Tag Archives: Stiffkey

16th Nov 2019 – Autumn vs Winter, Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – perched in a bush

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

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

Grey Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hume's Warbler

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

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

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

Great White Egrets

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

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

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

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

Shorelark

Shorelark – six were on the saltmarsh at Holkham again

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

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

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

Black-throated Diver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14th Nov 2019 – Rain to Shine

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

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

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

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

Rough-legged Buzzard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – roosting on the islands on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

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

Water Pipit

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

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

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

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

Knot

Knot – on the Volunteer Marsh in front of Parrinder Hide

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

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

Pink-footed Goose

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

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

Grey Partridge

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

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

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

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

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – a single bird flew in over the beach

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

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

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

Holkham beach

Holkham beach – when the sun eventually came out

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

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

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

Shorelark

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

1st June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was a foggy start to the day again, but the fog quickly thinned and then gradually lifted to low cloud through the morning and it even brightened up later in the afternoon. Nothing to stop us seeing some good birds!

As we drove round to collect all the group, the Peregrine was back in position again on the church tower, where it had been a couple of weeks ago. So once we had collected everyone, we went back for a look. It was a bit foggy up around the tower, but we had a good look at it through the scope. A nice way to start the day. Several Common Swifts were zooming around over the rooftops in the fog too.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower in the fog this morning

Our first stop was a short drive east along the coast to Stiffkey. There had been a Red-backed Shrike here yesterday and it was reportedly still there first thing this morning, so we fancied a look at that. As we drove past the wet meadow by the road east of the village, we spotted a large white bird in one of the pools in the mist. You cannot stop along the road here, so we parked further up and walked back.

On our way along the footpath, we stopped to scan the newly cultivated strip on the edge of the field nearby. There were a couple of Stock Doves walking round on the ground and a pair of Oystercatchers further back. A Brown Hare was grooming itself, having a good scratch, on the edge.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over chased off by a noisy Avocet.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – in the cultivated strip in the field by the path

From the corner of the path, we could see the white bird we had spotted on our way past in the car. It was a Spoonbill and it was very busy feeding in the deep water, sweeping its bill from side to side. As we watched it through the scope, we could see that it was colour-ringed and with a bit of effort we managed to read the combination.

The Spoonbill turned out to be one we already knew well – we had been responsible for previous sightings of the very same bird in 2015 and 2016! Originally ringed in the nest in the Netherlands in 2011, it was seen in France and Germany in 2012, back in the Netherlands in 2013-2014, then in Norfolk in 2015 and 2016. It will be interesting to see if it has been seen anywhere else since then.

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a Siskin flew over in the fog, calling. As we made our way back along the footpath, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the hedge. The meadow next to the path was looking stunning, as the poppies are really starting to come into flower now. Two Skylarks flew round just above all the flowers.

As we made our way through the trees and across the road, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. A little further along, a Reed Warbler was singing in a clump of trees – making an interesting change from their usual choice of reeds.

Up on the seawall, we headed west today along the Coastal Path. A family of Shelduck, two adults with 9 shelducklings were swimming around on the channel below. There were a few more Common Whitethroats in the bushes, a pair carrying food and alarm calling as we passed.

Then three Spoonbills suddenly appeared, flying towards us out of the fog, almost overhead. They turned either side of us, one of them swinging back round and down onto the saltmarsh. We had good views of it in the scope, an adult, we could see the yellow-tip to its bill and its bushy nuchal crest, as it fed in the small pools.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – one of the three which appeared overhead out of the fog

A little further on, we found a small group gathered. Apparently, there had been no sign of the Red-backed Shrike for the last two hours, since it was first reported earlier this morning. We decided to carry on along the path to see what we could find and we had not gone far before we spotted the shrike up in the top of the hedge at the back of the bushes. We had good views of it through the scope, before it dropped down again out of view.

The rest of the crowd arrived, but the Red-backed Shrike stayed down out of view for a while. We could hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats alarm calling further back along the path, and saw them flitting agitatedly in and out of the hawthorns. We walked back for a closer look to see what was upsetting them and found the Red-backed Shrike again in the top of a hawthorn. It was a bit further back from the path here, and not so disturbed by people walking up and down.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – great views perched in the hawthorns, singing

The Red-backed Shrike was a stunning male, with a rusty back, grey crown and black bandit mask, and a delicate pink wash underneath. It showed very well here, and even started singing at one point! Some video of it singing here yesterday can be seen below.

Red-backed Shrikes used to breed commonly in the UK, but declined steadily and finally disappeared in 1987, with just sporadic breeding records since. They are still scarce but regular migrants passing through on their way to or from Scandinavia. There had been a little flurry of records in the last few days, with birds probably drifting off course in the north-easterly winds and fog.

After enjoying great views of the Red-backed Shrike, we headed back along the path. The Spoonbill was still feeding out on the saltmarsh, where we had left it earlier. Back at Stiffkey Fen, we could see a single Little Ringed Plover and plenty of Avocets out on the islands. A pair of Sedge Warblers were going in and out of the nettles below us. A Cuckoo was singing in the poplars at the back.

On our way back to the car, we could hear Bullfinches calling and a Garden Warbler singing. We managed to find one of the Bullfinches feeding on the buds in a large hawthorn the other side of the river, a cracking pink male.

It had been a very productive walk this morning, despite the fog. We made our way round to Cley for an early lunch. A single Greenshank out on Pat’s Pool was just visible over the reeds through the scope, with a couple of Redshank. While we were eating, a Cuckoo flew over the car park and we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing in the ditch the other side of the road.

We had been intending to go up to the Heath one morning, but it had been foggy earlier today. The forecast for tomorrow had been for it to be dry and brighter but it had completely changed this morning – now they were forecasting rain tomorrow. It would be nice if they could make up their minds! So we decided to have a go up on the Heath this afternoon.

When we arrived in the car park, we could hear a Willow Warbler singing. We looked up in the direction of the song, and saw it perched high in a birch tree. A Yellowhammer was singing over the other side and we walked across to get a closer look. It was high in another birch and through the scope, we could see its bright canary-yellow head and breast.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing from high in a birch tree

As we walked on across the heath, it was much quieter. There were very few other birds singing, often the way mid-afternoon. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from some trees inn the distance. We did a circuit round one of the Dartford Warbler territories, but there was no activity here, just a few Linnets.

As we got back to where we had started, we noticed a small dark bird with a long tail zip across between two gorse bushes. Then another flew across the other side. Dartford Warblers! We stood and waited, and at first had tantalising glimpses as they flitted around deep in the heather or flew back and forth.

We gradually realised it was a pair of Dartford Warblers carrying food, back and forth repeatedly from where they were feeding in front of us. A couple of times, they perched up in the top of the gorse and the male stopped briefly to sing at one point, even then performing a song flight over the taller gorse behind us.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we found a pair on the Heath this afternoon

While we were watching the Dartford Warblers, a Nightjar churred from the trees beyond. A bit of a surprise – they are mainly nocturnal, but sometimes one will churr briefly during the day. We left the Dartford Warblers in peace to carry on with their feeding duties, and carried on across the Heath.

It had all gone fairly quiet again, until we turned a corner out from some thick gorse into a more open area and looked across to see a pair of Woodlarks flying towards us. They flew straight past over our heads, before one turned and landed in an area of short heather behind us. We walked over and could see it creeping around in the vegetation. It was presumably the female, as we could hear the male singing quietly from some trees very close by.

The male Woodlark then dropped down to the ground to join the female, and we watched them both for a while walking around and feeding. Eventually, the male flew up onto a nearby fence post and started calling. Then they both flew up over the trees and were lost to view.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the male flew up onto a fence post and started calling

It was great to get such fantastic views of the two main target species up on the Heath – our afternoon visit had really paid off today! We headed round to check up on the pair of Stonechats. They were a bit harder to see at first, but then we heard the male singing, and found him hiding in the top of a young oak.

The cloud had lifted and it had started to brighten up now. There was still enough time to squeeze in one more stop this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car and drove down to Cley. We parked at the end of the East Bank, and set out along it. Looking back, we could see a couple of drake Common Pochard on the pool on the other side of road. The pair of Mute Swans on Don’s Pool now have four cygnets, and a Grey Heron had taken over their nest as a convenient place to preen. There were a couple of Tufted Duck on the water here too.

When we heard a Bearded Tit calling, we turned to get a quick flight view as one zipped across the top of the reeds and dropped back in. Two of three Marsh Harriers were circling up over the back of the reedbed, and we noticed one of the males flying in carrying something in its talons. The female circled up below and the male dropped the food for her to catch, a ‘food pass’.

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the afternoon sunshine

There were still one or two Lapwings and Redshank displaying out on the grazing marsh. A few ducks were swimming round on the Serpentine or lurking around the grassy edges – mostly Shelducks, Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. More unseasonal was the lingering lone drake Wigeon and three Teal. Almost all of the ones which were here over the winter have long since departed north for the breeding season.

The side of the East Bank, covered in flowers, was alive with insects in the afternoon sun. In particular, there were lots of migrant Silver Y moths buzzing round, as well as a couple of Common Blue butterflies. One or two Four-spotted Chasers patrolled the edge of the ditch the other side.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, a few Sandwich Terns had gathered out on the shingle island at the back, along with a couple of Little Terns. There were a few waders on here too. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were down at the front, the female on the nest. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was out at the back, along with two Dunlin and a Ringed Plover. A male Wheatear was a nice surprise, on one of the gravel spits over towards one side.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on Arnold’s Marsh

You can’t come all this way without visiting the beach, but it was a bit misty offshore still. A few more Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth, and we saw two Common Terns too.

On the walk back, a Grey Plover had now appeared on Arnolds, and what looked like a second Wheatear, a more richly coloured bird. A Curlew flew in over the grazing marsh and headed off west and a Common Sandpiper was now bathing on the edge of the Serpentine with a Ringed Plover for company. Two Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling.

It was time to head for home. On the drive back, a Red Kite was circling over the fields beside the road, a nice late addition to the day’s list. Let’s see what tomorrow brings too!

18th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. It was a nice, bright start to the morning and, although it clouded over later, it stayed largely dry until dark.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we thought we might stop for a better look at the Cattle Egrets. We were looking into the sun and the cows were huddled in one corner of the field, but there appeared to be white shapes in with them as we drove past. We parked in the layby just beyond and crossed the road. A flock of Fieldfares flew across the field, landing in the hedge close to where we parked and started tucking in to the berries. As we walked down along the path, we flushed a couple of Blackbirds and a Song Thrush from the bushes there. A Stock Dove flew out of the game cover as we passed.

When we got down to the corner overlooking the wet grazing marsh where the cows were, we couldn’t see any sign of the Cattle Egrets. The cows were on the edge of a ditch, so we wondered whether the egrets might be hiding at first. While we waited to see if they might emerge, we scanned the pools in the grass. There was a nice selection of ducks – Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and a single female Pintail with them too. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding around the muddy edge.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – flew over our heads early this morning

A flock of Long-tailed Tits came along the hedge past us, calling noisily. A Marsh Harrier circled up over the trees behind us before flying over our heads. A Yellowhammer flew over the road calling. And it quickly became clear that the Cattle Egrets weren’t there. We would be coming back this way later, so we decided not to linger and headed back to the car.

As we made our way on east past Cley, we could see a small flock of Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh by the entrance to Babcock Hide. There was nothing behind us, so we pulled up and had a quick look at them from the car. One immediately stood out – more contrasting than the regular Dark-bellied Brents, blacker bodied with a brighter white flank patch. It was the Black Brant. We managed to get a quick look at it before something spooked the geese and they all took off. They circled round and dropped down onto Watling Water, out of view.

Our next stop was at Weybourne. We decided to have a quick look at the beach first. There were a couple of groups of gulls on the shingle but nothing particularly interesting with them today – a mixture of Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew past together with a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a great side-by-side comparison.

There were several Turnstones down on the beach too, although they should perhaps have been better named Turn-fish today. A large number of small flatfish were washed up after last weekend’s storms and have been providing sustenance for the gulls and the Turnstones.

TurnstoneTurnstone – turning over a flatfish instead!

One of the group spotted a Great Crested Grebe flying past just offshore. It is quite an incongruous sight, but they winter quite commonly on the sea here. A single Ringed Plover flew past some way out too, presumably a fresh arrival coming in for the winter. Two Gannets circled way out on the horizon, catching the sun. A Rock Pipit flew west over the beach along with a Meadow Pipit. Otherwise there was not much happening out at sea this morning, so we decided to explore the fields instead.

As we walked up the hill on the edge of the grass beside the stubble, we flushed several Skylarks which flew round and landed again out in the field. A little group of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass calling. Then up towards the top of the field, a large flock of Linnets flew up from the stubble and wheeled round before landing again. We had really come to look for Lapland Buntings, a few of which have been in the stubble here in recent days, but at first we couldn’t find any.

As we got up towards the old Coastguard Cottages, we could see more activity out in the middle of the field so we thought we would try walking up along the track towards the mill. We would not be looking into the sun from there too, as we had been from the cliff side. When we got to the field gate half way up the track, we stopped to scan and were instantly rewarded with a Lapland Bunting. Even better, it was out in an open area of bare mud, where we could get it in the scope. Great views – we couldn’t believe our luck! They are more often just seen flying round or skulking in the stubble.

Lapland BuntingLapland Bunting – showed very well on an area of bare mud

We watched the Lapland Bunting for some time. It was strikingly pale, off-white below and around the face. It appeared to be a male, with a ghosting of a black bib. It was feeding with a couple of Skylarks and Linnets. It would disappear into the furrows from time to time and then reappear somewhere different. At one point it looked like it might be bathing in a furrow with a couple of Meadow Pipits. Then a Weasel appeared. It ran across the field to the open muddy area and all the birds started to chase after it, mobbing it.

After the Weasel had been seen off, all the birds flew round and the Lapland Bunting circled over the open area again before heading out across the field. A second Lapland Bunting appeared from somewhere and followed it, the two of them then dropping down into the stubble out of view.

Our next destination was Kelling Water Meadow. As we walked up the lane, there were a few Blackbirds still in the hedges, arrivals from the continent for the winter stopping off here to refuel on the berries. Otherwise, there were just a few Chaffinches on the walk out until we got to where the thick hedges run out. Then a female Stonechat flew up from the grassy verge and landed in a hawthorn beside us.

StonechatStonechat – this female flew up from the verge beside us

There did not appear to be many birds on the pool here today. Three Teal were feeding at the back. One of the things we had hoped to see was the Spotted Redshank which has been lingering here for some months now, but all we could find was a single Common Redshank. A Curlew flew in calling and landed along the muddy edge, followed shortly after by a single Black-tailed Godwit.

The other species we wanted to see here was Jack Snipe, so we made our way round to the area they have been favouring. They are hard to see at the best of times – they sleep most of the day, hiding deep in the grass, beautifully camouflaged. The water level has increased here in recent days too, which also doesn’t help – it seems to have driven them into the thickest vegetation. When one of the group called out almost immediately to say he had found a bird with a long bill walking in the grass on the edge of the water, it seemed too good to be true. It was – a Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the water. Still, nice to see.

We stood and scanned the grass for a couple of minutes. Then something caught the eye – the vaguest darker shape deep in the grass, and a golden yellow stripe at a different angle to the vegetation. Through the scope we could see it was indeed a Jack Snipe. It was asleep, but we could see its eye staring at us. It half woke at one point, and started to bob up and down a little, the distinctive action of a Jack Snipe.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe – hiding deep in the grass

After enjoying the Jack Snipe for a while, we set off back up the lane. About half way back, we heard Bullfinches calling and a smart pink male flew out of the hedge andup the track ahead of us. It landed in a small tree with some Chaffinches, before flying back towards us and landing in the back of the hedge. We could hear it calling plaintively and a second Bullfinch answering nearby. Then it disappeared round behind the hedge.

We wanted to try to get better views of the Black Brant so we headed back to Cley next. There were only twenty or so Brent Geese off the East Bank, where it had been reported after we had seen it earlier, but it was not with them now. So we headed round to Beach Road instead. There was a much bigger flock of Brent Geese on one of the grazing meadows by the road here and a couple of cars had stopped to look at them. We joined them and after a couple of seconds the Black Brant appeared at the back of the flock.

Black BrantBlack Brant – feeding with the Brent Geese by Beach Road early afternoon

Through the scope, we got a really good look at the Black Brant. The white flank patch was really striking in the sunshine, very different to the more muted patches on the Dark-bellied Brents. When the Black Brant lifted its neck, we could also see its much bolder white collar, complete below the chin.

While we were watching the Black Brant, a small flock of Starlings flew over the reserve towards us, and across the road just beyond us. One of them was strikingly pale brown, but unfortunately it appeared to be just a leucistic Starling rather than anything rarer. Our timing was fortunate, because after a few minutes all the Brent Geese took off and disappeared much further out to the south side of Eye Field to join an even larger flock of Brents already there.

We continued on along Beach Road to the car park at the end and climbed up onto the shingle to have a quick look at the sea. A Grey Seal was swimming past just off the beach. A Red-throated Diver was on the sea rather distant and was diving constantly which made it harder to see. The wind had picked up a little and the sea was rather choppy too. Another Red-throated Diver flew past, along with a couple of distant Guillemots and a single adult Gannet. It was time for lunch, so we ate in the beach shelter out of the fresh breeze.

After lunch, we headed round to the East Bank. There were a few more Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh here now, along with several larger flocks of Wigeon. We could see more ducks out on the Serpentine, but as we walked up towards them to have a closer look we noticed a little group of waders feeding on the mud at the north end. One was noticeably smaller than the others, so we hurried straight up there and sure enough it was a Little Stint in with a group of Dunlin.

Little StintLittle Stint – with a larger Dunlin in front

It has been a good year for Little Stints here, with a maximum count of over 40 juveniles earlier in the autumn. However, Little Stint is predominantly a passage migrant here and numbers dwindled through October, as birds moved on towards their wintering grounds around the Mediterranean or to Africa. Winter Little Stints are not unprecedented in Norfolk but are unusual, so it will be interesting to see if this one stays here now. It was a juvenile moulting to 1st winter plumage, still with quite a few retained juvenile scapulars.

As well as the Dunlin and Little Stint, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding down in the water here. There was a nice selection of ducks on the Serpentine too. As well as all the Wigeon and Teal, there were several Shoveler, a small party of Gadwall and a few Pintail, the drakes of which are now looking very smart. Further back, several Cormorants were drying their wings on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool.

A Curlew was feeding on the brackish pools behind the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh, but it was nice to get in the shelter out of the breeze. There didn’t seem to be much out here at first, apart from a number of Common Redshanks, but looking carefully around the edges we found several more Dunlin and three Grey Plover. A Little Egret was fishing on the pool just in front, shaking one foot at a time in the mud out in front of it, trying to flush out some food.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding on the pool on the front edge of Arnold’s Marsh

With the evenings drawing in early now and a couple more things we wanted to do yet, we headed back to the car. It turned out that the Cattle Egrets had moved and were in a different field today, which is why we hadn’t found them earlier. This was more than a little unusual – one of them has been coming to the same field just about daily since mid September!

However, we didn’t have any trouble finding the Cattle Egrets now we knew where they were hiding today. We parked outside the pub in Stiffkey and they were out in the field opposite, with the cows. We had a great view of them feeding around the cows hooves, picking at the grass.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – one of the two still at Stiffkey, but in a different field today!

Our final destination for the day was at Warham Greens. As we walked up the track, we flushed several Blackbirds from the hedge. Then a small group of six Redwings flew out ahead of us too and circled round calling, before landing in the top of the hedge along the edge of one of the fields. A Common Buzzard was surveying the scene from the top of the roof of the old barn and as we walked past several Stock Doves flew out too.

From the end of the track, we stopped and scanned out across the saltmarsh. There were plenty of Little Egrets and Redshanks out in the grass, plus a few Golden Plover and Brent Geese. A Barn Owl flew through the hedge beside us and disappeared away along the edge of the saltmarsh, before landing in the bushes in the Pit.

A large flock of Fieldfares appeared over the hedge, and flew down to the Pit, landing in the tops of all the bushes and it the hedges either side. A little later, more Fieldfares appeared from over the hedge the other side of us, accompanied by a small group of Redwings. It was hard to tell, but perhaps all these thrushes had only just arrived from Scandinavia for the winter and were stopping to feed up here.

It didn’t take long to spot our first Hen Harrier, a cracking grey male which flew across the saltmarsh in front of us. It dropped down into the bushes and almost immediately we picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier which flew up and started quartering the saltmarsh further back. We saw at least 4 possibly 5 Hen Harriers this evening. Another two ringtails appeared together away in front of East Hills. Then a grey male, possibly the same as earlier having sneaked out unseen or possibly a different bird, flew in from the left. It is a real treat to see so many of them.

The light started to go, as a band of dark cloud arrived from the west. We had enjoyed lovely weather all day, which was very welcome, and thankfully only now did it start to spit lightly with rain. We decided to call it a night.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – lines and lines of them flew out to roost at dusk

As we walked back up the track, there were several Grey Partridge calling from the fields. We could hear Pink-footed Geese too and looked up to see lines and lines of them in the sky, flying towards us. They were heading out to roost on the flats beyond the saltmarsh and it was really evocative as they flew over our heads. A great way to end the day.

2nd Nov 2017 – Autumn meets Winter

A Late Autumn day tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a nice day, with high cloud but dry and mild and with light winds. A good day to be out birding. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast road.

On our way, as we passed Stiffkey, we had a quick look in the wet field beside the road just beyond the village. The cows were very close to the verge and there, with them, were not one but now two Cattle Egrets. There is nowhere to stop here but we managed to pull over where other cars could pass and wound down the windows for a closer look.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – one of two at Stiffkey now

One of the two Cattle Egrets was standing right out in the open, and we got a good look at it through our binoculars – we could see its short yellowish bill. But it was spooked by another car passing us and flew further back. The second Cattle Egret managed to hide itself very successfully behind a cow at first, but eventually the cow moved out of the way and we could see that one well too, before it then flew further back into the field to join the first.

While we were watching the Cattle Egrets, a pipit flew up from the edge of the pool behind and circled over calling. We could hear a shrill, sharp call, though not as piercing as a Rock Pipit. It sounded like a Water Pipit – and helpfully was seen there again later by someone else at the site.

Our first destination proper for the day was Kelling. We parked in the village and walked up along the lane towards the beach. There were lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches in the hedges, which flew off ahead of us as we made our way along. These were presumably mostly migrants, just arriving here for the winter.

A male Bullfinch flew out calling and landed briefly in the top of the next hedge over across the field. A Reed Bunting and a couple of Yellowhammers perched up in the top of a hawthorn with some of the Chaffinches, just long enough for us to get a good look at them. A Blackcap was not so obliging, flitting across the track and disappearing into the densest blackthorn.

When we got to a gap in the hedge, we stopped to scan the fields. A flock of about 30 Fieldfares was perched in the top of the bushes just across the field and we were able to get them in the scope, before they flew off west over the track ahead of us, chacking. They were followed by a group of Starlings. This was to be a theme of the day, with flocks of Starlings passing overhead west continually all day, birds arriving in from the continent for the winter.

There were other birds moving today too. Several Skylarks passed high overhead calling as we walked along the lane, seemingly on their way west. We heard Redpolls calling overhead too. In the hedge north of the copse, a Goldcrest was probably also a migrant arrived for the winter. When we got to the edge of the Quags, a female Stonechat was flycatching from the brambles and was joined by a couple of Meadow Pipits which flew up from the grass and stopped there to preen.

Looking across at the pool on the Water Meadow, a flock of about twenty Dunlin were busy feeding feverishly on the exposed mud along the near edge. A Common Redshank was with them. Further back, we found the Spotted Redshank weaving in and out of the rushes on the edge of the island. We got it in the scope and could immediately see how much paler it was than its commoner cousin, with a more strongly marked white supercilium and a longer, much finer bill.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – lingering for several weeks here now

The Spotted Redshank, a 1st winter bird with darker grey retained juvenile wing coverts and tertials, has been lingering here for several weeks now – it will be interesting to see how much longer it stays here. The Spotted Redshank walked past a Common Snipe which was also feeding on the edge of the island.

There were a couple of other Common Snipe round the muddy edges of the pool too, helpfully feeding out in the open. The Jack Snipe are considerably more skulking – that one would take a bit more effort! Two Black-tailed Godwits flew in and circled over the pool nervously. They eventually dropped down into the water briefly, but changed their minds and took off again, flying off west.

At that point we noticed a report of a Sabine’s Gull which had apparently flown west past Cromer about 20 minutes earlier. It was headed our way, so we made our way straight to the beach to see if we could catch up with it. It later transpired the Sabine’s Gull had turned back and then appeared off Cromer again, so we didn’t manage to see it. But we did pick up a handful of Little Gulls moving west offshore – including a couple of slightly closer adults flashing alternately pale grey above and black underwings as they flapped.

Red-throated DiverRed-throated Diver – there were several on the sea off Kelling today

There were a few Gannets offshore too, mostly distant today though in the rather calm conditions. Several Red-throated Divers were closer in, including one diving just off the beach, in winter plumage now, dusky grey and white, with a rather pale face. A small group of female or juvenile Eider flew west, big chunky ducks with heavy wedge-shaped bills. While we were scanning the sea, a party of eleven Snow Buntings flew east along the shore line past us, calling. We could see as they dropped down onto the beach halfway towards Weybourne, so we set off to see if we could get a closer look.

We found the Snow Buntings again as they flew round and landed on the shingle some way ahead of us still. We got them in the scope and marvelled at how well camouflaged they are against the stones. A couple of them were running around on a patch of sand and were much easier to see. They all started to run up the beach towards a small patch of low sand cliff, and appeared to be feeding there, which gave us an opportunity to get much closer.

Snow BuntingSnow Bunting – great views feeding along the edge of the beach

In the end, we had great close views of the Snow Buntings. There were some annual weeds growing at the top of the sand and the Snow Buntings were feeding on the plentiful seed, up on the top of the cliffs or looking for seed which had fallen off and landed down below. We could see the flock consisted of a mixture of paler Scandinavian birds (of the subspecies nivalis) and darker Icelandic Snow Buntings (insulae). After watching them for a while at close quarters, we left them busy feeding.

On our walk back to the Water Meadow, a female Stonechat was feeding on the brambles on the edge of the Quags, along with a Reed Bunting. We stopped by the pool to have a look for Jack Snipe. As we stood there, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker call and we looked up to see it flying over our heads. There are no trees out here, so it landed on fence post instead, before continuing on its way west.

Jack Snipe are nowhere near as obliging as the Common Snipe, and spend a lot of their time skulking in the vegetation around the pool. They tend to be most active at dawn and dusk too and sleep for much of the day. After some very careful scanning, we just managed to spot a hint of a shape hidden deep in the grass. Getting the scope on it, we could see it was a Jack Snipe.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe – skulking in the grass by the Water Meadow

The Jack Snipe was asleep at first, brilliantly camouflaged in the tussocks of brown grass and rushes, and all but impossible to see unless you knew where it was. By changing our angle of view, we managed to build up a composite view of bits of it. Just occasionally it would wake for a couple of seconds and then sometimes it would start its characteristic bobbing motion, at which point it was marginally easier to find! It edged round a little and we found a spot from where we could see its face and bill through the vegetation.

While we were watching the Jack Snipe, the Spotted Redshank also put on a great performance for us, feeding up and down along the front edge of the pool, only a few metres away from us at times.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and head back up the lane towards the car. We were halfway back when three small birds flew up from the weedy vegetation in the beck by the path. They were three Lesser Redpoll and they helpfully landed in the top of one of the low trees just behind us, waiting for us to move on so they could move back to where they were feeding. We could see they were small and quite dark brown-coloured.

Lesser RedpollLesser Redpoll – three were feeding in the lane on our walk back

There has been a Black Brant with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Cley for a couple of weeks now, so we decided to go on a wild goose chase before lunch! The geese had been reported on the grazing marshes off the East Bank this morning, but there was no sign of any here when we got round there. The flock also likes to feed in the Eye Field, so we decided to have a quick look there next and sure enough there were the Brent Geese.

Some of the Brent Geese were feeding on the grass right by the road, so we pulled up carefully in the car and opened the windows. One of the closest birds to us was the Black Brant! It’s brighter white flank patch, contrasting more with its darker blackish body plumage, meant it immediately stood out from the duller Dark-bellied Brent Geese. We had a really good look at it from the car.

Black BrantBlack Brant – feeding right next to the Beach Road at Cley

We then parked at the end of the road and had a look at the geese through the scope from the West Bank. We could see the Black Brant’s much better marked white collar, connecting under the chin and wrapping round a long way at the back too. Our regular wintering Dark-bellied Brents breed in northern Russia, with the Black Brant coming from for north-east Siberia or across the Pacific in NW North America. Occasionally Black Brants get lost and get in with the Dark-bellied Brents, at which point they may remain with them – this bird is probably a regular returnee, having been seen here for several winters now.

As we walked back to the car, a couple of Rock Pipits were chasing each other round the fishing boats and tractors on the edge of the beach. We headed back towards the visitor centre for lunch, but on the way back along the Beach Road one of the group spotted a wader flying over from the direction of the reserve. A Greenshank – it disappeared over the West Bank in the direction of Blakeney Harbour.

It was mild today, so we were able still to sit outside and eat our lunch at the picnic tables overlooking the reserve at Cley. As we ate, a large skein of Pink-footed Geese about a thousand strong came up from the fields in the distance beyond North Foreland wood. They came along the edge of the ridge and as they got closer we could hear their distinctive high-pitched yelping calls. Almost at the car park, they turned towards the reserve and started to whiffle down, losing height rapidly, before landing on the scrapes. Quite a spectacle!

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – quite a sight, hundreds whiffling down towards the reserve

After lunch, we made our way round to Walsey Hills. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier and we thought we would like to try to get a look at it. A pair of Little Grebes were diving on the pool and we could hear a couple of Water Rails squealing from the reeds.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was frequenting the sallows at the back of Walsey Hills, a very dense area of cover. We headed out into the field at the back, where we could get a good look at the far edge of the trees. At first, all we could see were several tiny Goldcrests flitting around in the sallows. A flock of tits flew in from the wood and made their way through the trees. Then we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler call. We could just see it in the trees, but it disappeared behind a trunk and didn’t come out the other side. It was a good start, but we would like a better view.

After a few minutes, someone shouted to say the Yellow-browed Warbler was visible from the path through the trees, but by the time we got round there it had disappeared again. There was a better view of the trees from back out in the field and thankfully the Yellow-browed Warbler reappeared there after a couple of minutes. It never came out onto the edge, but we could see it flicking around in the leaves, noting its bright pale supercilium and wing bars. Amazing to think this tiny warbler had come all the way from the Urals, or even beyond!

We headed back across the road to the East Bank next. A Stock Dove flew up from the grazing marsh and disappeared off inland over the trees. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds behind Don’s Pool, but the most we could see of them was the occasional long-tailed shape darting across before diving back into cover.

WigeonWigeon – feeding out on the grazing marshes in good numbers now

There were good numbers of ducks out on the grazing marshes. More Wigeon have returned now and there were several good sized groups feeding down in the grass below the bank. There were plenty of Teal too, particularly around the Serpentine, where a more careful scan also revealed a few Pintail and Gadwall. There were a few waders here too, several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Serpentine and further back, on Pope’s Pool, we could see a little group of Dunlin and a few Redshank.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh. Looking carefully through all the Dunlin on here we found a single diminutive Little Stint with them, running round on the edge of one of the shingle spits. There were also several Grey Plover, Curlew and a single Turnstone on here, plus more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. A big flock of Linnets whirled round repeatedly, before dropping back down onto the saltmarsh to feed.

CurlewCurlew – there were several on Arnold’s and around the brackish pools

We continued on to the beach to have another quick look out to sea. Although the wind had finally swung round to the north-west, it was still rather too light to blow anything inshore. A small flock of Ringed Plover flew past along the beach. Further out, a lone Common Scoter flew west, as did a single Brent Goose. We picked up a small group of six Shelduck flying in over the sea, presumably returning from the continent where they had gone to moult. Several Kittiwakes were circling distantly, feeding offshore.

As we made our way back along the East Bank, the sun was already going down. We stopped to watch a Little Egret feeding on the brackish pools in the evening light – shaking its feet ahead of it in the mud, trying to stir up fish or other invertebrates from the shallows. When it lifted its feet out of the water, we could see they were bright yellow, contrasting with its black legs.

Little EgretLittle Egret – feeding in the brackish pools

The light was already starting to fade but we still had time for one more quick stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Greenway. The evenings draw in much earlier now, after the clocks have changed. As we pulled up into the car park, several small groups of Little Egrets were making their way west to roost.

We were hoping to catch up with some raptors to end the day. A distant Merlin appeared briefly against the sky, but we lost it as it dropped down against the saltmarsh again. A Peregrine was easier to see, standing out on the sand in the distance and a Common Buzzard perched in the top of the bushes at the back edge of the saltmarsh. We did manage to find a couple of Hen Harriers, but they were distant today. First a grey male appeared, way out in front of East Hills, but it almost immediately dropped down onto the saltmarsh out of view. Then a little later a ringtail appeared in the same area. It at least flew around for a while, but the light was really going now and it was very hard to get everyone onto against the dark of the trees.

With the evening drawing in, it was time to call it a day and head back to Wells. It had been a great day out, with some good birds, a nice mixture of late autumn migrants and winter visitors.

20th Oct 2017 – Migrants & Winter Visitors Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. It was cloudy all day but not too windy and, thankfully, the only shower fell while we were having lunch – and it was mercifully brief!

With lots of thrushes and finches arriving in over the last few days, we decided to start with a visit to check out the hedges at Warham Greens. As soon as we parked, we could hear several Blackbirds alarm calling.

As we walked up along the track, lots of birds came out of the hedges and flew on ahead of us. As well as lots more Blackbirds, there were plenty of Song Thrushes and a few Redwings too. They had probably all just arrived in from the continent and were taking a break to refuel on all the berries. We saw several tiny Goldcrests along here too – amazing to think that a bird so small can make it all the way across the North Sea. A Blackcap was typically elusive, climbing through the hedge before zipping across the track in front of us.

We stopped by a gate and looked across the grassy field beyond to some old barns. There were several Stock Doves on the roof. Here we saw a couple of Yellowhammers perched in the top of the hedge, with a Reed Bunting for company. A Chiffchaff flew across the track and dropped into the bushes at the base of a large sycamore. A Redwing perched up nicely for us in the top of the hedge.

Continuing on up the track, a little flock of Golden Plover flew over, calling. We could hear some rather noisy Grey Partridge out in one of the fields, but couldn’t see where they were through a thick hedge. A Sparrowhawk flew off across a field, disappearing into a hedge before emerging the other side a minute or so later, presumably after a quick rest.

As we were walking past a large oak tree, a sharp call caught our attention and we looked up to see a small bird flitting around in the leaves. It was a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was hard to see at first, high in the tree, but eventually we all got a good look at it, particularly as it dropped out of the tree and into the hedge, before working its way back up the track.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – flitting around high in an oak tree

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in Siberia and winter mainly in Asia. They have become increasingly common in autumn here over the last 30 years, as the species has extended its breeding range westwards. Still, it a great bird to see and amazing to think that this small bird probably started its journey over at the Urals.

At the top of the track, we emerged out onto the coastal path and stopped to scan the saltmarsh. There were lots of Little Egrets scattered around, so common now it is amazing to think how rare they were only 20 years ago. A flock of Golden Plover down in the vegetation was very well camouflaged and hard to see until you looked through the scope. We could hear several Curlew calling from time to time, and eventually one landed close enough so we could get it in the scope.

There are always lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and today was no exception, with numbers having increased steadily even in the last few days, as more return for the winter. Most of the birds which come here at this time of year are Russian Dark-bellied Brents, but it is always worth checking through the groups carefully. Sure enough, as we looked through them, one bird instantly stood out. It was much darker, blackish, with a bright white flank patch and much more extensive white collar. It was a Black Brant.

Black BrantBlack Brant – probably a returning individual, with the Dark-bellied Brents

Black Brant is one of the other subspecies of Brent Goose. It breeds in NW North America and far eastern Siberia, wintering either side of the Pacific. It is a regular visitor here, with lost birds mixing with Dark-bellied Brent Geese in Russia and migrating to western Europe with them. Some of these birds then return winter after winter with the same group of Brents and there has been a Black Brant here in the winter for several years now. This is the first time we have seen it this winter, so it was a welcome surprise to find it here today.

Looking out beyond the saltmarsh, out towards the beach, we could see lots of waders on the sand flats in the distance. Through the scope, we could just make out a flock of Knot, accompanied by a few Grey Plover. In one of the tidal channels nearby, we picked out three ducks – Red-breasted Mergansers. But they were all very distant and hard to see much detail, even with a scope.

There were not so many flocks of thrushes coming in off the sea today, but there were still lots of birds moving. A steady stream of flocks of Starlings of various sizes flew west along the edge of the saltmarsh this morning. A flock of Lapwing flew over us. There were a few Chaffinches and Skylarks coasting too.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – we saw several this morning in the hedges and down by the Pit

We had a quick look in the Pit, but it was fairly quiet today, suggesting there was perhaps not so much fresh in overnight last night. We did flush a few more Redwings from the bushes, one perching nicely in the top for us briefly, plus several Chaffinches and a couple of Yellowhammers. A large flock of Goldfinches kept coming & going, between the bushes round the Pit and the weedy vegetation on the edge of the saltmarsh. A male Stonechat put in a brief appearance down in the Suaeda too.

There were a few raptors out over the saltmarsh today. Three Marsh Harriers were quartering out along the edge of the beach pretty much all the time we were there. As we were leaving, we spotted a Red Kite flying lazily over the back of the saltmarsh and when we turned to head back, we noticed a second Red Kite circling over the field just behind us.

Red KiteRed Kite – the second of two at Warham Greens today

The walk back up the track was fairly uneventful – with fewer birds flushed from the hedgerows now, but still lots of Blackbirds, thrushes and a few Goldcrests. We were almost back to the car when we found a mixed flock of finches – mostly Chaffinches and Greenfinches but with at least one Brambling too. We heard the Brambling call, but unfortunately couldn’t see it in the thick vegetation.

We had a bit of time still before lunch, so we decided to head further east and have a look for the Cattle Egret at Stiffkey. As we drove past, we had a quick scan of the field, but the cows were lying down and there appeared to be no sign of the Cattle Egret with them. Being white, it normally sticks out like a sore thumb! We decided to have a quick look out at Stiffkey Fen, and then go back to the cows again afterwards.

As we walked down along the path beside the river, we could hear a Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the trees. It sounded as if it was making its way towards the near edge, so we walked back and could just see it up in the trees. It was very vocal, calling continually for a couple of minutes before going quiet. Our second Yellow-browed Warbler of the morning!

There were more birds along the path too. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles. A Yellowhammer called from the trees the other side of the river. We could hear Bullfinches calling plaintively and looked up to see a nice pink male fly past. We flushed more Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings from the brambles as we passed. Almost out to the seawall, a Chiffchaff called from the sallows.

Half way along, we stopped to look out at the Fen from the path. We could see lots of Ruff along the northern edge, below the reeds, and several smaller waders with them. Just as we got the scope onto them, they all took off. Several of the Ruff flew off inland, but two of the smaller waders landed on the mud in the middle of the Fen. One was a Dunlin but the other was a juvenile Little Stint, a nice surprise. We were just admiring the Little Stint through the scope when it took off and we didn’t see where it went.

Out on the seawall, we had another scan of the Fen, but we couldn’t see the Little Stint again, just a group of about ten Ruff where it had been. There was a nice selection of ducks on here, mostly Teal and Wigeon, but also quite a few Pintail, including some increasingly smart drakes as they emerge from eclipse plumage.

Looking out to Blakeney Harbour, the tide was out. A nice close Grey Plover was on the mud on the side of the channel, a juvenile, looking slightly golden-tinged on its upperparts. There were lots of Oystercatchers out on the sand in Blakeney Pit. As we scanned, we picked up a mixed flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and Sanderling which landed out on a sandbank with them. A big flock of Dunlin and Turnstone flew past.

There were also lots of Brent Geese and Wigeon out in the harbour. Several groups of gulls were loafing, Herring Gulls and big brutes of Great Black-backed Gulls. On the sand flats beyond the habour, we could see lots of seals hauled out, and through the scope we could see several Gannets diving into the sea beyond them.

As we turned to walk back, a Kingfisher was calling from down along the river channel, but we didn’t see it. The Yellow-browed Warbler showed itself again briefly on our way back past.

We continued on along the path and stopped down at the corner overlooking the grazing marshes. We were immediately informed that the Cattle Egret was back, but not in view. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long before it walked out from behind the cows and we got a really good view of it through the scope. This Cattle Egret has been lingering here for some time now – perhaps it will stay until the cows are taken in for the winter? There were also two Grey Herons, lots of ducks, and several Ruff on the muddy flash here.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – still lingering with the cows at Stiffkey

After we had all had a good look at the Cattle Egret, we headed back to the car and drove back to Holkham for a late lunch. While we were eating, the cloud thickened again and it start to rain. Thankfully it was just a shower and it quickly passed over, although it remained rather cool and cloudy.

After lunch, we headed into Holkham Park. The walk in through the trees was fairly quiet, perhaps with the weather clouding over and the breeze picking up they had retreated now. There are always lots of Fallow Deer in here and we saw several groups of females and a few bucks barking to defend their territories.

Fallow DeerFallow Deer – we saw lots in the Park again today

We made our way straight down to the lake, but there was no sign of the Osprey in any of its favourite trees. We couldn’t find it fishing at the north end of the lake either. We did find a nice variety of ducks on the lake – including Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck – plus several Great Crested Grebes and Little Grebes.

Turning round, we walked down to the south end of the lake to see what we could find there. A quick scan revealed a juvenile Scaup in with a raft of Tufted Duck. It swam off out into the middle of the lake as we approached, but we had a good look at it through the scope, noting its pale surround to the bill and cheek spot.

ScaupScaup – a juvenile, with the Tufted Duck on the lake

There were a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the lawn in front of the hall, but still no sign of the Osprey anywhere, so we set off back to the car. With everyone tired of walking, we decided to have a quick look out at the freshmarsh to finish the day. It turned out to be a good call. As soon as we pulled up, we could see a Great White Egret out on the edge of a ditch. By the time we had got out of the car, there were now two Great White Egrets. A second bird had appeared further back and was preening in the base of the sallows. Three species of egret in a day!

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – one of two out on the freshmarsh late this afternoon

Scanning around the various pools, we picked up three Avocets on the edge of one of the more distant ones. There are not many Avocets around now, with most having left for the winter, so we stopped to look at them through the scope. As we did so, we noticed another small pale bird nearby. It was small and swimming in circles, in and out of the ducks nearby, a Grey Phalarope. A real bonus!

We had a good look at the Grey Phalarope before something flushed all the ducks and waders and it settled again on the water even further back. The geese down on the grass below us were almost entirely Greylags. Still, we scanned through them carefully to see if we could find anything else. We had almost given up when a family of three Russian White-fronted Geese walked out from behind the bushes, two adults with black belly bars and white fronts and a plainer juvenile. This is a regular wintering site for Russian White-fronts but these are the first we have seen here this winter. Nice to see them returning now.

It had been a really productive stop here, with lots of birds coming and going, but it was now time to call it a day and head for home. Here’s hoping for more of the same tomorrow!

15th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Tour today, our last day. After a light early mist burned off, it was a mostly bright and sunny day today, with just an hour or so of cloud around the middle of the day, and lighter winds too.

We started the day in Wells Woods. With lighter winds, we thought there was an outside chance of some birds having arrived in the mist last night. It also gave us another opportunity to catch up with some of our regular woodland species. As we got out of the car we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a skein flying over, presumably just coming in from their overnight roost out on the flats. They dropped down towards the grazing marshes beyond the trees.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – flying in from their overnight roost

The sound of Pink-footed Geese would accompany us all morning today, with regular skeins of birds flying over and landing out on the grazing marshes between Wells and Holkham.

There were several Little Grebes on the boating lake as we walked past and a tit flock came out of the bushes beyond and up into the pines, before moving quickly off in the direction of the car park. We couldn’t see anything with them other than Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Goldcrests though, as they passed us. Just beyond the lake, the sun was shining on the edge of the trees and a Chiffchaff was feeding among the leaves in the birches.

As we meandered our way through the trees, we could hear a few birds passing overhead – including Siskin, Redpoll and a Brambling. We came back out onto the sunny edge. In the fields beyond the caravan park a scattering of Pink-footed Geese had now settled in to feed. A Mistle Thrush flew off west calling from the edge of the caravan park, but the bushes here held nothing more than a handful of Blackbirds and Greenfinches this morning.

Continuing on west along the main path, we heard Long-tailed Tits calling in the pines so set off in after them. They were heading for the drinking pool, as we followed. There was a great mixed flock, and a good selection of birds dropped out of the pines and started to feed in the deciduous trees and bushes around the old pool.

GoldcrestGoldcrest – peeking out from between the leaves

The highlight was a Firecrest which appeared in the bushes just below us. We had a great view as it picked around in the foliage. There were a couple of Goldcrests with it and we could see the difference in the face pattern between the two species, the Firecrest more boldly marked black and white. One of the Goldcrests would occasionally chase the Firecrest, the two birds zooming around through the middle of the bush.

We also had a great look at a Treecreeper which appeared on a pine tree at the back of the pool, in the sunshine. We watched as it climbed up the trunk, before disappearing round the back of the tree.

TreecreeperTreecreeper – climbing up a pine tree

Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers came in too. At first, one flew in and landed on a dead birch stump. Then a second joined it, and the two of them chased round the tree after each other, before one flew off back into the pines.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerGreat Spotted Woodpecker – two were chasing each other around a birch stump

Eventually, the flock moved away into the pines and we decided to carry on west along the main path. Despite the sunshine and lighter winds, it was rather quiet here, in the oaks and birches along the path. We cut back inside, but even here we failed to locate many more birds – just the odd Goldcrest.

As we made our way back, we took a detour in around the Dell. This too was rather quiet today. We did flush a few Blackbirds and one or two Redwing from the brambles, and a skulking male Blackcap too. A couple of Red Kites circled lazily overhead. It was only back out on the main path, on our way back towards the boating lake, that we found a tit flock again, out in the sunshine. Unfortunately they were moving deeper into the trees and seemed to head off across to the caravan park. We decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere.

There had been a Greenland White-fronted Goose found with the same group of Pink-footed Geese where we had seen the Taiga Bean Goose a couple of days earlier, so we thought we would go round there next, to try to catch up with it. We could see a lot of Pink-footed Geese and Greylag Geese in one of the stubble fields by the main coast road as we drove past, but there is nowhere to stop along here. The geese had obviously moved, because there were now a lot fewer in the next field along, where there is a convenient layby to pull off the road. This is where all the geese had been earlier. We decided not to risk life and limb trying to see find a way to view where the geese were feeding now!

As we made our way back east along the coast road, we could immediately see a white shape in with the cows just beyond Stiffkey village. We found a convenient spot to park and made our way back to take a closer look. No great surprise, it was the Cattle Egret. It was on the near side of the cows initially, but quickly walked in amongst them. All the cows were lying down and it disappeared from view. Occasionally, we could see a white head and short yellowish bill pop up between them.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – hiding in between the cows

A Kestrel appeared and start hovering just above our heads. The breeze had picked up a little now, and it was hanging in the updraft as the wind hit the bank in the corner of the field, close to where we were standing.

KestrelKestrel – hovering just above our heads

We hoped the Cattle Egret might walk out again, and there was no suitable angle from which we could see it. With the cows lying down, it was not getting any food stirred up by their hooves and the next thing we knew it took off and flew away across the road, presumably to find something to eat elsewhere.

It was already getting on for lunchtime, so we headed back to the car and went off to find somewhere to sit and eat. There was an unbelievable amount of traffic on the coast road today, and it took us 10 minutes to get back through Stiffkey village, with all the congestion. When we got to the car park at the north end of Greenway, it was packed with cars and we were lucky to be able to find somewhere to park. Clearly, lots of people had some up to North Norfolk for the weekend, with the promise of warm, sunny weather!

It clouded over as we ate our lunch up in the shelter overlooking the saltmarsh. As it did so, suddenly flocks of birds started to appear, moving west along the coast just in front of us. They were mostly Starlings and Chaffinches, in flocks of 10-20 at a time. Looking carefully, in with the flocks of Chaffinches, we could see the odd Brambling too. A couple of little groups of Siskin flew over calling as well.

StarlingsStarlings – moving west along the coast after it clouded over

This was visible migration in action – always great to see. Some flocks of Starlings were flying in across the saltmarsh too, presumably fresh arrivals in from the continent for the winter. It is likely birds were arriving all morning, but in the clear weather they will often come in much higher. In the cloud, the flocks had dropped down and were more visible.

For the afternoon, we had planned on a change of scenery. We got in the car and headed inland, a short drive down to the north Brecks. Our destination was the pigfields here, which is a site for large gatherings of Stone Curlews in late summer and autumn. We are well past the peak in terms of numbers, but there are still a few Stone Curlews lingering here. We got out of the car and started to look at one of their favourite fields and it wasn’t long before we were looking at two Stone Curlews, quite close to where we were standing.

Stone Curlew 2Stone Curlews – a small number are still lingering in the pig fields

Scanning round carefully, we found a third Stone Curlew, just a little further back. There may well have been several more, as there is a big dip in the middle of the field which you cannot see into and a fourth Stone Curlew appeared briefly on the front edge of that.

We were looking into the light, so we tried to make our way back along the road to find a better angle. It was still not perfect, but through the scope, we had a great close-up look at the two Stone Curlews. We could see their staring yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill. They are not related to regular Curlews – they are named because of their Curlew-like calls, and are actually a member of the Thick-knee family. Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have such a nice ring to it, although perhaps we should revert to using the more evocative old name for them – the Wailing Heath Chicken!

It is not far from here to Lynford Arboretum, so we decided to head round there next to try to add a few extra woodland birds to our trip list. As we walked down along the track, the trees seemed rather quiet at first, but we stopped at the gate to have a look under the beeches. The feeders were empty, but someone had strewn some seeds on the ground in the leaves. A steady stream of birds were dropping in – Chaffinches, Great Tits. Then a Marsh Tit appeared too. It kept coming back repeatedly, flying in, grabbing a few seeds, and shooting off back into the trees to deal with them.

A larger bird dropped down out of the trees and landed on the edge of the stone trough. A Hawfinch, a female. It had a quick drink from the trough, lingering just long enough for everyone to get a good look at it, before flying back up into the trees. A great result as they are not easy to see here at this time of year!

Continuing on down along the track, a Common Buzzard circled overhead. As we got down to the bottom of the hill, we could hear a Marsh Tit calling, so we took a little detour out through the trees towards the side of the lake. Some seed had been spread on a bench there, and the Marsh Tit was coming in repeatedly to grab some, much as we had seen the one earlier doing. We stood and watched it for a while. A Coal Tit was doing the same too.

Marsh TitMarsh Tit – coming to grab seed from a bench in the arboretum

While we were standing there, we heard a Kingfisher calling from the lake. We hurried round to the other side, but there were quite a few people out for a Sunday afternoon stroll along here today and it had obviously been disturbed before we could get there. Otherwise, there was not much to see on the lake – just a few Mallard, a Canada Goose and a Moorhen. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was calling from the alders on one of the islands and we heard a Grey Wagtail as we walked round the lake too.

It was a lovely late afternoon down in the Arboretum, and we could easily have stayed here longer, but we had a long drive back to North Norfolk ahead of us. With the sun now moving round and dropping, there was also a request to stop back at the Stone Curlews on our way past, to see if we could get some better photos.

The light had improved a little when we got back to the pig fields, but the closest Stone Curlew was also now just behind one of the electric fences, with a wire in the way. It didn’t stop us getting a great last look at it through the scope though – a cracking bird!

Stone Curlew 1Stone Curlew – back for another look on our way home

Then it was time to head back and wrap up our four days of Autumn Migration birdwatching. It had been a very enjoyable tour, with a great selection of birds and some memorable moments.