Tag Archives: Velvet Scoter

14th Nov 2019 – Rain to Shine

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

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

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

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

Rough-legged Buzzard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Plovers

Golden Plover – roosting on the islands on the Freshmarsh

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

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

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

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

Water Pipit

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

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

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

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

Knot

Knot – on the Volunteer Marsh in front of Parrinder Hide

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

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

Pink-footed Goose

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

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

Grey Partridge

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

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

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

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

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan – a single bird flew in over the beach

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

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

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

Holkham beach

Holkham beach – when the sun eventually came out

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

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

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

Shorelark

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

3rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day tour today, our last day. After two days down in the Brecks, we would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for some of our lingering winter visitors as well as one or two early spring arrivals. It was damp and drizzly for much of the day, but it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing lots of birds.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. There were still quite a few Wigeon by Lady Anne’s Drive, but it looks like numbers are already starting to drop now as birds which have spent the winter here start heading back to Russia. The regular very pale Common Buzzard was perched on a bush out in the middle of the grazing marshes and six Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reeds the other side.

We made our way straight through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh. A large flock of pipits circled over as we descended the boardwalk and we could hear both Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits calling. Several of the Rock Pipits landed on the edge of the saltmarsh right by the path, where we could get a closer look at them. The Rock Pipits come here from Scandinavia for the winter. We could see some of them were moulting and getting slightly pink on the breast – they can begin to look increasingly like Water Pipits at this time of year, a pitfall for the unwary.

Rock Pipit

Scandinavian Rock Pipit – one of several out on the saltmarsh

As we walked on further east, we scanned the saltmarsh for any movement. We were almost at the cordon before we found the Shorelarks, well hidden in the taller vegetation. At first we could only see one or two when they moved, but as we got closer we could see there were at least 5-6. As we stood and watched them, more and more appeared, so that by the end we had counted a minimum of 12, but it was still hard to know exactly how many were really there.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – still on the saltmarsh at Holkham

The Shorelarks are always one of the highlights of winter birding here on the coast, so we spent a bit of time watching them. They gradually worked their way closer to the path and we had a great look at them through the scope. Despite the grey weather, their yellow faces still really stood out when they lifted their heads. There were a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding on the saltmarsh with them.

The latest forecast had been for it to be dry all morning, but at this point it started spitting with rain. It was only light, so we carried on out to the beach anyway. As we started scanning the sea, there didn’t look to be much out there today at first. There were a few Great Crested Grebes, and a lone female Common Scoter. Then one of group spotted diver quite close inshore – a Great Northern Diver. It was diving regularly and moving west steadily each time it resurfaced, but eventually we all got some good views of it between dives.

There were not many waders down on the beach today. Several Oystercatchers were standing along the shore, and two Sanderling were running in and out of the waves, at least until they were all flushed by someone walking a pack of dogs along the beach.

Making our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we decided to brave the drizzle and walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone far before we heard a Chiffchaff calling in the trees. Along here, it is hard to tell whether this is a bird which has spent the winter here, or an early returning breeding bird. With the unseasonally warm weather at the end of February, Chiffchaffs have already returned very early in several places.

As we passed Salts Hole, we stopped for a quick look. A little group of Tufted Ducks was over on the edge of the reeds and one Little Grebe was still in the far corner. We could see a few geese out on the grazing meadows beyond and through the scope we could see there were several Pink-footed Geese with a pair of Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have already left, on their way back north before they head back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a small number often linger here much later. There was a pair of Egyptian Geese out here too, and a Grey Heron.

A little further on, we stopped for another look out over the grazing marshes. We could see several Shelduck on the small pools out in the middle, and there were two drake Pintail in with them too, although for much of the time we could only see their elongated tail feathers sticking up as they upended. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the reeds over in front of Washington Hide.

With the drizzle picking up a bit, we made our way quickly on to Joe Jordan Hide, to get out of the rain. It was quite busy in the hide (clearly lots of other people had the same idea to shelter in here!), but eventually we managed to sit down. A Great White Egret was feeding out on the grazing marshes off to the right of the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from Joe Jordan Hide

The first Spoonbills have already started to return to the breeding colony and we quickly located two out on the marshes, but they were way off in the distance and hard to see in the mist, heads down feeding in a ditch. Thankfully a bit later on one appeared much closer, and we had a better view of it in the scope. We could see its spoon-shaped bill when it lifted its head.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – one of the first returning birds

A Marsh Harrier was perched in a bush out along one of the ditch lines and there were lots of Cormorants in the trees behind the old fort. Down on the pools we could see four Avocets feeding in the shallows and several Shoveler and Teal scattered around.

The pines had been fairly quiet on the way out but as we started to walk back we came across a mixed flock of tits. We had passed some swarms of gnats gathered over the path in the damp conditions earlier and now we watched as a couple of Long-tailed Tits flew out from a large bush on the verge and hovered right out over the middle of the path, trying to catch some of the gnats. They hovered for second or two before flying back into the bush but then came out to try again. Really interesting to watch, and not behaviour you see often. A Goldcrest was flitting around in the bush too.

We stopped for lunch in The Lookout café, out of the rain. After lunch, as we made our way back to the van, we could see lots of gulls swarming over the grazing marsh, and landing down on the grass. We heard the distinctive call of a Mediterranean Gull and looking through the flock could see at least four in with the Black-headed Gulls.

Our next stop was at Holme. We were hoping to see some birds on the sea here so we walked straight out to the beach, where we were sheltered from the wind by the pines. There were lots of Red-breasted Mergansers on the water and scanning through we could see a dark duck in with them. It was a Velvet Scoter. You could just make out a pale spot on its cheek, but it was not until it flew round that you could see the diagnostic white in its wings. A small group of dark-winged Common Scoter flew past just afterwards.

Otherwise, the sea here was fairly quiet, with just a few Great Crested Grebes and a single Guillemot offshore. A couple of small groups of Brent Geese flew past and more unusually we picked up a flock of six Pink-footed Geese coming in off the sea. They should really be going the other way now!

Walking through the dunes to Gore Point, it was windier out of the lee of the Firs, although at least the rain had eased off now. The tide was coming in and there were a few waders roosting on the beach, at first several small groups of Oystercatchers. Further along, out on the point, we got the scopes on a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. There were several smaller grey Knot in with them, as well as a couple of Grey Plover and a single Dunlin. A lone Turnstone was feeding on the shoreline a bit further along.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – there were a few waders roosting on the beach at Holme

The sea was noticeably more choppy on the far side of the point. Scanning the sea from the shelter of the dunes, we could see a distant group of Eiders out on the water. A closer Red-throated Diver was diving constantly but a single Great Northern Diver was a long way out too. A Gannet and a Fulmar flew past.

We had wanted to see the Long-tailed Ducks off here, but they proved rather hard to find and harder still to see. We eventually found a few in with a larger group of Red-breasted Mergansers, but they were quite distant and diving constantly. Out in the choppier water, when they did surface they looked not unlike the froth on the wave crests and they kept disappearing into the troughs.

It was already getting late now, but we drove back along the coast to Titchwell to finish the day. We wanted to at least walk out to Parrinder Hide to get a proper look at the Mediterranean Gulls, but it took some time to find a Water Rail first. We eventually found one when it walked back into the bottom of the ditch from the vegetation in the bank beyond. We got a good look at it then, as it walked along through the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – eventually showed itself in the ditch

The rain may have eased but the wind had now picked up, and it was rather gusty this evening. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be enjoying it, with several up over the back of the reedbed as we walked out.

Three waders were on the pool out on Lavender Marsh. Two were the usual Common Redshanks, but as we glanced across the one asleep at the back looked rather pale. A quick look through the scope, confirmed it was slightly more silvery grey above, spotted with white, a touch lighter than the Common Redshank next to it. We could also just see tiny bit of pale supercilium, just visible where the bill was tucked into its back. It was a Spotted Redshank. They normally like to roost on the Tidal Pools, but it was perhaps a bit more sheltered on here this evening.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – asleep on Lavender March with a Common Redshank

After we had all had a look at it through the scope, the Spotted Redshank woke up briefly and flashed its distinctive longer, needle-fine bill, just in case any of the group had any lingering doubts over its identity. A Grey Plover appeared from behind the vegetation at front.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is still fairly high – good for ducks, but not so good for waders. The Avocets which were on here were roosting on one of the only exposed small islands, by the corner of the path to Parrinder Hide.

Avocets

Avocets – roosting on one of the few exposed islands

As we headed straight down the path for the shelter of Parrinder Hide, we heard a Water Pipit call from the other side of the bank. When we got into the hide, we looked back along the edge of the water but there was no sign of it that way. A quick look out the other side of the hide and we found it feeding on the shore. We had a good look at it through the scope.

Having seen the closely related Rock Pipits this morning, it was interesting to contrast them with the Water Pipit this evening. The Water Pipit was noticeably whiter below, cleaner with more defined black streaks, with whiter wing bars and a whiter supercilium. It was also greyer above, not so oily olive-brown.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding along the water’s edge beyond the hide

The fenced off Avocet Island was chock full of gulls (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’!). We had come to see Mediterranean Gulls and there were lots here, in with Black-headed Gulls. Several appeared to be paired up already and were even still displaying. It was a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Mediterranean Gulls with a blacker, more extensive hood, heavier red bill and pure white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are lots back now in with the Black-headed Gulls

There were more gulls coming in to roost, bobbing around on the open water in the middle. As well as all the smaller gulls, we could see several Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Great Black-backed Gulls. We had a look at a few adults of each of the three species and talked about the main differences between them. (we decided to leave the more confusing immatures to a later lesson!).

The Marsh Harriers were gathering over the reedbed beyond to roost. More were flying in all the time – one came in over the Volunteer Marsh and straight over Avocet Island, sending all the gulls up into the air. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be playing in the wind this evening and we counted a minimum of twenty all in the air at the same time.

With all the excitement over the gulls, we had not noticed the time and it was already getting late. Unfortunately it was time to call it a day, and wrap up what had been three very successful day’s birding, despite the weather.

12th Jan 2019 – Midwinter Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Winter Tour today, and we spent the day in North Norfolk. It was a rather windy day today, mostly cloudy and grey, but dry and mild.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive we could see some Pink-footed Geese in the field by the road, so we stopped for a closer look. We could see their pink legs, even if their feet were hidden in the grass, as well as the pink band around their bills, rather like the orange of the Tundra Bean Geese we had seen yesterday. Thousands more Pink-footed Geese came up off the marshes the other side of the Drive, in several waves with a cacophony of yelping calls, and headed off inland to feed.

pink-footed geese

Pink-footed Geese – we got a closer look at some at Holkham today

There were a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes too, and a large flock of Wigeon. We carried on to the north end where we parked and headed through the pines. A tit flock was working its way across the gap as we walked along the boardwalk and we stopped to watch. As well as the Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, a pair of Coal Tits were chasing each other round and round the trees and a Treecreeper climbed up a pine trunk in front of us.

When we got out onto the saltmarsh, we walked east on the path. Three people ahead of us stopped, pointing, and put up their scopes. We had a good idea what they had seen and, sure enough, when we got over to them, they were watching the Shorelarks. They are feeding in the taller vegetation at the moment, not in the cordon, and can be very hard to see. Eventually we saw some movement and managed to get the scope on them.

Every now and then, one of the Shorelarks would stop and put its head up, at which point we could see its distinctive yellow face with black mask. Then it would put its head down again and resume feeding, at which point it would disappear. They were moving all the time. Eventually, one or two came out more into the open and everyone got a good view through the scope.

shorelark

Shorelark – harder to see out in the taller vegetation on the saltmarsh today

Watching them creeping around in the vegetation, you could have been forgiven for thinking there were only around five or six Shorelarks there. But when something disturbed them and they all flew, we realised there were actually 26!

We could see another flock of small birds whirl round from time to time over at the far end of the cordon, so we carried on along to there. They were Snow Buntings, and when we arrived they were feeding on the sand along the edge of the water at the very back of the cordon. We had a look at them in the scope, after which they very helpfully flew round again and landed much closer to us, where we had much better views.

We counted twenty-two Snow Buntings today. Looking closely, we could see there was a variety of different coloured birds in the flock, some paler than others, with much more white in the wings as they flew up. Others were much darker, browner. The juveniles are darker and the adults paler, and the males are whiter than the females, but there are also two different races which mix here in the winter, with Snow Buntings from Scandinavia paler than those from Iceland. Lots of scope for variation!

snow buntings

Snow Buntings – feeding on the edge of the cordon on our way back

Continuing on out onto the beach, the tide was in and the sea was rather choppy. We couldn’t see a lot out on the water today. A single Common Scoter was rather distant, and a Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of Red-throated Divers flew past. We stopped for a bit and admired the beach, before making our way back. The Snow Buntings were feeding now on the near edge of the cordon and were unconcerned as we walked past a few feet away.

Back at Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped at The Lookout café to use the facilities. Several flocks of Brent Geese flew in and landed out on the grazing marshes below, and we could see a group of Curlews in field behind. But the highlight was a little covey of Grey Partridges feeding down in the grass just below us. It was great to get such close views of this often rather elusive species.

grey partridge

Grey Partridges – very obliging, feeding on the edge of the grazing marsh

Looking out across the marshes on the other side of the Drive, we stopped to look at a very pale Common Buzzard perched up in the bushes (which is very often mistaken for a Rough-legged Buzzard!). A Great White Egret appeared on the edge of a reedy ditch – we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill – and a Grey Heron was sheltering from the wind behind some brambles.

We had a quick look at the old pitch-and-putt course along the Beach Road at Wells, but there had been a lot of disturbance earlier from a helicopter over the town and there were very few geese here today. We did find more of the flock of Brent Geese in a winter wheat field just east of Wells, but they had typically found the one spot in the field where we couldn’t see most of them hidden behind a ridge.

Cold and windy is not good weather for owls, but we diverted inland to see if we could find a Little Owl on our way east. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no sign of any today. We did find a nice field full of Lapwings, which also included several Golden Plover and four Brown Hares.

Back down on the coast at Cley, we had a drive up along Beach Road. There was another big flock of Brent Geese here, which were slightly more obliging out on the grass. There had been a Pale-bellied Brent reported in with the regular Dark-bellied Brents earlier but there was no sign of it now.

We continued on down to the beach car park, where a flock of Pintail and several groups of Wigeon flew over as we got out of the car. We could see a large flock of Common Scoter offshore, which were constantly flying up in small groups, leapfrogging to the front of the flock and landing again, before diving to feed. Every now and then, we got a flash of a white panel in the wing of some of the otherwise very dark, blackish ducks. These were Velvet Scoter and apparently there had been sixteen of them in total when the whole flock had taken off earlier, though we could only see five or six at a time.

Scanning the rest of the sea, we found several Red-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe and a Guillemot all out on the water. There were quite a few people looking at the sea from here, as there was a ‘Bird Race’ taking place at Cley today. Apparently there had been a Glaucous Gull on the sea earlier, which we had hoped to catch up with, but we were told it had flown off west some time before we arrived.

We stopped for lunch in the beach shelter, out of the wind, and afterwards we headed round to the Cley Visitor Centre. We didn’t want to go out onto the reserve today, but we had a quick look out at Pat’s Pool from the terrace. Most of the Avocets leave Norfolk for the winter, but seventeen are currently hanging on here and we could see them feeding out in the water. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits out here and the usual selection of ducks, including a pair of Gadwall, and lots of Black-headed and a few Great Black-backed Gulls.

avocets

Avocets – 17 are hanging on for the winter at Cley

On the board at the Visitor Centre, there had been a Glaucous Gull feeding on a dead seal pup at Salthouse earlier, as well as several sightings around Cley, although it was difficult to tell whether one or two birds were involved. We had a quick look at the beach at Salthouse just in case, but as we got to the top of the shingle we could see only a young Great Black-backed Gull feeding on the seal carcass and no sign of the Glaucous Gull. Perhaps it was the one we had missed past Cley earlier.

We continued east along the coast to Sheringham. Down on the prom, we quickly located one of the Purple Sandpipers, feeding on the rocky sea defences below. We had a great view of it as it fed on the algae growing on the rocks.

purple sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – feeding on the sea defences at Sheringham

The Purple Sandpiper was on its own today, so we walked back to the ‘tank’, where several Turnstones were feeding on the rocks and more were bathing in a pool below the freshwater outflow on the beach. There were lots of gulls gathering offshore now, mostly Black-headed and Common Gulls. The tide hadn’t gone out far yet and there were just a couple of groups on the beach. There were a few more Herring Gulls here, but nothing different in with them.

The plan was to spend the last part of the day looking for owls, so we headed back to the car and made our way inland. When we arrived, there was no sign of the Barn Owl out hunting yet. We walked down along the footpath, but it was still all quiet around the owl box too. The Barn Owl was late tonight – possibly put off by the wind.

We walked on a little further and scanned the meadows in case one of the other owls was out here, but there was no sign of anything here either. Then when we turned round, the Barn Owl had appeared on the front of the box. It still looked very sleepy, and perched on the platform hunched up with its eyes closed. It was in no hurry to head out hunting tonight.

barn owl 1

Barn Owl – dozing on the platform on the front of the box

A Tawny Owl hooted from the wood at the top of the hill and we were just thinking we would have to leave and head off into the trees. Finally the Barn Owl took off, flying back to the sheltered corner of the meadow out of the wind, where it landed on a post. We walked back and watched it flying round hunting – great to watch. When it flew across the path and up the hill, it caught the wind, and we watched it getting buffeted as it turned and tried to come back down. It landed on a post again, then disappeared into the trees, presumably to try to find somewhere more sheltered.

barn owl 2

Barn Owl – finally started to hunt as the light faded

We walked into the trees. It was very windy here and the ivy-covered tree where the Tawny Owl likes to roost was swaying from side to side. As we stood and waited, waves of Pink-footed Geese flew over the trees calling, heading up to the coast to roost. We could see them silhouetted against the last of the light.

The Tawny Owl didn’t hoot before it emerged tonight, as it normally does. Instead, we heard a quiet bubbling call, then it dropped out of the thickest ivy, but landed out of view in the ivy again the same tree. We waited for a few minutes then silently it took off and flew away through the trees. We watched it as it headed off towards an area where it normally likes to perch and hoot for a while. We walked further, along the path, but there was no hooting at all from it this evening, and the trees were all quiet tonight. Perhaps it was just too windy now.

It was getting rather dark in the trees now so we decided to call it a night. As we walked along the path through the edge of the wood, the Barn Owl appeared ahead of us in the gloom, flying down the path. Presumably it was trying its luck in the shelter of the trees.

9th Nov 2018 – Late Autumn Rarities

A Private Tour today on the North Norfolk coast. It was a lovely sunny start to the day, and very mild out of the SE breeze, although there was a bit more cloud around at times in the afternoon. With several lingering rarities still along the coast, we decided on a day catching up with some of our scarcer winter visitors together with a bit of ‘twitching’!

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see some groups of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Several birds were right next to the road, so we stopped for a closer look. We could see their pink legs (and feet!), and small, dark bill with a pink band.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – showing well by Lady Anne’s Drive

While we were watching the Pink-footed Geese, we looked up to see a large white bird flying away from us across the grazing marsh. It was a Great White Egret – we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill. Great White Egrets have bred here for the last couple of years, but can be harder to find in winter, so this was a bonus.

Several small groups of Wigeon flew in to the pool on the other side of the road, but by the time we turned our attention to that side, they had gone back out to graze on the grass. We carried on up to the end of the Drive. A digger was clearing one of the ditches, piling the mud out on the bank, and two Grey Herons were standing by to take advantage of anything edible which it scooped out. As we got out of the car and scanned, a Marsh Harrier was quartering the marshes and a Kestrel was hovering nearby.

We walked through the pines and out onto the beach. Several Brent Geese were feeding out on the saltmarsh, so we stopped briefly to look at them through the scope. As we set off again, walking east, two Red Kites were hanging in the air over the dunes, flashing burnt rusty red as they circled in the morning sunshine. A Marsh Harrier flew past, a young bird, chocolate brown with a pale head, and then a rather pale Common Buzzard flew in over the saltmarsh and almost over our heads. The raptors were obviously out in force this morning enjoying the fine weather!

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – this very pale bird flew in off the saltmarsh

When we got out to the newly cordoned-off area of the saltmarsh, we could see a couple of small birds creeping about in the vegetation which caught the light. Looking more closely, we could see they were Shorelarks. We got them in the scope and could see their bright yellow faces, shining in the morning sunshine, contrasting with their black bandit masks and collars. Looking carefully, we counted six at first but then another five or so more flew in to join them.

Shorelark

Shorelark – one of at least eleven at Holkham today

Shorelarks are scarce and localised winter visitors to the UK most winters, and Holkham is a very traditional site for them. However, they are very vulnerable to disturbance and the beach here has become increasingly popular, particularly with dog walkers. Hopefully, the new fence, which was erected this week by the wardens, will help to keep disturbance to a minimum and will encourage them to remain here again for the winter.

While we were watching the Shorelarks, we could see a flock of Snow Buntings feeding further over, but by the time we had finished looking at the Shorelarks, they had disappeared. We walked over to the beach and scanned the shingle, as Snow Buntings can be very hard to spot when they get in the stones. But the next thing we knew they flew back in, flashing white in their wings and twittering, and landed behind us on the edge of the saltmarsh again.

Snow Buntings 1

Snow Buntings – flew back in to the saltmarsh

We stopped to admire the Snow Buntings for a while, as they fed on the sparse seedy vegetation. They were very active, running around on the sand, occasionally flying up and landing again, always on the move.

After watching the Snow Buntings for a while, we turned our attention to the sea. Scanning the water, we spotted a few seaduck out in the Bay. They were not easy to see at first though – even though the sea looked fairly flat, it was surprising choppy, enough to hide the birds. First we came across two female Eider, with long wedge-shaped bills. Then we found three darker birds with two white spots on their faces, Velvet Scoter. They were busy diving for shellfish, but the white spots caught the sunlight when they surfaced.

A couple of Gannets flew past, white adults with black wingtips. Then we noticed a larger gathering of Gannets further out. One had obviously found a shoal of fish and attracted the others as they were all busy feeding. We watched as one after another folded back its wings and plunged headlong into the water.

There were a few other birds out on the sea too – a winter plumage Red-throated Diver, its white face catching the light, and several Great Crested Grebes too. A couple of Guillemots were not playing ball though, diving constantly so that they were impossible to see.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach too, plus several Oystercatchers, and a few Sanderling and Turnstone were flying back and forth out along the shoreline. A small group of Brent Geese were fast asleep right down by the water’s edge. Something had obviously spooked the Snow Buntings again, because they suddenly flew up over the dunes and landed out on the beach in front of us. We watched them busily preening in the sunshine before they eventually plucked up the courage to fly back again.

Snow Buntings 2

Snow Buntings – flew out onto the beach to preen for a while

As we made our way back towards the Gap, the two Red Kites were still circling over the dunes – there must have been some carrion out there which they couldn’t resist. When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, three more were circling out over the grazing marshes on the other side of the pines.

Then, as we drove back towards the main road, we stopped to watch yet another Red Kite circling very close by. It dropped down into the grass and came back up with a rat in its talons. We couldn’t tell whether it had already been dead or not, but the Red Kite carried it out into the middle of the field and started to devour it.

Red Kite

Red Kite – feeding on a dead rat it found out on the grazing marshes

From Holkham, we headed east along the coast road to Kelling. There have been some Waxwings here for the last few days and we could see several large lenses pointed up into the dead tree right next to where we parked. They were right above our heads as we got out! Thankfully they didn’t seem to be in the least bit worried by us, and we walked across the road from where we could get a better angle to look at them.

With their punk haircuts and multi-coloured wing markings, Waxwings are one of the most charismatic birds and always worth a diversion to see. There were at least five of them here today. They occasionally dropped down to a neighbouring garden to feed on the rowan tree, then flew back up into the top of a dead tree, where they perched, digesting.

Waxwing 1

Waxwings – we saw at least five at Kelling today

Up close, through the scope, we could make out all the details of the Waxwings wings – including the small red waxy tips to its secondaries, from which it gets its name, as well as the yellow tip to the tail and the rusty undertail.

Waxwing 2

Waxwing – showing the small red waxy tips to the secondaries

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from admiring the Waxwings. We were heading back to Cley for lunch, so we stopped at Salthouse on the way there. There had been no mention of the ‘Eastern’ Stonechat all morning, so after a clear night last night it seemed like it had most likely gone, continuing on its journey.

We had a quick look anyway, and there was no sign. Hopefully the Sparrowhawk which was in the bushes close to where it had been favouring, had not had a Stonechat shaped meal! There was a family of Mute Swans on duck pond and a flock of Canada Geese out on the grazing marshes. A Lapwing and a Curlew both flew past, and several Meadow Pipits came up ‘seep-seeping’ out of the grass.

We carried on to Cley for lunch. As we sat down at the picnic tables, a slightly ominous line of dark grey cloud blew in from the south. It hung over us for precisely as long as we sat out eating and then, as soon as we stood up, it cleared again and went back to sunshine!

While we were eating, we could see a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding on Pat’s Pool. There were obviously lots of ducks out on North Scrape, as we could see when they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier, and flew round, mainly Wigeon and Teal.

After lunch, we went for a quick walk up along the East Bank. We stopped to look at some Greylag Geese out on the grazing marsh, with their large orange carrot-bills, very different from the Pink-footed Geese we had looked at earlier. There were lots of ducks out on Pope’s Pool, mainly Wigeon and Teal again. There were some closer Shoveler and Gadwall on the Serpentine, as well as more Teal. As we stopped to admire them, a Common Snipe flew across the water but ran straight into the long grass on the other side.

Teal

Teal – feeding on the Serpentine

It had clouded over again now, and with the wind seemingly having picked up a touch, we headed for the shelter to scan Arnold’s Marsh. There were plenty of Dunlin on here, scattered about in the shallow water, as well as a Grey Plover walking along the near edge, just beyond the vegetation. There were also several Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, three Shelduck asleep at the back, and a few Cormorants drying their wings on the island.

Continuing on out towards the beach, a Little Egret was feeding in the reeds on the brackish pools. It seems to like it here!

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding in the reeds on the brackish pools

Looking out to sea, we spotted two Common Eider just offshore. They were drifting quickly west, but through the scope we could see their wedge-shaped bills. A female Common Scoter was also close in on the sea, dark-capped and pale-cheeked. More Gannets circled out over the sea and a large bull Grey Seal swam past.

We had one last target for the day, so we turned to head back. Suddenly, all the ducks erupted from North Scrape again. We scanned over the marshes, but we couldn’t see a Marsh Harrier out there this time. Then we noticed a Peregrine come up from behind the reeds. We watched as it circled round a couple of times, then it powered down towards the other scrapes and we lost sight of it behind the reeds as it shot across in front of Dauke’s Hide.

On the way back, we had a quick scan of the main drain, which produced a couple of Little Grebes. Then we drove further east along the coast road to Sheringham. There has been a young drake King Eider lingering off here for the last week or so. There were only one or two people looking for it now, late in the day, and they had lost sight of it. We scanned up through the flags, marking the position of the crab pots, and quickly relocated it again.

The King Eider is not at its smartest at the moment. It is just in its second winter and is still moulting out of its duller eclipse plumage, but it was still a treat to be able to watch this high arctic species so well south of its normal range. It was busy diving, presumably looking for the very crabs for which this area is so famous!

The light was fading fast now. Lots of Black-headed Gulls were gathered down on the beach below the cliffs, for a quick bath before heading off to bed. It had been a very enjoyable day out, but it was time for us to head off too now.

13th May 2017 – Spring Warblers & Waders

A Spring Tour today in North Norfolk. It was rather cloudy in the morning, with a few light showers passing through, but brightened up with some nice sunny spells in the afternoon.

Our destination for the morning was Titchwell, but on the way there we stopped to avoid a Grey Wagtail in the road, near the old Burnham Overy water mill. It quickly flew up onto the edge of the roof of one of the cottages nearby, which allowed us to drive on past.

When we arrived at Titchwell we could hear a Turtle Dove purring from deep in a leafy sycamore next to the car park. We had a look to see if we could see it, but it was clearly tucked in out of sight. A smart male Greenfinch was more obliging, wheezing from the trees next to the car. A Red Kite drifted over head.

At that point, one of the reserve volunteers came over to tell us that a Wood Warbler was singing by the visitor centre and a Spotted Flycatcher had been seen around the picnic area. Wood Warbler is a very scarce visitor here, so we hurried along to see if we could find it. We heard it singing as we walked along and came across a small crowd looking up into the trees along the entrance road. We got great views of the Wood Warbler as it flitted around in an oak, stopping every few seconds to sing, before it moved off quickly further up the line of trees out of sight.

6O0A0701Wood Warbler – singing in the trees along the access road this morning

Having had a good look at the Wood Warbler, we made our way back to the picnic area to see if we could find the Spotted Flycatcher. We waited here a few minutes, scanning the trees, but there was no more sign of it. Another favoured area for them here is the pool along Fen Trail, so we walked round to see if it might be there. It wasn’t, but we did get a nice look at a Reed Warbler hopping about in the reeds here.

The Turtle Doves had apparently been visible in the trees behind Fen Hide earlier, so we made our way along to there next. There was no sign of them at first, but as a brief shower passed over, we took shelter in the hide. A pair of Common Pochard were diving on the edge of the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler flew low across the pool and dropped down into the base of a bush. We came out again, just in time to see a pair of Turtle Doves fly over and circle round in front of us before dropping back down into the trees.

On our way to Patsy’s Reedbed, we stopped to look at a Bloody-nosed Beetle walking along the boardwalk. There were several around the paths today – both live ones and a couple which had been crushed underfoot. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

6O0A0713Bloody-nosed Beetle – commonly seen around the paths on the reserve

At Patsy’s Reeded, we quickly located a single drake Red-crested Pochard asleep on the bank with a couple of Tufted Ducks. A pair of Little Grebes were diving out in the middle. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed and dropped down into the reeds out of view. There were good numbers of Swifts swooping for insects over the water.

6O0A0714Red-crested Pochard – this drake was asleep on Patsy’s Reedbed

We made our way back and round via the Meadow Trail out to the main path. The former pool on the Thornham grazing marsh is now looking very dry and uninviting, so we focused our attention on the reedbed. There were lots of warblers singing today – Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and the odd Cetti’s Warbler shouting at us occasionally from the bushes. A male Reed Bunting showed very well by the pools.

Something on the path seemed to be causing a stir amongst the people ahead of us, and we walked over to see a Common Shrew running along the edge of the path. Unfortunately, it didn’t look well. It was missing some fur from the back of its neck, so perhaps something had had a go at it. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling. A Cuckoo shot over the path and headed out over the saltmarsh.

6O0A0731Common Shrew – was running along the edge of the main path

At this point, it started to rain again, so we hurried on towards the shelter of Island Hide. A Grey Plover on the saltmarsh pool opposite was looking smart with its summer black face and belly.

The water levels have started to drop a bit on the freshmarsh now, and there were a few more waders on here today. Our main target here was a Little Stint which had been reported earlier and we quickly located it on one of the islands. We could see how small it was  – creeping around on the mud, next to the much larger ducks. It was very flighty though, and kept flying round before coming back to the islands. Migrant waders at this time of year are often in a hurry to get on their way. We could also see a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, way over the other side, close to Parrinder Hide.

There is rarely any shortage of Avocets here, and we had some nice views of them feeding in front of the hide. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits back on here again. Presumably they are mostly young birds, born last year, which will not breed or migrate to Iceland this year. They also don’t moult fully into breeding plumage – most were still in their winter greys, but a few had a scattering of orange feathers. A single Ruff was on the mud close to the hide – also not yet in full breeding plumage, but starting to moult its head and neck.

6O0A0768Ruff – starting to get some summer feathers on head and neck

There are several Common Terns around the freshmarsh now, which are always nice to see. Through the scope, we could see their black-tipped red bills and red legs. There were also three Sandwich Terns on here today, including a pair mating. Presumably they will be looking to nest in the colony on nearby Scolt Head. There is a large Black-headed Gull colony on the fenced off Avocet island and in among them are several pairs of Mediterranean Gulls. We picked one out with the scope – its much blacker head and bright red bill standing out even at a distance.

IMG_4154Sandwich Terns – this pair were mating on the freshmarsh today

There are not so many ducks around the freshmarsh now. In particular, the number of Teal have finally dropped as birds have departed on their journey north to breed. We still found a single pair of Teal here today. There are still good numbers of Gadwall and  Mallard and lots of Shelduck, all of which breed here. We stopped to admire a drake Gadwall – not the gaudiest of ducks, rather grey and black, but a wonderfully subtle mix of patterns. The Brent Geese have not all departed for Russia yet, and a small group came onto the freshmarsh to bathe.

6O0A0848Gadwall – with intricately patterned feathers

By the time we got round to Parrinder Hide, the Little Stint had disappeared. We did get closer views of the Little Ringed Plovers through the scope, so we could see their golden yellow eye rings. However, it was the baby Avocets which drew the most attention. Like little balls of fur, with long legs and a little upturned bill. Two females had one chick each today, and one of them was feeding quite close to the hide. The adult Avocets are not the most attentive parents and as the young ones wandered away, it seemed no surprise that they are very vulnerable to predation.

6O0A0897Avocet – a small chick was feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

The weather had improved now, so we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. There was not much to see on the Volunteer Marsh today – a drake Shoveler close to the path and several Avocets feeding along the channel at the far end. The Tidal Pools were also rather quiet, apart from a single Bar-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and talked about the differences between Bar-tailed Godwit and the Black-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier on the Freshmarsh.

As we walked up over the dunes, we could see a couple of groups of black ducks flying round over the sea beyond. From the beach, we got them in the scope and could see they were mostly Common Scoter. Looking carefully through them, we picked out two or three Velvet Scoters too, getting a flash of the white in their wings as they flapped or seeing the white diagonal line on their sides. There was also still a singe Red-breasted Merganser offshore.

There were a few waders still distantly out on the mussel beds, despite the rising tide. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and several more Bar-tailed Godwits, we found a little group of Sanderling and Turnstone, both coming into summer plumage now. A small flock of Knot flew off along the shoreline. At that point we noticed some dark cloud approaching fast behind us. It started to rain, but thankfully it was just a few spits and spots.

Once the rain stopped, we decided to make our way back for lunch. There were two or three Little Egrets out on the saltmarsh, but when a larger white bird took off, a quick look at it confirmed it was a Spoonbill. It circled round and landed back down in one of the channels on the saltmarsh out of view. A Grey Heron was more obliging. It flew in to the pools right by the main path, causing a female Mallard to leave her brood of ducklings and chase after it. The Grey Heron didn’t seem too fussed and landed on the edge of the reeds where it started to preen.

6O0A0921Grey Heron – stood preening on the edge of the reeds

With the skies brightening up nicely now, we ate our lunch in the picnic area. There was still no sign of any Spotted Flycatchers here, but a Goldcrest showed well in the pine trees. We could still hear the Wood Warbler singing, back towards the car park, and after lunch we walked to the car to find it in the oak tree just above! We had another nice look at it before it flew back deeper into the trees.

The Turtle Dove was still purring from the leafy sycamore and helpfully waited until we had packed the scope away before flying out and across to a bare tree where we could finally get a good look at it. By the time we got the scope out again and set up, needless to say it flew back to the sycamore out of view!

6O0A0941Turtle Dove – finally showed itself briefly in a bare tree in the car park

While we were at Titchwell, reports had come through of a trip of Dotterel in a field just up the road at Choseley, so we drove up there for a look. We found a few people standing in the entrance to a field, who showed us where the birds were, but they were miles away. The bare stoney field was picking up the heat from the sun, resulting in a lot of shimmer, so that even with the scope we couldn’t make out much more than a few small blurry shapes.

We decided to head down the footpath to try to find a vantage point a little closer to them, but some people coming back the other way explained that because of a ridge in the field, the Dotterel were not visible from along there. We carried on anyway, reasoning that they were moving round the field, but when we got to the end we found they were right. A Yellowhammer was singing in the hedge nearby.

It looked like it was back to Plan A, distant views from back at the road, but as we walked back we scanned the field just in case. Bingo! Just at that point, the Dotterel appeared over the ridge across the field in front of us. We all had a great look at them through the scope, just in time before they sat down just over the ridge – we could just see the tops of a couple of their heads!

IMG_4160Dotterel – a quick record shot of one before they all sat down

On the way back, we just had time for a short stop at Holkham and a quick walk down to the hides. It was sunny now and in the heat of the afternoon, there were still a few warblers singing on the walk out, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, plus the regular Coal Tits, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide and spotted a large white shape out on one of the pools. It was a Spoonbill, dropped in to bathe on its way back to the colony. We got it in the scope and could see its bushy crest blowing in the wind. A second Spoonbill appeared and started preening nearby, before the first flew off back towards the trees.

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, there was a steady coming and going of Spoonbills, Little Egrets and Cormorants to and from the trees. One or two Spoonbills came down repeatedly to collect vegetation from the edge of the pool for their nests and a little group gathered half hidden behind the rushes at the front to bathe.

IMG_4200Spoonbill – collecting nest material from the edge of the pool

It was a nice way to finish the day here. As well as all the activity around the trees, we could see several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards out over the grazing marshes. A Hobby was catching insects rather distantly away to the west. The one thing we hadn’t seen here today was one of the Great White Egrets, but just as we were thinking about heading back one flew up out of the reeds and circled round before disappearing behind the wood. With that one to wrap things up nicely, we walked back to the car, with a Jay on the way to round off the day’s list.

27th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was meant to rain today, at least in the afternoon, but although it was cloudy all day and it did drizzle a little on and off at times, it was not as bad as forecast. It was a day back in North Norfolk today.

Given the forecast of rain, we decided to spend at least part of the day at Titchwell, where we could take shelter in the hides. On the way there, we took a short detour up to Choseley. In a ploughed field by the road, a number of Wheatears were running around. W counted at least seven of them, including several smart males with their black bandit masks. There were also good numbers of Brown Hares in the fields, although they were mostly hunkered down. A strikingly pale Common Buzzard perched briefly on the ground a couple of fields away before flying and disappearing behind a hedge.

IMG_3536Wheatear – a smart male in the ploughed field

As soon as we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, we could hear a Turtle Dove. The delicate purring song of the male is now an increasingly rare sound, which is a real shame, so it was great to listen to it. It seemed to be coming from deep in a very leafy sycamore at first, where we couldn’t see it. Then, more helpfully, it took off and did a short display flight, flapping up quickly, then gliding down and dropping towards the overflow car park.

We walked round to the other side and shortly after we arrived, the Turtle Dove flew up again and glided down into the top of a dead tree. We managed to get a quick look at it there, through the scope, before it flew again, back to the main car park. We thought it might have gone back to the sycamore but instead it had landed on a dead branch out in full view. This time, we all got a good view of it in the scope. Then it flew off again towards visitor centre. We were heading that way, so we followed on behind.

6O0A8394Turtle Dove – displaying in the car parks at Titchwell this morning

As we walked towards the visitor centre, we could hear a Goldcrest singing in the trees beyond the picnic area. There is a small path which goes in to the trees here, so we walked in to see if we could find it. There was no sign of the Goldcrest but one of the group did spot a cracking pink male Bullfinch high in the oak trees, feeding on buds. The browner female was nearby, and we could hear the two of them calling to each other quietly. They were in the trees above the access road and the two of them flew off calling as a car came along, though thankfully not before we had all had a good look at them.

The feeders by the visitor centre were quiet today, apart from a single Jackdaw swinging on the peanuts. So we headed straight out onto the reserve. It has been very high spring tides for the last few days, so the pool on the Thornham grazing marsh, which should be full of freshwater but has been allowed to dry out for the last couple of years, had been flooded with saltwater. The landowner (this is not part of the reserve) has been in dispute with everyone seemingly for the last few years and appears to have done this out of spite, even though he is in breach of his stewardship conditions. Unfortunately Natural England seem to show no inclination to pursue him, so in the meantime this site is being damaged with salt water.

At least, with a few pools on there today, a single Little Ringed Plover was enjoying it. Even through it was towards the back, we could see the golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Two or three Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds, and a smart male made a nice fly past for us. The warblers were a little subdued today, in the cold and windy weather, apart from a Sedge Warbler which was singing and display flighting constantly. A couple of Reed Warblers sang rather half-heartedly from deep in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us occasionally too.

The reedbed pool was quiet today, but while we had stopped to scan the reeds, one of the reserve volunteers very kindly came back to tell us that some Bearded Tits were showing from the main path a little further along. We hurried over and had great views as the pair worked their way around the base of the reeds at the back of the small pools below the path. They were a pair – a smart male, with powder blue head and black moustache, following behind a browner female.

6O0A8420Bearded Tit – the female, by the pools below the main path

This was a real bonus today – Bearded Tits can be very hard to see on cold windy days normally! Eventually they flew up over the brambles behind the pools and disappeared into the main reedbed. While we were standing there, we could also see at least four drake Red-crested Pochard in one of the channels.

6O0A8433Red-crested Pochard – 2 of the 4 drakes we could see in the reedbed channel

It started to drizzle at this point so we decided to head for the shelter of Island Hide. The water level on the Freshmarsh is still very high, which means there are not many waders on here at the moment. There were several pairs of Avocets, but those that were trying to feed on here were up to their bellies in water. There were a few Black-headed Gulls roosting on one of the shallower patches and several Ruff were running around amongst them. There was one larger male, though not yet sporting its summer ruff, and several smaller female Reeves.

6O0A8462Avocet – up to its belly in the deep water

The water on here is more to the liking of the ducks, but numbers have dropped now as many have headed off on their their way north already. There were still a few Gadwall and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal and a lone pair of Wigeon in fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. The number of Brent Geese is also dropping now, but a pair flew past the hide and one was still out on the water, though most of them were feeding out on the saltmarsh.

6O0A8468Teal – the number of remaining winter wildfowl has dropped now

There were more gulls on the Freshmarsh than anything else at the moment. The Black-headed Gulls have taken a liking to the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a sizeable gull colony is forming on there. Black-headed Gulls actually have chocolate brown heads in summer, but in with them we could see a good number of darker black heads. There were around 20 Mediterranean Gulls which have joined the colony here and through the scope we could see their heavier and brighter red bills and pure white wing tips. They are very smart looking birds.

A small group of immature Herring Gulls were standing in the water just outside the fence. One of them instantly stood out – it was very white headed, with a long face and a long bill. It was a 2nd calendar year (also known as 1st summer) Caspian Gull. When it climbed up onto a submerged rock we could see it had rather long thin legs too.

IMG_3551Caspian Gull – a 1st summer bird, a bit of a rarity at Titchwell

Caspian Gulls were originally to be found breeding north of the Black Sea and further east, but they have spread north and west in recent years and now also breed in Poland and eastern Germany. They have also been turning up more regularly here as a consequence. They are still a bit of a rarity, particularly at Titchwell, so we sent a message back to some of the birders at the visitor centre. Pretty soon a small crowd arrived in the hide and there was a flurry of activity as everyone got onto the bird. We all watched it for a while, before eventually it took off, circled round, and disappeared over the bank out towards the beach.

The rain had stopped now and it appeared to be brightening up, so we made a dash for the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet. Around the channel at the far end, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover, one grey and one black-bellied, and a single Knot still in grey winter plumage. There was not much to see on the Tidal Pools either today, but it had been a big high tide this morning and everything was still looking a bit wet.

There were lots more birds out at the beach. Out on the sea, we could see several flocks of black dots. A couple of groups closer in included around 20 Velvet Scoter – we got a good look at these through the scope, the white in the wing being visible when they flapped and on some swimming birds too. A vast slick of up to 2,000 Common Scoter were smeared across the water further out. A single young drake Eider was swimming close inshore in the breakers but a long way away to the east, towards Brancaster.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on the debris washed up by the strong north winds of the last couple of days. The resident Black-headed Gull followed us around for a while, but it wasn’t time for lunch yet. Around the mussel beds by the shore, we could see a variety of waders, so we walked down for a closer look. There were several little groups of Sanderlings together with a few Turnstones running around on the beach. Several Bar-tailed Godwits and a few more Knot were down on the mussel beds.

6O0A8473Black-headed Gull – hoping for some food from the birders at the beach

It was pretty cool out out on the beach, in the wind. After a quick look at the waders, we headed back. It was time for lunch when we got to the visitor centre and a warm drink was most welcome too. After lunch, we drove a short distance west to Thornham.

There have been a few Whimbrel reported on the playing fields at Thornham recently, but it has mostly been early morning, probably before they get too disturbed. Despite it being the middle of the day and with lots of cars coming and going from the car park, we found four Whimbrel still out on the short grass. They were mostly at the back, where we could get a good view of their striped heads through the scope, although two did fly in and land much closer to use, in the middle of the cricket pitch at one point.

6O0A8482Whimbrel – four were on the playing field at Thornham this lunchtime

Whimbrel is just a passage migrant here, so it was great to see some birds which had stopped off on their way north. We had a quick look down at Thornham Harbour, as we were in the vicinity. Another couple of Whimbrel flew across the road as we drove down – presumably this is one of the places they come to when they are disturbed from the playing fields. One landed right next to the car, and started feeding on the saltmarsh, which gave us a great chance to look at it up close.

6O0A8499Whimbrel – another two were down by the harbour

Otherwise, it was fairly quiet here with the tide out. A Little Egret flew off from the channel as we approached and we could see a distant Grey Plover out on the mud. We decided not to stop, so turned around and set off back east along the coast road. We called in briefly at Brancaster Staithe on the way, but it was very busy, lots of cars and boats in the car park, and very few birds.

We were heading for Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. When we got out of the car at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see several Egyptian Geese and Greylags on the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post on the bank preening. A female Grey Partridge was tucked down in the grass and a Mistle Thrush flew over and up into the pines.

Rather than head out to the beach, we took the path west on the inland side of the pines. Two Blackcaps were singing in the trees, right next door to each other, but both were tucked well in and neither would show themselves. A Goldcrest was flicking around in the pines overhead. We flushed a couple of Jays as we walked along, flying away with a flash of a white rump, but one perched up nicely by the side of the path for us briefly. A Chiffchaff singing in the trees was more obliging, and we got a good look at it as it flitted between the branches of a bare elm.

6O0A8502Jay – this one perched up nicely for us briefly

We could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing noisily from the reeds by Washington Hide. From the raised vantage point of the boardwalk to the hide, we had a quick scan of the marshes. A late pair of Pintail on one of the pools were a nice addition to the trip list.

As we continued west along the path, past Meals House, we stopped several times to look out at the grass. We were rewarded with a small group of four Pink-footed Geese. There are always a small number here right through the summer, when all the vast hordes of them have long since departed for Iceland, mostly injured birds which can’t make the journey north. One of the Pinkfeet had obviously been shot and winged, holding its wing at a jaunty angle. A pair of Barnacle Geese had presumably just come over from the feral flock in Holkham Park. Two more drake Pintail were upending on the pools beyond.

As we approached the Joe Jordan Hide we could hear a Willow Warbler singing from the trees out on the freshmarsh. From up in the hide, we could see Spoonbills coming and going from the trees constantly. Most were flying in and out and landing out of view, but occasionally, one would perch up on the edge of the trees, where we could get it in the scope. IMG_3568Spoonbill – one would occasionally perch up in the trees where we could see it

There was not much activity down on the pool today until later on, when a couple of Spoonbills came down to bathe and preen and one came down to collect nest material, giving us another chance of a better look at them. Most were breeding adults, with yellow tipped blackbills, a shaggy crest on the back of the head and a dirty yellow wash across the breast.

We hadn’t seen it down in the reeds, but suddenly a Great White Egret flew up from the back of the pool, and disappeared behind the trees. It was just a brief flight view, but its enormous size was immediately apparent, flying with long rounded wings and slow deep wingbeats. A little while later, what was possibly the same flew Great White Egret flew out of the trees and landed down in a ditch the other side.

IMG_3583Great White Egret – we saw two from the hide at Holkham today

While we were watching that, a second Great White Egret flew over, buzzed the first, and dropped in nearby. The two of them seemed to feed happily for a short while, a reasonable distance apart, until one decided to chase off the other. The first flew back to the trees, while the second circled back and landed again, before resuming feeding in the ditch.

There were lots of other things to see while we sat in the hide. A steady succession of Marsh Harriers kept coming and going. A Common Swift was flying back and forth over the trees. A Chinese Water Deer walked along the edge of the ditch below us. It is a lovely spot here to sit and watch all the activity. But eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home. Back at the car, a couple of Spoonbills did a flypast over Lady Anne’s Drive, heading back to the colony, bidding us farewell.

27th Feb 2017 – Seaducks, Divers & Grebes

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. The request was particularly to look for seaducks, divers and grebes, but there would be time for other birds too. It was cloudy but bright in the morning, but heavy showers were forecast for the afternoon. As it was the weather gods were smiling on us – we sat out one brief shower in the hide at Titchwell and didn’t see another until we were back in the car at the end of the day.

With the target to see some birds on the sea, we started the day at Thornham Harbour with a walk out towards Holme Dunes. As we parked the car, a lone Brent Goose was feeding on the saltmarsh by the road close by. It looked up briefly, but seemed disinterested in our presence.

6o0a8198Brent Goose – feeding in the harbour at Thornham

The tide was just going out and the tidal channel was still full of water. From up on the seawall, we could see a few waders on the areas of open mud – Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as several Redshank. The Twite have been rather elusive here this winter, tending to come and go, so it was no surprise that two small birds feeding down on the edge of the saltmarsh were a pair of Linnet.

6o0a8206Curlew – several were feeding on the mud in the harbour

Looking out across the harbour towards the sea, we could see a few ducks diving in the deeper part of the channel in the distance. Through the scope, we could see there were several Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of female Goldeneye. A Great Crested Grebe was just offshore beyond.

As we walked along the seawall, there were Skylarks singing over the grazing meadows behind us. A couple of Reed Buntings flew out from one of the bushes below the bank, as did a Wren. When two more small birds flitted across the saltmarsh below us, we expected those to be Linnets again, but a quick look revealed they were Twite. Through the scope, we could see their yellow bills and orange-washed breasts. They fed for a time in the vegetation on the edge of the mud, before eventually disappearing off back into the saltmarsh.

img_0953Twite – we found a pair on the saltmarsh on our walk out

Six geese flying in from the east over the harbour were Pink-footed Geese. We heard them calling and watched as they dropped down towards the grazing marshes to the west. Looking across, we could see a large flock of geese already down on the grass. Through the scope, we could see that the vast majority were Pink-footed Geese too. But then a head came up with a distinctive white surround to the base of the bill – two White-fronted Geese were hiding in with the Pinkfeet.

A shrill call high overhead alerted us to a displaying Marsh Harrier, a male, flying up and down with exaggerated, flappy wingbeats. Two more Marsh Harriers, females, flew in over the saltmarsh and, behind us, another two circled up over the grazing marshes. The bright conditions were obviously encouraging a burst of Marsh Harrier display activity this morning.

6o0a8240Marsh Harrier – this male was displaying overhead

A quick look out across Broadwater from the edge of the dunes added Tufted Duck and Common Pochard to the day’s list. A few Mallard and a pair of Shoveler were lurking in the reeds. A few Greylag Geese and a big flock of Curlew were in the fields beyond.

From the top of the dunes, we set ourselves up to scan the sea. Almost the first bird we set eyes on was a Great Northern Diver. It was not far offshore, but diving regularly and drifting east. It was clearly big and we got it in the scope and could see the contrast between the blackish upperparts and white throat and breast, with a black half collar.

Scanning the sea, we could see several Red-breasted Mergansers out on the water. Five large, heavy ducks flying in from the east were Eider – three all dark females and two 1st winter drakes, with contrasting white breasts. They landed on the sea further out where we could see them distantly. A little later, we looked back and found two smart drake Eider in the same area. There were a couple of Common Scoter out here too today, a blackish drake and a pale-cheeked female.

The Long-tailed Ducks have become more elusive in recent days. It is possible they have already started to move back north, although they may just have moved further offshore. Fortunately a few obliged us by flying in this morning. First, we picked up a lone Long-tailed Duck flying in from way out to sea, but it turned east and eventually landed some way away, off Thornham Point. We could just make it out through the scope. Then a pair flew in and landed out beyond the Red-breasted Mergansers. They were still distant, but we could see there was a smart male and browner female. The fourth Long-tailed Duck, a female, was even more obliging, and landed with the mergansers where we could get a much better view of it. To round out the total, a fifth flew past a little later.

While we were looking through the ducks, we picked up a Slavonian Grebe on the sea. It was clearly small, next to the Red-breasted Mergansers. It had a flat crown, white cheeks and a neatly defined black cap. Red-throated Diver is the most regular diver species here and we found one or two out on the sea. Black-throated Diver is the rarest so it was a bonus to find one just as we were about to call it a day. We were alerted to it by a flash of its white flank patch as it dived. It was rather distant, but when it surfaced again we could also see its very contrasting black and white colouration, and sleeker, slimmer structure compared to the Great Northern Diver we had seen earlier.

After such a fantastically productive morning here, we decided to head back to the car. Three species of diver and an excellent selection of seaduck was a great return for our efforts. A Little Grebe on Broadwater on the way back made it three species of grebe for the site today too!

As we walked back along the seawall, we could hear Twite calling. We assumed it would just be the pair we had seen earlier, but a flock of around 25 Twite flew up from the saltmarsh and across the path in front of us. A couple of males flashed bright pink rumps as they flew past. They dropped down by a pool on the grazing marsh for a quick drink, before flying back to the saltmarsh again. We had another good look at them through the scope.

6o0a8254Twite – a flock of about 25 had appeared on the walk back

There had been a Glaucous Gull reported by some pig fields inland from here yesterday, so we decided to have a quick drive round to see if we could find it. We did find a large flock of gulls loafing in a field by an irrigation reservoir, but all we could see there were Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. There didn’t appear to be many gulls around the pig fields today.

The buntings were more obliging. There has been a big flock of Yellowhammers here through the winter and there must have been at least 60 here still today. Several were bathing in a puddle as we arrived, including some stunningly yellow males. They were rather flighty, constantly flying between the hedges and the field the other side. However, when they perched up in the hedge we could get a good look at them.

6o0a8275Yellowhammer – at least 60 in the flock today

As well as the Yellowhammers, there have been good numbers of Corn Bunting here and there were still at least 6 here today.We could hear one singing when we got out of the car, the song often compared to jangling keys, but we couldn’t see it through the hedge. Then one flew over as we walked along the road, we were alerted to it by its distinctive liquid ‘pit’ call. Finally we managed to get three in the scope, perched up together in the top of a small tree. They are getting so scarce now, it is always a delight to see Corn Buntings.

There were other things to see here too. There were several Reed Buntings in with the Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding in a recently sown field, much more delicate birds then the similarly grey Woodpigeon. A couple of Red Kites hung in the air over a nearby wood. When a Kestrel flew over the field, all the Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings scattered.

Our destination for the afternoon was Titchwell. After lunch by the visitor centre and a welcome hot drink, we made had a look at the feeders. There were a few Greenfinches with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but the highlight was a couple of female Bramblings which dropped in to join them. The Water Rail was in the ditch by the main path as usual, but was lurking under a tangle of vegetation bathing today.

6o0a8282Water Rail – lurking under a tangle of vegetation bathing

The dried out grazing meadow ‘pool’ looked devoid of life at first. We repositioned ourselves further along the path, so we could see round behind the reeds at the front. At that point, one of the group spotted a bird right down at the front – the Water Pipit we had been looking for. We had a great view of it through the scope, noting its white underparts neatly streaked with black, and well-marked white supercilium.

img_1011Water Pipit – showed very well on the grazing meadow ‘pool’

A single Great Crested Grebe was at the back of the reedbed pool, asleep amongst the ducks. While we were scanning around the edges of the pool, a small wader flicked up and dropped down on a patch of cut reed at the front. We had a very restricted view, with a line of reeds in front. Looking through with the scope we managed to see there was a Common Snipe feeding there, but the bird we had just seen fly in was smaller than that. Then, just behind it, we caught sight of a Jack Snipe.

The Jack Snipe flew across the water at the front and landed on another patch of cut reed the other side, out of view. By walking a little further along the path and looking back, we were able to find it again, though we still had to look through the reeds in the front. It was very well camouflaged, with its bright golden mantle stripes in amongst the reed stems, but the Jack Snipe was feeding with its distinctive bobbing action. Great to watch!

We could see dark clouds approaching from the west, so we made our way quickly round to Parrinder Hide to scan the Freshmarsh from there. As we walked round, a huge flock of Golden Plover flew up from the fenced off island and most of them seemed to drift off inland. We got into the hide just in time, as a squally shower blew in.

There is still a good variety of ducks on the Freshmarsh at the moment – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. The birds huddled up against the rain. There were also good numbers of gulls again, but we couldn’t find anything other than Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Herring Gull on here today.

6o0a8324Teal – a smart drake, huddled up facing into the rain

There were lots of Redshank in particular on the Freshmarsh today. Perhaps they had been flushed off the Volunteer Marsh by something? Several Knot flew in too and landed in with the gulls. A noisy little group of Oystercatcher were gathered in a circle giving a piping display. There were also lots of Avocet on here – numbers are continuing to increase as birds return after the winter. A colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit stood pointing into the rain.

img_1018Black-tailed Godwit – a colour-ringed bird in the rain

Thankfully the rain blew through quickly. Once it stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were several Knot, Grey Plover and Curlew on the mud in front of the hide when we walked in, but almost immediately something flushed all the birds and the waders all flew off. The Redshanks had gone over to join the others on the Freshmarsh – we could see them all busy bathing and preening from the window at the back of the hide.

As it was starting to brighten up again, we decided to make a bid for the beach. From round on the main path, we stopped to watch a couple of Knot and a couple of Dunlin which dropped back in together on the mud, a nice chance to compare the two species.

6o0a8332Shoveler – several were out on the Tidal Pools

The Pintail were all out on the Tidal Pools today, along with more Shoveler and Mallard. There were also a few waders on here, in particular several Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. This provided a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Bar-tailed Godwit being obviously smaller, shorter-legged and with paler, buffier upperparts streaked with dark.

The tide was coming in again out at the beach. Large groups of Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit were gathered along the shoreline. There was quite a lot of seaweed scattered across the sand today and we could see several silvery Sanderling feeding in amongst it.

There was a flock of Scoter further offshore and through the scope we could see they were mostly Velvet Scoter with a smaller number of Common Scoter in with them. Even better, a single Velvet Scoter was much closer in and we could see the distinctive twin smaller white spots on its face. A couple of Common Scoter were closer in too, and when it turned head on, we could see the yellow stripe down the top of the bill on the drake. Otherwise, the sea here was much quieter than it had been at Holme this morning – just a few Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye. Still, Velvet Scoter was a nice bird to round out the set of our seaduck for the day.

As we made our way back along the main path, we stopped for another look at the Jack Snipe. There were now two Common Snipe on the same side of the pool as the Jack Snipe, we could see their pale central crown stripes. The Common Snipe were out in the middle of the patch of cut reed, but typically the Jack Snipe was more secretive, still keeping nearer to cover at the edge of the tall reeds. However, it had worked its way out to the edge of a little puddle where we could see it better, its shorter bill and dark central crown.

img_1043Jack Snipe – feeding on the edge of the reedbed pool

On the way back, we cut round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. The water level is being kept high on here this year – attractive for the Tufted Ducks, Common Pochard and Coot which were all diving on here. Several Marsh Harriers were starting to gather over the reedbed, ahead of going to roost. A Cetti’s Warbler sand from the bushes.

The afternoon was getting on and it was starting to get dark, but when we turned to look behind us we could see another bank of dark clouds approaching from the west, so we decided to make our way back. We had heard Bullfinches calling on the way out and seen a couple of shapes disappearing off into the bushes. On the way back, they were more helpfully feeding in the top of a small tree, picking at the buds. The three females were perched in full view, while the pink male lurked a little further back. A couple of Jays called noisily from the sallows and we flushed a Muntjac from beside the boardwalk, which scuttled off into the undergrowth.

We got back to the car just in time, as a wintry shower blew through. We had been remarkably lucky with the weather today and we didn’t mind a bit of rain now we were on our way home.