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BIRDING DIARY
Trip reports and latest news from Oriole Birding tours
Date: 2018-02-07

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NORFOLK BRECKS WINTER DAY TOUR - 14TH FEBRUARY 2018 [JM]

Overcast with rain last thing, moderate southerly, becoming stronger, 6C

 

Today we headed south into the Norfolk Breckland, with this daytrip aiming to take in as many of the regions speciality species as possible. With the finer weather forecast for the first half of the day, it made a lot of sense to attempt those species which respond best to good conditions. With that in mind, we headed first for an area of forestry where we might encounter Woodlarks. Right on cue, the liquid song of a male Woodlark was filling the air as we arrived, the bird singing from a lone oak tree. Providing good scope views, we were able to note the distinct white supercilium and black eyestripe, and black-white-black mark on the wing formed by a white tip to the alula and black-centred, white-tipped primary coverts. Shortly followed by another vocal male, the two birds performed some aerial display and full song flights over the clearing, really giving the full show! A Mistle Thrush and three Common Buzzards were also noted, two of the buzzards being striking pale morphs. With the Woodlarks having performed so well, we decided to take a walk further into the forest and clearings, where we encountered two more Woodlark territories, a couple of singing Yellowhammers and a flock of around 40 Linnets. Back at the van, we took a drive around to an ideal location for scanning for Goshawks. Setting up scopes, we noted numerous Common Buzzards up in the far distance and two Red Kites, but Gos activity was distinctly lacking for a long period of time (an adult male Goshawk which dashed through at treetop level was unfortunately too brief for most). However, after about 45 minutes the group picked up on an extremely distant bird which was then joined by another. The size difference was distinct, showing this to be a male and female Goshawk, the birds showing off some of their distinctive structure and aerial acrobatics. A Sparrowhawk briefly joined one of the Goshawks, showing the enormous difference in size, and also totally different structure and flight behaviour exhibited between these two superficially similar species. Our hour-long vigil was well worth it!

 

Our next port of call would be Santon Downham. Here we stopped for lunch at the level crossing, which proved to be one of our best decisions of the day, as after finishing our sandwiches, a quick walk to the road revealed the feint calls of some Crossbills, which materialised into 19 Parrot Crossbills in a beech tree! The birds flew across the parking area, landing in another bare deciduous tree, before flying north, and then coming back overhead and landing in the original tree. Scope views were enjoyed of these fantastic large finches before they flew south and weren’t seen again for the rest of the day. A three-minute sighting, and a real stroke of luck, being in the right place at the right time. Following this we spent a little more time in the general area, noting 2 Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, several Siskins and a Brambling in the process. The sky was darkening rather ominously by now, and with rain forecast to hit by 4pm, we headed to Lynford Arbouretum. A Treecreeper gave good views, while the bird feeders were typically busy here, offering great views off all the typical woodland species, while the overhead alder trees held numerous Siskins and at least two Lesser Redpolls. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was also present above the river. Rain had begun to fall now, so we headed out to the paddock. A scan of the treetops was rewarded with a single Hawfinch which flew in from the north and landed on an exposed treetop. The wind was howling through the trees and the bird soon dropped in to roost, just about offering scope views beforehand. Unusually, this was the only Hawfinch we noted coming into the area this evening, despite observing the area for a good time. Undoubtedly the usual performance was hampered by the strong wind and rain; we were lucky to see one! We headed back to the van in fairly heavy rain, but looking back, we had had a really decent day!

 

 

NORFOLK BROADS WINTER DAY TOUR  13TH FEBRUARY 2018 [JM]

Overcast but dry, strong southerly, 6C

 

Today saw us out east, cruising round some well-known, and some lesser known sites in search of Broadland species. Following a pick-up from Thickthorne Park and Ride on the south side of Norwich we made our way to the south of Great Yarmouth and, following some minor traffic diversions which took us on a tour of the local housing estates, towards Waveney Forest! One of our first encounters here was a recently plucked Woodcock. Apparently taken by a bird of prey, it was interesting to find several tail feathers, which we examined closely to see the bright white tip which the bird ‘flashes’ by lifting the tail if startled. The walk across the forestry revealed several Goldcrests and a showy Treecreeper, before we arrived at ‘the mound’ overlooking Fritton Marsh. While here we noted a large number of Pink-footed Geese, Little Egret, several Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard. However, with strong winds sweeping across the marsh, our main quarry, the Rough-legged Buzzard, was nowhere to be seen, presumably hunkered down somewhere out of sight. Moving back through the forestry, a flyby Woodcock shot across the footpath, though it unfortunately eluded most of the group. Back in the van, we made our way into Great Yarmouth, where a slice of bread (generously donated from the guides lunch!) did the trick in attracting about 30 Mediterranean Gulls from far and wide. Seeing these beautiful species so close is a real treat, and we were able to observe birds of all age groups, including 1st winter, 2nd winters and full adults. Our final stop on this part of the coast would be Bure Park, where we connected easily with the long staying Glossy Ibis, still at home on this patch of flooded parkland and showing very well.

 

Next, we would find ourselves exploring some inland areas in search of Cranes. A drive in and around the Repps area proved fruitless, with the large numbers seen on our last visit having moved away. However, a visit to the marshes south of Ludham proved more productive, with two Common Cranes visible feeding just across the river here, giving nice scope views through the swaying reeds. A further highlight here was a group of 13 Whooper Swans, consisting of 8 juveniles and 5 adults, while other sightings from here and towards St Bennet’s Abbey included large numbers of Golden Plover and Fieldfare, a single Redwing and good numbers of Marsh Harriers. We stopped by the spectacular Brambling flock north of Ludham, where the 300-strong flock continues to feed in their favoured field.  We then took a circuitous route around to Hickling, travelling around the areas surrounding Horsey, Sea Palling and Ingham, noting more than 100 Mute Swans, several Marsh Harriers, Fieldfares and a Common Buzzard along the way. By about 15:20 it was time to make our way over to Stubb Mill. The forecast for today had strongly suggested that we would be getting wet about now, but the rain never came, so we headed out to the roost; you have to be in it to win it! It proved to be a good gamble as, despite strong winds and dark skies, we noted 45 Gadwall and 100s of Teal and Wigeon on the walk out, while the viewpoint produced two feeding Common Cranes, three ringtail Hen Harriers which put on a good performance, a steady procession of arriving Marsh Harriers and, finally, a further eight bugling Common Cranes. These latter birds landed a short distance behind us and, with their calls filling the air, we couldn’t resist taking a closer look. While their grounded location was hiden from view, we achieved fantastic flight views as these majestic birds floated in pairs slowly towards Hickling Broad. A fantastic end!

 

 

NORFOLK COAST IN WINTER - DAY TOUR  12TH FEBRUARY 2018 [JM]

Bright and sunny, cold with a light SW wind, 2C

 

Today saw us out on a North Norfolk day trip, where we aimed to take in the best of what the coast has to offer. Meeting our group at the Blue Boar in Great Ryburgh, we headed up through the Norfolk countryside, into the areas surrounding Ringstead, seeking Pink-footed Geese. Before long we found a large flock, which has been feeding on sugar beet tops for the last few days. The light was fantastic, making for very pleasant viewing of this natural spectacle. Not long after arriving we noted the vivid orange legs of a Tundra Bean Goose within the flock. However, frustratingly the bird dropped into a deep furrow and was lost from view before any of the group could see it! Searching proved fruitless from this position (though several Fieldfare and Long-tailed Tits were enjoyed) so we moved to another viewpoint. This angle gave us excellent views of the Tundra Bean Goose, allowing us to note many of its distinguishing features, including a mantle lacking the steely grey wash of Pink-footed Geese and a heavier head and bill profile. Additional highlights included a small group of Grey Partridge in the same field and, arguably the highlight of the day, a Common Stoat in near full Ermine coat! This superb animal was hiding in a large beet pile watching us, before darting back and forth across the field and road. Superb! Heading down to the coast we stopped in at Thornham. Despite much searching the wintering Twite didn’t avail us, though a smart Spotted Redshank made up for it, as did excellent views of Rock Pipit and Skylark, plus a distant Red Kite, several Marsh Harriers and a male Stonechat. Many Shelduck, Teal, Redshank and Curlew were also present, all showing in fantastic light.

 

This Ermine Stoat was certainly the mammal highlight today, while the geese also put on a fantastic performance.

 

 

Next on the agenda was Titchwell, where we worked our way through the main body of the reserve, enjoying the usual wide variety of waders and wildfowl. Our good luck for this species continued, as we managed to find yet another Woodcock skulking deep within the undergrowth to the right of the path from the car park; that’s three in three attempts! As usual however, it was a bugger to spot, and moved on not long after we spotted it. A stunning male Brambling was present on the reserve feeders, its black summer plumage just being unveiled around the eye and ear coverts. A group of three Red Kites performing aerial acrobatics over Thornham Point looked rather out of place, though are now a common sight across much of Norfolk now, while other sightings included several Marsh Harriers, seven Pintail, Snipe, Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Knot, Dunlin, Ringed and Grey Plover. There was a fair chop on the sea which made viewing somewhat difficult, though Common Scoter, Great-crested Grebes, Goldeneyes and Red-breasted Mergansers were all noted, as were Sanderling on the shoreline with large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits. The walk back was enlivened by excellent views of Water Pipit on the freshwater marsh, showing its white ground colour and supercilium, white wing bars and well defined black flank streaks. A distant flock of Brent Geese briefly flew up over towards Holme marsh, their distinctive flight formation always a great Norfolk winter sight.

 

Time was flying, with Holkham our next destination, so we made our way. Stopping briefly to view the marshes provided views of five Russian White-fronted Geese amongst the throngs of Greylags and Egyptian Geese. Red Kite and Marsh Harrier were also seen well here. Onto Lady Anne’s Drive, the wintering flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese provided fantastic viewing, with a patrolling Barn Owl often in view in the background at the same time. Huge flocks of Wigeon and distant flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing completed the seen, likely being disturbed by the resident Marsh Harriers. The walk out to Holkham Gap and the marsh was a pleasant one, with the low sun still reaching us. This meant that, on reaching the far eastern end of the saltmarsh we were treated to fantastically lit Shorelarks feeding quietly amongst the old sea lavender heads, having apparently stuck out what would have been a rather large number of bank holiday visitors! Always a treat, we enjoyed these for some time, before walking back to Lady Anne’s Drive to soak up a beautiful sunset.

 

 

Norfolk Winter Wildfowl Spectacular February 2018 [JM]

 

Saturday 10th February 2018 - Sunny spells first thing, becoming overcast with rain, moderate south- westerly, 5C

 

Day five of our Winter Wildfowl tour was spent on the north coast of the county, where we would be able to visit a few sights which we hadn’t yet, and also to revisit some areas for birds that we had missed earlier in the week. Our first stop would be the Holkham fresh and salt marshes, where our main target would be Shorelark. Coming into Lady Anne’s Drive we were greeted by a nice flock of Brent Geese and Pink-footed Geese to the east in fantastic light. We pulled up and got the scopes out. Within the flock we quickly noted a darker bird with complete neck collar and bold white flank flash; the Black Brant hybrid which has been in the Holkham area all winter. An added treat here was a covey of six unusually showy and vocal Grey Partridges in the neighbouring field. Marsh Harriers, a Barn Owl, Ruff and numerous Lapwing were also noted here. Moving a little further along we counted 10 Common Snipe hiding in the long grass, numerous Wigeon and a large flock of Golden Plover over the distant meadows to the east. We then headed out to Holkham Gap. Walking out along the saltmarsh we soon encountered our quarry; a flock of nine Shorelark, feeding quietly amongst the low sea lavenders and providing us with good scope views. Always an enthralling bird, we tore ourselves away after a short while, heading back to the van. Leaving Lady Anne’s, we made a short stop along the main road to view the rest of the freshmarsh. Often a fruitful stop, this time was no different, with 88 Russian White-fronted Geese present spread out over the area, a single Great White Egret fishing out amongst the sedges and rushes, about 15 Black-tailed Godwits, numerous Egyptian Geese and a pair of territorial Marsh Harriers harassing an interloping Common Buzzard. Holkham rarely disappoints!

 

Being one of the UK's Strongholds, we are always pleased to see Grey Partridge. This Stonechat also showed well

 

 

From here, we decided to follow the news that a Tundra Bean Goose had recently been found near Ringstead with Pink-footed Geese. After initially struggling to locate the exact area the birds were favouring and instead conducting a looping search of the general area, we stumbled upon a flock which was split across two fields. A helpful local explained that the Bean was in the further field but, with birds slowly making there way to join the flock on our side, we decided to persevere here and search the flock thoroughly. After about 30 minutes of searching, we finally located the bird, its vivid orange legs standing out amongst the crowd in particular, in addition to its slightly heavier, orange-patched bill, stouter head profile and brownish mantle. A new bird for several in the group, and also newly split from Bean Goose, we were particularly happy with our efforts here! On to Titchwell, where a well-earned loo and lunch stop was in order, our luck continued, noting a skulking Woodcock deep within the undergrowth. This was particularly pleasing for those in the group who had missed the one on Monday. A single Brambling was seen under the busy bird feeders, and a Water Rail was showing quite well along the main ditch from the visitor centre. An attempt to locate Water Pipit at Thornham Pool proved unfruitful, but with persistent rain and strong winds, we were keen to make haste back to the van, happy with what we had achieved! One final act today (the weather was really closing in and we needed to be back at Ryburgh a little earlier than usual) was a second visit to Thornham, having missed out on Twite the first time. Things weren’t looking promising in heavy rain, but a last stroke of luck came as we noted them in the saltmarsh vegetation on our way out. The flock (only numbering around 15 today) flew to the car park, where they showed really well besides some freshwater puddles. An excellent way to end what has been a fantastic week of birding!


 

Friday 9th February 2018 - Overcast, rain first and last thing but dry otherwize, light north westerly, 5C

 

The penultimate day of your Norfolk birding week dawned rather grey and cool. The forecast wasn’t without its share of rain, expected to prevail through the earlier part of the morning, and then returning mid-afternoon. With that, our group headed east towards Great Yarmouth and the Broads fully aware that a bit of shower-dodging may be necessary! With rain falling fairly steadily during our journey, we pushed on to Great Yarmouth, where the regular Glossy Ibis could at least be enjoyed from the van! As it transpired, this wasn’t necessary, with the rain stopping soon before arrival, allowing us to enjoy excellent scope views of this fab bird as it probed the wet grass, gleaning several large earthworms from the mud. Moving through Great Yarmouth, it would have been a shame not to cruise the Pleasurebeach Promenade in search of Mediterranean Gulls. A scan of the beach produced around 10 birds, mostly in stunning adult plumage, and many possessing colour rings on their legs, revealing that we were looking at birds from Poland, Germany, Belgium and here on Great Yarmouth Beach! Now that the worst of the rain had probably passed, we headed south to Fritton, where we entered Waveney Forest. The walk through the woods produced a Green Woodpecker which had a habit of moving round the back of every tree that it perched on, making for tricky viewing! Arriving at the mound overlooking Fritton Marsh towards Haddiscoe Island, we enjoyed views of two Barn Owls hunting the marshes, and then soon located the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in its favoured corner of the marsh. Distant but acceptable views were had, particularly during its brief sorties between perches, revealing its striking white tail-base. Marsh Harriers were also present, as was a Chinese Water Deer, while Bearded Tits were typically heard but not seen. The walk back was graced by several Goldcrests and a far showier Green Woodpecker; a male watched feeding on the ground.

 

Our next route would take us up towards Repps, where we would travel around some likely areas, looking particularly for Common Cranes. We were in for a treat. Noting some dark shapes lining a distant maize cover crop, we parked up to take a look. No less than 33 Common Cranes were present here, their bugling calls carrying well in the wind, and some display noted. A fantastic flock! A number of Egyptian Geese also shared the fields. A short journey then saw us arrive in Ludham, where we searched the marshes around St Bennets Abbey, noting a few Golden Plovers amongst the many Lapwing. Moving on to another part of the marsh revealed a party of six Whooper Swans, while a calling Cetti’s Warbler was briefly seen in flight as it shot up from a reedy margin. Some mild excitement ensued when one group member located some Coot in a small channel; a bird some of the group feared we wouldn’t see at all this week; phew! A look across the River Thurne revealed two pairs of Common Cranes feeding quietly in the isolated marsh, taking our tally up to 37 for the day, though we weren’t finished yet!

 

The most majestic of all the Broadland birds, Common Cranes put on a real show today!

 

 

A short stop just north of Ludham gave up a small number of Brambling feeding in a weedy field along with several Linnets. At this point it became clear that the weather was taking a turn for the worst again, which made the prospect of making the usual evening visit to Stubb Mill rather unfavourable! Instead we opted to head around the north of Hickling, taking in the Horsey marshes and surrounding area. This proved to be a worthy substitute, as the area produced a huge flock of Mute Swans, around 1000 Pink-footed Geese (including excellent views of some close birds), several Marsh Harriers, and best of all four more Common Cranes on the deck. That took us up to 41 birds for the day, which is rather impressive! Following a hot drink and apple pie, we headed back to base, content that we had made the most of the day.

 

 

Thursday 8th February 2018 - A dry and bright morning, becoming overcast, light south-westerly, 3C

 

Greeted by a cold and crisp morning, and a good forecast for the day, we were all optimistic for some good birding. With this in mind, we headed for the north-east coast of the county, first of all to Mundesley. Here we walked the clifftops, noting a pair of Stonechats along the way. It didn’t take long to spot the wintering Glaucous Gull parading along the beach below us, where we were able to note the bird’s main features through the scopes. Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes were present on the sea here also. From here we headed west towards Sheringham, where we walked out to the promenade and were soon watching a single Purple Sandpiper. Unfortunately, this bird soon flew east and out of view. However, two more were quickly noted a little further along, where they showed beautifully in the sunshine (a rare thing during this rather grey winter period!).  As usual, many Turnstones were present here, along with a single Rock Pipit and several Red-throated Divers offshore.

 

Next on the agenda was Kelling, where we would have a go at getting to grips with the redpoll flock in the area. Several Brambling were noted with the good numbers of Chaffinches here, while a small number of Lesser Redpolls were also noted floating around. Not long after arriving we got some good views of a group of birds in the top of one of the ash trees, which included a lovely pale Mealy Redpoll, its heavily streaked underparts with white ground colour, white wing bars, pallid overall colouration and larger size separating it from the warmly coloured Lesser Redpolls. However, our main target here was to attempt to see the long-staying Arctic Redpolls which have been present in the flock. At one point we thought we had one, with many features seemingly fitting for this species. However, after getting views spread over three occasions and through reviewing photos, we finally felt this bird just didn’t quite fit the bill. Unfortunate, but that’s just the way it goes. In the end we had seen around 15 birds in total, including at least 3 Mealy Redpolls, so not a bad showing. A single Chiffchaff was seen here also. A short hop along the coast saw us arrive at Salthouse, where we noted four Ruff on the grazing marshes along with several Dunlin, Turnstones and many Wigeon and Teal. The walk along the shingle bank to Gramborough Hill was made worthwhile by the presence of about 50 Snow Buntings, all hunkering down low against the shingle against the cold south-westerly wind. Giving a few fly-pasts, the males in the flock in particular showed off their bright white wing-flashes. Dropping into Chey visitor centre to use the facilities, we noted Gadwall, Shoveler and Shelduck on the pools, though the scrapes were rather quiet overall today. A run along to Cley beach didn’t produce the expected Brent Geese (but a perched Barn Owl was spotted by one eagle-eyed member of the group), though a short pull into Morston Quay made up for this, with a fantastic flock of around 1000 Dark-bellied Brent Geese showing fantastically very close to the entrance track. Viewing from the van allowed us to really admire these stunning geese in all their glory. A look into the harbour produced the wintering Greenshank in its favoured tidal creek, in the company of several Common Redshanks.

 

One of the Lesser Redpolls at Kelling, and a rare view of one of the Sheringham Purple Sandpipers in the sunshine!

 

By now time had whizzed by, and we needed to get along to Stiffkey in time to view the nightly roost. Setting up scopes, we proceeded to carefully scan the marsh (whilst also enjoying a hot drink!). Our vigil proved to be a productive one, with a Merlin seen perched and in flight over to the east, one female Sparrowhawk, two ring-tail and a smashing grey male Hen Harrier which gave good prolonged flight views, at least three Marsh Harriers and a shingle Spotted Redshank out on the saltmarsh. An excellent haul, and a fantastic end to the days birding. One final treat was a roadside view of a ubiquitous Norfolk Barn Owl on our way home.

 

 

Wednesday 7th February 2018 – Dry and overcast with sunny spells, snow on the ground, light westerly wind, 2C

 

With a forecast of sunny spells and light winds today, things were primed for a ‘Brecks day’, with the hope that many of the speciality species from this region would come out to play. Our first stop would be ain the north Brecks, at a favoured site where Woodlark can be found. However, on arrival, with cloudy skies and snow on the ground, the birds were silent and elusive. We took a walk around the area of grassland and forestry, noting calling Nuthatch, various tit species and a single brief Siskin. As time passed the clouds broke and the sun came out, and right on cue, a Woodlark begun its beautiful liquid song. The bird was perched in the bare branches of an Oak, and was soon joined by what was apparently a female, which it proceeded to serenade. Soon after, a second male arrived, singing in the same tree as the original male. The two proceeded to produce short song phrases, bobbing and twitching agitatedly and fanning their tails, and occasionally tussling in flight. Clearly a territorial battle, and fascinating to watch! A real bonus here was catching site of a distant male Goshawk over the pines, which we were able to watch performing its ‘switch-back’ display flight high above the trees, before being joined by a second bird. A stroke of luck! A Mistle Thrush showed well here also, before we moved onto our next location, noting a very close Red Kite on route.

 

 

Unbeatable views of Woodlark and Red Kite were had by all early on this morning.

 

 

At our next stop, we parked up and got out, and were almost immediately greeted by a male Goshawk over the far trees, with its white undertail coverts fluffed out and glowing in the weak sunshine. A second bird; also a male, put in a brief showing, cruising low over the trees. A good morning for Gos! Also noted here were several Brambling using the cover crop, a single female Sparrowhawk, at least 6 Buzzards, dozens of Fieldfare and several Redwing, many Lapwings and numerous Pied Wagtails, all making use of the recently spread chicken muck being put onto the field in front of us, making for a rather fragrant experience! Onwards and upwards, we headed deeper into the forest, to Santon Downham. Here we enjoyed some rather nice riverside walks, offering good views of numerous chattering Siskins (including several in full song), showy Redwing, several Marsh Tits, a Water Rail, a brief Great-spotted Woodpecker and good views of Nuthatch and Treecreeper. A short stop on the way out proved well worth it as, with a little perseverance we picked up a calling, and then rather showy Firecrest, providing an explosion of colour during a break in the cloud, the rich moss greens, golds and whites of this little sprite showing really well in the sunshine. Fantastic! We then moved onto St Helen’s, where we took a walk in the hope of connecting with the long-staying but extremely mobile Parrot Crossbills. While we were unlucky with these, we had good views of Grey Wagtail along the river and several Moorhen and Little Grebes.

 

The final act of today would be to visit Lynford Arbouretum. The walk down to the paddocks was punctuated by good numbers of Siskins, Marsh Tits, Nuthatches, and the commonly occurring tits and finches. At the paddocks a scan of the treetops saw that Hawfinches had already begun to gather at their pre-roost area. Setting ourselves up, we enjoyed watching as these birds arrived, perching prominently and showing off their steel-grey bills and distinctive profiles. Back at the car park, a short wait was rewarded with 2 more Firecrests coming into their usual roost area. Unfortunately, these were not as obliging as the one earlier today, with one only heard and the other staying high up in a pine, before being lost from view. Still, a great way to end a superb Breckland day.

 

Tuesday 6th February 2018Snow showers throughout the morning, cold but calm and bright, 1C

 

With overnight snow and more forecast, we were prepared for a very wintry feel, and so it proved! However, with the very light winds and sunny spells, it turned out to be a beautiful crisp day. Our first port of call would be Holme beach, but on route we stopped near Choseley in an area of farmland. Here we were able to note Grey Partridge and Stock Dove, as well as good numbers of singing Skylarks and a large number of Common Gulls. A good start! Moving onto Holme beach, we made our way out across the dunes and marsh noting singing Skylarks and several Redshank and Shelduck along the way. At the shore, the cool northerly wind was quite biting, but with some perseverance we noted a drake Long-tailed Duck, two Fulmars, several Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Divers, several skeins of Brent Geese and a few Guillemots. During our watch a Snow Bunting called a loud ‘CHUU’ overhead and circled us several times before heading east towards Holme pines. Walking back a couple of Fieldfare were noted in the Buckthorn on the Golf Course, though there aren’t many berries left on this popular bush! Our next stop was the next village along, Thornham. Making our way down the Staithe Road we noted a Rock Pipit on the roadside which flew over towards a jetty and out of view. Walking to the sea wall a flash of electric blue caught the eye as a Kingfisher shot over the bank, unfortunately too quickly for most. However another sighting later provided better views as a bird darted along the main channel. A walk along the sea wall provided good views of roosting waders and wildfowl, with the tide nearly at its peak. A Spotted Redshank was a highlight, though good views of Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Knot, Dunlin, Curlew, Brent Geese, Shelduck and Teal were also enjoyed. Several Marsh Harriers were also noted quartering the marshes, while further excellent views of Rock Pipits were had in the area, though we couldn’t locate the wintering Twite unfortunately.

 

Following a coffee, we moved on, our next stop being the mighty Titchwell. Here we had a stroke of luck right from the off, spotting an elusive Woodcock deep in the undergrowth near the car park. Getting the scope on it, most of the group were able to enjoy fantastic views of this usually crepuscular bird, before it dashed deeper into the willows. A fantastic male Brambling was present on the feeders by the visitor centre, while the lagoons revealed an array of Marsh Harriers, wildfowl and waders, the highlights being 10 Red-crested Pochards (4 females and 6 males) roosting on the freshmarsh, good numbers of Common Pochard and excellent views of Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and most of the regular species. The sea was also productive, with at least two Velvet Scoter noted amongst a flock of perhaps 70 Common Scoter, several Goldeneye, Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Guillemots and a single Kittiwake. Making our way back we enjoyed more fantastic views of the regular wintering species. The next port of call was to search some of North Norfolk’s rich farmland areas, around Ringstead. These areas proved typically fruitful, with some fantastic mixed finch and bunting flocks containing many Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings, Bramblings and Chaffinches, while large numbers of Fieldfares carpeted many of the fields. We also had excellent views of Barn Owl here, hunting along the hedgerow edges, along with a couple of Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzard and Kestrel. To cap of an already good day, we headed off to a very recent feature of the Norfolk countryside; a Red Kite roost. Arriving at the location, we were greeted by the fantastic site of a tree-full of kites, numbering 15 birds. Amazing! This being a pre roost area, more birds came in over the course of our vigil, and we counted 25 in total. Heading home, another Barn Owl was a fitting end to a great day.        

 

Just some of the Red Kites seen this evening, and a drake and duck Red-crested Pochard at Titchwell 

 

 


 

NORFOLK BROADS DAY TRIP - SATURDAY 3RD FEBRUARY 2018 [JM]

 

Today we hosted the first Oriole Birding free day-trip of 2018, and it was a belter! After pick-ups from Sculthorpe and south of Norwich, we headed east to the most south-eastern reaches of the county, to the Waveney Forest. Here we hoped to encounter the wintering Rough-legged Buzzard, and we weren’t disappointed. Overlooking the Fritton and Chedgrave Marshes towards Haddiscoe Island, the bird was already being watched by Nick Parsons who was out for the day, and kindly pointed it out. It was perched on a distant gate post, and not doing a lot! However, with scopes trained it kindly took off and did a short flight across the marsh, showing off its striking broad white tale base and black trailing edge. Equally pleasing here were a male and female Merlin, the male in particular showing well on another gate post. Large numbers of Pink-footed Geese and several Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were noted while Bearded Tits and Reed Buntings called from the reedbeds, though views weren’t forthcoming. The walk through the forestry produced good numbers of Goldcrests, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits. Satisfied, we moved north to Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water. Though the initial arrival at the Asda Carpark is rather unassuming, the marsh here are always impressive! Tens of thousands of Wigeon, more than a 1000 Teal and Black-tailed Godwits and 100’s of Avocets, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing put on a fabulous show on a receding high tide, occasionally being put up by a passing Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier. Smaller numbers of Pintail, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Oystercatcher completed the impressive variety. We then headed into the town, where we enjoyed a number of Mediterranean Gulls swooping along the seafront.   A fantastic follow-up was a visit to Bure Park, where we enjoyed excellent views of a Glossy Ibis which had been found recently. Feeding on flooded lawns surrounded by Moorhens, it seemed happy enough!

 

Following lunch, we headed over towards Ludham, where we were first greeted by a small flock of 10 Bewick’s Swans feeding on the marshes with a few Mute Swans. A Sparrowhawk flashed across the road before we headed towards St Bennet’s Abbey and enjoyed a look at the remains of the impressive 9th century monastery situated in beautiful surroundings. A number of Fieldfare were seen, and Cetti’s Warbler was heard but not located. Moving along to another viewpoint of the marsh, we were greeted by 6 Whooper Swans, completing the hat-trick. A distant Barn Owl was watched hunting towards Thurne Village, followed by a flock of 5 Common Cranes noticed flying distantly over Rollesby. However, this view was bettered by two Common Cranes which were then spotted feeding just over the other side of the River Thurne. Though obscured by reeds, we were able to find a gap and enjoy excellent views of these impressive birds feeding quietly. Excellent! Another Cetti’s Warbler was heard near the van before we headed north through Ludham village. Not far along we paused alongside two fallow fields planted with a weed mix. Here we encountered a really impressive finch flock, containing more than 300 Bramblings and 200 Linnets. At times, when the flock was mobile it was like watching a snowstorm, with white Brambling rumps flashing all over! Really impressive. Another Bewick’s Swan was noted flying north.

The Glossy Ibis at Bure Park and Common Cranes in the Broads were two of many highlights from the day

 

 

We then moved on towards Hickling Broad and the Stubb Mill viewpoint. Always a great end to a day in the Broads, and this one didn’t disappoint! Two Common Cranes were seen feeding distantly in the far corner, two were noted calling distantly to the north and finally as we left we heads another flock of unknown number. In addition, both ringtail and a smart grey male Hen Harrier were noted coming into roost along with around 35 Marsh Harriers. Finally, a Tawny Owl begun to call from the woods to the north. Fieldfare, Shelduck and distant flocks of over a 1000 Lapwing were also noted, before we headed off, cold but satisfied, to end a great day.   

 


 

 

EXTREMADURA - WINTER IN THE SPANISH STEPPES - 29TH JAN - 2ND FEB 2018 [AS & MN]

 

THURSDAY 1ST FEBRUARYA breezy day with sunny spells, 10C

 

Today was our coldest day of the trip, with fresh winds throughout the day and a cloudy start making things feel decidedly nippy! We left as usual just as dawn was breaking and made the short journey onto the nearby Belen plain, a large area of agricultural steppe north-east of Trujillo. It was actually pretty quiet out here – we found flocks of Calandra Larks, a few Red Kites and Common Buzzards, Iberian Grey Shrike, Hoopoe and the usual droves of Spanish Sparrow and Corn Bunting. Our tactic was to drive slowly along, stopping when necessary to scan for bustards, but we could not find any despite searching a large area. The highlight was provided by several Griffon Vultures – first a small group on the ground in a field next to the road, and secondly three sitting on an electricity pylon! We had some superb views of them, and were able to compare the different plumages of adult and first-year individuals. Returning to Belen, we made our way back through Trujillo making a quick stop for toilets and fuel. Before heading north of the town and picking up the road towards Torrejon. Branching west towards Monroy, we stopped at a convenient vantage point where we found a Little Owl, and our presence encouraged about 500 of the local sheep herd to come noisily across the plain towards us, thinking they were going to be fed! This was our queue to exit, and we continued a short way along the road to another vantage point, where we would stop for coffee. The views across the plains in all directions were superb, and we had some good birds too – a small group of Rock Sparrows were feeding along the edge of an adjacent field with some Corn Buntings. This species is very easy to miss at this time of the year, leaving its breeding sites in the hills and joining mixed flocks of buntings and sparrows in farmland areas. We had excellent views of their super-stripy head pattern, before they disappeared over a ridge. Behind us, a ringtail Hen Harrier was quartering the fields favoured by Montagu’s Harriers in spring and summer.

 

The Rio Almonte crossing, just before the village of Monroy, would be our final stop of the morning. Crag Martins were wheeling round above us as we arrived here and out of the wind in this sheltered valley, we felt the warmest temperatures of the day. White and Grey Wagtails were along the river, and the surrounding bushes on the rocky slopes held many Song Thrush and Blackcap among other common birds. Careful scrutiny of movement among the bushes also revealed a couple of Hawfinches, though they never showed well and always preferred to remain hidden. A pair of Cirl Buntings were also found on the walk back, with the male singing briefly before both flew off upstream. A lovely spot, and all the time with Griffon Vultures passing overhead.

 

Heading up through Monroy, we stopped at a favourite spot north of the village on the road to Torrejon el Rubio. By a stand of Stone Pines, we had our lunch looking north across the dehesa towards Monfrague – but it was very cold and windy here! Nevertheless a Woodlark was up singing, and overhead among the steady stream of Griffon Vultures, three superb Black Vultures soared by. This whole area was full of Song Thrushes and Blackcaps too – we wondered how far some of these migrants may have travelled to spend the winter here in Spain. Continuing on through Torrejon, we then headed up into Monfrague National Park and in particular to the Castillo on the top of the low mountain ridge which forms the spine of the area. On the southern side of the ridge, it was beautifully sheltered and warm and we found a small number of Hawfinches feeding by the steps on the way up to the Castillo. They were coming to drink up by the picnic area, and we enjoyed excellent scope views of a male and female together for comparison. There were several Black Redstarts around, and Crag Martins buzzing overhead, as we made our way up the steep steps to the viewpoint. Here we filled our boots with the Griffon Vultures – such amazing views today, with the strong breeze encouraging large numbers onto the wing, gliding past us at eye level. The resident population of these birds were now well into their breeding cycle, and we watched them collecting sticks and grasses from a small derelict garden just below the viewpoint before carrying them across to the breeding ledges on the Pena Falcon cliff. Presumably these early nesters get to choose the best ledges, and gain a head start on the migrant population which will ne arriving from Africa to bolster the numbers in a few weeks time. High overhead we also saw Peregrine and a couple of Black Vultures, plus of course the spectacular views back south across the sweeping dehesa towards Trujillo.

 

 

Griffon Vulture and Black Stork, Monfrague National Park by Marcus Nash

 

Descending back down to the road, we called next at the Pena Falcon crag below where we had more fantastic views of the vultures, whooshing past so close that we could hear the rush of air through their wings! A young male Blue Rock Thrush also gave some nice views, and a Golden Eagle was displaying high above in the clouds. It was now after 4pm, and we still wanted to squeeze in a visit to the Portillar del Tietar on the other side of the park. This excellent location of course came with more Griffon Vultures! In addition, Little and Great White Egrets were seen along the river, and a House Martin whizzed through overhead. Eurasian Jay, Iberian Magpies, another Blue Rock Thrush and an unseen Common Kingfisher were also noted, though the absolute highlight here was an unseasonal Black Stork which drifted in and landed low down on the crag. The beautiful glossy green sheen to its plumage and bright red bare parts were quite stunning in the evening light – a real bonus to pick one of these up to end the day! Our journey back took just over an hour, making use of the new motorway to Navalmoral, and then down to Trujillo.

 

WEDNESDAY 31ST JANUARYLight winds and sunshine, max temp 17C

 

Another beautiful sunny day in Extremadura saw us head south beyond Zorita towards Sierra Brava reservoir. The sun was rising as we reached the dam, and we could hear Common Cranes bugling in the distance as we got out of the van. Away down below us on some stubble fields bordering the dehesa, we could see large flocks of Cranes feeding, with small parties flying across the skyline in the distance. A really evocative sight and sound! Behind us, on the reservoir itself, were great rafts of dabbling ducks. Predominantly Mallard, there were also at least 150 Pintails, a few Common Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall, scores of Great Crested Grebes and the odd Eurasian Wigeon. We also saw a couple of Egyptian Geese, Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Grey Wagtail and enjoyed excellent views of three Thekla Larks foraging on the stony shore below us. These were classic individuals, with short deep based bills, short crest, grey washed mantle and contrasting blackish streaked breasts – a really nice opportunity to study them in detail. Driving on, we followed the service road for a couple of miles, noting several Iberian Grey Shrikes along the way, until we dropped down into the network of ricefields in the direction of the new solar plant.

 

 

Common Cranes, Sierra Brava by Marcus Nash

 

Stopping overlooking an area of wet paddies, we had a fabulous session where at times we didn’t know where to look. The harvested rice stubble in the foreground was full of vast flocks of Spanish Sparrows numbering many hundreds – there were a few Tree Sparrows among them, hordes of Corn Buntings, and a few other finches thrown in for good measure. High pitched thin calls alerted us to the presence of a flock of Red Avadavats, an introduced species thriving here in these wetland habitats. Normally they are quite skittish and difficult to view, but we had excellent views of flocks of them here today! Among them were also one or two Common Waxbills, another alien species with a naturalised population here. Less exotic but just as exciting, we had cracking views of a Dartford Warbler which showed on and off the whole time we were here, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, a family group of four Common Cranes drifted in and landed right in front of us. The light was excellent, and the views simply superb. Further back in the distance, a flock of Cattle Egrets were following a tractor working in the field, and a single Great White Egret was also with them. A small party of Greylag Geese in the stubble beyond were interesting, since these birds are part of a small wintering population of Scandinavian birds, not the feral types we are used to seeing back home. We remarked at how dark headed they were, and how deep orange the bills appeared to be, but we never really saw them close up. A real surprise on the open water at the back was a group of seven Wood Sandpipers – a species which does winter in Spain in small numbers in the right habitat, but which where nonetheless extremely nice to connect with.  Slightly more fortuitous was the scope view we had of a male Bluethroat which happened to pop up in the reeds while scanning for waders – amazingly everyone got a decent view of it despite the distance! After a break for coffee and snacks, we opted to walk one of the reedy ditches at the edge of the rice paddies, to look specifically for Bluethroat. There were several Sardinian Warblers, a Blackcap, Cetti’s Warbler, more groups of Red Avadavat and Common Waxbills along the channel, but no sign of any luscinia. Just as we were about to give up and move on, a female Bluethroat flushed from the edge of the adjacent rice paddy and flew along a narrow channel. The bird popped up twice more onto the top of the rice stubble, allowing everyone to connect with it, before disappearing for good into the middle of the field.

 

It was now noon, and time to move on to a different area. We retraced our route back out to the Sierra Brava dam, enjoying some more excellent close up views of Common Cranes along the way, before returning to the main road and heading off through the steppe towards Campo Lugar. This high road passes through open cultivated land and stony steppe, and can sometimes be a good place to find bustards and sandgrouse. We didn’t find either today, but instead found a nice vantage point to stop for lunch, enjoying excellent views of three different Little Owls. One of them, seen from the vehicle, had slid down to hide in a crack in the rocks on which it had been perched. It looked for all the world as if it was being squashed between the two slabs of rocks, and that its bulging yellow eyes were about to pop out of its head! Two Black Vultures, several Crested and Calandra Larks and a Hoopoe were also seen during a very tranquil lunch break.

 

 

Little Owl and Iberian Magpies by Marcus Nash

 

The relatively new reservoir at Alcollarin was our next stop, and this excellent birding location certainly did not disappoint us today. Finding a good vantage point along the track for viewing the eastern arm of the reservoir, we could see a good selection of common wildfowl species, such as Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall and Common Pochard, flocks of Lapwings and great rafts of Common Coots. On the slopes just below, a nice flock of Serins were seen really well – the first ones we had managed a proper look at, rather than just birds bouncing by calling. A cracking Iberian Grey Shrike was on top of a bush right beside us and noisy groups of Iberian Magpies were moving through the bushes on the hillside. One of the days highlights came from the blue sky above though, as a large raptor drifted into view over the trees. Head on, it sported flat and rather paddle shaped wings, but its silhouette certainly did not fit with the main ‘flat-winged’ options of Red Kite or Spanish Imperial Eagle. Soon it banked, revealing a gleaming white body and black underwing covert bar – it was an adult Bonelli’s Eagle! The bird gave stunning views, circling up behind us, before it was joined by a second adult bird which appeared to be the female. High in the distance, a second calendar year bird appeared and drifted right across, and this provoked a reaction from the female which battled to gain height quickly in order to get above the young interloper and escort it off the premises. This whole episode gave us a great opportunity to study the flight silhouette and jizz of this scarce raptor, the most desirable and difficult to find of the five species of eagle recorded in Extremadura. A real treat indeed! Down at the second dam, we added Common and Green Sandpipers, a Swallow, Black-winged Stilt and some nice views of Common Snipe, Hoopoe and hordes of White Wagtails. Over the distant hillside, an adult Golden Eagle appeared twice above the ridge, but was rather brief and always distant.

 

We had decided to end the day by driving just under an hour to the north-e