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.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Redwings galore but one Swallow doesn't make a summer

With south-westerlies forecast I thought Tuesday might be a good morning for visible migration (or vismig as it's known in the trade).  There had been a heavy passage overland during the night, judging from some tweets about calling Redwings, Wigeon, Teal, waders, rallids, and more, mainly from Norwich-based birders.  I was outside for a bit during the evening, and sat by an open window for the rest of the evening, but I didn't hear anything better than a definitely-not-migrating Pheasant and some traffic.  As I checked the moth trap at some unearthly hour in the morning I still didn't hear anything.  But although that was a bit disappointing, the reports from others underlined the fact that there were birds on the move, so it was all the more important to be in place early.  I arrived at Burnham Overy early and walked out in the dark so as to arrive at Gun Hill at dawn (actually it was just light enough to see 2 Barn Owls). 

I've not had much luck with vismig at Burnham Overy before but suspected that standing on the north-east side of Gun Hill and looking over the dunes towards birds heading my way would be a good tactic.  I might have been better off on the very top of the hill but the wind was a bit chilly and I'd not put on enough layers for sitting in the face of the wind for very long.

The first Meadow Pipits were moving through as soon as I arrived followed by Pied Wagtails, a single Grey Wagtail and Siskins - lots of Siskins in fact.  A few Linnets, though it wasn't always obvious which ones were moving and which were local birds flying around, some Goldfinches and then a Lapland Bunting.  A single Reed Bunting seemed to be moving until it dropped in, but then it got up and continued on its way.  Larger overland migrants included 3 Rook and 19 Woodpigeon west.

I kept an eye on the sea too - 45 Common Scoter passed and a nice flock of 8 Long-tailed Ducks flew west - not always an easy species to see here even though they are numerous a few miles to the west (especially this winter).  A couple of Red-breasted Mergansers flew west (there were 2 more in the channel later) and a flock of 21 Pink-footed Geese west out to sea would have been on their way back north.  There were a few gulls moving - not many - and some Cormorants too, although again it was hard to tell which ones were migrating (a few distant birds must have been) and which ones were local movements.  A single Fulmar and Red-throated Diver flew west and a couple of groups of Brent Geese too.

Overland passage had pretty much dried up by 7.45 and intriguingly I had not seen a single Redwing.  Other people were still reporting them overland at dawn and they were moving along the coast at Sheringham from dawn, but none at Burnham Overy! I was well into triple figures on my Siskin count and had 88 Meadow Pipits, but Redwings hadn't even got off the block.  With passage drying up I decided to walk back through the dunes to the east end.  Apart from a Stoat and a pair of Stonechats this was uneventful until I approached Holkham Pines and 3 Redwings flew past.  At last, I thought - but only 3!  I wandered down to the beach from where I could see the 32 Shore Larks on the tideline (they had moved off before I could count them but someone else reported 32 later on).

As I returned to the dunes, at the east end just before the pines, a large flock of Redwings appeared from low over the pines and continued through the dunes to the west.  Then another, and another.  Some Siskins, and then more flocks of Redwings.  It was as if the Redwing floodgates had been opened and they were pouring through. 

Redwings, Burnham Overy, 14th March

I might have missed some as I was looking at the Shore Larks, so I'm not sure exactly when they started, but it must have been somewhere around 8.15-8.30 or thereabouts.  I watched the passage from the east end of the dunes until things died down a bit, but a few flocks continued moving as I headed back, including some big ones even as I returned to the staithe, so I am sure my count was significantly lower than it might have been.  I saw 1520 Redwings - and based on my experience this morning I think I was probably under-estimating even the flocks I did see.

Redwings, Burnham Overy, 14th March

Quite a few other birds were moving again during all this, bringing my totals up to 203 Siskins and 18 Pied/White Wagtails (at least most were Pied).  Three of 4 Redpolls were seen well enough to see they were big pale things and on two I could see a whitish rump - presumably they were all Mealy Redpolls.  There was also a second Lapland Bunting and a second Grey Wagtail and most surprising of all, a single Swallow!  This is incredibly early for Swallow - I thought I usually see my first Swallow in late March (although checking my records it seems I only sometimes see my first Swallow in late March - more often in early April) but I have never seen one earlier than 26th before so a full 12 days earlier than ever before.  Interestingly Chris Mills saw the Swallow at Sheringham earlier.

While I was standing here one of the Great White Egrets appeared at Holkham.  At least 2 Red Kites appeared too, one spending some time over the sea.  I suspected there might have been more than 2 and later on confirmed at least 4 Red Kites, which may still have been some way short of the real total.

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 14th March

I stopped off at Ryburgh on the way home but there was very little activity (it was mid afternoon, so no great surprise really).  I couldn't see any Wigeon and hardly any Teal - not sure if they were hidden in the valley or somewhere else.  Some may have departed the previous night but not all as there were still some present the next day.  One of the few Teal that were visible was this peculiar one with a white dog-collar.

Teal, Great Ryburgh, 14th March

This Kestrel was showing well.

Kestrel, Great Ryburgh, 14th March

I returned to Ryburgh early(ish) yesterday morning and confirmed that not all the duck had departed yet.  It's always hard to count them as they spend so much time out of view but there were at least 125 Teal there still.  There may have been a departure of Wigeon though as I never saw more than 25 (I'd had at least 62 there a couple of days before) and I couldn't see the Wigeon x Pintail hybrid at all.

There were 33 Barnacle Geese and 2 Pink-footed Geese but I couldn't find any White-fronted Geese.  A Chiffchaff was singing somewhere over towards Great Ryburgh village and I'd heard another on my way there behind Sennowe Park.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared in the bushes by the hide briefly.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Ryburgh, 15th March

Black-headed Gull, Great Ryburgh, 15th March

Brown Rat, Great Ryburgh, 15th March

This morning I headed up to Stiffkey, parking at the Barns.  It was immediately obvious that Redwings were moving again with several flocks heading over the field inland of the barns as I walked down to the flood.  There were 141 Black-tailed Godwits and at least 12 Ruff on the flood, 2 Chiffchaffs singing along the stream and 2 Mediterranean Gulls callling overhead.

As I returned and walked on to Stiffkey Fen Redwings were still going over along with the odd Siskin.  A Barn Owl was hunting and on the Fen itself were 3 pairs of adult Mediterranean Gull, 37 Avocets and a Greenshank.  There were 6 Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbour.  I couldn't see or hear any Redwings from here but when I returned to the car it was obvious that they were still moving through - they all seemed to be following a similar line appearing over the bottom of the footpath where it crosses the road, flying over the field south of the barns and going over the wood south of the flood.  The birds I saw must have represented just a fraction of the total that moved through this morning, but I counted 750 Redwings.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017


I spent an hour or two at Ryburgh again on Wednesday morning and heard then saw another adult Mediterranean Gull fly over.  The 3 White-fronted Geese were still there, one female Stonechat was still present and a Kingfisher flew down the river.  The Wigeon x Pintail hybrid was still present but out of view most of the time - I'd been there about an hour before I saw it.

Wigeon x Pintail hybrid, Great Ryburgh, 8th March

Lapwing, Great Ryburgh, 8th March

There are always lots of common birds coming down to the feeders here too.

Blue Tit, Great Ryburgh, 8th March

Blackbird, Great Ryburgh, 8th March

Goldfinch, Great Ryburgh, 8th March

Pheasant, Great Ryburgh, 8th March

I returned on Thursday to find a Green Sandpiper on the scrape.  After 15 minutes or so it flew off north.

Green Sandpiper, Great Ryburgh, 9th March

There were lots of geese on the hill including 120 Barnacle Geese, Pink-footed Goose and at least 2 White-fronted Geese.  The Barnacles all flew off towards Pensthorpe between 7.50 and 8.15.  The Wigeon x Pintail hybrid was still present but it is always difficult to see spending most of its time hidden in the valley.  A flock of 75 Golden Plover flew around in the distance.  This Stock Dove was displaying in front of the hide briefly.

Stock Dove, Great Ryburgh, 9th March

Long-tailed Tit, Great Ryburgh, 9th March

Pheasant, Great Ryburgh, 9th March

The next day I arrived earlier and saw the Barnacle Geese fly in from the direction of Pensthorpe - well, some of them - 91 Barnacle Geese this time, along with 2 Pink-footed Geese and an immature White-fronted Geese (the 3 adult White-fronted Geese were also still present among the 180+ Greylag Geese).  The Wigeon x Pintail hybrid remained with at least 62 Wigeon.

There were 2 Barn Owls on show and the female Stonechat reappeared.  A flock of 5 Stock Doves flew high north-west up the valley - presumably migrant birds.

On Saturday I went to Sparham Pools where the highlights included 2 Chiffchaffs singing, flyover Redpolls and Siskins, Sparrowhawk, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreeper and Bullfinch.  At Bylaugh there was another singing Chiffchaff and a pair of Grey Wagtails.

On Saturday night in the Brecks several Woodcocks were seen at dusk and heard into the evening.

On Monday morning I heard a Mediterranean Gull calling as I arrived at Ryburgh.  There were still 4 White-fronted Geese present along with 2 Pink-footed Geese and 28 Barnacle Geese.  The Wigeon x Pintail hybrid was still there and about 100 Golden Plover were flying around in the distance.

Blackbird, Great Ryburgh, 13th March

A lot of people were shouting about all the Redwings, ducks and rallids flying over their houses on Monday night.  I spent a bit of time outside and had the window open while I was inside, and heard precisely zero of all of the above.  Mind you, I made up for it with some good vis migging the following morning - which I will leave for another post.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Pallid Harrier, Haddiscoe & two hybrid ducks

I didn't see anything of note on Sunday except for a Grey Wagtail at Bylaugh.

Yesterday I headed up to Burnham Overy early, seeing a pair of Barn Owls at Hempton on my way up.  As I headed down from the staithe 2 White-fronted Geese flew over and there were 18 Avocets in the channel.  There were loads of Wigeon in the fields but light was awkward for searching through them.  The big field south of the reedy pool contained 7 Ruff and 153 Dunlin and a Bearded Tit called from the reeds.

At the mouth of the estuary there were 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and 4 Goldeneye, along with 2 Common Seal on the end of Scolt Head island.  Offshore a couple of Red-throated Divers flew east and a Fulmar west but the sea was quiet.

Grey Partridge, Burnham Overy, 6th March

A Stoat scurried through the dunes and I decided to skip the east dunes and head on to see the Pallid Harrier.  As I returned to the car a Red Kite flew over.

Dunnock, Burnham Overy, 6th March

Reed Buntings, Burnham Overy, 6th March

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 6th March

Next stop New Holkham where the Pallid Harrier flew past 2-3 times giving good scope views but rubbish camera views.  Lovely bird to see.

Pallid Harrier, New Holkham, 6th March

Lots of other raptors in the sky too including up to 10 Buzzards at a time and at least one more Red Kite.

My next stop was Thursford Wood, an NWT reserve that I'd never visited before.  It's quite a  nice spot and I think it would be worth moth-trapping there sometime.  Birds included Marsh Tit and Nuthatch calling.

I then popped in to Great Ryburgh where I've been meaning for ages to see what the Ryburgh Wildlife Group site is looking like now.  Conveniently my arrival coincided with that of a member who kindly invited me in to the hide.  The group have done a great job here and it looks like there's plenty of scope for some good birds so when the chairman of the group turned up I paid up to join the group there and then.  I ended up spending quite a few hours there and saw lots of interesting birds.  There were 3 White-fronted Geese there the whole time and 2 Stonechats for a while.  Among the hordes of Teal and Wigeon I picked up what looked like a Wigeon with pale cheeks and a dark greenish headband, which at first I suspected might be a Wigeon x American Wigeon hybrid or something similar.  It disappeared before I could resolve it but eventually it reappeared and gave good if distant views.  The tertials were not Wigeon-like ruling out aberrant Wigeon or any Wigeon sp. x Wigeon sp. hybrid and it showed white sides to the tail and pale uppertail-coverts or rear rump feathers.  That made me wonder about Pintail and the dark-centred scapular pattern did indeed recall that a bit, although Pintail influence wasn't immediately obvious.  I've seen Wigeon x Pintail before but the head pattern was nowhere near so distinct on that individual, but I've also seen photos of birds with a more distinct head pattern (although still not quite like this one).  The pale crown stripe was divided by a narrow diffuse dark crown stripe and in the end I concluded that Wigeon x Pintail is the correct ID.

Wigeon x Pintail hybrid, Great Ryburgh, 6th March

I heard and then saw a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flying over, apparently the group's first this year, and 10 Barnacle Geese flew through.  A Pink-footed Goose appeared with some Greylags along with a fourth White-fronted Goose.

Today I headed down to Haddiscoe Island, somewhere I've only ever watched from afar, either the road at St Olaves, or from Burgh Castle, or from Waveney Forest.  There is a public footpath all the way round the island but it's a long way!  After seeing Little Owl near Swanton Morley en route I arrived at St Olaves and saw the first of 5 Barn Owls (3 on the island, 2 on Fritton Marsh).  I walked out through the boatyards at St Olaves hearing the odd Bearded Tit in the reeds as I headed north.

As I approached the bungalow about a mile down the footpath it became clear that there were some works going on that completely blocked the footpath, forcing me to retrace my steps and take the track down from under the bridge to the bungalow.  I could have done without adding another couple of miles on to the walk - it was going to be long enough already!  Anyway, I saw a Kingfisher where I turned round and a flock of 19 Bewick's Swans flew east on their way back to Russia.

I saw the first of 4 Stonechats as I continued on and heard 2 Water Rails calling.  A Green Sandpiper flew away and I saw an interesting Buteo land on a post.  I just glimpsed it in flight before it landed, thought I saw some white near the rump and/or base of the tail but didn't get a clear view of that.  At rest it looked like the Rough-legged Buzzard, and may well have been, but it was a long way off.  I watched it for about half an hour and it refused to budge or show me its tail, but I was pretty confident it was the Rough-leg.  I really wanted to see it fly - maybe I would see it again as I passed back down the other side of the island - I'd probably be nearer if it was still in the same area.

I picked up a couple of Short-eared Owls across the island and later one much closer which conceivably could have been one of the same but I doubt it.  A third or fourth Short-eared Owl was present at the very north end of the island from where I could see a Spotted Redshank among the waders opposite Burgh Castle.

Short-eared Owl, Haddiscoe Island, 7th March

The walk back down the other side was relatively uneventful, but a pale Buzzard was perched on what may well have been the very same fence that I'd seen the Rough-leg on earlier.  At first it looked like the same bird, I thought, but as I got closer I felt the head wasn't as pale as I had thought and the belly not as strongly marked.  I went from having doubts about my original ID to concluding that it had to be a different bird.  But then as I moved further away from it and looked back it started looking exactly like the Rough-leg had done originally, so maybe it was the same bird after all, and maybe it wasn't a Rough-leg after all.  The bird must have been in view for well over two hours all told and despite seeing it from both sides of the island it never flew again and never showed me its tail.  It seemed to be front-on no matter what direction I looked at it from!  Even at its nearest when it looked most like a pale Buzzard it was still a long way off and in the end I couldn't make up my mind.  If these are the views it was giving when I was on the island with it I shudder to think what sort of views people were getting from Waveney Forest!  The Rough-legged Buzzard was reported from there this afternoon - I hope they got a better view than me. 

Other birds seen on this leg included a few Snipe and a couple of Greylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrids, one being a normal bird with normal Greylags and the other obviously being the offspring of a domestic Greylag with a flock of white domestic Greylags.  There were lots of Chinese Water Deers on and around the island - must have been at least 25 but very probably more.

Chinese Water Deer, Haddiscoe Island, 7th March

Afterwards I nipped down to Lound Lakes in the hope that the Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid that I heard about recently might still be present.  It was...

Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid, Lound Lakes, 7th March