common birds, but Tree Sparrows are now very scarce here, victims of agricultural intensification. Back in the 1970s, counts of migrating Tree Sparrows numbering in the hundreds were not unknown on some days on the coast, but sadly this is now a thing of the past and only very small numbers are seen these days on passage.

The Tree Sparrows continued on strongly west over the reedbed the other side of the path. There were a few more Meadow Pipits flying west too, more birds on the move already. Further along, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and turned to catch a glimpse as one flew across, skimming the top of the reeds. Despite more calling, we didn’t see another one, but it was rather breezy up here this afternoon.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there were several Cormorants standing around or dying their wings around the island at the back. A good number of Black-tailed Godwit on here were mostly asleep, although one rather rusty bird, still sporting quite a bit of bright summer plumage, drew attention to itself. Otherwise, there were several Curlew and a plenty of Redshanks here. A Brown Hare on one of the vegetated shingle spits was quite hard to see, its black tipped ears more visible through the scope.

Even though it was cloudy, we stood and admired the view, looking out east across the marshes towards the cliffs at Weybourne and Sheringham. The saltmarsh vegetation, samhpire and sea lavender, was striped in various autumnal shades of orange and red.

Arnold's MarshArnold’s Marsh – looking east towards Weybourne & Sheringham

As we walked on towards the beach, several Little Egrets were flying around or preening on the edge of the pools. We talked about how this used to be a rare bird here in UK, so at least some things are doing well, while others like Tree Sparrow seem in unstoppable decline. Six Wigeon flew in off the sea and dropped down towards North Scrape, presumably freshly arrived from their breeding grounds in Russia for the winter.

Out at the beach, the sea was calm and quiet. A Fulmar circled offshore. A small group of four Ringed Plover flew west along the shoreline, yet more birds on the move today. The migration season is certainly well underway now. Unfortunately, at this stage, it was time to call it a day and head for home. It had been a great day though, with lots of action and different things to see, plenty of memorable moments.