Tag Archives: Shorelark

15th Jan 2020 – More than just a Lark

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. We had a particular list of things we wanted to see, so we would be very focused about what we did and where we went. The weather gods looked favourably on us again – after very heavy rain and high winds overnight, it was much calmer by morning, dry but cloudy initially, and then the skies cleared and we had some gorgeous winter sunshine in the afternoon. Lovely!

As we drove west along the coast road, we noticed a large flock of geese feeding in a grassy field and pulled up in a layby next to it. White-fronted Goose was on the target list for the day, and this is a field they sometimes like to feed in. Sure enough, that is just what they were. We got out quietly and set up the scope behind the minibus so as not to risk disturbing them.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – 150 were feeding in a field by the coast road

We could see the adult White-fronted Geese with the white surrounds to their bills and black belly bars like fingerprints. There were several plainer juveniles with them too. We counted 120 when we arrived, and several more small groups flew in to join them as we watched. By the time we left, there were at least 150 feeding on the grass. There were a few Egyptian Geese in the field too, plus a pair of Mistle Thrushes and a couple of Brown Hares.

Our next destination was Sedgeford, to look for the Eastern Yellow Wagtail. As we arrived, there were only a few cars today – the crowds have started to dissipate now it has been around for several weeks. We could see a couple of people further down the track, by its favoured muck heap, but they were looking round and it seemed pretty clear they were not looking at the bird. It often starts the day out in the field, so we stopped on the corner to scan.

A large flock of Fieldfares was feeding out in the middle of the field, accompanied by a mob of Starlings. A small covey of Red-legged Partridges was in the far corner and a mixed group of Linnets and Chaffinches landed on the edge of the cover strip along the edge. A Pied Wagtail flew in and landed down in front of us, but unfortunately had not brought its rarer cousin with it.

When a big flock of Meadow Pipits landed out in the field, we scanned across through them and there was the Eastern Yellow Wagtail with a couple more Pied Wagtails. We quickly got the scope on it and had a good look as it walked across between the furrows, before the flock took off and the wagtail disappeared.

The Pied Wagtails had flown off down the field, in the general direction of the muck heap, so we thought we would walk down the lane and see if the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had gone that way too. We hadn’t gone very far, and were just talking about its distinctive rasping call, when we heard it just behind the hedge. We called to some people who had just arrived and were still standing on the corner by the road, and by the time we got back to them they had found the Eastern Yellow Wagtail feeding along the edge of the field.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – feeding on the edge of the field this morning

The Eastern Yellow Wagtail was a bit closer now, and more settled, feeding on its own. We had a much longer look at it through the scope, with its grey head, bright white supercilium and yellow underparts. It gradually worked its way further away from us before flying off down the field.

A steady stream of Pink-footed Geese had been landing in a field away to the south, in the distance, while we were looking for the wagtail. Now we turned our attention to those. They were a long way off, but through the scope we found a single White-fronted Goose with them. Then someone else found two Barnacle Geese too.

We were just working our way steadily through the rest of the flock when something spooked them. The Pink-footed Geese all took to the air. It was quite a sight – a flock of several thousand geese taking off. Half of them flew off, while the other half landed back down in the field, although some were out of sight now beyond a ridge. We couldn’t see anything else of interest with those that were still visible, so we decided to move on. As we were walking back to the minibus, something spook them again and all the geese took off once more.

The Woodcock at Titchwell has been performing outstandingly for a steady stream of admirers in recent days. While it was not specifically on the target list for the day, we couldn’t not call in as we were within easy reach. We walked straight round to Meadow Trail and found a small group already gathered, and eventually as people moved on we were able to get the scope on it. It wasn’t where we had seen it recently, but thankfully had only moved about three feet to the left! Stunning!

Woodcock

Woodcock – still delighting the crowds

There were lots of other things we hoped to do today, so we elected not to go further out onto the reserve today – unfortunately, with days short at this time of year, we would not have enough time. We made our way back to the minibus, and turned back east along the coast road to Holkham.

As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see the grazing marshes were full of water after last night’s rain. There were loads of birds. Lots of ducks, mainly Wigeon and a few Teal. And lots of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls, presumably attracted by the prospect of worms forced up by the water. It is looking really good for wildlife here at the moment. We parked at the top and walked up towards the pines. A covey of Grey Partridges was very well camouflaged on the edge of the ditch, looking across the grass.

When we got out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, we could see that it was very wet today too, after a big high tide this morning. The Shorelarks have been very mobile and elusive at times this week, with their favoured cordon being wet at times. Shorelark was a particular target for the day, so we figured we may have to search them out. Rather than head towards the cordon first, we decided to try the opposite direction.

We walked round on the dry path along the edge of the dunes, and as we started to pick our way round the puddles and flooded channels on the path out across the saltmarsh we met two other birders coming back the other way. They confirmed what we had hoped – the Shorelarks were just ahead of us. When we got out to the middle, we could see them, feeding with about twenty Skylarks on the other side.

We followed the Shorelarks for a while, keeping a discrete distance so as not to disturb them. The Skylarks flew off, but the Shorelarks continued to pick their way round the edge of the saltmarsh. With patience, we had some great views of them, feeding on the small seedheads, chasing each other, stopping to stretch and preen.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we found the five of them out on the edge of the saltmash

After enjoying our fill of the Shorelarks, we left them in peace. They could have been one of the hardest of today’s target species to find, so it was great to get them in the bag. Snow Bunting was the next one we wanted to find, and they have remained more faithful to the cordon area, despite the high tides, so we headed round there next.

A Rock Pipit flew across calling, a sharper call than a Meadow Pipit, and landed briefly on the saltmarsh, before flying off again. We flushed a small flock of Linnets ahead of us too. A small flock of Brent Geese was feeding out in the middle as we made our way east from the Gap, but they were up to their bellies in the vegetation and it was hard to see anything different in with them. Looking up to the sky, we could now see the trailing edge of the weather front approaching and blue sky beyond.

When we got to the cordon, we could see a large flock of Snow Buntings down at the far end, on the edge of the dunes. We couldn’t get out to the beach on the west side of the cordon, as there was still too much water in the channel, so we walked down to the east end and out that way. By the time we got down there, the Snow Buntings were now out in the middle of the cordon, so we had a quick look at them in the scope, before carrying on to the beach.

We could see several thousand Common Scoter in a couple of rafts out on the sea. Most of them were quite a long way out again today, too far to make out if there were any Velvet Scoters in with them. Another smaller group of Common Scoter closer in had just a single Great Crested Grebe with them. There were a few Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea too, including one drake quite close inshore. After a bit of scanning, we finally found a single Long-tailed Duck as well, another one we were hoping to find today. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew past, very distantly offshore. Five Pintail flying past out to sea were more of a surprise.

The sun came out now, and the Snow Buntings flew round behind us calling. We turned to see them land on the beach very close to us. They were rather skittish, and quickly took off again, flying round past us, before settling once more. We watched as they picked their way over the shells on the sand. They stopped in little groups and seemed to be arguing with each other. We hadn’t realised what they were doing until we got back and looked at the photos – they were drinking rainwater from small upturned cockle shells on the beach!

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – drinking rainwater from shells on the beach

It was great watching the Snow Buntings in the sunshine, so when they flew off again and over our heads before disappearing off down the beach, we decided to head back. The flock of Brent Geese on the saltmarsh had now come a bit closer and we could pick out the Black Brant hybrid which is almost always with them – with a more obvious white flank patch and white collar than the others. A Short-eared Owl was hunting the dunes too, off in the distance.

After a quick stop to use the facilities in the Lookout, we walked back towards Lady Anne’s Drive. The Grey Partridges were now right on the corner of the grazing marsh, just below the path, so we stopped to admire them.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – the covey was close to the path on our way back

We stopped for lunch in the sunshine in the car park up at Holkham Park and afterwards walked in through the gates. There were a few Jays flying back and forth as we headed down towards the lake and a couple of groups of Fallow Deer in the trees.

When we got to the lake, we found plenty of Tufted Ducks and several Common Pochard. We walked down along the edge and quickly came across the Black-necked Grebe, which is what we had come primarily to see. We followed it for a while, as it dived continually, surfacing each time in a completely different place.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – still on the lake in the Park today

After watching the Black-necked Grebe for a while, we walked on down towards the hall, before turning and heading back towards the monument out across the open grass. There were lots of Fallow Deer feeding out on the grass, including quite a few grazing the outfield of the cricket pitch. They looked very smart in the low afternoon sun.

Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer – feeding out on the grass in the Park

A couple of Common Buzzards were hanging in the air above the trees as we got back to the monument. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was hanging on the bag of peanuts as we got back to the houses by the gate. We still had a bit of spare time to play with, so we decided to see if we could catch up with some egrets. As we made our way west, a Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields.

There were a few people looking out across the grazing marshes from the layby at Burnham Overy. They had seen a couple of Cattle Egrets and a Great White Egret, but none of them were visible now. Two White-fronted Geese were out in the field in front with a small group of Pinkfeet. We walked down along the verge and looked out towards the seawall. A Cattle Egret flew up but immediately dropped down again behind some thick reeds and brambles. It seemed for a minute like we might be frustrated.

Then we looked back towards the dunes to see a Great White Egret fly round. When it landed on the back edge of the furthest pool, we got it in the scope. It was a long way off and behind the reeds at first, but when it came out we could see its long yellow bill and long neck. When we turned our attention back to the grazing marsh below the seawall, the Cattle Egrets had reappeared – we could see seven of them out on the grass now.

We still had one thing we wanted to do, so we made our way back east and walked down the track to the edge of the saltmarsh. There were several Brown Hares in the fields, with three chasing each other round.

We had the roost to ourselves this evening. We didn’t have to wait long before the first Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail. We watched it hunting, as it made its way further west until we lost sight of it. Then a smart grey male Hen Harrier flew in from the other direction. We watched as it flew low over the middle of the saltmarsh, before flying back to the far edge and then coming back in the opposite direction.

There were quite a few small groups of Brent Geese scattered around the saltmarsh. One of the groups contained a noticeably paler bird, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose with a creamy white belly. There were several groups of Golden Plover too, and one of them whirled round at one point, alternating white and gold as they turned in the low sunshine.

A Merlin came in high from the fields, away to our left. It dropped down and shot low over the ground before landing on a bush out in the middle of the saltmarsh. There was still some low sunlight and it was perfectly illuminated in the scope. While we were watching it, what was presumably the same male Hen Harrier ghosted across in front of it. And then we looked away to the west to see a second male hunting further back.

We could see the flocks of Knot swirling round over the beach beyond – perhaps the Peregrines were still out there hunting? A couple of hundred Pink-footed Geese were already sleeping out on the flats. A scan with the scope picked up a very distant Barn Owl hunting over in front of East Hills.

We were about to call it a day, when a Merlin suddenly shot up into the sky right in front of us. It was chasing a Meadow Pipit and we watched the two of them climb higher and higher, the pipit desperately trying to stay above the falcon. There followed an amazing dogfight for several minutes, the pipit twisting and turning, the Merlin very nearly catching it on a couple of occasions, but the pipit just managing to take evasive action at the last second, dropping suddenly, then turning up as the Merlin stooped and overshot. Eventually the two of them chased down into the bushes off to our right – we didn’t get to learn the ending, but it was exciting to watch.

If that wasn’t enough, two Hen Harriers then circled back in high over the middle of the saltmarsh, a male accompanied by a ringtail, the latter noticeably bigger, a female. We followed the male as he lost height and returned to hunting, disappearing off east.

The light was starting to go now and we couldn’t have hoped for a better end to the day. What a great day it had been too. It was time to head for home.

12th Jan 2020 – Winter in Norfolk, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Winter Tour in Norfolk today. The heavy rain cleared through overnight and it was dry again all day. After a cloudy start, the sun started to break through the clouds before we enjoyed a lovely bright afternoon, even if it was rather breezy again.

Part of the plan for this weekend was to look for some owls. Having seen Short-eared Owls and Barn Owls on Friday, we headed out to add to our owl list this morning. We drove inland and set off down a footpath. Two Mistle Thrushes flew up out of the neighbouring field and into wood.

When we got to the edge of the wood, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees. A Goldcrest appeared above us, feeding in the outer branches of a pine tree, hovering to pick food from the needles. A Coal Tit flew out into the bare tree next to it. A little flock of finches was feeding in the edge of a harvested beet field alongside and flew up into the trees as we came out from behind the hedge. There were several Chaffinches and Goldfinches and at least one Greenfinch in with them too.

We walked on, round to the far side of the wood and looked back at the edge of the trees. The Tawny Owl was asleep in its hole. We got it in the scope and from time to time it moved its head or opened its eyes, enough to prove it wasn’t a cardboard cutout we had put there earlier!

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual tree hole

We stood and watched the Tawny Owl for a while. A Stock Dove flew out from over the wood and across the field next to us. Then we had to tear ourselves away and walk back. There were lots of Pied Wagtails in the beet field now – we counted at least 40 together at one point, an impressive flock.

Moving on, we made our way further inland, looking for Little Owls. There were none on the first barns we checked, but at the second we could see a shape tucked under the lip of the roof, a Little Owl. We parked out of sight and walked back to where we could view it from a distance. It was in a spot sheltered from the wind, and it was looking out towards the morning sun, which just poked out from behind the clouds at times.

Little Owl

Little Owl – out of the wind, looking out towards the morning sun

Having all had a good look at the Little Owl, we moved on again and dropped back down to the coast. We made our way along to Holkham and parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. There were lots of Wigeon feeding on the grazing marshes, some very close to the road, and looked stunning as the sun came out again. A few Teal were in amongst them, as well as a scattering of Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank. A single Fieldfare was out on the grass too.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive

We heard Pink-footed Geese calling and looked over to see a large flock come up from Quarles Marsh, over towards Wells. They flew towards us in several skeins, and we noticed there were some smaller geese in with them, Barnacle Geese. They came right overhead, at least a dozen.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – flew over Lady Anne’s Drive with the Pinkfeet

The geese all whiffled down and landed on the grazing marshes the other side of the Drive. Most landed behind the first ditch, out of view behind the reeds and brambles, but a few of the Pink-footed Geese landed closer, on our side of all the vegetation. We had a good look at some of them in the scope, we could see their delicate dark bills with a narrow band of pink and their pink legs.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – good views on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we walked up towards the pines, we could see a covey of Grey Partridges on the bank before the ditch on the far edge of the grass. We counted twelve together, looking rather like clods of earth.

After a quick stop in the Lookout Cafe, we made our way out to the beach. As we got to the bottom of the boardwalk, we could see some larks very distantly feeding on the edge of the dunes out to the west, but through the scope we could see they were Skylarks. A big flock of Linnets flew up from the saltmarsh over in that direction too, swirling round before dropping down again.

There was a lot of water on the saltmarsh, after a big tide overnight and lots of rain. We decided to walk east first. A flock of Brent Geese was feeding out in the middle and a quick scan through them revealed a slightly darker bird with a more noticeable white flank patch and collar than the others. It was the regular Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid which returns here with the Brent flock each winter.

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – with the Brent Goose flock on the saltmarsh again

Two Rock Pipits flew in and landed on the edge of the saltmarsh in front of us, feeding for a minute or so before flying off again calling. There were a few people walking back from the cordon and they all said there was no sign of any Shorelarks there. We couldn’t see the Snow Buntings either when we got there. We walked all the way down to the far end and out onto the beach.

It was very windy out here. We tried to find some shelter in the edge of the dunes, although it was hard to find anywhere out of the wind, and stopped to scan the sea. A lone Sanderling flew down along the shoreline. When we turned round, the Snow Buntings flew in and landed in the cordon just behind us. They were very flighty today, and when they flew up again they landed next on the edge of the sand just behind us, a great view.

Snow Buntings 1

Snow Buntings – landed on the edge of the sand just behind us

Thousands of Common Scoter were out on the sea again, but they were a bit further out today and the sea was quite choppy, which with the wind made it impossible to pick out anything else in with them. We managed to find three Long-tailed Ducks, but they were thankfully much closer in. Even so, they were diving constantly and hard to see in swell, but eventually everyone got a look at them. There were several Red-breasted Mergansers too, plus a single Red-throated Diver on the sea and another flying past.

We were hoping the Common Scoter would fly, to give us a chance to find a Velvet Scoter in with them, but they were just riding out the waves, and not taking off today. We decided to start walking back, and have another look for the Shorelarks. The Snow Buntings were in the cordon still, probably about 90 of them, catching the low winter sun which had come out now. There was still no sign of the Shorelarks there though.

Snow Buntings 2

Snow Buntings – feeding in the cordon as we walked back

We thought we would check out the saltmarsh west of the Gap, to see if the Shorelarks were there. On our way back, we bumped into one of the wardens who told us they had also been seen just east of the Gap this week. We out round to the dunes for a quick look there first, but there was no sign. We could see lots of water still in the Gap channel, and there was no way across without wellies. So while the group walked back round via the cordon again, the intrepid guide set off for a quick check of the saltmarsh the other side to save time. We arranged to meet back by the boardwalk.

When the group got back to the cordon, they found a couple of people watching the Shorelarks, which had flown back in. They had a good look at them through the scopes, but by the time their guide got over, the Shorelarks had flown off again. At least the most important people had seen them!

We walked back to the Lookout Cafe for lunch. Afterwards, we drove across to Holkham Park and walked in through the trees. There were lots of tits coming to the feeders by the houses, and we found a Marsh Tit and a Coal Tit in with them. We made our way down to the lake, starting at the northern end. There were lots of ducks on the water – Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler, plus Tufted Duck and Pochard.

As we walked slowly down along the bank, we scanned the water, looking for the Black-necked Grebe. We could see a Great Crested Grebe and a Little Grebe, busy diving. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was feeding in the trees by the path. A Great White Egret flew across the lake further down.

We found the Black-necked Grebe in the middle of the lake. At first, we were looking into the sun, but we managed to get round to the other side of it, where the light was much better. It was diving constantly too, and we had to be quick to get it in the scopes. Eventually everyone got a good view of it, a small grebe with the dark on the head curling down onto the sides of the face behind the red eye. A Great Crested Grebe appeared in the same view at one point, much larger, with a much longer dagger-shaped bill.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – photo taken a few days ago, when it was very close!

After watching the Black-necked Grebe for a while, we walked back through the middle of the Park. There were lots of Fallow Deer by the path which looked stunning in the afternoon sunshine. A Red Kite drifted over the edge of the trees. A Green Woodpecker was feeding out on the open grass with four Mistle Thrushes. When we got back to the gates, we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker now on the peanuts by the houses.

As we were getting everything back in the minibus, a Barn Owl flew across the road just beyond the car park and in through the trees behind. Out hunting already. As we drove east, another Barn Owl was hunting over the verge by the side of the road.

We parked at the top of Stiffkey Greenway and set up the scopes on the edge of the saltmarsh to scan. It was a lovely bright evening and the wind had even dropped now. There were several groups of Brent Geese, lots of Little Egrets, and a scattering of Curlews and Redshanks out there. A Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air away to the east. A Merlin appeared away to the west, perched on a low bush, preening out on the saltmarsh.

A distant ringtail Hen Harrier came up in front of East Hills. We watched it hunting, making the use of the last of the light, disappearing off towards Wells. A little later what was presumably the same bird came back the other way, a little bit closer to us this time. We had a couple more Merlin sightings, perched on different bushes – but it was hard to tell how many different birds were involved. A very distant Barn Owl was hunting out at East Hills and another flew across the road behind us.

Finally a grey male Hen Harrier appeared, also way out at East Hills. It flew up and down in front of the trees a few times before dropping into the vegetation. The light was starting to go now so we decided to call it a night. It had been another great day, to wrap up three very successful days out, great Norfolk winter birding.

4th Jan 2020 – New Year Birding

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, to start off the New Year. The aim would be to try to catch up with some of our lingering winter rarities and scarcities, along with as many other species as possible in between. It would require a quickfire series of stops up and down the coast. At least the weather gods were shining on us today – it was dry, bright and sunny at times.

As we drove west, a Barn Owl was still out hunting over a field beside the road – always a good start to the day. We headed straight across to NW Norfolk and parked on the verge just north of Sedgeford.

There was already a small crowd gathered and, even better, they were already watching the Eastern Yellow Wagtail. It was feeding out in the middle of the field with a couple of Pied Wagtails, and we got the scopes straight on it. It was a bit distant, but we all had a quick look at it before it took off. We watched it fly across the field and it seemed to be heading for its favoured muck heap, on the concrete pad further down the track, so we walked down to see if we could find it there.

There was no sign of the wagtail at the muck heap, so we scanned the field from here to see if had landed somewhere down this end. There were lots of Fieldfares feeding out in the middle and a flock of Linnets around some tufts of vegetation. A single Pink-footed Goose looked a bit lonely and one Pied Wagtail along the edge of the field had not brought any friends with it. A flash of yellow further down turned out to be several Yellowhammers which were flying in and out of the hedge, down to feed on the field margin.

Then someone spotted the Eastern Yellow Wagtail again, very distantly back on another muck heap in the field by the main road. We walked back up the track, but by the time we got back there it had disappeared round the rear, out of view. When the two Pied Wagtails it was with took off, the Eastern Yellow Wagtail flew too. We watched it fly down over the track and drop towards the muck heap where we had just been looking. It was really giving us the run around!

Back down the track, and as we approached the concrete pad again, we heard it call and noticed it feeding on the edge of the field right in front of us. It flew up calling – a distinctive buzzy ‘dzzzeep’ – across the track and landed again on the concrete pad, where it started feeding around the puddles. Now we had a great view of it through the scope.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – the first confirmed record for Norfolk

Eastern Yellow Wagtail is (logically!) the eastern counterpart to our Western Yellow Wagtail. They were all historically treated as a series of subspecies, but the eastern ones have a noticeably more buzzy call than the western ones and have consistent differences in DNA which are sufficient to see it elevated to full species status. It was therefore good that we heard it call.

This particular bird is unusually bright – most of the Eastern Yellow Wagtails which are identified in the UK are plain grey and white first winters. The grey head and white supercilium identify it as belonging to the subspecies ‘tschutschensis’, which breeds across eastern Siberia across to western Alaska, wintering mainly in SE Asia. It is a long way from home. And it is the first confirmed record for Norfolk (although several have been suspected in the past).

We decided to move on, and headed further south down to Fring. There had been a large flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding on a recently harvested sugar beet field just south of the village for the last couple of days. There were still quite a few there today – perhaps less than there had been, although more birds were arriving as we stood and started to scan through the huge throng.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – thousands were feeding in a harvested sugar beet field

We could only see part of the flock from the top of the field, but we managed to find a single Barnacle Goose in with them. We had hoped to find the presumed Grey-bellied Brant or one or two Tundra Bean Geese which have been seen here recently. We found a couple of birds with orange legs, which would often indicate a Bean Goose, but these were just orange-legged Pink-footed Geese, a variant which is found in small numbers within the wintering flocks here. A Red Kite hung in the air over the woods beyond.

Some people were viewing the flock from the minor road the other side of the field and would have a better view of the whole flock, so we drove round. But it was looking into the sun from here and there was nowhere to park. We asked whether they had seen anything, but they seemed to have not seen anything more than we had. As we drove back through Fring and up towards Docking, a Grey Partridge was in the field right next to the road.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – right next to the road, as we drove up to the coast

Winding our way up to the coast, we stopped next at Thornham. We had hoped to have a quick look for the Twite here, but we were told they had flown off over the seawall and out onto the grazing marsh beyond a little earlier. We walked round and up onto the bank, but there was no sign of them.

There was a nice selection of waders out in the harbour. Several Common Redshank and Curlew were feeding in the muddy channels closer to the path. Further out, on the flats, there were lots of Grey Plover and a few Oystercatchers. In the main harbour channel we could see little groups of Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Knot, and some Turnstone feeding along the edge of the water.

Curlew

Curlew – there were several feeding around the harbour

As we walked out along the seawall, we caught a glimpse of a small flock of finches which were feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh. There seemed to be about ten of them (which was the right number for the Twite), but when we got closer we realised it was actually a much larger flock and they were Linnets. A Stonechat was perched on some low vegetation just behind them. Scanning the grazing marshes the other side, we found a good number of Golden Plover roosting in the grass.

At this point, a message came through to say the Waxwing, first seen yesterday, was still at Holme. It was not far, we could see the bird observatory from where we were standing, so we walked straight over. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Waxwing had actually been seen earlier in the morning and had then flown off into the trees. There was no sign now – it later turned out it had flown off all the way to the village. There were a couple of Greenfinches feeding in the rosehips and a selection of tits and a couple of Goldcrests in the pines.

We decided not to hang around and walked back to Thornham Harbour. On the way, a Sparrowhawk flew in low from the saltmarsh and over the bank in front of us. There was still no sign of any Twite on the way back, so we headed round to Titchwell.

The car park at Titchwell was very busy – the reserve is getting so popular, the RSPB needs to make a bigger one! There had been a Woodcock earlier along Meadow Trail, but we couldn’t find it now. It had moved from where it had been, so perhaps it had been disturbed by the passage of people along the path.

When we got out to the Freshmarsh, we found that it was completely flooded with water. Although the water level is always high at this time of year, apparently there has been a problem with the sluice which means there is no way to let water off. The recent rain had topped it up. There were just a few ducks on here today, lots of Teal around the margins, and a group of Mallard and Gadwall tucked in along the edge of the reeds.

As we walked past Volunteer Marsh, a couple of Redshank were feeding in the channel below the path, but there were more waders in the muddy channel along the far side,  a few Grey Plovers, Curlews, more Redshank and a couple of Knot.

We were more interested in the waders on the Tidal Pools, which are now tidal again and consequently attracting many more birds. A quick scan revealed two Greenshank roosting towards the back. A Spotted Redshank was busy feeding along the edge, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the water. There were a couple of Ringed Plovers right at back, as well as one or two Bar-tailed Godwits. A larger group of Bar-tailed Godwits was roosting on the spit a little further up, along with a lone, hardy Avocet on the end.

There were several ducks out on the water here, mainly Mallard and Shoveler. A small group of Pintail was busily upending in with them, including a couple of smart drakes. There are several Little Grebes on here now, enjoying the new, reduced water levels.

Pintail

Pintail – busily upending on the Tidal Pools

Out at the beach, the tide was in. So there weren’t many waders – just a couple of Sanderling along the shoreline. The sea was rather choppy today. We had a quick scan, and picked up a very distant group of Eider, the white males occasionally catching the light as they bobbed up on the waves. Otherwise, there were several Goldeneye, lots of Great Crested Grebes and a couple of Red-throated Divers which flew past.

As we walked quickly back, we could see a small crowd gathered on the path in the trees. A Water Rail was feeding down in the ditch just below the path. We tried out luck again and cut round via Meadow Trail back to the Vistor Centre, but there was still no further sign of the Woodcock.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch below the main path

The presumed Grey-bellied Brant had appeared at Choseley in with a big feeding flock of Pink-footed Geese just after we arrived at Titchwell, but by the time we got up there next, all the geese had been flushed by two low-flying helicopters. A few Pink-footed Geese had landed back in the field, but we could see thousands more in the skies beyond, over towards Docking. They appeared to be heading off towards Fring (and sure enough, the Grey-bellied Brant was seen again there later).

We headed back east. A quick stop at the layby at Burnham Overy Staithe produced a distant Great White Egret out on the grazing marshes and several Black-tailed Godwits. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up and circled round in a tight group. A big group of Barnacle Geese flew round too and landed back down on the grass behind the reeds.

Another quick stop further on at Holkham got us a couple of White-fronted Geese on the grazing marshes here, along with a pair of Canada Geese (another one for the day’s list!). There were two more Great White Egrets here too.

The coast was very busy again today. When we got to Wells, there was nowhere to park at the layby. We had a quick scan from the minibus and could see the Rough-legged Buzzard on one of its favoured bushes. So we hopped out, and got it the in scope quickly. We could see its very pale head contrasting with its dark, blackish-brown belly.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – was on one of its favoured bushes again today

Back to Holkham, and we managed to park on Lady Anne’s Drive, despite it being very busy again. There were lots of Wigeon feeding out on the grazing marshes. A large flock of Brent Geese flew in and landed but were spooked again almost immediately. Several Ruff appeared in the grass with them when they landed too.

Out through the pines and we walked quickly east to the cordon. There were a few people gathered by the rope who got us straight onto the Shorelarks. They were well hidden today, feeding in the denser, taller vegetation. We couldn’t see how many there were, but a head would come up occasionally and we could see a bright yellow face with black mask. A large flock of Snow Buntings was feeding on the shorter vegetation further back in the cordon beyond.

Shorelark

Shorelarks – in the cordon at Holkham again today (photo taken on 1st!)

Continuing on up onto the dunes, we scanned the sea. The ducks were further out today, the sea was very choppy here too, but we could see a large black slick of about 4,000 scoter. They were mainly Common Scoter, and it was hard initially to see anything else in with them today. Thankfully they started to take off. They only flew a short distance in several groups, but as the flocks took off we could see several birds with white in their wings. We counted at least 6 Velvet Scoters in this way. There were several Red-breasted Mergansers offshore here too.

It was a bit of  a whistestop visit to Holkham today, as we were running out of time. As we hurried back to Lady Anne’s Drive, a Rock Pipit flew over the saltmarsh calling. We wanted to squeeze in one last stop this afternoon, but the days are short at this time of year and we were already a little later than planned. We drove straight round to Warham Greens and walked quickly down to the edge of the saltmarsh. There was an unusually large crowd here today too, but we managed to find a spot to stand and put up our scopes.

A grey male Hen Harrier was already perched out on the saltmarsh – we could see it in the scope. A ringtail Hen Harrier flew east just beyond it and a short while later, either the same or another ringtail flew back west closer in. We watched as it headed out towards East Hills, making the most of the fading light for a last bit of hunting.

A Merlin flew in low and fast and landed out on the back of saltmarsh. They are so small, with the light fading it was hard to pick up when it was stationary, perched down on a low bush. We managed to get that in the scope too. Another ringtail Hen Harrier came up from the ground – this one definitely different, as the other one was still off towards Wells.

There had been a Short-eared Owl seen before we arrived, but it had dropped down onto the ground out of view. Thankfully it reappeared just as the light was going, and flew round over the saltmarsh before landing on a bush.

The Short-eared Owl made for a nice set of birds at the roost today. Unfortunately, with a long journey ahead, we had to call it a day and head back now.

16th Nov 2019 – Autumn vs Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Late Autumn / Early Winter Tour. It was a much nicer day today, dry with much lighter winds, and even some sunny moments in the afternoon. We spent the day on the coast between Holkham and Stiffkey.

With some new members of the group joining us this morning, we stopped again just on the outskirts of Wells first thing. There was no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard at first – the raptors were mostly sitting around this morning, and it felt a bit cooler than yesterday. A Red Kite was perched up in a tree by the old railway cutting and a Common Buzzard was down in the long grass on the edge of one of the fields. A Kestrel landed in the bushes just in front of us.

There were quite a few Golden Plovers and Lapwings in the wetter fields again, and periodically they flew up and circled round. A Great White Egret flew over from the direction of Wells Harbour and we watched it disappear off towards Holkham. A small flock of Greylags was feeding in the cover crop showing off their carrot-like bills, with a Muntjac just behind them. There were several Grey Partridges in the field too but they were very hard to see in the vegetation unless they moved.

Two Fieldfares appeared in the top of a tree by one of the houses on the edge of Wells, behind us. A Bullfinch called from the thick hedge in front of us, and then flew out and past us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker then did exactly the same. There were lots of finches in the bushes, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, and a few Linnets out in the field.

As the temperature started to increase so the raptors started to become more active. The Red Kite took off and flashed its forked tail as it circled, and several Common Buzzards came up now. The Marsh Harriers started to hunt too – we watched a distant dark male, then a paler male flying in along the bank. When the Marsh Harrier dinked down at the bank, we figured there must something there but we couldn’t see it, hidden by bushes in front of us. We walked just into the edge of the field to look round the brambles and realised it was the Rough-legged Buzzard!

It was perched in a bush half way down the bank, and we had a good view of the Rough-legged Buzzard through the scope. We could see the way its pale head contrasted with its dark, blackish belly. Eventually it took off, and we could see its pale tail with black terminal band as it flew up and over the bank and disappeared.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – perched in a bush

We decided to move on, and drove round to Holkham, where we parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. After all the recent rain, there is a good amount of water now on the grazing marshes and there were lots of Wigeon and a couple of Shoveler around the edge of the pools. A small flock of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits was feeding on the edge of the water just beyond the fence.

Four Grey Partridges flew across and landed just behind a gate back along the road, but ran back out into the middle as people approached. Further up, another larger covey of Grey Partridges was out in the middle of the marshes, well camouflaged among the clods of earth where the channels have been excavated recently.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – there were a couple of coveys by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we walked up towards the pines, there were a couple of Brent Geese and an Egyptian Goose out on the grazing marsh, and a Brown Hare too. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in and circled over the marshes calling. A few Jays back and forth in and out of the trees.

As we walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines, the trees were rather quiet today. Presumably most of the tits were feeding up in the pines. There were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole, along with a couple of Coot and a few Wigeon. We wanted to try to see the Hume’s Warbler which had taken up residence in the trees just beyond the crosstracks and, knowing we might need a little bit of time to pin it down, we pressed on west without stopping in the hides.

There were a few people looking for the Hume’s Warbler when we got there. It had been seen earlier but had disappeared into the bushes. A Chiffchaff was flitting around where it had been seen. Then we heard it call briefly from the back of the sallows. A tit flock came out – Long-tailed Tits, Blue, Great and Coal Tits too. There were one or two Goldcrests in the bushes. We got a glimpse of something small and pale which flew across, but we couldn’t find it again.

We walked round to the back of the sallows and met another couple of people who told us they had just been watching the Hume’s Warbler in one of the oak trees but it had now disappeared through the sallows. Back round the other side again, it reappeared, flying up out of the sallows and back up into the oak briefly. We could see it flitting around in the leaves but only a few of the group got onto it before it disappeared deeper into the tree.

It was a frustrating few minutes. We walked round to the back of the oaks but the Hume’s Warbler had now disappeared again. There was a shout to say it had been found, but there were just a couple of Goldcrests.

Then we heard it calling further back behind us. We hurried back round to where we had started and sure enough it had just reappeared. The Hume’s Warbler was flitting around in the tops of some sallows, against the light. Then it flew across the path to some thicker bushes. It seemed to have disappeared again, but then appeared on some brambles growing up between the sallows. Finally, we got a good view of it.

Hume's Warbler

Hume’s Warbler – eventually showed well in the bushes at Holkham

Hume’s Warbler is a rare visitor here, mostly in late autumn. They breed in the mountains of Central Asia and winter mostly in India, so this one was well off track. It seemed to flick off to the right and into the sallows, but when we looked back there was still a Hume’s Warbler in the brambles. Could there be two? We assumed we were just mistaken, but it turned out later that the Hume’s Warbler had indeed been joined by a second bird.

We made our way back to the crosstracks and up to Joe Jordan Hide next. As we looked out across the marshes, we could see a Great White Egret half hidden in the rushes. When a second Great White Egret flew in and landed nearby, the first took off and flew straight at it, chasing it back off over the hedge before returning to its feeding spot.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets – one chased off the second when it flew in

Two Marsh Harriers were in the bushes along the line of the ditch just behind and several more were in the taller trees behind the old fort. A Red Kite was perched up in the tress too, and a second one drifted across in front of the hide.

It was time to head back for lunch. We stopped in the Lookout cafe for a hot drink, and after lunch we headed out through the pines. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and there were lots of people at Holkham now, but they were mostly heading straight out to the beach. We walked west along the edge of the saltmarsh, where a large flock of Linnets wheeled round and disappeared back down into the saltmarsh vegetation.

When we got to the cordoned-off area, the Shorelarks were down at the far end. We walked round for a closer look and got them in the scope. There were six of them again, feeding in the short vegetation, looking for seeds, occasionally stopping to preen. Smart birds, their bright yellow faces were shining in the sunshine.

Shorelark

Shorelark – six were on the saltmarsh at Holkham again

After enjoying the Shorelarks for a while, we continued on through the gap in the dunes, and stopped to scan the sea. There were lots of gulls on the beach – Black-headed, Common, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls. A few Sanderlings were running around on the sandbank in between them, and a few more were whirling round in a tight flock flashing white in the bright light.

There were a few Common Scoters out in the breakers, diving for shellfish. Much further out, we could see a load more, looking a bit like a big dark oil slick, possibly around a thousand birds. There were several Red-breasted Mergansers very close in, just off the beach, and a Great Crested Grebe nearby too.

Then a diver appeared – rather black and white, with a prominent white rear flank patch, it was a Black-throated Diver. It was very close in too, so we walked down teh beach to the edge of the water for a closer look. The Black-throated Diver had moved off to the left, back towards the sea, as we approached, but then came back up the channel and resurfaced right in front of us. Fantastic views, so close in – a real treat!

Black-throated Diver

Black-throated Diver – diving just off the beach at Holkham

There were two of three Slavonian Grebes further out. They are so small, they were hard to see. They kept diving and kept disappearing behind the waves, but eventually everyone got a look at them through the scope. There was a Red-throated Diver further out too, much paler than the Black-throated Diver, with a much whiter face.

As we walked back round via the cordon, the Shorelarks were still there, but with the sun having gone behind a cloud they weren’t shining as brightly now and didn’t attract as many admiring glances as they had done on the way out. Lots of Pink-footed Geese were flying in over the pines, calling. After a quick stop to use the facilities in the Lookout cafe, as we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive, there were now quite a few Pinkfeet on the grazing marsh nearby.

Our last stop of the day was round at Stiffkey. After all the distractions at Holkham out on the beach, we were later than we had planned and the light had already started to go. We had already missed a couple of Hen Harriers flying in, but we were pointed out a very distant Merlin, which was little more than a dark dot out on a bush on the saltmarsh.

A Peregrine flew in off the beach over the saltmarsh away to the west and disappeared off inland. Then another Merlin flew across in front of us, a male this time, grey backed. It flew quickly, dropping down low over the ground, before landing on a bush away to our left.

A ringtail Hen Harrier flew in from the west, over the saltmarsh and out to the low dune ridge out in front of us, before disappearing away behind. A short while later, presumably the same bird came back in over the saltmarsh, off to the east of us, then flew across low over the vegetation in front of us. It was getting dark now, but we could see the white patch at the base of its tail.

As the light faded, more and more Little Egrets flew past, heading in to roost. It was time for us to call it a day too. It had been another exciting one, and we still had another day to look forward to tomorrow.

14th Nov 2019 – Rain to Shine

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

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

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

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

Rough-legged Buzzard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – roosting on the islands on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

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

Water Pipit

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

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

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

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

Knot

Knot – on the Volunteer Marsh in front of Parrinder Hide

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

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

Pink-footed Goose

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

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

Grey Partridge

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

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

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

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

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – a single bird flew in over the beach

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

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

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

Holkham beach

Holkham beach – when the sun eventually came out

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

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

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

Shorelark

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

24th Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. We would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for lingering winter visitors and early spring migrants. It was another lovely sunny day, but cooler than yesterday in an increasingly gusty westerly breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a few ducks around the pools beside the road, mainly Shoveler and a few Wigeon. Three Little Egrets flew across as we parked and we could see a Grey Heron at the back of the grazing marsh as we got out.

There was a keen wind blowing across, so after donning an extra layer, we scanned the grass. There were lots of Curlew in the next field over and a Lapwing started singing nearby. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard circled low over the marshes.

A small bird out in the short grass caught our eye. It was a Wheatear, a smart male with grey back and black bandit mask. A migrant stopped off here to feed on its way north. As we walked up towards the pines, we could see lots more small birds in the grass the other side. These were Meadow Pipits, there were at least 30 of them, again probably migrants which had broken their journey here. There were two Pied Wagtails too, but hard to tell whether these were migrants or local birds here.

It was a big high tide this morning and when there is standing water on the saltmarsh the Shorelarks can be elusive. So we planned to walk west first down to the hides. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard a Chiffchaff singing from the top of a hawthorn bush next to the path. It flew up into the first of the poplars and we stopped to look at it, the earliest of our returning breeding warblers.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing from one of the poplars

Just at that moment, we received a message to say that five of the Shorelarks were out on the beach, so we turned round and headed straight out there to try to see them. As we walked east along the edge of the saltmarsh, there were not many birds, possibly due to the high tide or the number of people out walking their dogs. A small flock of 16 Pink-footed Geese flew west overhead, possibly birds heading off on their way back to Iceland for the breeding season.

As we got to the cordon, we had still not managed to find the Shorelarks. There were four Ringed Plovers out on the short vegetation the other side of the rope and a couple of Meadow Pipits. A Tawny Owl hooted from the pines, despite it being the middle of the morning. After scanning all around with no joy, we decided to make our way out to the beach. But there was still a lot of water on the sand over towards the dunes and it was too wet for anyone without wellies to cross, so we turned to head back.

As we walked back alongside the cordon fence, we looked out across the saltmarsh again and noticed two birds out the in the low vegetation over towards the pines. Shorelarks! We hurried round and it was good that we did. We all managed to get a good look at them in the scope, noting their yellow faces and black masks. Then two dog walkers set off right out across the middle of the saltmarsh, taking a short cut to the beach, and flushed them. The Shorelarks flew out over the dunes and appeared to drop down to the beach beyond.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we had good views in the scope before they were flushed

We were still standing on the path when we noticed four more people walking right through the middle of the saltmarsh. Presumably they had flushed another three Shorelarks, because we saw them flying round with a couple of Skylarks. They landed on the saltmarsh in front of us, but a bit further back than the earlier two. At least now, we could get some more prolonged views of them in the scope.

While we were watching the Shorelarks, a Red Kite drifted west along the pines behind us, then out across the saltmarsh to the dunes. As we started to walk back, we looked across to the dunes and saw another raptor out there. It wasn’t the Red Kite this time – it was a Hen Harrier. It was a ringtail and we could see the white square at the base of its tail as it quartered back and forth over the dunes, presumably trying to flush pipits from the grass.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, quartering the dunes

After flying up and down through the dunes for a couple of minutes, the Hen Harrier continued on its way west. It cut across the saltmarsh at the Gap, before flying up and over the pines. We made our way back that way too. When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive and had a quick stop to use the facilities at The Lookout café, we could see that the Meadow Pipits which had been out on the grass earlier had moved on.

As we resumed our earlier aborted walk west on the inland side of the pines, we stopped to admire a flock of tits in the trees. There were lots more Chiffchaffs singing in the trees further along the path – they had arrived in force now. With the air warming up, the Common Buzzards were circling up now calling.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up as the air warmed

We stopped for a quick look at Salts Hole. Three Tufted Ducks were busy diving over towards the back and a Little Grebe was doing the same in front of the reeds on the side. Scanning the grass out beyond, we spotted two Mistle Thrushes collecting nest material. Four Red Deer were out on the marshes just the other side of Meals House.

Other than the Chiffchaffs, there were not many other migrants or other signs of fresh arrivals until we got almost to the crosstracks. We could hear the cracking of the opening cones in the sunshine and we looked up into the pines to see several Bramblings feeding on the released seeds. There were a few Siskins in the trees too. They had presumably stopped off here for a last feed up before heading out over the North Sea. One or two of the Bramblings were singing their wheezing song too.

As we walked up towards Joe Jordan Hide we could already see a Great White Egret on the marshy edge of one of the pools in front. We had a better view from up in the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – on the marsh in front of Joe Jordan Hide

A Spoonbill dropped down to bathe in the water. Through the scope, we could see its yellow-tipped black spoon-shaped bill and its bushy nuchal crest, indicating it was a breeding adult. There are quite a few Spoonbills back now and we had expected a bit more activity from them today, but this was the only one we saw while we were sitting in the hide. After a good wash and brush up, it flew back up into the trees.

There were lots of Cormorants up in the trees too. Several Avocets were feeding up to their bellies in the deep pools. Occasionally a Marsh Harrier would drift across. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the marshes and looking through them carefully, we could see two smaller geese in with them. They were Pink-footed Geese – when they looked up from feeding we could see their dark heads and smaller, mostly dark bills.

By the time we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we were feeling hungry so we stopped for an early lunch at The Lookout café. Afterwards, we headed along the coast to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre at Titchwell revealed only  Chaffinches and a few tits. But round the other side a Brambling was feeding on the seeds with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches and a Greenfinch dropped in too. Out onto the main path, and a quick scan produced a Water Rail feeding down in the ditch.

Water Rail

Water Rail – still in the ditch by the main path

We had heard Mediterranean Gulls flying over the Visitor Centre, but once we got out of the trees we could see them flying in and out of the freshmarsh, heading inland to feed in the fields. Against the light, we could see their translucent white-tipped wings, very different from the Black-headed Gulls which were also flying in and out with them.

The Water Pipits have been mostly on the old pool on Thornham grazing marsh in the last week or so, but when we stopped to look for them we couldn’t see one at first. We tried a different angle from a bit further up and one of the group spotted something appear from behind the reeds down at the front. It was the Water Pipit.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – out on the Thornham GM pool

With the vegetation growing up on the old pool here now, it was hard to see at times, but we all eventually had a good look at the Water Pipit through the scope. It is starting to moult into summer plumage now and was looking distinctly pink-tinged on the breast, with much reduced streaking.

While we were watching the Water Pipit, a large flock of Golden Plover flew over. They had probably been disturbed from the fields where they were feeding by something and were zooming round at speed, twisting and turning, their underparts flashing white in the sun as they banked. At one point, they came low over our heads and all we could hear was the whooshing of lots of beating wings. A little further on, several Common Pochard were diving in one of the reedbed channels.

In the Visitor Centre earlier, we had been told that some Bearded Tits had been showing well by the path today. With the breeze having picked up considerably, we didn’t fancy our chances but as we walked along the path we heard a couple of Bearded Tits calling to each other. Then we just glimpsed one as it flew across the small pool below the path and disappeared into the reeds at the back.

We stood to watch and a female Bearded Tit appeared low down in the reeds. It was hard to see in the vegetation at first, but then climbed up and perched in full view. When it turned side on, we could see its long tail. Then it flew towards us over the water and disappeared down behind the reeds in front.

That was great – it is always nice to actually see a perched Bearded Tit rather than just a long tail disappearing over the reeds – but the male is the big prize, with its powder blue-grey head and long black moustaches. Another Bearded Tit appeared working its way through the reeds at the back of the pool, low down just above the water, another female, and while we were looking at it we realised it was being followed by a male.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we enjoyed great views of a pair low down in the reeds

Some of the reeds around the pools here have just been cut, so the Bearded Tits were coming right out into the open. They were climbing up through the piles of cut reed and then dropping down to the water, climbing about in the cut reed stems and picking at the water surface. We had some fantastic views of them today! Eventually, the pair of Bearded Tits flew across and disappeared into the reeds below the bank too, so we decided to move on.

The water level on the Freshmarsh has dropped a little but is still fairly high, which means there are still not many exposed islands. Great for ducks! Several Teal were feeding in the shallower water just below the bank, including some smart drakes which we stopped to admire. A little further back, there were pairs of Shoveler scattered liberally about, mostly swimming in circles with their heads under the water and their long shovel bills hidden from view. There were a few Gadwall too and chattering flocks of Brent Geese were commuting back and forth from the saltmarsh the other side of the bank.

Avocet

Avocet – flying out to Thornham saltmarsh to feed

There are lots of Avocets back here now and several of those were flying in and out from the Thornham saltmarsh to feed too. Others were feeding up to their bellies in the deep water on the Freshmarsh. A small flock of Knot had flown in to rest in the shallower water by the small island by the junction to Parrinder Hide. We had a look at them through the scope, before they were off again, over the bank to Volunteer Marsh to feed.

A little further back, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits was also roosting. With their longer legs, they could rest in the slightly deeper water. Some of them are now starting to moult into breeding plumage and their were several smart rusty birds amongst the mostly grey-brown winter individuals in the group. Further back still, there were five Ruff around the pile of bricks which normally sits on one of the other islands, but which is still under water. Through the scope, we could see their scaly-patterned backs.

Continuing on to Parrinder Hide, we got the scope on a pair of Mediterranean Gulls in with all the Black-headed Gulls loafing around in front of the hide. It was great to see them on the ground together, so we could get a better look at the Mediterranean Gulls’ jet black heads with bright white eye rings, heavier and brighter red bills and bright white wing tips. There were lots more Mediterranean Gulls in with all the Black-headed Gulls on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ further back, which the gulls have now annexed as a breeding colony.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – a pair of adults loafing on the Freshmarsh

Back on the main path, we stopped to scan the Volunteer Marsh. The tide was out now, but having been covered by water earlier it was obviously attractive to the Knot which were now feeding in and out of the patches of vegetation. A Curlew at the front managed to extract a long worm out of the mud and took it over to wash it in a rather muddy puddle! There were a couple of Redshanks down in the channel too.

Curlew

Curlew – probing for worms in the mud on Volunteer Marsh

The no longer tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were very full of water now and rather devoid of any birds, so we continued straight on out to the beach. With it being a big tide, the water was a long way out now, so we walked down to the concrete blocks to scan the sea.

There were a couple of other people there who had just spotted a diver offshore. We managed to get it in the scope and confirmed it was actually a Black-throated Diver, the rarest of the three regular species off here. Otherwise, all we could find out on the sea were a few Great Crested Grebes but as well as being low tide it was very choppy now in the wind. Two brown female Eider flew past offshore.

It seemed like we might be better off looking for waders here and we really wanted to see Bar-tailed Godwit. With the water a long way out, there were just Oystercatchers feeding on the mussel beds, which were well above the tideline now. All the other waders were feeding out on the sand to the west, closer to the sea, so we walked down for a better loon.

We quickly found a couple of Turnstones and one or two Sanderling running along the shoreline. Then scanning along the water’s edge, we located our first Bar-tailed Godwit. It was still in non-breeding plumage, but through the scope we could see its distinctive dark-streaked upperparts, slightly upturned bill and comparatively short legs. Further over, there were more godwits, plus Grey Plovers and a little group of Dunlin feeding on the shore with some more Knot for comparison.

It was rather exposed and windy out on the beach, so we decided to walk back. We swung round via Meadow Trail to Patsy’s Reedbed on our way. There was no sign of any snipe down at the front today, which we were hoping to see, but there were one or two Marsh Harriers hanging in the breeze over the reeds.

Unfortunately it was time to call it a day now too. By the time we got back to the van, everyone was suitably tired out after a great couple of days birding. Time to head for home.

3rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day tour today, our last day. After two days down in the Brecks, we would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for some of our lingering winter visitors as well as one or two early spring arrivals. It was damp and drizzly for much of the day, but it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing lots of birds.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. There were still quite a few Wigeon by Lady Anne’s Drive, but it looks like numbers are already starting to drop now as birds which have spent the winter here start heading back to Russia. The regular very pale Common Buzzard was perched on a bush out in the middle of the grazing marshes and six Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reeds the other side.

We made our way straight through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh. A large flock of pipits circled over as we descended the boardwalk and we could hear both Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits calling. Several of the Rock Pipits landed on the edge of the saltmarsh right by the path, where we could get a closer look at them. The Rock Pipits come here from Scandinavia for the winter. We could see some of them were moulting and getting slightly pink on the breast – they can begin to look increasingly like Water Pipits at this time of year, a pitfall for the unwary.

Rock Pipit

Scandinavian Rock Pipit – one of several out on the saltmarsh

As we walked on further east, we scanned the saltmarsh for any movement. We were almost at the cordon before we found the Shorelarks, well hidden in the taller vegetation. At first we could only see one or two when they moved, but as we got closer we could see there were at least 5-6. As we stood and watched them, more and more appeared, so that by the end we had counted a minimum of 12, but it was still hard to know exactly how many were really there.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – still on the saltmarsh at Holkham

The Shorelarks are always one of the highlights of winter birding here on the coast, so we spent a bit of time watching them. They gradually worked their way closer to the path and we had a great look at them through the scope. Despite the grey weather, their yellow faces still really stood out when they lifted their heads. There were a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding on the saltmarsh with them.

The latest forecast had been for it to be dry all morning, but at this point it started spitting with rain. It was only light, so we carried on out to the beach anyway. As we started scanning the sea, there didn’t look to be much out there today at first. There were a few Great Crested Grebes, and a lone female Common Scoter. Then one of group spotted diver quite close inshore – a Great Northern Diver. It was diving regularly and moving west steadily each time it resurfaced, but eventually we all got some good views of it between dives.

There were not many waders down on the beach today. Several Oystercatchers were standing along the shore, and two Sanderling were running in and out of the waves, at least until they were all flushed by someone walking a pack of dogs along the beach.

Making our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we decided to brave the drizzle and walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone far before we heard a Chiffchaff calling in the trees. Along here, it is hard to tell whether this is a bird which has spent the winter here, or an early returning breeding bird. With the unseasonally warm weather at the end of February, Chiffchaffs have already returned very early in several places.

As we passed Salts Hole, we stopped for a quick look. A little group of Tufted Ducks was over on the edge of the reeds and one Little Grebe was still in the far corner. We could see a few geese out on the grazing meadows beyond and through the scope we could see there were several Pink-footed Geese with a pair of Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have already left, on their way back north before they head back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a small number often linger here much later. There was a pair of Egyptian Geese out here too, and a Grey Heron.

A little further on, we stopped for another look out over the grazing marshes. We could see several Shelduck on the small pools out in the middle, and there were two drake Pintail in with them too, although for much of the time we could only see their elongated tail feathers sticking up as they upended. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the reeds over in front of Washington Hide.

With the drizzle picking up a bit, we made our way quickly on to Joe Jordan Hide, to get out of the rain. It was quite busy in the hide (clearly lots of other people had the same idea to shelter in here!), but eventually we managed to sit down. A Great White Egret was feeding out on the grazing marshes off to the right of the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from Joe Jordan Hide

The first Spoonbills have already started to return to the breeding colony and we quickly located two out on the marshes, but they were way off in the distance and hard to see in the mist, heads down feeding in a ditch. Thankfully a bit later on one appeared much closer, and we had a better view of it in the scope. We could see its spoon-shaped bill when it lifted its head.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – one of the first returning birds

A Marsh Harrier was perched in a bush out along one of the ditch lines and there were lots of Cormorants in the trees behind the old fort. Down on the pools we could see four Avocets feeding in the shallows and several Shoveler and Teal scattered around.

The pines had been fairly quiet on the way out but as we started to walk back we came across a mixed flock of tits. We had passed some swarms of gnats gathered over the path in the damp conditions earlier and now we watched as a couple of Long-tailed Tits flew out from a large bush on the verge and hovered right out over the middle of the path, trying to catch some of the gnats. They hovered for second or two before flying back into the bush but then came out to try again. Really interesting to watch, and not behaviour you see often. A Goldcrest was flitting around in the bush too.

We stopped for lunch in The Lookout café, out of the rain. After lunch, as we made our way back to the van, we could see lots of gulls swarming over the grazing marsh, and landing down on the grass. We heard the distinctive call of a Mediterranean Gull and looking through the flock could see at least four in with the Black-headed Gulls.

Our next stop was at Holme. We were hoping to see some birds on the sea here so we walked straight out to the beach, where we were sheltered from the wind by the pines. There were lots of Red-breasted Mergansers on the water and scanning through we could see a dark duck in with them. It was a Velvet Scoter. You could just make out a pale spot on its cheek, but it was not until it flew round that you could see the diagnostic white in its wings. A small group of dark-winged Common Scoter flew past just afterwards.

Otherwise, the sea here was fairly quiet, with just a few Great Crested Grebes and a single Guillemot offshore. A couple of small groups of Brent Geese flew past and more unusually we picked up a flock of six Pink-footed Geese coming in off the sea. They should really be going the other way now!

Walking through the dunes to Gore Point, it was windier out of the lee of the Firs, although at least the rain had eased off now. The tide was coming in and there were a few waders roosting on the beach, at first several small groups of Oystercatchers. Further along, out on the point, we got the scopes on a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. There were several smaller grey Knot in with them, as well as a couple of Grey Plover and a single Dunlin. A lone Turnstone was feeding on the shoreline a bit further along.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – there were a few waders roosting on the beach at Holme

The sea was noticeably more choppy on the far side of the point. Scanning the sea from the shelter of the dunes, we could see a distant group of Eiders out on the water. A closer Red-throated Diver was diving constantly but a single Great Northern Diver was a long way out too. A Gannet and a Fulmar flew past.

We had wanted to see the Long-tailed Ducks off here, but they proved rather hard to find and harder still to see. We eventually found a few in with a larger group of Red-breasted Mergansers, but they were quite distant and diving constantly. Out in the choppier water, when they did surface they looked not unlike the froth on the wave crests and they kept disappearing into the troughs.

It was already getting late now, but we drove back along the coast to Titchwell to finish the day. We wanted to at least walk out to Parrinder Hide to get a proper look at the Mediterranean Gulls, but it took some time to find a Water Rail first. We eventually found one when it walked back into the bottom of the ditch from the vegetation in the bank beyond. We got a good look at it then, as it walked along through the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – eventually showed itself in the ditch

The rain may have eased but the wind had now picked up, and it was rather gusty this evening. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be enjoying it, with several up over the back of the reedbed as we walked out.

Three waders were on the pool out on Lavender Marsh. Two were the usual Common Redshanks, but as we glanced across the one asleep at the back looked rather pale. A quick look through the scope, confirmed it was slightly more silvery grey above, spotted with white, a touch lighter than the Common Redshank next to it. We could also just see tiny bit of pale supercilium, just visible where the bill was tucked into its back. It was a Spotted Redshank. They normally like to roost on the Tidal Pools, but it was perhaps a bit more sheltered on here this evening.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – asleep on Lavender March with a Common Redshank

After we had all had a look at it through the scope, the Spotted Redshank woke up briefly and flashed its distinctive longer, needle-fine bill, just in case any of the group had any lingering doubts over its identity. A Grey Plover appeared from behind the vegetation at front.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is still fairly high – good for ducks, but not so good for waders. The Avocets which were on here were roosting on one of the only exposed small islands, by the corner of the path to Parrinder Hide.

Avocets

Avocets – roosting on one of the few exposed islands

As we headed straight down the path for the shelter of Parrinder Hide, we heard a Water Pipit call from the other side of the bank. When we got into the hide, we looked back along the edge of the water but there was no sign of it that way. A quick look out the other side of the hide and we found it feeding on the shore. We had a good look at it through the scope.

Having seen the closely related Rock Pipits this morning, it was interesting to contrast them with the Water Pipit this evening. The Water Pipit was noticeably whiter below, cleaner with more defined black streaks, with whiter wing bars and a whiter supercilium. It was also greyer above, not so oily olive-brown.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding along the water’s edge beyond the hide

The fenced off Avocet Island was chock full of gulls (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’!). We had come to see Mediterranean Gulls and there were lots here, in with Black-headed Gulls. Several appeared to be paired up already and were even still displaying. It was a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Mediterranean Gulls with a blacker, more extensive hood, heavier red bill and pure white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are lots back now in with the Black-headed Gulls

There were more gulls coming in to roost, bobbing around on the open water in the middle. As well as all the smaller gulls, we could see several Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Great Black-backed Gulls. We had a look at a few adults of each of the three species and talked about the main differences between them. (we decided to leave the more confusing immatures to a later lesson!).

The Marsh Harriers were gathering over the reedbed beyond to roost. More were flying in all the time – one came in over the Volunteer Marsh and straight over Avocet Island, sending all the gulls up into the air. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be playing in the wind this evening and we counted a minimum of twenty all in the air at the same time.

With all the excitement over the gulls, we had not noticed the time and it was already getting late. Unfortunately it was time to call it a day, and wrap up what had been three very successful day’s birding, despite the weather.