Tag Archives: Pink-footed Goose

17th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WhinchatWhinchat – feeding out on the grazing marsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common DarterCommon Darter – a female, basking in the sunshine

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

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

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

HobbyHobby – eating its insect prey right over our heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KingfisherKingfisher – fishing in the harbour channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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15th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour today. It was forecast to be cool and rather windy, though not as bad as the last few days, and with a risk of showers. It was sunny when we set off inland, but we drove into the cloud on the coast. We headed up to north-west Norfolk for the day.

Our first destination was Thornham Harbour. A Curlew was feeding in the edge of the saltmarsh right next to where we parked. Several Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting flew up into the bushes as we got out of the car, and a Skylark flew over and dropped down beyond the car park.

A quick look in the harbour channel opposite produced a Greenshank feeding down on the mud, which flew off calling as we approached. A couple of Redshanks and a single Bar-tailed Godwit were a little further along and stayed to let us get a good look at them.

As we got up onto the seawall, a Wheatear flew across the grazing marsh in front of us, flashing its white rump as it went, and landed on a fence post a little further back. Looking inland, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards circling up over the trees, despite the cold and cloudy weather. A single Stock Dove was feeding in the grass out in the middle.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – one of many skeins arriving today

Loud yelping calls overhead alerted us to a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flying past high above us. They were to be a feature of the day today, with groups passing overhead at regular intervals all morning and still to a lesser extent during the afternoon. The Pink-footed Geese are just arriving back for the winter here, after spending the breeding season up in Iceland. Small numbers have been seen over the last few days but this was the first day with a really large number of geese coming in. Impressive stuff, migration in action.

There were hirundines on the move today too. We saw several small groups of Swallows and House Martins making their way west as we walked from the harbour and out along the seawall.

We stopped at the corner to look out across the harbour. There were several waders down in the channel, mostly Redshanks and several more Bar-tailed Godwits. We had a good look at them in the scope. Further over, we picked up a little group of Black-tailed Godwits bathing in the water. An obliging Curlew was feeding on the mud just below the seawall.

CurlewCurlew – feeding on the mud just below the seawall

A Marsh Harrier was out quartering the saltmarsh. It flew in from the direction of Titchwell, across the harbour and on towards Holme. As it passed over, it flushed lots of birds out of the vegetation below. Lots of waders flew up calling, Redshanks and Curlews, a couple of Little Egrets appeared out of the muddy channels, and a big flock of Linnets circled up above it.

Continuing on along the seawall, we spotted another Wheatear further up perched on a fence post. It kept dropping down onto the grassy bank and then returning to another post, gradually working its way towards us. At one point, it found a caterpillar. It took it back to a fence post, then dropped down into the grass to deal with it. When the Wheatear returned to the fence, it was now very close to us and we had a great look at it through the scope before it flew past and landed again behind us.

WheatearWheatear – 1 of 2 along the fence along the sea wall at Thornham

There were lots of Meadow Pipits down in the grass, but they were very hard to see until they flew. Suddenly they all took off and flew off towards Holme and we could see just how many had been there. Four Skylarks flew in and landed briefly, but were swiftly off again, over the seawall, and disappeared out over the saltmarsh. A little further on, we found another Skylark down in the grass closer to us. It was a young bird – we could see it still had several retained juvenile feathers – but unfortunately it seemed to be suffering with an injured leg, as it was hopping unsteadily through the grass.

With the rain still holding off, we decided to continue on towards the beach. There were lots of Coot out on Broadwater, and three Gadwall in with them. A family of Mute Swans appeared from behind the reeds. Much further over, towards The Firs, we could also see several Little Grebes. A small group of Wigeon flew in and circled over the water before continuing on west, possibly new arrivals.

The calls of several Long-tailed Tits alerted us to an approaching tit flock. They flew towards us from the direction of the dunes and landed in a lone elder bush just in front of the reeds. For a couple of seconds, the small bush was packed with birds – as well as the Long-tailed Tits, we could see several Blue Tits, a Coal Tit and a single Chiffchaff with them. But they didn’t linger here and quickly turned and flew back towards the dunes.

From up in the dunes, we had a quick look out to sea. A single adult Gannet flew past. One of the group picked up a lone duck out on the sea and through the scope we could see it was a moulting Eider, a 1st summer male. Further over, towards the mouth of the Wash, a long line of black dots was a large raft of Common Scoter, but they were too far away to make out much detail even with the scope.

As we made our way back to the car, we were caught by a shower. Thankfully it was not too heavy and the wind was at our backs now. It passed over quickly, before we got back to the car. As we crossed the sluice, the Greenshank flew in and landed briefly, before being spooked by our approach and disappearing off again.

It started to spit with rain again when we got to Titchwell, so we decided to have an early lunch and hope it passed over. It was the right thing to do, because it rained for most of the time we were eating, sheltering under the umbrellas on the tables outside the visitor centre. When it stopped, we got ready to head out onto the reserve. A quick look at the feeders added Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Great Tit to the day’s list. We didn’t get far along the path before the heavens opened, so we beat a retreat back to the visitor centre. This rain was mercifully brief and it had already started to ease off when we got back. Once it had stopped, we set off to have another go.

Thornham grazing marsh and the reedbed were rather quiet today. There were quite a few Lapwing on the saltmarsh pool. A small flock of Golden Plover circled over. A Little Egret flew in and landed at the back of the saltmarsh pool. We heard a Bearded Tit call from the reeds but it was too windy to see it out there today. We hurried on to Island Hide to get out of the wind.

RuffRuff – still lots feeding on the freshmarsh

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud right in front of the hide when we arrived. Most were adults, in grey and white non-breeding plumage now. Looking through them, we found a few browner juveniles too. Looking at the males and females side by side, we could see the big size difference between them.

Dunlin numbers have increased recently and there were about 50 on the freshmarsh today. The three Little Stints were very distant at first, but when something spooked all the waders they flew round and landed again much closer. Through the scope, we could see them feeding with Dunlin, giving us a much better impression of just how ‘little’ they really are. There were a few Ringed Plover on the grassy islands too.

The number of Avocet here has really dropped now as most have left for the winter. There were still seven on the freshmarsh, although they were quite a long way back at first. Thankfully when all the waders flushed, they came much closer too. The Black-tailed Godwits on the freshmarsh were all distant too, but there were some Bar-tailed Godwits roosting a little nearer. One of them in particular was still sporting rather rusty-coloured underparts, still moulting out of breeding plumage.

A shout from someone round the other side of the hide kindly alerted us to a Bearded Tit, which was feeding low down along the edge of the reeds. There had been no sign of any Bearded Tits when we arrived and, given the wind, we thought we might struggle to see one today. We had a good look at it through the scope as it hopped around on the mud, in and out of the base of the reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – feeding on the mud opposite Island Hide

We could see that the Little Stints were now closer to the main path, so while it was dry outside, we decided to make our way round to Parrinder Hide. On the way, we stopped to admire the Little Stints and found that they were right next to the path. We had a great view of them just below us, feeding on the edge of one of the muddy islands. They really are tiny – amazing to think that they are on their way from the arctic down to Africa for the winter, stopping here to refuel.

All three Little Stints were juveniles. We could see the prominent pale ‘braces’ on their mantles. There was noticeable variation between them, seeing the side by side and so close to us. One was more richly coloured, rusty and orange, and one was rather greyer than the other two.

Little StintLittle Stint – 1 of the 3 juveniles, showing well, right by the main path

Tearing ourselves away from the Little Stints, we headed round to Parrinder Hide. One of the first birds we saw from here was a juvenile Spotted Redshank just in front of the hide, presumably the same bird we saw here a couple of days ago. It was with a Common Redshank, giving us a great opportunity to look at the differences between the two. The Spotted Redshank had a noticeably longer and finer bill, a much bolder white supercilium and more extensive pale spots on the wings.

The juvenile Spotted Redshank was feeding in a shallow pool in the wet mud, mostly picking at the surface as it walked around, though it did briefly do some rapid sweeping side to side with its bill in the water. While we were watching it, we also picked up an adult Spotted Redshank further over. In winter plumage, the adult was noticeably paler, with silvery grey upperparts and whiter underparts, paler than the Common Redshank too.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – the juvenile, just in front of Parrinder Hide again

There were more Ruff here and we had a better view of the Black-tailed Godwits, noting their plain grey backs compared to the more obviously streaked backs of the Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier. A single Common Snipe was feeding in the grass on the edge of the island just inside the fence.

The gulls on the freshmarsh are mostly Black-headed Gulls at the moment. From round at Island Hide earlier, we had found a Mediterranean Gull with them at one point. A winter adult, we were admiring its pure white wing tips when it took off and flew away over the reeds. From Parrinder Hide, we spotted an adult Yellow-legged Gull on one of the islands. Through the scope, we could see its custard yellow legs and grey mantle a shade darker than the Black-headed Gulls it was with. There was also a single Lesser Black-backed Gull and later a few Herring Gulls flew in to bathe, and three young Common Gulls dropped in too.

Most of the male ducks are in duller eclipse plumage at the moment, but some of the resident birds are starting to emerge already. There were a couple of pairs of Gadwall in front of Parrinder Hide, the drakes already in their rather smartly patterned grey and black plumage. A real connoisseur’s duck! There were also lots of Teal on the freshmarsh, a few Wigeon and Shoveler and some Shelduck, but no sign of the Garganey which had been here earlier.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

With the weather having brightened up a little, we made our way out to the beach. There were some nice close Black-tailed Godwits right by the path at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, which gave us some great views. The water was high in the channel as the tide was just going out, but right at the back, we could see a single Grey Plover on the edge of the mud. It had already largely moulted to winter plumage, with just a few scattered black feathers in its underparts still.

There were several Little Grebes down towards the back of the Tidal Pools today, presumably moved back in for the winter now. There were more waders on here too, more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks at first, then further along towards the beach, we could see a line of roosting birds out on one of the spits. Through the scope, we could see there were several Grey Plover, including one stunning bird still mostly in breeding plumage, with black face and belly. Nearby were a couple of Turnstones and further back, in the vegetation, were two Bar-tailed Godwits.

Grey PloverGrey Plover – stunning still mostly in breeding plumage

Out at the beach, the tide was in. The wind had picked up this afternoon and swung more to the north, which meant the sea was very choppy now and it was hard to see anything out on the waves. Despite the increase in the wind, there didn’t seem to be much moving offshore. There were a few waders out on the beach towards Brancaster, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers but running in and out between their legs, like clockwork toys, were several Sanderling too.

It was rather exposed out on the beach so, with time running out, we decided to start to walk back. Two white shapes flew up out of the saltmarsh way off towards Thornham as we walked – a Spoonbill and a Little Egret together. For a moment, it looked like the Spoonbill might fly over in our direction but unfortunately it quickly dropped down again out of view. Two Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over Thornham grazing marsh and made their way over the trees, presumably heading off to roost.

There were not many insects or other subjects of non-ornithological interest today, perhaps not a surprise given the weather (it was not the sort of day for butterflies or dragonflies!), but on the way back, two things worthy of note did put in an appearance. First, a Devil’s Coach Horse beetle ran across the path. Then, almost back to the trees, we almost trod on a young Smooth Newt on the path.

Smooth NewtSmooth Newt – we nearly trod on this on the path on the way back

Then it was back to the car and time to head for home.

13th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sand MartinSand Martin – hawking for insects around the East Bank

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

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

HobbyHobby – flew right past us low over the grazing marsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ShovelerShoveler – almost raising its head out of the water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. The middle of November traditionally marks the time when autumn starts to merge into winter, at least as far as the migration season is concerned. However, there are sill birds on the move, arriving here for the winter, and there is still the odd lingering migrant yet to move on. It was a gloriously sunny day today, even warm at times, a perfect day to get out and see some of those birds.

We started at Burnham Overy Staithe. As we climbed up onto the seawall,a small bird flew past us and into the bushes below. It was a Chiffchaff. Presumably a late migrant, it seemed to be in a hurry to be on its way and disappeared off down the line of bushes in a series of long flights. A Common Buzzard perched in a large bush out on the grazing meadows, enjoying the morning sunshine.

img_8390Fieldfare – in the bushes by the seawall at Burnham Overy Staithe

There were lots of Blackbirds in the hawthorns below the seawall, presumably winter migrants arrived from the continent and stopped to refuel on berries. As we walked along, we heard first the tchacking of a Fieldfare, which we found perched in the top in the sunshine, and then the teezing of several Redwings, most of which were less obliging. A Song Thrush completed the set.

6o0a8480Redwing – several were also feeding in the bushes below the seawall

Looking out over the other side, in the harbour, we stopped to look through the waders. The tide was out, so there was lots of exposed mud. First we picked up a Grey Plover with a lone Ringed Plover over on the far bank. Then several more Ringed Plovers appeared, and started to bathe in the shallow water, with a Redshank conveniently close by for size comparison. A little further along, at the bend in the seawall, we could see a good sized flock of Dunlin out on the larger mudflats, feeding feverishly.

As we walked past, we flushed a Little Egret from the near edge of the harbour channel, and it flew out to the mud, flashing its yellow feet as it went. In the channel, we found four Little Grebes together. They proceeded to haul themselves out onto the far bank – always off to see Little Grebes on dry land, they look so ungainly.

6o0a8448Little Egret – with bright yellow feet

Several Rock Pipits had flown around calling, but typically dropped down out of view. Finally one dropped down in front of us and perched nicely on a pile of rocks, appropriately enough! Through the scope, we could see its plain, oily brown upperparts and the dirty ground colour to its black-streaked underparts. We get a lot of Scandinavian Rock Pipits, of the subspecies littoralis, coming to Norfolk for the winter, but we don’t have any British petrosus breeding here.

img_8392Rock Pipit – eventually one perched up nicely for us on a pile of rocks

There were lots of Wigeon out on the grazing marshes. As we stopped to have a look at them in the scope, we could hear them whistling – a real sound of winter on the marshes here. There were plenty of geese too. We were looking straight into the sun on the walk about but we could still see lots of Brent Geese, Pink-footed Geese and Greylags. In with them were 12 Barnacle Geese, presumably feral birds from Holkham Park.

As we passed the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but, despite the lack of wind, they were not to be seen. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us, but was similarly elusive. At least the Reed Buntings were slightly easier to see. A Marsh Harrier perched in one of the bushes at the back of the reeds and another one or two flew backwards and forwards across the channel to and from the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of Starlings on the move today, little flocks passing west overhead constantly on the walk out. Some were not flying so directly as they sometimes do, instead taking advantage of the warm conditions to try to catch flies on the way. A small flock of Golden Plover flew over calling and dropped down on the grass by the dunes. When we got there, we got them in the scope and found a little covey of six Grey Partridges with them!

When we got to the dunes, we turned left and walked out towards Gun Hill. The Isabelline Wheatear was still present earlier in the morning – it has been here for three weeks now – but had not been seen for over an hour when we arrived. Could it have taken advantage of the sunny weather finally to continue its journey? We decided to have a walk round the dunes to see if we could find it.

There was no sign of it where it had been feeding for the past couple of weeks. From the northern edge of the dunes, we stopped to look out towards the sea. We could see lines of wildfowl flying in, migrants arriving for the winter. There were several groups of Brent Geese and a larger flock of Wigeon coming in. A line of around twenty Eider flying west over the sea was a nice bonus, particularly as it included a couple of smart drakes.

There were lots of waders down on the beach. There were plenty of Oystercatcher and a few Sanderling out on the sand. Down around the tidal channel, we found a little mixed flock of Knot and Dunlin – a nice opportunity to compare their relative sizes. Several Turnstones had gathered for a bath.

Out at the point, looking out towards Scolt Head, we picked up two Red Kites circling out over the saltmarsh. They seemed too concerned with swooping at each other to worry about the Marsh Harrier which was trying to have a go at them. There were a few people standing on the top of Gun Hill looking for the Isabelline Wheatear, and as we turned to walk back one of the locals started waving to us. It had reappeared!

img_8405Isabelline Wheatear – looking very sandy in the sun

We stopped to scan in the direction they were all looking and there was the Isabelline Wheatear on the edge of the saltmarsh. It looked particularly pale and sandy in the sunshine. It flitted around the bushes for a few seconds and then disappeared off behind the Suaeda. It was proving very mobile because, by the time we got over to the others, it had flown again to the other side of Gun Hill. We had some nice views of it on the grass and back down to the edge of the saltmarsh again before suddenly it was off again. It flew  off up over Gun Hill and disappeared.

It was around this time that we heard trilling and looked up to see a Waxwing heading towards us.  It flew over our heads and carried on west, unfortunately without stopping.

Having had good views of the Isabelline Wheatear, we decided to walk round onto the beach and head back along the tideline to see what we could find. We didn’t find any Snow Buntings today, but we did come across the Isabelline Wheatear again. The reason we couldn’t find it earlier in the dunes was because it was now out on the beach! There were lots of flies buzzing around the high tide line, and it was busy catching them. Chasing up and down the beach, occasionally flying up after a fly.

img_8451Isabelline Wheatear – catching flies out on the beach today

We watched it for a while, but in the end had to tear ourselves away and head back, taking a detour via the base of the dunes to avoid disturbing it. We walked quickly back along the seawall, stopping briefly to watch a large flock of Linnets and Goldfinches whirling around over the saltmarsh. When they landed, we could see several Golden Plover out there too, surprisingly well camouflaged, despite the bright golden-spangled upperparts we could see through the scope.

The light was better on the walk back, so we stopped at the corner to look at the geese again. This time, we found four White-fronted Geese in with the Pinkfeet. One had its head up for a while, so we could see its pink bill surrounded at the base with white, but then they all went to sleep. Then it was back for lunch, led along the seawall by a pair of Stonechats which flew ahead of us. We ate our lunch sat on the benches looking out over the saltmarsh back towards Gun Hill – a stunning view!

6o0a8464Stonechat – a pair led us back along the seawall

After lunch, we drove back round to Holkham. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes east of Lady Anne’s Drive. While most were distant, a little group of about a dozen were right next to the road, so we stopped for a close look. We could see their pink legs and delicate dark bills with encircled with a pink band.

6o0a8494Pink-footed Goose – showing very well close to Lady Anne’s Drive

As we walked through the pines, we could hear Goldcrests calling high up in the pines. A Jay flew across and started scolding from the trees the other side. Out on the saltmarsh, a large flock of Linnets was whirling round, reluctant to settle.

A little further along, we came across a small group of Brent Geese. Looking through them,  we quickly found the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid which is regular here. It is not as dark or contrasting as a pure Black Brant but is still subtly darker bodied, with a slightly bolder flank patch and more obvious though not complete collar. In with them too was a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose. When it turned, we could see the bold wing stripes which meant it was a juvenile. Along with several or our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brents, that meant we had 2 1/2 subspecies of Brent Goose in one very small flock!

img_8457Black Brant hybrid – out on the saltmarsh at Holkham

At the eastern end of the saltmarsh, we found the Shore Larks in their usual place. We could see several of them flying around before we got there, but when we got closer we noticed there were lots more still down on the ground. There was a mass of bright yellow faces, shining beautifully in the late afternoon sunshine. Shore Larks are always stunning birds, but it was fantastic to watch so many of them in such great light, a real treat.

6o0a8521

They were feeding in the slightly taller vegetation today, picking seeds from the dried seedheads of the saltmarsh flowers. Several of the Shore Larks were hidden from view, which made it harder to get an accurate count, but there were at least 65 today and very probably a few more that we missed. After years of declining numbers it is great to see so many back again this year. While we were watching the Shore Larks, a Tawny Owl started hooting from the pines beyond, a reminder that days are short now.

Out at the beach, the tide was in. There was a surprising amount of swell, given how little wind there was today, which meant we had to climb up into the dunes to get a higher vantage point. Even from there, the ducks kept disappearing in the waves. We did manage to find a couple of Long-tailed Ducks which were not too far out. The large flocks of Common Scoter were more distant but little groups kept flying around and a flash of white in the wing alerted us to two Velvet Scoters in with one of them. They landed on the sea and we could see them in the scope before they started diving and disappeared into the larger flock.

We could see several Great Crested Grebes on the sea too. A little flock of Cormorants flew overhead, heading in to roost. Then it started to get a little misty and, with the light fading, became increasingly difficult to pick out anything different. We decided to head back to the other side of the pines.

Lots of Pink-footed Geese could be heard calling as we walked back through the pines. There was a lovely view across the marshes, with low-lying mist enveloping the bases of the hedges and trees. We watched and waited for a while, with several smaller groups of geese flying in and whiffling down. Then we picked up some bigger skeins in the distance and several thousand flew in together, in a cacophony of yelping calls. Perhaps put off by the mist, several groups flew straight over, perhaps heading out to roost on the flats instead. Many of the others did drop down and disappear into the mist.

6o0a8536Pink-footed Geese – dropping down in the mist to roost

It is quite a sight and sound to watch the Pink-footed Geese coming in to roost on a winter’s evening. Then, with the light fading, we headed for home.

23rd November 2015 -Wildfowl & Waders

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, a day of relaxed birding for beginners. Even though it wasn’t exactly tropical, the weather was kind with much lighter winds and even some sunshine at times.

We made our way along the coast to Titchwell first. Before it got too busy, we had a look around the overflow car park. Once again, there were lots of finches in the brambles – mainly Chaffinches and Greenfinches. But as we walked past the toilet block we could hear the delicate, mournful piping of Bullfinches and two flew over the road ahead of us and up into the top of the hedge, flashing their square white rumps. We could hear more in the brambles and walked quietly round to where we could see, but the Bullfinches were nervous today and flew up into the trees before we could get them in the scope. There were at least four, including two smart pink males. A Song Thrush feeding in the leaf litter down below was more obliging.

P1120793Song Thrush – feeding in the leaves in the overflow car park at Titchwell

Walking through the trees to the visitor centre, we came across a mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and other tits going the other way. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew away through the trees and landed briefly on a trunk. Round at the feeders, several Coal Tits kept darting in, grabbing a seed and darting back to the safety of the trees. A plainer pale brown bodied tit with a black cap and white face was doing the same thing, a Marsh Tit, though it was hard to follow it at times as in came in and out so quickly.

We spent some time looking at the finches on the feeders as well. There were plenty of Chaffinches, the colourful males with rusty-red underparts and grey caps, and the browner females. A few Greenfinches joined them. There were lots of Goldfinches in the alder trees above but three at least flew down to the feeders. We could hear Siskins calling, but couldn’t see any in the trees here. That’s because they were all in the alders along the start of the main footpath and we stopped there to admire them. A smart green, yellow and black male Siskin perched right in front of us for some time, picking at the alder cones.

P1120828Siskin – this male perched for some time in front of us

There were lots of birds on the move today. As we started out onto the reserve, a Grey Wagtail flew west over our heads calling. We had heard a couple of flocks of Redwings over the trees by the visitor centre and another flew over and out across the grazing meadow towards Thornham. Further along, their loud ‘chack-chack-chack’ calls alerted us to a long line of Fieldfares above our heads, flying west.

But the real star movers of the day were the Starlings. Flock after flock, many 100s of birds strong, came past us or over us. One estimate suggested that as many as 14,000 Starlings flew over Titchwell this morning, and we could certainly believe it. The birds are coming in for the winter from Northern Europe and, once they make it in over the sea and hit the coast, they seem to funnel westwards.

The drained grazing meadow pool looked quiet at first, but a couple of waders were over on the largest puddle at the back. Through the scope we could see they both had orangey-red legs. One was, as might be expected, a Redshank; the other was a winter adult Ruff, a common confusion species at this time of year. It was a great opportunity to study them side-by-side – noting in particular the plainer, darker grey back of the Redshank and more scalloped upperparts of the Ruff, with contrasting pale edges to its feathers.

Our next stop was Island Hide. The water levels on the freshmarsh are being raised for the winter, but there were still lots of ducks and gulls to look through, and a fair selection of waders.

IMG_3175Avocets – a small party are hanging on, despite the colder weather

Most of the Avocets have gone south for the winter, but a small number continue to cling on here, despite the colder weather. A line of about a dozen were asleep over towards the back of the freshmarsh. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in to join them. Lapwings are always striking, with their green backs, black and white faces and spiky crests. As well as a few on the freshmarsh, we saw several flocks on the move, flying west today. Amongst the little parties of Dunlin was a single Ringed Plover. A Common Snipe were struggling to look camouflaged on a small island with little vegetation.

There are lots of ducks in for the winter now. The largest number out on the freshmarsh were Teal, mostly sleeping or feeding around the islands. There were plenty of Gadwall and Mallard too, the numbers of the resident birds swollen with migrants from the continent. Amongs them we found a few sleeping Shoveler. Most of the Wigeon were on the islands over towards the back, but a pair were with the other ducks much closer, giving us a better view of the drake with the creamy yellow stripe up over his forehead. The Brent Geese kept dropping in for bathe and preen and then flying back out again to feed on the saltmarsh beyond.

IMG_3179Brent Geese – come into the freshmarsh to bathe and preen

We were mostly looking the other way, but some squealing behind us alerted us to a Water Rail flying across in front of the reeds. Unfortunately, it disappeared straight in out of sight, but a second Water Rail then worked its way in and out along the front edge of the reeds.

Back up on the main footpath, we were told of some Shorelark out on Thornham Point. We had intended to have a look in at the Parrinder Hide, but with the sun shining through the hazy clouds we decided to carry straight on towards the beach first. We scanned the marshes and pools as we went.

The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet today, apart from a few Redshank and Curlew and a lot of Shelduck. There was more activity around the tidal pools. Three Spotted Redshanks were up to their bellies in water, feeding feverishly. A Common Redshank next to them was great to compare – the Spotted Redshanks being much paler/whiter, with a longer, finer bill. The Avocet out here was awake and feeding, in and out between a couple of female Pintail. A Black-tailed Godwit right by the path was sporting a set of individually colour-coded rings which can be used to identify where it has been seen previously.

P1120911Black-tailed Godwit – sporting a set of colour rings

The tide was out when we got to the beach, so we walked out across the sand to get a better look at the waders down around the rocks. Several silvery grey and white Sanderling were running around on the beach like clockwork toys. The much darker Turnstones picking around the seaweed are much more measured in their gait. There were lots of Oystercatchers out on the sand too. Around the rocks, we could see several Bar-tailed Godwits, paler and streakier backed than their Black-tailed cousins, and small groups of dumpy grey Knot.

P1120949Turnstone – one of many down on the beach

We decided to walk west along the beach to Thornham Point. The sand was littered with shells – razor clams, cockles, mussels, whelks, clams and more. The storms of the last few days have washed huge quantities up onto the beach and there were loads of birds enjoying the bounty, mostly gulls of various shapes and sizes, but many of the waders as well. We had hoped to catch up with the Shorelarks, but they had flown off by the time we got there.A quick search of the point produced a pair of Stonechats in the bushes.

As we started to make our way back, three Snow Buntings flew overhead, attempting to land on the edge of the dunes before realising there were too many people and disappearing off towards Brancaster. A little while later, six Snow Buntings came back the other way along the shoreline.

A couple of trawlers were fishing offshore, with a huge flock of gulls following in their wake. In with them were a couple of Gannets, a mostly white adult and a slaty juvenile. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were on the sea close inshore and a couple of Goldeneye were also, a bit further along.

Scanning out to sea, we picked up several lines of Starlings coming in over the water, as well as seeing a few flocks flying west over the beach. A single Grey Heron was also seen flying in over the sea, another bird presumably escaping the approaching winter on the continent. Even when it is cold here, we should remember it is generally much colder still in northern Europe through the winter.

IMG_3192Kingfisher – feeding around the edge of the tidal pools

We were starting to make our way back from the beach when we noticed a small bird perched in the bushes overhanging the edge of the tidal pools. Even silhouetted against the sun we could tell what it was, a Kingfisher. It flew a short distance further along, perched, hovered over the water and dived in, then flew along further still. It was only when we walked down the main path past it and looked back that we could really see its colouration, especially when it flew across over the water to the other side flashing bright blue as it went.

It was getting late by this stage, so we made our way back to the car, pausing briefly to admire an Avocet feeding up to its belly in the deep channel on the Volunteer Marsh alongside the footpath. A couple of Goldcrests were feeding in the bushes in the car park while we enjoyed a late lunch.

P1120961Avocet – feeding in the deep channel on the Volunteer Marsh

After lunch, we made our way back along the coast road. It was a lovely bright afternoon, so perhaps it was not a surprise to see a few Barn Owls out feeding in the meadows, particularly after a succession of wet and windy nights. One in particular was flying back and forth right by the road and, when we stopped to admire it, we noticed a second Barn Owl further back in the same field.

We stopped by the main road at Holkham for a scan of the freshmarsh below. There were lots of small groups of Pink-footed Geese flying back and forth. Down in the wet grassy field, among the bigger flocks of Greylag Geese, we picked out several small groups of White-fronted Geese. Smaller and darker than the Greylags, the adult Whitefronts have distinctive white surrounding the base of their bills and variable black belly bars. There were also a couple of Canada Geese and a pair of Egyptian Geese to add to the variety. Nearby, the very pale, white-breasted Common Buzzard was perched in one of its usual trees.

IMG_3197Pink-footed Geese – a few were feeding along Lady Anne’s Drive

Down at Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped again to have a good look at the Pink-footed Geese. There were several small groups feeding in the fields by the road. Over the other side, on the edge of the field near the hedge, a little covey of four Grey Partridge were feeding quietly.

We had planned to walk along to Washington Hide to watch the Pink-footed Geese arriving to roost. Whilst a few may be here all day, most of the birds fly inland to feed and return here in the evening. However, we were still standing on Lady Anne’s Drive when we heard a loud cacophony of geese approaching and several thousand geese flew in from the west and dropped down onto the fields. It was quite a sight.

P1120973Pink-footed Geese – thousands of birds coming in to roost

Still, we made our way west along the path on the edge of the pines, pausing briefly to admire the Little Grebes on Salts Hole. From Washington Hide, we could see the huge flocks of Pink-footed Geese out in the grass towards the back. Some smaller flocks were closer, and in with them we found a Barnacle Goose – unfortunately a feral bird accompanied by an odd hybrid.

As we sat in Washington Hide, a couple more huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in and dropped down to join the others already there. Several Marsh Harriers were circling over the reeds in front of the hide, waiting to go to roost. It had clouded over by this stage and the light was starting to go, so we decided to make our way back to the car and call it a day.

16th August 2015 – Waders Galore!

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. It was an early start, as we were heading up to Snettisham for the Wader Spectacular on the Wash. It was well worth getting up for!

Driving along the roads on the way there early morning, we flushed lots of birds from the edges of the tarmac – lots of Woodpigeons are to be expected at that time of the morning, a couple of Stock Doves were nice to see, and the ubiquitous Red-legged Partridges. More of a surprise were a single Guineafowl and a Peacock – both presumably having wandered out of someone’s garden! As we got to Snettisham, we stopped to look at a Turtle Dove preening on the wires.

As soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see a big flock of waders flying round, several thousand strong, before dropping back down onto the mud. Scanning through the massed hordes we could see the wide variety of birds gathering on the Wash. The biggest numbers were Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits, with smaller numbers of Black-tailed Godwits as well. There were also very large flocks of Oystercatchers and Curlew.

With the tide coming in fast, it was amazing to watch the movement of the flocks. Birds would try to stand still, but eventually get moved by the rising water. As they did so, the whole flock would shift, the birds from the edge walking up onto drier ground. From a distance, it was like watching a pool of fluid – it seemed to flow across the mud.

P1070784The vast hordes of waders gathering on the mud as the tide rose

Closer in, there were flocks of smaller waders – Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. They were still feeding actively ahead of the rising tide, running around on the mud or along the water’s edge. As the water filled the muddy creeks, several Common Sandpipers flew round calling.

However, the real highlight was the stunning display when they all flew. Today, it was a young Marsh Harrier quartering the vegetation at the edge of the mud which kept spooking them. All the waders would erupt into the air and swirl round in vast flocks, constantly changing shape as they did so. An awesome sight!

P1070724 P1070732 P1070744 P1070747 P1070757 P1070761 P1070766 P1070774 P1070777 P1070787 P1070811 Wader Spectacular – 60,000+ waders put on a great display this morning

As well as the waders, we picked out a couple of other highlights out on the mud. A single Pink-footed Goose looked rather out of place. There are huge flocks of geese here in the winter but the vast majority leave to breed in Iceland. Only the occasional bird, generally sick or injured, remains for the summer. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull flew in and landed amongst the Black-headed Gulls as the water rose.

IMG_8140Mediterranean Gull – a scaly brown juvenile

A lot of the waders remained out on the mud today, clustered tightly into a small bay of mud which had not quite been covered by the tide. This was despite the best efforts of the Marsh Harrier to flush them off. There were still several large flocks on the pits and a good opportunity to see some of the different species up close.

There were lots of Common Redshank roosting around the edges and amongst them a good number of Spotted Redshank. There were at least 20 today, in a variety of plumages. Most were now well advanced on their way to winter – silvery grey above and bright white below – but a couple were still much blacker. A single Green Sandpiper flew in to the shore of the shingle bank behind them.

IMG_8153Spotted Redshank – some still sporting remnants of black summer plumage

On one of the islands, roosting in amongst a large flock of Dunlin and Redshank, a large white bird looked slightly out of place. It was a lone Spoonbill! Eventually it decided it was in the wrong place and flew up to join the roosting Little Egrets on the top of the bank. A Bar-headed Goose was also out of place on the pits amongst the Egyptian Geese and Greylags – an escape from captivity somewhere.

IMG_8148Spoonbill – roosting with the waders at first, looking slightly out of place

There are lots of Common Terns breeding on the islands on the pit, and they still have juveniles yet to fledge. Several were flying in and out all morning. A small group were roosting on one of the shingle islands with the waders and a look through revealed a moulting adult Black Tern in amongst them – noticeably smaller, with the remnants of smoky black on its belly.

IMG_8185Black Tern – this moulting adult was amongst the waders and Common Terns

With reports of a Curlew Sandpiper in the roost at the end of the pit, we walked round to South Hide. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it amongst all the Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin – it had either walked round onto the far side of one of the islands out of view or flown back out to the Wash by the time we got there. Still, we had great views of a Common Sandpiper feeding in amongst the Turnstones in front of the hide.

IMG_8198Common Sandpiper – feeding on the pits at over high tide

About an hour after high tide, we headed back out to look at the flocks still out on the Wash. The tide was going out rapidly and the birds were starting to spread out again, and chase the falling water. A microlight aircraft appeared from the north and flew along the coast while we were there. This was enough to spark pandemonium amongst the roosting flocks and we were treated to another display as they all took to the air and flew round.

P1070827Wader Spectacular – spooked by a microlight as the tide fell again

There were a few more birds to see as we walked back. Little groups of Meadow Pipits were feeding in the short grass, with a few Pied Wagtails amongst them. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling and dropped down out into the vegetation of the Wash. Scanning the flocks small waders feeding on the freshly exposed mud, we picked up a single Whimbrel.

We headed round to Titchwell next. Chatting to the volunteers in the shop when we arrived, we learnt that there had been a Wetland Bird Survey count at Snettisham that morning with a total of at least 63,500 birds!

P1070842Wall – feeding on thistles along the main footpath

As we walked out along the main path, a Wall butterfly was feeding on the thistles and a couple of Common Darter dragonflies flew around amongst the vegetation. We stopped to look at the reedbed pool on the way. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out amongst the gathering of ducks.

The water levels on the freshmarsh are higher than they were in the week, and there were noticeably fewer waders as a result. It was well after high tide by this stage, but there was still a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits roosting on the freshmarsh, with a few Knot amongst them. There were also several Turnstones on the island nearby. As we scanned the freshmarsh, we could see small groups of them wake up and fly off towards the beach, until eventually they had all gone.

From Island Hide there were plenty of Ruff, including a very obliging bird feeding right in front of the hide. Most of the birds were adults and mostly now in winter plumage – with scaly grey upperparts and white underparts. The odd bird was still wearing the remnants of summer plumage.

P1070895Ruff – a very obliging winter adult from Island Hide

With the higher water levels, the number of Dunlin was well down on recent weeks. There were still a few feeding around the edges of the islands and the remaining mud by the reeds. Most were juveniles, with black spotted bellies, but amongst them we could still find a few adults with the solid black belly patches of summer plumage.

P1070896Dunlin – most were juveniles today, with spotted black bellies

Number of Avocet also appear to be down, although that is compared to the record number of recent weeks. There was still no shortage of them!

P1070861Avocet – fewer than the recent record numbers today

From round at Parrinder Hide, there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper today which has been here in recent weeks. A Common Sandpiper was feeding around the island at the back. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail was down on the edge of the water with the Pied Wagtails, though it appeared not to be welcome and one of the Pieds chased it away. We could also see the Spoonbills from here, sleeping at the back of the freshmarsh, behind the vegetation on the largest island. There were ten of them here today.

IMG_8206Spoonbills – 10 sleeping at the back of the freshmarsh

There were more waders on the Volunteer Marsh today. Several summer plumage Grey Plovers were particularly smart, still sporting their black faces and bellies. We paused to admire a Curlew, feeding out on the mud. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the channel right next to the path, giving us great views.

P1070908Black-tailed Godwit – feeding in the channel by the path on Volunteer Marsh

Out at the beach, we could see a drake Common Scoter standing on the rocks preening, so we headed down for a closer look. We got a great view, able to see clearly the yellow top to the bill.

IMG_8240Common Scoter – this drake was preening on the rocks on the beach

There was also a good selection of waders now down on the beach. We got great views of the Bar-tailed Godwits in particular, with Oystercatchers, Curlews, Knot and Turnstone also picking around amongst the rock pools. A single Sanderling ran along the beach. A few Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore.

It had certainly been an action-packed morning and it was still only lunchtime! We headed back to the car to get something to eat. Suitably refreshed, we headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed in the afternoon. Apart from lots of moulting Mallard and a family party of Gadwall, there were not as many different ducks here today. A single Common Pochard was the only one of note. There were also at least 5 Little Grebes.

We had thought there might be a few waders here, given the water on the freshmarsh, but at first glance we could only see 3 Ruff. However, a careful scan of the islands revealed a single Common Snipe hiding amongst the vegetation – a nice addition to the day’s wader count.

Along the East Trail, the highlights were mainly insects. There were several Gatekeepers and a single, very faded Meadow Brown. Plus a few Common Darters and Common Blue Damselflies along the path.

P1070914Common Darter – along East Trail this afternoon

From round at the end of the Autumn Trail, we scanned the freshmarsh from the other side. Unfortunately the Spoonbills had disappeared – we had hoped for a closer view from here. However, we did find three Spotted Redshanks, one of them still mostly in black summer plumage, together with two Greenshanks, around the back of the island where they were not visible from Parrinder Hide.

A Bearded Tit called and we glimpsed a quick flight view as it flew up from the reeds before dropping straight back in. Despite hearing it call again, unfortunately it did not reappear.

There were no waders on the mud by the reeds in front of us when we arrived, but three juvenile Ruff flew in while we were there. We were just admiring them, when a darker shape appeared out of the reeds behind them – a Water Rail. It walked in and out of the edge of the reeds a couple of times before walking out into the water in the middle of the bay. An odd sight in the middle of a very warm, sunny afternoon! It looked around for a while, nervously, before finally working up the courage to fly across the water to the reeds further along the bank below us.

That seemed a great way to end such an eventful day, so we turned and headed back.

15th June 2015 – Birthday Birding

A Private Tour today, a birthday gift for one of the participants. Even better, it was mostly sunny and warm on the coast today, perfect birding weather.

We started the day up on the Heath. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked up the path, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and a couple of Garden Warblers. We eventually got a brief look at one of the Willow Warblers as it flitted up in to the top of a birch tree. Further round the heath, we got a much better look at another Garden Warbler which finally emerged from cover and perched out singing in the top of a tree.

P1020015Garden Warbler – this one came out to sing in the open

It was while listening for the Garden Warbler that we heard the delicate purring of a Turtle Dove amongst the birch trees. We worked our way towards the sound, and eventually found it perched unobtrusively amongst the foliage. We got great views of it in the scope, the delicate barred neck patch and rusty-fringed upperparts. It is always a real treat to see this increasingly rare species.

IMG_5506Turtle Dove – perched unobtrusively in the birch trees

As we walked on round the heath, there were several bright male Yellowhammers singing, and little family groups of Linnets all over. The gorse has finished flowering now, but the Bell Heather is now coming into bloom and there were little patches of pinkish-purple appearing.

We could hear a Dartford Warbler singing as we approached, but on the way we were distracted by a blue butterfly down in the heather. A closer look confirmed our suspicions – it was a Silver-studded Blue, the first we have seen on the Heath this year. We had a closer look at the underwing to see the distinctive silver-blue-centred spots.

P1020022Silver-studded Blue – the first we have seen on the Heath this year

After a good look at the Silver-studded Blue, we went on to look for the Dartford Warbler. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we could hear it calling still while we were watching the butterfly, by this stage it had gone quiet. We had a walk round, but there was no sign of it at first, until finally it started singing again. It was very mobile, zooming off across the Heath, but by following it at discrete distance we were ultimately rewarded with some great views of it perched up on the top of the gorse singing.

P1020047Dartford Warbler – perched on the top of the gorse singing

We also came across the usual family of Stonechats. The juveniles are much more mobile now, and independent. The male was still feeding around its favoured perches, close to where they nested. While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard a Woodlark calling distantly, but unfortunately it did not appear. It was only as we were walking back that we got a call to say it was feeding along a path further over. We turned back to head over to see it but unfortunately it was flushed by dogs while we were still on our way over, so we reverted to our original plan.

Our next stop was at Cley. Even as we drove along the coast road, we could see a group of large white shapes out on the grazing marsh. We stopped the car and confirmed our suspicions – Spoonbills. And they were doing what Spoonbills like to do most of all – sleeping! We walked out along the East Bank and could see them standing on the bank of the Serpentine. We were only about half way out when a couple of microlight aircraft buzzed overhead and all the Spoonbills woke up. At this point we could see that there were two adults and three juveniles, the latter sporting not yet fully grown spoon-shaped bills. Presumably this was a family party, fresh from the colony. Possibly even the one we had seen departing the other day.

IMG_5533Spoonbills – the birds finally woke up when 2 microlights flew over

IMG_5535Spoonbills – one of the three short-billed juveniles

Thankfully, the Spoonbills didn’t fly off when they were disturbed from their slumbers and, once the danger had passed, they went back to doing what they do best. As we got closer, we could see the crests of the adults blowing in the wind, and their duller off-white plumage compared to the juveniles.

IMG_5527Spoonbills – the adults nuchal crests were blowing around in the wind

There was plenty more activity either side of the East Bank. Both Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing, and we got a nice Sedge Warbler in the scope. We could hear Bearded Tits calling at one point but we couldn’t see them – it was a bit breezy out on the East Bank at that stage. However, the Marsh Harriers seemed to enjoy the breeze and we got good views of both male and female circling over the reeds.

P1020053Marsh Harrier – one of the males over the reedbed

Out on the grazing marsh, there were lots of Redshanks and Lapwings, the latter particularly chasing anything which came near. The Serpentine also held several Avocets and a pair of Ringed Plovers. A Little Egret was fishing in one of the flooded areas.

P1020059Little Egret – feeding on the flooded grazing marsh, as usual today

There was also a good selection of ducks out on the grazing marsh. This included plenty of Gadwall and Mallard as usual. A female Shoveler swam across the Serpentine, flashing her enormous bill. A couple of males were lurking in the grass further back. A single drake Tufted Duck was asleep on the edge of the water. But the biggest surprise in the wildfowl category today was a drake Teal sleeping in the grass – there are not many Teal around at the moment.

While we standing on the bank, a Little Gull flew over in the direction of the reserve – we noted its small size and buoyant flight action. When we got to Arnold’s Marsh, we heard the distinctive call of a Mediterranean Gull and looked up to see two smart adults flying west just behind the beach. Arnold’s Marsh itself held a nice selection of terns – a little cluster of Sandwich Terns, a single Common Tern on one of the islands and a pair of Little Terns. It was a good opportunity to look at the differences between the three of them.

Then it was back to the visitor centre for a late lunch. Even there, the birding didn’t stop. It was a lovely afternoon, so we sat out on one of the picnic tables. Scanning Pat’s Pool, we picked up a Little Gull feeding on the edge of the water, possibly the one we had seen fly over earlier. A Greenshank was preening on the tip of one of the islands. More unexpectedly, a Siskin flew over the car park calling. And we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing – loudly – from the bushes down by the road. We got a real treat when it flew up into a hawthorn bush and perched out in full view long enough for us to even get the scope on it!

P1020064Cetti’s Warbler – serenading us at lunchtime, in its own fashion!

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Holkham. The passerines put on a good show, despite the warmth of the afternoon. A couple of Blackcap sang from the bushes by the end of Lady Anne’s Drive and we saw several more including a family party as we walked west. A mixed-singing Willow Warbler, its song incorporating a passable imitation of Chiffchaff as well as the conventional Willow Warbler bits, was an interesting diversion.

We came across a couple of tit flocks, with their attendant Goldcrests and Treecreepers. One in particular was feeding in some low Holm Oaks by the path and we watched several tits come down to bathe in the ditch, as a Goldcrest flitted about overhead and a Treecreeper preened in the sunshine on a bough.

Out at the Joe Jordan hide, most of the Spoonbills were lurking at the front of the pool today, behind the rushes. We could see them as they preened or flapped their wings, but like the ones we had seen this morning, they also seemed to spend much of the time asleep. Several more birds flew in and out of the colony, or dropped down onto the pool after a busy session out feeding.

P1020082Spoonbill – several birds were coming & going from the colony still today

As usual, there were Marsh Harriers in the air pretty much all the time we were there. There is a small colony of Black-headed Gulls just to the east of the hide, but they still seem to go up in a panic whenever a Marsh Harrier passes overhead. Today seemingly with good reason, although little effect. At one point we watched a Marsh Harrier fly into the screaming melee of gulls, unconcerned. It swooped down into the middle of the colony and came up with a gull chick in its talons, presumably destined for its own hungry brood.

The grazing marshes are packed with feral geese – mostly Greylags, many with large broods of goslings, but also several pairs of Egyptian Geese. Out in the grass on its own today was a single Pink-footed Goose. During the winter, there are many thousands here, but only a handful stay through the summer, mostly sick or injured birds. We also watched a Stoat running around in the grass below the hide. At one point it came upon a brace of hen Pheasants. The closest of the latter pulled herself up to full height, puffed out her feathers and clucked aggressively at the Stoat until it thought better of attempting that challenge and scurried off.

We had a quick look in on the beach on the way back. It was looking beautiful as ever, and not too busy on an admittedly sunny Monday in school termtime. A little group of four Gannets passed by just offshore. Several Little Terns were feeding just offshore or flying around the beach.

There were a lot of Red Admirals along the path – seemingly one every few metres. Painted Ladys were also much in evidence again today, both at Holkham and at Kelling Heath earlier. As we walked back to the car, a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth zoomed past us and paused to hover in front of some Honeysuckle flowers.

P1020080Red Admiral – many more on the wing today

Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.