Tag Archives: Titchwell

8th Oct 2020 – Four Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly a rather grey, damp and breezy day, but the showers were well spaced and no more than very light drizzle and we managed to avoid the worst of them. And it didn’t stop us kicking the four days off in style with some good birds.

It was raining first thing, but it was expected to clear from the west. We decided to head over to Snettisham. It was not a big tide today, but perhaps it would be enough to push some waders in. As we made our way west, we saw several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland from the grazing marshes where they had spent the night to feed. Flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws came up from the fields as we passed.

As we made our way out at Snettisham, we stopped for a quick scan of the sailing club pit. Two Little Grebes and two Great Crested Grebes were out on the water.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was still coming in. We could see a large roost of Oystercatchers gathered on the mud up by the sailing club. Several small groups of Golden Plover flew past us, out to the mud in the middle.

Knot – a Peregrine was stirring up the huge flocks

While we stood and scanned the Wash, the huge flocks of thousands of Knot came up from the mud further out and started swirling round over the water, twisting and turning, making different shapes. There had to be something spooking them and there was a young Peregrine chasing after them.

We watched as the Peregrine flew round through the flocks and it quickly managed to get one Knot separate from the rest. It chased after it, up and down, back and forth, for some time. The Peregrine looked like a juvenile, inexperienced, and did not seem to know how to catch its quarry at first. Eventually the Knot started to tire, flew down closer to the water and stopped changing direction so quickly. The Peregrine took its chance and grabbed it, then started to fly in towards the shore with the Knot in its talons.

The Peregrine had just got to the shore when we noticed a second one appeared, flying very low over the mud. It headed straight for the first and when it got close it swooped up. A Peregrine dogfight ensued, the new bird chased after the first for a minute, diving at it repeatedly.

Finally the first Peregrine dropped the dead Knot, which seemed to fall into the grass at the top of the beach, but strangely neither of them went down after it. Both seemed to lose interest and drifted off. One flew towards us along the shore, flushing all the Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – flushed by one of the Peregrines

We turned our attention back to the mud in front of us. The Golden Plover had flown off, presumably spooked by all the excitement, but the others slowly started to drift back in. Some of the Dunlin returned to the edge of the channel. We looked through but couldn’t find anything with them today, apart from one or two Sanderling. There were several Grey Plover scattered on the mud, and we got a Bar-tailed Godwit in the scopes.

The bulk of the Knot, the large flocks, settled back down again off in the distance, but a couple flew in and landed on the mud at the bottom of the bank just below us, giving us a closer view. A small group of Ringed Plovers were roosting among the rocks at the bottom of the bank.

There were quite a few Shelduck on the water, presumably lingering birds which had gathered here to moult. Groups of Teal and a few Mallard were scattered around on the mud. A small group of ducks in the shallows on the edge included several Pintail, much larger than the Teal they were with, the drakes still in their drab eclipse plumage.

Despite the weather, there were a few birds on the move today. Several small flocks of Starlings flew over the pits, heading south. A few Meadow Pipits flew past over the beach, one stopping briefly to feed around the rocks. A Rock Pipit flew past calling too.

It was high tide now and there didn’t seem to be much more movement of waders. The rain seemed to have cleared through, so we decided to move on. We headed round to Titchwell next today – given the weather, we had no problem parking today!

Through the new ‘Welcome Hub’, we headed straight out onto the main path. A quick scan through the trees out over the Thornham grazing marshes produced a couple of distant Common Buzzards on the bushes at the back.

Almost up to the junction with Meadow Trail, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call ahead of us. We hurried up after it, just as a tit flock came out of the sallows and across the path. We followed it up through the trees by the path, looking to see what was with. We found several Goldcrests and one or two Chiffchaff, but there was no further sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler, before the flock came back over the track and disappeared out into the bushes in the middle of the reedbed.

As we came out of the trees, a wisp of about a dozen Common Snipe flew overhead and out over the saltmarsh. We could see lines of Black-tailed Godwits flying up from the Freshmarsh and over the reedbed, heading inland to feed in the fields.

There was nothing on the Reedbed Pool today, but the channel just beyond did provide a Coot, a pair of Gadwall and a pair of Mute Swans. It started to drizzle now, so we hurried on to Island Hide and donned our face masks to find some welcome shelter.

There was still a sizeable flock of godwits out in the middle of the Freshmarsh, and through the scopes we could see they were a mixture of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. Even though they were asleep, we could see the Bar-tailed Godwits were smaller, shorter, with paler upperparts contrastingly streaked with dark.

Four Avocets were sheltering behind the small brick island, the hardiest individuals who will try to stay here for the winter rather than heading off south like most of the others have already done. A large group of Ruff were in the shallow water over towards the reeds. Several Golden Plover were on the grassy island in front of Parrinder Hide, along with a single Dunlin.

Avocets – just four on the Freshmarsh today

There were lots of Teal, the drakes still mostly in drab eclipse plumage though one or two are starting to smarten up again new. One of the drake Shoveler was also more advanced in its moult back to breeding plumage, but the drake Gadwall and Mallard are already mostly moulted back out again. We couldn’t see any Wigeon on here today.

It had stopped raining now, so we headed back out to the main path and continued on towards the beach. The tide was in and the Volunteer Marsh was still covered with water. There were several Curlew and Redshank on the wet mud in the middle and we found a few Wigeon swimming on the channel at the far side.

Over the bank, we stopped to scan the Tidal Pool. It was rather grey and gloomy, but we managed to find two Spotted Redshanks today, asleep at the back, noticeably paler white below than the Common Redshanks. There were several Black-tailed Godwits and one or two Dunlin too. With more Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Turnstones roosting on the spit.

Spotted Redshanks – two were asleep on the back of the Tidal Pool

Out on the beach, the Wheatear was still feeding along the tideline. It worked its way off away to the east as we arrived, but a couple of minutes later then reappeared right in front of us. A great view – still very tame and obliging, it fed completely unconcerned at all the people here. A couple of Skylarks flew in and landed on the tideline further down too.

Wheatear – the very tame bird, still feeding on the high tide line

The tide was just starting to go out here, and there were not many waders on the shore. Looking out to sea, we could see a few Great Crested Grebe on the water. Several Gannets were flying past, white adults and dark juveniles, mostly distant but a couple came through a little closer. We ould see small groups of Common Scoter flying around right out on the horizon, in front of the wind turbines.

As we passed the Thornham grazing marsh reedbed, we heard Bearded Tits pinging. We looked across to see two fly up, skimming over the tops of the reeds before dropping straight back in. That would probably be the best we could hope for today, in the wind.

Back to the Visitor Centre, we turned out along Fen Trail. Along the boardwalk out towards Fen Hide, we stopped to watch a Goldcrest in the sallows. It was busy feeding right by the path, within a few feet of us and totally unconcerned by our presence, too close to focus optics on!

We had a quick look at the pool at Patsy’s Reedbed. There were just a few commoner ducks on here today, plus a few Coot and a Little Grebe, nothing else of any note. As we turned to walk back, several thousand Pink-footed Geese came up from the fields inland, before dropping back down again.

We made our way back round via Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of the tit flock or any warblers now. So we carried on back to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink and a break for lunch. A Brambling called from somewhere back in the trees while we ate.

After lunch, we headed back east. We drove into the drizzle again, and it was very misty looking out over the marshes as we passed Holkham. We turned inland at Wells and then down a minor road through the fields towards Wighton. Despite the weather, there were still a few cars already parked here.

We joined the small group of people on the edge of the field watching the Hoopoe down on the track just beyond the hedge. It was very close today, and we had great views as it fed, periodically pulling a tasty morsel out of the wet ground and throwing its head back to swallow it.

Hoopoe – still lingering in fields at Wighton

Widely distributed across the warmer parts of the continent in the summer, Hoopoes are migrants which mostly spend the winter in Africa, so this bird looked particularly out of place in a cold and damp October day in North Norfolk! They turn up fairly regularly in the UK, mostly as overshooting migrants in spring. There has been some debate about how long this Hoopoe has been here – there were a few records along the coast in spring and one was reported from Wighton back at the start of August.

We carried on east inland, along some narrow country lanes – the only sighting of note being a speeding white van coming the other way, which smashed into the wing mirror of the bus as it raced past. Very annoying! It didn’t stop, so we continued on our way.

We cut back down to the coast road at Salthouse and parked by the duckpond. It had stopped raining now, so we got out and looked across to a small pool in the middle of the grazing marshes. There had been a Red-necked Phalarope here for several days but there was no sign of it now at first. It can be hard to see if it gets tucked in around the edges, so we stood and watched. A Stock Dove flew over.

Four Shoveler swam back out into the middle and started to feed, heads down. The Red-necked Phalarope has often been feeding in amongst them, but it didn’t reappear straight away. We decided to walk out along the footpath across the marshes to try a different angle, but we hadn’t got far along the side of the main road when we looked back and saw a small white bird swimming along in front of the reeds, tucked in the corner.

We stopped and set up the scopes and there was the Red-necked Phalarope. It swam round in circles in front of the reeds, picking at the surface of the water for small invertebrates it stirred up. It gradually worked its way along the back edge of the pool and then swam out to join the Shoveler in the middles. The ducks are obviously doing a good job of stirring up the water themselves, and the Red-necked Phalarope is taking advantage to help it find food.

Red-necked Phalarope – feeding with the ducks at Salthouse

A juvenile, the Red-necked Phalarope has possibly come from Scandinavia. They normally spend the winter out at sea, the birds from there flying all the way down to the Arabian Sea, so it has a long journey ahead of it.

There was nothing of note with the gulls on the duckpond, nor with those loafing on the fields off Beach Road. A large group of Canada Geese were on the grass towards Gramborough Hill. So we headed back west and stopped again just before Wells.

As we got out of the minibus, a couple of Brown Hares were in the far corner of the field in front of the parking area. A Marsh Harrier flew over the field west of the track. We turned our attention to the pool the other side, where a large white bird by the bank at the back was a Great White Egret. Through the scopes, we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – at the back of one of the pools at Wells

There were lots of gulls flying back and forth over the recently harvested potato field beyond. Most were Black-headed Gulls but two noticeably smaller gulls were in with them. We could see their more rounded pale upperwings and contrasting blackish underwings, two Little Gulls.

There were lots of ducks but not many waders on the pool today and we couldn’t see the Little Stint at first. After a while scanning it appeared from behind the Wigeon, Teal, Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls on one of the grassy islands. It was so small it was easily hidden. It was rather distant, but we had a good view of it through the scope, short-billed with rather clean white underparts, we could see its ‘braces’, the distinctive pale mantle stripes shown by juvenile Little Stints.

It started to drizzle again now, so as time was already getting on we decided to call it a day. We had enjoyed a good start today, and there would be more to see tomorrow.

6th Oct 2020 – A Relaxed Autumn Day

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today, a relaxed-paced tour with some gentle walking. It was mostly cloudy, with a few light showers which were thankfully all very brief, and the sun did even make a couple of appearances in the afternoon, although the breeze picked up too.

We started the day at Titchwell – you need to get here early these days to be sure of a place in the Covid-reduced car park, which is still filling up by mid-morning. We had no problem today, and there was still just one car in the overflow area, so we had a quick walk round to see if we could find anything in the bushes. It was rather quiet here today, although a small group of Greenfinches came out of the bushes.

A large flock of Pink-footed Geese came up from the fields inland of the village – we could hear their yelping calls, although they never gained enough height to enable us to get a clear view above the hedge. A small gaggle of Greylags came in from the same direction, flying overhead and heading for the reserve. Their honking was much deeper, but a couple of higher pitched yelps in their midst alerted us to a single Pink-footed Goose which had obviously hooked onto the wrong flock and was coming in with them.

There were some tits in the sallows along the path to the Visitor Centre. A Goldcrest disappeared in deeper before anyone could get onto it, and all we could see were Blue Tits. We could hear Siskins calling overhead, but couldn’t see them through the trees. Once we had negotiated the new ‘Welcome Hub’ (although the ‘welcome’ could perhaps have been a little warmer after we were asked for the third time if we were members!), we were finally able to get onto the reserve.

We stopped to scan the grazing marsh, looking over towards Thornham, a couple of times. Once we were out of the trees, we spotted a pair of Stonechats sitting on the leeward side of one of the bramble clumps preening. A third Stonechat appeared, hovering over the reeds nearby. A small group of Linnets flew over and a party of Meadow Pipits dropped down into the long grass in the meadow back towards the road.

We heard more Siskins calling and turned to see one fly out of the alders by the path back behind us. It circled out over the trees beyond the Visitor Centre and picked up another two Siskins, with all three of them then settling back down in the alder from where the first had appeared. We could see a smart green and yellow male in the top of the tree. A small group of Chaffinches flew over the trees too, and continued on west out over the grazing marsh, presumably migrants just arrived from the Continent for the winter.

The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ is mostly dry and very overgrown now. A single Little Egret was feeding in the channel on the far side. We could hear Bearded Tits calling but it was rather windy today, and the most we got were a couple of glimpses of birds as they flew up briefly.

We were just about to walk away when a Bearded Tit called again, and we looked over the top of the bank to see a male on the top of a reed stem just below. Unfortunately the long grass on the top of the bank meant it was impossible to see unless you were tall enough and it flew down again almost immediately, before everyone could see it.

Bearded Tit – unfortunately only perched up briefly

Another small group of Pink-footed Geese came in over the reedbed behind us, calling, and we watched as they headed on west towards Thornham. There would be quite a bit of wildfowl on the move today – migration in action.

As we walked away, we heard lots of Bearded Tits calling behind us now, and turned round to see a flock of eight fly over the reeds and drop down below the bank. We decided not to have another go at seeing one in the tops, and carried on out along the path.

We stopped by the Reedbed Pool and looked out over the reedbed. There were several House Martins over the back of the reeds and in with them we found a single Common Swift. Most of the latter have already long since left us to head to Africa for the winter, but one or two often linger later. We watched as they made their way west, pausing briefly to hawk for insects over the trees by the Visitor Centre.

Red Kite – flew west over the reedbed and on towards Thornham

A Red Kite was hanging in the air too, in the distance over Willow Wood, and made its way slowly west over the back of the reedbed and then across the main path and out towards Thornham. Hard to tell if it was on the move today too, but a little later we picked up a second Red Kite way off to the east, being mobbed by two Jackdaws out over Brancaster Marsh.

As we walked up towards Island Hide, a moth flew up out of the grass below the bank and landed again up by the path to the hide. When we got there, someone was already photographing it. We stopped to look – it was a Mallow moth, a not uncommon species to find at this time of year. A Common Frog on the path this morning added to the general wildlife list.

Mallow moth – landed in the grass by the path to Island Hide

As it was nice and bright, we stopped on the main path to look out across the Freshmarsh. There was a large group of godwits out in the middle, and through the scope we could see they were a mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and a smaller number of Bar-tailed Godwits. The latter were clearly smaller, and despite the fact that they were asleep we could see their dark-streaked paler upperparts.

Most of the Avocets have gone south for the winter now, but we counted eleven still out on one of the small islands today. There were a couple of Ruff and a single Dunlin on the mud on the edge of the next island over, in with the gulls, and a small group of Golden Plover higher up on the grass. We got the plovers in the scope and admired their gold-spangled upperparts.

There were quite a few ducks on the Freshmarsh again, though perhaps not as many Wigeon as recently. The drake Teal are still mostly in drab eclipse plumage, though we got the scope on one which had started to moult out and showing patches of grey-looking finely vermiculated flank feathers. One of the drake Shovelers was already more advanced, with just some dark scalloped feathers left in its white breast and flanks. In contrast, the resident drake Mallard and Gadwall are already mostly back in their smart breeding plumage. A couple of Brent Geese dropped in briefly, before heading back out towards the beach.

Another group of Bearded Tits were in the reeds just below the bank here too, but were similarly elusive in the breezy conditions. We had more glimpses of them as they flew up from time to time, but dropped straight back in out of view.

The tide was just going out and the channel on the Volunteer Marsh was still largely full of water, but we stopped to admire a Common Redshank feeding on the recently exposed mud, its orange legs shining in the sunlight, which had poked out from behind the clouds. There were a few Common Redshanks further back and several Curlews, but nothing else on here today.

Common Redshank – its day-glo legs catching the sun

There was just one wader in the corner of the Tidal Pool, right at the back just over the bank. It immediately looked promising – white below and rather pale silvery grey above. Through the scope, we could see it was indeed a Spotted Redshank in non-breeding plumage. We could see its long, needle-fine bill, noticeably longer than the Common Redshank we had just been watching, and the well-marked white supercilium over the bill.

Spotted Redshank – the only bird in the corner of the Tidal Pool

There were a few more waders on the spit a little further up, a tight group of grey Knot, and several Grey Plovers tucked in the samphire higher up along with a single Oystercatcher. One of the Grey Plovers took off and flew past us, flashing its black armpits. About twenty Turnstones were roosting on one of the small muddy islands further up towards the dunes.

Looking out over the saltmarsh behind, we could see a young Marsh Harrier circling, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting pale head which caught the light as it turned. There were a couple of Kestrels too. A little Wren appeared on the concrete bunker just before the dunes.

Wheatear – this very tame bird was feeding on the high tide line

As we got out onto the beach, a Wheatear was feeding on the debris on the high tide line, running about after insects. It was very tame, and came across to within just a few metres of us, standing pumping its tail totally unconcerned by everyone standing there. When it flew a little bit further along, we could see the distinctive white base to its tail.

Our target bird here was Sanderling, but there were not many waders along the shore here at the moment, possibly with too much disturbance from walkers and dog walkers. We could see more birds on the beach up towards Thornham Point – a long line of Cormorants standing with their wings out to dry, lots of gulls, and a scattering of waders in with them. We found a single silvery grey Sanderling, but it was very distant. A large flock of Oystercatchers was still roosting on the sand towards Brancaster. We decided to stop here a while, to see if more waders would come back in as the tide dropped further.

Looking out to sea, there were several Great Crested Grebes on the water. But the highlight here today was the number of birds coming in over the sea. We picked up a large flock of Pink-footed Geese, way out to sea at first. They gradually made their way in towards and past us, until we watched them flying in over Scolt Head island away to the east. Several groups of Wigeon flew in, possibly fresh in from their Russian breeding grounds for the winter. Then we spotted four Skylarks coming in over the sea and watched as they came in, up the beach and over the dunes past us.

As the tide receded, more waders started to fly back in to the shore. First a small group of Knot appeared with several Bar-tailed Godwits just to the left of us. Then more birds arrived down on the edge of the water right in front of us, several Grey Plover and finally a much closer view of several Sanderling, running up and down the shoreline like clockwork toys.

Sanderling – several were on the beach, this one taken the other day

As we started to make our way back, we stopped to admire a couple of Turnstones on the shore of the Tidal Pool just by the concrete bunker now. All the waders were getting restless, seemingly knowing it was time now to head back out to the beach to feed. First the Turnstones flew out over the dunes, followed closely by the Knot which had still been roosting on the spit.

At the far side of the Tidal Pool, we stopped to watch a close Little Egret feeding just below the bank. We could see its yellow feet when it lifted them high of the water, and we watched it shaking one in the mud to try to disturb something to eat. It seemed to find several things around the edge, chasing repeatedly after them.

Little Egret – fishing on the Tidal Pool

A Bloody-nosed Beetle was crossing the path and as we picked it up to move it to safety we had a closer look. It didn’t perform though today, and wouldn’t exude the red liquid from its mouthparts from which its gets its name.

There was a brief shower as we walked back, but it was only light and had thankfully stopped by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre. It remained dry while we had lunch in the picnic area before another quick shower just after we had packed up.

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon was Holkham, and we had no problem parking on Lady Anne’s Drive today. There were a few geese and a family of Mute Swans out on the grazing marsh to the east. The geese were mostly Greylags but a small group of Pink-footed Geese had dropped in for a wash and brush up – we could see them bathing on a small pool. When they came out onto the grass to preen, we got them in the scope for a closer look.

There were lots more Pink-footed Geese on the marshes to the west, mostly hidden beyond the first hedge line. There was a lot of military jet aircraft today – a Eurofighter Typhoon was pulling sharp turns overhead, making a lot of noise and repeatedly flushing the birds. Large flocks of Pink-footed Geese flew around calling noisily and we watched a Great White Egret flying away over the reeds in the distance.

As we set off west along the track on the inland side of the pines, it was quiet at first. We stopped to watch a Jay which kept flying back into an oak tree overhanging the track, harvesting acorns.

We were most of the way to Salts Hole when we came across a tit flock, but they were mostly in the pines and wouldn’t come out into the open. We had a nice view of a couple of Long-tailed Tits but just had glimpses of Goldcrests and heard a Treecreeper calling in the pines. They were moving fast too, and disappeared back the way we had just come, so we decided to try again on our way back.

Long-tailed Tit – we found our first flock on the walk to Salts Hole

There were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole, along with lots of Mallard. One of the grebes laughed maniacally at us as we stood and scanned the edges of the pool. A Treecreeper flew across and disappeared into the holm oaks the other side. A little further on, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling from the dead branches at the top of an old pine.

Just before Washington Hide, a small bird was bathing in a puddle in the track ahead of us. We stopped and could see it was a Redstart, but unfortunately just at that moment a particularly noisy group of walkers with trekking poles walked up behind us, talking, and the Redstart flew up into the trees and then disappeared further back out of view.

From the gate overlooking the grazing marsh, we stopped to see if there was anything with the cows – just a Grey Heron feeding in amongst them today. It started to spit with rain again, so we decided to head for Washington Hide, only to find it has been nailed shut! Once again, thankfully the rain stopped quickly and we stood and scanned the grazing marshes from the boardwalk.

A Great White Egret flew up from the pool and dropped down again behind the reeds out of view. A little later, when we saw one flying further back, we assumed at first that it was the same bird, and this time we could see it in the open when it landed on the edge of a small pool in the distance. But then the first Great White Egret flew up again and landed in a ditch just beyond the reeds, where we could get a good view of its snake like neck and long yellow dagger-like bill as it stood looking for food in the water below.

A Redwing dropped out of the pines and disappeared into one of the hawthorns on the edge of the reeds. A Greenshank called but we couldn’t see it behind the trees. A Common Buzzard flew across the gap behind us, over towards the beach. There were lots of small groups of Pink-footed Geese flying past, calling. As the shower clouds cleared north the sun came out again and the view across the marshes looked amazing, striking colours and the light reflecting off the wet reeds and the wings of the Pink-footed Geese.

Pink-footed Geese – catching the afternoon sunshine

We continued on slowly west, but the trees were rather quiet with the increasing breeze now catching them. We wouldn’t be able to go too far today, but we got past Meals House and almost to the crosstracks, before we decided to turn back. We could hear more tits in the pines and holm oaks, but despite it being more sheltered here they wouldn’t come out into the more open deciduous trees by the track today.

We found another tit flock in the holm oaks just before Salts Hole. A Treecreeper appeared briefly a couple of times on the trunks of a couple of trees but typically disappeared round the back. A Goldcrest appeared in a holm oak above the path briefly. But apart from a couple of Long-tailed Tits the birds were hard to see in the dense foliage and quickly disappeared deeper in.

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we found another tit flock, probably the one we had seen along here earlier. Suddenly we were surrounded by birds, and didn’t know which way to look. There were lots of Goldcrests feeding in an oak tree right above us, one or two Chiffchaffs and a selection of tits. When they started to move again, we realised there were lots more birds deeper in the pines.

The flock started to cross the path, but they were moving fast now. A small warbler flicked across and landed in an oak briefly – a Yellow-browed Warbler. Unfortunately it didn’t stop. We managed to follow the flock for a bit, and found the Yellow-browed Warbler again, but it was immediately chased by a second one and disappeared. A little further along, we heard it call and saw it fly across, but this time everything disappeared further back into the trees.

Everyone was tired after the walk, so after a quick sit down, we continued back to Lady Anne’s Drive. It was time to call it a day now and we headed for home and a chance to put our feet up properly and remember a very enjoyable day out.

23rd Sept 2020 – Private Tour & Wader Spectacular, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk. It was a very different day to yesterday. Heavy rain overnight thankfully cleared through early, but it was much cooler, grey and cloudy, with some showers through the morning. After the Wader Spectacular yesterday, we would spend the day today looking for Autumn migrants and other interesting birds along the coast.

After our failure to even get in the (still partly closed) car park yesterday, we headed over to Titchwell first. There was no problem with parking today – it helped being early, but the weather had an effect too, with many fewer beachgoers clogging it up all day. It was nice that people could actually get in and do some birdwatching today!

The rain had stopped by the time we arrived, so we had a quick look round the overflow car park before it got busy. There was very little at first, until we got right round to the far corner, where we found several Blackcaps feeding in the elders, along with Blackbirds and a Song Thrush.

We headed straight out onto the reserve. We had just got onto the main path, beyond the Visitor Centre, and turned to scan the grazing meadow through the gap in the trees. A very distant Common Buzzard was perched on top of a bush over towards Thornham, but a white dot on the brambles below caught our eye. We were not even sure it was a bird at that range, but we set up the scope to look just in case. A shrike!

Red-backed Shrike – very distant, right over the back of Thornham GM

The shrike looked rather pale-headed at first, perched face on to us, but after a while it dropped down to the ground and came back up to the same bush with its back to us. We could see a bit more of it now and it looked good for a young (1st winter) Red-backed Shrike. Another good find, our second in four days. We let everyone at the Visitor Centre know, and a few of the staff came out for a look.

As we continued on along path, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the tall willows. We stopped to look through them, just in case, but all we could find today were a couple of Chiffchaffs with them. As we came out of the trees, a Greenshank came up off the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh and flew past us, disappeared round the back of the trees behind us.

A quick look out at Reedbed Pool produced a few Common Pochard out on the water, an addition to the trip wildfowl list. A young Hobby was hunting distantly over the back of the reedbed and up over Willow Wood beyond.

It was a still morning and we had just said it might be good for Bearded Tits when we heard their pinging calls ahead of us. A flock of about eight of them flew up and landed again in the reeds quite close to the main path. We walked up and stood opposite where they had landed. After a few seconds they started to climbed up into the tops of the reeds to feed on the seedheads. We had fantastic views, several males with powder grey heads and black moustaches accompanied by a few grey-brown females.

Bearded Tit – great views in the reeds by the main path

A Great White Egret flew out of the reedbed and landed briefly on the Freshmarsh while we were watching the Bearded Tits. Then it flew again and came straight towards us, before turning and flying across the path just in front of us. It was another great view – we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill, long trailing black legs, and deep slow wingbeats. We watched as it headed out over the saltmarsh the other side.

Great White Egret – flew over the bank & out across the saltmarsh

There were more Bearded Tits in the reeds up by Island Hide – it was certainly a great morning for them. We had a quick look at the Freshmarsh, where we could see a couple of Spoonbills out in the middle, and a large gathering of godwits, including a good number of Bar-tailed Godwits come in to roost over high tide.

Our key target for the morning was to see if we could find any Lapland Buntings out on the beach. More people were arriving on the reserve now, and we were worried that they might get flushed again, so we decided to head straight out to Thornham Point, before it got too busy. We could come back to look at the Freshmarsh at our leisure later.

It was high tide, and the Volunteer Marsh was pretty much completely covered in water. A small group of Common Redshank had gathered on one of the sandy islands at the back of the Tidal Pool. One bird was standing separate from them, in the water, and instantly looked paler. A Spotted Redshank, we could see its long, needle-fine bill and prominent white supercilium.

Spotted Redshank – on the back of the Tidal Pool

A line of birds roosting on the spit a little further up included several Grey Plovers, a couple of them still with their summer black bellies, plus a few Knot, Turnstones, Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers. They had all come in here from the beach to roost over high tide.

Out onto the beach, we turned left and headed out towards Thornham Point. A Snow Bunting flew in with a small group of Sanderling and landed on the edge of the water ahead of us. It ran up the sand and we watched it picking around on the high tide line. We walked past slowly, so as not to spook it, but we needn’t have worried. It was very tame, as they often are, and allowed us past just a few metres away, unconcerned by our presence.

Snow Bunting – feeding on the high tide line along the beach

There were several small groups of waders on the shore all the way up. Groups of silvery-grey Sanderling running in and out of the waves like clockwork toys. We stood still and one ran straight past us. One or two Ringed Plovers were mixed in with them and several Turnstones were feeding higher up on the high tide line.

Sanderling – the clockwork toys of the beach

A couple of people coming back along the beach told us that a Lapland Bunting was still out on the beach Thornham Point, so we quickened our step. We wanted to get out there before it got disturbed. One person had already overtaken us, and more were coming out onto the beach behind. We bumped into the Snow Bunting again out at the Point – the same one we saw earlier, it must have flown past us with the Sanderlings.

As we walked round the Point, we thought we would find the person who had gone ahead of us watching the Lapland Bunting, but they had disappeared. We would only find out a couple of days later that they had flushed the Lapland Bunting and made a quick getaway before we arrived!

We walked slowly past the piles of debris on the high tide line, unaware that the bird had flown off, when suddenly something flicked up from behind a large pile of dead vegetation just in front of us. Thankfully it landed again a few feet ahead – the Lapland Bunting! It had obviously flown back after the other person had left.

We stood still and got the Lapland Bunting in the scope. It was almost too close, fill the frame views at minimum magnification! Like the Snow Bunting earlier, but even more so, it was totally unconcerned by our presence, busy feeding. It worked its way down to the end of the piles of debris and then came back right past us within only a couple of metres. We had it all to ourselves – we could see the hint of a rusty chestnut collar and its black bib. Stunning!

Lapland Bunting – stunning close views feeding out on the Point

We had seen dark clouds away to the west earlier, and now it started to rain. We were rather exposed out on the beach, so we went to seek shelter round the other side of the Point. We thought we might get round to the tower, but the saltmarsh had flooded over the high tide and was impassable without boots. Thankfully the rain quickly stopped. A Great White Egret was out on the flooded saltmarsh in the middle of Thornham Harbour.

Back out on the beach, the Lapland Bunting was still feeding along the high tide line as we passed by. A couple of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. We had seen them flying up and down as we walked out and they were now diving into the water. Several Gannets were plunge diving off the Point too, including a couple of dark juveniles and white adults with black-tipped wings. As we started to walk back, we kept one eye on the sea and picked up an Arctic Skua flying past low over the water offshore. A nice bonus.

We had more great views of Sanderlings again on the walk back. When we got back to the main path, we stopped again for another quick look at the sea. Several Great Crested Grebes were out on the water and a single Red-throated Diver flew in and landed further out. We could see more shower clouds approaching, so we waited on the beach in the lee of the dunes. The worst of the rain passed to the east of us, and just the edge of the rain caught us and was thankfully over very quickly.

As we set off back along the main path, the waders were still roosting on the Tidal Pool. The Spotted Redshank was now in with the Common Redshanks, preening, giving us a good side by side comparison. Two Great White Egrets were now flying round together out over the saltmarsh.

Back at the Freshmarsh, the Bar-tailed Godwits were starting to fly out to the beach in groups, calling, ready to feed on the falling tide. A canteen of Spoonbills was roosting out in the middle now – we counted fourteen. They mostly asleep, as Spoonbills often do, but one was awake and feeding and a couple were preening. While we were standing here, one Spoonbill took off and flew right over our heads, heading out to the saltmarsh to feed.

Spoonbill – one flew out over our heads

There were Bearded Tits calling from the reeds below the bank now, and a female climbed up into the top to feed on a seedhead. A Reed Warbler was flitting around in the reeds too. A careful scan round the reeds on the far side revealed a Water Rail feeding quietly on the edge of the mud.

We had a more careful look through the waders now. There were about ten Avocets still, and a few Ruff. Another Spotted Redshank called and we watched it fly across the bank close to us before heading out over the saltmarsh – a different bird to the one we had seen earlier, this time a dusky grey juvenile.

There was a group of smaller waders on the mud over by the reeds. A look through them reveled two slightly larger and longer-billed juvenile Curlew Sandpipers in with several streaky-bellied Dunlin. We had a good view of them through the scope. They were gradually working their way over close to Island Hide, so we thought we would go in for a closer view. But just at that moment a Kestrel flew in from the saltmarsh, dipped down low between Island Hide and the reeds and spooked them. They landed again but back further out.

Curlew Sandpipers – two juveniles with one of the Dunlin

Looking across the reedbed, we could see two Hobbys now, hawking back and forth over the trees around Fen Hide. We walked back to the Visitors Centre, and decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed and along the Autumn Trail before lunch, so turned out along Fen Trail.

A Coot was the highlight on Patsy’s, along with a couple more Common Pochard. Round on East Trail, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits on the edge of Willow Wood but again couldn’t find anything with them.

Continuing on down to the far end of Autumn Trail, we stopped to scan the back of the Freshmarsh. There didn’t appear to be much different here at first, but scanning across we noticed a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull in the middle of a long line of gulls on the water. Three nice juvenile Ruff were feeding on the edge of the reeds in front and there were more Bearded Tits here, calling and flying across over the reeds.

It was time to head back – we would already be having a late lunch now. One of the Hobbys was now hawking over the front of Willow Wood, but disappeared round the back and appeared to land out of view. We could see more dark clouds approaching and hoped we might get back before they arrived, but we had only made it as far as Fen Hide when it started to rain. We ducked in, and were very glad of the shelter and our timing because the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour for about twenty minutes.

By the time it stopped and we could make our way back to the bus now it was definitely a late lunch! Afterwards we drove back east along the coast road to Wells and parked in the beach car park. As we walked in towards the Woods, at least ten Little Grebes were out on the boating lake.

In through birches and round under the trees on the north side of the Dell, it all seemed very quiet, and we couldn’t find any sign of a tit flock. Round at the Dell meadow, we met someone just leaving who told us that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was still around, but he hadn’t seen it. We cut in through trees where we had seen it the other day.

There were a few more people in here, under the trees, waiting for it to reappear and as we walked round the Red-breasted Flycatcher flicked across in front of us, up in the trees. We had a quick view of it from beneath, before it moved back further through the trees along the path. We knew it would be following its usual circuit, but someone there objected to us following it down the path, insisting we should wait for it to come back here. No problem. We walked out and round the long way to the other side.

There were a couple of more friendly locals here and we joined them on the bank. After a minute, the Red-breasted Flycatcher reappeared low down in the back of the trees, where we had watched it the other day. It was hard to see until it moved, but we could follow it as it flicked across to the next tree and everyone got onto it.

Red-breasted Flycatcher – still doing its usual circuit round under the trees

When it got to the trees above a small pool, the Red-breasted Flycatcher froze and stayed still. It was not feeding as actively and we soon realised why when it dropped down to the water to bathe. Afterwards it flew up into a nearby tangle to preen and dry itself. Great to watch.

It flicked up again and we lost sight of it in the back of the trees. Then we picked it up again, seemingly going back on its circuit, so we walked back round the long way to where we had first seen it today. The person who had told us we should wait here had given up and gone. We stood in the trees and the Red-breasted Flycatcher flew in and landed right in front of us, just a couple of metres away. Great views! We stood quietly and watched it, perching still in the trees before making little sallies after insects.

The Red-backed Shrike here was reported as still present too, but had moved a couple of fields from where we had found it the other day. As we walked down the track past the caravan site, a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew up off the grazing marshes and disappeared off inland.

When we got to the bales by the cattle field, we found a couple of people watching the Red-backed Shrike on the fence. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, much better views than the one at Titchwell this morning. A two Red-backed Shrike day!

Red-backed Shrike – our second of the day, still at Wells

We could see some Pink-footed Geese down in the grass in the next field over. Several flocks flew up calling, their distinctive yelping calls the sound of the winter here, and we watched as they headed off inland. There were still some down in the grass, so we got them in the scope, admiring their dark head and delicate dark bills with a variable pink band around.

Pink-footed Geese – flying up from out on the grazing marsh

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days, with some really good birds, and not to forget the wonderful Wader Spectacular yesterday. Lots to live long in the memory.

20th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular, our last day. It was a cloudier day today, though still dry, and the wind though still fresh and from the NE, was perhaps not quite as strong as it had been. Today we would be heading up to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular at Snettisham.

It was an early start to catch the tide, but as we were driving up to Wells to pick the rest of the group up, we found a car across the road with its hazard lights on. We thought there might have been an accident or something, but a woman got out and explained they had decided to close the road to move static caravan. It was obviously not official, and they hadn’t sought any permission to close the road so we were not sure how legal it was, but there was no time to argue and no choice but to go the long way round. The woman just shrugged and gave us a sheepish smile. Consequently, we were slightly later than planned getting away.

On the drive across to the Wash, we passed several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed, coming up from the marshes where they had spent the night. There was flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws in the fields and a Barn Owl on a post by the road, but we had no time to stop now.

When we got to the Wash and up onto the seawall, the tide was already coming in fast, pushed in ahead of time by the fresh NE wind. We made our way straight down to Rotary Hide today, and stopped in front to scan. Huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers were gathered out on the mud, along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Waders – gathered on the mud ahead of the rapidly rising tide

The waders were all shifting nervously, whether driven by the rapidly rising tide or perhaps there had been a predator around normally. There were no small waders down on the near edge today. The Knot on the edge of the flock out in the middle, those closest to the water, were constantly being caught by the tide and they kept flying up and over the others, landing again on the drier mud higher up.

As we walked down towards the far corner of the Wash, it was a struggle to keep up with the tide today. We did keep stopping to watch every time the waders went up. The Oystercatchers started to give up first, flying up in big groups and in overhead calling noisily, before circling down onto the pit behind us.

Oystercatchers – gave up first and flew in overhead to the pit

Before we could even get to the corner, suddenly all the Knot and other waders went up. We couldn’t see any sign of the Peregrine, but they were definitely nervous and put on quite a show, whirling round out over the Wash. The latest WeBS count total of Knot this week was 68,000 – incredible to see them all in the air together.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot spooked and took off
Waders – whirling round in the air
Waders – different flocks going in different directions

It was amazing to watch all the Knot and other waders up in the sky. Some tried to land back on the mud, but were immediately spooked again. Different flocks were going in different directions. Despite the wind, we could hear was the beating of thousands and thousands of pairs of wings. Some of the Knot started to come in, low overhead – mesmerising to look up and watch – while others towered up over the Wash.

Waders – some of the Knot started to come in low overhead

We turned to watch the Knot coming in and start to drop down onto the pit, but for some reason they wouldn’t settle on the south end today. We watched the birds flying round and round, backwards and forwards, low over the pit in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ today!). The birds which had gone high turned back out over the Wash. Some of the others went back out and landed again in the final corner of mud.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle in front of the new hide today

We walked on down to the end. Those Knot which had landed again were quickly forced off, and came in over us again. Tens of thousands were still towering high in the sky. Small flocks of Dunlin flew past out over the Wash, presumably now looking to roost along the shore further up.

There was now nothing left out on the Wash and any remaining mud was covered with water. There were still huge flocks of Knot high in the sky, but we decided to go into the hides to see what was on the pit.

Shore Hide was empty – everyone had gone down to see the new hide. Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting on the concrete blocks out in the middle. We got them in the scopes – one was helpfully awake and we could see its long spiky bill with a needle-fine tip. A juvenile Common Tern was still lingering here, standing on one of the other concrete blocks nearby.

A Little Stint landed on the shore of the shingle island in front of the hide. There was nothing else on there today, and we watched it picking around on the shore between the blobs of foam. It was a juvenile – we could see its distinctive pale ‘braces’. After a while it flew off again. Then a Common Sandpiper landed on the island next and walked around on its own in the middle for a bit.

Little Stint – landed on the island in front of Shore Hide

Scanning the islands further up the pit, there were next to no Knot on any of the islands closest to the seawall today. Only one of the islands across on the other side of the pit was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. A lot of Dunlin (mostly) on one of the nearer islands was more socially distanced. We scanned through, to see if we could find anything more unusual in with them, but couldn’t find anything today.

Looking towards the south end, we could see that the Knot which had come in today were concentrated on the bank, with the Oystercatchers. They were still shuffling nervously.

As we walked round to South Hide, a young Peregrine circled overhead and gradually drifted out over Wash. Perhaps this is why everything was so nervous today. We watched it stoping down, flushing all the Curlews and godwits from out on the saltmarsh. There was a lot of water on there today, with only the taller bushes and higher islands still exposed – a combination of the big tide, backed by the blustery NE wind. Three Marsh Harriers were hunting out over the Wash further back too.

Peregrine – circled over as we walked down to South Hide

With social distancing restrictions in force, we had to wait to get into South Hide today, but thankfully not long. When we donned our masks and got inside, we found the two shingle islands at this end still mostly empty. One Little Stint and a small cluster of Knot was on one, but that was it. Two Common Sandpipers flew round calling below the hide.

Most of the Knot were still on the bank. We watched them jostling nervously. They would settle for a bit, then one end would start to move and a wave would pass through the flock.

We went round to have a look at the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’. It was largely empty now apart from a line of photographers in the corner, packed shoulder to shoulder, lying down at the low camera windows. Every time the Knot on the far bank flew up, there was a cacophony as a barrage of camera shutters fired in unison. Perhaps the amount of noise was putting the birds off from landing on the closer islands?

Two Little Stints and the two Common Sandpipers were now running around on one of the islands. A single Avocet was roosting in with the Oystercatchers gathered on one end, a different variation in monochrome. The last bird in the flock, standing in the water at the end, was a smartly marked juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit.

A line of Knot peeled off from the bank and headed back out. It was an hour after high tide already, so we figured we should go outside and back round to the bank to try to catch the birds as they returned to the Wash. But when we got out, there was still no sign of any mud. With the wind and the amount of water today – the path was even flooded in one spot now – the tide was going to be really slow to go out. The Knot which had come up off the bank flew straight back in and dropped down again in to the pit.

Still, we walked down to the edge of the Wash and got into position. We didn’t have to wait too long before some mud started to reappear in the top corner and once it started, the tide began to go out as quickly as it had come in.

Finally, the Knot started peeling off from the pit again. We were in the perfect position, and they came low in lines making a beeline for the mud, came right over our heads.

Waders – the Knot started flying back out in lines, right overhead

Suddenly we heard a loud whoosh and a larger group came up and flew out towards us. The young Peregrine was over the pit, and spooking everything. We watched it stoop down a couple of times towards the bank, but it didn’t have any height and it looked like it didn’t quite know what to do. It flew further up the pit and flushed all the Knot from the island that end too. We watched as they flew out in lines, low over the bank and out onto the Wash.

The Knot quickly settled in big groups out on the mud, but then the Peregrine circled up from the pit and drifted out over the Wash. Instant pandemonium – the waders all erupted again, taking off, whirling round. The flocks made some amazing shapes, as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing dark and light.

Waders – all flushed by the Peregrine
Waders – the flocks made some amazing shapes. Shark?
Waders – flashed light and dark as they twisted and turned

The Peregrine appeared to successfully get one separated from the flock at one point, but despite chasing after it, it lost it. Again, probably showing its inexperience. A second Peregrine appeared further back, flushed everything behind. It was an amazing show, truly spectacular, and we were endebted to the Peregrines for stirring everything up. We just stood and watched transfixed, to the sounds of the flocks’ wings and oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The waders eventually resettled on the mud, as the Peregrines drifted off. We started to scan through the flock nearest to us. There were several pale silvery grey and white Sanderlings with the Knot now, and the very last bird on the end was a lone juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. We could see the pale peachy wash on its breast and its long downcurved bill.

We could still see an adult Peregrine, on a post in the distance, on the saltmatsh beyond the mud. The waders much further back, in the next bay, were still being stirred up. Presumably the juvenile Peregrine was trying its luck back there now. The waders this end were mostly settled, and started to go to sleep. Occasionally a flock would take off and fly further out across the mud, twisting and turning, catching the sun which had started to come out now.

As we turned to head back, a shout went out and we looked out across the Wash to see a Great Skua flying low over the water beyond the flocks of waders.

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we had to take a diversion inland to get there. There was so much traffic on the coast road, it had back up from the traffic lights at Heacham. Unheard of in late September, it was like midsummer! The car park at Titchwell is still partly closed and once again was full – they were only letting one in and one out. We were lucky to arrive just as someone was leaving and get straight in.

We decided on an early lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted overhead and a Common Darter was basking on the bench in the sunshine. After lunch, we headed out on to the reserve. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees as we filled out the test and trace form at the Visitor Centre.

Thornham grazing marsh was flooded with saltwater where the pool used to be, after the high tide had come in. A single Stock Dove was out in the vegetation and several Curlews were feeding on the saltmarsh beyond.

A large mob of Greylags was on the Reedbed Pool, but scanning through we managed to find a few Common Pochard in with them, and Coot and Little Grebes right at back. A pair of Gadwall was in the channel just beyond.

A young Hobby was hunting low over the reeds, out in the middle, shooting back and forth. It caught something, presumably a dragonfly, and circled up over the trees by the visitor centre. A Sparrowhawk emerged from the trees and chased after it, presumably trying to steal its catch. It was quite a dogfight for a bit, amazing to watch, before the Sparrowhawk gave up. The Hobby finished its meal and we watched it hunting over Willow Wood at the back of the reedbed.

Up by Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still rather windy and they were keeping well down today. We stopped to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further up. There were not as many waders on here today. A few Avocets were still here, feeding over towards the back, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Quite a few Ruff, paler adults and browner juveniles, were closer to the bank. Otherwise, there were a couple of Dunlin and two Golden Plover on one of the islands, in with the Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls.

Ruff – a juvenile, close to the main west bank path

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now as birds return for the winter, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and more Gadwall. They are not looking their best at this time of year though – with the drakes mostly in their dull eclipse plumage.

A Grey Heron was standing motionless, fishing out in the middle of the deeper water towards the back. Next time we looked, there was a Great White Egret next to it. It was good to see the two of them side by side, so we could really appreciate the large size of the Great White Egret.

Great White Egret – appeared out on the Freshmarsh, next to the Grey Heron

There had been some Lapland Buntings on the beach this morning, and someone walking back now told us they were still there, although they had apparently flown up the beach a bit further along to the west. We decided to go to try to look for them.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Curlew and Common Redshanks on the mud by the channel at the far end. A lone Brent Goose flew over. There was still a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, despite it being close to low tide now, and not much on here either.

The tide was a long way out when we got to the beach, and we couldn’t see anything obvious on the sea. There were lots of people around the mussel beds and not many waders. We set off west along the tide line. Unfortunately there was no sign of any buntings now. Several beachgoers were walking out here, and presumably they had been flushed.

We continued on up to Thornham Point, where we found a little group of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach. A party of Brent Geese was loafing out on the sand closer to the sea. Rounding the corner, we found several Spoonbills out in the middle of Thornham Harbour. Two flew off as we appeared, but there were still seven preening out on the saltmarsh.

Spoonbills – preening out in the middle of Thornham Harbour

It was time to head back now – after a very early start, everyone was tired now and still had journeys home ahead of them. The memories of this morning’s Wader Spectacular would linger long, a great final day to end the tour.

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.