Tag Archives: Titchwell Manor

3rd-5th November 2015 – Titchwell Manor Tour

This year’s Titchwell Manor Tour started on Tuesday night, with a short meeting to discuss the plans for the next two days followed by a delicious dinner in the award winning restaurant at the hotel. The following morning, we met at 8.30am for a full day’s birding in the field. The weather was not at its most accommodating. We were forecast showers – we ended up getting light rain and mist most of the day. As usual, it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing some very good birds.

We headed east along the coast to Holkham first. We stopped half way along Lady Anne’s Drive to admire a flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding on the grazing marshes. There were several hundred on either side of the road today – but many more had probably roosted here and flown inland to feed at first light. It was nice to get a good look at them through the scope. Helpfully, a couple of Greylag Geese were even in the same view to compare at one point.

P1120427Pink-footed Geese – along Lady Anne’s Drive this morning

While we were watching them, two Fieldfare flew over calling and dropped down onto the grass. Thrushes and Blackbirds are continuing to trickle in over the North Sea from Scandinavia for the winter.

There was light rain falling as we walked west on the inland side of the pines. We heard the odd Goldcrest calling, but otherwise the trees were rather quiet today. The tit flocks often seem to retreat deeper into the pines when the weather is inclement. We stopped at Salts Hole to admire a flock of Wigeon which had dropped in to bathe, the drakes now looking very smart as they finish emerging from eclipse plumage. As usual, there were several Little Grebes on here as well today.

IMG_2610Little Grebe – at least 5 on Salts Hole today

It was hard to see right across the grazing marshes this morning because of the mist. However, a white shape in a distant tree stood out even through the gloom. It was a very pale Common Buzzard, with almost completely white underparts. It flew down onto the grass and we got the scope on it. Well known to us, it is often in the trees here. Common Buzzards are variable in appearance and very pale birds are increasingly common, creating a pitfall for the unwary.

The rain started to fall harder, so we sought the shelter of Washington Hide only a little further along the path. There were several ducks on the pool below the hide, including several Shoveler and Shelduck. The drake Shoveler is rather similarly coloured to Shelduck, so it was good to have an opportunity to compare the two. A Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the bushes, getting wet. For a while it stood with its wings outstretched, presumably trying to shake off the water. A second Marsh Harrier appeared nearby and began to do the same.

It was while we were watching the Marsh Harriers that a large white shape suddenly flew in towards us and started to drop down towards the pool below. This Great White Egret has been hanging around at Holkham for over two months now, but it is not always in view and spends lots of its time out in the ditches, so it was nice to catch up with it today. It did a nice circuit walking round the pool for us – we could see just how big it was and admire its long dagger-shaped yellow bill.

IMG_2629Great White Egret – dropped in to the pool in front of Washington Hide

After a short while, the rain eased a bit, so we set off again to walk a little further west. The view from the Joe Jordan Hide seemed rather quiet at first. Carefully scanning the fields, we spotted the head of a small dark goose appear from the grass and, as it turned to face us, we could see it had a distinctive white surround to the base of its bill. There is normally a small flock of White-fronted Geese at Holkham through the winter, visitors here from their breeding grounds in Russia, but this was the first returning one we had seen this autumn. As we watched, we could see that there was actually a small family party of White-fronted Geese, two adults followed by 3 juveniles.

When the skies started to brighten up a fraction, that seemed to be the cue for several raptors to appear, as if by magic. A Sparrowhawk flew up into the tops of the trees in front of the hide briefly, an adult male with slate grey upperparts and orange-barred underparts. The scaffold tower had been devoid of life since we had arrived in the hide, but scanning again and an adult Peregrine had appeared on the top of it, presumably coming out to try to dry itself off.

The rain seemed to have eased as well, so we decided to start making our way back. There were a few more birds about along the path now. We stopped to listen to a couple of Goldcrests and heard our first tit flock of the morning approaching. There were several Long-tailed Tits calling but at first they flew past us through the very tops of the pines. We watched as they moved ahead of us and saw the flock drop down into the bushes near Meals House. We walked back quickly and could see Long-tailed Tits in the birches first, quickly joined by a few Goldcrests. Then we picked up first one then two Chiffchaffs in amongst them. The flock was moving quickly all the time, and as fast as they had arrived they disappeared back in the direction they had just come.

The other side of Meals House, almost back to Washington Hide, we heard more Long-tailed Tits calling and stopped to watch a small flock drop down to feed in a small sycamore by the path. Suddenly a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the same tree, a real bonus. Breeding in Siberia and migrating down to Asia for the winter, they are an increasingly regular visitor here mainly in Autumn, but always a great bird to see. It flicked about among the branches for a few seconds, easier to see now that there are much fewer leaves left on the trees. We could see its bright supercilium and double wing bars. This flock was not hanging around either and quickly moved off along the path towards Washington Hide. We walked back that way, but couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler with the tits again.

Yellow-browed Warbler Tresco 2015-10-22_4Yellow-browed Warbler – here’s one from a couple of weeks ago

We decided to have a quick look at the beach, so walked along to the end of the boardwalk. There were only a few people on the beach today, and a single horse rider. Scanning the edge of the sea beyond the sand, we picked up a moulting Red-throated Diver just offshore. A single Gannet flew past, just on the edge of the mist. Further along, we found a Slavonian Grebe on the sea, another nice surprise. Unfortunately it was a little distant and, being so small, it was hard to see at times among the waves. We might otherwise have been tempted to walk out for a better look, but it started raining again at that point and it was already getting on to lunch time, so we decided against it.

As we made our way back along boardwalk, the tits had appeared in the sycamores again. There was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler at first, but then it flew across the clearing into the pines on the other side, before quickly disappearing into the trees.

We stopped for lunch in Wells, then walked out to have a look at the harbour. Despite the tide being just past high, there were lots of birds along the shoreline. In particular, there was a fantastic selection of waders. Scanning through the throng, we could see lots of Oystercatcher, several Ringed Plover, a few each of both Grey and Golden Plover, a good number of dumpy Knot and several small flocks of silvery grey Sanderling, with a smattering of browner Dunlin in amongst them, lots of Curlew and Redshank and singles each of Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone. Not a bad haul! There were also plenty of Brent Geese feeding out on the mud.

IMG_2636Brent Geese – there were many feeding on the mud by the harbour

As we had been scanning harbour, the mist started to descend again. As it did so, despite it being over two hours to sunset, the light started to fade rapidly. Our hope had been to catch some raptors coming in to roost to finish the day, but now it looked like we would need to hurry if we were to catch them. We bid farewell to the harbour and made our way further east along the coast to Stiffkey.

By the time we got there it was raining again. Visibility was so poor we couldn’t even see the trees on East Hills, it seemed like we might be out of luck. There were lots of Little Egrets, Brent Geese and Curlews. A lone Greenshank was feeding quietly in one of the deeper channels – more common here as  a passage migrant, a few do stay right through the winter out on the saltmarshes. We also heard Rock Pipits calling overhead.

Then a positive sign as a Marsh Harrier flew west across the marshes in front of us – perhaps we might still see some raptors come in to roost. A Short-eared Owl also appeared briefly, perched up on the top of a bush. It sat there for a while, then dropped down again out of view as the rain picked up once more. Again, it felt like we might be out of luck and we walked back to the car to take shelter.

As we stood there watching, finally the weather brightened up a little. The rain stopped and the mist lifted, and there was even a little patch of clear sky which appeared above us. We heard Mistle Thrushes calling, and one flew into the top of fir tree in front of us; a single Redwing flew overhead; a Song Thrush darted across the car park and dived into the hedge.

As the mist lifted, we scanned the marshes to the west again and over towards East Hills, which had emerged from the clouds. Almost immediately we picked up a ringtail Hen Harrier. It flew back and forth for a while, chased by a Carrion Crow. Smaller and slimmer than a Marsh Harrier, we could see the distinctive square white patch at the base of the tail through the scope.

We thought that might be the best of it given the weather this evening and were just thinking about leaving when the bird we had been hoping to see appeared. A stunning silvery-grey male Hen Harrier flew in from the east, chased by a Herring Gull. It shook off its pursuer, then decided to drop in onto one of the low posts out on saltmarsh to preen and dry off before going into roost. It sat there for ages, giving us great views through the scope. Then, with the light fading, it was time to call it a night.

IMG_2645Hen Harrier – a male out on the sat preening out on the saltmarsh

We were still not completely finished. On our way back to Titchwell Manor, we stopped to admire a Barn Owl quartering the fields beside the road. Then it really was time for a well deserved rest.

The following morning, Thursday, we met again and made our way the short distance down the road to the RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh. Although the main car park was starting to fill up (even on a damp mid-week November morning!), it was still early enough that the overflow car park was quiet. There were lots of finches feeding in the bushes which were still full of berries – Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. We could hear two Bullfinches calling from opposite sides and a female hopped up into the sallows in front of us before flying off in the direction of the other call. We heard a Brambling call, but it flew off unseen as we rounded the corner.

There were several thrushes here too – Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, and one or two Redwings calling as they flew out of the bushes. A smart Jay flew down to the grassy edge in front of us, where it picked up an acorn and flew off with it. There were no oak trees nearby – perhaps it had stashed it there earlier?

P1120291Jay – picked up an acorn from the grass

We walked out onto the reserve and stopped by the still drained grazing marsh pool. Almost the first bird we saw as we scanned across was a smart Water Pipit. The more we looked, the more we saw – there were at least four Water Pipits out on the mud this morning. We got a good look at them in the scope, noting the neatly black-streaked white underparts and pale supercilium. At one point we even had two Water Pipits and a duller, darker, swarthier Rock Pipit in the same view together – a great comparison of these closely related species.

With only a few puddles, there were not surprisingly few other birds – singles of Redshank, Dunlin and Little Egret. We had heard several Cetti’s Warblers singing as we walked out and one flew across the reeds in front of us, giving the classic glimpse of a Cetti’s Warbler. It was another cloudy morning, but then it started to rain so we made a dash for Island Hide and some shelter.

We had seen lots of Lapwings take off from the reserve and fly off inland as we walked out. Once we got near the hide, we could hear why. The reserve staff were strimming the vegetation along the edge of freshmarsh and all the birds had fled over into the far corner. They were all bunched up together, a huge flock of mainly Teal and Lapwing.

As we started to scan through, we began to pick up some other birds amongst them. There were six Avocets, all asleep at first although we did manage to see them awake later. A few Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies in the deeper water, all mostly in grey winter plumage now. A little flock of Dunlin was scampering about on the exposed mud. Among the Lapwing, we managed to find a single Ruff. In with the Teal, there were lots of Gadwall and a few Shoveler. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from the direction of Brancaster and dropped down onto the water to bathe and preen.

Thankfully it didn’t rain for long, and that was to be the only rain we saw this morning. After it stopped, we decided to make our way out towards the beach while the weather was clear. At the Volunteer Marsh, we paused to admire a Greenshank tucked down in a little muddy channel. It was trying to sleep but kept getting buffeted by the wind. It was standing on one leg, but we could see that that one at least was reassuringly the correct colour – green.

IMG_2651Greenshank – trying to sleep in a muddy channel on the Volunteer Marsh

A single Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the channel right beside the path, giving us a great chance to watch it up close. As it bent down to probe its bill deep into the mud it would periodically lower its tail so we could see the black feathers from which it gets its name.

IMG_2668Black-tailed Godwit – showing off how flexible its bill is

Scanning across the mud, we could also see lots of Shelduck and a scattering of waders – several Curlew, Grey Plover and Redshank.

P1120306Redshank – note its rather dark grey colouration

Out on the Tidal Pools, there were more birds today, with some of them probably sheltering from the disturbance out on the freshmarsh as well as roosting over high tide out on the beach. There were several little groups of Wigeon and Brent Geese feeding on the islands of saltmarsh. In with the Teal out on the water, we picked out five Pintail. Unfortunately there was no sign of a smart drake today, but they are still very elegant ducks.

There were a few waders out on the mud – several more Black-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Redshank and Dunlin. Then out in the deeper water we spotted two paler waders, feeding feverishly up to their bellies, jabbing their bills rapidly into the water. We couldn’t see their red legs at first, until one of them came out onto the mud to preen, but they were Spotted Redshanks – much paler than the Common Redshanks, whiter below and silvery grey above, with a longer, needle fine tipped bill.

IMG_2682Spotted Redshank – paler than Common Redshank with a longer, finer bill

Out on the beach, the tide was fast coming in. The rocks were covered but there were still lots of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits standing on the water’s edge. Several silvery-white Sanderling were running in and out of the waves and a single Turnstone was patrolling the beach. Pushed up by the rising tide, they eventually had enough and flew off to roost as we stood there. A few Knot flew past as well.

Out on the sea, the first thing we could see was a small group of Red-breasted Mergansers. They were not too far out and correspondingly easy to see, although they were diving constantly. In fact, there were pretty good numbers of Red-breasted Merganser offshore today. Also close in, a single winter-plumaged Red-throated Diver was preening just offshore. Further out, there were several Great Crested Grebes on the water and we picked up a single Long-tailed Duck, though it was hard to make out much detail on it at that range. Small flocks of Common Scoters were flying round but even further out in the haze, towards the Lincolnshire coast! A couple of Gannet flew past.

We wanted to have a look in at Parrinder Hide, so we set off back. We stopped briefly to admire a Little Egret feeding on the Volunteer Marsh on our way. It was using its feet to try to disturb fish from the muddy bottom of the channel – we could see it moving its legs whenever it stood still, staring down into the water.

P1120318Little Egret – fishing on the Volunteer Marsh

The warden had stopped strimming now and the birds had started to spread back out over the whole of the freshmarsh. There were a few more waders in, including several bright-spangled Golden Plover, but nothing else that we hadn’t seen more distantly earlier. However, the highlight was a very smart Common Snipe which walked along the water’s edge and started feeding just below the front of the hide, giving us stunning close-up views. When it wasn’t moving it was remarkably well camouflaged in among the dried out cut rushes and reeds.

P1120405Common Snipe – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

We walked back round via Meadow Trail and out towards Patsy’s Reedbed, stopping on the way to watch a flock of Long-tailed Tits which came through the trees above our heads. There were fewer ducks on Patsy’s than in recent weeks, though three Tufted Ducks provided a welcome addition to the trip list. A couple more Snipe were feeding along the shore and lots of Black-tailed Godwit and Lapwing were mostly sleeping on the islands.

Then it was time for us to head back for a late lunch at Titchwell Manor before the tour concluded. Despite the weather being at times inclement it had been a remarkably successful couple of days with an excellent list of species seen, including a couple of more unusual visitors, late migrants and a selection of our regular wintering birds. Great birding.

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

12th November 2014 – Titchwell Manor Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of this year’s Titchwell Manor hotel tour was the 12th, but the tour started the evening before with a pre-tour briefing and a delicious dinner in the award-winning hotel restaurant. We met up again the following morning, suitably rested, for the short drive along the coast to Cley.

Even from the car park, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing and see a Marsh Harrier circling over the reedbed. Out on the scrapes, there were plenty of birds, despite them having just been spooked by the harrier passing overhead. There was a particularly good selection of waders – lots of Dunlin whirling round in small flocks, a nice mixed group of Redshank and Ruff allowing a convenient comparison, and several Golden Plover mixed in with the Lapwings. However, the highlight was a cryptically-coloured Common Snipe on the bank in front of the hide, which was almost the same colour as the dried mud it was sleeping on, and which was hard to see even when you knew where it was.

Common Crane CleyCommon Crane – flew over as we were leaving Bishop Hide

The surprise of the morning came as we were leaving Bishop Hide. While watching a flock of Brent Geese flying past, we picked up the unmistakeable shape of a Common Crane flying overhead. We watched it disappearing away to the east. On the walk out to the East Bank, we spent some time watching a female and young Marsh Harrier over the reeds, chasing each other and calling. A Water Pipit flew off calling before we could get a chance to look at it but a Reed Bunting was more obliging.

Marsh Harrier CleyMarsh Harrier – two put on a good display over the reedbed

Round at the Beach Car Park, a sizeable flock of Brent Geese had gathered in the Eye Field. We spent a while watching them, looking at the young birds and learning how to separate them from the adults. Lurking in amongst them, towards the back of the flock, was a much darker individual with a more striking white flank patch and larger white collar – a Black Brant, the North American and Siberian form of Brent Goose, a rare visitor which occasionally gets lost and mixes with our regular wintering ‘Dark-bellied’ Brent Geese.

Brent Geese CleyBrent Geese – a large flock was in the Eye Field, with adults and juveniles

Out on the sea, we stopped to look at a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Razorbill, before walking on to North Scrape. The water was packed with duck, and we looked at the differences between the Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. There was also a small group of Pintail to admire. Additions to the wader list for the day included Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.

North Scrape CleyNorth Scrape, Cley – packed with wildfowl

After a delicious packed lunch, provided by the hotel, which we ate in the beach shelter at Cley admiring the view over the marshes, we drove on to Holkham for the afternoon. By Lady Anne’s Drive, several small groups of Pink-footed Geese allowed for close inspection. We then walked out along the south side of the pines, stopping to look at the large flocks of Wigeon on the grazing marshes, several mixed flocks of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers on the edge of the trees and the regular Little Grebes on Salt’s Hole.

Pink-footed Geese HolkhamPink-footed Geese – several small groups were loafing by Lady Anne’s Drive

At the west end of the pines, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes to the west. It did not take long to find our main target – a Rough-legged Buzzard was hovering out over the freshmarsh, it’s distinctive black-banded white tail obvious in flight. However, we also picked up several other species of raptor, including Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and a Sparrowhawk.

Great White Egret HolkhamGreat White Egret – a rare visitor, feeding with the cows

It was turning to dusk as we walked back along the path towards the car. The final target of the day, a Great White Egret, dropped into one of the fields amongst the cows, its large size and dagger-like yellow bill immediately distinguishing it from the resident Little Egrets. We also saw several Barn Owls quartering over the marshes as we walked, and we stopped to admire them. From the trees, a Tawny Owl called and a whistled hoot in return brought it out to investigate, though by now only a silhouette against the sky. All the way, we could hear the calls of the Pink-footed Geese gathering out on the grazing marshes. Back at the car we were treated to the spectacle of huge flocks circling round and dropping in to the fields against the backdrop of a stunning sunset. A spectacular way to end a very exciting day.

Sunset HolkhamSalt’s Hole at sunset