Goldcliff bird highlights today.

What a brilliant afternoon and early evening’s birding. Three Water Rails was an unexpected surprise as was a single Water Pipit feeding. Just over two thousand Dunlin came in to roost late afternoon but the highlight was a pair of adult Bewick’s Swans that flew into the third lagoon at 4pm.

Bird watching in North Norfolk – October 26th-28th.

peregrine Another great autumn bird watching trip to North Norfolk this week with some great weather and magical birds. My friend and I arrived around 10am after an early start from the south and went straight to Brancaster to try and find the reported Pallas’s Warbler. We dipped on that species but we did see Starlings, Wren, Woodpigeons, Robin, Common Snipe, Jackdaws, Meadow Pipits in crisp plumage, Siskin’s, Goldfinches, Blackbirds (one Continental bird with a black bill), Crows, Chaffinches, Brent Geese, Skylarks, Greenfinch, Curlew, Little Egrets, Blue Tits and Common Buzzard. Several Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest were feeding in some Willows and as we watched numerous Bramblings that had literally just come in on migration were dropping out of the sky into the bushes. What a lovely sight.

In the afternoon we headed over to Burnham Overy Dunes for the two reported rare Wheatears found there. 1000+ Pink Footed Geese greeted us feeding in the field along with over three hundred Brent Geese, several White Fronted Geese and three Barnacle Geese. We also added Egyptian Geese, Lapwing, Marsh Harriers, Golden Plover, Linnet, Stonechat, Moorhen, Mallard, two Common Gulls, Dunlin, Redshank, Ringed lover and Great Black-backed Gulls to our list. A covey of Grey Partridges scurried away into thick cover upon seeing us. Cormorants (in good numbers), Reed Buntings, Wigeon and a Bar Tailed Godwit were added and finally we reached a spot where a small line of birders with the tell-tale telescopes were lined up, and it wasn’t long before we had good views of both Desert and Isabelline Wheatears – occasionally feeding together and two lovely looking individuals. It was late afternoon now so we started to head over to the B+B stopping along the way at the roadside to scan over Stiffkey Fen adding Shoveler and Black Tailed Godwit to the list. A call behind us caught our attention and instantly we recognised it as Yellow Browed Warbler, but we only had a very brief glimpse as it flew deep into cover. To finish off the day we had a brief walk around Cley Marshes watching Mute Swans, Starlings, a female Long Tailed Duck which was a nice surprise, Teal, Ruff, Kestrels hovering, Grey Plover, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Grey Heron and listening to a Water Rail calling. A Noctule Bat flew past us as we arrived back at the car. As usual, Wendy and Ray Millard – our hosts at White Barn B+B, Back Lane, Blakeney, NR25 7NP (01263 741359) greeted us and we enjoyed another excellent two nights at the B+B (for booking either phone or email on raymillard@btinternet.com).

Day two: After a peaceful nights rest we headed off at dawn for the long walk along Blakeney Point. This is a tough walk along deep shingle but it is broken up bu a dune system and some grass paths too, and the bird life here during migration time can be amazing. Local bird artist and friend of mine James MaCallum will testify to this and he has written a book on the area which I purchased this week. James found Britain’s second only Alder Flycatcher in this area, need I say more. Although hard going, the walk is very beautiful and there is something magical about being out in such habitat, watching the Sun slowly rise and listening to the calls of the birds as they wake up to face another day. All around there is the cry of gulls passing overhead, Redshanks and Curlew on the marshes, soft tweets of Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings from the thick Sedges and Glassworts and for us keeping an ever present eye on the slightest movement on the ground that may be a rare migrant. hornedpoppy

We did see numerous freshly arrived Redwings and several Fieldfares mixed in feeding on the ground, Robins and Blackbirds. Grey Plovers called as they passed in groups overhead broken by the calls of long skeins of Brent Geese making their way to the marshes. Yellow Horned Poppy (above) was still in flower as was patches of Sea Thrift and Sea Campion. Just out from the tide line the occasional glimpse of a an Atlantic Grey Seal could be seen bobbing its head just above the water then disappearing only to re-emerge some distance away. We continued past the building which originally was a look out place for smugglers prior to customs and excise coming into existence and continued on towards the dune slacks finding a dead Guillimot along the way. Numerous Common Puffballs and Parasol mushrooms carpeted the ground and the occasional Waxcap grew in amongst the grasses. A dead Great Black-backed Gull we found last autumn was still in the same spot – untouched by any potential scavengers and almost mummified now. Always keeping our eyes open we walked along what is known locally as ‘Yankee Ridge’ in relation to the remains of The Yankee – a Victorian steam boat. Numerous waders were feeding in the inlets of the estuary with several Brent Geese feeding in the grasses. A Spotted Redshank was a nice surprise and a Peregrine made an appearance chasing off the local Kestrel. As we crossed over a damp area we passed along the lower section of the dunes where we flushed a covey of Grey Partridge. There were no rarities in the fenced off area known as The Plantation (Pallas’s’ Warbler had been reported there the day before) but a male Sparrowhawk did fly out of from the trees. We walked to the edge of the dune slack and enjoyed views out over the estuary ahead where over six hundred Oystercatchers were feeding.

A small bird dropped in and landed in a small Blackberry bush – this was a male Blackcap which just goes to show that at any time anything can arrive in this area. In fact we watched a newly arrived Blackbird complete with dark bill drop in and head straight for a Date Palm bush to search for food. A group of six and a little while later eleven Shorelarks called as they passed overhead but they continued on and out of sight over the sea. After sitting down to enjoy the view and the quite we had to start to make our way back. As we walked out onto the beach we could hear the distant calls of the Seals and at least fifty of them were stretched out on the sand further along in the restricted area. Three Gannets passed out at sea and more Pink Footed and Brent Geese were making their way inland. We did however find a pair of Snow Buntings (picture below) which allowed us to walk within yards of them as they fed. They really are a lovely little bird. bunting

After dinner we headed off into the Cley Marshes covering quite an area of this magical reserve. Waders were plentiful and included Ruff, Black Tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Turnstone, Lapwing and Dunlin amongst others, along with huge numbers of Teal and Wigeon. Marsh Harriers quartered the reed beds where the ‘ping ping’ calls of Bearded Tits could be heard with a small group of six briefly spotted doing what they do best, diving into the thickest part of the reeds. The familiar call of Cetti’s Warblers echoed across the reed beds and everywhere was the delicate calls of Pink Footed and Brent Geese. Several Little Grebes were surfacing in the reen and several Stonechats flitted about in the tops of Willows. We got talking toa fellow birder from Pembrokeshire (it’s a small world sometimes) and he had just come back from watching the male Desert Wheatear just up on the shingle ridge. We decided to take a stroll up even though we had watched one the day before, and this proved a good move as this was a cracking male which was very obliging too (picture below). We watched it for quite a while flitting about on the ground and feeding in an open area of shingle and letting those without telescopes to enjoy views of the bird through ours. It is a nice feeling seeing the delight on someone’s face not just from seeing a species for the first time but appreciating the markings and colours through the telescope.There was several birders present some with top of the range camera equipment, one of whom was a person I recognised to be Richard Brooks. He was the author of a book I have about bird watching on Lesbos and I attended one of his talks. Unfortunately I didn’t recognise who he was until he had walked off and I would have liked to have said hello.

We decided to scan out to sea before heading back and watched numerous distant gulls over the water. In the distance were the long line of wind turbines with distant oil rigs beyond and overhead were fighter jets from the nearby American air base conducting twisting turns, accelerating and descending in tactical moves reminiscent of a film. Although they are powerful jets and very impressive, they are quite high up and don’t really cause an issue. Out at sea we could see distant Common Scoters and Gannets but closer in were several Guillimots and Red Throated Divers floating on the gentle water, and every now and then the head of a Grey Seal popping up, taking an inquisitive look at us and then submerging again. Walking along the shingle we watched several groups of Linnets and Goldfinches and wondering if there were any Shorelarks about. We were hoping to catch a better view of this lovely little lark with it’s delicate yellow face markings when someone a little further along shouted out ‘Shorelark’ and pointing at the open area in front of us and to our left. And there they were, a group of ten that dropped in to feed. sadly they were a little too far off for a decent photograph but we did get excellent views through the telescopes. As the light dropped we could see a large flock of Pink Footed Geese landing on the pools by the central hides so we made the decision to head to the hides for dawn.

Day three: A Tawny Owl was calling close by as we left the B+B early morning and as we approached Cley Marshes a lone Barn Owl gently flitted past hunting over the grass area. Arriving at the hide on Cley Marshes just before dawn we listened to the calls of Teal and Wigeon. Unfortunately the Pink Footed Geese had roosted on the next pool over but we were entertained with their calls as they started to take off to fly out and feed in the fields. Seventeen Egyptian Geese had roosted however on the pool we were looking over and soon made their way off also with several Greylag Geese. Numerous Ruff and Black Tailed Godwits were feeding and Marsh Harriers as usual were creating a stir as they flew low over the duck and wader flocks. Bearded Tits ‘pinged’ from the reed beds and a Kestrel was hovering over the grass area. Three Pintail and a male Merlin were a nice surprise and Kingfisher, Blue Tits, House sparrows and a Collard Dove were added to the list. A male Peregrine flew in and caught a female Teal as we watched from one of the hides not far from the reserve centre, and proceeded to remain on the grass to start plucking the poor bird. We had good views of this individual and we both commented on its delicate plumage, smaller size and head markings, and wondered if this was indeed a sub-species? So with that in mind, my friend proceeded to write down a full description of the bird and I took photographs from every angle I could. At the visitor centre we showed the pictures to a few of the birding staff who were equally very interested. Watch this space on the update. The picture of this individual is at the top of the article.

In the afternoon we headed off to Wells Wood to try and find a Pallas’s Warbler reported there. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the spot where the bird had been seen and along with countless uncontrolled dogs and their irresponsible owners we cut our losses and headed off. I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone, high car park charges and dogs running around everywhere and barking continually. A very pretty woodland but totally spoiled. We headed off to our intended destination of Titchwell RSPB Reserve stopping off at the roadside to admire and scan through 3000+ Pink Footed Geese feeding literally from one end of the field to the other. what an amazing sight. A Dusky and a Yellow Browed Warbler had been reported at Titchwell so we parked up and headed off to that spot where several birders were lined patiently waiting. The Yellow Browed Warbler showed long enough to appreciate the yellow wing bar and the striking eye stripe but the Dusky Warbler remained elusive. Many of the previous species seen were also at Titchwell but we did enjoy views of several hundred Golden Plovers, and an adult Yellow Legged Gull was feeding amongst the high numbers of other gulls. Knot were present along with over fifty Ruff – certainly my highest number for this species. As the light started to drop we headed out onto the beach where hundreds of Oystercatchers were feeding along the tide line with small groups of Sanderling mixed in and a lone Turnstone.

Common Scoters and Great Crested Grebes were out at sea and as the Sun set a golden glow descended over the dunes lighting up the nearby rocks with a gold colour. So that ended a great three days and we headed back to the car to start the long journey home – not before stopping for some well earned chips. (Below, male Desert Wheatear). wheatear