Tag Archives: Yellow-browed Warbler

Late Oct 2019 – Scilly Season

Not a tour, but a family holiday – and Scilly is conveniently a great place for birding in October! The Isles of Scilly are perhaps best know in birding terms for the number of American landbirds they have historically attracted in Autumn. We stayed on the island of Tresco, but we made several trips over to St Mary’s too.

Late October is not the best time, and sure enough all the ‘Yanks’ which had previously appeared cleared out a few days before we arrived. Still, there were more good birds to find, and one rarity at least had the decency to linger long enough for us to catch up with it.

The day we arrived, our first stop was to see the Blue Rock Thrush which had been hanging out on the rocks around the Garrison and Peninnis on St Mary’s. It was very mobile and could disappear for long periods but conveniently, it was located just before our plane took off and we were able to catch up with it after only an hour or so of casing up and down the clifftop path (it had taken others several days to see it!).

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush – not especially blue, but on a rock!

The Blue Rock Thrush was not especially blue – it was a young bird, a 1st winter. But it was flying around and feeding on the rocks, which is what a proper wild Blue Rock Thrush should be doing.

After that, we still had a bit of time before our boat over to Tresco, so we walked down to Lower Moors. The Spotted Crake helpfully appeared just as we arrived, in the ditch beside the path. This bird had been very obliging on previous days and it didn’t disappoint today. We watched it down to just a couple of feet, and at one point it passed right beneath the wooden footbridge on which we were standing. Amazing views of what can be a very secretive species, possibly my best ever.

Spotted Crake

Spotted Crake – absurdly close views at Lower Moors

The following day we found ourselves heading back to St Mary’s, when a report emerged of a Chestnut-eared Bunting on Peninnis first thing in the morning. It had flown off but we went over anyway just in case it was refound – it wasn’t! We did find a rare bunting ourselves, also on Peninnis, but unfortunately it was just a Yellowhammer. Rare on the Isles of Scilly perhaps, but not quite so unusual back in Norfolk!

Monday was spent on Tresco. A Citrine Wagtail appeared on St Mary’s and a few bits and pieces on St Agnes, but we didn’t manage to find anything unusual. The Red-breasted Flycatcher which had been at Borough Farm for a week or more was still present, and it was good to catch up with that. It could be surprisingly elusive, but it remained in the same group of trees for much of our stay.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – was present on Tresco for most of our stay

There are almost always good numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers at this time of year, and a quiet day on Tresco gave us the chance to catch up with a few of those too.

Yellow-browed Warbler 1

Yellow-browed Warbler – there are generally a few on Tresco at this time of year

Things hotted up on Tresco on Tuesday. After a quiet start to the morning, one of the few other hardy Tresco regulars, Steve Broyd, called to say he had found an Isabelline Wheatear up on Castle Down. We raced up to help him pin it down, as it was very mobile initially but eventually settled down around a favoured area of rocks. It would remain here for several days and we got fantastic views of it over subsequent days. It has been a good autumn for this very rare south-eastern European species this year.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – it has been a good year for this species in UK

Birders from St Mary’s coming back from seeing the Isabelline Wheatear later that day found a Waxwing on the wires at New Grimsby. It was a lovely sunny day and it was flycatching from the telephone wires. When it flew off, it couldn’t be refound until it was found feeding in an apple tree in one of the nearby gardens the following day.

Waxwing

Waxwing – flycatching from the wires behind the quay in New Grimsby

It was back to St Mary’s the next day. The Citrine Wagtail seen a couple of days previously had settled down at Salakee Farm and had been showing down to a few metres yesterday. When we arrived in the morning, it was a bit more distant and and we were looking into the light. After spending some time exploring St Mary’s, which also gave us the chance to catch up with the Dartford Warbler on Peninnis (a ‘Scilly tick’ for us), we returned in the afternoon and were treated to views of the Citrine Wagtail down to a few metres as it fed in the long grass in the corner of the field.

Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail – showing down to a few metres as it fed in the long grass

The following day, it was back to scouring Tresco for something new. Those efforts were rewarding with the finding of a 1st winter drake Ring-necked Duck on Abbey Pool. It was present all day, although it spent some time tucked in the edge of the vegetation asleep, but could not be found subsequently, although the weather was not particularly conducive to finding it again!

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck – this 1st winter drake spent the day on Abbey Pool

It was a lovely sunny day and the Yellow-browed Warblers were particularly active and vocal. There were three regularly around the Rowesfield area and it was interesting to watch one today behaving very territorially, chasing the others off from its favoured sallows.

Yellow-browed Warbler 2

Yellow-browed Warbler – this one was chasing the others from its favoured sallows

The next two days were very windy and wet at times, so if there were any new arrivals they would be very hard to locate. Things improved dramatically on 27th, which was largely clear and sunny at times, with much lighter winds. Starting off on the regular circuit of the island, the first thing that became apparent was that there had been a big arrival of Siberian Chiffchaffs. After one up at Borough Farm, there were three together in the sallows at Rowesfield crossroads. There were plenty of Common Chiffchaffs in too, great to compare them side by side.

Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff – one of three at Rowesfield crossroads

At least one of the Siberian Chiffchaffs at Rowesfield crossroads was rather vocal, its call a rather plaintive ‘iihp’. It was even singing on and off in the sunshine – not something you hear in the UK very often. Fantastic!

Any other day, that would have been the highlight of the morning but today there was more to come. Walking along the edge of the old heliport, a bunting flew up from the long grass beyond the fence and started to call – a distinctive ‘ticking’. Thankfully, it circled round and dropped down into the top of the brambles behind me. A Rustic Bunting!

Rustic Bunting

Rustic Bunting – a nice find on the edge of the old Heliport

Unfortunately the Rustic Bunting flew over into the sallows on the edge of Abbey Pool with a Reed Bunting and didn’t show itself for the birders who were just arriving from the boat over from St Mary’s. It was seen again, back in the original spot, together now with three Reed Buntings in the early afternoon and we found it there again at dusk.

Rustic Bunting 2

Rustic Bunting – still present the following morning

The Rustic Bunting was still present the following morning, with the Reed Buntings in the same place on the edge of the Heliport, but unfortunately it was now time for us to leave. We caught the boat back over to St Mary’s that afternoon and bid our farewells to the Isles of Scilly.

There was a sad side to what was a wonderful week. I have been visiting Tresco regularly for 24 years now and over that time I have seen some great birds up at Borough Farm. The farm had been leased out and worked traditionally for bulbs, flowers and vegetables, but a couple of years ago the Tresco Estate took it back under its own management. The estate has long eschewed traditional mixed farming in favour of focusing on intensive beef cattle, meaning the other fields around the island have already been turned over to improved grassland.

It was sad to see this year that Borough Farm seems to be heading the same way – the once weedy fields are now mostly covered with grass, the hedges have been cut right back and then browsed heavily by cattle. Apart from the one corner where the Red-breasted Flycatcher was, which still has some taller sycamores, there were very few birds there this year. It seems surprising to see ongoing ‘dewilding’, intensification of loss-making modern agricultural practices, particularly in this part of the world, at a time when many other estates are looking to ‘rewilding’ as a better way forward.

Borough Farm

Borough Farm – sad to see it in the process of being ‘dewilded’

I am not sure how any more years I will continue to go back to Tresco. It is still a beautiful island, but not as beautiful for wildlife as it used to be. The only good news is that there are plenty of other islands in the Scillies to explore which have not been so extensively ‘tidied up’, where there are still weedy fields and overgrown hedges. Is it time to join the growing exodus of birders who have moved on from Tresco to explore other islands?

Sunset

Tresco – sunset, looking over the channel towards Bryher

 

13th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of a four day Autumn Migration tour, our last day. It was a damp and misty morning with drizzle on and off, but we managed to make the best of it, and it dried out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather breezy.

We started the day at Holkham. It was grey and drizzling as we got out of the minibus on Lady Anne’s Drive, to the sound of small parties of Pink-footed Geese flying over in the mist.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Goose – small groups flew over calling in the mist

A Common Gull was feeding on the short grass opposite and conveniently walked over to a Black-headed Gull for a nice side-by-side comparison. Further back, we spotted a covey of Grey Partridges. They were hard to see in the dull conditions, in amongst the lumps of mud where the channels on the grazing marsh have just been excavated, so we walked over to The Lookout cafe where we could get a bit of elevation and get a better look at them. Several Jays came out of the trees, and headed off up Lady Anne’s Drive.

Walking west on the track on the inland side of the pines, we could hear tits in the trees and then a Yellow-browed Warbler called further up. We walked on to see if we could locate it, but by the time we got to where it had been it had gone quiet again and there was no movement in the trees by the track.

We stopped briefly at Salts Hole. A lone Tufted Duck flew off with the Mallards as we walked up. There are several Little Grebes on here now, where they spend the winter, and they seemed to be laughing at us, out in the drizzle.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – there are several on Salts Hole for the winter

We stopped again to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide, but got distracted by a tit flock calling from the trees the other side. One of the group went over to look at the grazing marsh, and a Great White Egret and a Grey Heron feeding over the grass on the edge of a shallow reedy channel. It was a good size comparison – the Great White Egret at least the size of the heron. A second Great White Egret was more hidden, in a ditch a little further back.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches on the grazing marsh

The sycamores behind Washington Hide were all quiet, although we could still hear the tits just to the east, in the pines and holm oaks. We decided to go into the hide for a sit down and a chance to dry off a little.

Looking away to the left, we could see that the second Great White Egret had now come over to the reedy channel with the first, along with a second Grey Heron. They were then joined by a third Great White Egret which flew in. Quite an impressive assemblage of herons and quite unthinkable just a few years ago, when Great White Egret was a rarity here. They have bred here this year for the second year in a row.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egrets – from Washington Hide, we could see three now (and two Grey Herons)

There were not many geese out on the grazing marshes today. Presumably most of the Pink-footed Geese had flown inland to feed on the stubble fields, which they do at this time of year. We did manage to find a distant collection of geese – a small group of five Pinkfeet with Greylags and a couple of Canada Geese.

There was quite a bit of activity down in the bushes in the reeds in front of the hide. There were several Song Thrushes flying in and out, presumably migrants dropping in fresh from the continent. A Ring Ouzel had been seen here earlier, and at one point it flew up into the top of a hawthorn bush. It was tricky to see, hidden in amongst the leaves, but through the scope we could make out it was a male, with a white crescent on its breast. It dropped down out of view.

As the drizzle eased off, more thrushes appeared in the bushes, coming up to preen and dry themselves out. There were several Redwings now, with bold pale superciliums and rusty patches on their flanks. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared in the tops of the bushes and then a Marsh Harrier came up out of the reeds too, as the rain stopped.

We walked back down to the gate and looked out at the bushes on the edge of the reeds. There were several Song Thrushes, grey-backed continental birds, clearly migrants coming here for the winter, but no further sign of the Ring Ouzel. While the weather was better we decided to carry on west. A closer Pink-footed Goose was on its own with a small gaggle of Greylags on the grazing marshes just beyond the trees.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – on the grazing marsh with a few Greylags

Just before the crosstracks, a Red Kite drifted out from the pines and over the bushes. It probably flushed another Ring Ouzel, as we could hear it as it flew off chacking.

There had been several Yellow-browed Warblers in the last couple of days in the sallows just beyond the crosstracks, so we walked on to see if we could find one. There were already a few people looking and we had only just walked up when we heard one calling. Triangulating the various calls there were at least two, possibly three, but they played cat and mouse with us for a while. We heard them calling and caught brief glimpses as they flew out of the bushes or perched briefly when they landed, before disappearing in.

A large oak tree provided some shelter from the wind and there was a bit of activity in the bushes in front of it. First a Chiffchaff flitted around in the ivy. Then one of the Yellow-browed Warblers flew up into a large hawthorn right in front of the oak. Now we finally had a good chance to get a proper look at one, although even here it was so active, flicking in and out of the leaves, that it was never easy to latch onto without a bit of patience. It seemed to like this tree, as it came back into it a couple of times while we watched.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we eventually got good views of one in the trees

We had already heard a few Siskins over the pines on our walk out to here, but now a succession of flocks started coming overhead, calling. At first, we wondered whether it was the same flock coming round and round, but the number of birds changed each time and they were all heading quickly west. Then a message came through to say that large numbers of Siskins were on the move along the coast. We must have seen over 500 here in about 30 minutes, but even that underestimated the scale of the Siskin migration underway.

There were other birds moving too today. Two Bramblings flew in over the pines calling and circled overhead, and a few Song Thrushes were still coming in too, flying in over the trees and dropping down into the bushes.

We decided to continue on to the west end, to see if we could find anything else fresh in. As we got to the gate overlooking the grazing marshes at the end of the pines, we could see lots of white shapes feeding in with the cattle away to the south. We had a better view from higher up, just in the start of the dunes. They were a long way off, but through the scope we counted eight Cattle Egrets and three Great White Egrets, another amazing collection of birds which would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, such is the pace of colonisation of these species.

Out in the open in the dunes, the weather was not particularly pleasant – the wind had picked up, and it was still drizzling on and off. We had a quick walk round the start of the bushes, flushing a couple of Song Thrushes out, but with it getting towards lunchtime now too we didn’t have time to venture any further.

However, now we could really appreciate the true scale of the Siskin movement. Birds had been moving over the pines, which we couldn’t see on the south side of the trees. From out in the open, we could see flocks pouring through, 60-250 birds at a time, 2-3 flocks per minute. Amazing to watch! Real migration in action. There were a few Chaffinches on the move too now, and a small flock dropped into the pines around us as we walked back into the trees, a harbinger of what was to come in the afteroon.

After the walk back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped for lunch in The Lookout cafe and a welcome hot drink to warm up. By the time we had finished lunch, the rain had stopped again. We drove east along the coast road to Blakeney, where a pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes on the grazing marsh as we parked.

We thought we would have a quick walk around Friary Hills, which would be comparatively sheltered from the weather and a good place from which to observe the birds passing by overhead. There were lots of Blackbirds in the hawthorn hedge, which flushed out as we walked along and flew up into the trees the other side. Several Song Thrushes came out too, and a single Fieldfare, our first of the autumn. Four Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in here too, probably all migrants stopping off to refuel.

Blackbird

Blackbird – there were lots feeding in the hedge at Friary Hills

The Siskins appeared to have largely dried up now, but they were replaced by Chaffinches. Small flocks were passing over constantly, not on quite the scale of the Siskins earlier but on any other day they would be very impressive numbers moving. Amazing to think that these are all birds arriving here for the winter, mostly from the continent.

Down at the end of the track, a tit flock was moving quickly through the trees. A quick scan and we found a Yellow-browed Warbler in with them. It showed well, if briefly again, up in the sycamores, before the flock moved on. We tried to follow them back along the top path but they seemed to disappear back into the gardens beyond.

We stopped for a few minutes at the top, partly just to admire the view but also to see if any of the tits were still working their way in our direction through the bushes. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the Freshes, and a couple of Grey Herons down with the cows, although there were no egrets with them here. As we walked back down the hill, a young Peregrine came in from the Freshes and disappeared inland over our heads.

Peregrine

Peregrine – flew over as we walked back down the path

To get round to the seawall, we had to walk past the duck pond with its motley collection of wildfowl. A colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull was feeding on the food put out for the ducks on one of the platforms. After emailing the scheme co-ordinator, we discovered it was ringed as a youngster in Suffolk in 2010. Although it was seen all the way down in Morocco at one point (in 2014), in recent years it seems to have found Cley and Blakeney more to its liking. It was good to see the Hooded Merganser was still present in the collection here too and hadn’t escaped!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull – ringed as a chick in Suffolk in 2010

Walking out along the seawall to the harbour, a smart male Marsh Harrier quartered the grazing marshes on the other side of the bank.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – we watched this smart male out over the Freshes

From the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. There were a few waders out on the mud – mostly Curlews and Redshanks. A small group of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone dropped in and started feeding busily. Further out, a couple of distant Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding in one of the deeper channels and there were plenty of Brent Geese out on the sandbars.

There seemed to be several small flocks of waders flying in. When a flock of Turnstone came in over the Glaven channel in front of us, we could see a couple of Dunlin in with them but also a much smaller wader at the back. It was clearly a stint, probably a Little Stint. Unfortunately, despite our best hopes, it didn’t land on the mud in front of us, but carried on out into the harbour and seemed to drop down out of view.

A Scandinavian Rock Pipit flew over the saltmarsh calling and dropped down into the vegetation out of view. Even out here, there were more Chaffinches still coming in or flying west in small groups, with the odd Siskin mixed in with them. It had been an amazing day for visible migration today, with all the finches moving and the thrushes in the bushes. Now it was unfortunately time to head back and wrap up an exciting four days of Autumn Migration.

12th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. It was another cloudy, grey and dull day, but the winds were lighter today and it stayed dry. Much better conditions to be out birding on the coast again.

We started the day at Sheringham Cemetery. As we arrived, we met two other local birders just leaving who told us that one of the Ring Ouzels which had been seen here yesterday had been present earlier but had since flown off. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler here yesterday too, so we decided to go and have a look for that first, then check the bushes where the Ring Ouzels had been feeding in case any had come back.

As we walked round towards the far corner, a Green Woodpecker flew up from the short grass and landed round the back of a pine tree over by the fence. We could just see its head looking round the side of the trunk from time to time. Then it dropped down into the grass nearby and started feeding again, where we could get a better look at it through the scope.

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker – feeding on the grass in the cemetery

There was no sign initially of the Yellow-browed Warbler in the corner where it had been yesterday but while we were looking for it, we noticed a tit flock coming across the cemetery. We decided to follow that across to the allotments to see if it was with them. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and a couple of Goldcrests, but no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler.

Having left the bushes in peace for a while, we walked over to see if anything had come back. There were lots of Blackbirds now – we counted eight which flew out and there were still two or three in the hawthorns, plus a couple of Song Thrushes, but still no further sign of any Ring Ouzels.

While we were checking out the bushes, one of the group was looking over behind us and spotted a warbler in the trees in the corner. The Yellow-browed Warbler was back! We hurried over and found it flitting in and out of a large oak. It was also very vocal now, calling regularly, a distinctive sharp ‘tsooeet’. Almost all of the group eventually got a good look at it when it came out on the front of the tree a couple of times, although it was hard to get onto at times in the leaves. We could see its creamy yellow supercilium and double wing bars.

We were a bit later than hoped now, but we headed down to the prom anyway. The tide was quite well out already and there was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on the sea defences, but there were lots of Turnstones feeding on some food put out on the prom or loafing around on the rocks.

Turnstone

Turnstone – there were lots feeding on the prom

We had thought, with the improvement in weather conditions, that there might be some birds moving today, so we wanted to have a look out to sea. We did find a couple of small groups of Razorbills and a lone Guillemot on the sea. A handful of Gannets flew through west, and a single Red-throated Diver flew east. But there was no sign of anything else moving today, no ducks, waders or small birds coming in.

Heading back west, we stopped again at Walsey Hills. The warden there quickly pointed us to the Jack Snipe which was asleep on an island of mud against the reeds at the back of Snipe’s Marsh. It was well camouflaged amongst the stumps of cut reed, bu we could see its golden yellow mantle and crown stripes. From time to time it would give a quick burst of it’s distinctive bouncing action and once or twice it woke up and flashed its bill, shorter than a Common Snipe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – mostly asleep on Snipe’s Marsh, but did wake up at one point

After watching the Jack Snipe for a bit, we headed in along the footpath through the trees. There were lots of tits around the feeders and we heard several Chiffchaffs as we made our way through to the willows at the back. There had been a Siberian Chiffchaff in here for the last couple of days, but we couldn’t find it. We saw one rather pale Chiffchaff, but it was rather too green in the upperparts to fully fit the bill and seemed to be calling like a regular Chiffchaff to boot.

We did see another Yellow-browed Warbler which called a couple of times before eventually flicking up higher into one of the trees where we could see it. There was a Blackcap in here too.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – eventually flicked up into the top of one of the trees

We went round to Cley for lunch and the weather was nice enough now to make use of the picnic tables outside. A small flock of Ruff came up off the scrapes and flew off inland. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reserve, flushing everything. A Yellowhammer flew over high west calling, presumably a migrant. And a small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over – our first of the day today.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – smaller numbers arriving today

There had been a Hooded Merganser found at Titchwell earlier this morning, and we learnt that it was still present this afternoon, so we decided to head over there to try to see it. As we made our way west along the coast road past Holkham, a small line of five Jays flew high over the fields beside the road, more birds on the move.

The car park at Titchwell was already very full, with lots of people interested to see the Hooded Merganser. We managed to find somewhere to park and headed straight round to Patsy’s Reedbed. The Hooded Merganser was asleep at first over by the reeds at the back but then woke up and swam round a couple of times so we could get a good look at it.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser – a smart drake, on Patsy’s Reedbed

Hooded Merganser is a rare visitor from North America, with only 12 accepted records, although no occurrences before 2000 were accepted. The situation is complicated by the fact that Hooded Merganser is very common in captivity and escapes are frequent. The Titchwell bird showed no signs of having been in captivity – we couldn’t see any rings on its legs and it was fully winged. In fact when shooting started in the distance, from the fields across the main road, all the ducks took off and the Hooded Merganser flew round strongly before eventually dropping back down towards the reedbed pool.

Interestingly, a male Hooded Merganser had been photographed flying past Titchwell back on 18th September. What was thought possibly to be the same bird the turned up in Worcestershire the following day. Was this the same bird back again or had it not gone to Worcestershire after all? Where had it been in the interim?

The Pintail was also on the pool here again, at least until the shooting started. A female Stonechat perched up on the top of the hedge behind us. A male Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed and drifted over towards us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled out from the reedbed

The Autumn Trail is still open, so we walked round to the far corner of the Freshmarsh. We were hoping to find Water Rail and Bearded Tits and although we heard the former squealing and the latter pinging from the reeds, neither showed themselves for the group.

We got the scope on some Bar-tailed Godwits and then some Black-tailed Godwits and one of the latter helpfully walked into the middle of a group of the former to give us a good side-by-side comparison. There were plenty of Avocets and the regular selection of ducks too.

Walking back round along Meadow Trail, we heard a Marsh Harrier calling and looked up to see a young male displaying high in the sky overhead. Not a common sight at this time of year, and the tumbling was a little bit half-hearted. Out on the main West Bank, the Water Shrew was feeding on the side of the path again.

A small crowd had gathered by the reedbed pool, where the Hooded Merganser was now asleep out in the middle of the water. We continued on towards Island Hide, where a Water Rail was showing well on the edge of the reeds. We had a great view of it in the scope.

Some Bearded Tits had been showing along the edge of the reeds too, but had now apparently disappeared round the corner. We were told that some Bearded Tits had also been showing well earlier in the reeds by the main path just beyond the hide and thankfully they were still there. We had fantastic views of a pair, which kept working their way up into the tops of the reeds before flying a short distance further along, the male Bearded Tit with powder blue/grey head and black moustache.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – showing very well in the reeds right by the main path

Interestingly, the pair of Bearded Tits appeared to be followed by a Cetti’s Warbler. After the Bearded Tits flew a short way further down, then the Cetti’s Warbler would flick up out of the reeds too and land again a little further along. It did this several times – not something we have ever seen before. It is normally hard enough just to see a Cetti’s Warbler!

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Bearded Tits. As we walked back towards the Visitor Centre, a flock of about thirty Siskins buzzed around the trees above the path. A small taster of what we were to see tomorrow!

11th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. A grey and windy day, there were spits of rain at times while we were out but with some careful manoeuvring round the county we were able to avoid the worst of the rain this afternoon. Despite the inauspicious weather, we had a very successful day out.

Our destination for the first part of the day was Titchwell. There weren’t many cars yet when we arrived, so we had a quick walk round the overflow car park first, but it was very quiet, no sign of any hungry migrants stopping off to feed here today. There was nothing on the new squirrel-proof feeders by the Visitor Centre either, so we headed straight out towards the reserve.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we found a tit flock in the trees by the main path

We hadn’t gone far along the main path when we ran into a tit flock in the trees. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits flying back and forth across the path, along with a few Blue Tits and Great Tits. We managed to find a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest in with them too. We heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deeper in the sallows but it did not come out.

As we walked out past the reedbed, a male Marsh Harrier flew over the Thornham grazing marsh and chased a couple of crows out over the saltmarsh. We arrived at the reedbed pool just as a Pintail disappeared into reeds, but everyone managed to get on a Tufted Duck, and a Common Pochard with a couple of Coot at the front, all additions to our trip list.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – chasing crows over Thornham Marsh

Out at the Freshmarsh, the water level is currently low, as reserve staff are strimming the islands and margins, coupled with the strong SW wind which tends to push the water away from the bank anyway. Consequently, there were not so many birds on here today and what was here was all gathered right at the back. Several Avocets were also additions to the tour list.

We decided to carry on out towards the beach, but as we walked on we noticed everything spook. We looked up to see a juvenile Peregrine flying over. It didn’t really have a go at anything on the Freshmarsh, but carried on west and disappeared off towards Thornham.

Out at the Volunteer Marsh, there were several Redshanks and Curlews feeding in the muddy channel at the far end.

Redshank

Redshank – one of several on Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools are now tidal again, after storms reopened the channel which allows the water to drain. As the tide was already well out, the water level was down, and there were more waders on here today. We could see several Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, a Grey Plover, and a couple of little groups of Dunlin at the back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Tidal Pools

There were more waders out on the beach, down on the mussel beds. We had a nice comparison of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits in the same scope view and careful scanning revealed a single Knot. The sea looked rather quiet by comparison, although we did find a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A dark juvenile Gannet and a Razorbill both flew past.

Our main target here today was to try to see the Grey Phalarope which had turned up yesterday out at Thornham Point. It was still present this morning, but as we walked west along the beach we got a message to say it had flown off, flushed by a Hobby. It had flown off and come back previously, so we decided to press on anyway. By the time we got out to the Point, it was back on its favoured pool.

A couple of Scandinavian Rock Pipits flushed from the saltmarsh as we positioned ourselves on one side of the pool. The Grey Phalarope was over at the back at first, picking around in the samphire. Then it waded into the water and started swimming around, eventually coming right down to the near edge, in front of us.

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope – on one of the saltmarsh pools at Thornham Point

The Grey Phalarope was a young bird, a first winter, with some new grey feathers on its back but still with retained darker juvenile feathers on the back of its neck and wings. We could even make out the remains of the creamy orange wash on the front of its neck. Grey Phalaropes breed in the high Arctic and spend the rest of the year out at sea, migrating down to the coast of South Africa for the winter. They are very prone to be being blown inshore on autumn storms, when they are scarce visitors here. A great bird to see.

Having spent some time watching the Grey Phalarope feeding, we set off to walk back. We went into Parrinder Hide this time, to see if there was anything over the back of the Freshmarsh. There were several Ruff out on the mud and we could now see there were more Avocets in the deeper water over towards the back, along with a nice selection of the commoner dabbling ducks.

It was already getting on for lunchtime, so we set off back along the main path. We hadn’t gone far when we found a couple of people looking at a small mammal on the edge of the path. It was a Water Shrew, feeding on the remains of snails which had been crushed underfoot on the path. They are normally quite secretive, so it was amazing to see one out in the open like this, seemingly completely unconcerned by all the people passing by.

Water Shrew

Water Shrew – feeding on the main path on the way back

We ate our lunch by the Visitor Centre. There were a few Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders and a large Brown Rat underneath! A couple of Siskins flew over calling.

Afterwards, we walked out along Fen Trail. We found a tit flock again, but it moved too quickly back through the trees to see if there was anything interesting with it. There were more more tits in the trees by the Tank Road, and a Goldcrest which was busy preening deep in the elders.

Out at Patsy’s Reedbed, there were more ducks, including a moulting drake Pintail at the back, to make up for the one which had disappeared into the reeds earlier. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing out in the middle and a Mediterranean Gull dropped in with them briefly. A first winter, its heavier dark bill and black bandit mask gave it away, but it didn’t linger and flew off again west past us.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – dropped in on Patsy’s Reedbed pool briefly

We had got away with the weather so far today, but now it started to spit with rain. A quick look at the forecast suggested some rain was approaching, so we made our way back to the car park. It looked like it would remain dry further south until later this afternoon, so we decided to head inland. A covey of Grey Partridges ran across the road in front of us. Then as we got out onto the A148, it started to rain.

As we got to the Brecks, we drove out of the rain again, so it was dry when we got to our destination, even if it was grey and rather windy still. We had come to look for the Stone Curlews which gather here in the autumn. They were hard to find at first, but we managed to locate one then two, hiding behind the ridges of soil and clumps of nettles, trying to shelter from the wind. Gradually they became more active, and we counted up to eight Stone Curlews from here. We had nice views of them through the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we counted 27 still in the fields today

There were lots of gulls in the fields too, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Scanning through them, we found an adult Yellow-legged Gull first. It was colour-ringed, with a red ring, but it was too far away to read the lettering. We found a Caspian Gull next, an immature in its 2nd winter/2nd calendar year, but it flew off back to the next field, out of view, before everyone could get onto it. Then we picked out a second Yellow-legged Gull, this time also a 2nd winter. There were probably a lot more other gulls there too, but most were out of view from here.

Given we were upwind from them and the Stone Curlews were sheltering from the wind from this direction, we drove round to the other side of the field to try to see if there were more there that we couldn’t see. We were much further away, but scanning with the scope we could now see where the other Stone Curlews were hiding. The light was fading and they were very well camouflaged against the bare stony ground, but we counted at least 28 Stone Curlews from here. Numbers are gradually dropping now, as birds head off south for the winter, but that was still an impressive total.

As we drove back, we quickly ran into heavy rain. We had been very lucky, managing to avoid the worst of the weather today.

10th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. It was a bright start, clouding over in the afternoon, but staying dry with a blustery SW wind all day.

To start the day, we headed to the pools just east of Wells. As we got out on the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret on the back of the pools to the west of the track. Through the scope, we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill. It was heading for the corner by the track, but by the time we were ready to head down there, it was flushed and flew back out to the middle, before working its way the other way down towards the back corner.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding on the pool west of the track

There were lots of Greylags in the grass around the pools the other side, and a good number of Egyptian Geese with them. Further back, we could see plenty of Wigeon and Teal too. There was no sign of the Little Stint here this morning unfortunately, but a Common Snipe flew round in front of us.

Walking through the bushes beyond the pools, we stopped to look at several Greenfinches feeding in the brambles – an uncommon bird these days. Then we made our way up onto the seawall beyond, where we could see several Brent Geese, Redshanks and Curlews out in the muddy channels in the harbour. A paler wader, its whiter underparts catching the sunlight, caught our attention. Through the scope we could see it was a Greenshank, a nice early addition to the list.

There seemed to be quite a few birds on the western pool, so we walked over for a closer look. There were more ducks on here, plus a few waders, notably two winter adult Ruff (one with a limp) and two Common Snipe busily probing in the mud. When all the birds spooked we looked across to see a Sparrowhawk coming through low, flushing everything.

While we were standing on the seawall, several Blue Tits and three Dunnocks came up out of the bushes in front of us. The way they circled up high into the sky before heading off strongly west suggested they were migrants on the move. Looking out over the saltmarsh, we saw several small groups of Carrion Crows heading west too. Migration in action.

As we walked back along the seawall, a smart male Yellowhammer flew in high and dropped down into the bushes. It disappeared in, but after a few minutes it flew out again and landed in the top of one of the larger hawthorns where we could get a good look at it. There were several Reed Buntings in the bushes here too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew high over calling and disappeared off towards Wells – possibly another bird on the move.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – dropped into the bushes by the seawall

We carried on east along the Coastal Path – there had been a Dusky Warbler further down at Warham Greens for the last few days, although it hadn’t been seen this morning as far as we could tell. We decided to have a look ourselves anyway. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way quickly along the hedge past us, but we couldn’t see anything with it as it did so. A couple of Song Thrushes flushed from the hedge and flew off inland, presumably freshly arrived migrants which had been taking a break. Two Kingfishers flew in across the saltmarsh and disappeared off behind us.

There were a few people looking and they confirmed there had been no sign of the Dusky Warbler. While we stood for a few minutes and listened, we looked out over the saltmarsh. There were good numbers of Pink-footed Geese coming in today – we saw some flocks arriving from distantly out beyond the beach, over the sea, while others came in from the east across the saltmarsh, presumably having made landfall already earlier. As they got closer, we could hear their distinctive yelping calls. A Marsh Harrier was hunting along the edge of the dunes. A flock of Golden Plovers circled up in the distance.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were good numbers arriving this morning

Somebody walking in from the other way told us they had just seen a Whinchat beyond the pit, so we decided to head over that way to see if we could find it. As we were walking past the pit, several Reed Buntings and Goldfinches were in the bushes and then we heard a distinctive chacking call. A Ring Ouzel! We had a couple of glimpses as it flew between the bushes before it disappeared out the back. We walked round the other side and it flew up out of the suaeda, calling. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and disappeared off to the east. Another migrant.

We found the Whinchat, feeding distantly out on the saltmarsh. We could see its pale sandy colouration and distinctive pale superciliun through the scope. There were two Stonechats too, a pair. And we could now see some of the Golden Plovers tucked down in the vegetation in the distance, amazingly well camouflaged.

We walked back to the pools at Wells, but there was still no sign of the Little Stint. Four more Ruff had dropped in on the pools by the track now. We watched as a Marsh Harrier over the field beyond, flushed lots of Skylarks and Linnets from the stubble.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the minibus and headed round to Wells beach car park. A Common Buzzard flew low over the car park and several Jays flew back and forth from the pines.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – flew low over the beach car park at lunchtime

After lunch, we walked up onto the seawall and had a look out over the harbour. There were lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers on the mud across from the lifeboat station.

Looking out the other side, towards the sea, we could see a Grey Plover down on the edge of the channel. On the sand the other side, we found several Bar-tailed Godwits roosting in with the Oystercatchers and a few Turnstones in amongst the Redshanks. Further out, a Great Black-backed Gull was feeding on a dead seal on the sand in the distance and a single Sanderling was running around it. A Rock Pipit flew over calling.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the boating lake

From the harbour, we made our way into the woods. As we passed the boating lake, we could see several Little Grebes diving, out on the water. Juts beyond, as we headed for the trees, we heard a Bullfinch calling from the bushes by the path, and had a quick glimpse as it shot past.

It felt like the wind had picked up this afternoon, and it was blustery in the trees – not ideal conditions. We walked in through the birches and round the Dell, finding very little. Only on the far side, did we finally find a tit flock. We tried to follow them, but they were moving very quickly, not stopping for long in the branches which were being blown around by the wind.

Eventually the flock stopped in the bushes by the main path – we walked round the corner and found ourselves surrounded by Long-tailed Tits. We could hear Chiffchaffs calling and saw one or two flitting around in the branches, along with a Blackcap. Then we heard the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler – just the bird we had hoped to find – but it seemed to be deep in the trees. The flock looked like they might come down to drink and bathe in the puddles on the path, two Coal Tits kept trying to drop down but were too nervous. Then the whole flock disappeared back towards the birches over by the toilet block.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we chased a tit flock through the Woods

We walked all the way round to the birches and found the tit flock again in the trees. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler with them now, although we did have a nice view of several Goldcrests feeding low in the birches. Then the whole disappeared up into the tops of the pines.

There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on Quarles Marsh, but nothing in the bushes in the open area the other side of the main path today. We walked on as far as the drinking pool, but it was quiet here too. A Jay flew up from where it had been bathing and stopped to preen in the trees. It was just too breezy this afternoon and the tit flocks all seemed to have gone into the pines to find shelter. We decided to cut our losses and headed back to the car park.

Jay

Jay – preening after bathing in the drinking pool

To finish the afternoon, we headed round to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down by the river, we found a tit flock in the trees. A Goldcrest was in with them, but despite following them through the sallows all the way down to the seawall we couldn’t find anything else.

From up on the seawall, we could see a single Spoonbill out on one of the islands. It was awake but quickly went to sleep – typical Spoonbill! Most of the large flock which gathered here at the end of the summer had departed now, probably to Poole Harbour where they like to spend the winter, but a small number are still around, for the time being at least. Five Little Egrets were tucked up in front of the reeds at the back, out of the wind. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in from the harbour and dropped down onto the Fen.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was still one left on the Fen this afternoon

Looking out the other way, we could see a distant Marsh Harrier quartering over the Point. A Kingfisher skimmed low over the harbour channel below us and disappeared upstream. Through the scope, we could see three Red-breasted Mergansers out in the harbour. Lots of Oystercatchers, Brent Geese and gulls were scattered around the muddy edges.

Unfortunately it was time to head back now. As we walked down the path beside the river, a Green Sandpiper flew up from the direction of the Fen and disappeared off west. A nice bird to end the day on, but we were looking forward to more tomorrow.

22nd Sept 2019 – Autumn Migration, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Migration tour today. It was another bright and sunny morning, with the temperature soaring to a heady 27C, although the wind picked up in the afternoon and it clouded over later. Thankfully, the rain helpfully held off until after we had finished for the day.

Our first destination for the day was going to be Burnham Overy, but as we made our way over there we drove round via some old barns beside the road. Once again, the Little Owl was sunning itself in the window frame, just where we had seen it a couple of days ago. Always a good way to start the day!

We parked at the head of the track which goes out across the grazing marshes and stopped to scan the fields first. A small group of Golden Plovers was tucked down in the middle of one of the fields, well camouflaged in the stubble. A Pheasant was down along the back edge and looking more closely we found several Grey Partridges with it. A Red Kite circled over and flushed all the Golden Plover, which whirled round calling. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese kept flying up from the grazing marshes and heading over us inland to feed.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying inland to feed first thing

Even from here, we could see a couple of white shapes with the cows way out on the grazing marshes which through the scope we could confirm were Cattle Egrets. We set off down the track for a closer look. A Chiffchaff calling in the hedge popped up onto the top briefly.

What was possibly part of the same covey of Grey Partridges was now on the other side of the hedge, on the edge of the grazing marsh which meant we got a much closer view of them, when they came out from the edge. We heard a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper calling overhead, but couldn’t see them from where we were on the tree-lined track.

The cows were now at the far side of the grazing marsh, below the seawall. As we got to the end of the track, closer to them, we could see one or two Cattle Egrets. But the cows were feeding around the edge of a reed-fringed pool and some were hidden from view. Gradually more appeared from the vegetation or out of the ditch, until we were sure we could see at least six Cattle Egrets here.

From up on the seawall, we had an even better view. The pool is rapidly drying out and the Cattle Egrets were having great success catching and eating frogs which were revealed in the bottom. It was a bit gruesome, but we watched one throwing its catch around to try to kill it and then swallowing it whole. Some video of the moment is below. Three more of the egrets then also caught themselves frogs just while we were standing there watching.

Cattle Egret 1

Cattle Egret – we watched several of them catching and eating frogs

Having watched the Cattle Egrets for a while, we turned our attention to the harbour the other side. There were lots of waders feeding on the mud just below the seawall on our side – mostly Redshanks, but a single juvenile Knot and a few Dunlin were in with them.

Further over, out in the middle of the harbour, we could see a line of Grey Plovers roosting on a sand bar, some of them still sporting the remnants of their summer black bellies and faces. There were also a few Ringed Plovers, Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits out in the harbour, and a single Sanderling on the sand on our side of the main channel.

There are always hundreds of Brent Geese here through the winter, but they are only just starting to return from their breeding grounds in Russia now. We could see ten distantly out in the harbour. There were several Wigeon along the side of the channel, including one smarter drake already seemingly moulting out of its dull eclipse plumage.

We walked back along the seawall to scan the reedbed pool, which produced a couple of Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were staying tucked down out of the breeze today. A Kingfisher zipped in over the mud behind us and round over the reedbed, in a flash of electric blue. It carried on right past us and seemed to be heading out across the grazing marsh, but changed its mind and did another fly past back the other way before dropping down into one of the pools in the reeds.

A Marsh Harrier came in over the harbour, flushing all the waders and ducks. It then flew in over the seawall past us, a juvenile with dark chocolate brown body and pale head.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in over the harbour

The sound of Pink-footed Geese yelping was a constant backdrop to the morning, with groups coming and going from the grazing marshes. At one point, a large group seemed to have been flushed from the stubble fields inland where they had been feeding and flew back in. We watched as they whiffled down to join the others already in the grass. While we were scanning from here, we spotted two Great White Egrets flying off away from us towards Holkham.

Continuing out to the boardwalk, a small flock of Swallows came overhead and disappeared off east. Looking out the other way, we picked up three Grey Herons flying high west out over Scolt Head. There were obviously still a few birds on the move today. The bushes around the boardwalk were very quiet today, but there was a lot of disturbance with people and dogwalkers coming and going from the beach and dunes. We picked up a distant Whinchat perched on the suaeda out on the saltmarsh, a nice migrant stopping off on its way south.

While standing here, we heard a single short rattling call – a Lapland Bunting. It then went quiet and we didn’t see where it went. However, a couple of minutes later it came back over calling again, a rattle and a sharp ‘teu’. This time we picked it up flying overhead and we watched it as it disappeared away to the west over Gun Hill. Lapland Buntings are scarce winter visitors here in very variable numbers. They were in very short supply last winter, but the early signs are that it might be a good autumn for them so fingers crossed for a better winter this time.

Continuing out through the dunes to Gun Hill, there were several Stonechats in the bushes, and a Whinchat with them. We got a much better view of this one, as it perched on the top of the bushes, flying up trying to catch flies. The Whinchat was noticeably paler than the Stonechats, with a prominent pale supercilium. There were lots of Linnets in the bushes here too.

The tide had come in quickly in the harbour as we had walked out. The sandbar they had been on was under water, and the Grey Plovers were now roosting up on the saltmarsh with several Redshanks. A large flock of Ringed Plovers was on the opposite bank of the channel, and several Dunlin and one or two Turnstone were with them, thought they were constantly getting flushed by the boats sailing back and forth.

It was lovely out in the dunes in the sunshine, looking out over the harbour, but we had a long walk back ahead of us. Back on the seawall, the Pink-footed Geese were very jumpy, not helped by first a light aircraft and then a helicopter coming low over them – surprising there still aren’t better restrictions to prevent disturbance here.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – constantly getting spooked by aircraft today

Four Red Kites circled over in the sunshine, as we got back to the reedbed. Down on the track across the grazing marshes several of the Cattle Egrets were feeding with the cows on the short grass by the path now.

Cattle Egret 2

Cattle Egret – feeding around the cows’ feet on the way back

When we got back to the minibus, we drove round to Holkham for lunch at the Lookout cafe. After we had recovered from the morning’s walk, we set off west along the track on the inland side of the trees. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling but they were high in the pines. A Hobby appeared briefly over the tops.

As we got to Salt’s Hole, a Kingfisher zipped across the water at the back and swooped into the trees out of view. There were several Little Grebes out on the water, and they were very active today, chasing each other round, calling like madmen laughing at us. A Jay flew across the back.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – chasing each other round the pool

We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling behind us and turned to find a couple in the holm oaks. They paused briefly but then zipped through and disappeared into the trees round the side of the pool. More birds followed but frustratingly most didn’t stop – we saw Coal Tit and Chaffinch as they came through, but just heard and caught a glimpse of Goldcrest.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – one or two paused briefly in the holm oaks

Carrying on along the track, the wind had picked up and the trees were being caught by the breeze once we got out of the shelter of the poplars on the south side of the track. Two juvenile Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds in front of Washington Hide as we walked up but the sycamores behind the hide were quiet. We could hear more tits deep in the trees opposite.

Continuing west, we stopped as another tit flock flew out of the pines by Meals House, but they flew straight through the sycamores and disappeared into the thick holm oaks in the garden. We were hoping to find some migrants with the tits along the track here this afternoon, but it seemed to be a recurring theme that the flocks were not stopping to feed in the deciduous trees by the path, possibly due to the wind.

We were rewarded with good views of a Hobby above the pines, presumably hunting for dragonflies and other insects. It kept coming out into view over the path and then disappearing back over the treetops, circling.

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects over the edge of the pines as we walked out

We had a quick look from Joe Jordan Hide. There had apparently been several Great White Egrets on the pool here earlier, but there was no sign of them now. There were plenty of raptors though. A Peregrine flew in and starting chasing pigeons through the trees in Decoy Wood. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grazing marsh and a Red Kite over the park beyond. One of the very pale Common Buzzards was perched in the top of one of the bushes.

The trees just to the west of the crosstracks were less exposed to the wind but still seemed to be quiet, so we decided to try our luck somewhere else. As we walked back along the track, another Red Kite hung over pines where the Hobby had been earlier.

We drove round to Wells Woods for one last roll of the dice, thinking that it might be a bit more sheltered in the trees there. Their seemed to be a fair few migrants turning up fresh in elsewhere along the coast this afternoon – flycatchers and a Yellow-browed Warbler – so we figured there had to be something in the woods along here somewhere. The ice cream van is strategically places by the gate, and we couldn’t resist the temptation – we ate our ice creams as we walked into the trees.

As we walked through the birches it started to cloud over and the wind picked up even more. Some of the trees were being lashed by the breeze now, and we couldn’t find any birds at first. Undeterred, we continued round the Dell, and on the far side we walked into a tit flock. Suddenly there were birds everywhere and we didn’t know where to look.

There were lots of tits – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits. A Goldcrest was flitting around low down in a yew trees, giving us a great look. We heard a Treecreeper calling and first one appeared on the trunk of a tree, then a second flew in behind us and landed low down on a pine, working its way slowly up the side.

Then the flock were off, moving quickly through the birches in the Dell. We tried to follow and it seemed like we might have lost them until we walked into the middle of them again on the bank on the north side of the Dell, more Long-tailed Tits and another nice Goldcrest low down in a bush right above our heads.

A small bird then flew in to the lower branches of a pine above us. It seemed wrong for a Goldcrest and when we looked at it, we could see it was very clean white below. Then it turned its head and flashed its long pale superilium – a Yellow-browed Warbler! It flitted around in the pine for a few seconds, but then as the Long-tailed Tits all flew past into the birches, it followed and we lost sight of it.

The tit flock moved really quickly from there, round the east side of the Dell. We followed, but we just got glimpses of the birds as they flew past us between the trees. Then they seemed to stop for a couple of minutes in the sallows either side of the main path. We tried to find the Yellow-browed Warbler again as the flock crossed the path, but there was no sign of it. All we could find were two Chiffchaffs which stopped to feed in a small oak. Then the flock disappeared through the bushes towards the caravan park, where we couldn’t follow. It would have been nice to see the Yellow-browed Warbler for longer, but at least we had seen it!

It was time to call it a day now and get everyone back.

16th Nov 2019 – Autumn to Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Winter Tours today. It still had a distinctly autumnal feel this morning, misty and grey first thing. The cloud gradually lifted a bit and even though it remained cloudy, it was dry and mild.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we could see a couple of large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the coast. They landed in a field by the road and through the hedge we could see thousands of them already packed in there. Unfortunately there was nowhere to pull in and we had someone else right behind us, so we couldn’t stop.

Our first destination for the morning was Blakeney. As we got out of the car by the harbour, it was rather misty further out across the saltmarsh. A lone Curlew was busy feeding down in the harbour channel. We stopped by the wildfowl collection briefly – amongst all the captive exotics there were lots of opportunists come to help themselves to all the seed put out, mostly Mallards and Black-headed Gulls.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding in the harbour channel at Blakeney

A gaggle of Brent Geese was feeding out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour, so we got the scope on them for a closer look. There was a gathering of gulls next to them, again mainly Black-headed Gulls with one or two Common Gulls in amongst them. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were perched on the top of the masts of the yachts pulled up at the far end of the car park.

A slightly paler backed large gull was swimming down in the harbour channel. It was not pale enough for a Herring Gull, and too dark for a Lesser Black-backed Gull, with legs neither pink nor yellow, but a rather insipid fleshy colour. It is a regular here, and has been coming back for years, having found rich pickings on the seed in the wildfowl collection. It is a hybrid, probably Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, we could see three Marsh Harriers circling in the mist, slow to get going this morning. One perched in the top of a bush so we could look at it in the scope. A Common Buzzard flew over, heading for the trees over by the village. Then out over the saltmarsh, we spotted a Merlin hunting, flying across low and fast. We got several flashes of it as it darted back and forth and then it eventually landed, perched on a dead branch out in the middle.

The pools below the bank held a few Teal and one or two Redshank. A Little Grebe was busy diving on the largest of them. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a couple of Reed Buntings flew up and across to the saltmarsh. A flock of Linnets was feeding out on the edge of the harbour, and whirled round from time to time.

A pipit flew in over the bank calling, and dropped down onto a small puddle in the cut grass on the edge of the Freshes. It was a Rock Pipit – come in from the salty side for a bathe. As it fed round the edge for a couple of minutes beforehand, we could see it was wearing a yellow colour ring and through the scope we could read the black letters. It is probably from Norway – the Rock Pipits which spend the winter out on the saltmarsh here are of the Scandinavian race, littoralis.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit – a colour-ringed bird, probably from Norway

Looking out into the harbour from the corner of the seawall, we could see lots of waders on the more open mud. Hundreds of small Dunlin were scurrying around busily, with a scattering of the larger Grey Plover standing or walking slowly around in amongst them. Two slightly larger and dumpier grey birds in with the Dunlin were two Knot. There were more Redshank and Curlew too. When something flushed lots of waders from further out in the harbour, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits circled round and we spotted three Common Snipe which came calling out of the mist.

This is a good site for Twite in the winter and there has been a group here for the last few days. As we stood scanning the harbour, they flew in and landed down by the path in the wet grass briefly. Unfortunately, just at that moment, two people decided to walk down the path and flushed them.

Thankfully the Twite didn’t fly far and landed again in the low vegetation a little further along. We walked over and got great views of them in the scope, sixteen of them in total (although they are very well camouflaged even in the low vegetation and not easy to count!). We could see their yellow bills and orangey breasts. Three Skylarks were picking around in the low vegetation too.

Twite

Twite – there were 16 at Blakeney today

On the walk back to the car, we found a pair of Stonechats feeding in the reeds just below the seawall. We stopped to watch them, fluttering up from the tops, flycatching, before landing back and flicking their tails.

Continuing on east along the coast, our next stop was at Sheringham. We wanted to try to see the King Eider which has been lingering offshore here for a couple of weeks now. It has been favouring the water off the west end of the prom, so we started our search there. There were several Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls on the groynes below the cliffs and a 1st winter Caspian Gull flew past, heading west towards a couple of crab boats which were hauling up their pots away to the west, surrounded by gulls.

Looking out to sea, we could see lots of Starlings coming in over the water, in small groups or larger flocks of 50 or so, birds arriving from the continent for the winter. They seemed to be streaming in constantly. Several groups of Starlings came in right towards us and over the cliffs where we were standing. There were a few thrushes in with them, Redwings and Fieldfares. One or two Blackbirds came in low over the sea too.

We picked up a Woodcock coming in next. It seemed to head straight into the face of the cliffs, but a couple of seconds later it circled over the top and came along the path straight towards us. At the last minute it saw us, just before it crashed into us, panicked and went to land on the path just a couple of metres away, then changed its mind and flew up over the bank and off across the golf course. There was a great variety of migrants arriving this afternoon – this Woodcock had possibly come in all the way from Russia for the winter.

There was no sign of the King Eider on the sea off the lifeboat station, so we walked a little further west along the cliffs until we had a better view beyond. We stopped to scan and could see a few Gannets circling out over the water. A small group of Red-throated Divers flew past. There were a few ducks moving offshore too – a flock of Wigeon, then a line of Common Scoter with several Teal following behind – more migrants arriving for the winter.

Finally we spotted the King Eider, but it was a long way back to the east of where we were now. We had a quick look through the scope, but it was rather distant. So we walked back towards the prom to try to get a closer look. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it had disappeared again. A crab boat had motored out to where it had just been.

There are normally one or two Purple Sandpipers which spend the winter here, so we decided to walk down along the prom to see if we could fine one, while keeping our eyes peeled for the King Eider. Half way along, we met a couple of other birders who had found the King Eider again, but it was now a lot further out. Apparently, it had moved offshore in response to the crab boat. It was also steadily drifting east. We had another look at it, but figured we might be able to get a better view from the east end.

We scanned the rocky sea defences as we made our way further. There were lots of Turnstones along the prom, perched on the wall, or feeding on chips thrown down onto the concrete for them. When we got to ‘the tank’, we looked over the railing and could see a Purple Sandpiper feeding with one of the Turnstones on the seaweed covered rocks below us.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper – feeding on the sea defences along the prom

Thankfully we had already enjoyed good views of the Purple Sandpiper, before something spooked all the birds along the prom – gulls, feral pigeons, waders, the lot. We couldn’t see any likely threat here, but the Turnstones flew off and took the Purple Sandpiper with them.

Finally, we got a good view of the King Eider from here. It is an immature male, still moulting out of eclipse plumage, but over the last couple of weeks it has been here it is gradually starting to look a bit brighter. We could see the bright orange frontal lobes at the base of the bill, between its regular dives to look for crabs.

King Eider

King Eider – the immature male was still off Sheringham

King Eider is a high arctic species, which is very rare this far south. They breed in arctic Russia and winter along the north Scandinavian coast. Presumably, once this bird completes its moult, it will make its way back north. But in the meantime, it seems to be finding plenty to eat here.

Back at the car, we stopped for lunch in one of the shelters on the top of the cliffs, overlooking the sea. Afterwards, we started to make our way back west.

When we got to Salthouse, we turned towards the beach. There were lots of Wigeon on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh. We parked and walked up over the shingle until we could see the sea. A few Gannets drifted past offshore and one of the first birds we found on the sea was the Great Northern Diver which had been reported here earlier. We had a good look at it through the scope between dives – a big diver with a heavy bill and black half collar.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver – on the sea off Salthouse today

There were several Guillemots and Razorbills further out on the sea today, all busily diving too. A group of at least 18 Pied Wagtails were feeding further up the beach on the top of the shingle, fluttering about looking for insects on the stones.

As we made our way back to the car, we bumped into one of the locals who informed us that the Yellow-browed Warbler was showing well just the other side of Sarbury Hill. We found somewhere to park and walked along the footpath to where it had been. There were a couple of other people there watching it and after a minute or so it flew up into a sycamore in the hedge.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – in a hedge along the footpath between Salthouse & Cley

The Yellow-browed Warbler was hard to see at first, flitting around in the back of the tree and occasionally disappearing down into some thicker hawthorns next to it, but eventually everyone got a good look at it. This is rather late for a Yellow-browed Warbler – they are regular now between mid September and the end of October, but few linger this long. Hopefully it will still find enough food to fuel up before continuing on its journey.

We headed round to Cley beach next, in the hope we might catch up with a Short-eared Owl here. Half way along Beach Road, we stopped to talk to a couple of people up on the West Bank looking out over the marshes beyond. They had just seen a Short-eared Owl, but it had gone down into the vegetation out along the start of Blakeney Point.

We continued on to the car park, intending to have a look out to sea from here while keeping one eye out for the owl. As we got out of the car, a large flock of Golden Plover whirled over the Eye Field, breaking up into smaller groups and joining up again, before drifting away. Their yelping calls alerted us to several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the west. We watched as they whiffled down onto the grazing marshes. Through the scope, we could see a flock of Brent Geese, a couple of Canada Geese and all the Pinkfeet in one view.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – whiffling down to the grazing marshes

Turning our attention to the sea, a quick scan revealed three Velvet Scoters offshore. Through the scope, we could see the two white spots on their dark brown faces and the white in the wing forming a diagonal white stripe on their flanks. A female Common Scoter appeared with them and several Guillemots were offshore too.

With no sign of the Short-eared Owl reappearing, we decided to walk along the shingle to see if we could find the flock of Snow Buntings which had been along here earlier. We had just started walking away when we got a phone message to say the owl was up again and headed our way. We turned back, and had another scan which quickly revealed the Short-eared Owl perched on the top of a post, against the skyline.

One everyone had enjoyed a good look at the Short-eared Owl through the scope, it was off again hunting, flying with distinctive stiff wing beats. It disappeared round behind some gorse bushes and didn’t come out the other side so presumably had landed again. We could see several Marsh Harriers starting to gather over the marshes beyond, before going to roost.

It was getting dark fast now, not helped by the grey and overcast afternoon, but we decided to have a quick look for the Snow Buntings anyway. We got as far as the point where the vegetation is thickest on the top of the shingle, between the pill box and North Scrape, when we head a ‘crest calling and turned to see it fly right past us. It was either a Goldcrest or a Firecrest, though it sounded perhaps more like the latter, presumably fresh in off the sea. It circled round, but unfortunately we lost sight of it in the gloom as it dropped down into the vegetation. We had a quick look where it seemed to go down but there was no sign.

The light was clearly going now, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the car. With more birds arriving this evening, it will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.