Tag Archives: Purple Sandpiper

17th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. The flipside of waking up to a cold, crisp and frosty morning was that we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine during the day, great weather to be out birding.

Our destination for the day was NE Norfolk. On our way east along the coast road this morning, we passed through Stiffkey. The cows are still out on the wet meadow just to the east of the village and we managed to pull up and scan the grass from the car. We were looking towards the morning sun, low in the sky, but still it didn’t take long to spot a Cattle Egret in with the cattle, a nice way to start the day. There are two here at the moment, and they have been lingering here for some time now, but it is always worth a stop to look at them.

As a couple of cars appeared down the road behind us, we had to move on. We managed to see some other things on our journey though. As we passed through Cley, a big group of Curlew flew across the road in front of us and landed in the winter wheat on the other side where they started feeding. We could see several skeins of Pink-footed Geese making their way inland as we headed towards Sheringham.

Passing Cromer, we decided to have a quick look through the gulls down by the pier. There has been a Caspian Gull or two here in recent weeks, though they can be a bit erratic in their appearances. As we got down onto the Prom, we could see a group of gulls loafing on the rocks away to the west. They were rather distant, but looking through them with the scope, we couldn’t see anything unusual with them.

Out to sea, a small crab boat was tending to its pots and a large mob of gulls was following behind. We had a quick look through those too, but all we could see were Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew east offshore and a Cormorant flew past heading west.

There are normally a few gulls on the beach by the pier but someone was walking his dog there today and just a handful of Herring Gulls were just offshore, waiting for him to leave. There was no sign of the Caspian Gull which is often here. The crab boat had finished its work and moved on, but we could still see lots of gulls on the sea further out. Another careful scan through and this time we managed to find a juvenile Glaucous Gull in with them. Great – one of the birds we had hoped to see this weekend. One had been reported flying off west from Sidestrand earlier, so this was possibly the same bird.

The gulls were just loafing on the sea now, with the prospect of food having departed with the crab boat, and the Glaucous Gull started to have a quick bathe. The sea looked fairly calm but there was still enough swell for the gulls to disappear in the waves. Still, we managed to get it in the scope and get a good look at it. We could see it was a rather uniform dark biscuit colour with paler wing tips. Even at that distance, we could see the distinctive black-tipped pink-based bill as it caught the morning sun.

TurnstoneTurnstone – several were around the picnic tables on the pier

We were right by the pier so we figured we would get a slightly closer view of the gulls from out on the end. Unfortunately, by the time we got out there the gulls had mostly dispersed and there was no further sign of the Glaucous Gull. However, we did get a good look at several Turnstones which were looking for scraps around the picnic tables outside the cafe on the pier.

It was then a rather slow drive along the winding coast road to Happisburgh. We parked in the car park by the lighthouse and set off down the coast path along the top of the cliffs. The winter wheat field here has been home to a group of Shorelarks in recent weeks and we were hoping to see them. But as we walked beside it, there were few birds present beyond a scattering of Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Gannets flew past offshore.

As we got towards the south end of the field, we met a couple of birders coming back the other way who told us that four Shorelarks had earlier been down on the beach but had flown up and out across the field. We stopped and had a good scan, but there was still no sign of them, so we continued on to the end. We could see a muck spreader haring up and down the next field inland and it put up a large group of Skylarks ahead of it. While we were scanning over in that direction, we heard Shorelarks calling and someone shouted to say they had dropped back down on the beach.

From the top of the cliffs, we could see two Shorelarks now picking their way along the high tide line. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, their bright yellow faces glowing in the morning sunshine. They worked their way along, picking at the dead vegetation left behind by the sea, before turning round and coming back towards us. Even better, they then decided to run across the sand towards us, looking for food at the base of the cliffs, right below us. Great views!

ShorelarkShorelark – one of two feeding on the beach below us

A Meadow Pipit flew in to join the two Shorelarks but it was quickly spooked by a dogwalker out on the beach and flew off, taking the Shorelarks with it. They were quickly replaced with a small flock of eleven Snow Buntings which flew in and landed on the tide line, where the Shorelarks had earlier been feeding. We got the Snow Buntings in the scope and watched them as they picked their way along the vegetation, before flying off back up the beach.

The Snow Buntings have been feeding on some seedy weeds at the base of the cliffs, so on our way back we had a look for them – carefully, not getting too close to the edge as the cliffs here are rather unstable! The Snow Buntings we had just seen had joined up with another group and we found them just where we had expected. There were at least 25 now, and we had a great look at them feeding just below us. There was a noticeable mix of paler and darker birds, a mixture of two races from Scandinavia and Iceland respectively.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting – one of about twenty five on the beach today

Having successfully caught up with the two species we had hoped to see here, we made our way back across country to Felbrigg Hall. We had lunch at one of the rather rustic picnic tables in the car park. The trees here can hold a nice variety of woodland birds at times but it was rather quiet here today.

After lunch, we set off to walk up to the Hall. A couple of Goldcrests flew across the road in front of us and disappeared into a holly tree. As we passed by a small pond we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and looked across to see them feeding in the brambles by the water. There were Great Tits, Coal Tit and another Goldcrest in the trees too.

This autumn saw a massive arrival of Hawfinches, coming to the UK from the continent. Where exactly they have come from and why is still not entirely clear, but some of them have taken up temporary residence in suitable areas across the country, including a small number in Felbrigg Park. They have been rather mobile, but have been seen most often in the trees by the Orangery, which is where we found a small expectant crowd waiting for them.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long before a Hawfinch flew in. It went back and forth a couple of times over the wood, flashing its bold white wing flashes, before landing in the top of one of the trees. We got it in the scope and could see its huge nutcracker of a bill. A second Hawfinch flew in and joined it, before the two of them dropped down out of view, possibly to feed on the berries in a yew tree.

HawfinchHawfinch – two flew in and landed in the trees by the Orangery

There were a few other birds around the house too. A Mistle Thrush flew out of one of the yews and away across the grass. A couple of Siskins flew over our heads calling, as did two Chaffinches. A Pied Wagtail was catching insects around the chimneys on the roof of the house.

We had been lucky that we did not have to wait too long to see the Hawfinches, so we decided to make the most of our time and move on to have a look down at the lake. We hadn’t gone more than about fifty metres when another Hawfinch flew in and landed in the trees in front of us. We just had time to get it in the scope before it flew off again. A Jay was hiding in the trees by the gate but flew off as we approached.

As we walked down past the wet meadows above the lake, a tight group of Teal wheeled round several times before eventually landing down on the water. There was a family of Mute Swans and a few Greylag Geese down on here too. We had a careful look to see if we could find a Common Snipe in the grass by the water but we couldn’t see one at first. Only when we had carried on down towards the lake did one of the group look back and spot a Common Snipe feeding surreptitiously in the grass.

There were more ducks out on the lake – lots of Mallard and Gadwall, a few Wigeon and three Tufted Ducks. We could hear Siskin calling and looked across to see a group fly up out of the alders on the other side of the reeds and disappear back over the trees. It is a nice walk around the lake here, but with the evenings drawing in quickly these days we decided to move on and make the most of the afternoon.

On our way back west, we stopped in Sheringham and walked down to the Prom. Our main target was Purple Sandpiper – there are usually a few which spend the winter on the sea defences here. However, as we got down to the edge of the beach and scanned the sea, we spotted a pale gull flying around the sea defences a short distance to the west. It was an Iceland Gull, a juvenile. It disappeared behind one of the shelters on the Prom, so we set off in pursuit.

When we got round to the other side of the shelter we could see the Iceland Gull now having landed on the rocks a bit further along with a few Herring Gulls. We stopped and had a quick look at it through binoculars. It was noticeably paler than the Herring Gulls, a pale biscuit colour with paler wingtips, like the Glaucous Gull we had seen earlier. However, it was a much daintier bird, not bigger than the Herring Gulls, quite long-winged in appearance and with a mostly dark bill. We had been very lucky to see both Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull today!

Iceland GullIceland Gull – flushed by people on the sea defences as we approached

We hurried on round the prom to where the Iceland Gull was on the rocks below, but as we came round the corner we saw a couple carrying their toddler down the steps right by the rocks. As they proceeded to jump up and down in front of the sea, standing on the steps, the Iceland Gull decided it had seen enough and took off. The Herring Gulls simply flew along a little further and landed on the beach, but the Iceland Gull continued on west until we lost it from view.

Our journey along the Prom to here wasn’t entirely in vain though. As we looked down onto the rocks right below where we were standing, a Purple Sandpiper climbed out! It proceeded to walk around on the faces of the large boulders, picking at the seaweed occasionally, giving us a great up close look at it. Then with the couple with the toddler having moved on, the Purple Sandpiper flew out onto the rocks with the Turnstones, where the Iceland Gull had just been.

Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper – feeding on the sea defences at Sheringham

Having found our main target species here, we returned to the car and continued on our way west. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese were loafing in a winter wheat field by the coast road. We managed to pull up and have a look at them from the car, but there was nowhere convenient to stop. A few miles on, we saw more skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in and we watched from a layby as they dropped down into a recently harvested sugar beet field to feed.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – dropping into a recently harvested sugar beet field

The light was starting to go now, but we thought we would try our luck with a quick diversion down the Beach Road at Cley, to see if we could find the Black Brant which has been feeding here. There was no sign of any Brent Geese in the fields at first, but then we spotted a group flying over the Eye Field and they landed down in the grass. They were quickly joined by another couple of small groups and it felt like we might be in luck, with the geese perhaps having a last feed before heading off to roost.

We climbed up onto the West Bank for a better look. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Black Brant with them. There were several hundred geese now but this was only part of the flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese which has been feeding here. No more geese flew in to join them – presumably the rest had already gone off to roost.

Brent GeeseDark-bellied Brent Geese – part of the flock, feeding along Beach Road

Still, we spent an enjoyable 20 minutes or so here, enjoying the comings and goings at the end of the day. There were lots of Wigeon feeding out on the grass. Further back, we spotted a pair of Pintail on one of the pools and a single drake Shoveler with some Teal on another. A small group of Golden Plover flew up and whirled around repeatedly over the Eye Field calling plaintively. Several Redshanks called noisily from the saltmarsh the other side of the bank. A couple of Water Rails squealed from the reeds.

The Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost now. We could already see at least five out over the main reedbed, flying round or perched in the bushes in the reeds. While we stood on the West Bank, another two Marsh Harriers flew in from Blakeney Freshes, past us and out towards the reserve. Then a Barn Owl appeared, over the bank the other side of the Glaven channel. It flew up and down a couple of times before dropping down into the grass out of view.

When the Brent Geese decided it was finally time to stop feeding and head off to roost, taking off and flying right over our heads with a whoosh of wingbeats, we decided it was time to call it a day too.

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21st Oct 2017 – Migrants & Winter Visitors Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. It was a nice bright start to the day, but the wind increased during the morning as ‘Storm Brian’ swept across the UK. Thankfully, being on the east coast, it was nowhere near as windy here as it was in the west of the country, but it was still rather gusty at times. It clouded over a bit too, in the afternoon, but remained dry all day and we had a good day out.

Given the nice weather first thing, we decided to have a quick look in Wells Woods to see if any migrants had arrived overnight. There are lots of Little Grebes now on the boating lake – we counted at least 17 as we walked past – but no ducks other than the local Mallards.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of at least 17 on the boating lake today

We set off into the woods but it was quiet at first in the trees. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling further over, towards the east side of the Dell. On our way round there, a Treecreeper flew in and landed on the trunk of a large old pine tree in front of us. We watched it for a minute or so as it picked its way around the furrows in the bark, before it disappeared round the other side of the tree.

TreecreeperTreecreeper – flew in to the trunk of an old pine tree in front of us

At first we could only find three Long-tailed Tits together. They were calling constantly and had possibly lost the rest of the flock. They disappeared off the way we had come, but as we walked out onto the main path, we found the rest of the group. They were in a sheltered spot initially, but quickly moved round to the breezier side of the trees where they were harder to follow.

The tit flock was on the move, and didn’t seem to know which was they were going, They first started to head over to the caravan site, then changed their minds and went back to the edge of the Dell, before starting to fly over to the west side of the meadow. There was a nice selection of the commoner tits and a few Goldcrests, but it was hard to see the whole flock. In the end, they disappeared into the trees and we left them to it.

The bushes in the more open areas by the track still held a few thrushes – several Blackbirds and a Redwing or two – plus a handful of Chaffinches, but not the number of migrants that they have produced in the last few days. It seemed like there had not been much in the way of new birds in overnight, and earlier arrivals had already mostly moved off inland. A Bullfinch flew out of the brambles and away ahead of us, flashing its white rump. There were a few Curlews in the nearer fields, and we could see small flocks of Pink-footed Geese dropping into the fields further south.

The drinking pool seemed like a good place to check, as it would be relatively sheltered. As we walked in, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the pines beyond, but it took us a while to locate them. Thankfully, they worked their way round to the pool and many of them dropped down into the smaller trees round the edge. We had great views of the tits and in particular a couple of Goldcrests which were feeding low down right in front of us.

GoldcrestGoldcrest – one of several feeding in the bushes round the drinking pool

As the tit flock moved back up into the pines, we decided to make our way back and try our luck elsewhere. The wind had already started to pick up now, and we really noticed it as we got out of the trees. When we got back to the car, we headed off east along the coast to Cley.

There has been a Black Redstart hanging around here for a few days now and today it had taken up residence on the roof of the wardens house. As we walked out to the hides, we could see it flitting around on the tiles. The sun was on the east side of the roof, which was also most sheltered from the wind. Presumably it was finding insects up there because, as well as the Black Redstart, there were also two Pied Wagtails on the roof.

Black RedstartBlack Redstart – on the roof of the warden’s house at Cley

Black Redstarts breed in small numbers in Norfolk, mainly around Great Yarmouth. This one is presumably a migrant, heading from the breeding grounds in northern Europe to winter around the Mediterranean.

The boardwalk out to the hides was also in the sun, and sheltered from the wind by the tall reeds either side. There were lots of Common Darter dragonflies along here, basking in the sunshine on the bare wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – basking in the sun along the boardwalk

At the end of the boardwalk, we headed for Dauke’s Hide first. There were lots of ducks out on Simmond’s Scrape – mainly Wigeon and Teal, now returned in larger numbers from Russia and northern Europe for the winter. They were very jump in the wind, and kept flying up into the air, taking everything else up with them, before landing again.

There have been good numbers of Little Stints at Cley this autumn and the same was still true today. There were at least 7 on Simmond’s Scrape while we were there, although they were hard to count. They really are tiny birds and were easily lost from view among the ducks or around the back edges of the islands. They were all juveniles – amazing to think they are making their way unguided from the Arctic down to Africa for the winter.

Little StintLittle Stint – a juvenile, one of at least 7 on Simmond’s Scrape

There were not so many other waders on here this morning. This might be partly due to the ducks, which caused them all to take flight several times when we were there, not helped by the two Marsh Harriers which were quartering over the reeds most of the time but would occasionally drift over the edges of the scrapes, presumably enjoying the mayhen which ensued.

There were three Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water along the edge of the scrape, and a couple of Ruff in among the ducks. A little group of Dunlin included some already in winter plumage and a couple of juveniles with black spotted bellies. A lone adult was still sporting most of its large black belly patch, a remnant from its breeding plumage. A single Common Snipe flew in and landed in the cut dead reeds in the back corner, where it immediately became very difficult to see!

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported here earlier, but we couldn’t find it – presumably it had flown off at some point, when all the ducks flushed. We did find a Ringed Plover out on the grass in the middle of one of the islands. When something else landed with it, we looked over and were surprised to see a dumpy, much darker wader – a Purple Sandpiper.

Through the scope, we could see the Purple Sandpiper’s yellow legs and bill base. It was a first winter bird, still with its retained pale-fringed juvenile wing coverts. It stayed just long enough for us all to get a good look at it through the scope. Then suddenly all the ducks erupted again, as the Marsh Harrier drifted across the back of the scrapes, and the waders took to the air too. Unfortunately, despite most of the birds quickly returning to the water, the Purple Sandpiper had disappeared.

One of the smartest birds on here today was a Starling. We don’t tend to look at them as much as we should, as they are not uncommon here especially in winter, but this one was probing in the grass for invertebrates, on the bank right in front of the hide, and demanded our attention. It looked particularly striking in its fresh plumage, with striking white or pale brown tips to the feathers head and body feathers. A real stunner!

StarlingStarling – feeding in the grass in front of the hide, a stunning bird close-up

There are not so many birds on Pat’s Pool at the moment, but we popped into Teal Hide for a quick look. The highlight was a single Avocet in a line of roosting Black-headed Gulls and Ruff. Most of the Avocets here have left already, but there are still a very few hanging on along the coast. There seem to be fewer than recent years, so perhaps they know something we don’t about the coming winter!

The Ruff here today were mainly juveniles, faded now to a variety of pale, buff, stone, ecru underparts. A single winter adult with them was much paler, whitish below, and with obvious bright orange legs and bill base.

AvocetAvocet & friends – with a few Ruff and Black-headed Gulls

Then it was back to the visitor centre for lunch. It was rather windy now, but not enough to stop us from making the use of the picnic tables and enjoying the view across the reserve.

After lunch, we made our way round to the beach car park. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see a small group of Brent Geese in the Eye Field. There was a Black Brant here a couple of days ago and a quick glance through the flock revealed an obviously different bird – much darker, blackish bodied, than the accompanying Dark-bellied Brents, with a brighter, cleaner white flank patch. A smart Black Brant.

Black BrantBlack Brant – with the Brent Geese in the Eye Field

This was our second Black Brant in two days, presumably another returning individual, which has got attached to a group of Dark-bellied Brents in Siberia and now remains with them all year, migrating back and forth to Norfolk. It didn’t appear to have such a strongly marked neck collar as yesterday’s Black Brant at first, but it was feeding and hunkered down against the wind. When it lifted its head, the extensive neck collar, connecting under the chin and almost joining at the back of the neck, was more obvious.

There had been several Gannets circling offshore earlier, we had seen them distantly from the hides before lunch, so we had a quick look out to sea. Unfortunately they had moved further offshore or along towards Salthouse now – we could still see them, a mixture of black-tipped white-winged adults, dusky grey juveniles and some in betweens. Otherwise, there was not much happening out to sea, no wildfowl moving today. We did see a few distant auks, Guillemots and Razorbills, flying past.

To finish off our visit to the reserve at Cley today, we headed round to the East Bank to head out to Arnold’s Marsh. It was rather windy up on the East Bank, but the wind was at our backs on the walk out. We could just about hear the Bearded Tits calling at the back of Don’s Pool, but it was not the day to be looking for them today – Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, and typically remain tucked deep down in the reedbed on days like today.

There was a good smattering of ducks out on the grazing marshes to the east as we walked out, mostly Wigeon and Teal. Looking through more carefully, we found a few Pintail asleep in the grass and a few Gadwall too. Several juvenile Ruff were feeding on the mud at the north end of the Serpentine.

We took shelter from the wind in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh. There was a nice selection of waders out on the water here, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks along with several Curlew. Around the edges and the islands we found three Ringed Plovers and two Grey Plovers. Then it was a brisk walk back into the wind!

For our final stop, we finished the day with a visit to Kelling Water Meadow. As we walked up along the lane, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling from deep in the hedge. Several Blackbirds flushed ahead of us from where they were feeding on the berries, as we saw this morning, probably birds lingering having arrived over the last couple of days.

There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler reported from the copse here earlier and we arrived to find a small crowd leaving. We were told it had been in the hedge on the sheltered north side and after only a minute or so it appeared among the leaves. It flitted about for a while, long enough for us to get a good look at it, before it disappeared back into the trees as a flock of tits moved through.

Continuing on down to the Water Meadow, we stopped at the gate on the cross track and looked back over the pool. Three small waders on the mud were the three lingering juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, so we had a good look at those through the scope. A little bigger and sleaker than a Dunlin, with a longer, more downcurved and Curlew-like bill, cleaner white and buff below with delicately scaled upperparts. They have been around here for a while now, stopping off to feed on their way down from the breeding grounds in central Siberia to Africa for the winter. Presumably they will be on their way again sometime soon.

Further back, in the most distant corner of the pool, we could see a couple of larger waders and through the scope, we could see that they were two Spotted Redshanks. These birds have been lingering here for several weeks now too. Like the Curlew Sandpipers, they are both young birds, reared in the Arctic in the summer and now making their way south. There were a couple of Common Snipe feeding with them, but there was another Common Snipe closer, on the edge of the island, which we got a better look at. There have been one or two Jack Snipe here in recent days, but we couldn’t find them today.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshanks – gave great close views after everyone else had gone

One of the Spotted Redshanks is much paler than the other – the paler one is more advanced in its moult, with more silvery grey moulted first winter feathers in its mantle and scapulars. The second bird is now starting to moult and we could see a smattering of new feathers here, but it still appears rather dusky by comparison.

There were a few other birds here too, while we stood and watched the waders. A Fieldfare flew past behind us and we caught it as it continued on west, over the hill and into the sun, the only one of the weekend. A flock of Linnets flew across the Quags calling and a Stonechat zipped across and disappeared over the hedge.

The Spotted Redshanks made their way along the east side of the pool and down towards the top corner, so we made our way along behind the reeds and were soon treated to great close-up views of them as they fed just a few metres away from us. We could see their long, needle-fine bills, with a slight kink at the tip. They were feeding busily, in and out of the grass around the edge of the pool.

Then it was time to head back. The nights are drawing in now and the light was already starting to fade as we wended our way along the coast road to finish the day.

20th Jan 2017 – Winter Birds & Owls, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Winter & Owl Tours today. It was a very frosty start but it turned into a beautiful winter’s day, with clear skies and sunshine. A great day for winter birding.

Leaving Wells, we headed inland. We were looking for owls first thing this morning, but with the combination of a frost on the ground and some warming early sunshine, we thought it might be worth a quick look around New Holkham. There has been a Great Grey Shrike here for the last couple of weeks, but it is obviously wandering over a huge area as it has only been seen on two days in all that time! As we drove along, the first birds we saw were two Red Kites perched in a tree in the sunshine. A little further along, we found a Common Buzzard standing on the top of a hedge. The raptors were out warming themselves in the sun, at least. But the shrike had not read the script and there was no sign of it in a very quick look round.

Continuing on, we came across a nice selection of farmland wildlife. There were several Brown Hares in the fields and two chasing after each other suggested that a mad March may not be far off. A couple of round lumps in a winter wheat field turned out to be a pair of Grey Partridge fluffed up against the cold – we could see the male’s black belly patch and orange face, as he watched the female feeding. A Pheasant‘s bright plumage glowed in the sunshine.

We checked out a couple of owl sites on the way, but there was no sign of any Barn Owls or Little Owls at first. However, at the third place we stopped  we immediately found ourselves watching a rather distant Little Owl. Scanning the other farm buildings periodically, a second appeared and eventually a third Little Owl, the latter much closer. It was also more active, presumably having just come out of its roost to enjoy the warming rays. It stood preening for a while, before flying up and down the roof.

img_9937Little Owl – we eventually found three enjoying the morning sun

There were lots of other birds to see here too. A smart male Yellowhammer flew up and landed on a tree in front of us. A large flock of Lapwing flew up from a stubble field, along with several Curlews. A small flock of Golden Plover flew overhead calling plaintively. Three Stock Doves took off from one of the barns and circled round. A small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew past and several flocks of Brent Geese came up from the direction of the coast and disappeared off inland, looking for a field of winter wheat to feed on. Another Red Kite flapped lazily across in front of the trees in the distance. It was a typical Norfolk winter farm scene, even including the banging gunfire in the distance from the local Pheasant shoot!

6o0a3933Brent Geese – heading inland from the coast to feed on the fields

Our next stop of the day was Sheringham. Even as we made our way down to the prom, we could see a large pale gull on the sea in front of us. A quick look through binoculars confirmed it was a cracking adult Glaucous Gull. There has been a small invasion of these arctic ‘white-winged’ gulls in the last few weeks, and several of them have been feeding along the beach here. We watched it swim across and climb out onto one of the wooden groynes, where we had a great view of it through the scope.

6o0a3958Glaucous Gull – a very smart adult with white wing tips

Looking across to the next groyne along, we could see another large and rather pallid gull, but this one was a juvenile Glaucous Gull. The adult dropped down to the sea and swam across, before chasing the juvenile off its perch. As the juvenile flew past us, we could see its pale wingtips, not white like the adult’s but still about the palest part of it’s plumage. The Glaucous Gulls have been feeding on the remains of a dead seal, washed up onto the beach after last week’s storms, but there was no sign of it today. Either the sea washed it away overnight or it has been ‘tidied’ up.

The juvenile Glaucous Gull landed again on another groyne, a short way back along the prom. We walked back for a closer look. Through the scope we could see its distinctive bill – large, with a bright pink base and squared off black tip looking like it had been dipped in ink. Helpfully, there was a nice selection of gulls on the posts here. The Glaucous Gull was about as big as the Great Black-backed Gull next door, and they both dwarfed a Herring Gull on the next post.

6o0a3972Glaucous Gull – a juvenile with a ‘dipped in ink’ bill tip

Having enjoyed fantastic views of the two Glaucous Gulls, we set off along the prom towards the east end. There were lots of Turnstones, and a little group were feeding on the grassy bank right beside the path as we passed. Scanning the rocky sea defenses further along, we found the Purple Sandpiper which is spending the winter here. Its upperparts looked sort of purple-toned through the scope, and we could see its orange bill base and legs. It was picking around on the seaweed and algae covered rocks on the edge of the sea.

6o0a3980Purple Sandpiper – on the rocky sea defenses at Sheringham

Looking out to sea, we could see a steady passage of Red-throated Divers, all heading east in little groups of two or three. A few Guillemots flew past too, and we also managed to find a couple on the sea. One was a regular pale-faced winter plumage individual but one of the Guillemots was already in summer plumage, with a blackish-brown head.

Making our way back west along the coast road, we could see a huge throng of geese in a recently harvested sugar beet field, so we stopped for a closer look. They were mostly Pink-footed Geese, which have been coming in here over the last few days to feed on the beet tops left behind after the beet itself has been harvested. Thankfully, another local birder was there and quickly got us on to two of the Tundra Bean Geese which have been with them. Through the scope, they were easiest to pick out from the Pink-footed Geese by their bright orange legs but we could also see the heavier bill with orange band on the Tundra Bean Geese.

At that point, the geese in one corner of the field started to fly up. Most of them landed again further over, and we were just getting everyone on to a couple of White-fronted Geese when the whole field erupted. There were thousands of geese circling nervously overhead calling. It was quite a sight to watch and listen to all the geese flying round. We looked across to see a farm worker in a tractor driving round the edge of the field. After he had driven round two sides and back again, and then round in front of us and down the fourth side for good measure, we started to think he had probably just flushed the geese for the sake of it!

6o0a3990Pink-footed Geese – around 5,000 were in fields at Weybourne today

Eventually all the geese started to fly off west and we decided to join them. It was fortunate there was someone to show us where the Tundra Bean Geese were, as there were apparently only 8-9 in with 5,000 Pinkfeet and we would not have had time to search through the flock on our own before they were flushed.

Our next stop was at Kelling. The floods along the coast after last weekend’s storm surge have largely receded now, but they have left behind large amounts of debris, particularly reed litter washed out from the bottom of the reedbeds at Cley and Salthouse. With large quantities of seed mixed in with it, this debris has been a bonus for seed eating birds. The flock of Snow Buntings which had been feeding on the shingle ridge before the storm surge have now taken to feeding on the tide line where all this debris has been deposited.

We were warned as we walked down along the track past the Water Meadow that the Snow Buntings had earlier been pushed further and further along the lane by people watching them, and it was perhaps no surprise that we couldn’t find them at first. We did find a pair of Stonechats feeding along the tideline, accompanied by a Chiffchaff which had probably been forced out of the reedbed by the floods. There were also a couple of Reed Buntings and a few Meadow Pipits.

6o0a3999Reed Bunting – a couple were feeding on the reed debris left behind by the flood

Looking over towards the shingle ridge, we could see a small group of birders gathered and then a small group of Snow Buntings flew up from the ground near to them. The birds had obviously gone over to that side when they had been flushed. There was no sign of them coming back, so we set off to walk round there. Needless to say, we got half way round to be told that they had just flown back again! Thankfully, when we returned there the Snow Buntings were now feeding happily on the debris again and we had a great look at them. They may have given us the runaround, but we got there in the end!

6o0a4020Snow Buntings – feeding on the reed debris left behind by the floods

There were at least 40 Snow Buntings here, though they were hard to count as they rooted in and out of the piles of dead reeds. Periodically, they would fly round in a little whirl, white wings flashing, before landing back down to feed.

With our mission finally accomplished, we set off back to the car and made our way along the coast towards Cley for a later than planned lunch. We had to make one more unscheduled stop on the way though, as a Barn Owl appeared over the field behind Walsey Hills. It flew towards us and then crossed the road, going right past us over the verge the other side. A stunning view!

6o0a4029Barn Owl – flew past us along the coast road at Cley

The reserve at Cley is closed after the floods, but after lunch we had a quick scan of the scrapes from the Visitor Centre. There was no sign of the Smew which had been seen here this morning but we did see a couple of pairs of Pintail, the drakes looking very smart now with their long pin-shaped tails. A couple of Marsh Harriers quartered over the reedbed.

We headed out along the East Bank next. There were lots of Golden Plover out on the grass, now the flood waters have receded. In amongst them, were good numbers of diminutive grey and white Dunlin. A couple of Common Snipe flew down along the grassy edge just beyond the channel and landed next to a Lapwing right in front of us, giving us great views of them through the scope. Further over, we found a couple of Black-tailed Godwit and a lone Ruff. A Grey Plover feeding on the grass had possibly been forced over from Arnolds Marsh, which is still flooded.

6o0a4035Lapwing – on the grazing marsh below the East Bank at Cley

There was a nice selection of ducks out here too. There were several more Pintail and again we stopped to admire a couple of very smart drakes. We also found a couple of Gadwall and a few Shoveler which were new for the day. Some Brent Geese were feeding nervously out on the grass but got spooked by something and flew off calling. A lone Little Grebe was diving out on the water at the back. A Little Egret looked stunning in the late afternoon sun down in front of us, trying to stir up the mud below the water with its feet, hoping to disturb something tasty to eat.

6o0a4045Little Egret – feeding on the pools off the East Bank

Scanning the edges of the marshes carefully, we came across a large pale gull sitting down on a muddy bank. On closer inspection, it was another juvenile Glaucous Gull, our third Glaucous Gull of the day. As we walked further along the bank, it finally woke up and had a fly round over the water.

We had a quick look out to sea from the end of the East Bank. As at Sheringham earlier, there were several Red-throated Divers still moving past, but this time we also managed to find a couple of them on the sea. There were also a few more Guillemots. A distant Gannet flew past offshore. Then it was time to head back.

Turning off the coast road and heading inland, we hadn’t gone very far when we found another Barn Owl. It was hunting out over a grassy field, flying round and round. It dropped down into the grass and when it came up again it flew over onto a fence post nearby. It appeared to have caught something but by the time we got the scope onto the Barn Owl, whatever had been caught had already been eaten.

6o0a4071Barn Owl – our second of the day, taking a break from hunting

Then the Barn Owl was off again, doing a quick circuit of the back of the field, before flying over the hedge at the back. We caught up with it briefly as it flew across the field next door and then it was off again back and out of view. As we turned to walk back to the car, a small flock of about 40 geese flew overhead. We could just see the distinctive black belly bars of White-fronted Geese before the flew off away from us.

It was almost time to look for Tawny Owls, so we made our way over to where we hoped to see them. It was such a bright evening that we had enough time for a quick look at some wet meadows nearby and were rewarded with another two Barn Owls out hunting. We could hear a Song Thrush singing in the trees behind us, the first we have heard this year. Perhaps it knows something we don’t, that spring is not far away? Then it was time to get into position.

It was a slow start this evening. The Tawny Owls were not hooting much again and were rather late to emerge from the roost tonight. A muffled hoot did alert us to the fact that the nearest male had moved roost tree tonight, but then he went silent. It looked like we might be out of luck, but then a large dark shape flew towards us through the trees on big, rounded wings. Even better, it perched up in a tree in front of us. We all had a great view of it through binoculars as it perched looking at us for a few seconds. Then it was off again through the trees.

We followed after the Tawny Owl, but without him hooting he would be hard to locate. A quick whistle from us and we were rewarded with a hoot in reply. Another whistle, and we thought we might be able to work out where he was perched, but instead a dark shape whistled past us only a few metres away and low over the ground – he had flown past to check us out! Unfortunately, it was getting dark now and with him so low through the trees he was all but impossible to see, but then he started hooting again behind us. It was time to leave him in peace, but what a great way to end a day of winter birds and owls!

 

12th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of Early Winter tours today. After glorious sunshine yesterday, the weather forecast for today was not so good. Although it did rain at times, it wasn’t quite as bad as forecast and we did have some drier spells. Even so, it doesn’t stop us from getting out birding.

Given the forecast, we started the day in the hides at Cley. Pat’s Pool looked rather empty from Bishop Hide – perhaps a raptor had just been through and flushed a lot of the birds? There were a few Wigeon scattered round the edges and a bigger group of Teal on the island in front of the Teal Hide. A single Lapwing and a Dunlin flew back in and landed on one of the nearer islands, next to a little huddle of Black-headed Gulls.

We had arranged to meet part of the group here, off the bus, so having collected them on our way back, we made our way out towards the main complex of hides. Along the Skirts, a male Stonechat flew along the path ahead of us and sat on a fence post, watching us for a minute or so, before flying a little further back. As we continued on our way, it always stayed a discrete distance ahead of us until we got to the junction in the path.

6o0a8549Stonechat – this male was along the Skirts path this morning

As we opened the shutters on Dauke’s Hide, a small group of Wigeon were on the bank just in front. There were more duck out on Simmond’s Scrape, a nice selection. Several Shoveler were whirling round with their heads constantly down in the water. A lot more Teal were sleeping on the flooded islands. A few Gadwall were feeding over towards the back – one of the smartest but the most underrated of ducks, we had a good look at them in the scope. A single Pintail flew over and disappeared off to the east.

6o0a8552Wigeon – these three were on the bank in front of Dauke’s Hide

Probably avoiding the weather out on the sea, there were several Great Black-backed Gulls on Simmond’s Scrape this morning, a mixture of adults and various ages of immature birds. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was conveniently standing on one tiny island, next to a lone Great Black-backed Gull, providing a great side-by-side comparison. As well its noticeably smaller size, we could see the yellow legs of the Lesser (pink on the Great) and its slightly paler slate grey mantle.

We could hear a pipit calling, but despite searching round the margins of the scrape, we couldn’t see it. We did see two pipits come up from Billy’s Wash, calling. They were Water Pipits but, despite flying towards us at one point, they circled back round and landed out of view on Billy’s Wash again. When the rain eased off, we decided to make our way back. We could hear Bearded Tits calling by the boardwalk, but they were tucked deep down in the reeds this morning, perhaps not a surprise given the weather.

6o0a8587Egyptian Goose – a pair were on the grazing marsh next to Attenborough’s Walk

Our next destination was Iron Road, where we parked to walk out to Babcock Hide. It had stopped raining completely now and even seemed to have brightened up a little. There was a large gaggle of Greylag Geese on the grazing marshes by the start of Attenborough’s Walk and, further along by the junction to the hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese too. Several small groups of Pink-footed Geese appeared to fly up from the direction of Salthouse. Some of them flew west over the fields to the south of us, while others seemed to head straight inland over the village.

Three Marsh Harriers flew up from Pope’s Marsh and started circling together over the reedbed, presumably taking advantage of the dry weather to head off hunting. Two of them drifted off east towards Salthouse.

As we walked out to the hide, we had seen a flock of about ten Dunlin whirling round over the water before disappearing off over the reeds towards Cley. When we got into the hide, there were thankfully still two Dunlin on the mud right in front. We had great close views of them feeding just in front of us. They were both first winter birds, having mostly completed their moult but still retaining a few juvenile upperpart feathers and the odd remnant of black belly spotting.

6o0a8573Dunlin – two were feeding right in front of Babcock Hide

A single Little Grebe was diving in the deeper water at the back, between the islands. Nearby, were a few Teal and a single Shoveler. When we looked back, the Little Grebe had disappeared but a single female Pintail had floated out from behind the islands. It was most likely the one we had seen flying off in this direction earlier. There were a few Wigeon on here too, but not as many as in recent weeks – presumably they were feeding somewhere more sheltered today.

There were not so many other waders on here today. A couple of Redshank were picking around the edge of one of the islands. A Common Snipe flew over and dropped down beyond the reeds. However, there was a steady progression of small groups of Lapwings flying west overhead, presumably birds arrived from the continent and making their way inland.

A report came through of three Bean Geese with Pink-footed Geese between Salthouse and Kelling, so we decided to head over to have a look. On our walk back to the car, one of the Marsh Harriers was circling over the marshes just the other side of Iron Road. Two Carrion Crows decided to have a go at it and the three birds chased each other for a while. When the crows gave up and landed a short distance away, the Marsh Harrier decided to get its own back and promptly stooped at them, before drifting off back past Babcock Hide.

6o0a8591Marsh Harrier – chased by Crows over the marshes by Iron Road

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the field where the Bean Geese had been, there was no sign of them. It transpired that they had only been seen there much earlier and had probably flown off with the Pink-footed Geese we had seen heading inland on our walk out to Babcock Hide. There were still about thirty Pink-footed Geese in the field so we had a look at them through the scope. In the short winter wheat, it was easy to see their pink legs and feet. Another small group flew in calling and landed with them, but they all had pink legs too.

As we drove back towards Cley again, it started to drizzle again, so we made our way round to the beach car park and had our lunch in the shelter there. While we were eating, a small flock of Golden Plover flew in over the Eye Field and circled over the grass in front of us, before flying back towards the reserve. Several little groups of Brent Geese flew in from the direction of Blakeney Freshes. We kept one eye on the sea, but there was very little moving offshore today. As we were packing up a flock of Teal flew west.

It was starting to rain a little harder now, so we retired to the visitor centre for a warming coffee. Afterwards, it seemed a good time to go exploring inland, so we drove up to Holt first. There had been some Waxwings in the trees here during the week, but we couldn’t find them today. There were just a few Blackbirds in the rowan where they had been a couple of days ago, despite there still being quite a few berries left. The trees where we had seen them last weekend, however, have now been stripped bare.

We drove further east to Felbrigg Park next. We had a look in the trees along the main drive first, but they were quiet. Down at the main car park, by the Hall, there were lots of Blackbirds on the grass. Presumably they were all or mostly continental migrants, having stopped to feed just in from the coast. A single Redwing was trying to bathe in a puddle, when the Blackbirds were not chasing after it.

6o0a8607Redwing – trying to take a bath in Felbrigg Hall car park

On our way back round, we turned into Lions Mouth. Just through the gates a load of finches flew up from the edge of the road and back into the trees, flashing white rumps as they went. Bramblings. We stopped the car and yet more flew up from down below the low brambles on the edge of the woods. We could see several of them perched in the holly trees beyond.

6o0a8625Bramblings – several perched in the holly trees

We parked in the car park and walked back to the road, standing on the verge and looking back towards the gates. Gradually, the Bramblings started to drop down again and we got them in the scope. They were dropping down to feed on beech mast and they were surprisingly well camouflaged against the fallen beech leaves, despite their bright orange breast and shoulders, particularly on the males.

It was still raining a little, so we made our way back to the car and drove down to Sheringham. By the time we got there, the rain had eased again, so we set off for a walk along the prom. There was mist offshore which meant the visibility wasn’t great, but once again there seemed to be nothing moving past. There were plenty of Herring Gulls on the sea and Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants adorning the end of each of the groynes.

As we walked along, we came across several Turnstones. One of them in particular was very tame and came running towards us and almost between our feet. Further along, we could see why, as people were throwing out chips for the Black -headed Gulls and the Turnstones were grabbing a share of the fallen ones too. The Turnstones had to be quick, because the Black-headed Gulls proceeded to chase a couple of them – they were fairly relentless too, pursuing them up and down along the beach and out over the sea until the Turnstones dropped their chips.

6o0a8633Turnstone – waiting for chips on the prom

The rocks below the prom are a regularly wintering site for Purple Sandpipers but there didn’t seem to be at any of their regular haunts this afternoon. We walked right along to the eastern end and, as we walked past, one Purple Sandpiper appeared below us. We watched as it climbed up and down, picking around at the seaweed growing on the rock’s surface. When a wave came in and crashed in through the bottom of the rocks, a second Purple Sandpiper appeared from below and climbed up to the top of one nearby.

6o0a8680Purple Sandpiper – two were on the rocks below the prom at Sheringham

When the first Purple Sandpiper appeared, we had just seen a distant diver on the sea and when we had had a good look at both of them, we turned our attention back to looking for it. It was obviously diving as it took a while before we picked it up again. Through the scope we confirmed our suspicions – it was a Great Northern Diver. Then it disappeared again, and despite scanning back and forth for a few minutes it was nowhere to be seen. It had probably drifted back out into the mist and the light was now starting to fade so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

5th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was cloudy and increasingly blustery today, with winds gusting to 47mph this afternoon, so we spent the day dodging the showers. Still, it was surprising how much we saw despite the weather.

As we drove east along the coast road this morning, we flushed lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches from the sides of the road. Our first destination was Blakeney, for a quick walk out around the Freshes before the wind picked up later. A couple of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the harbour channel just across from the car park but we could immediately see that one was much paler than the other. A closer look confirmed, one was a Pale-bellied Brent and the other a Dark-bellied Brent Goose.

6o0a7350Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese – a nice comparison

Dark-bellied is the regular form of Brent Goose which winters in large numbers here. This subspecies breeds in arctic Russia. Pale-bellied Brent Geese breed from Svalbard west across arctic Canada and winter mainly on the west coast of Scotland and in Ireland. We normally get a handful of Pale-bellied in with the flocks of Dark-bellied Brents here each winter and they occasionally form mixed pairs. Today was a great opportunity to see them side by side.

While we were watching the Brent Geese, we heard a Kingfisher call and looked across the channel to see two Kingfishers chasing each other low over the water. They flew over to our side of the channel and disappeared over the bank towards the Freshes. A little later we saw one of the zip back low across the reeds towards the wildfowl collection. A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds a little further along.

Further along the seawall, as we got almost to the corner, we turned to look at the Freshes just in time to glimpse a dumpy bird dropping down into the grass on the edge of a flooded depression. We had a pretty good idea what it was, but we couldn’t see it from the seawall or from the path the other side. As we approached for a closer look, a Jack Snipe flew up and shot off towards the harbour – just what we had suspected. In flight, we could really see the small size and the shorter bill compared to a Common Snipe.

We continued on along the north side of the Freshes bank. There were lots of Skylarks down in the short weedy vegetation beyond the fence. A flock of Linnets flew in and dropped down there too briefly. A Rock Pipit flew over calling and landed on the fence, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. Reed Buntings occasionally flew up from the bushes but quickly disappeared back down again. A female Stonechat worked its way along the fence, dropping down onto the side of the bank periodically to look for food.

6o0a7371Stonechat – this lone female was working its way along the fence line

It is very exposed to the elements out on the seawall here. The wind was now starting to pick up and we could see dark clouds coming in towards us over the sea, so we decided to head back to the car. We had a quick look at the wildfowl in the Blakeney collection – none of which were allowed on the bird list for the day of course! We were just settled back in the warmth of the car when we saw two Peregrines over the edge of Friary Hills. A larger adult Peregrine, presumably a female, was chasing a smaller male juvenile – they swooped low over the grass before disappearing behind a hedge, coming out the other side and zooming off over the houses.

With the deterioration in the weather, we decided to head inland to get some respite. There have been some Waxwings in Holt for the last couple of days and as we turned into the road where they have most often been seen we could immediately see several photographers with long lenses pointed up into the trees. Even before we stopped, we could see Waxwings, and we could hear them calling as we got out of the car.

6o0a7387Waxwing – there were at least 20 in Holt today

There were at least 20 Waxwings, but they were hard to count as they were feeding in several different trees, and frequently flying round in small groups or singles. The bulk of the group seemed to keep returning to the top of a large chestnut tree, where they were hard to see among the leaves. From there, they would drop down into several smaller rowans, where they would proceed to wolf down the red berries, much to the annoyance of the local Blackbirds! There was also an apple tree in one of the front gardens by the road, and several of the Waxwings kept coming down to attack the apples, clinging on to them and biting away at the flesh where they had been half eaten already.

6o0a7454Waxwing – feeding on apples, as well as rowan berries

Having feasted ourselves, on such excellent views of such gorgeous looking birds, when the Waxwings flew off and disappeared round behind the buildings, we decided to move on. Our next stop was at Sheringham, where we went for a walk along the sea front.We thought we might pick up some seabirds on our way, but at first it seemed a little quiet, apart from hordes of Turnstones around the fishing boats which had been hauled up the slipway.

6o0a7525Turnstone – lots along the prom at Sheringham

There was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on their usual favourite rocks below the pub, but when we got to the shelter at the east end of the prom, we could see first one and then two Purple Sandpipers distantly out on the sea defences.

We stopped to talk to another couple of local birders who told us that the movement of seabirds was just picking up, after the wind had strengthened. A line of Common Scoter flew past with a single Tufted Duck in amongst them. A steady stream of Gannets tacked across the wind, heading east offshore, both white adults and dark grey-brown juveniles. There were little groups of Guillemots zooming across and a couple of Red-throated Divers went past too.Then a few Great Skuas started to pass by – in the half hour we stood there sheltering from the wind, we saw about ten – but they were all rather distant and hard to get everyone onto. A single juvenile Pomarine Skua was even further offshore.

As a particularly fierce squall blew in off the sea, we took shelter until it passed. Perhaps prompted by a Sanderling which came in with them, the two Purple Sandpipers took off and flew towards us, passing by and heading back to the rocks below the pub. We waited until the rain had stopped and decided to walk back to look for them. Unfortunately, by that stage they had disappeared again. We did find a couple of Ringed Plovers which had probably stopped off with the Turnstones to sit out the wind.

6o0a7527Ringed Plover – stopped off with the Turnstones on the slipway

After lunch and a welcome hot drink back along the coast road at Cley, we drove round to Iron Road and headed down along Attenborough’s Way. There was a nice flock of Brent Geese out on the grazing meadows (all Dark-bellieds), and as well as the plain backed adults we could see quite a few stripe-backed juveniles. Hopefully, as the Brent Goose numbers increase over the coming weeks, it will prove to have been a good breeding season for them this year.

6o0a7537Brent Geese – adults & juveniles on the grazing marshes

Round at Babcock Hide, the wind was now whistling across the marshes. A little flock of Dunlin were feeding down at the front of the scrape below the hide, but they were very skittish and kept whirling round before dropping back down again. A pair of Redshank were defending their feeding territory in front of the hide, chasing off any others which tried to land there.

First one Black-tailed Godwit dropped in, then another five, stopping to feed for a few minutes before flying off again, flashing their boldly marked black and white wings. A couple of little groups of Lapwing flew in from the east and stopped to rest for a minute or two on the islands.

None of the waders would settle, in part because there were a couple of Marsh Harriers about. First, a dark juvenile flew across the reeds at the back of the pool, and drifted off towards Salthouse. Then a young male Marsh Harrier, with paler underwings and small patches of paler grey emerging on its upperwings, did the same. As they came over the grazing marshes, all the Wigeon shot out into the middle of the water from the banks. There were a few Teal and Mallard with them and three Shoveler appeared from behind the reeds too.

When a particularly dark cloud had passed over, we returned to the car and drove back round to the main part of the reserve. Just as we set out to walk to the hides, it started to rain so we hurried out along the boardwalk – thankfully it was only light rain and we got out there without getting wet.

There were several Shelduck out on Pat’s Pool and  huddle of gulls out beyond the first island. A few Teal were out on one of the further islands, but there were not many waders – three Dunlin at the back and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in with the gulls. Simmond’s Scrape held more wildfowl – a larger flock of Wigeon, a good number of Teal and a huddle of around 20 Pintail asleep behind one of the islands. Presumably the waders had gone elsewhere in search of food and shelter. A Common Snipe was feeding on the bank outside Dauke’s Hide but flew across and landed down behind the grass in front of Teal Hide where we couldn’t see it.

A couple more Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbed beyond the scrapes this side. The light was starting to fade already and they were presumably gathering before going to roost. Several Pied Wagtails flew past while we watched, some of them dropping in to the islands briefly, before continuing on their way heading off to roost.

6o0a7562Marsh Harrier – gathering over the reeds before going to roost

Turning our attention to the gulls, we could immediately see a good selection of different species – Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. One of the herring gull-types looked different – it was very white-headed, whereas Herring Gulls typically have lots of grey blotches around the head at this time of year. Against the white head, the beady black eye really stood out – the nearby Herring Gulls instead showing a very pale iris. It was  an adult Caspian Gull.

img_8262Caspian Gull – this adult was hunkered down against the wind on Pat’s Pool

The Caspian Gull was hunkered down against the wind and didn’t initially look as long-billed and long-faced as they usually do. It kept returning to a little patch of cut rushes, behind which it tried to crouch down and shelter. However, the mantle was noticeably half a shade darker than the nearby Herring Gulls. Eventually, the Caspian Gull walked up onto the island and started preening, and now finally we could see the distinctive long head and bill.

Cley in the late evening is normally a good place to see different gulls gathering before they go to roost, but the Caspian Gulls often come in very late, just as it is getting dark, so we were lucky this one had arrived nice and early today. When some of the gulls flew across to Simmond’s Scrape, we turned to look there and found an adult Yellow-legged Gull to add to the day’s gull list. It was with a Lesser and a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a good comparison in mantle tone – it was noticeably much darker grey than the Herring Gulls but paler and less slatey than the Lesser Black-backeds.

At first, the Yellow-legged Gull was up to its belly in the water but eventually it climbed out onto the mud and we could finally see its deep yellow legs. The light was starting to fade now, and consequently they might not have appeared as bright to the unitiated as they otherwise would have done. It was time to call it a day, but it had been a nice way to end with such a good selection of gulls gathering.

15th August 2015 – Whinchats, Wheatears & Waders

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. We headed east along the coast to explore the Cley area.

It had been raining rain overnight, and while that had stopped by morning it was still overcast, cool and damp. There were lots of hirundines hawking for inescts over the NWT reserve at Cley as we arrived. A scan through revealed three Swifts amongst them – most of our Swifts appear to have departed already. We decided to head out to the main hides first, given the conditions. We could see lots of waders on the scrapes from the car park.

Unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to leave we spotted the warden in his Land Rover leading the cows off the grazing marsh. One of the herdsmen was walking behind shouting. They made their way right around the edge of the scrapes – needless to say all the waders took flight, departing in all directions. What perfect timing – 9am on a busy Saturday morning, just as all the visitors are about to arrive to see the birds!

We decided to head round to North Scrape instead, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision. As we walked along the beach from the car park, we could see several Gannets passing by offshore in the cool NW wind, and a trickle of Sandwich and Common Terns heading back towards Blakeney Point. We had almost made it to North Scrape when a flash of a white rump ahead of us and a Wheatear landed on one of the larger stones. We stopped to look at it and a second Wheatear flew in next to it. They flicked off along the fence line and as we walked up to the turn to the scrape, we scanned the beach beyond. A different bird was perched up on the fence next to them – slightly smaller, more upright, and with a well-marked pale supercilium, it was a Whinchat. A great way to start the day, with a nice little group of autumn migrants.

IMG_7987Whinchat – on the fence by North Scrape with a couple of Wheatears

There were lots of waders out on North Scrape – probably quite a few flushed off the rest of the reserve by the warden! Dunlin is the default small wader here, and it is always worth scanning through the flocks to see if there are any other waders with them. There were over 110 Dunlin out feeding on the mud today. In amongst the nearer group, a slightly larger, plumper, darker grey bird stood out – a Purple Sandpiper. More often seen over the winter on the rockier sea defenses around the coast, this was a nice surprise to see here.

IMG_7999Purple Sandpiper – in amongst the Dunlin on North Scrape

Further back, in amongst a larger flock of Dunlin, we could see a single moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its chestnut summer underparts speckled with winter white now. On the edge of the flock, on the drier mud, two much smaller waders were Little Stints, their white faces and bellies obvious even at a distance. We sat patiently, scanning through the mass of birds out on the scrape, and eventually that group came much closer giving us much better views through the scope.

IMG_8033Curlew Sandpiper – also in amongst the Dunlin

There were other waders to find out there as well. A little group of Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of one of the islands. A juvenile Knot was down near the front of the scrape at first, half associating with the Dunlin, but happy to do its own thing.

IMG_8013Knot – a juvenile with a light peachy wash to the breast and belly

We could hear some of the sandpipers, more than we could hear them. There were 2-3 Green Sandpipers but they prefer to feed amongst the vegetation around the edge of the scrapes. Occasionally one would fly round calling and we got one of them in the scope when it stopped to preen in the open. The Wood Sandpiper was less obliging, flying round calling, but dropping down over on Billy’s Wash out of view. The Common Sandpipers were easier to see, feeding around the grassy edges of the islands, bobbing up and down as they did so. A couple of Greenshank performed nicely as well.

IMG_8028Greenshank – feeding on North Scrape

In the end, we counted 14 species of wader on North Scrape this morning, including all the more numerous species, such as Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Avocet. This was not even counting the Wood Sandpiper and a Turnstone, both of which were only heard overhead and neither of which actually dropped in while we were there. A very respectable score!

We had intended to head back round to the main hides next, but while we were at North Scrape we saw the herdsmen walking round the scrapes again – presumably they had lost one of the herd? With all that disturbance, we decided to head round to the East Bank instead. As we walked back to the car, we scanned the sea. A Common Scoter flew past, along with a few more Gannets. Further out, we picked up a couple of Little Gulls dipping down to the sea, feeding.

It was a bit breezy up on the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits pinging, but they were keeping down in the wind – it was not a good day to look for them. Out across the reedbed, we could see one of the juvenile Marsh Harriers perched in a bush – dark chocolate brown body plumage with an orangey town to the crown. It was struggling to stay still in the wind. A second juvenile flew round and more sensibly dropped back down into the shelter of the reeds!

IMG_8042Marsh Harrier – an orangey-headed juvenile was trying to balance on a bush

There were a few waders out on the Serpentine. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water, a mixture of rusty summer plumaged birds and greyer mostly winter individuals and some in between. The Ruff were harder to see, keeping to the grassy edges out of the wind. A Common Sandpiper was similarly lurking amongst the vegetation.

IMG_8056Black-tailed Godwit – several were feeding on the Serpentine

There were fewer waders out on Arnold’s Marsh then in recent weeks. Another large group of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping, with a couple of Knot in amongst them. The usual gathering of noisy Sandwich Terns was on one of the islands. As we walked back along the East Bank, we did find a couple of Common Darters trying to catch the now emerging sun, despite the breeze.

P1070589Common Darter – basking on the stones along East Bank

We stopped for lunch at the Visitor Centre. With the weather brightening and the sun out, we were even able to sit outside at the picnic tables. While we were eating, a family of Lesser Whitethroats flew across from the overflow car park and started to feed in the young holm oaks in front us. Very nice lunchtime entertainment!

P1070616Lesser Whitethroat – feeding in the young trees by the picnic tables

After lunch, with the disturbance of the cow herding finally having abated, we headed out to the main hides. On our way, there were lots more Common Darters along the path and a Blue-tailed Damselfly in the reeds along the ditch.

There were still not the number of waders that there had been first thing, but a few of particularly the larger species had made their way back in. The numbers were dominated by Ruff – a mixture of paler, mostly winter-plumaged adults and several browner juveniles – and Black-tailed Godwits. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits we get are from Iceland – of the islandica subspecies. Scanning carefully through the flock, we eventually found a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the limosa subspecies. A nearby juvenile islandica gave a nice opportunity to compare the two.

IMG_8071Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile of the limosa subspecies

In amongst a little group of Ruff feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool, we found another Curlew Sandpiper, out second of the day. Again, a moulting adult with white flecked chestnut underparts. A big flock of Lapwing dropped in, presumably flushed of the fields nearby. Another Common Sandpiper was working its way round the islands.

IMG_8097Curlew Sandpiper – our second of the day, this one on Pat’s Pool

We still had time left in the day to do one more thing, so we drove round to Kelling and walked down along the track to the Water Meadow. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was feeding in the tall blackthorn hedge. A Chiffchaff was calling from the holly trees along the lane. As we got down to the Water Meadow, a couple of Whitethroat flew out of the hedge. Out on the pool, there were only a handful of waders – two juvenile Ruff, a lone Redshank and a single Ringed Plover. Three Little Egrets were feeding in the shallows.

The wind had now dropped and it was warm in the sunshine. There were several butterflies and dragonflies out now. An Emperor Dragonfly was hawking for insects along the path. As well as a few Gatekeepers and a Speckled Wood along the lane, we came across several Common Blues around the shorter vegetation down on the coast.

There were lots of Goldfinch and Linnets in the brambles on the hillside behind the beach, post-breeding with plenty of juveniles. In amongst the, along the fence line, we came across a little family group of Stonechats. The male perched on the fence preening whilst the juveniles kept dropping down amongst the thistles in the field.The female Stonechat was further up the fence, higher up on the hillside, and while we were watching her a much paler, buffier bird appeared alongside – a Whinchat. It was feeding differently to the Stonechats, flying up above the bushes, hawking for insects. We decided to walk round and up the hill for a better look. Further down the track, out on the Quags, a single Wheatear was feeding in with cows on the shorter grazed grass.

IMG_8106Wheatear – out on the Quags at Kelling

Round on the hillside, we had a great view along the coast and out to sea. We could hear Whimbrel calling and picked up 3 distantly, flying in off the sea before turning and heading east away from us. We could also hear Stonechats calling and could see a couple on the fence ahead of us. Suddenly a Whinchat appeared as well. Before we could get the scope on it, the female Stonechat chased it away down towards the sea. Only when the Stonechats had returned to feeding their youngsters, did the Whinchat return to the fence, before being chased away again.

IMG_8127Whinchat – one of two down at Kelling this afternoon

We eventually got a good look at it – when it wasn’t being chased off. Then we turned to head back. As we did so, we saw that the Whinchat we had seen earlier was still flycatching on the other side of the hill – there were actually two present with the Stonechats. As walked back we could hear the Swallows alarm calling and looked up to see a Sparrowhawk shoot through. Another Swallow back in the village was more relaxed, preening on the wires above the car as we packed up for the day.

P1070707Swallow – preening on the wires in Kelling village

31st October 2014 – Late Migrants on the Coast

It was great to get out on tour again on the North Norfolk coast today. We spent the day in the Cley area, looking for late migrants and spending some time watching the winter wildfowl and waders. The Brent Geese are still arriving for the winter – we saw lots of small groups coming in off the sea. However, there was already a nice flock in the Eye Field and it was good to see plenty of young birds.

P1090425Brent Geese – lots of family parties were in the Eye Field

Our first stop was North Scrape, where we quickly located the three Grey Phalaropes. One of them showed well, swirling round in circles on the water, picking at the surface and swimming around amongst the massed throngs of wildfowl. While we were sitting there, lots of migrants were arriving from the continent for the winter. Flocks of thrushes were flying in off the sea and overhead – Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and a single Mistle Thrush. Small numbers of Starlings were also seen coming in, and small flocks were moving west along the coast all day, along with a steady stream of Chaffinches. A Brambling dropped in with the Goldfinches and Linnets feeding by the beach, along with lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and a pair of Stonechats, the first of several we came across today.

P1090416Stonechat – we saw several of these charismatic birds along the coast

On our way back to the car park, we stopped to watch a flock of Golden Plover. Initially asleep, they were spooked by a couple of crows and swirled round in front of us before dropping back into the grass. While we were standing there, a single Woodcock flew in over the beach and right past us, disappearing over the reserve.

P1090419Golden Plover – sleeping in the Eye Field

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the reserve. Lots of wildfowl are now gathering on the scrapes – especially Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall. There were still several other waders around, including a few Avocets, Ruff and lots of Black-tailed Godwits. The Marsh Harriers eventually put on a good show, with the highlight being four birds circling together over Pope’s Marsh.

In the afternoon, we explored the coast to the east. At Walsey Hills, we couldn’t find the reported Yellow-browed Warbler but did see a male Blackcap gorging himself on late autumn berries. Wherever we went, there were freshly arrived Blackbirds and Song Thrushes in the hedgerows. A Bullfinch called ahead of us but wouldn’t come out. However, two treats were still awaiting us. Down by the beach, a flock of finches flew away from us. Expecting them to be the usual Linnets, a characteristic buzzing ‘tveeet’ alerted us to the presence of Twite. When we finally tracked them down, there were at least 27 Twite, with a much smaller number of Linnets alongside, a real treat as they have become very scarce in recent winters.

IMG_1750Twite – we came across a flock of at least 27 along the coast

On the pools behind the beach we were alerted to the presence of Purple Sandpiper – thankfully, as it appeared to be particularly tame and we could easily have walked straight past it! A lovely way to end the day, in the evening glow.

P1090490Purple Sandpiper – a very tame bird!

P1090429Common Darter – lots of these were still out in the sunshine today