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.

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