Tag Archives: Snettisham

4th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Summer Tour today. It was bright with some sunshine to start, clouding over through the morning and starting to rain early afternoon. The rain was only light though, not heavy as was the forecast, so it didn’t stop us.

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. A Sedge Warbler was singing noisily from the brambles nearby as we got out of the minibus. A Greenfinch was wheezing from one of the gardens as we walked up the road. we made our way in on the path in through the bushes. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling over to one side, so we walked round and had a couple of glimpses of it flicking around in the brambles. There was a selection of other warblers, singing here – Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. We listened to the metronomic song of song of the Reed Warblers vs the mad chatter of the Sedge Warblers.

A Turtle Dove started purring nearby, deep in the dense bushes. We walked a bit further along to see if we could find an angle to see it, when it flew up and broke into a long gentle glide back down, its display flight. We saw where it landed this time, high in a pine tree, and got it in the scopes, although it was partly obscured by branches. It purred from there for a while, then flew up again, gliding over the path above us, before landing in the top of a large hawthorn the other side. It was a better view through the scopes now, we could see the rusty edges to the feathers of the upperparts.

Turtle Dove – in display flight

The Turtle Dove then flew back over the path again, this time landing in a large willow out of view. We could hear it but couldn’t see it. The next time it flew out, it headed off north away over the bushes out of sight.

We continued on, up onto the outer seawall. The tide was quite a way out still, but we stopped to scan the mud of the Wash. There were lots of waders out on the distant shoreline, predominantly Oystercatchers, plus one or two Curlews. A single lingering Brent Goose was out there too – most of the remaining birds seem to have departed in the last week or so, back to Siberia for the breeding season.

Dropping back down, we walked on up through the middle of the bushes. There were lots of Linnets here, some smart males with pinky red flushes on their breasts, and some brown streaked juveniles now too. A male Stonechat appeared on the top of a bush on the seawall. They bred here and sure enough just a little further up we found a couple of streaky juveniles too. A Meadow Pipit feeding on the short grass nearby was the first of the day.

Linnet – a smart male

There was a nice selection of butterflies here again, despite a fresher breeze today – a couple of Wall, a Brown Argus, a Small Heath. A Mother Shipton, a species of day-flying moth, landed briefly in the grass but was off again before we could really see the supposed likeness of the 16th century witch on its wings, after which it is named.

Two more Turtle Doves flew past heading south, presumably a male and a female. A little later, we saw a male coming back the other way in display flight. We saw it land in the top of a large bush, where it started purring, so we took advantage to have another look through the scopes.

The tide was slowly coming in and we now and a succession of small groups of Oystercatchers flew in off the Wash, heading in to roost on the marshes just inland. We climbed up onto the outer seawall again, by the crossbank. There were more Curlews on the mud now and two Bar-tailed Godwits in the shallow water. We could see their slightly upturned bills, before they tucked them in and went to sleep. Two different Ringed Plovers were hunkered down on the top of the beach, incubating in the roped off cordon nearby. They were very hard to see, well camouflaged against the shingle.

Ringed Plover – nesting in one of the cordons

We walked across at the crossbank and climbed up onto the inner seawall to scan the marshes. We could see some distant Little Gulls on the pool away to our left, so we walked a short way further up for a better look. There were at least three, all immature (1st summer/2nd calendar year) with the black ‘w’ pattern across their wings. We could see lots of Black-headed Gulls nesting, and lots of 2nd calendar year Common Gulls roosting further back, along with a mixture of immature Herring Gulls of various ages and a single young Great Black-backed Gull. A Common Tern flew in, and landed on one of the islands.

There were a couple of waders on the small pool the other side, on the grazing marsh. We had good views of a very close Black-tailed Godwit, a bird with a limp which always seems to be on here. It didn’t look particularly well today.

Black-tailed Godwit – with a limp

A lone Avocet on the mud looked to be incubating. At one point the other member of the pair flew in calling, and the first got up. It looked like they were performing a nest changeover but we couldn’t see an egg in the shallow scrape.

Avocet – changeover time

There were more Avocets and Lapwings out on the marshes. About fifty Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, Icelandic birds in various stages of moult, presumably mostly young birds which have not migrated back to Iceland to breed and not moulted fully into breeding plumage. A large mob of Oystercatchers was now roosting at the back, with more still flying in from the Wash. Two Spoonbills were mostly fast asleep (doing what they like to do best!), waking up and flashing their bills only briefly

Spoonbills – typically asleep

One or two Marsh Harriers flew over occasionally, attracting the ire of all the breeding gulls and waders, which chased up after it calling noisily. A Red Kite drifted over high.

There was a nice selection of ducks out here too, including a single lingering drake Wigeon, on the far bank with some Tufted Ducks. A pair of Mute Swans with just one cygnet swam out of the reeds in the channel below us. As we started to walk back, we scanned through the big flocks of geese – Greylags with lots of goslings, Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese – but all we could find different here today were three escaped Swan Geese (which don’t count unfortunately!).

Another Spoonbill was feeding actively in one of the pools among the geese, but disappeared into the rushes before we could get the scopes on it. It would have been nice to see one properly awake, but when we looked back it had climbed out onto the bank and gone straight to sleep! There were several Little Egrets, and two or three Grey Herons out here too.

It was just starting to cloud over now and lots of Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over the bushes, occasionally sweeping low past us, over the bank. A few House Martins appeared too, hard to tell if they are still migrants on the move or just local birds come for the feeding. A couple of Swallows were in with them too.

We headed over to Titchwell for lunch in the picnic area. Thankfully the rain held off. A Blackcap was singing in the trees nearby, and we could just see it flitting around. A Reed Warbler was singing in the sallows – it obviously hadn’t read the book!

After lunch, we decided to have a walk out on the reserve. It was forecast to rain, and we would have the option of shelter in the hides when it did. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew in over the reeds out at the back of the old Thornham grazing marsh pool. A Spoonbill flew in high over the Freshmarsh but carried on away over the west bank and the saltmarsh beyond

We stopped to listen at the reedbed, to see if we could hear a Bearded Tit. We didn’t, but we did see several Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers flying back and forth. A Bittern boomed, but just twice before going quiet again. There were a few Common Pochard in the reedbed channels and a single Great Crested Grebe on the reedbed pool along with lots of Greylags and Gadwall.

It still wasn’t really raining much and there were lots of people in Island Hide already, so we scanned the Freshmarsh from the bank. We could see a small group of waders distantly in front of Parrinder Hide, several Ringed Plover and a lone Dunlin with them. A Little Ringed Plover was up on the back of the island just beyond, but it was hard to see any detail at this range, and it was very well camouflaged against the dry mud.

A couple of drake Teal were new for the day – another duck which is common here in the winter but not many remain right through the summer. A single adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in briefly to bathe. They seem to be much scarcer here this year, for some reason.

Mediterranean Gull – just one briefly

While the rain was holding off, we decided to head straight out to the beach and come back to the hide. There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh, so we carried on to the Tidal Pools where we found several Turnstones picking around the islands. A pair of Shelduck swimming across the water were followed by several shelducklings.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and was already half way up the sand. Scanning out to sea, we spotted a Little Tern away to the west, close in, just beyond the breakers. It was flying away west all the time and getting increasingly hard to see against the grey water, but then thankfully turned and came back, giving us a good view now as it flew east past us, just beyond the sand. A few minutes later, another Little Tern flew out over the beach carrying a fish and disappeared off over the water towards Scolt. One or two Sandwich Terns were offshore too, but rather more distant.

With the tide in, there was not much on the beach, but we could see a small flock of Sanderling on the sand half way to Brancaster. They were running around in front of the waves breaking on the beach, in typical Sanderling fashion, but were very different from the silvery grey and white birds we see in winter, being much darker now in their breeding plumage. A pitfall for the unwary!

It was spitting with rain now, so we turned and headed back. A Spoonbill was on one of the pools out on the saltmarsh now, feeding. It climbed up out of the pool it was in and walked slowly across the saltmarsh amongst the thrift to another one a little further over. Nice to finally see one properly awake!

Spoonbill – nice to see one awake!

When we got back to the Freshmarsh, we turned down the path to Parrinder Hide. Just before we got in, we looked across to see a wader fly up from below the bank and land again on the island in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper, a migrant here, possibly a late bird heading north or perhaps an early returning bird already which had failed to breed successfully. From the shelter of the hide, we watched as it worked its way right down to the front on the mud.

Common Sandpiper – in front of the hide

There were several Ringed Plovers out here still too, we counted twelve now. They came close in too, feeding on the mud right below us. They looked quite small and dark compared to our resident breeders, presumably migrant Tundra Ringed Plovers (of the subspecies tundrae) stopping off on their way north.

Tundra Ringed Plover – stopping off

It was raining a little more heavily now, so we decided to sit it out and admire the waders. A male Redshank was displaying to a female further back, which was not showing much interest. A group of four Avocets gathered for a squabble in front of the hide.

A group of Black-tailed Godwits was busy feeding in the deeper water beyond the islands, mainly 1st summer Icelandic birds which had not gone north to breed. One was on its own a short distance from the others and looked noticeably bigger and longer-billed. It seemed to have a more contrasting pale face and the pale orange on its breast was not as deep as a full adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and on closer inspection, noticed it was colour ringed and tagged. This was enough to confirm that it was a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, of the nominate limosa subspecies, rather than the islandica Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits which are more common here.

A quick check with one of the locals who collects colour-ring combinations from here and he was able to confirm immediately that it was one of the very small number Continental Black-tailed Godwits which breed in the UK, on the Ouse Washes. Apparently it failed in its breeding attempt this year, and has already moved to Titchwell to feed and moult. It seems like the UK Continental Black-tailed Godwits, which are already teetering on the edge, have suffered from flooding on the Ouse Washes this year after all the rain in May.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa

We had come to Parrinder Hide particularly hoping to see the Little Ringed Plover a bit closer, but we hadn’t seen it again yet. We had a careful scan round where it had been now and eventually found it hiding behind the bricks. It was preening, presumably taking advantage of the rain to have a shower. Eventually it came out and ran along the island over to the edge of the reeds, where we could get it in the scopes. Now we could see its golden yellow eyering properly.

The rain had helpfully eased off again now. It was time to head back – it had been a good start, but we had another busy day ahead tomorrow.

1st June 2021 – Birds & More

A Private Tour today in NW Norfolk, looking at more than birds, including a selection of other early summer wildlife. It was another lovely sunny day, warm but with a nice cool breeze off the sea on the north coast. We met in Brancaster and headed over to Snettisham for the morning.

As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear a selection of warblers singing deep in the bushes – Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroat. The delicate purring of a Turtle Dove filtered through them, so we walked up towards the dense hawthorns, dripping with flowers, from where the sound seemed to be coming. As we were scanning the bushes, the female flew up to join the male on a branch. We had a great view of them through the scope.

While we were watching the Turtle Doves, we heard the distinctive sound of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere further up. Most of the Grasshopper Warblers have gone quiet now, at least during daylight hours, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear one in the middle of the morning. We walked on to see if we could track it down, but it seemed to be coming from deep in an inaccessible area of scrub and then it went quiet. There were Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing in the reeds.

Walking out of the bushes, several Linnets were feeding on the short grass below the outer seawall. Our first Brown Argus of the day – we would go on to see quite a few – was flitting around the storksbill. A tiny white moth, a Swan-feather Dwarf (Elachista argentella) flew up from our feet.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in and the water was already on the beach. A large flock of thirty or so Sanderlings was put up from the sand by a dogwalker and flew round over the water. As they twisted and turned, we could see one black-bellied Dunlin in with them. They landed down on the shore again and started feeding. In various stages of breeding plumage, they are much darker now than we see in the winter.

We dropped down off the seawall and continued on up through the middle. There were more warblers in the bushes and Linnets on the grass. The pools in the middle held a few Four-spotted Chasers and Azure Damselflies and patches of Water Crowfoot. Butterflies included several Small Copper, Small Heath and a single Painted Lady. As we got up towards the crossbank, a Meadow Pipit flew up onto the bushes on the seawall ahead of us. We stopped to watch our first male Common Blue butterfly of the day, flying fast up and down over the longer grass.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was in now. A large flock of predominantly Ringed Plovers was trying to roost on the beach, but kept getting flushed by walkers and dogwalkers. We could see a Ringed Plover hunkered down on the top of the beach in one of the cordons, presumably incubating. As two people walked along the shore line with their dogs, well outside the cordon, the Ringed Plover came off the nest and ran up the beach, only returning once they had passed. Just goes to show how sensitive they are to disturbance, which is a huge problem for birds which nest on the beaches here.

Ringed Plover – there were lots trying to roost on the beach

Crossing over to the inner seawall, we looked out across Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of waders roosting on here, sitting out high tide on the Wash. Hundreds of Oystercatchers were over the back and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on the slightly closer pools. Scanning through, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. There were several groups of Ringed Plovers on here too, and further up we could just see two different waders with some of them on a muddy island. There was too much heat haze to be able to make them out clearly though, so we walked further north along the inner seawall, to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got closer, we could see that as we suspected, they were two Curlew Sandpipers, adults moulting in (or out?) of rusty breeding plumage. They were first reported here almost a week ago now, so are clearly in no hurry to move on. Northbound spring migrants usually move on quickly, and it seems too early for southbound birds already (it can’t really be autumn already?!). Or perhaps they could even have abandoned hope of breeding due to the long, cold weather this spring?

There were at least two Little Gulls out on the marshes too, immatures in their 1st summer/2nd calendar year. We got one in the scope, dwarfed by the surrounding Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were on a small pool on the grazing marshes the other side, along with two Avocets and an Oystercatcher. We stopped to photograph a Green-veined White butterfly on the flowers on the bank. Another Turtle Dove flew past us, heading towards Heacham. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance. A male Marsh Harrier flew in and started circling low over the grass just the other side of the crossbank.

Green-veined White – showing the hindwing underside

There was a nice selection of other birds on the marshes as we walked back, stopping to scan from time to time. A Great White Egret on one of the pools really stood out, and there was a single Spoonbill in with the geese at the back, fast asleep (doing what Spoonbills like to do best!). A nice selection of wildfowl includes a couple of lingering late Wigeon and a feral Barnacle Goose. A Common Tern was hunting for fish in the channel just below the bank. A Hobby flew past, but typically disappeared off fast to the south.

We dropped down off the bank and cut back in to the southern end of the Coastal Park. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling one of the pools, chased by the Four-spotted Chasers. Back through the bushes, the Turtle Doves and Grasshopper Warbler were quiet now, but we did find a gorgeous metallic Green Hairstreak basking on a bush by the path.

Green Hairstreak – basking by the path

It was already lunchtime by the time we got back to the minibus, but we elected to drive somewhere more scenic to eat. Thankfully, we were allowed to park just beyond the payhut at Holme, despite not having booked in advance, as it wasn’t full, and we had a late lunch looking out over the saltmarsh towards the beach. The new car park booking system at NWT Holme Dunes is a complete nightmare – it is hard to plan in advance what we might want to do and even harder to know exactly what time we might get there if we are somewhere else for the morning. Not surprisingly the car park seems to be booked almost entirely by beach goers, looking at the occupants of the cars leaving and the almost total lack of anyone looking at any of the wildlife on the reserve!

After lunch, we set off along the coast path into the dunes. There were lots of butterflies in the short grass, several Wall and more Small Heaths. It didn’t take us long to come across our first Southern Marsh Orchids, just coming in to bloom, although these were not our main orchid target here this afternoon.

Southern Marsh Orchid – just coming out

A Cuckoo was calling in the trees and we carried on further in the hope of seeing it, but just caught a quick glimpse before when it landed low on a branch briefly, but it saw us and disappeared back. There were lots more butterflies in here, more Wall, Common Blues and Brown Argus. The moth list was boosted with a single Yellow Belle and several Plain Fanner (Glyphipterix fuscoviridella) which flushed from the grass.

Brown Argus – one posing nicely

It took a bit of searching, but we eventually managed to find a few spikes of Man Orchid. Some look a bit behind, perhaps not a surprise given the cold spring prior to the last couple of days, but a couple were in find condition and much admired!

Man Orchid – we found a few spikes out

Man Orchid was the main target, but we had hoped to look for Early Marsh Orchid too. But all the areas we have seen them in the past seemed to be fenced off for the ponies – we hope the ponies don’t like eating orchids! We followed the fence round, but couldn’t find a way to get where we wanted to go. A Stonechat perched on the fence briefly.

Wandering round trying did produce a nice selection of other things though. When we stopped to photograph some more Southern Marsh Orchids, we noticed movement in the long grass. A small Natterjack Toad was walking through – we could see the distinctive yellow stripe down the middle of its back. We don’t often see them, as they are predominantly nocturnal, so this was a really nice surprise.

Natterjack Toad – hiding in the long grass

Rounding another corner, we came across a mass of tiny Green Long-horn moths (Adela reaumurella), the golden-green metallic males with their outsize antennae dancing in the sunshine around the tops of the trees, trying to attract a female. Quite a spectacle. We did see one or two shorter ‘horned’ females too, in the vegetation below.

Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) – a male

We had seen several Hairy Dragonflies this morning, but now we came across one resting on some brambles, which gave us a chance to get some photographs of this normally very active species, and admire its hairy thorax.

Hairy Dragonfly – resting on some brambles

The Cuckoo finally gave itself up as we started to walk back, initially flying off away from us, but then we came out from behind some bushes and found it perched on a dead branch out in the open. We had a quick scan from the top of the dunes, looking out over the beach. There were lots of people out there today and we couldn’t see many birds. We could make out a few Sandwich Terns passing by in the distance offshore. Then it was back to the minibus and time to head for home.

20th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. It was a cloudy but dry morning, with an increasingly blustery wind picking up towards midday. It started spitting with rain early afternoon, and although we managed to avoid the heavy downpour, it remained damp on and off for the rest of the day. We didn’t get wet and it didn’t put us off!

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Greenfinch was wheezing in the top of a nearby conifer. A smart pink male Bullfinch was perched in a hawthorn as we walked along the road. A little further back, our first Turtle Dove of the morning was perched on a telegraph post, and as we stopped to look at it we could hear it purring. We got it in the scopes and had a closer look at it, before it flapped up into the air and flew down in a long glide, its display flight, landing further up by the path in.

From up by the gate, we could see it now, purring on the wires by the path. But before we could get the scopes set up, it was flushed by someone walking out and flew up in another display flight, landing back on the post where it had been earlier. As we walked in through the bushes, a second Turtle Dove started purring ahead of us in a large hawthorn. The first was still on its favoured post, and with both singing now, we had Turtle Dove stereo, surround sound. What a great sound, and such a shame it is now getting so rare.

We set the scopes up and had a fantastic view of this second Turtle Dove perched in the top of the hawthorn. We could see the broad rusty orange fringes to the feathers of its upperparts and the small black and white barred panel on the sides of its neck. A couple of times, it flew up and performed its display flight, before coming back to the same bush.

Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a hawthorn

When the Turtle Dove finally landed in a different bush, further in, we continued on through the bushes. There were lots of warblers singing in here today – Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling ahead of us, but when we walked further up to see if we could find it, it had now moved behind us. We turned to scan the bushes, but it disappeared deeper in still and kept well hidden.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in. We could see lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers along the water’s edge. In amongst them, we found several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, and well hidden on the mud a small party of Knot, one or two of both in bright rusty breeding plumage. Several Sanderling were feeding further up along the shore, now in their darker breeding plumage and looking very different from the silvery grey birds we see through the winter.

A single Grey Plover dropped in, looking stunning with its summer black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. More Grey Plover in several small flocks flew past over the mud from further up the Wash, and we could see Curlews and more Grey Plover on the mud to the south of us. Looking beyond the waders in the mud, two Great Crested Grebes were out on the Wash.

As we turned back to the bushes, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, and just managed to pick it up as it flew over, heading south. A migrant on its way. We dropped back down off the seawall, and continued north. There were lots of Common Swifts on the move too, zooming around low over the bushes looking for insects. We could see more over the marshes just inland, and we remarked that it would be the day to find a rare swift, travelling with its commoner cousins. A trickle of Swallows flew south too.

Common Swift – there were lots moving today

There were lots of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits which flew up calling as we passed. A Cetti’s Warbler singing from the bushes by the path remained well hidden but a Chiffchaff posed nicely on a bare branch of an elder bush.

Chiffchaff – posed on an elder bush

We heard the male Stonechat first, alarm calling. It was in a different place to normal and scanning the bushes confirmed our suspicions – its young had fledged and we could see at least two streaky juveniles nearby. We could hear their squeaky begging calls. A Green Woodpecker disappeared off through the bushes.

Stonechat – one of at least two streaky juveniles

Our third Turtle Dove of the morning now started purring from a dead tree ahead of us, as we carried on north. A couple of Bullfinches chased each other off into the bushes. A small bird dropped out of the sky onto a low bush on the seawall and we turned to see it was a Lesser Redpoll. It was presumably attracted down by some Linnets in the bushes, but didn’t linger and flew off calling back along the seawall.

When we got to the crossbank, we had another look out over the Wash. The tide was coming in fast now. We could see more Oystercatchers and Sanderling on the beach to the north, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers. Another Ringed Plover was in one of the cordoned off areas higher up on the top of the sandy beach, but was disturbed by a dog which came running out of the bushes and up onto the seawall above it. The Ringed Plover walked away down the beach. The dog’s owner emerged from the bushes blowing on a whistle and eventually got their pet back under control.

We walked over to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan the marshes the other side. It didn’t take long to spot a Little Gull hawking for insects over the pools, it’s buoyant flight more tern-like. A second Little Gull appeared with it, both of them young, 1st summers or 2nd calendar year birds with a black ‘w’ pattern across the upperwings.

Little Gull – hawking for insects over the water

There were lots of Oystercatchers on the pools at the back, come on here to roost over high tide. We could see several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, doing the same thing. The Avocets, Lapwings and a few Redshank are breeding on here, all species which are benefiting from the recent creation of these marshes.

There were ducks too, including two or three late lingering Wigeon, several Tufted Ducks and one or two Common Pochard. Scanning carefully through the Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese, we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese asleep. We couldn’t see but these are most likely injured birds which were probably show and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland to breed.

While we were looking at the geese, one of the group spotted a Golden Plover by a small pool on the grassy area across the middle of the marshes, a very smart summer adult with dark face and bellow. A Whimbrel was a bit further back on the grass.

Golden Plover – a smart summer bird

An Alpine Swift had been seen flying past West Runton and Cley earlier – as we had predicted, it was a day for a rare swift. Now news came through that it had passed quickly over Titchwell and Holme. There were still hundreds of Common Swifts pouring down along the coast towards us and gathering to feed over the marshes, so we started scanning through, in case it should come through here. It took a while for the Alpine Swift to get to Hunstanton, then it turned south over cliffs, seemingly heading our way. We could even see Hunstanton in the distance to the north of us, but despite our best efforts we couldn’t find it. It had probably turned out across the Wash before it got to us – so near, and yet so far!

We walked back to the minibus. There had been a pratincole for the last hour or so over Cley and Salthouse, so we thought we might head over there to try to see it. But we had just set off in the minibus when a message came through to say that it had flown off high west. So we diverted to Titchwell for lunch and to use the facilities.

It was still dry but cloudy when we got to Titchwell, so we had lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted over and a couple of Blackcaps were singing in the sallows. It had just started spitting with rain as we packed up. There was still no further news of the pratincole, so we decided to head out onto the reserve, where we would have hides to shelter in, should the forecast heavy rain arrive.

As we got out of the trees on the main path, we could hear a Cuckoo calling somewhere round the back towards Fen Hide. A Bittern was booming from deep in the reedbed. We stopped to scan the Reedbed Pool, but all we could see there today were lots of Greylag Geese and a few Common Pochard.

The hides here are thankfully now open again and we arrived at Island Hide just in time, as it started to rain heavily. Looking through the gulls on the small strip island we found several Mediterranean Gulls, including some smart black-hooded adults, in with the Black-headed Gulls (with the brown heads – don’t ask!).

Mediterranean Gulls – there were several with the Black-headed Gulls

There was a nice selection of terns on the Freshmarsh too. A male Common Tern flew in with a fish for the female, which was resting on the low brick island, but was sent straight back out for more. Two Little Terns were hunkered down on the far end of the island where all the gulls were, but a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed right in amongst the gulls, joined by a second shortly afterwards.

Apart from Avocets, there didn’t appear to be many waders on here today, but looking more carefully we did manage to find a few. There were at least three Little Ringed Plovers, mostly over the far side by Parrinder Hide, although two flew past us at one point with one calling and displaying. There were two Turnstones picking around at the back with a Dunlin. When the Turnstones flew off, the Dunlin flew to the gull island, and was joined by second.

Avocet – there were several on the Freshmarsh

There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking low over the water. We looked through them to see if we could find anything with them and did find a single Sand Martin too. A lone Spoonbill flew in from the west, but continued straight over the Freshmarsh without stopping and disappeared over the bank at the back. Thankfully it stopped raining fairly quickly, so we decided to venture out and make a bid for the beach.

The Volunteer Marsh looked quiet as we passed, but we did find a few waders in the wide muddy channel at the far end. Several Grey Plover at the back included two in smart breeding plumage, one of which flew towards us, but just to chase off another in non-breeding plumage about half way down.

As we got to the Tidal Pools, another Spoonbill which had been feeding in the shallow water at the back flew off. There were several Little Terns flying round calling, with one hovering over one of the pools out on the saltmarsh. Two Common Terns were roosting on the end of the spit. There were more waders out here too, a small group of very smart breeding plumage Turnstones on the grass and another summer plumage Grey Plover.

Little Tern – one of several on the Tidal Pools

Continuing on to the beach, the tide was coming in and had already covered the mussel beds. A single Little Tern was on the beach away to the east and several Sandwich Terns flew back and forth over the sea. A single adult Gannet with its black-tipped white wings was plunge fishing offshore before heading off east. It was starting to spit with rain again, so we set off back.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide and were rewarded with much better views of one of the Little Ringed Plovers. We could see its golden yellow eye ring now. Several Marsh Harriers were up and down out of the reedbed.

Little Ringed Plover – better view from Parrinder Hide

A Little Grebe was diving in one of the reedbed channels as we continued walking back. We negotiated the one way system and went round to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes by the Tank Road as we passed.

There didn’t appear to be much on Patsy’s today. An odd looking Greylag Goose swam out from behind the reeds. Clearly unwell, it was very low in the water and seemed to be barely afloat. Through the scope, we could see its skin was bare on the top of its head and around its eyes and bright pink. Its bill was bright reddish too. It sailed out in the direction of a pair of Mute Swans with three cygnets in the middle. The male swan was determined to defend its brood and attacked it, but seemed taken aback that the Greylag didn’t respond. It looked like the swan would drown it.

A Kestrel was perched in one of the dead trees (where a Hobby should be instead!). Several Marsh Harriers circled low over the reedbed, including a couple of smart males, one of which drifted over the pool in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the hedge behind us.

Marsh Harrier – drifted out over Patsy’s

We could see dark clouds behind us and it started spitting with rain again. We had been comparatively lucky with the weather today, given the forecast for heavy rain all afternoon, and it was time to call it a day and head back before we got wet.

12th May 2021 – Cameras at the Ready

A Private Tour today, with the focus on trying to photograph birds rather than just looking at them. It was meant to be a sunny morning, with cloud increasing in the afternoon and the possibility of showers. Instead, there was more patchy cloud this morning and it was sunny and warm this afternoon – the wrong way round!

We spent the morning at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in, a male Greenfinch was on the ground feeding on the short grass. We could hear various warblers singing: Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. But none of them wanted to pose for the cameras. We had a quick look out at the Wash from the outer seawall, but the tide was in and there wasn’t a lot flying past out over the sea.

As we set off up the middle of the Coastal Park, we could hear the distinctive rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat now. It flew across to a large hawthorn on the edge of the reeds where we watched it feeding on one of the longer branches for a minute or so. When it was joined by a second, the two of them flew out and across to the bushes over on the seawall.

Lesser Whitethroat – in one of the hawthorns

There were lots of Goldfinches and Linnets in the bushes, and more warblers, as we made our way north. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling ahead of us in the brambles and flew up into a hawthorn next to the path, where it gave a quick burst of song. It only perched there briefly though, and quickly flew across to the other side of the path, disappearing back into the thicker vegetation.

Cetti’s Warbler – perched up singing briefly

A steady succession of Swallows came low over the bushes, migrants on their way, heading south round the Wash. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove as we walked up towards its favourite tree and when two Turtle Doves flew past away from us and disappeared into the bushes, we thought that was it. We stopped to admire a male Stonechat which perched on some low bushes in the middle, and a female appeared nearby too.

Stonechat – the male in a low briar

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the male Turtle Dove purring now from its favourite tree. Had it flown back while we weren’t looking. Then another Turtle Dove started purring from somewhere in the bushes off to our right, in the direction where the pair had disappeared earlier, so presumably different birds. We set up the scope and had a good view of the lone male perched in the branches of a dead tree.

Turtle Dove – purring from a dead tree

Then we noticed a Barn Owl flying around over the short grass out in the middle, beyond the bushes. We didn’t know which way to look! As we walked on along the path, the Turtle Dove took off and launched into its display flight. We found the Barn Owl again, but it was always rather distant ahead of us. We figured we would catch up with it somewhere later.

From up on the seawall again, the tide was going out now and there were lots of Oystercatchers out on the mud. A woman stopped to talk to us, she was a volunteer with the Wash Wader Ringing Group looking for one satellite Oystercatcher with them. Without a current fix, it was like looking for a needle in haystack! More Oystercatchers were still commuting from where they had been roosting on the marshes inland out to the beach.

As we walked across by the crossbank to the inner seawall, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, along with another Lesser Whitethroat, and a couple more Common Whitethroats. Climbing up onto the inner seawall, the Barn Owl was now hunting over the bank just a little further up. It disappeared behind the bend in the bank, so we went through the gate and walked round on top. The Barn Owl was on a fence post just round the corner and took off when it saw us, but thankfully did a nice fly round, coming straight past below us.

Barn Owl – flew past below us

Turning our attention to Ken Hill Marshes, we picked up a Sparrowhawk disappeared away low over the water. In the reeds beyond, we could see a distant Great White Egret alongside a Little Egret. A good size comparison – the former completely dwarfing the latter.

There were plenty of ducks out on the pools, Shoveler, Gadwall and one or two lingering Wigeon. Four Barnacle Geese were presumably feral birds rather than genuine high Arctic breeders. Two Whimbrel were out on the short grass – one flew off and one disappeared down into a pool out of view as a small group of people walked along the footpath, but both reappeared after they had made it to the seawall.

We hadn’t had sight nor sound of the Cuckoo up to now, but as we walked back we heard it singing and looked ahead of us to see it perched in a dead tree. When we got alongside it, we watched it singing for a couple of minutes. A Chaffinch appeared on the branch next to it, and after a while worked up the courage to chase it off, at which point it was joined by one of the local Meadow Pipits.

Cuckoo – appeared as we started to walk back

Further on, we stopped again. There were several Mute Swans flying round, mostly young birds with dull bills. An adult with a brighter orange bill was bathing in the ditch on the edge of the marshes. There were several Common Swifts zooming about over the pools and one or two swept past us over the bank and the bushes the other side. We had a go at photographing them as they passed – never easy at that speed!

Common Swift – flew past us over the bank

A Mediterranean Gull started calling, a distinctive plaintive miaowing, and we turned to see it circling over the nesting Black-headed Gulls, its white wingtips translucent against the sun. A Chiffchaff posed on the outside of one of the hawthorns below the path briefly. Then we made our way back to the minibus.

As we headed back round to the north coast, we made a diversion into Hunstanton and stopped by the lighthouse. The Fulmars were only just coming above the clifftop occasionally today, but one or two gave some very nice photo opportunities.

Fulmar – circling over the cliffs

There were several House Sparrows in the fenced off vegetation on the top of the cliff and a male posed nicely on the fence. A very smart metallic Starling dropped onto the grass close to us to collect more insects – its bill was already pretty full with a large larva and a couple of flies.

Our mission for the afternoon was to find a feeding Spoonbill. After a break for a pizza in Thornham, we carried on east to Burnham Norton. Three Whimbrel were feeding out on the short grass as we got out of the vehicles. The path out towards the seawall was a bit muddy, but we managed to negotiate it without getting our feet wet.

Two Common Swifts were circling above us and started mating on the wing. They separated but stayed together and then did it again a bit further over. While we were watching the Swifts, we picked up two Hobbys way off in the distance. We watched them catching insects high above the reedbed.

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds along here and we could hear one or two Reed Warblers too but they were much harder to see. We finally got to see a couple of them, chasing around in the corner of the ditch below the seawall. A flock of four Yellow Wagtails flew over high, calling. They appeared to drop towards the herd of cows out in the middle of the marshes, so we made a mental note to have a look for them on our way back.

Walking along the seawall, the tide was out and we couldn’t see any Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh. The only white shapes flying in and out now were Little Egrets. There were lots of waders along here, several Avocets chasing each other in the muddy channel on the near edge of the saltmarsh and Redshanks flying back and forth over the bank. There were Lapwings here too, and one or two were displaying, singing as they performed their tumbling and rolling display flight.

Lapwing – displaying over the seawall

There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they head off to Siberia for the breeding season. But it looked like we might be out of luck with our main target here today. When we reached the junction with the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marshes, we turned for one last scan over the saltmarsh. And there they were, two Spoonbills flying in from the direction of Gun Hill.

One of the Spoonbills landed in one of the big channels and we could just see it distantly from the seawall. The tide was out and there are a couple of baitdiggers’ paths out to the channel here, so we walked out to the edge, picking our way and jumping over some of the narrower runnels. Eventually we got much closer. The Spoonbill was feeding constantly in the shallow water, and appeared to be finding lots of food, regularly flicking its head back as it snapped at something.

Spoonbill – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels

Eventually the Spoonbill disappeared round the next corner in the channel, out of view. As we made our way back to the seawall, the second Spoonbill dropped in with it. A couple of small squadrons of Cormorants flew past, heading back towards Holkham.

We dropped down onto the path the other side and walked back through the middle of the grazing marshes. The distinctive foghorn of a Bittern booming drifted over to us from the reeds. There were herds of cows on both sides of the path, but looking through the reeds we couldn’t see anything with the ones on the left of the path. We stopped at a gate from where we could see the cows the other side – they were all walking in towards the reeds by the path, and we couldn’t see anything with them at first. Two Wheatears, a smart male and a closer female, were out on the grass just beyond, migrants stopping off on their way north.

It was hard to see through the throng of cows by the reeds at first, but as some started to move further down away from us, we could see a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding round the feet of one of them. The male with bright day-glo yellow underparts and head, the female rather creamier yellow and shades of greenish-brown.

Yellow Wagtail – a bright yellow male

The cows moved further down so we continued on along the path to the next gate, which is where they seemed to be heading. We had just arrived when another small group of Yellow Wagtails seemed to drop in with the original pair. It is always worth looking through flocks of wagtails at this time of year, as they often contain birds from the continent with different variations of head colour.

In amongst these wagtails, we did indeed find an odd looking one. It had a greyish head and a bold white supercilium, very different to the yellowish heads of the others. It looked too bright for a female, with a very bright yellow vent and belly, but grading to paler yellow on the lower breast and pale yellowish white on the upper breast and throat, and a greenish mantle. With the paler throat, it clearly wasn’t an adult male either. These wagtails are very variable, and the different forms frequently intergrade in the zones where they meet, but the best fit for this one seemed to be a 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race which is found across much of continental Europe but is a regular visitor here in spring.

Blue-headed Wagtail – probably a 1st summer male

We spent some time watching the wagtails feeding in among the cows, although they became harder to see as the cows all pressed in closer to the gate. They seemed to have gathered waiting to be fed. Then when the wagtails suddenly took off and flew over the reeds, we continued on our way back.

A Little Egret was feeding in the ditch ahead of us as we got back to the parking area. As we stood by the vehicles for a minute or two, several Brown Hares were running round over the grass. A Barn Owl flew past along the edge of the grazing marshes, disappearing off along the side of the road. Time for us to call it a day.

11th May 2021 – Spring Serenade

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with intermittent dark clouds spreading in particularly from early afternoon and bringing with them some torrential showers. Thankfully we mostly managed to avoid being caught out in the worst of them.

We started the day at Snettisham. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Cuckoo was singing, but it had gone quiet by the time we were ready to set off. As we walked into the Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing in the bushes, Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Chiffchaffs too and we spotted one flicking around in some nearby trees.

Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing this morning

While we were watching the Chiffchaff, we heard a Turtle Dove purring from the bushes. We walked round on the path to try to locate it, and a second male started singing further over, one either side, stereo Turtle Doves! We had a couple of brief glimspses – first of a pair chasing through the bushes, then a male which flew up quickly and then slowly floated back down in display flight. One of the male Turtle Doves was purring now in a bush not far from the path but it was tucked in somewhere out of view. We caught a glimpse of that one as it slipped out the back and then went quiet. The other male was still purring in the thicker bushes the other side.

We walked in further and up onto the outer seawall. Looking out over the Wash, the tide was slowly going out. We had seen a couple of small groups of Oystercatchers flying past earlier, and there were now lots gathered on the exposed mud to the north. Four Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore, a Dunlin dropped in with them briefly and then another four Bar-tailed Godwits arrived. They were all either females or young birds, lacking the breeding male’s bright rufous underparts. Five Grey Plover flew past out over the water, a couple of them sporting their summer black faces and bellies. There were lots of Brent Geese on the beach too and two Common Terns distantly over the water.

When we turned round, we could see a Barn Owl hunting the other side, following the inner seawall. It was out late this morning – either the cold spring weather is not helping it to fatten up ahead of the breeding season, or it has hungry young to feed already, although there was no sign of it flying back to feed them.

Barn Owl – out hunting late

We walked back down into the bushes and up through the middle of the park. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sea buckthorn on the seawall and there were lots of Linnets in the bushes. When some darker clouds rolled overhead and it started spitting with rain briefly, there were suddenly lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low above us. Presumably migrants on their way over which were pushed down by the weather.

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we looked up to see it perched in a dead tree. Now we had a great view of it through the scopes, with its rufous scaled back and black and white barred panel on the side of its neck. We stood for a while just listening to it now – a wonderful sound of spring, once common but now rare, and still declining at an alarming pace, a victim of the industrialisation of farming here and our obsession with flailing hedges and tidying up any areas of scrub in the countryside. Catch it while you still can!

Turtle Dove – purring in the branches of a dead tree

A pair of Stonechats were alarm calling from the clumps of low gorse nearby, presumably with young in the nest somewhere. The Barn Owl appeared again, weaving in and out of the bushes over the grass.

As we carried on further, finally we heard a Cuckoo calling again, and could see it in the distance, in a tree right at the north end of the park. We got it in the scopes, but it was mobbed by a Meadow Pipit and took off. It flew our way, past us through the bushes, and landed in the same tree where the Turtle Dove was still purring. Two of the classic sounds of spring, both declining, together. We walked back, but the Cuckoo was off again before we could get there.

Carrying on north, we climbed up onto the seawall again. The tide had gone out considerably, with a lot more exposed mud, and the Oystercatchers and Brent Geese were widely scattered. A huge flock of thousands of Knot and Grey Plover flew round out in the middle, half way across to Lincolnshire, catching the light as they twisted and turned.

The Wash – looking out over the mud

We walked along the crossbank to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of ducks out here on the pools, including a late lingering Wigeon. A Russian White-fronted Goose swimming across one of the pools was a surprise, as most of the wild wintering geese have long since departed. A little further up, we picked out a single Pink-footed Goose too, with a small group of the resident Greylags. The Pink-footed Goose was probably winged and injured by wildfowlers, now unable to fly north with the others but still capable of feeding happily on the marshes, so perhaps the White-fronted Goose was too.

There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets out on the pools. Scanning carefully, we picked out a small group of Black-tailed Godwits at the back. A Ringed Plover together with a small group of Dunlin were feeding on a muddy island closer to us. A lone Whimbrel was down on the short grass nearby.

The Yellow Wagtails were on the move today. We had already heard and seen a few flying south overhead, and a group of four had just gone over. We were just about to move off, when we heard Yellow Wagtails call and turned to see a large group dropping down towards the grass on the near edge of the marshes. There were about a dozen of them, and it is always worth scanning through to see if any of their scarcer cousins are travelling with them. And there were two very smart male Grey-headed Wagtails together down on the grass.

Grey-headed Wagtails – two males in the flock

Looking through the rest of the flock, there were mostly yellow-headed British Yellow Wagtails, males and females, but one female had a noticeably greyer head and paler white supercilium. It is not possible to conclusively identify female Blue-headed Wagtails, as female British Yellow Wagtails are variable in appearance, but this looked like a good candidate.

Then we found another male Grey-headed Wagtail further over. This one appeared to have a tiny speck of white above the lores. All these yellow wagtails are considered just subspecies and they do interbreed – perhaps this little speck of white was a tiny remnant of historic intergradation with Blue-headed Wagtails where they meet in northern Scandinavia?

Grey-headed Wagtail – the third male

They may just be treated as subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail and therefore not separate ‘ticks’ on the official list, but taxonomy is in a constant state of flux these days and definitions change of what makes a species (Eastern and Western Yellow Wagtail have recently been separated). Like many other families, the yellow wagtails with their myriad forms defy our crude attempts to put them into neat boxes. They are fascinating and beautiful things and well worth recording on our lists, species or not!

Having marvelled at the various Yellow Wagtails for a while, we started to make our way back along the seawall. The Cuckoo was singing from another dead tree, but dropped down before we got back level with it. We found it again and had a good view of it perched in the bushes by the outer seawall, before it was chased off by a Meadow Pipit again.

Cuckoo – on the bushes on the outer seawall

The sun was out and things had warmed up now. The Swifts were very high and we picked up a distant Hobby very high over the marshes, catching insects. There were several Common Buzzards up too, and some other distant raptors beyond the range of our scopes. The Turtle Dove was still in purring away in its favourite tree as we passed. We could see more dark clouds approaching from the south, so we made our way back to the minibus.

We made our way round to Holme and stopped briefly on Beach Road to use the facilities. Then we drove down the track past the payhut to park, and climbed up onto the seawall. It was grey but dry here, although the dark clouds we had seen from Snettisham were passing to the west of us and it looked to be raining over there. Two Hobbys were zooming back and forth low over the reeds out on the grazing marsh hawking for insects.

We could see dark clouds coming our way now, so we decided to have lunch down under the shelter of the minibus tailgate. One of the Hobbys landed on a bramble bush out on the grazing marsh briefly and a Great White Egret flew over. We waited for the shower to pass.

After lunch, it had stopped raining and we went back up onto the seawall again. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds now. A lone Whimbrel appeared down on the grass closer to us. There were lots of Brent Geese still lingering on the saltmarsh. It shouldn’t be long before they are off back up to Siberia for the breeding season now. Another shower arrived, so we retired to the minibus again. It appeared to be brighter away to the east, so we decided to head round that way.

Brent Geese – almost time to leave

We diverted inland via Ringstead, scanning the fields while waiting for some more darker clouds to blow through, then swung round to Choseley. A single Corn Bunting was perched in the middle of a bright yellow oilseed rape field. We started to scan the field where the Dotterel had been recently, finding two Wheatears out amongst the stones, but it was starting to rain again now.

Corn Bunting – in the middle of the oilseed rape

There was a report of a Temminck’s Stint at Stiffkey Fen, so we decided to drive further east to see if we could get out of the worst of the weather. At first, things deteriorated as we simply drove into torrential rain. But we could see brighter skies ahead of us and by the time Stiffkey it had stopped raining, even if we were still just under the edge of the darker clouds.

It was cool and breezy now and there weren’t many birds singing as we walked out beside the river. We headed straight out and up onto the seawall, and it was good we didn’t dawdle. There were a couple of people already there and we saw them lift their heads and start to scan with their binoculars as we got to the top of the steps – everything on the Fen had taken off. We stopped and heard the Temminck’s Stint call, as it flew over the seawall just ahead of us. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and dropped down into a channel out of view. Just in time!

The Common Sandpiper which had been feeding on the Fen had returned, so we could still see that working its way round one of the islands. We decided to walk on round to the edge of the harbour to see if we could see into the channel where the stint had landed. We could see a small area of mud, but it was obviously further round the corner, still out of view from here.

There were still plenty of Brent Geese here too. With the tide out, there were lots of gulls loafing on the mud. Further back, we could see terns flying back and forth over the remaining water in the pit, lots of Common Terns and one or two Little Terns. We could see seals in the distance too, hauled out on the sandbank beyond the far end of Blakeney Point.

It was starting to spit with rain again, but it was time to head back anyway. A Garden Warbler was singing in the sallows as we walked back beside the river and we heard a Kingfisher call as it flew upstream along the channel behind the bushes and brambles. Then it was back up to the road to finish.

14th Apr 2021 – Back to Work

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. After 6 months (to the day!) since our last tour, with everything in between cancelled due to COVID restrictions, it was very nice to be able to get back out again. The plan was to try to pick up some lingering winter visitors, as well as try to find some early spring migrants. It was mostly bright, with sunny intervals, cool in the morning particularly in the northerly breeze but warming up nicely in the afternoon, and with just a brief shower at lunchtime.

We started the day at Snettisham. Stopping by the entrance to the car park, a Barn Owl was hunting over the grass down along the inner seawall, flying across the road in front of us and disappearing off into the Coastal Park. A pair of Goldcrests were flitting around in some conifers by the pavement, the male singing and fluffing out its bright gold and flame-coloured crown feathers.

The fields either side of the road here can be good for Ring Ouzels at this time of year, but all we could find this morning were a couple of unringed Ouzels (also known as Blackbirds!). There were lots of Curlews feeding out on the grass too. We set off to walk up to the gate into the Coastal Park and a Greenfinch was singing and doing its fluttering song-flight over the garden of the nearby cottage. The sweet, descending scale of a Willow Warbler drifted out from the bushes. We could hear the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls too.

As we got to the gate, a couple with a rather lively dog were just ahead of us, the dog running in and out of the bushes either side of the path, significantly reducing our chances of seeing anything. We diverted up onto the outer seawall, and looked out across the Wash. We received a message to say that an Osprey had been seen over Ken Hill Marshes, just behind us, but had flown south. So we scanned across that way and picked up a large bird or prey way off in the distance, hovering slowly. Even through the scopes, it was right at the limit, too far to make out any detail, but as it broke off from hovering and turned, we could see it was very long-winged, a distinctive flight silhouette – the Osprey, but not the best views of one we have ever had!

The tide was in. Some more dogwalkers down along the beach further up flushed several Ringed Plovers as they walked along. There were lots of birds out on the water, but rather than seaduck they turned out to be several rafts of Teal and Wigeon, along with a small party of Cormorants and, further out, lots of large gulls.

Chaffinch – this very smart male perched up beside the path as we passed

As we dropped back down off the seawall and onto the path through the Coastal Park, a couple of Sedge Warblers were singing, and we eventually found one perched half way up a small bush in the reeds. There were lots of Chiffchaffs and one or two Blackcaps singing too, the early returning summer breeding warblers, although number of returning birds have probably been held up by the cold northerly winds over the last couple of weeks. A very smart male Chaffinch perched up on the top of a Hawthorn as we passed and there were lots of Linnets all the way up. We came across the Barn Owl again, hunting over the grassy area in the middle of the Coastal Park.

Linnet – a male; there were lots in the Coastal Park

There was a distinct lack of migrants moving overhead today, again a consequence of the northerly winds, but as we got up towards the crossbank, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling and picked it up high in the sky approaching from the south. The first couple of calls sounded pretty conventional, but the next two or three had a distinctly rasping quality to them. Yellow Wagtails come in lots of different forms, and it would have been interesting to see this one on the ground, but unfortunately we watched as it flew off north into the distance.

Walking across to the inner seawall, we climbed up to the top and scanned the grass to the north of the crossbank. There were no cows out, which explained why the wagtail didn’t stop. The Barn Owl was out hunting here now. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and a couple of Skylarks, along with a pair of Grey Partridge. Two smaller, slimmer, shorter-billed birds in with a small group of Curlew were confirmed as two Whimbrel through the scope. They were a bit distant, but turning our attention across to Ken Hill Marshes the other side, we realised there was another Whimbrel on the grass just beyond the ditch. We had a really good view of the striped crown on this one.

There were lots of Avocets, Redshanks and Lapwings on the new pools. Scanning carefully, we found several Common Snipe around the vegetated islands too. There was a nice selection of wildfowl, lots of ducks including a single pair of Pintail. In with the commoner geese, we found a single Pink-footed Goose, its smaller size, dark head and more delicate and mostly dark bill distinguishing it from the nearby Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, although a few are still lingering, some having been shot and winged and unable to make the journey back to Iceland. Our first Marsh Harrier of the day was hunting out over the water.

Barn Owl – out hunting all the time we were in the Coastal Park

The Barn Owl seemed to be following us! It flew back south over the crossbank as we turned to head back along the inner seawall. Most of the way, it kept flying off ahead of us, before coming back again. Great to watch, but it must have been hungry to be out mid-morning, and we didn’t see it catch anything all the time it was in view. A single Swallow and a Sand Martin flew past, surprisingly the only hirundines we saw here this morning. Back to the minibus, another Grey Partridge was out with the Curlew now and a Sparrowhawk came in low from the direction of the marshes. There was still no sign of any Ring Ouzels in the paddocks though.

One request for this morning was to try to see some waders, and there is no better place than Snettisham for that! The tide was already going out fast by the time we got down to the pits and up on the seawall by the Wash. Looking out across the mud, we could see thousands of birds out here still, loads of Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher. A Grey Plover moulting into breeding plumage looked very smart with its black face and white-spangled upperparts. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the mouth of the channel, most already in their orange summer attire, feeding up before heading off to Iceland to breed. A similarly dressed Bar-tailed Godwit further up on the water’s edge was noticeably different, with the rusty colour extending right down under the tail.

Wash Waders – there were thousands of birds out on the mud still

Unlike many of the other waders, the Avocets don’t spend the winter here but there are already lots back. There was a liberal scattering across the mud all the way down to the hides. We just wanted to have a quick look at the southern pit today, which has been taken over by hundreds of breeding gulls. Scanning from the causeway, in amongst the more numerous Black-headed Gulls we found a few Mediterranean Gulls, with their more extensive jet black hoods and white wing tips, and a single Common Gull too.

Avocet – there are lots back already

We had lots we wanted to try to pack in today, so we moved on. A brief check of some paddocks at Hunstanton, where there had been Ring Ouzels a few days ago, failed to produce any here either. Rounding the corner of the coast, we drove into some dark clouds and a sharp shower. It had already stopped by the time we got to Holme, but it was now rather cool and cloudy and a couple of brief stops listening for Grasshopper Warblers drew a blank. We did manage to get a hot drink down at The Firs and stopped to eat our lunch. A young Peregrine flew through quickly towards Thornham before circling back more slowly a little later and five more lingering Pink-footed Geese were out on the grazing marshes.

Our next stop was at Titchwell. We wouldn’t have long here today, but we wanted to have a quick look at the Freshmarsh at least, so we headed straight out. As we got out of the trees on the main path, a Red Kite drifted out across the reedbed and another was hunting out over the dunes. A few Pied Wagtails were feeding out on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh. The reedbed pool produced a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard, but a Little Grebe remained hidden in the reeds and we could only hear it laughing at us. There were still quite a few Brent Geese here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and the saltmarsh the other side of the west bank. In the next month or so, they will be off back up to Russia to breed.

Brent Geese – still here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and saltmarsh

We stopped on the bank by one of the benches to scan the Freshmarsh. Apart from several Avocets, there were no many waders on here. The water level is still quite high, and there is not much exposed mud. On the small area which has appeared in front of Parrinder Hide, we could see two Little Ringed Plovers which have returned already for the breeding season. With the hides closed, they were not particularly close but we could see their golden yellow eye-rings through the scopes.

Little Ringed Plovers – these two were out in front of the closed Parrinder Hide

The large, fenced off island has been taken over by gulls again, with several pairs of Mediterranean Gull in among the Black-headed Gulls. We were hoping to find some Sandwich Terns on the Freshmarsh, but there weren’t any now – there had been earlier, but presumably they had gone out to the sea. Some very smart Teal were feeding just below us, on the near edge of the water. A couple of the drakes were squabbling and the more aggressive displayed too, squashing itself up before throwing its head back. Sometimes, one or two may stay all summer but most will be moving on soon.

Teal – displaying just below the main path

A small falcon came in high over the Freshmarsh now, grey-brown and compact, a Merlin. It carried on across Volunteer Marsh and when it got out to the dunes it turned and disappeared off to the east. Another lingering winter visitor here. We decided to make a quick dash out to the beach to see if we could find a Sandwich Tern out there. A single Redshank was hiding in the channel at the front of Volunteer Marsh and there were a few Curlew in the wide channel at the far end. We couldn’t see anything of note on the Tidal Pool today.

The sea was quiet. After a couple of minutes scanning with the scopes, we did manage to pick up a Sandwich Tern flying past – mission accomplished! A single Great Crested Grebe still out on the sea was a nice bonus. Most of the waders were further up along the beach towards Thornham Point, and despite the shimmer we managed to pick out a few Sanderling in the haze. A couple of Turnstone flew in and landed on the mussel beds, along with a flock of Knot.

With time getting on now and a few more things to try to squeeze in to the itinerary this afternoon, we decided to head straight back. As we walked back past the reedbed, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds.

Continuing on east along the coast road, we stopped past Burnham Overy at the top of Whincover. There had been four Ring Ouzels seen from the track earlier this morning, so we thought we would try our luck as we were passing. With no further reports since, it was probably no surprise we couldn’t find them where they had been and another lone Pink-footed Goose and a Little Grebe were the best we could find out on the grazing marshes.

We were just about to give up and head back when we received a message to say that three had been seen again somewhere nearby, although the location given didn’t make sense. We had an idea where they might mean and thankfully we guessed right – we were almost down the seawall towards Burnham Overy Staithe when a revised message come through with the right directions.

Scanning the field, we thought for a few minutes like our luck might be out again. We could see a couple of Blackbirds, two Mistle Thrushes and a Song Thrush, but no sign of any Ring Ouzels. They do have a habit of disappearing into cover when they are disturbed though, so we carried on down the seawall and kept looking. Thankfully it didn’t take too long until a smart male Ring Ouzel appeared on a fence post on the edge of the field. It dropped down onto the grass and started feeding, and through the scopes we had a good view of its bright white gorget and silvery-edged wings.

Ring Ouzel – we finally managed to catch up with this male

With another target in the bag, we set off back along the seawall towards Whincover. A Great White Egret was flying away from us across the grazing marshes – we could see that its bill was dark, rather than yellow, as the colour changes in the breeding season which can be a pitfall for the unwary. Back along the track across the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing away in full view now in one of the briar clumps.

Sedge Warbler – singing from the briar patches by the track

Our last destination for the afternoon was going to be back at Wells, but on the way there we made a very brief stop. We had surprisingly failed to come across any Spoonbills on our travels so far, but now we could see several distantly in the trees and flying in and out. As it was, we needn’t have worried.

There was meant to be a Grey Phalarope on the pools at Wells, which we were hoping to see to end the day. It had apparently flown off at dawn but had thankfully reappeared after a couple of hours. We knew it was favouring the far side of the pool east of the track, right in the far corner and only visible from further down, but as we walked down the track towards there we met a couple looking through their scope the wrong way. They told us that the phalarope had apparently flown off again, across the pool west of the track, just a few minutes before we arrived. Our hearts sank – we were just too late! We stopped anyway and lifted our binoculars and the first thing we saw was the Grey Phalarope flying straight towards us! It came right over our heads, and then flew back to its favoured spot over in the far corner.

Grey Phalarope – flew right over our heads on its way back to its favoured corner

A large white shape over at the back of the pool to the east was another Spoonbill. Before we could get to the corner, it took off and flew straight towards us, passing over the track just behind us. A much better view than the ones we had seen on our brief stop on the way here.

Spoonbill – flew off over the track behind us

From the edge of the track at the far side of the pools, we set up our scopes again and looked back into the far corner. Sure enough, the Grey Phalarope was back in its favourite spot in the south-east corner of the eastern pool. It was swimming round in between several Avocets which were busily upending in the deep water, presumably stirring up the mud at the bottom and bringing food up for the phalarope to pick up.

It was a nice way to end the day, and it was now time to head for home. Despite the cool northerlies, we had succeeded in seeing a very selection of spring migrants, as well as picking up a good number of lingering winter visitors. It was great to be out again – hopefully we can now slowly get back to normal and resume a full programme of tours as planned in the coming months.

If you would like to come out birding in Norfolk, we are ready to go!

8th Oct 2020 – Four Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly a rather grey, damp and breezy day, but the showers were well spaced and no more than very light drizzle and we managed to avoid the worst of them. And it didn’t stop us kicking the four days off in style with some good birds.

It was raining first thing, but it was expected to clear from the west. We decided to head over to Snettisham. It was not a big tide today, but perhaps it would be enough to push some waders in. As we made our way west, we saw several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland from the grazing marshes where they had spent the night to feed. Flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws came up from the fields as we passed.

As we made our way out at Snettisham, we stopped for a quick scan of the sailing club pit. Two Little Grebes and two Great Crested Grebes were out on the water.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was still coming in. We could see a large roost of Oystercatchers gathered on the mud up by the sailing club. Several small groups of Golden Plover flew past us, out to the mud in the middle.

Knot – a Peregrine was stirring up the huge flocks

While we stood and scanned the Wash, the huge flocks of thousands of Knot came up from the mud further out and started swirling round over the water, twisting and turning, making different shapes. There had to be something spooking them and there was a young Peregrine chasing after them.

We watched as the Peregrine flew round through the flocks and it quickly managed to get one Knot separate from the rest. It chased after it, up and down, back and forth, for some time. The Peregrine looked like a juvenile, inexperienced, and did not seem to know how to catch its quarry at first. Eventually the Knot started to tire, flew down closer to the water and stopped changing direction so quickly. The Peregrine took its chance and grabbed it, then started to fly in towards the shore with the Knot in its talons.

The Peregrine had just got to the shore when we noticed a second one appeared, flying very low over the mud. It headed straight for the first and when it got close it swooped up. A Peregrine dogfight ensued, the new bird chased after the first for a minute, diving at it repeatedly.

Finally the first Peregrine dropped the dead Knot, which seemed to fall into the grass at the top of the beach, but strangely neither of them went down after it. Both seemed to lose interest and drifted off. One flew towards us along the shore, flushing all the Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – flushed by one of the Peregrines

We turned our attention back to the mud in front of us. The Golden Plover had flown off, presumably spooked by all the excitement, but the others slowly started to drift back in. Some of the Dunlin returned to the edge of the channel. We looked through but couldn’t find anything with them today, apart from one or two Sanderling. There were several Grey Plover scattered on the mud, and we got a Bar-tailed Godwit in the scopes.

The bulk of the Knot, the large flocks, settled back down again off in the distance, but a couple flew in and landed on the mud at the bottom of the bank just below us, giving us a closer view. A small group of Ringed Plovers were roosting among the rocks at the bottom of the bank.

There were quite a few Shelduck on the water, presumably lingering birds which had gathered here to moult. Groups of Teal and a few Mallard were scattered around on the mud. A small group of ducks in the shallows on the edge included several Pintail, much larger than the Teal they were with, the drakes still in their drab eclipse plumage.

Despite the weather, there were a few birds on the move today. Several small flocks of Starlings flew over the pits, heading south. A few Meadow Pipits flew past over the beach, one stopping briefly to feed around the rocks. A Rock Pipit flew past calling too.

It was high tide now and there didn’t seem to be much more movement of waders. The rain seemed to have cleared through, so we decided to move on. We headed round to Titchwell next today – given the weather, we had no problem parking today!

Through the new ‘Welcome Hub’, we headed straight out onto the main path. A quick scan through the trees out over the Thornham grazing marshes produced a couple of distant Common Buzzards on the bushes at the back.

Almost up to the junction with Meadow Trail, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call ahead of us. We hurried up after it, just as a tit flock came out of the sallows and across the path. We followed it up through the trees by the path, looking to see what was with. We found several Goldcrests and one or two Chiffchaff, but there was no further sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler, before the flock came back over the track and disappeared out into the bushes in the middle of the reedbed.

As we came out of the trees, a wisp of about a dozen Common Snipe flew overhead and out over the saltmarsh. We could see lines of Black-tailed Godwits flying up from the Freshmarsh and over the reedbed, heading inland to feed in the fields.

There was nothing on the Reedbed Pool today, but the channel just beyond did provide a Coot, a pair of Gadwall and a pair of Mute Swans. It started to drizzle now, so we hurried on to Island Hide and donned our face masks to find some welcome shelter.

There was still a sizeable flock of godwits out in the middle of the Freshmarsh, and through the scopes we could see they were a mixture of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. Even though they were asleep, we could see the Bar-tailed Godwits were smaller, shorter, with paler upperparts contrastingly streaked with dark.

Four Avocets were sheltering behind the small brick island, the hardiest individuals who will try to stay here for the winter rather than heading off south like most of the others have already done. A large group of Ruff were in the shallow water over towards the reeds. Several Golden Plover were on the grassy island in front of Parrinder Hide, along with a single Dunlin.

Avocets – just four on the Freshmarsh today

There were lots of Teal, the drakes still mostly in drab eclipse plumage though one or two are starting to smarten up again new. One of the drake Shoveler was also more advanced in its moult back to breeding plumage, but the drake Gadwall and Mallard are already mostly moulted back out again. We couldn’t see any Wigeon on here today.

It had stopped raining now, so we headed back out to the main path and continued on towards the beach. The tide was in and the Volunteer Marsh was still covered with water. There were several Curlew and Redshank on the wet mud in the middle and we found a few Wigeon swimming on the channel at the far side.

Over the bank, we stopped to scan the Tidal Pool. It was rather grey and gloomy, but we managed to find two Spotted Redshanks today, asleep at the back, noticeably paler white below than the Common Redshanks. There were several Black-tailed Godwits and one or two Dunlin too. With more Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Turnstones roosting on the spit.

Spotted Redshanks – two were asleep on the back of the Tidal Pool

Out on the beach, the Wheatear was still feeding along the tideline. It worked its way off away to the east as we arrived, but a couple of minutes later then reappeared right in front of us. A great view – still very tame and obliging, it fed completely unconcerned at all the people here. A couple of Skylarks flew in and landed on the tideline further down too.

Wheatear – the very tame bird, still feeding on the high tide line

The tide was just starting to go out here, and there were not many waders on the shore. Looking out to sea, we could see a few Great Crested Grebe on the water. Several Gannets were flying past, white adults and dark juveniles, mostly distant but a couple came through a little closer. We ould see small groups of Common Scoter flying around right out on the horizon, in front of the wind turbines.

As we passed the Thornham grazing marsh reedbed, we heard Bearded Tits pinging. We looked across to see two fly up, skimming over the tops of the reeds before dropping straight back in. That would probably be the best we could hope for today, in the wind.

Back to the Visitor Centre, we turned out along Fen Trail. Along the boardwalk out towards Fen Hide, we stopped to watch a Goldcrest in the sallows. It was busy feeding right by the path, within a few feet of us and totally unconcerned by our presence, too close to focus optics on!

We had a quick look at the pool at Patsy’s Reedbed. There were just a few commoner ducks on here today, plus a few Coot and a Little Grebe, nothing else of any note. As we turned to walk back, several thousand Pink-footed Geese came up from the fields inland, before dropping back down again.

We made our way back round via Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of the tit flock or any warblers now. So we carried on back to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink and a break for lunch. A Brambling called from somewhere back in the trees while we ate.

After lunch, we headed back east. We drove into the drizzle again, and it was very misty looking out over the marshes as we passed Holkham. We turned inland at Wells and then down a minor road through the fields towards Wighton. Despite the weather, there were still a few cars already parked here.

We joined the small group of people on the edge of the field watching the Hoopoe down on the track just beyond the hedge. It was very close today, and we had great views as it fed, periodically pulling a tasty morsel out of the wet ground and throwing its head back to swallow it.

Hoopoe – still lingering in fields at Wighton

Widely distributed across the warmer parts of the continent in the summer, Hoopoes are migrants which mostly spend the winter in Africa, so this bird looked particularly out of place in a cold and damp October day in North Norfolk! They turn up fairly regularly in the UK, mostly as overshooting migrants in spring. There has been some debate about how long this Hoopoe has been here – there were a few records along the coast in spring and one was reported from Wighton back at the start of August.

We carried on east inland, along some narrow country lanes – the only sighting of note being a speeding white van coming the other way, which smashed into the wing mirror of the bus as it raced past. Very annoying! It didn’t stop, so we continued on our way.

We cut back down to the coast road at Salthouse and parked by the duckpond. It had stopped raining now, so we got out and looked across to a small pool in the middle of the grazing marshes. There had been a Red-necked Phalarope here for several days but there was no sign of it now at first. It can be hard to see if it gets tucked in around the edges, so we stood and watched. A Stock Dove flew over.

Four Shoveler swam back out into the middle and started to feed, heads down. The Red-necked Phalarope has often been feeding in amongst them, but it didn’t reappear straight away. We decided to walk out along the footpath across the marshes to try a different angle, but we hadn’t got far along the side of the main road when we looked back and saw a small white bird swimming along in front of the reeds, tucked in the corner.

We stopped and set up the scopes and there was the Red-necked Phalarope. It swam round in circles in front of the reeds, picking at the surface of the water for small invertebrates it stirred up. It gradually worked its way along the back edge of the pool and then swam out to join the Shoveler in the middles. The ducks are obviously doing a good job of stirring up the water themselves, and the Red-necked Phalarope is taking advantage to help it find food.

Red-necked Phalarope – feeding with the ducks at Salthouse

A juvenile, the Red-necked Phalarope has possibly come from Scandinavia. They normally spend the winter out at sea, the birds from there flying all the way down to the Arabian Sea, so it has a long journey ahead of it.

There was nothing of note with the gulls on the duckpond, nor with those loafing on the fields off Beach Road. A large group of Canada Geese were on the grass towards Gramborough Hill. So we headed back west and stopped again just before Wells.

As we got out of the minibus, a couple of Brown Hares were in the far corner of the field in front of the parking area. A Marsh Harrier flew over the field west of the track. We turned our attention to the pool the other side, where a large white bird by the bank at the back was a Great White Egret. Through the scopes, we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – at the back of one of the pools at Wells

There were lots of gulls flying back and forth over the recently harvested potato field beyond. Most were Black-headed Gulls but two noticeably smaller gulls were in with them. We could see their more rounded pale upperwings and contrasting blackish underwings, two Little Gulls.

There were lots of ducks but not many waders on the pool today and we couldn’t see the Little Stint at first. After a while scanning it appeared from behind the Wigeon, Teal, Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls on one of the grassy islands. It was so small it was easily hidden. It was rather distant, but we had a good view of it through the scope, short-billed with rather clean white underparts, we could see its ‘braces’, the distinctive pale mantle stripes shown by juvenile Little Stints.

It started to drizzle again now, so as time was already getting on we decided to call it a day. We had enjoyed a good start today, and there would be more to see tomorrow.

22nd Sept 2020 – Private Tour & Wader Spectacular, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour arranged in North Norfolk to coincide with a Wader Spectacular. It was a lovely bright & sunny day, with blue skies, hitting the heady heights of 25C in the afternoon. With a big high tide this morning, we were heading up to Snettisham to see the flocks waders today.

We could see large flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash already as we made our way out. When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was still out, which meant we had a bit more time today, so we stopped to scan. A large mass of Oystercatchers and godwits was gathered on the mud up by the sailing club, a mixture of Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwits. Lots of Shelduck were bobbing about on the water just offshore.

More smaller waders were still feeding busily on the mud across the channel. A Curlew Sandpiper flew across, identifiable by its white rump, and when it landed we got it in the scope. There were lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers out here too. We found a Spotted Redshank in a muddy pool – we could see its long, needle-fine bill when it lifted its head from feeding. Two Knot flew and landed close in on the beach just below the bank.

Four Swallows flew past low over the near edge of the mud. They were on their way south, migrants heading off on the long journey to Africa for the winter, a reminder that the seasons are changing.

The tide was coming in fast now, and the waders started peeling off the mud to the north of us, lines of Oystercatchers and godwits flying past, landing again on the mud further up.

Black-tailed Godwits – flying past to land again further up the Wash

We made our way down further and stopped again in front of Rotary Hide. The waders were now spread out like a vast slick on the mud, tens of thousands of Knot (there were 68,000 here at the last count, last week) and thousands of Oystercatchers (over 6,000 last week).

The Oystercatchers were walking away from the rising tide, the ones caught by the water marching through others which were still standing on dry mud, so the whole flock seemed to be moving across the mud like an amorphous blob.

The Knot were very jumpy, and kept flying up, whirling round low over the mud, before resettling. A young Marsh Harrier drifted across from the saltmarsh and out over the flocks, putting everything up. Instant chaos! We watched the Knot twisting and turning in unison, flashing alternately dark and light in the morning sunshine, making different shapes in the sky.

Marsh Harrier – drifted over the flocks and put everything up
Waders – twisting and turning in the morning sun
Waders – the flocks made various shapes as they swirled round

Further back, a Peregrine was putting up all the Knot up in the next bay over too. They looked like clouds of grey smoke in the sky. Most of them flew over and joined the flocks already gathered closer to us.

Continuing down to the grassy bank at the end of the path, the tide was still coming in fast. The waders were all increasingly concentrated in the last remaining corner of mud which was not covered by water.

Waders – increasingly concentrated in the last corner of the mud

As usual, the Oystercatchers gave up first, peeling off in waves and flying in past us. Then suddenly all Knot went up. It was spectacular watching the tens of thousands of birds take to the sky. Some flew in overhead, towards the pit behind us, while others towered up into the sky above.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot took to the sky

There was not much left out on the Wash now, just the Curlews in the corner by the saltmarsh, where they would stay to roost. The Knot were starting to drop down to the pit, so we made our way quickly round to South Hide. Relative few Knot had come in yet. There were some on the bank with the Oystercatchers, shuffling nervously, and the island at the bottom of the bank was full. A Common Sandpiper was feeding in the vegetation on the bank in front of them.

There were no Knot at all on the islands in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ again today!). There were lots of large lenses poking out of the camera windows and it didn’t help that one photographer had his lens out of the top window with his leg sticking out of the lower level one, waving around! But there was also shooting on the fields inland today, which kept spooking all the Greylags and probably didn’t help encourage the waders to settle.

More Knot started to drop in to join the others on the bank. We could see a large flock high over the pit, with a thick wispy line of birds dropping from it like a thread as they seemed to come down in an orderly queue. But many of the Knot already on the bank kept taking off again and flying round, which meant most of the flock never came in. They were just too nervous today and wouldn’t settle properly.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle properly even on the bank today

We looked back out towards the Wash and we could see that most of the Knot were still out there, whirling round over the water. We went back out of the hide, back to the bank to watch.

A small flock of Siskins came across in front of us, low over the saltmarsh, and we heard a Redpoll calling overhead too. More migrants, this time probably arriving here for the winter. A Chiffchaff started calling and came up out of the suaeda. A flock of Meadow Pipits on the grass behind had also probably dropped in on their way south.

Lots of Knot were flying back and forth low out over the Wash, looking for somewhere to resettle. Thousands more were still high in the sky above. There was a small curl of mud or shallow water still just beyond the edge of the saltmarsh, and some of the birds dropped down to land here. They were nervous though, and kept flying up and round, twisting and turning again.

Something disturbed many of the Knot and Oystercatchers from the pit behind us – they all took off and flew back out to the Wash in a thick line. Added to the others, they stirred everything up again, and everything whirled round again.

Waders – Knot and Oystercatchers flushed from the pit
Waders – continued to whirl round out over the Wash

Eventually more of the birds started to settle out on the margin of the Wash, as the tide started to recede and more mud appeared. Lots of the Knot were now further out, round in the next bay. A Peregrine was still stirring them up, putting up huge clouds.

We decided to have a quick look in Shore Hide. As we walked up, we flushed a young Wheatear ahead of us from the path. It landed on the short grass, but was flushed again by someone who walked past in front of us as we were watching it in the scope. It landed again on the open area closer to the hide, close to the path, and proved to be remarkably tame, letting us walk right past it. Another migrant, stopping off on its way south.

Wheatear – feeding on the short grass by the path

There were not many waders on the pit now. Some Dunlin on one of the islands towards the north end, but we couldn’t find anything different in with them, lots of Common Redshanks, and still some Knot and Oystercatchers on the bank to the south. There were several Spotted Redshanks roosting out on the concrete blocks in middle – one was awake and we got a good look at it through the scope.

A young Peregrine came in, low over the pit, flushing everything. All the Common Redshank flew up, and the Peregrine headed straight into the middle of them, right in front of the hide. It stalled, and didn’t seem to know what to do next, which one to go for, at which point it had missed its opportunity.

Peregrine – first had a go at a flock of Common Redshanks on the pit

The Peregrine then flew over to the bank at the southern end of pit. The remaining Knot started to flush in a panic, and the Peregrine disappeared into their midst. Did it land? We couldn’t see exactly what happened in the ensuing melee, but somehow it managed to grab a Knot and came up with it in its talons. It was struggling to carry it – presumably the Knot was still alive because we could see the Peregrine still pecking at it as it flew up and away over the new hide.

That was quite a show! We headed back out to the edge of the Wash, where the waders were settled again now. Another wave of Knot came up from the pit, remarkable there was anything still on there after the Peregrine had been through. They flew in a long line over our heads, and low out across Wash.

Waders – another wave flying back overhead and out to the Wash

There was lots of exposed wet mud now, and the waders were all spread out across the Wash. We scanned through some of the closer flocks, and found lots of pale silvery grey Sanderling with them now. Presumably they had roosted up along the beach again. The flocks would shuffle occasionally, fly up and round, a quick twist and turn, and then resettle closer to the waters edge. But in the absence of another visit from the Peregrine, the best of the show was over. We decided to make our way back.

As we walked along the path towards Rotary Hide, we could see a couple of people pointing their lenses down at something in the vegetation on the beach. We walked over and could see they were looking at a young Knot just a few metres from them. We had seen one with a broken wing on the rising tide out on the mud near here earlier, so we initially presumed this would be the same bird. But as we got closer we could see it looked fit and well, perhaps just a tame bird arrived from Arctic Greenland having never seen a human before.

Knot – this remarkably tame young bird was on the beach

When we got to the main road, we found a massive tailback again, all the way from the Heacham traffic lights – unbelievably busy for a weekday in late September! It was a gloriously sunny day now though. We had to take a diversion inland again, and round to Titchwell. With the numbers of people obviously heading to the beach today, it was perhaps no surprise that the car park at Titchwell, still partly closed as an attempted Covid restriction, was full.

We were waved past, not even allowed to pull up. Apparently the car park had been full since early this morning, probably beachgoers again enjoying the nice weather on the sand and clogging up the restricted parking for the day, meaning people wanting to actually visit the reserve can’t even get in! It is not often you end up hoping for the weather to deteriorate!

We headed back round to Thornham Harbour for lunch. While we ate, we scanned the saltmarsh. We could see a large flock of Golden Plover in the vegetation and a group of Brent Geese on the beach beyond. More importantly we could see several people out at Thornham Point, across the Titchwell side of the harbour, clearly not seeing any Lapland Buntings. They had been on the beach this morning, but had obviously been disturbed. That was one of our main targets for Titchwell this afternoon, so we decided to head elsewhere.

The Brown Shrike had been reported early this morning still at Warham Greens by one person, but not seen by anyone since. We decided to head over that way to see if it might reappear.

We stopped at Wells. There were lots of geese on the big pool east of the track, mainly Greylags and Canadas, but scanning through we found two Barnacle Geese with them. Presumably feral birds from Holkham, where they breed, but nice to see anyway. There were plenty of ducks too, Wigeon and Teal, a few Shoveler, and we picked out a single Pintail.

The pools have been drying up fast in the recent warm weather, and there were not so many waders on here now, a few Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff on the larger pool to the east. The pool on the west side is now dry, but as we walked down the track, we found a single Common Snipe on the mud by the channel on the far edge.

As we walked in through the bushes beyond, they were rather quiet at first, although it was the heat of the afternoon now. In the hawthorns over by the seawall, we found a mixed flock of finches, mainly Goldfinches and Linnets. Several Wall butterflies came up out of the grass, and we watched a pair chasing each other, displaying.

Wall butterfly – we watched this pair chasing each other

From up on the seawall, we had a look at the Western pool but couldn’t see anything of note. Looking out over the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a distant Red Kite and a Marsh Harrier over the dunes out towards the beach beyond.

We followed the coastal path east. As we walked through the small copse, there were lots of Ivy Bees on the flowering ivy in the sunshine. A fairly recent colonist here, they seem to be doing very well not and numbers are steadily increasing. Out of the copse, a flock of Long-tailed Tits came down along the hedge. We watched as they all passed us, but couldn’t see anything unusual with them. A Blackcap called from deep in the brambles. As we moved on, three Swallows flew west along the hedge, more migrants heading off on their long journey.

We walked down to where the Brown Shrike had been for the last few days, but we were told by people leaving as we arrived that it still hadn’t been seen again. We checked round the area where it had been favouring and found a Redstart up along the first hedge, flicking in and out down to the mown margin of the field, looking for insects. We managed to get it in the scope, but we were looking into the sun.

Three Grey Partridge, flew up from the edge of the field and we could see a single Red-legged Partridge much further up. We tried the hedge where we had seen the shrike the other day, but all we found here was another Redstart. The light was behind us now, so it was a better view of this one. We could see the flash of its red tail as it flew in and out ahead of us.

Redstart – one of two in the hedges here this afternoon

It was lovely being out in the sunshine, and very warm now out of the wind, but after an early start this mornign, we decided it was time to head back. We figured we would have another chance tomorrow if the shrike did reappear later, but it was never seen again so it was the right call. There would be lots of other good things to see tomorrow though.

20th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular, our last day. It was a cloudier day today, though still dry, and the wind though still fresh and from the NE, was perhaps not quite as strong as it had been. Today we would be heading up to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular at Snettisham.

It was an early start to catch the tide, but as we were driving up to Wells to pick the rest of the group up, we found a car across the road with its hazard lights on. We thought there might have been an accident or something, but a woman got out and explained they had decided to close the road to move static caravan. It was obviously not official, and they hadn’t sought any permission to close the road so we were not sure how legal it was, but there was no time to argue and no choice but to go the long way round. The woman just shrugged and gave us a sheepish smile. Consequently, we were slightly later than planned getting away.

On the drive across to the Wash, we passed several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed, coming up from the marshes where they had spent the night. There was flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws in the fields and a Barn Owl on a post by the road, but we had no time to stop now.

When we got to the Wash and up onto the seawall, the tide was already coming in fast, pushed in ahead of time by the fresh NE wind. We made our way straight down to Rotary Hide today, and stopped in front to scan. Huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers were gathered out on the mud, along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Waders – gathered on the mud ahead of the rapidly rising tide

The waders were all shifting nervously, whether driven by the rapidly rising tide or perhaps there had been a predator around normally. There were no small waders down on the near edge today. The Knot on the edge of the flock out in the middle, those closest to the water, were constantly being caught by the tide and they kept flying up and over the others, landing again on the drier mud higher up.

As we walked down towards the far corner of the Wash, it was a struggle to keep up with the tide today. We did keep stopping to watch every time the waders went up. The Oystercatchers started to give up first, flying up in big groups and in overhead calling noisily, before circling down onto the pit behind us.

Oystercatchers – gave up first and flew in overhead to the pit

Before we could even get to the corner, suddenly all the Knot and other waders went up. We couldn’t see any sign of the Peregrine, but they were definitely nervous and put on quite a show, whirling round out over the Wash. The latest WeBS count total of Knot this week was 68,000 – incredible to see them all in the air together.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot spooked and took off
Waders – whirling round in the air
Waders – different flocks going in different directions

It was amazing to watch all the Knot and other waders up in the sky. Some tried to land back on the mud, but were immediately spooked again. Different flocks were going in different directions. Despite the wind, we could hear was the beating of thousands and thousands of pairs of wings. Some of the Knot started to come in, low overhead – mesmerising to look up and watch – while others towered up over the Wash.

Waders – some of the Knot started to come in low overhead

We turned to watch the Knot coming in and start to drop down onto the pit, but for some reason they wouldn’t settle on the south end today. We watched the birds flying round and round, backwards and forwards, low over the pit in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ today!). The birds which had gone high turned back out over the Wash. Some of the others went back out and landed again in the final corner of mud.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle in front of the new hide today

We walked on down to the end. Those Knot which had landed again were quickly forced off, and came in over us again. Tens of thousands were still towering high in the sky. Small flocks of Dunlin flew past out over the Wash, presumably now looking to roost along the shore further up.

There was now nothing left out on the Wash and any remaining mud was covered with water. There were still huge flocks of Knot high in the sky, but we decided to go into the hides to see what was on the pit.

Shore Hide was empty – everyone had gone down to see the new hide. Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting on the concrete blocks out in the middle. We got them in the scopes – one was helpfully awake and we could see its long spiky bill with a needle-fine tip. A juvenile Common Tern was still lingering here, standing on one of the other concrete blocks nearby.

A Little Stint landed on the shore of the shingle island in front of the hide. There was nothing else on there today, and we watched it picking around on the shore between the blobs of foam. It was a juvenile – we could see its distinctive pale ‘braces’. After a while it flew off again. Then a Common Sandpiper landed on the island next and walked around on its own in the middle for a bit.

Little Stint – landed on the island in front of Shore Hide

Scanning the islands further up the pit, there were next to no Knot on any of the islands closest to the seawall today. Only one of the islands across on the other side of the pit was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. A lot of Dunlin (mostly) on one of the nearer islands was more socially distanced. We scanned through, to see if we could find anything more unusual in with them, but couldn’t find anything today.

Looking towards the south end, we could see that the Knot which had come in today were concentrated on the bank, with the Oystercatchers. They were still shuffling nervously.

As we walked round to South Hide, a young Peregrine circled overhead and gradually drifted out over Wash. Perhaps this is why everything was so nervous today. We watched it stoping down, flushing all the Curlews and godwits from out on the saltmarsh. There was a lot of water on there today, with only the taller bushes and higher islands still exposed – a combination of the big tide, backed by the blustery NE wind. Three Marsh Harriers were hunting out over the Wash further back too.

Peregrine – circled over as we walked down to South Hide

With social distancing restrictions in force, we had to wait to get into South Hide today, but thankfully not long. When we donned our masks and got inside, we found the two shingle islands at this end still mostly empty. One Little Stint and a small cluster of Knot was on one, but that was it. Two Common Sandpipers flew round calling below the hide.

Most of the Knot were still on the bank. We watched them jostling nervously. They would settle for a bit, then one end would start to move and a wave would pass through the flock.

We went round to have a look at the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’. It was largely empty now apart from a line of photographers in the corner, packed shoulder to shoulder, lying down at the low camera windows. Every time the Knot on the far bank flew up, there was a cacophony as a barrage of camera shutters fired in unison. Perhaps the amount of noise was putting the birds off from landing on the closer islands?

Two Little Stints and the two Common Sandpipers were now running around on one of the islands. A single Avocet was roosting in with the Oystercatchers gathered on one end, a different variation in monochrome. The last bird in the flock, standing in the water at the end, was a smartly marked juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit.

A line of Knot peeled off from the bank and headed back out. It was an hour after high tide already, so we figured we should go outside and back round to the bank to try to catch the birds as they returned to the Wash. But when we got out, there was still no sign of any mud. With the wind and the amount of water today – the path was even flooded in one spot now – the tide was going to be really slow to go out. The Knot which had come up off the bank flew straight back in and dropped down again in to the pit.

Still, we walked down to the edge of the Wash and got into position. We didn’t have to wait too long before some mud started to reappear in the top corner and once it started, the tide began to go out as quickly as it had come in.

Finally, the Knot started peeling off from the pit again. We were in the perfect position, and they came low in lines making a beeline for the mud, came right over our heads.

Waders – the Knot started flying back out in lines, right overhead

Suddenly we heard a loud whoosh and a larger group came up and flew out towards us. The young Peregrine was over the pit, and spooking everything. We watched it stoop down a couple of times towards the bank, but it didn’t have any height and it looked like it didn’t quite know what to do. It flew further up the pit and flushed all the Knot from the island that end too. We watched as they flew out in lines, low over the bank and out onto the Wash.

The Knot quickly settled in big groups out on the mud, but then the Peregrine circled up from the pit and drifted out over the Wash. Instant pandemonium – the waders all erupted again, taking off, whirling round. The flocks made some amazing shapes, as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing dark and light.

Waders – all flushed by the Peregrine
Waders – the flocks made some amazing shapes. Shark?
Waders – flashed light and dark as they twisted and turned

The Peregrine appeared to successfully get one separated from the flock at one point, but despite chasing after it, it lost it. Again, probably showing its inexperience. A second Peregrine appeared further back, flushed everything behind. It was an amazing show, truly spectacular, and we were endebted to the Peregrines for stirring everything up. We just stood and watched transfixed, to the sounds of the flocks’ wings and oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The waders eventually resettled on the mud, as the Peregrines drifted off. We started to scan through the flock nearest to us. There were several pale silvery grey and white Sanderlings with the Knot now, and the very last bird on the end was a lone juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. We could see the pale peachy wash on its breast and its long downcurved bill.

We could still see an adult Peregrine, on a post in the distance, on the saltmatsh beyond the mud. The waders much further back, in the next bay, were still being stirred up. Presumably the juvenile Peregrine was trying its luck back there now. The waders this end were mostly settled, and started to go to sleep. Occasionally a flock would take off and fly further out across the mud, twisting and turning, catching the sun which had started to come out now.

As we turned to head back, a shout went out and we looked out across the Wash to see a Great Skua flying low over the water beyond the flocks of waders.

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we had to take a diversion inland to get there. There was so much traffic on the coast road, it had back up from the traffic lights at Heacham. Unheard of in late September, it was like midsummer! The car park at Titchwell is still partly closed and once again was full – they were only letting one in and one out. We were lucky to arrive just as someone was leaving and get straight in.

We decided on an early lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted overhead and a Common Darter was basking on the bench in the sunshine. After lunch, we headed out on to the reserve. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees as we filled out the test and trace form at the Visitor Centre.

Thornham grazing marsh was flooded with saltwater where the pool used to be, after the high tide had come in. A single Stock Dove was out in the vegetation and several Curlews were feeding on the saltmarsh beyond.

A large mob of Greylags was on the Reedbed Pool, but scanning through we managed to find a few Common Pochard in with them, and Coot and Little Grebes right at back. A pair of Gadwall was in the channel just beyond.

A young Hobby was hunting low over the reeds, out in the middle, shooting back and forth. It caught something, presumably a dragonfly, and circled up over the trees by the visitor centre. A Sparrowhawk emerged from the trees and chased after it, presumably trying to steal its catch. It was quite a dogfight for a bit, amazing to watch, before the Sparrowhawk gave up. The Hobby finished its meal and we watched it hunting over Willow Wood at the back of the reedbed.

Up by Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still rather windy and they were keeping well down today. We stopped to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further up. There were not as many waders on here today. A few Avocets were still here, feeding over towards the back, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Quite a few Ruff, paler adults and browner juveniles, were closer to the bank. Otherwise, there were a couple of Dunlin and two Golden Plover on one of the islands, in with the Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls.

Ruff – a juvenile, close to the main west bank path

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now as birds return for the winter, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and more Gadwall. They are not looking their best at this time of year though – with the drakes mostly in their dull eclipse plumage.

A Grey Heron was standing motionless, fishing out in the middle of the deeper water towards the back. Next time we looked, there was a Great White Egret next to it. It was good to see the two of them side by side, so we could really appreciate the large size of the Great White Egret.

Great White Egret – appeared out on the Freshmarsh, next to the Grey Heron

There had been some Lapland Buntings on the beach this morning, and someone walking back now told us they were still there, although they had apparently flown up the beach a bit further along to the west. We decided to go to try to look for them.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Curlew and Common Redshanks on the mud by the channel at the far end. A lone Brent Goose flew over. There was still a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, despite it being close to low tide now, and not much on here either.

The tide was a long way out when we got to the beach, and we couldn’t see anything obvious on the sea. There were lots of people around the mussel beds and not many waders. We set off west along the tide line. Unfortunately there was no sign of any buntings now. Several beachgoers were walking out here, and presumably they had been flushed.

We continued on up to Thornham Point, where we found a little group of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach. A party of Brent Geese was loafing out on the sand closer to the sea. Rounding the corner, we found several Spoonbills out in the middle of Thornham Harbour. Two flew off as we appeared, but there were still seven preening out on the saltmarsh.

Spoonbills – preening out in the middle of Thornham Harbour

It was time to head back now – after a very early start, everyone was tired now and still had journeys home ahead of them. The memories of this morning’s Wader Spectacular would linger long, a great final day to end the tour.

6th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day, small group, socially-distanced Early Autumn Tour in Norfolk, our last day. The weather gods were still shining on us – it was a cloudy start, but with sunny intervals which increased into the afternoon, slightly chilly early on but warming up nicely.

The tide was not high enough for a full-on Wader Spectacular this morning, but it was almost there. Certainly enough to push all the waders right up against the saltmarsh, which should provide a pretty good spectacle anyway. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time for the tide. On the drive over, a Red Kite over the road eyeing up some roadkill was a new bird for the tour list.

We could see all the waders swirling around even before we got out to the seawall – something was stirring them up today. When we got out to the edge of the Wash, there was still quite a lot of exposed mud. A large slick of Oystercatchers was still smeared across the shore away to out right, up by the sailing club.

There were lots of smaller waders scattered around the small pools on the mud below us, lots of Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a few Knot. One or two silvery-grey Sanderling were with them on the beach a little further along. Scanning through them, we found a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers out on the mud too. We got them in the scope – scaly backed, longer billed and clean white below compared to the nearby Dunlin, with a variable pale peachy wash across the breast.

The tide was coming in fast. The Oystercatchers were peeling off from the mud and flying past us, catching the low morning sun peeking through the clouds behind us. They landed again out on the mud higher up. The water was pushing the small waders up onto the beach in front of us too. Two Curlew Sandpipers dropped in and went straight to sleep in amongst the stones and samphire, with a third following them in shortly after.

Curlew Sandpipers – trying to roost on the beach below us

Eventually the rising tide pushed everything off the beach in front of us, so we made our way further down, towards Rotary Hide. More birds were flying in all the time from around the Wash. While we were watching all the mass of birds gathering on the mud, we noticed something coming in fast and low over the water, a Peregrine.

As the Peregrine got towards the mud, chaos erupted. All the Knot took to the sky at once, thousands of birds in a vast flock. They swirled round, twisting and turning, making different shapes like a fast-changing cloud. Always amazing to watch.

Waders – the Knot all take to the air as the Peregrine appears
Waders – thousands of birds in the flock head out over the water
Waders – the flock starts to twist and turn
Waders – making some amazing shapes, like a huge cloud
Waders – thousands of Knot, flying together in unison

The Peregrine seemed to have moved on, so after a while the Knot settled back down. The Oystercatchers had barely reacted and were now increasingly concentrated on the edge of the rapidly rising tide. We continued on further down, to the grass opposite the last remaining area of mud.

A sizeable flock of Knot was in front of the Oystercatchers, on the far side of the deep channel in front of us. Most were in their grey non-breeding plumage now, but there were still several sporting the remnants of their orange summer attire. There were quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too, and some of those were still in breeding plumage as well, the rusty orange colour of their underparts continuing down under their tails. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was standing in the water beyond, looking slightly lost.

We watched as the Knot and godwits were pushed in by the tide, walking up ahead of the rising water, increasingly squashing them into the mass of Oystercatchers behind.

Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

The Oystercatchers were on the move too – the whole flock seemed to be flowing slowly across the mud, away from the approaching water, as those on the edge walked further up, passing through other which were hoping the water wouldn’t reach them. The march of the Oystercatchers – one of the many favourite moments of the whole spectacle.

We thought there were quite a few waders on the mud in front of us, but there were thousands more further round the shore just out of view. All the waders were still jumpy. We could see a few raptors out over the saltmarsh beyond – Common Buzzards and one or two Marsh Harriers – but they were too far back to be causing any trouble.

Presumably the Peregrine was still in the area, because suddenly a vast flock of Knot erupted in the distance, from the next bay, beyond the line of saltmarsh at the back of the mud in front of us. It looked like a huge cloud and again we watched as it twisted and turned before settling back down out of view.

Waders – another vast flock of Knot came up from further round the shore

The waders closer to us kept flying up too, partly out of nervousness, partly as they shifted higher up ahead of the tide. Increasingly, the whole flock was packed into the last corner of remaining mud and then the tide started to slow and go slack. We could see more Sanderlings in with the other waders now, and a good number of Grey Plover, most still sporting their summer black faces and bellies, to a greater or lesser extent.

Waders – concentrated into the last remaining corner of the mud

We waited a short while to see if anything would spook the waders, but they increasingly settled down to roost. While most of the waders would stay out on the mud over high tide today, we had watched a few flying in to the pit, including the Curlew Sandpipers earlier. We decided to have a look in Shore Hide and see what was on there.

When we got into the hide, we immediately noticed a large white bird in with the Greylags just behind the island right in front. Despite it being asleep and not flashing its bill we could see it wasn’t one of the escaped domesticated white geese this time, but a lone Spoonbill. In the absence of any more of its kind it had obviously decided the geese were the next best thing. It did wake up briefly a couple of times, particularly when a Little Egret flew in calling and landed next to it briefly.

Spoonbill – roosting in front of Shore Hide with the Greylags

There were not so many waders on here today, with most of the birds staying out on the Wash. There were a few Oystercatchers which had come in, roosting on the shingle bank to the south of the hide. One of the low islands, furthest from the hide, was fairly full with all of the Black-tailed Godwits which seem to come in regardless and lots of Common Redshanks.

Out in the middle, more Greylags and Cormorants were roosting on the partly submerged lumps of concrete. Half hidden in amongst them we could see six or seven Spotted Redshanks, their usual favoured roosting spot. They were asleep, hiding their long, needle-fine bills, but they were noticeably paler than the Common Redshanks, more silvery grey above and whiter below.

Scanning one of the other low islands, we found another lone Spotted Redshank in with yet more Greylags. It had a noticeably limp, which was perhaps why it wasn’t roosting with the others. Initially it was awake, so this time we could see its distinctive bill, and the well-marked white supercilium extending over the bill and back to the eye, before it went to sleep. Through the scopes, we could also see it still had one or two black summer feathers which had not yet been moulted. A Turnstone and a single Dunlin appeared from between the geese and joined it.

There were several juvenile Common Terns still on the pit. At one point, an adult flew in and landed on the tern island with a large fish in its bill. It’s youngster had obviously gone elsewhere, as the adult perched on the edge calling for it for a while, before it flew off again still carrying the fish. A single eclipse drake Pintail out on the water was the only duck of note. A Common Sandpiper flew round calling, but we couldn’t see it.

It was well past high tide now, so we went back out to the edge of the Wash. The water was already starting to recede and the waders had started to spread out a little. We stood on the shore to watch. There was a trickle of hirundines, Swallows and Martins, making their way south and a single Common Swift, reminding us that it won’t be long now before they have all left us again for the winter.

Waders – starting to spread out as the tide recedes

Rather than walking down the mud to follow the tide, the flocks kept flying up and landing again nearer the edge of the water. It was quite impressive, but in the absence of the local Peregrine now they quickly settled back down again.

A lot of the Oystercatchers landed on the mud in front of where we were standing. Some groups of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and joined them, giving us a good close look at them through the scopes. One of the godwits was carrying a white leg flag and through the scope we could see it had the letters ‘CX’ on it. There is a very active ringing group on the Wash, and it was one of theirs – but it will be interesting to learn if it has been anywhere since it was ringed.

When the large group of birds in front of us took off and whirled round, it was particularly impressive, looking into a huge mass of Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – looking into the massive flock which took off in front of us

Even though it wasn’t one of the biggest tides today, we had still had a great morning and everyone agreed it was well worth the early start. We were heading for Titchwell next though and speaking to a couple of the volunteers at Snettisham we were told that the car park had filled up early yesterday, with half of it still closed off. We decided to head round now to try to make sure we didn’t get caught out.

When we got to Titchwell, we were glad we had gone early. There weren’t many spaces left and thankfully one of the volunteers was on hand in the car park to help us find somewhere to park. Thanks, Les!

We still had time before lunch, so we decided to head round along Fen Trail first, to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Little Grebe was diving continually in the water just below the screen. A couple of Tufted Ducks and Coot a little further back were new birds for the trip list. But otherwise there wasn’t much on here today.

The Autumn Trail is open at the moment, so we continued on round in that direction. There were lots of Bloody-nosed Beetles on the path (several of which were move to avoid them getting trodden on) and a couple of Common Darters basking on the hard surface. The hedges and Willow Wood were rather quiet, although it was the middle of the day now.

As we got to the end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back corner of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff, and a little group of Dunlin tucked into the far corner, along with a Grey Heron. An adult Spotted Redshank appeared, silver grey and white, before taking off and calling as it flew over the bank towards Brancaster.

Further out, in the middle of the Freshmarsh, we could see a bigger flock of waders – hundreds of godwits, both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed, and smaller numbers of Knot – despite it being well after high tide now. Smaller groups of Dunlin were scattered around the edges of the islands and in with them we found a party of five juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, as well as singles of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover. A single Common Snipe was half hidden in the behind the fence on the edge of Avocet Island.

When most of the waders took to the air, we looked across to see a Peregrine stooping at them. It was a young bird, inexperienced, and didn’t seem to know quite what to do. It circled up and then stooped again, but each time seemed to fail to find a possible target. When it circled up higher, we noticed a second falcon, much higher and more distant in the sky beyond and through the scopes we could see it was a Hobby.

Peregrine – repeatedly buzzing the waders on the Freshmarsh

The Peregrine had another swoop at the waders on the Freshmarsh, before drifting off west. As we followed it, it was joined by a second Peregrine, another juvenile and we watched the two of them head off towards Thornham. We turned our attention back to the Freshmarsh, but it wasn’t long before one of the Peregrines was back again and stirring things up again.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the watchpoint, but they didn’t show themselves. We decided to head back for lunch now, and looked up to see another Common Swift flew off west low over the reeds.

We had lunch back in the picnic area in the sunshine, with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies and Common Darters basking on the benches. Checking the news, we could see that the first Pink-footed Geese of the winter had returned this morning – small flocks had been seen over Titchwell earlier and further east to Holkham. It would prove to be a feature of the afternoon, with the first flock we saw coming over the car park as we packed away our lunch things.

Next, we headed back out along the main West Bank path. A stop at the Reedbed Pool added a couple of Common Pochard to the trip list. As we walked on towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling but despite it not being too windy the best we had were a couple of brief views as they flicked across between patches of reeds. A couple of Sedge Warblers were more obliging – one flyatching from the top of the reeds, the other way working its way round the edge of one of the pools.

As it was sunny, and the recent SW winds had dried out the mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further along. The big flock of godwits was still out in the middle and a quick count of the Bar-tailed Godwits suggested at least 450, a very good number for here. There were still a few Avocets out here too, in the deeper water further back. Two Golden Plover flew over high calling and dropped down to join the throng.

Waders – a large flock of Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits was on the Freshmarsh

Numbers of smaller waders appeared to have declined since earlier – perhaps not a surprise after the repeated attentions of the Peregrine. There was still a small group of Dunlin on the edge of the island in front of the godwits, but only two Curlew Sandpipers with them now. There had been a Little Stint here yesterday but there was no sign of it now, so we decided to continue out towards the beach.

Volunteer Marsh was quiet, apart from a couple of Curlews and some Redshanks on the banks of the channel at the far side, and there were more of the same, plus a Little Egret on the Tidal Pool. We continued on to the beach. There were quite a lot of people out here again today, and quite a few prams! With older children mostly heading back to school, the staycationer mix has shifted to families with younger offspring.

Despite the people, there were a few waders down on the mussel beds, Oystercatchers, a few Knot and Turnstones. As we stood and scanned, the godwits finally seemed to decide to come out from the Freshmarsh to feed and we watched groups of both species flying out across the beach. One of the Curlew Sandpipers flew out too, flashing its distinctive white rump.

Looking out to sea, we picked up a very distant group of Common Scoter flying across and when they landed on the sea in front of the wind turnbines we could see a line of several hundred already out there. Already returned from further north, they will now spend the winter off here or round to the mouth of the Wash. Otherwise, there were two or three Great Crested Grebes on the water closer in and one or two Gannets flying round right out on the horizon.

When we heard the distinctive yelping calls of Pink-footed Geese in the distance, we looked out to sea to see several flying in towards us, fresh arrivals here for the winter, fresh in from their breeding grounds in Iceland or possibly having stopped over night in Scotland on their way here. They were in several small groups rather than one skein, but we counted 45 in total.

It was time to start heading back – after an early start, we would have a slightly earlier finish today. We stopped again to scan the Freshmarsh, and the five Curlew Sandpipers had reappeared with more Dunlin. Two Little Ringed Plovers were now down on the mud on the edge of the reeds near Parrinder Hide. Further back, we could see a Spotted Redshank but not the pale silvery grey adult we had seen earlier – this time a dusky grey fresh juvenile.

Scanning the reeds over the other side, we found three Bearded Tits working their way along the edge just above the mud. We got them in the scopes for a closer look. A small party of Swallows and House Martins came across the Freshmarsh, a couple of the Swallows pausing just long enough to take a drink before continuing on their way west.

More yelping calls alerted us to another small skein of Pink-footed Geese coming in behind us over the saltmarsh. We watched as they flew high overhead and continued on east, presumably heading for their traditional roost site at Holkham.

Pink-footed Geese – one of several skeins we watched arriving

It was a nice way to end the tour – watching autumn migration in action, with birds arriving here, the changing of the seasons.