Tag Archives: Pectoral Sandpiper

12th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was rather cloudy all day and very breezy again, but at least it stayed dry. With birds we wanted to try to see in the Brecks and down in the Broads, we decided to venture further afield today.

Our first target for the day was Stone Curlew. At the end of the summer, they gather together in big post breeding flocks in the Brecks. Numbers typically peak in September and start to decline in October as birds move off for the winter, but we figured we should still be able to find some of them here.

As we drove down the road, we could see several birds in the field the other side of the hedge and a glance over confirmed that there was a mixture of Stone Curlews and Lapwings. Unfortunately there is nowhere to stop here, so we continued on to try another site, in the knowledge that we could always come back if need be.

Stopping at a gate overlooking a large area of open fields, we quickly located two Stone Curlews. They were some distance over and facing away from us, into the wind, sheltering behind a line of green vegetation. Still it was a good start and we had a look at them through the scopes, so we could make out their staring yellow irises and short, black-tipped yellow bills.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – we found two at the first place we stopped to scan

As we stood here watching the Stone Curlew, several small flocks of Song Thrushes, Redwings and Skylarks flew over our heads. As we had seen yesterday, birds were on the move again today – with their migration visible even down here in the Brecks.

With Stone Curlew in the bag, we decided to have a go and see if we could find a closer one. We drove over to another field they have been favouring this autumn. The weedy vegetation here has grown up in recent weeks and there are more places to hide, but it didn’t take long to find another Stone Curlew, this one much closer than the two we had seen earlier. We edged along the path beside the field so as not to disturb it, to where we could set up all the scopes and admire it.

While everyone had a good look at this Stone Curlew in the scope, we scanned the vegetation more carefully. On each sweep, we located another one hiding in the weeds until we had found at least four Stone Curlews here. Looking out to the bare stony ground beyond, we spotted another four Stone Curlews hiding up against a small ridge of earth.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – we found several closer ones at the next place we stopped

After getting great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to scan the pig fields nearby. In the first field, several Egyptian Geese were walking around the pig troughs in the middle. A Stock Dove flew in and dropped down out of view with the Woodpigeons in the middle.

At the second set of pig fields, we could see a very large flock of gulls asleep in the middle. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with a few Black-headed Gulls and a single Common Gull. Scanning through them more carefully, we could see a larger gull asleep, half hidden in with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. It had a paler mantle, a bit too dark for a Herring Gull, and through the scope we could see its comparatively plain white head, with just a few pencil streaks,  When it opened its eye, it had a pale iris and a noticeable reddish orbital ring. It was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull – asleep in with the Lesser Black-backeds

It felt like it was brightening up and for a second we could feel a bit of the sun’s warmth in the air. Combined with the brisk wind, we thought it might be a good day to try to see a Goshawk up enjoying the breeze. On our way round, we stopped briefly to look at a flock of Chaffinches in some small bushes by the road and found two Bramblings in with them.

By the time we got round to a high spot overlooking the forest, the warmth in the air had disappeared again and it was back to cold, grey and windy. As we got out of the car, it was clear there was very little aerial activity over the trees and it didn’t help that there was a pheasant shoot under way a couple of fields over which was very noisy and causing a lot of disturbance, with vehicles and dogs along the edge of the trees.

A Mistle Thrush flew across over the edge of the trees in front of us, and two unseasonal House Martins circled over – most of them have already left, off to Africa for the winter. We stood and watched for a few minutes and a few Common Buzzards circled up over the trees but never gained much height. A Sparrowhawk shot across, skimming above the treetops. We had a lot of ground we wanted to cover today, so we decided to move on and get away from the noise!

There has been a Rose-coloured Starling lingering on a housing estate on the outskirts of Norwich for the last few days, so on our way across to the Broads, we decided to call in for a quick look. It turned out it had been hiding in the back garden of one of the houses today, not visible from outside, but the homeowner was very kindly letting people in for a quick look whenever it appeared on the lawn. Unfortunately, it was only coming down to feed every 20-30 minutes and then only lingering there very briefly.

When we arrived, there were already several people waiting. Not long afterwards, the Rose-coloured Starling reappeared down on the lawn, the front door opened and everyone rushed in for a look. Unfortunately, due to the viewing angle, only the first few people inside could see the lawn where the bird was feeding. Only half the group got a quick look at the Rose-coloured Starling, before it flew up and disappeared into the hedge again.

We filed back outside and waited to see if there might be another showing, but it looked like the homeowner had taken a break for lunch and was no longer keeping an eye on the garden, so we decided to head on elsewhere instead.

Gadwall

Gadwall – the connoisseur’s duck, on the pool by Reception Hide

It wasn’t too far from here to Strumpshaw Fen, where we stopped for our lunch on the picnic tables by Reception Hide. The front of the pool was packed with ducks, mostly Gadwall which we stopped to admire, along with a few Mallard and a couple of Teal. The resident feral Black Swan eventually appeared with the Mute Swans, before swimming over to the front and climbing out onto the bank to preen. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds beyond.

A steady stream of Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming in to the feeders. A sharper call alerted us to a Marsh Tit which shot in, grabbed a sunflower seed and flew over to an elder bush nearby to eat it. It came in several times over lunch, at one point joined by a second Marsh Tit, giving us a chance to get a good look at them. A Siskin flew over calling too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – two kept coming in to the feeders over lunch time

After lunch, we headed round to Buckenham Marshes. As we drove down the road, a Red Kite was hanging over one of the fields and was we crossed the railway line, two more appeared over the grazing marsh right in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – one of two, over the grazing marshes

Scanning from the gate, we could see a few geese out on the grazing marsh and through the scopes we could see there were several groups of Canada Geese and Pink-footed Geese, along with a smaller number of Greylags. There had been a report of White-fronted Geese here this morning, but we couldn’t see them at first.

As we walked down the track towards the river, we could hear them calling and looked across to see a family of three White-fronted Geese out on the grass. They were presumably just returned here for the winter, as they were calling regularly and very mobile, flying round between the different patches of marsh. Through the scope we could see there were two adults, with white surrounding the base of their bills and black bars on their grey bellied, and a juvenile which lacked those.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – a family of three, just returned for the winter

These were the first White-fronted Geese we have seen this autumn, and should be the first of many to return to the marshes here, where a few hundred normally spend the winter.

A flock of Barnacle Geese flew in next, circling round over the marshes before dropping down to feed with the Canada Geese. These are feral birds, which also spend the winter here. Despite their non-wild origins, they are still beautiful geese, so we did have an admiring look at them through the scopes.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – this flock flew in and landed with the Canada Geese

While we were watching the geese, a Common Snipe flew up from the edge of the ditch in front of us and zig-zagged off away over the marshes. There were a couple of Chinese Water Deer out in the grass too.

Continuing on along the track, we stopped to scan the pools over towards the river bank. There were lots of ducks here, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. This is a very important site for wintering Wigeon, but there are still a lot yet to return here from their Russian breeding grounds.

We had really come here to look for waders, and in particular two Pectoral Sandpipers which have been on the pools here for the last few days. We could see a little group of Ruff, including a winter satellite male with a striking white head, and several Dunlin. Through the scopes, it didn’t take long to find first one and then the second of the Pectoral Sandpipers, feeding on the mud along the edge of the vegetation just behind the water.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – one of the two juveniles at Buckenham

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the gate on the edge of the marshes. It was a bit windy out here, but we could see they were both juveniles, with neatly pale-fringed dark feathers in the upperparts. We could see there distinctive streaked breasts, sharply demarcated against their white bellies in a neat pectoral band. They were abot the same size as the Dunlin, but with shorted bills. There were several more Common Snipe feeding on the edge of the vegetation near them too.

Continuing on to the river bank, we had another quick look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the shelter of the hide. It was a bit further away, but out of the wind. Then it was time to head back, with a long drive ahead of us.

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25th Sept 2018 – Fen & Marshes

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, a relaxed day out on the coast looking for birds and other wildlife. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day, even feeling warm out of the fresh SW breeze. After a later than normal start, due to the vagaries of the local public transport system, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. It was a little after high tide now, but it was a big tide today and we were hopeful we might still find some birds on here.

As we got out of the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese and a small group flew across the stubble field in front of us, presumably having roosted locally. As we made our way down along the path, two Stock Doves flew across the meadow in front of us and dropped down over the far side. As we crossed the road, a Marsh Harrier was creating pandemonium, flying over the Fen and flushing all the Wigeon.

There was no sign of the large tit flock in the bushes by the river, just a couple of Blue Tits. As we got to the thicker sallows we could hear a family of Bullfinches calling and we had a couple of glimpses of them as they flew ahead of us between the trees. A Chiffchaff was calling here too and as we stopped to scan the Fen, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the brambles. The latter was presumably a young bird and in need of practice, as the song wasn’t quite right yet!

Looking across to the Fen, we could see a line of large white shapes on the island, asleep amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were the Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best! One or two would wake up occasionally and flash their long spoon-shaped bills before going back to sleep.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – at least 18 of them, still on the Fen today

There is a fuller view of the Fen from up on the seawall, and we got the scope trained on the Spoonbills from here so we could get a better look at them. We could see there was a mixture of adults and juveniles, the former with yellow-tipped black bills and the young ones with shorter and dirty flesh coloured bills.

It was nice to see a good number of Spoonbills still here today. As well the risk they may already have started to drift off to feed out on the saltmarsh, with the tide dropping now, it seems like the Norfolk Spoonbills are probably starting to head off to the south coast for the winter. They may not be here much longer.

There were a few birds in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall. As we walked up, we could see four Little Egrets busy fishing just below us, trying to catch something on the falling tide. A little further upstream, a Greenshank and a Redshank were feeding in the muddy water too, when a Kingfisher flew in and landed on a post just behind them.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – feeding in the harbour channel on the falling tide

The Kingfisher population here was hit by the cold weather in March, so it is good to see them back again at some of their regular sites now. This one kept diving into the water and returning to its perch. At one point, it landed back on to us and we had a great view of the electric blue streak down its back, which shone as it caught the morning sun.

Turning our attention back to the Fen, we could see lots of ducks out on the water and roosting on the islands – mainly Wigeon and Teal, but also with at least a dozen Pintail with them too. When something spooked them, many of the ducks took off and several waves of them flew over our heads and out into the harbour. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off too, heading back out with the falling tide now exposing large areas of mud again. The Spoonbills just woke up, looked around, and went back to sleep!

Several more groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over calling as we stood on the seawall. It seemed like there were probably mostly birds which had roosted here though, as they seemed to come in low from the west, rather than fresh arrivals back from Iceland. We could see them circling round away to the east, looking for a suitable field to land in.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – several small flocks flew over calling

From a little further along the seawall, we looked back at the far side of the Fen and could see more waders still out on the mud. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Redshanks and Ruff. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding on its own along the far edge. A Common Buzzard circled up over the fields just beyond.

As we walked round to the corner of the harbour, a Curlew was standing on the large open area of mud on the bend in the channel. There were several Redshanks on here too.

The tide was well out now and there was lots of exposed mud out in the middle of the harbour too. As well as lots of gulls, we could see lots of waders – the ones we could see were mainly Oystercatchers and Curlews but one or two Grey Plover too. Looking across to the far side, the seals were hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and the sand flats opposite. A couple of people walking out onto the mud flushed all the Oystercatchers and they all circled round over the harbour.

A flock of wildfowl came up from the bottom somewhere too and in with the smaller ducks we could see some larger, blackish birds with bright white under their tails. They were Brent Geese, thirteen of them, the first we have seen here this autumn, just returned from Siberia for the winter. In the next few weeks, there should be lots more back here but it is always nice to see the first few back. There was a large flock of Shelducks out here too, all adults – perhaps they moulted here or perhaps they have just returned too, from the moult migration to the Waddensee?

Blakeney Harbour

Blakeney Harbour – the view across to the Point

The view from here is stunning, particular on a glorious sunny day like today. We could probably have stood here all day! We had other places we wanted to explore though, so we headed back. A flock of Linnets were in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at them perched in the tops before they flew off across the channel.

The sunshine had brought lots of insects out today. We saw a nice selection of butterflies on the walk back – as well as the usual Speckled Woods along the path, a couple of Small Coppers and a Red Admiral flew past and a lovely bright Comma posed nicely on the hedge, basking in the sun. There were dragonflies out too – a couple of Common Darter were catching the sun on the wooden steps, a few Migrant Hawkers were busy hunting and a Southern Hawker was patrolling up and down the hedge.

Comma

Comma – enjoying the sun

We still had some time before lunch, so we made our way back to Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. The two Spotted Redshanks were still on Snipe’s Marsh, busy feeding in the shallow water in between the cut reed stems, along with a couple of Little Egrets. We had a good look at the Spotted Redshanks through the scope, noting their long, needle-fine bills.

Two Common Buzzards were playing over the near edge of North Foreland Wood, tumbling and talon-grappling. When they strayed over enough to disturb the Little Egrets, the Spotted Redshanks were spooked too and flew off across the road. Three Common Snipe down on the mud on the edge of the reeds were not so easily disturbed though, so we had a good look at those through the scope too. A couple of Little Grebes were diving in the deeper water at the front.

We had a quick walk up the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but the breeze had picked up a bit and once again they were keeping well hidden. We did eventually get a quick flight view of one as it came up out of the reeds and flew low over the tops, before diving back into cover. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds off in the distance and a Kestrel was hovering over the grazing marshes the other side.

Several Teal were feeding in the Serpentine and a small group of Shoveler were asleep on the back shore. Scanning the grazing marshes, we could see lots of Wigeon on Pope’s Pool and a small party of six or so Pink-footed Geese in the grass just in front. Through the scope, we could see their dark bills with a distinctive pink band around.

Arnold’s Marsh held a few waders, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, and a group of Cormorants roosting on the small island at the back. Looking round more carefully, we found a few Dunlin too, and three Ringed Plover on one of the shingle spits, hiding in the vegetation.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in the brackish pools

Carrying on towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Little Egret fishing in the brackish pools by the path. The sea was very calm today, and there wasn’t much out on the water – a single Grey Seal surfaced offshore. A long way out, beyond the wind farm, through the scope we could make out several Gannets and Sandwich Terns fishing, diving into the water. Three Wigeon flew in high off the sea, birds just arriving back from the continent for the winter.

We made our way back and headed round to the Visitor Centre for lunch. It was a lovely day to sit out on the picnic tables today, looking out across the reserve. A steady stream of gulls were commuting in and out between the reserve and the fields behind us, which were being cultivated. We picked up a couple of young Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – two flew over while we were having lunch

Three Skylarks flew overhead calling too, while we were eating. Looking out towards the sea, we picked up a large skein of geese coming in. More Pink-footed Geese, these were surely birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A Red Admiral was basking on the boardwalk, as were several Common Darters. We went into Dauke’s Hide first and as soon as we arrived, one of the volunteers in there told us that the Pectoral Sandpiper was back on Simmond’s Scrape. We had seen it on the reserve several days ago but it had disappeared later that day and not been seen since, so it was a nice surprise that it was back! There are lots of little pools and other wet areas on the reserve, not visible from any hides, where it could lose itself.

Pectoral Sandpiper

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpiper through the scope. It was creeping round the edge of the larger island at the back, and kept walking into the grass. When it came out we could see its distinctive streaked breast cleanly demarcated from the white belly. It fed next to a couple of Dunlin at one point, and the Pectoral Sandpiper was about the same size, shorter billed, brighter with pale braces on its back and a clean belly lacking the streaks of the young Dunlin. Then, while we were looking the other way, it disappeared!

As well as the Dunlin, there were also several Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits on Simmond’s Scrape, and a large group of roosting Lapwing. A Common Snipe was very well camouflaged, motionless tucked against the front edge of the closer island. Its mournful three-note call alerted us to a Grey Plover flying in. As it landed on the island just behind the Snipe, we could see its black armpits. It was a juvenile, strongly patterned above and lacking any traces of the black belly which adults show in breeding plumage.

Looking out the side of the hide, a Common Sandpiper was feeding on the island down at the front of Whitwell Scrape. Then we heard a Green Sandpiper calling and it dropped in on the other side of the same island. It was good to see the two of them close to each other – the Green Sandpiper was larger and darker than the Common Sandpiper, and lacked the obvious notch of white extending up between the darker breast and wings.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – flew in and landed on the island at the front of Whitwell Scrape

A Sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the grass in front of Billy’s Wash, so we got that in the scope next. It was a young bird, brown on the back and slightly rusty round the nape. We could see its bright yellow iris and barred belly.

The water level is going down nicely on Pat’s Pool now, but a quick look in at Teal Hide failed to produce anything here we hadn’t already seen on Simmond’s Scrape – more Dunlin, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reedy ditch out to the right of the hide, but they failed to come our way.

We wanted to have a quick look in at Babcock Hide before we finished but we knew we didn’t have much time left. We drove round to Iron Road and walked briskly out along the grassy path. A Kestrel was perched on a gate post along the reedy ditch. There were lots of Greylags on the grazing marshes and several Egyptian Geese with them – we could see their striking chocolate eye patches.

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose – on the grazing marsh near Babcock Hide

There are often flocks of waders at the moment on Watling Water, commuting in from the stubble fields across the road, but there were none on here when we arrived in the hide. There were plenty of Greylags, Teal and Mallard, and a couple of Curlew on the mud at the back. It was very relaxing, sitting in the hide, staring out over the pool and listening to the wind in the reeds, but we had a bus to catch! As we walked back along the path, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in across the road and dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide.

We made it round to the bus stop in good time for the bus. It had been a beautiful day to be out exploring the coast and we had seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife too.

21st Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We spent the day up on the north coast. The forecast was poor, with a wind warning out, but it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as we feared. It was a bit gusty, but not as bad as recent days, and it was mostly dry, apart from a squally shower which almost passed us by as we ate our lunch under cover and some rain just as we finished this afternoon. Certainly another day well worth going out!

Heading east along the coast road this morning, we called in at Kelling first. As we walked up along the lane, a Robin was singing from the fir tree by the school and a few Goldfinches dropped down into the hedge beyond. There were several Chaffinches in the taller trees further along, but when we got to the copse, all was quiet.

A couple of House Martins flew over us, heading west, presumably birds on their way to Africa now. A flock of Linnets was feeding down in the stubble field beyond and flew round as we passed, but there didn’t seem to be many birds in the hedgerows. It was rather cool and breezy.

There were quite a few gulls on the Water Meadow again – mostly Black-headed Gulls, either swimming on the pool or loafing on the bank. A few Herring Gulls of various ages were with them and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped in too. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were in with the gulls on the grass and a noisy mob of Canada Geese flew in and landed on the water.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – the resident pair were in with the loafing gulls

A Common Snipe circled over the Water Meadow but seemed to change its mind and headed out over the Quags. It seemed to change its mind again when it felt the wind and cam back in, landing in the long grass on the far side of the pool. When we walked to the corner, we could just see it lurking in the grass, watching us, before it flew up again and away.

Down along the track to the beach, a Reed Bunting flew across and dropped into the reeds where it disappeared. Walking up the hillside, a Meadow Pipit flew up out of the grass, but dropped straight back in again further back. There was a big flock of Goldfinches in the bushes and feeding on the ground in the shelter of the old sand pit.

As we walked up to the gun emplacements, we scanned out to sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were battling into the wind offshore. Then a couple of Gannets flew past, quite close in, banking and tacking downwind, dark slaty grey juveniles. For the next couple of minutes there was a steady trickle of Gannets passing offshore, adults white with black wing tips and some in between.

It was windy and exposed up here on the hillside, so we headed back down. As we walked back towards the Water Meadow, a small warbler flicked out of the brambles ahead of us and dropped straight back in again. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good look at it – we were looking into the sun – and it didn’t emerge again.

Along the cross track, we stopped to scan the muddy ditch which runs across the Quags. While most of us were scanning the edges further back, one of the group noticed a Common Snipe crouching behind a piece of plastic sack down in the grass right in front of us. It pretended it wasn’t there for several minutes before eventually flying off.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – trying to convince us it wasn’t there!

We had a bit more luck finding birds in the hedges in the lane on our way back – perhaps because it brightened up a bit and we could even feel the warmth of the sun. First, a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles, where we watched it eating blackberries. Then we came across a Willow Warbler flicking around low in the bushes along the edge of the field. Further up the lane still, a Chiffchaff was singing rather half-heartedly from a holly tree.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the brambles by the Water Meadow on the way back

There was a tractor rough cultivating one of the stubble fields beside the lane. A Red-legged Partridge ran away from us up the edge of the field. A Brown Hare was hiding in the longer green growth out in the middle, looking just like a clod of brown earth, and the tractor flushed a second Hare as it worked its way round.

Several Black-headed Gulls were following the tractor, landing in the cultivated strip behind, and we could see a few larger gulls too which were feeding out of view higher up the field but flew up as the tractor passed. A 1st winter Mediterranean Gull flew in to see what was happening, we could see its black outer primaries and secondaries, contrasting with silvery grey midwing panel and mantle, as it flew past us and disappeared up over the rise in the field.

Back to the car, we made our way back west. We stopped at Iron Road next and had a walk up to the pools. There were a few Greylag Geese here, and a couple of Lapwing, but it looked from the recent tyre treads heading through the gate like someone had been in there recently.

We walked back and made our way round towards Babcock Hide. A few Swallows flew past over the grazing marshes, more birds on migration, heading off back to Africa for the winter. A big flock of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass with the Greylags. A group Curlew circled over – several dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide, but the rest continued over towards the grazing marshes by the East Bank.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits – there were quite a few on Watling Water today

When we opened the flaps in the hide, the first thing we noticed was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and preening in the water in front. Several more were feeding on the mud nearby. Several were brightly coloured juveniles, with an orange wash around the neck and across the breast, which marks them out as birds of the Icelandic race. Amazing to think they were raised up in Iceland just a few weeks ago!

There were several Ruff on here too, further back, and a few Curlew asleep towards the back, possibly the ones we had seen fly in earlier. Several flocks of Lapwing flew past – possibly just local birds moving, but perhaps they had just arrived from further afield?

We saw a nice selection of ducks on here today, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, one or two Shoveler, and 12 Pintail. The Fulvous Whistling Duck with the large mob of Greylags doesn’t count – it is an escapee from someone’s collection, that seems to think it is a goose! Behind the Greylags, a family of five Pink-footed Geese obviously did not want to mix with their commoner cousins. Possibly freshly returned from Iceland, the goose and three full-grown juveniles were busy feeding while the gander stood guard nearby.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – this family of five was not mixing with the Greylags in front

A Sparrowhawk flew over the back, keeping low, and disappeared behind the reeds. Then we noticed a Hobby over towards Little Eye. Several times it flew up before stooping vertically down at something below, at which point each time we lost sight of it. Then it gave up and flew powerfully low over the grass towards us, before turning and heading across over the grazing meadows just to the south of us.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us in Babcock Hide

As if that wasn’t already enough, the highlight from our stop in Babcock Hide was the Otter which was feeding in the deeper water in the back. It was very active, diving repeatedly. Twice we saw it surface with a large fish. The first time, it swam with it across to one of the reedy islands and we thought it would hide in there for some time, eating. But just a few minutes later, it was back out fishing again. The next time it caught what appeared to be an even larger fish. It swam across to the same island, but a minute later reappeared and swam across with the fish still in its jaws, disappearing round behind the reeds along the edge.

When the Otter finally disappeared, we made our way back to the car and drove a little further along, to Walsey Hills. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see the two Spotted Redshanks out on Snipe’s Marsh. They were feeding very actively in the shallow water amongst the mud and cut reed stems. One was still largely in juvenile plumage, dusky grey, but the other was more advanced in its moult to winter plumage, whiter below and paler silvery grey above. We could also see their long, needle-fine bills.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two still on Snipe’s Marsh

There was a nice selection of other birds on here too. Four Green Sandpipers were feeding around the edge of the mud at the back. A single Common Snipe was very well camouflaged against the cut reeds. There were also a few Little Grebes and a single Tufted Duck out on the water.

It had clouded over a bit more now, so we decided to head round to the beach car park and use the shelter for lunch. It was a good move, as we could see a squally shower coming in, which mostly passed to the south of us, although we just caught the trailing corner of it. There were a few Sandwich Terns offshore and while we were eating lunch we spotted two Arctic Skuas flying in to chase them. We watched the ensuing aerial dogfight for a couple of minutes before the skuas eventually realised they weren’t going to be able to steal a free lunch and gave up. One or two more Gannets flew past, too.

After lunch, we drove round to the Visitor Centre and then walked out onto the reserve, to the hides. A quick look out from Avocet Hide revealed not very much on Whitwell Scrape – a handful of ducks and a single Green Sandpiper in the vegetation in the far corner.

There were more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, so we moved straight on to Dauke’s Hide. There were six Dunlin on here, picking around on the muddy edges of the islands, juveniles with black-streaked bellies. We could see a few more Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Ruff and a Curlew. There were plenty of ducks too. A Marsh Harrier flew in and circled over the reeds at the back.

Ruff

Ruff – there were quite a few on Pat’s Pool

We looked across to Pat’s Pool and could see even more birds on there. There were several juvenile Ruff with a couple of Redshank right down at the front. A male Ruff was strikingly larger than the several females with it. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on here, and a single Green Sandpiper right at the back on the mud.

There were a couple of Dunlin on Pat’s Pool too, but they were mobile, flying round nervously in the wind. When they landed at one point, with the godwits, right over the far side, in front of Bishop Hide, a third small wader was with them. It was noticeably brighter marked above than the Dunlin, with obvious tramlines, clean white below, with a comparatively short beak. When it turned, we could see its streaked breast was neatly demarcated from its white belly. A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper!

We had just got the Pectoral Sandpiper in the scope, when someone came round from Teal Hide to let us know they had seen it too. It was distant at first, so after a quick look we made our way round to Teal Hide where we had a better view. All the small waders were still rather easily spooked, and eventually it came a bit closer. We had a really good look at it through the scope.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – eventually we got some very good views of it

There have been quite a few North American waders turning up in UK in the past week or two, courtesy of the active Jetstream. Presumably this Pectoral Sandpiper had most likely come from there, rather than Eastern Siberia, where they are also found. There was also a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit on here, but it rather played second fiddle to the Pectoral Sandpiper.

When the Pectoral Sandpiper flew back and landed on the mud over near Bishop Hide, we headed round there. It was only a short distance beyond the visitor centre, where the car was parked, anyway. We had an even better view of it from here, when it flew out and landed in the middle just behind the roosting gulls.

There are always lots of ducks loafing on the bank between the hide and the scrape, and we had great views of an eclipse drake Wigeon which was bathing in the channel in front of the hide, before climbing out onto the grass beyond.

Wigeon

Wigeon – this eclipse drake was bathing in front of the hide

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from all the action here. As we walked back towards the visitor centre, a male Marsh Harrier flew in over the road and dropped down into the reedbed. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew past, and as they got closer we could hear their yelping calls. Probably more birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

We had stayed rather longer than intended at Cley this afternoon, with all the excitement over the Pectoral Sandpiper. We still had just about enough time to call in quickly at Stiffkey on the way back, but as we drove west we could see dark clouds and when we got there it was raining. We decided to save that for another day, and try our luck elsewhere.

As we drove up to the church, the usual perches where the Peregrine likes to stand were empty, but then we noticed it a little further along, on the stone ledge. We got out of the car and set the scopes up and were treated to close up views of it. It was looking around, checking out the traffic passing below and the people walking through the churchyard, seemingly unphased by it all, blinking occasionally.

Peregrine

Peregrine – perched up on the church tower again today

It was a nice way to finish off what had been a great first day out. So much for the dire predictions of the Met Office! Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

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.

22nd July 2017 – Raptors & Waders

A single day Summer Tour today, we were looking for birds of prey in the morning and then heading to the coast afterwards. We were lucky with the weather – it was raining early this morning but stopped just as we got out of the car at our first stop, and then we avoided the showers until we got back to the car park at the end of the day!

As we drove to our first destination of the morning, a rather damp Kestrel was perched on some wires by the road in the drizzle. Thankfully we could see blue sky in the west heading our way. A Sparrowhawk zipped across the road and over the hedge the other side. A nice way to start our morning looking for raptors.

We stopped at the bottom of a farm track and walked up to a convenient vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. A pair of Grey Partridge flew off from the grass as we got out of the car. It was rather cool, not the perfect morning for birds of prey, but after the rain there was still lots of activity, with birds flying around and making the most of the dry weather.

A Common Buzzard was perched in a tree and another circled up over the wood. We saw a Sparrowhawk in the distance and, a little later, one appeared in the top of a dead bush in the hedge at the bottom of the field in front of us. A little while later, it circled up, alternating bouts of flapping with glides, turning in tight circles before heading off towards a nearby wood.

There were other birds besides the raptors. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the fields, gaining height gradually as it started to warm up. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling – a rare breeder in this part of the world these days. A sharp ‘kik’ call alerted us to a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead. A pair of Stock Doves flew over the field towards us, banking away sharply when they spotted us. A Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and several Skylarks started to sing and flutter up higher into the sky as the sun came out.

6O0A0904Skylark – fluttering up over the fields, singing

With our mission accomplished, we made our way back to the car and headed for Titchwell, which was to be our destination for the rest of the day. It was already late morning by the time we got there. We had a quick look round the overflow car park, although there were a few cars parking in there now. We could hear Bullfinches calling and flushed a couple of Greenfinches out of the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap came up from the brambles into a small elder, calling.

Round at the visitor centre, there were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders, as well as a Blue Tit and Great Tit or two. A Dunnock was hopping around underneath and a streaky juvenile Robin was enjoying the crumbs around the picnic tables. A juvenile Moorhen was eyeing up the birdtable but couldn’t work up the courage to jump up onto it.

6O0A0915Robin – this juvenile was looking for crumbs around the picnic tables

We decided to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. As we walked round past Fen Hide, a Hobby flashed past over the reeds and disappeared round behind the trees, the first of several sightings we would get of it today.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today, in particular a good number of Common Pochard. The drake dabbling ducks are all in their drab eclipse plumage now, but we could see there were just Mallard and Gadwall here. There was a single Egyptian Goose too. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebes were swimming around the edge of the reeds and there were several Little Grebes too – an adult diving in the pondweed at the back and two drabber juveniles along the bank at the front.

There was quite a bit of juvenile Marsh Harrier action, with several birds flying around over the reeds or chasing each other up over the trees. We got good views of a couple of perched birds which gave us a chance to look at some of the variation in head pattern. One juvenile had a more classic head pattern, with golden orange crown and throat, separated by a dark mask. Another had an almost all chocolate brown head, with just a patch of golden feathers on the back of its crown.

6O0A0925Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, all dark with a golden yellow-orange head

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back, stopping briefly by the dragonfly pool. A Southern Hawker was flying around over the reeds. It looked odd at first, bright rusty orange, until we realised it had caught a butterfly and was in the process of eating it, discarding the wings when it was finished. There were several Common Darter here too.

A young Blackcap, with a rusty brown crown, came up out of the reeds and flew up into the edge of the trees. There were a couple of Reed Warblers in here too and we got nice views of one of them when it flew back into some brambles and started climbing around in the top, looking for insects.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed out to explore the rest of the reserve. As we walked down the main path, we heard a Bearded Tit calling nearby and just caught the back end of it as it dived into the reeds. It didn’t reappear, but thankfully we would see several more today. The reedbed pool held a few Mallard, with a single Tufted Duck diving in between them. An adult Great Crested Grebe was sleeping on the edge of the reeds at the back.

Another Hobby shot across the reeds and headed out over the saltmarsh, flushing a variety of birds out of the vegetation. A flock of about 15 Curlew appeared from nowhere and flew round before dropping back into the purple sea lavendar out of view.

As we walked up towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling and we saw a couple of long-tailed birds zipping over the reeds before dropping down out of view. Thankfully, some of this year’s juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing very well in recent weeks on the edge of the reeds just before the hide, so rather than try to see them in the thicker part of the reedbed, we made our way along to the edge of the freshmarsh.

Sure enough, there were the Bearded Tits. We stood and watched them for a while. We could see at least five tawny coloured juveniles, climbing around the base of the reeds and occasionally hopping out onto the mud in full view. It is great to see them like this and we had some cracking views of them, especially through the scope.

6O0A0955Bearded Tit – at least 5 juveniles were showing very well on the edge of the reeds

There was one other bird we really wanted to make sure we saw here today so, after watching the Bearded Tits for a while, we made our way straight round to the other side of Island Hide. The adult Pectoral Sandpiper was in its usual place, on the mud right below the path. It has been delighting visitors with fantastic close up views here for several days now and we were not disappointed.

Pectoral Sandpiper is an occasional visitor here. They breed in the arctic in eastern Siberia and North America, with most of the population wintering in South America, so this one was a long way from home. Pectoral Sandpipers are small waders, not much bigger than Dunlin, with a heavily streaked breast sharply divided from a white belly, the curved border between which is the pectoral band from which it gets its name.

6O0A0636Pectoral Sandpiper – showing extremely well on the mud by Island Hide

While watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, it was difficult not to get distracted by all the other waders out on the freshmarsh at the moment. It may be summer to us, but it is already autumn for many waders. They have already come back from their arctic breeding areas and gathering here to moult or feed up before continuing further south.

There were several Ruff feeding close to the bank. The males have already lost their distinctive ruffs which they have in breeding plumage and are in the process of moulting their body plumage, losing their bright and gaudy colours. At this stage, they come in a truly bewildering variety of different colours, a major source of confusion to the unaware.

6O0A11076O0A08426O0A0844Ruff – moulting out of breeding plumage, in a huge variety of different colours

In with them were a couple of female Ruff, also traditionally known as ‘Reeves‘. They are much smaller than the males and not as brightly coloured, meaning yet more potential confusion!

A line of Bar-tailed Godwits, roosting on the freshmarsh while high tide covers the beach where they typically feed, were mostly in grey winter plumage, although two summer males in with them were still bright rusty red. There were several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, feeding in the deeper water at the back or sleeping on the islands.

There were other waders dropping in here all the time, birds on the move, just arriving back from the continent. A Whimbrel dropped in amongst a flock of Oystercatchers on the edge of one of the islands, stopping to bathe and preen before disappearing again. A small group of six Golden Plovers flew in and landed briefly, before carrying on west.

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported earlier, but we couldn’t find it in with the small flocks of Dunlin on here. Then a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull flew in and started flying round over the scrape, flushing all the waders, the Avocets being particularly jumpy, taking to the air at the slightest hint of danger and swirling round in a big flock. There have been close to 500 Avocets on the freshmarsh in recent days, both birds which have bred here and others which have come here to moult.

6O0A1001Avocets – swirling round in a huge flock at the slightest hint of danger

As things settled down again, it was clear all the Dunlin had flown off. The Spotted Redshanks settled back down though, and the more we looked, the more we found. There were at least five here today, probably more. They are all moulting adults, all already having lost much of their black summer plumage, with some mottled and one already almost in silvery grey winter plumage. A few Common Redshanks were out the other side of Parrinder Hide.

6O0A1156Spotted Redshank – moulting out of its black summer plumage

A small group of Turnstone flew in, presumably pushed off the beach by the rising tide. A couple were still in pristine breeding plumage, stunning birds with white faces and bright chestnut feathers in their upperparts. A lone Common Sandpiper on the tern island was another migrant on its way south, but the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers had probably been raised on site here.

The Spoonbills were hiding around the far edge of the small overgrown island at the back of the freshmarsh at first. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! We could see 4-5 large white shapes. When the gull buzzed the freshmarsh and spooked all the waders, the Spoonbills woke up and shuffled to the edge of the island. We could now see there were actually eight of them.

IMG_6365Spoonbills – at least 8 were sleeping round the back of the small island

There were Spoonbills coming and going too. First, one flew in from Thornham saltmarsh but continued straight on past the freshmarsh. Then another flew in from the same direction, but this one circled round and dropped down onto the edge of the island with the others. Then two of the group took off and flew straight towards us, passing over our heads before continuing on towards Thornham Harbour. They were immatures, with black wing tips still.

6O0A1028Spoonbill – these two flew off over our heads and out towards Thornham Harbour

There are lots of gulls and terns on the freshmarsh too at the moment. Lots of Black-headed Gulls have bred here and there were numerous brown-backed juveniles sitting around on the islands. Occasionally, they would find one of their parents and start hounding them for food, begging. Typical teenagers! About nine pairs of Mediterranean Gulls have bred here this year, in with the Black-headed Gulls. There are several juvenile Mediterranean Gulls around at the moment, very smart and distinctive birds with their scalloped upperparts.

IMG_6453Mediterranean Gull – a smart juvenile, just starting to get a few fresh grey feathers

There have been a few Little Gulls around the freshmarsh for some time now. Eventually we found two of them today, one rather more uniform pale grey above, the other with quite extensive black in the wings and a darker head. Both were first summer birds. There were several Common Terns around the islands too.

We could see dark clouds building to the south, so we decided to make a quick dash for the beach.The tide was already covering the mussel beds when we got there and there were no waders left on the sand. There were lots of white shapes flying back and forth or diving offshore – Sandwich Terns. A smaller tern patrolling back and forth just the beach was a Little Tern. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, but there was no sign of any Arctic Skuas now. We had one eye on the weather and, at this stage, we decided discretion was the better part and bade a quick getaway, back to Parrinder Hide.

As it was, the rain passed to the west of us and we got no rain at Titchwell at this stage. It was woryhwhile coming into the hide anyway. Many of the birds were the same as those we had seen earlier from the main path. However, we were just commenting on how there were no Dunlin here now, when three small waders flew in together. Two of them were Dunlin, but the third was larger and flashed a white rump as it landed. It was a very smart adult summer Curlew Sandpiper, still with mostly rusty chestnut underparts. It started feeding, working its way in and out of the Bar-tailed Godwits, wading in up to its belly in the water.

IMG_6421Curlew Sandpiper – dropped in to the freshmarsh with two Dunlin

We looked back along the near edge, out to the east of Parrinder Hide and were thrilled to see a single Common Snipe. Unfortunately it didn’t stay put for long, but was chased by one of the local Moorhen. The Snipe flicked up but quickly landed again, adopting a threat posture, bowing down and lifting its tail to flash to its aggressor. Pretty quickly, something spooked it and it flew off.

It was time to head back now anyway, but with more dark clouds approaching from the south, we could see it was raining beyond. We walked briskly back to the car, encountering just a small amount of light drizzle before we got back, just in time. It started to rain properly as we loaded up the car, and we then drove into torrential rain. But it didn’t matter now, at the end of the day. Overall, we had been very lucky with the weather – it had been a great day, with some great birds.

7th Oct 2016 – Arrivals from the East, Part 1

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. With the wind in the east, it felt like there should be some interesting birds about today. It was cloudy and cool, but the wind had dropped from recent days and we had no more than a few spots of rain.

Our main destination for today was Titchwell. We arrived in the car park to be told by one of the volunteers that the Red-breasted Flycatcher which had been seen yesterday was still present and had just been seen in the picnic area, but had moved through towards the access road. We joined him round on the road, but there was no sign of it there, so headed round to the picnic area instead. There were a few people gathered there and we could just hear the Red-breasted Flycatcher calling, but it was deep in the trees and flew across back towards the access road!

Back out on the tarmac, we could hear the much Red-breasted Flycatcher better and worked out where it was in the trees. It was not visible from where we were, so we walked round the other way via the visitor centre to the path known as bug alley. We could hear it calling all the time here and eventually it appeared in the trees right above our heads. Most of the group got a good look at it here, but it was hard to get onto at times, high up in the trees. We followed it back towards the picnic area. After a wait while it went deeper into the trees towards the car park, it came out and showed much better for us.

6o0a3249Red-breasted Flycatcher – the best shot from today, without much light in the trees

That was a great way to start to the day – and worth the extra effort to find it. We set off to explore the rest of the reserve, stopping briefly to scan the feeders by the visitor centre, which had a few Long-tailed Tits and finches. Out on the main path, in the trees, a Brambling gave its wheezy call from high above us. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler called too and we managed to get a quick glimpse of it before it dropped out the back.

There was very little to see on the still dry grazing meadow ‘pool’, but we stopped to watch a couple of Marsh Harriers. As one quartered over the reeds at the back, we spotted a second perched in a bush nearby. It too took off and the two of them flew round for a time, before the second bird landed again. This time we got a good look at it in the scope – all dark brown apart from an orangey-yellow head, a juvenile.

6o0a3251Marsh Harrier – one of two hunting over the reeds on the Thornham side

The reedbed pool held a single Little Grebe, right at the back with a Shoveler, and several Mallard. While we were standing there scanning, a small snipe flew straight towards us from the direction of the freshmarsh and as it passed we could see that it was a Jack Snipe. It dropped down on the grazing marsh ‘pool’ but only a minute or so later we picked it up again as it flew back past us to the freshmarsh.

A particular request today was whether we might be able to see a Bearded Tit. Walking past the reedbed, we heard a couple calling and just saw the back end of them as they flew low and fast across the reeds, before dropping back in. We stood on the bank just before Island Hide, scanning the freshmarsh and heard more Bearded Tits calling – again, we saw them zipping across over the reeds, fairly typical views of Bearded Tits.

Then three Bearded Tits flew towards us and landed in the reeds not far from the bank. This time, they climbed up into the tops of the reeds and started to feed on the heads – a couple of browner females at first, then a stunning male. The next thing we knew, another seven Bearded Tits flew over towards us in a single flock, calling, and dropped down with the ones we were watching. We didn’t know where to look, they seemed to be everywhere, and at one point had at least three males perched up together. Cracking stuff!

6o0a3287Bearded Tit – great views from the main path today

Scanning the freshmarsh from the path, we could see lots of ducks – mainly Teal, but good numbers of Wigeon and Shoveler too now. More Wigeon were flying in from the saltmarsh in small flocks, and one little group of ducks flying in turned out to be a single Wigeon with three Pintail, as they came overhead. We could see lots of Brent Geese out on the mudflats in Thornham Harbour and an occasional group flew in and landed on the freshmarsh too.

There was a nice selection of waders too. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping out in the middle. We had seen a couple of flocks of Golden Plover flying in as we walked out, and they were now gathered on the islands. There are still a few Avocets here, but numbers have dropped sharply now as most of the birds have moved south for the winter. Right at the back, against the reeds, two pale looking waders were Spotted Redshanks, in their silvery-grey and white winter plumage.

A Little Stint was picking around on the edge of one of the grassy spits, but was a little distant until it helpfully flew in and landed much closer to us. Even better, it had a Dunlin for company – which allowed us to see just how small the Little Stint was by comparison. It was a juvenile, stopping off here on its way south from the arctic tundra to Africa for the winter. There were several little groups of Dunlin out on the islands and a single Ringed Plover on here too.

The Pectoral Sandpiper and Jack Snipe had both been seen on the weedy mud just beyond Island Hide earlier, but we couldn’t find them there on the walk out. We did have great views of a couple of Common Snipe feeding down amongst the vegetation just below us.

6o0a3292Common Snipe – feeding just below the main path

We could not see any sign of the Curlew Sandpipers on the freshmarsh and when we got to the junction for the path to Parrinder Hide we found out why – they were on the Volunteer Marsh! We had a nice view of them feeding out on the mud, looking back towards Parrinder. There were a couple of Grey Plover and a Curlew out there too.

Round at Parrinder Hide, there was no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper in its usual favoured spot here either when we arrived. We had a good scan of the freshmarsh from here, which produced several Knot with the flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and three Ruff dropped in nearby too. From this side, we could see there were actually two Little Stints.  A Black-tailed Godwit was feeding right in front of the hide, giving us the opportunity to look at the differences from the Bar-taileds.

6o0a3353Black-tailed Godwit – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Meadow Pipits out on the grassy islands and a single Rock Pipit was with them – slightly larger and darker, with oilier brown and plainer upperparts. When all the waders took off and whirled round over the scrape, we saw a young Peregrine disappearing off inland over the reedbed.

We had almost given up hope of seeing the Pectoral Sandpiper from here, when it flew in and landed on the muddy edge of the island in front of us. It didn’t seem to like being out in the open, and ran quickly along the shore, across the water, and into the reeds below the bank. It looked like that might be it, but after a couple of minutes we could see it creeping furtively about in the vegetation and it gradually made its way closer and into full view, where we could get a great look at it through the scope.

pectoral-sandpiper-titchwellPectoral Sandpiper – here’s a photo of it from a few days ago

Breeding in North America and also just over the Bering Strait in NE Siberia, it is always interesting to speculate whether Pectoral Sandpipers which turn up here have come across the North Atlantic or across from Russia.

After all the excitement of the morning so far, time was getting on now, so we decided to have a quick walk out to the beach. However, there were still more distractions on the way. First, we had a quick look at a Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh, on the edge of channel by the path. A little further back was a nice close Bar-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone was preening on the edge of the mud. A Greenshank flew in calling and landed with a Common Redshank in one of the pools.

6o0a3396Bar-tailed Godwit – this one was feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

As we stood watching the Turnstone, one of the group spotted a small bird on the path just ahead of us. It was a Wheatear, possibly a new arrival fresh in from the continent, as it looked absolutely exhausted. It hopped along the path towards us, occasionally darting into the grass. Thankfully it appeared to be finding food. Then two people walked past us along the path and flushed it out onto the Volunteer Marsh.

6o0a3424Wheatear – an exhausted migrant on the path

A Little Egret was fishing it its usual spot, where the water flows out of the channel. The three Curlew Sandpipers were now over here too, at the further side of the Volunteer Marsh, close to the main path. We stopped to have another look at them and they came closer and closer until they were right below us on the mud. It was nice to see them so well. All juveniles, one still had a brighter orangey wash across the breast then the other two, which were more faded. Having been raised this summer way over in arctic Central Siberia, like the Little Stints they have stopped off here to feed on their way south to Africa for the winter.

6o0a3531Curlew Sandpiper – three juveniles were on the Volunteer Marsh today

Moving swiftly on, a Kingfisher called and shot low across the water as we got to the tidal pools. Thankfully it landed on the edge of the small island over the far side and we got a good look at it in the scope. A little group of Knot were roosting on one of the spits.

As we arrived at the beach, we heard someone pointing out a Slavonian Grebe on the sea and quickly got the scope onto it. Thankfully it was not very far offshore and it was possible to see it even with binoculars, between dives. An unexpected but very nice bonus! A little further along we picked up a much bigger Great Crested Grebe too. A single Common Scoter was further out and harder to see in the choppy sea and three dark ducks further west, towards Thornham, turned out to be Eider when we got them in the scope.

The tide was out now and there were quite a few waders down on the shore. We could hear as well as see all the Oystercatchers, which were piping away. Several very pale grey/white winter Sanderling were running around on the beach, in with some more larger and greyer Knot.

We were already late for lunch, but as we hurried back we were distracted again. Just before we got to Island Hide, a small crowd was gathered on the path. They had been watching the Jack Snipe but we arrived just in time to see it disappear into the vegetation. We did see the Pectoral Sandpiper again, which had returned to this side now, and a Water Rail which appeared briefly out of the vegetation where the Jack Snipe had gone. Then it was back to the car for a rather later than planned but very well-deserved lunch.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent back at Wells Woods. As we walked into the trees, we could see the birches were alive with Goldcrests, 3-4 to a tree, everywhere we looked. In with them, we found a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps too. And there were lots of Robins. The vast majority of them presumably migrants, stopping off on their way south or come here for the winter.

On the edge of the Dell, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. We followed the sound and had a quick glimpse of it in the top of some sallows before it flitted away out of view. We carried on in the direction where we thought it had gone and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling further still ahead of us, which we assumed initially was the same one. We made our way through the trees to the meadow, where we thought we might be able to see it, but got distracted by a pipit which flew out of the birches and straight back into the trees, landing high up in a birch out of view. As we tried to get a better look at it, it flew again, calling this time – it was just a Meadow Pipit.

When we heard calling again, the Yellow-browed Warbler appeared to have gone back to where we first saw it. It was only when we got back there ourselves, that we realised there were two. This time, we could see the first Yellow-browed Warbler flitting around in the tops of the sallows and birches. It was hard to see in amongst the leaves at times, but most of the group got to see most of it!

We walked on round, out of the Dell and back onto the main path. As we approached the corner, we could see lots of thrushes in the hawthorns and brambles ahead. Something must have spooked them, because suddenly about fifty more flew up from the field beyond the reeds and joined them in the bushes. We could see they were mostly Redwings, together with a smaller number of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds.

6o0a3539Redwing – 50+ were in the field and bushes on the south edge of the woods

Continuing on a little further along the path, we cut through the bushes, flushing thrushes left and right as we did so, until we found a gap in the hedge from where we could see the grassy field beyond. The Redwings were all returning to the ground to feed – it was amazing to watch them coating the field, spread out over the grass. They had probably arrived overnight, or during the day, and were refuelling here before continuing on south. It was a nice way to end the day, in the woods surrounded by autumn migrants of various shapes and sizes.

9th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 3

The last day of a three day Private Tour, we were back on the North Norfolk coast today. It was another lovely warm, sunny day, with only a little cloud at times this afternoon, but rather breezy all day.

This morning, we had decided to explore Holkham-Burnham Overy, looking for migrants. We parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive and made our way west on the inland side of the pines. A couple of Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in the bushes a short way in, but otherwise the trees were rather quiet on the walk out – perhaps not a great surprise, given the wind. We could hear tits calling from the pines and the occasional Goldcrest.

A single Little Grebe was diving continually on Salt’s Hole, but otherwise there were just a few Mallard on here. There were more ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. Most surprisingly, there were about a dozen Pintail on here today. They were trying to sleep but looked rather nervous – possibly new arrivals from the continent, which had pitched down onto the pool here after a long journey. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing marshes beyond.

Continuing westwards, we could hear Jays calling and one flew past along the edge of the trees. A Common Buzzard was soaring over the pines, mewing. An occasional Chiffchaff called from the bushes, but it wasn’t until we got almost to the west end of the pines that we managed to see one or two with a flock of tits. At least the dragonflies were enjoying the weather – particularly lots of Common Darters basking in the sunshine in the shelter of the path.

6o0a0620Common Darter – enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the path

Out in the dunes, we were even more exposed to the wind. A couple more Chiffchaffs flitted around in the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat flew over and dived into the cover of some brambles. We flushed a very pale Common Buzzard from the top of the dunes and as it flew away, we noticed a young Peregrine circling towards us – our first of the trip.

6o0a0624Peregrine – circled over the dunes

The middle of the dunes was more sheltered, so we walked out a short distance that way. Despite the protection from the wind, there were few birds in the scattered bushes here. We came across a couple of small groups of Stonechats but there was no sign of the big Meadow Pipit flock in the dunes here today – just a couple of birds flying over. Finally we found our first obvious migrant. A Wheatear perched on the fence as we rounded the corner, but it quickly flicked off and disappeared into the dunes.

Given the windy conditions out in the dunes, we decided to head back to the pines along the fence line. We were quickly rewarded with a party of three Whinchats in a small dune slack out of the wind. They flew to the brambles the other side of the fence and started to feed on the berries. One Whinchat then found a sheltered sunny perch on the edge of the bushes where it remained for some time, giving us great views through the scope.

img_6582Whinchat – found a sheltered perch out of the wind

There were few birds out on the grazing marshes, but we could see a few geese over beyond the pools behind Decoy Wood. Looking through the scope, we found a group of about 20 Pink-footed Geese feeding on their own in a patch of wet grassland. The first party of Pink-footed Geese returned from Iceland last weekend, here now for the winter. Despite the windy conditions, there were a few butterflies still out and about. Of note, we found Small Copper and a rather worn Brown Argus. A Common Lizard scuttled across the path.

6o0a0649Brown Argus – a rather worn individual

With the sun now warming the south side of the pines, there were more birds on the walk back. We came across several flocks of tits, particularly groups noisy of Long-tailed Tits, accompanied by Blue Tits and Coal Tits. In with them, we found several more Chiffchaffs and a couple of Treecreepers.

6o0a0654Long-tailed Tits – we met several groups on the walk back

The Pectoral Sandpiper which had been at Salthouse had not been seen for a couple of days, but a report came through yesterday afternoon that the bird had returned to its favourite area of muddy pools by the Iron Road. With news that it was still present this morning, we headed over that way next. There is limited parking here, so we left the car further along, in the village and walked back.

The Pectoral Sandpiper was on show as we walked up and, even better, was a lot closer than it had been earlier in the week. We were treated to some great views of it, right out on the open mud. Away from the reedy margin, it was rather nervous. It kept crouching down, scanning the sky above, and at one point it found a little notch in a muddy ridge to hide in.

img_6723

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img_6864Pectoral Sandpiper – showed very well today

There were not many other waders on here today, but there was a single Green Sandpiper on a small pool over towards the back. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Pectoral Sandpiper. On the walk back to the car, a Marsh Harrier flushed a flock of gulls from one of the pools on the grazing marshes, which circled up, together with a group of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff. A large party of Swallows flew low west over the reeds, though it was hard to tell for sure whether they were on their way or just feeding.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way round to the beach car park at Cley and scanned the sea while we ate. There was a steady trickle of Gannets passing by offshore and a single Sandwich Tern flew east. The local Black-headed Gulls had a disagreement over who had territorial rights to stand on the shingle next to us to beg for crumbs.

After lunch, we walked out to have a look at North Scrape. The water level has dropped quite a bit since we were here just a couple of days ago and it doesn’t look as good for waders here now. A Peregrine circling over may also have put them off. Given relatively few birds on here, we didn’t stop and headed round to the other side of the reserve instead.

Round at Teal Hide, we could see quite a few small waders out in the middle of the scrape. Chief amongst them were the Curlew Sandpipers, and we eventually managed to count 14 of them on here today, along with a few Dunlin and two juvenile Knot. A little party of Golden Plover was preening on one of the grassy islands. There has also been a notable increase in the number of Wigeon on here in recent days, as more birds return for the winter.

img_6906Curlew Sandpipers – hiding in amongst the Wigeon

Our main destination for the afternoon was Stiffkey Fen, so we didn’t have too long at Cley today. On the walk out to the Fen, we came across a mixed flock of tits in the hedgerow, once again accompanied by a few warblers – several Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. A couple of tatty Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered about the brambles.

From the path, we could just see a line of large white shapes out on the Fen, looking through the vegetation. There is a much better view from up on the seawall and here we could confirm that they were Spoonbills, twelve of them this afternoon. They were mostly asleep – typical Spoonbill behaviour! – but did wake up  from time to time, stretching their wings and flashing their long, spoon-shaped bills.

img_6911Spoonbills – twelve were at Stiffkey Fen this afternoon

Despite the fact that the tide was out in the harbour, the Fen was packed with waders. Possibly they were seeking shelter from the wind. There was a very large flock of Black-tailed Godwits spread out across the front and scanning through we could see several Ruff in with them. We could hear Greenshanks calling and see several flying around. A couple were standing with a large group of Redshank, roosting at the back, and more were sleeping along the grassy edge of the main island. A Common Sandpiper was picking around on the mud just in front of the Spoonbills and scanning the edges we found a couple of Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper.

There is a good selection of wildfowl on the Fen at the moment too, though the drakes are still mostly in their duller eclipse plumage at this time of year. We could see several Pintail here and, as at Cley, numbers of Wigeon are now increasing as bird return for the winter. A single Common Pochard diving in the deeper water was a nice addition to the weekend’s list.

As we walked round to the harbour, one of the Spoonbills flew over and disappeared out into the middle to feed. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing in the harbour channel and some sizeable groups of mixed large and small gulls preening and roosting out on the mud. Scanning through them, we managed to find a single Mediterranean Gull, a winter adult with white wing tips and black bandit mask.

There were lots of Oystercatchers and quite a few Curlew out on the mud, but not so many other waders today. Quite a few of them were obviously still on the Fen, but with the tide out many were probably tucked down in the channels. What was lacking in raw numbers was made up for in variety, as we managed to find a single Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A few Ringed Plovers popped up out of the channels into view. A couple of Turnstones were bathing down in the main channel.

There was another culprit which was probably disturbing the waders out here today. On one of the higher sandbars on the edge of the harbour, a lone Peregrine was standing, remarkably our third of the day. The area around it had not surprisingly been cleared of birds!

img_6920Peregrine – our third of the day, out in the harbour

It was lovely standing here, looking out over the harbour towards Blakeney Point in the afternoon sunshine, a nice spot to conclude three great days of autumn birding.