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BIRDING DIARY
Trip reports and latest news from Oriole Birding tours
Date: 2019-02-08

 
 
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NORFOLK WINTER WILDFOWL SPECTACULAR 5th - 9th FEBRUARY 2019 [JWM]

 

Saturday 9th February – Sunny all day,  very strong W winds with gale force gusts, 7C

 

The last day of out Norfolk tour today took us to the north-west of the county where, while the wind was absolutely howling for most of the day, we enjoyed another great day of birding with some real highlights. Our route across county took us through some of the areas richest farmland. However, the wind was extremely strong and farmland passerines were in short supply, so we didn’t linger too long. Our route did pick up a nice adult male Sparrowhawk and three Red Kites close to Creake. We moved onto Titchwell RSPB, where a few hours were well spent. A Song Thrush singing in the carpark was enjoyed, while the feeding stations hosted the usual variety including an extremely smart male Brambling. The Meadow Trail hosted quite a crowd of birdwatchers who could only be looking at one thing; a skulking Woodcock in the undergrowth. We enjoyed playing the game of spot-the-woodcock for the while, before everyone managed to find the angle required to see it, and some nice scope views were had of a species which is so rarely seen as well as this anywhere else! We then worked our way out onto the main reserve. The Pochard flock appeared to have been blown off Patsies Pool, with 30 birds, unusually for them, on the Freshmarsh, along with a few Tufted Ducks. We would a save a proper check of the Freshmarsh for later, instead heading over to the beach first. On the way, the Tidal Marsh hosted a single Greenshank along with a group of 5 Avocets, several Bar-tailed Godwits and a pair of smart Pintail. The sea, with the wind now coming from the west and very strong, was therefore extremely choppy, making it difficult to pick up birds on the sea. However, we did sea a number of Red-breasted Mergansers, a few Goldeneye and a single Common Eider amongst the white water, while the beach hosted Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Turnstones. Thoroughly sand-blasted, we retreated back to the Parrinder Hide. From here we enjoyed really nice comparative views of both Rock and Water Pipit on the main island, while a few Dunlin and a single Ringed Plover were also of interest amongst the throngs of Teal. From here we headed back, pausing in the Island Hide to admire the close views of Pochard, and also stopping to enjoy the confiding Water Rail in the usual place! By now it was lunchtime, which we took besides the van.

 

From here we were going to head further along the coast, but we allowed ourselves the luxury of returning for second helpings of the Meadow Trail Woodcock. The bird was still there and, while we enjoyed the views again, in reality the viewing was much more difficult now with various obscuring branches. Once we were satisfied, we returned to the car park, only to be greeted by a another Woodcock being watched by the reserves volunteers. This bird was showing superbly, and was an absolute delight to see so well! Following saying our thanks to the superb RSPB volunteers, we made tracks, heading now to Thornham Harbour. Here we parked up and walked up over the sluice, noting almost immediately a mixed flock of 30 Linnets and Twite, the latter making themselves known in flight with their distinctive ‘dweeeet’ calls, interspersed amongst the usual Linnets twittering. We enjoyed great comparative views of the two species amongst the saltmarsh vegetation, in farm more manageable conditions than yesterday, as the wind had dropped a bit by now. Afterwards, whilst making a cuppa, David spotted a low flying raptor crossing the saltmarsh to the east quite close-by. Bins up, it’s a superb female-type Hen Harrier gliding past in lovely light across classic Norfolk coastal scenery; brilliant, and a great bird to nearly end on. However, after this mornings difficulty in locating many birds of the farmland, we made our route home via some prime habitat to see if we could locate anything of interest. Pulling up besides a large fallow field, we walked the hedgerows a short while, eventually noting a few Yellowhammer. More then erupted from the hedge and flew into the fallow field, the low sunshine really illuminating them beautifully. More birds were still in the hedge, , so the flock totalled at least 25 birds. Suddenly a number of birds irrupted from the stubble, carrying with them a distinctly larger and bulkier bird; a single Corn Bunting. There was no sign of the main flock anywhere here, so we were pleased to see one at least! Skylarks were singing over the field, and provided a nice soundtrack for us before we headed home, arriving Sculthorpe Mill where we concluded the tour.  

 

 

Titchwell produced some superb sightings, including Woodcock and Song Thrush

 

Friday 8th February – Overcast all day, very strong SW winds with gale force gusts, 11C

 

An interesting day of shifting plans on the North Norfolk coast today, as a weather forecast of all-day rain becoming heavy later on never transpired at all! While it was incredibly windy which hindered matters somewhat, the day stayed dry and provided some great birding. Our day began with a goose chase, heading out towards farmland between Langham and Wiverton. Passing through the lanes we were fortunate to have a dashing female Merlin pass the front of the van; a treat this far inland. Soon after we duly found a nice flock of around 2000 Pink-footed Geese in a small, recently harvested beet field. Finding somewhere to view, we scoped part of the flock we could see, enjoying the god views of the species, before moving back along the road for another view, as much of the flock was hidden in field undulations. Finding a new spot with a gap in the hedge, almost the first bird we laid eyes on had vivid orange legs, a dark mantle with buff cross-stripes and an orange bill spot; a superb gander Tundra Bean Goose! This was a big bird, and nice for us was the closed bird in the flock, so thoroughly enjoyed. Chatting to a local, he put us onto a second bird keeping company with a Greylag Goose. This bird was smaller (so probably a female) and in mainly 1st winter plumage, with blotchy dark flanks and irregularly fringed mantle, as well as with less vividly orange legs. A great turnout, and compensation for our long walk out to Winterton without success yesterday! From here, and with the weather holding nicely, we decided that Cley would be our next port of call. Following a loo stop, we parked up at the end of the East Bank and made our way to the beach. A small number of Dunlin, Curlew and Redshank were on Arnolds Marsh, while the Serpentine hosed good numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Marsh Harriers were also on the wing despite the blustery conditions. Reaching the beach, a scan to the west along the ridge revealed something we hoped we would encounter; the long-staying Glaucous Gull. A 1st winter bird, we could see it ‘just chillin’’ on the shingle, probably with a belly full of dead seal. It allowed us to approach it quite closely, offering great views. The sea produced a couple of Guillemots and Great Crested Grebes, as well as some passing Brent Geese.  A treat here also was two groups; 6 and 4, of White-fronted Geese which came in-off and headed west along the coast. Walking back to the van with a strong headwind was hard work, but it was well worth the effort!

 

 

Two crackers from this morning; a Tundra Bean Goose and Glaucous Gull

 

From here we then headed round to the beach carpark, pausing first at the visitor centre to report our sightings and also for a quick scan of the pools, from where we noted a small group of distant Pintail on North Scrape. On the way to the beach a large flock of feeding Brent Geese stopped us and offered superb views, with two family groups coming to drink at very close range. Parking at the beach, we took a quick look at the sea, which produced a few Gannets and Guillemots, while a stomp along the shingle east provided some flighty Snow Buntings in the vegetation. The flock of at least 30 birds were hunkering down in the gale, and we probably should have been too! However, braving the elements gave us some great views of the flock. Our next move was a bit of a fruitless one as, with us expecting torrential rain at any minute, we opted to head for Sheringham to see if we could find the wintering Purple Sandpipers, and also not be far from the van in case the weather turned foul. However, the rain never materialised, and neither did the sandpipers, as the tide was well out and there were lots of people climbing about on the groynes! So little to report here. However, we finished off well, heading to Blakeney where we took a walk around Blakeney Freshmarsh. Fantastic views of Wigeon and Shoveler were had on the way out, and with a gale-force tailwind, we reached the seawall at a good pace! However, at this time the sky was looking pretty black behind us, so we were contemplating making a start to head back to the van. However, a quick wander along the fence line further along the bank revealed a real treat; 16 Twite hunkered down feeding on the short vegetation! We didn’t fancy our chances of finding these birds in such harsh conditions, but we enjoyed fantastic views of them, allowed to approach quite closely due to their reluctance to fly in strong winds. The walk back was into the strong wind, but the rain never happened, and a female Peregrine and a couple of Golden Plover accompanied our walk back to the van. It was nearly time to head home and, following a pause in Morston Harbour where Redshank and numerous Teal were noted, we made our way back to Sculthorpe Mill. 

 

 

The Cley Brent Goose flock, including an intersting pale-headed bird

 

 

Thursday 7th February – Overcast with sunny spells, heavy rain am, strong SW winds, 11C

 

A day of heavy rain and near-gale force winds was never going to make for easy birding conditions, and so it proved today out in East Norfolk. However, some good sightings were to be had with perseverance and flexibility. Setting out across county, we had about an hours drive beyond Norwich and on towards Wroxham, where we stopped first at the nearby Barton Broad. Walking from the carpark towards the broad, noting a small number of Redwings along the way. Arriving at the reserve, a blustery Alder carr habitat held a number of Marsh Tits, some of which gave good views, and also a couple of active Treecreepers. Reaching the viewing platform overlooking the main broad, careful scanning revealed a pair of female Greater Scaup bobbing around on the choppy water amongst a large flock of Tufted Ducks. In addition, a good number of Goldeneye were present, while Coots and Great Crested Grebes were also common. A couple of Marsh Harriers were also noted, completing the scene. The weather, whilst fairly wild, had held nicely for us so far, though once we returned to the van the first spits of rain began to fall. From here (after a cuppa of course!) we made our way across towards the coast, pausing on route at Ludham Airfield, noting that the wintering flock of wild swans had disappeared completely; a sign that birds are starting to disperse and winter is coming to an end! Onwards from here, we continued towards Winterton, where a Taiga Bean Goose had been spending time amongst a Pink-footed Flock. We knew this flock was not viewable from the road, and would likely involve a couple of miles walking along the dunes to reach a viewing point. This had the makings of a ‘wild bean-goose chase’, and so it later proved! However, for the past half-hour the rain had really started to come down, and a particularly torrential spell in strong winds deterred us sufficiently from attempting the walk! Instead we then made our way south again, crossing farmland to check suitable maize strips for Common Cranes. Thorough searching of areas which have been very productive these past weeks drew a complete blank, with the birds either having moved on or perhaps hunkered down somewhere out of sight. Either way, we were now particularly keen to improve our birding fortunes, with a few blanks now under our belt!

 

We did improve our fortunes markedly by visiting the marshes south of Ludham. Pulling up first at Coldharbour Farm, a small party of swans were present to our right and, getting out the scopes, revealed themselves to be 7 splendid Whooper Swans. Despite wobbly scopes in the blustery conditions, it was great to see these majestic birds, possibly for the last time this winter before they head north. A walk up onto the riverbank then revealed a distant party of 7 Common Cranes feeding over towards St Benet’s Abbey; fantastic! A quick run around to that side of the marsh saw us having much better views of these majestic birds feeding quietly out on the undisturbed marsh. An impressive number of Lapwing were here, numbering perhaps 600 birds, and several Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were noted, while on our other side a flock of geese on the grassland to our west, whilst initially appearing to be mostly Greylags, featured a flock of 45 superb Russian White-fronted Geese. The birds were fairly close and we were well sheltered from the wind by a nearby barn, so enjoyed really nice views of these, including some family parties. We enjoyed lunch overlooking these birds from the shelter of the van, as the wind was getting pretty excessive! Finishing up, we stopped the van where we could have another look at the Common Cranes using the van to shelter the scope, and enjoyed some iconic views of this East Norfolk speciality. From here, the weather looked like it might be clearing up, so we headed north-east again, towards the coast, where we would make an attempt to locate the goose flock between Horsey and Winterton. Parking up at Horsey Gap, the sun had come out, and the walk along the dunes was in some of the finest weather we had had today. The beach here was full of hauled-out Grey Seals, including some well-grown pups from this winter’s record-breaking pupping season. A pair of Stonechats entertained us along the fence-lines, and a couple of male Marsh Harriers were looking superb over the grazing marshes, while several Common Buzzards also featured. However, our main quarry was nowhere in sight, as it appeared that our targeted goose flock had flown inland, probably towards Horsey Mere; what a bummer! We walked bac to the van, tired but enjoying what was now becoming a superb sunset, and had a well-earned cup of coffee before heading home.      

 

 

A coupe of East Norfolks special birds; Common Cranes and Russian White-fronted Goose

 

Wednesday 6th February – Sunny and mild with scattered cloud, light SW wind, 11C

 

With plenty of sunshine and a minibus thermometer reading 11C and over today, it was the first day that really felt like spring this year, and a perfect excuse to go and explore the Norfolk Breckland areas. With a sunny start beckoning (though a foggy Swaffham made us think otherwise) we started our day at Santon Downham, where he liquid song of a Woodlark greeted us, and provided a superb soundtrack to most of the morning. Things got even better soon after, as a quick scan of the nearby treetops revealed the wintering Great Grey Shrike sitting proud over the railway line here, and allowed us to approach quite closely, the bird illuminated perfectly in the morning sun. A variety of small birds came to pester the shrike, and at one point included a single Lesser Redpoll which raised its crest and cocked its tail in agitated fashion. A Crossbill was heard but not seen here, while close to the van another Woodlark was heard distantly. Treecreepers and Nuthatches were vocal all morning, and the former were seen well whilst we enjoyed a cuppa, before we headed for the riverside path. A walk along the River Little Ouse produced a few highlights including a very showy Water Rail, numerous singing Siskins and vocal Marsh Tits and drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker. Back towards the village the garden feeders stopped us in our tracks, providing superb views of a number of Bramblings as well as Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Siskins. A fantastically productive start to the day! From here we made our way back towards Swaffham, where we positioned ourselves in our favourite Goshawk watching site. We had literally only gotten out of the vehicle when we started scanning our first soaring raptors, all enjoying the warm conditions and light breeze. Working through a good number of Common Buzzards, we laid eyes on our first Goshawk; a super adult bird, with classic ‘crossbow’ profile with wide hips and heavy wingbeats. Soon after we were watching a pair of birds; a clear male and female, with the female dwarfing the male, and the male entering into full-on ‘switchback’ display flight. A fourth bird was noted soon after; this time the first-winter with buffy underparts showing heavy blotchy streaking on the underparts. Over the course of 30 minutes these birds entertained us with various flight, while 2 Sparrowhawk and around 12 Common Buzzards were noted in addition. Just superb, and a very enjoyable way to spend lunch!

 

 

A fantastic Breckland duo; Great Grey Shrike and Woodlark

 

From here we took a ride into the forestry, where a variety of woodland species greeted us, including a profusion of tits including several Marsh Tits. An extremely brief close encounter came in the form of a Goshawk which, with a sudden rise in alarm-calling birds in the area, tore across the ride and out of view at great speed; too fast for most of us to notice! We then moved on from here to our last stop of the day; Lynford Arboretum. Leaving the car park, a pair of Common Crossbills flew over calling high above the treetops. While that was two encounters with the species today, they don’t appear to be common in the forest this winter, and we haven’t really had any good sightings of the species in a while. However, a flock of about 60 Bramblings on seed down a wooded ride nearby made up for it, providing quite the spectacle. A brief Yellowhammer was a surprise here before we headed down towards the paddocks. The feeders over the bridge were very lively, attracting a profusion of tits and the odd Brambling, while the paddock itself held one of the afternoons many highlights. Taking a look at the first Hornbeam, we spotted our first Hawfinches; three birds in the low branches, dropping down to feed on the ground. It soon became apparent that there were more than this, with a small group flying left to the next Hornbeam, followed by several more, totalling 19 birds! Walking over to view the centre of the paddock, more came from the first Hornbeam, and we estimate up to 23 Hawfinches were in the paddock at this time, before beginning their pre-roost routine of perching in the high pines of zigzag covert. A superb number of birds, and signs of the flock building up as the winter progresses. Leaving here rather pleased with the display, there was one more surprise in store. A number of Blackbirds and tits were going haywire in the top of a nearby pine tree, leading to suspicion that an owl of some kind might be roosting there. After much manoeuvring and careful checking, we finally managed to find an angle through the dense foliage to spot the culprit; a sleeping Tawny Owl. Still too early for it to be active, the most movement we saw was the occasional head-turn and the odd blink! Still it was great to see here, and a fitting bird to head back to the van with. From the carpark, we headed home, noting a Barn Owl on route to round of another superb day.

 

 

Water Rail and Brambling in Santon Downham

 

 

TUESDAY 5th February – Sunny and frosty morning, clouding over later, light S wind, 9C

 

Our Norfolk February Winter Wildfowl Spectacular tour really kicked off in style for the group, and earlier in the day than usually expected! Staying in the Sculthorpe Mill Hotel for the duration of the week (Laura and James are taking a well-earned holiday from the Blue Boar) the group were busily tucking into their full English breakfasts when, peering out of the dining room window which overlooks the River Wensum, not one but 4 Otter heads popped up from out of the water! They enjoyed these superb animals for the duration of their breakfast, before I had even arrived with the van! Arriving to hear all the gory details, the Otters were unfortunately no longer performing. However, a female Grey Wagtail was showing nicely on the riverbank. In such pleasant surroundings, it would have been rude not to explore further, and a 30-minute wander around the hotel produced a pair of drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Grey Heron, and singing Goldcrest, while the whole area certainly holds plenty of potential. Expect more updates over the coming days! From here we set off towards the north coast, noting 4 frisky Brown Hares in one field on route to Holkham. Pulling into Lady Anne’s Drive, we made our way to the end where we enjoyed a single dashing Sparrowhawk, superb flocks of Wigeon on the flooded grazing marshes, a small number of Brent Geese, 3 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 wintering Ruff. More distantly to the west we could see a couple of quartering Marsh Harriers, these at one point flushing a flock of about 30 Black-tailed Godwits from the direction of Joe Jordan hide. From here we made our way out to Holkham Gap, where we were greeted by a couple of small squadrons of Pink-footed Geese coming off the sea. The low winter sun was really beautiful here this morning, and made our next sighting all the more special. Walking along the edge of the saltmarsh, the sun was catching the pale sandy mantles of the wintering Shorelarks feeding quietly in the short saltmarsh vegetation. Positioning ourselves at the edge of the marsh, we enjoyed wonderful views of these superb northern larks, them contentedly working their ways closer and closer to us. The group was difficulty to count in the longer vegetation, but we managed a high count of 21 birds before we dragged ourselves away. Our next bird was a treat, as a vigil at the dune-edge Sea Buckthorn provided us with some superb views of the wintering Dartford Warbler. Often elusive, this ground-dwelling Sylvia posed in characteristic fashion for us on two occasions; a rare winter treat. Following this, the Snow Buntings was begging for attention, glinting in the sun in flight behind us, settling within the Holkham saltmarsh cordon. We approached these birds to within 5 meters, them feeding deep in thick vegetation and apparently unfazed by a growing crowd of admirers. Holkham at its best this morning! A quick scan of the sea produced a single Great Northern Diver, 7 Great Crested Grebes, a couple of flocks of Common Scoter numbering perhaps 80 in total, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and a small number of Red-throated Divers and Guillemots. From here we made our way back towards the van, pausing for seconds of the superb Shorelarks which were still performing well, and took out our sandwiches, as incredibly it was already lunchtime! A small flock of Brent Geese were present just west of the drive, and these hosted one of the regular Black Brant hybrids that we see so frequently here. The light was perfect to see the birds wash of silvery grey mantle feathers interspersed amongst the usual darker tobacco-washed plumage; these grey feathers a sure sign of hybridization with Dark-bellied Brent Goose.

 

 

Typical, and less typical species of Holkham Gap - Shorelark and Dartford Warbler

 

From here, we then made our way along the coast to Wells. Abrahams Bosom hosted the usual Tufted Ducks, Gadwall and Little Grebes, while the woods, on first impressions, seemed spookily quiet! However, perseverance did pay off with some superb viewing of male and female Bullfinches in various spots and, after much searching, a pair of quiet Lesser Redpolls which, after a bathe, gave really nice views preening, and then feeding in Silver Birch. There was no sign of the rest of the Redpoll flock however. Grey Partridge was heard over Quarles Marsh but not seen, while Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal were enjoying the floods, along with a couple of Black-tailed Godwits. A Red Kite low overhead was also a treat before we made our way back to the van. Driving back towards the town, a hunting Barn Owl stopped us in our tracks, patrolling the nearby reedbed before dropping out of sight. A little further on, a large flock of Brent Geese had gathered on the playing fields, and it wasn’t long before a distinctive individual stood out from the crowd. Appearing distinctly black-and-white, with extensive chalky white flank patch, wide neck collar meeting under the chin and dark tobacco-brown mantle, this was a classic pure Black Brant, and an educational encounter following our views of the hybrid earlier. Whilst watching, the Barn Owl was often in the same binocular views! Can you get any more Norfolk?! Onwards, we headed east, pausing to check the floods east of Wells, where a good number of Lapwings were present in neighbouring fields, before we headed towards Stiffkey Camp. With coffee in hand here, we positioned ourselves overlooking the saltmarsh, quickly noting a couple of Marsh Harriers. A distant Peregrine sat out on a post was good to see, while a Sparrowhawk was patrolling the area. The highlight however was a male Hen Harrier which cruised into view and headed west towards East Hills, where it patrolled the saltmarsh distantly. A female-type Hen Harrier followed suit soon after, though again the viewing was distant. With both birds up in flight out towards Wells, this encouraged us to retrace our steps as, if the birds remained active, we could have improved our views by viewing from the Wells side. However unfortunately, on arriving at the Quay, the birds had already gone down, presumably to roost. However, the journey was not wasted, with a single Guillemot on the shoreline close by here, a patrolling Marsh Harrier and a flock of Knot in the harbour all adding value. We had one final treat up or sleeve now before heading home. Passing through the back end of Holkham estate, we stopped to observe as around 40 Red Kites were gathering over the surrounding farmland, readying to roost in the woodland copses here. A single knarled Oak tree hosted 6 birds at one point, providing a great illustration of just how big these majestic birds of prey really are, and we went home pleased to see a sight which has only been possible to see in the last few years in the county.

 

 


ISLAY 3RD - 8TH FEBRUARY 2019 (AS)

 

FRIDAY 8TH FEBRUARYStorm ‘Erik’, 8C

 

A tumultuous day’s weather which had seen our ferry cancelled, as storm ‘Erik’ swept in from the Atlantic and battered northern Britain for the next 24hrs. We expected to wake to severe gales, but actually it wasn’t bad at all and we wondered if the forecast was correct – it was no windier than it had been on Tuesday! But The low soon moved in and struck with a vengeance, dispelling any thoughts that we had got away with it! We’d planned a later breakfast, and with news of the drake Green-winged Teal reappearing after a months absence at Loch Gruinart, we decided to make a morning trip up there to visit the hide, take shelter and see what we could find. A couple of quick checks of Barnacle Goose flocks on the way out produced both the Pink-footed Goose and Pale-bellied Brent Goose again, and we added a Fieldfare en route too. Reaching Gruinart, we saw the usual swirling flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing on the flats before heading down to the hide. We saw both a ringtail Hen Harrier and a Peregrine hunting over the reserve as we walked down, and both were seen again several times from the hide. The Hen Harrier was particularly superb, battling low across the scrape right in front of us and settling on the bank. At one point, it was mobbed by the male Peregrine, a small and particularly slate blue individual. Large numbers of Common Teal, Pintail, Wigeon and Shoveler were carefully checked, and this yielded the drake Green-winged Teal, which showed really nicely for us all through the scope before everything was flushed by the Peregrine and the American visitor flew off with a ‘splinter group’ of Teal and did not return. We had been lucky! After waiting out perhaps the worst part of the storm of the day, we made a dash for it between pulses of rain back to the van. The visitor centre provided shelter for a cup of tea and use of the facilities, before we retraced back down the island to the accommodation for lunch.

 

With our plans all up in the air, we had a fair bit of sorting out to do after lunch, booking onto alternative ferries and thinking about the journey back south afterwards. Eventually we also got the inevitable message that tomorrow mornings ferry would also be cancelled and that the earliest we would now leave the island would be 6pm tomorrow. After organising another evenings dinner, two of us set out for a couple of hours goosing while the rest of the group chilled out at the house. We checked three large Barnacles flocks, at Leorin, Bridgend and Mulindry. The weather made doing any birding a challenge, but we still could not find the hutchinsii from Monday evening. However, on our way back to base we did relocate the Todd’s Canada Goose with the Leorin flock, and enjoy some more prolonged views through the scope. It really is a distinctive looking beast with its snakey neck looking too small for its big, long body. Back at base, we enjoyed what we hoped would be our final dinner as a group before taking an early night – tomorrow could be a very long day!

 

THURSDAY 7TH FEBRUARYCalm day with sunshine and showers, winds increasing, 8C

 

We enjoyed a real ‘calm before the storm’ feeling this morning, as we headed out along the high road to Bridgend for what was our best mornings birding of the trip. After a quick check of the Bridgend Barnacle flocks (they were all pretty distant from the road in their favourite field behind the farm!) we dropped down to Loch Indaal and headed for the Gaelic Centre at the edge of Bowmore. The sea was like glass, with no wind, and we had the sun on our backs as we scanned the water for seaducks and grebes. We pretty much cleaned up here, with fantastic views of small flocks of Common Eiders and displaying Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Divers and a sprinkling of Common Scoter. Great Northern Divers were common with over twenty spread out across the loch, and a small group of Greater Scaup, mainly female types but with a single adult drake, were floating on the water close inshore . Slavonian Grebes numbered at least ten, and all the time skeins of Barnacles could be heard barking away as they commuted off towards Gruinart against the backdrop of sunlit hills. After a great session here, we headed round to the north shore of the loch and stopped at Blackrock to scan for Long-tailed Ducks. We had to shelter from a passing rain shower, but had excellent views of eight ‘Sea Pheasants’ with the drakes long tails waving in the breeze. A Great Northern Diver was really close in fishing for crabs in the shallows, a really stunning view. Next we headed on to Bruichalddich, as we wanted to try again for the Purple Sandpipers which we had missed in Tuesdays strong winds and rain. No such trouble today, and we had around a dozen on the rocks below the distillery with a few Ringed Plovers. It had been a good morning!

 

Net we headed up to the north-east end of the island, stopping first at the Islay mill. Coal Tits were at the feeders, but there was no sign of the reliable Dipper on the river here. On to Bunnahabhain, and we lunched overlooking the Sound of Jura with the snow-sprinkled Paps in the background. A heavy hail shower bustled through, with a striking rainbow following it off across the sound – stunning! We didn’t see anything much here though, so retraced back to the ‘Glen road’ towards Mulindry to look for raptors. We had a Golden Eagle crossing high over the road here, and on our second circuit, a male Merlin was perched on a roadside fence. It landed again a little further off, and we managed some brief scope views before it took flight. There was a nice Barnacle Goose flock by the road here too, with presumably the same Pale-bellied Brent Goose in tow, but we could not re-find either of the Canada’s from earlier in the week.

 

After a quick trip back to base to drop some folk off, the rest of us headed back up to Bridgend for more goosing. The big Barnacle flock from the morning was now feeding close to the road in a tightly packed flock, and allowed good observation with the scopes. We couldn’t pick anything out of the throng, but enjoyed a marvellous spectacle as they eventually all took to the air in a noisy mass, splitting into smaller groups and heading off in different directions. Dropping down to the loch shore, we headed round the north side and took the Coillabus road for a bit. This road is now little better than a farm track and becomes less suitable for non-4x4 vehicles he further down you drive! We went far enough, however, to see a beautiful male Hen Harrier floating across the moorland, amazingly our first of the trip. Back down to the loch and we waited until dusk for any roosting geese, but nothing came in this evening. We instead had the joy of learning that Storm Eric had put paid to tomorrows ferry and we would be staying (at least!) one more day on the island!

 

WEDNESDAY 6TH FEBRUARYFresh NW winds and sunshine, 9C

 

A much better day of weather today saw us head up to the north-west of the island for the morning. We once again headed out along the main goose ‘highway’ along the top road to Bridgend, but we didn’t see many geese until we got to the far end. The big Barnacle flock had come back together again, but was feeding too far off the road to really scan it properly. Dropping down to Loch Indaal, we took the road towards Port Charlotte and then off to Loch Gorm, where we made a short stop to check some arable fields which held good mixed flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese. A ringtail Hen Harrier drifted across briefly, and there were a few Ravens, Rock Doves and Hooded Crows about too. Reaching Machir Bay, we took a walk across the dunes to the beach, where the Atlantic rollers were crashing ashore in dramatic fashion – we were glad we weren’t on the ferry today! Our main quarry here would be Chough, and we heard them calling soon after our arrival. First, a group of 24 appeared over the dunes, landing briefly before continuing further along the coast, and then a vocal pair flew right past us at close range. We headed up the cemetery road, getting more close views of Greenland White-fronts, before heading along the Loch Gorm circular road to try and get better views of the Choughs. Here a huge flock of Barnacle Geese were bathing in  small lochan, but they were typically flighty (the shooting of these birds has not surprisingly made them much harder to approach) and they headed nosily off towards the machair as soon as we stopped. However, the field on the other side of the road held all 26 Choughs and we had fantastic views of them, along with a group of three ‘boxing’ Brown Hares! The Choughs are known to group into age-related flocks, and these were a group made up entirely of juveniles, while the adult birds are apparently all up at Ardnave – fascinating! We carried on round the Loch Gorm circular road, stopping to admire some roadside Redwings, before eventually reaching RSPB Loch Gruinart.

 

 

A close encounter with a White-tailed Eagle at Loch Gruinart today

 

Over a cup of tea, we scanned the Gruinart flats and saw big numbers of Lapwing, Curlew and Golden Plover, and of course more Barnacle Geese. We decided to go along to the hide, because there was no disturbance there today and lots of wildfowl on the pools. As well as a local rarity in the form of a Little Egret, we enjoyed fabulous views of flocks of Teal and Pintail in perfect light. The odd Shoveler was also present, and we saw a Greenshank, two fine Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Snipe. At one point, all the birds went up and we looked up expecting perhaps a passing Peregrine or Sparrowhawk. We were amazed to see neither, but instead the unmistakable shape of a White-tailed Eagle lumbering towards the hide, low to the ground! This magnificent bird flew across the scrape and landed at the back, in brilliant light. We couldn’t quite believe it had settled so close, and set about taking some pictures before it took flight again and lazily hovered over the marsh in front of the hide! A family party of Whooper Swans took no notice of it at all! Eventually the eagle moved off, leaving us on a high as we headed back to the car park and on to the accommodation for lunch.

 

In the afternoon, we planned a walk up on the spectacular Oa peninsula, a wild corner of Islay with some stunning scenery. The sun was shining and the wind blowing, as we made our way out there. A stop by the cemetery just past Port Ellen gave us another chance to scan Barnacle Geese in amazing light, and while doing so a subadult Golden Eagle circled into view over distant pines, and showed well for a while before drifting off over the ridge. Continuing on, we crossed the bleak moorland heading out to the RSPB car park, where we started a circular hike out to the American Monument. It was nice to have a walk after a lot of driving over the last few days, and the sun made for some impressive views – all the way back to Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich to the north, and about 17 miles to the south, clear views of Rathlin Island, the Northern Ireland coast and the Mull of Kintyre. A flock of Twite were buzzing around a kale crop at the farm, and settled on the fence there briefly, while we saw Fulmars down below the cliffs and ‘cronking’ Ravens over the moor. Dusk was approaching by the time we returned to the car park, and a ringtail Hen Harrier briefly by the road was our last action of a busy day.

 

 

TUESDAY 5TH FEBRUARYHeavy rain and strong NW winds, 8C

 

It was a pretty challenging day of weather today, but we did our best to make good of it! A party of Greenland White-fronted Geese were a lovely start to the day, grazing on the croft outside our accommodation. We remarked at just how dark they looked, particularly in the low light of dawn, and their lovely yellow-orange bills could be seen. Heading out of Port Ellen, we took the ‘high road’ towards Bridgend, which is often a good road for ‘goosing’. We soon located our first Barnacle Goose flock of the day, but they were really flighty being close to the road. The rain, which was forecast to start at 1pm, was already falling heavily at 9am and this made viewing more difficult, but almost right away we picked out another vagrant Canada Goose among the flock! Immediately though, this bird was strikingly different to yesterdays. It was much larger, being clearly bigger than the Barnacles, and it had a big, long body and longer legs than the Cackling Goose. It had a rather thin, sinuous neck which looked too small for its body size, and a broad based white cheek strap which tapered to a point. The bill was longer, and the head showed a more sloping profile than yesterdays bird. We concluded that the bird was a best fit for the form interior, or Todd’s Canada Goose, one of the Greater Canada Goose complex. Still a really nice bird and much better views than yesterdays huthcinsii. Continuing on this road, we had good views of Common Raven, and more groups of Barnacles and Greenland White-fronts, before we reached Bridgend. Here we found fragments of last nights flock, and had a good look through them again – we couldn’t find the Cackling, but we did see a nice Pale-bellied Brent Goose among them.

 

Next we headed up to Bridgend and west towards Gruinart, turning off towards the sea loch and heading down its eastern shore. Here we found a huge flock of Golden Plovers, Lapwing, Starling and Dunlin all feeding together by the roadside – quite a sight! Greenland White-front groups were dotted around everywhere, and we saw Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Common Stonechat too. Heading right down towards the oyster farm, we had good views of two Great Northern Divers, and saw both Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit on the estuary. Over the far side, a large raptor drifted along the ridge – it was our first Golden Eagle, and it gave some prolonged scope views albeit through driving rain and strong winds! Keen to get back in the warm van, we headed around to the west side of the loch, seeing some big flocks of Curlew in the fields on the way. The RSPB staff were strimming in front of the hides, so we abandoned the idea of walking out, and instead headed straight down to Ardnave Loch. Here we saw nine Whooper Swans, and a small group of Common Goldeneye, as well as a few Wigeon and Teal. The weather was now biblical, but thankfully we had a treat in store for the afternoon as we had planned to visit the nearby Bruichladdich Whisky Distillery for a short tour and tasting. Islay is world famous for its whisky, so it is rude to visit the island without gaining an insight into its production. We enjoyed a very informative tour, followed by an even more enjoyable tasting, meaning lunch came a little later than planned! We didn’t achieve much after lunch, a combination of the whisky and the weather, but we headed back along the same road we had taken in the morning and scanned the Barnacle flocks again, but to no avail – the Cackling Goose was hiding somewhere, but we needed better weather and closer views!

 

 

Vagrant Canada Geese are a feature of any winter tour to Islay. Richardson's Cackling Goose (left) from 4th and Todd's Canada Goose from today

 

MONDAY 4TH FEBRUARY – Light NW winds and showers, 10C

 

After our journey up from the south yesterday afternoon, to meet in Carlisle, we rose early this morning for what would be a long days travelling and birding. Departing the Premier Inn just after 7am, we headed north to Glasgow where we had a planned stop to collect our Tesco online shop, ready for four nights on Islay at our self catering croft accommodation. The second leg on to Kennacraig ferry terminal on the Kintyre peninsula, took us through spectacular scenery with snow-capped peaks all around. We arrived in good time for the ferry, which set sail just before 1pm, and soon we were seeing our first Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Eiders, Common Goldeneye, European Shag and Great Northern Diver. This species was the most frequent diver encountered on the crossing, but singles of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers were also noted. Common Guillemot and Razorbill, a few Kittiwakes and Black Guillemots in both summer and winter plumage were seen by the time we reached Port Askaig in the north-east of the island. The drive south to Port Ellen took around half an hour, passing our first flocks of Barnacle Geese on the way, and we arrived at Balclava Croft around 3.30pm. A swift check in meant we still had an hour of daylight left, and we were keen to use it to full potential! Driving back up to Loch Indaal, we planned to check to see if the Barnacle Geese would be coming in to roost there. But we got sidetracked by a huge flock grazing in fields just up the old Port Ellen road (the so called ‘high road’) and so we diverted along there to see if we could find a spot to scope them. A conveniently placed farm track entrance was ideal, and we had the light behind us too – what a spectacular sight, with thousands of Barnacle Geese spread out in front of us. Once they were flushed by the farmer, and flew right around in front of us filling the air with their calls, before whirling back down into the fields. We picked a single Pink-footed Goose out just in front of us, but a much bigger surprise came as we unearthed a fine Richardson’s Cackling Goose among the hordes. This diminutive Canada, now split from the Greater Canada Goose group, was initially tricky for everyone to get onto, but once people got their eye in, good views were had by all. Its dinky size and stature, ‘square’ head shape with steep forehead, tiny bill, short neck and uniform warm brown plumage were all good pointers, helping to rule out the often similarly sized parvipes. A Cackling Goose had been seen on the island in late October, so presumably this was the same individual returning after a November foray to Oronsay. It was now almost dark, so after a quick stop via Bowmore Co-op, we headed back to base for dinner. A good start to the tour!

 


 

 

NORFOLK WINTER TOUR 22nd - 26th JANUARY 2019 [JWM & PR]

 

 

SATURDAY 26th JANUARY – Overcast with some sunny spells, the odd shower, moderate SW wind, 5C

 

Our final day saw us returning back to the North Norfolk coast, where we would try to add to what has already been a superb week of birding. Our first destination was the seafront at Sheringham, parking up at the carpark above the Funky Mackerel café! Our reasoning for choosing this location was to try and locate the small wintering population of Purple Sandpipers which frequent the granite boulder breakwaters along this stretch of coast. From the car park, we could already see our first Purple Sandpiper, and walking down to the shore we discovered a second bird. The species is always approachable here, and a delight to see along with the throngs of Turnstones. Further interest here came from the sea, where Fulmar, Razorbill, Guillemot and numerous Red-throated Divers were noted. Rapping up here, we drove a short way along the coast, pausing for a short while at Weybourne. Out to sea here we noted further Red-throated Divers passing in groups of up to 4, while a couple of large flocks of Common Scoter offshore failed to yield a hoped-for Velvet Scoter amongst their number. Now it was high time we had a cuppa!

 

Once refreshed, we continued along the coast to Wells. A very nice flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese stopped us on route to the beach, feeding on the fields next to the football pitch. Scanning from the van we were pleased to pick up a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose amongst our more familiar birds, while one of the regular Holkham hybrid Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brents was also present. Shortly after, the flock flushed due to dog walkers, so we continued along to the Pines. Parking up, we headed out into the pines, on the hunt for Redpolls! Abrahams Bosom held the usual Gadwalls, Tufted Ducks and Little Grebes as we passed, walking to the Dell. The trees here include many Silver Birches, which the Wells redpoll flock has been favouring this winter, and it wasn’t long after crossing the Dell Meadow that we heard our first ‘chip chip’ calls of the Redpoll flock. The group have hosted a number of Coues’s Arctic Redpolls since the autumn, but the flock has been extremely irregular, so it was great to have them here again. The flock was very mobile, moving between feeding trees quite frequently and so making it difficult to pin down individuals for more than a few seconds. However, with perseverance we managed to get some views of one of the Coues’s Arctic Redpolls, and also enjoyed comparing the many Mealy Redpolls with their more gingery Lesser Redpoll cozens. After about an hour and a half, and following the flock flying off purposefully, we felt we needed to move on, content with our sightings but, in reality, wishing we had seen the Arctic Redpolls a little better. We needn’t have worried however, as on our way back we walked right into the flock again, feeding just above head height in track-side trees! Scanning through the group revealed 2 of the Coues’s Arctic Redpolls, offering really superb views to all in the group, and really scratching the itch we all had! One of the birds was a real belter, with a classic pale biscuit wash to the face and upper breast, very limited whispy flank streaks, a very small thin undertail streak and unstreaked white rump. The other was also distinctive, though the undertail covert streak was slightly broader, the flanks slightly more heavily streaked and the head and upperparts being slightly more coarsely streaked and darker. Really nice to be able to analyse these birds and compare, particularly with the help of photographs. Leaving these, we thought this would be our last act before heading back to Ryburgh. However, following a tip-off from Andy Bloomfield, we stopped again by the football pitch, where the brent flock was still present. Finding a viewing position, we soon an incredibly distinctive Black Brant; the pure bird! Brilliant to see this bird, which has been enigmatic this year. Now the flock, in addition to the Pale-bellied Brent, also now hosted both of the Brant hybrids! It doesn’t get any better with Brents. From here we hit the road, back to Great Ryburgh where the tour concluded.

 

 

A couple of cracking rares from today! Coues's Arctic Redpoll and Black Brant

 

FRIDAY 25th JANUARY – Overcast all day, heavy mist am, clearing later, very light breeze, 5C

 

Today we made our way down into the Broadland areas of East Norfolk where, while the weather meant we faced some challenges and had to adjust the itinerary accordingly, we had a really decent day. Our intention was to first visit the RSPB marshes at Cantley. However, driving into heavy drizzle and poor visibility, we knew that we would struggle to observe much of the reserve, and its associated special geese! So, with that, we adjusted and headed further north into the farmlands around Clippersby, on the hunt for Common Cranes. Approaching an area of maize strips and winter wheat which the species seems to have taken a liking to this winter, we quickly spotted a group of these superbly elegant birds not far from the road. The group took flight and headed across the field, where they joined a further group of feeding birds, numbering a total of 12 individuals. Great to pick these up, despite the murk, and we were off to a great start! With the weather still close, we headed on to try to find our next target species; Whooper and Bewick’s Swans. Our location for these would be the fields surrounding Ludham Airfield; a classic wintering site for this small population of wild swans. And, as expected, there were a fine group of 66 birds, numbering approximately 32 Bewick’s Swans and 34 Whooper Swans. Amongst there number were a fair few juveniles, the young Whooper Swans particularly delightful with their pastel pink bills. Pied Wagtail and Skylark were noted here in addition, while we had a hot drink in the swans company.

 

From here we then moved on towards the Trinity Broads, and particularly Ormsby Little Broad, where we would walk out to view the broad along the wooded boardwalk. Tits were numerous and included a couple of Marsh Tits close to the car park. Once overlooking the broad itself, numerous Great Crested Grebes and Tufted Ducks were in evidence, and Marsh Harrier was seen over the far trees. However, after a short wait a superb winter plumaged Red-necked Grebe swam out into view for us, giving superb close views before making its way over to the farther reedbed. This individual has been present for a number of weeks now, so was great to catch up with. Leaving here, we then crossed the road and took a look at Filby Broad. Out here we noted a single female Goldeneye amongst the other usual Tufted Ducks and Coots and, with some diligent scanning in harsh light at the far end of the broad, we managed to get some views of the pair of redhead Smew which have also been present for a while now. A superb couple of scarce inland species on these beautiful broads. Back at the van, we had lunch before moving onwards towards Horsey. Driving the straight towards Horsey Corner, we paused to scan the marshes and picked up another pair of Common Cranes; we are doing so well for this species lately! The fields also held a number of Golden Plover, while many Lapwings, a couple of Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard were also noted. Further ahead, a big flight of Pink-footed Geese took off and landed again, unfortunately in an area impossible to view. However closer to Waxham we managed to watch a good flock at close quarters from the van, while a single wintering Chiffchaff was vocal in nearby pines. Now, we had a couple of hours to bird before the light faded. Seeing as we had failed to visit Cantley in the morning, and as the weather had improved vastly, we decided to head back south and finish the day there. Arriving at the Burnt House Road entrance to the marsh, we first had a scan from high on the neighbouring farmland, looking hopefully for any Bean Goose candidates. These were not forthcoming, though distant geese included both Pink-footed and over 100 Russian White-fronted Geese. We then walked out across the marsh, obtaining closer views of the White-fronted Geese, while also seeing a nice adult Peregrine on the deck, a couple of Common Snipe, 5 or more Marsh Harriers, several Common Buzzards and 1000’s of Rooks and Jackdaws going to roost. A pleasant way to finish the days birding, making the most of the fine weather which graced us last thing.

 

 

THURSDAY 24th JANUARY – Overcast with brief sunny spells, light hazy mist, very light breeze, 4C

 

A day in the NW of the county today saw us out early to take advantage of the high morning tide, starting our birding at Snettisham RSPB. Before we had even finished unloading the boot, a huge flock of 1000’s of Pink-footed Geese erupted from the wash, ready to set off for feeding grounds. A superb sight in front of the rising red sun. Making our way towards the sea wall, we noted a few smart Goldeneye on the 2nd Pit along with a few Wigeon and Tufted Ducks, while Golden Plovers were seen overhead with some movements of Lapwings. Reaching the bank of Pit 3, further Goldeneye were noted, while over the already high tide, some superb smoke-like flights of Oystercatchers, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits past at great speed low over the water. The flat sea itself hosted a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, Pintail and numerous Shelduck. Out at the southern end of the area, we set ourselves up to view the head of the estuary, where literally 1000’s of waders were jostling for position distantly at the edge of the saltings. An impressive number of Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards, along with a single Merlin were taking their turns to stir things up, leading to some impressive flights, but things were mostly settled here. Taking a look out from the Shore hide, an impressive congregation of over 10,000 Knot were all packed together on one small island, with a skirt of Oystercatchers vying for their place. Eventually, presumably related to the birds innate knowledge of the tidal state, the whole lot took flight and swooped over the pit and onto the estuary; spectacular! One unlucky Knot was unfortunate to be knocked into the water, where a Great Black-backed Gull was quick to take advantage. A single Pochard was seen here also. Exiting the hide, many Oystercatchers were gathered on the mud, along with 100’s of Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit, while we appreciated a big adult Peregrine out on the marsh, kindly pointed out by another group. From here we made our way back, but not before discovering the wintering redhead Smew at the start of pit 3; where had that come from?! The bird provided super views from the bank with its escort of Tufted Ducks. Leaving it behind, we made our way back to the van.

 

 

The Wash wader spectacle was superb as ever

 

From Snettisham, we headed north along the A149, where we intended to make a brief stop at Holme before heading into the farmland areas around Choseley. However, our journey was abruptly interrupted, as a glance out the window at 50mph revealed a Waxwing feeding on berries in a roadside hedge! Some quick manoeuvring saw us returning to the bird and, pulled up off the side of the road and enjoyed 10 minutes viewing of this superb bird. A 1st year bird owing to the lack of anchor-shaped markings on the primaries, it was happily gorging itself on berries, and we left it to it and continued north. Stopping into Holme for the toilets, we then headed up towards Choseley and began our search for our main target here; the wintering Rough-legged Buzzard. The bird seemed to have settled into more of a routine now, after a couple of weeks of irregular sightings. Happily, after just our second pause to scan fields and hedges from the Burnham Road, we picked up a buzzard sporting a distinctly pale cream head and upper breast, and distinctive dark mask which looked like our bird. To make sure, we made our way round to another position to view it more closely. Heavy long streaking down the breast and heavily feathered tarsus; this was definitely the Rough-legged Buzzard! Dead pleased to find this arctic beauty, it gave us a couple of superb flight views before dropping over the hill and out of sight. Perfect time for our lunch! A couple of Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were seen while we ate, before we headed a little further west up the road. Pulling up alongside a greenway, we checked out the traditional site known for Corn Buntings; a site which has been quiet so far this year. We were pleased we stopped however, as a superb flock of 21 Corn Buntings were adorning the hedgerow Oak trees; the biggest flock we have had in a few years! A couple of Yellowhammers were also present, while a surprise came in the form of a ringtail Hen Harrier which shot through a fallow field, flushing about 150 Skylarks from the long vegetation, and lunging acrobatically at a few of them! Superb. Slightly further up the road we made another field-side stop, this time to check a cover crop for Tree Sparrows. Unfortunately, we weren’t successful with our quarry here, though a flock of at least 15 Yellowhammers in amongst over 50 Reed Buntings were entertaining in themselves, while the area also hosted 3 Red Kites.

 

 

Todays Waxwings, and a record shot of the Rough-legged Buzzard

 

Feeling in good spirits from a superb first half of the day, we would now finish off at the RSPB’s mighty Titchwell reserve. Walking out, 2 Water Rails were feeding in the path side ditch. Opening out, the Freshmarsh hosted relatively few birds, though a couple of Pintail were delightful as ever. A Spotted Redshank was heard but not seen here, while the highlight was probably a bathing Water Pipit which allowed us all to follow it as it then flew to the reed bank to preen and sort out its plumage. Various waders on the Volunteer Marsh included Grey plover, Ringed Plover and showy Black-tailed Godwits, while the Tidal Marsh hosted 2 Avocets, a Pintail and several Wigeon. Jean then alerted us to a ringtail Hen Harrier which crossed the back of the marsh, across to Parinder Hide and then west towards Thornham; superb! From here we reached the sea and, following a scan from the dunes and realising how distant things would be with the low tide, we walked down towards the shore. A female Eider and Common Scoter were both extremely close in, while several Red-breasted Mergansers and Great Crested Grebes were also noted. Slightly more distant were 3 Long-tailed Ducks and a single winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe; always a highlight of any watch off Titchwell in winter. The sun was dropping fast now, so we wandered back towards the Freshmarsh where, as a fine finale to a superb day, we watched as the Marsh Harrier Roost began to build slowly. Our third Hen Harrier came across from the west to join the roost and, whilst watching this head east, we became aware of a swirling mass of 40 Marsh Harriers all up over the roost site together; superb! A Barn Owl distantly towards Thornham rounded our visit off nicely, while another Barn Owl along the Docking Road on route home capped off a superb day in NW Norfolk.

 

 

WEDNESDAY 23RD JANUARY – Overcast with low hanging cloud, light breeze, 3C

 

A rather cold and grey day today in the Norfolk breckland proved to us that the area can produce the goods, even if the weather doesn’t give much reason for optimism. A dry but overcast day was forecast to perhaps feature a few sunny spells, and led us south to search for forest species. Our day began with a roam around the areas of farmland between Foulden and Oxborough, where a brief Great Grey Shrike had been reported the previous afternoon. An area of long hedgerows and small copses, we made a thorough search, noting a large number of Redwings and Fieldfares as well as several Yellowhammers in a cover strip, but unfortunately no shrike. Satisfied that we had covered the area thoroughly, we then moved on. Arriving at our next stop, a walk around a large area of clear-fell provided us with sightings of a Common Buzzard, a flyover Lesser Redpoll and a surprise but brief calling Hawfinch which Paul picked up as it flew over. Once we had completed a lap, we enjoyed a hot drink besides the van before heading off to another area, where our plan was to attempt to pick up a sighting of Goshawk. Pulling into an area overlooking mixed forest, a customary scan of the treetops revealed a raptor sat clear as day atop a bent-over Larch tree; the 1st winter Goshawk we have seen previously in the area! It was superb to see this bird up on show for the duration of our stop here, occasionally wing-stretching and fanning its white undertail coverts broadly around the tail. We were doubly pleased that the bird was showing here, as the dark weather seemed to be keeping other Goshawks at bay, although Common Buzzard activity was very high, with around 6 birds seen along with 2 male Sparrowhawk sightings. Other birds noted included a couple of flyover Bramblings and a small flock of Linnets. A superb 40 minutes spent in the company of the Brecks’s top predator.

 

Following up from this superb end of the morning, we headed south, pausing briefly to check on some roadside pools which occasionally host Green Sandpiper. While no waders were forthcoming, a pair of Egyptian Geese were present, while a large flock of finches across the road included a good number of Brambling, and a Marsh Tit was enjoyed in song along the lane. We then pushed on to Santon Downham where we had lunch. Whilst parked up we got wind that a Great Grey Shrike, initially located earlier this morning, had reappeared somewhere along towards the railway line! Heading over, we scanned the area to the west of the road, and Paul picked the bird up distantly atop a small bush before it dropped out of view. All assembled, the bird then took flight and flew across the clearing and out of view towards the river. We made the decision to walk the riverbank, where we knew we would then get a better view of the clearing. Reaching the western end, we relocated the Great Grey Shrike and enjoyed tremendous prolonged views of it up in the lower bushes along the railway line, and also up in classic shrike fashion on top of some of the taller trees. A really superb bird, and very tricky in recent years. The area held a good number of Siskins and Bramblings, as well as calling Marsh Tits and a number of vocal Nuthatches, while a showy Water Rail was also a highlight along the riverbank. A really productive spot today. However, with time rattling on, we had one more site to visit, so we made our way, to Lynford Arbouretum for the final hours of daylight. The Beech ‘tunnel’ just into the Arboretum hosted an impressive 50 or so Brambling coming to the ground to feed, while a bizarre bit of behaviour here was a Treecreeper apparently feeding on peanuts from the peanut feeder! Certainly nothing we have ever seen before! A few Redwing were flying amongst the ornamental trees along with more Bramblings, Chaffinches and Goldfinches, before we reached the paddocks. A good number of Fieldfare were grouped together behind the Hornbeams here, and a pair of Hawfinches flew up into the lower branches of the trees, showing briefly before flying left and out of views unfortunately. At this point it seemed that the feeding activity would be over, with it being time for birds to roost, though another bird appeared out of nowhere in the first Hornbeam as we left! However, the most prolonged views we managed here were of a couple of birds which saw fit to sit up for a while in their favoured pre-roost pines at the back of the paddock. Making our way back to the van, we made one final stop further on at Lynford Water, where 3 Goosander were enjoyed along with numerous Tufted Ducks, 3 Great Crested Grebes and a few Gadwall. The light had all but faded now, and so saw us heading home after a superb day with some of the Brecks’ finest birds.      

 

 

Brilliant to see this Great Grey Shrike at Santon Downham, while Bramblings were abundant in the forest

 

TUESDAY 22nd JANUARY – Sunny all day with light SW winds, 5C

 

Our second January winter tour got off to a really nice start, with our morning journey out towards Cley being punctuated by a pair of Barn Owls hunting over the wet grasslands behind the village. Not many better ways to start a trip than this! Once both birds had finished their rounds, we continued on to our first stop of the day; Cley beach. Stepping out the cool light wind was tempered by the beautifully bright sunny weather, and we set off along the shingle in positive mood. The sea held numerous Red-throated Divers, Guillemots and Cormorants, as well as a fly-over party of Pintail and a few groups of Teal. Marsh Harriers were patrolling the marshes, and would be a feature of today, with probably 20 noted across the coast. Not far along the shingle ridge, we picked up a small party of about 15 Snow Buntings which looked superb in the winter sunshine. A species we hoped to run into here was a wintering Glaucous Gull which has been regular the last couple of weeks, but unfortunately there was no sign, though the birding in general here made up for dipping. Back at the van, various flocks of Brent Geese were seen over Blakeney Harbour, and this area would be where we would visit next. Passing through Cley village, we made our way down to the bottom of Blakeney village, where we left the van and headed round onto Blakeney freshmarsh. The walk out was punctuated by a confiding female Stonechat, a Common Buzzard and several further Marsh Harriers. Out main target here gave itself up easily, with 16 Twite bathing in a shallow pool, and preening close besides, allowing close approach and excellent viewing. A short walk up onto the bank here revealed a fine selection of common waders including Grey Plover, several Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin, as well as an abundance of Shelduck, Wigeon and Teal on the exposed mudflats. Skylark were calling frequently, and a couple of Reed buntings were noted before we made our way back towards the van. On our way news came through that the Cley Glaucous Gull had appeared on Arnolds Marsh, and so our next move was dictated for us.

 

Parking at the bottom of the Cley East Bank, we set off along the path towards Arnolds Marsh, enjoying the impressive flocks of Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler as we went. The Glaucous Gull was not difficult to locate, being found roosting out in the middle of the marsh, only lifting its head glaringly as swathes of wildfowl swept across, being frequently disturbed by patrolling Marsh Harriers. A bonus sighting here was an agile Merlin first spotted by Jean as it chased a small passerine over the marsh, before landing and offering nice scope views along the shingle ridge towards Salthouse. Once we had had our fill of the spectacle here, we walked back and made our way towards Holkham, with a short detour into Morston Harbour. This stop was more-or-less for one thing; the regular wintering Greenshank which is often found haunting the harbour channel, and today was no exception. Feeding in the company of Redshank, Curlew and Brent Geese, it was nice to add this species to our winter selection. We then made our way to Holkham, noting Red Kite on the way. Pulling into Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped half-way down to scan some of the many goose flocks lining the track. Initially paying attention to the Brent Goose flock, we quickly picked up the regular Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Hybrid which we so often see here, but a scan through the neighbouring Pink-footed Goose flock also came up trumps, revealing two each of Barnacle Goose and Russian White-fronted Goose. Adding to these Greylag Goose and Egyptian Geese, and the area was pretty goose-rich! Aside from these, a tame Grey Partridge was popular beside the track. From here we headed out onto Holkham Gap, picking up a fairly large flock of Linnets in the low saltmarsh vegetation. Further on, a flock of around 60 Snow Buntings flew ahead of us towards the cordoned-off area, while a second flock numbering around 70 birds fed quietly further up the beach; an impressive number of birds! The Shorelark flock was initially nowhere to be seen, though a distraction came in the form of a couple of brief sightings of a Dartford Warbler in the dune Sea Buckthorn! A bizarre sighting, but the bird has been hanging around the area for the past few days, typically in the company of a single Stonechat. From here we were able to watch the Snow buntings on the sand, until the faint call of the Shorelarks caught our ear, and a flock of around 30 birds appeared over the marsh behind us! Walking back, we enjoyed nice views of the birds feeding low amongst the sea lavender and saltmarsh grasses; typical of their behaviour this year. The bay came up trumps for us again! Light was fading fast now, so we made our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, pausing to enjoy a small group of Rock Pipits along the way. From the Lookout, a single Barn Owl was hunting the marshes, dropping frequently for prey, while a look out over the western marshes revealed a further 2 Barn Owls; a superb day for these birds. The Pink-footed Geese were also putting on a brilliant display, taking flight in impressive skeins as they headed inland from their day roost on the Holkham marshes. This may have seemed counter-intuitive given the time of day, though the presence of clear skies and a full moon facilitating night-time feeding on the beet fields explained this behaviour. Our final treat this evening was a distant Great White Egret which could be seen floating around distantly opposite the Joe Jordan hide; a fitting end to a superb North Coast Norfolk day.

 

 

 

 


 

 

NORFOLK WINTER TOUR 7TH - 12TH JANUARY 2019 [AS & JWM]

 

 

SATURDAY 12TH JANUARY – Overcast but fairly bright and dry. Moderate W winds, 9C

 

A mild but blustery final day of this Norfolk Winter tour took us north-west, starting the day at Snettisham. A 10:06 high tide meant that we would coincide with some wader congregations here, though a 6-meter tide wasn’t a particularly large one, and would mean that the site wouldn’t be at its absolute best. However, a long-staying Smew aided our mission, and we came away enjoying a nice variety of birds, as well as some impressive flocks of waders. Walking out from the RSPB carpark, Goldeneye were in evidence on the pits, with around 20 noted across the site, including some half-hearted display from the smart males. Reaching the first part of pit three, we were greeted by our main target; the redhead Smew. Always a smart bird to see, we enjoyed close views for the duration of our visit, as the bird seemed to follow us up and down the pits! Numerous Wigeon and a few Teal and Gadwall were also present here, while the mudflats also offered their own entertainment. Golden Plover were much in evidence, with a flock of perhaps 2000 or more birds swirling ahead of the incoming tide, while Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Knot and Grey plovers were well represented, along with abundant Shelducks. A flock of around 30 Linnets were feeding on the strand-line, and a pair of Stonechats escorted us back towards the van, where we appreciated a warm drink away from the cool wind.   

 

On from here, we made our way to Holme beach, where we walked out to the shore for a seawatch. A good number of Red-breasted Merganser were on the sea along with a couple of Great-crested Grebes, 3 shearing Fulmars and a single Shag, but the highlight was a 1st winter Little Gull which we watched dip-feeding just off the breaking waves. Following our sandwiches, we then headed inland, where we would finish up searching through the local farmland to see if we could pick up on a few species which were missing from earlier in the week. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull any Tree Sparrows or Corn Buntings out of the bag (these are so far proving difficult this season) though a pair of vocal Grey Partridges, 2 Yellowhammers and a nice spread of Reed Buntings across the area made for fine viewing. Whilst watching, a steady stream of Pink-footed Geese were flying south from the coast and headed in the direction of Sedgeford, tempting us to go and investigate during the last 45 minutes of day available to us. After a bit of investigation, we found a flock of around 2000 birds settled across 3 fields. Initially staying in the van, we enjoyed really nice views in flat light from the cover of the minibus, the vehicle providing a hide to avoid disturbing the closest birds. A thorough scan of the flock produced only a single Greylag Goose as different from the rest, though even this providing some interest. A distinctly dark bird and only slightly larger than the neighbouring Pink-footed Geese, it looked very much like the migratory Icelandic Greylag Geese which we see more often in Shetland in the Autumn. Great to end the tour with a fine flock of Pink-footed Geese here, following a week which has featured 8 species of Goose! And with 129 species in total, we come to an end on another superb Norfolk Winter Wildfowl Spectacular.

 

 

The stars of the weeks show; our wonderful Pink-footed Geese, and the redhead Smew from Snettisham.

 

 

FRIDAY 11TH JANUARY – Overcast but fairly bright and dry. Light W winds, 7C

 

Todays birding took us back onto the north coast, first visiting Wells harbour. A Glaucous Gull had been present for the past few days near the lifeboat station and warranted a look for. Though we couldn’t find it here, we did note 5 Red-breasted Mergansers and a female Eider out in the channel, along with 2 Guillemots drifted in on the high tide, several close Dark-bellied Brent Geese and a spread of Shelducks, Oystercatchers and Curlews. From here we headed into the woods on the hunt for Redpolls. During our search we got really nice views of at least 5 confiding Bullfinches feeding amongst the brambles, along with Treecreeper, numerous Goldcrests, a single Green Woodpecker and at least one wintering Chiffchaff. The flashes at Quarle’s Marsh were alive with 100’s of Wigeon and Lapwing along with small numbers of Shoveler, a small flock of Golden Plover and 3 Black-tailed Godwits. The lapwing flock taking flight suddenly had us scanning the skies for raptors, and sure enough a male Peregrine came into view above the flocks, though made no attempt to take anything. A fairly tatty winged bird, we suspect it is the immature male which we often see on the Wells Church. Back to the woods, a small flock of 9 Redpolls flew into view from the adjacent caravan site and perched up for us to scan; 8 Lesser Redpolls and a single Mealy Redpoll amongst them. These moved on, but we were able to relocate them, plus two extra Lesser Redpolls, back where we started, gaining really nice close views in one of the few remaining silver birch trees which still held seed. Leaving these, we headed back to the minibus for a brew.

 

Setting off out of Wells, we paused by the football pitch which, having been empty on our way out, held about 150 Brent Geese which offered really nice viewing from the van, including several good family groups. On from here, we headed to Holkham. Pulling into Lady Anne’s Drive, a flock of Pink-footed Geese stopped us from going any further, warranting a good check with the scopes. Viewing was tricky as the birds were in the next field with various bushes in the way. However, amongst a few Brent Geese within the flock we did pick out a single nice Barnacle Goose. Further on the group found a couple of Grey Partridges at the end of the drive whilst we were having our sandwiches, while Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard were also seen. We then had a rather productive time out onto Holkham Gap and saltmarsh. With our main quest being to try and find Shorelarks, there was initially no sign of them. However, a fantastic diversion was a flock of 30 Snow Buntings which we enjoyed at close range. Heading out to the beach, we set about scanning the sea. A brilliant selection of birds at close range included a fly-by Mediterranean Gull, a single winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe about 100 meters offshore, a Great Northern Diver literally bobbing around in the surf and, best of all, a Black-throated Diver which motored west at close range, diving incredibly frequently but offering everyone a quick look through the scope between dives. In addition a flock of Common Scoter, a single Red-throated Diver and several Great Crested Grebes also featured here. Heading back onto the saltmarsh, we made to walk a bit more widely than usual, as we still hadn’t found the Shorelarks. This produced the goods, as a flock of about 25 erupted from dense Sea Purslane and Sea Lavender, flew a short way ahead and completely vanished deep into the vegetation again! It was looking like these might be a little frustrating, though with a little manoeuvring we found a spot where we could pick them up as they fed undisturbed. Always a treat to see this species here. Heading back to the van, it was time to head off to our last stop of the day; Stiffkey Meals.

 

 

Female Bulfinch at Wells and some of the Snow Bunting flock from Holkham

 

Driving out towards Wells again, a pair of Red Kites were noted close to the road. Reaching Stiffkey Campsite car park, we set up scopes and began scanning the saltmarsh. Not long into our vigil the highlight of the evening appeared; a male Hen Harrier. The bird put on quite a show, quartering back and forth in front of us before heading off to the east. A Peregrine dashing off towards Blakeney Point also livened things up, as did a Barn Owl which, after a frustrating brief view off east, then obliged with a nice flypast behind us. However otherwise it was quite a quiet watch, with only around 5 Marsh Harriers noted, and very little coming into roost. However, a large flock of Brent Geese and Wigeon passing noisily overhead and squadrons of Pink-footed Geese heading out towards Blakeney Harbour last thing made for a typically idyllic finish to the day. Returning back to Great Ryburgh, we finished with brief views of another Barn Owl and the sounds of the local Tawny Owls calling around the village.

 

 

THURSDAY 10TH JANUARY – Overcast all day, very light rain pm. Light winds, 7C

 

An absolutely cracking day out east in and around the farmland and marshes of the Broadland. Our main focus would be on geese, with the two species of Bean Goose both present in the area, along with Pink and White-fronted Geese. In addition to this, both the wild swans and Common Cranes would also be searched for, and in the end, we came away with a clean sweep!

 

Leaving Rybrough and setting off for the Norwich Northern Distributor Road, we headed straight for Cantley Marshes; home of the rare Taiga Bean Goose. The site is home of one of only two wintering populations in the UK, and they are notoriously difficult to find. However, we were lucky as, on finding a viewpoint which gave us a good overview, a flock of 15 geese dropped in from the direction of Buckenham marsh. Noting a narrow white band at the tip of the tail, they looked interesting, though they looked rather pale above on descending, so views were inconclusive. However, they dropped into the marsh and, noted between the long rushy vegetation, the long-billed head profile and extensive orange across the mandibles confirmed it; Taiga Bean Geese! The views from here we frustrating, the birds getting themselves amongst the deep ditches and rushes and being mostly out of sight. With this, we headed around to find a better viewing angle from the marsh itself. This proved worthwhile, with excellent views of 5 birds obtained at closer range. A supporting cast of about 1000 Pink-footed Geese hosted a couple of fine Russian White-fronted Geese amongst them, though the bulk of this species flock was probably over towards Buckenham. Furthermore, the marsh here hosted a couple of Ruff, Snipe, large numbers of Wigeon and several Marsh Harrier. Several Chinese Water Deer were also noted while Stock Dove was also noticed on our way back to the van. A positive start to the day, and we were pleased to have gotten good views of this much sought-after species.

 

After a cuppa, we then made our way north, stopping at the Ludham airfield area, noting a brief roadside Woodcock on the way, obviously flushed from its day roost. Crossing the plateau of the airfield and scanning the fields, a flock of swans stood out like a sore thumb, and we found a good place to view them from. Working through the group, a superb combination of adult and juvenile Whooper and Bewick’s Swans formed this flock, numbering approximately 52 Bewick’s Swans and 44 Whooper Swans. A superb total, and far more than we registered at any point last winter. Egyptian Geese were noted nearby as we then headed back the way we came, following a tip-off from a friend of a flock of 6 Tundra Bean Geese which were frequenting fields close to Thrigby. On our way here we enjoyed a pause to watch a group of 4 Whooper Swans feeding close to the road. Crossing the area the Bean Geese had been seen in, there was initially no sign of them. However, we soon picked up 6 geese in flight over the other side of the road which, on a quick scope, proved to be the Tundra Bean Geese we were looking for! Flight views weren’t much good for appreciating the birds, and they frustratingly dropped behind the brow of a winter wheat field out of view. However, a quick bit of manoeuvring saw us find another view point which afforded superb views of the group. Great to see both species of Bean Goose in one day! Another much-appreciated tip-off from the same friend saw us winding our way towards Clippersby, where we had the pleasure of watching a flock of 7 Common Cranes feeding quietly besides a maize strip. Staying in the van so as not to disturb them, we watched this group of apparently all adult birds as they picked at the surface of a newly shooting winter wheat field, while various individuals played sentinel. A shout from Alan revealed a lone pair of birds at the bottom of the field across the road and, whilst watching these another pair flew into views and dropped into the same fields. Further careful scanning picked up two more, making a fine total of 13 feeding Common Cranes in this rather innocuous area of arable farmland; just superb.

 

 

A close Whooper Swan and a part of the nearly 100-strong flock of Whooper and Bewick's Swans

 

By now the time was 14:30, the spitting rain had become somewhat more persistent and the deeply overcast skies left us to decide that, rather than pursue our original plan of finishing at the Stubb Mill watchpoint, we would instead spend our time cruising the marshes between Horsey and Sea Palling, where we would search for geese and also stand a chance of an interesting raptor or owl. The area produced a couple of superb flocks of Pink-footed Geese, numbering about 300 in the first and perhaps 2000 in the second. Unfortunately, no other goose species could be picked out in the rapidly declining light, while the larger flock observation was dictated by the antics of 2 Red Deer stags which charged through the middle of them! A large flock of Golden Plover and several Ruff, plus a smart male Marsh Harrier provided further variety to the area, and before long it was time to make our way back home. A day of good fortune and superb success in connecting with our target species. Hopefully tomorrow will be as successful!   

 

   

Some of todays Common Cranes and 5 of the 6 Tundra Bean Geese

 

 

WEDNESDAY 9TH JANUARY – Overcast with sunny spells, moderate N winds, occasional showers throughout, 5C

 

Day two of our first Norfolk tour of 2019 saw us down in the Brecks, where we would explore the mix of farmland, heath and pine plantations for the area’s specialities. A forecast for a bright morning followed by more overcast conditions later on, plus no major indication of rain meant we thought we would take a look in suitable habitat for Woodlark, with a chance of some early song. However, on the journey south the sky was dark, and showers set in at various points. Arriving on site, things were very quiet bird-wise, with a heard-only Bullfinch the only vaguely notable record! After our second moderate shower set in here, we knew our target wouldn’t perform, so we headed round the corner to walk an area of forestry fire breaks in search of other woodland birds. Things started well, with two bulky finches crossing the track and landing prominently on top of a pine; Common Crossbills. The species has been very scarce here for 18 months, so it was good to see these. A single female Brambling, a couple of vocal Marsh Tits and a spread of other tit species made up the other sighting here. By now the sun had begun to peak out, so we headed back to the Woodlark for another 10-minute saunter, though this failed to produce unfortunately. Cutting our losses, and with plenty of day left to play with, we continued on to see if we could pick out some mid-winter Northern Goshawks. Pulling in overlooking a good vista of farmland, mixed deciduous and conifer forest, we literally waited 2 minutes for our first sighting, with a Common Buzzard soon being pursued by a cracking adult male Goshawk! The birds flight, initially relaxed, soon became more purposeful, featuring deep exaggerated wingbeats, and unsurprisingly an adult female Goshawk soon came into view! These two birds, offering a superb comparison, performed on and off for what must have been 40 minutes or more, with more birds appearing from time to time, including a second adult female, a 1st winter bird still in predominately juvenile plumage and a 2nd winter bird at one point, so totalling 5 individuals. At one stage the adult male Goshawk went into full ‘switchback’ display flight high above us; possibly the first display of the season. A real performance from these birds, and not anticipated on this early date. Further raptors here included a Sparrowhawk and 2 Red Kites, while other interest included a small flock of Bramblings bathing in a roadside puddle along with Goldfinches and Chaffinches.

 

After a hot drink and some chocolate, we were content to move on from the raptor fest! From here, we headed down to Santon Downham, passing a flock of over 50 Bramblings in a Beech strip visiting roadside puddles. A quick pause at the Forestry Commission carpark allowed us to have lunch and use the facilities, before walking towards the river. The gardens here were typically busy, with Siskin, Nuthatch, Brambling and Marsh Tit all noted along with a throng of other woodland birds. However, another heavy shower had us cowering back to the van! By now it was a good time to head for Lynford, where we would see out the day. Arriving at about 2, we had time to first head down to the gravel pits. The track down featured an impressive flock of over 100 Siskins feeding on a cone-laden conifer, plus a group of three Lesser Redpolls in flight towards the pits. The left-hand pit hosted 4 Goosander; 3 males and a female, while the other larger pool hosted another male Goosander; always nice to see in the county. Along with numerous Tufted Ducks, Coots, several Gadwall and a small number of Great-crested Grebes, there was a bit to look at. Finishing up, it was time to head the other way, down into Lynford Arboretum and the paddocks, where hopefully the county’s Hawfinch stronghold would produce some sightings. The feeding station over the gate was alive with Bramblings; a good day for this species today. Getting down to the paddocks, a scan of the far pines quickly produced a single Hawfinch sat up on the tops, preparing to go to roost. However, the next sightings provided better views, with 2 males feeding under the large Hornbeams in the centre of the paddock, occasionally perching up and showing off their saturated colours in low light. Very nice! Once these had moved on we continued to watch the roost site, going on to note 3 more Hawfinches before activity levels dropped and it was time to head off. A female Green Woodpecker showed well through scopes, while Redwings and Fieldfares were both present in the area, along with a Mistle Thrush. On our way back a Firecrest was calling in dense pines, though in couldn’t be located unfortunately, though a few Goldcrests were also sharing the likely roost tree. From here we were ready to hit the road, after a final hot drink, pleased with our day’s efforts.  

 

 

Male Hawfinch and a pair of Goosander at Lynford today

 

 

TUESDAY 8TH JANUARY – Sunny spells in fresh NW winds, showers in afternoon, 7C

 

Our first tour of 2019 kicked off well as we spent a windy day exploring the coast and farmland around North-west Norfolk. Our first quest of the day was to try and find some Pink-footed Goose flocks, and so we drove some minor roads between Burnham Market and Docking, noting several skeins of geese in the air but struggling to find any on the deck that we could really get stuck into. The hedges hosted small groups of Redwing and Fieldfare at several spots, but with a lot to fit in we decided to continue down to the coast at Holme and check the sea before the tide dropped off. It had been a big spring tide, with the wind behind it, and the marsh had all been covered earlier on. Now the water was receding fast, and we were able to cross the beach easily to the low dunes and scan the rather tumultuous breakers. The light was superb, and we enjoyed close views of Rock Pipits and Skylarks as we headed along the strand line. Offshore, we were limited to birds flying past as the sea was too rough to spot anything on the water, but we still did well – five Red-breasted Mergansers, three Fulmars flying close in through the breakers and a steady stream of waders moving back to The Wash included Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit. The highlight was a big, dark diver lumbering west close inshore – a fine Great Northern Diver, with its huge feet trailing behind. It has been a good winter for this scarce species, so really nice to see one on our first attempt.

 

Thornham Harbour was our next stop, as we wanted to try and catch the Twite before they headed out onto the saltmarsh on the ebbing tide. There was no sign of them around the car park, so we took a walk up onto the seawall in the direction of Holme. A young Peregrine circled over us, then off across the grazing marsh where it flushed a big flock of Golden Plover into the air. One of the group spotted some small birds distantly along the seawall, so we opted to walk a bit further to check it out. Two Stonechats were along the fence, and we had fantastic close views of Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit in the creek. Reaching the first big bend in the sea wall, we picked up the small finches down in the Sea Lavendar – they were indeed the Twite flock, so a good spot! The light was superb, and they were very settled, so we were able to enjoy some excellent views. A single Linnet with them was also a useful comparison! Eventually they flew past us over the seawall and onto the grazing marsh to drink from a puddle – sixteen birds altogether. As we watched the Twite, we could hear Pink-feet in the distance – a spectacular sight of around 3000, whiffling down from the sky and onto the NWT reserve – superb!

 

A Rough-legged Buzzard had been present in the area inland from Titchwell recently, and a report of it near the drying barns prompted us to take a drive around some minor roads to see if we could find it. We saw an incredible number of raptors – literally everywhere we looked there were Marsh Harriers quartering, or popping up over a hedge in front of us. Common Buzzards were everywhere too – we must have seen a dozen just in one area. Another big skein of Pink-feet were dropping into a rape field, and we found a good spot with the light behind us to have a scan through them – most of them were going to sleep though, so hard to pick our anything interesting. Our lunch stop was a bit further west, in a productive area for farmland birds – Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Redwing and Fieldfare were all easily seen, and a cracking ringtail Hen Harrier appeared right beside us and began quartering a game crop at the field edge – close enough for us to easily see the birds deep ochre washed underparts denoting juvenile plumage. We couldn’t find the Rough-leg anywhere though, nor any Corn Buntings, and with the day fading away, we headed down to Titchwell.

 

There are not many ‘guarantees’ in birding, but seeing a Water Rail at Titchwell in winter has to be up there! We saw three today, including two together in the usual ditch, chasing each other around in the mud just a few metres in front of us. A lovely Brent Goose flock was by the entrance road too, and we could see lots of goslings among them with their white-tipped wing coverts. We were really lucky with the weather to end the day, because we were now sandwiched in between two showers, though the sun was actually breaking through and illuminating the freshmarsh in a fantastic evening glow. We scanned the gull roost which was growing by the minute, as Golden Plovers whirled down out of the clouds and Marsh Harriers began to build in numbers over the reedbed. At one point we counted 34 in the air together! The light was excellent for sorting through the gulls, and nice and early on we picked out a gorgeous first-winter Caspian Gull, strikingly white headed and with beautiful long, slender wings and bill. This classic looking bird has been present several weeks, and really is an easy one to pick out! By dusk, there were many hundreds of gulls present and more still arriving, but we couldn’t pick out anything else. A single Avocet, and some stunning Pintail were the other highlights. As we walked back along the bank, a Bittern performed a surprise long flight over the reedbed, and we had two ringtail Hen Harriers together among the swirling flock of now over forty Marsh Harriers. What a sight!

 

 

Our cross-country route home took us along many narrow lanes, and we always hope for a surprise in the headlights – a Woodcock perhaps, or maybe even a Tawny Owl if you are really lucky. Imagine our amazement, when a brown owl sitting three foot off the ground by the side of the road, turned and looked as we drove past and turned out to be a magnificent Long-eared Owl, sitting with its ear tufts fully erect!! Unfortunately, by the time we had turned round, several other cars had passed and it was gone, never to be seen again.

 

 


 

BBC WORLD SERVICE RADIO PROGRAMME 

 

In September, Ashley conducted an interview with the BBC World Service for a programme about birding [among other things!] due to be aired this autumn. Ashley worked with presenter Alys Harte, who is very well known within the industry having worked previously on Radio 4 and Panorama. You can now listen to the programme  - part of the series called The Why Factor - online HERE if you didn't catch it in real time!

 

 


 

 

IBERIAN LYNX – IN SEARCH OF EUROPES RAREST FELINE - DECEMBER 2018

 

THURSDAY 20TH DECEMBER – ANDUJAR NATURAL PARK – LA LANCHA AND ENCINAREJO TRAILS

Overcast but bright am, clear and sunny pm with light winds, 17C

 

Another beautiful day of weather in Andujar, with Sunshine all afternoon to accompany our last day in the park. Following the roaring success of yesterdays exploits, one could be forgiven in thinking we might take it easy on the Lynx hunting today, and to a certain extent we did. However, we still chose to spend the best part of the day back at the La Lancha trail looking for more of our favourite feline. Leaving Los Pinos after breakfast, we wound our way towards the main watchpoints, spotting our first Mouflon on the way. This Impressive wild sheep is thought to be the ancestor of all domesticated sheep breeds, and with its tri-toned colours and large horns, it is an impressive beast. We stopped a few times on the way, first off in the pastures where the famous Spanish Fighting Bulls spend their well-earned retirement. The fields hosted 3 Hoopoes, a couple of Thekla Larks and numerous Meadow Pipits and Black Redstarts. However, our main hope was to improve our so far fairly poor views of the Iberian Green Woodpecker. We succeeded in this mission, getting reasonable views of a female in a Holm Oak tree, illustrating that, along with its distinctively cleaner and sweeter-sounding call, the lack of black surrounding the eye also made the bird apear distinct from our more familiar birds from home. A Green Sandpiper dropping into the area was a surprise, landing on a small stream nearby. A bit further on, we flushed a couple of Woodlarks from the track, prompting us to exit again and bird the denser Quercus forest for woodland species. A Corn Bunting also flushed ahead of us, while Woodlarks were singing all around. A Hoopoe showed very nicely in the sun here, while also seen well was Short-toed Treecreeper, with Serin and Black Redstart also noted. From here we hen wound our way to the large open area of valley overlooked by the La Lancha trail; the hotspot for seeing Lynx. Picking a useful spot to view the surrounding area, we set about scanning. A Dartford Warbler obliged us by singing in the open in front of many of us, while 4 Red-billed Chough were spotted distantly feeding on the ground amongst the Red Deer. A moment of excitement came for David and Jason as, investigating a commotion coming from some nearby Magpies, the slinking shape of an Iberian Lynx appeared! Walking away, this immature female animal walked nonchalantly away from us at about 30-meter range, skirting the hillside before entering denser vegetation. Other observers, including the rest of our group were called over and set about watching the spot. Unfortunately though, despite knowing exactly where the animal was, probably fast asleep in dense cover, we just couldn’t see it, and indeed it never reappeared. A real rush, but disappointing that more people couldn’t see it. However, there were some consolations, including our first Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip, and another enjoyable encounter with Spanish Imperial Eagles, watching two adult birds devour a rabbit on a rock down in the valley, surrounded by Magpies! The light was superb, allowing for our most detailed views yet. Whay a place for this species!

 

By now it was time to move on, our afternoon intending to be spent along the Encinarejo Trail. A short stop at the Andujar Visitor Centre to buy a few souvenirs and use the toilets was followed by lunch at a picnic area besides the Jandula River. A Cirl Bunting showed itself briefly here, while Coal and Crested Tits were both seen. Distant calls of Spanish Imperial Eagle were soon followed by a brief flight view of one headed up river. So once we finished our picnic we head to one of the roadside viewpoints to stop and scan the surrounding Dehesa. Firecrest were seen well here, and we were again lucky to find another Stripeless Tree Frog calling its heart out in Mastic scrub. Walking further down the road, the calls of Spanish Imperial Eagle translated into an adult and sub-adult (perhaps in its 5th plumage) which circled fairly low and gave us a fantastic display. A Goshawk was also spotted as it crossed the valley, before we got back in the van and headed for the Encinarejo Dam. Here we had fantastic views of a group of Rock Buntings, while we also enjoyed following flocks of the irbii Long-tailed Tits and Iberian Magpies. The river was alive with Common Chiffchaffs, and Grey Wagtails were also frequent. As the afternoon wore on, a group of 5 Hawfinches came to the river, probably to drink. With the warm sun falling low, we were all feeling extremely relaxed and content, and rather reluctant to leave! However, leave we did, making our way back to Los Pinos via a short stop at a spectacular viewpoint overlooking much of the fantastic Andujar Natural Park. What a place, and we look forward to being back!

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY 19TH DECEMBER – ANDUJAR NATURAL PARK – THE ENCINAREJA TRAIL

Rain overnight, low cloud first thing clearing to bright sun for rest of the day, 17C

 

Today was one of those days when everything seems to fall into place, with one good sighting after another, culminating in a superb finale! W began by making our way to the Encinarejo dam area as, with the low cloud settling on the area, we knew that the higher La Lancha trail would suffer from poor visibility. Driving through the valley, we parked up and made our way to the end of the Jandula River, positioning ourselves where we could scan for the resident Otters here. We didn’t wait long before ripples in the water alerted us to their presence, and a very energetic animal swam passed us, porpoising fully out of the water like a dolphin as it headed upstream! A second animal was also present here, and with a small fish, it headed towards the dam and disappeared behind some granite rocks to enjoy its breakfast, with a Grey Heron in hot pursuit! Hawfinches were floating around and provided some superb views, as did 3 vocal Crested Tits and, further on, a male and female Rock Bunting put on a show for some of the group. Great Spotted Woodpecker and several Grey Wagtails were also seen, while a large flock of Iberian Magpies entertained us as they crossed the river. The distant yelping calls of a Spanish Imperial Eagle were echoing across the valley from downsteam, and so we next made our way up to view the river valley from another vantage point to try and locate it. Parking beside the road, it wasn’t long before we located this near-adult bird perched in the top of a pine across the valley, looking as majestic as anything could in such spectacular terrain. This stop also provided us with a further 3 Otters feeding against the river bank, as well as more Hawfinches, Long-tailed Tits (of the race irbii) and several calling Stripeless Tree Frogs, one of which we managed to locate low at the base of a Holm Oak. From here we left the Encinarejo trail, making our way to have lunch at the junction in the track on the way to the La Lancha Trail, where we would have lunch.

 

 

A very hadsome male Rock Bunting, and one of many vocal Stripeless Tree Frogs 

 

The journey to our lunch stop wasn’t uneventful however, with Iberian Green Woodpecker seen a couple of times and, best of all, amongst the now actively soaring multitude of Griffon Vultures, an adult at juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle circling alongside the road, giving by far our best views so far. It was great to see the distinctive rufous-brown plumage of the immature bird. A Goshawk powering over the hillside was our first of the trip. Moving on to our lunch spot, we had the pleasure of eating in the company of low flying Griffon Vultures crossing the terrain with a couple of Black Vultures in tow. Just superb. From here we had arranged to meet Imma, a local guide who would be taking us into a private part of the Andujar estate which is carefully managed to help with the conservation of the Iberian Lynx. Certainly, one of the most important elements was the provision of the correct habitat and conditions for the Rabbit; the Lynx’s most important food source, and whilst doing this, some supplementary feeding also occurs here, to attempt to enhance the chances of the Lynx breeding successfully. Out destination would be somewhere with known Lynx territories, and also somewhere where we knew that the land managers would perhaps arrive to feed the wild Lynx. Filled with anticipation and excitement, we crossed the stunning landscape, noting Thekla Larks, many Iberian Magpies and numerous Iberian Green Woodpeckers. After about 30 minutes, we reached the top of a wide valley, looking across to a wide rocky hillside with scattered trees; home of the Iberian Lynx. Setting our coffees and folding chairs, we set ourselves up to scan the area rigorously, hoping that we might lay eyes on our target. Whilst watching we noted 4 Red-billed Chough and a single Golden Eagle high over the ridge. Suddenly the shout went up from Jen; I’ve got a Lynx! With the terrain being so uniform, it was very difficult for her to explain the animal’s location but eventually (after much excited exclamations!) we managed to locate the animal as is casually made its way down the slope before coming to rest amongst the rock and shrubs. Suddenly another movement appeared nearby; another Iberian Lynx had appeared! We had here an adult female, who Imma explained was 8 years old and her 8-month old cub. Soon after they joined each other, a member of park staff approached the area and released three rabbits into a small enclosure nearby. Once he left the older female Lynx crossed the stone wall towards the enclosure, leapt the fence and exited with a rabbit, taking it away to feed on it, having her fill before the younger animal had some. All in the company of a drove of attendant Magpies. Shortly following this, it was the young Lynx’s turn to enter the enclosure and, although her technique wasn’t so well refined, she also exited with her own rabbit and taking it back. However, she didn’t eat it, instead caching it before the two of them headed up the slope and sat out on the rocks there. A further turn of events came with the appearance of a 3rd Iberian Lynx! Imma explained that this was the daughter of the 8-year old Lynx, but from last year, and these two were in fact the same animals that we had seen on out previous Oriole Birding Lynx tour! Amazing. We watched these utterly majestic animals until the light began to fade and they disappeared across the slope and away. What a privilege to observe these endangered felines just doing their thing, and witnessing the incredible efforts that people have gone to in order to bring them back from the brink of extinction. Our drive home was, needless to say, a happy one today!

 

 

The true stars, under blue skies filled with vultures

 

 

TUESDAY 18TH DECEMBER – ANDUJAR NATURAL PARK – THE JANDULA TRAIL

Cold first thing, warming up through the day with clear skies, light winds, 17C

 

Our first full day in the Andujar Natural Park dawned cold and fresh and, following a rather sumptuous breakfast at Los Pinos, we were loading up the van and ready to head out. Our first good sighting came before we had even finished packing the scopes into the van, with a group of Hawfinches perched at the top of a tall Poplar tree, rising to 6 individuals before they were interrupted by an incoming flock of Spotless Starlings which displaced them. A nice start! From here we set off up the La Lancha trail, noting our first of many Red Deer, as well as a good number of Iberian [formerly Azure-winged] Magpies dashing across the road in the early morning light. Working our way into the heart of Andujar Natural Park, we noted the change into thinly spread Holm Oak forest and the granite boulder formations of the terrain. The sparse forestry is a key element of the management of the park, designed to favour the needs of the Rabbit, which in turn benefits the Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle. Both of these would be our main targets today and, by the end, we were pleased to achieve one of these targets, but unfortunately not both! Arriving at a watchpoint overlooking the valleys, we set about watching one of the key Lynx hotspots of the park. A number of people were already present and watching, so we knew that there would be many eyes looking, which would hopefully help. Whilst overlooking the valley in search of the Iberian Lynx, an array of typical Spanish species were seen and heard, including Black Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, while Dartford Warblers were vocal in the Mastic scrub. A flock of Iberian Magpies provided entertainment as the sun began to hit the slopes, and a couple of fly-by Hawfinches also made an appearance. A familiar soundtrack to the area was the high pitched ‘yaffle’ of the Iberian Green Woodpecker, though we had to wait until the afternoon before we saw one well. We stayed in this area, carefully scanning the valley from various positions, but no Lynx sightings were forthcoming; the most interesting mammal sighting being a small group of Wild Boar crossing the valley, along with numerous Red Deer. With lunch calling, we decided that we would visit the Jandula Dam further up the road; a scenic site for a picnic. Our journey was punctuated by a group of 4 Rock buntings. These beautiful buntings, with some patience, showed really well as they fed on the ground amongst the Rosemary and Mastic. On to the Dam, we picnicked overlooking the water, noting another Hawfinch and calling Nuthatches, and had begun to comment on how few large raptors we had noted, despite the favourable weather. However we needn’t have worried, as on reaching the dam itself our first vultures appeared. Steaming in across the hills, we enjoyed the sight of around 40 Griffon Vultures circling over the slopes, joined by 6 impressive Black Vultures. Whilst scanning the slopes a superb immature Golden Eagle rose into views; its white tail base and patches in the wing, and dihedral wing formation making it stand out from its rarer cousin the Imperial Eagle. Shortly after we noted a second immature Golden Eagle and then an adult; a true raptor fest all of a sudden! Away from the skies, a surprise here, and a rarity for the site, was an overwintering Black Wheatear which sat up prominently on an outcrop before dropping and being lost in the valley. The hillside ahead of us held six impressive male Spanish Ibex, while Black Redstarts were abundant. Crag Martins were also being noted frequently here, and a few Grey Wagtails were also present, along with a strikingly blue Blue Rock Thrush.

 

 

One of many Black Redstart, plus a sky of vultures and eagles

 

After these rich pickings, we wanted to return to conduct another search for the Iberian Lynx, making use of the last few hours of good daylight. Returning to our original location, we paused to ask a couple if they had seen any lynx, to which the reply was yes! Literally 5 minutes before they had spotted one distantly, watched it for about a minute and then lost it behind a boulder. They hoped it was still in the area, so we set ourselves up to watch. And watch we did, though unfortunately no sighting was forthcoming over the next hour or so. Unlucky! The watch was enlivened however by a superb adult Spanish Imperial Eagle which soared across the valley on flat, square, snowy edged wings. A second Spanish Imperial Eagle also provided good though distant views in a Eucalyptus tree in the bottom of the valley. Special birds! Crag Martins were everywhere now, while a Dartford Warbler gave a brief song-flight and two Red-billed Chough were seen distantly, though their calls could be heard across the area. A Little Owl was also spotted on a boulder deep in the valley, and another family group of Wild Boar crossed the far hillside. However, despite being so close earlier, we would have to call it an end to day one without finding Iberian Lynx. Fingers crossed that we will have more luck tomorrow!

 


MONDAY 17TH DECEMBER – TRAVEL DAY, STOPPING AT GUADALHORCE RIVERMOUTH AND LAGUNA DEL RINCON

Warm with clear skies, light winds, 17C

 

We have been looking forward with much anticipation to our second Iberian Lynx tour, following on from a very successful tour last year. And so, after gathering for our rather early flight from Gatwick, we boarded and, in 2 hours 20 minutes we had arrived in Malaga. Today would be a travel day, making our way north to the Andujar Natural Park. However, on route we would take in two important wetland birding sights, providing a good introduction to Spanish birding and also with some avian highlights in their own right. We met our local guide Javier Elorriaga at the airport entrance, and were soon all in the minibus and on our way to our first birding location; the Guadalhorce river mouth. Situated within 15 minutes of the airport, this is a must-visit site when visiting the region, and provided us with some good sightings, and also a fine bit of winter sun! Exiting the van, Serins were singing from the surrounding trees and Black Redstarts were common. The reed-lined channel bordering the reserve was full of Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers and Chiffchaffs, while Cetti’s Warbler was also heard. Small numbers of Robins and Meadow Pipits; both wintering species here, were noted, and White Wagtails were common. Walking out onto the paths overlooking the reserve, we noted our first pale morph Booted Eagle circling low overhead. this area is one of the few places in Spain where the species overwinters, and in fact we saw at least 4 individuals here, including superb views of two perched together in a large Tamarisk tree. Common Kestrels were present in the area also, along with a single wintering Common Buzzard. The walk out to the southern lagoon provided sightings of a number of Stonechats, along with many more Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers and Black Redstarts. Spotless Starlings were quite abundant in the area; their oily black plumage standing them out from the similarly frequent Common Starlings. A Penduline Tit called several times from thick vegetation but could unfortunately not be located. Once we arrived at the viewing screen overlooking the lagoon, we set our scopes up and, whilst enjoying our picnic lunch kindly organized by Javi, we scanned the wetland. The pair of pale Booted Eagles were still perched in their favoured tree, providing superb close views here, while further highlights included an adult and 2 immature Greater Flamingos and a flock of 16 winter plumaged Black-necked Grebes. Several Black-winged Stilts, 2 Greenshank and 2 Common Sandpipers provided the wader interest, while wildfowl were represented by a single Pochard, 2 Gadwall, several Mallards and Shelducks and numerous Shoveler. A small flock of Common Waxbills flew through noisily, whilst the raucous calls of Monk Parakeets was a frequent sound. Two Hoopoes were noted in the area, with one giving a superb close fly-by. Finishing our lunches, we then made our way back to the van, having enjoyed this superb small reserve on the edge of Malaga.

 

 

A pair of Booted Eagles near Malaga, and White-headed Ducks at Laguna del Rincon

 

From here we had a 3-hour drive to our base for the next four nights, but we would stop again at a second wetland site on the way. However, the drive itself provided some superb sightings, including 4 Griffon Vultures circling over a distant hillside, several Common Ravens and Common Buzzards, 2 more Booted Eagles over Malaga and, as we neared Cordoba, several White Storks, a flock of about 50 Common Cranes and, arguably best of all, a Black-winged Kite hunting along a roadside bank! Even our coffee stop provided birds of note, including a flock of Crag Martins for some of the group and also a single Sparrowhawk. All this before we head reached our next ‘birding stop’! The second wetland that we would pause at was the Laguna del Rincon. This small lagoon was previously one of the last remaining strongholds for White-headed Duck in Spain and, though the species is now doing fairly well in the country, the site still hosts this special species. Surrounded by olive groves, the area was full of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Song Thrushes and Chaffinches, while Ravens were noted ‘cronking’ overhead. Reaching the viewing screen overlooking the lagoon, the closest birds present on the water here were 5 superb male White-headed Ducks! The stiff pointed tail feathers, swollen ‘broken nose’ bill profile and huge chunky head made for a distinctive profile, even if the light was really awkward here in the afternoon, looking out over the water directly into the sun. A Marsh Harrier cruised through along the back of the lagoon, while 10 Pochards were present along with several mallards, Common Coots and 2 Black-necked Grebes also here for company. A superb break from the journey, which we soon continued, making it to our base in the Andujar Natural Park; the Hotel Los Pinos by about 19:00. Our first bird noted at this location was a calling Tawny Owl, getting our time in the park off to a good start. After a generous and delicious dinner, we all headed off to bed, ready for what tomorrow brings.     

 

 


NORFOLK WILD GEESE WINTER BREAK DECEMBER 2018 [JM+AS]

 

SUNDAY 16TH DECEMBER - HOLKHAM AND WEST NORFOLK

Fine, clear and sunny, 6C

 

A complete contrast to yesterdays biblical weather, we were treated to perfect conditions for our visit to the Holkham area this morning and subsequently we enjoyed a really fantastic series of sightings with great views of all our targets! The drive down to the coast produced a couple of Red Kites, and lots of Redwing and Fieldfare along the berry-laden hedgerows around the burnhams as we dropped down to Holkham. Lady Anne's Drive was very quiet for geese, so we didn't linger here for very long before heading straight out towards the beach - we knew the area would get very busy later on and we were keen to find the Shorelarks. We almost had the beach to ourselves, and after a ten minute walk, we soon found a flock of sixty Snow Buntings out by the cordon at the east end of the bay. While we were watchig these, we relaised there were also two Shorelarks really close to us, sitting quietly among the sea lavendar. The rest of the Shorelark flock then flew in too - about 23 birds today - and with the sun creeping up over the pines and illuminating them perfectly in a warm glow, they really did look something special. We spent a good half hour here, watching the larks at close range and the buntings swirling in to bathe in a puddle right in front of us.

 

 

Next we wandered up to the dunes for a scan of the sea, which turned out to be more productive than we have experienced here in a long time! To begin with we could only pick out a couple of Great Crested Grebes, but gradually birds began to drift into view on the current of the rising tide - a Red-necked Grebe appeared right in front of us, and then a Red-throated Diver, two Red-breasted Mergansers and a female Common Scoter. The strong lateral currents here can quickly drift birds into view from miles along the coast and patient scanning is the best tactic - a female Long-tailed Duck and three Slavonian Grebes were added to the tally, and all giving excellent views being fairly close in and in perfect light. More distantly, a huge flock of Common Scoter could be seen towards the wind farm - perhaps as many as two thousand birds but hard to put an exact number on it. We decided to take a walk west along the beach and try and get a bit closer to them, and as we walked along with one eye on the sea, we spotted a Short-eared Owl coasting along about 200m offshore! We watched the bird heading west, keeping parallel to the coast but not seemingly in a rush to come ashore - was it just moving along the coast, or newly arrived? While watching this, a bird caught the eye in the surf - it was a juv Great Northern Diver! Scopes were turned to the diver, and after initally disappearing it resurafced really close in and we had superb views - what a fantatsic morning! 

 

 

Wells Woods was our next stop, as Ashley had seen the redpoll flock there on Friday and we wanted to see if it was still around. Two circuits of The Dell either side of lunch unfortunately yielded no redpolls at all, and we had to make do with the odd Goldcrest and a couple of Jays. The redpolls have been really mobile and elusive since they appeared in late October, so it wasnt too surprising! In the afternoon, we wanted to head west and look for Pink-foot flocks, to have another try for Bean Goose and anything else we could find. We headed to Docking on the 'high road' from Burnham Market, and soon could see skeins of Pinks dropping down into the fields in the distance. Navigating the minor roads, we found a flock quite distant from the road, but in a good spot for scoping. A few thousand birds here yielded two Russian White-fronted Geese, plus a really whacky bird which basically resembled a PInk-foot, but showed a white frons and long pink bill like a White-fronted Goose, and a bold white eye ring! Initially assuming it must be a hybrid, further research later on seemed to suggest it was the same bird seen in the area in December 2016, and that it is probably most likely a [very!] abberant Pink-foot. Continuing on, we took the road to Fring where the big flock had been on Friday, and while they had now cleared their favoured field and split up into two smaller flocks, we were able to get in amongst them on the Bircham Newton road. Here we scoped a couple of thousand in winter wheat, before the farmer flushed them right over our heads. They flew and joined a few thousand more birds in a beet field behind us - a truly spectacular sight and sound and a great way to end our trip! All that remained was a quick look at Flitcham on the way through to King's Lynn, and we noted Stock Dove, a dozen Grey Partridge, lots of Redwing and Fieldfare, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer in the hedges. A great few days winter birding!

 

SATURDAY 15TH December – HORSEY, BUCKENHAM, WAVENEY FOREST

Overcast and dull all day, strong cold NE winds, 4C with -3 windchill

 

What a bitterly cold and grey day! Cold fingers and toes were certainly a feature throughout, though fortunately the quality of the bird sightings outweighed the discomfort! Making our way into north-west Norfolk via the new Norwich Northern Distributer Road, we were in prime habitat in no time. Our first stop came quite soon, checking an area of fields and a small pool between Ingham and Sea Palling. A number of swans were present on the pool, and we were delighted to see that all three naturally occurring swan species were present! A total of 18 Bewick’s Swans included 6 juveniles (two families of 3) and 12 adult birds, while the Whooper Swans were represented by 10 adults, with a couple of Mute Swans to complete the set. Fantastic to catch up with these, with very few reports this winter so far. A Sparrowhawk dashed past here before we continued towards Horsey. Between Waxham and Horsey we stopped again, met with a flock of around 300 Pink-footed Geese resting on roadside fields. Stopping the van at a safe distance, we were able to scan through the birds, noting two very smart adult Russian White-fronted Geese in their midst; always superb to see at close range. Unfortunately, the flock didn’t contain any other species, and after observing Marsh Harrier in the area, we moved onto the Horsey Straight. Here we were again stopped in our tracks, this time in spectacular fashion, as a trio of 2 adult and a juvenile Common Cranes were feeding quietly about 25 meters from the roadside! With very little traffic this morning, we were privileged to be able to watch these amazing beasts for several minutes from the comfort of the van. Absolutely awesome. Further up the road, we pulled over to scan the open fields, noting a juvenile Peregrine Falcon on the deck, around 200 Golden Plovers, several Marsh Harriers and the usual large flock of Mute Swans.

 

From here we headed inland, cruising around some often-productive areas for geese, but were unable to locate any flocks around Repps or Clippersby. With that, we headed across the A47 and towards Buckenham, where our quest for Geese would continue! Crossing the manned level crossing and driving along to the end of Station Road, we braced ourselves for the cold wind and searched the open expanse of grazing marsh, with our main target being the elusive Taiga Bean Geese which winter here in small numbers. Unfortunately, we saw hide nor hair of them in nearly 2 hours of searching, but around 80 Russian White-fronted Geese and numerous Pink-footed Geese were enjoyed, along with the usual feral Greylags, Canadas and small numbers of Barnacle Geese. The marshes here were also shared with many Wigeon and Teal, plus Snipe, a few Ruff and two adult Peregrines which swept in from the west and spent the duration of our visit here on the ground. Once we were sufficiently cold enough, we stopped in the van to have our lunches, with 2 Red Kites overhead for company, before moving on to our last destination; Waveney Forest. Walking out through the trees here, the skies were getting darker and the wind was strengthening; we would need to show our metal here to come away with any good sightings! Stationing ourselves on the mound, it initially looked like it would be a quiet watch as, although we were fairly sheltered where we were, the marshes were undoubtedly very windswept. However, as time passed the number of Marsh Harriers increased, totalling at least 7 by the end, and best of all a male Hen Harrier ghosted into view at close range over the reedbed in front of us. Undoubtedly the highlight here, while additionally we did see 3 Common Buzzards, a number of Curlew and Lapwings and numerous Chinese Water Deer. With the light at its limit, we headed back to the van to have a final warming hot drink before making our way back to Great Ryburgh, feeling like we had really earned our birds today!  

 

 

  

Common Crane sightings like this are always a thrill, while close Wigeon are also always appreciated

 

 

FRIDAY 14TH DECEMBER - DOCKING, RINGSTEAD, THORNHAM AND TITCHWELL

Overcast with sunny spells in the morning, light NE winds, 5C

 

December is upon us again, which means its time to get back to doing one of our favourite things; chasing around the county after geese! Nothing beats the sight and sound of 1000’s of Pink-footed Geese coming into feed on the newly-harvested sugar beet fields dotted across the county, and we enjoyed some superb flocks today. Our first port of call was a large newly harvested field between Docking and Fring, in the north-west of the county. Knowing where the harvesting is happening is key with finding big flocks of Pink-footed Geese, and this field has held up to 10,000 birds this week. Today however there were fewer, with perhaps 1000 viewed at a distance through a gap in the hedgerow. The light was superb, and birds were coming in from the Wash to the west in skeins of 100’s, whiffling down onto the field in superb light. A few Greylag Geese were amongst the flock, but no other goose species could be located here. A few Redwings and Fieldfares were noted in the hedgerows, and Red-legged Partridge was also noted. From here, we took the Burnham Market road from Docking, to pause beside a small game strip near the road. At least 10 Yellowhammers were perched up in the roadside trees offering good scope views, and were ever-present while we were here. A stand of trees at the back of the crop contained a small number of Linnets, Chaffinches and at least 3 Bramblings, while further interest was provided by single Marsh Harrier, Red Kite and Common Buzzard. Redwings were again much in evidence along the berry-laden hedgerows. On from here, we headed towards Ringstead, pausing just west of Courtyard Farm. Another area that is excellent for farmland birds, we enjoyed a good flock of Reed Buntings south of the road, while a check along the hedge to the north produced a superb flock of about 40 Yellowhammers, 8 Corn Buntings and numerous Chaffinches, while 4 Grey Partridges were vocal and crossed the neighbouring field. Superb! Arguably the best soon followed, as Sean called out a harrier passing in front of the van and across the road whilst we were sorting out teas and coffees; a stunning female Hen Harrier! In perfect light, the view was superb as it crossed the game crop and away to the south. A circling Red Kite was enjoyed at close quarters, along with Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. Finishing our tea break, it was time to head for the coast, but not before being distracted by another flock of Pink-footed Geese dropping into another beet field near Ringstead. A distant flock, we had a good look through them with the scopes before moving on, also noting 2 Common Buzzards. From here we were keen to pause at Holme beach to use the facilities, but with a shortage of daylight, we wouldn’t be heading for the beach, instead making our way swiftly to Thornham.

 

 

Some of the Twite at Thornham, and a wintering Great White Egret at Titchwell

 

 

Heading towards the harbour at Thornham, a superb Barn Owl was hunting over some of the small paddocks beside the Staithe Lane, stopping us in our tracks. Perching up and patrolling the fields, we watched in amazement from the stationary van until it moved on through the trees. At the harbour, we made to search for Twite; a scarce visitor to the Norfolk coast. These diminutive finches didn’t keep us waiting, being perched up on top of the Coal Barn on our arrival! From here they dropped down into the saltmarsh, but we went on to enjoy them feeding near the wooden jetties, with 9 showing well for the duration of our time here. Further sightings of interest included a number of Rock Pipits and a flock of about 30 Linnets, while the mudflats held a variety of species including Brent Geese and Teal, Knot, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Dunlin and various other ‘usual suspects’. Stopping here for lunch, we enjoyed further views of the Twite, before heading for our final stop at Titchwell. Arriving here, the sound of Brent Geese greeted us overhead, while the visitor centre feeders were typically busy with the commoner finches. Rounding the corner from the centre we were greeted by a fantastically confiding Water Rail feeding in its usual wintering ditch, tossing the leaf litter in search of invertebrates. Moving out past the reedbed, a Cetti’s Warbler called from cover, while the freshmarsh was typically busy with wildfowl, and also hosted a small number of Avocets and Golden Plover. We wanted to head for the sea from here, to make use of what light was left of the day, so we made our way over without stopping too much. However, a flyover Great White Egret certainly stopped us in our tracks! Reaching the beach, a fine selection of waders were present on the shoreline, including a single Sanderling and numerous Turnstones, while the sea hosted a fine drake Common Eider which came ashore and sat with the Herring Gulls! The sea beyond was a bit quiet, hosting a small number of Great Crested Grebes, a single fly-by Red-throated Diver, a distant flock of Common Scoter and three Red-breasted Mergansers. Once everyone was satisfied that they could no longer feel their toes or fingers, we retreated back towards the freshmarsh! Along the way the Great White Egret was noted again, and whilst watching it a ringtail Hen Harrier cruised into view. While all this was happening, another harrier spectacle was occurring at the back of the freshmarsh, with at least 22 Marsh Harriers coming to roost in the trees towards Patsy’s Pool. The freshmarsh itself hosted a single Ruff in amongst the throngs of Teal, while arguably the surprise of the day came in the form of 2 1st winter Caspian Gulls which were present amongst the roosting large gulls. One; possibly a male, was a classic in both structure and plumage, boasting a slim long bill, clean white head and neck meeting a fine shawl of streaks, long attenuated rear end and dusky tertials, while the other; possibly a female was, though not perhaps structurally so strikingly, possessed the classic three-toned upperpart plumage, pale underwing and well-marked white rump and black tail band. While Caspian Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea, these were really educational birds, and not easy to catch up with in December! From here it was time to move on with the failing light, heading back to Ryburgh (and noting another Barn Owl on route) after a superb days birding.  

 

 


 

 

NORFOLK WINTER THRUSHES & EASTERN VAGRANTS TOUR [AS]

 

SATURDAY 27TH OCTOBER  - SHERINGHAM & HOLKHAM

Strong NW winds and heavy showers, 5C                     

 

It felt like winter was just around the corner today, as chilly northerly winds pushing down the north sea brought wintry squalls, and made the thermals necessary for the first time this autumn! Following yesterdays skua passage, seawatching was the obvious option for the first couple of hours of our final day. An excellent number and variety of species were moving over tumultuous seas at Sheringham, where the breakers were hitting the seawall along the promenade and throwing spray high into the air [and often over the massed ranks of Norfolk seawatchers!]. The predominant species heading east was Kittiwake, and in the bright periods between the showers we enjoyed some fantastic views of mixed flocks of adults and juveniles passing quite close inshore – by the end of our two hour watch, we had seen at least 1000 birds. Small numbers of Gannets, and plenty of auks were also moving, though most of these were too distant to identify to species. Four Great Skuas were seen, all fairly distant, and three Arctic Skuas included two dark birds passing east pretty close inshore. The only Pomarine Skua seen today though was a fantastic subadult bird which passed low east over the roof of the shelter, just after the passing of a heavy squall. Other species of note included Wigeon and Teal [both passing in hundreds], Common Scoter [50+] and a fine Great Northern Diver heading west above the skyline, its huge feet trailing behind it! The final highlight of the morning was a superb Purple Sandpiper which popped up on the promenade right in front of us with a group of Turnstones, only a few feet away!

 

After a welcome, warming cup of coffee back at the car park, we knew we had to head back to Wells to drop one of the group off, so a quick look along the sheltered edge of Holkham pines seemed like a good way to round off the morning. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked east this time, towards Wells. It was very quiet despite being nicely out of the wind – a male Stonechat, Red Kite, Peregrine, covey of Grey Partridge, handful of Goldcrest, Redwing and several Jays were the best of it. Lunch back at the car park rounded off a very good weeks birding and we headed back to Great Ryburgh through torrential rain and hail, which had piled up at the sides of the road. With the thermometer on the van dipping down to 3C, it felt like we had picked a good time to wrap things up!

 

FRIDAY 26TH OCTOBER - HOLME, THORNHAM & TITCHWELL

Sunny spells and fresh to strong NW winds, 10C

 

Today we headed to North-west Norfolk, starting our day at Holme where we planned to walk out and check the beach and sea. On the way, a flock of 150 Fieldfares caused an impromptu stop, as they were feeding close to the road near Ringstead in a winter wheat field. Once at Holme toilet block, we realised the wind was rather stronger here than we had thought, and the walk out across the golf course was a bit of a battle! At the dunes, sand was blowing and the wind was right in our faces – we needed to find some shelter! A wooden hut on the dunes afforded enough protection from the wind for us to use our scopes, and scan the impressive Oystercatcher roost on the dune slacks along with large numbers of Redshank, Curlew and Knot. Scanning out to sea, the light was superb, and the first bird picked up was a cracking adult Pomarine Skua battling west through the troughs! Amazingly a few minutes later, another 8 cruised into view and gave some great views as they banked up above the skyline, many sporting full tail ‘spoons’! We realised something a bit special was happening and that we needed to get closer, as in any case we were hardly out of the wind in the spot we were currently watching from anyway. We decided to march out to the low dunes on the beach and watch from there, as the tide was dropping and we could cross the small channel. As we walked out, we flushed a passerine from the tideline which gave a high, thin call – a Shorelark! Sadly the bird didn’t hang around, and we had to make do with flight views as it made off along the beach. Once we got ourselves settled down in the dunes, we began to scan the sea hopefully for more skuas. Four Great Skuas, went past, giving good views, and a dozen Kittiwakes, plus several Great Crested Grebes and Gannets. Frustratingly the skua passage seemed as if it had been too short lived, but then a flock of eleven Pomarine Skuas came into view to the east of our position, and passed slowly past us close inshore. The light was so good we could pick out the dark phase juveniles with their double white underwing flash, though most were pale phase adults with neat white belly patches and tail ‘spoons’. The sight of these Arctic beasts lumbering past on their southbound migration was a bit awe-inspiring, to say the least. Two more groups passed, and we ended up on a total of 34 birds – though the day count was over 150 in the end. Looping back around the dunes to check for the Shorelark, we saw plenty of Rock Pipits, Linnets and Skylarks, but nothing more, and so we returned to the toilet block. An exciting start to the day!

 

 

Next stop was Thornham Harbour, where our colleague Jason had seen two returning Twite a few days before. A Spotted Redshank called and flew into the channel by the car park, giving lovely views, but despite a good search of the creek area we couldn’t find any Twite. Brent Geese, Wigeon and Shelduck were plentiful and a superb Red Kite was out over the saltmarsh. Moving on to Titchwell, we didn’t have much time before lunch, so decided to complete the Meadow Trail circuit to Patsy’s Reedbed before returning for our sandwiches. It was pretty quiet here, with just a few Ruff on the pool and some nice views of Marsh Harriers. A skein of Pink-footed Geese arrived off the sea, and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in the sallows with a couple of Goldcrests. After lunch we headed down the West Bank path, taking in both the hides. The freshmarsh was pretty quiet, apart from plenty of Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, and the only waders were three Avocets and a small flock of Golden Plover. A Peregrine flew west over the reserve, and another couple of Red Kites were added to our huge tally of this increasing raptor for the week. As we returned to the car park, another lovely flock of Fieldfare flew low west and there were now some Redwing in the car park bushes too – we had certainly seen a nice passage of ‘Winter Thrushes’ during the tour. With only an hour of decent light left, we opted to take a circuitous route home along the back lanes to look for feeding flocks of geese. A Corn Bunting perched beautifully on wires at Choseley [and was even singing!] and we saw a couple of small flocks of Pink-footed Geese in winter wheat but nothing to really get stuck into. With strong northerlies and dropping temperatures forecast tomorrow, we have high hopes of more good seawatching to look forward to!

 

THURSDAY 25TH OCTOBER - BRECKS & WELLS

Fine and sunny with moderate NW breeze, 15C

 

Despite warming up in the last rays of autumn sunshine, the day actually started the coldest so far at just 5C at first light. We had already planned to head south into the brecks and mix things up a bit with some forest birding. Lynford was our first stop, and it looked stunning this morning with an array of autumn colours and shafts of sunlight streaming through the trees. It was birdy too, with loads of activity from many woodland birds including Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Marsh Tits, Goldcrest and several small groups of Redwing which were ‘seeping’ off from the pines as we walked down through the arboretum. By the gate, we enjoyed a really lovely sight as at least a dozen Brambling were foraging for Beech mast among a golden carpet of autumn leaves. There were several Chaffinches too, and even a couple of Nuthatches occasionally dropping down and flicking leaves aside in search of the choice nuts. In the Hollies along the path, a high pitched call alerted us to the presence of a Firecrest, and we realised the bird was really close, just above us. Eventually it flicked out into full view in a sycamore before being joined by a second bird and chasing off through the canopy calling. With so much going on, we had high hopes as we walked down to the paddocks to check for feeding groups of thrushes and finches. Several Siskins were flying around and dropping into one particular bare tree which also held several Redwing and Greenfinch. The distinctive ‘chip-chip’ calls of Common Crossbills alerted us to seven birds flying fast through the treetops and off over the arboretum, and these were closely followed by two Hawfinches which came straight at us from the conifers in Zigzag Covert and flew east across the paddock and away. An impressive list of targets ticked off in quick succession, but everything remained very active and mobile and we couldn’t improve on the views of any of these species.

 

 

After a detour to Santon Downham for a coffee stop and toilet facilities, we headed back north to check some spots for Stone Curlews. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any today despite checking carefully, though we did pick up adult and first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls among the throngs of Lesser Black-backs in the pig fields, and a Woodlark was a nice bonus flying low overhead. At another spot nearby, we lunched while scanning the forest for raptors, noting several Common Buzzards and two Sparrowhawks. Thrush passage was continuing, with seventy Fieldfare south-west overhead and a few more Redwing. Leaving the brecks behind, we headed back up to the coast for the remainder of the afternoon with an exploration of Wells Woods. With sun on the birches and light winds we hoped to be able to find some roving tit flocks and have another chance for a Yellow-browed Warbler. In the birches around the east side of The Dell, a large flock of around 40 Redpolls were buzzing around calling, the first proper flock of autumn. The birds were very mobile and seldom all in one place at the same time, though we managed to find a few feeding quietly and get some nice close views. Several Goldcrests were also among the birches, and we saw singles of Chiffchaff and Blackcap too. A Yellow-browed Warbler was calling close by, but remained well hidden in a big sallow clump and wouldn’t co-operate. Further along the track, we turned left and headed down the west side of the caravan park. Here we found another Chiffchaff, and another phyllosc which was probably a late Willow Warbler, but the views were poor and against the light. The Redpoll flock then wheeled into view and had been joined by a few Siskin and Brambling – we had our best views yet of them as they dropped into the top of a hawthorn hedge. All the birds we could see were gingery, streaky Lesser Redpolls, though we never got to look at the whole flock! A Barn Owl appeared, drifting into The Dell and quartering a few times before heading off – nice! On the walk back, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling again, and a couple of the group got a glimpse, before it disappeared to roost. Another busy day!

 

WEDNESDAY 24TH OCTOBER - EAST NORFOLK

Sunny spells and a moderate NW wind, 15C

 

A really superb day in East Norfolk today which had a decidedly wintery feel to the species on offer, even if the weather didn’t! We drove the hour or so across to Great Yarmouth and started the day with the high tide at Breydon Water, viewing the east end from the footpath by the A47 road bridge near Asda. A fantastic concentration of birds could be seen in excellent morning light, with big flocks of Wigeon holding a few Teal, Pintail and Shelduck, plus a single juvenile Garganey which was not easy to pick out with its subtle features among an ever shifting array of ducks! Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Snipe, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Knot and Avocet were all among the waders noted, while all were buzzed into the air in spectacular fashion by a swooping Peregrine. Other than the Garganey we didn’t pick out anything particularly unusual, but just enjoyed the sight and sound of such a large number and variety of roosting birds. Back at the car park though, we did get a nice surprise, as a trilling call alerted us to a passing Waxwing, which whizzed across the car park and off north over the superstore building! The first of autumn!

 

Heading north up the coast, our next stop was Winterton-on-Sea where we spent three hours and enjoyed some great birding, starting with a seawatch off the beach car park. A juvenile Velvet Scoter was on the sea, and we were surprised to see it joined by three others, all giving really good views. About ten Common Scoters drifted north on the tide with a single Tufted Duck, and we had good views of Red-throated Divers and two Common Goldeneye heading north. We were hearing that on the north coast, lots of Fieldfare were arriving so it was no great surprise when a small flock came in off the sea and over the dunes – carrying a single Redwing and two Brambling with them. A walk north up the beach to look for a recent Shorelark did not prove productive – the Linnet flock it was with flushed just as we got there and we saw the back end of the lark amongst them. The birds totalled disappeared though, and we weren’t sure whether they had gone over into the main dunes or north along the beach – far too big an area to check all of it thoroughly! We enjoyed some more views of the Velvet Scoters again while we had lunch, and then opted for a quick walk into the South Valley to check the trees and scrub below the Hermanus holiday camp.

 

Siberian Chiffchaff call, Winterton 24th October

 

The sycamores on the slope were in the sun, and out of the wind. The first tree we checked held a couple of tits, but also a skulky warbler. One of the group noted a pale supercilium, but the bird really didn’t want to show. With patience though, we pieced together views of a sandy brown chiffchaff, pure white below and with only a little green in the edges of the flight feathers. Black bill and legs, and a brown washed superclium lacking yellow all pointed nicely to a Siberian Chiffchaff of the race tristis, an identification which was confirmed nicely by a series of mournful, monosyllabic call notes which we managed to record [the bird had been seen two days previosuly by local birders too]. A really superb looking bird, and despite feeding mainly on the ground out of view in thick cover beneath the sycamore, it eventually flicked out into full view on the brambles in the sunshine, allowing us to view the subtle plumage in a variety of lights and angles. A Common Chiffchaff was also present, and was quite strikingly different being awash with greens and yellows by comparison! The odd Redwing and Song Thrush were also noted here – it felt like a few birds were arriving in the slackening winds, so we wanted to push on to Waxham and check there.

 

 

The Shangri-la chalet is a good spot to look for migrant passerines, and we had another couple of Redwing and a Fieldfare here, plus a Brambling heading inland. The trees were very quiet though, so we continued south a little way along the coast path to check the scrub. Best bird was a fine Woodcock, flushed from the hedge bottom and thankfully performing a nice circuit around us as it headed back north to the copse. Four Siskins flew over, and just as we were about to leave, six Common Cranes were spotted drifting low into fields to the west of Waxham barn! We parked up and found a spot where we could view the cranes – five adults and a youngster – preening quietly. They were distant, but the views through the scope were good in the clear afternoon light. The sight and sound of about two thousand Pink-footed Geese flying south towards Horsey was also enjoyed, and a nice little surprise came in the form of four Whooper Swans in potato field in the distance looking towards Sea Palling. With only an hour of decent light left, we decided to head home via the coast road by Horsey, in case the geese we had seen flying had dropped into the fields by the windpump. Pulling over to scan, it was clear the geese had not landed here, but instead a Great White Egret flew in along Horsey dunes and dropped into a distant dyke. Hopping out of the van for a better look, we realised a second Great White Egret was standing at the far edge of the field on the opposite side of the road! This too flew into a ditch and was lost to view. A mad end to the day was completed by a magnificent Short-eared Owl, quartering a meadow by the road. By standing quietly next to the van, the owl came ridiculously close to us and gave some memorable views – a brilliant and breathless day in East Norfolk!

 

TUESDAY 23RD OCTOBER - CLEY, SALTHOUSE, HOLKHAM & STIFFKEY

Fresh to strong North-west winds and sunshine, 16C

 

A good autumn days birding to kick of our ‘Winter Thrushes & Eastern Vagrants’ tour – especially since we started with an Eastern vagrant! The Cley area would be our destination for the morning, as an ‘Eastern’ Stonechat, either Siberian or Stejneger’s, had been discovered over the weekend at Salthouse and we were keen to see it today if it was still around. This complex of taxa are notoriously difficult to separate, and the field identification of the two recently split species is still very much in its infancy, with BBRC reluctant to accept any that have not been confirmed by DNA analysis. Still, the Salthouse bird certainly showed all the characteristics associated with Stejneger’s and as this species has not yet formally been accepted onto the Norfolk list [despite the fact it has probably occurred before], it would certainly be a good bird to kick start our week. With the wind in the north-west though, we started with a seawatch from coastguards to start off our trip list, waiting for news of the stonechat to filter through in the meantime. There was a light movement of Wigeon, Brent Geese and Pintail offshore, and there were lots of auks moving at a distance further out. Those that we could identify were Common Guillemots. Gannets were also passing in numbers [they appear to have had a good breeding season, with many juveniles passing] and a small group of Common Scoter scuttled by. Best bird was a fine Great Skua, cruising by in perfect light, though a dark Arctic Skua also whizzed by in the opposite direction with the wind up its tail. Red-throated Divers were seen passing in small numbers, but two were seen close in on the sea too, allowing for some great scope views. In the Eye Field, a flock of Golden Plover were resting, while small skeins of Pink-footed Geese were heading west over the village, making for a great sight, and sound.

 

 

With positive news now coming through on the stonechat, we headed round to Salthouse and parked by the duck pond. Several Black-tailed Godwits were on the pools here, and a Chiffchaff was in the tamarisks keeping low out of the wind. Walking down Meadow Lane, we found a small gaggle of birders, and the Stejneger’s Stonechat which was feeding along the leaward edge of a line of reeds, keeping down out of the wind. Over the next half hour we had very good views of it despite the distance, as the light was perfect. Its unstreaked apricot rump and upper tail coverts, black ‘armpits’, pale supercilia joining above a heavy looking black bill, and somewhat dark looking upperparts were all good features. The underparts were washed apricot, contrasting with a distinct white throat. A very smart and obliging bird! Back at the van, we popped along to Cley Visitor Centre to use the facilities, before returning to East Bank for a walk out to Arnold’s Marsh. We didn’t see too much here in the strengthening wind, apart from good numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall all in beautiful crystal clear light. Common Snipe, Ruff and the odd passing Rock Pipit were also seen, with a handful of Dunlin on Arnold’s and a hunting Marsh Harrier. It was lunchtime, and we headed off to Holkham to park along Lady Anne’s Drive in the now gale force blow!

 

While we lunched, we had absolutely stunning views of up to three Red Kites, which were dropping down to feed in the field right beside the van. We kept going on about how good the light was today, but it really did make the best viewing conditions! A small covey of Grey Partridge were a nice bonus too, keeping low among the tussocky grass but being very confiding. After lunch we set off through Holkham Meals, with a target of searching tit flocks for a ‘Yellow-browed’. Despite several attempts, and some nice views of Goldcrests, Treecreeper and lots of Coal Tits, we couldn’t find an inornatus today. There were good numbers of Pink-footed Geese on the grazing marsh, and a highlight from Joe Jordan Hide was a female type Black Redstart feeding around the lea of a JCB! The bird eventually flew towards us and settled in a hawthorn beside the hide, so that everyone could see it well through the scope – very obliging! Back at Washignton Hide on the way back, we were quite fortunate as a lovely Great White Egret drifted in after just a few moments, and landed on the pool. It was quite a sight seeing it lumbering in with the low afternoon sunlight glinting through its wing feathers.

 

We rounded off our day at Stiffkey, but a quick stop on the way through allowed us to get stonking views of the semi resident Peregrine at Wells. We actually saw two more Peregrines as we arrived at Stiffkey Campsite car park, tussling in the air out over the saltmarsh. Our dusk vigil produced lots of Little Egrets going to roost, plenty of bubbling Curlew and best of all, a fine adult male Hen Harrier battling west into the wind, heading off to roost towards the East Hills. A perfect way to end the day!

 


Liberty Bird Norfolk Trip 15th - 20th October [JM and Liberty Bird guide Christian Roesti]

 

Friday 19th October – Thornham and Titchwell

Another fine day, light winds, 16C

 

Starting point for todays birding was, as usual, the Hunstanton Tesco’s supermarket carpark! Picking up supplies, we again enjoyed views of the now long-staying Yellow-browed Warbler, which had today been joined by a female Blackcap. From here we made our way to Thornham Harbour, where the conditions were perfect for a walk to the dunes, looking and listening for overhead migrants. On arrival, a pair of Twite were a surprise as they came down to drink from the puddles in the car park before flying towards the saltmarsh; nice to see them returning to the area! We relocated one of the birds and watched it feeding along the edge of a saltmarsh channel feeding on the small seeds of Sea Purslane. A colour ringed bird, this will be a bird wintering here from its Pennines breeding areas. Rock Pipits and Linnets were numerous here, while a small group of Pink-footed Geese were present on the grazing marshes. Small groups of Skylarks were passing, and the fields were full of their liquid calls, suddenly punctuated by a dry ‘Prrrrt’ call overhead; a Lapland Bunting heading west! We all got onto this stocky bunting as it continued to call and head towards Holme. Raptors were much in evidence today, with at least 4 Common Buzzards, 2 Marsh Harriers, Kestrel and a Peregrine which flew low overhead with prey in its talons, which it took to the beach to deal with in peace. Reaching the dunes, a couple of Stonechats greeted us, while a watch of the sea revealed passing a couple of groups of Common Eiders, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a single Mediterranean Gull following a trawler and regular parties of Brents, Wigeon and various waders over the sea. The weather was superb, very summer-like, and we could have spent all day here! However on we moved, returning back to the harbour, where a quick check of the creek near the coal barn revealed 4 Spotted Redshanks feeding together in the deep middle of the channel, upending completely like dabbling ducks! At the vans, we discussed what to do next, and the group all said how much they had enjoyed Titchwell a few days back, and that they would like to go back! And so, Titchwell it was.

 

Arriving at the car park, we walked with our lunch to the visitor centre where we sat to eat and have a coffee. Finishing up, we made our way out to the freshmarsh. A huddle of people paused at the bushes surrounding the island hide was due to a Yellow-browed Warbler which had been showing on and off, and which most of us saw well with some patience. The Freshmarsh was, as usual, good value, with numerous common wildfowl to watch plus several Ruff and a flock f around 100 Golden Plovers. A particular highlight here was a group of 3 Great White Egrets which circled over the hide before flying towards Thornham, while a brief group of 4 Spotted Redshank did a lap of the marsh before coming to rest out of sight at the back. We then worked our way towards the sea, picking up a single Greenshank at the back of the tidal marsh along with several Grey plovers and, later, a total of 8 Spotted Redshank roosting there (possibly including the 4 seen previously). Overlooking the sea from the dunes was rather blissful under the warm sun and windstill conditions, even if it was generally quiet bird-wise! A group of 3 Sandwich Terns off towards Thornham Point were good, while Eider, Common Scoter, Great Crested Grebes and Gannets were also noted along with many Sanderling along the shore. Walking back towards the centre, huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese were zig-zagged across the blue evening sky, turning everyone on the reserves head towards this, one of Norfolk’s greatest spectacles. A Water Rail feeding outside the Island Hide stopped us on our route, as did a group of very showy Bearded Tits in the reeds. However we had to make tracks, though we did stop once more to sit in the vans with our windows open close to a resting flock of Pink-footed Geese near the reserve entrance, listening to their wonderful calls and obtaining fantastic views. A perfect way to finish our last day together. Liberty Bird, you have been great!

 

 

Ringed Twite from the Pennines and a Stonechat from the Norfolk heaths. Part of important monitorring projects 

 

 

Thursday 18th October – Hunstanton, Wells and Stiffkey

Another fine day, light NE winds, 15C

 

The day started with a short walk along the base of Hunstanton cliffs. Although migration overhead was nowhere near as intense as yesterday, a steady trickle of Chaffinches, Bramblings, Siskins and Skylarks overhead made for a pleasant soundtrack, while a Grey Wagtail was a highlight along the clifftop. The sea and shore held a small party of Brent Geese, along with a Bar-tailed Godwit and several Turnstones and Oystercatchers. From here, a quick stop at Tesco’s car park revealed one of yesterdays Yellow-browed Warblers in the same area, while a few Fieldfare and Redwings were floating around. Once we had our lunch supplies, we then headed for Wells, where we would spend the morning. Abrahams Bosom hosted the usual Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks and other wildlife, along with the added bonus of a Kingfisher which treated us to a prolonged display of fishing from the back of the closest caravans. Entering the woods, 4 Redpolls flew over calling and dropped into the first Silver Birches, joining a flock of about 40 vocal Siskins. Seeing the Redpolls properly, we were able to confirm that at least 2 of them were Lesser Redpolls. Further into the woods, a Yellow-browed Warbler was heard but not seen, while Goldcrest numbers were fairly high still, with perhaps 15 noted. Redwings, Treecreeper and Jay were also seen well, and Brambling was heard frequently passing overhead. Wrapping round towards the top end of the lake, the tall poplars hosted a nice 1st year Pied Flycatcher feeding actively in the sunshine, allowing prolonged views through bins and scope; a late individual, and always nice to see on migration. Back to the car park, we had lunch in the sun before heading on to Stiffkey.

 

Our next stop was Stiffkey Fen. Arriving at the fen, the sound of Greenshanks calling was the most prominent sound, and a flock of 17 were on show as they did a lap of honour as they circled the fen. A single Green Sandpiper was also present here, as was a skulking Jack Snipe at the base of the reeds, in the same view as a Common Snipe for a while, allowing nice comparison. The fen was busy with wildfowl, hosting about 4 Pintail, over 100 Teal, numerous Wigeon and several Shoveler. A Sparrowhawk circled around to the west, while Marsh Harrier was also seen here. Overlooking the harbour, the mud was busy with roosting waders and wildfowl, including good numbers of Brent Geese and Pintail, along with Wigeon, Dunlin, Grey Plovers, Knot and many Oystercatchers. Finishing up here, we headed for a final stop at Stiffkey Campsite, where we would watch the marsh for incoming raptors as the evening pressed on. One of the first birds picked up was a male Merlin perched out on a distant gorse bush which, after disappearing, popped up again once or twice and was certainly the highlight here. About 8 Marsh Harriers also came into roost, while Brent and Pink-footed Geese and a number of Little egrets provided a fine supporting cast. We headed home into a superb sunset after a great day out.

 

 

Wednesday 17th October – Hunstanton and Titchwell.

Dry and fine all day, with sunny spells, very light winds, 16C

 

Its looking more and more likely that this weeks weather is going to continue to be absolutely cracking, with an excellent forecast and today being very pleasant. And the birding wasn’t half bad either! With light winds from the south, we experienced an impressive morning of visible migration over Hunstanton, right over the Liberty Birds guesthouse. Leaving the building, flocks of birds were streaming south overhead, with a slightly low cloud base bringing birds down low overhead along both the clifftops and the rooftops. Chaffinches formed the bulk of numbers, with a conservative estimate of 6000 passing in 1 hour. The constant ‘chup’ and ‘fink’ of these Chaffinches was frequently punctuated by the ‘wheeze’ of Bramblings and ‘seeeuu’ of Siskins, with perhaps 100 of each passing through, though the true numbers were impossible to tell. Starlings were also moving in their 1000’s; a real spectacle! The nearby Boston Square Park was providing refuge for some of these finches which needed a short feed and rest, with birds dropping in all the time, staying for a few minutes and then continuing on their way. Brambling was seen well here, while a number of Redwings also dropped in, moving through in smaller numbers. Both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were also noted, along with a couple of Goldcrests, while a high-flying Merlin was a highlight, passing south and clearly migrating with its ‘lunch’! Before we knew it an hour had passed watching the spectacle, and numbers had started to reduce, so we headed to the van, though another surprise came in the form of a male Ring Ouzel which spiralled out of the sky and dropped into trees beside the Shellbrooke Guesthouse! It rapidly shot around the corner and away; short but sweet. The visit to Tesco for supplies added further excitement to the morning, as the corner of the carpark held not one but two vocal Yellow-browed Warblers and a Reed Warbler in the small Sycamores! Every little helps!

 

Setting off, we headed up the road towards Titchwell, stopping opposite the entrance upon noting a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in an old maize field. The flock was perhaps 4000 strong, and was great to watch, even at a distance. Here, we also noted a Yellowhammer and a number of Stock Doves in the field, along with many Linnets and Red-legged Partridges. From here we entered Titchwell. From the car park, we headed round to the visitor centre, noting a number of Siskins high in the Alders in addition to the usual visitors to the feeders, while the walk around the Fen Trail produced a calling Yellow-browed Warbler which unfortunately evaded detection. At Patsy’s Pool, we took lunch watching Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Teal, Wigeon, a small flock of Ruff and a single Black-tailed Godwit, while Marsh Harriers sky-danced over the reedbeds; they obviously also liked the weather! A singing Cetti’s Warbler could, with some patience, be seen skulking low to the ground amongst the thick brambles, while the hedgerow besides the pool produced another calling Yellow-browed Warbler as well as a singing Chiffchaff, and the willows revealed 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Then, following a coffee at the centre, we headed out onto the reserve. A Water Rail was squeaking from a clump of reed and could be seen fairly well through the stems stretching, apparently unbothered by a quickly gathering crowd of admirers. Bearded Tits put on a good show from the Island Hide, with a male and female feeding on the ground at the base of the reeds, and later about 5 being present there. Snipe was seen at close quarters, while Teal were the dominant species here, with an estimated 1800 birds (counted by the reserve staff I might add!) being a possible reserve record. Avocets were present, along with Ruff, a good number of roosting Golden Plovers and smaller numbers of Wigeon, Shelduck and Shoveler. On to the Volunteer Marsh, a single Spotted Redshank in the tidal creek was a highlight, while Dunlin, Grey Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits and a number of Common Redshank were also here. A Peregrine was watched flying in with a Teal in its talons, and was seen to feed on the large prey item at the back of the marsh; a grizzly spectacle! On the Tidal Marsh, a small roost of birds included 4 Spotted Redshank and a good number of Turnstones, while a small flock of Brent Geese on the adjacent saltmarsh were the first we have seen on the deck. The sea and beach were fairly quiet, hosting Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwits on the shore and 2 Red-throated Divers on the sea along with a small number of Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebes. Possibly of most note was at least 8 Harbour Porpoise surfacing offshore on a completely flat sea. A Whimbrel calling towards Brancaster was a late record, while walking back towards the Freshmarsh, a group of 7 Spotted Redshank flew over towards the back of the reserve. Returning to the northern end of the Freshmarsh, a brief final pause was rewarded with superb views of a Jack Snipe feeding in the muddy corner besides the Island Hide; a long-stayer and a crowd pleaser! A look at the gulls arriving on the marsh revealed a single adult Yellow-legged gull amongst the Lesser Black-backed Gulls here, while Marsh Harrier numbers were building, with 8 noted coming in from all directions to roost. A great end to another good day.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 16th October – Holkham and Holme.

Mist and drizzle first thing, drying up to fine weather later, light winds, 16C

 

A really decent day of visible migration and a selection of notable birds made for an excellent day on the North Norfolk coast. Setting off from the groups accommodation in Hunstanton, we paused at the shops to collect some supplies for lunch, and the Tesco’s car park here gave us an early indication of the level of bird movement occurring today, with streams of 100s of Starlings heading south along with good numbers of Linnets and Chaffinches. The bushes lining the car park were full of vocal Robins also; a species which had arrived in numbers the previous day. From here, we headed to Holkham, where we hoped that we could spend some time observing this movement, and perhaps find some grounded migrants. The journey along the coast road was punctuated by good numbers of Pink-footed Geese crossing the road in v-formation squadrons; it’s good to have them back! At Lady Anne’s Drive, we were able to scope up a small family group of Pink-footed Geese close to the track, and also a covey of 9 Grey Partridge which were particularly appreciated by the group, as the species is extinct in Switzerland. Flocks of 10’s of Redwings were passing west overhead, and 100’s of Starlings were also continuing west; by far the most abundant mover today, with 1000s passing overhead. Working through the pines, Goldcrests were common and heard frequently, as were Robins, while overhead we noted over 40 Siskins, several Bramblings and Chaffinches, over 100 Redwing and about 10 Fieldfare; a constant passage of birds, their calls filling the air. Birds of prey were also on good form, with 3 Common Buzzards, 2 Sparrowhawks, Kestrel and 2 Red Kites and 2 Marsh Harriers all noted during the morning. A single Great White Egret was seen at the edge of the grazing marsh before flying west, while at least 6 Little Grebes were on Salt’s Hole. Reaching the cross-tracks, we joined a number of other birders who were looking for what initially was thought to be an Arctic Warbler, though by this point Two-barred Greenish Warbler was being considered as a more likely option by a few very competent birders! Obviously we wanted to see if we could see the bird, but it hadn’t been seen in an hour, and unfortunately didn’t rematerialize during our watch. Three Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the area however were a compensation and great to hear, though views were brief and difficult to obtain. A few Chiffchaffs were also noted, along with many Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. After a while, it was time to cut our losses and head back towards the van, where we had lunch and coffees besides the new visitor centre at Lady Anne’s Drive. We enjoyed more views of both Grey Partridge and Pink-footed Geese.

 

 

Shorelark and Grey Partridge - always popular!

 

 

Leaving Holkham, we made our way back west to Holme. Parking by the golf course, we headed out to the dunes, where we continued to enjoy the good signs of visible migration, with large numbers of Starlings still passing along with small flurries of Siskins, Bramblings, Skylarks and Redwings. The saltmarshes here were alive with Linnets, Skylarks, Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits, and best of all a flock of 10 Shorelarks which showed beautifully in the sunshine. The shoreline held a number of waders on the low tide, with Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits being particularly enjoyed, while several flocks of Knot were watched passing offshore. A highlight on the wader front however was a single Greenshank which flew west on our arrival. Over the sea several 100 Wigeon were watched passing west in long lines, one flock hosting three Common Scoter amongst their number while the sea itself held several Great Crested Grebes and a couple of juvenile Gannets. Walking back to the golf course, starling numbers were building as they prepared to roost on the Holme marshes. At one stage carpets of them covered part of the putting green, presumably having one last feed, and numbered at least 3000 birds, while more widely around the reserve numbers must have totalled over 10,000 Starlings! Looking towards the Firs, 2 hunting Barn Owls were watched at distance, and a few Redwings and Fieldfares dropped into the Buckthorn. An interesting ending here was meeting a couple who had picked up what they believed to be a sick juvenile Gannet from the dunes. Taking a look, the bird seemed healthy, and was probably just a recently fledged (and so severely overweight, as their parents feed them so much they can barely fly!) bird stranded by the high tide. They had contacted the nearby wardens, and we agreed that it was best to return it to the shore. It was great to see such a beautifully marked and impressive bird up close though! Returning back to Hunstanton, we dropped the group at the Shellbrooke Guesthouse, where we parted company after a superb day in the field.

 

 

 

Monday 15th October – Travel day, with a stop in the Brecks on route.

Overcast with heavy rain, lighter pm. 14C

 

This week we host our friends LIBERTY BIRD, a bird tour company based in Switzerland who we enjoyed acting as the local guide for their trip to Norfolk back in 2016, and again this week! The group of 8 Swiss birders and nature lovers, plus their guide Christian Roesti arrived at Stansted Airoprt at around lunchtime, where we met them at arrivals. After having some lunch and collecting our vehicles, we then headed north, Norfolk-bound, but squeezing in a stop in the Norfolk Brecks, where we would search for Stone Curlews. It wasn’t long before Christian spotted the first birds distantly in flight over the pig fields, though they appeared to settle out of sight. However a good scan of the area revealed a total of at least 9 Stone Curlews out on the bare earth in front of us. Mostly stationary (as they often are at this time of day) some gave occasional bursts of activity, running across the fields and showing at a fairly short distance. We worked through most of the common bird species here and familiarised ourselves with the calls of some common birds including Linnets, Dunnock, Wren and Goldfinch (and I enjoyed learning some of the German names!). Things like the yarellii subspecies of Pied Wagtail we are familiar with is of note, with the alba subspecies (White Wagtail) being more typical in Switzerland. Scanning the flocks of Lesser Black-backed gulls in the field, a 1st winter bird stood out from the crowd. Notably larger than the surrounding Lessers, and quite bulky with clean white head and chest suggesting a Yellow-legged Gull, but its bulging chest, long legs, attenuated rear end and parallel-edged bill all suggest Caspian Gull. A very nice bird! From here, it was time to carry on north, finishing up at Hunstanton, where the group will be staying for the duration of the trip. With an interesting forecast, and plenty of migrant birds arriving today along the coast, we are all hopeful of an exciting one tomorrow!    

 

  

Stone Curlew and Caspian Gull in the Brecks

 


 

WEST CORNWALL - VALLEYS & HEADLANDS TOUR 14TH - 20TH OCTOBER [AS]

 

FRIDAY 19TH OCTOBER - LAND'S END & COT VALLEY

Light NE winds and overcast, 14C

 

A pleasant day today as the benign weather continues – not a drop of rain and no strong winds on an autumn trip to Cornwall is pretty good going, especially since we’ve had plenty of birds too! We headed down to Sennen Cove this morning, and after a short walk on the common at the top by the school [where we noted a Chiffchaff and our first overhead groups of Chaffinch and Siskin on the day] we dropped down to the harbour car park. There was nothing doing out in the bay today, after our good fortune earlier in the week with the dolphins, so we set off on our planned circular walk towards Land’s End. It was a cracking morning for a walk along the cliffs here, despite being quiet birdwise. A few small groups of Chaffinch were still moving, plus the odd Siskin and Song Thrush, while a Wheatear was on the clifftop with large numbers of Meadow and Rock Pipits. A Merlin dashed past along the cliff edge, and a Stock Dove flew inland – our first of the week! Reaching Land’s End, we explored the scrub south of the complex but noted only a Goldcrest, and a Little Egret dropping into Swingates. Stonechats accompanied us throughout the walk though, and we picked up the odd Chiffchaff. We really didn’t see much else on the whole of the walk back to Sennen, apart from the Torrey Canyon wreck! While having a coffee in the car park, two Choughs flew in calling, but despite appearing to drop in very close behind the toilet block, we didn’t see them again.

 

Our afternoon would be spent largely in Cot Valley, which was actually very close to our accommodation on the edge of St Just. It was beautifully sheltered here, with hardly a breath of wind moving the sycamore leaves – great for searching out fast moving phylloscopus warblers! Before lunch, we did a circuit of the top end of this wooded valley, and on the southern side we soon found ourselves in amongst a small roving party of tits. There were several Coal Tits here, and at least four Chiffchaff and two Blackcap. A Yellow-browed Warbler called and then popped into view in the top of a sycamore, where it played hide and seek among the autumn foliage and didn’t quite give itself up altogether. Following the flock along the footpath, they emerged into a series of stunted trees which made them easier to view, and we quickly picked out two surprised in the form of a Garden Warbler and then a lemon yellow Willow Warbler, both rather late records. The Yellow-browed Warbler showed again too, at very close range but always in the back of the tree silhouetted! Lunch beckoned, and a chance to regroup before trying again! We headed all the way down the valley to the coast this time, with two Choughs up over the ridge and a Merlin crossing the valley as we walked back up. With nothing further to show for our efforts, we opted to cross back over the stream and come back along the path which had been productive earlier. More views of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps followed, and then finally a nailed on view of a Yellow-browed Warbler, which dropped nicely into a small hawthorn in one of the gardens and everyone could be finally happy that they had seen all the features! A welcome coffee break followed, and then a plan for the final hour of the day.

 

 

Some folk where weary after the 6-7 miles of walking we had put in today, so after a drop off at the guest house, the rest of us decided to go back for seconds on the Grey Catbird which was still clinging on in its favoured bushes on Treeve Common. As it was now quite late in the day, there were remarkably only twenty people present when we got to the car park – we had timed it well! The bird had last been seen disappearing into thick blackthorn scrub at the bottom of the car park field, but not seen for about an hour. We waited patiently, filling time watching a pair of Choughs feeding in the meadow just beyond – our first ones ‘on the deck’ despite lots of good flight views. Soon a guy said that he could see the Catbird, and everyone moved to his position for a look but it had already dropped back down. Two minutes later, and it flew out of the scrub, and low across towards the willows where we had seen it on the first day. It paused on the top of a bramble and ‘mewed’ before flying again and dropping into cover – probably an even better view than we had had before, and it was great to hear it call too! A nice end to our last full day in West Cornwall.

 

THURSDAY 18TH OCTOBER - PORTHGWARRA, HAYLE, ST GOTHIAN & LONGROCK

Light North-easterly winds and sunny spells, 14C      

 

Today was all about visible migration, as the large numbers of Scandinavian migrants which had arrived on the east coast the previous day now made their way down into Cornwall, presumably before continuing their journey south to the continent. We headed straight to Porthgwarra, perhaps Cornwalls most famous birding valley and one where we had only scratched the surface so far. As we set off up the hill to the coastguard cottages, it was immediately apparent that there was a bit of overhead passage going on, with the first groups of Chaffinches and Skylarks passing over, a Fieldfare and a couple of Song Thrush. Taking the track across the moorland to the dried up pool, we began to log more and more flocks of Chaffinch, mainly in groups of 20-30 birds but occasionally up to 60. The passage gathered pace, and it was hard to keep up! In the end, we logged 1070 Chaffinch, 135 Skylark, 3 Brambling, 4 Siskin, 8 Fieldfare, 3 Bullfinch and 2 Grey Wagtails. It really was a remarkable sight seeing flock after flock of Chaffinch heading south following the ridge and then presumably heading out to sea, though we didn’t actually see what they were doing after they had passed us. In the bushes, we saw a Yellow-browed Warbler and 3-4 Chiffchaffs, but it was quite breezy up by the pool so we returned and dropped back down to the sheltered edge of sixty foot cover. A pair of Stonechats  were seen, and two Great-spotted Woodpeckers were bouncing around in the gorse and occasionally perching on the telegraph poles. As we stood and watched the sunny edge of the bushes for movement, a superb Merlin dashed right through and over our heads, scattering a big flock of Linnets. After coffee back at the car park, we learned that someone had seen a Red-breasted Flycatcher in sixty foot cover, where we had just been! In order to have any chance of seeing it, we needed to squelch through a fair bit of mud and clamber through the tangled branches of the copse, which some of us did – to no avail! On the way back, a Firecrest was glimpsed, and another Yellow-browed Warbler was heard calling to round off the morning.

 

 

Hayle and surrounds would be our destination for the afternoon, and after lunch by Ryans Field, we caught up with the adult Spoonbill from the hide, feeding in the open on the pool there. The three juvs of Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel were also all still present and showing well in the very nice light. Crossing to the causeway, the tide was high but rather pathetic due to the lunar cycle at the moment, so there wasn’t much more to be seen than on our previous visit. We did note three Common Greenshanks though, an increase in Lapwing, a solitary Dunlin and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls. Checks of Carnsew Pool and Copperhouse Creek added nothing further, so we carried on to St Gothian NR. This nice site produced our first Mute Swan of the trip, a few Tufted Ducks and Wigeon, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Stonechat and a Wheatear. One of the group saw a Water Rail, sneaking across a gap in the reeds. It had been our quietest spell of the trip so far, but we managed to eke something out of the afternoon with a stop at Long Rock on the way back – seven Common Scoter gave good views in Mount’s Bay, where a Great Northern Diver was also seen very distantly. Back to base, for a wash and brush up before another superb dinner!

 

WEDNESDAY 17TH OCTOBER - THE LIZARD

Sunny spells in light North-easterly winds, 14C

 

A very pleasant days birding today down on The Lizard peninsula, where we started off at the most southerly point. Parking in the small car park just before the café, we got out of the van and instantly could hear a European Serin calling from the bushes at the entrance to the car park! The bird was calling frequently and presumably had just arrived, as it then flew off towards the tamarisks near the lighthouse. We could still hear it calling even from there, but by the time we had got our stuff together and wandered round there to look for it, there was no further sign. While searching though, we picked up a gorgeous Whinchat, single Blackcap and Northern Wheatear, and lots of ‘ticking’ Robins and flocks of Skylarks. It certainly felt as though there were birds about! Heading down onto the coast path, we walked towards Pistil Meadow, picking up our first Turnstones of the trip along the way. The tamarisks in the little valley were quiet, and there were just a couple of Stonechats bombing around the scrub here. Climbing up on to the coastal footpath towards Caerthillian Cove, there were lots of pipits around, and we enjoyed very close up views of Rock and Meadow Pipits together for comparison. A Merlin was unfortunately all too brief, and saw us coming before we had seen it, perched on a rock on the clifftop. The rest of the circular walk back to the village was quiet, with only a Grey Wagtail and Reed Bunting of any real note. On the south side of the village though, we had a late Yellow Wagtail briefly in the sheep fields, and a female Black Redstart on the corner of a barn.

 

 

Our lunch stop today would be the idyllic Church Cove on the south-east side of the peninsula, a well wooded spot often good for ‘crests and phylloscs. Soon we could hear a Yellow-browed Warbler calling, so after lunch we wandered up into the churchyard to see if we could pin it down. We saw three Yellow-broweds here, but they were difficult – constantly flitting high in sycamore canopy and calling regularly, but often against the light and hard for people to get onto. Most of the group eventually had a good view, but not all! The walk down into the cove and back added two Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, but the most unexpected sighting was a Great Northern Diver lumbering overhead going high east! Leaving the Lizard behind, we decided to call in at Loe Pool on the way back, near Helston. Heading down the steep track from Degibna car park, we hoped the slog back up the hill would prove to be worthwhile! There was little on the lake itself other than Little and Great Crested Grebes, four Shoveler and a few Mediterranean Gulls, but the prize of the afternoon was excellent views of two Firecrests in the willows and oaks along the southern shore of the pool. Absolutely dazzling little gems in the dull afternoon light and well worth the walk!

 

TUESDAY 16TH OCTOBER - SENNEN, POLGIGGA, ST LEVAN & DRIFT

Overcast with light SW breeze, 13C

 

Another extremely good days birding today, following on from yesterdays Catbird excitement! We wanted to stay in Penwith today, as we felt the huge number of birders around would probably unearth something else for us to go and see, but we ended up finding it ourselves! First stop was Sennen Cove, always worth checking early in the morning before too many people are about. We drove down to the harbour car park at the far end, and set the scope up for a scan out to sea. Right away we could see there was a lot of activity about a mile out to the south, with large numbers of Gannets wheeling around and plunging into the water and lots of gulls circling around. Focussing in, we saw a couple of big Tuna leaping right out of the water! No wonder there were lots of birds there! Soon we could also see the dorsal fins of Common Dolphins, and among the hundreds of seabirds we picked out a single Balearic Shearwater and Arctic Skua. Thankfully, the dolphins were coming ever closer and we ended up watching them at close range just in the bay – fantastic views through the scope as they worked a shoal of fish to the surface and occasionally breached right out of the water. Kittiwakes, Mediterranean Gulls, Razorbills, Guillemots and Shags were all taking advantage of the frenzy, as well as plenty of large gulls – we hoped for a large shearwater, but we couldn’t spot one! This whole episode went on for over half an hour – quite a spectacle to start the day!

 

 

Next up we drove on to Polgigga, with a circular walk in mind down Bosistow Lane and round to Higher Bosistow Farm where a Wryneck had been knocking around for a few days. The lane was quiet, with only a single Chiffchaff, couple of Goldcrests and a Jay noted. As we walked up towards Higher Bosistow, we met another birder also looking for the Wryneck – while we were chatting to him, the bird flew past us and into the walled garden of the farm! We headed round to the far side of the farm buildings, but frustratingly couldn’t see into the garden. A number of tits and chaffinches were acting in a very agitated manner, so we were sure the bird was still in there. Sure enough, the Wryneck popped up onto a lichen covered wall between two sheds, and posed in the open briefly, before dropping back down out of sight. As we waited for another view, a small passerine flew up from behind the farm. It looked like a bunting, but appeared small, almost like a diminutive pipit in flight. It then began to deliver a diagnostic ‘tick’ call as it flew over us – it was a Little Bunting! The bird flew off strongly towards Faraway Cottage, then turned and flew back over us calling again, before dropping out of sight behind the stables. We raced there to check for it, but unfortunately despite an extensive search, we didn’t see it again. The Wryneck reappeared, in a bush along the stone wall heading east, but was seen off by the attendant tits and this was also the last sighting we had of it. We continued our circuit back along the narrow lanes to the road, and back down to our parking spot where a welcome coffee was on the cards.

 

Just up the road at Roskestal Farm, the Rose-coloured Starling had been seen again and as we were only moments away, we decided to pop along for another try. With all the twitchers now leaving Land’s End having seen the Catbird, the narrow twisty road was now congested with cars going in both directions! We managed to negotiate our way through, and arrived at the farm just in time to see the Rose-coloured Starling being flushed by a Sparrowhawk and everything went stratospheric! After missing out once already, we decided to stick it out this time and ate out lunch in the sunshine, waiting for it to reappear. The starling flock was constantly coming and going onto the wires, and we kept checking through them as we munched. Eventually the Rose-coloured Starling few in again, and perched quite close to us on the wires so that everyone could get a scope view – brilliant! A stone’s throw away was St Levan, a beautiful spot which we knew would be sheltered and fairly devoid of birders. Sadly it was also devoid of birds and despite a nice walk we saw nothing other than a pair of displaying Ravens!

 

 

Drift Reservoir was our final port of call today, and proved to be a bit of a masterstroke. It was now a beautiful afternoon, and we enjoyed walking down to the hide even though there wasn’t a huge amount on view other than Little and Great Crested Grebes for the trip list and a confiding Northern Wheatear. We disturbed two youths from the hide, who had been using it for an afternoon smoke, and subsequently the pungent stench of cannabis was too overpowering to take the group in and we opted to walk a bit further and look back instead! The first birds we clapped eyes on were three interesting aythya ducks, among the Mallards and gulls on the water in the north-west corner. They appeared to be young drakes moulting into first-winter plumage, and showed distinctly peaked crowns, warm rusty buff flanks, and a long bill which showed an extensive black ‘nail’ and distinct white sub-terminal band. All these features added up to an identification as Ring-necked Ducks, and our thoughts were confirmed when one of the birds took flight revealing a grey wing bar, unlike the striking white band shown by Tufted Duck. To see three of these Nearctic vagrants together was most surprising, especially at such a well watched spot as this! The birds were still present when we left, and despite having a fly off to Nanquidno just after we left, they returned to Drift before dusk and were seen by some local and visiting birders too. A lovely surprise and great end to another top day!

 

 

Three Ring-necked Ducks at Drift - on right two shown with Tufted behind

 

MONDAY 15TH OCTOBER - KENIDJACK, HAYLE, PORTHGWARRA, TREEVE MOOR

Cool and overcast in moderate North-easterly winds, 13C

 

A red letter day today if ever there was one! We were keen to get into the valleys this morning and see what we could find, with plenty of birds arriving recently on the east coast of Britain, the north-east wind may just have filtered a few things down into the south-west and so Kenidjack was our first port of call for the morning. A gentle amble down the valley produced plenty of common birds with Robins ‘ticking’ all over the place and about seven Chiffchaff and four Blackcap among the common migrants seen. A couple of Redwing, three Goldcrest and a small flock of flyover Siskin were also noted, though the highlight were the excellent sightings we had of Choughs. We saw six different birds in total, moving around in pairs and calling all the time. On three separate occasions we had a pair fly right over our heads, and in the end we had all six birds together by the parking area. A real treat to see them so easily, and so well, on our first full day. Down at the cove, we stopped to scan the water and noticed a Black Redstart had popped up right in front of us – and it was a stunning male! The bird showed really well as it flitted around the rocks below the old ruined mine buildings at the head of the cove, and was soon joined by two females as well. A stoat entertained us, popping out of a pile of rocks and rolling around in the grass scent marking before scurrying off along an old pipe and disappearing into the ruin. Back up at the van, we had a coffee before walking back up the valley a bit to check the sycamores by the tractor shed. We couldn’t find a reported Yellow-browed, and had to make do instead with nice views of a pair of Grey Wagtails, and several great views of a Raven.

 

 

 

Hayle Estuary would be our next stop, and even though the tide would not be rising we knew we would find plenty of waterbirds for the trip list. Parking by Ryan’s Field, we saw two smart juvemile Bar-tailed Godwits there, closely followed by a very nice juv Whimbrel. A juvenile islandica Black-tailed Godwit was also present here, presumably a late fledged youngster as still pretty well wholly in juvenile plumage and a very smart bird indeed. The causeway provided close views of lots of Teal and Wigeon, and numerous smart Mediterranean Gulls among the loafing and bathing gulls in the freshwater channel below the bridge. We could see a great flock of Med Gulls further out on the sand flats, perhaps numbering forty birds or more. A dozen or so Dunlin, twenty Ringed Plover, Shelduck, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Little Egret were also seen, with a Peregrine flying over. After lunch, we opted to head back to Penwith and try Porthgwarra, as several Yellow-browed Warblers had been seen there in the morning. We stopped at Roskestal Farm on the way down to check the starling flocks, before dropping down the steep road into the valley bottom. It was really quiet here, and we struggled to see much at all. A flock of Kittiwakes was off the cove, and there was the odd Chiffchaff in the bushes and trees by the cottages. Eventually we glimpsed an eye brown and two wing bars, as a Yellow-browed Warbler moved quickly through some willows, but sadly it wouldn’t cooperate for the whole group. It was just gone 5pm as we left the valley, and once up onto the top Ashley’s phone began to ping with several messages. Pulling over to check if it was bird news related, we were gobsmacked to discover that a Grey Catbird had been found at Land’s End, just ten minutes away! Not knowing the full ‘gen’, we drove there anyway and immediately found a load of parked cars by the roadside and a small crowd assembled in the fields just north of Treeve Moor House, where the bird had been seen. The only previous UK record of Grey Catbird had involved a bird on Anglesey which was not really twitchable to the masses, so the enormity of this record began to sink in as we made haste down the path to join the assembled birders. It had been seen just before we arrived, and was favouring a bramble-filled ditch flanked by dense ivy and three small willow trees. A tense ten minutes elapsed and then the crowd became agitated and binoculars were being raised in unison – someone could see it! We tried to get in a position where we might get a view and there in the willow in front of us was a GREY CATBIRD in full view! It soon skulked back out of view, and then it was 45 minutes before it showed again, this time climbing up into the same willow before flying a short distance into the next. It then flicked out and over the ivy, and landed right in the open on a small, bare tree before gliding back down into the brambles. Pretty good views for such a notorious skulker! We left the site about half an hour before dark, as we didn’t want to miss dinner [we were already late!]. What a crazy and totally unexpected end to a great day!

 

SUNDAY 14TH OCTOBER - NANQUIDNO

Light northerly winds and sunshine, 13C

 

After driving through some pretty hideous weather on our way south-west to Cornwall today, it was a beautiful day by the time we arrived and had a ‘calm after the storm’ feeling to it! We quickly checked in at our guest house and then headed straight out into the field, to nearby Nanquidno Valley. This beautiful spot was the ideal introduction the Cornish valleys that we would be exploring over the coming week, and we enjoyed a pleasant stroll in the sunshine heading down along the mill stream and round the coast. A Blackcap popped up near the parking area and was the first of at least seven noted, with the big clumps of Blackthorn and Ivy by the rocky outcrop proving particularly attractive to these and a number of other small birds in the warm afternoon sunshine. Six Common Chiffchaffs were also noted, as well as three Goldcrest, Song Thrush, Great-spotted Woodpecker and a few tits and other common birds. Down towards the coast, Buzzard and Kestrel were a constant backdrop and a family of Stonechats kept in close company. This is a great place to see Choughs, and sure enough we soon had two drift over us and circle a couple of times before disappearing over the ridge with some Jackdaws. A Common Raven appeared too, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow for a useful comparison! Offshore we had a brief sighting of a Harbour Porpoise, lots of Gannets, Shag and a single adult Mediterranean Gull. In the warm sunshine, a number of butterflies were still on the wing too – Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small Copper. We returned to the guest house for an enormous Sunday roast spread and an early night!

 

 


East Yorkshire Autumn Migration 8th - 13th October 2018 [JM]

 

Saturday 13th October – Kilnsea for the morning

Overcast with strong S wind, 20C

 

With us set to part ways and finish this tour at lunchtime today, we had a whole morning to enjoy, which we did at a very windy Spurn. Arriving at the Crown and Anchor, we started well with a brief Yellow-browed Warbler which passed through the bushes surrounding the car park whilst we were watching an interesting Chiffchaff. While a Siberian Chiffchaff-type on appearances (cool brown tones to upperparts, greens restricted to flight feathers, dark bare parts and buff super), it was calling constantly like a colybita Chiffchaff! Some photos later also seemed to show a slight greenish suffusion to the super. An interesting bird, probably best considered as a possible intergrade. Moving from here, we headed over to the Canal Bank, where a Whimbrel was seen well on a small area of exposed sand, constantly chased away by a Curlew. A steady stream of Redshanks and Dunlin were passing over the high Humber, and also a single Guillemot was noted, which was odd to see over the Humber, though Gannets and other seabirds do frequently cross over the point as a short cut. We stopped by where the lingering Olive-backed Pipit had been seen this morning, with an intention to see if it would show for us. However with strong winds and the bird being supremely skulking in its favoured ditch, we really didn’t fancy our chances, and so opted out of staying long when our time was so short this morning. Instead we headed into Church Field, where we noted a few Goldcrests, lots of Tree Sparrows and a small number of Redwings. Walking towards the Bluebell, a Fieldfare flew over a far hedge along with some Song Thrushes and Redwings. At the bluebell car park, we decided to try seawatching for a short while, which was actually quite productive, noting initially a few small flocks of Teal heading south, one flock hosting 2 Gadwall. A pair of dark bellied Brent Geese passed close inshore, and Gannets were a constant feature. However best of the watch were a single dark morph Arctic Skua which passed heading north before sitting on the sea, and a juvenile Great Skua which did the same a little while after. By now, it was time for us to head home, with some setting off in their own cars, and others coming south for drop offs at Kings Lynn station and finally at the Blue Boar.

 

Friday 12th October – Alkborough and Tophill Low

Overcast but dry, strong S winds, 18C

 

With strong winds throughout, todays weather certainly blew any cobwebs away! With the winds set in for the day, searching the coast for migrants would have been tough going, so instead we opted to head inland, and explore some of the main marshland reserves close to the Humber and inland. First up was a short hop across the border to Lincolnshire, where we paid a visit to Alkborough Flats. Over the Humber bridge, we headed west along the shore of the river, where the high tide meant there was no mud in sight, though the birds were still impressive, almost solely for the around 800 Avocets floating in the middle! Amazing numbers. A flock of a couple 100 Golden Plover and several Dunlin were in neighbouring fields along with a total of about 100 Pink-footed Geese, while a Marsh Harrier was also seen. Arriving at Alkborough Flats themselves, we walked out to the Prospect Hide, noting Stonechat along the way. A Peregrine was watched hunting Teal at the far end of the reedbed, while a further Marsh Harrier and a Kestrel were also noted. Unfortunately, with the high tide meaning that water had flooded the scrape from the Humber, there was no mud at all present, which meant relatively few birds, bar a flock of Redshank, 2 Avocet and a small number of Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal. Moving onto the Tower hide, we noted Kingfisher on route, while the expanse of reedbed and marshes beyond the hide held a flock of about 300 Teal, 150 Barnacle Geese (presumably a feral population) and a good number of Curlew. A couple of Redwing flew over the track on our way back to the van, where we had a coffee and prepared to head to Tophill Low; our second destination of the day.

 

Arriving at Tophill Low, we had lunch in the Reception Hide, where we watched large numbers of Common Pochard, Tufted Ducks and Coots, along with smaller numbers of Great Crested Grebes, Shoveler and Wigeon on the reservoir. A mixed flock of finches was present in the trees above the hide, and included about 5 Bramblings amongst the Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, while a Coal Tit on the feeders was our first of the trip. The woods were quiet in the strong winds, as were the first set of lagoons, though Little Grebe and Gadwall were noted. However, the South Marsh held more interest. On entering, a birder kindly pointed out a fantastically showy Jack Snipe which was feeding right in front of the hide, and remained doing so for the duration of our visit, stopping only for a snooze on the dead vegetation at the edge of the water. The bird was fascinating to watch, and had us mesmerised watching its unique ‘bouncing’ feeding action, the head bobbing sometimes in sync, and sometimes not! It was enough to make you feel seasick, but totally brilliant to be able to watch. A large number of Teal were present, giving us something to scan through, but the Jack Snipe was by far the star of the show. Waling on, the hawthorn scrub held a couple of Long-tailed Tit flocks, each hosting a small number of Goldcrests, though the birds were all staying deeply in cover in the strong wind. Moving on to the hide overlooking Watton Nature Reserve, a few extra bits and pieces were noted, including a couple of groups of 4 Pink-footed Geese which came to bathe, a single Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit, a few Tufted Ducks, Wigeon, a single female Pintail and large numbers of Teal, Greylags and Canada Geese. A Marsh Harrier was also noted before we had to leave and return to the van. After a hot drink, we had time for a final visit to Hornsea Mere on route back to base. The wind was really howling here on the exposed south-eastern bank, but we managed to set up scopes and scan the assembled flocks of Tufted Ducks, Teal and gulls. Apart from the lingering Whooper Swan at the back of the mere, we weren’t able to pick up anything unusual amongst the flocks, with 5 Great Crested Grebes and close Gadwall and Wigeon serving to entertain. However with light fading fast, it was time to make tracks, heading back to West Carlton after a windy but pleasant days birding.

 

 

 

Thursday 11th October – Spurn area all day

Heavy rain first thing, easing to drizzle and then fry from mid-morning. Moderate SE winds, 18C

 

A great day to be on the coast, with a much-anticipated forecast of rain and SE winds on the coast early morning producing very conditions for an arrival of migrants at Spurn. Driving out to the coast from West Carlton a Barn Owl cruised alongside the van for a short while. Arriving at Kilnsea shortly after, we made our way straight for the Warren, where any south-bound migrants often gather before crossing the breach. Exiting the van it was clear that birds had arrived and were passing south, with a flock of 30 Brambling and several flocks of Redwing and Song Thrushes passing low overhead, and diving into the first cover they encountered, having crossed the North Sea overnight. Migration in action! Reaching the Warren itself, Paul Collins came over to us with a treat in store; a Yellow-browed Warbler he had just caught and ringed, ready for release. It was a real privilege to see this tiny migratory warbler so close, so big thanks to the Spurn Bird Observatory team! We headed up then to Numpties, the best spot on the peninsular for observing visible migration of birds passing south, and also giving a view of the sea, whilst also being present for any new birds which might be caught by the Obs team; not a bad spot to spend 30 minutes! Whilst here, some of the passage birds included over 100 Brambling, a good number of Linnets, Chaffinches, Skylarks and Goldfinches heading south and several more flocks of winter thrushes. A Whinchat perched briefly up on nearby wires, while over the sea we enjoyed seeing 5 Common Eider passing, along with a small flock of Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver heading south. Whilst here we were also treated to seeing a pair of young female Brambling and a Rock Pipit in the hand. Walking back to the van, a check of the Humber mud revealed 3 Greenshank along with many Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew all chasing the receding shoreline and feeding voraciously. From here we had a hot drink back at the van and contemplated our next move. This decision was made for us however, when our attention was drawn by a nearby birder who wanted us to check a pipit she had found in the neighbouring field. Sat next to a Meadow Pipit was a hulking, tall-standing pipit with pale underparts, a heavy bill and fine gorget of streaks on the breast; a Richards Pipit! It took off, emitting a loud ‘Chirup’ call and dropped into long grass. The ensuing 30 minutes provided us only with brief views on the ground, though flight views were at times good, showing off the large size and long tailed appearance of the bird, while it produced the typical ‘Schreep’ call of the species on a couple of occasion. Great to be in the right place at the right time!

 

From here we took a look at the Canal Scrape, noting Dunlin and a single Pochard of note, while the bushes around here held a Blackcap and a couple of Goldcrests. We then moved to the Crown and Anchor area, where we had lunch and a quick look in the pub car park, seeing a single Chiffchaff amongst a small tit flock. Whilst here a message came through alerting us of an Olive-backed Pipit at the Breach. Not knowing whether the bird was on the near or far side of the area, we headed over to see what the situation was. Arriving, it was clear that the bird was on the south side, and many people were out there looking, but it certainly didn’t appear that the bird was nailed down. With that in mind, and many birds being around in general, we decided to give the walk a miss in favour of our own birding. Walking back past the Warren, 3 showy Brambling were enjoyed below the Sycamores, and a Yellow-browed Warbler was feeding amongst the sunbathed foliage. Heading away from here, we stopped to use the facilities at the YWT Centre, which proved to be another good stroke of luck, as a quick check of the feeders by Mike revealed the Rose-coloured Starling feeding there, just below the café! We enjoyed watching the bird feeding and then snoozing in the sun at 4-meter range; much better views than on Tuesday! Our next move from here was to head for Sammy’s Point, another good birding area on the banks of the Humber, and where a Long-eared Owl had recently been seen. Unfortunately, we couldn’t relocate the owl, though 3 Wheatears included a ridiculously confiding bird which followed us throughout our whole walk, feeding at our feet! A small number of Song Thrushes and Redwings were present here, as were a pair of Stonechats, while the Humber hosted many of the usual wader species. We then returned to Kilnsea, noting some thrushes in a field opposite Westmere Farm. These turned out to be our first 3 Fieldfare of the trip (and for most of us, the autumn). The light was poor from our angle, so we drove down the road to view from the other side, but unfortunately the birds had gone! However, our pause wasn’t wasted, as a distinctive high pitched ‘eehp’ call was coming from a nearby Poplar tree; a Hawfinch! Scanning the treetop, we quickly spotted it high in the canopy, where we managed to get nice scope views for everyone before it flew south. What a bonus! News then came through that the Olive-backed Pipit had relocated to the Canal Bank, so we made our way over to take a look and try our luck. A group of Fieldfare came over as we were on our way, and many Song Thrushes were present in the hedges. However, after 20 minutes or so, it seemed pretty evident that we were unlikely to see this bird, it having bedded into a deep ditch with no access. Discussing our options, we chose to move on and finish the day at Kilnsea Wetland. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls greeted us here, along with 2 Black-tailed Godwits, a drake Pintail, 23 Dunlin and a good number of Teal and Wigeon. The hedge over towards the listening dish was alive with Reed buntings, Tree Sparrows, about 20 Brambling and a few Yellowhammers, and provided a nice way to end a bird-filled day.

  

 

A lazy Rose-coloured Starling and a brief Hawfinch at Spurn

 

Wednesday 10th October – Flamborough Head, Thornwick Pools and Hornsea Mere

Sunny all day, light SE winds, 22C

 

A superb day of weather, and very unseasonal for October! Also, a breath of south-easterly always gives cause for some optimism on an east coast migration tour, and we saw some great birds, though in reality the clear conditions meant that anything drifting over the north sea on migration would likely have just kept going. However, always positive, we headed out to Flamborough; one of the east coasts premier birding sites, where we would be on the hunt for migrants! Arriving at the headland, we took a walk around the Bay Brambles area. A few Skylarks were passing south along with several Goldfinches and numerous Tree Sparrows, while the brambles held 2 Blackcaps and a number of Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens. A pair of Redwings came up out of some nearby trees, while the sea hosted 8 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers, a number of Shags and numerous Gannets, including many fledged juveniles. From here we made to take the Old Fall loop, visiting the famous Old Fall Plantation and finishing up back at Flamborough Lighthouse. The gardens on route held numerous Tree Sparrows and another Blackcap was noted. Walking into the sun, not much was seen in the Old Fall hedge, but when we arrived at the plantation things really came to life. Arriving at a small tit flock, the call of a Yellow-browed Warbler met our ears. Entering the plantation, we spent an enjoyable 30 minutes surrounded by the sound of at least 3 of these superb Siberian 6-striped sprites, watching as they fed actively amongst the Sycamores. A Lesser Whitethroat was also present in the canopy, and showed some characters of the eastern race blythi, with a pale brown mantle colour creeping up over the nape and rear crown and buffy-brown flanks. Unfortunately details of the tail pattern couldn’t be made out, and no photo’s either, but it certainly looked promising. A female Brambling was also present here, making for a very pleasant place to bird! Moving on, we competed our loop, noting a male Stonechat and a couple of Kestrels before returning to the van and having a hot drink.

 

On from here, we headed to Thornwick Pools where a walk around produced a few Linnets, and the pool itself gave great views of 4 Dunlin, a few Teal and the more usual Mallards and Moorhens. We then headed out to the North Landing area of Flamborough Head; an area of impressive sea cliffs. Walking out to the coast, the view was spectacular, while Gannets abounded and a Red-throated Diver was on the sea, while a few Oystercatchers were also present. A commotion amongst the feral pigeons towards the head revealed a Peregrine giving chase and stooping amongst them, all action for a few minutes, and a frequent sight along this coast. Back at the van, we made to head for our final destination of the day, Hornsea Mere. Pulling in at the café end, a scan of the water revealed a selection of wildfowl including Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal and Mute Swans, as well as 3 Pintail and a large number of Coots. A Whooper Swan here was a bit of a surprise, though it was likely an over-summering bird rather than a true new arrival. A couple of Little Egrets were along the shore, and a larger but distant bird on the far shore revealed itself to be a Great White Egret through the scopes, its yellow bill and gangly structure apparent even in the harsh light. Water Rail could be heard but weren’t see, which was the same for a singing Cetti’s Warbler in the reeds. Moving over to the south shore, the light was better and gave us a broader view of the mere for us to scan from. A Snipe flushed from the shore, but the highlight was a female-type Greater Scaup which was feeding amongst the Coots and Tufted Ducks. A male Sparrowhawk gave good views as it flew low over the mere before landing on the far shore, allowing for prolonged viewing. By now however it was time to head back to West Carlton, where we had time for a quick 30 minutes wander around the neighbouring farmland, noting 3 Common Buzzards and 4 Kestrels, mostly associated with the recently cut silage. A juvenile Marsh Harrier was a treat as it drifted into view, while the only Yellowhammer of the trip so far flew over calling, illuminated by the low evening sun. T-shirt weather still, it was a pleasant end to a good day.     

 

Tuesday 9th October – Kilnsea and Spurn Point

Sunny most of the day with scattered clouds, light of moderate SW winds, 19C

 

A superb day of weather to kick off our East Yorkshire tour, and no better place to start than at the superb Spurn. Before this however the birding started at breakfast, with the bird feeders outside the window at the West Carlton Guesthouse crawling with Tree Sparrows as usual! Travelling across county, a few Red-legged Partridges and plenty of Kestrels were noted, and before long we were arriving at Kilnsea. Parking up, the tide was out on the Humber mouth, but many waders were present of the mudflats, including a fly-through Greenshank along with the usual Dunlin, Redshanks and a single Knot. A Whimbrel was also a good sighting here. From here we wanted to make our way out to the Canal Bank path, where a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling had been sighted already this morning. The walk was accompanied by a steady passage of Goldfinches and Linnets all heading south along the point, with smaller numbers of Siskins, calling as they went. The finch passage was enjoyed throughout the day, with well over 200 Goldfinch passing, along with around 25 Siskins. A pair of Stonechats were stood sentry along the barbed wire fences in the Triangle, while Reed Buntings were abundant. Nearing the new YWT visitor centre, we were directed to the Rose-coloured Starlings favoured patch of Sea Buckthorn and, after a short wait, we had our first brief view as it hopped up into the tops of the Buckthorn, before dropping down out of view. It did this a second time, again very briefly, allowing some but not all present to see it; clearly there was something it liked at the bottom of these bushes! After nearly an hour it was time to give in and move on, so we got in the van and headed towards the Warren, where we had a quick cuppa before heading out for Spurn Point, where our main quarry would be a lingering Red-flanked Bluetail which has been present for a couple of days now, and would hopefully reward the long walk out!

 

 

Whimbrel and Wheatear

 

At the Warren flocks of Tree Sparrows must have totalled over 70 birds, while 3 Brambling which came up from the bushes here were a treat. A single female Wheatear was at the start of the breach, and flocks of Goldfinches, Linnets, small numbers of Siskin and the odd Chaffinch were all heading south during the duration of our walk, while a Red-breasted Merganser was also seen offshore. Reaching the Chalk Bank, a few people were looking for the Red-flanked Bluetail, but it had gone to ground in dense cover. However it wasn’t a long wait before it flew out in front of us along the path, and landed in a close elder in full view! A 1st winter bird, its large dark eye with pale eyering and blue tail were clear to see; always such a distinctive bird! It was on show for maybe 20 seconds before it dived into a thicker elder bush and was lost, last being seen flitting out the back and not being seen again today; we were very lucky! An added bonus whilst trying to relocate the bird was a Shorelark which came over calling from the north, before doubling back the way it came and being lost from view, unfortunately before most could see it well. Still, a high quality visit to the point! A couple of Redwing were hanging around the Heligoland trap, but the bushes out here were quiet for migrants in general, with the south westerly wind not being particularly conducive for arrivals. With that, we made our way back off the point, picking up a small flock of Brent Geese including a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose amongst the more typical dark-bellied birds. Back at the Warren, a pair of Brambling were feeding at the base of the Heligoland trap, and the female Wheatear was still present. Back at the van, we enjoyed a well earned cuppa before deciding that we would try for the Rose-coloured Starling once more, as many had only had poor views before. Unfortunately the bird was a no show, so we headed around to the Canal Scrape hide, where 3 Snipe, a Dunlin and a pair of Little Grebes were of interest. However diligent checking of the Starlings of the telephone wires provided the final moment of excitement, as the Rose-coloured Starling had flown up to join them! Scope views were enjoyed by all here before it dropped down into the nearby fields, and couldn’t be relocated. A fine end to a rarity-fuelled day at Spurn.

 

Monday 8th October – Travel day, with a stop at Frampton RSPB

Overcast with sunny spells, light SW winds, 17C

 

Following pickups for folk from the Blue Boar in Great Ryburgh and Kings Lynn Train Station, we were on our way north, with a planned stop at Frampton RSPB, where we met another group member, and also had a couple of hours for some birding! We knew that the Long Billed Dowitcher was present the previous day, and it would have been a shame not to pay it another visit, as it has been rather obliging for us recently! With that, we set off towards the far end of the reserve. The first pools closest to the visitor centre held a selection of wildfowl including several Pintail and good numbers of Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon, though apart from three Avocets feeding in the shallows, there were no waders on view; unsurprising given that we had arrived around low tide. A couple of Snipe were seen in flight, and two Black-tailed Godwits were noted on the way to the sea wall. Arriving at the main dyke to the left of the track, we were greeted by the reserves star performer, the Long Billed Dowitcher, and what a show it put on! Feeding voraciously in the shallow water closest to the track, it was the closest bird on view, and filled our scopes for the duration. Its ‘sewing machine’ feeding action was distinctive, and it was great to watch it in the company of a Common Snipe, to which it was only marginally larger. A group of 3 Spotted Redshank were present more distantly amongst a group of Wigeon here, while up on the sea wall a small party of distant Brent Geese were noted. Raymond, scanning the far side of the saltmarsh, called ‘ringtail harrier’, and we were soon enjoying views of a female-type Hen Harrier hunting actively over the saltmarsh, pursuing Meadow Pipits and Snipe and was joined for a while by a Marsh Harrier. Another Spotted Redshank was on the pool here in company with some Common Redshank, allowing for a good comparison of structure between the two species. Walking back towards the visitor centre, a single egret flew in from the scrapes to join the cattle in the neighbouring fields. Quick scope up, and we were watching a Cattle Egret! Walking further down to the visitor centre, we able to stand directly opposite, the bird feeding actively on large flies and invertebrates amongst the cattle. Superb! A scan then of the first scrapes again, checking the wildfowl flocks more carefully, didn’t reveal the hoped for Garganey, but a drake Greater Scaup was fine compensation, diving regularly for food amongst the more expected Shoveler and Wigeon. A final good bird on the visit was a Green Sandpiper which flew over calling towards the reservoir. A superb 2 hour visit. After a quick cuppa, we made our way onwards, over the Humber Bridge and eventually to our destination at the West Carlton Guesthouse near Aldbrough, where we will be spending the next 5 nights, birding the fantastic East Yorkshire coast.

 

 

Cattle Egret and Long Billed Dowitcher - two star performers from 2 hours at the RSPB Frampton Marshes

 


 

NORFOLK AUTUMN MIGRATION 1ST - 7TH OCTOBER 2018 [AS]

 

 

SUNDAY 7TH OCTOBER - BURNHAM OVERY STAITHE

Light NE winds backing westerly, sunny spells, 15C

 

A really brilliant day to end the tour with yesterdays rain clearing out to sea and leaving a North-easterly airflow coming across from Scandinavia to Norfolk – surely we would now get some birds! We had pre-empted this [along with everyone else in Norfolk!] and planned a 0645 departure with packed breakfast in order to be at Burnham Overy Staithe for 0715. We were the ninth vehicle in the parking area at the top of Whincover, so clearly we would not have the place to ourselves! The walk down the track produced a couple of Redwing, and the first Brambling of the day wheezing overhead as we climbed onto the seawall. Reaching the boardwalk bushes, it was clear that while a massive fall had not occurred, there were new birds in as we saw three Blackcaps in the bushes there and another brace of Brambling flew over. A single Fieldfare was also noted and we then heard that an Olive-backed Pipit had flown west through Gun Hill, heightening our alertness even further! We opted to head east, flushing another two Blackcap in the dunes and seeing a few Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Stonechats but little else. Overhead passage began to pick up though into the stiffening westerly, with 21 Siskins and 2 Grey Wagtails the best of it. The Brambling count eventually reached 19, as several small groups were noted going west, as we entered the shelter of Holkham Pines. Here it was warm and still, and the tit flocks were roving about among the oaks and birches – we felt a Yellow-browed Warbler must be on the cards, and indeed other observers had recorded a couple already. Two more Blackcap, 5 or 6 Chiffchaff and a calling Cetti’s Warbler were all that we could find though, and we began to make our way back towards the west end. A group of birders had just relocated one of the Yellow-browed Warblers, and it showed really well for us in a small sycamore by the path, sallying out for insects on the sunny edge of the tree. It was a treat for everyone to get such a good view of this often fast-moving little bird! The walk back to the boardwalk bushes yielded a Lesser Whitethroat in a lone elder south of the fence, but there was no sign of a Barred Warbler which was reportedly in the bushes but elusive. A Great White Egret flew in the distance and a nice skein of Pink-footed Geese arrived noisily and dropped onto the marsh.

 

 

It was now after noon and we needed to start making our way back along the seawall, but as we did so we paused to scan the reedbed and check the one or two small hawthorns where a Stonechat was feeding. Suddenly a large grey passerine flopped into view in the low branches of a berry-laden bush – it was the Barred Warbler! Over the next half hour, the bird showed extremely well, moving between the hawthorn and favoured bramble clump were it would often appear in full view in the sunshine. Everyone got a scope view and could see its pale-fringed wing feathers, strong bill and dark chevrons on the undertail coverts. We then heard that in fact the original bird was still in the boardwalk bushes, and that this was actually a new one! While we were watching the bird, a pipit flew over and called only once – a Tree or Olive-backed but without a recording, no chance to really identify it for sure. Amazingly though, the video camera had picked the call up and a sonogram could be gleaned – watch this space for a potential ID in due course! Four Grey Partridge and five ‘pinging’ Bearded Tits were other highlights while we watched the Barred – a great way to end an excellent weeks birding. We lunched back at the parking area in the sunshine with Red Kite and Sparrowhawk overhead, before heading back to Ryburgh and on to King’s Lynn to drop off at the station.

 

SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER - WELLS, CLEY & SHERINGHAM

Strong Northerly winds and rain, 10C                              

 

A tumultuous day of weather today, which to be fair had been forecast all week long! A band of rain moving slowly south down the east coast would reach Norfolk shortly after first light and bring pretty heavy rain all day, back with an increasing wind from the North or North-east. On the face of it, this should have been promising for migrant birds arriving but the extent of the band of rain out across the North Sea would have blocked most birds from even getting here, and so it seemed as we ventured into Wells Woods. There was clearly no big arrival going on, and in fact we struggled to see much of anything at all. In poor weather, the best tactic here is always to focus on the tit flocks, and they produced about four Common Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, but nothing better. A few Goldcrest were scattered about, and a few small groups of Redwings were dropping in on the rain. In the north-west corner of The Dell, a small warbler flushed from the tall bracken and began feeding in the sallows by the path – a Chiffchaff, but a very earthy brown and white bird surely from further east. We had some good close views and could detect no green tones in the mantle, nor any yellow in the supercilium or underparts – quite different to the khaki green birds ‘hweeting’ throughout the rest of the wood. Sadly though, the bird didn’t call, and melted away into the birches. A circuit of the drinking pool and a bit further west along the main track and back produced nothing more, so we returned in a rather bedraggled state to the van for a coffee.

 

 

Cley was our next stop, and we popped down to the beach car park to check on the visibility for seawatching – there was virtually none, so after a quick stop at the visitor centre, we headed out onto the reserve for a bit of shelter in the hides. A really nice surprise here was a  Greater Scaup, swimming around on Pat’s Pool! The bird showed well up the north end of the scrape, but looked wary and keen to move on, and it soon flew off north towards the coast. With a reduced buffish band above the bill and lots of grey coming through in the flanks, we guessed it was most likely a young drake. A Green Sandpiper was also presaw a few Snipe, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits and 25 Dunlin. It was otherwise quiet though, and with the visibility improving [and twenty or so Eider flying west along the shingle bank!] we thought now might be the time to seawatch. Driving up to Sheringham, we parked above the Funky Mackerel and had lunch looking out over a foaming sea, the wind now really picking up – along with the rain! Once down in the shelter on the promenade, we were soon watching plenty of Gannets going past quite close, but other than that the watch was disappointing both for numbers of birds and how distant they were. Brent Geese were a highlight, moving west in groups of twenty at a time and probably numbering about 100 in total. We also saw three Great Skuas, one single distant Arctic Skua, singles of Sandwich Tern, Mediterranean Gull and Kittiwake. We gave up around 4pm, and after a coffee to warm up we headed back to base at the end of a pretty challenging day.

 

FRIDAY 5TH OCTOBER - SALTHOUSE, CLEY AND HOLKHAM

Sunny spells and light SW winds, veering NE later, 20C

 

Our quietest day of the trip so far, but there was still some quality to be had and it was a beautiful day! We started down at Salthouse, with a walk around Gramborough Hill. This can be a good area for open ground species such as pipits, larks and buntings, and we certainly saw a lot of common birds here even if we couldn’t find anything unusual. The shingle and fencelines were bustling with Meadow Pipits, with perhaps 100 in the whole area, and there were small groups of Skylarks and Pied Wagtails buzzing around, and lots of Linnets. The birds were all quite mobile, moving out onto the beach and back onto the grassy areas, and we saw a solitary Northern Wheatear among them – our first in ages! The bushes and trees on the hill were quiet, but a single small passerine did come out of the sycamores and head high into the sky inland – probably a Goldcrest. The shore held the most interest, with absolutely stunning views of a Red-throated Diver just in the waves, and a surprise eclipse drake Common Eider also very close in. On the beach, a check of the gulls revealed an interesting first-winter bird, which had at least some Caspian Gull genes, though we were not convinced it was totally pure. It showed a slender dark bill and sloping forehead combo, fairly pale head, solidly dark tertials with broad white tips, a whitish underwing and solid black tail band, but the head showed quite a bit of grey-brown streaking and it looked a bit compact in structure. Maybe a bird from one of the eastern European colonies where hybridisation is known to occur.

 

 

Next we headed to Cley beach, and took a walk west along the shingle towards North Scrape. A Snow Bunting had been seen earlier on the shingle ridge, but we couldn’t find it. A single Common Scoter was on the sea and there were a few Gannets and Red-throated Divers passing by distantly. At the screen, we scanned the scrape but it was mainly occupied by Teal, a few Ruff and half a dozen Dunlin. The highlight was a skein of about 2000 Pink-footed Geese coming up distantly from fields towards Sheringham, and flying right over the reserve and dropping down on Blakeney Freshes. A fantastic sight! Looking up also alerted us to a light westward passage of Common Buzzards, with 12 noted during the morning all very high in the blue sky. Relocating to East Bank, we walked out to check the Serpentine and Arnold’s Marsh. A Common Snipe showed beautifully in the open, and we heard a couple of ‘pinging’ parties of Bearded Tits. Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and lots of wildfowl were the only species of note on the pools though, and so we retreated to Walsey Hills with lunch beckoning. A scan of Snipe’s Marsh just before we cracked into our sandwiches revealed a lovely surprise of a Jack Snipe bobbing in full view at the back of the marsh along the base of the reeds, so scopes were quickly erected and everyone was soon enjoying this super little bird. Soon, we realised we were actually watching two together, and then a third bobbed into view! All three Jack Snipe were now feeding right out in the open in full view and we watched them for a good half an hour solid, with Common Snipe often alongside for comparison. We were joined by a local birder, who then found a fourth! None of us had ever seen four Jack Snipe together in full view like that before, a real treat indeed. A Water Rail also showed well along the reed edge, so lunch ended up taking a bit longer than originally planned!

 

Holkham Meals would be our destination for the afternoon, and it felt very warm in the sunshine out of the wind here. The walk was in truth very quiet – we had hoped the switching wind might start to bring a few little groups of thrushes, finches and Yellow-browed Warblers off the continent. One nice tit flock with Treecreeper, Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff was about it for passerines – we went on tot note two more Chiffchaff further on. From Washington Hide, a Great White Egret was a good list addition and a Spoonbill flew high east over the grazing marsh. Marsh Harriers also showed well here, and there were some flocks of Pink-footed Geese about too. We ended the day at Stiffkey Saltmarsh, scanning for raptors from the campsite car park. In the gathering gloom, we saw a Merlin perched on a distant suaeda bush, and several groups of Little Egrets heading to roost, but not the hoped for Hen Harrier. A fantastic roost flight of Pink-footed Geese out to the sandbars off Stiffkey Meals was a great way to end the day though, with around 2000 birds whiffling down out of the evening sky to join the hauled out seals on the sand!

 

THURSDAY 4TH OCTOBER - BRECKS, WELLS & STIFFKEY

Overcast with fog inland, sunny on coast in SW winds, 15C

 

It was grey and cold as we set off from Ryburgh this morning and headed south into the Brecks. The thermometer was at 10C by the time we reached a very foggy Swaffham, and we were starting to worry that we had gone in the wrong direction! Our first quest was to check some traditional fields for gathering Stone Curlews, and our search actually yielded a pretty good supporting cast! A Green Sandpiper was on a small pool in the first field we checked, and further on we had lovely views of Grey Partridge, two brief Tree Sparrows and at least four Yellow-legged Gulls in the pig fields among the throng of Lesser Black-backs. Our main quarry remained elusive though in the poor visibility, but we kept re-checking the best spots until eventually we found four brown heads hunkered down in a rough field margin – Stone Curlews! Finding a convenient gap in the hedge to set scopes, we could actually see five birds and had some pretty good views – not quite the big flocks we had hoped for, but we got them! Our plan had been to spend the rest of the morning looking for Goshawk, but with the poor visibility we opted to head for Lynford instead to give the weather chance to clear. Coffee in the car park soon produced our next good bird, as a Firecrest was calling incessantly from the Holly and Oak by the entrance. The bird was foraging low down, and soon popped into full view in the open and gave some really tremendous views. A nice little bonus which is never guaranteed here at this time of year. Elsewhere in the arboretum, we added Great-spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Nuthatch and Treecreeper, which was coming to bathe at the edge of the lake down by the bridge. The morning ended with a short raptor watch in the North Brecks, but in the cool conditions we only noted a couple of Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. Six Swallows heading south were our first though, and we saw a big flock of Linnets and half a dozen Mistle Thrush.

 

 

A Red-necked Phalarope had been found during the morning up at Wells boating lake, so we returned to the coast to try for that first off – the notorious label of ‘showing well’ actually turned out to be very true for this bird, which was spinning around about two feet from the photographer’s lenses as we arrived at the site! The sun was shining here too, and we really enjoyed the remarkable views of this charismatic little wader, chugging up and down past the assembled crowd completely oblivious to all the attention. Nearby in the town, the semi-resident adult male Peregrine was seen tearing up its prey, watched at close quarters through the scope and shared with several children from the local school, which was great! The flashes just east of the town proved to be a great stop, as the light was brilliant here – the same Peregrine was tearing through the amassed wildfowl, and tried to single out a juvenile Ruff which escaped its clutches by climbing high into the sky. Shortly after a Red Kite appeared, and cruised right passed us, before a second Peregrine blazed into view and began to mob it – a lovely fresh looking juvenile bird. The waterfowl settled again, and we picked out a Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe, plus eleven Pink-footed Geese coming in to drink. A female Sparrowhawk flew in and landed at the back of the scrape, and then a party of Golden Plover wheeled down looking stunning in the afternoon sunlight. Other species noted here included a brace each of Yellowhammer and Stonechat – a really productive stop!

 

 

We rounded off the day at Stiffkey Fen over high water, which proved a really lovely end to proceedings. The fen was thronged with wildfowl – Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Pintail – plus ten Eurasian Spoonbills sleeping among an assemblage of Pink-footed Geese. Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe were also present, and ten Greenshank were making themselves heard at ever opportunity. The best of the light though was looking north out into Blakeney Harbour, and here we added four Brent Geese, large numbers of Grey Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin. A Kingfisher buzzed in and off across the saltmarsh, and best of all a young Merlin flew west along the seawall and low over our heads, giving bino-filling views as it passed. Fantastic! As dusk approached we watched several vocal skeins of Pink-footed Geese arriving from the north-west, in off the sea and whiffling down onto the fen to roost. The finale was provided by the Spoonbills, which gave a fly round against the dark sky with the sun behind – a magical spot and perfect end to a thrilling day.

 

WEDNESDAY 3RD OCTOBER - EAST NORFOLK

Fine and sunny in light North-west winds, 16C

 

A really good day exploring East Norfolk kicked off at Buckenham Marshes in the Yare Valley, where two juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers had been around on and off for a few days. It was a beautiful morning and the light was superb for looking across the scrape from the track down to the Fisherman’s Car Park. A dozen Redwing ‘seeeped’ overhead as we crossed the railway, and gave us hope that perhaps in the slack winds, a few migrants may cross the North Sea today. Soon we were watching the Pectoral Sandpipers – the only two waders on the scrape – and they gave some really fantastic prolonged views. We didn’t note much else here apart from Marsh Harrier and a few ducks, so we made the most of the quick ‘tick’ and moved on to Potter Heigham.

 

 

Heading down the track to the small parking area at the bottom, we could see how dry the site was now becoming as there was virtually no water left on the first set of pools. Thankfully there was still water and plenty of mud further down, and around five hundred Common Teal were gathered here. A juvenile Peregrine was keeping watch from the nearby dead trees, and made several dramatic stoops into the duck flock, sending everything scattering. We never saw it make a kill, but suspect it is only a matter of time! A small party of Bearded Tits were gearing themselves up to erupt from the reeds, and we had some great views of a group of males perched at the front edge of the rushes. In the distance, over Heigham Holmes, parties of Pink-footed Geese were dropping in – all in all a very autumnal feel to the day! Fifteen Ruff and two Spotted Redshanks were on the second pool, and some of the group saw a Greenshank too. With the light behind us, we began to scan the ducks carefully, and it didn’t take long to pick out a Garganey – very subtle with its dark eye stripe and cap, framing a broad pale supercilium. Eventually, everyone convinced themselves they could see it! The walk back produced excellent views of a family party of three Common Cranes, which we watched through the scopes as they fed along the edge of a dyke out on the Holmes. A real treat as this was a species we had hoped we would catch up with today.

 

 

After lunch, we made our way back out along the track, picking up a flock of thrushes arriving in over the fields – about ten Fieldfare and twenty Redwing, fresh in from the continent. This helped us to decide where to go next – Winterton Dunes to see if anything else had dropped in. Reaching the beach car park, we had a quick look at the sea and noted a few Gannets moving quite close in, and a single flock of six Red-throated Divers sat on the water which gave nice views. Into the dunes, we worked our way carefully along the edge of the Sycamores below Hermanus, but initially couldn’t see anything other than the local House Sparrows. We opted to drop further down into the dunes to come back through the more open area, and immediately heard a Brambling calling. The bird came in off the sea and flew low past us, before dropping into a small tree where we were able to watch it for some time through the scope. There were birds arriving! Having met two birders who had seen a Ring Ouzel, we had a careful look for that on the way back, and while it did pop up and perch briefly in the open, no-one in the group managed a satisfactory view. Another feature of the afternoon were many Mediterranean Gulls, flycatching high over the dunes. They really looked splendid in the afternoon sun, and outnumbered any other gull species – we must have seen dozens! After a quick brew back at coastwatch, we continued north along the coast towards Horsey, stopping for a quick scan along the straight before the windpump. Two more Common Cranes were in the fields here, and we had another chance for some lovely scope views. Waxham was our final stop of the day, and we had a quick look around the Shangri-la chalet garden. No small passerines about [we still hadn’t seen a warbler of any kind!] but we flushed another Ring Ouzel from the sycamores on the seaward side of the garden. This one perched in the open just long enough for a couple of people to see it, before it disappeared into dense cover – perhaps one we might eventually catch up with later in the week!

 

TUESDAY 2ND OCTOBER - TITCHWELL & FRAMPTON

Fresh to strong Westerly winds and sunshine, 20C

 

A superb day to kick off our annual autumn migration tour, despite the continuing westerly winds and little prospect of any new arrivals of passerine migrants. With better conditions on the horizon for the second half of the tour, we knew that the best tactic would be to concentrate on waders, wildfowl and lingering scarcities during the first half of the week ready to capitalise on hopefully the more productive weather to come. Titchwell would therefore be our starting point, and always a great place to start building a healthy tour list with plenty of variety on offer. Patsy’s Reedbed was full of wildfowl in the bright and breezy conditions, with at least six Red Crested Pochards among the throng of Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Shoveler. Sixty Ruff were present here, while at least thirty had already flown off over us and out to the stubble fields to feed as we arrived. A small skein of Pink-footed Geese also flew in noisily and dropped into the fields just behind the reserve, and we had superb views of two Marsh Harriers – the light was just perfect here this morning. Heading back out around the Meadow Trail, we joined the West Bank Path and headed along to Island Hide, where a feast of waterbirds was waiting for us. A large mixed flock of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, along with a cluster of smaller Red Knots, were roosting on the freshmarsh. Careful scanning also produced a lone Spotted Redshank, Avocet and four Golden Plovers, though small waders were again in short supply – as they have been throughout the autumn so far. At the back of the scrape, in the south-east corner against the reeds, a quick glimpse of a pale wader caught our eye, but the bird disappeared instantly behind the reeds. Perhaps it was a Ruff, catching the sun? It seemed odd that it was on its own though, and so we kept one eye on the area every now and then to see if anything unusual appeared. A few minutes later and the same pale wader flew out and landed at the base of the reeds, where it began to feed with a frantic action – it was a first-winter Grey Phalarope! This pelagic surprise had no doubt been blown in from the sea on the strong winds, and was finding plenty of flotsam to pick through up against the reed edge in the far corner of the lagoon. We watched the bird through our scopes for a while, and spread the news to others, hoping in the meantime it might come a bit closer. It failed to do so though, so we left bit be and pressed on to the beach as we wanted to be down there for roughly high tide.

 

 

The tidal pool just before the beach held a nice roost of Oyctercatcher and Grey Plover, while on the shore itself three perfect juvenile Sanderling were scurrying in the surf looking absolutely immaculate – the single Dunlin with them looked scruffy by comparison! Over the sea, we noted a steady but mainly distant passage of Gannets, four Common Scoters, and singles of Red-throated Diver and Razorbill which were both a bit closer in. The best sighting would have been two Pomarine Skuas which went powering through low into the wind, but most of the group missed them and in fact Ashley only saw the tail end of them after one of the group called them out. One was a pale phase adult with distinct white belly patch and dark breast band, the other probably a dark juvenile. Both showed typical slow, steady wingbeats and powerful build of this species – if only we’d picked them up a bit sooner! Leaving the beach behind we headed back to Parrinder Hide for an alternative view of the freshmarsh, and more views of the Grey Phalarope which was now feeding directly opposite the hide, still up against the reeds. We thought we had lost it for good when a Peregrine blazed through and sent everything skyward, but one the dust had settled we found the phalarope bobbing on the water just beyond the fenced island and had our best views yet. It soon became very mobile and headed back to its favoured reed edge, and we had our final views of it again from the West bank path with the sun behind us – a charismatic and energetic little wader! Back at the car park, it was lunch and coffee in the warm sunshine, before we set off for the afternoon at Frampton Marsh, just around the other side of The Wash.

 

 

Heading to Frampton was a bit of a risk, as there has actually been very little water on the reserve as the best scrapes are currently being dried out for management and the marsh grassland is rapidly drying out due to the weather. By Frampton standards, there have been very low numbers of small waders here [and in fact we again failed to even record a Dunlin here today!!] but the long staying Long-billed Dowitcher had still been favouring the ditches and pools by the seawall up until yesterday at least, and we were really keen to try and see it! Arriving at the reception we could see huge numbers of wildfowl on the lagoon there, so started with a look through those. Big flocks of Pintail and rusty eclipse Wigeon looked stunning in the afternoon light, and we also saw lots of Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff and Ringed Plover. A Whooper Swan was also noted here – maybe the long staying bird from last year still hanging about, or perhaps a new arrival? We then drove down to the bottom car park, and began to scan the edges of the ditch carefully as we knew the dowitcher loved to hide there. The wind had started to really get up though and was whipping across the marsh, making viewing very difficult indeed. There were two Black-tailed Godwits in the ditch, but no sign of the dowitcher – we hoped it hadn’t left! Heading up onto the seawall, we battled our way along into the wind to scan the pools from there, and almost right away picked up the Long-billed Dowitcher among fifteen Spotted Redshanks, roosting out in the open water. The wind speed just kept on increasing though and we could now barely stand up, never mind use a telescope – we had to shout at the tops of our voices, just to be heard by the person standing next to us! We reached a lone small bush, which just about afforded enough shelter to erect a scope and focus on the bird, and we managed to get everyone a view. Soon it flew back to one of the islands, and disappeared for a time, before wandering back out again and feeding with its snipe-like action, among the Spotted Redshanks in the water. The light was again superb, and despite the biblical wind we could now see the dark chevrons on its flanks, broad pale supercilium and bright green legs. Two juvenile Little Stints flew in too, and began to feed along the edge of the mud – a superb pool full of birds and job done! We beat a hasty retreat, opting t end the day by driving round to the rather more sheltered reservoir. A cup of tea and slice of cake was the perfect way to set us up for one last foray, to check for the Cattle Egret among the Belted Galloways behind the reservoir. This bird was not hard to find, wandering around among the cows chasing insects and showing really well. We also had really good views of three Common Snipe on the reservoir bank and a small flock of Golden Plover to round off the day – the perfect start to the tour!

 

 


Shetland – Island Autumn Magic September/October 2018 [JM + NP]

 

3rd October 2018 – Quendale, Loch Spiggie, Maywick, Lerwick, Hoswick

Bright and sunny, windstill am, overcast with showers, light SW pm. 9C

 

Last day on Shetland, and finally a still one, with virtually no wind for the whole morning. It felt like a day that a few things could filter in onto the islands, so we were hopeful that there might be a few more birds around, though our pre-breakfast walk around the Sumburgh Farm garden and Grutness didn’t reveal that! A winter plumaged Red-throated Diver on the Pool of Virkie and a couple of Sanderling were the only notable species in fact. After breakfast and checking out of the Sumburgh Hotel (which had been fantastic this year) we then headed out, stopping to scan Loch Spiggie. Two Slavonian Grebes (one one Spiggie, one on Loch Brow) were a highlight, as was a juvenile Whinchat picked up besides a croft nearby, while good numbers of Whooper Swans, Wigeon and Tufted Ducks were also noted. From here we moved down into Maywick, noting two summer plumaged Great Northern Divers in Scousburgh bay. A check of all of the gardens and the croft at the end of Maywick unfortunately drew a complete blank when it came to migrants; this September has really been exceptionally poor for common migrant species! However many Snipe were flushed from a narrow iris bed and marsh, and a winter plumaged Great Northern Diver was present on the sea at the end. It was around this point that news broke which we didn’t really want to receive today; a Pechora Pipit on Unst! We simply couldn’t go for it, as the ferry schedule wouldn’t get us back to Lerwick in time for our ferry. Obviously a bit of a blow, but nothing could be done about it, so on we went! Before lunch, we waused in Cunningsburgh, noting a single Chiffchaff in the gardens here. News then came of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler at Seafield in Lerwick; birds were starting to arrive on the Mainland!

 

Finishing lunch at the Farm Shop, we headed straight up, quickly pinning the location of the Blyth’s Reed Warbler down to a single garden. The bird got into a flowering Hebe, and sat up briefly, flycatched over the shrub and then flew across into a neighbouring garden where, apart from a couple of brief movements, it disappeared and was never seen again! Hardly a performer, and not particularly satisfying views for most of the group. A little while later a Barred Warbler showed up in the same locating, which showed significantly better than the former! A Willow Warbler was also present here, flitting amongst the old Sycamores. News of a second Blyth’s Reed Warbler, this time at Hoswick, now came through. With the Lerwick offering such frustrating views, and it being a new bird for several in the group, we agreed to travel to try for this one. Arriving on site, we headed down into the Swinister Burn, where the bird had recently been heard but not seen. A vigil of about an hour proved very frustrating, with a few tacking calls heard, and a good views obtained by Nick only of a small acro with short primary projection in the top of a tree, where it flitted a few times and then froze, completely lost amongst the foliage. Very frustrating! Time was passing now, with a ferry to catch and so we headed back to Lerwick for the overnight trip back to Aberdeen.

 

2nd October 2018 – Grutness, Boddam, Levenwick, Fladdabister and Hoswick.

Strong to gale force NW, heavy showers with sunny spells, 9C

 

After yesterdays excitement, and with todays harsh forecast, we opted for an easier start and a leisurely 8am breakfast before heading out. Our first stop in the morning was the large quarry above Sumburgh Farm. A Marsh Warbler had been found there the day before, and it showed fantastically at times for us as we found it between squalls of heavy rain. A great bird to start the day with! A stop at Grutness produced a couple of Sanderling on the beach and a heard-only Snow Bunting, but a walk out over the peninsular didn’t produce views of the latter unfortunately. Moving on from here, we passed down into Boddam, where a stop by the beach at the head of the voe quickly revealed a pair of juvenile Common Rosefinches feeding with a flock of House Sparrows, munching on the various atriplex and other weeds growing at the top of the beach, giving great views. A small flock of Golden Plover were seen close to the roadside, with a very grey bird amongst them which we enjoyed discussing; our experience with Golden Plovers of various appearances and plumages this week has left us all well drilled for ruling our American Golden Plover now! Levenwick was our next stop and, though the area was quiet in general, a Willow Warbler, numerous Snipe and Lapwing and a flock of Oystercatchers were noted. On from here, we had lunch in the Cunningsburgh farm café before moving onto our next birding stop.

 

After lunch we headed into the area around Fladdabister, where we made an attempt to re-find a Short-toed Lark which had been seen the day before. Between heavy showers, we explored the potato crop and surrounding farmsteads, but to no avail, noting many Skylarks in the area but little else. Our next birding destination was the Swinister Burn in Hoswick. Walking the well vegetated stream, we reached the T-junction in the burn and, walking the line of willows, flushed a large grey warbler with white outer tail feathers and a languid flight style; a Barred Warbler! A very mobile bird, it covered all corners of the burn, eventually finishing up in a nearby garden. Great to have a group find for the trip! A Grey Wagtail in the burn was also an addition for the Shetland trip. A last site visited before heading south was the burn running through Levenwick, though we noted very little here, and so made our way south. A return to Grutness was made, having missed out on a Snow Bunting there this morning. The weather was a bit better now (though we still had to sit out a heavy shower before venturing out), and a flock of Turnstones containing a single juvenile Sanderling was noted. Walking out towards the headland, a small passerine flew passed us and landed ahead amongst the boulders. In flight a dark breast band and bold head pattern were noted, as well as a compact shape, and close approach further on revealed it to be a lovely Lapland Bunting. A loop of the headland further here was quiet, though the views were spectacular. To finish off the day, we returned to the quarry above Sumburgh Farm. Along with the Marsh Warbler which we had enjoyed in the morning (and which we equally enjoyed again now) a super Yellow-browed Warbler was also now present and, though initially very elusive, showed well in the sun on the quarry cliffs. A fitting way to end another very good day.

 

1st October 2018 – Norwick, Uyeasounda and Baltasound, Unst. Lunna, Mainland.

Moderate NW wind am, near windstill pm, overcast with sunny spells, 9C

 

Our last day on Unst was a bit of a cracker! Having finished yesterday on a high, with a superb Citrine Wagtail at Saxa Vord, our main aim would be to see the American Golden Plover which had become elusive and lost before we could arrive from Fetlar. We would have time to go looking for it before catching the ferry south to Sumburgh, with our travel plans all laid out ahead of us. First off, after breakfast, loading our luggage and checking out of Saxa Vord, we headed down to Vaylie’s Trees produced a Blackcap, Chiffchaff and a single Redwing. Norwick Beach revealed a small number of Turnstone and Ringed Plover, and also a single Otter feeding close inshore which we enjoyed watching. From here, after a short stop opposite Haroldswick beach, we made our way towards Uyesound where we had been looking for the plover yesterday. Coming in from the north (noting a big female Peregrine crossing the road), a large number of cars and birders were present along the roadside, clearly watching the bird. Pulling up, we set up scopes and began scanning the flock of Golden Plovers on the hillside. Nick quickly picked up an incredibly distinctive full summer plumaged bird amongst the flock, with a huge bulge of white on the breast side and very dark mantle; the American Golden Plover! The bird fed actively as we all watched from the road; an absolutely distinctive bird, though the views were keen to see it a bit closer. With this in mind, we crossed over the field a short way below us and joined another observer. However unfortunately, the birds, continuing to hop left as they had been doing, moved into longer grass and heather, and amongst the rocky outcrops. With this we lost the bird, and couldn’t relocate it in 10 minutes of trying. Happy that we had managed to see it, we moved on, stopping at Easter Loch and noting the 11 Whooper Swans and a small number of Wigeon and Tufted Ducks. We then headed to Belmont, where we caught our ferry back to Yell, and then Unst, seeing Great Skua and several Black Guillemots on the way. Back on mainland Shetland, we would punctuate our journey south with a visit to Lunna. An Icterine Warbler which had been present for a few days now had been reidentified as a Melodious Warbler, and we were keen to see it. Arriving on side, the bird was showing fantastically well in a row of Fuchsias, and then a Sycamore tree overhanging a stone wall, feeding in rapid movements and hovering often, giving itself up fantastically. With such views we were able to note the slightly atypical blue-grey legs and a hint of wing panel which may indicate Icterine Warbler (which is far commoner on Shetland), but good scope views revealed the short primary projection key to identify the bird. Things took a bit of a dramatic turn at this point, with a message coming through of an unstreaked Locustella warbler back on Unst quickly being confirmed as a River Warbler! With agreement within the group that we all would like to see it, and some nifty ferry schedule research from Nick, we were on our way, confident that we could reach the site near Baltasound in time, and still get back to Mainland for a reasonable time! After a couple of ferry hops, we arrived at Baliasta. Disembarking the van, we made our way down to the birds favoured iris beds. With no one else present and looking for the bird, it was up to us to re-find it, so two of us began slowly walking the irises while the others watched from the side. Entering one of the last clumps, a Meadow Pipit flushed, shortly followed by a small, very dark muddy brown warbler with a very long and broad tail; the River Warbler! It landed in another small clump of irises, and with a little gentle encouragement, showed better on the deck than any of us had imagined it would! Noting the heavy convalescing streaks on the breast, mottled ear coverts and overall cold brown tones, we were all over the moon with the views. What a bird to end the day with. With our tight ferry schedule meaning we needed to catch the 18:30 return, we made our way to Belmont, pushing through to mainland about and hour later, and arriving into Lerwick at about 21:00, where we enjoyed a cracking Indian meal, and then headed to the Sumburgh for a late re-check-in. What a day.

 

30th September 2018 – Skaw, Hermaness, Fetlar, Uyeasound and Saxa Vord

Moderate westerly winds, strengthening later, bright with frequent heavy showers, 10C

 

Today dawned calm and dry; a contrast from yesterday! And with that, we headed out on a pre-breakfast excursion in the van to Skaw – the most northerly farmstead in the UK. A walk around the farm produced little more than a Blackcap, while the sea hosted a single female Eider along with the 100’s of Shags. The sun was rising over the sea here, and the Gannets and Fulmars streaming past offshore in the morning light was spectacular to watch. From here we walked out and around the Skaw headland; a great way to wake up! A Merlin flashed past over the hillside, while around 5 Great Skuas were harassing Gannets for some breakfast. A couple of Turnstone and Purple Sandpipers were noted on the end of the rocky shore before we headed back to the van, ready for breakfast.

 

After breakfast, we all loaded up again in the van, ready to head across to Fetlar for the day. However, before that, we had a little time to explore the route up to Hermaness, where the spectacular scenery was worth it alone, but a Blackcap and several Blackbirds in the small garden, and a Kestrel on the track up to the Hermaness cliffs (Britain’s most northerly Kestrel? Probably!) made it all the more worthwhile. Twite were seen very well on the road up to here, feeding in a wet gulley on the way up. Before long, it was time to head south, and catch the Yell, and then Fetlar ferries. The Fetlar crossing was longer than most of the others we have been on, offering longer seawatching opportunities and producing a single Arctic Skua and several Bonxies, along with the usual Black Guillemots and other species. Arriving on Fetlar, we had a few hours to explore the beautiful ’garden of Shetland’. Stopping at each settlement and area of cover in turn, it was clear that there weren’t going to be many migrants here (in common with the rest of Shetland at the minute!) though we did mange to note a single Wheatear, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler at the Feal Burn, a single Knot, around 10 Wigeon and our first Sanderling and Lesser Black-backed Gull of the trip. Returning back to Unst, we were aware now that both Citrine Wagtail and American Golden Plover had been found during the day on Unst! Eager to return and try to catch up with these, the Golden Plover was being reported frequently, so we made to try for that first. However, the bird had flown with a small sub-flock of Golden Plovers, meaning that a search of the remaining birds in extremely strong winds and heavy wintry showers proved fruitless. Knowing that light was fading fast, we had to make tracks and head up to Saxa Vord if we wanted to attempt to see the Citrine Wagtail before it got dark. Arriving on site, and with the help of some excellent directions, we managed to find the wet flush which the bird was favouring and, with a little coaxing we found the Citrine Wagtail. A few wet feet later, and everyone was extremely happy watching this superb 1st winter bird, showing down to 10 meters. A well-earned good bird after another relatively quiet days birding on Shetland.

 
 

29th September 2018 – Yell, Norwick

Strong westerly winds, heavy rain all morning, 11C

 

Today was a tough day to do much with, with heavy rain all morning and strong westerly winds. With that, we had a fairly leisurely breakfast and then headed out in the van, with the plan of heading to Yell, where an American Golden Plover had been reported the previous day. On our way to catch the ferry, we gave ourselves long enough to check out some sites around Uyeasound, which can be good for waders and other wetland species which can easily be viewed from the van in bad weather. Stopping at Easter Loch, a party of Whooper Swans were keeping company with about 15 Tufted Ducks. Moving up onto the surrounding plateau, we soon encountered some large flocks of Golden Plover which offered nice views close to the road. Amongst these there were a small number of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Snipe and Redshank; a nice variety offering good views. With the Yell ferry beckoning, we made our way down to Belmont Harbour. The crossing to Yell produced a Great Skua and several Black Guillemots along with the usual Gannets and Fulmars. On Yell itself, we made our way west towards Gloup, where the American Golden Plover had been noted the previous day. However, scanning through the flocks, we couldn’t find anything more than a couple of ‘grey’ Golden Plovers which, although they caught the eye amongst the flocks, lacked the distinctive slim giss of their American counterparts. A report of a possible American Golden Plover opposite Kirk Loch had us scrambling to the site, though the bird quickly transpired to be one of the ‘grey’ birds we had seen earlier, and so a false alarm! Feeling that we had done the waders justice in the north, and with the weather improving, we made to check a few gardens before heading back for the afternoon ferry, noting a couple of Willow Warblers along with the many House Sparrows and Twite present. Some of the group also noted a single Woodpigeon; our first of the trip. With a short while to spare, we had a coffee in the Gutcher café, before boarding our ferry back to Unst.

 

The weather was much better by now, so we made our way over to Vaylie’s Trees before the light faded. A good walk around the area produced a Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcaps and a number of Blackbirds, but little else of note. Today had been a rather tough one bird-wize, and we all hoped things would improve for tomorrow!

 

 

28th September 2018 – Norwick, Northdale, Haroldswick, Baltasound

Bright and pleasant am, cloudier with showers pm, light – moderate W, 11C

 

Our first morning on Unst was enjoyed with a pre-breakfast walk out to Norwick beach, where the sun was watched rising over the sea with streams of Gannets and Fulmars streaming past in impressive fashion. Birding around the area was fairly quiet, with a Chiffchaff and Blackcap probably from the day before. A stop besides the cemetery at the top of the settlement livened things up however, with the long-staying Barred Warbler noted briefly in the fuchsias lining the cemetery walls before flying over and out of view, unfortunately before most of the group could get onto it; one for later! Back at Saxa Vord, we had breakfast, made our sandwiches for the day and headed out again, returning to where we had seen the Barred Warbler. Approaching the yard, a small flock of House Sparrows were lined up along a fence line, though they had a finch with them – the Common Rosefinch we had been looking for since yesterday! A superb juvenile bird, and a lifer for 2 in the group. It proceeded to feed with the sparrows, showing well for about 5 minutes. During this period, the Barred Warbler appeared in the same field of view! This bird was more mobile however, being seen well in the front garden of the neighbouring house and across the road in long grass. A very enjoyable 20 minutes spent with these birds, while Willow Warbler and Blackcap were also noted. Moving on from here, we headed down the road into Northdale, where we walked the nearby burn, crop strip and gardens, noting a very active Pied Flycatcher feeding from wire fences out in the fields; a very ‘Shetland’ experience of a familiar woodland breeding migrant surviving well in extremely unfamiliar circumstances! The area also provided a good flock of very showy Golden Plover and a good flock of about 15 Skylark which came out of an oat crop.

 

Our next stop was Haroldswick, where a check of the sea produced a Red-throated Diver and a Common Guillemot. However, a check of the gardens, beach and surrounding habitat matched our experience of much of the Shetland Islands; near devoid of common migrants! Apart from a few pockets of activity containing mostly lingering birds, it has been difficult to even encounter common species. However, a count of 32 Common Snipe was impressive, and a coffee from Victoria’s Vintage Tea Room and our sandwiches were most welcome. From here, we moved onto Baltasound, where our first stop was the famous Halligarth plantation. A Wood Warbler had been lingering in the area for a few days now, so we made to try and locate it. Sean was the first to pick it up, and what a beauty it was! It frequently came down low in the canopy, and was a superbly colourful and active individual, putting on a great show for at least 20 minutes for us. The surrounding fields and gardens provided little else of note bar a couple of Teal and a few more Golden Plover, despite extensive searching. Our final notable bird of the day was a Bonxie which flew in and across the old airfield. Rain had started to fall heavily now, so it was time to call it another day; one with some super birds seen. Hopefully more to come!   

 

27th September 2018 – Virkie, Spiggie, Scouseburgh Sands, Unst

Low cloud and rain am, brighter later, moderate NW, 10C

 

A forecast for heavy rain all morning today meant that birding would be curtailed somewhat, though today was our Unst travel day so probably not a bad thing. After a leisurely breakfast and checking out of the Sumburgh Hotel (which had been excellent for the duration of our stay), we headed out in the van to see what birding we could achieve with the weather we had. In the end we were able to dodge the rain quite effectively, starting out at Scatness pool, where a coupe of Wheatears and a small flock of Wigeon were the only sightings of note. The Pool of Virkie was our next stop, where the willows held a single Linnet, and the muddy margins of the loch produced 6 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Ringed Plover and a couple of Dunlin along with the usual Turnstones. From here we went to take a look at the loch of Hillwell, noting several Snipe, a couple of Tufted Ducks and a skein of 28 Pink-footed Geese which came in and circled around the area before disappearing from view. The neighbouring Loch Spiggie was quite productive, producing a Little Egret; still a rare bird on Shetland, and certainly the bird found nearby yesterday. Also seen here was a nice Slavonian Grebe, half way to moulting out of summer plumage, still retaining some of its colour. 10 Pink-footed Geese were on the edge of the loch, while Wigeon and Tufted Ducks were present, along with a nice family of 2 adult and 6 cygnet Whooper Swans. The nearby Scouseburgh Sands and bay were quite quiet, though the wind was blowing strongly into the bay, though a single Guillemots and several Kittiwakes were noted along with a Harbour Porpoise and a juvenile Gannet on the beach which appeared exhausted but otherwise apparently health.

 

From here we moved not and began our journey north, first stopping for lunch and coffee in Lerwick, and also collecting the shopping for our days on Unst. After all this we continued north to Toft, where we caught the ferry to Yell. The crossing here was uneventful, producing the usual Black Guillemots and other common seabirds. On from here we crossed Yell and then boarded the Gutcher to Belmont ferry, again noting a number of Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Gannets and Fulmars. Pressing on, we travelled through Unst and arrived at our base at the Saxa Vord resort, where we dropped our things and went out birding, glad of the opportunity after a day spent mostly in the van! We made our way down into Norwick, where a cluster of nice gardens and croft land is highlighted by the famous Vaylie Garden. An hour and a half here provided us with a few migrant birds, including a single Lesser Redpoll, 2 Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff, while the beach hosted a number of Ringed Plover and Turnstones. The weather was now the nicest we have encountered all holiday, and we enjoyed a nice first taste of birding on Unst. Hopefully there is more to come!

 

 

26th September 2018 – Sumburgh Head, Scatness, Toab gardens, Garth and Voe

Overcast with sunny spells, moderate SW, occasional showers, 12C

 

Pre-breakfast this morning was spent visiting Sumburgh Head, where a drive up to the lighthouse car park was greeted by a moderate breeze and beautiful low morning light over spectacular scenery. Large numbers of Gannets and Fulmars were out over the sea, while a small number of Twite were present. Running back down, a check of the two roadside quarries and Grutness gardens revealed 2 Wheatears, with a further 2 around the Sumburgh Hotel. From Grutness a single Great Northern and Red-throated Diver circles over the bay looking for somewhere to land. After breakfast, we headed out to Scatness, stopping at Sumburgh Beach for a scan, and noting 2 Great Northern and 2 Red-throated Diver on the water, along with 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and a single Dunlin. We retreated as a particularly heavy shower hit, though it didn’t last very long, stopping by the time we arrived at Scatness. Here we scanned the pool below the village, where a Greenshank was a surprise, along with a couple of Moorhen and some Teal. We took a walk out towards Scatness headland, noting Bonxie, a single Wigeon which came up off the sea and a number of Twite, but little else, though walk and scenery were very pleasant! From here we made our way to Toab, where the mix of gardens and crops can be a resting site for tired migrants. The only evidence of anything resembling a migrant however was 6 Wheatear whipping around the crofts and houses. The fields below the A970 held a pair of Black-tailed Godwits, plus several Turnstone, Knot, Redshank and Curlew.

 

By this time news of yesterdays Red-backed Shrike resurfacing had reached us, so we began our journey north towards Garth. On the way we noted a field with a small flock of Ringed Plovers in, which were worth a look over. Pulling into Skellister Stores, a small flock of Greylag Geese contained our first 2 Pink-footed Geese of the trip; an adult and juvenile, while the neighbouring Lock Benston held 2 each of Mute and Whooper Swans. Onwards, we arrived at Garth cemetery, where the Red-backed Shrike had been seen 15 minutes before but not since, being mobile between the large gardens and neighouring farmyards. With some perseverance and exploration, 2 of the group managed to locate the bird behind the houses amongst some farm machinery. Unfortunately, the bird quickly went AWOL, though fortunately it relocated back to the gardens, allowing most of the group to connect with what was a smart fresh juvenile bird. Time ticking, we had time to visit some of the main birding sites in north mainland, so we headed up via Voe, looking for a coffee along the way. Stopping first at the pub near the harbour, we found they didn’t serve hot drinks, but were directed to the small shop at the top of the hill, noting a Sparrowhawk and numerous Collared Doves in the area. Drinking our coffees, the owner of the neighbouring house came out to explain that he had a mystery bird in his garden which he had taken a photo of 5 minutes before from his bedroom window. Having sent it to a friend on Fair Isle, he had been informed that it was a Golden Oriole! Me made our way straight round and were shown around the garden, but there was no sign of it. However, after a bit of a wait and some exploration of the surrounding area (noting our first 2 Chiffchaffs of the trip!), the bird was seen again (several visiting birders had arrived now). Standing overlooking a stand of pines, we had several fleeting flight views, before it settled into a small willow to feed, and provided fantastic views to us and the assembled crowd. A superb end to a challenging day.

 

 

 

25th September 2018 – Sumburgh Farm, Quendale, Levenwick, Sandwick and Pool of Virkie

Overcast all day, moderate to strong WSW, Showers PM, 12C

 

Today dawned dry and breezy (the latter will probably be a theme for the rest of these daily updates!) for our first pre-breakfast walk of the trip, which we took around the Sumburgh Farm. Things were a bit quiet truth be told, though we did note 3 Wheatears, a Swallow, 3 Teal with the Mallards and a number of Snipe flushed from the wet areas. Several Twite were noted, with one watched feeding in the Sumburgh Garden. Large numbers of Gannets were feeding in the bay off the hotel car park. After gathering for breakfast, we headed on to Quendale, as yesterdays action was certainly worth a return for. In the bushes around the mill we located a female Blackcap skulking deep in cover, with a single juvenile Willow Warbler in the bushes near the Café on our return from the burn. The irises lining the burn itself were disappointingly quiet, with a single very skulking phylloscopus warbler defying identification after going AWOL after a couple of flushes. Otherwise a really impressive flock of perhaps up to 400 Skylark in a root vegetable field, a couple of Bonxies, 3 Rock Pipits and a Blackbird in the quarry and several Ravens served to entertain us. Returning to the van, we made a stop above the Loch of Hillwell, scanning the loch and neighbouring farmland. A single Siskin was feeding along a large bed of nettles along with numerous Skylark and House Sparrows, while 2 others were noted passing overhead, while the Loch itself hosted about 20 Wigeon, 2 Tufted Ducks, 2 Moorhen, a couple of Teal and, best of all, a party of Whooper Swans. From here, we dropped into a nearby local store to by sandwiches for lunch later, and headed north. On the way we encountered an impressive flock of about 500 Golden Plover which we stopped to observe for a short while. We then pushed onto Levenwick; an area of well vegetated gardens, a nice sandy beach and some good marshland. Arguably the highlight here for many was seeing our first live Polecat in the wild, strolling through a Rabbit warren. An impressive animal, though they are a rather problematic introduced species on Shetland for the breeding waders, terns and seabirds. The gardens in this area produced a single Whinchat and Willow Warbler, but little else, while the beach played host to 7 Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers and Turnstones. The sea also revealed several Tysties (Black Guillemots) and a few Fulmars and Gannets.

 

Our next destination from here was Sand Lodge, near Leebitten. This impressive walled house and garden was rather devoid of anything except the resident House Sparrows and Starlings (including a striking almost completely white individual of the latter). However, the shoreline was more productive, with 4 Purple Sandpipers in amongst the seaweed covered rocks, and a flock of Golden Plover which flew over the house, trailed by a single Ruff. On from here, it was high time we had a hot drink! So we dropped into the café at Hoswick, which was hosting a Shetland knitting get-together, so was packed with 50 knitters from all over the world! Finishing our drinks, we headed south, finishing the day at the Pool of Virkie. The tide was out, and the mud here hosted a couple of Dunlin, 4 Knot, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and a single Black-tailed Godwit, along with small numbers of Ringed Plover, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew. Out towards the harbour entrance, the sea was busy with Gannest, Kittiwakes and Fulmars, and also produced a couple of Bonxies, while Black Guillemots were calling all the time from the concrete boulders forming the breakwater and harbour entrance. A single Wheatear appeared out of knowhere, sheltering from the now strong winds; virtually our last bird of a challenging day. From here we returned to the Sumburgh Hotel.

 

 

24th September 2018 – Whalsay, Wester Quarff and Quendale

Pleasant day, light SW winds am, moderate pm, 13C

 

Arriving into Shetland waters with a bit of daylight, we got up onto the deck and saw our first Black Guillemots of our Shetland tour; always a nice moment! Numerous Gannets and several Eiders were noted, and before long we were docked. Disembarking, we made our way round to the Co-op where we bought a few provisions for the day, and then headed north towards Laxo, noting a party of 5 Whooper Swans on the way, where the ferry to Whalsay sailed from. The reason for our crossing to Whalsay was that a Yellow-breasted Bunting had been present for the last couple of days. However, with a calm and clear night having passed, we weren’t optimistic that it would have remained, and so it proved. We spent an hour birding the areas the bird had last been seen, but there was no sign. However, a Merlin dashing through close, and we had nice views of a fly-over Golden Plover along with a female Wheatear. The sailing back from Whalsay produced some really close views of Black Guillemots, while 3 Great Skuas were harassing Gannets in the bay as we left the harbour. After disembarking the ferry, we made our way along to Wester Quarff, along a road that bisects the Shetland Mainland at one of its narrowest points. Parking at the end of the upper road, we spent about an hour working the gardens he, where a Barred Warbler had been found shortly before. Initially rather flighty and elusive, we managed some reasonable views in good light as it flew between cover, noting its very cold grey tones and heavy flight. A Garden Warbler and 2 Chaffinches were also noted here, but otherwise it was a bit quiet.

 

 

Black Guillemots from the Whalsay ferry

 

 

Following on from here, news of a possible Blyth’s Reed Warbler came up at Quendale Mill, one of Shetlands premier birding sites. With this, we headed down to the mill. Arriving on site, there were already a few birders present, and the warbler hadn’t been seen again for about 45 minutes. However, just as we were commencing our search of the area, further news came out of Quendale; possible Sykes’s Warbler 200m above the dam! Efforts to relocate the acro were abandoned, and we instead made our way up towards the dam. Arriving in the area, the group who found the bird were in situ. Over the course of the next couple of hours we made attempts to see this bird, though it was far from easy! Various flight views and very brief views of the deck revealed a pale greyish-brown mantle, white underparts, fairly contrasty tertials and a phyllosc-like giss, with fairly short tail. Our views were unfortunately far from conclusive, the bird being so difficult to get and views of at all, though consensus by most who saw the bird well is that it was a Booted Warbler, which would tally with what little we saw of it. In addition here, a Yellow-browed Warbler showed quite well briefly as it landed on a wire fence (though this was equally difficult to observe generally) and a single Willow Warbler. Ravens were present here over the hillsides, while 2 Great Skua also cruised over the hillsides. From here, we headed straight down to the Sumburgh Hotel, where we unpacked our backs and settled in, after an interesting first day on Shetland!   

 

 

23rd September 2018 – Musselburgh and Aberdeen-Lerwick ferry

Glorious day, light winds, sunny, 16C

 

Day one of the tour started off in Carlisle, where most of the group were gathered having caught a lift in the minibus the day before. Leaving Carlisle at 08:30, we needed to be in at the Aberdeen Ferry Terminal at 15:30, so we had some birding time to break up the journey, which we spent at Musselburgh, just east of Edinburgh. Our main target here was the long-staying male American White-winged Scoter which spends most of the year off this stretch of coast. Arriving at about 10am, we made for the mouth of the River Esk, which held a large number of coastal waders and gulls, plus a pair of female Goosander in the main channel. Heading on to view open water, we noted good numbers of Velvet Scoter offshore, distributed in loose flocks, many being really quite close inshore and allowing good views. Our target bird, we knew, could provide a difficult identification challenge, particularly if the viewing wasn’t ideal. However, with the light behind us and the birds being close, we were optimistic. Carefully checking each individual, Martin called back to us saying that he had a bird further up the coast which was showing off an exceptional amount of white in the wing; a feature he had picked up with his bins. Scoping the birds, the American White-winged Scoter was there! Showing a clear reddish-pink colouration to the bill, a white feather pattern around the eye with a distinct upward flick to the rear and a bulbous, ‘broken nose’ profile to the bill. The views were excellent, with everyone able to note the salient features. Brilliant! The sea also held Red-necked Grebe and Great Crested Grebe, Arctic Terns, an impressive flock of 100 Goosander, numerous Gannets and a few Guillemots. From here, we headed to the Musselburgh Lagoons, which were a great stop, hosting both Pectoral Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper, along with large numbers of roosting Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, a few Black-tailed Godwits, Knot and Redshank. Grey Wagtail was also noted on the lagoons; a superb spot. From here we made the final leg of our journey north to Aberdeen, boarding the ferry ready for the 17:00 sailing. Of course, we made our way straight up on deck where we could bird with the remaining daylight! Sailing out of the harbour, a good number of Kittiwakes were hanging around off the breakwater, along with a small number of Turnstones. Out into open water, and a feature for the first hour was the feeding frenzy’s of Kittiwakes. Numerous flocks numbering over 1000 birds were noted, with 3 Great Skuas recorded, occasionally passing through the flock and sending them high into the air in avoidance. Further to these we had 2 Sooty Shearwaters, both giving good views in nice low light, 3 Manx Shearwaters, a few Fulmar, numerous Guillemots and a small number of Razorbills. With the light fading, we made our way inside where we had dinner and headed for our cabins, looking forward to landing on Shetland in the morning!

 

 

 

American White-winged Scoter with Velvet Scoters, and Goosander

 


 

EAST YORKSHIRE 23RD - 28TH SEPTEMBER [AS]

 

FRIDAY 28TH SEPTEMBER - SPURN

Light Northerly winds and sunshine, 15C

 

Having rearranged our days to leave this morning free in case of an improvement in the weather, we headed back to Spurn with at least a sniff of a prospect of some birds arriving in the now northerly airflow along the east coast. With low pressure still at large over Scandinavia though, the big problem was that birds simply weren’t leaving the continent and again we experienced a quiet final morning. Starting with a seawatch from the Bluebell, there were some seabirds moving but everything was extremely distant in the light winds – several Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, a Razorbill, three Manx Shearwaters and the odd Gannet, plus three Great Skuas which were heading south distantly through the windfarm. The highlight though was a Sooty Shearwater, heading North with two juvenile Gannets and providing a nice comparison with the size of the latter, and also its more elastic, strident wing beats compared with the stiff-winged and faster flapping Manx seen earlier. Two Stonechats were by the car park, and we saw another five along Beacon Lane, suggesting a small arrival of this species – though we still couldn’t find a Wheatear! We had a coffee and then headed west along the road towards Kew, checking Corner Field and the churchyard on the way along but again failing to note a single passerine migrant. The Humber itself was a bit more lively, with lots of Redshank, Dunlin, Knot, Sanderling and Grey Plover on show, plus a Rock Pipit along the shore and the two Whimbrel again in the saltmarsh grass by the tank traps. A further three Stonechats were in the triangle, but that was about it – we checked Canal Scrape again too, but there was no sign of the Jack Snipe from two days previously. Lunch back at the Bluebell wrapped up our trip, and we went our separate ways around 1.30pm.

 

 

THURSDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER - ALKBOROUGH & TOPHILL LOW

Fresh westerly winds and sunshine, 20C                  

 

A better day today as we went a bit off piste and crossed The Humber back into Lincolnshire to spend the morning at the excellent Alkborough Flats reserve. As we crossed the bridge it soon became apparent that a bit of a movement of Pink-footed Geese was taking place, as we passed a stubble field full and then soon saw other small flock as we headed west along the south bank of the Humber. Stopping by Read’s Island, we could overlook the channel on the ebbing tide where large concentrations of birds could be seen. Another big flock of Pink-feet were resting here, and another 1500 or so came up from distant fields and flew in right over our heads – a great sight! On the mudflats here were many hundreds of Common Teal and also Avocets which were present in staggering numbers – perhaps a thousand birds or more. A few Dunlin, Marsh Harrier, Pintail and large numbers of Redshank were also noted at this productive spot, with a great view back to the Humber Bridge too! Moving on to Alkborough, it felt really warm in the autumn sunshine by the shelter of the car park, and this was backed up with a signing Cetti’s Warbler, and our first group of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ away as they towered up out of the reedbed, a typical feature of reedbed sites on sunny autumn days. This species would become a feature and highlight of the morning, as we had great views of a male just before Prospect Hide, and then more fantastic views of erupting little groups in the reeds adjacent to the hide. The light was fantastic here and we enjoyed a Little Egret fishing right outside the hide, and roosting ranks of Redshank and Shoveler on the lagoon. Among these we picked out three Ruff, eleven Spotted Redshank and a single Greenshank, while a lone adult Eurasian Spoonbill was a nice bonus too. Our walk along to the tower hide was less productive, though we did randomly note two Common Crossbills heading south calling and get some great close views of Marsh Harriers. From the hide, we could see across to Blacktoft Sands in the distance, and back to the confluence of the Rivers Trent and Ouse. Pink-footed Geese were still very much in evidence in the distance, too.

 

 

Around an hour’s drive back over the bridge and north past Beverley took us to our stop for the afternoon at Tophill Low reserve. We lunched in the warm sunshine in the car park, before heading down to the south end of the reserve. South Marsh East was full of Teal, but little else – a single Greenshank being the only wader of note. Watton NR was similarly full of duck, including our first Common Pochards of the trip, but other wise the various common butterflies and Migrant Hawkers noted were the highlight. The north end of the reserve was a bit more lively, with many hundreds of Coots and Tufted Ducks on ‘D’ Reservoir giving us something to scan through. We picked out a fine drake Greater Scaup, and an adult Yellow-legged Gull dropped in to the pre-roost. Another small gathering of Pink-footed Geese, a couple of Grey Wagtails, Goldcrest and a few Great Crested Grebes were also noted. Back to base, and some of the group saw a Little Owl around the farmyard at dusk just as we were getting ready to head out for dinner. With the wind swinging round to the north and a bit of cloud and rain in the air, we hoped for a more productive morning tomorrow at Spurn for our last day of the tour.

 

WEDNESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER - SPURN

Sunshine and moderate westery winds, 19C

 

A tough day today as the fine weather and westerly winds continue to persist, leaving the bushes devoid of grounded migrants and visible passage both over land and sea virtually non-existent. We returned to Spurn hoping that we could eke something out of the day, and we enjoyed some nice walks and didn’t get wet! Kilnsea Wetlands would be our first port of call, as the tide was now dropping off but we knew there would still be a fair few birds roosting here. A couple of hundred Redshank were on the pools, and we also picked up two Bar-tailed and a single Black-tailed Godwit together – initially in flight over the lagoon and then settled among the wildfowl at the back. A few Dunlin were also present, and there was an increase in Mediterranean Gulls with at least fifteen present, mainly first-winters. Two Yellow Wagtails were a highlight, feeding in among the sheep, and six Pink-footed Geese flew in low from the North and circled before continuing on their way. Checking Beacon Ponds, we didn’t add anything else – the roosting Knot and Grey Plover had now departed and we watched them heading back to The Humber in long snaking lines.

 

Heading round to the Bluebell, a quick look at the sea soon showed that nothing was moving over the flat calm water, so we embarked on the circular walk around Kew and the Triangle to see what else we could find. A few Golden Plover were on the Humber, and we found our first Turnstones of the trip here too, but there was no sign of any chats along the fencelines by Clubley’s Field today. Pausing to scan back across the fields towards Rose Cottage, we picked up a chunky passerine flying out from Kew and heading off towards Corner Field – it was a Hawfinch, which had first appeared on Monday and tuned up in a mist net the next morning. Thankfully it circled round a few times, allowing everyone to see it, before it dropped into one of the gardens. We carried on south to The Warren, but the trees there were much quieter today with no sign of either of the Rosefinches – Painted Lady and Small Copper were noted though! We decided to head back along the clifftop, and enjoyed the views from this slightly raised vantage point. A handful of waders were feeding on the beach on the ebbing tide, and these included a single Sanderling and a nice Purple Sandpiper. The excellent views we had of this bird feeding among the Ringed Plovers made it the highlight of the day.

 

 

After lunch we returned to check the Canal Scrape, where two Common Snipe, Little Egret and close studies of several Little Grebe were had, before we returned to the Bluebell and wandered along the road to Kew to just check the churchyard area again in case the Hawfinch was about. We didn’t find it, and had to make do with another seventy Pink-footed Geese heading low south. Mediterranean Gulls are a frequent sight these days around Spurn, and in fact they almost seemed to be the most regular flyover gull during our walks – the striking first-winters being particularly prevalent with their bold black leading edge to the wing and bandit mask. With the day running out of sensible options, we decided to check Sammy’s Point paddocks as we had not been there yet – a Marsh Harrier quartering was about the highlight. Frustratingly, we then learned that a Jack Snipe had been photographed at Canal Scrape, where we had just been an hour before! With little else on the cards we opted to head back and look for it, but despite Ashley getting a glimpse of it bobbing among the cut reeds at the back, no-one else really got a proper view. The Common Snipe were showing very well, now increased to four, and an adult Water Rail popped out into the open to provide some compensation. From here it was back to base – things could only get better!

 

TUESDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER - FLAMBOROUGH

Sunny day in fresh westerly winds, 15C

 

A very quiet day today as the westerly winds continue and hamper the chances of any new birds arriving on the east coast – with even Shetland struggling to produce any birds, the rest of us really are up against it! We headed north to Flamborough today, and as yesterday we started the day with a  seawatch from the headland by the foghorn. Unlike the previous day at Spurn [and due to both the geographic position of the head and its location relative to the breeding seabird cliffs nearby] there were lots more seabirds ‘milling’ about offshore even though there wasn’t a great deal of obvious passage going on. Most birds [notably the Gannets] were actually heading north, presumably re-orientating themselves after the strong northerlies on Sunday. We gave it an hour, and saw a nice selection of species – twenty or so Red-throated Divers, a few Razorbills ad Kittiwakes , and two flocks of Common Scoter heading north. A Great Skua was a highlight passing close inshore, and we also noted six Manx Shearwaters. Shag and Sandwich Tern were among other species noted, before we packed in and headed off on a circular walk around the head. In the sunshine and stiff westerly breeze, we managed to complete a two hour circuit without seeing a single migrant passerine – hard work indeed! In fact there was barely anything to note at all, until we reached the Old Fall steps and had a scan across towards Northcliff marsh – a juvenile Hen Harrier was cruising in against the wind over the distant fields, pursued by a couple of corvids. Back at the car park, we had a coffee before planning our next move.

 

The small marsh at Thornwick was only a short detour, so we decided to have a quick check there. Nothing other than two Common Snipe and the odd Teal, so we thought we may as well take a drive a bit further north to Filey and check the Dams reserve. We had lunch here, then visited the two hides – slim pickings again, with just a Stock Dove, Sparrowhawk and three Lapwing of any real note! Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon were also present, and a couple of Grey Herons. What to do next? Hornsea Mere had produced a few interesting sightings in recent days, so we decided to call there on our way back to base. From Kirkholme Point, we did OK – a single Whooper Swan, Common Goldeneye, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank and distant views of a Great White Egret against the reeds on the far side of the lake. A big improvement! Moving around to the south side, we took a walk along through the fields so we could view the mere in better light – a female type Greater Scaup was added, and more views of the various wildfowl, Great Crested Grebes and a dozen nice Pintail. Despite looking hard, we couldn’t find the recently reported Red-necked Grebe. A Marsh Harrier greeted us back at West Carlton as we arrived – it had been a trying day!

 

MONDAY 24TH SEPTEMBER - SPURN

A fine and sunny day in light North-west winds, 14C

 

Today was something of a slow burner, but when it did eventually get going, it was a good one! We headed down to the Spurn area to spend the whole day checking as many spots as possible for migrants, while hopefully also enjoying some passage over both land and sea. We started with a seawatch for an hour or so off the Bluebell, and it was quickly apparent that while there wasn’t a great deal of movement, it was also very distant. Nevertheless a steady trickle of Red-throated Divers south numbered about a dozen, and we also noted two Great Skuas, two small skua sp, two Sandwich Terns, a handful of Common Teal and a Sparrowhawk heading north up the beach. A Peregrine was also noted, way out to sea above the distant wind turbines, no doubt looking to pick off passing migrant ducks or waders. Next we doubled back to Kilnsea Wetlands, and as we sorted out our gear in the car park, a superb Merlin came over and began to harry two Skylarks. Both the larks and the falcon were desperately trying to get above each other, the larks eventually winning out and the Merlin breaking off and heading off towards the listening dish. On the wetlands, we saw a couple of Pintail and Shoveler among the throng of Teal, plus three Dunlin and a Ringed Plover. The Merlin appeared again, and gave a really great view as it passed close to us over the fields, much to the annoyance of a big flock of Starlings nearby. A small crop strip of quinoa near the listening dish was proving attractive to many Reed Buntings, with twenty or so moving in and out of the hedge in the sunshine – no doubt this will attract something rarer at some point during the autumn! Back at the car park we had a coffee, before driving down to The Warren ready for a circuitous walk around The Triangle.

 

Heading north up the canal bank, a Yellow Wagtail was on the path and a nice flock of Golden Plover were resting on the mudflats of the Humber. Visible migration was just not happening today, so we concentrated on checking the bushes and fencelines for anything that might have sneaked through on the north-westerly winds. Two nice Whinchat were feeding with a couple of male Stonechats for company, and we also had excellent views of two Whimbrel along the saltmarsh edge. Close views revealed one to be a dark, scruffy looking moulting adult, while the other was a pristine juvenile with beautifully marked plumage. Little else was seen as we checked Cliff Farm, the Crown & Anchor car park and the churchyard, and the sun was now really warm – we paused to watch a couple of Migrant Hawker dragonflies which were showing very nicely along the warm, sheltered hedgerow. As we wandered back towards the Bluebell, it felt as though the day was grinding to a hault, but hope was reinstalled as two small thrushes came out of the hedge and flew west with a drawn out ‘seeee’ call – they were our first Redwings of autumn, newly arrived from Scandinavia. An adult Mediterranean Gull then floated over, catching flies above the field just west of the caravan park. Buoyed by this, we continued on back to the van, and lunched in the sunshine [in the company of the same Med Gull again], before popping into the Canal Scrape Hide – nothing more than a Reed Warbler and four Common Snipe here, but a small skein of Pink-footed Geese passed over high south on their way to Norfolk.

 

 

Our plan next was to pop up to the cliff behind The Warren and have another look at the sea, but one of the local birders stopped by and told us there was now a Yellow-browed Warbler in the syacmores there – the first here this autumn. So our plan changed and we went to stand quietly along the sunny edge of the small clump of trees by the Heligoland trap to see if the warbler would show. After about half an hour, just a couple of the group had glimpsed the bird, which was proving very elusive. Just as we were about to give up and move on, a medium sized grey-brown passerine dropped out from the trees and into the low seeding vegetation where it paused briefly in the open, sporting two distinct pale wing bars – it was a juvenile Common Rosefinch! We alerted the other birders close by, and soon about twenty birders were also enjoying a good view as the Rosefinch remained faithful to a small patch of greenery beneath the sycamores. Occasionally it would fly into the mouth of the trap to drink from the trough there, and then back up into the trees before dropping in to its favoured feeding spot again. We watched it on and off for a further half an hour, during which time the Yellow-browed Warbler also popped out in the sunshine for a good view – a lovely fresh, bright bird! Amazingly, as we stood watching the Rosefinch, a second bird dropped in from the south and perched in the treetops – another one! Eventually this bird worked its way down through the shrubbery and joined the first bird, and we had them both in the scope together. A rare sight indeed to see multiple Rosefinches away from the Northern Isles these days.

 

Heading back to the van for a brew, the tide was now racing in across the Humber and we wanted to have a scan through the advancing flocks of waders. Big numbers of mainly Knot and Grey Plover were off The Warren, along with plenty of Dunlin, single Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit and a few Golden Plover. It was now gone 5pm though, and we wanted to check Kilnsea Wetlands one more time on our way out, as many waders would now be pushed on there by the tide. Several hundred Common Redshank were there, as well as single Common Greenshank, but nothing more. Gull numbers were building though as the evening drew in, and we picked four first-winter Mediterranean Gulls out among them. Back at the car park, we scanned the fields to the east as there were a hundred or more Curlew now roosting here – our day was wrapped up nicely as a fine Short-eared Owl floated into view behind them, and across the fields with the evening sun glowing through its wings. It may have been an unpromising day’s forecast, but when you are at Spurn, you always have the chance of a great day!

 

SUNDAY 23RD  SEPTEMBER - FRAMPTON

Fresh North-westerly winds, sunshine following heavy rain, 11C

 

 

 

Today was perhaps the first time in what feel’s like months that it actually felt properly chilly out and about, with a real autumnal feel as we embarked on our East Yorkshire autumn migration tour. Having driven through heavy rain as we left Norfolk, it soon dried up once we pushed on into Lincolnshire, with an extensive depression bringing rain further south gradually moving east out to sea. The sun was even shining as we reached our birding stop at Frampton Marsh, and after a quick sandwich it was straight down to the wet grassland by the seawall to look for the lingering Long-billed Dowitcher. With the main body of the reserve currently dry as part of the annual habitat management, this area looked the most promising for waders and sure enough we enjoyed good close views of two Spotted Redshanks, several Common Snipe, just three [!] Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit here. Not the usual Frampton wader-fest it has to be said, but the light was excellent and so we kept searching for our main quarry. Eventually a grey shape was spotted moving in and out of the edge of some dense grasses by the edge of a ditch, and it proved to be the Long-billed Dowitcher – the bird went on to show really well over the next fifteen minutes or so, often in the company of the Spotted Redshanks. As it eventually moved closer, its barred flanks, broad pale fore-supercilium and bright yellowish-green legs could be clearly seen. Not the longest billed Long-billed Dowitcher one could hope to see, so thankfully for us the identification had been sorted out before it moulted into non-breeding plumage [which it was now virtually complete in doing]! Three Yellow Wagtails were a welcome bonus among the cattle here, and there was a good selection of the usual wildfowl – supplemented by a ‘V’ of Pink-footed Geese heading south overhead. Without a huge amount of time on our hands, we just had time then to call in at the reservoir on the way out to look for the Black-necked Grebe – we couldn’t find it, but a smart juvenile Little Stint was good compensation, and a juvenile Ruff was also present. From here it was onwards to our base for the next five nights, in rural East Yorkshire midway between the birding hotspots of Spurn and Flamborough. Despite the persistent westerlies forecast over the coming days, we were still hopeful of a successful week – it is Spurn after all!

 


Norfolk Coast Day Tour September 2018 [JM]

 

Friday 21st September – Titchwell, Wells and Cley

Overcast with some heavy showers, strong SW, 15C

 

A noticeably cooler day greeted us today, as we met our group at the Blue Boar this morning, looking forward to another day in the field. Being a Norfolk Coast day, we made our way north-west to Titchwell, where we would start the day. Our route took us through some of the countryside areas just inland of the coast, where we noted a couple of Yellowhammers along with several Linnets and Skylarks but little else. Onward, we entered the reserve at Titchwell, to be greeted by a rather busy and vocal flock of Long-tailed Tits. Carefully checking the flock and the surrounding berry bushes revealed a good number of Goldcrests, with perhaps 6 or more noted around the car park, while a newly fledged Willow Warbler, several Chiffchaffs and 4 Blackcaps were also noted. Onto the reserve, we made our way round to Patsy’s Pool, where a quick check for the regular Turtle Doves drew a blank unfortunately. However Patsy’s held some interest, including a pair of Red-crested Pochards, numerous Pochard, Gadwall and Coots and a single Tufted Duck. Both Kestrel and Marsh Harrier were noted from here also. Walking back towards the Fen Hide, Steve was sharp to note and call a Bittern which had taken off from the reeds out towards the Reedbed pool, flying briefly over the reed tops before dropping back in, fortunately noted by some of the group. A typical Titchwell sighting! Moving on, we headed for the freshwater scrape, noting several Ruff heading inland on our way. We were able to quickly spot the lingering juvenile Curlew Sandpiper from here, still looking as smart as always, while also present were a small number of Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff and a few Dunlin. From here we really wanted to make our way towards the beach, from where we could retrace our steps back at a more leisurely pace. The Tidal Marsh held a group of smart Grey Plovers, while the suaeda bushes hosted Reed Buntings and Linnets. The sea was quite quiet today, though a single Arctic Skua was noted along with small numbers of passing Teal and a single Pintail. The mussel beds however were busy as always at low tide, with many Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Knot, Ringed Plovers and Turnstones feeding on the beds. Walking back to the Freshwater Marsh, we were almost caught in some very heavy showers, but made it into the Island Hide just in time. Watching between the heavy rain showers proved rather productive, with 5 Spotted Redshank bathing in the middle of the pool being newly arrived since an hour before. In addition, with a little perseverance, we managed to locate the female-type Garganey roosting with Teal towards the north-eastern end of the pool, while Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, the Curlew Sandpiper and a single Little Ringed Plover were also of note. The light was excellent, so watching the Ruff and Dunlin present here was also very pleasant.  Walking back towards the centre, a small flock of about 15 Pink-footed Geese drifted over, their calls putting us all in a very autumnal mood.

 

Moving from here, we made our way east via Wells. Driving through the town centre, we stopped briefly at the Co-op supermarket, took out our scopes and took a walk up the main street, gleaning some funny looks from the locals! However it was worth it as, setting up scopes on the church, we were able to enjoy excellent views of the regular male Peregrine roosting on the north face. We were even able to show some of the locals passing by who were thrilled to see the species in the town. Moving on before we drew any more attention to ourselves, we headed east again, stopping t the new floods just outside of the town. These held a few waders including 2 Green Sandpipers, 3 Ruff, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and at least a dozen Snipe. Wildfowl were represented by good numbers of Wigeon and a few Teal, while a group of about 10 Grey Partridge were a treat, along with a fly-over Yellowhammer and good number of Linnet. From here, the intention was to finish of the day having a look at the Stiffkey flood and fen. However a message alerting me to the discovery of a Pectoral Sandpiper at Cley changed that plan somewhat. We headed over, collected our permits (though entry was free today, it being the reserves local members group’s 40th Anniversary of involvement at the reserve) and headed for Dauke’s. Arriving here, we were quickly pointed in the direction of the Pectoral Sandpiper, feeding along the back line of reeds, a little distant, but offering good views through the scopes. A top bird to catch up with, especially welcome after these westerlies. Also present here were a good number of Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, about 10 Dunlin and a nice selection of wildfowl, while Marsh Harriers were frequently noted over the reeds. With time ticking, we had a half hour to spare before heading home. With strong winds and reports of some productive seawatching around the coast, we chose to head for Cley beach to seawatch. This proved to be an excellent decision. On arrival, we were quickly pointed in the direction of a flock of 5 Arctic Skuas which were passing east, though they were already rather distant. Shortly after a single Manx Shearwater was watched as it passed slowly about 300 meters offshore, allowing everyone to get nice scope views. This was proving to be surprisingly good! At least 6 Gannets were on view constantly, while Razorbill, Guillemot and 2 Red-throated Divers were also noted. Virtually the last bird of the watch was a neat dark morph Arctic Skua which passed at close range, again allowing everyone to get onto it and note its slim build and fairly extensive pale primary patch. A superb 25 minutes! Unfortunately it was over too soon, and we had to head home, having enjoyed a really decent day.     

 

 

Garganey and Red-crested Pochard. I did get some shots of the Pectoral Sandpiper, but they stretch even the definition of a record shot!

 


 

Watford RSPB September Tour 2018 [JM]

 

 

Wednesday 19th September – Burnham Norton and Titchwell

Overcast with sunny spells, strong SW, 20C

 

With Storm Ali currently battering the UK west coast, there are certainly many parts of the country which are suffering far worse conditions than we are now. However, that being said, today was really quite windy for Norfolk, and made for difficult conditions for birding at times! Regardless, we had a decent day, starting with the back lanes around Burnham Market. In route we noted a couple of Red Kites, while taking a side road behind the town, we encountered our first big flock of Pink-footed Geese of the year in a stubble field. The birds were close to the road, so we stayed in the van to let them get used to our presence. After a short while, I got out and set up a scope, which the birds were ok with, so everyone else exited the van and enjoyed brilliant views of the flock, numbering over 500 birds. There appeared to be a healthy number of young birds in the flock, possibly indicating a reasonable breeding season for the species in Iceland or Svalbard. At least 100 Lapwing were present in the neighbouring fields here also. Moving onwards, we decided to have a walk along the public footpath at Burnham Norton. Parking up, a small number of Pink-footed Geese were seen flying around over the marshes, while at least 5 Kestrels were ever present. A highlight during the walk out was an impressive flock of 37 Spoonbills which flushed from Deepdale marsh along with a couple hundred Greylags. These, plus the birds at Stiffkey, mean that we had seen by far the majority of Norfolk’s Spoonbill population over the last 2 days! Both Bearded Tit and Cetti’s Warbler were heard but not seen, while a small number of Black-tailed Godwits were noted. While walking back to the van, things took an exotic turn, first with a group of Bar-headed Geese sitting closely associated with the feral Greylags, while following that a very smart looking Cape Shelduck was noted amongst the Egyptian Geese! Possibly an indication of how quiet the area was in the strong winds that these birds were so appealing!

 

From here, we tracked along the coast west to Titchwell. Once we had devoured our sandwiches in the car park we made our way onto the reserve, heading first to Patsy’s Pool. A quick check of the bushes lining the horse paddock revealed one of our first target birds; a single Turtle Dove preening and showing quite well. Always a great species, and always popular, our group enjoyed directing various passing birders towards the dove (it was well hidden in the wind, with many missing it) all of which were appreciative of the help! Patsy’s Pool held a nice variety of ducks including 2 female Red-crested Pochards and several Pochard and Tufted Ducks. A large number of Black-headed Gulls were roosting on the water, and an adult and 1st winter Mediterranean Gull were amongst the flock. A couple of Marsh Harriers were floating around nearby, making for quite an entertaining area to watch. Moving from here, we headed more or less straight out the Island Hide, as the wind was really gusting now. From the hide we immediately noted 2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers on the mud, while a mobile flock of about 15 Dunlin were constantly on the move; the sandpipers associated with them. Ruff were present in good number, while wildfowl were highlighted by a single female-type Garganey which we were able to watch towards the back of the marsh, its strong head pattern and lack of white tail edge standing it out from the crowd. The godwit flock consisted of a mix of Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, with Knot interspersed. Moving along to the Parrinder Hide, we enjoyed close views of many of the aforementioned species, while a nice flock of Linnet came to bathe below the viewing screens. By now time had flown by, so we made our way back to the van, enjoying close views of Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper once more before jumping into the van and heading back to Ryburgh, where we concluded a nice couple of days birding, apart from the weather!

 

 

Our first big group of Pink-footed Geese of the year, and a 1st year Mediterranean Gull on Patsy's Pool at Titchwell

 

Tuesday 18th September – Wells, Stiffkey and Cley

Overcast with sunny spells, moderate to strong SW, 20C

 

Setting out from the Blue Boar with the Watford RSPB gang, we had a full days birding planned in the Wells, Stiffkey and Cley areas of the North Norfolk coast, giving a fairly broad spectrum of habitats to work with on a rather blustery day. Heading into Wells, we had a quick stop to check the church for the regular Peregrine Falcon, but there was no sign of it on the visible faces, though these were facing into the wind, so no surprise there. From here we made for the coast road, pausing at some newly created scrapes just off the A149. These held a pair of Green Sandpiper, a Ruff, 3 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 hunting Marsh Harriers, while Blackcap was noted in the bushes. A glance back towards the town revealed the Peregrine perched on the north-facing side of the church; the side we couldn’t see from the road. A Red Kite was also noted over the town. Moving on, we headed into the wetlands east of Stiffkey village. First, after a hot drink, we took a look at the flood, noting 10 each of Ruff and Pintail, along with a number of Teal and Mallards amongst the Greylags. Then we walked over to the Fen. A flock of 10 Pink-footed Geese crossing the area were a treat here. The walk out to the fen revealed several calling Chiffchaffs, though the wind was keeping most small birds low, with only Reed Buntings being particularly evident in the area. The Fen itself was excellent, with lots of birds including an impressive 39 Spoonbills roosting, 23 Greenshank, 3 Green Sandpipers, about 150 Black-tailed Godwits, at least 20 Ruff and a single Water Rail, along with many Wigeon and Teal and several Shoveler and Pintail. Blakeney Harbour revealed a few nice birds, including 2 late Little Terns fishing in a narrow channel along with a couple of Sandwich and Common Terns. The number of Grey Plovers here was impressive, with at least 100 scattered across the mud along with several Turnstone and Ringed Plovers. Walking back to the fen, we enjoyed further views of the Spoonbills and Greenshank, and while watching a close Barn Owl surprised us all as it swept in from behind a hedge and then continued out of view, giving brief but super views. A couple of Goldcrests were calling from the conifers by the roadside as we returned to the van.

 

Heading on, we made our wat to Cley, collecting our permits before having lunch at the beach car park. Finishing our sandwiches, and having noted a few close Gannets passing offshore, we though it might be worth taking a look at the sea for a short while. Hopes weren’t high with the strong offshore winds, but we did alright considering, noting 4 Common Scoter (3 males and a female), a Arctic Skua chasing terns distantly, a close juvenile Great Skua which flew east and a juvenile Shag on the sea close in. Add to these a steady procession of Common and Sandwich Terns and over 100 Cormorants heading west, and it was actually quite entertaining! Moving on, we walked over to the North Scrape screen. Two Wheatears were present along the shingle bank, while on the scrape itself we had close views of a juvenile Spotted Redshank and about 10 each of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, along with a couple of Snipe at the back. Returning to the van, we drove round then to Walsey Hills. Parking up, we took a look at Snipe’s Marsh. The water habitat here is much better than what it was several years ago, and its consistently held onto a few nice birds this summer. Today it held 4 showy Green Sandpipers and about half a dozen Snipe, along with Tufted Duck, several Little Grebes, a number of Teal and singles of Grey Heron and Little Egret. The bushes here were quiet, but Lesser Whitethroat was noted by one in the group, and several Chiffchaffs were heard. Our final stop of the day was the hides overlooking Simmonds and Pats Pool. These scrapes hosted a nice number of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, along with about 10 Dunlin, 5 Green Sandpipers and a single juvenile Yellow-legged Gull roosting on Pats Pool, along with a reasonable number of Wigeon, Teal and Mallards. The Marsh Harriers were entertaining to watch here, with an adult female flying through and sitting on the main island on Pats Pool, allowing prolonged scope views, while a juvenile was playing in the wind over the reedbeds on Simmond’s. However, before long it was time for us to head off, pretty pleased with what the day had produced.   

 

 

Green Sandpiper and Marsh Harrier at Cley

 


 

Norfolk Autumn Migration Weekend September 2018 [JM]

 

Sunday 16th September 2018Bright and sunny, fine all day, light SW, strengthening PM, 23C

 

Our last day of this Norfolk tour dawned another nice one, with clear skies and a light south-westerly wind. Before heading out to the coast we took a walk over to the River Wensum to scan the surrounding marsh, noting both Grey Heron and a Common Buzzard on the ground in some recently cut grass bordering the river. Presumably they were both feeding, perhaps on small frogs or toads that would have been abundant in the wet grassland; unusual behaviour, particularly for the Buzzard! The resident Stock Doves were also noted in the nearby old barn. From here we got in the van and headed out to Stiffkey. Nearing the south of the village, we came across our first grounded Pink-footed Goose flock, numbering around 150 birds, in a stubble field. It was nice to park the van and watch these wonderful geese at close quarters, and gave a nice taster for our upcoming winter tours! Moving on we parked up at Stiffkey Campsite car park, from where we would walk out to Warham Greens. Linnets were abundant throughout the walk, while bird of prey interest out on the saltmarsh included 2 Red Kites and 2 Marsh Harriers hunting the creeks. Our hope was that we might encounter some migrants in this productive stretch of coastline, and we didn’t fair too badly considering the weather, with a Whinchat being the highlight, along with 4 Blackcaps, 2 Common Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat in the pit beyond the Whirligig. A further highlight was a flock of about 400 Golden Plover which were initially in a potato field, before flying low over head and settling on the saltmarsh. We also heard Bullfinch on this walk, but were unable to spot them.

 

From The campsite, we then drove round to the layby from where we could take a look at both Stiffkey Flood and Stiffkey Fen. The former produced 4 Ruff and a single Green Sandpiper, along with a small number of Teal. Backtracking, we had lunch at the van, enjoying a single male Marsh Harrier quartering the nearby fields as we ate. Then we continued on to the Fen. Bullfinches were again heard but not seen, while as we walked out a flock of 31 Spoonbills were noted in flight over the fen, apparently disturbed from their roost. Gaining a view of the flock, 21 Spoonbills remained, this being the best site in Norfolk at the moment for this species! Several Greenshank could also be seen out on the fen, as well as a good number of Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, a single Green Sandpiper, about 100 Redshank, about 10 Pintail and over 100 Wigeon; a really rich site for birds at the moment! A look out into Blakeney harbour revealed a number of Grey Plovers and nice views of Little Egrets, while some nice flights of Wigeon came over in great light. By now, it was already time to depart, with a run to King’s Lynn station in order, but we had one last treat before we headed off. Back at the van, a Hobby hove into view over the fields, picked up pace and bombed over towards the fen, where is shot back and forth in pursuit of an unseen prey. What a fantastic raptor, and a  nice end to the weekend.  

 

 

Saturday 15th September 2018Frampton RSPB and Wells

Overcast with sunny spells, fine all day, light SW, 17C

 

Our second full day in the field was another one of fine weather, but another with unfavourable south-westerly winds! With little prospect of any significant migrant arrivals on the coast, and certainly no conditions for seawatching, our days itinerary was fairly open. With that, and the knowledge that a few good birds had been present of late, we decided to make the journey across to one of our favourite reserves; Frampton RSPB. Setting off, we arrived at around 10am, just before the tide was at its highest. This meant that the scrapes were rich with waders escaping the high tide. Over 1000 Black-tailed Godwits, 100s of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers and dozens of Ruff were present on the islands, along with at least 4 Curlew Sandpipers amongst them. Walking along the main path a flock of about 20 Pochard came overhead, while wildfowl were represented by many Wigeon, Teal and Shovelers. Making our way towards the sea wall, we were hopeful that we would be able to find our main target here; the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher. However, as we approached its favoured area, those present already reported that it hadn’t been seen in a few hours. Common Snipe gave good views in some of the wet channels along with several Teal and a Black-tailed Godwit, but little else so we made our way up onto the sea wall for a different angle. From up here we enjoyed the sight of a tight group of 24 Spotted Redshank all roosting on one of the pools, including 2 dusky juveniles. Checking every possible corner of the dowitchers favoured channel, we eventually managed to pick it up as it began feeding along the sedge-covered fringes of the dyke. Rapidly entering winter plumage, the birds overall grey colouration combined with bold white supercilium, yellow legs and sewing machine-like feeding action made for a fairly distinctive jizz, though we were rather too distant to pick up further details. Suddenly about 20 Snipe flew through, flushing the dowitcher with them. However, we were able to follow the dowitcher in flight owing to the cigar-shaped slither of white trailing down the back, seeing it land on the edge of the main channel. With that we headed down and got good views of it for a short while before it disappeared into dense cover again. A great bird! Leaving it behind, we headed round towards the 360 hide, where a flock of at least 20 Yellow Wagtails greeted us amongst some cattle. On the scrapes behind us the large numbers of waders were still pleasing to watch, especially as they became more agitated, their innate sense that the tide was dropping urging them to slowly peel off and head for the wash. A single Common Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank and a good flock of about 12 Pintail were of note here. Walking back to the visitor centre, a surprise came in the form of a single adult Whooper Swan; surely too early for a winter arrival? A quick enquiry in the visitor centre revealed that it had been there for at least 2 years. From here, after a hot drink, we took a short drive around the corner to the nearby reservoir, where a fine variety of wildfowl and Little Grebes also played host to a single Black-necked Grebe. Apparently, an adult entering winter plumage, the shadow of its ear covert plumes could just be seen. A single Green Sandpiper and several Ruff also added to the interest here.

 

 

Long-billed Dowitcher and part of the Spotted Redshank Flock; all part of the Frampton wader fest!

 

From here, we made the journey back to Norfolk. With a couple of hours remaining for birding, we decided that, as the week had so far been rather light on passerine interest, we should give the areas around Wells woods a try, though this was always going to be either boom or bust, bird-wise, with the wind in such an uninspiring direction! However, we gave it a go, and it started with some promise. A tit flock greeted us as we entered the woods, hosting at least 6 Chiffchaffs along with the commoner species, while a couple of Siskins were heard calling overhead. This flock moved through rather quickly however and we weren’t able to follow it further. Walking the woods further for the next hour failed to yield another flock and, bar a few Coal Tits and a Treecreeper, unfortunately was very quiet on the bird front in general! However, a pleasant ending to the afternoon met us as we began to walk back to the van, with a couple of small skeins of Pink-footed Geese dropping into the marshes towards Holkham, ‘winking’ as they went.    

 

Friday 14th September 2018 - Snettisham and Titchwell

Overcast with sunny spells, showers late afternoon, 17C

 

Our first full day in the field on this trip demanded an early start. With a high tide of 7.5 meters at 09:50 at Snettisham, the morning promised a fantastic wader spectacle, and it’s always good to arrive here a couple of hours before the top of the tide. With that, we left the Blue Boar with packed bacon sarnies at 7am, arriving at Snettisham at about 07:40. After a hot drink we set off for the main sea wall, noting Reed Buntings and Chiffchaffs in the scrub. Common Terns were still carrying food over the pits, and the first swirling flock of Knot was seen far over the Wash. Reaching the estuary side, we began scanning through the closer waders on the shore, noting Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plovers in small numbers. Further out on the mudflats vast numbers of Oystercatchers were already packed together ahead of the tide. A small commotion from the nearer waders alerted us to a flyby juvenile Peregrine which headed north up the coast, while a quick look at the pits behind us revealed 3 Greenshank roosting along with several Little Egrets. The seaward side also hosted a single juvenile Spoonbill feeding in one of the muddy creeks. Moving further along, we were able to keep ahead of the incoming tide, reaching the upper reaches of the estuary to watch as the big flocks of Knot, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers all jostled for position as the water quickly encroached. The flights of knot were at times spectacular, even though their number was lower than what it will be during the winter. A single Pink-footed Goose, our first of the autumn, looked lost amongst the flocks of waders. All the time we watched, groups of waders were peeling off from the throngs, many heading inland to roost or feed on fields, though many had packed in onto the islands in the pit behind us. This was arguably the most spectacular area today, with every inch of space on the small islands taken up by packed flocks of Knot (including some superb summer plumaged birds), Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Oystercatchers. The activity was mesmerising, and the opportunities to learn about the identification and ageing of the species present were excellent. A group of 8 Spotted Redshank were roosting further over near the far bank of the pool, and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper put in a brief appearance amongst the jostling Dunlin in front of the Shore Hide before disappearing amongst the throngs. At times the big flocks of Knot would get up and fly around the pit, their murmuration-type formations utterly spellbinding to watch, and the sound of their mass of wings just superb. Leaving the hide (reluctantly!) a number of birds began to return to the estuary, flying low over our heads and stopping us dead in our tracks just to stare! The walk back was punctuated by a flock of Pintail headed inland, while the hawthorn patches held a surprisingly showy Cetti’s Warbler and both Common and Lesser Whitethroat. All in all, a superbly productive morning!

 

 

Packed flocks of Knot and Godwits at Snettisham, and a Curlew Sandpiper at Titchwell

 

From here we made our way to Titchwell, where we would spend the rest of the afternoon. After lunch and hot drinks in the car park, we headed onto the reserve, noting Pochard on the Reedbed Pool. Reaching the Freshmarsh, one of the first birds noted was a very smart juvenile Curlew Sandpiper keeping company with 2 Dunlin. Its very neatly scalloped upperparts and peachy wash to the breast made for a particularly smart-looking bird. The marsh also held numerous Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits, while Marsh Harriers were noted circling on many occasions. On the volunteer marsh, several Grey Plovers still possessed their summer plumage and looking pretty dapper. Walking out to the shore, we stopped to have a scan of the sea. Small numbers of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore, while Bar-tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Sanderling littered the exposed oysterbeds. A scan of the sea picked up a single Common Scoter and, pleasingly, a juvenile Red-necked Grebe, its contrasting dark crown and white cheek, along with its rufous neck and breast making its rather stand out. Another highlight here was a single juvenile Arctic Skua which dashed past close inshore, while a single immature Gannet passed distantly. Towards the horizon several skeins of Pink-footed Geese could be seen approaching the coast to our east, numbering about 180 birds all in all; a fantastic thing to see to herald the coming autumn. Further up the beach a couple of groups came in close enough for us to see and hear them; a real feeling of autumn. A walk out to Thornham point provided us with a single Wheatear and Willow Warbler, though the highlight here was arguably a sulphur yellow Budgie in the dunes! Back to the main reserve, we enjoyed further views of the Curlew Sandpiper, while a low-flying ‘v’ of calling Pink-footed Geese coming down onto the saltmarsh was appreciated by all. A male and female Bearded Tit showed well briefly in the reedbed, while a single vocal Spotted Redshank flew over towards Thornham. Reaching the Meadow Trail, we made for one last part of the reserve before calling it a day, heading to Patsy’s Pool. Looking along the track which neighbours the horse paddocks here, we soon picked up a single Turtle Dove which offered good scope views and was appreciated by all. Finally, Patsy’s itself held a nice array of diving ducks including 2 Red-crested Pochard and several Common Pochard, along with the more usual fare. From here we returned back to the van, tired but happy after a top day of Norfolk birding.

 

 

 

Thursday 13th September 2018 - Cley Marshes

Bright and sunny, light SW wind, 18C

 

At this time of year, we all know that the weather can be unpredictable, with the summer coming to an end rapidly. With this in mind, we felt that we should make the most of what was today a pretty superb day of pleasant weather, and get out and do some birding! And so we met our group at the Blue Boar (following pickups from King’s Lynn train station) and headed out to the NWT Cley Marshes. After collecting our permits, we headed round to the Babcock Hide to check some of the open water in that area. Walking along the Iron Road, we were escorted most of the way along the track by a Common Whitethroat and Reed Bunting, while the first of several Marsh Harriers was quartering the nearby marshes. The pool and flood here was rather quiet, with small numbers of Teal the sole representative of wild wildfowl (the rest being made up of the usual Greylags, Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese!). from here we walked over to the Babcock Hide overlooking Watling Water. A small number of Black-tailed Godwits were noted in flight over the area here, but this scrape was also devoid of any waders or much wildfowl. The area had presumably been disturbed shortly before we arrived. Walking back to the van, a small flock of House Sparrows contained a surprise juvenile Tree Sparrow in the brambles here; a very scarce breeding species on the coast. Getting into the van, we headed towards the visitor centre, stopping first for a quick look at Snipes Marsh. This body of water held 2 Green Sandpipers and a number of Common Snipe, along with a single Tufted Duck, several Little Grebes and a few Teal. A corvid was noted mobbing a small bird of prey over the back trees, which transpired to be an adult Hobby. This agile falcon was noted taking one of the many treetop dragonflies and devouring it in flight, before drifting out of view. From here we parked the van up near the visitor centre and walked out to the main hide overlooking Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. The pools held a few hundred Black-tailed Godwits, several Avocets and a good number of Ruff, the latter being represented by a mixture of ages and sexes, giving a good comparison in excellent evening light. Eight Dunlin were also present feeding in the shallow water at the far end of Simmond’s Scrape. Wildfowl here were represented by small numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal. As the evening progressed, the number of gulls coming from inland to roost here increased, numbering around 400 Black-headed Gulls, these hosting 8 Mediterranean Gulls of all ages. Later still a 2nd calendar year Yellow-legged Gull dropped in onto Pat’s Pool; one of very few large gulls present tonight. By now it was time to head back, with many of the group having travelled a fair distance to get here today, so we made our way back to Great Ryburgh.

 

 

Juvenile Tree Sparrow on the Iron Road and a Stock Dove on Pat's Pool

 


 

BATUMI GEORGIA FAM TRIP - SEPTEMBER 2018 [JM]

 

Saturday 8th September - Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Cooler with brief rainstorm, patchy cloud, 28C

 

Our last day with the Batumi group here in Georgia saw us attend an organised ringing session at the base of the Sakhalvasho watchpoint at dawn. Arriving at the site, we noted Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail calling overhead. The ringing session itself was very quiet. In fact, in two hours, we only caught three birds! However, it was very much quality over quantity! The first two birds which came out for ringing were a Spotted Flycaycher and a nice juvenile Thrush Nightingale, its identity clear from its blotchily streaked breast, and also in the hand by its very short 1st primary. The third bird was a real treat. Coming back from the nets, the bird was handed over to the ringer as ‘just something small, you’ll see what it is’. The ringer brought it out of the bag carefully, revealing a bright yellow supercilium and underparts and a bold white wing bar; a GREEN WARBLER! A real Georgian specialty, and one we had really hoped to see. It was a really vivid juvenile bird, and an absolute star to see. I was even fortunate enough to take it for release, getting to see it uniquely close-up before seeing it fly out back into the hillside cover.

 

From here, we knew that rain was forecast for some time after lunch, so we felt that we wanted to get to the raptor watchpoint as soon as possible to see what affect the weather might have on the migration. The thing with the Batumi raptor passage is that it can be very unpredictable. However, often a weather front crossing the bottleneck can have the effect of bringing large numbers of birds down to low altitude. And so, it proved! Although today wasn’t as strong a passage as yesterday, the movement was arguably more spectacular, as birds really appeared to come out of nowhere from the passing storm, and really close. On arrival we could see the black storm clouds building offshore, with some rumbles of thunder in the distance. The raptor passage was good at this point, but steady. The dark clouds scudded ever closer, and crossed over the land and through the watchpoint, followed by a spell of very heavy rain. However, this was when things really kicked off. Honey Buzzards started appearing low over the watchpoint in really large numbers, with several good pulses of Black Kites interspersed. The sudden appearance of large numbers of very low flying raptors was spectacular, and great for photographic opportunities. Both Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers were passing at a steady pace, and Levant’s Sparrowhawks were numerous today, with over 50 noted, along with small numbers of Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Our first eagle of the morning was almost certainly a Lesser Spotted Eagle, but views weren’t quite good enough to nail it. However as the afternoon progressed another pair of Lesser Spotted Eagles passed through to the east, offering good views. Additionally, we had nice views of 3 south-bound Short-toed Eagles in the afternoon. Booted Eagles in a good performance today also, with over 30 seen, while several Hobbies were checked carefully for a hoped-for Red-footed Falcon, though that wasn’t to be. A brief distraction from the watch was a rather shrill woodpecker call coming from the hillside below us. A quick investigation revealed a Middle-spotted Woodpecker in the trees below the station! A nice surprise here. However again, the sheer volume and intensity of the raptor migration simply wowed us. A total of 18,000 Honey Buzzards were noted today, and we were there during the most intensive passage, which was a real privilege.

 

 

 

One of many super close Honey Buzzards, and a Lesser Spotted Eagle

 

Finishing up, we made our way to the hotel where we attended some official speeches and presentations from the tourist board of Georgia, a fantastic meal and traditional Georgian music and dance by the beach, and a nice opportunity to thank everyone for what had been a very successful and enjoyable familiarisation trip to Batumi. The team have done a superb job, and we hope that we may return in the near future!   

 

 

Friday 7th September - Kolkheti Wetland and Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Cooler with storms to north and south, dry, 28C

 

Fridays had a weather forecast which suggested a very wet day, with thunderstorms at least in the afternoon, which to start with suggested that we would need to consider todays itinerary carefully! However, we needn’t have worried, as although the bad weather did occur, it did so closer to the mountains to the south and north, so we stayed dry, but benefitted from the changing weather, with todays raptor migration being the strongest of the year so far. In fact, birds were streaming through the area almost continuously, even at the coast! Our morning destination was the Kolkheti Wetland to the north of Batumi, a large basin of marsh and estuary between more mountainous zones to the north and south. On getting out of the van, our scopes were quickly deployed to get onto a medium sized plover on the sand. With a bold and long buff supercilium, dark complete breast band and very leggy structure, it was clearly a Caspian Plover! A superb juvenile, with neat, fine scalloping to the crown and mantle, this may prove to be a first for Georgia, or at least the first in 15 years; we are still waiting to find out! A great way to start the day. Whilst watching the plover, it was clear that a large migration of raptors was occurring overhead, with Honey Buzzards and Black Kites forming large kettles to the north of us, and streaming along the coast over our heads. In total we noted several 1000 birds moving through the morning, along with 2 White Tailed Eagles (probably a resident pair on the marsh), Steppe Buzzards, Montagu’s Harrier, several Eurasian Sparrowhawks and a Hobby amongst the movement. Around the fringes of the lagoon we noted around 10 Little Gulls and 2 very smart juvenile Broad-billed Sandpipers in the company of 2 Dunlin, 2 Little Stints and several Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, while a 60-strong winter plumaged flock of Little Terns contained smaller numbers of Common Terns and 2 White-winged Black Terns (an adult and a juvenile). A small flock of Yellow-legged Gulls contained amongst them a 3rd calendar year Lesser Black-backed Gull of the subspecies Heulguini, a pale mantled subspecies with an eastern distribution. Walking back to the van a small flock of Short-toed Larks flew past; a frequent site so far on this trip. From here we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, the location being surrounded by trees and on the edge of the Kolkheti National Park. A couple of Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler and several Long-tailed Tits were noted in a quick scan.

 

 

From here we were keen to head to the Sakhalvasho watchpoint, seeing that the raptor migration was clearly a big one today! Throughout the drive we could see Honey Buzzards and Black Kites streaming through, often through the sun roof of the vehicle! Really amazing. Making it up to the watch, the low cloud meant that many of the passing birds of prey were forced lower into the valley, giving some really excellent views. The sheer number of birds on show was a real spectacle, with an astonishing 60,000 Honey Buzzards counted by the official Batumi Raptor Count team (they all deserve a pint after that!), along with good numbers of Black Kites, Steppe Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, while we also noted at least 40 Booted Eagles, 4 Short-toed Eagles, at least 1 Lesser Spotted Eagle and one unidentified eagle sp; an eagle fest! In addition to these highlights, several Levant’s Sparrowhawks gave some nice close flybys, as did a juvenile Pallid Harrier and a couple of Montagu’s Harriers. Such a unique and memorable experience, and one to look forward to again!

 

 

Caspian Plover and Broad-billed Sandpiper were both very confiding at Kolkheti Wetland

 

 

Thursday 6th September - Chorokhi Delta and Shuamta raptor watchpoint

Sunny all day, very little cloud, still hot and humid, 30C

 

Day three saw our fantastic familiarisation trip organisers set us up with an early morning visit to the Chorokhi Delta, were we would hopefully encounter any early morning passerine arrivals, as well as the birdlife of the main delta. With a packed breakfast arranged ahead of us, we made our way towards the shingle beach area. Small numbers of Black Kites and Marsh Harriers were ever present inland over the marshes, while good views of both Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers were had. Reed and Great Reed Warblers were calling constantly from the marginal vegetation, and small parties of Yellow Wagtails moved through frequently. Two small crakes; either Little or Baillon’s Crakes flew up briefly, but unfortunately didn’t show for identification, while Red-backed Shrikes were noted in the tops of the nearby bushes. The first large pool contained a nice pair of Ferruginous Ducks along with a number of Garganey, Shoveler, Pochards and Little Grebes. Offshore, a flock of Little Terns were feeding in a tight group. Whilst watching these, Yelkouan Shearwaters were noticed distantly towards the horizon, though they were only just visible in the scope, so not the best views! Overlooking the final pools, small numbers of waders included our first Marsh Sandpipers of the trip, along with several Dunlin, Turnstone and a single Oystercatcher. A Slender-billed Gull was also noted briefly amongst the Black-headed Gulls, while a large flock of Yellow-legged Gulls included several Caspian Gulls. Walking through the thin line of scrub between the beach and the marshes was also productive, producing some nice species migrating through the area. A few Whinchat and Northern Wheatear were noted, shortly followed by a nice Booted Warbler which showed well in the low bushes close to the ground. The larger bushes held some nice species also, with Icterine Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Savi’s Warbler all noted within a frantic few minutes! Making our way back to the main track, we had a final quick scan of the marshes, and picked up a species we hoped we would see, but which Johannes had feared might be lost from the site; a Western Swamphen feeding close to the reed edge. A rare bird in Georgia, this is the only known site, with the closest breeding birds being in Turkey. A superb site with loads of potential.

 

Leaving here, the group visited a local restaurant for lunch and then spent the afternoon either visiting local guesthouses or raptor watching from Shuamta. The raptor migration was slower today, though still fantastic to see. Over the course of the afternoon only 2000 Honey Buzzards passed (by no means to bad for us from the UK!), along with small numbers of Black Kites, a couple of Booted Eagles, Montagu’s Harrier and several Steppe Buzzards. Bee-eaters  soaring overhead in large flocks will never get boring!

 

 

This Booted Warbler showed well in the morning, as did this Marsh Harrier.

 

 

Wednesday 5th September - Shuamta raptor watchpoint

Sunny all day, very little cloud, hot and humid, 31C

 

Today saw us spend the entire day up at the Shuamta watchpoint, where we were keen to see the commencement of the raptor migration, and also hoped that, with a positive weather forecast, we would see a good movement of birds. However, there was still time for a pre-breakfast walk around the hotel grounds and neighbouring scrubland. The walk out of the hotel was greeted with a surprise in the form of a male Nightjar which flushed from ornamental trees, collided with a window (though was unharmed) and flew off to another area of the complex. Very unexpected! Out towards the beach, a single immature Gull-billed Tern flew south, followed by 3 Sandwich Terns and then another 4 Gull-billed Terns. Arriving at the more scrubby area at the end of the beach, it was clear that many of the migrants from the day before had departed, though a group of 10 Short-toed Larks and at least 5 Yellow Wagtails remained. However, a very showy Wryneck was new for the area, often perching prominently and allowing close approach whilst feeding, which it did briefly amongst the Short-toed Lark flock! A vocal Kingfisher was seen well along the river, whilst the walk back for breakfast was enlivened by at couple of small groups of Bottlenose Dolphins surfacing close to the shore. This subspecies, Tursiops trunctus ponticus is endemic to the Black Sea, and is classified as globally endangered, so was a treat to see. Arriving back at the hotel, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and then packed the van, to make our way to the raptor watchpoint.

 

 Pulling up to the watchpoint, some of us opted to walk to the top, whilst others took the option of 4x4 vehicle to the top. In this first few minutes of arriving, a single large eagle passed through, which was een both by the walking group and those at the top. The bird split opinion amongst most of the observers, but study of the images seemed to suggest that the bird was a dark adult Steppe Eagle! Our first of the trip, though a less controversial one would be appreciated! The benefit of an early morning arrival at the watchpoint was that, though numbers of birds were initially low, many of them were watched at low altitude and in good light, including Black Kites, Marsh Harriers, Honey Buzzards, Levant’s Sparrowhawks and Booted Eagles. As the day warmed up, the migration really kicked up a gear, with large numbers of Black Kites and Honey Buzzards on constant view and often forming spectacular circling flocks over the surrounding hillsides. Within the movement, both Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers were noted, with some nice views on offer, while a single Short-toed Eagle was one of the highlights. Lunch was provided for us at the watchpoint café, which allowed us to take a short break from the raptor watching, though we could still enjoy watching 100s of Honey Buzzards passing through and 100s of swirling Bee-eaters from our dining table! An additional bonus for some during lunch was an overhead Osprey. We were soon back at it afterwards, soaking in the fantastic spectacle. Whilst watching, a distinct, piercing, high-pitched call with a slight down-slur caught our ear, which on investigation proved to be that of the Mountain Chiffchaff; a speciality of Georgia and the neighbouring countries. The call was very distinctive, and brief views revealed a distinctly uniform brown chiffchaff, though we didn’t expect the species to be at such low altitudes at this time of year, so a bit of a surprise. By around 4pm, the raptor migration had eased significantly, so we packed up, having enjoyed an other fantastic day at the watchpoint.

 

  

An adult male Honey Buzzard and a juvenile Levant's Sparrowhawk giving close fly-bys.

 

 

Tuesday 4th September - Chorokhi Delta and Shuamta raptor watchpoint

Sunny most of the day, with some cloud, humid, 30C

 

Day two in Batumi was an absolute blast, with a fantastic array of species seen, and real evidence of heavy migration both of land and soaring birds. The day started with a walk close to the hotel complex before breakfast. A Marsh Warbler was skulking in the well-manicured gardens of the hotel courtyard, but otherwise the trees and bushes here were quiet. However herons were already migrating at this early hour, with 32 Purple Herons and 3 Grey herons flying south. We walked then to the shore and made our way south towards an area of scrubby land bordering the beach. Yellow Wagtails were noted in the short weedy areas, with most birds appearing to be of the Blue-headed Wagtail subspecies, totalling about 20 in all. A juvenile Levant’s Sparrowhawk flew over the beach and out to sea, agitating the aforementioned Yellow Wagtail flock, while a Black Kite was also noted. A group of 4 Wheatears on the shingle included a single Isabelline Wheatear, its broad black tail band noted well in flight along with its uniform wing and overall sandy colouration. Reaching the end of the beach, where it met a small river entering the sea, things began to get rather lively. A flock of about 25 Short-toed Larks were feeding quietly in the area and occasionally flying up giving their distinctive chirruping ‘drit’ call. A single isolated clump of bramble held an entertaining selection of migrant birds, with around 5 Whinchat, an impressive 9 Red-backed Shrikes (all juveniles except for one adult male), 2 Barred Warblers and a pale juvenile Rose-coloured Starling all sharing the same berry-laden bush! Absolutely superb. Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and a brief calling Quail were also noted here, making for a very entertaining set of birds before our first coffee of the day!

 

After breakfast we made our way to the Chorokhi Delta area to the south of the city. On arriving we stopped briefly to purchase some water, noting a single high-flying Peregrine overhead. Entering the delta, it was clear that part of it was being used as an active military base, with signs warning of mines lining the track! However, we had permission to enter with our local guide Johanne Jansen, and so on we pressed. This large area of wet scrubby grassland was a paradise for birds, and we saw some really good stuff here. One of the first birds noted was a Lesser Grey Shrike standing sentinel on some low scrub close to where we parked the van, one of two or three in the area. This was one of those places where you end up scanning around for 30 minutes and realise you haven’t moved an all, as there are so many birds on show! A superb 2nd calendar year Pallid Harrier hunted behind us, while a low flying dark eagle perched up in some trees proved to be our first Lesser Spotted Eagle of the trip, remaining in these trees for the morning. Black Kites, Montagu’s Harriers, Booted Eagle and Levant’s Sparrowhawk were also noted, while the next raptor highlight came in the form of a close low-flying Short-toed Eagle. Scanning the bushes here revealed a single Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a Cuckoo, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Whinchat, as well as a Great Reed Warbler sunning itself in the company of one of the shrikes. At least 6 Rollers were ever present in the far treeline, occasionally making short flights between trees on both sides of the track. A good flock of Yellow Wagtails were mobile across the area, and for a short while came to feed near trackside puddles, revealing one of the highlights of the area; an extremely smart female Citrine Wagtail; its broad sulphur yellow supercilium and ear covert surround really striking against its grey mantle, while the broad white wing-bars were very evident. A closer exploration of the wagtail flock once they settled later revealed at least 5 Citrine Wagtails of varying plumages and ages, while the same wet marshy area also held 2 Wood Sandpipers, a single Ruff, several Lapwings, a Glossy Ibis and a couple of Little Egrets for good measure. A fantastic array of birds. Reaching the beach, a scan of the sea revealed a fishing Osprey and single Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, while the beach hosted a single Northern and Isabelline Wheatear. A really brilliant mornings birding. From here we made our way back inland, to where we would spend the rest of the day in the mountains at the Shuamta raptor watchpoint.

 

 

A tiny fraction of the 1000's of Honey Buzzards and Black Kites seen today, and one of the Bee-eaters.

 

Arriving at the base of the walk up to the watchpoint, just one look up showed that the Honey Buzzard migration was looking like it would be a special one today, with 100s of birds streaming south in a long line, filling the sky between the trees we were stood under. The walk up to the watchpoint revealed a single Rock Bunting for some of the group, and as we got to the top, we set up scopes and made ourselves comfortable for watching the show. The counts from today were impressive, but just the sight of an endless stream of soaring birds stretching across as far as the eye could see was just breath-taking. Honey Buzzards were the most numerous species by far today, with birds passing for the entirety of the 4 hours were at the watchpoint, and an official count of over 21,000 birds through the day. Black Kites were interspersed throughout the flocks, with well over 1000 noted by ourselves. Variety was provided by a single Lesser Spotted Eagle, several Booted Eagles, good numbers of Steppe Buzzards (exceptional for the time of year, with an official count of 273 by the raptor watch team), both Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier and both Eurasian and Levant’s Sparrowhawks. None raptor species were represented by 3 Black Storks soaring majestically amongst the Honey Buzzards flocks, and a constant procession of bubbling Bee-eaters cruising low overhead, totalling several 100 during our watch. Just magical! At around 17:30 we made to pack up and walk back down the hill to the minibus, having enjoyed what must be one of nature’s greatest spectacles, and already looking forward to our next session!

 

Monday 3rd September - Batumi and Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint

Overcast with sunny spells, humid, 30C

 

Having been contacted earlier in the year by the team at the Department of Tourism in Batumi, we are privileged to have been invited to attend the annual Batumi Migration Festival in Georgia. An up-and-coming birding location, it is already famous as being one of the most intense raptor migration sites in the world, with more than one million birds passing each autumn. In addition, the country hosts a mouth-watering array of both resident and migrant species. This week will hopefully give us a taste of what the country has to offer!

 

Being in Spain at the time, I flew out from Barcelona airport with Turkish Airlines, stopping over briefly in Istanbul airport, before catching an early morning flight to Batumi, arriving at about 10:00. Collecting the luggage, myself and other festival attendees met with our driver for the day who took us to the Oasis Hotel in Chakvi, noting Laughing Dove and Hooded Crows on route. Settling into our luxurious hotel, there was a little time for birding before lunch, and the surrounds of the hotel held several migrant Spotted Flycatchers and a single Reed Warbler, all migrants following a spell of morning rain. Meeting the rest of our group (who had arrived a day earlier, and so had a mornings birding to enjoy such delights as Kruper’s Nuthatch, Middle-spotted Woodpecker and a flock of around 20 Golden Orioles in the nearby Botanical Gardens), we then headed out to a local guesthouse where we were invited to have lunch, enjoying an impressive spread of authentic Georgian cuisine and delicious home-made wine. From here we noted our first European Bee-eater flock; a species which would prove to be migrating in impressive numbers throughout the afternoon, totalling a conservative 600 moving south over the hills, coming low at times. From here we headed up the hill to the main Sakhalvasho raptor watchpoint, where the fun really began. On our way up, we noted our first Levant’s Sparrowhawk, a juvenile cruising along the hillside. Arriving at the top of the hill we were instantly greeted by a large kettle of raptors over the far hills, comprising of around 100 Honey Buzzards and smaller numbers of Black Kites all heading south at a steady pace. These would comprise the bulk of what was a more-or-less constant passage for the next 3 hours (though things quietened down later on). Our estimate for the period we watched was of around 2000 Honey Buzzards and around 400 Black Kites, most of which followed the main ridgeline to the east of us. This was only a small part of a day’s count total of around 12,000 Honey Buzzards! Further to these numbers, the southerly passage also featured a coupe of Booted Eagles, two male Pallid Harriers, at least 8 Montagu’s Harriers, 3 Marsh Harriers, about 17 Levant’s Sparrowhawks, 3 Hobby and a Common Kestrel. Quite a raptor fest! Further features of the soaring migration were a couple of Black Storks up with the Honey Buzzards early on and 4 White Storks later. All the interest wasn’t just up in the air however, as a very confiding (and probably tired) Short-toed Lark kept us company for most of our watch, at times walking up to and amongst our tripod legs! Additionally, a Black Woodpecker called from the hillside below us and gave a brief flight view across the valley. A superb selection of birds! At around 6 however it was time for us to make our way back down the hill and back to the hotel. Following a varied buffet-style dinner and an enjoyable selection of talks welcoming us to the Migration Festival and explaining the overall background and purpose of the Batumi Raptor Count, we retired to bed, looking forward to what the following day would bring.

 

 

Short-toed Lark and one of todays many Black Kites

 

 


 

NORFOLK SHOREBIRD SPECTACULAR – August 2018

 

Saturday 11th AugustBright and sunny most of day, very lights winds, 21C

Our last day in the field on this Norfolk Shorebirds tour saw us mixing things up a bit. Leaving Great Ryburgh we first headed up the road to take a look at one of our local Little Owl sites. Approaching the birds favoured tree, we quickly noted it sat up in the sun, staring us down intently. Watching from the van, we enjoyed prolonged views of the adult bird, which crept deeper towards the ivy-covered trunk, keeping its eyes fixed on us as we departed. From here we made our way across country, noting Yellowhammer and a good covey of about 8 Grey Partridge in the road, as we headed towards Swaffham for a quick visit to the lower Brecks to try to find one of our more terrestrial species of wader; the Stone Curlew. Pulling up to a likely site, we were quickly onto a group of birds, numbering 13. Lining the field edge, the birds were resting as they typically do, with most of their activity occurring during the hours of dusk and dawn. The field across the road held a further 30 or so Stone Curlews, making for overall impressive numbers and a treat to see.

 

Moving on, our main site to visit today was Frampton RSPB. We love visiting this fairly newly created reserve whenever we can, as it always holds a fantastic variety of species. A flock of around 50 Linnets greeted us as we arrived at the reserve entrance. After collecting our permits, we took a look at the first pools, which held at least 1500 Black-tailed Godwits and numerous Ruff (all in various plumage states), as well as the more expected wildfowl; an impressive sight! On the grazing meadows, the herds of cattle had attracted good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, with around a dozen noted and showing well at times. A quick scan of one of the main drains running across this area revealed a distant Wood Sandpiper feeding in the company of a few Snipe, though unfortunately the views weren’t particularly satisfactory given quite a bit of heat haze. A couple of partly summer-plumaged Golden Plovers also put in an appearance here. Up to the sea wall, a single Dark-bellied Brent Goose had obviously decided to spend the summer in the area, and was sporting a rather unfamiliar worn and faded plumage. From this higher vantage point we took our lunch, noting a single brief Greenshank and several Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits and Snipe, along with Little Grebes and a single Wigeon, along with the usual Teal, Mallards and Gadwall. A pair of Common Terns were still tending a pair of medium sized chicks on one of the islands, while a quick scan of the next pool revealed a single Curlew Sandpiper, still retaining some rich summer plumage along its flank, and giving nice views from the East Hide. From here we were also able to enjoy good views of Little Ringed Plovers and Dunlin feeding in the shallow waters. Moving on, we visited the Reedbed Hide, which placed us in an excellent position to enjoy the tightly packed flock of over 1000 Black-tailed Godwits, along with the numerous Ruff and wildfowl, while the neighbouring 360 hide provided views of a single Green Sandpiper off to the left. Finishing up, we had a hot drink back at the car park and headed off, stopping at King’s Lynn train station to drop off Adam before returning to Great Ryburgh, where the tour concluded.      

 

 

Little Owl, and one of the grotties Brents we've ever seen! They will look similar in their breeding grounds now.

 

Friday 10th AugustDry first thing, heavy showers later, clearing by 4pm, light west winds, 17C

 

Day two saw us heading west, starting the day with a walk out to Burnham Norton. A walk along the edge of the gardens here revealed showy families of both Common and Lesser Whitethroats along the fence wires, obligingly sitting up for scope views. Out on the marshes we noted at least 3 different Marsh Harriers, while a Kestrel hunted along the sea wall. Reed Warblers were in evidence along the drains here, as well as at the main scrape at the end of the track. The small stands of reeds here held a couple of very vocal, but not particularly obliging Bearded Tits, which never sat still for more than 2 seconds! However, the brief views were enjoyed all the same. On the scrape, we noted around 20 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Dunlin, 20 Snipe and good number of Teal, while a Grey Plover and Greenshank on the saltmarsh were a bonus. Walking back to the van a Hobby shot into view, pursuing and nearly catching a Swift in mid-air; spectacular! Following a quick hot drink, we then made our way west to Titchwell. Arriving at the reserve we noted several Reed Warblers calling deep in the willow scrub, fledged youngsters in tow. Out on the marshes we chose to make our way out to the beach first, as the sky was looking ominously stormy. However, we did pause on several occasions, noting two Spoonbills at the far end, at least 50 Ruff, at least 3 Little-ringed Plovers, 15 Dunlin and smaller than recent numbers of Black-tailed Godwits. Out on the beach we enjoyed our sandwiches whilst watching some fantastic flocks of Sanderling and Dunlin feeding on the high-water strand lines, with numerous Ringed Plovers and Turnstones interspersed. In addition, the exposed mussel beds held many Black-tailed Godwits along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits and a single lost-looking Spoonbill. The sea hosted a single male Common Scoter. By the time we decided that the leaden sky looked threatening enough for us to make our way back, it was already too late, and the rain came down pretty heavy before we made it to the Parrinder hide! However, we missed the worst of it, and enjoyed watching the waders, wildfowl and gulls coping with the torrential downpour, many birds pointing their beaks to the sky, as if to offer minimal resistance to the heavy rainfall. Five Golden Plovers dropped in out of nowhere, while the broader variety of species was enjoyable to watch. Once the rain stopped we headed back to the visitor centre, noting another Hobby over the scrape, while Chiffchaff and Blackcap were noted in the car park.

 

From here, we intended to visited Snettisham for high tide at 18:30. Though the forecast of heavy rain for the rest of the afternoon was rather ominous, we chose to follow our noses as the sky looked as if the worst had passed. On our way we stopped for a quick check of the sea at Holme dunes. Several Meadow Pipits were noted on route, while Gannets and Sandwich Terns were noted offshore, though the highlight here was back at the van. Returning here, Adam noted a small dove perched in a nearby tree; a recently-fledged Turtle Dove! It transpired that two were here; our first fledglings of the summer, and a superb thing to see, considering the hard times this species is facing. Buoyed by such a great sight, we headed to Snettisham. Arriving at the car park, we walked out towards the seawall, noting Common Terns, several Mediterranean Gulls and an adult and juvenile Greenshank on one of the inner lagoons. Out on the Wash, the show had already begun, with perhaps 20,000 or more Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits were already up in the air in spectacular formation. In addition, a flock of maybe 5,000 Oystercatchers (just a guesstimate, but there were a lot!) turned the mudflats black. Numerous Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones jostled along the shoreline, rushing to beat the fast-incoming tide. On the inner lagoon, 8 Spotted Redshank, 200 Black-tailed Godwit and numerous Knot and Redshank were all crammed on or near the small islands, while one spit hosted a number of Common and Sandwich Terns, as well as two adult and a fledged juvenile Little Tern; a pleasing sight.  Walking back, we noted a total of 10 Yellow Wagtails, while at least 5 Ringed Plover chicks were seen to be doing well along the shoreline. Hopefully they will survive to fledging. Walking back to the van, we all felt like we had covered a few miles today, but the selection of birds had been excellent.  

 

 

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit and a pair of young Turtle Doves

 

Thursday 9th AugustOvercast with showers, heavy and persistent during afternoon, 18C

 

As the weather forecast predicted, today, and particularly this afternoon was a wet one! However, that didn’t dampen our spirits as we headed out on another tour. First stop was Cley NWT, where were headed first to the East Bank. Walking out along the track towards the sea we noted well fledged Pochards and a family of Tufted Ducks on the deeper pools, while out on the Serpentine a couple of Common Sandpipers were noted along with some Black-tailed Godwits and several Snipe. Approaching Arnold’s Marsh, a Hobby dashed through overhead, showing well as it cruised west and out of view. The marsh itself held a good number of icelandica Black-tailed Godwits as well as several Redshank (including juveniles) but little else of note. Walking back along the bank, the Hobby have another fly-past and flushing a pair of Green Sandpipers from the marshes. From here we then drove along to the beach carpark, where we had a prospective look at the sea, though with light offshore winds we weren’t expecting much. Two Wheatear were on the shingle to the east, while the short spell overlooking the sea did reveal 7 Teal and a single Wigeon west, and a Whimbrel which came in off over our heads. Three Gannets were also noted. After a hot drink we then nipped into the centre, collected our permits and walked out to Daukes hide. Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape were both typically alive with waders, including large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits (including some very smart youngsters) Ruffs (again including this year’s juveniles), 6 Green Sandpipers, a single summer plumaged Knot and Dunlin, and at least 3 Little Ringed Plovers. A good 30 or so Sand Martins were busy hawking for insects over the pools, with some perched on the nearby wire fence giving nice views. A surprise sighting was a juvenile Water Rail which dashed into view below the hide, skulking through the grasses before swimming across the dyke and out of view. Dragging ourselves away, we had our sandwiches and then nipped over to the new Babcock Hide, overlooking Watling Water. On initial appearances things were rather quiet, with 8 Snipe and a Little Ringed Plover in front of the hide, plus 2 Ruff. Bearded Tits were calling incessantly from the reeds to the left of the hide, but refused to show themselves to us. Suddenly a peculiar high-pitched call caught our ears, and a Fulvous Whistling Duck flew in to join the Egyptian Geese! While it was fully winged and unringed, it was fanciful to think this bird could be wild! A pair of Black-tailed Godwits and some Redshank had dropped in at the same time, but though things were starting to liven up, we needed to head on. The rain was getting rather heavy now, leaving us with a decision to make on what to do next.

 

Travelling through the rain, we headed onto Wells-next-the Sea., pausing on the way at the newly created floods, though barring a couple of Avocets and an Oystercatcher, things were quiet. Passing through the town, we stopped at the church, where a Peregrine has regularly spent its time roosting and feeding. The bird was on the west face, and put on a fascinating show, moving to the corner of the stonework and lifting its wings to take on water on the underwing feathers before flying down into a nearby tree. Perched on one of the thin outer branches, it continued to shuffle its feathers to get as wet as possible, and was also observed brushing its head amongst the wet leaves, as if cleaning behind the ears! After about 5 minutes of heavy preening, it then flew purposefully inland. From here we headed to Wells Woods, where we wanted to do a circuit to finish off the day looking for migrants. This proved more productive than we really expected! Entering the woods we quickly located a bit of activity, with one of the first birds we noted being a Pied Flycatcher! In fact, it transpired that the birch tree the flycatcher was in also contained a single Lesser Whitethroat and Chiffchaff, plus two Blackcaps – not a bad haul! However, it was more or less all that the woods had to offer as far as unusual species were concerned, though Treecreeper and Goldcrest were all seen well. A final treat was in store when Ashley and Nick, who were also birding the area, discovered a roosting Tawny Owl high in some mature pines in the middle of the woods; an excellent sighting! Returning to the van, we headed back to Ryburgh feeling we had managed to make good of what was a rather wet day.

 


 

ISLES OF SCILLY PELAGIC WEEKEND – August 2018 [JM]

 

Monday 6th AugustSunny and warm, light NW, 20C

 

With no pelagic trip booked for today, everyone was at leisure to do as they pleased, with some taking the boat to Bryher and Tresco, while others took a wander to other parts of St Marys. A group of us made the most of the time on the island to visit the famous Porth Hellick pool and Holy Vale. Walking along the southern coastline of the island we noted four Wheatears and a couple of Stonechats on the coastal heath. Approaching Porth Hellick beach, a stand of pines was busy with activity, containing about 10 juvenile Willow Warblers and a couple of Goldcrests. In the bay itself a flock of 22 Oystercatchers contained 3 Ringed Plovers, while a Grey Heron stood sentinel nearby. Making our way down the hill, a group of 4 Green Sandpipers flew up from the pool calling, and flew off to the north. From here we entered the Porth Hellick nature trail, where from the first hide we enjoyed good views of 8 Greenshanks roosting on the muddy bank, in the company of a single Teal, while Reed Warblers and several hirundines were also noted. We then made to walk up the Holy Vale valley, enjoying the cover provided by the mature English Elm trees, imagining what amazing species must have been found here in t the past! Reaching Holy Vale Farmhouse, we took a left down Sandy Lane, which would return us back to Hugh Town. A short way along here we paused to investigate some small bird activity in the pine belt, noting locally bred juvenile and adult Goldcrests and a Willow Warbler. Suddenly a flash of vivid yellow and pearly white moved through the bins; a WOOD WARBLER! The bird showed well for a good 10 minutes, often high in the pines, flycatching and hovering on occasions. A great scarce species for the island and a nice surprise bonus. From here we made our way back into Hugh Town, where we enjoyed lunch and waited for the 16:30 ferry to take us back to Penzance.

 

 

The Wood Warbler near Holy Vale [images by Peter Hilton]

 

 

Boarding the ferry, we made for the top deck, determined to eke our a few more seabirds for the trip. Leaving the sheltered waters of the islands, a group of 5 Mediterranean Gulls (4 juveniles and a 1st summer) were a pleasant surprise. Entering open water, Manx Shearwaters came into evidence, with small numbers noted frequently during the duration of the journey, most of which occurring once we neared the Cornish coastline. A couple of Storm Petrels were also seen as we neared a trawler, while Common Dolphins were pretty frequent throughout, numbering at least 40 animals during the crossing. As we passed the Cornish mainland, we noted a good number of mostly juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, with at least 10 seen. Docking at Penzance harbour and collecting our luggage, we all bid our farewells, after enjoying a fantastic weekend.

 

Sunday 5th AugustOvercast most of the day, very light NW, 19C

 

A really awesome day at sea, with a steady stream of highlights keeping all entertained throughout. Following a leisurely breakfast we met at the harbour at 10:50 to join the Scilly Pelagics team on the MV Sapphire for one last voyage. Leaving the harbour, we headed out towards a fair feeding frenzy of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which contained several Black-headed Gulls and the odd Kittiwake, the latter seen to pluck a sandeel from the waters surface. Close by a couple of rafts of Manx Shearwaters numbering around 250 in total proved to be very approachable, offering some of the best views many in the group had ever had of this fantastic species on the water. From here we made our way offshore, heading for the often-productive waters at the Poll Bank, an underwater feature which results in oceanic upwellings, which in turn can mean food for marine life including seabirds. The journey out was punctuated many times by Common Dolphins, including some fantastic displays of bow-riding. In fact, today was a great day overall for the animal, with well over 100 noted. A 1st summer Common Tern visited the boat, as did a Great Skua which circled a couple of times before heading off. Arriving at the Poll Bank we dropped some bags of chum into the water and began drifting here, in conjunction with a spot of fishing in order to catch some bait, and also to try a spot of shark fishing. Around 5 European Storm Petrels had been noted up to this point, but the star seabird by far for the day was a GREAT SHEARWATER which gave simply unbeatable views for the next 30 minutes. Crossing the stern at speed, the bird banked and investigated the fishy oily slick we had created, before dropping onto the water behind the boat, apparently feeding on some fish remains. Joe manoeuvred the boat closer to the bird, and it allowed several point blank approaches, so much so that we simply had to leave it to it and move on! Amazing. The fishing proved quite productive, the crew pulling in a large Ling and a very brightly coloured Cuckoo Wrasse, while two Sunfish were seen from the boat here (plus at least two others later). However, the fish highlight today was undoubtedly the Porbeagle Shark which came up to the surface to investigate the boat. The shark tagging team on board were hopeful of catching it, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Whilst lingering in the area, a Sooty Sheareater cruised past majestically, while European Storm Petrels were a constant presence, the final day total numbering around 25 birds. A very small Minke Whale surfaced several times close to the boat here, the flat calm conditions making for easy spotting. Once we had given up on the prospect of catching a shark for the day, we began to cruise back to base, but not before one last seabird treat. As we set off, a dark shearwater crossed the wake, which proved to be a Balearic Shearwater! Our first of the trip and a welcome sight of this critically endangered seabird. The journey home was in the constant company of European Storm Petrels following our wake, while several Sandwich Terns were noted as we came in closer to the islands. Docking in Hugh Town Harbour, we thanked the crew for all their amazing hard work and bid them farewell for another year. It has certainly been a memorable few days!

 

 

More fantastic views of seabirds today, especially this Great Shearwater. Common Dolphins also performed!

 

Saturday 4th AugustOvercast most of the day, very light NW, 18C

 

Another nice day of weather, which meant that conditions would be very pleasant for being on the sea for another pelagic. Meeting at the quay in Hugh Town at 08:20, we boarded the MV Sapphire and made our way offshore, heading north-east towards the Seven Stones Reef (infamously the site of the wrecking of the Torrey Canyon in 1967), where we would spend some time in search of seabirds in this often-rich area of water. Steaming out to the site, a steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters was noted, totalling around 30 birds. On route to the area, a surprise for many was the sudden breach of a large Bluefin Tuna just off the port side of the boat, creating a huge splash. A Bonxie briefly came to investigate the boat, while a single ‘commic’ tern was also seen out here, but it was otherwise rather quiet. Moving on, a large feeding frenzy of Gannets was noted, with the numbers building all the time as more birds joined the buffet. The good feeding was probably assisted by the presence of two Harbour Porpoises feeding below, while three European Storm Petrels were noted amongst the activity. Joe was able to move the boat quite close, offering pretty close views of these fantastic birds. Not far from this location we picked up our first Sooty Shearwater of the weekend, as it flew powerfully off the port side of the boat, its larger size in direct comparison with a nearby Manx Shearwater immediately obvious. From here we decided to steam for a while, trailing some chum as we went in the hope that the trail of large gulls following the boat would attract something else from the wider seas, and so it proved. Not long into the journey the shout out from Bob of GREAT SHEARWATER had everyone wheeling round to look towards the wake, as this majestic shearwater cruised passed the back of the boat, giving a brilliant view of what was a new species for many in the group; totally thrilling! This wasn’t the last time that the excitement of a large shearwater would get us on our feet, as about half an hour later another GREAT SHEARWATER passed close past the bow of the boat, again giving itself up to everyone onboard. Doubtlessly coming in close to check out the gull activity being produced by the efforts of the vessels crew behind the boat, we have Joe and Bob and the team for their expertise in getting these birds into us! We continued to travel a while longer, heading back for the islands, but barring a couple of Kittiwakes (including the welcome site of a juvenile fledged this year) and two Manx Shearwaters things were pretty quiet overall. Coming in towards the islands, we passed close to Annett and some of the other small uninhabited skerries, noting Peregrine, numerous Shags and a good number of Grey Seals. A few more Manx Shearwaters to the better, we then made our way back to harbour.

 

 

Great and Manx Shearwater 

 

Making landfall, we thanked the boat crew and made our ways back to the hotel, where we dropped off a few things and made our way out to do a bit of exploring on land before dinner. A loop covering Lower Moors NR and Old Town bay and Churchyard yielded a selection of common breeding species including Rock Pipit, plus our first Wheatear of the autumn towards Tolman Point. Walking some of the well vegetated lanes and wooded areas left us all imagining what it might be like here on a good day of spring bird migration, or on one of those autumn days when the possibility of finding something really rare and special was in the air, but obviously, at this time of year, this is just more or less wishful thinking! However, it was a pleasant loop all the same, and worked up a nice appetite!

 

Friday 3rd August Overcast with some warm sunny spells, Low cloud over St Marys, light NW, 18C

 

Day one of our much-anticipated pelagic tour commenced in Penzance Harbour, where our group gathered to run through the broad itinerary for the weekend, before handing over our luggage and collecting our boarding cards. From the rear deck of the Scillonian III we had a fair panoramic view of the sea, so we settled into our positions, looking forward to seawatching for the duration of the crossing. Early additions to the list included a Mute Swan and Cormorants in the Harbour, while 6 Bottlenose Dolphins were seen just outside the harbour mouth. It wasn’t long before we noted our First Kittiwake, while Lesser, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were frequent. Small numbers of Fulmars were patrolling the cliffs of the Cornish south coast, and Shags were common, while our first Common Dolphins were also noted close to shore, their more energetic swimming style, overall smaller size and smaller, sharper dorsal fins separating them from their larger cousins when the distinctive flank pattern couldn’t be seen. As we neared the waters off Land’s End Manx Shearwaters became more evident, with a steady movement passing ahead of the boat totalling at least 300 birds up until Wolf Rock, after which numbers dropped off a bit. A Great Skua put in an appearance, trailing the boat and eventually passing us, giving good views. It was around this time that we noted our first European Storm Petrel, with one noted rather distantly off the port side of the boat, fluttering in typical fashion over the waters surface. Across the whole journey we noted a further six individuals, and everyone managed to get onto at least one of them, though better views will hopefully be enjoyed in the coming pelagics! More Common Dolphins were also noted, and we ended up with a total of 30 animals seen during the duration of the crossing, while around 19 Harbour Porpoise were also noted. Coming into Hugh Town Harbour, and drifting past the islands of St Agnes, Sampson, Bryher and Tresco, we disembarked and made our ways to our respective accomodations at Mincarlo Guest House and Bell Rock Hotel. With a bit of down time to settle in, grab some lunch and snacks for later, we were looking forward to our first pelagic on the MV Sapphire later this evening! 

 

 

Yellow-legged Gull and European Storm Petrel 

 

We made our way down to the quay to board the MV Sapphire at 17:00, met by Bob Flood, Joe Pender and the rest of the team. After a brief run-down of the evenings plan, we were soon attracting a good flock of gulls to the back of the boat (helped by the steady supply of bread being thown off the back!), including two superb juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls. These stood out by being big brutes, with a very pale ground colour, whitish head and neck collar with dark mask, all dark primaries and a very white uppertail with well defined black tail band. Steaming out to about 5 miles to the south of the Scillies, we then stopped the engine and deployed the chum mix. The tactic here is to allow the boat to drift with the tide, leaving the scent of the oily slick of fish oils to waft in the breeze, and wait for the birds to come to us. It wasn’t long before we noted our first European Storm Petrels appearing from down wind of the slick. Many of the 30 or so birds which we saw this evening followed the same pattern, flying in and crossing the bow of the boat, visiting the slick and then moving off, some giving great views in the process. Several Fulmars paid a visit, while the few Manx Shearwaters which passed by showed no interest in the oily mix. Short-beaked Common Dolphins were common out here, with almost every scan with binoculars picking up animals, often with full breaching noted. Some came in really close to investigate the boat, to the delight of many! Further non-avian interest was provided by a really quite sizeable Blue Shark which spent a long time just below the surface below the boat. A really impressive beast! Numerous Compass Jellyfish were also seen out here. Back to the birds, a single storm petrel flew into view at about 300-meter range around 7pm, which caught the eye as appearing larger than the previous European Stormies, with wings held flatter and the flight being more purposeful and less fluttering. The shout soon followed; WILSON’S STORM PETREL! The bird came a little bit closer, allowing some to note that the underwing lacked the distinct white covert bar of European, but then it drifted off and, surprisingly didn’t visit our chum slick! A few people in the group missed the bird, and most weren’t able to note the most salient features, so we were feeling a little short-changed! However, we needn’t have worries, as another Wilsons Storm Petrel came in a little later and put on an incredible performance, at times coming to within 6ft of the stern of the boat, allowing all salient features to be noted by everyone. It was particularly delightful to watch the birds subtle but distinctive feeding behaviour, including the way it would ‘bounce’ from the waters surface between feeding bouts, like a coiled spring! A truly special 10 minutes in the company of this rare seabird. With amazing views, assisted by the excellent boat handling of our skipper, we then made our way back to shore, saying our farewells to the crew and looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.

 

 

A couple of shots of this evenings Wilson's Storm Petrel


 

NORFOLK DAY TOUR 3RD AUGUST 2018 [AS]

Hot and sunny in light NE winds, 27C

 

A fantastic days birding today saw us head across to The Wash coast and spend the morning enjoying a wader-fest at Snettisham RSPB. With a 6.7m tide and no wind, the mud was not going to get entirely covered, but we still enjoyed both some fantastic close views of waders roosting along the beaches, plus some spectacular swirling flocks further out over the estuary. It was baking hot here, quite unlike the cool windy conditions one normally expects at this location! We walked straight out to the seawall, where the tide was already 2/3 of the way in and thousands of birds were spread out before us. Gulls, terns, wildfowl and waders were in profusion, and we set about working through the masses. There were particularly good numbers of Dunlin, predominantly moulting adults still sporting black bellies, and there were a couple of thousand to work through for something more interesting! Large flocks began working their way towards us and gathering on the shingle beach, and here we found smart adults of both Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. Single Sanderling, Turnstone, lots of Common Ringed Plover and a few close Knot were also seen - though there were of course thousands of the latter species further out. A Little-ringed Plover flew up from the beach calling and all the time we could hear the raucous calls of various tern species. Common Terns were really numerous, plus the odd Sandwich Tern were to be seen among them. A juvenile Black Tern flew over the track from the pits and settled on the mud, but played cat and mouse with us over the next half hour as the terns kept flushing on the rising tide and wheeling around. We had a couple of views of it settled again before it became lost in the mix. Little Terns were really noteworthy today with an impressive count of 130 made, and several Mediterranean Gulls were also noted. Passerine migrants were limited to a couple of overhead Yellow Wagtails, a Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes and a Yellowhammer heading south. Reaching Shore Hide, we took a breather from the direct sun, noting a Greenshank, hundreds of roosting Black-tailed Godwits, and 25 Little Egrets. We then made our way slowly back following the tide out, seeing another Curlew Sandpiper, a juvenile Stonechat and more views of the whirling waders. The walk back was a hot one - but we noted Wall Brown and Brown Argus butterflies along the way.

 

 

Curlew Sandpiper and Brown Argus at Snettisham, 3rd August

 

The afternoon would be spent at Titchwell,  and we learned as we arrived on site that a Southern Migrant Hawker had been seen by the West Bank path only twenty minutes previously. This species is rarely recorded in Britain, though 2018 has been something of a record year with many sightings in the south of England. As we headed out along the path, we paused to watch two Pied Flycatchers in the trees by the Fisherman's car park - unprecedented numbers of this classic August drift migrant have been appearing much earlier than usual, and in totally atypical weather conditions. Whether the birds are departing out of Scandinavia after a good breeding season, or British bred birds dispersing, its not clear. But in one day today a months worth of sightings were made along the Norfolk coast! Further along and we found a patrolling dragonfly which we thought could be the Southern Migrant Hawker, moving fast above a small weedy pool and giving some close views. We weren't able to get any decent photographs and couldnt be totally sure of the ID though, with a bright mature male Migrant Hawker a possibility. At Island Hide, we were greeted with a vast spread of birds on the freshmarsh - Black-tailed Godwits were very numerous and among all the moulting adults we saw the first juvenile islandica of the season. 50+ Ruff, 28 Dunlin, 5 Knot, 3 Golden Plover, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Whimbrel, 3 Little-ringed Plover, 4 Spotted Redshank, 5 Common & 1 Green Sandpipers, 1 Curlew Sandpiper and the lingering Lesser Yellowlegs were among the waders noted! Bearded Tits showed brilliantly at the reed edges, 13 Spoonbills were sleeping at the back of the marsh and a first summer Little Gull dropped in. Third calendar year Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Reed Warbler and Marsh Harrier were other species noted on an excellent and bird-filled afternoon.