Tag Archives: Peregrine

7th Mar 2020 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 2

Day 2 of our three day Winter, Brecks & Goshawks tour today. It was rather cloudy and grey first thing, with some brief spits of rain which were not in the forecast. Thankfully it didn’t come to anything, and remained dry thereafter, with some sunny intervals developing from late morning. The wind was very light again first thing, but did pick up a bit through the day. We headed back down to the Brecks in the morning, but finished the day up in North Norfolk.

When we got down to the Brecks it was spitting with rain – not the weather we were hoping for to look for Woodlarks. We parked by a large clearing and as we got out of the minibus a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling. We looked across to the other side to see it perched in the top of a tree. A Green Woodpecker yaffled too. There were several birds feeding in the paddocks across the road – a small flock of Meadow Pipits, mixed finches, a couple of Mistle Thrush and a Redwing.

As we walked round the clearing, it was fairly quiet at first, with activity perhaps curtailed by the weather. Several Yellowhammers were flying in and out of the pines at the back, down into the clearing and back up, calling and singing. Two males spiralled up out of the tops of the trees fighting.

We saw something drop down into the grass in the far corner, so made our way over to see what we could find. We could hear a Woodlark singing quietly now, but couldn’t see it at first. It was down on the ground, hidden in the long grass. Then one flew up from further over, out in the middle of the clearing, and started singing. A second, possibly the one we had been listening to, also flew up and landed in the trees at the back, where we could get it in the scope.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – flew up and landed in the trees at the back of the clearing

There was quite a bit of Woodlark activity now, involving at least three birds. We watched the Woodlark in the tree at the back for a while, before it dropped back down into the grass. We managed to see it on the ground this time, and a second bird nearby calling was possibly a female. When another male flew in, the two of them chased each other back up into the trees. But apart from the first bit of song flight, the males were only singing from perches in the trees or down on the ground this morning.

Having enjoyed good views of the Woodlarks, we drove round to another forest track and walked up into the trees. We were looking for Willow Tit here and there were certainly lots of tits coming and going from the feeding table set up in the pines. We stood and watched for a while, but all the black capped tits we saw were dozens of Coal Tits and a good number too of Marsh Tits. A Nuthatch typically darted in, grabbed a seed, and was back off into the trees.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were dozens coming down to the feeding table

Then we heard a Willow Tit calling in the pines, a distinctive nasal scolding call. It was deep in at first, but gradually came closer each time we heard it again. Eventually it made its way to the edge of the trees and we managed to pick it out, feeding high in the pines. It seemed to be feeding on the cones. A second Willow Tit was still calling, deeper in. The first bird looked like it was making its way towards the feeding table, but it never dropped down and disappeared back into the trees behind. Both the Willow Tits then went quiet again.

The Willow Tits here are a small remnant population: the species has disappeared rapidly from large swathes of southern Britain in recent years and they are still just about clinging on here. They can be difficult to see in the dense coniferous plantations, spending much of their time up in the tops of the trees, so we had done well to get such prolonged views of one today. We decided to move on.

The weather was starting to brighten up and the wind seemed like it had picked up a little, so we headed over to see if we could find a Goshawk. We parked on a high point, overlooking the forest, where several other people had already gathered. While we were getting out of the minibus, someone came over to say there was a Goshawk perched in the top of a fir tree across the field in front. We got the scope straight on it, but unfortunately it dropped down before everyone could get a look and disappeared into the trees. Still, it was a good start.

With the brighter weather, there were lots of Common Buzzards circling up now, including a striking pale one. A Red Kite came up too, off in the distance. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long before another Goshawk appeared. It circled up above the trees, a male, grey above and pale whitish below. It was distant at first, drifting first one way, then back the other. Then it turned and headed straight towards us. It was not displaying today, but flying purposefully, with deep and powerful wingbeats interspersed with short glides. It headed away to our right slightly, crossing the road as we lost sight of it behind some trees.

Goshawk

Goshawk – a male, flew up out of the trees and in across the road

When all the Woodpigeons came out of the trees, this would normally mean a Goshawk was hunting, but this time a Peregrine appeared instead. It flew out low over the treetops, across the field and over the road. It followed the line of the shelter belt on the far side of the field beyond us, flushing all the pigeons from there too, before disappearing off over the trees behind us. A Sparrowhawk made a brief appearance too and a Kestrel hovering over the field behind us added to an excellent variety of raptors here this morning.

It was almost time for lunch now, but we figured we had time for one more quick stop first. We made our way deeper into the forest and parked at the head of another ride. As we walked in, we heard a Woodlark overhead and looked up to see it fluttering over the trees beside the path singing. It flew round past us and disappeared back over the road, beyond where we had parked.

We had just started to walk back to look for it when the Woodlark came back overhead singing again and dropped down into the clearing further down the track. So we turned round again and walked over to where it had seemed to go down. We were scanning the low vegetation when it walked out from behind a low bank right by the path, just a couple of metres from us. It took off but thankfully landed just a couple of metres further back, and we had a great view of it as it picked its way through the vegetation feeding, stopping on the top of a small clod of earth. Cracking views and a better photo opportunity than the ones we had seen earlier, for the photographers in the group.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – showed very well right beside the path

The Woodlark gradually made its way back into the long grass, so we headed back to the minibus and drove round to Brandon again for lunch and a welcome hot drink.

After lunch, we made our way north to Fincham. A Red Kite was hunting out over the fields as we drove down the road and found somewhere to park. As we got out, we could already see the Great Grey Shrike on the wires a little further up. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – showed well on the wires at Fincham

The Great Grey Shrike was very mobile, dropping down into the field to look for food, and then back up to the wires. It flew across to some bushes along the edge of the field further up, and spent some time hunting from there, then came back up onto the wires by the road. When it flew across the road and went further out across the field the other side we decided to move on.

We had managed to catch up with most of our main targets in the Brecks (and surrounding areas) now, so we decided to head up to the North Norfolk coast for the rest of the afternoon. The wintering Rough-legged Buzzard at Wells had gone AWOL for a couple of weeks but had then reappeared back in its usual bush a couple of days ago, as if nothing had happened. As we pulled up in the layby, we could see it on top of the aforementioned bush.

We got out of the minibus and got the scopes on it, noting the Rough-legged Buzzard‘s very pale head contrasting with a dark blackish-brown belly patch. Several Marsh Harriers were circling up beyond the bank and another Red Kite further back, more to add to the day’s raptor tally. There were lots of gulls on the flooded field in front of the layby, along with a few Redshanks, and a Linnet or two on the near edge.

We walked down the track where we could get a better view of the Rough-legged Buzzard, side on and not so obscured by branches, although we still couldn’t see its rough legs. A Common Buzzard drifted over the track behind us, a much darker bird altogether.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – back on its usual bush

Continuing on over the bank, we stopped to scan the marshes. There was a nice selection of waders out on the flooded grazing marsh beyond, several Ruff flying round with a flock of Dunlin, a single Curlew, lots of Lapwings and a few more Redshanks.

A large flock of Brent Geese kept flying in and out of the old pitch and putt over towards the harbour wall, coming over our heads chattering noisily. Looking through the Greylags out on the grass, we found a single Pink-footed Goose hunkered down behind a line of reeds. Another little group of Pinkfeet flew up calling further back. There was a nice selection of ducks here too, including Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler.

A pre-roost gathering of Pied Wagtails was down in the wet grass in front of the water, along with a single Meadow Pipit. A bigger flock of Meadow Pipits flew in along the bank. Four Brown Hares in the ploughed field the other side of the track chased each other round at one point and even engaged in a brief bout of boxing (it is March, after all!).

It was a nice place to finish the day, scanning the marshes here, but it was time to head back now. We would be spending the day tomorrow along the coast here too, with lots more to see yet.

11th Jan 2020 – Winter in Norfolk, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Winter Tour in Norfolk, and we would be heading down to the Broads today. We were blessed with another dry day, but it was very windy at times.

As we got down into the Broads, we started to see more Rooks in the fields. They are much commoner here than in North Norfolk. We passed a couple of Marsh Harriers hunting too. As we came into Ludham village, we decided to have a quick look down on St Benet’s Levels, just in case the swans were down there today. We found several Mute Swans but nothing else.

We were just leaving when one of the locals, who was counting them for the International Swan Census, very helpfully stopped to tell us that the swans were on Ludham Airfield this morning, just where we were heading next. He directed us to the south-eastern corner.

We drove straight over and could see the swans feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field. We found somewhere to park off the road and got out. It was a nice mixed herd, with both Whooper Swans and Bewick’s Swans together. It was good to see the two species side by side, the Whooper Swans noticeably bigger, with more extensive yellow on the bill extending down towards the tip in a wedge.

Bewicks and Whooper Swans

Whooper & Bewick’s Swans – a nice mixed herd on the old airfield

We counted 50 birds, of which 15 were Whoopers and the rest Bewick’s Swans. There were several Egyptian Geese in the field too, further back. It was open and exposed out on the old airfield, and the rather biting wind was cutting across, so after all having a good look at the swans, we moved on.

Our next stop was near Acle. As we drove up, we could already see several Common Cranes in the maize stubble. When we parked and got out, we could see a total of seven together in the nearest field, a group of four and a family of three still with their juvenile from last year. We got them in the scope and had a great view of them.

Cranes

Common Cranes – we counted 16 in the maize stubble today

There were at least three more Cranes further back, in the next field, beyond the reeds lining the ditch. Then another six flew up from further over. They only flew a short distance, before dropping back down out of view, but it was nice to see some in the air too. That meant at least sixteen Cranes in total.

There had been some geese down towards Great Yarmouth yesterday, on the grazing marshes along the Acle Straight. It was not far so we drove down to look, but there was no sign of any geese there today. Two temporary shooting butts, made of camo netting, had been erected in the middle of the field. Presumably someone had been shooting at the geese and they had moved on.

We called in at Halvergate on our way back. There was no sign of any geese down along the Branch Road, but we did find the lone Cattle Egret still with the cattle just before the village. We had a quick look at it, as it walked around between the cows.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret – on its own, with the cows just outside Halvergate

Our next stop was at Buckenham. The Taiga Bean Geese had not been reported for a few days, and we assumed they had gone already, but then there was a report of three again yesterday. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found lots of activity down along the railway line, lots of engineers in high viz coats doing works to the line. Unsurprisingly, there was no sign of any geese down along the edge of the grazing meadow closest to the railway line, which the Taigas generally favour.

There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out in the middle of the marshes, but they were keeping tucked down out of the wind, many sleeping. We could see more geese further up but we were looking into the sun from here, so we walked on up to the riverbank. There were plenty of Wigeon around the pools on the right of the track, but not the numbers there were in past years.

Wigeon

Wigeon – there were good numbers around the pools

It was very breezy out in the middle of the marshes, so we hurried on to the end. We managed to get out of the wind a little by the hide. There were lots of Lapwing out on the grass, and a few Ruff in with them. They were very jumpy in the wind, and kept flying up, whirling round, and dropping back down again. We couldn’t see any raptors over the grazing marsh itself, but we could see a Peregrine further back, hanging in the air around Cantley Beet Factory before landing on the ladder up one of the silos.

There were lots of Canada Geese out in the middle from here, feeding in and around the taller areas of rushes. A small number of White-fronted Geese was in with them. They are much smaller and were hard to see until they raised their heads. There were possibly more asleep we couldn’t quite see. A small group of Barnacle Geese were further back, mixed in with the Canadas.

We braved the wind and walked back, before driving round to Strumpshaw for lunch. There were a few Mallard and Gadwall on the pool in front of Reception Hide. While we ate, a succession of tits were coming and going at the feeders – Blue Tits and Great Tits, and a Coal Tit popped in a couple of times briefly. But there was no sign of any Marsh Tits today.

After lunch, we drove over to Ranworth. A female Ferruginous Duck had been there a few days ago and reported again earlier, so we thought we would take a look. As we walked out onto the staithe at Malthouse Broad, a single tame Pink-footed Goose was in with the Greylags on the green. It looked like it might have been injured in the past. The Ferruginous Duck was swimming around on Malthouse Broad when we got there, amazingly close, just off the Staithe, around the boats. A bit too close really! Ferruginous Ducks are very common in captivity and escapes are regular.

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck – appears to be a returning bird from 2017

More interestingly, we noticed that this bird bore a striking similarity to one seen here in exactly the same place in January 2017. It had a rather chunky and dark head, with a noticeably paler area around the bill base, in some respects resembling a female Baer’s Pochard. Looking at photos later, the bill pattern was a perfect match for the 2017 bird too. Where has it been since then? The bird from 2017 was accepted as a wild Ferruginous Duck by the British Birds Rarities Committee, so presumably this one will be too!

Otherwise, a Great Crested Grebe asleep with Tufted Ducks out in the middle of the Broad was an addition to the trip list. We walked round to Ranworth Broad, and out along the boardwalk. We hoping to maybe catch up with some redpoll or tits. A Siskin flew over calling, but otherwise the trees were very quiet, despite being more sheltered in here. We wondered whether the birds might be in the gardens, where there might be more food.

We walked on down to the end and scanned the Broad from the platform by the Visitor Centre. There were lots of Wigeon out on the water, and a good number of Shoveler in with them too. The Marsh Harriers were starting to gather over the back of the Broad – it was time for us to be making tracks, so we could get back over to Stubb Mill in time for the roost there.

As we got back to the road, we could hear a Marsh Tit calling from the garden of the house opposite. We scanned the hedge, but could only see a couple of Blue Tits and a Coal Tit. We walked on a few metres and heard it again. From here, we could see down the drive into the garden where lots of birds were coming to some feeders. The Marsh Tit flew in and dropped to the ground under the bird table, grabbing a seed before flying to the bare tree by the garden wall. It made several repeat visits, so we could all get to see it.

We were later than originally planned getting to Hickling Broad tonight, although given the wind we didn’t want to stop too long there, and the light was already going as we walked out to Stubb Mill. A flock of Redwings was in the paddock as we walked out, and although most flew back into the trees, a couple stayed put down on the grass where we could get a look at them.

Redwing

Redwing – we passed a flock in the paddock as we walked out

A couple of Marsh Harriers flew in past us as we walked out, heading in for the roost. When we arrived at the Watchpoint, we discovered we had just missed a couple of Cranes flying off. Looking out towards the ruined mill (windpump!), we could see several more Marsh Harriers up over the reeds, flying in and out of the bushes. We couldn’t see how many were already in, but we had a maximum of 10 or so in the air at any one time.

While we were watching the Marsh Harriers, a male Hen Harrier appeared in with them. We could see a ghostly grey shape with black wing tips, slimmer and smaller than the Marsh Harriers. The Hen Harrier flew back and forth several times, in and out of the trees and in front of the old mill, giving everyone a chance to get onto it.

A Great White Egret flew across over the back of the grazing marshes, heading towards the reserve, presumably going in to roost. We heard Cranes bugling behind us, presumably heading in to roost too over the trees, but we couldn’t see them where we were standing. Then two Cranes flew up from the grazing marshes and circled round, before dropping down into the reeds beyond.

The light was going now. The wind was picking up and with the cloud having thickened it felt like it might rain later. With a long drive back, we decided to call it a night. Still time for more tomorrow!

14th Nov 2019 – Rain to Shine

A Private Tour today, based in North Norfolk. It was a grey and wet morning, but the rain stopped in the afternoon and we had some glorious autumnal sunshine to end the day. The rain didn’t stop us though, and we saw some great birds.

We met in Wells. A Rough-legged Buzzard had taken up residence around the fields between the Beach Road and the west side of town over the last three days, so we thought we would start by looking for that. We had a quick drive up along Beach Road but there was no sign of it looking from there.

As we drove out of Wells towards Holkham, we spotted a raptor on the top of a hawthorn bush, but as we pulled up we could see it was just a Common Buzzard. But then we noticed something large which was hovering over the fields behind it – the Rough-legged Buzzard. We pulled into the car park and as it was not raining now we piled out. The Rough-legged Buzzard was still hovering, and we could see its dark belly contrasting with its very pale head, and its white tail with a wide black terminal band.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew over towards us, and landed on the top of a bush on the bank north of the car park. We walked up the track to the old sewage works for a closer look, flushing a second Common Buzzard from the trees as we did so, much darker than the Rough-legged. We got the scope on the Rough-legged Buzzard and had a great look at it.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – a juvenile, flew in and landed on a bush

There were lots of other birds here too. A covey of Grey Partridges was in the cover crop in the field next to the track, although they were hard to see. We managed to get one in the scope so we could see its orange face. Several Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch were in the bushes, and a flock of Linnets flew round over the field. A drake Pintail flew over.

It started to rain harder again now, so we walked back to the minibus, and drove west, along the coast road to Titchwell. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was working its way through the trees in the car park as we got out and on the walk to the Visitor Centre we stopped to watch a Goldcrest feeding low down in the sallows by the path. There were Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders and a Coal Tit popped in briefly.

Heading out along the main path, there was no sign of any Water Rail in the ditch today – even if the raindrops dripping off the trees into the water made it look like there might be something moving in the bottom. There were a couple of Little Egrets on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh and as we stopped to look we noticed some movement in the vegetation down near the front, a Water Pipit. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it flew and landed in some taller vegetation out of view and a minute or so later flew off.

There was a Marsh Harrier over the reedbed at the back of the old pool. As it flew out over the saltmarsh, it flushed several Curlews and Redshanks which flew up calling loudly. A Common Snipe flew out too – we could see its long bill as it circled round. The Reedbed Pool on the other side of the path produced a Tufted Duck in with the Mallards. A Cetti’s Warbler called in the reeds.

We continued on to Island Hide, where we could get out of the weather. There were lots of Golden Plovers roosting on the islands. They were surprisingly well camouflaged against the mud and low vegetation.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – roosting on the islands on the Freshmarsh

A few much smaller Dunlin were on the edges of the islands. A small flock of Knot flew in and started bathing in the shallow water, and when we got the scope on them, we could see a lone Ringed Plover on the island behind. Further back a long line of Avocets were mostly asleep, standing on one leg. Several Lapwings were on the low island, all facing into the rain with their backs to us.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Freshmarsh too – Wigeon, Teal, one or two Shoveler, and several Gadwall. Small groups of Brent Geese flew in and out from the saltmarsh where they were feeding.

The rain wasn’t too bad, so we carried on round to Parrinder Hide. One or two Reed Buntings were feeding in the vegetation below the path and flew up ahead of us, perching up in the reeds, flicking their tails agitatedly.

When we got into Parrinder Hide, there was another Water Pipit on the island in front. This time, we could get the scope on it and get a better view – white below with well-defined black streaks on the breast, well-marked pale supercilium and off-white wingbars.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding on one of the islands on the Freshmarsh

We were closer to the Golden Plover here and, despite the poor light, they looked noticeably golden-spangled on the upperparts. A single Grey Plover appeared on one of the islands behind, much more monochrome.

There were several Wigeon on the islands in front of the hide too – the drakes looking good now, mostly out of drab eclipse plumage, some still with remnants. A few Shelduck were now out with the Gadwall and Avocet in middle. On closer inspection, there was one Pintail with them too.

From round on the other side of Parrinder Hide, we had a look over Volunteer Marsh. There were lots more Wigeon and Teal out here, well hidden where they were feeding in the tall vegetation. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew in too. One or two Grey Plover were out on the mud and several Redshanks were in front of the hide along with a few smaller, dumpy Knot.

Knot

Knot – on the Volunteer Marsh in front of Parrinder Hide

Our hope was that the rain would stop early afternoon, so we went back to the Visitor Centre for an early lunch. Afterwards, we drove back west to Holkham. It was still raining when we arrived, but we could see brightness and blue sky to the south, which was hopefully heading our way.

As we parked on Lady Anne’s Drive, there were a small number of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadow either side – five on one side, two the other. Lots more geese flew in as we got our stuff together – Greylags with their deeper honking, and the Pinkfeet with their higher-pitched ‘ang-ang’ calls, which landed on the grass further back.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – there were some close ones on the grazing marshes at Holkham

Several Jays flew up and down over the trees and, as we walked up towards the pines, we noticed a covey of Grey Partridge out on the grass right behind the parking attendants’ hut.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – a covey was in the grass right next to Lady Anne’s Drive

As we made our way out along the edge of the saltmarsh, the sky started to brighten up. There were lots of Brent Geese out feeding in the saltmarsh vegetation and a large flock of Linnets whirled round before dropping back in.

As we got to the cordon at the east end, we saw first another group of Linnets fly up, and then we spotted the six Shorelarks taking off too. We didn’t see what had spooked them, but the Shorelarks flew past out over the dunes, and carried on west. Lots of Skylarks came up from the saltmarsh too now, and we watched them flying round together over the Gap, before the Shorelarks appeared to go down onto the beach over in that direction.

We decided to walk back west along the beach to look for them. As we made our way out past the cordon, we spotted another covey of Grey Partridges in the saltmarsh beyond the fence. A swan coming in over the beach caught the low sunlight, contrasting with the remains of the dark cloud behind – very evocative. It was a lone Whooper Swan, presumably freshly arrived over the sea, coming in for the winter most likely from Iceland, probably heading for the Ouse Washes.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – a single bird flew in over the beach

We stopped for a quick scan of the beach, and there looked to be lots going on. Big numbers of gulls and a line Cormorants out on the sand, Oystercatchers scattered between them and small groups of Sanderlings scuttling up and down the shoreline.

We could see a small group of Common Scoter on the sea just beyond the breakers, all pale-cheeked females or immatures. As a few more flew in to join them, we noticed one with white wing patches, a Velvet Scoter. It landed and we got it in the scope, a fraction bigger than the Common Scoters and with a very different face pattern, with two smaller pale spots.

There were five Red-breasted Mergansers just off beach too, and we had a great view of those through the scope. Several Great Crested Grebes were offshore, along with a single Red-throated Diver. Scanning away to the west, we picked up two Slavonian Grebes just offshore a bit further over.

Holkham beach

Holkham beach – when the sun eventually came out

Now the weather had brightened up, suddenly there were lots of people out for a walk, and lots of dogs running around on the sand. Looking back, we still couldn’t see the Shorelarks in cordon, so we walked west along the beach to see if we could find them over where they had landed earlier. A couple of people had just walked through the area and there was no sign now. We knew they regularly return to the cordon, so we walked back to have another look just in case.

When we got back, we found the Shorelarks were indeed back in the cordon, down at the eastern end. We had a quick look through the scope, and then walked round for a closer view. A Ringed Plover was on the saltmarsh ahead of us and a Rock Pipit flew in. It kept flying up and landing next to the Ringed Plover – for some reason it seemed to want to feed close to it.

The Shorelarks had moved out into the middle, and as we walked round to the path on the southern side of the saltmarsh we had a great view of them, their bright yellow faces shining in the low autumnal afternoon sunshine. Great birds!

Shorelark

Shorelark – there were six on the saltmarsh looking great in the afternoon sun

Mission accomplished, we walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese now out on Quarles Marsh, behind the Lookout cafe. A large flock of Egyptian Geese were down on the grazing marsh and as we stopped to look at them we noticed several Brown Hares nearby too.

We drove round to Stiffkey Greenway to finish the day. We were a bit later than planned, after running round after the Shorelarks, and the light was already starting to go. We had apparently already missed a Hen Harrier which had flown past before we arrived.

As we scanned over the saltmarsh, we did find a Merlin perched on a small bush. It was quite a way off, but we could see it in the scope. Someone else pointed out an even more distant Peregrine, perched on a post off on the edge of Blakeney Harbour. An owl was hunting way off out at East Hills, although we could only see it as it broke the skyline now. It looked like a Short-eared Owl, and this was confirmed later by someone who was watching from further west tonight.

More and more Little Egrets started flying past, in small groups, heading off to roost. The light was really going now. It had been a great day, but it was time to head for home.

 

 

2nd Feb 2019 – Looking for Owls & More

An Owl Tour today. There was a very hard frost overnight and it was cold all day today in a biting north wind. But we successfully managed to dodge the wintry showers and enjoyed a great day looking for owls and a lot more besides.

It was a slightly late start, by the time we had got everyone together, and a wintry shower passed over just as we were loading up, so we assumed any self-respecting Barn Owl would probably be into roost already. However, when we got down to the marshes, we were surprised to see a Barn Owl still out. It was a long way off though and we quickly lost sight of it behind the reeds.

Then a second Barn Owl appeared from behind the trees, a paler bird, the resident male. Rather than heading in to the box to roost, it too flew out to the far side of the marshes, hunting. We could still see it from time to time as it appeared up over the reeds. We walked up to position ourselves, with a good view of the box, hoping it would come back over to our side.

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the reeds now. A small flock of Brent Geese flew past, and a lone Pink-footed Goose came high overhead calling. We could hear the whistling of their wings as a pair of Mute Swans flew over too. Several Curlews came up from the grass and a Brown Hare ran across.

The male Barn Owl perched on a post out in the middle at one point, where we could get it in the scope, but it was still rather distant. Then eventually it turned to come back. It flew very differently now, purposefully, higher over the reeds, no longer hunting. We thought it might head for the box where it had been roosting earlier in the winter, but it flew straight over it, and made a beeline for the trees. It disappeared in, presumably heading for a different roosting spot.

We could see dark clouds approaching – perhaps the Barn Owl had seen them too – so we made our way back to the van.  As we drove inland to look for Little Owls, the shower passed away behind us and the skies brightened up a little. At the first barns we stopped at, we couldn’t see any owls today. Perhaps it was just too cold and windy? At the second place we checked, we also drew a blank. Then at our third stop, we were more lucky. In the distance, we could just make out two round shapes on the roof of a barn. Through the scope, we could see they were Little Owls. A long way off, but a good start.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew right past us as we were looking at a couple of Little Owls

Everyone was just taking it in turns to look at the Little Owls through the scope, when we noticed a Barn Owl flying towards us along the verge beside the road. It turned and worked its way round the tall grass on the edge of the concrete pad where we had stopped, pausing to hover for a second before continuing round and disappearing off down the road the other side. Seemingly oblivious to us standing there enjoying great views of it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – hunting the grass verge by the road

A couple of Brown Hares in the neighbouring field looked like they might be about to box, but thought better of it and one ran off alone. The Little Owls were still on the roof, so we thought we would try to get a bit closer, walking up along the path which leads towards the barns.

A flock of Fieldfares was hopping around in a grassy field beside the track, in amongst the molehills, along with several Lapwings. A Kestrel flew across and landed on a telegraph post, finding a sheltered spot out of the wind behind the transformer.

Fieldfare

Fieldfares – a flock was feeding in the short grass

The Barn Owl suddenly reappeared ahead of us, coming up from the long grass the other side of the track, and flew round behind us and disappeared away over the road. We flushed a small flock of Yellowhammers too, which flew off calling.

Half way up the track, we stopped for a better view of the Little Owls. The two were perched together on the roof, in the lee of the cowl where they would be out of the wind, enjoying the view. When we got up to the far end of the path, one of the Little Owls had already gone back in already. The second turned to look at us, but seemed unconcerned by our presence, as we were still some way off. It resumed staring off into the distance, but then a gas gun bird scarer went off in the field next door and it was off, disappearing in under the cowl further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – sheltering from the wind, on the roof

A couple of Red-legged Partridges were on the roof too, sheltering in the lee of the ridge. It was certainly cold out in the wind, so having enjoyed great views of the Little Owls we decided to head back to the warmth of the van. It was nice to spend a bit of time driving to warm up, as we made our way further inland.

A Tawny Owl has been roosting in a tree and perching up in the morning sun, but we weren’t sure whether it would be out in the cold today. As we walked in to the trees, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and we looked over to see it flying across. A Nuthatch was working its way up the trunk of a tree in front of us. A Coal Tit was singing – even though it didn’t feel particularly like spring today.

Looking up into the tree where the Tawny Owl likes to roost, we could see it was there this morning, despite the wind which we could see ruffling its feathers. It seemed particularly unconcerned, perched there with its eyes closed in the mouth of the hole in the trunk. We had a great close up view of it through the scope.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – perched up in the hole opening, despite the cold windy weather

We stood and watched the Tawny Owl for a while and then, with threatening dark clouds away to the west, we headed back to the van. We avoided the snow falling, but it was lying thick on the road as we made our way west. The main road was closed at one point for an accident, so we had to make a short diversion.

Eventually, we made it up to the Wash. There were several Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks on the first pit, as we made our way in. Three Little Grebes were swimming together.

Up on the sea wall, the tide was out. Still, there were quite a few waders closer in today. We stopped to look at them, several Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Redshank, with little flocks of Dunlin whirling round. A Bar-tailed Godwit flew past. There were a lot more waders way off in the distance, over towards the water’s edge. A line of Teal was roosting on the mud on the bank of one of the channels, and Shelduck were scattered liberally all over.

There were more Dunlin on the mud in front of Rotary Hide, and when we stopped to look we noticed a much smaller wader with them. It was a Little Stint, the same bird we had found exactly here just over a week ago. It was good to compare it side by side with the Dunlin, the Little Stint having a noticeably shorter bill as well as being smaller.

Little Stint and Dunlin

Little Stint – feeding with the Dunlin in front of Rotary Hide

As we made our way over the causeway, we stopped to admire a small group of Wigeon on one of the shingle islands on the pits. There were several Greylag Geese here too, showing off their orange carrot bills. We stopped to admire a small group of Gadwall too, through they were too far off to really appreciate the finer detail of their feather patterns. A drake Goldeneye was diving out in middle, the green gloss to its head shining in the sunshine.

What we were really here to look for was a Short-eared Owl. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long to find one, hiding under a bramble bush. It was mostly asleep but looked round at one point, showing us its yellow eyes. A little further on, a second Short-eared Owl was better hidden in the brambles but we could just make out its outline.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two in the brambles again today

Mission accomplished, we headed back to the van to warm up. On our way out, we noticed a Guillemot on the crossbank.  It flapped and clambered away from us over the grass. This is not where you would expect a Guillemot to be – it should be out on the sea – which suggested that it might not be well. Thankfully, we bumped into a member of RSPB staff on our way, so mentioned it to them.

Guillemot

Guillemot – on the bank above the Pits

There were more dark clouds to the north as we got back to the main road, and we made our way through a heavy wintry shower, sleet first then snow, as we drove round to Titchwell. Thankfully the snow cleared quickly through before we got there, and we were able to enjoy a late lunch and a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we kept an eye on the feeders, where a succession of finches and tits came in and out.

A Barn Owl was hunting the field just beyond, which we could see through the trees. After lunch, we thought we would check if it was in the paddocks. While the group were using the facilities back in the car park, we found the Woodcock under the sallows nearby. Unfortunately by the time everyone was back, it had disappeared again.

We left it in peace for a few minutes while we had a quick look at paddocks, with no sign of the owl, and by the time we came back the Woodcock was out again. We watched it walking round between the moss covered trunks probing its long bill into the leaf litter looking for worms.

Woodcock

Woodcock – eventually showed well in the leaves under the sallows

We walked back down past the Visitor Centre to the main path, but there was no sign of the Barn Owl now on Thornham grazing marshes either. We did get great views of a bonus Water Rail, feeding in one of the ditches. It kept hiding under some logs which had been places across the water as a bridge, but eventually came out and showed itself very well to us.

Water Rail

Water Rail – great views in the ditch by the main path

As we made our way back east along the coast road, we were surprised once again that there were no Barn Owls out hunting in any of their regular sites. It was prime time for them now too. Perhaps they are still not hungry enough, finding too much food during the night that they do not need to come out in daylight at the moment.

As we drove past one of the churches, we noticed a shape perched high up on a ledge on the tower. We found somewhere convenient to stop and got out for a closer look. It was the Peregrine back again. The feathers of its underparts looked damp and matted and it was busy preening, tidying itself up. It has been very erratic in the last few months and this is the first time we have seen it here this year, so another bonus to catch it today. It was a great close up view through the scope.

Peregrine

Peregrine – on the church tower again, busy preening

Having stopped for the Peregrine, we were a bit later than planned arriving at our last destination for the day. We drove round via the far end of the water meadows and scanned from the van as we passed, but there was no sign of any Barn Owls here. We parked up at the top end and walked down to scan, but there was no sign of the regular female Barn Owl from here either. Had it gone off to hunt further afield already or had it gone back into the box, out of the wind?

The meadows the other side of the trees would be more sheltered from the wind we figured so we turned to head off to check there. As we did so, the Barn Owl flew in up the meadow behind us. Thankfully, we turned round just in time to catch it, but it flew straight into the box.

We stood and waited, to see if it would reappear. Two Common Buzzards circled over the trees on the hillside behind us. A Green Woodpecker flew across the meadow and we heard a Cetti’s Warbler calling from the rushes.

Several skeins of Greylag Geese came over in noisy flocks, heading off towards the coast to roost. As one flock came towards us, we noticed ten smaller geese with them. As they turned, we could see they were Russian White-fronted Geese, an unexpected surprise to see them here. They had possibly been displaced from somewhere by the recent cold weather.

Suddenly the Barn Owl reappeared, climbing out onto the platform on the front of the box. We watched through the scope as it perched there, dozing, seemingly working up the energy to head off hunting again. It heard something in the grass below and instantly woke up, staring down at the ground, before going back to dozing.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – eventually reappeared on the front of the box

Finally, the Barn Owl stretched and then dropped off the platform. We watched it hunting, flying round over the meadow, occasionally hovering or dropping down into the grass. We didn’t see it catch anything this evening, before it disappeared away behind the trees.

While we were watching the Barn Owl, we heard a Tawny Owl hoot in the trees behind us. It was getting time for it to emerge from its roost, so we made our way in and positioned ourselves overlooking its favoured ivy-covered tree. It hooted again, and then dropped from the tree.

Unfortunately there was a bit of disturbance in the woods today, and it shot straight out and away into the wood before everyone could get a look at it. Not to worry, we had enjoyed such good views of one earlier and it was suitably evocative to just hear it hooting in the woods at dusk. It was getting dark now and the temperature was dropping again, so we headed for home.

27th Oct 2018 – Autumn Weekend, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was a wet and windy day, with a cold and gusty northerly bringing squally showers in off the North Sea. Perfect seawatching weather – but we had a few other things we wanted to try to do today as well.

With seawatching in mind, we made our way over to Sheringham first thing. It was a big tide this morning and with the strong north wind, the waves were crashing over the prom. It meant we couldn’t get along the prom to the shelter, so we had to drive round to the other side, and it also meant there were already a lot of people taking shelter here. We managed to find a spot out of the wind and settled in to scan the sea.

It was immediately clear there was a lot of wildfowl moving this morning, birds arriving from the continent, coming in over the North Sea to spend the winter here. We saw a steady stream of flocks of Wigeon and Teal flying past, mostly low over the waves. A couple of groups of Common Scoter coming past further out, and then some flew through with a group of Teal, providing a nice size and colour contrast.

The Brent Geese are arriving for the winter too at the moment, flying in short lines, and there were a small number of Shelducks, sometimes mixed in with them. Two Goldeneye flying past were the wildfowl highlight.

There was a steady movement of commoner seabirds passing by this morning too – mostly Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillemots, blown inshore by the wind. Two dark juvenile Arctic Skuas came through reasonably close and disappeared off east. A single Manx Shearwater was too far out for everyone to get onto. A Great Northern Diver flew west, typically flying strongly well above the waves, despite the wind. But there was no sign of any Pomarine Skuas or Little Auks while we were watching, which we had thought we might see this morning.

There are always a small number of Purple Sandpipers along the shoreline here through the winter and a much larger number of Turnstones. The Turnstones will often run along the prom but the Purple Sandpipers are normally down on the rocks below. However, the crashing waves were obviously too much even for the hardy Purple Sandpiper today, and a couple of times it was pushed up onto the prom in front of us. When it flew back down onto the rocks, we had a good look at it over the railings.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – on the rocks just below the Prom

We only spent an hour seawatching this morning, then with other things we wanted to try to see, we decided to move on. As we drove west along the coast road, we could see a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a stubble field. We found somewhere to pull in and would down the windows. The geese nearest us flew up and settled again towards the back of the field, out of view, but it was clear we couldn’t get out of the car without flushing the rest of the flock. We could still see quite a few geese from the car, but most of them were hidden now in a dip in the field.

There were several Red-legged Partridges feeding in the stubble too, and we heard Skylarks calling as we opened the windows. A couple of smart Yellowhammers perched in the hedge nearby, calling..

Continuing on to Salthouse, we parked by the duck pond. As we got out of the car, a Woodcock shot past. It felt like it might almost have crashed into us, but veered round, over the road and into the gardens beyond. Another bird arriving from the winter, possibly from as far away as Russia, presumably fresh in and looking for somewhere sheltered to rest. Several Black-tailed Godwits were standing around in the pools behind the duck pond.

There has been an ‘Eastern’ Stonechat here for the last week or so, which we were keen to see. As we walked down along the track, we could see quite a crowd gathered already, but they didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular, mostly standing around chatting. Apparently the Stonechat had not been seen for the last 15 minutes – it was clearly keeping down out of the wind today.

We walked up to where it had last been seen and scanned the edge of the grazing marsh, but couldn’t see any sign of it. Then we walked back to where it had been favouring in previous days, out from one of the field gates. It wasn’t out there either, but scanning back along the reedy ditch which runs beside the path, we spotted the Stonechat down in the vegetation.

It was obviously more sheltered down in the ditch but you could only see the Stonechat looking back from the gate and it kept disappearing into the reeds. When it did finally venture out onto the edge of the grazing marsh where it was more visible, a Sparrowhawk promptly appeared just beyond it, flying out low over the grass. The Stonechat sensibly dived back into the reeds, but then went made its way further back along the ditch away from us, where we couldn’t see it.

About half the group had managed to see the Stonechat, but there was a big crowd by the gate so not everyone had got onto it. Climbing up onto the top of the bank, we walked along level with where it had been. After a few minutes scanning, we spotted it again out in the middle of the grazing marsh this time.

The Stonechat was well camouflaged against the dead sedges, shades of orange and brown. But the wind seemed to have dropped, and it became more active, perching up on the top of the vegetation like a good Stonechat should! Finally, we all got nice views of it through the scope.

Stejneger's Stonechat

‘Eastern’ Stonechat – this photo taken yesterday, hopefully DNA will confirm its identity

‘Eastern’ Stonechat is the name currently being used for a group of species, including Siberian and Stejneger’s Stonechats, both of which can turn up here. It used to be much simpler, as they were all lumped together under the title ‘Siberian’, but DNA analysis has shown Stejneger’s to be distinct from Siberian and it is now treated as a full species in its own right. Unfortunately, our ability to identify these birds in the field has not kept up with the pace of taxonomic change driven by genetics!

The Salthouse Stonechat appears to be a Stejneger’s Stonechat – at least it looks similar to Stejneger’s Stonechats which have been confirmed by DNA testing recently. Hopefully, DNA has been collected and will be able to confirm it’s identity. If it is not Stejneger’s, then it will be back to the drawing board with the ID criteria!

Either way, it is an interesting and well travelled bird. ‘Eastern’ Stonechats breed across Russia to Japan and China, mostly wintering on the Indian subcontinent, with the range of Stejneger’s being further east than Siberian.

Once we had all enjoyed good views of the Stonechat, we drove on to Cley and stopped at the Visitor’s Centre for an early lunch. There were lots of birds on the scrapes and, with the wind having dropped a bit, we could even eat at the picnic tables overlooking the reserve.

A Marsh Harrier drifted across the scrapes, causing a mass panic, flushing  lots of Black-tailed Godwit and Wigeon. Thankfully, as it drifted off, the birds all seemed to settle back down. Two Lesser Redpoll flew over calling and eight Golden Plover circled over. The surprise here was a Gannet circling over the fields behind the Visitor Centre, presumably blown inland on the wind.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled over the scrapes, flushing everything

After lunch, we could see black clouds approaching from the north, so we decided to head out to the hides, where we could get some shelter. As we walked along the Skirts path, a Spoonbill flew past over the reserve. Most of the Spoonbills which spent the summer here have departed now, with many of them heading down to Poole Harbour for the winter. There are only one or two still lingering on, so it was nice to see one today. It circled over the scrapes and looked like it might land, but then continue on east.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew east as we walked out to the hides

By the time we got out to Dauke’s Hide and looked out, we were surprised by the comparative lack of birds, particularly compared to the masses we had seen when we were eating lunch. Talking to one of the volunteers in the hide, it seems the Marsh Harriers had made several more passes over the scrapes and eventually succeeded in scaring off most of the birds. We could still see a couple of Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbed in the distance.

There were still a few waders left. A couple of little groups of Dunlin were picking around on the muddy edges of the islands. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water. The Lapwing were mostly asleep on the grass and a lone Avocet was standing in the water behind one of the islands. Like the Spoonbills, most of the Avocets have gone south now for the winter, but a very small number always try to remain as long as it doesn’t get too cold. A Common Snipe dropped in at back, but quickly disappeared into grass.

Avocet

Avocet – just the one left at Cley now

There were still a few ducks left on the scrapes too, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shelduck. The Black-headed Gulls were joined by a couple of Common Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull was asleep on one of the grassy islands. The Spoonbill came back west and headed off towards Blakeney Harbour.

While we were in the hide, it started to rain, so we stayed in the dry until it eventually eased. Then we headed back to the car, and drove round to the East Bank car park. As we got a short distance up the bank, it started to sleet, so heads down, we walked quickly up to the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh.

The forecast was for heavy showers, but the weather seemed to set in for a while now. There was lots of water already on Arnold’s Marsh, which was good for the ducks, presumably with many coming over here when they were flushed from the scrapes. There were lots of Wigeon and Teal again, but with a few Shoveler here too. Scanning through carefully, we found a female Pintail and four Gadwall in with them. A group of Brent Geese dropped in, possibly fresh arrivals stopping for a rest. With the high water levels, the Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the tall vegetation around the edges.

We had been told about two Snow Buntings feeding at the end of the bank, by the beach. When the rain finally eased again, we walked up to look for them but as we arrived we could see two walkers had just come up off the beach and gone right through the area. There was no sign of any Snow Buntings, presumably having been flushed.

We set off east along the grassy part of the old shingle ridge, but there was no sign of them along here. When we got back to the East Bank,  the Snow Buntings flew up from the shingle ahead of us, presumably having flown back in. They landed back on the north end of the path just a few metres ahead of us and we had nice views of them as they fed on amongst the stones, picking around the clusters of vegetation. They were looking a bit bedraggled, but we were probably too!

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – out on the beach, looking a bit bedraggled

While we were watching the Snow Buntings, we noticed a large dark bird drifting west right past us, with the gulls over the beach. It was a Pomarine Skua. We watched it as it hung in the wind – we could see it was heavy, bulky, especially compared the Arctic Skuas we had seen earlier. It landed on the beach and we could just about see it in the scope from here through the sea spray, so we walked over for a closer look.

After we had all had a good look at the Pomarine Skua in the scope, it took off and flew further west again. It looked like it went down towards the beach car park, so we  decided to head back to the car and drive round there to see if we could find it again.

As we walked back along the East Bank, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a small skein coming in from the east. They came in overhead and dropped down towards the reserve. Four Marsh Harriers were already gathering to roost out over the reeds.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Geese – flying in to the reserve, late afternoon

By the time we got round to the beach car park at Cley, the Pomarine Skua had taken off and gone further west again. Looking out to sea, there were still lots of Kittiwakes & and Gannets pouring past. Lines of Brent Geese were still moving west offshore too.

We were just about to leave when someone seawatching there shouted that there were two Little Auks on the sea. They were in the surf just offshore, drifting west towards us, but despite being close they were still hard to see in the crashing waves. We managed to get the scope on them, and you could see them as they rode up the face of the waves.

They seemed to swim a bit further out and we lost sight of the Little Auks. Then we noticed a Great Black-backed Gull drop down into the breakers, followed by three more. When they came up again, one of them was carrying a Little Auk in its bill! We didn’t see what happened to the second one, but Little Auks are always vulnerable when they are blown in by gales. They breed in the Arctic and spend the rest of their lives far out at sea, away from predators like gulls. They are often exhausted when they are close inshore and easy pickings for the gulls.

That was a fairly gruesome end to our seawatching today – nature red in tooth and claw! We still had one more stop to make on our way back. With the blustery wind and rain, the Peregrine was in its usual spot on the sheltered side of the church tower, tucked in an alcove between the stone pillars. We stopped and had a nice look at it through the scope.

Peregrine

Peregrine – tucked in out of the wind, on the south side of the tower

We had done well today, despite the wind and rain. The weather forecast is a bit better for tomorrow, so let’s see what the wind had brought us!

14th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

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

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

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

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

Wheatear

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

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

Snow Bunting

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

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

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

Gannet

Gannet – several dark grey juveniles were among those flying past

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

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

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

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

Jack Snipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kingfisher

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

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

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

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

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile with 10 Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Gull

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

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

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

Peregrine

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

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

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

Crossbill

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

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

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

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

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

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

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

Waders 1

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

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

Waders 2

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

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

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

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

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

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

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

Waders 5

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

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

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

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

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

Greenshank

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

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

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

Spotted Redshank

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

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

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

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

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

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

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

Red-crested Pochard

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

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

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

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

Avocet

Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

Common Redshank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

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

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

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