Tag Archives: Pied Flycatcher

8th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. The wind had dropped after yesterday and after a cloudy start, there were lots of bright sunny intervals and it even warmed up nicely by the afternoon.

With a light easterly wind over southern Norway overnight, and northerlies still to bring birds in to the North Norfolk coast, we thought it worth a look to see if we could find any drift migrants carried across the North Sea. We headed down to Wells Woods first thing. There were several Little Grebes out on the boating lake as we walked in along the track. It sounded like they were laughing at us – did they know something we didn’t?

A Chiffchaff flitted ahead of us and perched in the top of a hawthorn and a Blackcap was hopping around in a dense patch of brambles, feeding on the berries. But both were more likely local birds than migrants. As we walked into the birches it seemed rather quiet, there were just a few Coal Tits calling from the trees. We walked round the Dell, hoping to run into one of the tit flocks, but there was nothing here.We stopped to watch a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers high in the pines.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – we stopped to watch a pair high in the pines

So we changed tack and walked across the main track to check out the bushes the other side. There were a couple of Greenfinches in the trees, a Jay appeared briefly in a pine and a couple of Muntjacs were out on the grazing marshes beyond. Not what we were hoping to find. As we walked back through the birches, we heard the yelping calls of a flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over behind us.

We walked back along the main track but thought we would cut through round the east side of the Dell just in case we could find a tit flock here. There were just a couple of Chiffchaff and Blackcap calling at first, but when we got back to the birches by the toilet block we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. Suddenly we were surrounded by so many birds, we didn’t know where to look!

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the tit flock

As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue and Great Tits and several Coal Tits, feeding actively in the trees all around us. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around in the branches of the big old pine tree above us and higher up, a Treecreeper worked its way up the trunk. A Green Woodpecker called and flew past through the tops.

There were warblers with them, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Then we caught a glimpse of a different warbler high up in one of the birch trees. It was greenish above with a yellow wash on its throat, and plain faced, lacking the distinct supercilium of the Chiffchaffs, with rather a beady dark eye as a result. It was a bit bigger too, and moved more heavily through the foliage.

The warbler kept disappearing into the leaves and a couple of times we thought it had possibly moved off, before it reappeared again. Gradually, over several minutes, we built up a composite picture of it. It had a distinct pale panel in the secondaries when we could see its wings and, viewed from underneath, it seemed to have a rather broad bill with an bright orange base. It was obviously one of the Hippolais warblers, with Icterine Warbler far and away the most likely here, particularly given the conditions. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to tell apart from the very similar Melodious Warbler and we just couldn’t the primary projection, the clinching identification criteria.

As the tit flock moved back through the trees away from us, the warbler did finally disappear. We thought it might have gone with the tits, so we set off after them. It was hard to see the birds deep in the birches but eventually the flock came out onto the edge of the main track. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the warbler with them. Frustrating!

Rather than waste the whole day trying to find it again, we decided to move on and drove round to Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, a large flock of Pink-footed Geese was circling round over the grazing marshes and as we got out they whiffled down and disappeared from view.

We made our way west along the track on the inland side of the pines and it wasn’t far before we found another tit flock. We had good views of another Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the pines, but we couldn’t see anything different in with them before they disappeared into the trees. Carrying on, there were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole and a Kestrel hovering over the grazing marshes beyond.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – in the sycamores behind Washington Hide

We walked up the boardwalk behind Washington Hide. This can be a good area for migrants, but the only bird we could find in the sycamores was a single Chiffchaff. There was more activity on the pool in front of the hide – as we walked round on the boardwalk we spotted a Great White Egret standing on the post in the middle of the pool, preening. We got the scope on it and had a look, admiring its long, dagger-shaped yellow orange bill, as a Grey Heron walked past below for a good size comparison. Then it was pushed off by a Cormorant which decided it was a good place to dry its wings.

Great White Egret 1

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

There were three other large white birds around the edges of the pool, which were three Spoonbills. We watched as they worked their way in and out of the reeds, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallows.

Carrying on along the path, we headed for Joe Jordan hide. The trees behind Meals House were very quiet too – it seemed like we might be out of luck trying to find any migrants here. Then just before we got to the crosstracks, we heard the distinctive call of a Pied Flycatcher in the trees. It flicked across the path in front of us into a large oak tree, where we managed to get a few glimpses of it. Then it disappeared out the back.

We walked slowly along the track, and could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling again in a large hawthorn beside the path ahead of us. Just as we tried to position ourselves to see it, a second Pied Flycatcher flicked up in the small oak right beside us. It shot across the path but when we tried to follow it, we lost track of it. Then we turned round and it was back in the small oak tree again. We were in a better position now and we stood back and had a great view of it when it flicked out and landed on the outside of the tree.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – eventually flicked out onto the outside of the oak

We could still hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from deeper in the trees, and then the second bird appeared in the small oak too. But when we looked at it, it wasn’t calling and the sound was still coming from further back. There were actually at least three here! Pied Flycatchers are migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia south for the winter. There had obviously been a small fall of them on the coast today.

We had a quick look out at the grazing marshes from up in Joe Jordan Hide. We could see lots of Pink-footed Geese down in the grass from here. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and circled out over the grass. It flushed a big flock of Meadow Pipits which circled up above it, determined to keep it below them where they could see it! A Common Buzzard was perched on the scaffold tower out in the middle and a Kestrel flew across in front of the hide with something in its talons.

We decided to set off back, so we wouldn’t be too late for lunch. With the sun out, it was very warm now out of the wind in the lee of the trees. There were lots of dragonflies – Common and Ruddy Darters which flushed from the bushes by the track as we passed, and clouds of Migrant Hawkers zipping back and forth on the edge of the trees.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker – there were lots out along the track in the sun today

After lunch back at the Lookout Cafe, we set off back east. We were aiming to finish the day at Stiffkey, but we still had a little extra time available so we called in at Wells again. We had stopped to check out the pools here on our first morning, but had not managed to look around the bushes as it started to rain, so we thought we would try again now.

As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret working its way along the back edge of the pools on the left of the track, our second of the day. We had a look at it in the scope, before it disappeared from view behind the vegetation. A Green Sandpiper, a Common Redshank and two Common Snipe were on the pools this side too.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – on the pools at Wells this afternoon

We set off down the track. There were a few more Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Egyptian Geese today, presumably more birds arriving back from Iceland, but no sign of any Barnacles. There had apparently been some Pintail here this morning, but despite scanning through the ducks carefully, we couldn’t find any. There was no sign of the Garganey either, but lots of the ducks were asleep in the grass at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the pools and more Ruff today. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was wheeling round over the stubble field beyond, but we couldn’t see why. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was feeding on the mud with five Dunlin, a bit distant in the heat haze but nice to see one to keep up our unbroken record across each of the three days! We could hear Greenshank calling and when we got to the far side, we looked back to see four on the mud behind the vegetation along the far edge.

As we got to the bushes beyond the pools, we could hear a soft tacking call, more of a ‘tsk’ than a hard ‘tack’, and as we turned to watch a Lesser Whitethroat came out of the leaves and started to feed on the blackberries. It was grey-brown on the back, with a soft grey head, slightly darker mask and bright white throat and underparts.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – feeding on the blackberries

As we carried on round through the bushes, we found at least two more Lesser Whitethroats. A Common Whitethroat flew across and landed on the top of some low brambles briefly and we heard one or two Blackcaps calling, a distinctly harder ‘tack’ than the Lesser Whitethroat. There were Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches in the bushes too, as well as a few Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer which flew off towards the fields beyond.

Our last stop was at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path between the hedges on the verge is too overgrown to walk down, so we had to make our way carefully along the road today, until we got to the footpath down by the river. A cacophony of shooting started up over the fields inland – with the close season now, presumably it was some sort of clay pigeon shooting event. There were a few House Martins still circling round the house on the hill, but there was not much to see in the bushes along the path this afternoon.

As we got to the point where the brambles are low enough to see over the Fen, we realised something was wrong. The islands were half empty, and the geese were walking nervously away from the side nearest the road, honking. Five duck flew up and disappeared off, three Pintail leading, followed by a pair of Wigeon. There should have been around 35 Spoonbills on here, but we could only see two.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were only two left on the Fen after all the shooting

From up on the seawall, we could see that the noise of all the shooting had scared almost everything off. We could still see the two Spoonbills in with all the Greylags, but there were no ducks at all. The island at the back, closest to the noise and which is normally packed with roosting birds, was completely empty. There were very few waders on the Fen either – just three Greenshank (joined briefly by a fourth) and much fewer Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Ruff than normal. We did manage to find a single Green Sandpiper along the far shore. All in all, very disappointing.

We decided to walk round to the harbour. There were still a few people and boats around, enjoying the sunshine, but there was a lot less disturbance here than last week. The Spoonbills were out on the saltmarsh. They were rather distant and hard to count, with some hidden in the vegetation and quite a bit of heat haze now, but we could see at least 25 here. The two which were left on the Fen flew overhead and out to join the others. Numbers have already started to drop in the last few days, and it won’t be long now before they have left us, heading down to the south coast for the winter.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – the two flew out to join the others in the harbour

It was just after high tide, and there were lots of gulls roosting on the mud on the edge of the harbour. In with them, we found a few waders – several Ringed Plovers, a few Black-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone. A flock of Redshank flew in and landed in the shallow water behind them. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans was in the water further along and on the sandbank beyond them we could see more waders – a large roost of Oystercatchers, lots of godwits and a few Grey Plover, still sporting their summer black faces and bellies.

The surprise of the afternoon was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver swimming in the harbour, just off one of the spits of mud out in front of us. Presumably it had come into the harbour to get away from the choppy sea in all the wind yesterday. Its red throat was hard to see, but we could see its grey head, dark back and uptilted bill.

When a little flock of small waders shot across over the harbour, we looked up to see a distant falcon heading straight in towards us. It was clearly in a long stoop, coming very fast, but we couldn’t make out what it was at first, head on. When it got almost to the near shore, it changed its angle and dropped quickly down. It turned sharply and we watched as it chased after a small wader which had taken off from the mud and was trying to fly away over the water. It was now clear what it was, a Hobby. The wader quickly got away, and the Hobby circled up over the water and drifted in towards us, before flying off west.

Hobby

Hobby – came in over the harbour after the waders

It was great to watch the Hobby in action and a lovely way to wrap up what had been an exciting three days of Autumn birding in Norfolk.

28th Aug 2019 – Intro to UK Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour for a guest from Hong Kong, along the North Norfolk coast looking for a good selection of both our commoner breeding birds and any more interesting species we might come across. We were also trying to get photographs of as many of the birds as possible too. It was a cloudy start, even with a few early spits of drizzle first thing, but it brightened up through the morning and was warm and sunny again by the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Wells Woods – we hoped to have a quick look round before the car park got too busy, although with the cloudier weather it would not be as bad as it was over the bank holiday weekend. As we drove down the Beach Road, we noticed some partridges feeding on the mini railway track so we pulled up to look at them. They were Grey Partridges, a small family party, and we watched them for a few minutes as they fed on the short grass alongside the railway.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – we stopped to watch a family party feeding by the mini railway

Having parked in the beach car park, we set off down the track into the woods. We stopped briefly by the boating lake where there were several Little Grebes out on the water, including an adult with a rather noisy juvenile begging to be fed over by the reeds. A lone Tufted Duck out in the middle was a rather dull eclipse drake with grey flanks.

As we walked into the birches, we could hear Jays calling, and we looked up to see one flying through the trees. There seemed to be a pair and we followed them for a few minutes, until a couple of dog walkers came through and they flew off into the woods. A Wren was singing in the bushes and proved more obliging.

We quickly found a flock of Long-tailed Tits, and stopping to look through them we found Coal, Blue and Great Tits with them. A Garden Warbler appeared in the flock too, in the top of a dense sallow, but stayed mostly well hidden in the leaves. We watched a Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the trees. As the flock moved on towards the main path, out into the open, we had good views of a couple of Goldcrests too, before all the birds moved up into the top of the pines.

A little further on, we found another flock. As well as tits, there were a couple of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs here. In the trees just beyond, we heard a Pied Flycatcher calling and saw it make a quick sally out of the dense sallows, but it disappeared straight back in and was lost to view. It seemed to calling from the back of the trees now, so we walked round to the other side.

The flock seemed to have moved on, and we thought the flycatcher had disappeared too. We had a look round, and scanned the trees, then suddenly the Pied Flycatcher appeared again on the front of the same sallow. It kept disappearing into the dense foliage, but came out into the open a couple of times, and perched nicely where we could see it. After following it for a while, we realised there was more than one and triangulating the calls there were actually at least three of them. Pied Flycatchers are just passage migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia to Africa for the winter.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – a migrant, stopping off on its way south from Scandinavia

When we got back to the car park, it was already filling up fast. We decided to move on, and drove west along the coast to Titchwell.  A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way through the trees in the car park as we headed out onto the reserve. It was the Titchwell weekly ‘moth morning’, so we had a quick look at this morning’s haul from the moth traps, including an ever popular Poplar Hawkmoth at one end of the size scale, and a couple of tiny micro moths too.

We made our way out along Fen Trail first, stopping to listen to a Cetti’s Warbler shouting at us from the bushes behind Fen Hide. It remained very well hidden, deep in the undergrowth as they usually like to do.

There were plenty of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed, several Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard, lots of Mallard and Gadwall and a single eclipse drake Wigeon, but no sign of the Garganey which had been reported there earlier. A Little Grebe was diving on the edge of the reeds right down in front of the screen.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – diving down at the front of Patsy’s Reedbed

The Autumn Trail is open at this time of year, so we continued right round to the back of the Freshmarsh. The Spoonbills often like the back where the water is deeper, but today they were across the other side, asleep on one of the islands closer to the main path, three of them. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they remained hidden down in the reeds.

A young Water Rail appeared on the far side of the mud in front of the viewpoint. It was picking its way in and out of the reeds in typical fashion at first, but then started to walk across to the near side. It was rather nervous out in the middle on the open mud, started running, and then flew across into the reeds on our side out of view.

Water Rail

Water Rail – ran out across the open mud looking nervous

It was time for lunch now, and as we walked back towards the ‘tank road’, we looked up to see two Common Buzzards circling over in the sunshine. Back by the visitor centre, a Chaffinch was on the feeders and a Dunnock was looking for scraps below.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circled over as we walked back for lunch

We made good use of the picnic tables in the picnic area for lunch. Just a couple of years ago, Willow Emerald damselflies were unknown here but the pace of colonisation has accelerated and they now seem to be doing well. While we were eating, we saw several around the sallows here.

Willow Emerald

Willow Emerald damselfly – a recent colonist, expanding fast

Across yesterday and this morning, we had already heard several Robins calling or singing, but they can be remarkably elusive at this time of year. As we walked back from the minibus after lunch, we finally got a good look at one in the trees by the car park, singing.

We made our way out along the main path next, to explore the rest of the reserve. Another Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes on the edge of the reedbed by the path, and this time we could just make it out in the leaves as it moved through the sallows. We stopped for a quick look at the reedbed pool, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret which had been on here earlier, just a couple of drake Common Pochard now.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were lots of waders on the Freshmarsh so we went down into Island Hide to look through them. One Avocet was feeding right outside the hide, but there were lots more further out, over towards the back.

There were lots of Ruff and Lapwing on the mud too, but with the water level low at the moment they were mostly not so close today. One Lapwing was feeding on the drier mud right outside the hide, the iridescent plumage of its upperparts shining green, bronze and purple in the sunshine.

Lapwing

Lapwing – showing off its iridescent upperparts

A large flock of diminutive Dunlin was feeding busily in the water beyond the mud. Looking through them carefully, we found a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them, slightly larger, longer-billed, and cleaner white below than the spot-bellied juvenile Dunlin. Further back still, some large groups of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep. In amongst them were a few Knot, with one adult still partly in breeding plumage, orange below.

A single Common Snipe was asleep in the vegetation on the mud over towards the reeds, and further back, three Common Sandpipers were feeding on a small pool along the edge of the reedbed. Even though they were distant, through the scope we could see the distinctive notch of white between the grey breast and wings.

There was still one Spoonbill left on the small island, where we had seen the three earlier, distantly from the end of the Autumn Trail before lunch. It did wake up from time to time and flash its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was still one left from Island Hide in the afternoon

Somebody in the far side of the hide spotted a Great White Egret flying across over the reedbed and the next thing we knew there were two in the air together. They chased each other round, then came straight towards us, their long trailing legs, long rounded wings and slow, heavy wingbeats different from the commoner Little Egrets, as well as their long yellow-orange bills. One Great White Egret even landed briefly on the mud in front of the hide, but quickly took off again and chased after the other. They eventually dropped down out of view in the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – we watched two chasing round over the reeds

From up on the main path, with the water level low, we could see the mud was fairly dry and there was nothing in front of Parrinder Hide, so we continued straight out towards the beach. There were a few Common Redshanks on Volunteer Marsh, along with one or two Curlew. Two smart Grey Plover were rather distant, at the back of the channel at the far end, but we had a nice view of them in the scope, still in breeding plumage and sporting black faces and bellies.

The ‘Tidal’ Pools held more Common Redshanks and Curlew. Two (Ruddy) Turnstones flew in and landed on a small muddy island, where, in the absence of any stones, they started turning bits of dead vegetation over, looking for invertebrates underneath. A large mob of Oystercatchers was asleep on the big island, and several Ringed Plovers were out on the end of the spit nearby.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and had already covered the mussel beds, which is why the waders were all roosting on the pools. The sea looked fairly quiet, but we did pick out a few distant Sandwich Terns passing offshore, and three closer Common Terns, including one adult carrying a fish which glinted in the sunshine.

On the walk back past the Freshmarsh, we stopped to look through the gulls. There had been a report of a juvenile Caspian Gull here earlier, but all we could find now was an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull, a second calendar year, doing a passing impression of one. However, we did manage to dig out an immature Mediterranean Gull (again a second calendar year) in with all the Black-headed Gulls and an adult Yellow-legged Gull asleep on its own on one of the other islands.

On our way back east, we decided to take a roundabout route inland to try to add some more birds to the list. We were particularly hoping to find some raptors, and we quickly located two Common Buzzards and a juvenile Marsh Harrier in a stubble field. One of the Buzzards was feeding on something, the others waiting patiently to see if there would be anything left over.

Much of the journey subsequently was fairly quiet in the heat of the afternoon, but we eventually found a Kestrel, perched in the trees beside the road. We were almost back to Wells when we spotted a Red Kite over some trees. We had to find somewhere to pull in and a gap in the hedge, but then we stood and watched four Red Kites circling over a stubble field.

Red Kites

Red Kite – two of the four we found on our way back

It had been a very enjoyable two days out birding in Norfolk with over 100 species seen, and some good photo opportunities too, a great introduction to UK birds.

17th Apr 2018 – Bright & Breezy

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A day of general birdwatching on the coast, looking for spring migrants and some of our regular breeding birds. It was cloudy in the morning, then bright and sunny in the afternoon, but with a rather blustery wind all day.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, we had a quick look on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh, where a few Teal and Shoveler were mostly asleep. A Spoonbill flew over and disappeared off east towards Wells, presumably to feed out on the saltmarsh. Parking at the top, a couple of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass opposite.

It was already quite breezy, and the larger birds of prey seemed to be enjoying the updraft provided by the edge of the trees. We watched a Common Buzzard and a couple of Marsh Harriers circling up over the pines. Two Red Kites drifted past over the grazing marsh, the second in heavy wing moult with big gaps in both its wings.

Red Kite

Red Kite – moulting its wing feathers

As we made our way west along the path on the inland side of the pines, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, we quickly started to hear a few warblers singing – first a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap, then our first Willow Warbler of the day. They were hard to see in the wind though today and the tits seemed to be keeping mostly to the pines too.

At Salts Hole, a couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle and a single drake Teal was lurking under one of the overhanging trees. Another Spoonbill circled up from the marshes beyond and flew off towards the trees out in the middle. A Redpoll flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it.

When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, a Sedge Warbler was singing from somewhere in the reeds. We could see one of the wardens walking out across the marshes, doing a survey. Given the disturbance this would mean, we decided to walk straight on towards Joe Jordan Hide. A Lesser Whitethroat sang briefly from somewhere deep in the bushes just before the crosstracks and a Blackcap was more obliging, perching up nicely for us to look at it in the scope.

From up in the hide, we could see several Spoonbills down on the pool below. We got one of them in the scope and could see its yellow-tipped black bill, bushy nuchal crest and mustard wash on its breast, all singling it out as a breeding adult. We could see its spoon-shaped bill too.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – out on the pool below Joe Jordan Hide

The Spoonbills were coming and going from the trees beyond. We saw a couple of Little Egrets flying in and out too, which is good to see after they were hit so badly by the cold weather over the winter. A Grey Heron dropped into the trees too, but there was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets from here this morning.

An Egyptian Goose was standing on the grass right in front of the hide and took off as another flew past, flashing its boldly marked black and white wings. There were plenty of Greylag Geese out on the grass too and, after searching through them carefully, we found a couple of Pink-footed Geese in with them. Looking at the two species through the scope, side by side, the Pink-footed Geese were noticeably smaller and darker headed, with a more delicate dark bill with a pink band. A Barnacle Goose, presumably a feral bird from the Park, was with another group of Greylags further over.

There were more Marsh Harriers out here and at one point we watched as a female grappled talons with first one and then quickly afterwards a second male. She didn’t seem attached to either and both looked like aggressive encounters. A Kestrel which dropped down to perch on the grassy bank below the hide. A Muntjac out in the middle of the grazing marshes seemed completely unperturbed by a pair of Greylags noisily hissing and honking at it.

After a while, we headed on towards the dunes. When we got to the gate at the end of the pines, we saw the warden again walking out across the middle of the marshes. A Great White Egret flew up briefly, but then dropped back down out of view. A small group of geese flushed from over towards the seawall and flew round towards us – six more Pink-footed Geese. Three of them had obvious damage to their wing feathers, presumably enough to make make the journey back to Iceland difficult.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – another six flew round over Burnham Overy grazing marshes

Out into the dunes, the bushes beyond the fence were very quiet today. There was no obvious sign of any new migrants and we couldn’t find any Ring Ouzels either here today. It was rather exposed and windy here though. We continued on a little further and noticed a black bird on a bramble on the top of the dunes ahead of us. Through the scope, we confirmed that it was a Ring Ouzel.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this female was in the dunes today

The Ring Ouzel was a female, with a rather dull crescent on its breast, lacking the bright white one of a male. We could see its silvery edged wings too. We managed to get a little bit closer to it, but it was very flighty and eventually headed off over the dunes.

There were a few Linnets and a Meadow Pipit or two in the dunes, but no obvious sign of large numbers of birds moving. Then we heard a whistling call and looked up to see a Whimbrel flying over. We could see it was distinctly smaller and more streamlined than a Curlew, with a shorter bill.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to a Wheatear flying away ahead of us. It dropped down the other side of a grassy ridge and by walking round on to some higher ground we were able to get a good look at it in the scope. It looked to be a male Greenland Wheatear, large and long-winged, richly-coloured below and with brown tones in the grey mantle.

The Wheatear was very flighty too and suddenly shot off over the dunes. We found the female Ring Ouzel again, in a sheltered area in the dunes, but it also flew off before we could look at it properly. Time was getting on and we had a long walk back to the car, so we decided this was as far as we could go today. We turned to head back.

We had a walk back through the middle of the dunes, hoping we might find a male Ring Ouzel lurking somewhere, but it was quiet here. A couple of Swallows flew over us and disappeared off west. Scanning the grazing marshes from the top of the dunes, just before we got back to the pines, we finally got a better look at a Great White Egret. One was feeding in a ditch out on the marshes and through the scope we could see its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from the dunes

The walk back was fairly uneventful until we got to the crosstracks. We thought it might be worth a look along the path which heads into the trees to the north, as it can be a little more sheltered in here. We had just stopped to watch a pair of Long-tailed Tits collecting feathers when another bird popped out onto the edge of one of the trees in front of us.

It was a small warbler, with a bright lemon yellow supercilium and breast, contrasting white belly and moss green upperparts – a Wood Warbler! This is a very scarce spring migrant here, but unfortunately it dropped back into the trees before everyone could get onto it and we lost sight of it. Despite searching, we couldn’t find it again – it had probably gone back into the pines out of the wind.

Eventually we had to give up and continue on our walk back.  A Sedge Warbler singing from some brambles in the reeds just beyond Meals House was more obliging. We could see the blue sky approaching as we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, but it was very windy here so we decided to head over to Titchwell for lunch. On the way, we spotted a Grey Wagtail on the driveway by Burnham Overy Watermill. We stopped for a second to watch it and could see it was collecting nest material.

As we walked over to the picnic area from the car park at Titchwell, we could hear Redpolls calling and we could just make out one high in the pines with the Goldfinches. Thankfully, they then flew out of the pines and into the alders above the picnic area and we could see there were four Mealy Redpolls.

Mealy Redpoll

Mealy Redpoll – there were four around the picnic area at lunchtime

With the sun out and in the shelter of the trees, it was nice sitting in the picnic area. Several butterflies appreciated the improvement in the weather too, with Brimstone and Peacock both flying past. A female Blackcap appeared on the edge of the sallows, closely followed by a male, which proceeded to sing and feed in front of us.

After lunch, we headed over to the Visitor Centre. There were a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches around the feeders, and we quickly found a Brambling in the trees just behind. We watched for a while and at least three different Bramblings came in to feed.

Brambling

Brambling – one of three around the feeders

We made our way round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There had been a few different birds here earlier this morning, but there was very little to see now. A couple of Swallows flew across over our heads and carried on west, as did a Siskin and a couple of Linnets – a trickle of migrants moving. We had a look in the paddocks, but there was just one Pied Wagtail in here today. We made our way back round via Meadow Trail.

It was very blustery once we got onto the main path and out of the trees. We stopped to look at Thornham grazing marsh, but it was hard to keep the scope still. We couldn’t see the Little Ringed Plover which had been here earlier. A single Grey Plover was on the Lavendar Marsh Pool. There were a few Common Pochard on the reedbed pool and a Sedge Warbler singing from somewhere deep in the brambles in the reeds.

Island Hide provided a very welcome shelter from the wind. The water level on the freshmarsh is much better for waders now, but the whole area is completely dominated by the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls. We had heard a few Mediterranean Gulls on the walk out, and seen their pure white wingtips as they flew overhead, but now we got a chance to see the two species side by side on the water.

A Common Tern was hiding on the back of one of the islands, behind a big group of Black-tailed Godwits. It was hard to see at first, until it was chased out into the open by a gull. This is the first Common Tern we have seen back here this year.

Common Tern

Common Tern – the first one we have seen back here this year

The number of ducks on here continue to decline, as birds head back to the continent for the breeding season. There were still a few Teal around the edges and a couple of pairs of Shoveler. The Brent Geese kept flying in from the saltmarsh whenever they got spooked, sometimes staying for a bathe and a preen. They should be heading off back to Russia too soon.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – kept flying in to the Freshmarsh from the saltmarsh

There are quite a few Avocets on the freshmarsh now, busy feeding in the deeper water. A couple of little groups of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping on the islands or in the shallows. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits are moulting now, and starting to get the bright rusty orange head and breast of breeding plumage. There were a couple of Ruffs too – a paler male and one more heavily speckled with black.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty orange breeding plumage

Scanning the bank over the far side, we picked up a small group of 5-6 hirundines flying towards the reserve. They were Sand Martins and they gradually worked their way across the Freshmarsh and away to the west, the first we have seen this year.

We decided to brave the wind again and head out to the beach. There was not much to see on Volunteer Marsh until we got to the channel at the far side. Here there were a couple more Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshanks and one or two Curlew. Down in the muddy channel in the middle we picked up a small group of Knot. The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and full of water now – storms over the winter blocked up the drainage channel – so there was nothing to see here again.

The sand on the beach was being whipped up by the wind. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, but not much else. All the other waders were scattered out on the sand towards Thornham Point. They were distant, but we could make out Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Sanderling all to add to the day’s list.

Scanning the sea produced several Great Crested Grebes and a few Common Scoter lingering offshore. But it was not especially pleasant out on the beach today, so we decided to start making our way back.

As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a female Red-crested Pochard flew in from the direction of the Tidal Pools and dropped down towards the Freshmarsh. There was still no sign of the Little Ringed Plover out in the open on the Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ but it must have been lurking somewhere out of sight because it flew up just as we had passed and headed off back towards the Freshmarsh. On the way to the car park, we stopped to listen to a Brambling singing – though it sounds more like a wheeze than a song!

When we got back to the car, we still had time for one last stop on our way home. There had been a Pied Flycatcher in Burnham Thorpe village all afternoon, so we took a quick detour inland. There were only a couple of other people looking by the time we arrived, but we found it fairly quickly in the trees at the end of the small park.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the trees in the middle of Burnham Thorpe

We watched the Pied Flycatcher for a bit, as it dropped down into the hedge at the back and then made several sallies out after insects. It made its way along the other side of the hedge past us, stopping on several fence posts on the way. You could just see it each time, if you found the right angle to line up with a gap through the hedge.

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Pied Flycatcher in the afternoon sunshine. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.

8th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour. With more autumn migrants seen in East Norfolk yesterday, we decided to head over that way today to see what we could catch up with. It was a glorious warm, sunny day – great weather to be out birding.

Winterton Dunes was our first port of call. There had been a Red-backed Shrike seen here yesterday and we were keen to try to catch up with it. There was no news as we drove down but thankfully as we started walking north through the dunes, a message came through to say that it was still present.

6o0a0520Small Heath – there were lots of butterflies out in the dunes

There was plenty to see as we walked along. In the sunshine, there were lots of butterflies out, as well as the regular species we saw a good number of Small Heath and Grayling. The dragonflies were also enjoying the weather, with loads of Common Darters and a few Migrant Hawkers too. A Whinchat appeared in the top of a bush in the dunes as we passed.

6o0a0517Grayling – also plentiful in the dunes today

We eventually got to the area where the Red-backed Shrike had been. As we walked up along the path, there was no immediate sign of it, but when we turned to walk back we found that it had reappeared behind us in the bushes right by the path! We were looking into the sun, so when it disappeared again back into the bushes, we tried to work our way back round the other side, but it had moved again.

At least we knew where the Red-backed Shrike was now and it didn’t take us long to find the bush it was favouring. Positioning ourselves, we were then treated to some stunning views as it perched on a branch. It kept dropping down to the ground below and flying back up. A couple of times we saw it return with prey – first a moth, then a beetle. Fantastic stuff!

img_6415Red-backed Shrike – we had great views of this juvenile in the dunes

When the Red-backed Shrike caught the beetle, it flew back to a clump of brambles just beyond. We were watching it perched on the top when it suddenly dropped down into cover. A couple of seconds later, we saw why. A Hobby was flying low over the ground, straight towards the bush and straight towards us! At the last minute, it saw us standing there and veered away to our left. What a cracking view!

Having enjoyed such good views of the shrike, we turned to make our way back. There were now two Hobbys hawking for insects over the trees, calling. A Marsh Harrier circled up too, and a couple of Common Buzzards. We walked over across the dunes to have a quick look at the sea, which produced a distant juvenile Gannet flying past and a few Cormorants.

On the walk back, we found a couple more Whinchats, on the fence around one of the natterjack pools. We came across a couple of pairs of Stonechats too. There was a steady stream of Swallows passing through over the dunes, on their way south.

When we got to the road, rather than head back to the car park, we crossed over and continued on into the South Dunes. At the first trees we came to, we could hear a Willow Warbler calling. It was very agitated at first, because there was a Sparrowhawk in the same sallow, although it flew off when we arrived. We watched as it flitted through to a nearby holly tree.

6o0a0527Willow Warbler – calling in the trees

It was getting rather hot now, particularly as we were more sheltered here from the cooling breeze. It felt like we might need a bit of luck to find some migrants, but we persevered. A small bird flew along the edge of the path in front of us and landed in the bushes, pumping its tail. A Redstart, a nice migrant to find, we had a good look at it in the scope.

img_6432Redstart – flew along the edge of the path ahead of us

We walked on a little further but, apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs, it seemed pretty quiet. As we turned back, we decided to walk through the trees in the middle of the valley and as we turned a corner, a Pied Flycatcher flicked across into a small tree in front of us. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop long and dropped quickly out the back out of view. As we walked further along, it flew again, into a larger group of oak trees.

When we got up to the oaks, there was no sign of the Pied Flycatcher, but as we walked through the trees a Spotted Flycatcher appeared instead. This was much more obliging – after flitting around deep in the tree at first, it came out onto a branch right in front of us, giving us stunning views. That rounded off an excellent selection of migrants in the Dunes.

img_6499Spotted Flycatcher – another migrant in the dunes

After lunch back at the car park, we headed over to Strumpshaw Fen for the afternoon. The lone Black Swan was on the pool by the Reception Hide as usual. Otherwise, there were lots of Gadwall and Mallard on here and a single Grey Heron. In the heat of the afternoon, the trees were quiet, so we made our way straight round to Tower Hide.

We had been told the hide was really busy today, but when we got there we had it to ourselves. It didn’t take long to find the Glossy Ibis, which has been here for over two weeks now. It looked thoroughly at home, wading around in the water with its head down, feeding. The light was perfect, really showing off the iridescent green gloss on its wings.

img_6530Glossy Ibis – looking very glossy indeed in the afternoon sunlight

There were lots of geese and ducks out on the water, or sleeping around the margins. The mob of Greylag Geese included a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese. The ducks were predominantly Teal, Shoveler and Mallard. We had a careful scan through them at first for a Garganey, but it was only when a noisy Grey Heron flew over and flushed all the sleeping ducks out of the reeds and onto the water that we found one. The Garganey then showed really well and we got a great look at its boldly marked face pattern.

img_6541Garganey – showed really well once flushed out by a passing Grey Heron

There was a nice selection of waders here too. A limping Ruff was hobbling about on the mud right in front of the hide, but several more able bodied birds were feeding over towards the back. Nearby, we found three Common Snipe out on the open mud and with them a single Green Sandpiper. Then a Water Rail appeared out on the open mud too, which was really good to see.

The hide had filled up now, so having seen all we wanted to, we were just about to leave when someone asked us if the small birds on the mud next to the Snipe were Bearded Tits. We put the scope down again and sure enough they were – two juvenile Bearded Tits feeding out on the edge of the reeds.

A quick look in Fen Hide didn’t produce many birds of note, but we did see a Chinese Water Deer which walked out of the reeds onto one of the cut areas. On the walk back, we did see lots more butterflies and dragonflies. The highlight was a late second brood Swallowtail which flew over the path and landed on a branch above our heads briefly, before disappearing back towards the reedbed. As well as the regular dragonflies, we also came across several Willow Emerald Damselflies. These are now regular feature here at this time of year, although a very recent colonist having first been seen in this country only as recently as 2007.

6o0a0611Willow Emerald – we saw several of these damselflies at Strumpshaw today

Then it was back to the Reception Hide for a well deserved cold drink and an ice cream before heading for home.

11th April 2016 – Early Spring Migrant Day

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, with the brief to avoid some of the main nature reserves. We met up in Brancaster Staithe and set off to explore the coast and see if we could find some spring migrants. It was lovely and sunny for most of the day, but felt quite chilly in a blustery east wind.

Our first stop was at Burnham Overy. As we walked out across the fields, a Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and flew off ahead of us as we approached. There were lots of Curlew in the fields and plenty of Lapwing too, but there are not as many geese here now. Apart from the Greylag and Canada Geese, we could see one Brent Goose on the grazing marshes today and no sign of any Pink-footed Geese.

Just before the seawall, we could hear first one, then two Sedge Warblers singing. They were keeping mostly tucked down out of the wind, although one of them was occasionally songflighting up out of the brambles. We climbed up onto the seawall and walked along a short way so we could view the sheltered side of a favoured bush and then got great views of the more showy one of them perched up.

IMG_2106Sedge Warbler – two were singing in the bushes below the seawall

The tide was in out in the harbour and it was a big tide today, so that the saltmarsh was pretty much all covered. A few waders were braving it on the remaining islands – we could see a couple of Grey Plover and a little group of Black-tailed Godwit looking very smart now in their rusty summer plumage. When a Marsh Harrier flew low across the flooded saltmarsh, two Snipe flew up in alarm. They circled round a couple of times and only when the danger had passed did they eventually land back pretty much where they had taken off from.

A Bittern boomed once from the reeds further long, but it was hard to hear above the wind. Unfortunately it then went quiet and there was no sound when we got to where it had been booming. We heard a brief ‘ping’ from a Bearded Tit and got the briefest glimpse as one dropped down into the reeds, too quick for everyone to get on to. It was too windy today for Bearded Tits – they were keeping well down in the reeds today.

Just beyond the reeds, a big white shape out on one of the pools on the grazing marsh was a Spoonbill. We could see it, head down, sweeping its bill vigorously from side to side as it walked back and forth through the water. It was probably only exploring the pools here because the tide was so high in the harbour and unfortunately it didn’t linger long. We just got it in the scope for a few seconds before it took off.

IMG_2109Spoonbill – feeding on one of the pools out on the grazing marsh

As the Spoonbill flew across in front of us, we got a good view of its long neck, held outstretched in flight (unlike the Little Egrets), and we could even see the spoon-shaped bill. It looked like it might be heading out over the saltmarsh, but then turned and dropped down behind the seawall, presumably heading for the pools near the path in the direction we had just come.

There is no shortage of Linnets here, and we could hear several flying past as we walked along. A male then perched up in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh and we got a better look at it, starting to develop a bit of reddish flush on the breast and on the patch above the bill.

IMG_2121Linnet – perched in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh

Out at the boardwalk, we turned east and headed into the dunes. We had hoped it might be more sheltered here, but the wind was still whistling through. At the first more sheltered area, we found a little group of Linnets feeding on the short turf. It was only when we walked a little further that we found a Wheatear. First one, then a couple more – two smart males, with bold black bandit masks, and a more subtle female.

WheatearWheatear – this photo from the dunes a few days ago

It was hard going walking into the wind, and the group did not want to walk too far today, so we decided to turn round and make our way slowly back. Another Wheatear flew across in front of us as we returned towards the boardwalk and two were then feeding on the short grass on the edge of the grazing marshes, along with a Skylark and a Goldfinch!

The tide had started to go out now, and a bit of dryish land was appearing out on the saltmarsh as the water level dropped. As well as lots of Black-headed Gulls, a few Brent Geese had returned to feed there. A quick scan revealed the friendly face of the winter resident Black Brant hybrid again. Subtly a shade or so darker in body plumage than our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese, it also sports a slightly bolder white flank patch. The progeny of a wandering Black Brant from NE Siberia / NW North America and one of our own Brent Geese, it returns to the same area to winter every year.

IMG_2145Black Brant hybrid – out on the saltmarsh again

We stopped back at the reedbed again, but this time we climbed down the bank and stood at the bottom of the seawall, where it was less exposed to the wind and quieter. After a short wait, this time we could hear the Bittern booming properly. Perhaps understandly, it kept itself tucked well down in the reeds, as did the Bearded Tits. We heard one again, but they were obviously still keeping low out of wind.

A little further back, along the path across the marshes, we stopped to listen to a Chiffchaff singing. It sounded a little odd. Rather than a jaunty, alternating series of ‘chiffs’ and ‘chaffs’, this one repeated the same syllable several times in succession – ‘chaff-chaff-chaff, chiff-chiff-chiff’. It sounded slightly reminiscent of Iberian Chiffchaff, previously considered a race of our Chiffchaff but now treated as a species in its own right, but it wasn’t quite right for that either. it is suggested that Iberian Chiffchaff and Common Chiffchaff hybridise in Spain, but some Chiffchaffs just seem to pick up a little bit of Spanish language on their winter holidays. An interesting bird to listen to.

A request as to whether we might be able to see a Mediterranean Gull today saw us make a short diversion to a local Black-headed Gull colony. A few pairs of Mediterranean Gull nest in with them and it didn’t take us long to find one, despite the windy conditions. A smart adult, with jet black head extending further down the back of the head than the actually dark chocolate brown hood of the Black-headed Gull, and a heavier blood red bill. It then turned round to flash its white wingtips. A second Mediterranean Gull flew over the throng.

IMG_2151Mediterranean Gull – in with the Black-headed Gulls

After lunch, we drove west, cutting across inland to the Wash coast. Several Ring Ouzels have taken up temporary residence in paddocks at Snettisham, and after our longer walk this morning, this was a much easier place to get to. The Ring Ouzels were on show pretty much as soon as we arrived. The female appeared first, on the grass at the back. Much like a Blackbird, but with a conspicuous white gorget, the female’s is slightly brown tinged whereas the male’s is purer white. We watched her hopping about on the short grass, amongst the numerous Rabbits.

The female Ring Ouzel was spooked a couple of times and flew down into an overgrown ditch / hedge just behind. Coming out gingerly again a minute or so later back onto the grass. The second time she did so, we noticed the male Ring Ouzel in a bush in the hedge. The female flew up to join him and a Blackbird appeared next to them, just for comparison. While we were waiting for the Ring Ouzels to re-emerge, a couple of Lapwings also delighted us with some vigorous display flights, swooping and tumbling over the paddocks.

IMG_2160Ring Ouzel – the male flew up into the hedge

We had a gentle stroll into the south end of the Coastal Park. We could hear several Willow Warblers singing from deep in the bushes, but eventually we found one close to the path and watched it flitting around, appropriately enough in a young willow tree. There were lots of other warblers singing here too – Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap are all returning migrants, but the Cetti’s Warbler is a resident, here all year round though more vocal now than through the winter and still very skulking.

From over towards the Wash, we could hear Golden Plover calling. Up on the seawall, we could see the tide was now a long way out. Right out on the edge of the water, we could just make out a huge oil slick of waders smeared across the mud. It was hard to make out any detail at this range, even through a scope, but we know they were mostly Knot, thousands and thousands of them. Nearby, a smaller and slightly more golden brown slick was the Golden Plover. Suddenly, something spooked them and all the waders took to the air. They all swirled round for a minute or two, making different shapes in the sky as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing white underwings in the sun and darker upperparts. It was obviously not a major alert as they quickly settled back down, but not before having treated us to a great display.

Walking back towards the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. We looked across to see six circling over the grazing marshes inland. As they turned, we could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills. These were the only Pink-footed Geese we saw today. Of the tends of thousands which spend the middle of the winter here, most have long gone, making their way back towards Iceland to breed via an extended stopover further north, perhaps in eastern Scotland. A smaller number linger here longer, but even these have mostly gone north now. In contrast, a couple of Swallows flying over were returning for the summer.

Back round along the coast at Holme, we parked by the seawall and walked out to the paddocks. A few Avocets were out on the saltmarsh pools, commuting from there back and forth towards Redwell Marsh. A Little Egret in one of the channels stopped to preen, showing us its ornate plumes which it develops in the breeding season – the two long ‘aigrettes’ down the back of the head blowing in the breeze and the puffy mass of feathers over the back and tail. These were the feathers for which the species was hunted extensively, particularly in the 19th Century.

IMG_2175Redstart – still lingering in the paddocks

A Redstart has been frequenting the paddocks at Holme for a few days now. Like the Ring Ouzels, this bird is just taking a break here on its way north. As we rounded the corner, the first bird we saw in the paddocks was the Redstart, perched low on one side of a large hawthorn bush. It was a stunning spring male – black face, bright orange breast and belly, and grey back. Its white forehead shone in the afternoon sunshine when it turned to face us. It kept dropping down to the ground, looking for insects, flashing the orange-red tail from which it gets its name when it flew, before flying back up to the bush. We had a great view of it through the scope.

A Pied Flycatcher had been reported earlier in the day, further along at the Firs. Another classic spring migrant, stopping off here on its way, but this one probably fresh in this morning. We just had enough time still to make our way along there and see if we could find it. Thankfully, when we arrived in the car park there were a couple of friendly faces there and they pointed us straight to where the Pied Flycatcher was perched in a pine tree. Once again a smart male, mostly black above and white below but with a white flash in the wings and a blob of white on the forehead above the bill, slightly browner wing feathers suggested it was most likely a 1st summer male.

IMG_2210Pied Flycatcher – stopped off in the pines at Holme

We watched it flycatching, making frequent sorties out from the trees before flying back to a perch. It was mostly dropping down to ground, presumably finding more insects down there than flying round in the air in the later afternoon, even though it had tucked itself into a sheltered sunny spot in the trees. We had a great look at it – then it was time to call it a day and head back. As well as all the other things we had seen, it had been great to catch up with Wheatears, Ring Ouzels, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher all in a day – a classic day of early spring migrants here on the North Norfolk coast.

27th September 2015 – Warbler Time

Day 5, the final day, of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With the wind having gone round to the east yesterday, good conditions to bring us birds in from the continent, we headed out in search of migrants at Holkham. It was another glorious day, sunny and warm – great weather to be out birding.

It was still early when we arrived at Lady Anne’s Drive, so we had no trouble parking. We could see a flock of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadows and both Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier circling over. We walked west along the path on the inside edge of the pines.

P1090936Salts Hole – on a still & sunny autumn day

It was quiet at first in the trees, where it was still quite cool in the shade. Several small flocks of Siskin flew over calling, perhaps as likely to be feeding in the pines now as on the move. It was beautiful looking out over the grazing marshes from the edge of Salts Hole, which was flat as a mill pond today. A couple of Little Grebes were out diving in the middle and laughing maniacally (or that’s what their calls sounded like!).

P1090952Little Grebe – two were out on Salts Hole this morning

Beyond Salts Hole, the trees either side of the path open out a little and we started to pick up more birds. A Chiffchaff was calling from the trees. Half way to Washington Hide, we picked up a call ahead of us which we recognised – like a Goldcrest, but sharper. It was flitting around in a holm oak and hard to see amongst the dark leaves, but we saw its head poke out and could see a white supercilium – it was a Firecrest. We spent some time trying to see it better, getting glimpses of it, before it flicked across to the trees the other side and silently disappeared.

The sycamores by Washington Hide can be very good for birds, so we climbed up the ramp and had a good look but they were quiet at first. As we walked back round to the hide, we spotted a white head protruding above the reeds with a large yellow bill attached. The Great White Egret has been around for about four weeks now, but it can be very elusive for such a large bird. So it was great to see it today. We sat down in the hide and watched it (or its head at least) before it disappeared completely behind the reeds.

IMG_1299Great White Egret – head and bill showing above the reeds

The door to the hide was still open, so we could hear the tit flock as it approached through the trees. We went back out and started scanning through the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Treecreepers, etc. Then we heard the call, like a shrill, slurred Chiffchaff, from further along the sycamores. We hurried along and eventually picked up the Yellow-browed Warbler up in the tops. It was hard to see well at first, in and out of the leaves, calling occasionally. Then it flew across to the more isolated trees by the hide where it was much easier to get everyone on – we could see the bright supercilium and two pale wing bars. It fed there for a few seconds before the tit flock headed off east and it went after them. A great start to the day, especially having missed a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers yesterday – and even better to find one of our own!

We continued on west along the path, stopping by Meals House to look at the sycamores there. As we stood behind the house, another Yellow-browed Warbler flew in from the west and dropped into the trees in front of us. It looked like it was a fresh arrival, because it promptly flew back again past us. Just round the corner, what we presumed was the same Yellow-browed Warbler called from a small birch tree on the south side of the path. We got cracking views of this one as well. And while we were watching it, yet another Yellow-browed Warbler started calling from further back in the trees on the other side of the path. Wow!

P1100005Yellow-browed Warbler – the second or third we saw this morning

This looks like it will probably be a good year for Yellow-browed Warblers in the UK. On their way from Siberia to SE Asia, they are blown across in our direction in variable numbers each autumn. After the earliest record for Norfolk earlier in the month, and large numbers first in Scandinavia and then in the Northern Isles, we could be on for big numbers here this year if conditions are right.

Continuing westwards, we found more tits and Goldcrests and several Chiffchaffs along the path. The west end of the pines was disappointingly quiet, as were the first dunes. We were told of a Redstart in the dunes but the poor directions (‘over those dunes in a bush’!) meant we went on a bit of a wild goose chase. A Stonechat perched up on the top of the bushes. By that stage, everyone was getting a bit hot and tired so we turned to head back. As we got to the west end of the pines, yet another Yellow-browed Warbler called once from the bushes on the south side of the fence – we were up to at least four for the day!

On our way back, we checked carefully through the flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrests once again. We didn’t find any more at first, but just before the cross tracks we came across a small crowd gathered watching – yes, you’ve guessed it – a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was flitting around in the tops of the sycamores in the sunshine, hovering and flycatching – giving us another great view of its white striped head and wings. As we all stood there, it gradually became clear that different parts of the crowd were actually looking at two different birds – there were two Yellow-browed Warblers at opposite sides of the same tree.

By this stage it was getting harder and harder to tell just how many Yellow-browed Warblers had arrived in Holkham Pines overnight. Were these latest two different again, or had two of the birds we had seen earlier moved along the pines? With no sign of the birds by Meals House or Washington Hide, perhaps the latter. We lost sight of the birds in the sycamore and a couple of seconds later we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees on the other side of the path. It was just amazing to see so many of these delightful little sprites today, flitting around in the sunshine.

We were tipped off that the Great White Egret had moved to the pool by Joe Jordan Hide, so we popped in there next. It was rather more distant than we had seen the business end of it this morning, but we could see the rest of it now!

The arrival of large numbers of Pink-footed Geese has been a real feature of the last couple of days. There was already a large number on the grazing marshes from Washington Hide as we walked out this morning. They were very noisy and rather jumpy, constantly being spook and flying between the meadows. From the Joe Jordan Hide we were scanning the sky for raptors when we spotted another huge skein of Pink-footed Geese about 1,000 strong flying in over the fields beyond. They made their way steadily in and turned into the wind to drop down towards the grazing marshes, whiffling as they did so to lose height. Presumably fresh in from the north, perhaps straight from Iceland.

P1090963Pink-footed Geese – another huge flock was newly arrived at Holkham today

We made our way back to the car from there and, after a pit stop in Wells, headed along the coast to Warham Greens. We stopped at the middle track today and ate our lunch, before wandering down to the end. There were a few tits and Goldcrests in the hedges. We could see a couple of people in the field by the pit, so we turned the other way towards the whirligig.

The wind had picked up a little and it was a bit more exposed out on the front. There were very few birds around in the hedges and bushes today. Out on the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Golden Plover and Curlew, but no sign of the hoped-for Whimbrel today. A single Bar-tailed Godwit circled round with the Golden Plover when they took to the air. We could hear Greenshank calling, and eventually found one roosting on the edge of one of the small pools, its white head and underparts really shining in the sun. A very smart male Marsh Harrier flew in from the saltmarsh and over the hedge in front of us.

P1100023Marsh Harrier – a lovely silvery-winged male

Heading back the other way, the pit was very quiet – most of the sylvia warblers seem to have cleared out in the recent fine weather. We had been told of a Pied Flycatcher at Garden Drove so we continued our way west. When we got there we found it had been showing very well but had just completely disappeared. Another flock of tits and Goldcrests was making its way down along the hedge by the track, but the flycatcher was not to be found with them.

We stood in the sun and most of the group decided it was a good opportunity to sit down on the grass and enjoy the warmth. While they did, we walked quietly back down the track to the wood at the end. By now, the tits were in the trees here and as we stood and watched the Long-tailed Tits flycatching in the sycamores, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the tops briefly. Perhaps the bird we had missed yesterday or perhaps a new arrival, given the number which it appears had come in overnight.

P1100043Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the trees on Garden Drove

When we got back to the rest of the group, there was still no sign of the Pied Flycatcher at first. One of them had walked further up and whistled us over as it finally showed itself again. We watched it preening in the sunshine and flycatching along the edge of the field. It was a lovely way to end a very successful tour.

P1100074Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the sun along Garden Drove this afternoon

18th September 2015 – Autumn Migrants & More

The first day of a long weekend of tours today. The plan was to catch up with some lingering autumn migrants in the Wells-Holkham area. The forecast was for the possibility of thundery showers today, so we set off for the dunes at Burnham Overy with our waterproofs just in case.

As we walked out along the path across the grazing marshes, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling from the hedges. A Pied Wagtail flew over calling, followed a little later by a Grey Wagtail. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins heading east over the grazing marsh, though it was harder to tell if they were on the move today or just forced down to feed by the low cloud. We had just gone through one of the gates when we heard a bird calling from the bushes behind us. We walked back and a Redstart flew out, flashing its red tail as it darted across the track and disappeared over the hedge. A nice autumn migrant to start the day.

There were several Curlew calling and a little flock dropped down onto the grazing marshes alongside the track. Several Common Snipe flew overhead, including a flock of 6, possibly flushed from the grass by a tractor topping the meadows. A large flock of Golden Plover circled out over the harbour. Standing up on the seawall, a Greenshank flew past calling and dropped down out on the saltmarsh. Further over beyond the harbour channel, we could see a little roost of Grey Plover pushed off the mud by the high tide. When they were disturbed and flew round we could see several smaller Dunlin with them.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed by the seawall. Scanning the tops of the reeds, we spotted a pair climbing up into the branches of a dead elder. We just had time to get the scope onto them before they disappeared across the reeds and dropped back down into cover. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the brambles on the edge of the reeds and gave a similarly brief view – perching up on an old fence before diving back into the bushes.

IMG_0705Linnet – several were in the boardwalk bushes as usual

The bushes by the boardwalk seemed a little quiet at first, but as we stood quietly and looked closely, more birds appeared. There were several Linnets as usual, a couple of the juveniles still begging food from the attendant adults, and the regular Dunnocks. A Chiffchaff appeared low down in brambles next to one of the local Common Whitethroats. A Goldcrest flew across between the bushes and disappeared into the undergrowth calling.

Then the biggest surprise of all – a Tree Sparrow dropped in. We watched it for a while, but it was very restless, moving around between the brambles and the apple tree. Tree Sparrows are getting very scarce in Norfolk now and are very unusual out here, so this was a real treat. Then suddenly it took off and flew strongly west towards Gun Hill.

While we were standing by the boardwalk, we heard the first group of Siskins flying over. They have been on the move for over a week now and there was a steady stream passing overhead this morning, calling as they flew west over the dunes. Once or twice in amongst them we could hear a Redpoll or two calling as well. While we were in the dunes, we tried to keep a count – at least 265 went through. More Siskin flew over while we were in the pines, but we couldn’t see them to count them, so the actual total past this morning would have been a bit higher. Real visible migration in action.

IMG_0707Common Buzzard – watching from up in the dunes

From the boardwalk, we made our way east towards the pines. A Common Buzzard sat up in the tops of the dunes. A Wheatear appeared on the fence just in front of us, but unfortunately we were already too close and it darted off again immediately. Thankfully, as we walked over the crest of the dunes, we could see it or another Wheatear down on the path just ahead of us. It flicked up and landed on the fence where we could get a good look at it through the scope.

IMG_0720Wheatear – perched on the fence on the edge of the dunes

There have been several Redstarts in the dunes in recent days and, although we had seen one briefly on the walk out, we wanted to get a better look. As we walked towards the west end of the pines, we could hear Redstarts calling. From a convenient high vantage point in the dunes, we scanned the bushes. First we picked up a young male Redstart, with white feather tips partially obscuring its black face, then a female flicked up into a hawthorn nearby. The male showed particularly well, perching in the brambles and branches of a dead young elder just beyond the fence.

IMG_0745Redstart – this male showed particularly well

IMG_0728Redstart – the plainer female was a little more shy

While we were admiring the Redstarts, a glance across the grazing marshes towards the wood revealed a large white shape flying across. There has been a Great White Egret hanging around at Holkham for getting on for three weeks now, but at times it has been rather elusive. We could immediately see how big it was as it dropped down onto one of the pools. We hadn’t intended to walk any further, but with the promise of getting a better view of the Great White Egret we set off to walk to Joe Jordan hide.

The walk along the path on the south side of the pines was uneventful at first. As we got almost to the crosstracks, we could see the Great White Egret out on the pool preening, so we had a quick look at it through the scope in case it flew off again. That also gave us the opportunity to stop and scan through the tit flock which was feeding in the pines before the hide. There was the usual variety, Long-tailed, Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreeper and Chiffchaffs.

IMG_0758Great White Egret – towering over the local Greylag Geese

From up in the hide, we got a much better view of the Great White Egret. There was a Little Egret on the other side of the pool which allowed a great size comparison – the Great White Egret looked huge even next to several big Greylag Geese! While we were in the hide, a Red Kite drifted in and circled the trees, landing in the tops for a while. There were also several Marsh Harriers flying back and forth.

After a suitable rest in the hide, it was time to head back. As we walked along the path just a little west of the hide, yet another Redstart flew across in front of us, again flashing a red tail as it went, our fourth of the day. The rest of the way back to the boardwalk was fairly uneventful, although the Wheatears had multiplied – there were now two on the fence. We had enjoyed much better weather during the morning than we had anticipated, but we could now see dark clouds to the south of us. At first they seemed to be passing us by, but as we turned to head south along the seawall we finally ran into a little rain. Coats on, we walked back quickly and thankfully the worst of it missed us.

P1090281Fallow Deer – there is a large herd in the deerpark at Holkham Hall

We drove round to Holkham Hall for lunch, and sat out the rain while we ate. Some of the resident Fallow Deer herd came to look at us. A Nuthatch was calling in the trees nearby and another Red Kite drifted over the park. It stopped rainging and brightened up nicely just as we finished, with even patches of blue sky overhead, so we walked down to the lake. An injured Pink-footed Goose was hanging around with the flock of Egyptian Geese across on the other bank.

There had been a juvenile Black Tern around the lake for the past couple of days, but it gave us the run around for a while. There was no sign of it around the southern end, so we set off to walk to the other side. We were about half way along when the Black Tern appeared ahead and flew along the edge of the lake right in front of us – straight back to where we had just been standing! As we turned to walk back, we watched it hawking over the water, dipping down occasionally to the surface. Needless to say, when we got back to where it was, it immediately set off back towards the northern end. We had had a good look at it so decided to leave it to it.

We headed round to Wells Woods to finish the day. There had been a report of two Pied Flycatchers there earlier, but we struggled to find any birds at all at first. It was very disturbed with lots of dogs running amok and their owners standing nearby shouting and whistling. We made our way over to the relative quiet of the drinking pool and quickly located one of the local tit flocks. As well as the regular variety of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers, we could see one or two Chiffchaffs and a single Willow Warbler, but no Pied Flycatcher. A Green Woodpecker called nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker did the same.

Out in the brambles on the edge of the trees, we found a Lesser Whitethroat. It made itself elusive at first but we followed it as it flitted between the bushes calling. Eventually it landed in a small hawthorn and sat out in the now emerging afternoon sunshine. Then a second Lesser Whitethroat appeared with it. A browner Common Whitethroat, with rusty wings, hopped out nearby. Another tit flock whisked through.

P1090316Small Tortoiseshell – one of several butterflies out in the afternoon sun

There were still a few insects about. With the sun coming out, the butterflies came out too. We had seen one or two Speckled Wood earlier, but now we found several Red Admirals and a Small Tortoiseshell basking in the sun. One of the sharp-eyed members of the group spotted a large caterpillar on the path as we walked through the pines – on closer inspection, a Pine Hawkmoth caterpillar. There were also a few dragonflies buzzing around – Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers.

P1090297Pine Hawkmoth caterpillar – on the path in the pines

We made our way back via the Dell, but still with no sign of the flycatchers. Almost back to the car park, just before the boating lake, we came across yet another small tit flock on the edge of the pines by the main path. We stood watching it for a while, with a couple of Long-tailed Tits performing for the crowd. We were just about to leave when something flitted across high up in the pines – a Pied Flycatcher! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and, no sooner had it appeared than it was off through the tops of the pines and we couldn’t find it again. Still, it was a nice way to round off the day.

P1090319Long-tailed Tit – one of many in the woods at Wells