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.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Autumn birding

A Greenshank, 1-2 Green Sandpipers and 12 Snipe were on the patch on 24th September.

The following morning I heard a Curlew fly over the garden (house tick I think) while checking the moth trap at 3.55 am, closely followed by a Grey Heron 2-3 minutes later.  I was up early as I was keen to get to Burnham Overy early and this early sign of passage made me even keener.

It was just starting to get light when I arrived and 2 Blackbirds dropped in to the staithe from a height as I got out of the car.  The walk out produced a Water Rail in the ditch beside the seawall and another heard calling.  A Reed Warbler was still singing, albeit in a rather muted fashion.  At least 63 Dark-bellied Brent Geese were in the harbour, the most I'd seen this autumn.

Water Rail, Burnham Overy, 25th September

There wasn't much vis mig in the end, just two of several common migrant species seen including Grey Herons, Pied Wagtails, Carrion Crows, Chaffinches and Redpolls.  A party of 8 Bearded Tits flew up from the reedbed and headed north to the dunes before turning round and dropping back in to the reedbed.  There were a lot of Gannets moving at sea (I counted 110) but little else.

There were a few grounded migrants in the dunes, but it was quite hard going.  There were 2 Redstarts, 3 Wheatears, 6+ Song Thrushes, 2 Garden Warblers, Whitethroat and 2 Chiffchaffs.  I spent a while, as I usually do, sitting at the east end overlooking the big sycamore at the west end of Holkham Pines.  Eventually I caught a brief view of the Red-breasted Flycatcher that had been found there the previous day.  I also saw a Hobby and one of the Great White Egrets at Holkham.

Garden Warbler, Burnham Overy, 25th September

The most extraordinary thing I found was an aberrant Small Copper butterfly - see my mothing diary for photos of that.

I returned to Burnham Overy the following day seeing Spoonbill, Great White Egret and Kingfisher but fewer migrants than I'd hoped.  There have been quite a few Blue Tits on the move recently and we saw at least 11 move west this morning (though one group of 8 may have been the same 8 that later moved back east).  There were 3 Wheatears, Garden Warbler, 3 Blackcaps and a Brambling but it was hard work.  A Yellow-browed Warbler was at the west end of Holkham Pines and I could believe the reports of a second bird.  The report of 4 between the boardwalk and Holkham Pines is much harder to believe - even if the observer had included Chiffchaffs they'd have done well to get to 4 that morning!

A message from Ashley as I was walking back along the seawall with Nick alerted us to an Osprey over the harbour.  He must have been much further away from it than we were but still managed to pick it up before us!  Thanks to him I got good views of it as it moved eastwards.

Reed Bunting, Burnham Overy, 26th September

The following day I started off at Burnham Deepdale churchyard (where there was nothing) and took the coastal footpath heading west.  A single Blackcap was the only migrant I'd found by the time I reached Brancaster Staithe but a tit flock on the east side of the harbour contained a nice Yellow-browed Warbler.  If it had been quiet on the first leg, the next leg was far from quiet!  There was Rock Pipit and Grey Wagtail, Redwing, 11 Song Thrushes, Chiffchaff and 2 Blackcaps, and then as I reached Brancaster a Spotted Flycatcher - pretty much a rarity nowadays.  But the real highlight of this stretch was a constant pinging of Bearded Tits along the reeds on the north side of the path.  There were little parties of them moving through, anything from 1 to 14 but invariably calling in the reeds and then coming to the tops of the reeds and then flying up and off east.  Sometimes they would drop down again in the next clump of reeds, other times they would carry on, but always they moved off east so I could be certain I wasn't double-counting.  I'm sure I did under-count as I heard a few birds calling that I didn't see move off and so didn't count, but I certainly saw at least 65 Bearded Tits - a phenomenal total.

Bearded Tits, between Brancaster Stiathe and Brancaster, 27th September

There were Chiffchaff, Blackcap and more Song Thrushes in Brancaster and I continued to Broad Lane.  Here there was another Yellow-browed Warbler and I spent a bit of time trying to get a view of a Lesser Whitethroat in order to determine its race.  On my initial views I thought it looked interesting but I'd pretty much decided it was probably western after all when Mick Rooney turned up and said it was a definite western that had been around for a few days.  There were quite a few more Chiffchaffs here, at least 4 Blackcaps and a couple of Goldcrests.  A flock of 10 Jays flew west (my notes say east but I'm pretty sure they were west...) and a couple of Siskins flew over.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Brancaster, 27th September

I've never birded the golf-course before and decided to give it a bash today.  There was Wheatear and Whinchat along the north side and a bit further east a second Whinchat.  Towards the end I found a nice Redstart but apart from 6 Song Thrushes and 3 Rock Pipits there weren't many more migrants here.  A nice spot though - I shall try it again.  Oh, there were 2 Red Kites overhead too.

Next I walked up Gypsy Lane where I failed to find anything of much note - another Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrests, Treecreeper and Bullfinch.  The now rather long walk back to the car was pretty uneventful.

A pre-lunch walk round Massingham Heath with the Mrs on her birthday failed to produce any interesting birds and a post-lunch coastal stroll along the coast path between Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Deepdale wasn't a lot better except for the 11 Spoonbills on the saltmarsh.  Also a Red Kite on the way up to the coast.

Jay, Massingham Heath, 2nd October

Spoonbills, Burnham Deepdale, 2nd October

A seawatch at Sheringham on Thursday 5th October was disappointing - the wind didn't turn far enough round to the northwest until too late in the morning.  The highlights were a Pomarine Skua east and 2 Sooty Shearwaters west together.  Other seabirds included 3 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Great Skuas and 2 Arctic Skuas.  Also-rans were 3 Pink-footed Geese in, 23 Red-throated Divers, 2 Kittiwakes and 9 Sandwich Terns.  Very few waders or wildfowl.

On Saturday I went up to Cley with the usual group.  We started off in Dauke's Hide from where we saw at least 18 Little Stints.  A Curlew Sandpiper was present for a littl while but flew off before the whole group saw it.  I counted at least 80 Ruff.  A Sparrowhawk interacted with one of the Marsh Harriers briefly.

We headed down East Bank just in time to miss the Grey Phalarope that had been showing - it flew off as we approached.  There was a Red-throated Diver on the sea and as we turned back we were advised that the Grey Phalarope had returned.  At first we couldn't see it as it was hidden in the reeds at the edge of its favourite pool but it soon emerged and we all got good views in the end.

Grey Phalarope, Cley, 7th October

After a while it flew to the Serpentine but didn't stay there long before flying to the back of Arnold's Marsh and then flying again, at which point I lost it and we continued on to Bishop's Hide.

Grey Phalarope, Cley, 7th October

Some of the Little Stints were viewable again from BIshop's, as was the Curlew Sandpiper again.

Little Stints and Dunlin, Cley, 7th October

Some nice views of close Ruff from here too, mostly juveniles but varying in the intensity of their plumage colour.

Ruff, Cley, 7th October

I'd not noticed this Marsh Harrier sitting on the ground in full view until someone in the hide asked me to confirm what it was.  My excuse is that it was behind the bar between the flaps from where I was sitting :)

Marsh Harrier, Cley, 7th October

On 9th I had an enjoyable morning at Burnham Overy.  A Tawny Owl was calling in the village when I arrived and a Barn Owl was hunting as I walked out.  Water Rail, Kingfisher and Bearded Tits were all heard calling.  When I reached the boardwalk I spotted this Merlin on a fence post to the east.

Merlin, Burnham Overy, 9th October

While I was watching it a Brambling called from the bushes and a second bird was flushed from the sueada shortly afterwards.  I spent a bit of time watching for vis mig from Gun Hill.  The following totals included birds I saw throughout the morning but as I spent most of the time walking around the dunes I'm sure they are but a fraction of the birds that moved through.  Anyway, I counted 230 Pink-footed Geese in from the north, 23 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 33 Shelduck, 420 Wigeon, 220 Teal, 14 Eiders (all adult males), 200 Common Scoter, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, 7 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Crested Grebes moving over the sea.  Also 4 of 7 Grey Herons west were together over the sea and there were lots of gulls moving all morning - I think 300 Black-headed Gulls and 70 Common Gulls was probably a massive underestimate but I was trying to count only the ones that looked like they were passage migrants rather than just moving along the coast.  Also at sea was a Harbour Porpose, something I don't see nearly as often nowadays as I used to in the 90s.

Overhead I counted 2 Carrion Crows, 3 Skylarks, 3 Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtail, 70 Meadow Pipits, 22 Rock Pipits, 5 Reed Buntings, 32 Chaffinches, 2 more Brambling, 6 Greenfinches, 4 Redpolls, 48 Siskins and 28 Goldfinches all moving west.  The real number was much higher.  A few Redwings were moving too but as most were heard and not seen I have no idea how many.  There were also birds moving further inland including Starlings and an impressive total of 337 Lapwings.  A Merlin also flew west - not sure if that was the same bird as I'd seen earlier or not.

Finding grounded migrants was a little harder - in fact a lot harder.  I notched up about 6 Goldcrests although most were at the east end where they might have just wandered out of the pines, and there must have been at least 130 Meadow Pipits in the dunes.  A Yellow-browed Warbler was in the willows south of the fence but all in all it was hard work!

I continued on to Holkham Pines, hoping for an early Olive-backed Pipit, but didn't do much better.  Two Chiffchaffs (I hadn't seen any in the dunes at all) and another Yellow-browed Warbler.  As I walked back through the north side of Burnham Overy Dunes I accidentally flushed 2 Short-eared Owls from the marrams, my third species of owl here that day.

Short-eared Owl, Burnham Overy, 9th October

A flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese were on the beach and among them I could see a Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid.  It was a bit too distant for me to make up my mind if it was the same returning bird from previous winters or not.  As I returned along the seawall a Lapland Bunting flew over my head calling and there were 3 Red Kites knocking around the freshmarsh (and another Red Kite at South Creake on the way home).

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 9th October

I didn't get out much more until 16th October when there was just a light passage at Burnham Overy.  The highlight was 2 calidrids flying west over the boardwalk - I didn't see them well but one was calling, a Little Stint.  2 Little Stints turned up at Titchwell later - the same birds perhaps?  Other waders on the move were 25 Lapwings west while at sea 3 Eiders west was the only notebook-worthy movement.  Over land there were a few thrushes (e.g. 50+ Redwings in) and a few finches (e.g. 5 Bramblings, 4 Redpolls and 7 Siskins).

Redwing, Burnham Overy, 16th October

Kestrel, Burnham Overy, 16th October

There were huge numbers of Redwing going over the house just before dawn on 19th October and mid morning I heard a Brambling fly over, the first time I've recorded that species here since 2014.

There were a few Redwings over Ryburgh the next day too, along with at least 8 Skylarks.  There were 17 Teal representing an arrival of wintering wildfowl, and 2 Snipe showed well.

Snipe, Ryburgh, 20th October

Little Egret, Ryburgh, 20th October

I spent some time at Ryburgh again on the morning of 26th October where two flocks of Pink-footed Geese flew over (92 north-east followed by about 70 west).  Other birds migrating over included 2 Redpolls south, a few Woodpigeons and probably the 14+ SkylarksTeal numbers had risen to 33 and there 2 Snipe again along with a Green Sandpiper (also 3 Golden Plovers over).  A drake Mandarin flew downriver and I also saw Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and 3 Bullfinches.

Grey Heron, Ryburgh, 26th October

With lots to do before heading off to Oman in early November I didn't really have time to go up to the coast any more, but I've always wanted to find an Eye-browed Thrush on my birthday and I wasn't going to find it staying at home (well, maybe I would have done...?).  So I headed up to Burnham Overy instead, but although I did see a single Fieldfare flying west there weren't many thrushes and certainly no Eye-browed Thrushes.  There were 18 Chaffinches and 2 Siskins west but passerines weren't the order of the day.

Looking out to sea things were a little more interesting.  My first Goldeneye of the autumn was the best of a rather small selection of wildfowl and there were lots of auks moving (including both Guillemots and Razorbills, probably mostly the former).  A few other seabirds included 3 Great Skuas, an Arctic Skuas and half a dozen Kittiwakes.  Perhaps the most unexpected observation was 3 distant raptors which were so far out I could barely identify them.  Fortunately they weren't making much progress and with prolonged views I managed to resolve them - they were 3 Marsh Harriers.  Migrating Marsh Harriers over the sea aren't all that unusual but 3 together (well, not very together, but they weren't very far apart) were a bit of a surprise.  The longer I watched them the clearer it became that they did not, in fact, seem to be migrating - they seemed to be hunting.  That struck me as very odd as in my experience Marsh Harriers tend to take prey on the ground, not on or over the sea.  But I continued watching them for half an hour and for most of that time they made absolutely no progress east or west, but flying around in a manner suggestive of hunting (and probably hunting moving targets, not that I actually saw any of them taking anything).  Eventually the dots on the horizon became even smaller dots on the horizon until eventually I couldn't see them any longer as they had become so far out.

I went for a wander around Gun Hill, flushing a Short-eared Owl a couple of times before heading over to speak with a couple who were birding in the dunes.  One of the couple, Peter Forbes, picked something up over the sea close in while we were talking.  Can't remember what he said exactly but he obviously thought it looked interesting as it disappeared beneath the dunes before I got on it.  I kept an eye on the area and was surprised to see a lovely Leach's Petrel appear.  This was what he'd seen and it was incredibly close - but too close as it kept disappearing behind the dunes.  It seemed to be hanging around the same area so I decided to run across the dunes to get a clearer view of it, feeling quite sure that it would not travel far in the time it took me to get to the edge of the dunes.  But it had completely vanished - despite a clear view of the sea for a good distance east and west we couldn't find it again.  I couldn't quite work out what had happened to it - if it flew east we'd have still been able to see it, if it flew west it would have had to have moved out further to get round Scolt Head, and we'd have seen it, if it had landed on the sea I think we'd have seen it eventually.  I even checked along the beach in case it had landed exhausted on the deck, but couldn't find it.  The only other possibility (assuming it wasn't predated) was that it continued along the beach into the estuary.  I had a look there too but by that time enough time had elapsed for it to have gone further, and I couldn't find it.  A little frustrating as after the intial brief views I thought I was going to get a really lovely close view and probably photos, but still great to have seen it.  Not hugely rare in Norfolk I know, and indeed I've seen lots off Sheringham over the years, but I've rarely seen them so close and I'd not seen one at Burnham Overy before.

The only other birds of note were 3 Red Kites including this one.

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 27th October

I had another 2 Red Kites elsewhere that day but the only other bird of note I saw in my travels was when I stopped off briefly at Brancaster Staithe.  It was so busy I barely stopped the car, but as I did a male Snow Bunting flew south directly over my car.  I couldn't see how far it continued but can't imagine it went down in the harbour area as there were so many people there - it must have either turned or gone straight inland.  I spent many a winter lunch break here during the 15 years I worked at CITB but never once saw a Snow Bunting.

I spent quite a bit of time driving around the lanes in NW Norfolk looking for geese, thrushes or anything else, with absolutely no success.  I can't remember where these Grey Partridges were.

Grey Partridges, NW Norfolk, 27th October

Apart from regularly recording Little Owl, Tawny Owl and Grey Wagtail from home during the second half of October that was pretty much it for me until I headed off to Oman on 2nd November.