Tag Archives: Snipe

14th November 2014 – Go West for Waders

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today and we made our way west along the North Norfolk coast this time. Yesterday’s forecast had suggested it would rain all day today, so we counted ourselves lucky that the morning was dry, if rather cold and windy.

A Barn Owl hunting beside the road was a nice surprise as we drove along the coast road first thing this morning. Before we got to Titchwell, we turned inland to explore the area around Choseley. A winter wheat field was full of Lapwings, Curlews and a sizeable flock of over 15 Stock Doves, which was nice to see. The hedges were full of Chaffinches and in amongst them we could see a few Yellowhammers.

There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard in the area on and off for over three weeks now, and yesterday it had been seen around Choseley, but we couldn’t find it there today. We also had a look in a couple of its other favoured spots, but it seemed to have chosen today to have gone hunting elsewhere. So we headed further west to Holme.

While it was dry, we headed out onto the beach. We could see lots of waders roosting on the sand, and more flew in to feed as the tide started to go out. There were several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, asleep at first, and a couple of Grey Plover. In amongst them, we found a single Dunlin and Knot, before the godwits woke up and flew down along the beach. More waders flew in to join them, plus a couple of silvery white Sanderling and several Turnstones.

IMG_2818Bar-tailed Godwit – flashing a black-and-white barred tail feather

We flushed several small flocks of finches from the dunes – little groups of Linnets and a larger flock of Goldfinches, accompanied by a couple of Greenfinches. There were a few Skylarks feeding on the edge of the saltmarshes as well.

We walked further along the beach towards Gore Point. We had hoped to find some birds out on the sea. There were certainly lots of Common Scoter, but they were a long way offshore today, and impossible to see on the choppy waters until they flew. A single Red-breasted Merganser flew past. It was bracing in the fresh wind out on the beach, and noticeably colder than of late. We decided to make our way back to the car.

P1120541Holme – the view along the beach towards Gore Point

We stopped on the boardwalk to scan the grazing marshes. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. On the other side, we could see a small flock of Wigeon and Shoveler on the saltmarsh and three Little Egrets on the edge of one of the pools.

We made our way back east and had a quick look in at Thornham Harbour next. We climbed up onto the seawall from where we could have a good scan of the surrounding area. A large falcon circled up over the fields towards Holme, before powering off inland – a young Peregrine. A small bird hiding on the far side of the old Coal Barn turned out to be a Rock Pipit playing hide and seek beyond the ridge. Eventually it flew down onto one of the boats and was joined by a second bird – we got good views of them through binoculars, but they quickly flew down onto the other side of the harbour channel. They were rather skittish and wouldn’t linger long in any one place.

From Thornham, we swung back inland again. A large flock of Linnets came out of a weedy field beside the road. A couple of Mistle Thrushes flew overhead and landed on the wires by the road briefly, before dropping down into a freshly cut field to feed. We paused to scan the hedges regularly, in case we could find a raptor. On our way back down towards Titchwell, we finally sighted a large bird tucked into the far side of the hedge about a mile further east. Through the scope it looked palish headed, although probably not pale enough for our target, but we drove round for a closer look anyway, just in case. Sure enough it was just a palish Common Buzzard.

We made our way down to Titchwell next. A flock of Long-tailed Tits were working their way through the sallows as we approached the visitor centre. We stopped to have a look at the feeders, where a Coal Tit kept darting in, grabbing a sunflower seed, and darting back to the bushes. There were lots of finches squabbling around the feeders – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches – but a different finch was lurking in behind the foliage in the bushes behind. We got it in the scope – a Brambling. Whiter bellied than a Chaffinch, with an orange wash across the breast and orange shoulders, we could even see its distinctive white rump when it turned away from us. It sat looking at the other finches on the feeders for some time before eventually it decided to fly and get something to eat itself.

IMG_2832Brambling – hiding in the bushes behind the feeders

As we set off to walk out onto the reserve along the main path, one of the group asked whether there were any Water Rails in the ditches at the moment. Almost at the same time, another sharp-eyed member of the group spotted one scurrying along through the water below the trees. Perfect timing! We stopped to scan the grazing meadow pool but it was cold and windy out there and completely devoid of birdlife today. The skies had become progressively greyer through the morning, and now it started to drizzle with rain, so we made a quick beeline for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh. A good number of Teal have already arrived for the winter and carpeted the water over towards the reeds. There were also good numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler and a few Wigeon out on the islands. However the prize for the smartest of all has to go to the Pintail – there were several stunning drakes and a similar number of elegant ducks out with them today.

P1120563P1120553Teal – male and female, feeding on the mud in front of Island Hide

There was a good sized flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting out on the water, but not so many other waders at first on the freshmarsh today. A small number of hardy Avocet continue to stick it out here – although they might have been questioning that strategy given the weather today, when most of their brethren have departed for milder climes! A couple of little groups of Dunlin were feeding around the islands.

Suddenly, two more Water Rails came racing out of the reeds in front of the hide chasing each other. They disappeared back in almost immediately but shortly afterwards came out again for another brief appearance. That was obviously enough chasing round for now, and thankfully one of the Water Rails then worked its way slowly along the edge of the reeds, letting us get good views of it in the scope.

It was still drizzling but it was only light, so we decided to try our luck further on before it got any worse and head out towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh looked rather empty today, apart from a few Redshank and a couple of Curlew. However, a Black-tailed Godwit was feeding right by the path at the far corner, and gave us great close-up views when we got up to it.

P1120609Black-tailed Godwit – feeding right by the main path

The Tidal Pools also looked less busy than they have been recently. A few groups of Wigeon were feeding out in amongst the saltmarsh vegetation and five Little Grebes were sheltering round the edge of the tall island. There have been several Spotted Redshanks on here in recent weeks, but there was no sign of any at first today. Then a rather pale wader appeared from behind one of the islands – silvery grey above, white below, with a bold white supercilium and a longer, finer bill than its close cousin, it was a winter plumage Spotted Redshank. It waded out into the deep water and started feeding, jabbing its bill feverishly into the water.

IMG_2857Spotted Redshank – one finally gave itself up for us on the Tidal Pools

We were feeling bold, so we continued on out to the beach. The tide had gone out now and there were lots of waders out on the rocks. Mostly they were the same species we had seen earlier on the beach at Holme – Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Knot and Turnstone. However, in with them were two Ringed Plovers, a nice addition to the day’s list.

The wind had dropped and the sea was surprisingly calm, but there was still surprisingly little activity offshore – just as we had seen at Holme. There was not even a Gannet feeding offshore, and no sign of any ducks today. Eventually we found just two Great Crested Grebes way off in the channel towards Scolt Head. It was rather cold out on the beach so we didn’t linger too long and made our way back to the shelter of Parrinder Hide. It was a wise decision as the drizzle increased in intensity for a while after we got there.

The highlight from here was the Common Snipe. As soon as we got into the hide, we could see one feeding on the edge of the vegetation below the bank further along. It fed for a while before disappearing into cover. A little later, we picked up another Snipe feeding out on one of the recently mown islands, a bit closer than the first. Then another appeared on the waters edge just along from the hide and gave us great views. They are such smart birds, so well camouflaged when they are not out feeding.

IMG_2873Common Snipe – showing very well from Parrinder Hide

Having not seen a Water Pipit today on the drained grazing meadow pool, which is where they have been regularly in recent weeks, we thought we might find one on the freshmarsh. A Meadow Pipit was feeding out on one of the recently mown islands with a couple of Pied Wagtails. We heard a sharp call which sounded promising, but unfortunately it was a Rock Pipit which had dropped in instead – having obviously not read the script! It was not to be today.

With the low grey cloud and drizzle, the light faded early today. Lots of gulls came in to bathe and preen before roosting. The largest number were Black-headed Gulls, with a few Common Gulls in with them. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were the most numerous of the larger species, with slightly fewer Herring Gulls. A slightly bigger gull, with a grey back in between Herring and Lesser Black-backed in shade, was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

More waders flew in from the beach – a Knot, lots of Turnstone, and a couple of Ringed Plover. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed, getting ready to go into roost. Then with what little light there had been failing, we made our way back.

P1120617Shoveler – a smart drake preening

23rd November 2014 – Rain Doesn’t Stop Play

Day 3 of the 3 day tour. We planned to visit the Titchwell area today – the weather forecast pointed to rain and it seemed like a good idea to be near some hides, where we might be able to find some shelter. Certainly, rain wasn’t going to stop us getting out.

We drove out to Thornham Harbour first. This winter has, so far, been a very good one for Twite. The number of birds over the last couple of years has been slightly disappointing, but several good flocks have been along the coast in recent weeks, one of which has been around Thornham. It was raining quite hard when we arrived but, no sooner had we got out of the car than a flock of 15-20 promising looking finches flew across the saltmarsh and over Thornham Bank. We walked up the bank and followed it along towards Holme, but could not relocate them. Battered by the rain, we were almost back to the car when they flew past again. This time we got a better look at them – Twite. But they circled round and disappeared back over the bank again.

P1090942Titchwell – Freshmarsh & Parrinder Hide

We drove on to Titchwell. There were lots of birds around the feeders by the visitor centre as we passed – mixed flocks of both finches and tits. Thankfully, the rain had eased a little as we headed out onto the reserve. The Thornham Marsh pool was relatively quiet, but the reedbed pool held some ducks. A quick look revealed a little group of Red-crested Pochards, a single drake with bright orange crown and red bill and three pale-cheeked females. We stopped for a minute to watch them through the scope, and also picked up Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed.

P1090941Teal – large numbers were on the freshmarsh

We visited Island Hide first. Disappointingly, the heavy rain overnight appeared to have had a significant impact on water levels on the freshmarsh – most of the mud was now flooded and the exposed reed edge was gone. Wader numbers had dropped correspondingly, compared to recent weeks. Still, the wildfowl were enjoying it – lots of Teal and Wigeon, together with smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, a few Shelduck, a group of Brent Geese and a single Greylag.

IMG_1878Wigeon – seemed to be enjoying the recently cut vegetation on the islands

Having dried out a little, we decided to brave the next leg on to Parrinder Hide. The vegetation on the islands has recently been cut and, combined with the raised water level, this seemed to have created some ideal feeding conditions. Scanning through the throng of ducks on the edge of the nearest island to the hide, we picked up first a Ruff and then a couple of Snipe. A smaller bird was also feeding along the water’s edge, a Water Pipit.  As we found at Cley yesterday, these can sometimes be hard to see but this particular bird was obviously finding lots of small worms on the flooded island and had nowhere to hide. We got fantastic views of it.

IMG_1866Water Pipit – this bird showed very well outside the hide

From the shelter of the Parrinder Hide, we also picked up several other species out on the Freshmarsh islands which we had not seen from the other side. Other waders included 3 Avocet, 2 Black-tailed Godwit and 5 Dunlin, plus a couple more Ruff. Later on, the Dunlin were also joined briefly by 3 Ringed Plovers. A drake Pintail was also hiding amongst the other ducks.

P1090967Snipe – trying to hide on a small island of cut vegetation

We also spent some time looking at the Volunteer Marsh, where there was a good selection of saltmarsh waders to add to our list for the day. Most of the smaller waders were hiding in the vegetation – a surprising number of Dunlin appeared from nowhere when the birds were spooked by a passing Marsh Harrier. Amongst them were several grey winter-plumaged Knot. A single Bar-tailed Godwit and some more Black-tailed Godwits allowed us to get a good look at the differences between the two. There were also several Curlew and lots of Redshank. However, the star performers were the Grey Plover. We could hear their haunting ‘pee-oo-wee’ calls and see their black armpits as they flew round. One bird in particular came down to the front of the marsh, providing a great photo opportunity. The most surprising appearance on the volunteer marsh was a Chinese Water Deer which wandered across the mud looking particularly forlorn.

P1100005Grey Plover – there were lots out on the Volunteer Marsh today

After Titchwell, we made a brief visit back to Thornham to see if the Twite would be more co-operative. However, despite the rain having eased and us walking most of the way along Thornham Bank towards Holme, we could not locate them again. The light had been rather poor all day, but started to fade early in the afternoon, so we set off for one last stop.

We headed back along the coast before turning inland and heading for the Red Kite roost. It wasn’t clear how well they might perform, given the conditions, but as soon as we got out of the car we could see 6 circling overhead. Rather than coming in to the trees to pre-roost, the birds just continued to soar above the trees, with more coming in to join them. Scanning the skyline, we picked up a second group further away, circling similarly. After a while, the first group drifted over to join them and we had a total of 18 Red Kites in the sky together above the trees in front of us.

P1100012Red Kite – some of the flock of 18 which went in to roost this evening

It was a great way to end the tour, after a very successful three days out in the field, and just goes to show that it is worth going out whatever the weather.

13th November – Titchwell Manor Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of this year’s tour run in conjunction with the Titchwell Manor boutique hotel, we spent the morning exploring the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. However, before we even set off we stopped to admire the large flock of Brent Geese feeding on the winter wheat field in front of the hotel. Several groups of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead and inland to feed on the discarded sugar beet tops, but five had settled with the Brents, giving us a good chance to compare them side-by-side, before the Pinkfeet flew off to join their peers.

On to the reserve, and we started with a quick look around the bramble bushes and apple trees in the car park. We spent a short time watching a mixed flock of tits working its way round the hedges, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, several smart male Chaffinches were feeding on the ground and a Redpoll came overhead calling. One of the extremely confiding resident Robins came to investigate – unfortunately, we had not brought it any breakfast!

Robin TitchwellRobin – the birds in the car park are always very confiding

At the visitor centre, several tits and finches were coming in to the feeders. However, one of the Moorhens seemed to be monopolising the fat balls, perched rather precariously on a feed tray half way up the feeder stand! The flocks of finches along the main path held a single Siskin amongst the Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A single Chiffchaff swept through amongst the Long-tailed Tits.

Moorhen TitchwellMoorhen – this bird had taken a liking to the fat balls by the visitor centre

The grazing marsh pool held a selection of duck, including several Tufted Duck and Little Grebes. But at the back of the reedbed pool we picked up a small party of Red-crested Pochard – a single drake with his bright orange head with three duller females. Lurking on the edge of the reeds , they eventually came out and allowed us to get a good look at them. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over Thornham Marsh, a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the bushes in the reedbed and a Reed Bunting perched up by the entrance to Island Hide.

Freshmarsh TitchwellTitchwell freshmarsh

The freshmarsh held a good selection of waders and wildfowl. Among the former, a couple of Spotted Redshank were trying to hide on the edge of the large flock of Black-tailed Godwit – they woke up long enough for us to get a good look at their long needle-fine bill, with a distinctive small drooping tip. We also saw Avocets, Lapwings with a single Ruff, Dunlin and an enormous flock of Golden Plover in the distance, up on the fields behind the reserve. A Common Snipe on the edge of the reeds in front of the hide also drew some admiring looks. Lots of Teal were gathered in front of the hide, allowing us to look closely at the intricate detail of their plumage, with Shelduck, Wigeon and Shoveler also out on the water. However, the highlight was a Water Rail which appeared on the edge of the reeds. Initially coming out too briefly for everyone to get onto it, it then came out for a second look and proceeded to bathe and preen for several minutes before running along the edge of the reedbed.

IMG_1782Water Rail – bathed and preened for several minutes on the edge of the reeds

From the Parrinder Hide, we added Common Redshank to the day’s list and got a good look at a couple of Curlew out on the Volunteer Marsh. A single Knot eventually came much closer and allowed us to get a good look at it. A small group of Linnets fed out amongst the vegetation. On the saltwater pools, we got a chance to compare Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits.

Waders TitchwellBlack-tailed Godwit & Redshank – feeding on the saltwater pools

Out on the beach, lots of Oystercatchers were gathered along the tideline, small groups of Turnstone flew past and several Sanderling were running in front of the waves. The big surprise was three Sandwich Terns out on the beach – these birds should probably be on their way to Africa but have been lingering here, possibly in response to the unseasonably mild weather conditions.

Looking out to sea, the highlight was two male Long-tailed Ducks, though it was a struggle to get everyone in the group onto them. We also saw several Common Scoter, Eider, Great Crested Grebes, Red-throated Divers, Guillemot and Razorbill. By now, the wind was starting to take its toll, so we beat a hasty retreat. We stopped just long enough to admire a large flock of Brent Geese which circled in noisily and landed on the freshmarsh – these were the birds we had been watching first thing this morning in front of the hotel, either spooked from the field, or just come in to bathe. Then it was back to the hotel for a warming bowl of soup and some sandwiches to wrap up a very successful couple of days.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – flew from the field by the hotel to the freshmarsh