Tag Archives: Titchwell

15th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely sunny day, a little bit hazier than yesterday with a slightly cooler light ENE breeze which kept the temperatures very comfortable in the low 20sC on the coast. Perfect weather to be out birding again.

We started the day at Titchwell. There was no sign first thing of the Glossy Ibis which had been here yesterday afternoon, but we decided to go anyway and get in before the car park filled up. When we arrived and got out of the minibus, a Goldcrest was feeding in a pine right above where we had parked.

There were next to no cars in the overflow car park yet, so we decided to have a quick walk round before it got busy. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came out of the trees by the entrance track and flew across in front of us. They had a couple of Chiffchaffs in tow too. We then watched them feeding in the brambles and elders in the back of the car park. along with a couple of Blackcaps.

Long-tailed Tit – we followed a flock into the overflow car park

We followed the flock round to the far side. There were a few finches in the car park too, but the Bullfinches feeding in the sallows in the far corner remained well hidden and hard to see. We were surprised to find a Moorhen clambering around high up in the bushes here too – an odd place for one. A couple of Jays flew up into the top of the tall willows behind. A Red Admiral butterfly feeding on the ivy looked very smart in the morning sunshine.

Red Admiral – enjoying the morning sunshine

We made our way round to the Visitor Centre, through the crowds of beachgoers and dog walkers who were rapidly filling up the car park, which is still partly closed. There had apparently been a Pied Flycatcher earlier by the Visitor Centre, so we had a quick look in the trees back to the picnic area, but there was no sign of it there.

Back past the visitor centre, a small flock of Siskins flew through the trees. We had a quick look in the alders by the main path, but they weren’t there. While we were looking, a small skein of around twenty Pink-footed Geese came overhead calling, possibly fresh arrivals from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

With it being so sunny, we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed first and then have a look at the Freshmarsh from the end of Autumn Trail. As we walked up to the screen at Patsy’s, the first thing that caught our eye was a Great White Egret out in the middle, preening. It was striking how big it was, particularly when it stood with its neck stretched up, and we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – on Patsy’s Reedbed pool this morning

Another Great White Egret flew across over the reedbed further back. The one we were watching can’t have seen it – perhaps it heard something, because after the second bird landed in the reeds, the first took off and flew back towards it. It chased it up out of the reeds and we lost sight of the two of them behind the bushes.

Otherwise, there were a few ducks on the pool this morning, mainly Gadwall. Coot was an addition to the trip list here, and there were a couple of Little Grebes too. A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a paler head, quartered over the reed behind.

As we made our way round along East Trail and on to Autumn Trail, there were several Common Darters basking on the path which took off ahead of us. A very smart fresh Shaggy Inkcap toadstool was sticking up out of the short grass on the verge. There were a few squashed Bloody-nosed Beetles and a couple of live ones. We picked one up, which had lost a couple of legs, to move it off the path and it duly obliged by exuding the red liquid from its mouthparts from which it gets its name. A couple of Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us as we passed.

Shaggy Inkcap – growing in the grass by East Trail

We had spoken to someone earlier who had suggested that most of the waders were at the back of the Freshmarsh, but apart from quite a few Ruff in the top corner, there wasn’t much up this end now. Out in the middle, we could see a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and just a couple of lingering Avocets today. A smaller wader further back still looked like the Little Stint, but it was a long way away from this side. In the distance, the other side of the West Bank path, five Spoonbills flew up and circled round.

A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding on the mud at the base of the reeds, in front of the watchpoint at the end of the path. We had a nice view of them through the scopes, a cracking male with powder grey head and black moustache, and a browner female. Another small group of 5-6 were calling to each other in the reeds and we saw them fly up a couple of times before crashing back in.

As we turned to head back, we heard the group of Bearded Tits calling again and watched them land again in the reeds close to the path. We walked up towards where they had landed and noticed one Bearded Tit on its own in the reeds. The rest of the flock further ahead flew up and over the bank towards Brancaster Marsh, but the lone bird stayed put. It climbed up the reeds right in front of us, giving us a great view, calling for the rest of the group.

Bearded Tit – came up out of the reeds right in front of us

It was a male, with powder blue-grey head and black moustache, probably a young one as it was moulting and the head was not as well marked as some. The Bearded Tit flew up a couple of times but landed again. Eventually it seemed to work up the courage to cross the path, but simply landed again in a dead umbellifer on the bank right next to one of us! After flitting around there for a couple of seconds, it finally flew up and over the bank.

We made our way back and round via Meadow Trail. We stopped at the platform by the dragonfly pool to admire an apple green and bright blue Southern Hawker, which in typical style kept coming back to hover close to us. It was chased at a couple of times by a Migrant Hawker, and then it decided to chase it away over the tops of the sallows. A tandem pair of Willow Emerald damselflies were trying to perch in the reeds below the platform but struggled to find somewhere they could agree to settle.

Willow Emerald damselflies – this tandem pair were trying to settle in the reeds

Walking out on the west bank path, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Thankfully, having had such amazing views of the male earlier, we didn’t need to linger to try to see them here. We stopped by the Reedbed Pool and a scan revealed a good number of Common Pochard up towards the back. A Kingfisher called from one of the channels in the reedbed, but didn’t come out.

Looking out across the saltmarsh the other side, we could see a line of white shapes asleep in the grass. Most were clearly Little Egrets, but the end one looked a little larger, a different shape, and more of a dirty yellowish colour. It was a Spoonbill, presumably one of the ones we had seen distantly over here earlier.

A paraglider was flying over Thornham Harbour and flushing everything. Several flocks of Curlew flew up and circled round nervously. A flock of Golden Plover came in over the path, most of them having lost their summer black bellies already. The Spoonbill woke up and flashed its bill, confirming our ID. A second Spoonbill flew in over the saltmarsh towards us, its black wingtips displaying its immaturity, before it turned and flew back the other way.

With the sun out, and nothing much on the drier mud in front of Island Hide, we decided to scan the Freshmarsh from the west bank path further along. As we walked up, we could hear a Spotted Redshank calling, but presumably it was flying off as we couldn’t see it out on the mud. One of the Great White Egrets was now standing on the edge of the small round island, preening.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits still out in the middle, and a selection of Ruff around the edges. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too – its smaller size, slightly shorter legs and more contrastingly-marked upperparts setting it apart, even before we could see its slightly upturned bill.

Ruff – a juvenile feeding on the Freshmarsh below the main path

There were one or two Dunlin scattered around the islands and edges and a larger group of seven at the far end, below the reeds. We couldn’t find the Little Stint at first, it wasn’t where we had seen it earlier, but scanning carefully we eventually found it on the muddy edge of the island over in front of the fence. It was feeding with its rear end up in the air a lot, which confirmed it was the bird we had seen distantly from the end of Autumn Trail earlier. Odd behaviour, but instantly recognisable as different. A single Common Snipe was feeding just inside the fence.

We wanted to spare our energy for the afternoon, so we decided not to walk on any further and headed back to the car park. There had been a Wryneck earlier seen at Holme, so we decided to have a go to see if we could find it. As we arrived at the pay hut, we were told it had been seen again about 15 minutes before, in the bushes just beyond.

We parked and got out, and the challenge quickly became clear – there was a constant stream of cars up and down the track and people up and down the coastal path the other side of the bushes. Amazing numbers of people for this time of year, albeit it was a beautiful day. We had a slow walk round the bushes, with no success, so stopped to have lunch back at the minibus, before having another go.

We figured it might be worth having a walk through the dunes – no one seemed sure whether there might have been a second Wryneck seen further up towards the Firs, and there are often migrants in here. But as we walked through the bushes, there were very few birds. We did see lots of Small Heath and several Small Copper butterflies.

It was only as we got much closer to the Firs that we started to see things. Several flocks of Curlew came in off the beach, presumably disturbed from where they were feeding, along with a smaller number of Black-tailed Godwits.

Then we came across a Stonechat in the bushes, a female, followed quickly by another two, one a male with a black throat. A rattling call alerted us to a couple of Lapland Buntings passing overhead, but they were high in the bright sky and hard to see as they disappeared off west.

One of the group had lingered further back to take some photographs, and when they walked up to us they thought they had just seen a Whinchat. They weren’t wrong – it had just appeared in the bushes behind us, presumably following the Stonechats. We had a nice view of it, before it flew back further into the dunes – a nice bonus here.

Whinchat – in the dunes with a small group of Stonechats

Everyone was feeling tired now, so the intrepid guide walked back to get the minibus and the others waited at the Firs. We had a quick look at the bushes by the payhut as we drove out, but there had been no further sign of the Wryneck. We decided to head back east to Burnham Overy.

We almost couldn’t get into the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe, but thankfully someone was leaving just as we arrived. We set out along the seawall. There was lots of disturbance in the harbour channel – boats, a paddleboard, swimmers – and we didn’t see many birds until we got to the arm of mud which extends alongside the bend in the seawall.

Scanning the mud, we could see lots of Common Redshanks. Several Turnstones were feeding in alongside the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a couple of Common Gulls too. There were a few Dunlin too, and a couple of Grey Plover.

A small group of white shapes were down in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh further up and through the scope we could confirm they were the Cattle Egrets we had come to look for, nine of them. We walked further up until we were directly opposite and had a nice view as they stood in the vegetation preening.

Cattle Egrets – nine were in the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh, preening

The tide was coming in fast now and starting to fill the arm of mud in front of us. The Redshanks were feeding more actively and the Cattle Egrets started to move. First one or two, then the rest of the flock flew down to the water. They seemed to be feeding on the tide out in the shallow water beyond the open mud, in amongst the Redshanks – unusual behaviour for Cattle Egrets but fascinating to watch. Presumably they had even been waiting out on the saltmarsh for the incoming tide.

Looking inland, the other side, a Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields in the distance, getting harrassed by crows. A Grey Heron flew across and landed with the cattle out in the middle. A Mediterranean Gull flew in from the harbour and over the seawall, overhead, flashing its pure white wing tips.

It was a great view, looking out across the harbour in the late afternoon sunshine, or inland to the coast road and beyond. A great way to end our two days, watching the Cattle Egrets out in the harbour. It was time to head back.

6th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Tour, Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

Curlew Sandpipers – trying to roost on the beach below us

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waders – increasingly concentrated into the last corner of mud

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

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

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

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

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

Waders – concentrated into the last remaining corner of the mud

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

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

Spoonbill – roosting in front of Shore Hide with the Greylags

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

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

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

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

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

Waders – starting to spread out as the tide recedes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peregrine – repeatedly buzzing the waders on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23rd Aug 2020 – Back to Work, Wader Spectacular

After over 5 months of no tours due to Covid, it was good to get out with a small group again today – socially distanced and with due precautions of course. Tours from now on will operate as scheduled, but with reduced group sizes for the time being, so if you do want to come out with us in the coming months, please do get in touch.

A Wader Spectacular today, it was an early start to get up to the Wash ahead of the rising tide. We were blessed with good weather, a bit breezy first thing, but dry and bright with some sunny intervals, especially early afternoon.

The journey over to Snettisham out out to the edge of the Wash was uneventful. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was just coming in and a big expanse of mud still stretched off into the distance ahead of us. There was a large gathering of waders up to the north of us still, a big black slick of Oystercatchers, surrounded by Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. A selection of smaller waders was down on the near edge of the mud below us, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Turnstones. A colour-ringed Curlew appeared with them, but flew again before we could read the code.

Oystercatchers 1

Oystercatchers – flying past, away from the rising tide

The water was coming in fast across the flats, and as it reached them the Oystercatchers and other waders started to take off, flying past us in long lines low. They headed out over the water before landing again in the middle of the still exposed mud to the south. Further out, a large flock of smaller waders whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light, and we looked up to see another mass of waders high overhead. Thousands of Golden Plovers, unlike the others, they feed in the fields and just go out onto the mud of the Wash as a safe place to roost.

In no time at all, all the mud in front of us had disappeared. We made our way further down along the seawall, passing several Sanderlings on the shingle below the bank on the way. The water had caught up with the mass of Oystercatchers again, and we watched for a while as they walked slowly across the mud, away from the rising tide. From a distance, it looked like the whole mass was a flowing liquid. Then we had to move further up still to keep ahead of the rapidly rising tide.

Oystercatchers 2

Oystercatchers – walking up the mud ahead of the tide

The Oystercatchers started to peel off, flying in past us in long lines, calling noisily, heading for the pit behind us to roost. There was still a bit of mud left uncovered and we could see lots of Curlews in the far corner, gathered on the dry mud on the edge of the saltmarsh. There was still no sign of the vast flocks of Knot gathering here, but we could see some smaller groups flying up occasionally further out, round the edge of the Wash – we figured the vast hordes were still gathered further out along the shore, out of sight.

We were still watching the Oystercatchers when a huge cloud appeared out in the distance. It looked like smoke at first, but as it came a little closer we could see it was tens of thousands of birds, mainly the Knot that we had been waiting for. Rather than landing on the remaining arc of mud closer to us, the birds decided to make an early beeline for the pits today and we stood in awe as they came overhead in waves, thousands, tens of thousands at time.

Waders 1

Waders – thousands of Knot coming in off the Wash

Waders 2

Waders – thousands of birds coming right overhead

We turned and watched the birds swirling over the pit behind us, the skies now chock full of birds. They were nervous – some started to drop down to roost, while others towered back up and turned into the wind, heading back out towards the Wash. More Knot were still flying in above us, coming in underneath the flocks which had turned back and were now high in the sky, layers of thousands of birds moving in different directions. We could hear the beating of thousands of pairs of wings over the wind – mesmerising!

Waders 3

Waders – thousands of Knot swirling over the pit

Some of the Knot landed back out on the Wash on the remaining mud, huddled in the last corner. We stood and waited and it wasn’t long before the rising tide eventually forced them off too, wave after wave, in overhead and down onto the pit. Then we turned and headed down to South Hide.

Waders 4

Waders – another wave, taking off from the Wash

Waders 5

Waders – thousands more, making their way in over our heads

The small temporary hide was rather busy today, so we waited outside. Thankfully it didn’t take long before enough people had left and we could get in (socially distanced, and wearing the required face coverings, of course). There was an impressive gathering of Knot on the islands in front of the hide, packed in tight shoulder to shoulder, still jostling nervously. Some still wearing the remains of their orange breeding plumage, but others already moulted into grey winter dress.

Knot

Knot – packed in shoulder to shoulder on the islands

Lots of Dunlin were gathered along the front of the hordes, in front of the Knot, many still sporting their black belly patches. Scanning through carefully, tucked in amongst them, we could see one which looked different, slightly larger, longer-billed, more neatly scaled on the back, and peachy buff on the breast, with a clean white belly. It was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, on its way from the breeding grounds way up in Central Siberia to spend the winter in Africa. Travelling on its own, its parents having left several weeks before, an impressive feat of hard-wired navigation. It was busy preening, and when it opened its wings we could see its distinctive white rump. When the crowd shuffled, it disappeared back into the throng.

Curlew Sandpiper 1

Curlew Sandpiper – showing its white rump, as it preened

The pit was covered in birds. The flatter islands were covered in Knot and Dunlin and the gravelly banks on the sides of the pit were covered in Oystercatchers, with Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks packed in along the shore below. There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here at this time of year, and we eventually found them out in the middle, roosting in the rocks in amongst the Cormorants and geese, rather distant from this end. A Moorhen with a brood of five small chicks worked its way round the edge of the pool below the hide and a Brown Hare ran across the grassy bank beyond.

Shore Hide looked emptier now, so we made our way back round. As we walked out beyond the boardwalk, a Common Swift flew past, heading south along the edge of the Wash. Many have left already, heading back to Africa after the breeding season, and just a few stragglers remain. A reminder that summer is almost over. A couple of Yellow Wagtails called and there were a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the grass as we passed.

There were a few terns on the small island in front of Shore Hide, mainly Common Terns, a mixture of adults and juveniles waiting for their parents to come back in from fishing out on the Wash, to be fed. Just a single Little Tern was in with them at first, smaller, yellow-billed and with a distinctive triangular white forehead patch. As we watched, more appeared, and by the time we left there were six Little Terns, including two juveniles. We later heard there had been quite a movement of Little Terns along the coast today.

Terns

Little Terns – in with the Common Terns in front of Shore Hide

There were a few waders at the back of the island, Black-tailed Godwits, plus Common Redshanks and a handful of Knot in with them. We had a better view of the Spotted Redshanks from here too, out in the middle, already in their silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. Mostly asleep, occasionally one would wake up briefly and flash its long needle-tipped bill. A scan with the scope of the mass of Knot and Dunlin gathered on the islands further out produced a brief view of a Little Stint, but unfortunately it disappeared back into the masses as quickly as it appeared, before anyone could get a look at it. A Common Sandpiper flew past calling.

The waders were already starting to shift nervously now, so we made our way back out to the edge of the Wash. Even as we walked out of the hide, a large flock of Knot took off behind us and headed low over the bank and back out over the water. Even though it was almost an hour after high tide, there was still no exposed mud though – possibly the rather fresh west wind was holding up the tide this morning. The Knot turned round and headed back into the pit, presumably telling the others there was still time to wait yet.

Scanning out across the water, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards and Kestrels on the posts out on the saltmarsh in the distance. Gradually the mud started to reappear and the Oystercatchers started to fly back out in lines, landing in the shallow water. The Curlews started to reappear from where they had roosted on the saltmarsh, and were joined by a long line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers, the latter still with their summer black faces and bellies.

The Knot were slow to leave the pit today but eventually the first wave erupted, coming up low over the bank, over our heads and out low over the water. Presumably because that wave didn’t return, after a while another mass then came up from the south end of the pit, the ones we had been watching from South Hide earlier, a long line of thousands and thousands of birds. A third wave came up from behind us and back out low over our heads, to the sound of thousands of pairs of wings beating – very impressive again.

Waders 6

Knot – thousands of birds heading back out to the Wash

Waders 7

Knot – an amazing spectacle, as they fly back out low overhead

As more mud appeared, some terns and gulls appeared out on the Wash – including a Sandwich Tern and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. There was still one island full of Knot left on the pit behind us, despite the vast numbers we had already watched fly back out to the Wash, but they were showing no signs of shifting. We decided to start making our ways back and it want until we were back past Rotary Hide that they flew back out behind us.

We made our way round to Titchwell next, but struggled to find anywhere to park at first. Half the car park is still closed off, as part of Covid measures, but with much higher numbers of staycationing visitors here this year, with correspondingly more beachgoers and dogwalkers wanting to park, it is resulting in a major squeeze in parking spaces. Hopefully at some point soon, the rest of the car park will be opened. While the group went off to the picnic area for lunch, eventually a space was secured.

We ate our lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area. Several Common Darters and a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies were basking on the benches in the sun. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling in the sallows. After a break, we headed out to the reserve, past the Visitor Centre and out along the main West Bank path.

As we got out of the trees, we could feel the wind had dropped and it was very pleasant out on the path now. A Marsh Harrier flew in over the saltmarsh from the direction of Thornham, flushing a few Curlew and Lapwing. Two bright white Little Egrets stood out in the vegetation.

We stopped to look at the reedbed pool, which held a few Gadwall, Mallard and Coot. A pair of Mute Swans were in the channel just beyond. We had started to walk on, when we looked back to see a Great White Egret dropping into the reeds at the back.

Out at the Freshmarsh, we stayed out in the sunshine and scanned from the bank. After the blustery westerly winds of the last few days, the water had been blown back and the mud closest to us was getting rather dry. Still, there were a few Ruff feeding below us along the edge of the reeds, a tawny brown juvenile and a very different-looking adult, paler, white below and grey above.

Ruff

Ruff – a grey and white adult feeding on the mud below the bank

There were several little groups of Dunlin scattered around the edges of the islands and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper loosely associating with one of them, although it seemed to prefer to feed on its own on the mud closer to the path.

Curlew Sandpiper 2

Curlew Sandpiper – our second juvenile of the day, feeding on the Freshmarsh

Five large white shapes on one of the islands further back were Spoonbills, and doing what they like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally one would wake up briefly, just long enough to flash its long spoon-shaped bill – we could see a mixture of juveniles, with fleshy bills and at least one adult, with a yellow-tipped black bill. A few Golden Plover were in with the moulting ducks nearby. There were still plenty of Avocets scattered around too.

The Great White Egret appeared above the reeds before dropping back down again. Then the next time it flew up it came out and landed in the open on the mud. It didn’t stay long though, and flew straight back towards the reedbed pool. We could easily have spent the whole afternoon here, but we didn’t have much time so we decided to walk on towards the beach.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh – a few Redshank and Curlew in the channel at the far end and a Little Egret fishing in the water on the corner, occasionally lifting its yellow feet out so we could see them. The Tidal Pools were still rather full, despite the tide being out now – they don’t seem to be draining freely again.

We were looking out over the water when one of the group spotted a Wheatear on a post behind us. It dropped down to feed on the dead vegetation washed in by the tide, before flying back up to the post flashing its white rump and then posing nicely for us. A migrant on its way south, just stopping off here. A flock of Linnets perched in the top of the suaeda nearby.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a fresh migrant, feeding on the saltmarsh by the Tidal Pools

It was time to head back. As we walked past the Freshmarsh, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but they remained tucked down out of sight in the reeds, presumably working their way along the the muddy edge right at the bottom. A Reed Bunting was more obliging and perched up in the tops. Back at the reedbed pool, the Great White Egret was just visible, standing stock still, fishing, just behind the reeds at the front. We had a better view of its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing in the Reedbed Pool, close to the main path

It had been a great day – the amazing spectacle of the waders on the Wash and a very pleasant couple of hours at Titchwell afterwards. A perfect way to restart the Autumn Tours.

 

8th Mar 2020 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 3

Day 3 of our three day Winter, Brecks & Goshawks tour, our last day today. It was a rather blustery morning, with the winds dropping in the afternoon, and mostly dry and bright – we managed mostly to dodge the showers. We spent the day up on the North Norfolk coast.

Holkham was our destination for the morning. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see lots of ducks out on the floods on the grazing marsh, mainly Wigeon, with a scattering of Shoveler, Teal and one or two Gadwall. We parked at the north end and as we walked up towards the pines, we stopped to admire a smart pair of Grey Partridge feeding very quietly right by the fence behind the parking attendants’ hut.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – this pair was feeding by Lady Anne’s Drive

There was a blustery wind blowing, so we elected to go round to the hides first, rather than out onto the beach. As we walked west along the track on the inland side of the pines, there were a few tits calling in the trees. We stopped briefly at Salts Hole, where four Little Grebes were diving out on the water. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were out on the grass beyond.

Diverting up onto the boardwalk by Washington Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret out on the grazing marshes. Its large size was immediately apparent and through the scope we could see its long yellow bill. Way off in the distance, we could just make out a few White-fronted Geese over by the road, behind the hedge, but we hoped to see some closer from the next hide.

A Chiffchaff was calling in the bushes by the track the other side of Meals House – it would be nice to think it might be an early spring migrant, but it was just as likely an overwintering bird here.

The first thing we saw when we got into Joe Jordan Hide was the lone Spoonbill asleep down on the pool below the wood, bright white in the morning sunshine. It did wake up at one point and flash its spoon-shaped bill, revealing that it was an immature bird – it also lacked the shaggy crest of the breeding adults. It then hopped into the shelter of the rushes on the edge of the pool. It was the only one we saw here today, the others possibly hiding from the wind in the trees.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

There were two more Great White Egrets out on the grazing marshes from here, feeding together out in a particularly thick clump of rushes. It was amazing that such a large white bird could completely disappear in the vegetation at times.

There was no sign of the large flock of wintering White-fronted Geese on the old fort today. Most of the Greylags were sleeping out on the marshes and scanning carefully through we did manage to find six White-fronted Geese in with them. They didn’t hang around though, for no apparent reason waking up and flying off, presumably to find the rest of the flock.

Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to move on. As we walked out earlier, a runner had mentioned there had been a Short-eared Owl out on the beach, so we thought we would check in case it was hunting along the north side of the pines. When we got out into the dunes, there was no sign of the owl, but we did find three Stonechats flitting around in the bushes, the single male singing quietly, and several song-flighting Meadow Pipits fluttering up and parachuting back down.

The large raft of several thousand Common Scoter which has been in the bay all winter was directly offshore from here today, so we stopped for a quick look through them. The tide was out so, despite them being not too far offshore, they were distant from the dunes and it was very choppy. We did manage to pick out a Velvet Scoter in with them, but it was impossible to get everyone onto it in the conditions. More surprisingly, a pair of Pintail and a drake Shoveler were in with the scoter flock too.

It was more sheltered on the north side of the pines, so we decided to walk back through the dunes. It was a good call as it gave us the chance to scan the beach and saltmarsh on the way. We picked up a pair of Ringed Plovers roosting on the shingle, perhaps not for long given the number of dogs running round loose on the beach. Then we picked up five small birds flying round out on the saltmarsh in the distance. As they turned we could see they were fairly pale with contrasting black tails – Shorelarks!

We had a quick look at them from where we were – there was a spaniel running around out on the saltmarsh and heading in their direction and we worried they might fly off. Then we hurried over for a closer look. The Shorelarks were feeding in the low saltmarsh vegetation, but still remarkably hard to see until they lifted their heads. Then their canary yellow faces and black masks gave them away.

Shorelark

Shorelarks – two of the five which were feeding out on the saltmarsh

When the Shorelarks are not feeding in the cordoned-off area at the other end of the beach they can be hard to find, so it was great that we had bumped into them. By the end of this month, they will probably be off to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

Snow Buntings were on the target list for the day too, so we walked east to the cordon to see if we could find them there. Some people we passed had said they were on the beach at the far end, so we headed over there first. There was no sign of them on the beach and it was very windy and sand-blasted here. A quick scan of the sand bars produced a few Sanderling running around on the beach.

Another person further back on the inland side of the dunes waved to us, and as we started to walk over we realised he was watching a small group of Snow Buntings which were feeding between us in a sheltered gap in the dunes. We had a good look at them as they fed. There were six of them at first, but gradually they ran up and disappeared into the dunes.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – six were feeding in the shelter of the dunes

It was then heads down for the walk back, into the wind. It was a relief to get to the Gap and the shelter of the pines. It was time for lunch now, so we took advantage of the Lookout Cafe to get a welcome hot drink and some food, and use the facilities.

The wind seemed to have eased a bit after lunch. It was bright and sunny now and we commented how there was no sign of any of the forecast showers – indeed the forecast had changed and was now not predicting any until mid afternoon. We set off west, but stopped where we had seen the White-fronted Geese very distantly from the other side early this morning.

There were lots of Greylags and Egyptian Geese in the field, and in with them were still at least 50 White-fronted Geese. We parked and got out, being careful not to spook them, and got them in the scope. We could see the white surround to the base of their bills and distinctive black belly bars.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – there were at least 50 still in the field this afternoon

Thankfully, we had all had a chance to get a really good look at the White-fronted Geese when it started to spit with rain. How ironic, given the change to the forecast! We could see some dark clouds now out to the west, so we hopped back into the minibus and drove through a sharp shower and back out into the sunshine.

As we drove through Titchwell village, we noticed a Barn Owl hunting the grassy field by the road. We had just pulled up and were about to get out to watch it, when a young Common Gull which was flying over swooped down straight at it. The Barn Owl dropped sharply, clearly as surprised as we were at this act of unprovoked aggression! It then turned and made a zig-zagging beeline for the hedge, where it dropped down under the bushes in the bottom, looking round nervously. After convincing itself that the coast was clear, it flew out of the back of the hedge and straight into the back of the wood beyond.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hiding under the hedge after being attacked by a Common Gull

Carrying on past Titchwell, we stopped next at Thornham Harbour. There was no sign of any Twite around the old coal barn. A Black-tailed Godwit in the harbour channel was our first of the weekend and a Curlew was feeding on the saltmarsh opposite. With the wind having dropped, we decided to have a quick walk up to the corner of the seawall to see what we could see.

There were plenty of Common Redshank out in the muddy channels and one or two more Curlews. A small group of Linnets kept flying up from the vegetation in front of us and a Little Egret was on the edge of the saltmarsh just below the bank. Scanning further out in the harbour channel, we picked up a much paler wader. Through the scope, we could confirm it was a Spotted Redshank in silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. We could see the prominent white supercilium bridging the base of the bill, which was long and needle-fine at the tip.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – in the harbour channel at Thornham again

Spotted Redshanks winter in very small numbers here – they are mainly passage migrants, passing through in spring and autumn. There have been two commuting between Thornham and Titchwell this winter, but they disappear into the tidal creeks and can be very hard to find at time. Looking further out, we could see a few Knot and Grey Plover on the tidal flats and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser in the outer channel through the sands.

We headed round to Titchwell next, to finish the afternoon. As we got out of the minibus and stopped to use the facilities, we heard the distinctive calls of Mediterranean Gulls and looked up to see a succession of birds flying in and out overhead.

Checking in at the Visitor Centre, there had been no sign of any Woodcock today but we were told that there were three Red-crested Pochard on Patsy’s Reedbed. We went that way first and quickly found them out on the water. The two drakes were already looking resplendent in the afternoon sun, but then they started displaying to the female, with their bright orange punk haircuts raised. One of the males was more successful, and we watched the pair mating while the second drake played gooseberry!

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – displaying and mating on Patsy’s Reedbed

Otherwise, there were not many other ducks on here today. Two or three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air out over the reedbed or over towards Brancaster. A Chinese Water Deer appeared on the edge of the reeds briefly.

Back round on the main path, there were a few Common Pochards on the reedbed pool. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes in the reeds. The water level on the freshmarsh is very high again and there was no sign of the shallow islands which had started to be exposed a couple of weeks ago.

There were lots of Avocets trying to find any shallow water in which to feed and most were gathered right in front of Island Hide, so we went in for a closer look. They were right up to their bellies in the water and either swimming or could just get their feet onto the bottom to kick themselves up to try to reach the mud with their bills.

Avocet

Avocet – trying to feed up to its belly in the deep water

There was very little else on the Freshmarsh apart from the gulls, which have taken over the large ‘Avocet Island’ again this year, where the Avocets are supposed to nest. We walked round to Parrinder Hide for a closer look at some Mediterranean Gulls. Another group of Avocets flew in over the saltmarsh, presumably feeding at the moment out in the harbour channels at low tide, and more were roosting in the water where one of the islands would normally have been.

Inside the fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ we could see lots of gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls, claiming the ground ahead of the breeding season. In with them we counted at least 40 Mediterranean Gulls, all adults coming into breeding plumage with white-speckled jet black hoods contrasting with bright white eyelids, bright red bills and white wing tips. It was good to compare the two species side by side.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there were at least 40 this afternoon on the Freshmarsh

Otherwise, all we could find here today was a single Knot which was roosting on one of the few taller bits of island which were above the water. There was no sign of the Water Pipit again, perhaps not a surprise with so little of the water’s edge exposed. We decided to head out towards the beach.

The tide was in now and with a bigger tide today, Volunteer Marsh was under water. As we walked past, we noticed a couple of little groups of Teal next to the path. The drakes were looking stunning in the afternoon sun and they were calling and displaying.

We walked out to the Tidal Pool to see if we could find some more waders. There were several godwits on here – mostly Black-tailed Godwits, with some starting to show some brighter rusty feathering as they begin to moult into breeding plumage.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – starting to moult into breeding plumage

We managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the edge of the mud – paler and more heavily streaked above that the Black-tailed Godwits – but surprisingly there were not more roosting here given the tide was in. On the spit where they normally gather there were just two Grey Plovers today. There were still quite a few Oystercatchers on the island, together with several Turnstones.

The tide was right in and there was next to no beach left. We had a quick scan of the sea, but all was quiet here – a lone seal and a single distant Great Crested Grebe. As we started to make our way back, a Skylark was dust bathing on the path. It was very confiding and seemed reluctant to stop what it was doing to make way and let us come past.

Unfortunately, we had to get back now, so those with longer journeys back could get away. As we made our way back east along the coast road, a Barn Owl was hunting where we had seen the one earlier, but this time a different paler bird.

 

 

22nd Feb 2020 – Rescheduled Owls

An Owl Tour today, the last one of winter 2020. After having to cancel last weekend’s Owl Tour, as Storm Dennis lashed the UK with high winds, the day was rescheduled to today. Unfortunately, the forecast deteriorated in the day or two beforehand and now winds were forecast to be very gusty again today. And, as it turned out, they were actually much stronger than expected (the forecast is never to be relied upon!), with gusts up to 56mph in the morning. But having agreed to meet up, we decided to carry on regardless and have a go. By the end, we were all very glad we did, as we had a very good day and managed to see a great selection of owls, despite the wind.

After a very windy night, it was perhaps not surprising that there were no Barn Owls out hunting on our drive down to the meeting point this morning. Undaunted, we drove down to the marshes to see if we could find one hiding in a sheltered spot. But it was still very blustery here and there was no sign of any owls.

One of the first birds we did see was a Spoonbill, flying west out across the marshes. They have already been returning ahead of the breeding season in the last couple of weeks and number are slowly starting to build along the coast here. This one was probably just on its way back.

There were a few raptors up now. A Red Kite appeared briefly above the trees, and two Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds. A Sparrowhawk zipped fast and low over the grass, too quick for most of the group to get onto it. The mob of immature Mute Swans was out in the wet grass again, along with a pair of Egyptian Geese. A flock of Meadow Pipits flew over, and a Reed Bunting came up from the reeds on the edge of the ditch.

We drove inland to check out some more sheltered meadows, but there were no Barn Owls here either. We would have another chance later in the afternoon, so hoping the wind would drop, we decided to turn our attention to Tawny Owls instead. As we parked by a field, three Oystercatchers were feeding in the winter wheat next door. We walked down the footpath to the edge of the wood. It was sheltered from the wind on this side, and there were a few rays of early brightness hitting the trees. Several Goldfinches and Chaffinches flew out of the branches above our heads.

We stopped to check out some tits in the trees and a Nuthatch flew across between the branches. When it landed on a bough, a second Nuthatch flew in to join it. A larger bird which flew out briefly to a lower bough was a Great Spotted Woodpecker and then a Treecreeper appeared too, working its way along the underside of one of the larger limbs of the tree. To round it off, a Goldcrest appeared with the tits in the bottom of a pine tree, right in front of us.

When the birds gradually disappeared back into the trees, we continued on down the footpath. As we rounded the corner, we walked out into the full face of the wind again. We wondered whether the Tawny Owl would be in its usual tree hole today, given the wind, but thankfully it was a little more sheltered on the far side. And there was the Tawny Owl, dozing in its hole. We got the scope on it and had a good look.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – in its usual tree hole again today, despite the wind

It was nice to see our first owl of the day, and as one of the most nocturnal of our regular owls, it is always a real treat to see a Tawny Owl during the daylight hours. Having admired it for a while, we set off back along the path. Two Mistle Thrushes had flown over the trees earlier, and as we walked back, they came up from the field the other side. A Song Thrush was singing in the trees, despite the wind.

We headed further inland to look for Little Owls next. It was always going to be an outside chance we could find one today, given the weather, and there was no sign of any at the first three sites we checked. Then it started to rain, which was the final nail in the coffin. We drove on west, out of the worst of the squally shower, but it was still spitting as we checked out a couple more sets of barns, to no avail. Another Sparrowhawk took off from the hedge ahead of us, skimming low over the road before flicking up over the hedge the other side. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, mostly hunkered down today, rather than boxing.

As we drove down towards the Wash, we stopped briefly to look at a sugar beet field which had been harvested earlier in the winter. A couple of Pink-footed Geese were feeding in a patch of beet which had been left in a damp corner and another one was in the long grass on the edge of the field. There were a couple of pairs of Egyptian Geese here too.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of three in the old beet field on our way to the Wash

Making our way out to the edge of the Wash at Snettisham, a female Goldeneye was busy diving on the sailing club pit. When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was out, and we were presented with a vast expanse of mud. There were a few waders still closer in – Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover and Knot, but most of the Dunlin were further out. We stopped to admire some of the closer birds in the scope, although it was not a place to linger today, given the wind. There was a liberal scattering of Shelduck over the mud too.

Our main target here was the owls, so we continued on round to see if we could find any. It didn’t take long to find one of the Short-eared Owls, tucked well in to a bramble bush, looking out. It was mostly dozing, its eyes closed. We got it in the scope, but it was very windy and hard to keep the scope steady. It was a little more sheltered a bit further down the path, so we stopped for a second look.

Short-eared Owl 1

Short-eared Owl – roosting in the brambles again

Continuing on round, we found a second Short-eared Owl roosting in the sparser brambles, back in its usual spot. A slightly paler individual, it stood out more against the vegetation. Again, it was mostly dozing but did wake up briefly at one point, flashing its yellow eyes.

Short-eared Owl 2

Short-eared Owl – the second one of the morning, roosting in the brambles

It was good to be back on track with some owls now. After admiring the Short-eared Owls for a while, we decided to head back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing half-heartedly in the dense brambles on the seawall, sensibly keeping tucked well in.

Making our way back along the seawall, we found a lot of the Dunlin were closer in now, a bit further north towards the start of the chalets. There has been a single Little Stint wintering here, one of probably only a handful wintering in the country, although with all the thousands of waders looking for it can be a bit reminiscent of needles in haystacks. We have mostly seen the Little Stint off Rotary Hide, but surprisingly we found it again, further up here today. It seemed to be mostly keeping to itself, running around on the mud, although it was getting blown around quite a bit in the wind.

Little Stint

Little Stint – out on the mud again, but a bit further up today

As we passed the sailing club pits, there were several Goldeneye now including a nice close male. We stopped to admire its glossy green head, bold white cheek patch, and bright golden yellow eye – whenever it resurfaced from its regular dives. More of a surprise, a darker duck on the pit further up was an immature drake Common Scoter. They are mostly sea ducks and not often seen on the pools here, and had presumably been blown in on the wind.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – a smart drake, diving on the pits

We made our way over to Titchwell next, for a break for lunch and a welcome hot drink. The ever helpful staff in the Visitor Centre told us that the Woodcock had been showing again this morning, so after lunch we made our way round to Meadow Trail. There were a few people already there who pointed out where it was. The Woodcock was very well hidden today, roosting down among the moss-covered branches, but from the right angle it was possible to get it in the scope for some frame-filling views.

Woodcock

Woodcock – roosting down among the moss-covered branches

Continuing on round to Patsys Reedbed, there were a few ducks out on the water here, mainly a small group of Gadwall and several Common Pochard, but we couldn’t see the drake Red-crested Pochard which was seen here earlier. We got the scope on a drake Gadwall so we could admire the intricacy of its feather patterning. Not just a dull grey bird – the connoisseur’s duck!

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the reedbed, with at least four together at one point, hanging in the wind. One landed on a small bush, where we could get a good look at it in the scope. More Marsh Harriers were further back, over Brancaster Marsh. A Kestrel landed on a tree just in front of the viewpoint too. A Common Buzzard was up along the ridge inland, where four Roe Deer were lying down in one of the fields.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of four up together over the reedbed

One of the volunteers told us that the Red-crested Pochard was tucked into the reeds, only visible from the far end of the pool. So we walked down and looked back to see it sleeping with some more Common Pochard. We could see its brighter orange head.

It was quite sheltered round at Patsy’s Reedbed and it seemed like the wind might have dropped. We cut back round onto the main path and when we got out of the shelter of the trees we found it was still very windy, though perhaps not quite as strong as this morning.

We made our way straight up to Island Hide, where we could get out of the wind. There were lots of Teal feeding right in front of the hide, the drakes looking very smart now in their breeding plumage. The numbers of Avocets have been steadily growing, as birds are already returning ahead of the breeding season. Two Black-tailed Godwits were asleep in with the feeding Avocets.

Avocet

Avocet – numbers have been increasing steadily in the last few weeks

There were lots of gulls out on the Freshmarsh, and looking carefully through all the Black-headed Gulls, we found several Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Through the scope, we could see most were starting to get their dark, black hoods, contrasting with their white eyelids, and their bright red bills stood out too. There were several Common Gulls and Herring Gulls with them, and a single yellow-legged Lesser Black-backed Gull too. A Muntjac was working its way along the edge of the reeds.

We didn’t have time to explore the rest of the reserve today. As we walked back past the grazing meadow, there was no sign of the Barn Owl this afternoon, despite it being prime time now for it to be out. Perhaps it was just going to be too windy for them today.

Heading slowly back west, we kept scanning the likely fields, where we know Barn Owls like to hunt. Our luck was in, and as we passed a more sheltered meadow, we spotted a Barn Owl on a post at the back. It took off and flew towards us, but typically a car appeared behind us now and we were pulled up in the middle of the road on a corner.

There was somewhere to pull in further up and we walked back. The Barn Owl was on a post, under the trees, right by the gate now, so we edged our way down, trying not to disturb it. We needn’t have worried too much, as it eventually stayed where it was and didn’t mind us even when we got much closer, to find an angle from where we could get a clear look at it.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – our first of the day, dozing on a post

The Barn Owl was dozing. It looked round at us a couple of times, only half opening its eyes, but then tucked its head back in. It looked like it might be unwell, and it would be no surprise if it was struggling to find food at the moment, given the ongoing windy weather. Eventually it did take off again and flew further back to another post, looking round a little more actively. In windy weather, Barn Owls will often hunt from posts, scanning the ground below.

It was great to get our first Barn Owl of the day, and see it so close. Our luck was really in now, as we turned to see another owl hunting over the grass in the middle of the field. It was much browner than a Barn Owl, longer winged, and flying with stiff wing beats and a rowing-like action. It was a Short-eared Owl!

Short-eared Owl 3

Short-eared Owl – a surprise find, out hunting this afternoon

We watched as the Short-eared Owl worked its way round the far end of the meadow, before disappearing back through the trees. This is not a place we normally see them, so we wondered whether it might have come in from the grazing marshes to try to find somewhere more sheltered to hunt. A very nice bonus! While we were watching the Short-eared Owl, we noticed a second Barn Owl perched low down in the trees at the back of the meadow.

Continuing on to Holkham, we stopped again overlooking the grazing marshes. Five Spoonbills flew up as we arrived and disappeared round behind the trees, but as we stood and scanned, more Spoonbills flew in and out in ones and twos. This is another sheltered spot and we found our third Barn Owl of the afternoon, perched on a post on the edge of the marshes. Again it was not flying round hunting, but made its way between a couple of different perches, scanning the ground below.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – perched on a gate on the edge of the grazing marsh

Scanning the ditches and pools, we found a very distant Great White Egret out on the marshes. Then a second appeared from where it was hiding in a rush-lined ditch much closer and we had a good look at its long, snake-like neck and long, dagger-shaped yellow bill.

We could see a very distant group of White-fronted Geese and another small flock flew round calling, mixed in with some Greylags. Then we found some a little closer, out on the grazing marsh, so we could see their black belly bars and white surround to their bills. A flock of tits flew along the hedge behind us, and we picked out a single Goldcrest in with the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits as they worked their way past.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – out on the grazing marsh

Time was getting on now and the light was starting to go. We hadn’t managed to see a Little Owl this morning, so we decided to have another throw of the dice and have a quick look at one site on our way back, in case one might be out hunting. It was still very windy though, and there was no sign. One to come back for another day! A Chinese Water Deer ran across the field as we drove round, adding to the day’s deer list.

We had done remarkably well for owls today, considering the weather, and everyone agreed we had enjoyed a great day out, with lots of other birds and wildlife too. We were so pleased we hadn’t had to cancel again. The moral of the story – it is always worth going out regardless!

13th Feb 2020 – Lucky with the Weather

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. After the recent inclement weather, we were lucky (despite the date!) – the wind was light and it was mostly bright with sunny intervals, just the briefest of light drizzle as a shower passed to the south of us early afternoon, and a lovely end to the day. The forecast for today up until a couple of days ago had been for yet more wind and rain – fortunately, as is often the case, it couldn’t have been much more wrong!

After meeting up in Wells, we made our way to the edge of town. As we got out of the minibus, we could already see the Rough-legged Buzzard perched on the top of its usual bushes across the field. We got the scope straight on it, and admired its very pale head, contrasting with the dark blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – still perched on its usual bushes this morning

The Rough-legged Buzzard was quite active this morning, and kept taking off and flying round, flashing its white tail with black terminal bar. It never went far though, and kept returning to its perch on the bushes after a few seconds. It seemed to be mainly hunting down along the edge of the field just below where it was perched – dropping down into the grass at one point, and later stopping to hover there just a metre or so above the ground.

There were other raptors here too. We got a couple of darker Common Buzzards in the scope, very different from the Rough-legged Buzzard. Three or four different Marsh Harriers circled up, including a very dark juvenile, a pale-headed female and a grey-winged male. A Kestrel flew in and landed on the hedge.

A Barn Owl was still out, hunting along the grassy bank. It was a wet night last night, and after all the recent wind it was probably hungry and therefore out feeding during daylight hours. It would be the first of several we would see today.

There were lots of Lapwings around the flood in the ploughed field in front of us and a little group of Golden Plovers on the grass further back. A few Skylarks came up from the fields and a pair of Grey Partridge flew in and landed on the verge at the front of the nearest one.

Moving on, we stopped again at Holkham. A quick check of a field by the road revealed a Mistle Thrush feeding in amongst all the Egyptian Geese. A little further on, as we pulled up overlooking the grazing marshes, all the geese were in the air – we could see a couple of people walking around out in the middle. They gradually started to settle again, with mostly Greylags on the grass at first, although we picked out a more distant group of Barnacle Geese too. Most of the Pink-footed Geese seemed to disappear off over the park.

We could hear the distinctive yelping calls of White-fronted Geese and a couple of largish flocks of 30-60 flew back in but seemed reluctant to land again. Some came down behind the trees but eventually a small number dropped down onto the grazing marshes in view. We got three in the scope, noting their black belly bars and white surround to their pink bills.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – eventually a few settled back down on the grazing marshes

There were lots of Lapwing and Curlew out on the grazing marshes too, and scanning one of the larger pools we found a small group of roosting Avocet, in with the Shoveler and Teal. More Avocet have been returning over the last week or so, having spent the winter further south. Spring is in the air!

A large white shape out on the grazing marshes was a Great White Egret. Through the scope, we could see its long, dagger-shaped, yellow bill. A second Great White Egret flew out from behind the trees and landed beyond the reeds at the back. A smaller white shape appeared in a field of taller grass and clumps of rushes – a Cattle Egret. Looking more carefully, we realised there were actually six Cattle Egrets there, as more flew up from further over and came in to join the first. We watched them actively running around between the clumps, catching frogs.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – one of two on the grazing marshes this morning

News had come through now that the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had been seen again this morning over at Sedgeford, so we set off inland to try to see it. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the road as we made our way there. As we pulled up on the verge just north of the village, we looked over to the muck heap in the edge of the field alongside to see three wagtails fly up and land on the top. In with the Pied Wagtails was the Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

We got out quietly and were watching the Eastern Yellow Wagtail as it started to feed on the side of the heap, but a lorry came thundering down the road and the wagtails all took off. We heard the Eastern Yellow Wagtail call several times, a raspy, grating call, very different from the typical call of ‘our’ Western Yellow Wagtail, as it flew over the road and out into the field the other side.

We crossed the road and could see the Eastern Yellow Wagtail out on the bare ground with the Pied Wagtails and several Meadow Pipits. Then something spooked them again, and the Eastern Yellow Wagtail flew up and disappeared. There were lots of other birds here – several Fieldfares feeding out in the field and a small covey of Red-legged Partridges walking down along the edge.

Several Yellowhammers were in the hedges and dropping down to the ground in the lane, including some very smart yellow-headed males. A large flock of Chaffinches was feeding along the edge of the field and in with them we could see 4-5 Bramblings. They have been in short supply this winter, so it was nice to catch up with some today.

We set off down the lane to see if the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was on the other muck heap further along, with all the Chaffinches, Bramblings and Yellowhammers flying down along the hedges either side, ahead of us. A large flock of Linnets was swirling round further along, but there was no sign of the wagtail, so we walked back.

When we got back to the first muck heap, by the road, the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was back. We had a great view of it now, as it fed on the sides of the heap and around the puddles at the base in the sunshine. It is a striking bird, with yellow underparts and a grey head with bold white supercilium. Having been found here originally just before Christmas, it looks like it may stay here through the winter now.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – still feeding around its favoured muck heaps

We were heading for Titchwell next, but we called in at Thornham Harbour on our way. The water level in the harbour channel was still quite high and there were just a couple of Common Redshanks and a single Black-tailed Godwit here at the moment, with a flock of Brent Geese further out in the harbour. Three Rock Pipits flew in and landed in the vegetation just beyond the channel. There was no sign of the Twite, so we didn’t stop – we had plenty of other things we wanted to try to fit in this afternoon.

Round at Titchwell, there were loads of Goldfinches twittering in the tops of the trees in the car park. We decided to have a quick whisk round the reserve before a late lunch. We were told there was no sign of the Woodcock on Fen Trail, but we had a quick look on our way round anyway. We couldn’t find it now either, and there was no sign of any Water Rails in the ditches by the main path, so we set out onto the reserve. There were a few Common Pochard with the Gadwall on the reedbed pool and we heard a quick burst of Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them.

There were not so many waders on the Freshmarsh today – a small group of Avocets asleep, and a Black-tailed Godwit asleep with them, and several pairs of Avocets busy feeding in the shallow water. There were lots of Teal around the edges of the water and several Shoveler busy shovelling, the drakes of both looking very smart now in their breeding plumage.

Teal

Teal – the drakes are looking very smart in full breeding plumage now

We were hoping to find a Water Pipit here, but at first all we could find were Rock Pipits. First one flew towards us from the direction of the reedbed, but carried on over our heads and dropped down on to the saltmarsh the other side of the bank. Then we looked across to see several small birds land on the pile of bricks in front of Parrinder Hide – but through the scope, we could see they were three Rock Pipits accompanied by a Reed Bunting, the former presumably having come in for a freshwater bath.

Scanning the cut reeds along the edge of the bank beyond the hide through the scope, we could see a small bird in the vegetation. At last, a Water Pipit! It was hard to see at this range, so we walked quickly round to Parrinder Hide, but by the time we got round there needless to say it had disappeared again. Thankfully, after a bit of scanning, we found it on Avocet Island, on the ground behind the fence.

The Water Pipit had obviously had a bathe, as it was now busy preening. The Rock Pipits had been bathing too, and a couple of them flew up and landed on the fence, in the same view. The Water Pipit was clearly much cleaner, white below, with finer black streaks, and less swarthy above, greyer headed with a clear white supercilium. The Water Pipit finished preening and flew up onto the fence too, before flying back over to the bank out to the east of the hide. We watched it back down in the cut reeds before it walked further back out of view.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding down at the front of Volunteer Marsh from the hide

Someone in the hide asked whether we had seen a Knot and was quite insistent there should be one on the Freshmarsh because it was on the recent sightings board! We pointed out that they only drop in here occasionally and are normally to be found on the saltmarsh or out on the beach. We popped into the other side of Parrinder Hide and just about the first bird we saw on the saltmarsh out on Volunteer Marsh was a Knot! It was with a Grey Plover nearby, and feeding down at the front was a muddy-faced Curlew. When we walked back out, we could see a small flock of Knot had now dropped into the Freshmarsh too, for a quick bathe.

Out at the Tidal Pool, one of the first birds we found was a Red-breasted Merganser. It was diving in the shallow water and seemed to be pulling at something or probing around one of the smaller islands. They are more commonly seen out on the sea than on here. A single pair of Pintail were fast asleep towards the back and a Little Grebe was dozing below the vegetation along the edge. A Water Rail swam out from the edge and we watched as it make its way straight across the deeper water in the middle. It came out and ran nervously across one of the low muddy islands before swimming across the last strip of water to the safety of the vegetated bank the other side.

There were not so many waders on here now – with the tide out, they were mostly feeding out on the beach. There were a few Common Redshanks, and it was nice to compare a single Bar-tailed Godwit on one of the small islands with a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the water down at the front.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding down at the front of the Tidal Pool

There were a lot more Bar-tailed Godwits feeding out on the beach. A few Turnstones were feeding on the top of the mussel beds and several Dunlin were running around on the sand nearby. Scanning the sea, we could see a few Great Crested Grebes offshore. A couple of Eider and a small group of Goldeneye were rather distant today. We couldn’t immediately see much else out there today, so we walked back for lunch at the Visitor Centre. A Coal Tit coming into the feeders was an addition to the day’s list.

After lunch, we made our way back east along the coast road. On the way, we stopped to look at a small group of Pink-footed Geese in a field beside the road, the first we had seen on the ground today. We stopped again briefly at Holkham, overlooking the grazing marshes where we had stopped earlier. We were immediately rewarded with three Spoonbills on a small pool, just what we were hoping to find here. We watched them feeding, walking round quickly, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow water. The Spoonbills are starting to return already, ahead of the breeding season, having spent the winter down on the south coast.

A Barn Owl appeared over the grassy field next to us. We watched it flying round hunting, turning into the wind and doing a transect across over the grass, before flying back to the near edge and turning into the wind to do it again. It landed on a post for a rest, where we had a good look at it in the scope. Then when it started hunting again, we saw it drop sharply down into the tall grass. We could just see it seemed to be ‘mantling’ over something, with its wings open, and sure enough it came back up with  vole in its talons, landing on a post again briefly before flying off with it over the hedge. Looking out across the grazing marsh, we could see a second Barn Owl off in the distance.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – hunting the field as we looked out over the grazing marshes

We stopped next at Lady Anne’s Drive. There is a lot of water still on the marshes here after the recent rains, and they were alive with ducks, particularly big numbers of Wigeon, which were looking very smart in the late afternoon sunshine.

Walking up towards the pines, a Grey Partridge was feeding on the grass just beyond the fence. It is quite tame, so we stopped to admire it. The larger covey which spent the winter here appears to have broken up now, with birds pairing up for the breeding season already. This male seems to be on its own. Looking over beyond The Lookout cafe as we walked towards the pines, we could see another Barn Owl in the distance, perched on a post.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – this lone male was on the grass by the fence

It was a big high tide this morning and the saltmarsh was under water first thing, which was why we hadn’t ventured out onto the beach here earlier today. The Shorelarks hadn’t been seen for the last few days – they always tend to get more mobile when the saltmarsh is wet – and we figured our best chance would be later in the day, to give it a chance to dry out. But there was still quite a lot of standing water on the saltmarsh when we walked out through the pines and the people we met walking back confirmed there was no sign of them again this afternoon.

There were lots of other birds feeding on the saltmarsh as we walked out towards the cordon, lots of Skylarks, several Meadow Pipits and a few Rock Pipits, and a large flock of Linnets. There were just a few more Skylarks in the cordon so with reports of some Long-tailed Ducks just offshore, we continued on out to the beach.

It didn’t take long to find the three Long-tailed Ducks, feeding in the breakers just beyond the sand bar. They were diving constantly, but in the low afternoon light we had a great look at them when they surfaced. A small group of Common Scoter were just offshore too, including several drakes and they were so close we got a good look at the yellow stripe which runs down the front of their bills. A much larger slick of Common Scoter, thousands strong, was much further out, too far for us to be able to pick anything out in with them today.

There were lots of birds on the sandbar, lots of gulls, Cormorants and Oystercatchers, and running around in and out of their legs were several small silvery-grey Sanderlings. We still hadn’t seen the Snow Buntings, and we couldn’t see any sign of them out on the beach now, so we walked a little further along and spotted them as they flew up from behind the dunes by the gap at the far end of the cordon.

The Snow Buntings landed again and we stood on the edge of the dunes and watched as they came running along the tideline towards us. We had a great look at them until they got to the end of the line of washed-up vegetation and then they were off again. They whirled round in the air and looked like they would land again a bit further back, but then turned and headed off. We counted over 50 of them as they disappeared off towards Wells.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – we eventually found the flock of 50+ on the edge of the beach

The late afternoon light was stunning now, out on the beach and it was a great view across the saltmarsh and dunes as we walked back towards the Gap. When we got back to The Lookout, we could see a couple of people looking intently out at the bank beyond and when we got so we could look down the line of the ditch, we could see a Barn Owl on a post.

We got the Barn Owl in the scope and had a look at it – and let a couple of young children who were watching it excitedly with their parents have a look through the scope too. Then it took off and flew straight towards us, landing on another post much closer still. Then yet another Barn Owl appeared on the fence further back – the wet weather last night had really brought them out in force this afternoon!

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – on a post by The Lookout as we made our way back

The light was starting to go now, so we made our way back to Wells. It had been a great day and we had been really lucky with the weather today.

 

8th Feb 2020 – Winter, Broads & Brecks, Day 2

Day 2 of our three-day Winter, Broads & Brecks tour today. It was a cloudy start, with some brighter intervals through the day, with a moderate SW wind. With one eye on the forecast for tomorrow, we decided to spend the day in North Norfolk today.

There had been no reports of the Waxwing yesterday at Salthouse, but we heard a suggestion it was possibly still there. We went to look anyway, first thing, but there was no sign of it in the churchyard, where it had been, and no berries left on its favoured hedge. We scanned the trees in the village, and found several Greenfinches and Starlings and House Sparrows in the hedge. Rather than waste any more time, not knowing if it was even still here, we decided to move on. We had a lot of other things we wanted to try to squeeze in today.

When we got to Wells, the Rough-legged Buzzard was perched more obligingly on its usual bush. We got out of the minibus an trained the scopes on it. We could see its very pale head, contrasting with its dark blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – perched on its usual bush this morning

There were lots of Lapwings and gulls in the ploughed field in front of the layby, including several different ages of Herring Gull which we took a closer look at (by popular request!). A Sparrowhawk flew past, flushing everything, and disappeared behind the hedge.

After having a good look at the Rough-legged Buzzard, we carried on round to Holkham, and parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. There were lots of ducks around the pools out on the grazing marsh – lots of Wigeon, a few Shoveler and one or two Teal. As well as several Redshanks, there were two Ruff feeding out on the grass quite close to the fence, giving a good comparison. We could see the distinctive scaly appearance caused by the pale fringes to the upperparts feathers on the Ruff.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding out on the grazing marsh, with the Redshank

As we walked up towards The Lookout cafe, we could see several Grey Partridges feeding on the grass. A nice orange-faced male was very close to the fence, and as we walked up it stopped feeding and lifted its head up, showing off its dark, kidney-shaped belly patch. A second male was feeding with a duller, browner female a little further back.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – showing off its dark belly patch

Scanning from the Lookout, while some of the group went inside to use the facilities, someone standing there mentioned that he had found what he thought was a Peregrine way out, down in the grass. Looking through his scope, it was indeed a Peregrine, an adult. We trained our scopes on it too – we could just see its head and shoulders, its dark cap extending down in a broad, rounded moustache. Two Rock Pipits flew in for a quick bathe on the pools before flying back out over the pines. We could see small numbers of Brent Geese dropping in further back too.

Heading out towards the beach, we met someone who had been out with us yesterday who told us that the Shorelarks were not in the cordon this morning. Armed with that knowledge, we thought we would check the saltmarsh west of the Gap first instead. As we walked out, several small flocks of Linnets flew over along with one or two Skylarks. But there were two dogs having a high old time, running backwards and forwards around over the whole saltmarsh that side, their owners miles away and oblivious, and needless to say there were no birds left there.

As we turned to walk across the Gap, we saw a large flock of Snow Buntings in the distance. They flew up from the saltmarsh off towards the cordon, over the dunes and dropped down towards the beach. A small group of Skylarks flew in and landed on the shingle, where we might have hoped the Shorelarks would drop in instead!

We walked through the back of the dunes the other side and cut through a gap to the beach. The first thing we saw was a large flock of scoter gathered like a black oil slick just offshore. There were hundreds of Common Scoter, lots of pale-cheeked browner females accompanied by a good number of plainer, blacker drakes. Looking with the scopes, we could see several Velvet Scoters in with them, but they were very hard to pick out, not helped by the fact that the flock was constantly on the move and diving.

Most of the Velvet Scoters were females or young males, but we did find one adult male with bright yellow edges to the bill and white tick mark surrounding the eye. Eventually everyone got onto at least one of the Velvet Scoters, though it took some time to get your eye in, despite the fact that this group was not far offshore. A larger group of Common Scoter was much further out – we didn’t even attempt to try to find the Velvet Scoters in that group! There were a few Red-breasted Mergansers mixed in with the scoters too.

When we finally took our attention off the rafts of seaduck, we noticed a large flock of Snow Buntings had appeared out on the sand. We got them in the scope, and counted 48 of them. They were flushed by two people walking along the beach and flew round, over the dunes behind us and then almost overhead, before landed again on the beach, much closer to us. We had a great view of them now.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – we counted 48 out on the beach today

Further over, along the beach to the east of us, we could see lots of birds on the sandbank beyond the channel, presumably where there was less disturbance. Through the scopes, we could see several silvery-grey Sanderlings running in and out of the Oystercatchers and gulls. A few Cormorants were drying their wings further back.

When we walked along the beach and cut back in towards the cordon, we found that the Shorelarks had now reappeared. We scanned from up in the dunes first, and could see them feeding down on the saltmarsh inside the fence. They were much closer from round the other side, and we had a much better view of them. Their canary yellow faces caught the sunshine when they lifted their heads.

Shorelark

Shorelark – the five reappeared in the cordon this morning

We walked back, and stopped for lunch in The Lookout. As we made our way back to the minibus afterwards, a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over and dropped down towards the grazing marshes out in the middle, the only ones we saw here today.

A little further on, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes again. The first thing we found was a group of White-fronted Geese out on the grass. As we scanned across, we counted at least fifty of them, the white surrounds to the base of their bills (the white ‘front’) showing clearly as they lifted their heads.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – we counted at least 50 on the grazing marshes today

A Great White Egret feeding in one of the rushy pools stood out a mile off, being very large and very white. A second flew across over the back and landed beyond the reeds. When another white bird flew out from behind the trees, it immediately looked different, its head and neck held extended out in front as it flew. It was a Spoonbill – the first two birds have returned already for the summer just in the last couple of days, so it was great to see one today. Spring must be on its way! It landed on the largest of the pools, and we got it in the scope, watching it feeding, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round through the shallow water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – one of the first two birds to return here for the summer

Several Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes and we picked out a Red Kite distantly over the trees too. Then a Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail, smaller and lighter built and flashing the white square at the base of its tail. It flew low west over the grazing marsh, quartering and disappeared round behind the trees.

Back in the minibus, we drove west inland next, over to Sedgeford. As we pulled up, we could see three people looking intently at the muck heap right by the main road. We quickly got out and sure enough, the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was right there. If only it was always so easy! We watched it feeding on the mud around the base of the heap. It has been a bit more erratic in its appearances in the last few days, so it was great to find it so obliging.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – still lingering by its favoured muck heaps

There were lots of gulls loafing in the ploughed field opposite. When a large group circled up and overhead, we looked up to see a Mediterranean Gull in with them, its white wingtips translucent against the blue sky. It was rather hard to pick out though, and despite looking through the flock out in the field, we couldn’t find another one with all the Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls there. Thankfully, numbers are already starting to increase now and we would see some more later.

We made our way down to the coast at Thornham next. As we drove down the road to the harbour, we could see ten small birds circling over the narrow strip of saltmarsh right beside it – the Twite. They clearly wanted to come in to land, but there were too many people walking down the road and they wouldn’t settle. They circled round several times, then flew back to the old coal barn and landed on the roof. We piled out, and had a great view of them, the sunshine catching their yellow bills and burnt orange breasts.

Twite 2

Twite – flew round and landed on the roof of the old coal barn

When the Twite flew again, they dropped down and landed on the saltmarsh, to feed on the seed heads. Something spooked them again, and seven flew straight back up to the barn roof, but three Twite remained down on the saltmarsh. One perched up nicely and we could see it was sporting a set of coloured rings – this bird wintered at Thornham last winter too, and was originally ringed in Derbyshire in May 2018.

Twite 1

Twite – a colour-ringed bird, regular in winter here, originally ringed in Derbys in May’18

There were no different waders in the harbour channel, so we got back in the minibus and drove over to Titchwell next. A quick check in at the Visitor Centre confirmed that one of the Woodcock was in situ again, so we made our way straight round to look for it. A large crowd was gathered on the narrow boardwalk, and we had to wait a few minutes until we eventually got to a place where we could see it. It was then fill the frame views in the scope, albeit of just its head and the top of its body where it was hiding down amongst the moss covered branches.

Woodcock

Woodcock – hiding in the sallows close to the boardwalk

Continuing round, back to the main path, we had a quick look for Water Rails in the ditch. There was no sign of any, but we did see a Chiffchaff flitting around in the bushes just below the pass. As we walked on, a couple of Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air, up over the back of the reedbed. Several Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were in amongst the Greylags and Canada Geese on the reedbed pool.

Hundreds of Golden Plovers and Lapwings were whirling round over Freshmarsh, as we walked out, gradually landing back again. The water level has finally gone down now, and there are more islands exposed, much to the appreciation of the waders. the nearest ones were now covered in the Golden Plover. There were lots of Avocets too, with numbers steadily climbing again now with one eye on spring already, up to seventy today. A single Black-tailed Godwit was asleep in the middle of them.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – gathered on the islands on the Freshmarsh

There were lots of gulls on here too – they seem to appreciate the shallower water. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, but looking through them, we found several Mediterranean Gulls too. We got two adults in scope, one already getting some of its black hood. There were lots of Teal gathered round the edges of the Freshmarsh, with the drakes looking stunning now, particularly in the late afternoon sun.

We had a quick look in Parrinder Hide, but there was no sign of any Water Pipit around the islands or along the reedy edges below the bank, so we carried on out towards the beach. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, we could see the tide was now comng in quickly. The small channel below the bank was filling fast, and the Redshanks had climbed up the bank beyond. Looking down the wider channel at the far side, we could see several Curlew, more Redshanks, a single Grey Plover and a couple of Knot.

The Tidal Pool has been really good for waders, since it has returned to being tidal again. We scanned the SE corner first, but there was no sign of any different shanks down there now. A little further along, there were two Black tailed Godwits feeding close to the path. The spit further back was full of roosting waders, mostly Bar-tailed Godwits mixed with a smaller number of Grey Plover, Knot and Dunlin. More were flying in all the time, coming in off beach to roost here over high tide. There were lots of Oystercatchers too, roosting higher up on the island, and a scattering of Turnstones along the far edge.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits – roosting on the Tidal Pool over high tide

Beyond waders, there were several Pintail, including several smart drakes, busy upending with the Mallards out on the water. We could see their long, pin-shaped central tail fathers. Four Little Grebes were hiding along the bank.

We had a quick look out at the sea. The tide was in now and the beach was covered. There were a few Goldeneye out on the water, closer in, and one or two Great Crested Grebes, but most of the birds were much further out. A drake Eider flew in and landed on the sea, and another group of eight flew past much further out, along the horizon. We picked out a distant Red-throated Diver too, but it dived before anyone could get onto it and we couldn’t relocate it.

As we started to walk back, we stopped to scan the far corner of the Tidal Pool again. This time we found a Spotted Redshank, tucked in on the edge of one of the small islands at the back, roosting.

We stopped again in Parrinder Hide. We could see the Marsh Harriers gathering out over the reedbed. A distant Barn Owl appeared, flying through the back of the reedbed and disappearing round towards the church. A few Pied Wagtails started to drop in to the islands ahead of going to roost in the reedbed. A Water Pipit appeared too, perched on the fence. We got it in the scope, before it flew further along to a post, but it didn’t linger and then flew off shortly after.

The light was starting to go now, so we walked back. There was a stunning moon, rsiing over the bank at the back, and we stopped for a quick look at it in the scope. It is not just the birds which are worth stopping to look at! The Marsh Harriers were still coming in, and we counted at least 15 in the air together as we passed the reedbed. Lots of Little Egrets were coming in to roost too. A Barn Owl was perched on a post at the back, before taking off and flying over the bank.

It was time to head for home. We had enjoyed a really productive day and made the most of the good weather ahead of tomorrow.

16th Jan 2020 – An Early Wash

A Private Tour today. The plan was to head up to the Wash before dawn, to watch the Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed at first light and then the gathering of waders ahead of the rising tide, before finished the day with a walk around Titchwell. While there was a chill to the brisk southerly wind, it was a lovely day with hazy cloud and sunny intervals, before clouding over later.

We got out to the coast at Snettisham before dawn, the sky just beginning to take on a dull orange glow away to the east by the time we arrived. We were then treated to a beautiful sunrise in shades of red, orange, pink and purple.

Sunrise

Sunrise – over the pits at Snettisham

As the light improved, we could hear the yelping calls of the Pink-footed Geese out on the Wash growing restless and gradually we could make out clusters of dark shapes standing out on the mud. Then the first small groups started to take off, flying in over the bank, over our heads, and heading off inland, into the pink-tinged sky of the sunrise. As they gained height over the bank, they formed into skeins, different shapes, ‘v’s, ‘w’s and various other unimagined letters. A larger flock, about a thousand strong, came up from the edge of the saltmarsh further round to the left, and headed off south east.

Gradually, as the sun started to rise, we could see more clearly out across the Wash. Scanning the mud, there seemed to be slightly fewer geese than normal roosting directly off the southern pit this morning. We could just make out several thousand Pink-footed Geese roosting on the mud a bit further to the north of us. When they finally took to the air, they headed off north east, presumably to a feeding ground they had been in previously.

There were still more Pink-footed Geese out in front of us, and they came off in a series of waves, a few hundred at a time, and over our heads calling. We watched them disappearing off into the sunrise.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying inland from the Wash at dawn

Gradually, the number of geese remaining out on the mud declined. It was not high tide yet, but the waders were already gathering. It would not be a big enough tide to get all the waders off the Wash, but it should still push them all closer in today. A large black mob of Oystercatchers had already gathered further up, on the spit opposite the sailing club, and hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwits were shuffling nervously along the water’s edge in front. We could see some huge flocks of Knot further out in front of us, along the edge of the mud.

A flock of Dunlin flew in and landed on the mud closer to us, with two Ringed Plovers in with them. The Curlews were already lined up on the drier ground, over by the saltmarsh, as if they knew what was coming. The mud was liberally scattered with Shelducks and as we looked out, several small flocks of Brent Geese came in over the mud and landed down on the edge of the channel.

It was still cool out on the edge of the Wash, with the sun not yet high enough to warm things up. With some time before high tide, we decided to have a look in the hides and warm up. Scanning the pit from Rotary Hide, we could see several Goldeneye down on the water, the smart drakes black and white. There were plenty of Wigeon and several groups of Gadwall on the water too, and lots of Greylags all round the pit, accompanied by a single Canada Goose. The Lapwings were hunkered down on the various islands.

Several large flocks of ducks flew in from out left, along with a couple more little groups of Goldeneye, and splashed down onto the water. It looked like they had been spooked from the other pits. Shortly after, we found out why when a young Peregrine shot in along the near edge of the pit and past us right in front of the hide windows!

Down at Shore Hide, we could see more ducks and several more Little Grebes, along with a single Great Crested Grebe. The Lapwings were very nervous now, not surprisingly with a Peregrine around, and kept flying up from the islands. Two Turnstones flew up with them. There were not many birds down at the south end of the pits at the moment, possibly due to ongoing disturbance from the new hide construction, which finally appears to be making progress again.

The sun was up properly now, shining through hazy clouds, and the light was much better. We decided to head out again to look for Short-eared Owls. The tide had come up a lot since we had been in the hides, and the waders flocks were growing. Most of the Oystercatchers had now left the point in front of the sailing club, and were spread in a big black slick across the middle of the mud.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud ahead of the rising tide

Most of the other waders – Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Grey Plovers – were all getting pushed up by the rising tide, occasionally flying up in huge flocks, twisting and turning low over the mud, flashing grey and white, before landing back down higher up ahead of the ever encroaching water.

Waders

Waders – pushed in by the rising tide

As we walked round, we flushed a couple of pairs of Grey Partridges (or the same pair several times), which flew off calling noisily. Scanning the bushes, it didn’t take long to find the first Short-eared Owl, tucked in the bare branches of the brambles, hunched up, dozing. We had a look at it in the scope. A little further on, we found the second one, under the same sparse bramble bush which it seems to favour again at the moment.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under its usual bramble bush

Looking back out actross the Wash, the tide was just about at its highest point now, the waders all concentrated on the last arc of mud extending out around the edges of the saltmarsh. They were still shifting a little, small groups occasionally flying up and dropping down again further up away from the water, but the movement of the birds gradually subsided as the rising waters reached their peak.

We decided to move on. As we drove back up Beach Road, we noticed thousands of Pink-footed Geese in a recently harvested beet field right alongside. We found a convenient layby to stop in, and got out carefully to scan through them, being careful not to spook them. So this is where all the Pink-footed Geese we had seen flying off north-east from the Wash earlier were heading!

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – several thousands in a recently harvested beet field

We had a good look at the Pink-footed Geese in the scope. Having watched thousands flying overhead this morning, it was great to see some now on the ground and admire the detail, the delicate dark bills with variable pink markings. There were quite a few Greylags in with them, presumably local feral birds, bigger, paler, with large orange carrots for bills. There were several Canada Geese too, and at least three odd-looking Greylag x Canada Goose hybrids with them.

Looking through carefully, we found several White-fronted Geese too. The white surrounds to the base of their bills and black belly bars stood out when they lifted their heads. We counted at least eight, scattered widely through the flock in singles of small groups.

White-fronted Goose

White-fronted Goose – at least eight were in with the Pink-footed Geese

A little further up, at the end of the flock, two Mistle Thrushes were out in a bulb field, standing tall, with their black-spotted pale breasts catching the low morning sun. A little flock of Linnets dropped down into the weedy strip at the edge. Several Red-legged Partridges were hiding behind tufts of vegetation out in the middle. A Red Kite hung in the air over the edge of the marshes beyond. Two Marsh Harriers came in and over the stubble field the other side.

We made our way round to Titchwell next. After our early start, it would not be long before we would be needing lunch, so we decided on a quick walk round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. The roosting Woodcock round the back here has been one of the highlights of the last couple of weeks, so we went straight there.

A small crowd of long lenses had gathered again, but after a couple of minutes we took our turn and got the Woodcock in the scope. It was amazingly well camouflaged down against the leaves, and knowing that was probably why it felt so relaxed roosting in full view from the path – if you find the right angle. It woke up briefly at one point and looked round, flashing its long bill.

Woodcock

Woodcock – roosting in its usual spot again today

Continuing on to Patsy’s, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing out in the reedbed. From the screed, we looked across to see several Marsh Harriers hanging in the air over the reeds. There were not so many ducks on here today – a scattering of Gadwall, Mallard, Teal and a few Coot. A careful scan revealed two Snipe asleep down along the edge of the cut reeds, remarkably well camouflaged in the browns and yellows of the vegetation.

Then it was back to the Visitor Centre for lunch and a welcome hot drink. Afterwards, we headed out along the main path. Scanning the ditches either side, as we walked through the trees, we spotted the Water Rail down in the water. We watched as it probed in the mud along the bank as it worked its way along the edge of the ditch.

Water Rail

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

The disaster has been averted and the water level on the Freshmarsh has dropped a fraction, but there is till a lot of water on there. Good for ducks! We could see lots of Tufted Ducks and a few Common Pochard with all the dabbling ducks on the edge of the reeds on the southern side.

Most of the Teal were roosting along the other shore, either side of Parrinder Hide. When we got up there, we had a close look at them through the scope, the drakes looking stunning at the moment, intricately patterned when you can see the feather detail.

Teal

Teal – sleeping around the edge of the Freshmarsh

As we walked on past Volunteer Marsh, a Rock Pipit flew in calling and dropped down on the mud below the path briefly, before flying again and disappearing round behind the concrete bunker on Parrinder bank. There were a couple of Redshanks in the channel down below the bank and a Curlew came out of the saltmarsh to pull a worm out of the mud there too.

There were more birds at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, along the wider channel which extends back away from the path. A Little Egret was down in the water in the bottom. Two Grey Plover were feeding on the mud. A single Knot walked up out of the channel to the reeds along the edge.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover – two were on the mud by the channel

Over to the Tidal Pool, we couldn’t see any sign of the Spotted Redshanks which had been here earlier. There were several more Common Redshanks though, plus a scattering of both Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits. We got one of each of the latter which were feeding together on the edge of one of the islands in the scope. A good comparison opportunity. A single Ringed Plover was on the sand at the back.

A little further up, there were more waders roosting on the long spit. More Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot, and a couple of Turnstone in with them. On the end of the spit, eight Avocets were sleeping, a few hardy individuals which have opted to stay here rather than head further south for the winter.

Avocets

Avocets – there were eight on the Tidal Pool today

A pair of Pintail were busy upending out in the deeper water. Through the scope, we could see the long, pin-shaped tail feathers of the smart drake.

Out at the beach, the tide was still just going out, and had not yet exposed the mussel beds. We scanned the sea, finding a few Red-breasted Mergansers, and a single Goldeneye offshore. Two Eider were very distant and too hard for anyone to get onto. A couple of Great Crested Grebes were easier to see.

A good number of Bar-tailed Godwits were down feeding down on the beach, where the waves were breaking on the sand. A Sanderling flew along the shoreline, possibly looking for others. It eventually landed away towards Brancaster, but only very briefly and it was off again before we could even get the scope on it. A small group of Knot had landed on the beach too, but didn’t stay long and flew back towards the Tidal Pool, possibly having realised it was still a bit early to come out.

It was time for us to head back, into the freshening breese. As we got to the Tidal Pool, a Great Black-backed Gull flew over and spooked all the waders from behind the suaeda. They all flew round and we spotted a Spotted Redshank in with them. It landed out in the shallow water in front of the spit and we had a good look at it in the scope, paler than the Common Redshanks, with a longer, finer bill. Then it started feeding, sweeping its bill vigorously from side to side in the water as it walked round.

We had a quick stop at the Freshmarsh to admire the Teal again, now with the low winter sunshine showing them off even better. A small group of Brent Geese had dropped in too, but flew off as we arrived.

Back to the trees, there were lots of Chaffinches on the path. A flock of tits was working its way through, with several Long-tailed Tits down in the bushes just above the ditch. A Chiffchaff was with them, and it flew out into the edge of one of the bare bushes right in front of us, pumping its tail as it flitted around in the branches. Another bird which has stayed put rather than head off further south. Then it was back to the car park.

It had been another lovely day out. As we drove back, it started to spit with rain. Perfect timing!

15th Jan 2020 – More than just a Lark

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. We had a particular list of things we wanted to see, so we would be very focused about what we did and where we went. The weather gods looked favourably on us again – after very heavy rain and high winds overnight, it was much calmer by morning, dry but cloudy initially, and then the skies cleared and we had some gorgeous winter sunshine in the afternoon. Lovely!

As we drove west along the coast road, we noticed a large flock of geese feeding in a grassy field and pulled up in a layby next to it. White-fronted Goose was on the target list for the day, and this is a field they sometimes like to feed in. Sure enough, that is just what they were. We got out quietly and set up the scope behind the minibus so as not to risk disturbing them.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – 150 were feeding in a field by the coast road

We could see the adult White-fronted Geese with the white surrounds to their bills and black belly bars like fingerprints. There were several plainer juveniles with them too. We counted 120 when we arrived, and several more small groups flew in to join them as we watched. By the time we left, there were at least 150 feeding on the grass. There were a few Egyptian Geese in the field too, plus a pair of Mistle Thrushes and a couple of Brown Hares.

Our next destination was Sedgeford, to look for the Eastern Yellow Wagtail. As we arrived, there were only a few cars today – the crowds have started to dissipate now it has been around for several weeks. We could see a couple of people further down the track, by its favoured muck heap, but they were looking round and it seemed pretty clear they were not looking at the bird. It often starts the day out in the field, so we stopped on the corner to scan.

A large flock of Fieldfares was feeding out in the middle of the field, accompanied by a mob of Starlings. A small covey of Red-legged Partridges was in the far corner and a mixed group of Linnets and Chaffinches landed on the edge of the cover strip along the edge. A Pied Wagtail flew in and landed down in front of us, but unfortunately had not brought its rarer cousin with it.

When a big flock of Meadow Pipits landed out in the field, we scanned across through them and there was the Eastern Yellow Wagtail with a couple more Pied Wagtails. We quickly got the scope on it and had a good look as it walked across between the furrows, before the flock took off and the wagtail disappeared.

The Pied Wagtails had flown off down the field, in the general direction of the muck heap, so we thought we would walk down the lane and see if the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had gone that way too. We hadn’t gone very far, and were just talking about its distinctive rasping call, when we heard it just behind the hedge. We called to some people who had just arrived and were still standing on the corner by the road, and by the time we got back to them they had found the Eastern Yellow Wagtail feeding along the edge of the field.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – feeding on the edge of the field this morning

The Eastern Yellow Wagtail was a bit closer now, and more settled, feeding on its own. We had a much longer look at it through the scope, with its grey head, bright white supercilium and yellow underparts. It gradually worked its way further away from us before flying off down the field.

A steady stream of Pink-footed Geese had been landing in a field away to the south, in the distance, while we were looking for the wagtail. Now we turned our attention to those. They were a long way off, but through the scope we found a single White-fronted Goose with them. Then someone else found two Barnacle Geese too.

We were just working our way steadily through the rest of the flock when something spooked them. The Pink-footed Geese all took to the air. It was quite a sight – a flock of several thousand geese taking off. Half of them flew off, while the other half landed back down in the field, although some were out of sight now beyond a ridge. We couldn’t see anything else of interest with those that were still visible, so we decided to move on. As we were walking back to the minibus, something spook them again and all the geese took off once more.

The Woodcock at Titchwell has been performing outstandingly for a steady stream of admirers in recent days. While it was not specifically on the target list for the day, we couldn’t not call in as we were within easy reach. We walked straight round to Meadow Trail and found a small group already gathered, and eventually as people moved on we were able to get the scope on it. It wasn’t where we had seen it recently, but thankfully had only moved about three feet to the left! Stunning!

Woodcock

Woodcock – still delighting the crowds

There were lots of other things we hoped to do today, so we elected not to go further out onto the reserve today – unfortunately, with days short at this time of year, we would not have enough time. We made our way back to the minibus, and turned back east along the coast road to Holkham.

As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see the grazing marshes were full of water after last night’s rain. There were loads of birds. Lots of ducks, mainly Wigeon and a few Teal. And lots of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls, presumably attracted by the prospect of worms forced up by the water. It is looking really good for wildlife here at the moment. We parked at the top and walked up towards the pines. A covey of Grey Partridges was very well camouflaged on the edge of the ditch, looking across the grass.

When we got out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, we could see that it was very wet today too, after a big high tide this morning. The Shorelarks have been very mobile and elusive at times this week, with their favoured cordon being wet at times. Shorelark was a particular target for the day, so we figured we may have to search them out. Rather than head towards the cordon first, we decided to try the opposite direction.

We walked round on the dry path along the edge of the dunes, and as we started to pick our way round the puddles and flooded channels on the path out across the saltmarsh we met two other birders coming back the other way. They confirmed what we had hoped – the Shorelarks were just ahead of us. When we got out to the middle, we could see them, feeding with about twenty Skylarks on the other side.

We followed the Shorelarks for a while, keeping a discrete distance so as not to disturb them. The Skylarks flew off, but the Shorelarks continued to pick their way round the edge of the saltmarsh. With patience, we had some great views of them, feeding on the small seedheads, chasing each other, stopping to stretch and preen.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we found the five of them out on the edge of the saltmash

After enjoying our fill of the Shorelarks, we left them in peace. They could have been one of the hardest of today’s target species to find, so it was great to get them in the bag. Snow Bunting was the next one we wanted to find, and they have remained more faithful to the cordon area, despite the high tides, so we headed round there next.

A Rock Pipit flew across calling, a sharper call than a Meadow Pipit, and landed briefly on the saltmarsh, before flying off again. We flushed a small flock of Linnets ahead of us too. A small flock of Brent Geese was feeding out in the middle as we made our way east from the Gap, but they were up to their bellies in the vegetation and it was hard to see anything different in with them. Looking up to the sky, we could now see the trailing edge of the weather front approaching and blue sky beyond.

When we got to the cordon, we could see a large flock of Snow Buntings down at the far end, on the edge of the dunes. We couldn’t get out to the beach on the west side of the cordon, as there was still too much water in the channel, so we walked down to the east end and out that way. By the time we got down there, the Snow Buntings were now out in the middle of the cordon, so we had a quick look at them in the scope, before carrying on to the beach.

We could see several thousand Common Scoter in a couple of rafts out on the sea. Most of them were quite a long way out again today, too far to make out if there were any Velvet Scoters in with them. Another smaller group of Common Scoter closer in had just a single Great Crested Grebe with them. There were a few Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea too, including one drake quite close inshore. After a bit of scanning, we finally found a single Long-tailed Duck as well, another one we were hoping to find today. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew past, very distantly offshore. Five Pintail flying past out to sea were more of a surprise.

The sun came out now, and the Snow Buntings flew round behind us calling. We turned to see them land on the beach very close to us. They were rather skittish, and quickly took off again, flying round past us, before settling once more. We watched as they picked their way over the shells on the sand. They stopped in little groups and seemed to be arguing with each other. We hadn’t realised what they were doing until we got back and looked at the photos – they were drinking rainwater from small upturned cockle shells on the beach!

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – drinking rainwater from shells on the beach

It was great watching the Snow Buntings in the sunshine, so when they flew off again and over our heads before disappearing off down the beach, we decided to head back. The flock of Brent Geese on the saltmarsh had now come a bit closer and we could pick out the Black Brant hybrid which is almost always with them – with a more obvious white flank patch and white collar than the others. A Short-eared Owl was hunting the dunes too, off in the distance.

After a quick stop to use the facilities in the Lookout, we walked back towards Lady Anne’s Drive. The Grey Partridges were now right on the corner of the grazing marsh, just below the path, so we stopped to admire them.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – the covey was close to the path on our way back

We stopped for lunch in the sunshine in the car park up at Holkham Park and afterwards walked in through the gates. There were a few Jays flying back and forth as we headed down towards the lake and a couple of groups of Fallow Deer in the trees.

When we got to the lake, we found plenty of Tufted Ducks and several Common Pochard. We walked down along the edge and quickly came across the Black-necked Grebe, which is what we had come primarily to see. We followed it for a while, as it dived continually, surfacing each time in a completely different place.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – still on the lake in the Park today

After watching the Black-necked Grebe for a while, we walked on down towards the hall, before turning and heading back towards the monument out across the open grass. There were lots of Fallow Deer feeding out on the grass, including quite a few grazing the outfield of the cricket pitch. They looked very smart in the low afternoon sun.

Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer – feeding out on the grass in the Park

A couple of Common Buzzards were hanging in the air above the trees as we got back to the monument. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was hanging on the bag of peanuts as we got back to the houses by the gate. We still had a bit of spare time to play with, so we decided to see if we could catch up with some egrets. As we made our way west, a Red Kite was hanging in the air over the fields.

There were a few people looking out across the grazing marshes from the layby at Burnham Overy. They had seen a couple of Cattle Egrets and a Great White Egret, but none of them were visible now. Two White-fronted Geese were out in the field in front with a small group of Pinkfeet. We walked down along the verge and looked out towards the seawall. A Cattle Egret flew up but immediately dropped down again behind some thick reeds and brambles. It seemed for a minute like we might be frustrated.

Then we looked back towards the dunes to see a Great White Egret fly round. When it landed on the back edge of the furthest pool, we got it in the scope. It was a long way off and behind the reeds at first, but when it came out we could see its long yellow bill and long neck. When we turned our attention back to the grazing marsh below the seawall, the Cattle Egrets had reappeared – we could see seven of them out on the grass now.

We still had one thing we wanted to do, so we made our way back east and walked down the track to the edge of the saltmarsh. There were several Brown Hares in the fields, with three chasing each other round.

We had the roost to ourselves this evening. We didn’t have to wait long before the first Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail. We watched it hunting, as it made its way further west until we lost sight of it. Then a smart grey male Hen Harrier flew in from the other direction. We watched as it flew low over the middle of the saltmarsh, before flying back to the far edge and then coming back in the opposite direction.

There were quite a few small groups of Brent Geese scattered around the saltmarsh. One of the groups contained a noticeably paler bird, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose with a creamy white belly. There were several groups of Golden Plover too, and one of them whirled round at one point, alternating white and gold as they turned in the low sunshine.

A Merlin came in high from the fields, away to our left. It dropped down and shot low over the ground before landing on a bush out in the middle of the saltmarsh. There was still some low sunlight and it was perfectly illuminated in the scope. While we were watching it, what was presumably the same male Hen Harrier ghosted across in front of it. And then we looked away to the west to see a second male hunting further back.

We could see the flocks of Knot swirling round over the beach beyond – perhaps the Peregrines were still out there hunting? A couple of hundred Pink-footed Geese were already sleeping out on the flats. A scan with the scope picked up a very distant Barn Owl hunting over in front of East Hills.

We were about to call it a day, when a Merlin suddenly shot up into the sky right in front of us. It was chasing a Meadow Pipit and we watched the two of them climb higher and higher, the pipit desperately trying to stay above the falcon. There followed an amazing dogfight for several minutes, the pipit twisting and turning, the Merlin very nearly catching it on a couple of occasions, but the pipit just managing to take evasive action at the last second, dropping suddenly, then turning up as the Merlin stooped and overshot. Eventually the two of them chased down into the bushes off to our right – we didn’t get to learn the ending, but it was exciting to watch.

If that wasn’t enough, two Hen Harriers then circled back in high over the middle of the saltmarsh, a male accompanied by a ringtail, the latter noticeably bigger, a female. We followed the male as he lost height and returned to hunting, disappearing off east.

The light was starting to go now and we couldn’t have hoped for a better end to the day. What a great day it had been too. It was time to head for home.

10th Jan 2020 – Winter in Norfolk, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Winter Tour in Norfolk today. It was very wet overnight, but the rain passed through by morning and the cloud gradually broke to leave a day of blue skies and winter sunshine. Great weather for winter birding!

As we drove west this morning, we could see lots of White-fronted Geese in a field by the road at Holkham but unfortunately there was nowhere to stop and we had several cars behind us. A little further on, a Barn Owl was hunting over a grassy meadow next to the road, and it turned to cross right in front of us. Thankfully we were already going slowly, as we only narrowly avoided it and it saw us at the last minute.

A large flock of Pink-footed Geese was flushed from a potato field by the farmer just before Burnham Overy as we approached and flew over the road ahead of us. We turned inland in the village, and just beyond we found a small mixed flock of Greylags and Pink-footed Geese in a muddy field by the road. It was quieter here, and we could pull up to have a quick look from the minibus. It was a good chance to see the two species side by side.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – we found a small mixed flock with Greylags by the road

Our first stop of the morning was at Sedgeford. There were a few cars already parked along the verge and as we got out of the minibus we were told the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had been seen earlier by its favoured muck heap down along the track opposite. But when we got to the small group of birders gathered there, they seemed to be unsure whether it had been seen or where it had gone.

It normally flies in here eventually, so we stopped to wait. There were several Brown Hares in the field opposite and a large gathering of Common Gulls feeding up on the ridge. A Yellowhammer came over calling. A Sparrowhawk flew along the hedge line at the far end. We could see lots of Fieldfares in the field back towards the road, but they flew back and disappeared behind the ridge back towards where we were parked.

We had a lot to try to do today and we figured we could always call in to try for the wagtail again on our way back later, so we walked back towards the road to have a look for the Fieldfares. When we got back there, we discovered that the Eastern Yellow Wagtail had earlier flown in with a couple of Pied Wagtails and landed in the field right next to where everyone was parked. A couple of people had been watching it while everyone else was standing down the track by the muck heap. But the birds had flown off again and although the two Pied Wagtails had returned, their rarer cousin had disappeared again.

We could see the Fieldfares out in the field, so got those in the scopes, feeding with a rather jumpy flock of Starlings. There were several Red-legged Partridges behind and a flock of Linnets and Goldfinches in the set aside strip along the field margin. A Bullfinch flew over calling and landed in the hedge, where we got it in the scope, a very smart pink male.

Knowing that the Eastern Yellow Wagtail was around now, we decided to walk back to the muck heap, hoping that it would now fly back in there. We were just walking up when we heard it call and it landed in the edge of the field right next to where everyone was standing. We had great views of it now, as it picked around on the bare mud – well worth the wait!

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – eventually flew in to its favoured muck heap

Eventually the Eastern Yellow Wagtail flew up calling – the diagnostic rasping call, very unlike our regular Western Yellow Wagtails and more like a Citrine Wagtail – and dropped down onto the muck heap. We took this as a cue to move on.

Our next stop was at Snettisham. There were a few Goldeneye and Little Grebes on the pits on the way in. When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was out – high tide was in the early hours this morning. We were not here mainly for the waders today though, our target was Short-eared Owl. As we made our way round, we scanned the brambles and quickly found one hidden in some long grass – it was hard to see, but eventually everyone managed to get onto it.

We decided to push our luck again, and walked on a little further. There was a second Short-eared Owl, hiding in the same place we had seen it last week, under a rather sparse bramble bush. Even better, we looked back at the first Short-eared Owl and with the change of angle we now found we were looking straight at it out in the open. We had a great view of it through the scope.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two again this morning

Scanning the main pit, we could see a good selection of wildfowl – more Goldeneye, Tufted Ducks, several Wigeon and a few Gadwall and Shoveler. The Swan Goose hybrid was in with the Greylag Geese again. A flock of a few hundred Pink-footed Geese came up from the Wash and flew over calling noisily.

Turning our attention to the Wash, most of the Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits were way off in the distance, but we could see quite a few Dunlin out on the mud quite close in despite the fact that the tide was out. We decided to have a quick look through the Dunlin, pointing out that we had seen a Little Stint here with them several times last winter, when the very next bird we saw was… a Little Stint! What a coincidence!

The Little Stint was feeding with the Dunlin, and was much smaller when they were seen side by side, with a shorter, finer bill. They are mainly passage migrants here, and rare in winter. It was in exactly the same area we had seen the Little Stint last year, so perhaps it it is the same bird come back here for a second winter.

Little Stint

Little Stint – feeding on the edge of the Wash with Dunlin

There were one or two Grey Plover quite close in too. With the sun now coming out, we could see a large flock of Golden Plover out on the mud, packed tightly together in a long line, shining in the low winter’s light. There were lots of Lapwing too, darker, and scattered more liberally over the mud.

We had lots we wanted to do today, so we moved on. We called in for a quick stop at Thornham Harbour, but we were told the Twite which had been there earlier had disappeared. There were quite a few people there and there were not many waders in the harbour channel either – a couple of Redshank and Curlew, and a single Oystercatcher. A couple of Brent Geese were out across the saltmarsh towards the beach.

We walked up to the old sluice and had just stopped to scan the saltmarsh when we heard the distinctive nasal twang of a Twite calling back behind us, somewhere beyond the car park. We turned to see a small group of birds perched on the vegetation on the far side of the harbour channel but before we could get back they had taken off. They landed back down on the saltmarsh a bit further back, disappearing out of view.

We stood and scanned for a bit. A couple of Rock Pipits flew over. A few Linnets flew in and out and when a larger flock flew over, we heard Twite calling again. Two birds landed on the cross bar of one of the wooden jetties on the edge of the harbour and conveniently they were a Twite and a Linnet next to each other – another great comparison.

Twite

Twite – one showed well with Linnets around the Harbour

We had a good look at them through the scope before the Twite flew down and landed on the other side of the channel directly opposite us. We could see its yellow bill and its burnt orange breast caught the sun. It seemed to be on its own and when the Linnets flew up again, the Twite flew back over to join them. One was enough – we decided to head round to Titchwell for lunch.

After lunch, we headed straight round to Meadow Trail. We were told the Woodcock was in its usual spot and when we got there we didn’t have to look for it – a crowd was gathered there and lots of long lenses were pointed in its direction. Thankfully the throng quickly dwindled so we could find a spot where we could all admire it. It was not far from the boardwalk and clearly relying on its cryptically patterned plumage for camouflage, probably convinced that we couldn’t see it.

Woodcock

Woodcock – showing very well by the boardwalk, despite the crowds

We moved on, to create space for the next Woodcock admirers, and headed round to the main path. We could see a Marsh Harrier out beyond the reedbed and lots of Greylags and a couple of Mute Swans on the reedbed pool. The Freshmarsh is still full of water, although with the sluice apparently now repaired, the water level has started to drop. There were lots of ducks on there, including a single drake Goldeneye.

Time was running short, so we continued straight out to the Tidal Pool. A single Spotted Redshank was feeding up to its belly in the far corner – through the scope, we could see its long bill and bright supercilium as it lifted its head. A Bar-tailed Godwit walked across in front of it. A Turnstone was picking around on one of the islands next to a couple of Black-tailed Godwits.

A little further up, we stopped to look at all the Bar-tailed Godwits roosting on the spit. There were several Grey Plovers in with them and scanning with the scope we found a couple of Knot too. There were a few ducks out on the water and, in with all the Mallard, we could see five Pintail. We got a pair in the scope and the drake looked especially stunning in the low afternoon sunlight. As it upended, we could see its long, pin-shaped tail.

We had one more thing we wanted to do today, so we needed to head back. We had to make a brief stop as we passed the Freshmarsh to train the scope on one of the drake Teal on the bank. Again the light was perfect and the plumage detail through the scope was exquisite.

Teal

Teal – looking stunning in the low afternoon light

Titchwell had one more gift to give us today. As we got back into the trees, we looked down into the ditch beside the path to see a Water Rail picking along the far bank of the water in the bottom. A Chiffchaff was calling in the bushes in the car park as we made our way round to the minibus.

Our last stop of the day was back at Wells. As we got out of the minibus, a Short-eared Owl was down in the grass on the edge of the ditch a short way down the track. We got it in the scope and could see its yellow eyes as it looked round. We didn’t know which was to look, as the Rough-legged Buzzard was on its usual bush off towards the bank in the other direction. We got the scopes set up, some on each, and everyone moved between them admiring the two birds.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – still perched on its usual favoured bush

The Short-eared Owl took off and flew a bit further back, landing back down in the grass again. Then we looked over to the bank by the Rough-legged Buzzard to see a Barn Owl appear. It dropped down to the ground on the bank and came up again with a vole in its talons, disappearing with it into the bushes where the Rough-legged Buzzard was still perched.

A Common Buzzard had now landed in the grass where the Short-eared Owl had been and the latter had taken offence. We watched as it flew up repeatedly, before swooping down at the Buzzard, pulling up at the last minute. The Buzzard eventually decided it had had enough, flying off with the Short-eared Owl in pursuit, before the owl turned back and circled up and over the bank.

There was a stunning moonrise this evening – it is a full moon tonight, a ‘wolf moon’, the first full moon of the New Year. We decided to walk down the track to the bank to admire it. A Grey Heron was motionless at the back of the first flood, looking rather like a wooden post in the gloom. As we passed one of the grassy fields, two small birds circled over and dropped in – two Water Pipits. Unfortunately they immediately disappeared into the long grass.

From up on the bank, we got the scope on the Rough-legged Buzzard. With the change in angle, we were now looking at it back on, and could see the white base to its tail. We looked away and it took off – we watched it fly off towards the pines, presumably heading off to roost, longer, slimmer-winged and longer-tailed than a Common Buzzard.

Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon – the first full moon of the New Year tonight

We took that as our cue to head for home too. As we walked back, with the full moon away to our left and the last yellow light of the sunset illuminating the sky away to our right, the Short-eared Owl was still hunting over the grassy field beside the track and a Grey Partridge was calling in the stubble the other side. A great way to wrap up our first day.