Tag Archives: Warham Greens

21st January 2016 – Winter Rarity Hunting

A Private Tour today. The mission was somewhat different to normal tours – with a concerted effort to find some of the lingering rarities which are around North Norfolk at the moment, as well as catching up with some of our scarcer wintering species. It was going to be an all action day!

It dawned very frosty and with a bit of lingering fog, although the sun was already doing its best to burn that off. We met in Wells and, after a quick look in the harbour on the way which didn’t produce anything noteworthy today, we made our way along to Holkham where we pulled in just off the road to scan the grazing marshes below.

We quickly located a good selection of geese. A long line of birds on the frozen grass beyond the hedge revealed themselves to be mostly White-fronted Geese, with an obvious white blaze around the base of their all-pink bills and orange legs. In with them, was a small group of Pink-footed Geese, very dark-headed with pink legs and a small, mostly dark bill with a pink band around it. There were also plenty of Greylag Geese too, much larger and paler with a large orange carrot of a bill, and a pair of Egyptian Geese.

IMG_5352White-fronted Geese – out on the frozen grass at Holkham

We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling and see odd groups flying back and forth in front of the pines, but it was only when we moved so that we could see round past the hedge and look out further over on the freshmarsh, that we could see just how many were out there.  Thousands of birds were huddled together out on the grass and around the frozen pools. The Pink-footed Geese roost on the marshes here and would normally fly inland to feed during the day, but perhaps the lingering fog and frost had caused them to stay this morning. They were quite a sight!

A careful scan of the marshes and a white shape was just visible half-hidden in the reeds towards the back. When it put its neck up, we could see through the scope that it was the Great White Egret that has been hanging around here for several months. It was hard to see well in the reeds, but thankfully it flew, first to a small area of marsh nearby and then across and into the trees where it perched on a branch in full view.

IMG_5353Great White Egret – flew up into the trees where it was easier to see

That was a great way to start, then we carried on west along the coast. With the remains of the fog burning off slowly, we made another stop at Brancaster Staithe to have a quick look in the harbour. A smart drake Red-breasted Merganser and a pair of Goldeneye were diving in the harbour channel. A little posse of Brent Geese were chattering noisily from the water’s edge, before flying off over the saltmarsh to feed.

P1150205Brent Geese – gathering in the harbour channel

There was a nice selection of waders on view here too. A group of Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers were roosting on the edge of the water, with a Curlew standing head and shoulders above them. Nearby, a Black-tailed Godwit gave a good opportunity to go through the key differences from the Bar-taileds. A couple of Grey Plovers were higher up on the mud. Where someone had hauled up and washed a load of Brancaster mussels, two Turnstones were picking around in the debris. Down on the sandbars in the channel, we could see several Redshanks but a Greenshank unfortunately only flew up briefly as a Marsh Harrier passed overhead, before dropping down out of sight again.

IMG_5365Bar-tailed Godwits & Oystercatchers – roosting in the harbour

The sun was now starting to come through more strongly, burning off the mist, so we decided to have a drive round via Choseley to see if we could find the Rough-legged Buzzard. Driving along the lane, we spotted a harrier working its way low along a hedge beyond, into the sun from us. It looked slim-built so we tried to catch up with it. As it dropped ahead of us along the side of the road, we got a flash of a white rump patch and it landed briefly, before continuing its journey east across the fields. We could confirm it was a Hen Harrier, a ringtail, working the hedges.

Scanning the hedges all around, we could see our first Buzzard but it was clearly too dark, a Common Buzzard. Over the other side of the road, two more Common Buzzards were perched up in the morning sun, and away in the distance beyond we could see yet another. They were all out warming up in the sunshine, but try as we might we could not find a Rough-legged Buzzard doing the same. We drove round to the corner south of the drying barns, were a couple of cars were just leaving. When we asked what they had seen, we were told they had been watching the Rough-legged Buzzard and, even better, it was still in view. Unfortunately, a quick look confirmed it was actually another Common Buzzard, looking rather pale-breasted in the morning sunshine, but not like a Rough-legged Buzzard should. We had a quick and unsuccessful drive round some of the Rough-legged Buzzard’s other favourite haunts and then decided to move on.

We had a particular request to try for the Pallid Harrier today, which has been gracing various sites around Norfolk since we first saw it back in mid-November. In recent weeks it has been seen inland, around the village of Flitcham, but it typically only makes intermittent flights over the fields here, before disappearing off to hunt elsewhere.

We arrived and stationed ourselves at one end of the fields where a small group were scanning the thick hedge and cover strip in front. There were lots of Chaffinches flying up and down from the field to the hedge and in with them we could see a few Bramblings. Three Yellowhammers flew into the hedge as well and perched up so we could get them in the scope. We could hear Tree Sparrows calling as well. The Pallid Harrier had made a pass over the stubble field here about twenty minutes before we arrived, so we waited hopefully for it to return.

Thankfully we hadn’t been waiting very long when we got a surprise. There were others looking out over the fields a short way further along the road, but they hadn’t shouted anything across to us. It was only when a minibus pulled up alongside that we were kindly informed that the Pallid Harrier was actually being watched in a tree over there! We hastened down and sure enough, there it stood. We got a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_5369Pallid Harrier – perched up in a tree at Flitcham

We were just making our way a little further along to join the crowd there for a closer view when it became clear it had taken off – apparently, someone had got a little too enthusiastic and had tried to go into the field, so scaring it off. Very helpful! It disappeared off over the fields beyond, so we had a quick look to see if it would loop round and do a circuit over the stubble again, but there was no sign of it. We had a number of other things we wanted to see today, and with our main target here achieved, we decided to move on.

As we walked along the road, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling again and when all the finches flew up into the hedge from the weedy strip beyond, we got a good view of a Tree Sparrow right in front of us. Historically a common farmland bird here, they are now getting very scarce and it is always nice to catch up with them. There were also lots of Bramblings in the hedge here too.

P1150210Brambling – lots were in the hedges at Flitcham

We made our way back towards the coast, and dropped down towards Titchwell via Choseley. We pulled up to talk to another birder in the layby where we had been earlier and were told the Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported again about half an hour earlier. A quick scan and there it was, perched in a tree in the distance. It really stood out with its striking pale head and contrasting black belly patch, very unlike the Common Buzzards we had seen earlier.

IMG_5375Rough-legged Buzzard – flashing its black-banded white tail in flight

We had a quick look through the scope, then drove round to get a better look. The Rough-legged Buzzard was still perched in the tree across the field in front of us, watching us. Then suddenly it dropped down and flew a short distance across the field, flashing its distinctive mostly white tail as it did so, before flying up into another tree. When it landed we could see why – it had joined another Rough-legged Buzzard which was already sitting there. Two Rough-legged Buzzards for the price of one! We had a fantastic view of them in the scope. In the end we had to tear ourselves away.

IMG_5389Rough-legged Buzzards – two sat in a tree together!

We had originally thought we might have a look at Titchwell, but a discussion about some of the other good birds along the coast led to a change of plan. With our luck running, we had seen most of the birds we had hoped to catch up with quite quickly, so we had time to play with. We hopped in the car and headed back east, all the way to Cley.

There has been a Grey Phalarope in the area for several days now and it had been showing this morning from the new Babcock Hide on what used to be Pope’s Marsh. We made our way out to the hide and as soon as we got in there, we could see everyone looking at the mud below. There was the Grey Phalarope, right in front of the hide. Stunning views!

P1150282Grey Phalarope – right in front of Babcock Hide

Grey Phalaropes are more often to be seen swimming, twirling in circles to stir up the water and picking for food brought to the surface, or even out on the sea. They are mostly pelagic in the winter, surviving out in the Atlantic, generally only forced in by adverse weather. This one had presumably been blown inshore by the storms we had last week, and had come in to feed up on the marshes.

The water levels have gone down on Watling Water, the new pool in front of Babacock Hide, for the first time. There was a great selection of other waders out on the exposed mud. There were lots of Dunlin, with three larger Knot in with them, down by the water’s edge – a good chance to see the two alongside. A good number of Ruff were feeding higher up the mud, along with a few Redshank. Around the edges of the islands, we could see a few Snipe, well camouflaged against the reeds.

There were several Pied Wagtails around the drier margins of the mud, along with a number of Meadow Pipits. Then, from behind one of the islands, a Water Pipit appeared with them. Larger than the Meadow Pipits, greyer brown and less streaked above and plainer, whiter below.

IMG_5399Water Pipit – feeding around the edge of Watling Water

Having seen what we wanted to see so quickly, and so well, we had time to try something else. We drove further along the coast to Weybourne to look for the flock of Redpolls which has been feeding in the fields here for some weeks now. However, the field was harvested a week or so back and when we arrived the few remaining weeds were quiet. We walked up and down the road briefly, but all we could find was a Grey Wagtail which flew up and landed on the wires above briefly. It seemed like our luck had finally run out.

We were just packing up to leave when a flock of about 20 small finches flew in and circled overhead, before dropping down and landing in the hedge nearby. They were Redpolls and we could just see around half of them perched in the top. They were mostly face on to us and several were clearly rather brown around the cheeks and even washed onto the upper breast, Lesser Redpolls. One was clearly different, very frosty around the cheeks and breast, contrasting strongly with the black chin and red ‘poll’, with no brown tones on the underparts and bolder black streaks on the flanks – this was a Mealy Redpoll. Another bird hopped up from lower down in the hedge, and perched back on. It was less distinctive than the first from this angle, but still had a grey (rather than brown) face and looked a rather cold grey brown above with a distinctive pale rump streaked through with black – another Mealy Redpoll.

Unfortunately, they didn’t stop long and flew off strongly west over the field. Still, we couldn’t believe our luck that they should just drop in for us like that. We wanted to end the day at the raptor roost, but we still had a little time to play with, so we drove back to Cley and stopped at the Visitor Centre.

A Red-necked Grebe has been around the reserve for the last few days and was reported from Pat’s Pool today – supposedly visible from the Visitor Centre. We had a quick scan from the car park, but couldn’t see it anywhere around the open water. With the water levels very high, four Avocets were huddled together on the edge of one of the few remaining islands. We decided to pop into the Visitor Centre and get a hot drink to go and use the facilities quickly. While we were waiting, the Red-necked Grebe suddenly appeared close to the bank, wrestling with a small fish. It was distant, but we could see it clearly through the scope.

IMG_5402Red-necked Grebe – a record shot, on Pat’s Pool today

It disappeared again, then as we returned to the car we could see it further out on the water, diving. We got a better look at it from the car park and it quickly became clear why it was hiding close to the edge. It caught another fish and immediately a Black-headed Gull flew over and started to harass it. The Red-necked Grebe dived, but when it resurfaced half way to the bank, the gull was after it again. This happened three times, before the Red-necked Grebe got over to the bank and finally swallowed its catch.

We finished the day at Warham Greens. There was a nice flock of Linnets and Yellowhammers in the hedge of the walk down to the front, with the odd Reed Bunting in with them. When we arrived, one of the first birds we saw was a Barn Owl which was hunting up and down over the rough grass on the edge of the saltmarsh.

P1150355Barn Owl – hunting along the front at Warham Greens

We had really come for the raptors. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the back of the saltmarsh and a single ringtail Hen Harrier drifted in from the east, further back. In the end we saw 2-3 ringtail Hen Harriers, one flying closer across the saltmarsh and away inland, presumably for some last hunting, and another perched preening out in front of us. Then we picked up a Peregrine standing on a sandbar out on the beach. We just needed a Merlin to complete the set here and a careful scan of the saltmarsh eventually produced its reward, with one perched on the top of a bush. Then we decided to head back.

What a day! Pallid Harrier, two Rough-legged Buzzards, Grey Phalarope, Great White Egret, Red-necked Grebe, Water Pipit, Mealy Redpoll, plus a host of other good raptors, waders, geese, ducks and farmland birds. There aren’t many places you could see all of those – welcome to Norfolk in winter.

10th January 2016 – Bunting Bonanza

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours today, and we headed the other way up to the eastern side of the North Norfolk coast. It was a slightly cloudy start to the day, but quickly brightened up to glorious winter sunshine.

We headed along the coast to Blakeney first and walked out along the seawall, with the Freshes on one side and the harbour on the other. There were lots of Brent Geese feeding along the edge of the harbour channel. A large flock of Linnets was whirling round, before dropping down onto the edge of the saltmarsh. A pair of Stonchats perched up on the top of the vegetation on the edge of the Freshes.

We stopped overlooking the harbour. The tide had gone out quickly, but we could still see a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel. Out on the mudflats were lots of waders – lots of Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Grey Plovers and Redshanks, plus a couple of Turnstones.

We had really come to look for the Lapland Buntings. There have been a handful here on and off since mid December, but they seem to roam over quite an area. There were a few people standing forlornly by the fence, but we walked on a little further to an area where we have seen them before. It was rather windy up on the seawall this morning, which made viewing difficult at times.

There were several Rock Pipits feeding around the wheel ruts through the mud. Then a group of Skylarks flew up from nearby, and in amongst them was at least one Lapland Bunting – unfortunately, they all promptly dropped down into the long grass. Then another group of Skylarks flew towards us from further along the path and we could see at least two more Lapland Buntings. They dropped down briefly in the open, but before we could get them in the scope, they took off again and disappeared into the long grass as well.

Lapland Bunting Blakeney 2015-12-21Lapland Bunting – taken at Blakeney a couple of weeks ago

The same thing happened a couple more times – we got some good views of the Lapland Buntings in flight, but they would not settle in view. Then finally, a small group of Skylarks made their way out onto the edge of the mud, taking a single Lapland Bunting with them. We got a good look at it as it hopped about in and out of the wheel ruts. That seemed like a good moment to move on and try our luck elsewhere.

We made our way along to Cley and headed out along the East Bank. A Little Egret was feeding along a reedy channel by the new pools, having found somewhere out of the wind. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reedbed. Several Reed Buntings were perched up in the bushes in the reeds. A single Black-tailed Godwit was hiding in the grass by the Serpentine, and on close examination it appeared to be sporting the first signs of summer plumage – some orange feathers on the breast and the start of the black belly bars.

IMG_4995Black-tailed Godwit – starting to show a bit of orange on the breast

There were not as many ducks (or waders) as usual out on the grazing marshes beyond the Serpentine today – a couple of smallish groups of Wigeon and a pair of Gadwall. They had either moved elsewhere or something had possibly just flushed them all. As we walked further along the East Bank, more ducks started to fly back in. At first just a couple of Shoveler, but then a couple of waves of them.

Then the Pintail appeared as well, circling over the flooded Serpentine. We could see the long pin-shaped tail feathers of the drakes as they flew in. None of the ducks seemed to want to land, and most of the Pintail in the end dropped down over the back towards Arnold’s Marsh. Presumably something had spooked them.

P1140704Pintail – circled over the Serpentine, but didn’t want to land again

We got almost to the beach and turned right on the inside of the shingle ridge. We had really come to look for the Snow Buntings, which had been reported a couple of days ago here. However, they can wander quite widely up and down the beach, so it was by no means certain we would find them here. It seemed quite quiet as we walked along. There was only one other person in sight, and as we passed them they very helpfully told us exactly where the Snow Buntings were ahead of us. When we got there, sure enough there they were.

The Snow Buntings whirled round as we approached and dropped down out of view on the shingle. We carefully worked our way round and could see them shuffling around on the stones. We had a look at them through the scope, but then they took off again and whirled round once more. Rather than flying off, they landed even closer to us and we had a great view of them.



IMG_5002Snow Bunting – around 30 today were along the beach at Cley

There were around 30 Snow Buntings today. They were rather nervous and kept flying round, particularly when the Redshanks on Arnold’s Marsh started alarming. Each time, they landed again, sometimes closer, sometimes further over. It was great to watch them – and listen to their twittering calls. Then suddenly they took off again for no apparent reason and flew off back towards the East Bank.

We climbed up and dropped down onto the beach, into the lee of the remains of the shingle ridge. The sea looked quiet at first, but we spent a bit of time scanning and it yielded its rewards. We picked up several Red-throated Divers, their white faces in winter plumage really catching the sun. Then a Guillemot appeared, drifting west on the tide. Then we found a small group of Common Scoter diving just offshore – mostly females, but in amongst them was a single young drake.

The walk back was not without birds either – as well as all the things we had seen on the way out, just as we got back towards the car park we could hear a Bearded Tit calling. Unfortunately, it was rather too windy out here to look for Bearded Tits today, and we had to content ourselves with hearing one.

We could see a large flock of Brent Geese distantly in the Eye Field from the East Bank, as well as a line of Golden Plover shining in the sunlight. So we drove round there next for a closer look. We had just pulled up on Beach Road and started to scan through them when all the Golden Plover took off and made for the reserve. It took a few seconds for the Brent Geese to respond similarly, but the next thing we knew they were in the air too. Then we realised why – a Peregrine came shooting low over Beach Road and out across the Eye Field, before towering up and away beyond.

IMG_5024Brent Goose – there were plenty in the Eye Field, before the Peregrine!

We decided to break for lunch and sat in the sun in the beach shelter down at the car park. While we ate, a few of the Brent Geese started to drift back to the Eye Field and we could hear the growing throng over the traffic. Once we had finished, we walked up onto the West Bank for a closer look, but there were not the number of Brent Geese there had been and nothing of interest among the ones which had returned.

After lunch, we made our way further east still. On the way, our attention was drawn by a small group of dark looking geese in a grassy field at Salthouse. We pulled up briefly and could see they were nine White-fronted Geese. They looked quite smart in the sun and we could clearly see the black belly bars on the adults.

P1140711White-fronted Geese – nine were by the road at Salthouse this afternoon

Our next destination was Weybourne. There has been a large flock of Redpolls in the weedy corner of a sugar beet field here in recent weeks – of two different species, at least as far as current Redpoll taxonomics defines them. We found them pretty quickly, but they were very flighty, constantly dropping down into the tall weedy growth to feed, before flying up again to land on the overhead wires or into the trees. While we were waiting to get better views of them, we had to content ourselves with a couple of Bramblings amongst the Chaffinches.

IMG_5030Lesser Redpoll – feeding in the weedy field at Weybourne

Most of them appeared to be Lesser Redpolls, but the more we looked the more we started to see the odd one or two which looked different – paler faced, more frosty looking. One or two of these at least looked good for Mealy Redpolls, but it was very hard to nail most of them for sure, as they just wouldn’t sit still for more than a second. Finally, one remained behind in the trees, preening, so we could get the scope onto it. It had quite a paler face than the rather brown-fronted Lesser Redpolls, but what really set it apart was the rump – heavy black streaking against a very white background.

IMG_5037Mealy Redpoll – this one eventually perched up in the trees preening

By the time we had secured good views of the Redpolls, it was time to be making our way back west. We wanted to finish the day at the harrier roost at Warham Greens – it was such a beautiful evening for it, especially now the wind had dropped. We parked up at the start of the track and walked down. There was a large flock of Linnets in a weedy field alongside and in amongst them we could see a few Yellowhammers when they all flew round.

It was all action from the second we arrived at the end of the track. A Merlin had just flown in and landed on one of the posts on the saltmarsh. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – it then remained on its post for the rest of the evening! A ringtail Hen Harrier had just gone through and we picked it up over the marshes away to the east. Moments later, a second ringtail Hen Harrier appeared out to the west. Then a smart grey male Hen Harrier flew past and disappeared off towards Wells.

It was hard to tell exactly how many Hen Harriers there were this evening – at least two ringtails and one grey male, but possibly more. There were also at least three Merlins as well in the end – in addition to the one on its post, another was flying around the male Hen Harrier out to the west and a third flew in from behind us late on and landed on a bush.

There were also a few Barn Owls out hunting over the saltmarsh – at least two and possibly three. A closer one at first, not far out from the landward side but out to the west, then later two at the same time over the grass in front of East Hills. The Barn Owls were out hunting in good time, but unfortunately the same could not be said for the Short-eared Owl. It left it to the very last minute to appear and unfortunately was nigh on impossible for everyone to get onto it against the vegetation in the failing light, flying around low at the back of the saltmarsh.

We walked back up the track listening to Grey Partridges calling all around us. We even managed to get a few in the scope in the gathering gloom! It was a great way to end the weekend down at the roost. It had been another action packed few days with a great list of birds to show for it.

P1140736Brent Geese – over the saltmarsh at Warham at dusk

10th October 2015 – When the East Wind blows

The second day of a long weekend of Autumn tours today. With the wind in the east, we had hopes that there might be some fresh migrants in from the continent. We drove round to Holkham and parked at Lady Anne’s Drive to explore the woods.

The walk west along the inner edge of the pines was quiet at first. There were a few tits in the trees, but it was cool in the east wind this morning. Salts Hole had several Little Grebes as usual – at least 5 today. We could hear them, like slightly maniacal laughter, as we walked along the path. The calls of the Pink-footed Geese also provided a near constant soundtrack.

P1110173Little Grebe – at least 5 on Salts Hole today

At Washington Hide, we climbed up the boardwalk to look in the sycamores. The wind was catching the trees on the far side of the gap, and there was consequently little activity there today. As we turned back towards the hide, we could see a large white shape out on the water below – the Great White Egret. It has been around for about a month and a half now, but it was still nice to see it out in the open on the pool today.

IMG_1829Great White Egret – on the pool in front of Washington Hide again

We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling further along, as we watched the Great White Egret. We thought they might come our way, but the trees along the edge of the path were obviously more sheltered, so we walked back down and along to where they were feeding. We watched them for a while, hoping we might find something different with the flock – but as well as the Long-tailed Tits, it was just the usual Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers.

After the flock had passed through, we continued west, exploring all the most likely areas. In the trees behind Meals House, we came across another tit flock. The sycamores here look ideal feeding grounds for a lost visitor from the east, but it was not to be today. The main recurring theme along the trees was Goldcrest – there seemed to be a lot in here today, with the resident birds presumably joined by migrants from the continent. A few Siskin and Redpoll flew over the pines, calling.

Treecreeper Wells 2015-10-06_1Treecreeper – here’s one from Wells Woods the other day

We were past the crosstracks when we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling loudly from the sallows ahead of us. It was on the far side, where it was sunny, at first but eventually made its way through and we could see it flicking around amongst the leaves. Then suddenly it took off and disappeared west. We could hear it calling again, some way further along the path.

We followed it and found the Yellow-browed Warbler feeding in the top of a young oak tree by the path. It was not hard to relocate, because it was calling so often! It took off again and flew high west, dropping down again further along. It did this several times before it landed in a thicker group of sallows where a lone Chiffchaff was calling. We could see the Chiffchaff feeding around some ivy, and the Yellow-browed Warbler appeared next to it. At this point, the latter stopped calling and appeared to settle down to feed in the sallows, at which point we lost sight of it. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler in the same area earlier in the week, but the way this bird was behaving, it was tempting to think it might be a fresh arrival.

We carried on west to the end of the pines and walked out onto the edge of the dunes. We had met a couple of other birders along the path, and the news from the dunes was that they had not seen anything of note out there. We had hoped to catch up with the Ring Ouzels which had been around the bushes here, but we learnt later that Holkham staff had been working there yesterday – presumably the birds had moved on. Even when one of the wardens drove through the area, nothing of note came out. We did see a couple of male Blackcaps feeding in the brambles.

News came through that someone had seen a Red-breasted Flycatcher back at Washington Hide, so we decided to make our way back there to try to see it. Unfortunately, it turned out that it had only been seen briefly and had disappeared across the path and out into the bushes on the National Nature Reserve. We had a look round some likely spots, in case it had made its way back to the trees, but it was not seen again. We did hear another Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees near Salts Hole.

It was time to head back to the car for lunch, and afterwards we made our way back east. Having spent the morning scouring the tit flocks in the woods, a bit of water with waders and wildfowl seemed like a good way to spend the afternoon. However, as we walked along the path to Stiffkey Fen, we could hear yet more Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests calling!

Stiffkey Fen itself has been very full of water for the last couple of months, despite all the money invested in new sluices. It has proven popular with the vast horde of Greylag Geese and associated white farmyard geese though. There have been the odd few Pintail on here recently and the same was true today. The drakes are now starting to emerge from eclipse plumage and a couple had the beginnings of the chocolate brown head and white neck pattern. There were lots of Pintail on here today – we counted at least 95 hiding amongst the Greylags, a very respectable total. There were also several Wigeon and Teal, with a couple of Gadwall and a Shoveler in with them.

IMG_1839Pintail – the drakes are starting to emerge from eclipse now

With the water levels so high, waders are thin on the ground (not that there is really any ground left to be thin on!). There were still a few Lapwing roosting, standing almost up to their bellies in water. A couple of Redshank dropped in. A single juvenile Ruff was on the tiny remains of one of the islands, where the vegetation was still showing above the flood.

There were more waders out on the other side of the seawall. A couple of Redshank and a Curlew were feeding in the muddy channel, with more Redshank and a couple of winter plumaged Grey Plover on the wider expanse of mud further along. We walked round to the corner to scan the harbour. There were lots of Oystercatcher as usual, but a lot more small waders out here today as well. These included a liberal scattering of dumpy grey Knot, some little groups of smaller, darker Dunlin, and further over on the edge of the water, as least 20 sparkling silvery Sanderling. A few Turnstone were grubbing around among the cockles and other shells.

There were plenty of Brent Geese out in the harbour. When the birds return from Russia, they like to feed out on the saltmarshes on Eel Grass at first, turning increasingly to grazing pasture and winter wheat fields only as the winter progresses. We could see lines of Brent Geese flying in over the sea, out beyond Blakeney Point, presumably more birds returning for the winter. As they got past the Point, several of them turned into the wind, and flew in to the harbour to join the others already out there. While we were enjoying the spectacle out in the harbour, a Kingfisher sped past, changing its mind and turning round on the edge of the mudflats, flying back in along the channel.

P1110185Comma – enjoying the late afternoon sunshine

As we walked back along the path beside the Fen, the sun came out and it was suddenly quite warm out of the fresh east wind. We had not seen so many insects today, but there were more now. A bright orange Comma butterfly was feeding on the overripe blackberries and a couple of Common Darter dragonflies were basking on the wooden post by the stile.

P1110196Common Darter – basking on one of the wooden posts

We had time for one last stop so pulled in at the start of the middle track at Warham Greens and made our way down towards the front. A Common Buzzard looked slightly out of place sat on top of the barn roof on the way down. More in keeping, certainly with the day’s activity, was the flock of Long-tailed Tits which made its way down the path ahead of us and the Goldcrests calling from the hedges. It was nice walking quietly along the track until we found ourselves pursued along the path by a huge convoy of vehicles. It was a disparate birding group – some cars were left scattered in the gateways, others continued gingerly to the end of the rutted track – which them gathered en masse only just beyond the gate at the end.

We made our way past them, and down to the pit. We had hoped their might be some late migrants, but the bushes were largely quiet. There were a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches. However, the highlight was when a single Lesser Redpoll flew in and landed in the trees with them briefly.

There was more activity out on the saltmarsh – lots of Little Egrets, flocks of Golden Plover and Curlew. A couple of Marsh Harriers were tussling out towards East Hills. Then the ringtail Hen Harrier appeared again, flying in low over the saltmarsh from the direction of Wells. We watched it as it worked its way towards us, flashing the white square at the base of its uppertail. It came right across in front of us, swooping a couple of times at something unseen amongst the Suaeda bushes, before dropping down onto the saltmarsh out of view. It seemed like a great way to end the day, so with the light fading we made our way back past the now dwindling crowd and up the path passed their abandoned vehicles.

IMG_1858Hen Harrier – the ringtail was quartering the saltmarsh again at dusk

9th October 2015 – Fun in the Sun

The first day of another long weekend of Autumn tours today. We met in Wells and made out way east to explore the coast, looking for migrants. It was a lovely warm and mostly sunny day, with light winds – a great day to be out.

We started at Warham Greens. The trees were damp and it was still a bit cool as we walked along Garden Drove first thing. We came across several Goldcrests in the trees as we made our way down, fluttering in amongst the trees, feeding continuously and calling.

There were lots of Chaffinches in the hedges either side as well. Finches of various types have been on the move in recent weeks. The impressive Siskin passage we had seen has now died down, but we still had a couple of Siskin fly in calling and circle round over the lane with the Chaffinches. A couple of Redpoll flew over calling as well. Down along the front, we made our way along to the westernmost pit. As we walked along, we flushed a couple of flocks of Greenfinch and Goldfinch from the bushes.

Scanning the saltmarsh, the first thing we noticed was a large dark shape sat atop a bush way off in the distance. A quick look through the scope confirmed it was a Marsh Harrier, dark bodied and with a pale head which really stood out in the morning light. It flew off to the east, patrolling along the edge of the beach. Then an altogether smaller, slimmer winged raptor appeared low over the saltmarsh. We could see the small square white patch at the base of the tail as it turned, a ringtail Hen Harrier.

IMG_1718Hen Harrier – quartering the saltmarsh off Warham Greens

We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh, working its way steadily towards us. It made its way in a little further over towards Wells, flying up over the hedge and disappearing inland over the fields beyond.

We made our way back and had a look in the trees at the north end of Garden Drove, but it was quiet in there this morning, even on the sunny east edge. A flock of tits made its way along the hedge from the direction of Wells. There were only five Long-tailed Tits in this group, so it was not the bigger flock which sometimes roams around the area. We had a close look, as a Yellow-browed Warbler had been with tits here yesterday, but there was nothing of note with these ones.

We had hoped we might pick up a Ring Ouzel here, but another birder arriving from the east told us there was nothing around the main pit, but that he had flushed two Ring Ouzels from the hedge close to Stiffkey. We decided to try there instead – we could have a look in the campsite wood while we were there. A Blackcap in the hedge was a nice addition to the day’s list as we walked back up the track.

From the carpark at Stiffkey, we walked west along the coast path. Unfortunately, there were lots of dog walkers out now that it had warmed up a little and there was lots of disturbance. As a consequence, it was not a great surprise that there was no sign of the Ring Ouzels. We did come across another tit flock working its way noisily along the hedge – with many more Long-tailed Tits in this one, but nothing of note. There were also more flocks of Greenfinch and Goldfinch. Out on the saltmarsh, we could see a mass of Golden Plover and several Curlew, remarkably well camouflaged down in the vegetation. There are lots of Brent Geese in now, feeding out on the saltmarshes.

P1110062Brent Geese – feeding on the saltmarsh grasses when they first return

We walked back to the car and into the campsite wood just beyond. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler in the trees here earlier in the week, but with a lot of birds moving on in recent days, we were not expecting anything to still be here. As we walked in through the trees, the sycamores were full of Chaffinches. In the first little stretch, where the trees are more open, we found several tits feeding in the sunshine as well – Blue Tits, Great Tits and a Coal Tit – plus more Goldcrests. There was a lot of activity in this bit of the wood.

We continued to work our way along through the trees, but once they closed in so the sunlight couldn’t really penetrate it became increasingly quiet. We turned round and started to walk back, and realised that there were now Long-tailed Tits in the trees as well. As we scanned the sycamores, we glimpsed the slimmer, sleeker outline of a warbler ahead of us and a quick look confirmed it was a Yellow-browed Warbler.

We walked quickly back to where the Yellow-browed Warbler had been feeding, but at first we couldn’t see it again. Then we picked it up in a sunny gap in the treetops and we all had a really good look at it – we could see its bright yellowish-white brow and double wingbar. It disappeared a couple of times, but we managed to pick it up again, before we lost sight of it. It called briefly ahead of us somewhere in the tops of the trees, but we couldn’t see it. Still, it was a hoped for but unexpected bonus to find it in here today. While we were looking for it, a Chiffchaff appeared in the treetops as well.

We had been planning to make our way towards Cley today, but with reports of a Pectoral Sandpiper there, we decided to head on further east. We parked at Walsey Hills and walked over to the East Bank. The path along the bank is currently being resurfaced – it was supposed to be finished a week ago but the fences were still up and the diversion along the lower edge still in place. We saw the workmen doing a lot of chatting, but not much work – perhaps that is why it is behind schedule!

IMG_1760Ruff – there were lots feeding on the flooded grazing marshes

The grazing marshes towards Pope’s Marsh and around the Serpentine are full of water at the moment and look really good for birds. We were distracted from our quest and spent some time scanning through the flocks of waders and ducks. There were lots of Ruff feeding close to the bank – adults with brighter white underparts and increasingly faded juveniles. A flock of smaller waders whirled round – Dunlin and Snipe.

There were good numbers of ducks as well. Mainly Wigeon and Teal, mostly still in duller eclipse plumage, but the occasional male starting to show more advanced signs of moulting back into breeding plumage. Scanning through the hordes, we found a couple of Pintail and a single moulting drake Shoveler as well.

As we turned right along the base shingle ridge, a Wheatear flicked along the grassy bank. It stood there eyeing us warily as we passed. A little further along, a second Wheatear sat preening on a fence post. There were a couple of people stood on the shingle ridge as we arrived at the spot where the Pectoral Sandpiper had been seen, overlooking Wigeon Marsh. They didn’t seem particularly sure what they were looking at, but when we got our scopes onto it we could see that it was indeed the Pectoral Sandpiper. Great! It was feeding on a grassy spit with a little group of Snipe.

IMG_1777Pectoral Sandpiper – looking into the sun from the shingle ridge

Unfortunately, just as we got everyone onto it, the Snipe were spooked and all the waders took to the air. The Snipe seemed to forget their panic pretty quickly and landed straight back down where they had been, but we watched the Pectoral Sandpiper flying way off towards Salthouse, where it appeared to drop down somewhere near the Iron Road. Typical! At least we had all seen it.

We spent a few minutes scanning the sea behind us and the waders on Arnold’s Marsh. There was a large flock of Golden Plover out there, bathing and preening. We could also see a few Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank. After a few minutes, we looked back to the spit where the Pectoral Sandpiper had been only to find that it had sneaked back in unseen and was feeding back pretty much exactly where it had been. We were looking into the sun, but we could see its streaked breast and white belly, with the pectoral band forming the sharp divide between the two.

It was time to head back for lunch, so we walked back towards the East Bank. We were rather easily distracted, which delayed our progress. There were a few Gannets passing by distantly offshore,  mostly slate-grey juveniles. Two darker, blackish shapes flying east right out by the wind turbines stood out because of the way they flying – steady, deep wingbeats. A look through the scope confirmed they were a couple of Great Skuas, or Bonxies, making their way along the coast. We could just make out the white wing flashes.

P1110153Wheatear – this very obliging bird was feeding along the East Bank

The Wheatears we had seen on the walk out had seemed rather wary, but as we turned to walk back along the East Bank, we could see a little phalanx of photographers edging their way towards us. A Wheatear was hopping along the path just in front of them. We stopped and let them push it towards us. It seemed incredibly tame – it kept coming until it was only a few metres away. Great views.

The other side of the East Bank, the Little Egret was feeding in its usual place on the edge of the brackish pools. Presumably the same bird, it has been on exactly the same pool just below the path every time we have been here recently.

P1110079Little Egret – in its usual place, just off the East Bank

After the distractions on the way back, it was a late lunch for us back at the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre. We could see that Pat’s Pool was very full with water, so we didn’t venture out onto the reserve afterwards, but headed round to the beach car park instead. We had hoped that the Snow Bunting might still be around, but we couldn’t find it. North Scrape was also full of water. A scan of the sea from here revealed a brief Guillemot, which dived and could to be relocated, and a smart Red-throated Diver, still mostly in summer plumage. We could see its red throat as it turned in the sunshine.

Our last stop was at Kelling. With the wind having swung round to the east, we thought it might be a good place to look for migrants. There were lots of Chaffinches in the lane on the way down – a recurring theme today – but the trees around the copse were quiet, despite the warm afternoon sunshine and lots of insects. A Migrant Hawker dragonfly was basking in the sun on the brambles beside the path.

P1110160Migrant Hawker – one of the late dragonflies, still on the wing

The Water Meadow itself was fairly quiet. The pool here fills up with water quickly at this time of year. A handful of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler seemed to be enjoying it. Beyond, on the Quags, the resident pair of Egyptian Geese were walking about on the grass. A Little Egret was feeding unobtrusively in one of the muddy drainage channels.

IMG_1825Stonechat – there were several birds around the Quags today

Down around the Quags, we found several Stonechats. This is one of the few places they have bred along the coast in the last couple of years and the resident birds seem to be bolstered by immigrants at this time of year. Otherwise, all we could find were Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits by the path. Finally, we turned to head back and walked up along the lane to the sound of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead – presumably birds heading down to the Broads.

P1110164Pink-footed Geese – a skein over Kelling, probably on its way to the Broads

27th September 2015 – Warbler Time

Day 5, the final day, of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With the wind having gone round to the east yesterday, good conditions to bring us birds in from the continent, we headed out in search of migrants at Holkham. It was another glorious day, sunny and warm – great weather to be out birding.

It was still early when we arrived at Lady Anne’s Drive, so we had no trouble parking. We could see a flock of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadows and both Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier circling over. We walked west along the path on the inside edge of the pines.

P1090936Salts Hole – on a still & sunny autumn day

It was quiet at first in the trees, where it was still quite cool in the shade. Several small flocks of Siskin flew over calling, perhaps as likely to be feeding in the pines now as on the move. It was beautiful looking out over the grazing marshes from the edge of Salts Hole, which was flat as a mill pond today. A couple of Little Grebes were out diving in the middle and laughing maniacally (or that’s what their calls sounded like!).

P1090952Little Grebe – two were out on Salts Hole this morning

Beyond Salts Hole, the trees either side of the path open out a little and we started to pick up more birds. A Chiffchaff was calling from the trees. Half way to Washington Hide, we picked up a call ahead of us which we recognised – like a Goldcrest, but sharper. It was flitting around in a holm oak and hard to see amongst the dark leaves, but we saw its head poke out and could see a white supercilium – it was a Firecrest. We spent some time trying to see it better, getting glimpses of it, before it flicked across to the trees the other side and silently disappeared.

The sycamores by Washington Hide can be very good for birds, so we climbed up the ramp and had a good look but they were quiet at first. As we walked back round to the hide, we spotted a white head protruding above the reeds with a large yellow bill attached. The Great White Egret has been around for about four weeks now, but it can be very elusive for such a large bird. So it was great to see it today. We sat down in the hide and watched it (or its head at least) before it disappeared completely behind the reeds.

IMG_1299Great White Egret – head and bill showing above the reeds

The door to the hide was still open, so we could hear the tit flock as it approached through the trees. We went back out and started scanning through the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Treecreepers, etc. Then we heard the call, like a shrill, slurred Chiffchaff, from further along the sycamores. We hurried along and eventually picked up the Yellow-browed Warbler up in the tops. It was hard to see well at first, in and out of the leaves, calling occasionally. Then it flew across to the more isolated trees by the hide where it was much easier to get everyone on – we could see the bright supercilium and two pale wing bars. It fed there for a few seconds before the tit flock headed off east and it went after them. A great start to the day, especially having missed a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers yesterday – and even better to find one of our own!

We continued on west along the path, stopping by Meals House to look at the sycamores there. As we stood behind the house, another Yellow-browed Warbler flew in from the west and dropped into the trees in front of us. It looked like it was a fresh arrival, because it promptly flew back again past us. Just round the corner, what we presumed was the same Yellow-browed Warbler called from a small birch tree on the south side of the path. We got cracking views of this one as well. And while we were watching it, yet another Yellow-browed Warbler started calling from further back in the trees on the other side of the path. Wow!

P1100005Yellow-browed Warbler – the second or third we saw this morning

This looks like it will probably be a good year for Yellow-browed Warblers in the UK. On their way from Siberia to SE Asia, they are blown across in our direction in variable numbers each autumn. After the earliest record for Norfolk earlier in the month, and large numbers first in Scandinavia and then in the Northern Isles, we could be on for big numbers here this year if conditions are right.

Continuing westwards, we found more tits and Goldcrests and several Chiffchaffs along the path. The west end of the pines was disappointingly quiet, as were the first dunes. We were told of a Redstart in the dunes but the poor directions (‘over those dunes in a bush’!) meant we went on a bit of a wild goose chase. A Stonechat perched up on the top of the bushes. By that stage, everyone was getting a bit hot and tired so we turned to head back. As we got to the west end of the pines, yet another Yellow-browed Warbler called once from the bushes on the south side of the fence – we were up to at least four for the day!

On our way back, we checked carefully through the flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrests once again. We didn’t find any more at first, but just before the cross tracks we came across a small crowd gathered watching – yes, you’ve guessed it – a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was flitting around in the tops of the sycamores in the sunshine, hovering and flycatching – giving us another great view of its white striped head and wings. As we all stood there, it gradually became clear that different parts of the crowd were actually looking at two different birds – there were two Yellow-browed Warblers at opposite sides of the same tree.

By this stage it was getting harder and harder to tell just how many Yellow-browed Warblers had arrived in Holkham Pines overnight. Were these latest two different again, or had two of the birds we had seen earlier moved along the pines? With no sign of the birds by Meals House or Washington Hide, perhaps the latter. We lost sight of the birds in the sycamore and a couple of seconds later we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees on the other side of the path. It was just amazing to see so many of these delightful little sprites today, flitting around in the sunshine.

We were tipped off that the Great White Egret had moved to the pool by Joe Jordan Hide, so we popped in there next. It was rather more distant than we had seen the business end of it this morning, but we could see the rest of it now!

The arrival of large numbers of Pink-footed Geese has been a real feature of the last couple of days. There was already a large number on the grazing marshes from Washington Hide as we walked out this morning. They were very noisy and rather jumpy, constantly being spook and flying between the meadows. From the Joe Jordan Hide we were scanning the sky for raptors when we spotted another huge skein of Pink-footed Geese about 1,000 strong flying in over the fields beyond. They made their way steadily in and turned into the wind to drop down towards the grazing marshes, whiffling as they did so to lose height. Presumably fresh in from the north, perhaps straight from Iceland.

P1090963Pink-footed Geese – another huge flock was newly arrived at Holkham today

We made our way back to the car from there and, after a pit stop in Wells, headed along the coast to Warham Greens. We stopped at the middle track today and ate our lunch, before wandering down to the end. There were a few tits and Goldcrests in the hedges. We could see a couple of people in the field by the pit, so we turned the other way towards the whirligig.

The wind had picked up a little and it was a bit more exposed out on the front. There were very few birds around in the hedges and bushes today. Out on the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Golden Plover and Curlew, but no sign of the hoped-for Whimbrel today. A single Bar-tailed Godwit circled round with the Golden Plover when they took to the air. We could hear Greenshank calling, and eventually found one roosting on the edge of one of the small pools, its white head and underparts really shining in the sun. A very smart male Marsh Harrier flew in from the saltmarsh and over the hedge in front of us.

P1100023Marsh Harrier – a lovely silvery-winged male

Heading back the other way, the pit was very quiet – most of the sylvia warblers seem to have cleared out in the recent fine weather. We had been told of a Pied Flycatcher at Garden Drove so we continued our way west. When we got there we found it had been showing very well but had just completely disappeared. Another flock of tits and Goldcrests was making its way down along the hedge by the track, but the flycatcher was not to be found with them.

We stood in the sun and most of the group decided it was a good opportunity to sit down on the grass and enjoy the warmth. While they did, we walked quietly back down the track to the wood at the end. By now, the tits were in the trees here and as we stood and watched the Long-tailed Tits flycatching in the sycamores, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in the tops briefly. Perhaps the bird we had missed yesterday or perhaps a new arrival, given the number which it appears had come in overnight.

P1100043Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the trees on Garden Drove

When we got back to the rest of the group, there was still no sign of the Pied Flycatcher at first. One of them had walked further up and whistled us over as it finally showed itself again. We watched it preening in the sunshine and flycatching along the edge of the field. It was a lovely way to end a very successful tour.

P1100074Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the sun along Garden Drove this afternoon