Tag Archives: Titchwell

14th Jan 2018 – Norfolk Winter & Owls #3

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

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

Barn Owl

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

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

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

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

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

Waxwing

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

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

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

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

Linnets

Linnets – in their hundreds, lining up on the wires

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

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

Twite

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

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

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

Water Rail

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

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

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

Teal

Teal – looking very smart now in breeding plumage

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

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

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

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

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

Avocets

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

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

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

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

Long-tailed Ducks

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

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

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

Bar-tailed Godwit

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

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

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

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

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

Short-eared Owl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 6th January

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

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

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

Pink-footed Geese

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

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

Waders

Waders – the vast throng gathering in the mist this morning

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

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

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers & Avocet – one hiding in with the others

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

Knot 1

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

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

Knot 3

Knot 2

Knot – tens of thousands twisting and turning over the Wash

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

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

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

Knot 4

Knot – thousands of birds flew right past us

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

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

Knot 5

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

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

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

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

Barnacle Goose

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

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

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

Redwing

Redwing – landed in the trees by the main path briefly

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

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

Water Pipit

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

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

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

Avocets

Avocets – the five that are currently hanging on here

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

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

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – flew in and landed on Volunteer Marsh

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

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

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

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

Bar-tailed Godwit

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

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

Water Rail

Water Rail – skulking under a tangle of branches

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

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

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

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, out over the heather

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

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

Sunday 7th January

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

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

White-fronted Goose

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

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

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

Grey Partridge

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

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

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

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

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

Shorelarks

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

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

Shorelark

Shorelark – flew past us and back down the beach

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

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

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – scaling the trunk of a pine tree

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

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

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

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – several were diving out on Salts Hole

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

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

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

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

Curlew

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

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

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

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – glowing in the winter sunshine

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

22nd Nov 2017 – Winter Specials

A Private Tour today. Rather than a general day of birding, we had a list of target species which we would be looking for, as well as trying to see various other birds on the way. It was a dry day, bright at times, but with a very blustery SW wind which at least had the benefit of being rather mild. A daytime peak of 15.5C is warm for this time of year, though it didn’t always feel like it in the wind!

Our first target was Lapland Bunting. There have been a few in recent weeks in the fields along the coastal cliffs at Weybourne, so we headed over there to start the day. As we walked down the lane, there were a couple of Blackbirds and Robins in the sparse hedges, possibly recent arrivals from the continent for the winter. There had apparently been one or two Lapland Buntings in the clifftop grass earlier, but there were several dogwalkers strolling up and down there now, so we concentrated on the field instead.

Most of the birds were hard to see out in the stubble in the middle of the field at first, and all we saw was occasional groups of birds flying round before landing back down out of view, mainly Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Then the first Lapland Bunting appeared with a group of Skylarks. It was very hard to get onto in flight though and landed back down out in the middle. The birds were very skittish in the wind and we were treated to several more brief flight views of Lapland Buntings over the next few minutes as we waited. We could just hear their distinctive flight calls as they flew round, over the wind.

When an RAF jet came low overhead, all the birds flushed from the middle of the field and it was amazing how many were out there. There were lots of Linnets, in one or two large flocks, plus more Skylarks than we might have thought, watching from the side of the field.

There is a more open area of bare mud close to the side of the field and gradually birds started to land on or around it. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks at first, but then two Yellowhammers flew in too, catching the morning sun. Eventually a Lapland Bunting dropped in, landing in the stubble just beyond the bare patch. We got it in the scope and could just see it creeping around in the stubble, noticeably different from all the other birds we had seen here.

Unfortunately, not all the group managed to see the Lapland Bunting before it flew off again. There were a few other birds to see here too though, particularly a large flock of Pink-footed Geese which must have been feeding or loafing in the fields over towards Sheringham Park. When they were disturbed by one of the passes by the RAF jet, they all flew up calling.

Pink-footed Geese 1Pink-footed Geese – flushed from the fields towards Sheringham Park

One of the Lapland Buntings appeared to land further over, along the other edge of the field, so we walked round to see if we could pick it up from that side. Unfortunately, as we got round there, a dogwalker walked up along the grassy strip on the edge of the field. They then proceeded to walk out into the field along the edge of the stubble, and all the birds flushed and landed back down in the middle.

We made our way back to the gate where we had been earlier and fortunately, some of the birds started to drift back towards that corner. Another Lapland Bunting dropped down into the stubble behind the bare patch and again we managed to get it in the scope, where it was possible to see it creeping around in the stubble. Then a tractor drove up the lane with a flail, to cut the margins of the field. The driver stopped to open the gate and asked us what we were looking at, then very kindly offering to start on the far side of the field so as to minimise the disturbance. We figured this would be a good moment to move on.

Our next stop was at Kelling. There were not many birds in the lane this morning, just a few Blackbirds and Chaffinches, so we walked straight down to the Water Meadow. There were a few birds around the pool – a handful of Teal feeding along the back edge and several Black-tailed Godwits out in the middle, probing into the water with their long bills.

The Spotted Redshank was on the edge of the vegetation on the north edge, where it likes to feed. We stopped for a quick look from the other side, then made our way round for a closer look. Unfortunately, before we could get there, something spooked it and it flew further out and landed on the muddy edge. A juvenile Ruff flew in to join it and a Common Redshank too.

The Spotted Redshank and the Common Redshank fed together on the edge of the water for a few minutes, given us a great side by side comparison in the scope. The Spotted Redshank was a little bigger, longer legged and noticeably paler, more silvery grey above and whiter below. We could also see its much longer, finer bill. The Spotted Redshank is a first winter, we could see its darker wing coverts and tertials. It has been lingering here for several weeks now and looks like it may stay for the winter.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – lingering on the pool at Kelling Water Meadow

Then the Spotted Redshank went to sleep on the edge of the water. We had a quick look for any Jack Snipe around the edge of the pool, but the water level has risen here after the recent rain. The area where they had been roosting is now rather wet and none have been seen since last weekend. We decided not to linger here and moved on.

As we wound our way west along the coast road, we came across a field chock full of Pink-footed Geese. The sugar beet here was harvested a couple of weeks ago now, but still the geese are coming in to feed on the tops left behind by the harvester. We found a convenient layby to pull in for a closer look and there were well over a thousand geese in view and more out of sight in the field. We could see the pink legs and feet on the closest birds as they picked around in the field beside us, as well as their dark heads and delicate bills with a pink band.

Pink-footed Geese 2Pink-footed Geese – feeding in the harvested field by the coast road

With a little bit of time still before lunch, we headed round to Cley. There has been a Black Brant with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese here for several weeks now and in recent days it has been feeding in the Eye Field. As we drove up the Beach Road, we could see lots of Brent Geese feeding out in the grass, but even as we pulled up, small groups were flying off towards the reserve, presumably for a drink and a bathe.

Apparently, the Black Brant had been seen here earlier but there was no sign of it now. We had a good look through at the Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Just behind them, a large flock of Golden Plover were catching the sunshine.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese & Golden Plover – in the Eye Field

With the likelihood that the geese which had flown onto the reserve would return to resume feeding later, we decided to go off and have something to eat ourselves, before coming back for another look. It was rather breezy round at the visitor centre, but we still managed to make use of the picnic tables, as well as enjoying a hot drink from the cafe.

A few Ruff flew up from the reserve and headed off inland over the car park to feed in the fields inland. Something flushed all the Golden Plover from the Eye Field. We could see them whirling around in the distance, before they too flew over us in a series of small groups and headed off inland.

After lunch, we made our way back round to the Eye Field. This time, we quickly located the Black Brant feeding in amongst all the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. In the early afternoon sun, its more solid and cleaner white flank patch really stood out compared to the more muted flank patches on the other geese. Through the scope, we could also see its darker body plumage and more strongly marked white neck collar, complete under the chin and extending further round the sides towards the back of the neck.

Black BrantBlack Brant – with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the Eye Field

The wind was really quite gusty now. A Stonechat appeared close by, landing on the top a gorse bush just the other side of the West Bank from the Beach Road. A male, with a black face, it struggled to remain there in the wind.

StonechatStonechat – struggled to perch on the gorse in the wind

There did not appear to be much out on the reserve today, so we continued on our way west. White-fronted Goose was a particular target for the day, so we headed over to Holkham next. There are still only a very few White-fronted Geese in for the winter here yet, but we parked up overlooking the grazing marshes and started to scan.

At first, all we could see were lots of Greylag Geese down on the grazing marshes in front of us. There were a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. Thankfully it didn’t take us too long to find some White-fronted Geese, although they were a little further over today and tucked in beyond some trees.

Initially, we located a family group of four White-fronted Geese which we got in the scope. We could see the white surround to the base of the bills of the adults catching the sun. They were in the longer grass and mostly sitting down though, so it was hard to see any other details. Fortunately, we then found another pair further round and repositioning ourselves we could get a clear view. These White-fronted Geese were on shorter grass and we could see their distinctive black belly bars.

Red KiteRed Kite – catching the afternoon sun

There was a nice selection of raptors out at Holkham this afternoon too. As usual, we could see several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards. A single Red Kite flew low over the freshmarsh, landing down on the grass for a few minutes before flying off towards the Park. It really shone rusty red in the afternoon sun. A Kestrel flew in and landed in the tree in front of us. The Sparrowhawk was slightly less obliging, flying up out of the same trees just as the gusty wind blew a blizzard of beech leaves out of the park and over the fields. It was hard to work out which was Sparrowhawk and which was leaf!

There is usually at least one Great White Egret on view here, but we couldn’t see one at first today. One of the wardens had just done the rounds and was leaving as we arrived, so we wondered whether they had flown off. Fortunately, as we were standing admiring the geese, a Great White Egret appeared up over the trees out in the middle and flew out over the freshmarsh towards us. It landed down by one of the wet ditches, where we could get it in the scope.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – flew in and landed out on the freshmarsh

With the White-fronted Geese safely in the bag, we carried on west. Our next stop was at Brancaster Staithe. This is often a good place to find waders and from the warmth of the car we could see Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Redshank. Several Oystercatchers were picking over the discarded mussels and the Turnstones were running in and out of the cars. Further out, a Greenshank was feeding up to its belly in the water in the harbour channel.

While the waders were nice, we had really come here to see the Long-tailed Duck which has been feeding in the channel here in recent days. It was low tide now, so there wasn’t much water left, but we did eventually spot the Long-tailed Duck diving a little further out in the harbour, in the deeper part of the channel just behind a muddy bank. Thankfully it then came a little closer, swimming up the channel at first, before half waddling over a submerged sand bar, and then starting to dive again.

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck – the 1st winter drake still in the harbour

We had a good look at the Long-tailed Duck, though it was tricky to photograph because it was diving all the time. It could stay under for some time and then resurface some distance away. It was a first winter drake, rather pale around the head and with a scattering of white feathers in its black upperparts.

It had clouded over now and the light was already starting to fade when we finally got to Titchwell. Our main target here was Yellow-legged Gull, so we hurried out to the freshmarsh. There were already a few Marsh Harriers starting to gather over the reeds either side of the path.

We had been told that an adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the island in front of Island Hide, so we headed straight in there first. When we opened the shutters, we were greeted by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of gulls. They were mainly Black-headed Gulls but, even so, they would take a bit of searching through. There was a line of larger gulls on the island where the Yellow-legged Gull had been earlier, but as we searched through we couldn’t find it. There were just Herring Gulls, a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls there now.

No need to panic! We opened the shutters on the other side of the hide and started to work our way methodically through the massed throng. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find the Yellow-legged Gull. It was quite close, on the near edge of one the islands behind a load of Black-headed Gulls. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was standing in shallow water, so we could see the top halves of its bright custard yellow legs. Its mantle was a shade darker than the Black-headed Gulls around it and it had a clean white head with only limited dark streaking around the eye, very different from most of the other large gulls.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – one of the adults on the freshmarsh at dusk

When the Yellow-legged Gull sat down in the water and went to sleep, we continued to scan through the gulls. The only other gull of note we found was a second Yellow-legged Gull a bit further back – two for the price of one! There was also a nice selection of wildfowl here for the day’s list, including Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck and Wigeon.

With the light going now, we decided to head for home. As we walked back up the main path, we looked out across the reedbed and noticed there were loads of Marsh Harriers all in the air. We stopped for a quick count – 32 all together. It was quite a sight. Another, the 33rd, was still flying in over the reeds the other side of the path. It was a nice end to the day to see them all circling round in the wind, as we walked back towards the car.

19th Nov 2017 – Early Winter Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Early Winter Tours today, our last day. It was another frosty start and another glorious, clear, sunny day. There was a light but fresh westerly breeze in the morning but that dropped by the afternoon. Another great day to be out birding!

Today we headed out in the other direction, west along the coast road. As we passed Holkham we could see lots of Pink-footed Geese in the grazing meadows beyond Lady Anne’s Drive. A small group was close to the road, so we pulled up by a convenient gap in the hedge for a closer look. We could see their small bills, mostly dark but for a narrow pink band, and their dark heads.

Pink-footed GoosePink-footed Goose – a group was right by the coast road as we passed by

A little further on, we stopped to have a look out across the freshmarsh. A large white shape flew across the front edge of one of the pool and landed in the rushes. Even at that distance, it was clearly a big heron and could only be a Great White Egret. Through the scope we could see its long, yellow dagger of a bill. A Grey Heron appeared next to it and was not much smaller – a nice size comparison. Then a second Great White Egret appeared on the front edge of the trees out in the middle.

There were a few geese out on this end of the freshmarsh today, mostly Greylags but with a few small groups of pairs of Egyptian Geese scattered among them too. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find a group of three White-fronted Geese in with the Greylags down at the front of the grass. Through the scope, we could see the white-surround to the base of their pink bills. When something flushed the geese and they resettled, more White-fronted Geese had appeared – there was now a tight group of at least thirteen together a little further out.

White-fronted GeeseWhite-fronted Geese – at least 13 were at Holkham today

A handful of Pink-footed Geese out on the freshmarsh here too included a single bird bearing a silvery grey neck collar. We could just read the lettering ‘VLS’ through the scope. It will be interesting to hear back where it has been seen before. There still don’t seem to be so many Wigeon here, but we could still see several flocks over in the distance around the pools to the east. It seems like it has still been rather mild on the continent and numbers of some wildfowl are still rather low. More should arrive in the coming weeks.

A nice selection of raptors put on a show for us this morning. A Red Kite drifted in from over the Park behind us and dropped down towards the grazing marshes. It appeared to land on the grass behind the trees and a Marsh Harrier flew straight in after it. The Red Kite promptly reappeared the other side of the trees, presumably seen off from whatever it had found. Its rusty red tail and underparts positively shone in the morning sun as it banked and turned.

A couple of Common Buzzards were perched out in various trees and bushes. One was a fairly conventional brown bird, but the other was strikingly pale, white below and around the head. As the air started to warm a little, more Marsh Harriers and Buzzards appeared in the air. A Sparrowhawk flew in along the line of the hedge below us amd chased out a second one. The two Sparrowhawks then landed in a tree where we could get them in the scope. A Kestrel was perched on the scaffold tower in the distance.

Continuing on our way west, we stopped again at Brancaster Staithe. A Long-tailed Duck had been reported for the last couple of days in the harbour channel here and it didn’t take us long to find it. It was diving further out in the channel, among the boats at first, but then swam up the channel past us and disappeared into the mouth of one of the muddy creeks.

There were lots of waders around the muddy edges of the creek. Several Bar-tailed Godwits gave us a great opportunity for closer inspection and a discussion of some of the differences between the two godwit species in non-breeding plumage. We could hear a Greenshank calling and quickly located it on the far bank in the sunshine, before a second Greenshank flew in and joined it.

Bar-tailed GodwitBar-tailed Godwit – close views at Brancaster Staithe this morning

There were also a few Dunlin down with the Bar-tailed Godwits and a Ringed Plover on the near edge. Further over, we could see a couple of Grey Plover and Curlew too. Several Turnstone were practically running around our feet until they spotted a Common Gull dropping a mussel, shattering it and then starting to pick it apart. They gathered round, waiting to pick off the scraps.

There were a few Brent Geese feeding round the harbour too, plus a scattering of Wigeon. A little group of Teal gathered down along the near edge of the harbour ramp looked stunning in the morning sunshine.

When the Long-tailed Duck reappeared, it was initially hard to follow. It was diving constantly and made its way even further up the channel away from us. But the tide was going out and it quickly turned back, swimming back down channel and straight past us, giving us a great close view as it went past. It was a first winter drake, rather pale around the head and with some pale feathering in the upperparts.

Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck – in the harbour channel at Brancaster Staithe

As the Long-tailed Duck swam back out into the open water downstream, we decided to move on. We made our way west to Thornham Harbour next. As we got out of the car, we saw a flock of small finches drop down towards the saltmarsh beyond the car park. We would come to those in a minute, but first we had a quick look in the harbour channel. There were a few waders down on the mud – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank – but no sign of any Spotted Redshank here.

From up on the seawall, we quickly located the flock of small finches down on the saltmarsh and sure enough they were the Twite which we were looking for. They were feeding on the dry seedheads but were rather nervous as usual and kept flying up and circling round over the harbour before landing back down on the edge of the saltmarsh right in front of us again, back where they had started. We had a great look at them through the scope – their rich orangey-brown-toned breasts and bright yellow bills catching the sun when they perched up on the taller seedheads.

TwiteTwite – around twenty were feeding on the saltmarsh vegetation

There are around twenty Twite here at the moment. This is a traditional wintering spot for the species, although numbers have declined markedly in recent years as the breeding population in the Pennines has declined, which is where most of our wintering Twite come from. There are always a few colour-ringed birds in with them, which help to confirm their origins.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see large flocks of Wigeon and Brent Geese in the distance. A single Red-breasted Merganser was just visible way out in a chink of open water where the harbour channel curved towards the sea, before it swam behind one of the sandbanks out of view. A Curlew was catching the sun down in the muddy channel just below the bank.

CurlewCurlew – warming itself in the morning sun

Continuing on out along the seawall, there were lots of Skylarks on either side, over the grazing meadows and the saltmarsh. A couple of Reed Buntings flew in and landed down amongst the Suaeda bushes just below the bank. A single Common Snipe flew in and landed out in the grass briefly, before heading back out across the saltmarsh. The Twite flew over our heads calling and landed down by a pool out on the grazing marsh for a quick drink, before flying back towards the harbour again.

We stopped for a quick look out across Broadwater. A Little Grebe and a few Coot were both new birds for the day, but otherwise there were just a few dabbling ducks around the reedy margins – mainly Mallard, Teal and Shoveler. In the grazing meadow beyond, a party of Brent Geese had flown in to join the local Greylags feeding on the grass.

Climbing up into the dunes, we had a look out to sea. The Common Scoter were very distant today and very spread out – we could just make out hundreds of tiny dark specks riding the waves out towards the horizon. A pair of Red-breasted Merganser flew in and landed behind the breakers. Otherwise, there was not much visible out on the sea today – just a couple of Great Crested Grebes.

When we got back to the harbour, we had another quick look in the harbour channel. A couple of Rock Pipits were chasing each other around on the mud and up onto the boats moored along the wooden jetties. There was still no sign of any Spotted Redshanks though, until we had started to leave and we spotted one further up the channel from the car. We got out and got the scope on it – we could see its long, needle-fine bill. It was also noticeably paler than the Common Redshank on the mud behind it. The Spotted Redshank was feeding in the water at first, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side, before it climbed out onto a line of rocks and stood where we could see its red legs.

With a bit of time still before lunch, we headed inland for a drive round to see if we could find any flocks of finches and buntings in the fields. We did find a lot of Blackbirds and thrushes feeding on the berries in the more overgrown hedges – including several Redwings and a couple of Fieldfares too.

A little further on, we came across a large flock of finches, coming down to drink in the puddles around a farm gateway. They were mostly Chaffinches, plus a few Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches, but a smart male Brambling flew up too and landed in the hedge just in front of us. We could see its orange breast and shoulders, and its white rump as it eventually flew away ahead of us down the line of the hedge.

Dropping back down via Choseley, we passed a large mixed flock of Linnets and Goldfinches feeding in a strip of wild bird seed mix sown along the margin of a field. There was very little around the drying barns though – just a handful of House Sparrows feeding on some seed scattered in the layby. A group of Golden Plover was feeding in a winter wheat field along with some Lapwings further down.

As we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, a single Chiffchaff was feeding in the sunshine in the yellow autumn leaves of a sycamore. We stopped for lunch in the picnic area, and quickly picked out one of the Mealy Redpolls here, feeding up in the alders with the Goldfinches. We had a chat about the changing taxonomy of the Redpoll complex over lunch – the treatment of these birds is currently in a state of flux, to say the least! A flock of Long-tailed Tits passing through, along with a Goldcrest provided a welcome distraction.

Mealy RedpollMealy Redpoll – feeding up in the alders above the picnic area

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders around the visitor centre were looking rather empty this afternoon. A Coal Tit was a welcome addition to the day’s list, but otherwise there were just a few Chaffinches and Blue and Great Tits. We could hear a couple of Siskin calling from somewhere high in the willows.

A careful scan of the ditches along the path provided a Water Rail feeding quietly down in the wet leaves in the bottom. Unfortunately, as more people gathered around us and started chatting noisily, it scuttled back into cover, although we could still see it feeding under the branches of an overhanging tree.

Water RailWater Rail – feeding down in the ditch below the path

There were just a few Mallard and a single Little Grebe out on the reedbed pool and we couldn’t see any activity on the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’, so we headed straight out to the freshmarsh. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers sang from the bushes out in the reeds as we passed. A Kestrel was perched on the concrete bunker out on the saltmarsh and as we looked at it through the scope a Kingfisher appeared briefly, hovering behind.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh, particularly ducks here for the winter. There are plenty of Wigeon here now and lots of Teal. We got a smart drake Gadwall in the scope and admired the subtle patterning of its plumage. There were a few Shoveler and Shelduck out there too.

TealTeal – good numbers on the freshmarsh for the winter now

A small gathering of gulls around one of the small islands were mostly Black-headed and Herring Gulls, but we did find an adult Yellow-legged Gull in with them. Unfortunately it was swimming on the water and it was impossible to see its custard yellow legs!

There was not a great variety of waders on view, but we could see a good number of Ruff here. One of the Ruff was still in full juvenile plumage, much darker than the others. It was also a female and noticeably smaller than the paler winter adult male it was next to. There were also a few Dunlin out on the mud amongst all the ducks.

There was a better selection of waders out on the Volunteer Marsh today. From the corner by the path to Parrinder Hide we stopped to scan. We could see Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Redshank. A Ringed Plover was feeding on the mud just the other side of the channel, with three more further back. A single Knot was picking around the islands of vegetation out in the middle.

Ringed PloverRinged Plover – there were several on Volunteer Marsh today

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits along the tidal channel at the far side of the Volunteer Marsh, including one on the mud just below the path which gave us a good opportunity to have a closer look at it, reminding ourselves of the differences from the Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier. Most of the Avocets have departed for the winter, but we did find one lonely individual roosting on the spit out on the tidal pools. Otherwise, a single drake Pintail and a Little Grebe were the only other birds of note on here today.

The tide was already on its way in when we got out to the beach. We could see lots of Oystercatchers still down on the bits of the mussel beds which had not yet been covered by the water. We got a Sanderling in the scope, running around on the edge of the sea, dwarfed by an Oystercatcher next to it. The waders were starting to gather ahead of the rising tide and a large flock of forty or so Sanderling then flew in from the west, along with a big party of Bar-tailed Godwits.

Out on the sea, we found a Common Scoter close in, riding the waves just behind the breakers – a better view than the distant dots we had seen earlier! But other than a few more Common Scoter, we couldn’t see anything else on the sea today. There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on razor shells washed up along the tide line, but a quick scan through them failed to locate anything other than the regular species.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on our way back. There were more gulls arriving all the time, coming in before roost – Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. We found the Yellow-legged Gull again, asleep now, but at least we could see half its custard yellow legs above the water now.

There were a few more waders gathering too. There was already a little party of Golden Plover on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide. As we sat and watched, every few minutes another small group would drop in and join them, calling plaintively as they flew in from the fields inland where they had been feeding. A single Knot had appeared on the edge of the gathered Black-headed Gulls and a flock of Turnstone flew in from the beach. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits on here too now and the Ruff had gathered together into a tighter flock ready to roost.

Golden PloverGolden Plovers – gathering on the freshmarsh at dusk

The light was starting to go fast now – the evenings draw in quickly at this time of year. As we made our way back towards the visitor centre, we stopped on the path opposite the reedbed. The Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost over the reeds, and we counted at least 11 before we left, flying round and perched in the bushes. A twelfth then flew in overhead from the direction of Thornham as we walked on.

It was getting dark as we drove back towards Holkham. As we drove along the north side of the park, we could see lines and lines of geese flying overhead in the gathering gloom, thousands of Pink-footed Geese dropping down to the freshmarsh to roost. A typical Norfolk sight at this time of year and a nice way to end the day – and an action-packed three days of early winter birding.

13th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 2

Day 2 of a four day Autumn Tour today. It was a more mixed day weather-wise, mostly dry apart from a brief squally shower this morning, but with a rather blustery SW wind all day, gusting up to 40mph at times. Still, it didn’t hold us back and we had another great day out.

After meeting in Wells, we headed west along the coast to Titchwell for the day. There were lots of geese in the stubble fields by the road – lots of Greylags with a good number of Pink-footed Geese and a few Egyptian Geese too.

At Titchwell, the main car park was slowly starting to fill up, so we went for a quick look round the overflow car park before it got too busy. There were several Blackbirds in the apple trees – possibly some of them were freshly arrived from the continent overnight – and a couple of Redwings were calling from the hedge as we walked past. We flushed several finches from the brambles, a few Chaffinches and a noisy flock of Greenfinches. A Brambling flew over calling, as did a single Grey Wagtail. Otherwise, there were not that many birds in here this morning, so we decided to head out onto the reserve. A Redwing flew across in front of us and perched briefly in the top of the trees, before diving into cover.

A Grey Phalarope (also confusingly called a Red Phalarope, for our North American tour participants!) had appeared at Titchwell yesterday, so after enjoying great views of the Red-necked Phalarope yesterday, we thought we would go to look for the Grey today. Before we got out of the car park, we received a message to say that it had just flown in closer and was now showing very well in front of Parrinder Hide, so we headed straight round there.

When we got out onto the main path, we could see some dark clouds heading our way, so we didn’t linger to scan for birds on the way out. A Bearded Tit was pinging from the reeds by the Thornham grazing marsh dry pool and zipped across the tops before diving back into cover. A single Eurasian Curlew was very well camouflaged standing in the vegetation out on the saltmarsh, whereas the Little Egret stood out like a sore thumb!

There were quite a few people in Parrinder Hide already, but we managed to find space for all of us. Just in time, as a squally shower passed over. Within a minute or so of us arriving, the Grey Phalarope appeared from behind the reeds. Unusually for a phalarope, it seemed to have realised it was a wader and was feeding along the edge of the water, walking around on the mud. Normally they prefer to swim! It picked its way steadily towards the hide and was soon only a few metres away from us – great views.

Grey Phalarope 1Grey Phalarope – mostly feeding like a wader rather than swimming today

Up close like this, we could see the Grey Phalarope was a young bird, moulting into 1st winter plumage. It had already moulted its mantle and scapulars extensively, with new pale grey feathers, but still retained several white-fringed black juvenile feathers, particularly on its wings. It was also a little bit chunkier, with a slightly thicker, heavier bill than yesterday’s Red-necked Phalarope, which was still mostly in juvenile plumage.

The Grey Phalarope worked its way up and down on the mud, doing a little circuit, occasionally flying back out of sight behind the reeds, before making its way back out again along the muddy water’s edge. At one point it, when it got to the nearest point of the mud, it flew across and landed down right in front of the hide windows. From time to time, it would swim across the water, but it seemed to prefer to head back each time to the mud.

Grey Phalarope 2Grey Phalarope – flew right in front of Parrinder Hide

Whenever the Grey Phalarope disappeared from view behind the reeds, we turned our attention to the other birds out on the scrape. There was a nice selection of waders. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting out in the shallow water. Through the scope, we could see there was a mixture of paler adults and more richly coloured juveniles. As one preened, we could see its barred tail. Nearby, a big group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding. We could see their much plainer, darker grey-brown upperparts.

There were several Ruff out on the freshmarsh too, a mixture of paler adults and browner juveniles. A small flock of Eurasian Golden Plover flew in and landed on one of the islands out in the middle, where they proceeded to bathe and preen before going to sleep.

There were several little groups of Dunlin around the scrape too. They were rather jumpy in the wind and mobile, flying around and feeding in different places, before getting spooked again. At first the two Little Stints were hard to find. They were not feeding with the Dunlin, but at first we located them on their own along the mud the other side, in front of the reeds. The Little Stints were skittish too, and flew round and across in front of us, before dropping down between the islands.

DunlinDunlin – this small flock flew round and landed in front of Parrinder Hide briefly

There are plenty of ducks here now, with large numbers of Eurasian Teal and Eurasian Wigeon in particular having returned for the winter already. Most of the drakes are still in rather drab eclipse plumage, but some are starting to moult out already. A small group of Wigeon walked across to graze on the island opposite the hide, with a smart drake in amongst them. There were lots of Teal right in front of the windows, which gave us a great opportunity to look at the differences in moult progress between them. The drake Gadwall are mostly already back in breeding plumage.

TealEurasian Teal – this drake is just starting to moult out of eclipse plumage

There were a few passerines on the freshmarsh too. Little flocks of Linnets kept fluttering about on the edge of the water. A couple of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the short grass on the islands and a Meadow Pipit or two appeared with them. A Skylark flew in and dropped down on the grass.

Eventually, with the weather improving, we decided to head out towards the beach. We popped into the other side of the Parrinder Hide, but the Volunteer Marsh from this side looked largely deserted, apart from several Redshanks. A female Eurasian Kestrel was perched on one of the fence posts along the edge of the bank. As we left the hide, the Kestrel flew off across the mud, flushing the Redshanks which called noisily and several Linnets which had been hiding in the vegetation.

KestrelEurasian Kestrel – perched on the fence posts on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

There were more waders on the far side of the Volunteer Marsh, in the tidal channel viewable from the main path. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks, plus a couple of Curlew. But towards the back, occasionally hiding down in the muddy creeks, we found our first Grey (aka Black-bellied) Plover of the day.

There is still quite a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, but as soon as we got over the bank, we could see several Black-tailed Godwits, and a couple were very close to the path. We got a great look them as they fed in the deep water. A Little Grebe was diving nearby, but quickly swam over and hid beneath the vegetation overhanging the bank as we walked up.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Tidal Pools

Further over, we could see a couple of small flocks of Eurasian Oystercatchers out on the saltmarsh and one of the spits which juts out into the water. A closer look through the scope revealed several Grey Plover roosting on the spit too, but most of the birds were hiding on the other side of the spit, in the lee of the wind. A flock of Ruddy Turnstone flew in and landed down in the saltmarsh with the Oystercatchers.

We continued on to the beach and stopped to scan the sea from the other side of the dunes, out of the wind. Our attention was drawn to a Great Crested Grebe hauled out on the sand on the edge of the water. It didn’t look particularly well. There were several more Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a careful scan revealed a single Red-throated Diver though it was a little too far out to see easily in the swell and we lost it when it dived. Two Common Scoter close inshore were much easier to see.

Common ScoterCommon Scoter – these two were swimming just offshore

There were not many birds moving offshore today, though we did manage to pick up a handful of Brent Goose flying in for the winter and a little party of three Shelducks, probably returning after going over to the continent to moult out at the Waddensee.

The tide was already coming in fast and the mussel beds were covered. A large flock of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting on the sand towards Brancaster, but as the tide continued to rise they took off and flew in over the beach and off towards the reserve. There were also several silvery grey and white Sanderling running around on the beach like clockwork toys.

It was already midday now, so we decided to start walking back slowly for lunch. We stopped again at the Tidal Pools where more waders had gathered to roost. Through the scope, we had a good look at a mixed group of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers. A single (not so Red) Knot appeared from behind them and started to bathe in the shallow water. A smart Redshank close to the path looked particularly striking with the sun highlighting its red legs and red-based bill.

RedshankRedshank – its red legs and bill base catching the sun

We stopped briefly at the Freshmarsh to see if anything new had arrived in our absence. A few more Golden Plover had flown in and gone to sleep on the islands. There had been a Dotterel here with them briefly yesterday, though there were also a lot more Golden Plover then, and there was no sign of it at all today.

When we got back to the trees, we took a diversion around Meadow Trail. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler here earlier, but it was always going to be difficult to see today given the wind. At first, all we could find were a few tits and a single Chiffchaff. There were several Common Darter dragonflies basking in the sunshine out of the wind on the boardwalk which we flushed as we walked along.

Common DarterCommon Darter – basking in the sunshine on the boardwalk

Then as we got round to the dragonfly pool, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sallows. Unfortunately, it had chosen the windy side of the boardwalk, and it was deep in the bushes – there seemed little chance it would come out this side. We had a quick look along Fen Trail, in case it worked its way through that way, but there was no sign. A flock of Long-tailed Tits had just gone across the path and possibly it was following behind them.

As we were eating lunch in the picnic area, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling again, from deep in the sallows between where we were sitting and Fen Trail. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling too, and we were hopeful initially they might be working their way through the trees towards us, but instead they disappeared off in the other direction. A Sparrowhawk flew over and several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese headed off east.

While we were getting ready to move on again, we were informed that several Bramblings had been showing around the feeders at the Visitor Centre. We stopped by the first set of feeders, where they had been on the ground, and waited a while. All we could see were Chaffinches feeding here. It was only when we went round to the feeders the other side that we discovered they had moved round there. We were treated to great views of at least two female Bramblings and two very smart males. There were also a few Siskins in the tops of the alders.

BramblingBrambling – a smart male around the feeders behind the Visitor Centre

After enjoying the Bramblings, we set off out along Fen Trail again. There was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler this time. A Kingfisher called from the dragonfly pool, but we didn’t see it. We carried on round to Patsy’s Reedbed, where there were fewer birds today. A smattering of ducks included just one Tufted Duck. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding along the bank at the front. As we continued out along East Trail, we flushed a couple of Song Thrushes from the hedge ahead of us. A tight flock of about thirty Siskin flew past us and headed off west.

We stopped at the end of Autumn Trail to scan the back of the freshmarsh. It didn’t take long to find three Spotted Redshanks, asleep by the fence at the back of the Avocet Island. We thought the corner of the scrape round the back here might have been more sheltered from the wind, but it was whistling through here too. It seemed an unlikely day for good views Bearded Tits, given the wind, but one male did fly in and land very close to us. Unfortunately it was too quick for everyone to get onto, shuffling up into the top of the reeds, which were swaying around in the breeze, before flying off over the bank.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male appeared only briefly in the tops of the reeds

The afternoon was getting on now, so we made our way slowly back to the Visitor Centre. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of Willow Wood and landed in one of the dead trees on the edge of the reedbed as we passed. We had obviously tired everyone out, because they immediately sank down onto the benches and picnic tables when we got back. We stopped just long enough to see a couple of Bramblings, back the other side of the centre now, then managed to get everyone moving again towards the car before they got too settled.

Rather than another walk, we decided to have a quick drive round via Choseley to see what we could see next. It was rather windy up on the ridge and nothing was very settled. There was a big flock of Goldfinch in the hedge and several coveys of Red-legged Partridges in the fields. We flushed a few Brown Hares as we drove past, which sprinted off across the fields – or across the road in front of us in one case.

At this point, we received a message to say there was a Bean Goose back along the coast, so as this was on our way back, we decided to head straight over there. We found somewhere to park and were directed to the bird, which was with a flock of Pink-footed Geese in a stubble field by the road. We could immediately see its day-glo orange legs and patterning on the bill, very different from the more muted pink on the Pink-footed Geese, so everybody had a quick first look at it through the scope.

There are two subspecies of Bean Goose we get here, treated by some now as separate species in their own right. Tundra Bean Goose occurs quite frequently in with the flocks of Pink-footed Geese in the winter. Taiga Bean Goose is considerably rarer here. There are two regular wintering sites for Taiga Bean Goose in the UK – on the Slamannan Plateau in Scotland and down at Cantley & Buckenham Marshes in the Norfolk Broads – and they are very unusual away from these sites. We were immediately struck by the large amount of orange on this birds bill. Then it stood up amongst the Pinkfeet and lifted its head – it was head and shoulders above the other geese – it had to be a Taiga Bean Goose!

Taiga Bean Goose 1Taiga Bean Goose – a rare visitor here, away from a regular wintering site in the Broads

There was also a single Barnacle Goose down with the Pinkfeet, but it didn’t get as much attention as its more exotic – distant – relative. We do get wild Barnacle Geese here from time to time but there is also a feral population a short distance away at Holkham, and this bird had most likely just come from there.

The Taiga Bean Goose was getting a bit of hassle from the Pink-footed Geese, which would occasionally chase or peck out at it. It came out into the stubble in front of the other geese, stopped to preen, then took off on its own and flew up towards the road. It landed out of view in a dip in the ground, but by working our way along behind the hedge on the other side of the road, we managed to find a place from which we could see it.

Taiga Bean Goose 2Taiga Bean Goose – not much smaller than the Greylags

The Taiga Bean Goose was very close now, feeding this time with a small group of Greylag Geese. We could see it was a big goose, not much smaller than the Greylags, and with a long, thin, almost swan-like head and neck. The bill was long and thin and extensively marked with orange, very different from the stubbier bill of a Tundra Bean Goose. We had a great view and watched it for several minutes at close quarters. Eventually, the geese started to work their way back down the field, so we decided to leave them to it.

It was a very nice surprise to catch up with not only a Bean Goose, but a Taiga Bean Goose at that, on our way home. A great way to end another exciting day out.

 

8th Oct 2017 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was cloudy all day, and although it was spitting with rain first thing (which wasn’t forecast!), thankfully the rain quickly stopped and it even brightened up a little bit.

As we drove west along the coast road, there were lots of geese in the stubble fields beyond Holkham. We slowed down and could see they were mostly Greylags, with a good number of Pink-footed Geese in with them as well as several Egyptian Geese too.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived in the car park, we headed round to take a look in the bushes in the oevrflow car park first. As well as the usual Dunnocks and Robins, we heard a Blackcap calling in the apple trees as we rounded the corner, just in time to see it drop down into the brambles. There were several Blackbirds in the trees, very active, suggesting they had just arrived. A couple of Redwings flew over calling, as did a Grey Wagtail. There were clearly birds on the move and newly arrived in from the continent this morning.

The feeders around the visitor centre held the usual selection of finches and tits, so we made our way straight out to Fen Trail. We were hoping to track down the Yellow-browed Warbler which has probably been here for some time now, but the sallows were fairly quiet. More Redwings were calling from the trees.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s reedbed, particularly several each of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, both of which were new additions for the weekend’s list. There were a few gulls too, loafing and preening, mostly Black-headed Gulls with a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls too. A larger gull at the back of them had a distinctive grey mantle, not as dark as the slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but noticeably darker than the Black-headed Gulls. It was also noticeably pale headed, with limited fine streaking. It was a Yellow-legged Gull, but unfortunately it remained in the deeper water where we couldn’t see its bright yellow legs properly.

Scanning over the reedbed and beyond, we noticed a large heron-like bird flying in from the direction of Brancaster. It was a Bittern and thankfully it kept coming, flying right across in front of us over the reeds at the back of Patsy’s before dropping down somewhere out in front of Fen Hide the other side. A great way to start the morning, with a Bittern!

BitternBittern – flew in from Brancaster & dropped down in front of Fen Hide

Continuing on along the East Trail, there were more birds migrating overhead. Two more Grey Wagtails flew high over calling, as did a flock of Linnets. A couple of groups of Siskins flew out of the wood ahead of us and circled up calling, before flying off west, presumably fresh arrivals from the continent. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew away across the paddocks, that one presumably a local bird.

There were lots of thrushes in the hedges which flew out as we walked along, presumably birds freshly arrived from the continent which had stopped off to feed. As well as more Redwings, we flushed several Song Thrushes, and four Mistle Thrushes flew past us along the line of the hedge, heading purposefully west. When we got to Willow Wood, there were lots of Blackbirds in the trees and feeding down on the edge of the reeds. At one point we thought we heard a harsher ‘tchacking’ call from the trees, which sounded a bit like a Ring Ouzel. But when we stopped to listen properly, it had gone quiet.

At that point we were distracted. There has been a Little Owl around here for the last couple of weeks, and we heard it calling from somewhere over around the paddocks. We walked back to try to see it. It was not on the fence at the back of the paddocks, but as we scanned along the other side of the big hedge, we just noticed a small patch of grey brown hidden in amongst the leaves. When we got it in the scope, we could confirm it was indeed the Little Owl.

Little OwlLittle Owl – half hidden in the top of the hedge

It was hard enough to see, even when you knew where it was, but eventually we all got a good look at the Little Owl. While we were standing there watching it, a blackbird-like shape flew up from the edge of the wood and into the top of an oak tree. It stayed there just long enough to get a quick look at it. It was the Ring Ouzel – we could see the distinctive pale edges to the wing feathers forming a pale panel, although it was a young one, a first winter, lacking a well-marked pale gorget. Then it dropped out of the tree, flew across in front of us and disappeared into the hedge.

We couldn’t see the Ring Ouzel again in the hedge, so we made our way on around Autumn Trail to the back corner of the freshmarsh. With the tide high, this is the place where the Spotted Redshanks like to roost and we immediately located a line of six of them there today. They were with four Greenshanks, but the Spotted Redshanks were all asleep, making them harder to separate. One Spotted Redshank did wake up briefly, just long enough for us to see its long, needle-fine-tipped bill.

Little StintLittle Stint – this juvenile was feeding in the back corner of the freshmarsh

Down on the mud in the near corner, a single Little Stint was feeding. It was nice and close so we could get a good look at it. There were supposed to be two here today, but they were obviously not on speaking terms! There was a lone juvenile Ruff too. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a Kingfisher shot past.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see several perched in the top of the reeds. It was a lovely still day, so they were coming up to feed on the seedheads. There were a couple of small groups here and they were calling constantly. This is also the time of year when Bearded Tits disperse, and some were itching to be on their way this morning. We watched as one group of four circled up out of the reeds and high into the sky, before changing their minds and dropping sharply back into the reeds again.

Bearded Tit 1Bearded Tits – we saw several groups in the reeds today

One group of Bearded Tits started to make their way closer, over towards the path. We walked back to where they seemed to be headed and before we knew it we had them all perched up in the top of the reeds right in front of us. Stunning views!

Bearded Tit 2

Bearded Tit 3Bearded Tits – stunning views along Autumn Trail this morning

The Bearded Tits seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, and stayed perched in the top of the reeds right in front of us for several minutes, before finally deciding to fly a little further back into the reeds. It was a real treat to see them so well and for so long.

We started to make our way back. A crowd had now gathered to try to see the Ring Ouzel, so we didn’t linger. A Little Grebe laughed at us – or them – from out on Patsy’s Reedbed as we passed. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way quickly down along the hedge beside the path, in the opposite direction, but there was no sign of anything more interesting with them.

Making our way slowly back along Fen Trail, the sallows were still quiet. We stopped to listen by the dragonfly pools and finally heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call. It came from somewhere round on Meadow Trail, so we made our way quickly round there. Unfortunately, it didn’t call again and there was no sign of any movement in the trees, apart from a couple of Blue Tits and a few Blackbirds.

It was clear that this Yellow-browed Warbler was not going to make our lives easy, so with the morning passing quickly, we decided to head out onto the reserve. There were lots of people gathered on the main path by the former Thornham grazing marsh pool, and they told us they had seen up to 40 Bearded Tits either side of the path here. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see a large group of at least 15 in the tops of the reeds on the Thornham side. There were more calling from the reeds behind us. It was definitely a good day for Bearded Tits!

CurlewCurlew – very well camouflaged on the saltmarsh

Continuing on our way, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbed. A lone Curlew was down on the near edge of the saltmarsh. It was very well-camouflaged here, among the grasses, but easier to see when it was walking round feeding.

In Island Hide, we stopped to have a look at the Freshmarsh. There were lots of waders on here, principally a very large flock of Golden Plover which had probably flown in from the stubble fields inland to bathe, preen and sleep. Behind them was a long line of Black-tailed Godwits, again mostly asleep. Scattered around the islands and edges were a good number of Ruff, both browner juveniles and paler, orange-legged adults. There were several little flocks of Dunlin too, and we finally found the second Little Stint running around on the top of one of the drier islands among all the Lapwing, looking tiny by comparison.

RuffRuff – a paler winter adult, one of several on the freshmarsh

The biggest surprise on here was when one of the group said they had found a Grey Partridge and we looked over to see a male walking out across the mud. A bizarre sight, it clearly thought it was a wader! It didn’t stay long though, and quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to the bank.

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now, mainly Wigeon and Teal which have returned here for the winter. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from out on the saltmarsh  to bathe and preen, before heading back the way they had just come.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding on the edge of the Freshmarsh

From back up on the main path, a close Black-tailed Godwit was feeding down on the mud below us. A little further along, at the start of the Volunteer Marsh, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. Even though they weren’t side by side, we looked at some of the ways to tell these two species apart in non-breeding plumage.

There were also a few Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh and more waders along the banks of the channel at the far side. Three Grey Plover here were the most notable, all now in their grey non-breeding plumage.

RedshankCommon Redshank – the Volunteer Marsh is a good place to see them up close

After the recent high tides, the Tidal Pools were full of water and most of the islands were flooded. Consequently, there were fewer birds on here than normal. We did see at least four Little Grebes which have presumably now taken up residence here for the winter.

Climbing up into the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. The first birds we saw were three Common Scoter close inshore. A moulting drake Goldeneye was just off the beach the other side. It was pretty calm today, so many of the birds were further out. There were quite a few Great Crested Grebes offshore but the single Red-throated Diver we found was very distant.

With the tide going out now and the mussel beds starting to be exposed again, there were plenty of waders down in the beach. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, we could see a few Turnstone feeding on the mussel beds. Six Knot flew past along the beach. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the gulls along the sand away to the west.

It was time for lunch, so we started to make our way back. We were almost back to the trees, when a big tit flock came towards us, zipping between the sallows. We thought we might find something with all the tits, but despite looking carefully as they worked their way quickly past us, the best we could find was a single Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests. We took a detour round via Meadow Trail, but there was no further sight nor sound of the Yellow-browed Warbler here either.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we made our way back west. We decided to head for Holkham. Several Yellow-browed Warblers had been reported here in the morning, and with the possibility of catching up with other species too, we thought it would be a good place to try.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of four on Salts Hole this afternoon

It was quiet at first in the trees as we made our way west on the path inland of the pines. At Salts Hole, we counted four Little Grebes. As we started to walk on, a Kingfisher flew in, did a quick circuit, landed briefly on the fence at the back, did another quick circuit and disappeared again. There were lots of Jays flying back and forth through the trees.

The sycamores by Washington Hide were empty, but a quick look out across the grazing marsh did at least produce a Common Buzzard, which was new for the weekend’s list. We got to Meals House before we finally found a tit flock. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier, so we thought we were in with a good chance, but the only warbler we could see with them was a single Chiffchaff. As they moved quickly through and across the path, we had a very brief view of a Firecrest in the top of a tree, before it disappeared into the pines.

We continued on to the west end of the pines, where another Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported. When we got there, we could hear Long-tailed Tits deep in the trees. At first we couldn’t tell where they were headed, but after walking back a short way along the path and then up again, we ran into them just as we got back to the west end. Just as we arrived, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling and saw it drop out of the pines, across the path, and into the sallows.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was calling constantly, but it was hard to see deep in the sallows at first. Slowly, it worked its way towards us and we could see it flitting around among the branches. It appeared on the edge briefly, before disappearing back in. Then it reappeared in the top of an ivy-covered tree in full view, but only for a second. Eventually everyone got a look at it, although often it was a matter of only seeing bits of it at a time between the leaves and building up a ‘composite’ view!

After disappearing back into the sallows, the tit flock started to make its way back across the path and the Yellow-browed Warbler eventually followed. We could see it flitting around high in the pines for a while, before it disappeared back into the trees. Although the tit flock came back out of the pines pretty quickly and dropped back into the trees along the edge, we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler again and it had stopped calling. It was time for us to start making our way back.

FirecrestFirecrest – a very blurred shot, the best we could manage, with the light fading!

As we passed Meals House, the tit flock here was back out of the pines and feeding in the birches south of the track. We stopped to look through them. While we were looking, we heard the Firecrest calling from the holm oak right behind us. It was not much easier to see than the Yellow-browed Warbler had been, particularly with the light fading now. Eventually, everyone got a look at it when it came out onto the edge of the tree, before being chased off by a Goldcrest.

Then it was time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days with some memorable birds, a typical Norfolk autumn weekend!

 

24th Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was another bright, sunny and warm day, great weather to be out birding on the coast. It felt almost like summer at last!

We met in Wells and headed west along the coast to Titchwell. When we arrived, the main car park was already filling up fast, so we parked in the overflow car park, which was still relatively quiet. We decided to have a quick look round to see what we could find before it got too busy.

There were lots of finches in the bushes. We flushed a couple of Greenfinches from the brambles, a Chaffinch perched up in a dead tree in the morning sun and a small group of Goldfinches circled over. A series of plaintive calls alerted us to a couple of Bullfinches flying over. One Bullfinch was left behind, a male, and followed on after the others, flashing pink underneath in the sunlight.

But the real surprise was to follow. Another bird flew up from the trees – it immediately looked bigger, heavier, short-tailed and when we got it in our binoculars we could see a bold white bar  through the middle of the wings and a large bill. It was a Hawfinch! It circled round over the car park so we could all get a good look at it, then flew off high to the east. Hawfinches are rare birds in North Norfolk these days (we have a breeding population in the Brecks still), so this was a migrant, possibly fresh in from the continent. A great one to see!

A Blackcap was a bit more of a predictable find here, but still a nice bird to catch up with, particularly as we got a good view of a male, which was flitting around and feeding in the brambles. A small group of Swallows flew over the car park, heading west. These were the first we had seen this weekend. Most of the Swallows have already gone, but there were still a few on the move today, on their way to Africa for the winter.

BlackcapBlackcap – a male, feeding in the brambles in the car park

There had been a Pied Flycatcher and a Yellow-browed Warbler reported here yesterday, so we kept our eyes open for them today. The former had been seen in the picnic area but it wad all quiet as we made our way past this morning. We had a quick look at the feeders on our way past, which produced a selection of Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits.

We decided to walk along Fen Trail first, to see if we could find anything in the trees. We did find a flock of tits in the sallows. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest calling, but there was no sign of anything else with them.

Continuing on to Patsy’s Reedbed, we sat down at the screen and scanned the water. There was a nice selection of ducks on here, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. This is also a good place for diving ducks at the moment, and we added Common Pochard and Tufted Duck to our weekend’s list. There were three Little Grebes diving out on the water too. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds beyond.

Another small group of six more Swallows flew in while we were sitting at the screen and continued on west. As we walked on along East Trail, another Swallow came in and circled over our heads. But that was all the hirundines we were to see today, and the small movement of Swallows dried up as the morning progressed.

Round at the end of Autumn Trail, there were three juvenile Ruff on the mud down at the front. One was noticeably darker brown than the others – they are very variable! It was an early high tide today and a big tide, so we thought we might find some Spotted Redshanks roosting on the freshmarsh. Sure enough, there they were, seven of them. They were mostly fast asleep, although occasionally one would wake up and flash its needle fine bill. There was a Common Redshank asleep with them and despite the fact we couldn’t see much of it, we could still see that it was much darker, greyer, than the Spotted Redshank next to it.

Just as we were all getting onto the Spotted Redshanks, which involved walking back a short distance along the path to be able to see obver the reeds, we heard Bearded Tits calling and looked back to where we had just been standing to see three of them climbing up the reed stems, two smart males and a female. Half the group raced back to get a closer look at the Bearded Tits, while the other half stayed put watching the Spotted Redshanks. A Water Rail squealed from deep in reeds too.

Bearded TitsBearded Tits – 2 of the 3 which showed well at the end of Autumn Trail, both males

As we walked back along the path, a Sparrowhawk came over our heads, flapping and gliding, and disappeared into the sallows. A Kingfisher flew across from the direction of Patsy’s, over the path in front of us and disappeared over the hedge, too quick for most of the group to get onto unfortunately. It seemed an odd direction to be heading, there are only fields that way. We made our way slowly along Fen Trail and round onto Meadow Trail, scanning the trees, but there was nothing of note in the sallows beyond the usual tits and a couple of Chiffchaffs. A Sparrowhawk flushed from the trees ahead of us, possibly the one we had seen earlier.

As we got out onto the main path and clear of the trees, a small group of people were looking out across the grazing marsh. A Whinchat was perched on the top of a large bramble clump. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, admiring its well marked supercilium, before it flew down into the grass and disappeared. A distant Common Buzzard was perched on a post at the back.

WhinchatWhinchat – perched on the brambles out on the grazing marsh

The Thornham grazing marsh pool still looks rather sad with very little water on it, but there was a lone Stock Dove out there today. The reedbed pool held just a group of Mallard, but the drakes are looking rather smart already, as they emerge early from drab eclipse plumage. Another Kingfisher called and flew round twice over the reeds – this time everyone got onto it and had a good look. A single Grey Plover was on Lavendar Pool.

Out at Island Hide, there were more Ruffs right in front of the hide. There were several juveniles but also one or two paler, grey/white adults. The adult Ruffs were rather aggressive towards the juveniles, chasing them out of their particular area of mud if they strayed too close. There were both male and female Ruff too, the females being considerably smaller, just to add to the confusing array of plumages.

RuffRuff – a brown juvenile, feeding in front of Island Hide

There were other waders too. Three Avocet out in the middle were our first of the weekend. Most of the Avocets which bred here, or came here post breeding, have gone already, most likely down to one of the estuaries further south in UK. A long line of Godwits, mostly asleep, included lots of Bar-tailed Godwits which had flown in from the beach to roost over high tide, and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits with them. There were a few Golden Plover standing around on the islands too.

Two Little Stints were with a couple of Dunlin in amongst the ducks on one of the islands. They were a little distant, but we had a good look at them through the scope. Then we looked across to the edge of the reeds and saw another Little Stint tucked in on the edge of the vegetation. Just at that moment, something spooked it and it flew out and landed in with a flock of Lapwings in the muddy water just out from the shore. Compared to the Lapwings and Redshanks next to it, we could really see just how tiny the Little Stint was.

Little StintLittle Stint – looked really tiny in with the much larger Lapwings

One of the group had asked about Yellow-legged Gulls earlier and we managed to find one today. It has been hanging around Titchwell on and off for a while now, and was in its usual place on one of the islands. Unfortunately, the Yellow-legged Gull was fast asleep, sat down on the mud so we couldn’t see its legs! One clue to its identity was the shade of its mantle, noticeably darker than the Black-headed Gulls all around it.

There are plenty of ducks out on the freshmarsh again now, mostly Wigeon and Teal which have started to return in numbers from their breeding grounds. The drakes are all in their drab eclipse plumage at the moment. There are more Brent Geese around too now, and we saw several small group flying in and out between the saltmarsh and the freshmarsh today.

There was not enough time to get out to the beach and back in time for lunch, so we made our way back from Island Hide, planning to come out again afterwards. The Pied Flycatcher had been reported here earlier but there was no sign now. We scanned the trees while we ate, just in case.

After lunch, we set out again to walk out to the beach. As we passed the reedbed, a Hobby zipped through, low between the bushes. We could hear more Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds. We had a quick look at the freshmarsh again, but there was no sign of anything new having arrived since we last looked.

There were a few more waders on the Volunteer Marsh today. The first bird we set our eyes on was a Lapwing, right down on the front corner of mud, just below the path. It looked absolutely stunning in the sun, its upperparts shining metallic green,bronze, purple as it caught the light. They really are one of our smartest birds!

LapwingLapwing – at the front of Volunteer Marsh, looking stunning in the sunshine

A Curlew and a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding between the main path and Parrinder Hide, giving a good view of the two species. A Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the channel, just below the path. It was still moulting out of breeding plumage, with lots of rusty feathers still below and .dark centred feathers in its upperparts. As we walked towards it, the Black-tailed Godwit looked nervous, and walked up the muddy bank into the edge of the saltmarsh. It wasn’t us, as a Hobby flew in across the Volunteer Marsh just at that point, continuing on over Parrinder Hide and disappeared from view.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – still moulting out of rusty breeding plumage

As we got to the channel at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, there were several more godwits. This time there were two more of each – 2 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits. We had a great view of the two species side by side.

Bar-tailed GodwitBar-tailed Godwit – 1 of 2 on the near edge of Volunteer Marsh today

Out at the Tidal Pools, there were yet more waders – more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. There was a small roost of waders on one of the spits – Grey Plovers, Turnstones and a single Knot, an adult still moulting out of breeding plumage, still sporting quite a lot of orange on its underparts.

WadersWaders – roosting out on the Tidal Pools over high tide

Part of the reason we had gone straight out to the beach was to try to see a Purple Sandpiper which had been roosting on the old concrete bunker out on the sand. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found six or seven kids climbing all over it. Needless to say, the Purple Sandpiper had gone. We scanned the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, just in case it had gone that way, but we only found more Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Turnstone and Oystercatchers. The sea was flat calm and we managed to find a Great Crested Grebe and two Common Scoter out on the water.

We didn’t stay long out at the beach, but headed back to Parrinder Hide instead. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding along the edge just to the left of the hide. One flew across and landed in the vegetation the other side, but the other stayed put and worked its way gradually towards us, giving us a great view of it. The two Little Stints were still out on the edge of the islands.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – showing very well from Parrinder Hide

Lots of Black-headed Gulls started flying in to bathe, but despite looking through them carefully there was nothing different in with them today. There was a scattering of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails around the islands. A Hobby flashed past again, this time low down right in front of the hide. Stunning!

While we were out at the beach, the Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported again in the picnic area. We walked back to see if we could catch up with it, but there was no sign of the tit flock it had reportedly been with. We walked round via the entrance track and round the trees to see if we could relocate it, but we couldn’t. We made our way back to the picnic area, to see if anything might reappear. We sat there for a while and rested our weary legs for a while, scanning the trees to see if wither would come in. But there was still no sign. A Red Kite drifted over.

Red KiteRed Kite – drifted over the picnic area late afternoon

Finally, we had to call it a day and head for home. It had been a great three days, with a good total of birds seen, including several nice rare or scarce species. Great stuff!