Tag Archives: Redwing

Jan/Feb 2021 – Through Winter, now into Spring

I am conscious that I haven’t written any blog posts for several months now – COVID-19 has meant no tours have run since last October, with a succession of national lockdowns interspersed with ‘tiered’ regional restrictions which have meant it has not been possible to operate.

As we head into spring, hopefully there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Following last week’s announcement by the Government, we are planning to restart tours on a limited basis from April 12th and then look to run a full programme from May 17th. If you might be interested in joining us, please check the website to see what we have planned or contact me directly.

In the meantime, this is what I have been up to, keeping busy over the last couple of months…

2021: Happy New Year

In Norfolk, we found ourselves put into Tier 4 from Boxing Day. Normally, my son and I would have a ‘big day’ on January 1st, trying to find as many species as possible up and down the coast to see in the New Year. With the restrictions in place, that wouldn’t be possible this year, but we did manage a couple of short trips out locally.

We drove down to the beach at Weybourne for a walk on New Year’s Day. Our journey there took us over Kelling Heath, where fortuitously a Waxwing was feeding on rosehips right next to the road. We stopped briefly to watch it – they have been in very short supply this winter, so it was a real bonus to be able to catch up with one so close to home today. One of everyone’s favourites, and a great way to start the year.

Waxwing – feeding on rosehips by the road on New Year’s Day

Continuing on down to Weybourne, we had only just walked up onto the beach when the lingering juvenile Iceland Gull flew up from the shingle in front of us. A scarce bird in Norfolk in most winter’s, and another good one to get 2021 underway. A walk along the beach didn’t produce much else, but the Iceland Gull patrolled up and down the shore past us a couple of times.

Iceland Gull – this juvenile has been lingering along the North Norfolk coast

Driving back along the coast road, we stopped briefly half way down Beach Road at Cley. As we climbed up the West Bank, a Kingfisher was perched on the concrete sluice the other side. A lone Canada Goose was out on the grazing marshes, lots of Pintail were asleep on the brackish pools and the hoped for Barn Owl was picked up hunting in front of the Mill.

On Jan 2nd, we went for a walk at Holkham. Heading down through the trees in the park produced a selection of commoner woodland birds and the lake added a few ducks to the slowly growing year list. But the surprise of the day was finding six Cattle Egrets (or should that be ‘Deer Egrets’?!) in the park feeding in amongst the Fallow Deer.

Cattle Egrets – four of the six feeding in the park among the deer

It was a nice gentle start to the 2021 birding year, but little did we realise that would be the end of it. On the evening of January 4th it was announced we were all going into a new National Lockdown the following day. That was that!

Staying Local

At first, staying local meant turning my attention to the garden and the surrounding fields. We are lucky with owls here, and regularly, early morning or late afternoon, one or two of our local Barn Owls could be found out hunting.

Barn Owl – often found out hunting early morning or late afternoon

We also have a pair of Little Owls here. On sunny days, they like to perch up somewhere and warm themselves and this year one of them has sometimes used a holly tree outside the back door of the house, from where it watches us coming and going.

Little Owl – watching from a sunny spot in the holly tree

The garden has delivered some surprises this lockdown – as well as an occasional Grey Heron or a pair of Mallard, we often get one or two Teal drop in to the overgrown pond at the back of us here, but a Water Rail there on January 10th was more unexpected. However, possibilities in the immediate area are always going to be slightly limited and there are only so many times you can walk up and down the footpath here, particularly with the rest if the village using it, and the ground getting increasingly muddy.

Still within the local area, there are lots of woods and footpaths which I have never explored, so I set off on foot to see what I could find. The fields and hedgerows held small number of winter thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings come here from Scandinavia for the winter.

Redwing – small flocks could be found in the fields

Some of the fields have game cover or wild bird seed mix strips along their edges, and one area in particular held impressive numbers of Bramblings, with a flock of at least 100 in one location. There were smaller numbers of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls around too, plus a few Common Crossbills in the conifer blocks.

The best find of early January were the Hawfinches. They used to breed in many of the local parks when I was a boy, but they have sadly declined to the point where they only seem to be regular now in the Brecks. Variable numbers also still come to the UK from the continent in winter, and I often wonder if birds could still be lingering in some of their traditional haunts, as they are surprisingly unobtrusive creatures for so big a finch. Still it was a big surprise out on one of my walks to see two Hawfinches fly in over the fields and land in some trees behind some houses on the edge of the village.

I encountered the Hawfinches regularly over the next couple of weeks, with a maximum of four on a couple of occasions, but mostly they were distant in the tops of the trees or flying over. Then on 18th Jan, I was walking along a track out of the woods and a lone Hawfinch flew up from the verge in front of me. It landed in some bare branches above my head, looking down at me, before flying back into the trees. Just a moment of luck – that was the only time I got close and I never did see one in the same spot again!

Hawfinch – flushed from the verge and landed in the tree above my head

The other highlight locally were the Goshawks. Once confined to the Brecks in Norfolk, they finally seem to be spreading more widely, and lots of people seem to have found them locally to them across the county in the last couple years. A succession of lockdowns has probably helped, with people forced to explore closer to home. There seem to be very good numbers of juveniles around at the moment, presumably birds dispersing after a good breeding season last year. The best time to look for them is on sunny days from the turn of the year, when Goshawks can be found displaying – perfect timing for Lockdown 3.0!

Goshawk – seem to be expanding rapidly now in Norfolk

The little things matter in lockdown too. It got colder around the end of January and this seemed to stimulate a bit of movement. A female Stonechat took up residence on the fence around a field full of sheep, the first I have ever seen locally. Common enough on the coast in winter, and in some of the bigger river valleys in Norfolk, but rarer than hens’ teeth in the agricultural desert that is much of inland Norfolk.

A couple of milder days at the start of February lulled some creatures into a false sense that spring was imminent. A Peacock on my walk on 4th was my first butterfly of the year and my first Hoverfly (Eristalis tenax) appeared in the garden that afternoon. A drake Goosander flying over the woods was a bit of a surprise late one afternoon, as was a Marsh Harrier flying high north towards the coast at dusk on another evening.

Then the snow arrived on 8th February and over the next couple of days, we found ourselves with up to a foot of lying snow, the most I have seen here for many years. Where the hedges have been grubbed out along the road out of the village and the verge had been helpfully mown flatter than a billiard table just the week before, the snow was drifting in the wind too. So that day was a stay at home day.

It was a surprise to find one of the local Barn Owls out hunting in the worst of the snow and wind that morning, before it then more sensibly settled onto a post on the edge of the meadow where it was more sheltered to see if it could hear something in the grass below. Obviously already hungry and with a problem with one of its eyes, it didn’t seem like it would survive a prolonged period of snow (spoiler alert: somehow it did and it is still here!).

Barn Owl – out hunting in the worst of the snow
Barn Owl – then tried to find food from the fenceposts

There was an arrival of Woodcock on the coast before and during the snow, presumably fleeing even colder weather on the continent. People close to the coast reported big numbers – on the beach, in coastal scrub and fields and even on the lawn in some lucky peoples’ gardens! This arrival didn’t seem to percolate this far inland though. We always have a few Woodcock which spend the winter in the woods here and numbers seemed to be much as usual.

Woodcock are normally very nocturnal, and seldom seen during the day unless flushed, but when they are struggling to feed and hungry in snowy or icy conditions, they can sometimes be found out in the middle of the day. Despite searching all the places where I have seen Woodcock locally in the past, the most I could find in the snow here were birds flying past or deep in the trees which flew off before I even saw them. We have had them on the lawn here before, in the snow, but no such luck this year.

There were also reports of large numbers of Common Snipe and smaller number of Jack Snipe elsewhere, displaced by the snow. We always have two or three Green Sandpipers which spend the winter in farm ditches locally, and I had regularly seen one or two on my walks prior to the snow, but otherwise we have few wet areas suitable for waders. It was not a great surprise therefore that I had failed to even see a single Common Snipe so far this year. So when a Common Snipe was reported by one of the other birders in the village from the ditch where the Green Sandpipers could often be found, I was very pleased to be able to catch up with it. The next day, I then flushed two Common Snipe from the old farm pond behind the house – just like buses!

Given the lack of snipe here, I thought a Common Snipe would be the best I could hope for. It was therefore an even bigger surprise the following day, when I stopped on my daily walk to scan the ditch where the Common Snipe was still feeding, and as I looked further back I noticed some bright golden mantle stripes bobbing up and down. A Jack Snipe! The first I have ever seen locally.

Jack Snipe – found feeding in a ditch locally, in the snow

Having scoured the woods in the local area for a daytime-feeding Woodcock, I received a message one day from one of the other birders in the village that he had seen one early that morning on the edge of the small copse directly across the lane from our garden! I had looked in there most mornings, on my way out for a walk, and had not seen anything. Surely it wouldn’t still be there now, but I had to have a quick look just in case.

There was no sign of it where it had been earlier, but after walking up and down on the edge of the copse several times, I noticed a rusty brown lump not far into the trees. The Woodcock! It was out in an open patch, on the ice which had been a large puddle, presumably trying to feed in the damp edges just above, where the lying snow was less deep. It froze when it saw me, presumably not realising that its wonderful cryptic plumage did not provide much camouflage against a background of white snow!

Woodcock – finally I got to see one out in the daytime

After a week, the weather changed and the snow melted very quickly. The waders – Woodcock, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe – all disappeared, the snipe not helped by the rapid rise in water levels in the ditches over the next few days. Finally able to get out further afield again, it became clear that other things had been forced to move by the snow too – there was no sign of the Hawfinches or Stonechat now, and numbers of Bramblings in the fields seemed to have dropped too.

For the last week or so of February, temperatures then rose so that for a while it felt like spring. The insects responded quickly, with my first Common Wasp of the year on on 20th and several Honey Bees gathering pollen around the snowdrops on 21st. Two Brimstone butterflies were out in the sunshine in the woods on 24th and over the following days the bee list expanded with Early and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, and Yellow-legged (Andrena flavipes) and Gwynne’s Mining Bees (A. bicolor) all in the garden.

Honey Bee – one of several gathering pollen around the snowdrops

There had already been several reports of Common Cranes on the move elsewhere over the previous few days, but that is another species we struggle with here. They wander from the Broads in early spring but tend to follow the coast or the major river valleys, and seldom seem to wander over the open fields in the agricultural middle of the county. I was really missing not having seen them in the Broads this year, one of the highlights of Jan and Feb for me. I was therefore delighted when I was out on my daily walk on 26th February in the sunshine and heard bugling high overhead. I turned to see a small group of five Common Cranes circling in the sun. After a few seconds they broke off and continued on their way west.

Common Cranes – these five flew over in the sunshine

I was pleased enough to see them, but when I got home later I noticed a message on the newswires that the Cranes had actually flown over my village a few minutes before I saw them. I hope they didn’t go over my house – it is still one I need for my garden list!

It remained warm right to the end of the month. A Chiffchaff singing in the garden on 27th February may be our earliest ever here, and seemed to be part of quite a widespread arrival across the county that day. With a sunny morning on 28th, it felt like a day for raptors so I stood on the lawn for a while scanning as the local Buzzards started to circle up. I probably saw upwards of 15 Common Buzzards and four Sparrowhawks, but nothing more exotic.

I left my scope on the lawn and walked out through the gap in the tall hedge at the back, onto the footpath beyond, to scan the fields to the south. As I emerged, I noticed a pale shape hovering over the rough grass field just beyond the hedge. It looked the wrong shape for one of the Barn Owls which usually like to hunt over there, before it turned and the penny dropped. It was a cracking silvery-grey male Hen Harrier! And for once I didn’t have a camera with me.

I ran back into the house and grabbed one, but by the time I got back out, the Hen Harrier was working its way down the field away from me, into the sun. I set off down along the footpath, and for a few seconds when it got to the far end of the field it looked like it was going to work its way back again. But then it disappeared round behind the trees and was gone. I have only ever seen one Hen Harrier here before, also a male, back in early 2011. It just goes to show what you can sometimes find when you are forced to stay home. As I walked back into the house, a Peacock butterfly was basking on the steps in the sun.

Peacock – basking on the steps in the sun

The weather has turned cooler again at the moment. The last three days have been dull, grey, foggy and have given me a chance to sit down in the office and write this. But it finally feels like spring is just around the corner and I cannot wait to get out again and explore the rest of Norfolk in just a few weeks time.

11th October 2015 – Go West

The third and final day of a long weekend of tours today. With the wind in the east, it felt like there should be some migrants around, so we started off in Wells Woods.

We walked up to the bushes by the lifeboat station first. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way in towards us and in amongst them were a couple of Goldcrests, the first of many we would see today. A Song Thrush sat in the sea buckthorn, a grey-backed continental migrant, presumably fresh in overnight. There were lots of Brent Geese out on the other side of the harbour, with plenty of waders scattered amongst them, mainly Oystercatcher and Curlew. A couple of little flocks of Sanderling were feeding along the sandy shoreline.

We walked into the trees, with lots of Goldcrests calling from the trees above our heads. There are always Goldcrests in the woods here, but there seemed to be more than usual. However, the walk up to and around the Dell was rather quiet. It was cool, it had rained overnight, and there was a very flesh easterly, so perhaps the birds were seeking the more sheltered areas?

We worked our way round onto the main path and walked west. We hadn’t gone far when we heard a pipit calling over the trees, a rather weak and weedy ‘speez’. There are several pipits with a similar call, the commonest of which here is Tree Pipit, but it didn’t sound like a Tree Pipit. It called several times in quick succession and we turned to look for it, but couldn’t see it as it disappeared over. Very frustrating!

There were also lots of thrushes coming in. We could hear little groups calling continually over the trees, a mixture mainly of Song Thrushes and Redwings. A single Mistle Thrush appeared in the tops of the pines briefly, before flying off west towards Holkham. There were also finches calling overhead – Siskins and a few Redpolls again, and more Bramblings today. We heard a couple of single birds calling, and then a flock of four silent birds circled over. We could see there orange breasts contrasting with much whiter underparts.

We struggled to find the tit flocks today. We found one, but it moved quickly away from us into the top of the pines, where it was very hard to follow. We could see Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, and several more Goldcrests. We could hear Treecreepers calling. Most likely, given the cool and windy conditions, the birds had moved deeper into the pines to feed.

We made our way west to the trees beyond the drinking pool, and then turned back. It was only when we got back by the Dell, that we came across another tit flock. They were in the tops of the pines once again, but from higher up in the dunes we could get a better look at them. We watched them for a while, seeing all the same regular species – Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits, and lots of Goldcrests. Then suddenly a crest started calling from low down in the tree right beside us. We turned to see a black and white striped face – a Firecrest. It fed in the tree in front of us for a few seconds, then flew off to join the rest. It was hard work in the trees today so, after a couple of hours, we decided to head west to Titchwell to look for some waders and wildfowl instead.

We had a bit of time before lunch once we arrived, so we walked out along the Fen Trail towards Patsy’s Reedbed. Another flock of tits passed overhead as we walked along the boardwalk – there was no escaping the Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests today! A Common Darter was basking in the sunshine out of the wind on the back of Fen Hide.

P1110202Common Darter – out of the wind and in the sun on the back of Fen Hide

As we walked up to Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see a steady stream of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit flying across the path ahead of us, up over the hedge and down onto the stubble field beyond. There were a lot more Ruff around the muddy edges and islands as well – we counted at least 35 on Patsy’s Reedbed today.

IMG_1884Ruff – one of at least 35 on Patsy’s Reedbed today

The waders kept flying back and forth between the fields and the water. We could see quite a few 1st winter Black-tailed Godwits, with retained juvenile patterned wing coverts but plain grey upperparts. However, one Black-tailed Godwit was still mostly in juvenile plumage – quite rusty coloured on the breast.

IMG_1890Black-tailed Godwit – the middle bird still mostly in bright juvenile plumage

There were plenty of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today as well – mostly Mallard, Wigeon and Teal. A small number of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the water. On the edge of one of the islands, we could see the unmistakable bright orange hairdo of a couple of drake  Red-crested Pochard. Nearby, a couple of pale-cheeked females were sleeping. As we scanned back and forth, more appeared – at least 10 Red-crested Pochard in total today. It had been a productive session out here, but it was time to head back for lunch – so that we could do the main part of the reserve afterwards.

IMG_1873Red-crested Pochard – an orange-headed male & two pale-cheeked females

We walked out onto the reserve after lunch. The grazing marsh pool held a couple of Lapwing, two Ringed Plover and a Redshank. The recent rain had left a couple of puddles, but it is still largely drained. A Kingfisher flashed past along the edge of the reeds and disappeared over the back. The reedbed pool was rather quiet today, with no sign of the raft of Common Pochard which has been there recently.

As we approached Island Hide, we could see a crowd of photographers clustered around the railings along the access ramp. When we got to them, we could see why. There were lots of Goldcrests in the sallows, feeding feverishly on the sunny side, out of the wind. We stood and watched them for a while as they fluttered around only a few feet in front of us. They were obviously fresh in from over the sea, and were desperately looking for food. Interestingly, as we returned back this way later in the afternoon, the sallows were quiet as most of the birds had obviously moved off inland towards the trees.

P1110234Goldcrest – a fresh arrival, looking for food in the sallows

As we stood and watched the Goldcrests, a single Chiffchaff appeared in the same bushes with them, also fluttering around close in front of us looking for food. Again, it was probably fresh in from the continent.

P1110218Chiffchaff – probably also a fresh arrival in the sallows

As usual, there were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh. The waders were dominated by a large flock of Golden Plover roosting on one of the islands. We got them in the scope and could see their golden-spangled upperparts. Several Black-tailed Godwits were also sleeping out there, together with two Avocets. Numbers of the latter are now well down from the huge numbers of late summer. A few Dunlin were scattered around the muddy margins.

Among the ducks, the males are now gradually emerging from eclipse. The drake Teal are a really variable mixture of brown eclipse and smart breeding feathers. There were still lots of rusty brown Wigeon as well as a scattering of Pintail in various states of moult.

P1110207Teal – a moulting drake, with a mixture of old eclipse and new breeding feathers

We made our way on towards Parrinder Hide, but as we got to the junction in the path, we could see a Curlew Sandpiper further along, by the main tidal channel out on the Volunteer Marsh. We continued on along the main path until we were level with it – and got a great look at it through the scope as it fed on the mud, initially with a couple of Dunlin, before walking and running off on its own.

IMG_1902Curlew Sandpiper – feeding out around the Volunteer Marsh again today

There were a few other waders out on the Volunteer Marsh as well, a good smattering of Redshank, Curlew and Grey Plover, plus a couple of Ringed Plover. A single Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and landed out on the mud. A Greenshank flew over calling and disappeared off towards Thornham saltmarsh.

P1110385Curlew – also feeding out on the Volunteer Marsh

Having come this far, we decided to continue out towards the beach. The Tidal Pools held the usual selection of waders – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Grey Plover, plus more Dunlin sleeping on the muddy spits. The tide was on its way in, but there were still lots of birds around the rocks out on the beach. We could see lots of dumpy grey Knot among the Oystercatchers, as well as a few Turnstones. Looking more closely, we picked out a couple more Bar-tailed Godwits as well. A long line of Sanderling were running along the beach down towards the water’s edge.

The sea itself was rather quiet today. A single Great Crested Grebe was diving close in just off the rocks, but still more were further out on the choppy waters. A lone Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore. It was quite cool out on the beach, so we decided to head back.

We hadn’t been in to Parrinder Hide on the way out, so we stopped off their on our way back. With the rising tide, a large flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and Knot had now gathered to roost on the freshmarsh. Nervously in and out of the vegetation on the bank were at least four Snipe.

P1110325Snipe – at least four were feeding along the bank from Parrinder Hide

There were lots of Shoveler feeding in the deeper water right in front of the hide, helpfully keeping their heads almost permanently down in the water. The drakes are really starting to emerge from eclipse now.

P1110281Shoveler – a drake emerging from eclipse

Back at the junction with the main path, a quick glance at the Volunteer Marsh was just in time to catch a Greenshank dropping in nearby. It only stayed for a second or two, before it was chased off by a Pied Wagtail!

Back at the drained grazing marsh pool, we stopped to look at a Chinese Water Deer which was feeding along the edge of the reeds right at the back. Down at the front, right on the edge of the reeds, we spotted a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly. We had heard one or two calling overhead earlier in the morning, so it was nice to actually see one now.

We swung back round via Meadow Trail. Even though it was cool and breezy, the sun was shining, so we thought it might be worth looking for migrants in the bushes. No surprises, we came across another flock of Long-tailed Tits and lots of Goldcrests. There had been the continual sound of Song Thrushes and Redwings coming in overhead through most of the afternoon, and we saw several new arrivals dropping into the bushes later on today, fresh in from Scandinavia.

As we wound our way round towards Fen Trail, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sallows further in. There has been one here for a while now, but it had proven rather elusive all day today. We stood at one likely spot and scanned, but there was no sign of it. Still it was nice to get one again today – making a full house for the long weekend! Then it was time to head for home.

23rd September 2015 – Dunes & Woods

Day 1 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. The weather was kind to us – some sun and blue skies, some patchy cloud – although it was cool at times in the blustery west wind. With the possibility of a tiny window of wind coming in off the continent overnight, we headed for Burnham Overy first thing to see if we could find any fresh migrants.

As we got out of the car, we could see a couple of flocks of Golden Plover overhead, alternately flashing bright white underwings and gold spangled upperparts as they turned in the morning sun. The hedges on the walk out are full of berries – ready for the autumn thrushes. A Chiffchaff called from one side and a Goldcrest flitted across on the other side, calling – the latter as likely a migrant arrived from the continent than a resident. The fields were full of Curlews – and a large flock of Egyptian Geese.

IMG_1072Grey Plover – out on the saltmarsh at Burnham Overy

From the seawall, we scanned across the saltmarsh and Burnham Overy Harbour. With the tide out, there were lots of Redshank on the mud and a couple of Grey Plover in amongst them. Further over, in the channel, a flock of Wigeon dropped in and behind them we picked up a small group of Dunlin feeding on the edge. A party of plain-looking Knot came up from the harbour and flew out towards the beach.

The reedbed pool was quiet today. A Little Grebe appeared briefly, but headed quickly for the reeds. It was a bit too exposed and windy out there. We could hear Bearded Tits calling but they were staying tucked down, out of the wind.  We did get a quick glimpse of a grey-headed male as he flew across the reeds just before he dropped back into cover. A group of five Skylarks flew over us as we walked out along the bank.

The bushes by the boardwalk are a very good spot for migrants when birds are arriving but they were quiet as well today. There were a few of the resident Linnets and Dunnocks present, as usual. However, the area was very disturbed, with Holkham Estate staff replacing the fence all the way between the boardwalk and the west end of the pines today. A couple of butterflies were sunning themselves – a Comma wouldn’t settle for long but a Small Heath performed nicely in the brambles. We decided to walk east into the dunes, towards the pines.

P1090601Small Heath – sunning itself on the brambles by the boardwalk

The massive movement of Siskins along the coast has been the standout feature of recent weeks, but numbers have clearly now tailed off. We did have a couple of small flocks of Siskin flying west over the dunes today, but not the numbers we have seen recently. A flock of three Redpoll also flew over us, calling.

We hadn’t gone far into the dunes when we came across a Wheatear. They like the short grass and lichen-covered slopes and hollows out here. It dropped over a ridge out of view, so we climbed up to get a better look at it. It would perch up on dead plant stems or hillocks before flitting  back down to the ground looking for food, flashing its white tail base as it did so.

IMG_1080Wheatear – feeding out in the dunes today

A little further on, in the bushes on the south side of where the fence would normally be, we glimpsed what appeared to be two Whinchats briefly. We were looking east into the sun, so repositioned ourselves to get a better view. After a short while, a pair of Stonechats appeared nearby – perhaps we were mistaken about the Whinchats? We got them in the scope and had a good look at them – the black-faced male and brown-cheeked female Stonechat – before they worked their way west in the direction we had just come. More of the fencing crew were right where the chats were trying to feed, with loud machinery, so we decided to carry on and swing back this way later.

The bushes by the west end of the pines were also rather quiet, but a scan of the grazing marshes revealed a small flock of 30+ Pink-footed Geese out on the grass. They have just begun to return from Iceland in the last couple of weeks and numbers are very slowly starting to increase. We got them in the scope and could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills. A short while later a large skein of about 200 geese appeared over the fields way off to the south, beyond the coast road. As they gradually got closer we could hear them calling – more Pink-footed Geese – and half of them whiffled down onto the marshes (the rest carried on west towards Holkham).

We couldn’t find any other migrants in the dunes, so we turned to head back. About half way to the boardwalk, a couple of birds appeared in the bushes by the old fence line. We stopped and got the scope on them – Whinchats, just along from where we had seen them earlier. Then another two appeared, probably disturbed by the fencing activity. We got a great look at them in the scope, noting their distinctive pale supercilium, and the differences between the different birds ranging from rather pale and washed out to one with quite a strong orange coloured breast.

IMG_1088Whinchat – we eventually tracked down four in the dunes

Back at the boardwalk, we stopped to admire several Golden Plover which had dropped down onto the saltmarsh. They are remarkably well camouflaged amongst the vegetation out here. Then we made our way back to the car.

IMG_1095Golden Plover – well camouflaged among the dead sea lavender flowers

Our next destination was Wells, but we took a little detour inland on the way there. As we drove, we glimpsed a Red Kite over the fields beyond the hedge. Pulling in at the next farm track, we could see it drifting lazily over, flashing its red, forked tail. Further along the track, a covey of nine Grey Partridge appeared. They ran along, making a couple of failed attempts to get into the cover of the verge, before finally getting round the corner out of view. A little further on, another three Grey Partridge were feeding quietly in a cultivated field. When they crouched down, they looked to all intents and purposes like clods of earth.

P1090630Grey Partridge – one of at least 12 we saw on a short detour en route to Wells

We headed down to Wells beach car park for lunch and afterwards walked back to take a quick look in the harbour. The tide was coming in, but there were still several waders feeding on the mud on the far side – mainly Curlews and Oystercatchers. Three juvenile Ringed Plover were trying to roost on a rapidly disappearing island. While we were scanning through the waders we picked up two ducks in the harbour channel – two redhead Red-breasted Mergansers. They were diving constantly, so were hard to get in the scope, but we all managed to see them eventually.

When a Sanderling flew past down the channel and disappeared round the corner past the lifeboat station, we decided to walk over to the beach to take a look from there. There were a lot more waders on that side – lots of Oystercatchers and, next to them, quite a nice flock of Knot with a few Dunlin mixed in. On a sand bar mid-channel, were a little huddle of Sanderling and a few Bar-tailed Godwit.

IMG_1106Peregrine – a juvenile out on one of the harbour sandbars

Further out, towards the sea, we could see a Peregrine out on the sand. We got it in the scope and could see that it was a young bird. We watched it for a while sitting patiently and then, having taken our eyes off it, a short while later it appeared closer in, just behind the wader flock, eyeing them up hungrily. A Marsh Harrier drifted across the channel towards us as well, from the direction of East Hills.

IMG_1117Peregrine – edging its way closer to the unsuspecting waders

There was also a good-sized flock of Brent Geese out in the harbour – these geese too are just starting to gather for the winter, in this case returning from Russia. Beyond the sandbar, over the open sea, we picked up a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Gannet, flying past distantly.

We spent rather longer looking in the harbour than we had anticipated, so we didn’t leave ourselves as much time to explore Wells Woods as we would perhaps have liked. However, the trees were very quiet at first as we walked through. A Chiffchaff called from the birch trees.

P1090647Common Darter – sunning itself out of the wind

We couldn’t find any trace of any of the tit flocks at first, not even around the drinking pool which has been a favoured area in recent days. We did see a nice Goldcrest low overhead in the pines and a Treecreeper working its way straight up a trunk nearby. Walking a little further along the main track, we encountered the surprise of the day. We heard them first – the distinctive ‘teesz’ call of Redwings. They dropped down out of the trees and into the brambles over an overgrown bank. Unfortunately as we climbed quietly up to try to see them, they flew off west, calling again. It is not long now before the hedgerows will be full of Redwings and Fieldfares, arriving from the continent and feasting on all the berries. However, these are the first Redwings of autumn we have seen.

As we worked our way back towards the car park, we finally found a flock of Long-tailed Tits and with them, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers. They were feeding on the edge of the pines and we didn’t know where to look as the came past us – birds everywhere, but none of them sitting still for long. However,  we had a good look but there was no sign today of the hoped for Yellow-browed Warbler amongst them.

Back at the car park, we were just walking back to the car when a Hedgehog appeared from the verge and started to walk out into the road. A passing car only just missed it. It was strange to see it out and about at this time of day and it seemed a little lethargic – perhaps it was not well? However, it turned and managed to burrow its way into the grass, finding a gap through the fence and deep into the brambles. Hopefully it will be OK. All too soon, it was then time for us to head for home.

P1090678Hedgehog – in the car park at Wells Beach this afternoon