A diary of my birding activity covering highlights and photos from my birding adventures. Mainly Norfolk (UK), occasionally beyond. I might mention the odd thing that isn't avian, but for moth and other insect news check out my mothing diary.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Goldcrests ringing in my ears (and some rares)

A day off on Wednesday 14th October with winds in the north-east and cloud and rain.  Should be a good day, I thought, with a good chance of finding something rare.  With a brisk north-easterly I thought I'd arrive at the dunes first thing and spend some time looking at the sea before hunting for grounded migrants, so I headed off from the staithe in the dark (and lashing rain).  On reaching the boardwalk the rain had stopped and it was starting to get light.  A few Goldcrests and some thrushes distracted me and I couldn't help but look for passerines as I continued on to Gun Hill.  Several Goldcrests and a few Redwings later I reached Gun Hill and started checking the sea, now a little later than planned but still anticipating at least a light movement of wildfowl and the odd interesting seabird.  Well maybe if I'd been more patient that's what I would have seen but the first ten minutes or so produced just about nothing at all.  I quickly (perhaps too quickly?) decided that the sea wasn't the place to be focusing my attention and returned to looking for passerines.

There were plenty of Goldcrests around.  Some of them looked very grey around the head and to a lesser extent extending into the mantle and prompted me to wonder where they had come from.  I realised I don't look at Goldcrests enough - really wasn't sure how normal this was, though I'm sure they don't all look so grey.  It seems that I'm not the only person wondering about Goldcrests origins and variation this autumn and some of what I've read subsequently show birds far more striking than mine.

Goldcrest, Burnham Overy, 14th October

A Peregrine flew along the beach and waves of Starlings started pouring through - some really big flocks included.  And Blackbirds started dropping out of the sky.  Not many - just the odd one here and there - but enough to fill me with optimism.  I spent a while sheltering from a heavy rain shower underneath the Sea Buckthorn clump, waiting for that Siberian Rubythroat to hop past.  It never did so and as the rain eased again I emerged and carried on back to the boardwalk.  A few more birds here now, Bramblings and a Redstart among them.

Redstart, Burnham Overy, 14th October (looking greyer than it did in life)

I worked the east dunes hard, scouring every little scrap of cover for migrants.  Constant Goldcrests and a scattering of thrushes but it was really hard work.  A Hobby flew through the dunes - getting a bit late for them now.  At the far east end a couple of birders were intently looking into the bushes.  I asked what they'd seen but they weren't sure.  They'd thought it was a Black Redstart but decided it wasn't and now they were looking up Red-breasted Flycatcher.  When they described what they'd seen I suggested Common Redstart and sure enough this popped out a little while later.  Lovely bird.

Redstart, Burnham Overy, 14th October

It was now afternoon and I was pretty disappointed not to have found anything remotely scarce, though it had been enjoyable birding.  I decided to continue into Holkham Pines in case the recent Radde's or Dusky Warblers might still be lurking there, and at least I would be able to see the Red-flanked Bluetail if not.  The whole place was heaving with Goldcrests - must have been thousands of them.  I caught a quick glimpse of a Firecrest too but other than the odd Brambling, Siskin and Blackcap there wasn't a huge amount of variety.  News that a Great Grey Shrike had been found in the dunes confirmed my impression that birds were still arriving.  Perhaps I should have taken that as a signal not to waste time looking at other people's birds but I pressed on to the Red-flanked Bluetail nevertheless.  This showed nicely, if very briefly, every 20-30 minutes or so.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Holkham, 14th October

Goldcrest, Holkham, 14th October - a much less grey-headed bird than the one at the top of this page

I gave the Bluetail much more of my time than I'd planned and decided to continue on to the Crosstracks before heading back to the dunes via the north side.  Then rumours started circulating of an Isabelline Shrike in front of Washington Hide so I decided to carry on to there.  It wasn't on the news services yet, despite the source of the rumours having apparently left the bird quite some time earlier.  On arriving at the hide I discovered that it had been showing very well just in front of the hide, but had just disappeared, further away.  It didn't reappear for ages but eventually someone picked it up in the distance.  I joined Andy at the gate from where we could see it sheltering along the hedgerow, but still fairly distant.

Isabelline Shrike, Holkham, 14th October

I headed back through the pines to the dunes but now the light was fading.  It was really striking how many more birds there were compared to the morning.  The place was heaving with thrushes and Goldcrests - really heaving.  But  it was pouring with rain and getting dark - you couldn't really see things properly in the conditions so it was really quite tantalising - if only I'd not spent so long at Holkham!  Who knows what might have been among them!  I could just make out the Great Grey Shrike perched atop the same tree as I'd last seen one here, but the distance and conditions made it not worth looking at.  Even if I'd scoped it I wouldn't have been able to pick out the detail that led others to later report it as possibly an eastern bird.

Still raining, a break in the clouds out to the west allowed a brief but beautiful sunset...

sunset, Burnham Overy, 14th October

A couple of Wheatears were in the dunes - only their white rumps showing up in the darkness.  Finally as the last glimmer of light disappeared it fell silent and I realised that for the first time since the crack of dawn I no longer had the sound of Goldcrests ringing in my ears.  It had been a good day, and I had seen some great birds, and lots of birds, but I was disappointed not to have found anything myself and a bit annoyed I had got back to the bird-filled dunes so late.

Saturday 17th was my last day in Norfolk before heading down to Cornwall, and there had been a pile of rare birds found in Norfolk, mainly in Holkham/Wells area, during the previous few days.  I felt the need to increase my experience of Blyth's Reed and Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers so headed up to Wells early.  Bramblings and Siskins were soon seen flying over, followed by Redpolls and Fieldfares.  I spent some time with Andy (nice to catch up with him) looking for the Blyth's Reed Warbler and eventually got a few brief views of it.  Not quite the views I would have liked but just about enough, and especially satisfying to hear it calling.  Some really quite brilliant photos - here's the very best... ;)

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Wells, 17th October

Long-tailed Tit, Wells, 17th October

As I emerged from the area where the Blyth's Reed Warbler had favoured and went on to the main track I found myself amidst a procession of birders like nothing I've seen for years.  In true sheep-like fashion they were streaming along the main track from the car park, looking forward to the rare fest ahead of them.  Only it wasn't all ahead of them, the Blyth's Reed Warbler was to the right of them and they were traipsing right past it.  Some of them even told me that they wanted to see that first, so I told them where it was and they carried on down the track.  It was like there were so many people going that way that they couldn't believe it wasn't the right way to go!  And none of them were taking a blind bit of notice of any of the birds around them.

I turned off to look for the Red-flanked Bluetail at the drinking pool but it was surrounded by people and I couldn't face the crowds.  I carried on, finding a bunch of people looking for the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler which was calling away.  Some of them even noticed it was calling, and used that to locate it rather than waiting for someone else to point to it.

I then spent some time looking for one of the Northern Treecreepers that Stu had found, to no avail, and for any of the various Pallas's Warblers being reported.  I eventually got good but brief views of one of the latter.  About a trillion Goldcrests too, showing some variation in greyness as at Burnham Overy during the week.

Goldcrests, Wells, 17th October

On my way back down the track the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler was calling away again - the third time I'd bumped into it during the morning, each time in slightly different places.  When I reached the point where I'd first seen it there was a large crowd there looking intently into the trees where it had been.  I'd only just come away from it calling above another big crowd 50 yards down the track - surely it can't be here as well!  If so there must be two I thought!  But no, this was dozens of people looking at a Firecrest.  Very nice it was too, and showing a bit better than any of the other warblers I'd seen that morning.

Having had more than enough of the crowds I finally headed off somewhere else with a vew to finding my own birds.  The strip of woodland beside Stiffkey Flood always looks good for something and is, I think, hardly watched at all, so I headed there.  There were about 900 Teal on the flood but I couldn't find any passerine migrants there apart from a couple of Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff and some Goldcrests and thrushes.  Further down the footpath I reached Cockthorpe Common where I climbed a bank to see what was over the fence.  A rather good-looking area of scrubland is what I found, which is where one day I will find Norfolk's first Brown Shrike, but not this time.  However a flock of Long-tailed and other tits were moving through and twice I heard what sounded exactly like a Siberian Chiffchaff.  I only saw one Chiffchaff though, and that wasn't it, and the flock, presumably with the Siberian Chiffy, moved on up the valley.  I hadn't seen it and I hadn't sound-recorded it, so I won't be claiming it, but fairly sure it was a Siberian Chiffchaff.  One or two Redpolls flew over and with the weather deteriorating and light fading I decided to call it a day and go home and get ready for Cornwall.

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