Tag Archives: Snettisham

14th Jan 2018 – Norfolk Winter & Owls #3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day, and we were back exploring North Norfolk. It was another dull and cloudy day, but rather mild with very light winds and dry once again.

After meeting up this morning, we headed west before turning inland off the coast road. We hadn’t gone far when a ghostly shape flew across the road in front of us – a Barn Owl. It landed on a post by a gate, but flew off behind the hedge as we pulled up. We didn’t see it disappear across the field so we had a hunch it might have landed on another post further along, and as we looked round the hedge there was the Barn Owl. It flew again, across the grassy paddock, but landed on the fence the other side in full view.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – finally, we had really good views of one this morning

The Barn Owl stayed standing on the post for some time – now we could get a really good look at it. Eventually it dropped down into the grass and appeared to catch something. It flew back up to the post briefly, and then disappeared off silently through the trees behind. There seem to be rather few Barn Owls out hunting in daylight hours at the moment, presumably because they are not struggling to hunt at night, so it was great to get one out during the morning.

Our first scheduled stop of the morning was at Thornham. There had been a couple of Waxwings here for the last few days, feeding on windfall apples in the orchards, and we were hoping to see them. Reports had suggested that they had flown off yesterday afternoon, but thankfully we received a message to say they were back this morning.

When we arrived, we found a couple of cars and several people with binoculars standing around in the car park not really looking anywhere. We decided to check the orchard the Waxwings had been favouring yesterday and were on our way over when we looked up into the tall tree by the entrance and there was a Waxwing! We got it in the scope and had a nice look at it.

Waxwings are very smart birds – from the punk crest to the delicate wing markings with red waxy tips to the wing coverts and yellow tip to the tail. It dropped down into the orchard and disappeared, presumably to feed, but a few minutes later it was back up again in another tree. This time it flew across and landed on top of a telegraph post on the other side of the car park.

Waxwing

Waxwing – perched for ages on a telegraph post in the car park

The Waxwing stayed on the top of the post for some time. There was no sign of the second bird which has been with it in recent days, so perhaps it was looking for it, or any other Waxwings which might be around. It meant we had a great opportunity to admire it. Eventually, the lone Waxwing flew over us calling and dropped back down into the orchard.

There were a few other birds here. A couple of Fieldfares were in the tall tree when we first located the Waxwing, and more appeared up from the orchard at one point, along with a few Redwings and a Song Thrush.

However, the other stars of the show were across the road, a huge flock of hundreds of Linnets on the wires across a weedy field. They kept flying down to feed, in flocks of several hundred at a time, before flying back up to the wires. Linnets used to be common farmland birds here but have declined substantially in recent years, so it is great to see such a large number and goes to show what can happen when food is left for them.

Linnets

Linnets – in their hundreds, lining up on the wires

It was just a short drive from here round to the harbour. As we drove down the road by the saltmarsh, we could see several people with telescopes pointing down into the vegetation. When we got out, we could see they were watching a flock of Twite. We got out of the car and had a look at them – we could see their orange breasts and yellow bills, which in winter set Twite apart from Linnets. We could also hear the nasal, twangy ‘tveet’ calls from which they get their name.

This is another species which used to be much more common here, but it is not the loss of habitat in Norfolk which is the problem, as they feed mostly out on saltmarsh. Twite are just winter visitors here, and these birds come from the Pennines where the breeding population of Twite has declined markedly in recent years. Thornham is one of the last regular wintering sites, and there are just 20-30 here these days.

Twite

Twite – we had great views of the flock right by the road today

It was proving to be a successful morning, so after admiring the Twite we made our way round to Titchwell next. As we made our way out onto the reserve, we had a quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre, but there were just a few Chaffinches, Goldfinches and the commoner tits here today.

Walking up the main path, we scanned the ditches either side carefully, looking for any movement. One of the group spotted something lurking down in the vegetation and sure enough it turned out to be the Water Rail. It scuttled away deeper in, but then worked its way back towards us and we had a nice view of it feeding in the rotting leaves down in the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the main path again

Next stop was by the Thornham grazing meadow pool. At first it looked rather quiet here, but scanning carefully around the edges we found a Water Pipit creeping around on the mud on the edge of the reeds. We got it in the scope and everyone had a look at it – noting particularly its pale, off-white underparts neatly streaked with black – before it disappeared back into the reeds.

Out on the freshmarsh, the water level is still very high but there were fewer ducks than of late. There were still plenty of Shelduck and Teal, plus a few Gadwall. Several Common Pochard were lurking around the small island towards the back and a small group of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle of the water.

Teal

Teal – looking very smart now in breeding plumage

With the water level high, there are few waders on here at the moment, apart from a few Lapwings and Golden Plover. A little more of the top of the island by the junction with the path to Parrinder Hide was visible today. As well as the Lapwing on here, and a single Golden Plover, a small group of Knot had flown in to bathe, along with a few Dunlin.

The tide was out and the Volunteer Marsh was rather dry now.  We managed to get a Grey Plover in the scope, and could see a scattering of Curlew, Redshank, Knot and Dunlin out on the mud. We also had good views of a Black-tailed Godwit in the channel at the front by the main path.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

Out at the Tidal Pools, we found where all the ducks were hiding. There were lots of Shoveler out here today, all asleep with their bills tucked in, as well as more Teal. Several Wigeon were feeding on the islands of saltmarsh. There were about half a dozen Pintail here too, including some smart drakes, though they were busy feeding with their heads under water for much of the time. A few Little Grebes were diving out on the pools.

Eight Avocets were sleeping out on the end of one of the muddy spits, a slight increase on the five that we have seen here recently. Otherwise, there were not many other waders on the Tidal Pools today, just a few more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

Avocets

Avocets – eight were here today, sleeping on the Tidal Pools

Most of the interest at Titchwell today was out on the sea, so we hurried out to the beach. The tide was out, so everything was distant from the top of the beach, but we scanned from the dunes to see what we could see. There has been a little group of Long-tailed Ducks here for a while now, and we could see them diving close to the shore away to the west of us.

Scanning through the Goldeneye, we could see two much larger ducks, with a prominent wedge shaped head and bill – Common Eider. There are always several Common Scoter offshore here but it took us a bit of time to find the single Velvet Scoter. It was rather distant, but everyone had a look at it through the scope and managed to see the white in the wings which is one of the easiest ways to distinguish Velvet Scoter from Common Scoter. A small grebe offshore with clean black cap and white cheeks was a winter-plumaged Slavonian Grebe.

With the Long-tailed Ducks close inshore today, we decided to walk out across the sand towards Thornham Point to get a better views. With only very light winds today, it was pleasant out in the open on the sand. We stood on the shore opposite where the Long-tailed Ducks were feeding and had cracking views of them, swimming on the sea, diving for shellfish or preening. There were at least nine of them, including several stunning males. Close up, we could see the striking elongated central tail feathers on the drakes, from which they get their name.

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks – great views just offshore today from down on the beach

After we had enjoyed a great look at the Long-tailed Ducks, they had a brief fly round for us, before landing back down on the water a little further out. There were several Common Scoter here too, close inshore, and from this range we could even see the yellow stripe down the top of the bill of the otherwise black drake.

Some of the other divers and grebes had apparently drifted off further west, so we walked down along the shore to Thornham Point. There were lots of waders out on the beach here, mainly Bar-tailed Godwits, walking round probing in the sand with their long, slightly upturned bills. There were a couple of Dunlin and Oystercatchers with the godwits and a few Sanderling and Turnstones flew past along the edge of the sea.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwits – feeding out on the beach towards Thornham Point

As we arrived at Thornham Point, several people were just leaving. They had not seen the Black-necked Grebe which was supposedly down this end. We stopped to scan the sea, but it was hard to see the birds being so low down on beach, they were disappearing in the light swell despite the sea being fairly flat calm. They were also diving all the time. We did manage to find the Black-necked Grebe, briefly but we lost track of it again before everyone could get to see it.

It was getting late now, and we still hadn’t eaten. After a brisk walk back along the beach we headed straight back to the visitor centre for a rather late lunch.

After lunch, we made our way over to Snettisham. The light was already going by the time we arrived. Looking out across the Wash, there was a vast expanse of mud – it was not a big tide today, and the tide was just starting to come in. The waders were scattered widely across the mud, apart from a couple of big groups of Oystercatchers which were huddled up together. There were lots of ducks here too, especially Shelduck out on the water’s edge and Mallard gathered around the channels in the mud. We had a quick walk up along the tide line but there was no sign of the Shorelark here now today.

We had come here mainly looking for owls. There was no sign of any out hunting yet, but scanning the bushes carefully we found a Short-eared Owl roosting under bramble. A second Short-eared Owl was roosting in the brambles nearby. They were both still asleep, with their heads tucked down, but they did look round a couple of times so we could see them properly through the scope.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two roosting in the brambles today

Short-eared Owls can often be found out hunting in the late afternoon, so we stood here for a few minutes to see if they might wake up and start flying round, but they were obviously not hungry enough at moment. They are probably finding enough food at night.

We saw a few other birds here. There were several Goldeneye on the pits, as well as a couple of Little Egrets. Some Greylag were on the pits, but more were gathering noisily in the fields just inland, before going to roost. There is a large roost of Pink-footed Geese on the Wash off Snettisham, but there was no sign of any here yet.

It was starting to get dark so it was time to make our way back. As we did, we could see long lines of dots approaching in the sky. We watched and listened as thousands and thousands of Pink-footed Geese flew in from the fields and headed out towards the Wash, coming in to roost. We stayed for several minutes as more and more birds came over. It was stunning sight and a great way to end the three days.

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9th Jan 2018 – Looking for Owls

It was an Owl Tour today, the first of 2018. The weather was dry and the wind had dropped completely today, which was a real bonus, but it was still very dull, grey and chilly all day with a light mist which thickened in the afternoon.

After we met up on the coast this morning, we headed straight over to the grazing marshes to look for Barn Owls. One had been out hunting just before we arrived, but after a mild, dry night they can go to bed very early at this time of year. Thankfully, as soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see a Barn Owl still hunting out over the grass in the distance.

We walked up along the bank and watched it for a while, flying round methodically over the same field. The Barn Owl dropped down onto the ground a couple of times but came up without anything shortly after. It disappeared round behind some reeds for a while, but then came back out and continued to hunt over the same area.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – we saw a couple still out hunting this morning

The Barn Owl gradually worked its way back away from us, working the fields further off along the bank, so we turned our attention to whatever else we could see. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering the reeds and the grazing marshes. A Kestrel flew in and landed on a bush before making its way over to perch on one of the information boards out on the seawall.

A big flock of Brent Geese flew up periodically in the distance out across the marshes, circling round calling, before dropping back down to feed on the grass. Several Pink-footed Geese flushed off the grazing marshes too, but they headed off inland, presumably to find some recently harvested sugar beet fields to feed it. We could hear their high-pitched yelping calls as they flew off.

The next thing we knew, the Barn Owl was back again, presumably the same one, much closer to us. It dropped down behind a line of reeds, so we made our way over towards it, and when it came up again we had a close flypast. Great views! It came straight past us, flying purposefully now, up and over the bank behind us, and disappeared off inland, presumably heading off to roost.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – gave us a close flypast as it headed off to roost

No sooner had that Barn Owl disappeared, than another turned up. This one was much paler, white winged, the resident male here. It circled round in front of the reeds, perching down in the grass for a few seconds where we managed to get it in the scope. Then it flew back over the reeds and disappeared off towards the trees. Presumably it too was heading in to roost now.

We were just turning to leave when a pair of Grey Partridges flew across and landed down on the grass in front of us. The male stood bolt upright, looking round, while the female picked around in the grass nearby. Then they were off again, running away across the open grass.

Our next target was Little Owl. They can often be found during the morning, perched up enjoying the sun at this time of year, but there was a distinct lack of any sun today! There was a distinct chill in the air too, despite the lack of wind. There was no sign of any Little Owls at our first stop. We stopped again a little further on and walked round to check out the back of some barns. We could just see the top of the head of one Little Owl from here, tucked tight down in the roof, but we couldn’t make out any detail. Not a stunning view!

Little Owl

Little Owl – tucked well down out of view this morning

We walked round to the other side of the barn, to see if we could get a better look at the Little Owl from there, but it had found a spot where it was sheltered, out of the wind, and it wasn’t visible at all from this side.

There were some other birds here. A big flock of Curlew flew up from a rape field next to the road as we stopped. A couple of Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Stock Doves were lurking around the farm buildings. A flock of Brent Geese flew up from the coast and headed off inland to feed on a winter wheat field somewhere. Given the weather, it seemed unlikely a Little Owl would come out into the open this morning, so we decided to head off and try our luck elsewhere.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – flying up from the coast, heading inland to feed

As we made our way west, we saw several Bullfinches which flew out of the hedges as we passed, flashing their white rumps. A couple of Red Kites flew over, and a Common Buzzard perched on the top of the hedge took off as we pulled up alongside it. A Sparrowhawk flew low and fast along the grass verge ahead of us, up into a tree where it landed on a branch briefly, before flying on along the road as we approached. We drove round via several other sites for Little Owl, but there was no sign of any this morning, it seemed like perhaps it was just too dull and cold.

We decided to give up on Little Owls for now, so we continued our way west over to Snettisham. There had been a Shorelark seen here yesterday so, while the rest of the group stopped for a warming coffee, the intrepid leader headed out to look for it. It didn’t take long to find it, picking at the vegetation washed up along the high tide line.

ShorelarkShorelark – feeding along the tide line at Snettisham

Collecting everyone else after their coffee break, we walked back and had great views of the Shorelark in the scopes. We could see its bright yellow face and black mask and collar, but despite this it was very well camouflaged when feeding unobtrusively, creeping around in the dry brown vegetation.

After watching the Shorelark for a while, we turned our attention to the Wash. It was about high tide now, but it was not a big enough tide to cover the mud today. Still there were lots of waders out there. A long line of Oystercatchers had gathered towards the water’s edge, several thousand strong. A dark smear across the grey mud closer to us was actually a big flock of Golden Plover, roosting over high tide.

There were also lots of Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Redshanks scattered liberally over mud, still busy feeding, which we had a look at through the scope. Several Curlews were sleeping further back. The Knot had all gone to sleep out in the middle too, in several smaller groups.

Knot

Knot – sleeping in smaller flocks, scattered over the mud

While we were gathered watching the waders, a Spanish couple visiting here walked over to speak to us. They had found an injured Pink-footed Goose – it looked like it had most likely been shot and winged and was unable to fly or stand. They were headed back in the direction of King’s Lynn, so we agreed the best option would be to take it to the RSPCA Wildlife Centre East Winch, which would be not far out of their way.

We made our way round to look at the pits. There are lots of Goldeneye here at the moment, and several of the drakes were displaying, throwing their heads back in an exaggerrated fashion. There was also a nice selection of other ducks – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and a few Tufted Ducks. There were plenty of noisy Greylag Geese too and a few Little Grebes diving out on the water.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – several of the drakes were displaying today

A Kingfisher flew past us, along the edge of the water. It disappeared from view, but by walking down onto the causeway and looking back we could see it perched on a bramble bush along the bank. It was easier to see in the scope – surprisingly well camouflaged for an electric blue bird!

Looking across to the other bank, we could see a shape tucked down under a bramble bush. It was a roosting Short-eared Owl. They often like to roost well hidden from view, but this one was not particularly well concealed by the brambles above it.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

There have been Fieldfares on the move in recent days and today was no exception. As we stood scanning the pits, a good-sized flock of about 150 Fieldfares flew south, followed by another 20 or so a little later, calling.

After lunch back at the car, we started to make our way back east. Again, we looked at several sites for Little Owls on the way, but it seemed like we would be out of luck again. It was even greyer know than it had been earlier. Driving past a set of barns where we know there are owls, we looked across to see a shape perched on the top of a roof. We pulled to a stop in front and looked up. There was a Little Owl, perched high on the ridge. It stared at us for a few seconds then, just as the camera came out, it flew off round the back of the buildings.

We made our way back to Blakeney. The mist had thickened and it was very dull now. As we walked out on the seawall, we could see a Barn Owl hunting across the other side. We stopped to scan the marshes and could see a couple of Marsh Harriers out over the reeds, presumably getting ready to go to roost. A pale-headed female perched on the top of a bush and a male did a nice circuit round in front of us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – quartering the reedbed before going to roost

We heard the pinging calls of Bearded Tits coming from the reeds in front of us and we could see the feathery seedheads swaying, despite the lack of any wind. Looking closely, we could see the Bearded Tits clambering through the reeds and feeding on the seeds. A Cetti’s Warbler called from the reeds too.

It didn’t look like the Barn Owl was going to do a circuit round to us today – there was no sign of it coming over to this side of the marshes. So, with the light fading, we headed back to the car and made our way inland again. We parked and walked down to a meadow. There is often a Barn Owl here, but not today – perhaps it had not yet emerged from its roost. A Water Rail squealed nearby.

As we made our way back into the nearby trees, a Tawny Owl started hooting from the wood behind us. We walked down to a nearby area where we know another Tawny Owl sometimes roosts. We heard it hoot once, but it was deep in the trees today. After a few minutes wait, it started calling from the far edge of the trees ahead of us and in reply came more hooting from back where we had heard the first.

It was lovely listening to the Tawny Owls, but then it went quiet. It was perhaps a bit cold and grey for them to get really worked up this evening. As it was getting dark, we decided it was time to call it a day and head for home.

6th & 7th Jan 2017 – NW Norfolk in Winter

This was a Private Tour, over a day and a half, for a group based in NW Norfolk. It was to be a relaxed paced tour, enjoying some of the sights and sounds of the coast in winter.

Saturday 6th January

After an earlier than normal start, our first destination was Snettisham. It was a big high tide forecast for this morning, although not big enough to cover all the mud and force all the waders off the Wash. Still we hoped the thousands of waders forced in by the rising water might put on a good display for us.

As we arrived up on the seawall, the tide was already well in. A couple of swirling lines of waders overtook us on their way to the remaining mud in the far corner. We made our way quickly down towards Rotary Hide and then stopped to scan the water. There were lots of duck just offshore, bobbing on the tide, mainly Shelduck and Mallard closer in. Beyond them, we could see a couple of big rafts of Teal, which flew up and circled round before landing back in the water, along with a few Wigeon. Nearby, we found a handful of Pintail too, including some smart drakes sporting their elongated tail feathers.

There was a light mist this morning, but further out we could see a large flock of geese also swimming on the tide. They were Pink-footed Geese which had roosted here overnight. As we stood and watched, they started to take off, flying in towards the shore a few hundred at a time. As they approached us, they turned and started trying to gain height, presumably fearful we might be shooting at them with something other than cameras, before turning inland again further up the beach.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – a few of the many flying over us early this morning

As the number of Pink-footed Geese flying over gradually dwindled, we turned our attention to the waders. Through the mist, we could see a dark slick smeared across the mud and through the scope we could see it was a massed throng of birds. The tide was still coming in and they were shifting gradually up ahead of the rising water. More birds were flying in to join them from further up the Wash, long lines of Oystercatchers and Knot.

Waders

Waders – the vast throng gathering in the mist this morning

We walked on, down to the grass opposite Shore Hide. From here we could see the waders more clearly. In the deeper water at the front, were the Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits. Behind them on the mud were the Knot, tightly packed in their tens of thousands, looking almost like a single amorphous mass. Behind those on the drier mud, we could see lots of Grey Plover with the diminutive Dunlin in amongst them, the birds here more widely spaced. At the back, towards the saltmarsh beyond, were the much larger Curlews.

The Oystercatchers started to peel off quite early, flying in towards us in small groups, piping noisily. Over our heads, they dropped down towards the pit behind to roost. In one group, we spotted a single Avocet in with them. The vast majority of the Avocets have gone south to warmer climes for the winter, but a small number hang on here right through, as long as it doesn’t get too cold.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers & Avocet – one hiding in with the others

A couple of times, the Knot all flushed, bursting into the air and wheeling around high over the water before settling back down onto the ever-shrinking area of mud. There didn’t seem to be any immediate reason to panic; though a Marsh Harrier was patrolling the saltmarsh some distance behind them. After one of the flushes, with the exposed mud fast diminishing, several long lines of Knot flew in past us and dropped down onto the pit behind to roost.

Knot 1

Knot – a long line, flying in off the Wash and down to the pit to roost

The tide had stopped rising and the waders all seemed to have settled down on the last semicircle of mud. We started to think that would be it, when suddenly everything erupted. We looked at the clouds of birds and in the middle of them spotted a Peregrine. It swept through the Knot as they took off, scattering them, before swooping up and turning for another stoop. A small wader peeled off from the flock and the Peregrine set off after it for a second before turning back to the throng again.

Knot 3

Knot 2

Knot – tens of thousands twisting and turning over the Wash

The flocks of Knot swirled and twisted, making some amazing patterns as they turned, flashing alternately grey and white. Then they started to gain height. The Peregrine flew up too, trying to get above them, but it had lost the element of surprise now and eventually gave up.

The Peregrine started to fly in towards us, away from the swirling flocks of waders, high over the water. As it got in over the saltmarsh, it started to fly down until it was skimming low over the ground as it came in over the grass. It accelerated as it flew in, up over the bank before it turned sharply and disappeared down into the pit where the waders were all roosting.

Presumably mass panic ensued, but it was a surprising few seconds before we saw anything. Perhaps they were just hidden from our view, behind the bank, but at first the few Oystercatchers we could see over the far side did not seem to react. Then a large flock of Knot burst over the bank and low over the grass right past us. All we could hear was the whoosh of thousands of pairs of wings beating. A second flock of Knot followed a second later, the same noise. What a sight!

Knot 4

Knot – thousands of birds flew right past us

The Oystercatchers were up too now, as were flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Most of the waders headed out over the water again and circled as the Peregrine climbed into the sky again and flew off north, empty talonned. We could see it was a young bird, still a juvenile, so rather inexperienced.

We headed in to the hide now. Once the Peregrine had disappeared, many of the waders settled back down onto the pit. There were lots of Oystercatchers on the shingle banks around the south end of the pit and in one corner they were accompanied by some large and tightly packed groups of grey Knot.

Knot 5

Knot & Oystercatchers – packed into tight flocks to roost on the pit

Up the other end, there was a sizeable party of Redshank asleep on the tip of one of the spits. A single Ruff flew in and landed right in the middle of them – we could see its paler face and scallop-patterned back. There were also lots of Turnstone on the rocks out in the middle and a good number of Lapwing scattered all around.

There were plenty of ducks out on the water here too. Lots of Wigeon and Mallard, a few Shoveler and eventually we found a lone pair of Gadwall too, asleep on the bank at the back. There were diving ducks too, a liberal scattering of Tufted Ducks and a good number of Goldeneye. We got a couple of the male Goldeneye in the scope for a closer look – very smart ducks!

The geese on here were almost all Greylags, but a single Canada Goose was with them too. One of the group then spotted a much smaller Barnacle Goose, hiding in amongst the Greylags. We do get wild Barnacle Geese here sometimes, usually with the Pinkfeet, but given the company it was keeping this one was most likely a feral bird.

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose – most likely a feral bird, associating with the local Greylags

It had felt quite mild here at the start of the day, despite the light mist and a patchy frost inland, but we noticed the wind in our faces on the walk back to the car. It had picked up while we were in the hide, and there was now a noticeable chill. A small flock of Fieldfares flew south over our heads, possibly cold-weather migrants arrived from the continent – we have seen a few along the coast in the past few days.

Round at Titchwell, we stopped at the visitor centre for a warming coffee. The feeders were just in the process of being filled, and as soon as they were they were covered in the usual selection of finches – Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch. After the coffee break, we had a look in the ditches either side of the main path on our walk out onto the reserve. We couldn’t see any Water Rails at this point, but a Redwing flew in and landed in the trees in front of us before dropping down onto a post on the edge of the grazing marsh.

Redwing

Redwing – landed in the trees by the main path briefly

As we walked up along the main path, we could see a few people with telescopes gathered overlooking the grazing marsh pool. They were looking at a Rock Pipit out on the bare ground and as we set up the scope to get a better look at it, we noticed something else moving down at the front, much closer to us. A quick look through binoculars confirmed it was a Water Pipit, the bird we really wanted to see here.

We got the Water Pipit in the scope first and all had a really good look at it down on the mud. We then turned our attention back to the Rock Pipit which was still feeding a little further behind. It was really good to be able to compare these two similar species – the Water Pipit was noticeably much paler below, less dirty looking, and greyer above.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – great views feeding at the front of the grazing marsh pool

Several Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the reeds. We stopped again to scan around the edges of Lavendar Marsh next. There were lots of Lapwing down in the vegetation and on closer inspection we found four Common Snipe in with them too, feeding in between them, probing vigorously in the mud with their long bills. They were very well camouflaged against the yellow and browns of the vegetation.

There is a lot of water on the freshmarsh at the moment, which the ducks seem to be enjoying. As well as the usual selection of dabbling ducks, particularly Teal and Wigeon, we found a smart pair of Pintail which we had a look at it in the scope. Further back, there were a few Common Pochard in with the larger raft of Tufted Ducks. Several Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh and landed out on the water.

Avocets

Avocets – the five that are currently hanging on here

With most of the islands under water, there are not many places for waders to rest here at the moment. Five Avocets were asleep on the small remnant of one of the islands by the path to Parrinder Hide, the brave souls which are hanging on here through the winter, and a couple of Snipe were feeding on there too. We wanted to have a quick look at the sea first, so we continued on up the main path.

There were more waders on Volunteer Marsh – several Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Curlew. We had just stopped to look at them when we heard a Spotted Redshank call. We looked across to see it fly in and land in the channel at the far end of the marsh. We hurried up there and got it in scope – we could see its pale silvery grey upperparts spotted with white, paler than the Common Redshanks next to it, and its much longer, finer bill.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – flew in and landed on Volunteer Marsh

It was cold in the wind out at the Tidal Pools, so we hurried straight on to the beach. Unfortunately the sea was rather choppy now that the wind had picked up and it was harder to see the ducks. The Common Scoter were easier to see, dark black and brown, contrasting against the water, but even they kept disappearing in the waves. Several Long-tailed Ducks were with them and were more difficult to pick out in the swell, despite being mostly white. Eventually everyone got their eye in and managed to see them.

There were a few Goldeneye out here too and we managed to find a single Red-throated Diver on the sea close enough in to see. The tide was still fairly high, so there was not so much to see on the beach today – lots of gulls, and a few Sanderling running in and out between them. It was rather cold and exposed out here today, so we beat a hasty retreat to somewhere warmer!

Back at the Parrinder Hide, with the sun shining now we were looking straight into the light. As well as all the ducks as before, we had a closer look at the Golden Plover and Lapwings which were roosting on the bits of the fenced off island which were not under water. A single Snipe was on the island too.

The light was better on the other side of Parrinder Hide, looking over the Volunteer Marsh. A close Bar-tailed Godwit gave us a good opportunity to look at it in detail. There was also a Grey Plover and two Knot in front of the hide, as well as the usual Redshanks. A small flock of Linnet flew across in front of us.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – showing well in front of Parrinder Hide

It had been an action packed morning and we still hadn’t managed to stop for lunch, so we headed back towards the visitor centre. As we got into the trees, we scanned the ditches carefully again and this time we spotted a Water Rail just below the path. It was skulking underneath a tangle of branches, and hard to see until you knew exactly where it was. Eventually we all got good views of it feeding in the rotting leaves on the edge of the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – skulking under a tangle of branches

We retired to the pub for a late lunch today. A nice opportunity to warm up over a plate of sandwiches. It was tempting not to venture out into the cold again but we did!

After lunch, we headed inland. We stopped by a cover strip sown on the edge of a field. The hedge alongside was full of birds, mainly Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers, which kept dropping down into the field to feed. A few Tree Sparrows were in with them, we could see their chestnut caps and black cheek spots. A nice bird to see – once a common countryside bird, just a few years ago, they are getting very scarce here now.

Carrying on inland, our next stop was at Roydon Common. The afternoon was already getting on, and the sun was starting to drop in the sky as we walked out across the heath. It was quiet at first as we made our way to the ridge, but we didn’t have to wait long. A Hen Harrier appeared up out of the vegetation in the bottom, a ringtail. It flew across, flashing the distinctive white square at the base of its tail, before landing again on the top of the heather.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, out over the heather

We had a good look at the Hen Harrier in the scope while it perched for some time. Then it took off again and flew low out across the heath, possibly a late hunt for food, over to the far side where it dropped down again out of sight.

As we waited to see if it or another Hen Harrier would appear, we could see a band of dark clouds to the north. It looked like they might miss us at first, but we were just caught by the edge and a mercifully brief shower. It passed through quickly, but the light was really going now, so we decided to head for home.

Sunday 7th January

The next morning, we met in Thornham again and this time headed east along the coast road to Holkham. It was a lovely morning, mostly clear with some patches of cloud, heading in to a beautiful sunrise. It was certainly nice in the car, but cold out of it in a blustery NE wind!

As we drove along the main road, we could see lots of geese in the fields alongside. We pulled up and had a quick scan – they were mostly Greylags, a few Pink-footed Geese too, and then we spotted two White-fronted Geese in with them. This was a species we were hoping to see here today, so we found somewhere to park off the road and walked back to look at them.

White-fronted Goose

White-fronted Goose – one of two by the road this morning

We had great views of the White-fronted Geese through the scope – we could see their black belly bars and the white surround to the base of their bills. We had a close look at the Pink-footed Geese and Greylags too. It was great to see the three species side by side, and get such good comparisons.

After watching the geese for a while, we continued on to Lady Anne’s Drive. As we turned off the main road, we could see several thrushes on the wet grass field next to the drive, so we pulled up for a look. There were several Fieldfares, possibly more fresh arrivals fleeing cold weather on the continent, and two Mistle Thrushes were with them. A little further along and four Grey Partridges were feeding on the edge of the drive, before running off into the field as we approached.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – feeding beside Lady Anne’s Drive early morning

As we parked at the top end of the Drive, we could see three Brent Geese feeding very close to the fence, a nice chance to take a good look closely at our smallest geese, dark slate grey with a white half collar and paler streaked flanks. There were lots more Pink-footed Geese out on the grass and a single Egyptian Goose too.

We made our way out towards the beach first, through the pines before walking east along the edge of the saltmarsh. There were quite a few Skylarks tucked down in the saltmarsh vegetation, along with a couple of Rock Pipits and a Meadow Pipit flew off ahead of us calling.

Our target out here was Shorelark. There has been a flock of eight of them here, on and off, for the last few weeks, but there was no sign of them in their favoured spot when we arrived. We carried on east. As we got out of the lee of the trees, it was cold with the wind in our faces, so we headed across to the comparative shelter of the dunes, where we thought they might be hiding. There was still no sign of the Shorelarks along the high tide line here. We got almost to the beach huts at Wells, but it was exposed and windswept out on the beach beyond here, with lots of people too.

We started to walk back. We hadn’t gone far before we spotted another birder in the distance ahead of us stop and put up his scope. Scanning in front of him with binoculars, we could see eight tiny pale dots running around on the flats – the Shorelarks. We had a quick look through the scope, even though we couldn’t make out any detail at that distance but just in case they flew off, and then we hurried over.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – five of the eight birds feeding out on the mudflats

When we got within range, we stopped and got the Shorelarks in the scope. We all had a good look at them, their bright yellow faces catching the sun and contrasting strongly with the black mask and bib. It was just in time – suddenly, for no reason, they took off and flew in the direction we had just come, landing back down on the tideline by the dunes in the distance.

Shorelark

Shorelark – flew past us and back down the beach

On the walk back, we stopped for a more leasurely look to admire the Skylarks and Rock Pipits on the saltmarsh. We got the scope on them, and looked at the differences between larks and pipits. When they spooked and suddenly all took off, we were amazed at how many had been hiding in the stunted vegetation – at least 40 Skylarks appeared from nowhere!

Once we got back to the pines, we caught some movement in the trees and looked across to see a Treecreeper scaling a trunk. It flew across to another tree and, in typical fashion, disappeared round the back! After we encircled the tree, it had nowhere to hide and it came out so we could get a good look at it.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – scaling the trunk of a pine tree

There was more movement above the Treecreeper in the pines and we looked up to see two Goldcrests flitting around in the branches. Unfortunately, just at that moment, two people with a dog walked right in front of us, just where we were looking with our binoculars, and underneath the Goldcrests, flushing them up into the tops. Very helpful!

On the other side of the pines, we walked west along the track. It was nice in the sun here, sheltered from the wind. A pale Common Buzzard flew overhead and disappeared over the tops of the trees. We found a couple more tit flocks in the trees beside the path – Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, and another Goldcrest flashing its golden yellow crown stripe in the sun.

We stopped for a couple of minutes by Salts Hole. Several Little Grebes were out on the water, diving. We watched their feathers puffed out when they were up and the surface and then how they flattened them just before they dived. There were also lots of Wigeon sleeping out on the pool here, the smart drakes with chestnut heads and a creamy yellow stripe up their foreheads looking like it had been painted on. A Marsh Harrier hunted over the grazing marsh behind.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – several were diving out on Salts Hole

It was surprisingly warm in Washington Hide, the dark boards had obviously absorbed a lot of heat from the sun’s rays, a great place to rest for a few minutes. Unfortunately, we were looking straight into the sun, but the light catching the reeds in front of us was stunning. A Marsh Harrier was hanging in the breeze just beyond and a Common Buzzard was perched on bush behind that. As we were looking at it, a Red Kite was flushed from the grassy field behind by another Marsh Harrier. It landed again, and was mobbed by a third Marsh Harrier having a go at it.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the warmth of the hide and we made our way back to the car. When we got to Lady Anne’s Drive, a Red Kite was hanging in the wind over the grazing marsh in front of the car, possibly the same one we had just been watching.

We only had a half day out today, so we started to make our way back west. We arrived back in Thornham with a little bit of time to spare, so we made our way out to the Harbour. There was no sign of any Twite around the car park today, but it was very busy with lots of people out for a Sunday stroll. There was lots of disturbance – a couple of boys strangely decided to walk right out across the thick mud from the car park to the seawall – and in entirely unsuitable footwear!

Up on the seawall, it was exposed and very windy now. There were several Redshank scattered around the harbour channel and a lone Curlew was huddled up asleep, trying to shelter behind a spit of saltmarsh vegetation, out of the wind but catching the sun.

Curlew

Curlew – asleep in the sunshine, trying to shelter from the wind

We walked a short distance out along the seawall. A female Stonechat was working her way along the fence line on the edge of the grazing marsh below the bank, flying down to the ground and back up to perch on the next post along. This is another area the Twite often feed, but it was no quieter here – a dog ran down the bank and out onto the saltmarsh, chasing back and forth across the muddy channel trying to catch the Redshanks, which just flew off calling.

Unfortunately, we were out of time, so we turned and headed back to the car. We were almost back to the car park when we glanced across the saltmarsh to see a bright blue jewel sparkling on the mud the other side. It was a Kingfisher. It looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine, against the dark oily brown muddy bank on which it was perched. We stopped to admire it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – glowing in the winter sunshine

The Kingfisher was a fitting way to end the tour, one and a half days of great winter birding on the North Norfolk coast. Then it was off to the warmth of the pub for Sunday lunch.

12th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 1

A Private Tour today, the first of two days. It was a lovely bright day, sunny at times, although with a nagging and blustery westerly wind. We headed up into north-west Norfolk for the day.

With a big high tide expected this morning, we headed up to Snettisham. It was not going to be big enough to force all the waders off the Wash today, but it should have been enough to concentrate them into the last corner of mud.

When we arrived, the tide was already coming in fast. We stopped to scan the mud and could immediately see a large mob of Oystercatchers gathered ahead of the rising water, a big black smear across the grey mud. The smear was moving too, flowing, as the birds walked en masse, steadily and sedately away from the incoming water.

Oystercatchers 1Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud ahead of the rising tide

Further over, we could see a scattering of paler grey dots. Through the scope we could see they were Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Most of the Knot were further down the Wash today, in the next bay round, but we could see them from time to time when they took off and whirled round, thousands and thousands of them.

Some smaller waders were taking advantage of the remaining mud to feed. There were plenty of Dunlin and Ringed Plover in front of all the Oystercatchers. A couple of Turnstone and a lone Knot flew in and landed on the mud down in front of us, on the nearside of the channel. The Knot tried to go to sleep, but with the tide still rising it wasn’t long before they were all pushed off again. A small party of Golden Plover flew past.

We continued on down the path, trying to keep ahead of the tide. A line of Bar-tailed Godwits were standing in the water close to the Oystercatchers. Through the scope, we could see that some were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage. Some of the Grey Plover further over were also still looking smart, with black faces and bellies still, not yet moulted into their drabber grey winter plumage.

Several Common Terns flew past, in and out of the pits behind us, calling. Two Sandwich Terns were flying around over the water and landed on the shore in with the Oystercatchers. Through the scope, we could see the yellow tip to the black bill of the adult Sandwich Tern.

A raft of ducks had gathered on the water at the mouth of the channel, swimming in with the tide. Most of them were Mallard, but in with them we could see a couple of Wigeon. A single Pintail flew in and landed with them too. Three Teal flew off.

With the time getting on towards high tide, it quickly became clear that the tide would not rise as high as predicted today. The blustery wind was holding back the water. Something flushed the Knot, possibly they were just jumpy in the wind, but they landed back down where they had come from and didn’t come round onto the bay in front of us today. More Oystercatchers were trying to roost further north, along the seawall, but were disturbed. A couple more huge flocks of them flew in and landed down on the mud with the ones already in front of us. The Curlew had already retreated to the edge of the saltmarsh and gone to sleep.

Oystercatchers 2Oystercatchers – flying into join the others on the mud

As the tide went slack, we could see a couple of Marsh Harriers out over the saltmarsh. They flushed a couple of Greenshanks which flew round in front of us. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. We turned and headed into Shore Hide to look at the pits.

There were loads of geese on the pits today, mostly Greylags, but in with them we could see a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese too. They had taken up occupation of many of the islands. In between them, we could see several Common Terns. They were mostly juveniles, particularly the three or four in front of the hide. An adult flew in to join them carrying a fish, but none of the youngsters seemed to show any particular interest in being fed.

With most of the waders staying out on the Wash today, there were not so many out on the islands in the pit. Just one of the islands had any waders on it and that one was jam-packed, mostly with Black-tailed Godwits. Around the edge were the Common Redshanks and in between the godwits we could just make out some Knot wedged in too.

There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here and they were roosting in their usual place, out in the middle of the water. They were hard to see at first among all the Greylags, but eventually the melee cleared enough for us to see that there were 14 Spotted Redshanks, mostly silvery grey and white winter adults. One bird still had significant remnants of breeding plumage, being heavily specked with black below. There were also several dusky juveniles.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – some of the 14 roosting on the pit today

Having had a good look round the pit, we decided to head back to the car. As we walked along the path, something spooked all the birds on the pit. It may have just been just the Greylag Geese taking off to head to the fields to feed at first, but once they took to the air calling noisily, everything else followed.

All the waders which had been packed in on the island took off. Several big flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot flew up and headed back towards the Wash, passing low over our heads as they did so. All we could hear was the beating of the Knots’ wings as they came over us. The Black-tailed Godwits were not beating their wings as quickly and did not produce the same effect.

WadersBlack-tailed Godwits & Knot – flying back to the Wash

Our next destination was Titchwell. When we got round there, we thought we might not be able to park at first, the car parks were full to bursting. In the end, we found a single space along the entrance road.  Unbelievably busy for a midweek day out of high season! As we got out of the car, a tit flock was feeding in the trees by the road, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits. We could hear a Coal Tit and a Treecreeper calling and a Chiffchaff was singing half-heartedly. A Goldcrest flitted around in a hawthorn just in front of us.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – in the trees along the entrance road

Over an early lunch at the visitor centre, a Common Buzzard circled lazily overhead. After lunch, a quick look at the feeders produced a few Chaffinches and a single Greenfinch, as well as a few more tits. Then we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we passed the grazing marsh on the Thornham side, a Kestrel was hovering out over the grass. A Marsh Harrier circled distantly out across the saltmarsh. Passing the reedbed, we heard Bearded Tits calling close to the path but they were keeping well tucked down out of the wind today. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover too.

There were just a few Mallard on the reedbed pool today, and a single Teal appeared at the front. A Curlew was out on the saltmarsh opposite.

CurlewCurlew – out on the saltmarsh

From the shelter of Island Hide, we stopped to scan the freshmarsh. There are still lots of Ruff here, one of the most confusing of the waders. The adults are now in winter plumage, whitish below and grey brown above. The darker juveniles come in a range of buffs, browns and tawnies and look rather different to the grown-ups. With the males and females side by side, we could see the big size difference between the two, which just adds to the confusion.

RuffRuff – a buff/brown juvenile

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings in the deeper water over towards the reeds. Most of the Avocets have departed now, gone south for the winter, but we found a small number still lingering here. Two juvenile Little Stints had been reported earlier and it didn’t take us long to find them, feeding around the edge of one of the muddy islands out in the middle. They looked tiny next to the Black-headed Gulls. A juvenile Spotted Redshank dropped in briefly nearby.

While we were looking through the waders, we could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically. We kept looking over and scanning the edge of the reeds. One of the group went over and camped down in that end of the hide, and was eventually rewarded with a brief view of one down in the base of the reeds. Unfortunately, it had gone back in by the time the rest of us got over there. It really was a bit too windy here today, even the normally sheltered edge of the reeds was being caught by the wind.

As we walked round to Parrinder Hide along the main path, we had another scan of the freshmarsh and realised the Little Stints were much closer now to here. We stopped to look at them and through the scope we could see their prominent pale mantle lines or ‘braces’. They are on their way from the arctic tundra, where they were born, to the Mediterranean or Africa for the winter, stopping off here to feed on the way.

Little StintsLittle Stints – the two juveniles out on the freshmarsh today

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we saw several Lapwings fly up and circle round before dropping back down into the vegetation further over. We realised there were quite a few Golden Plover out there too, but they were extremely well camouflaged against the golds and oranges of the saltmarsh plants. When we got them in the scope, they were easier to pick out.

From Parrinder Hide, there were several more Golden Plovers out on the islands amongst the sleeping ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon. We got one of the Golden Plovers in the scope so we could get a better look at it, admiring its gold spangled upperparts. A flock of Golden Plover then appeared overhead, calling plaintively. They dropped down to join the others on the freshmarsh, possibly some of the ones we had seen out on the saltmarsh earlier.

Golden PloverGolden Plover – several were out on the islands in the freshmarsh

A sharp ‘tchuit’ call alerted us to an incoming Spotted Redshank, which dropped down into the water just to the left of the hide. A juvenile, presumably the one we had seen earlier, it started to feed close to the hide, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the deeper water as it walked round in circles. We got a great look at it, its needle fine bill, neat white supercilium and rather dusky grey overall plumage, speckled with pale on the back and wings.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this juvenile showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

A quick look through the gulls from this side, produced nothing but Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls at first. Then we picked up a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull on one of the islands further over. We could see its custard-yellow legs and slightly darker upperparts compared to the Black-headed Gulls next to it.

While the weather was good, we decided to head out to the beach next. There was not much on the Volunteer Marsh at first, until we got almost to the bank at the far end and looked down along the channel. There were quite a few waders out on the muddy banks, mostly more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. However there were three Grey Plover too and one was still in pretty much full breeding plumage, with black face and belly and white spangled upperparts. It looked stunning. The other two were already in much greyer winter plumage.

A Greenshank flew up from the freshmarsh behind us, calling, and flew off across the path and out towards Thornham Harbour. The tidal pools were rather quite, except for a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a single young Great Crested Grebe which was swimming in circles with its stripey head mostly down in the water, trying to spot potential prey.

Out at the beach, the tide was still going out. There were a few waders out on the mussel bed, mostly Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, with a few Turnstones in with them. There were lots of Herring Gulls out here too. Scanning the sea, we picked up a female Common Scoter just offshore and a couple more Great Crested Grebes. Two Gannets flew past further out, as did a single Sandwich Tern. We couldn’t see anything else immediately offshore, and with some dark clouds behind us, we decided to head back.

As we walked back past the tidal pools, we heard a Whimbrel calling in the distance. We scanned and picked up two Whimbrel flying towards us, and they eventually came almost over our heads before continuing on west without stopping. A very obliging Black-tailed Godwit was feeding by the path as we passed.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding by the path on the tidal pools

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped for a quick scan again. There were more Black-headed Gulls here now and in amongst them we found a single 1st winter Mediterranean Gull, which proceeded to sit down and go to sleep. A single Dunlin had appeared and was feeding with the two Little Stints now, giving a great size comparison and again highlighting just how small the Little Stints are.

After a sit down and a cup of tea back at the visitor centre, we made our way back to the car. On the way home, we headed inland round via Choseley. Pulling up alongside the drying barns, all looked very quiet, so we carried on inland.

A flock of Goldfinches on the wires was the first thing of note we came across. A little further on, another bigger flock of birds on the wires were Linnets. We pulled up to take a quick look and noticed a few birds around the puddles in the edge of the field the other side of the road. They flew up into the hedge and we picked up first a Yellowhammer then a larger bird in the top of the bush above it. It was a single Corn Bunting, a real bonus. It was then joined by a Reed Bunting too.

The last bird of note was a Sparrowhawk which we disturbed from the road. It flew off low ahead of us, less than a foot above the tarmac, for some way until it found a gap in the hedge and disappeared. A nice end to the first day, lets hope for more tomorrow.

25th Aug 2017 – Summer Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was a lovely sunny summer’s day, warm with light winds – perfect weather. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in good time before the tide came in, but it was worth it!

As we arrived up on the seawall, there was still plenty of exposed mud out on the Wash. It was quite a vista – a vast slick of birds was spread across the surface, shining bright in the morning sun.

6O0A6529The Wash – with a vast slick of waders in the morning sun

We stopped to watch the birds for a while. The tide was coming in very quickly, and periodically large groups of Knot would fly up ahead of the rising water and land again further up the mud. Just beyond them, the Oystercatchers were walking more methodically away from the tide.

Down at the front, on the nearside of the channel, flocks of smaller waders kept flying in and landing briefly, while others were trying to sleep, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone. A lone Knot, a juvenile, was feeding down on the edge of the mud just below the path, giving us a great opportunity to look at one up close, rather than being mesmerised by the thousands further out on the mud.

6O0A6553Ringed Plover & Dunlin – trying to sleep ahead of the rising tide

Very quickly, the mud in front of where we were standing was covered by the tide, so we made our way further along the seawall. Here we stopped again to take a closer look at the vast flocks of waders. Through the scope, we could see that the Knot were a mixture of colours, many in grey non-breeding or juvenile plumage but a few still in orange breeding plumage.

There were lots of Bar-tailed Godwits too, some of those in rusty summer plumage still, with the red colour extending right down under the tail. A single Black-tailed Godwit down at the front was already in grey winter plumage. A lone Grey Plover appeared, also already in grey non-breeding plumage. There were birds other than waders too. A small group of terns had gathered on the mud ahead of the rising tide, a mixture of Common and Sandwich Terns. A raft of Shelduck was bobbing around on the water.

Then something spooked the Knot and they all took off, thousands upon thousands of them in the air at once. They swirled round, flashing white and dark as they twisted and turned, like a huge wave. It was mesmerising to watch.

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6O0A6574Knot – thousands twisting and turning

Eventually the Knot calmed down and started to land again, back down on the mud. As the birds above hung in the air waiting for a landing slot, the sky went dark with a thick cloud of birds.

6O0A6578Knot – the vast flock landing again on the mud

Some of the waders leave the Wash early, not waiting for the tide to come right in. The Common Redshanks started to fly past us in small groups. A sharpt ‘tchuit’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank which came in off the mud and past us in with them. Some small flocks of Dunlin also flew in over the seawall and dropped down to the pit beyond.

We walked further along, down to the corner where the waders were starting to gather in the last mud to be covered by the tide. On the way, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us. A Yellow Wagtail flew over our heads, calling.

6O0A6598Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

As the water continued to rise quickly, the area of exposed mud progressively shrank and the waders were increasingly concentrated into the last corner. The Oystercatchers started to give up the fight against the tide and peeled off in lines, flying past us piping before circling round and dropping down to the banks of the pit behind us.

We could see that many of the Oystercatchers were moulting, with gaps in their wings visible as they flew over our heads. Many waders come to the Wash to moult at this time of year, feeling safer out on a vast muddy estuary in big flocks, and with plenty of food to fuel the growth of the new feathers.

6O0A6588Oystercatchers – the first to leave as the tide covered the remaining mud

Finally the Knot started to take off too. They came in several waves today, each tens of thousands of birds strong. As each wave flew in and over our heads, all we could hear was the simultaneous beating of thousands of pairs of wings. An amazing experience.

We watched as the Knot circled over the pits behind us. They couldn’t all land at once, so they split into smaller groups, some swirling high overhead, others flying back out towards the Wash.

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6O0A6606Knot – finally taking off in vast waves & flying in to roost

Once most of the Knot had left the mud, we turned to walk to Shore Hide. A Common Sandpiper flew past over the water, calling, flicking its bowed wings, and disappeared up along the channel higher into the saltmarsh.

In the hide, the birds were very nervous. The waders normally don’t like the island directly in front of the hide, but the next one over is normally packed with Knot. There were fewer waders on here today. A large group of Knot and Dunlin were shuffling around on one half of it but they were very jumpy, repeatedly taking off and flying round before landing again. Some bigger groups of Knot were packed tightly into a couple of islands further over.

6O0A6633Knot, Dunlin & Redshank – shuffling nervously on one of the islands

Pretty soon, we realised why the birds were so nervous. Suddenly all the waders erupted from the islands and started to swirl backwards and forwards over the pit. A young Peregrine appeared amongst them. It took a couple of half-hearted stoops at a wader separated from the flock, a Dunlin managed to evade it by swooping down low over the water and the Peregrine pulled up sharply.

The Peregrine was inexperienced and had lost the element of surprise. A Common Tern started to chase after it. So the Peregrine flew straight towards us and over the hide, disappearing behind and back out to the Wash to try its luck out there. The waders settled down again, but were still noticeably nervous.

Many of the terns  had settled back on the island right in front of the hide. They were mostly Common Terns, probably birds which have bred here, and there were several juveniles still. A couple of adults flew in with fish, but they didn’t always find the youngster they presumably planned to give it to. In with the Common Terns was a much smaller juvenile Little Tern. On the next island over, there were more Little Terns here too, several juveniles a yellow-billed adult.

6O0A6644Little Tern – a juvenile in with the Common Terns

The Common Redshank were mainly over on the far bank. A smaller group of about twenty or so birds was asleep in the middle of the pit, with the Greylag Geese and Cormorants. Through the scope, we could see they were a mixture of duller, greyer Common Redshanks and paler Spotted Redshanks.

We made our way round to the viewing screen at the southern end of the pit next. On our way there, we could see lots of Knot still circling out over the Wash, possibly disturbed by the Peregrine. The tide was still high and there was no exposed mud, but perhaps some of them had chosen to try to roost with some of the larger waders out on the saltmarsh today.

From down at the viewing screen, we could see there were fewer smaller waders at this end of the pit today. There were lots of Oystercatchers, with a single Avocet in with them, plus quite a few Black-tailed Godwits roosting here. Some geese flew in over the bank and landed on the water, with several Canada Geese amongst the Greylags. A couple of Egyptian Geese were sleeping on the bank. A family of Moorhen walked around the gravel bank along the edge to one side of the hide.

6O0A6646Oystercatchers – roosting at the southern end of the pit

By now, it was already a good time after high tide, so we walked back out to look at the Wash again. The water was already receding, and there was lots of exposed mud. Quite a few waders were already out there, but they were still very jumpy. When they all flew up, we could see a Peregrine flying across behind them, carrying something in talons. It had clearly been more successful out here then over the pit earlier. A young Marsh Harrier set off after it, clearly with one eye on its prey, but the Peregrine seemed unperturbed and continued away across the saltmarsh.

It was a lovely warm morning and there was quite a bit of raptor activity here today. A Common Buzzard circled up over the mud, chased by a Kestrel. Over across the other side of the saltmarsh, by the seawall, a Marsh Harrier was tussling with a Red Kite, the latter circling lazily and avoiding the Marsh Harrier effortlessly.

A Common Sandpiper flew past again, along the channel in front of us, and a Greenshank flew the other way, calling. The rest of the waders were very slow coming off the pits today. As we stood here for a few minutes, several lines of Oystercatchers flew past and landed back out on the mud, and a few small groups of Dunlin flew out to join them. Time was getting on now, so we decided to make our way back to the car.

We headed round to Titchwell next. The overflow car park was busy today, perhaps not a great surprise given the lovely weather. After our early start, it was time for an early lunch. As we sat eating in the picnic area, a Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows. A couple of Common Darters were basking on one of the benches and several Migrants Hawkers and Speckled Woods were flying around in the sunshine.

6O0A6656Common Darter – basking on a bench in the picnic area

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. We had a quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre, which held a nice selection of finches and tits. Out along the main path, a Blackcap was calling in the bushes down in the ditch.

As we passed the Thornham grazing marsh, we heard a Bearded Tit calling in the reeds, but despite waiting for a minute or so, it didn’t show itself. The reedbed pool was quiet, but as we scanned over the reeds, we spotted a group of Spoonbills flying up from the back of the freshmarsh beyond. We could see their long outstretched necks as they flew, their bills held straight out in front. They flew towards us, eight of them, before three peeled off and headed out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Harbour and the other five circled round and dropped back onto the freshmarsh.

6O0A6673Spoonbills – five of the eight which flew up from the freshmarsh

There were plenty of waders out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. Several Ruff were feeding on the mud right in front of the hide, a mixture of tawny-brown juveniles and grey/white adults now in non-breeding plumage. A juvenile female (traditionally called a Reeve) was much smaller than the juvenile males around it. Further over we could see lots of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwits, some of the latter still sporting the remnants of their rusty orange summer plumage.

6O0A6727Ruff – a tawny brown juvenile

Looking more carefully around the islands, we found a Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the mud, running along, bobbing up and down. Two Ringed Plover were feeding on the same island, close by. Over towards the main bank, a smaller juvenile Little Ringed Plover was bathing. A Common Snipe was feeding on the edge of the reeds, probing its long bill deep into the wet mud.

When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to see it flying in over the main bank. It flew towards us and dropped in on the edge of the mud in front of the hide briefly. It helpfully stayed just long enough for us to have a good look at it, then flew off again calling.

6O0A6687Greenshank – dropped down on the edge of the mud briefly

The ducks are all in dull brown eclipse plumage at the moment. There are quite a few Teal back here now and we did see a couple of Shoveler too.

Bearded Tit was a particular request for the day, but at first all we had was the occasional ‘pinging’ call coming from the reeds. Each time we heard them, we looked over and eventually found a single Bearded Tit working its way low down along the edge of the reeds. We got it in the scope, but it was a little distant. Then two more Bearded Tits called from the reeds just across from the hide and we managed to get good views of these in the scope as they hopped around just beyond the edge of the mud.

With the Bearded Tits in the bag, we made our way round to Parrinder Hide. There had been a male Grey-headed Wagtail here for the last couple of days, the northern Scandinavian race of Yellow Wagtail, but we were told it could be elusive. There were lots of wagtails out on the islands, plenty of Pied Wagtails and at least four regular Yellow Wagtails, but no sign of the one we were looking for.

We decided to continue out to the beach. As we walked along the path beside the Volunteer Marsh, a Black-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the channel below us, giving great views. We stopped briefly to scan the channel at the far end and found a couple of Grey Plover feeding on the mud, looking stunning still in breeding plumage, with jet black faces and bellies.

6O0A6738Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh by the main path

The beach was very busy today. Several people were out on the mussel beds and two dogs were running around on there too, so there were comparatively fewer waders than usual. There were still plenty of Oystercatchers and a few Curlew, plus a couple of little groups of Turnstone.

There was not much to see out to sea today either. A quick scan produced two Great Crested Grebes out on the water. So we decided to start walking back.

When we got back to the freshmarsh, we stopped for another scan. Looking over at the island in front of Parrinder Hide, we could still see loads of wagtails in the vegetation. As we scanned across a dark slate-grey head appeared in the leaves, followed by a bright yellow throat and breast – the Grey-headed Wagtail!

It was hard to see, as it was running around and kept disappearing into the low vegetation on the island, but eventually everyone got a really good look at the Grey-headed Wagtail. A striking bird. The Little Ringed Plover we had seen earlier was also showing very well now, on the mud just below the path..

6O0A6740Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile, feeding on the mud below the main path

It was hot and sunny now, so it was nice to get back to the shade of the trees. Unfortunately, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car. We didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, after our busy morning up on the Wash, but we had seen a few nice birds. It had been a stunning spectacle today, a morning well spent and well worth the early start!

26th July 2017 – Wader Wonderland

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was cloudy most of the day, but we didn’t really get the rain we had been forecast earlier in the week, just a few spits and spots late morning or early afternoon, barely enough to notice.

After an early start, we made our way across towards the Wash in good time to catch the rising tide. On our way, a Red Kite circled over beside the road and a couple of Red-legged Partridges seemed to be hell bent on destruction, playing chicken in the road.

Making our way down to the edge of the Wash, we stopped first as soon as we got up on the seawall. The tide was coming in but there was still a lot of exposed mud. The waders were gathering, but they were still quite spread out, a large black slick of Oystercatchers and, much further out, an enormous mass of Knot and others.

On the tip of the mud on the far side of the channel, we could see a gathering of terns, large Sandwich Terns with a yellow-tipped black bill, medium-sized Common Terns with a black-tipped orange-red bill and a few much smaller Little Terns, with a black-tipped yellow-bill and white forehead. But the tide was coming in fast and they couldn’t really settle, being continually pushed  in by the rising water. Several Shelducks were feeding in the shallow water, just off the mud and two or three Little Egrets were already pushed off by the rising tide and flew over the seawall to the pits.

Little Stint 1Spot the Little Stint – with Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Dunlin

A steady stream of smaller waders were taking advantage of the last of the mud to feed along the near edge below the seawall. There were lots of black-bellied Dunlin, together with a selection of Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. A Grey Plover put in a brief appearance with them too. A tiny Little Stint appeared with them, lingering on the mud just long enough for us to get the scope on it and everyone to get a good look. A moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its rusty red underparts now spotted with white, dropped in briefly on the other side of the channel.

The tide was coming in fast now, pushing all the waders ahead of it, so we moved further up along the seawall and stopped for another scan. The large mass of waders further out on the mud was being pushed further and further in too. The Oystercatchers were walking, like an amorphous blob flowing across the mud, but some of the Knot would periodically fly up and round, before landing again further in.

Wader Spectacular 1Knot – whirling round before landed on the mud further up

The Redshank gave up the battle early, flying off the Wash and onto the pits to roost. They streamed past in groups and a loud ‘tchweet’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank flying in with them. A large number of the Dunlin flew in to the pits too. There were lots of godwits further out on the mud but a lone Bar-tailed Godwit appeared on the near edge, stopping to bathe in a small pool, and a Black-tailed Godwit was nearby on the edge of the main channel.

Wader Spectacular 2Waders – progressively concentrated onto the remaining corner of mud

The Oystercatchers, Knot, godwits and Curlews were progressively concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud, tens of thousands of waders packed in shoulder to shoulder. The Oystercatchers threw in the towel first, peeling off in lines and flying in past us, calling noisily.

Wader Spectacular 3Knot – erupting from the Wash as the last mud is covered with water

The Knot waited until the last moment, until it almost seemed like they wouldn’t come in at all, but we could see they were up to their bellies in the water. There was no exposed mud left for them. Finally they erupted into thick clouds and flew towards us in waves. As the first wave came in, as we could hear the beating of thousands upon thousands of wings coming over us, a mobile phone started to ring noisily nearby and drowned out the sound, annoying. Thankfully a second wave came in shortly after and we got to appreciate the full experience, looking up at all the birds as they flew low overhead, listening to the whirring of wings.

Wader Spectacular 4Knot – thousands came flying in over our heads in vast flocks

We turned to watch the flocks of Knot starting to drop down into the pits behind us. While lines of them streamed down, thousands circled over nervously, waiting their turn. There didn’t seem to be enough room for all of them today, as a couple of large flocks circled back out over the Wash.

As the sky cleared of birds, we made our way over to Shore Hide. The water level on the pits is rather high at moment, so the islands are smaller than they often are. A couple of them were completely coated in waders, mainly Knot, the ones around the edge pushed into the edge of the water. A lot of the Knot are still in their bright orange summer plumage at the moment, but others are already in grey winter plumage.

KnotKnot – packed in tightly onto the islands on the pits

Looking more closely, it was possible to see other birds in with them. A single Avocet and one Oystercatcher stood above the hordes but looked trapped, surrounded. There were several Common Terns in there too, surprisingly hard to see in the throng. The black bellies of the smaller Dunlin stood out, particularly as they gathered around the edges.

As the mass of waders on the island shuffled and shifted, a Curlew Sandpiper appeared close to the edge briefly, with the Dunlin. We had a good look at it in the scope before in shuffled back into the throng of Knot behind. A Little Stint was playing hard to spot until a Moorhen spooked the waders on the island and several of them flew round. The Little Stint appeared right on the front of the island, but was still hard to see, running in and out of the legs of the roosting Knot.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – spot the odd one out, in with the Knot and Dunlin

The waders tend to largely sort themselves by species or relatives on the pits when they roost. The Oystercatchers were gathered mostly to the south of us on the bank of the pit. There were not so many godwits on here today – they had possibly gone on to the fields to roost instead.

There were some large groups of Redshank over by the far bank and other out in the middle. We took a closer look at the latter and found it was actually a mixture of Common and Spotted Redshanks. There were at least 17 Spotted Redshanks in the flock, mostly asleep. They were all adults and had to a greater or lesser degree moulted out of summer plumage – some had their black underparts extensively flecked with white now, but others were already predominantly in silvery grey winter plumage.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – four of the seventeen, with three Common Redshanks

There were lots of geese around the far bank, Greylags and Egyptian Geese. Looking across, we could see two smaller birds running around on the grass between them, two Common Sandpipers. A lone Tufted Duck was diving out in the middle of the water.

Round at the viewing screen at the south ends of the pit, we found yet more small waders packed tightly onto the islands, more Dunlin here and slightly fewer Knot. There were just a few Dunlin sleeping along the water’s edge to the left of the hide, and another Little Stint was with them. Out in the open, we got great views of it through the scope as it ran up and down, feeding actively.

Little StintLittle Stint – great views from at the south end of the pits

We turned our attention to the Dunlin and we were just checking through them to see if there was something more interesting hiding in with them when they started to shuffle and then all started to take off. A Moorhen ran right across the middle of the island, and spooked all the waders. Everything flew off. A few started to drift back in, landing on some of the other islands or the edge of the pit further back, but most headed back out towards the Wash.

The Knot back in front of Shore Hide were showing no signs of shifting, but we headed back out to the edge Wash anyway. The tide was already retreating fast and quite a bit of mud had been exposed. There were already quite a few Knot and other waders out on the Wash, but they were already quite distant. A couple of seals zipped past in the muddy channel at the front, carried out by the fast flowing water. A young Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of gulls and terns out on the mud too. We were just looking through them when a local birder came over and kindly alerted us to a Black Tern which was in with them. We were very thankful he did, as the Black Tern was completely hidden behind a couple of Common Terns at that stage. Eventually it shuffled forwards and we could see it properly – it was a moulting adult, still largely black but with extensive white feathering around the face.

Some small groups of Dunlin started to fly across from the pits and low out across the mud, but there was no sign of the rest of the Knot moving. It started to spit with rain so we decided to head back to the car. On the way, someone pointed out two Little Stints not far out on the mud, which we stopped to look at briefly. Hard to tell whether these were the birds we saw on the pits or different ones. As we walked along the path, several small groups of Common Swift flew low overhead, on their way south already. It felt like Summer was over already.

The rest of the day was to be spent round at Titchwell. We still had an hour or so before lunch when we got there, so we decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. The feeders by the visitor centre added a few common species to the list for the day – Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. A juvenile Robin was picking around for crumbs under the picnic tables.

At this time of year the male ducks are all in dull eclipse plumage, moulting. We picked out a few Shoveler and Gadwall amongst the Mallard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving out on the water. There were several Little Grebes scattered around the pool and a single stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe too. A Sedge Warbler zipped back and forth low over the water between the clumps of reeds and a Reed Warbler was flycatching from the bottom of the bulrushes down at the front.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed behind, dark chocolate brown with a pale golden head. There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds and swooping low over the water, mainly House Martins but with a few Sand Martins in with them. Then it was lunch time, so we headed back to the picnic area.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a juvenile circled over the reedbed

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was cool and windy now, and spitting with rain. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but all we saw was a quick shape skim over the tops and drop in out of view. We headed for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud in front of the hide. They have returned from their tundra breeding grounds and are already moulting rapidly to winter plumage. Some still have lots of brightly coloured feathers but others have more scattered summer feathers remaining and are getting increasingly grey brown. Needless to say, it is a confusing mix for the unwary, particularly with an increasing number of smaller females coming back too now.

RuffRuff – moulting rapidly to winter plumage now

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide too and more further back in the deeper water. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the freshmarsh – a smart summer male, with deep rusty underparts continuing right down under the tail. With the tide out now, the other Bar-tailed Godwits would be out on the beach.

There is no shortage of Avocets here at the moment, with the breeding birds and brown-backed juveniles joined by more birds which have gathered here to moult. Several were feeding in front of the hide, giving us a chance to watch their distinctive feeding action, sweeping their bills from side to side through the top of the mud.

AvocetAvocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were fewer other waders on here today. Perhaps some were out on the beach too, but it felt like a few had moved on overnight. There were a few Spotted Redshanks and we got a better look at them here compared to at Snettisham. They were feeding actively here, so we could see their distinctive needle-fine bills, longer than a Common Redshank’s. A small group of Golden Plover were on one of the islands over towards Parrinder Hide, still bearing their black summer bellies.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – showing off its needle-fine bill

There are lots of gulls on here at the moment, mostly Black-headed Gulls, adults and recently fledged juveniles. We could see a couple of Mediterranean Gulls over the far side too, and got an adult in the scope. It had already moulted largely to winter plumage, with a mostly white head with black bandit mask, but still sporting a heavier, brighter red bill than the Black-headed Gulls and pure white wing tips. A Little Gull appeared too, looking very small next to a Black-headed Gull. It was a young one, a first summer – there have been a few hanging around here for several weeks now.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling, we looked across to the reedbed to see a single bird fly in and land in the top of the reeds right on the edge. It dropped down and we could see it working its was along the bottom of the reeds at the start of the open mud. It disappeared deeper in, but the next time we looked over there were five Bearded Tits in the base of the reeds. They were all tawny brown juveniles. At one point they came right out onto the mud, where we could get a really good look at them.

Bearded Tits

Round at Parrinder Hide, the birds were much the same as we had seen from Island Hide, but we got closer views of the gulls in particular. There were several more Mediterranean Gulls visible from this side, adults in different stages of moult, with white-speckled black heads and several juveniles, with scaly grey-brown upperparts. A second Little Gull, also a young 1st summer bird, had appeared on one of the islands, this one with much more obvious black feathers on its wings.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – a scaly-backed juvenile

A lone Knot had dropped in onto the freshmarsh now, still in orange summer plumage. It was a bit of a contrast to see it on its own here, after seeing tens of thousands of Knot in vast flocks at Snettisham earlier. A single Common Snipe was the only addition to the day’s list here, feeding in amongst the vegetated islands out to the left of the hide.

There was some darker cloud some distance away over the ridge, but it was a bit brighter at the moment, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. The tide was out but there were quite a few people walking around over the mussel beds which meant there were not many waders feeding out here today. There were quite a few more Bar-tailed Godwits, as predicted, and Oystercatchers, but nothing else of note. The sea was quite calm and their were lots of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

On the way back from the beach, we could see five large white shapes out on the saltmarsh, in the distance out towards Thornham Harbour. Through the scope we could see they were Spoonbills – not the best view at that range though. One did take off and fly towards us, but only got halfway across the saltmarsh before dropping down again behind the concrete bunker, presumably to feed in one of the muddy channels.

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped to admire a Spotted Redshank which was feeding close to the path now. One of the Little Gulls was also on one of the muddy islands just below the bank. It had stopped to preen but was disturbed by a Moorhen which walked towards it – it seemed to be a bit of a theme today!

Little GullLittle Gull – a 1st summer on the freshmarsh

It had been an early start and it was now time to head back to the car. There were still a few last birds to add to the list for the day though. As we drove round and out of the car park, a Bullfinch flew across in front of us and disappeared into the bushes the other side. A Song Thrush flicked up from the corner and perched in a small elder tree. Then it was time to head for home.

5th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, but still with a nagging, chilly and rather blustery NE wind. We met in Wells and headed over to NW Norfolk for the day.

We took a short detour round via Choseley on our way west along the coast road. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, and we watched two chasing each other round for some time. After a while a third joined in. It looked like they might start boxing, but they thought better of it at the last minute. One was left to practice on its own, shadowboxing, standing up on its hind legs and throwing some punches in the air.

6O0A9667Brown Hare – there were lots in the fields at Choseley

The concrete pad at the barns was quiet when we arrived. A lone Pied Wagtail dropped in. A couple of Swallows and a Sand Martin, the latter presumably on its way somewhere, were hawking for insects around the buildings. We walked onto the start of the footpath and looked out into the field, at which point two smart Yellowhammers flew in and landed on the bare ground just in front of us, which was very helpful of them!

6O0A9672Yellowhammer – two dropped down onto the field in front of us

There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedges but not much else today. It was rather windy up on the ridge. We drove back round via Chalkpit Lane, stopping to look at a Grey Partridge feeding in the entrance to a field. The resident extremely pale Common Buzzard was perched high on a dead branch at the top of a tree.

As we got back down to the main road, we could see a falcon ahead of us, over the church the other side. Through the windscreen, we could see it was a Hobby. It started to drift towards us, and then a second Hobby appeared in the sky with it. First one, then the other, turned and started to power straight towards us, flying at high speed. One passed on either side of the car and they disappeared up the hill behind us.

Our first main destination for the day was Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked along the path through the bushes, we could hear lots of warblers singing on all sides. A Chiffchaff sang from the wires and a Willow Warbler perched in a hawthorn. A Blackcap was singing deep in the bushes. Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats were song flighting, but neither was perching up quite so obligingly as it might do normally, given the wind. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the undergrowth as we passed and a Reed Warbler sang from deep in the reeds. A Song Thrush added to the chorus.

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling over towards the inner seawall, so we made our way over to try to see it. We managed to find it, clambering around in a thicket of briars and bare branches, but it was not easy to get onto. It was keeping very low today in the wind. Then it flew across into the hawthorns back along the path. We started to walk back, but some dog walkers were coming the other way and it went quiet.

As we climbed up onto the inner seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It did one close fly past, looking like a cross between a falcon and a hawk, before disappearing into the bushes further south, where we could still hear it. As we made our way further along, it flew past again, further over, up the middle of the park.

Looking back towards the road, we could see a dove on the wires. It was rather distant and looking into the sun, but through the scope we could see it was a Turtle Dove. Then it flew up in a flurry of wingbeats and circled slowly round and down into the trees – its display flight. A little later it flew up along the edge of the beach, landing in some sallows where we could hear it purring from where we were on the inner seawall.

Common Swifts have been in short supply so far this spring, so it was nice to see three over the park today. They seemed to be enjoying the wind, and zoomed back and forth, coming low over our heads a couple of times.

6O0A9682Common Swift – three were enjoying the wind over the park today

As we got past the bushes and looked out over Ken Hill Marshes, we could see a flock of about twenty geese flying round. They were Pink-footed Geese. When they landed we got them in the scope and could see their dark heads and small dark pink-banded bills, very different from the orange carrot-like bills of the larger Greylags nearby. There were also a few Egyptian Geese out on the marshes and a Marsh Harrier was quartering over the grass.

When the Pink-footed Geese landed, they disturbed a large white bird which landed again nearby. Through the scope we could see it was a Spoonbill. It then promptly tucked its head in and went to sleep, which is, after all, what Spoonbills seem to like doing best! Periodically, when it woke briefly, we could see its distinctive spoon-shaped bill.

As we walked north along the inner seawall, the bushes were alive with Sedge Warblers and several more Reed Warblers sang from the reeds on the edge of the marshes. There were quite a few Reed Buntings too – though the song of the male Reed Bunting is nothing to write home about. We could also hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, further over in the bushes.

We cut across to the outer seawall and climbed up to have a look over the Wash. The tide was starting to come in again, but there was still a lot of exposed mud. Along the edge of the water we could see several large flocks of waders, which would whirl round periodically. Through the scope we could see a mix of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Knot, several of which are now coming into summer plumage. The Grey Plovers were looking particularly smart, with their black faces and bellies. There were also a few Dunlin and a lone Turnstone with them.

A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, heading south, but we couldn’t pick it up looking into the sun. As we started to make our way back, we heard a Tree Pipit call and looked up to see it flying the other way over the seawall. It landed briefly on a briar stem, but took off again before everyone could get a look at it through the scope. A male Stonechat perched more obligingly on the brambles – presumably the female is still on a nest nearby.

6O0A9684Stonechat – presumably the female is on a nest nearby

We could still hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing, closer to us from this side. We made our way through the bushes and saw it zip across into some brambles in front of us. Eventually it appeared on the top briefly.

When we got back to where the Grasshopper Warbler had been reeling earlier, it was still going strong. It was actually back in the same tangle of branches it had been in before. We managed to get the scope on it and everyone had a look, but it was still tucked in tight and partly obscured by branches today.

It was getting on for lunchtime by the time we got back to the car, but we thought we would head round to Titchwell for lunch. A quick stop on the way at Hunstanton produced a few Fulmars over the clifftops. They were mostly keeping down below edge today, presumably out of the wind, but periodically one would circle up in a big arc before disappearing again.

6O0A9688Fulmar – we stopped to admire them flying around the cliffs

Over lunch in the picnic area at Titchwell, a Blackcap was singing and perched up for us in a sallow by the path. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and watched as a family party of recently fledged juveniles made their way along the edge of the picnic area, begging to their parents as they went. A Goldcrest was flitting around in one of the pine trees too.

After lunch, we made our way over to the visitor centre. There were several Greenfinches on the feeders in front, which are always nice to see these days as the population has declined markedly in recent years due to disease.

6O0A9700Greenfinch – several were around the feeders

Two Whinchats had been reported today, and as we got out onto the main path we could see one of them on the fence that runs along the edge of the Thornham grazing marsh. It was rather distant at first, but we got the scope onto it. Then the second Whinchat appeared, much closer to us, and the two of them gradually worked their way closer still. When they were perched on dead stems just beyond the fence in front of us, we got some great views. They were both cracking males, with blackish cheeks and a bright white supercilium.

IMG_3910Whinchat – one of two on Thornham grazing marsh today

The Thornham grazing marsh dried up ‘pool’ was devoid of life again today. Very sad. The reserve side of the path was more interesting, with at least three Marsh Harriers over the reedbed, including a smart grey-winged male. There were a few hirundines hawking for insects including several House Martins, plus a couple more Swifts here too. A quick look at the reedbed pool added a Great Crested Grebe, right at the back, and a couple of pairs of Common Pochard.

It was chilly up on the bank in the wind, so we made for the shelter of Island Hide, from which to scan the freshmarsh. The water level is still high on here, but in spite of that there was a better selection of waders today. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were quite a few Ruff, including a small female Reeve right outside the hide which was probably the bird reported at around that time as a Wood Sandpiper.

6O0A9724Avocet – there are always plenty on the freshmarsh

There were better numbers of godwits today too, mostly Black-tailed Godwits with varying amounts of summer orange. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were asleep on the edge of one of the islands. In with the godwits we found a single Whimbrel, which had obviously dropped in for a bathe and preen. Looking round the few small areas of exposed mud, we found a Common Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover and a couple of Turnstones.

The fenced off island intended for the Avocets has been taken over by the gulls. They are mostly Black-headed Gulls but scanning through the hordes, we could just see several Mediterranean Gulls too, deep in the throng. It was nice to see several terns on here today – mostly Common Terns, but a single Little Tern was resting on one of the islands too.

The ducks are enjoying it on here. There were still several pairs of Teal scattered around the edges, which should probably be heading off to their breeding grounds soon, plus several Shoveler and Gadwall. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh, where they had been feeding, and landed on the water.

6O0A9715Teal – there are still quite a few on the freshmarsh

It was at this point that we received a message to say that there was a Red-breasted Flycatcher just along the coast at Holme. With Wryneck and Redstart reported there too today, we thought it was worth heading round there for the rest of the afternoon. A Grey Heron standing motionless in the reeds by the main path on the way back distracted us for a second.

6O0A9734Grey Heron – hunting in the reeds by the main path

Because we were so close, we got round to Holme very quickly, but when we arrived we found that the bird had disappeared. Even worse, we found out that it had been there for several hours and they had neglected to tell anyone. Not the most helpful! We waited a while to see if the Red-breasted Flycatcher might reappear and checked out the bushes it had been seen in, but there was no sign of it. We decided to go for a walk in the dunes, even though the reserve staff at the visitor centre could not tell us where any of the other birds had been seen. It was rather windy out in the dunes and it was always going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, with the limited time we had left.

As we walked through the dunes, we did see a Wheatear. It was a female and very flighty in the wind, constantly zooming off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. A Cuckoo was singing from the bushes further down. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat and found a couple of Blackcaps too. There were several Linnets and Meadow Pipits in the grass. But no sign of any of the other scarce migrants which had been reported earlier. Then it was time to head back to the car and start making our way home.

When we got back to the edge of the pines, we stopped to talk to one of the off-duty wardens. While we were standing there, someone called out nearby that he had found the Red-breasted Flycatcher. It was mostly deep in the pines and very hard to see, flicking across between branches and only landing briefly in view, when it was very hard to get onto. Everyone at least got a glimpse of it, but eventually we were out of time had to call it a day. With a bit of luck, we might be able to have another go tomorrow!