Tuesday 20 October 2015

A Day In The Woods - Norfolk 19th October 2015

So, yesterday, at long last I managed a proper day out birding this autumn and my group and I spent nearly all day sauntering up and down Holkham Pines and Wells Wood on the sunny Norfolk coast. We arrived at just after seven and were downing that first cup of coffee as the sun rose to the tune of several thousand ‘winking’ Pink-footed Geese.  We checked for stray white geese but no joy and had to be happy with a ghostly Barn Owl weaving in and out of the cattle in the field alongside. 

An early rising Marsh Harrier was perched up close by and Goldcrests were pinging around overhead in the poplars hinting that there were at least going to be some birds to look at today! Redwings and Blackbirds called and three Bramblings alighted in the closest tree where they ‘dweaked’ away at each other.  James Lowen ambled up and I suspect he was slightly surprised to see six birders cars there so early in the gloom on a Monday morning but at least we now had another set of eyes in the field to share information with. With enough light to see we headed east towards Wells and it soon became apparent that there were still Goldcrests aplenty along with numerous Robins and the constant calling of Redwings and incoming Skylarks. Two noisy Buzzards came out of their roost and a Great Spotted Woodpecker high over could have been a migrant.

A crest and Long-tailed Tit flock moved through with both Treecreeper and Coal Tits in tow and I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call but could not find it.  Our first Fieldfare ‘chacked’ by and Song Thrushes and more Redwings erupted from the pines.  Some of the Goldcrests were ridiculously tame and allowed you to get within a foot or two as they gleaned aphids from the leaves and bark.

Goldcrest - Gill Price
The explosive Pied Wagtail-like call of the Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler told us that we were at the right spot and although it called very well and at close range, it was a bugger to see and most had to be happy with a few glimpses of this frosty grey and white sprite.  

The Red-flanked Bluetail was beckoning in the Drinking Pool area and the thumbs up and ‘no problem’ comments from outgoing birders were the immediate kiss of death and we spent the next hour patiently waiting and looking for this most desirable of birds. Crests and Coal Tits came and went and Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls called over the trees but of the phantom there was no sign so I took everyone off down the track to the spot where the Blyth’s Reed warbler had been frequenting.  It was currently on the south side of the path in an almost unviewable area and we needed it to move back the nice brambles on the north side.  I heard it quietly tacking almost immediately and saw it flit up into a birch before descending again. It was going to be one of those days.  James then text me to say that the Bluetail was back so with everyone’s eye staring feverishly back the way we came, I decided that a skulky brown Acro had nothing over a skulky Bluetail so off we went leaving Ruth Barnes to try and get better warbler views.

The crew - Sam Shippey

Thankfully the wait was not as long this time and we all eventually got the most magnificent views of this most enigmatic of Siberian waifs. Who would have thought that after the unblocking Winspit bird in Dorset way back in November 1993 that it would slowly become a more frequent autumnal feature of British birding and that I too would one day find my own one on that memorable day at Berry Head on the 18th October 2005?

Red-flanked Bluetail - these three shots by a jubilant Sam Shippey
Red-flanked Bluetail - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Red-flanked Bluetail - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com
Happy Antony

There is just something special about this special and we do not even get to see it in its full finery.  The smiles all around told the story with Antony and Sam being especially grinny!

The amble back was somewhat more upbeat that it had been an hour before and when the Hume’s gave itself up and showed well a few times in the oaks and willows there was even more to smile about.  It was calling frequently and very loudly and was even joined in voice by a Yellow-browed which Jason and Nicole saw shortly afterwards. 

Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Back at the cars I very generously gave everyone a full 15 minutes pit stop before heading back out on the track through Holkham to the west.  The sun was beating down and layers had been removed and I did not want the sun getting any more into our faces than necessary for looking for the Isabelline Shrike.


By the time we were down near the Washington Hide (via a Firecrest!) it was really warm and the jumpers were now also off and the sleeves rolled up.  The Shrike was a long way off but it looked vaguely rusty and no one was too fussed!  Five thrush species (no Ouzel) were foraging on the grass with Pheasants and Rabbits and Marsh Harriers were on the prowl.

Visually Impaired Shrike - Antony Wren

Shaggy Ink Cap

Down to the Crossroads where a Pallas’s had been seen but it was actually quite quiet and so we had to make do with having a look for the other Red-flanked Bluetail and although it did not sit up for us it did make a couple of mad dashes including one right through the group when the cobalt blue of that tail was flared as it swept into a bramble clump.  It was gone two and stomachs were complaining that the tour leader really should be getting the rest of the attached bodies back for sustenance and so we slowly headed back in the warm sunshine with a highflying Short-eared owl (thanks James), much better Issy Shrike views and another Firecrest to help us along.

Goldcrest - Mark Vale

However, we were not finished as in the last tree before the cars the magical, mesmerising seven striped sprite that is a Pallas's Warbler was bouncing around the Holm Oak on some sort of elastic string that caused it to hover and show off those stripes and lemon yellow rump. We plonked our achy bodies down on the benches and were even able to watch it whilst top up those diminished reserves.  What a great finale to a stunning seven and a half hours birding.

Pallas's Warbler - Mark Vale


More Papping - Gill Price

Pallas's Warbler - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Pallas's Warbler - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

There was more to come though and after a slightly tortuous journey in convoy to the east during which time it was suggested that I get out and jog up to the car in front and ask them to go a little faster.  Pat was almost foaming...

Beeston Regis Common was the spot and the second Isabelline Shrike of the day was in the bag in under one minute from the cars and performed beautifully in the late evening sunshine.  I even managed to at last take some pictures of something!

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Isabelline Shrike - James Lowen http://jameslowen.com

Time was slipping by but with the light holding we nipped back to Kelling Heath to have a look for a Great Grey Shrike that had been seen earlier in the afternoon but as expected it had moved through.  Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Redwings were heading off to roost and three Stonechats were still active.  A distant Buzzard and a male Goshawk with two crows in attendance were seen and another large raptor with corvid attention delightfully proved to be a Rough-legged Buzzard which was a superb way to end the day.  The walk back did not produce any Dartfords but there were some mighty fine Fly Agarics.

Handshakes and smiles and off on the journey home via the regular stop off for dinner at Mother Hubbards in Swaffham which was going swimmingly with the usual Special of fish ‘n’ chips, buttered roll, drink and mushy peas for £6.95. Pat and his Yorkshire roots always takes exception to the nature and appearance of overly green southern mushy peas but declaring to all and sundry with typical Pat volume that ‘there is too much peaness’ was a step too far and then when much guffawing ensued saying even louder ‘I said peaness... PEA....NESS’ does not in fact make things better....

Well, quite a day with a haul of Siberian waifs and strays to make any notebook gleam with poorly drawn doodles and a plethora of ***** and !!!!!!!

Birding mojo and I reacquainted? I very much think so...

PS: thanks to everyone for letting me use your pictures!

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't manage a trip like that, so reading about it, written so beautifully and seeing such wonderful pictures, is the next best thing. Thank you all.