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.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Pallas's Grasshopper and Arctic Warblers

Burnham Overy on Saturday 16th September was decidedly quiet.  I spent a little while looking at the sea scraping together a single Manx Shearwater4 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and at least 10 Pintail but it was hard work - not least because of my distance from the sea from the vantage point I was looking from.  There were at least 3000 Pink-footed Geese in already, possibly many more (a rough count from photos but I didn't capture the whole flock).  A single Spoonbill was seen, 2 Red Kites, and heard-only Kingfisher and Bearded Tits.  Migrants in the dunes were thin on the ground - one Chiffchaff was probably a migrant, one western-looking Lesser Whitethroat might have been, but that was it.

Reed Bunting, Burnham Overy, 16th September

One of the Great White Egrets was seen at Holkham and heading into the pines I found the bird of the day, a Pied Flycatcher.

Great White Egret, Holkham, 16th September

That evening I went to Buckenham Carrs for a Norfolk Moth Survey event.  We were greeted by this tame Reeves's Pheasant (photo taken with my iPhone).

Reeves's Pheasant, Buckenham Carrs, 16th September

On Sunday 17th September I received a message from Stuart who had found an interesting Locustella warbler.  I couldn't dash up there and help him sort it out as I was just leaving home for a tea party in Norwich.  By the time I reached Norwich it was sounding increasingly likely that it would turn out to be Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (colloquially known as PG Tips on account of the species' pale tips to the tail and tertial feathers).  I'm not sure the tea served at the tea party was PG Tips but news of another PG Tips on offer in the opposite direction was presenting a dilemma for me.  I'd said I would be at the tea party so I stayed.

The last and only widely-seen Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler in Norfolk turned up on Blakeney Point at the start of a week's holiday in Cornwall - I was still driving down but already the wrong side of Devon when news of that one came through.  The wife wasn't very keen on turning round and going home and I probably wouldn't have got there in time anyway, so I missed out on that individual.  I'd never seen one anywhere before or since, and this was on my patch, so I was pretty keen to get up to Burnham Overy to see this one, especially if it was confirmed, once the tea party was finished.

When I got home after the tea party (I had to drop my wife off as she didn't want to see a skulking warbler) there hadn't been any news since it had been flushed into some reeds by a dogwalker, and I hesitated about dashing up now it was getting late.  I didn't hesitate for long though - even though I thought I probably wouldn't see it, staying at home and then subsequently discovering that I might have seen it had I gone would be unbearable - I had to try for it!  I was barely out of the driveway when I received a message that it had not only been seen again but had been photographed in full view.  Moreover it was now confirmed beyond any doubt that it was indeed a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (not that I think there was really any doubt about it in the minds of the observers by this time anyway). 

By the time I arrived it had been showing regularly affording people good views.  It was out of view, but I was assured that every few minutes it had been appearing on the top of the brambles briefly before flying right and going back in.  It was a tense wait.  I questioned whether playing tapes was wise, but was assured by those present that it had been working effectively up to now.  And then as I scanned the top of the brambles below me there it was, appearing before my eyes, a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler coming up and sitting on top of the brambles in clear view!  Most of the bird was in view, though not for long though - a second or two later it flew right as it had done before, but this time going back and into the reeds where I could still see it for a short while until it gradually moved deeper in and out of view.  I had arrived just in time - it didn't show again that day.  It was seen on subsequent days but I don't think many people, if anyone, got good views again after this first afternoon.

Over the next few days desperate twitchers exhibited some very poor behaviour, breaking down a fence and trespassing on a cattle field despite being told not to be the warden.  A completely unacceptable exchange between one idiot twitcher and the wardens was filmed and put on YouTube and I'm pleased to say that while one or two seemed to be defending the twitcher on one or two forums most right-minded twitchers were quick to condemn the behaviour.  If you want people to release news of birds and make it possible for twitchers to go and see them then follow instructions and definitely don't ever remonstrate with the wardens or other local stakeholders.

I was up there the next day but didn't see all this going on.  No-one had seen it when I passed by the place where it had been early one, and I didn't spend long looking for it again.  There wasn't much going on in the dunes but there were a few duck passing at sea including 200 Wigeon, 12 Pintail, 100 Teal and 200 Common Scoter.  I continued on through Holkham Pines where a Yellow-browed Warbler was seen and the highlight was a male Redstart (they seem to be rarer than Yellow-browed Warblers nowadays!).  A Hobby flew over and from Washington Hide I saw 2 Great White Egrets, a Common Sandpiper and 5 Pintail.

I continued on to Wells Woods seeing another Hobby and eventually reaching the spot where the Arctic Warbler was.  It spent its time high up in silver birches, at times hard to see, at times a little easier but never easy to photograph.  I was happy enough with the shots I got though - I don't think I've ever photographed one at all before.

Arctic Warbler, Wells, 18th September

I headed up to Stiffkey the next day for a change.  It was very quiet with nothing better than 3 Greenshanks by the time I reached the fen (I started at the campsite wood).  Another 4 Greenshanks on the fen along with Green Sandpiper, Dunlin, 33 Ruff and 9 Spoonbills.  There were also 44 Pintail here and a Kingfisher called.  At Stiffkey Flood the Cattle Egret was still present, a bit too distant to bother trying to take any photos.

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