Tag Archives: Wheatear

21st Sept 2019 – Autumn Migration, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Migration tour today. It was another sunny day, with wall to wall blue skies. It was warm too, up to 22C in the afternoon, but there was a rather nagging blustery ESE wind which possibly kept some of the smaller birds tucked down today.

We started the day at Wells. As we got out of the minibus, the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret out in the grass to the left of the track. It was obviously big, with a long snake-like neck. It flew across to the back of the pool and started working its way along the edge. Through the scope, we could see its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret 1

Great White Egret – feeding along the back edge of the pool

We scanned the pool to the east. We were looking into the light, but we could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits gathered in the water over towards the back. Several Ruff were feeding on the muddy edges of the water.

There were lots of ducks too, mainly Wigeon and Teal returned for the winter, sleeping in the shallow water. Two Pintail were swimming nearby. The drakes are still in their drab eclipse plumage, lacking the very long pin-shaped tail feathers, but Pintail still show a rather pointed tail in other plumages which is noticeable even at a distance, as well as an elegant silhouette.

There were hundreds of geese in the stubble fields beyond the pools, in front of us and away to the east. From here, we could see mostly Greylags but small groups of Pink-footed Geese kept flying in from the west and dropping down out of sight. It was only later we would see how many Pink-footed Geese were really feeding there.

As we walked down along the track, a Grey Heron flew in across the pool off to the right. It crossed the track and flew straight over towards the Great White Egret, which was still making its way along the edge the other side. As the Grey Heron swept down at it, the Great White Egret took off and flew away towards the saltmarsh. The Grey Heron took over feeding along the back edge.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – chased off by a Grey Heron

The bushes beyond the pools have been good for warblers in recent weeks, so we carried on down the track to take a look. They were ringing in the bushes today, and the nets were up, so there was quite a bit of disturbance. The wind didn’t help our search either. We heard one or two Chiffchaffs, a couple of Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat calling from deep in the bushes as we walked round. A small group of Greenfinches flew out calling, and we found a few Blue Tits.

Over towards the western edge, where it was a bit quieter and a bit more sheltered we managed to find a few more birds. There were lots of Goldfinches in the hawthorns together with a couple of Reed Buntings. Two male Blackcaps appeared in the brambles and we were able to get a good look at them feeding there in the scope.

From up on the seawall, we scanned the saltmarsh out towards Wells harbour. There were a few Oystercatchers and Redshanks on the mud, and Curlews well camouflaged in the vegetation. A flock of Linnets whirled round and dropped back down onto the saltmarsh. A Swallow flew past – a migrant on its way to Africa for the winter.

We had a look at the westernmost pool from up on the bank. There were plenty of Teal asleep in the short grass, along with a few Mallard, and yet more Greylags. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding in the mud. A Common Buzzard was perched on a bush over the back.

As we started to make our way back, several thousand geese came up from the stubble fields away to the east. They were mostly Pink-footed Geese – we could hear their yelping calls. Most flew up and headed out towards the saltmarsh, but a few circled round above us. The Greylags came up from the fields too, but flew over much lower and dropped down on the pools.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – thousands flew up from the stubble fields

A Jay flew in determinedly from the east and we watched it disappear west all the way to Wells. Then as we walked back up the track past the pools, we looked across to see another flock of at least eight Jays come out of Wells and disappear inland over the ridge behind the town. They were on the move again today. Almost back to the minibus, a  Yellowhammer came up in the bushes by the track. It flew over and landed in the top of a hawthorn, where we could get it in the scope.

We made our way east along the coast road to Cley next. We parked by Walsey Hills and had a quick walk in along the footpath to see if we could find any migrants in the trees. Even though it was a bit more sheltered in here, it was fairly quiet apart from the hum of bees around the ivy flowers. There were a few Blue Tits and a Great Tit around the feeders, and a brown-headed young Blackcap in the bushes. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the willows at the back. We heard a Rook calling and looked up to see it chasing a Kestrel high overhead in the blue sky, in an aerial duel that still seemed to be ongoing when we looked up again a few minutes later.

Across the road, we made our way up along the East Bank. There were a couple of Little Grebes on Don’s Pool, diving in the blanket weed. Several Common Darters were basking on the path ahead of us, sheltered from the wind by the taller vegetation along the edges. With the wind blowing the reeds about there was no sign of anything out in the reedbed today.

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking on the East Bank path

The grazing meadows are looking very dry now, and the three Grey Herons and two Little Egrets were gathered by one of the main ditches across the middle which still has water in it. Whether it was the cattle standing around the Serpentine, of the fact that it too is now starting to dry out, there were no waders at all on here today. There were lots of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits running around on the dried mud around the cows’ feet. A single Wheatear was on the top of the bank at the back of the Serpentine – another migrant stopping off on its way south.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, there were still four Sandwich Terns on one of small islands towards the back. There had been a couple of Curlew Sandpipers out here recently, but there was no sign today, just three Dunlin, as well as several Redshanks and a few Curlew. Lots of Cormorants had come in from the sea to loaf and dry their wings.

When we got out to the beach, we could see one or two Gannets passing by offshore. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew past distantly, before someone picked up one on the sea closer in. It was an adult still in breeding plumage, and it was just possible to see its red throat when it turned and caught the light. A second Red-throated Diver was also on the sea further over, and a Guillemot zipped past in a whirr of wings.

As we turned to walk back, we spotted another Wheatear on the shingle beyond the fence behind us. We watched it through the scope before it flew and dropped over the edge out of view. As we got back towards the road, a rather tatty Red Kite was hanging in the wind over North Foreland wood.

Red Kite

Red Kite – hanging in the wind over North Foreland wood

We stopped for lunch back at the Visitor Centre and took the opportunity to look at the Bird Photographer of the Year exhibition in the education centre. After lunch, we decided to have a look out from the hides.

There had been a couple of things reported on Simmond’s Scrape this morning, so we headed out to Dauke’s Hide first. As we walked in, we could see a Green Sandpiper feeding on the mud right in front. A great view and a new wader for the trip list.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – feeding in front of Dauke’s Hide when we arrived

There were lots of Dunlin scattered around the scrape busy feeding, so we started to look through them to see if we could find the Curlew Sandpiper. But before we could, something spooked them and they all flew off.

A dusky grey juvenile Spotted Redshank was feeding in the far corner and when it came out into the water where we could see it, we got a good look through the scope at its long dagger-shaped bill, and could even see the small downward tweaked tip.

Twenty juvenile Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with a flock of about thirty Curlews, possibly fresh arrivals back from the continent for the winter. We got the scope on some Black-tailed Godwits which were out on Pat’s Pool to compare, much plainer grey-brown backed now in non-breeding plumage. Two Greenshank flew in calling, and landed on the near edge of Pat’s Pool too.

Greenshanks

Greenshanks – flew in calling and landed on Pat’s Pool

We could see all the Dunlin were round on the other scrape too now, so we walked round to Teal Hide to have another go at finding the Curlew Sandpiper. The Dunlin were all feeding along the back edge against the reeds, and scanning through carefully we quickly found the Curlew Sandpiper with them. But before we could all get a look at it through the scope, the birds all spooked again and we watched as they flew back over to Simmond’s Scrape.

We followed them, back to Dauke’s Hide, and this time we managed to get good prolonged view of the Curlew Sandpiper feeding along the back edge. It was feeding with the Dunlin at times, so we could see it was a little bigger, with a slightly longer bill. It was a juvenile, white on the belly, with a peachy wash on the breast and scaly back. Amazing to think that it was born this summer right up in central Siberia and is making its own way down to Africa.

The two Greenshank were on here too now, and the Spotted Redshanks had multipled. One juvenile was feeding with a Common Redshank at the back, but the original bird was now making its way along the edge of the scrape towards us, much closer than it had been.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two juveniles on Simmond’s Scrape

A Kingfisher shot in over the water, turned over the ditch and flew across right in front of the hide. If you weren’t quick, you missed it, but the Kingfisher then helpfully flew back the other way, looped round over the scrape and did a third pass right in front in a flash of electric blue.

As we made our way back to the car park, we could hear a Grey Partridge calling from somewhere out on the grazing marsh, behind the reeds. One of the highlights of this time of year is the autumn gathering of Stone Curlews down in the Brecks, and it seemed a good opportunity to escape the breezy conditions on the coast and head inland to see if we could find them.

It is a bit of a drive down to the Brecks, but everyone agreed it was well worth it. As soon as we got out of the minibus, we could see one Stone Curlew out in the bare field ahead of us. It was settled down just over a ridge initially – we could still see its head and back, its bright yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill. It stood up and walked a short distance across the field – the light was perfect, low behind us, and its yellow legs shone in the sunshine.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of at least twenty we could see today

Scanning the field, we realised we could see more Stone Curlews further back, mostly settled down behind clumps of vegetation or small banks of earth. The more we looked, the more we found. Three more Stone Curlews flew in and landed out in the middle. Another four ran out from where they were hidden and joined the first one we had seen. There were at least twenty we had seen now and probably many more hidden where we still couldn’t see them. But we had great views of the nearer ones!

A Tree Sparrow was calling from the thick hedge away along the edge of the field, but we couldn’t see it. Six Common Buzzards circled up over the trees at the back, and two Red Kites closer to us. It was a great way to end the day, with the Stone Curlews becoming more active the later it got, but we had to tear ourselves away and head back.

11th Sept 2019 – Two Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour exploring the North Norfolk coast. It was a slightly damp and grey morning, with a series of brief drizzly showers, but it dried out and brightened up in the afternoon, when it was warm out of the rather blustery wind.

There was a request for Little Owls ahead of the tour. It is not the best time of year to look for them, and the weather wasn’t particularly encouraging either today, cool, cloudy and windy, so we didn’t hold out much hope. But we drove inland to try our luck. It turned out our luck was in – the first site we tried, we pulled up and scanned the roofs of the farm buildings and there was a Little Owl tucked in under the lip.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sheltering under the lip of the roof this morning

We parked the minibus where we couldn’t be seen and crept round to where we could get the scope on the Little Owl without disturbing it. It saw us instantly and stared at us for a minute, before realising that we weren’t a threat at this distance and turning its attention back to the roof. Looking at the other farm buildings further back, we realised that there was a second Little Owl out too, but it was even better hidden and was much harder to see.

There were a couple of Common Gulls with the Black-headed Gulls in the field across the road and a group of Rooks playing in the wind over the wood beyond. Two Common Buzzards were hanging in the breeze further back. It was a great way to start the day, with a Little Owl. We set off back towards the coast and cut across to Kelling for a walk.

There were lots of finches in the trees by the school – several Greenfinches were good to see, alongside the regular Chaffinches and Goldfinches. There was a little group of Blue Tits here too, and a Blackcap and a couple of Dunnocks in the hedge with them

As we walk up the lane, there were several Chiffchaffs calling in the hedges. A Swallow hawked up and down, passing within a couple of feet once or twice as it tried to find insects in the shelter of the banks either side. There were several Red-legged Partridge calling, released here in huge numbers for shooting, and one scuttled off ahead of us along the lane.

We stopped at the gate by the copse. There were several Teal down in the small pools in the wet grass, and a Green Sandpiper walking round bobbing its tail in the mud where the cows had churned up the ground. Six Common Snipe were well hidden nearby but we didn’t see the four which had been hidden behind the vegetation much closer to us until they flew and landed with the others further back.

Green Sandpiper 1

Green Sandpiper – feeding in the grass churned up by the cows

It had been cloudy up to now, but the showers started as we walked up to the pool, with a short sharp burst of drizzle. It quickly stopped, so we carried on. A young Stonechat appeared briefly on the brambles, but disappeared round the back before everyone had a chance to see it.

There were a few more ducks on the pool today, several Gadwall, lots of Teal, a few Shoveler, and one or two Wigeon. We quickly picked out the Garganey which was swimming across in front of the island. We got it in the scope and had a quick look at it before it reached the far side and disappeared into the grass.

One of the resident adult Egyptian Geese was shepherding round the two juveniles from this year, while another pair preened in the edge of the water. There were lots of gulls loafing around the pool again, mainly Black-headed Gulls but there was one juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull with them, and a couple of Herring Gulls dropped in. A single Sand Martin was still hawking out over the water.

Carrying on down to the Quags, we couldn’t see any chats or any other birds in the brambles on the hillside, but it was rather windy out closer to the beach. We heard a Greenshank call behind us and picked up a very distant Wheatear on a fence post over towards Gramborough Hill. We were intending to walk up the path to the gun emplacements, but it started to rain again so we decided to head back.

By the time we got back to the pool, the rain had stopped. The Greenshank had obviously dropped into the pool behind us and flew up as we approached, circling round before flying off west, probably a freshly arrived migrant stopping off briefly. The Garganey reappeared but disappeared round the back of the island.

The Stonechat was back on the brambles as we turned the corner, staying long enough for everyone to see it this time. Back at the gate, several of the Common Snipe had returned closer again and didn’t fly off this time.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – we saw at least ten today in the grass from the gate

Driving round to Cley next, we decided to stop for a coffee break in the Visitor Centre, to dry out and warm up. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides.

There were fewer waders on the scrape from Bishop Hide today, just a couple of Ruff and a scattering of Black-tailed Godwits. Two Avocets are still lingering here, but most of the birds which spent the summer here have left now. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding along the edge of the reeds right over the back. A little group of about 30 Dunlin was feeding in amongst the lumps of mud where the cows have churned up the scrape, hard to see until they flew round.

There were a few ducks asleep on the bank in front of the hide, several Teal and one or two Mallard, but the single Wigeon was busy feeding on the grass, a better view than the ones we had seen earlier. A Water Rail called from somewhere hidden in the reeds.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grass in front of Bishop Hide

We walked round to the middle and into Dauke’s Hide next. A Green Sandpiper was feeding right down at the front as we walked in. A little group of Curlew were standing around at the back, until they flew off calling. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits and two Ringed Plovers on the furthest island.

Green Sandpiper 2

Green Sandpiper – feeding in front of Dauke’s Hide

The two juvenile Spotted Redshanks were still here, feeding in and out of the short reeds at the back. We got them in the scope and could see their longer, needle-sharp bill and rather dusky grey plumage. One was feeding with a Common Redshank and the other with a Greenshank, giving us a great comparison of our three regular ‘shanks.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two lingering juveniles

Time was getting on now and we realised we would have to head back back for a late lunch. The weather had at least improved, and the sun was out now, so we found a sheltered spot out of the wind back at the Visitor Centre. After lunch, we drove round to Walsey Hills.

There were just a few Teal on Snipe’s Marsh today, but we found two Little Grebes on Don’s Pool once we got up onto the East Bank. The grazing marsh is looking very dry now, but there was a single Little Egret out on the edge of one of the deeper channels and a Grey Heron flew in. A Marsh Harrier flew back and forth over the reeds beyond, a rather dark male with just a small amount of grey in its upperwings.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of two on Don’s Pool

The Serpentine was quieter too today. There were a couple of Dunlin feeding on the mud and a few Snipe along the north edge still. We continued on to Arnolds Marsh and got out of the breeze in the shelter.

Several Sandwich Terns were standing on one of the islands, until something spooked them and they flew off out towards the sea. The Cormorants were drying their wings at the back as usual. A group of Wigeon were out on the water. There were not so many Curlews here today – they had probably gone to find somewhere out of the wind – but still plenty of Redshanks. Three Ringed Plovers were running up and down the sand at the back.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – loafing on the islands on Arnold’s Marsh

Out at the beach, two Gannets flew past offshore, a distant immature and an adult which flew in towards us before circling back further out. Two Wheatears on the shingle ridge to the east were flushed steadily towards us by two dog walkers. We could see their white rumps as they flew, before they circled back round behind the people and landed further back. Migrants stopping off on their way south.

Little Egret

Little Egret – there were several feeding on the brackish pools

It was time to head back now. There were several Little Egrets and a couple of Redshanks around the brackish pools as we passed. It had been a very productive first day and we were looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

12th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast, our last day. It was a lovely bright, sunny day today, still slightly cool in the light NE breeze but warming up nicely out of it.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. When we parked and got out of the minibus, we could hear Skylark and Common Whitethroat singing, and a Yellowhammer calling from the hedge behind us.

As we walked down the lane, we could see a small group of Common Swifts hawking low over the trees. They are just arriving back here now from Africa and these would be birds on the move, just pausing briefly to feed. There were more warblers singing along here – a couple of Common Whitethroats with their scratchy songs, a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the hedge across the field before appearing in the top of an ivy-covered oak tree, plus Blackcap and Chiffchaff too. Crossing the stile, we heard our first Sedge Warblers of the day and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of the hedge

As we were walking along the path, we saw a brown shape in the bushes right beside us. It wasn’t a bird, but a mouse, more precisely a Wood Mouse. It was completely unconcerned by our presence, standing just a couple of metres away watching it, while it fed on the young leaves and buds.

Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse – feeding in the bushes right by the path

Most of the pools on the grazing marshes along here are very dry, so there are not many nesting waders here this year. There were still a few Oystercatchers and one or two Lapwings in the grass. There was a bit more water on the edge of the reedbed, where the cows were making a nice muddy edge. A Common Sandpiper was enjoying the fruits of their labours, but was hard to see. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling.

Looking out across the grazing marsh towards Holkham, we could see a large white bird flying towards us. Its long bowed wings with leisurely flight action and long black legs identified it as a Great White Egret, even before we could see its long dagger-shaped yellow bill as it passed by low overhead. There were several Little Egrets flying back and forth too, and a very distant Spoonbill. We had hoped to find the Purple Heron which had been feeding in the ditches here for the last week or so, but there was no sign of it today. With the improvement in the weather, perhaps it had finally decided to move on.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew low overhead as we crossed the grazing marshes

There were more Sedge Warblers singing in the bushes and ditches either side of the path and a Reed Warbler started up down in the reeds. It was good to hear the songs of both species – the metronomic Reed Warbler very different from the mad buzzing unstructured song of the Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – one of several singing from the bushes by the track

From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was still out in the harbour. There were a few Avocets, Redshanks and Shelducks feeding on the mud, and a Curlew roosting in the vegetation beyond, but no other waders here today. A couple of Little Terns were hovering over the harbour channel further back. A large flock of Brent Geese flew up from the saltmarsh out in the middle – they should be leaving soon now, on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

The pool out in the reedbed had a selection of ducks on it. As well as the usual Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard, we could see a single drake Wigeon, a lingering bird after most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already departed. A Little Grebe was out in the middle of the pool too, and another laughed at us from the reeds. A Bearded Tit called and flew out of the reedbed, up over the bank right past us, before disappearing down into the reedy ditch round the corner of the path.

The grazing marshes beyond the reedbed are still wetter, with more breeding waders as a conseuqence, Lapwings, Avocets and Redshanks around the small pools. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the marshes, including at least one pair with goslings. A single Pink-footed Goose was sitting down in the grass further back, presumably a sick or injured individual which couldn’t make the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. When two Muntjac walked out of the reeds and across the grazing marsh it caused pandemonium, the geese with their necks up honking and all the waders alarm calling.

On the way out to the dunes, there were a few Linnets and Reed Buntings in the suaeda below the bank on the harbour side, which we stopped to admire. A Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes by the boardwalk was most likely a migrant, just stopping off here on its way further north.

Into the dunes, and there were lots more Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding in the short grass. Then over the first ridge we found several Wheatears too, including a couple of smart males, with black bandit masks. Interestingly they appeared to be rather pale southern birds, with silvery grey backs and creamy throats, rather than the darker birds with more rufous underparts which often predominate as the season progresses, and which are presumably heading further north.

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two rather pale males in the dunes

There were lots more butterflies out in the dunes now in the warmer weather, including our first Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Heath of the year, as well as Small Copper and several Wall Browns.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – our first of the year, out in the dunes

We found a couple of pairs of Stonechats in the dunes, both with fledged young already. Good to see they are doing well here this year. We could hear a Cuckoo calling further up, and looked over just in time to see it fly up out of the bushes and up into the pines. A Willow Warbler was singing in the willows beyond the fence too. The walk out here had taken quite some time and we had one eye on the clock, as we didn’t want to be too late back for lunch. We didn’t have much time, but we wanted to have a quick look in the bushes over by the pines, so we pressed on quickly.

As we walked up over the dunes, a female Common Redstart flicked across and disappeared into the thicker bushes on the stop. We stood and waited to see if it might reappear but when someone appeared round the back of the bushes we saw a male Redstart briefly under the bushes before it was spooked and disappeared deeper in. We gave it another minute, but there was no sign of either of them reappearing, so we moved on.

There had been a Wryneck here yesterday and at this point we were informed it was still around today. It had been seen earlier on the short grass beyond the fence but hadn’t been seen for some time. We had a quick look, but we were out of time now and had to start heading back. As we turned to go, someone called over to say the Wryneck was now in the bushes in the dunes. Thankfully it wasn’t long before it appeared, feeding on a bare area at the base of a large privet clump. We had a nice view of it through the scope, before it flew back into the bushes and disappeared.

Wryneck

Wryneck – still in the dunes this morning

We had thought with the clear weather last night that the Wryneck might have moved on, so it was great to catch up with it. They bred more widely in the UK historically but are now just scarce migrants here, passing through in small numbers on their way up to Scandinavia.

On the walk back, we stopped for a better look at one of the male Wheatears in the dunes. Then we stopped again at the boardwalk, where a Whimbrel was feeding round the pools on the edge of the saltmarsh. We could see its short bill and pale crown stripe through the scope. Another migrant stopping off here on its way north.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh

When we got back to the path across the grazing marsh, a Spoonbill was feeding on one of the pools close to the path. We could see it sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water as it walked round with its head down. It disappeared behind a bank, but then walked out onto the front edge where we could see its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy nuchal crest, a smart breeding adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on the pools on the grazing marsh on the way back

While we were watching the Spoonbill, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked over to see it dropping down behind one of the cows right beside path. We walked back and could see it in the long grass. It was a female and rather a dark grey one too, with a rather limited pale supercilium just in front of the eye, but unfortunately it was off again almost immediately.  It appeared to be a female of the thunbergi subspecies, known as Grey-headed Wagtail, which breeds in the north of Scandinavia.

Grey-headed Wagtail

Grey-headed Wagtail – a female Yellow Wagtail of the thunbergi race

When we got back to the minibus, we stopped for a rest and scanned back over the marshes towards the dunes. There were some distant raptors circling over the middle of the grazing marshes, a kettle of Common Buzzards, and when we looked more closely we could see a very distant Hobby in the same view, hawking for insects. A Marsh Harrier was much closer, a male hunting over the field on the other side of road.

Driving round to Holkham, we were not expecting to be able to get in to Lady Anne’s Drive on a sunny Sunday, but it was not too busy today and, even better, the Lookout cafe was surprisingly quiet. We stopped here for lunch.

After lunch, we had a quick walk west along the path on the inland side of the pines. There were more warblers singing, despite it being the early afternoon lull and warm here today – Blackcap, Chiffchaff and a single Willow Warbler still singing its sweet descending scale. There were a few Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path and more butterflies out in the sunshine, including Speckled Wood and Orange Tip here.

We made our way straight out to Joe Jordan Hide and when we opened the flaps we could see three Spoonbills out on the edge of the pool below the wood. One was noticeably smaller and whiter, with a short bill. It was one of the first fledged juveniles of 2019, a ‘teaspoon-bill’, and speaking to one of the wardens was the first time one had been seen outside the breeding colony. It was begging for food, nodding its head vigorously up and down and chasing after one of the adults.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the first juvenile of 2019 to leave the breeding colony!

There were a couple of Mistle Thrushes down in the grass in front of the hide. They were  collecting food, and flew up into the trees behind the hide, where presumably they had nestlings. An Egyptian Goose was down on the edge of the nearest pool and a Marsh Harrier was hunting up and down one of the reedy ditches further back. We could see all the Cormorants in their big stick nests in the taller trees.

It was lovely sitting in the hide watching the comings and goings out on the marshes here, not least because the hide was out of the wind and warmed nicely by the sunshine, but we had one other thing we wanted to do this afternoon, so we had to tear ourselves away and walk back. On the way, we stopped to look at a recently emerged Hairy Dragonfly basking on the branch of a holm oak, where it was very well camouflaged and impossible to see until you knew where it was. Back almost to Lady Anne’s Drive, we head a Chaffinch alarm calling and looked up to see a Jay in the poplar trees.

Round at Wells, we stopped to scan the flooded fields which were full of waders and wildfowl. We quickly found a couple of Wood Sandpipers, down on the edge of the water, feeding in and out of the vegetation. We could see their white-spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. There were several larger Redshanks with them, and in the grass nearby were several Lapwings with small fluffy juveniles running around.

On the pool the other side of the track, a Greenshank stood out from the Redshanks with its bright white underparts catching the sun and paler grey upperparts. A couple of Common Snipe were sleeping on the edge of the vegetation out in the middle and we found a Common Sandpiper right over the far side, bobbing its way along the muddy bank.

Red Kite

Red Kite – drifted over the track behind us

A Red Kite drifted over lazily behind us, and someone further along the track shouted and pointed up to alert us to a Peregrine circling over. As we watched the Peregrine disappearing over towards Wells, we could see a big flock of around 30 Common Swifts hawking high in the sky on the edge of town.

It was a nice way to end the day, standing here in the afternoon sunshine. It had been a very enjoyable three days, with lots of interesting spring migrants, but it was time to pack up and head for home.

10th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. After a cloudy morning we had a brief spell of light rain through the middle of the day, which thankfully passed over while we were having lunch, before it brightened up in the afternoon, although there was a chill to the light NE wind all day. We made our way east along the coast this morning.

There has been a Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne Camp for over a week now. A rare visitor from southern Europe, it is a young bird which overshot on its first return journey north from Africa and ended up in Norfolk. It can normally be viewed from Muckleburgh Hill, as the Camp itself is private land, so we headed over there first thing to see if we could see it.

As we walked in through the trees there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A Common Whitethroat was songflighting from the top of the hedge. We watched three Lesser Whitethroats chasing each other round the bushes, with one perching up in the top of a hawthorn briefly. A Garden Warbler was singing on the front side of Muckleburgh from deep in the blackthorn and we had a quick view of it as it flew across.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing from the bushes on Muckleburgh Hill

There were a few people gathered looking for the Great Spotted Cuckoo but there was no sign at first, as someone was walking about in the trees out  on Weybourne Camp where it had been seen earlier. Eventually, when the disturbance ceased, the Great Spotted Cuckoo flew out and landed on the brambles in the distance over by the coast. It was rather distant and there was already a bit of heat haze despite the cloud, so it was hard to see at first unless you knew where it was. Then it turned and its pale underparts caught the light and it was much easier to see. We all had a look at it through the scope before it dropped down behind the brambles and disappeared.

We decided to have a walk round the hillside bushes. A male Linnet was singing from the top of the gorse just behind us, already getting pinkish-red on the breast. A pair of Yellowhammers flew over calling and dropped into a bush, the male perching up on the outer edge briefly.

Linnet

Linnet – singing from the top of the gorse

A Willow Warbler was singing but from somewhere deep in the trees, its lovely descending scale a real sound of spring. A Chiffchaff showed itself much better, feeding low down on the outside of the bushes and we could even see it had been ringed. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its distinctive rattle and when we got back to where we had heard the Garden Warbler earlier it was still singing. We could see it moving through the blackthorn, and it showed itself briefly. There had been a Wood Warbler in the trees on the other side yesterday, so we stopped to listen but there was no sign of it today.

We moved on to Kelling. As we parked in the village, a Greenfinch was singing from the treetops. A Common Buzzard was being chased by a Rook which was then joined in its efforts by a Jackdaw. A pair of Swallows were perched on the wires as we walked underneath.

Swallow

Swallow – perched on the wires looking at us we walked underneath

Walking down the lane towards the coast, the bushes were quieter than normal. A couple of Blackcaps were singing in the hedges down towards the copse, but we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat more distantly off across the field. We stopped by the gate overlooking the Water Meadow, but there were no Yellow Wagtails with the cows today.

As we looked over the brambles, we could see a Wood Sandpiper on the edge of the pool on the Water Meadow, so we walked on to the track at the end where we could get a better view of it in the scope. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and clear pale supercilium. Wood Sandpiper are spring migrants, passing through here in small numbers on their way north to Scandinavia in May, so they are always nice to see.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – feeding on the pool on the Water Meadow

There were also two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the muddy margins of the pool. Four Whimbrel flew west calling over towards the coast. The pair of Egyptian Geese have two goslings and the male tried to show off his courage by chasing off a harmless pair of Gadwall.

There were lots of Sand Martins feeding low over the water, hawking for insects, and more were perching on the wires, preening. They breed in the sandy cliffs along the coast both west and east of here. A Reed Bunting was singing from the brambles behind us and we could see lots of Brown Hares in the field up beyond the Water Meadow.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – feeding around the Water Meadow

There had apparently been two Wheatears on the Quags earlier, so we walked round there to look for them. We couldn’t find them now, so they had possibly moved on already. As we walked up the hill beyond, behind the beach, we could see the Great White Egret which had been reported at Salthouse, away in the distance. Its long white neck was sticking out of one of the ditches and through the scope we could see its dagger-shaped yellow bill.

A male Stonechat was perched in the bushes down towards the beach, and further on we found the female on the fence. We did find a couple of Wheatears around the gun emplacements, more migrants stopping off on their way north, but with quite a few along the coast today they may not have been the ones which were down on the Quags earlier. We had a good look at the female through the scope, perched on the bunkers and feeding down on the short grass. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were singing all around us, always great to hear.

With grey clouds building to the south, we decided it would be prudent to walk back. Two Avocets had dropped in on the Water Meadow pool now to feed. Two Red-legged Partridges were hiding in the winter wheat just the other side and when we got back to the gate by the copse we could see a Grey Partridge in the field beyond – nice to see the two species in quick succession to compare them. It was starting to spit with rain now, so we headed back to the minibus.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back west to Cley. On our way, we had a quick look from the Beach Road at Salthouse, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret in the ditches here now. After a quick stop at the NWT Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove down to Cley Coastguards and had lunch in the shelter, out of the rain. We got distracted a couple of times looking at the sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were plunge diving offshore and then two Little Terns flew west. Further out, two Gannets flew the other way. Five Common Scoters were swimming and diving out on the sea, and we had a look at them in the scope, lingering winter visitors.

While we were eating, the rain stopped and it started to brighten up. We noticed a Wheatear on the pillbox further along the beach and then found another two on the fence posts by the Eye Field, including a smart male. They worked their way along the edge of the field past us. A Skylark was feeding on the short grass in the overflow car park right next to us while we were watching the Wheatears.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were at least three by the Eye Field over lunch

While we were eating, we had seen three Golden Plovers circling round over the Eye Field. They had landed in the grass, and now we could see them just beyond the fence. One was looking very smart with a dark face and belly, a ‘northern’ male. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grass behind the beach away to the west.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a smart black-faced ‘northern’ male

After lunch, we drove back round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were several Common Pochard on Snipes Marsh, including a female with two ducklings. They are rare breeders here so it is always good to see evidence of confirmed breeding.

As we walked up the East Bank, we could hear several Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds. A Bearded Tit was ‘pinging’ and we turned to see it climbing up into the top of the reeds on the edge of a channel. It was a juvenile, so presumably there was a family party here. A couple of Sedge Warblers flew across the channel and we could see them in the bottom of the reeds on the other side. Further along, we found another Reed Warbler in the ditch the other side of the bank, perched on the reeds singing where it was much easier to see.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one of several singing in the reeds along the bank

There was a small group Black-tailed Godwits and a single Dunlin with a black belly patch feeding out on Pope’s Marsh, so we had a look at them through the scope. Further up on the mud by the Serpentine, we could see a Little Ringed Plover. We had a quick look at it from here and it was good that we did because by time we had walked up there, it had disappeared. There were a few Shoveler and Teal around the Serpentine.

Up at Arnold’s Marsh, we found a few more waders. As well as another small group of Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Bar-tailed Godwits over towards the back. One was mostly in rusty breeding plumage, so we had a look at it through the scope and could see the rusty colour extended down under the tail. There were a few Curlew here too and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the stony island, next to a Sandwich Tern. Another Wheatear was hopping around on the saltmarsh at the front.

It was decidedly cool in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s, with the cool easterly breeze having picked up a touch since the rain earlier. It was much nicer round the back in the sunshine, out of the wind. Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to walk back. A drake Wigeon on Pope’s Pool was a late lingering winter visitor – most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already left on their way back to Russia to breed.

We had a quick walk down to the pool on the Iron Road. There were a few waders on here today, including another Wood Sandpiper and three Common Sandpipers. A Jack Snipe was more of a surprise. It was hiding in the vegetation at first, and we could just see it creeping around, before it eventually came out a little more, and we could see it bouncing up and down.

There were lots of Pied Wagtails on the bare mud around the pool and in with them we could see three paler ones, with silvery grey backs – White Wagtails from the continent. A shrill call alerted us to a bright male Yellow Wagtail which flew in and landed at the feet of one of the cows in front of us. It didn’t stop long and almost immediately was off again and flew off west.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – dropped in with the cows by the Iron Road briefly

We still had time for one last stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down the path by the road, two male Marsh Harriers quartered the fields. There were more warblers singing here – Blackcap in the trees, and Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler along the bank of the river the other side.

Up on the seawall, a pair of Avocets and several Shelduck were down in the harbour channel beyond. There were lots of Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh in the harbour. They should be heading off soon now, on their way up to Siberia for the breeding season. We could see the seals too, distantly out on the sandbars beyond Blakeney Point.

There were a few waders still on the Fen – five Black-tailed Godwits, including one moulting into breeding plumage which gave a nice contrast to the rusty Bar-tailed Godwit we had seen at Cley earlier, as well as several Redshanks. A Green Sandpiper was feeding on the edge of the mud at the back and a Little Ringed Plover was walking around on one of the grassy islands.

Marsh Harrier

Unfortunately it was time to head back. One of the Marsh Harriers was still quartering the field by the path as we made our way back to the minibus, giving us a great view of it. As we drove back into Wells, a Common Cuckoo flew across the road to wrap up the day.

It had been a good first day, with a nice selection of spring migrants. We were looking forward to more tomorrow.

24th Apr 2019 – Spring has Sprung

A Day Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely warm, sunny morning. It did cloud over early afternoon, and we had a brief shower, but it passed through very quickly and then brightened up again afterwards – not enough to put a dampener on another lovely spring day’s birding.

We headed out to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning, with the warblers in and in full voice again. As we walked down the track, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of the hedge. Over the stile, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling, with a Blackcap singing the other side and our first Sedge Warbler tucked down out of view in the brambles beside the ditch. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us and flew across the track, flashing its deep chestnut upperparts.

The grazing marshes by the track here are drying out fast. There were still a few Lapwings, with one displaying over the remaining muddy pools, and several Oystercatchers, but there are fewer waders than usual here. Five Golden Plover were walking around out on the short grass, moulting into summer plumage, with one in particular sporting a noticeable black face and belly.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – five were out on the grazing meadow this morning

Continuing on down the track, we heard several more Sedge Warblers singing but they were hiding too and we had mostly glimpses. We heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us, and walked up slowly towards it. Scanning the brambles, we spotted it half hidden in the top of one clump. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. We were hoping to get a bit closer, but just at that point two Environment Agency vehicles came steaming down the track and it dived back into cover.

We carried on to the end of the track, where a more obliging Sedge Warbler was singing, climbing up to the top of a small briar, before songflighting over to the brambles by the seawall, singing from there for a bit and then songflighting back again. We stopped to watch it, getting a good look at its bold creamy white supercilium. The Grasshopper Warbler started reeling again, back along the track.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – the last one along the track was much more obliging

When we finally got up on the seawall, we could see why the Environment Agency workers had been in such a hurry – they were still sat in the vehicles drinking tea! They had come to mow the seawall, but had only got half the job done yesterday and were clearly in no hurry to finish.

The tide was in out in the harbour and there were a few waders roosting in the vegetation on the saltmarsh. We stopped to look at the Black-tailed Godwits, increasingly rusty as they moult into breeding plumage, and a single Grey Plover still in noon-breeding plumage. A small group of Turnstones were roosting further back, on the edge of the harbour channel. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled high over the harbour, calling.

As we walked on along the sea wall, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds along the ditch below. Its rhythmic song was very different to the Sedge Warblers we had heard earlier. A large flock of Brent Geese flew in across the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh, lingering winter visitors. Two Whimbrel were feeding nearby. Slim, short-billed and dark brown, through the scope we could their distinctive central crown stripe too. A Sand Martin flew over, surprisingly the only hirundine we saw on the move again today.

Stopping on the last corner of the seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes. Three Wheatears were hoping around in the short grass. There is a bit more water still in the pools here, and some of the Lapwings here had small fluffy chicks which were feeding around the edges. We could see some ducks around the muddy margins too – a few lingering Wigeon and Teal, plus Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed north, but a gaggle of about 100 was still out on the marshes beyond, with a pair of Barnacle Geese too.

While watching the geese, one of the group spotted an Otter walking across the middle of the grass. The geese put their heads up, and the whole flock of Pink-footed Geese seemed to be shepherding the Otter. It flushed a Brown Hare from the grass too, which ran up and down in front of the geese. From time to time the Otter would lie down in the grass – we couldn’t tell whether it was resting or looking for something to eat, perhaps eggs or a young nestling?

Otter

Otter – being shepherded by Pink-footed Geese and flushing a Hare

Out at the boardwalk, a Chiffchaff was  flitting around in the bushes, probably a freshly arrived migrant. Heading on into the dunes, there were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding in the short grass. And lots more Wheatears, lingering migrants, feeding up before continuing journey north, flashing their white tails as they flew off ahead of us.

We walked up to the top of the first ridge and stopped to scan the dunes, but there was no sign of any Ring Ouzels here today. As we Continued on east, a Cuckoo flew off behind us, chased by Meadow Pipit. A pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes and we spotted a Whinchat down on the grass just beyond the fence. While we were looking at it through the scope, it flew and we didn’t see where it went.

A Song Thrush was feeding on the top of the next ridge and when it flew back into a small holm oak just beyond, two darker birds flew in with it – Ring Ouzels. We could see a female tucked in the middle of the bush, with a brown-tinged pale gorget, though it was not a great view. They flew back down into the dunes so we walked up to the ridge to see if we could see them on the ground.

They are often very nervous and flighty here and as soon as we put our heads over the top, three Ring Ouzels flew off over dunes behind us calling. We thought that might be it, but then another one started chacking, still in the bushes. As we tried to get round to the other side, it flew out and helpfully landed in the top of some nearby brambles, where we could get a good look at it. It was a smart male, with a bright white gorget.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this male perched up nicely in the brambles

Looking out across the grazing meadows from the dunes, we could see a few Spoonbills distantly on the pool below the wood. Nearby, we could just make out two Cattle Egrets walking around with the cows. A Great White Egret was easier to see, standing on the edge of the reeds. Looking out the other way, towards the sea, a small flock of Common Scoter was flying past distantly offshore.

As we walked back through the dunes, there were still lots of Wheatears. One male perched on a fence post and didn’t fly off as we approached. We stopped to photograph it, then as we walked on, it stayed put. Eventually it allowed us to walk up until we were all just a few metres away from it. It seemed to like having its photo taken!

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male allowed us to get within just a few metres

Back out on the seawall, the breeze had picked up noticeably. Two Red Kites hung in the air over the seawall, before drifting away over the grazing marshes. The Environment Agency workmen had already finished the small amount of mowing with their remote-controlled mowers and were now sat in the van eating sandwiches. Tough work!

Along the track back towards the road, there were more butterflies out now in the shelter of the hedges. We had seen a few Speckled Woods on our walk out, but now there were a few Orange Tips and Holly Blues too.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two were hanging in the breeze along the seawall

It was almost time for lunch, so we climbed back into the van, but on our way we drove round via a complex of old barns. As we passed we could see a shape in one of the window openings, so we turned round and stopped to admire a Little Owl perched sunning itself. It looked at us nervously, considered its options for a bit, then flew inside.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sunning itself in the window of an old barn

We went to Holkham for lunch, where we could use the facilities in The Lookout café and get a drink. Afterwards, a quick check of the pool in front revealed a Little Ringed Plover and a Pied Wagtail feeding around the edge. Two Mistle Thrushes were feeding out on the grazing marshes in front of the van.

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Wells. As we walked down the track, we could see lots of ducks on the pools – more Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, and one or two Wigeon still with them. A drake Garganey was feeding over towards the far side and when it raised its head from time to time we could see its bold white supercilium.

Garganey

Garganey – a drake feeding out on the pools

There were lots of spring passage waders on here too. We could see four Greenshanks together and then heard at least one more calling out of view away to our right. There were several Ruff, males which had mostly acquired their bright breeding plumage but not yet the ornate ruffs – although one had already lost its neck feathers in preparation. We got a rather dark blackish one in the scope for a closer look. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing its way along the far bank and a Common Snipe was hiding in the rushes in the middle.

Scanning the pools the other side of the track, we could see at least five Wood Sandpipers, with bright white spangled backs and well marked pale supercilium, although they kept disappearing into the wet grass. Four Spotted Redshanks were a little further back, a couple of them already getting quite dusky as they moult into breeding plumage.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpipers – two of at least five here today

It had clouded over now and we could see some rather dark clouds gathering just inland but we thought we had enough time for a quick look at westernmost pool. A Wood Sandpiper was on here too, but as the birds had been flying around it was hard to say whether it was one of the five or a different bird. There were lots of Avocets, but no sign of any Snipe in the grass here today.

We decided to try to walk back before the rain arrived, but we hadn’t got far before it began to spit. We got caught by the shower, but thankfully it wasn’t one of the forecast thundery downpours but just very brief and very light. It had dried up before we even got back to the van. A Grey Partridge was calling, and ran out onto the track.

Moving on to Stiffkey, a Brown Hare and several Skylarks were in the meadow opposite the layby, and we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap singing as we walked down the path. A Willow Warbler in an oak tree by the road was giving a rather half-hearted rendition of its song, but we got a good look at it as it flitted around in the half emerged leaves. Down by the river, we found a pair of Long-tailed Tits.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – feeding in an oak tree by the road

Looking across to the Fen from the path, we could see a Green Sandpiper at the back, against the reeds, and two Common Sandpipers. The Little Gull was still here, hawking out over the water, occasionally dipping down or soaring up, alternately flashing its bright silvery grey upperparts and blackish underwings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – showing off its dark underwings

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the whole Fen. Several Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshanks were roosting in the shallow water. Over to one side, we found a Spotted Redshank feeding on the mud as well, another dusky bird, and we had a nice side by side comparison in the scope with one of the Common Redshanks. We could get the Green Sandpiper in the scope from here too.

There were lots of Black-headed Gulls out on the Fen, but we heard Mediterranean Gulls calling behind us and looked round to see a pair flying in low over saltmarsh behind us and in over seawall. A male Marsh Harrier flew low over the Fen and flushed everything, including a Yellow Wagtail which flew round calling.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – two adults flew in low of the seawall

The tide was right out now but we had a quick walk round to look in the harbour. A Small Copper butterfly was basking on the gorse in the sun, the first we have seen this year. There were loads of Brent Geese loafing around on the mud in the harbour – it won’t be long now before they are on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season. There were some gulls out on the mud banks too, including several Great Black-backed Gulls.

We could see some very distant waders out on the mud in the middle, including several Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly now in bright rusty breeding plumage. One of them was carrying colour-rings, and we could make out a red flag on one thigh, but where it was walking most of its legs were hidden behind the mud in front.

Unfortunately it was time to start walking back now. We still managed to add a few birds to the day’s list on our way back to the van, a little group of Blue Tits and two Jays flying across the path into the wood. It had been another great day of spring migration birding out on the coast.

20th Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was a glorious, bright, sunny day with wall to wall blue skies. It was hot out of the wind, but a very light NE breeze kept temperatures more comfortable on the coast. Great birding weather! We spent the day exploring the centre of the North Norfolk coast.

Burnham Overy Dunes was our destination for the morning. As we walked down the track across the fields we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the blackthorn. It was typically skulking, but we saw it as it flew out and landed in the bushes the other side. A pair of Bullfinches flew along ahead of us, perching low down on the edge of the path, the bright pink male glowing in the sunshine. A Willow Warbler sang briefly, but then flew past us and seemed to move quickly inland.

Looking up, we noticed two Barnacle Geese flying in across the track. They landed out on the grazing meadows with a large flock of grey geese. The Barnacles were most likely feral birds, which breed in Holkham Park, but the grey geese were Pink-footed Geese, about 100 of them. Most of the wintering birds left back in February to stage further north, but these had stayed on and would soon need to be leaving on the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. There were a couple of Greylags with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species, and two Egyptian Geese as well.

Geese

Barnacle Geese – two flew in to join the lingering Pink-footed Geese

There were surprisingly few hirundines moving today, probably due to the NE wind. But a Swallow did fly over as we were walking out, closely followed by a Sand Martin.

Out over the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the briars beside the track. We stopped to watch it and heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling a bit further up. It was skulking in some brambles but we positioned ourselves to see it and after a minute or so it appeared in the top, typically just as two people were walking past. It promptly dropped straight back in! After a while, the Grasshopper Warbler appeared again and this time we could get it in the scope.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes by the path

Our first Spoonbill of the morning had already flown past distantly, heading out towards the harbour. Then, while we were listening to the Grasshopper Warbler, another Spoonbill appeared right next to us, feeding in a small pool. We watched it with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, occasionally throwing its head back to swallow something. It seemed to be catching a lot! It was an adult – we could see its yellow-tipped black bill – and in breeding condition, with a bushy nuchal crest, bright red fringed yellow skin under the bill and a mustard wash across its breast.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on a small pool right by the path

There were more Sedge Warblers singing further down the track, they had clearly arrived in good numbers now. At the junction with the seawall, another Willow Warbler was singing. This one we could see, flitting around in the top of some low brambles. This is not a likely territory for a Willow Warbler, so the two we had seen on the walk out were probably migrants, fresh in, just stopping here to feed on their way to their breeding sites.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in and the harbour channel was full of water. Several waders were roosting out on the islands of saltmarsh, Avocets, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. Some of the godwits are getting very rusty now on their heads and breasts as they moult into breeding plumage, and we stopped to look at one dark chestnut bird which was clearly of the Icelandic race.

Looking out over the grazing marshes from here, there were still a few pools out in the grass, although they are starting to dry out steadily now. There were a few ducks dozing around the margins, mainly Teal and a few Wigeon, still lingering winter visitors. A large flock of Brent Geese flew over from the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they are leaving on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

There were two Wheatears out on the saltmarsh too, but they were very distant and disappeared into the vegetation. They were a little like buses today, and once we got out into the dunes, there were a lot more Wheatears feeding on the short grass. There were two more just past the boardwalk bushes and as we started to walk east, we counted at least eight together on the first slope. The males were rather deep burnt orange on the breast, suggesting they were birds of the Greenland race.

Wheatear 1

Wheatear – there were at least 20 in the dunes today

Over the ridge, there were yet more Wheatears. But as we stopped to scan the dunes ahead, we noticed two Ring Ouzels on the opposite slope. We got them in the scope and could see their bright white gorgets, two males. They flew lower down, out of view, so we walked round for a closer look.

We positioned ourselves where we could watch the Ring Ouzels feeding quietly and thankfully we had already enjoyed a good long look before two cyclists appeared at the top of the dunes. The Ring Ouzels were nervous and one flew up into the top of a nearby bush. The cyclists presumably saw us, because they stopped, but then came over the top and flushed the Ring Ouzels, which flew away east over the dunes. We watched the cyclists riding their bikes off in that direction too.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – we had great views of two males on the walk out

Carrying on through the dunes ourselves, in the same direction, we could see the Ring Ouzels flying off again ahead of us. We also flushed several Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed, migrants stopping off to feed in the dunes before heading back over the sea to the continent. There were yet more Wheatears along here too.

We had heard a Cuckoo calling on and off as we walked out. Now we spotted it flying past, over the bushes just beyond the fence to the south of us. It was being pursued relentlessly by a Meadow Pipit. The Cuckoo tried to land, but realised it wouldn’t get any peace, so headed off west, the pipit following it all the way. Meadow Pipit is a favoured host for the Cuckoos here!

A Siberian Chiffchaff had been reported in the bushes just before the pines, so we made our way over to see if we could see it. But the only chiffchaffs we could find were Common Chiffchaffs. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing here and, as we looped round through the pines to the start of the track, we could hear a Goldcrest singing. As we stopped by the gate and had a quick look out over the grazing marshes, we could see a couple of Coal Tits, two Long-tailed Tits and the Goldcrests on the sunny edge of the pines.

Walking back through the dunes, we looked across the grazing marshes and spotted a Bittern distantly in flight. We watched as it flew across and dropped down into the reeds over by the seawall. Presumably the same Ring Ouzels were back again where we had seen them earlier, but there were at least three now. We could see a pair, the female with a duller brown-tinged gorget and a separate male. Back at the boardwalk bushes, a Blackcap was flycatching from the apple tree but there was no sign of the Firecrest reported earlier.

Back along the seawall, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reedbed, presumably the bird we had seen fly in earlier. It was well hidden down in the reeds now though. We could hear Bearded Tits calling on and off, but despite scanning the edges of the pools, we couldn’t see them. They were keeping well tucked down in the reeds too.

Along the track, the butterflies were more active now it had warmed up. We saw several Holly Blue and Speckled Wood fluttering around the Alexanders in the verges. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the road back at the van and with a bit of patience it eventually appeared in the top.

We headed down to Holkham briefly to use the facilities. It was very busy here and there were so many cars parked on Lady Anne’s Drive it was full, despite the fact that they had a field open as an overflow car park. They were turning people away! A few House Martins and Swallows whirled around the houses in the village.

We made our way back to Burnham Norton for lunch, passing a small group of Red Deer out in one of the fields by the Park on the way. We sat on the grass in the sunshine and enjoyed the view, looking out over the marshes. A Grey Heron flew in and landed in the ditch in front of us, where it stood motionless, fishing. A Mistle Thrush was feeding out on the grass beyond.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – flew in to feed in the ditch while we ate our lunch

After lunch, as we put our bags back in the van, a Sparrowhawk circled over the car park. We could see a Red Kite circling over the marshes to the east and as we walked out along the bank a second Red Kite flew past and joined it. There were several Common Buzzards up too now, circling in the warm air. A smart grey male Marsh Harrier drifted over the path in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two drifted over the grazing marshes after lunch

There were a few Pied Wagtails feeding around the dried up pools out on the grazing marsh, and we noticed a much paler one in with them, a White Wagtail, the continental cousin of our Pieds and a migrant passing through here. While we were watching the White Wagtail, one of the group spotted a Whimbrel feeding on the grass further back. It was noticeably small and dark, slim and short-billed, particularly compared with the bigger, greyer Curlew nearby.

From out on the seawall, we spotted a group of Yellow Wagtails which flew up from around the cows out in the middle. They circled round and landed by some more cows but, typically they were half hidden now behind a bramble hedge and the ground sloped away just beyond where the cows were standing. We could just see one or two of the Yellow Wagtails around the cows’ feet from time to time. Two more Whimbrels were also out in the short grass here, along with three Wheatears.

A Cuckoo flew in and landed in the bushes just below the seawall ahead of us. We could see it picking at a web on a stem in front of it, eating caterpillars, most likely of the Brown-tail moth. We were watching it in the scope but could see a woman walking towards us along the seawall. The Cuckoo took off, but then flew right past giving us a great view and landed on a bush behind us.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flushed and flew right past us along the seawall

We stopped to look out across the harbour channel, and could see lots of gulls on the sandbanks down among the boats over towards Burnham Overy Staithe. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were in with the Black-headed Gulls. The pools on the corner of the seawall are looking really good for waders at the moment. We had a quick look hoping for perhaps a migrant sandpiper, but all we could find today were Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

We took the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marsh. It was still a bit wet in places, but just about passable. The Yellow Wagtails were flying round and one landed briefly in the top of a bare bush. Some of the cows were lying down, so the Yellow Wagtails flew over and settled again around the feet of some other that were feeding in the middle, unfortunately they chose the cows which were just behind a line of low reeds from us.

A Reed Warbler was singing quietly, but stopped before we could get closer to it. So we walked over to where it had been and stopped to listen while we watched to see if the wagtails would show themselves. A Chinese Water Deer was feeding on the back of the field the other side of the path.

There was a nice selectin of ducks in the channel which crossed the marshes in front of us. A pair of Shoveler, a few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard. A female Wheatear flew in and landed on the top of a bush right in front of us. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the ditch just behind us but we still couldn’t see it.

Wheatear 2

Wheatear – this female landed in a bush right next to us

Some of the cows walked over to graze just across the ditch from where we were standing, and the ones which had been behind the reeds came back round into the field our side. We had hoped the Yellow Wagtails might fly over to the closer cows but even though more and more cows came over to our side of the field, the wagtails remained stubbornly out in the middle, even when there were just two cows left there. At least we could see the Yellow Wagtails now – at least eight of them. We had hoped there might be one of the continental subspecies with them, but we could not see they were all of the British race, flavissima.

It was lovely to stand and look out over the marshes in the afternoon sunshine, but it was time to call it a day now. Still, we had another day to look forward to tomorrow.

24th Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. We would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for lingering winter visitors and early spring migrants. It was another lovely sunny day, but cooler than yesterday in an increasingly gusty westerly breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a few ducks around the pools beside the road, mainly Shoveler and a few Wigeon. Three Little Egrets flew across as we parked and we could see a Grey Heron at the back of the grazing marsh as we got out.

There was a keen wind blowing across, so after donning an extra layer, we scanned the grass. There were lots of Curlew in the next field over and a Lapwing started singing nearby. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard circled low over the marshes.

A small bird out in the short grass caught our eye. It was a Wheatear, a smart male with grey back and black bandit mask. A migrant stopped off here to feed on its way north. As we walked up towards the pines, we could see lots more small birds in the grass the other side. These were Meadow Pipits, there were at least 30 of them, again probably migrants which had broken their journey here. There were two Pied Wagtails too, but hard to tell whether these were migrants or local birds here.

It was a big high tide this morning and when there is standing water on the saltmarsh the Shorelarks can be elusive. So we planned to walk west first down to the hides. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard a Chiffchaff singing from the top of a hawthorn bush next to the path. It flew up into the first of the poplars and we stopped to look at it, the earliest of our returning breeding warblers.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing from one of the poplars

Just at that moment, we received a message to say that five of the Shorelarks were out on the beach, so we turned round and headed straight out there to try to see them. As we walked east along the edge of the saltmarsh, there were not many birds, possibly due to the high tide or the number of people out walking their dogs. A small flock of 16 Pink-footed Geese flew west overhead, possibly birds heading off on their way back to Iceland for the breeding season.

As we got to the cordon, we had still not managed to find the Shorelarks. There were four Ringed Plovers out on the short vegetation the other side of the rope and a couple of Meadow Pipits. A Tawny Owl hooted from the pines, despite it being the middle of the morning. After scanning all around with no joy, we decided to make our way out to the beach. But there was still a lot of water on the sand over towards the dunes and it was too wet for anyone without wellies to cross, so we turned to head back.

As we walked back alongside the cordon fence, we looked out across the saltmarsh again and noticed two birds out the in the low vegetation over towards the pines. Shorelarks! We hurried round and it was good that we did. We all managed to get a good look at them in the scope, noting their yellow faces and black masks. Then two dog walkers set off right out across the middle of the saltmarsh, taking a short cut to the beach, and flushed them. The Shorelarks flew out over the dunes and appeared to drop down to the beach beyond.

Shorelark

Shorelark – we had good views in the scope before they were flushed

We were still standing on the path when we noticed four more people walking right through the middle of the saltmarsh. Presumably they had flushed another three Shorelarks, because we saw them flying round with a couple of Skylarks. They landed on the saltmarsh in front of us, but a bit further back than the earlier two. At least now, we could get some more prolonged views of them in the scope.

While we were watching the Shorelarks, a Red Kite drifted west along the pines behind us, then out across the saltmarsh to the dunes. As we started to walk back, we looked across to the dunes and saw another raptor out there. It wasn’t the Red Kite this time – it was a Hen Harrier. It was a ringtail and we could see the white square at the base of its tail as it quartered back and forth over the dunes, presumably trying to flush pipits from the grass.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, quartering the dunes

After flying up and down through the dunes for a couple of minutes, the Hen Harrier continued on its way west. It cut across the saltmarsh at the Gap, before flying up and over the pines. We made our way back that way too. When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive and had a quick stop to use the facilities at The Lookout café, we could see that the Meadow Pipits which had been out on the grass earlier had moved on.

As we resumed our earlier aborted walk west on the inland side of the pines, we stopped to admire a flock of tits in the trees. There were lots more Chiffchaffs singing in the trees further along the path – they had arrived in force now. With the air warming up, the Common Buzzards were circling up now calling.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up as the air warmed

We stopped for a quick look at Salts Hole. Three Tufted Ducks were busy diving over towards the back and a Little Grebe was doing the same in front of the reeds on the side. Scanning the grass out beyond, we spotted two Mistle Thrushes collecting nest material. Four Red Deer were out on the marshes just the other side of Meals House.

Other than the Chiffchaffs, there were not many other migrants or other signs of fresh arrivals until we got almost to the crosstracks. We could hear the cracking of the opening cones in the sunshine and we looked up into the pines to see several Bramblings feeding on the released seeds. There were a few Siskins in the trees too. They had presumably stopped off here for a last feed up before heading out over the North Sea. One or two of the Bramblings were singing their wheezing song too.

As we walked up towards Joe Jordan Hide we could already see a Great White Egret on the marshy edge of one of the pools in front. We had a better view from up in the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – on the marsh in front of Joe Jordan Hide

A Spoonbill dropped down to bathe in the water. Through the scope, we could see its yellow-tipped black spoon-shaped bill and its bushy nuchal crest, indicating it was a breeding adult. There are quite a few Spoonbills back now and we had expected a bit more activity from them today, but this was the only one we saw while we were sitting in the hide. After a good wash and brush up, it flew back up into the trees.

There were lots of Cormorants up in the trees too. Several Avocets were feeding up to their bellies in the deep pools. Occasionally a Marsh Harrier would drift across. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the marshes and looking through them carefully, we could see two smaller geese in with them. They were Pink-footed Geese – when they looked up from feeding we could see their dark heads and smaller, mostly dark bills.

By the time we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we were feeling hungry so we stopped for an early lunch at The Lookout café. Afterwards, we headed along the coast to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre at Titchwell revealed only  Chaffinches and a few tits. But round the other side a Brambling was feeding on the seeds with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches and a Greenfinch dropped in too. Out onto the main path, and a quick scan produced a Water Rail feeding down in the ditch.

Water Rail

Water Rail – still in the ditch by the main path

We had heard Mediterranean Gulls flying over the Visitor Centre, but once we got out of the trees we could see them flying in and out of the freshmarsh, heading inland to feed in the fields. Against the light, we could see their translucent white-tipped wings, very different from the Black-headed Gulls which were also flying in and out with them.

The Water Pipits have been mostly on the old pool on Thornham grazing marsh in the last week or so, but when we stopped to look for them we couldn’t see one at first. We tried a different angle from a bit further up and one of the group spotted something appear from behind the reeds down at the front. It was the Water Pipit.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – out on the Thornham GM pool

With the vegetation growing up on the old pool here now, it was hard to see at times, but we all eventually had a good look at the Water Pipit through the scope. It is starting to moult into summer plumage now and was looking distinctly pink-tinged on the breast, with much reduced streaking.

While we were watching the Water Pipit, a large flock of Golden Plover flew over. They had probably been disturbed from the fields where they were feeding by something and were zooming round at speed, twisting and turning, their underparts flashing white in the sun as they banked. At one point, they came low over our heads and all we could hear was the whooshing of lots of beating wings. A little further on, several Common Pochard were diving in one of the reedbed channels.

In the Visitor Centre earlier, we had been told that some Bearded Tits had been showing well by the path today. With the breeze having picked up considerably, we didn’t fancy our chances but as we walked along the path we heard a couple of Bearded Tits calling to each other. Then we just glimpsed one as it flew across the small pool below the path and disappeared into the reeds at the back.

We stood to watch and a female Bearded Tit appeared low down in the reeds. It was hard to see in the vegetation at first, but then climbed up and perched in full view. When it turned side on, we could see its long tail. Then it flew towards us over the water and disappeared down behind the reeds in front.

That was great – it is always nice to actually see a perched Bearded Tit rather than just a long tail disappearing over the reeds – but the male is the big prize, with its powder blue-grey head and long black moustaches. Another Bearded Tit appeared working its way through the reeds at the back of the pool, low down just above the water, another female, and while we were looking at it we realised it was being followed by a male.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we enjoyed great views of a pair low down in the reeds

Some of the reeds around the pools here have just been cut, so the Bearded Tits were coming right out into the open. They were climbing up through the piles of cut reed and then dropping down to the water, climbing about in the cut reed stems and picking at the water surface. We had some fantastic views of them today! Eventually, the pair of Bearded Tits flew across and disappeared into the reeds below the bank too, so we decided to move on.

The water level on the Freshmarsh has dropped a little but is still fairly high, which means there are still not many exposed islands. Great for ducks! Several Teal were feeding in the shallower water just below the bank, including some smart drakes which we stopped to admire. A little further back, there were pairs of Shoveler scattered liberally about, mostly swimming in circles with their heads under the water and their long shovel bills hidden from view. There were a few Gadwall too and chattering flocks of Brent Geese were commuting back and forth from the saltmarsh the other side of the bank.

Avocet

Avocet – flying out to Thornham saltmarsh to feed

There are lots of Avocets back here now and several of those were flying in and out from the Thornham saltmarsh to feed too. Others were feeding up to their bellies in the deep water on the Freshmarsh. A small flock of Knot had flown in to rest in the shallower water by the small island by the junction to Parrinder Hide. We had a look at them through the scope, before they were off again, over the bank to Volunteer Marsh to feed.

A little further back, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits was also roosting. With their longer legs, they could rest in the slightly deeper water. Some of them are now starting to moult into breeding plumage and their were several smart rusty birds amongst the mostly grey-brown winter individuals in the group. Further back still, there were five Ruff around the pile of bricks which normally sits on one of the other islands, but which is still under water. Through the scope, we could see their scaly-patterned backs.

Continuing on to Parrinder Hide, we got the scope on a pair of Mediterranean Gulls in with all the Black-headed Gulls loafing around in front of the hide. It was great to see them on the ground together, so we could get a better look at the Mediterranean Gulls’ jet black heads with bright white eye rings, heavier and brighter red bills and bright white wing tips. There were lots more Mediterranean Gulls in with all the Black-headed Gulls on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ further back, which the gulls have now annexed as a breeding colony.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – a pair of adults loafing on the Freshmarsh

Back on the main path, we stopped to scan the Volunteer Marsh. The tide was out now, but having been covered by water earlier it was obviously attractive to the Knot which were now feeding in and out of the patches of vegetation. A Curlew at the front managed to extract a long worm out of the mud and took it over to wash it in a rather muddy puddle! There were a couple of Redshanks down in the channel too.

Curlew

Curlew – probing for worms in the mud on Volunteer Marsh

The no longer tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were very full of water now and rather devoid of any birds, so we continued straight on out to the beach. With it being a big tide, the water was a long way out now, so we walked down to the concrete blocks to scan the sea.

There were a couple of other people there who had just spotted a diver offshore. We managed to get it in the scope and confirmed it was actually a Black-throated Diver, the rarest of the three regular species off here. Otherwise, all we could find out on the sea were a few Great Crested Grebes but as well as being low tide it was very choppy now in the wind. Two brown female Eider flew past offshore.

It seemed like we might be better off looking for waders here and we really wanted to see Bar-tailed Godwit. With the water a long way out, there were just Oystercatchers feeding on the mussel beds, which were well above the tideline now. All the other waders were feeding out on the sand to the west, closer to the sea, so we walked down for a better loon.

We quickly found a couple of Turnstones and one or two Sanderling running along the shoreline. Then scanning along the water’s edge, we located our first Bar-tailed Godwit. It was still in non-breeding plumage, but through the scope we could see its distinctive dark-streaked upperparts, slightly upturned bill and comparatively short legs. Further over, there were more godwits, plus Grey Plovers and a little group of Dunlin feeding on the shore with some more Knot for comparison.

It was rather exposed and windy out on the beach, so we decided to walk back. We swung round via Meadow Trail to Patsy’s Reedbed on our way. There was no sign of any snipe down at the front today, which we were hoping to see, but there were one or two Marsh Harriers hanging in the breeze over the reeds.

Unfortunately it was time to call it a day now too. By the time we got back to the van, everyone was suitably tired out after a great couple of days birding. Time to head for home.