Day 1 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. With the wind in the east, it felt like there should be some interesting birds about today. It was cloudy and cool, but the wind had dropped from recent days and we had no more than a few spots of rain.
Our main destination for today was Titchwell. We arrived in the car park to be told by one of the volunteers that the Red-breasted Flycatcher which had been seen yesterday was still present and had just been seen in the picnic area, but had moved through towards the access road. We joined him round on the road, but there was no sign of it there, so headed round to the picnic area instead. There were a few people gathered there and we could just hear the Red-breasted Flycatcher calling, but it was deep in the trees and flew across back towards the access road!
Back out on the tarmac, we could hear the much Red-breasted Flycatcher better and worked out where it was in the trees. It was not visible from where we were, so we walked round the other way via the visitor centre to the path known as bug alley. We could hear it calling all the time here and eventually it appeared in the trees right above our heads. Most of the group got a good look at it here, but it was hard to get onto at times, high up in the trees. We followed it back towards the picnic area. After a wait while it went deeper into the trees towards the car park, it came out and showed much better for us.
Red-breasted Flycatcher – the best shot from today, without much light in the trees
That was a great way to start to the day – and worth the extra effort to find it. We set off to explore the rest of the reserve, stopping briefly to scan the feeders by the visitor centre, which had a few Long-tailed Tits and finches. Out on the main path, in the trees, a Brambling gave its wheezy call from high above us. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler called too and we managed to get a quick glimpse of it before it dropped out the back.
There was very little to see on the still dry grazing meadow ‘pool’, but we stopped to watch a couple of Marsh Harriers. As one quartered over the reeds at the back, we spotted a second perched in a bush nearby. It too took off and the two of them flew round for a time, before the second bird landed again. This time we got a good look at it in the scope – all dark brown apart from an orangey-yellow head, a juvenile.
Marsh Harrier – one of two hunting over the reeds on the Thornham side
The reedbed pool held a single Little Grebe, right at the back with a Shoveler, and several Mallard. While we were standing there scanning, a small snipe flew straight towards us from the direction of the freshmarsh and as it passed we could see that it was a Jack Snipe. It dropped down on the grazing marsh ‘pool’ but only a minute or so later we picked it up again as it flew back past us to the freshmarsh.
A particular request today was whether we might be able to see a Bearded Tit. Walking past the reedbed, we heard a couple calling and just saw the back end of them as they flew low and fast across the reeds, before dropping back in. We stood on the bank just before Island Hide, scanning the freshmarsh and heard more Bearded Tits calling – again, we saw them zipping across over the reeds, fairly typical views of Bearded Tits.
Then three Bearded Tits flew towards us and landed in the reeds not far from the bank. This time, they climbed up into the tops of the reeds and started to feed on the heads – a couple of browner females at first, then a stunning male. The next thing we knew, another seven Bearded Tits flew over towards us in a single flock, calling, and dropped down with the ones we were watching. We didn’t know where to look, they seemed to be everywhere, and at one point had at least three males perched up together. Cracking stuff!
Bearded Tit – great views from the main path today
Scanning the freshmarsh from the path, we could see lots of ducks – mainly Teal, but good numbers of Wigeon and Shoveler too now. More Wigeon were flying in from the saltmarsh in small flocks, and one little group of ducks flying in turned out to be a single Wigeon with three Pintail, as they came overhead. We could see lots of Brent Geese out on the mudflats in Thornham Harbour and an occasional group flew in and landed on the freshmarsh too.
There was a nice selection of waders too. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping out in the middle. We had seen a couple of flocks of Golden Plover flying in as we walked out, and they were now gathered on the islands. There are still a few Avocets here, but numbers have dropped sharply now as most of the birds have moved south for the winter. Right at the back, against the reeds, two pale looking waders were Spotted Redshanks, in their silvery-grey and white winter plumage.
A Little Stint was picking around on the edge of one of the grassy spits, but was a little distant until it helpfully flew in and landed much closer to us. Even better, it had a Dunlin for company – which allowed us to see just how small the Little Stint was by comparison. It was a juvenile, stopping off here on its way south from the arctic tundra to Africa for the winter. There were several little groups of Dunlin out on the islands and a single Ringed Plover on here too.
The Pectoral Sandpiper and Jack Snipe had both been seen on the weedy mud just beyond Island Hide earlier, but we couldn’t find them there on the walk out. We did have great views of a couple of Common Snipe feeding down amongst the vegetation just below us.
Common Snipe – feeding just below the main path
We could not see any sign of the Curlew Sandpipers on the freshmarsh and when we got to the junction for the path to Parrinder Hide we found out why – they were on the Volunteer Marsh! We had a nice view of them feeding out on the mud, looking back towards Parrinder. There were a couple of Grey Plover and a Curlew out there too.
Round at Parrinder Hide, there was no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper in its usual favoured spot here either when we arrived. We had a good scan of the freshmarsh from here, which produced several Knot with the flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and three Ruff dropped in nearby too. From this side, we could see there were actually two Little Stints. A Black-tailed Godwit was feeding right in front of the hide, giving us the opportunity to look at the differences from the Bar-taileds.
Black-tailed Godwit – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide
There were lots of Meadow Pipits out on the grassy islands and a single Rock Pipit was with them – slightly larger and darker, with oilier brown and plainer upperparts. When all the waders took off and whirled round over the scrape, we saw a young Peregrine disappearing off inland over the reedbed.
We had almost given up hope of seeing the Pectoral Sandpiper from here, when it flew in and landed on the muddy edge of the island in front of us. It didn’t seem to like being out in the open, and ran quickly along the shore, across the water, and into the reeds below the bank. It looked like that might be it, but after a couple of minutes we could see it creeping furtively about in the vegetation and it gradually made its way closer and into full view, where we could get a great look at it through the scope.
Pectoral Sandpiper – here’s a photo of it from a few days ago
Breeding in North America and also just over the Bering Strait in NE Siberia, it is always interesting to speculate whether Pectoral Sandpipers which turn up here have come across the North Atlantic or across from Russia.
After all the excitement of the morning so far, time was getting on now, so we decided to have a quick walk out to the beach. However, there were still more distractions on the way. First, we had a quick look at a Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh, on the edge of channel by the path. A little further back was a nice close Bar-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone was preening on the edge of the mud. A Greenshank flew in calling and landed with a Common Redshank in one of the pools.
Bar-tailed Godwit – this one was feeding on the Volunteer Marsh
As we stood watching the Turnstone, one of the group spotted a small bird on the path just ahead of us. It was a Wheatear, possibly a new arrival fresh in from the continent, as it looked absolutely exhausted. It hopped along the path towards us, occasionally darting into the grass. Thankfully it appeared to be finding food. Then two people walked past us along the path and flushed it out onto the Volunteer Marsh.
Wheatear – an exhausted migrant on the path
A Little Egret was fishing it its usual spot, where the water flows out of the channel. The three Curlew Sandpipers were now over here too, at the further side of the Volunteer Marsh, close to the main path. We stopped to have another look at them and they came closer and closer until they were right below us on the mud. It was nice to see them so well. All juveniles, one still had a brighter orangey wash across the breast then the other two, which were more faded. Having been raised this summer way over in arctic Central Siberia, like the Little Stints they have stopped off here to feed on their way south to Africa for the winter.
Curlew Sandpiper – three juveniles were on the Volunteer Marsh today
Moving swiftly on, a Kingfisher called and shot low across the water as we got to the tidal pools. Thankfully it landed on the edge of the small island over the far side and we got a good look at it in the scope. A little group of Knot were roosting on one of the spits.
As we arrived at the beach, we heard someone pointing out a Slavonian Grebe on the sea and quickly got the scope onto it. Thankfully it was not very far offshore and it was possible to see it even with binoculars, between dives. An unexpected but very nice bonus! A little further along we picked up a much bigger Great Crested Grebe too. A single Common Scoter was further out and harder to see in the choppy sea and three dark ducks further west, towards Thornham, turned out to be Eider when we got them in the scope.
The tide was out now and there were quite a few waders down on the shore. We could hear as well as see all the Oystercatchers, which were piping away. Several very pale grey/white winter Sanderling were running around on the beach, in with some more larger and greyer Knot.
We were already late for lunch, but as we hurried back we were distracted again. Just before we got to Island Hide, a small crowd was gathered on the path. They had been watching the Jack Snipe but we arrived just in time to see it disappear into the vegetation. We did see the Pectoral Sandpiper again, which had returned to this side now, and a Water Rail which appeared briefly out of the vegetation where the Jack Snipe had gone. Then it was back to the car for a rather later than planned but very well-deserved lunch.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent back at Wells Woods. As we walked into the trees, we could see the birches were alive with Goldcrests, 3-4 to a tree, everywhere we looked. In with them, we found a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps too. And there were lots of Robins. The vast majority of them presumably migrants, stopping off on their way south or come here for the winter.
On the edge of the Dell, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. We followed the sound and had a quick glimpse of it in the top of some sallows before it flitted away out of view. We carried on in the direction where we thought it had gone and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling further still ahead of us, which we assumed initially was the same one. We made our way through the trees to the meadow, where we thought we might be able to see it, but got distracted by a pipit which flew out of the birches and straight back into the trees, landing high up in a birch out of view. As we tried to get a better look at it, it flew again, calling this time – it was just a Meadow Pipit.
When we heard calling again, the Yellow-browed Warbler appeared to have gone back to where we first saw it. It was only when we got back there ourselves, that we realised there were two. This time, we could see the first Yellow-browed Warbler flitting around in the tops of the sallows and birches. It was hard to see in amongst the leaves at times, but most of the group got to see most of it!
We walked on round, out of the Dell and back onto the main path. As we approached the corner, we could see lots of thrushes in the hawthorns and brambles ahead. Something must have spooked them, because suddenly about fifty more flew up from the field beyond the reeds and joined them in the bushes. We could see they were mostly Redwings, together with a smaller number of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds.
Redwing – 50+ were in the field and bushes on the south edge of the woods
Continuing on a little further along the path, we cut through the bushes, flushing thrushes left and right as we did so, until we found a gap in the hedge from where we could see the grassy field beyond. The Redwings were all returning to the ground to feed – it was amazing to watch them coating the field, spread out over the grass. They had probably arrived overnight, or during the day, and were refuelling here before continuing on south. It was a nice way to end the day, in the woods surrounded by autumn migrants of various shapes and sizes.