Sunday 16 February 2020

Nine Days Not On The Ranch 1-9 February 2020: Day 5

5th February:

I was awoken by the Tawny Owls once again and Bullfinches and Siskins joined us over breakfast. It was glorious and cold and crisp – a complete contrast to the windy gloom of yesterday. I resisted the urge to head straight back to Sedgeford and stuck to my plan. Within the hour I was pulled up in the little layby on the outskirts of Wells with a small group of people looking for the Rough-legged Buzzard. None had seen it despite it being ‘guaranteed’. A beautiful ghostly Barn Owl was systematically working the field margins but it took almost ten minutes for the RLB to pop back up onto his favourite bush off towards the harbour wall.

He was a fair way off but the scope ate up the distance and the light was with us. A striking bird almost cut into a light top half and almost black lower half. He never flew but looked quite content and even the presence of Buzzards and Marsh Harriers above him did not tempt him into flight.

Rough-legged Buzzard

A pair of Goldcrest foraged alongside the car and Curlews stalked the fields before I packed up and moved west to Lady Ann’s Drive.

I was completely blown away with the habitat work that has been carried out on the previously simple damp fields alongside the drive.  They have been landscaped with rills and channels, pools and mounds in a very similar way to what we set out to achieve on Wennington at Rainham but with the guarantee of a vast number of wintering wildfowl, geese and waders to pretty it up.  It was truly a sight to behold and hats off to the management team.

A scan round revealed a few scattered Pinkfeet and a host of Wigeon before I made my way down to the Gap and the beach passing a Firecrest in the first Holm Oak on the way. As usual the tide was miles out and it was a fair walk to where I hoped the Shorelarks and Snow Buntings would be.

I was not to be disappointed and soon had five yellow faced shufflers in the glasswort and grasses. And every now and then they would emerge into view before grovelling off once again. The Snow Buntings were further out but we could count 55 scrummaging around on the sand.

Snow Buntings

And a Shore Lark from Steve Grimwade that was far better than mine!

I soon moved to the beach proper and a small dune occupied by John and Janet Cadera and Andrew Self had room for one more and we stood there and scanned the vast flock of several thousand Common Scoter drifting with the tide like a living slick of black and brown avian petroleum.  Velvets were amongst them and I picked up two adult male, an imm male, two adult and one imm female.  Two dapper drake Eider and six Mergansers were seen but the only grebes were Great Crested and the only diver, a single Red-throat.

Scoter flock

A good group of gulls close in contained and adult Med and Sanderlings and Oystercatchers were along the tideline.  The Snow Buntings chose that point to bimble towards us and landed on the sand below us for a quiet scurry and scamper before taking to the air again in a micro blizzard of tissue paper and heading back towards the Shorelarks.


Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting tracks

I ambled back to the car with a couple of Red Kites above me and a scan around the marshes produced at least 15 Marsh Harriers and ten Buzzards.  I collected Andrea and ambled back to the new Visitors Centre to find 12 noisy Grey Partridge just outside. The males were resplendent and were keeping a watchful eye on their covey of females.

Red Kite

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges

Grey Partridges


The drive back out produced another mini stop (thanks to Ashley from Oriole Birding) and the regular hybrid Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent was seen with a small flock along with a single Pale-bellied too.

Lunch overlooking the Burnham Overy Dunes end of the freshmarsh produced not much before deciding that I really should have another go at the wagtail.  Ten miles and cross country later and I was almost back at Sedgeford.  I had to wait up the straight road to allow three humungous tractors come up the hill.  I could see the huge heap and half joked that I hoped they had not scared the wagtail off. Three minutes later this is exactly what I was being told had happened.

However, on this occasion my luck changed and this 1cy male Eastern Blue Headed Wagtail materialised, not on the heap but alongside the car in the ploughed field where it showed stunningly well over the next ten minutes. Being able to watch this species at close range gave a different impression to the flighty grey and white bird of late September 2018 on Shetland.  The jizz felt slightly different to the normal ‘ Western shape’ with perhaps a slightly larger head, heavier bill and perhaps a longer tail as well as those obviously very long hind claws.  He was decked out in shades of sulphur yellow, olive and steely blue grey and almost felt like a Blue Head jammed into a Pied Wagtails body – if that makes sense.  

Eastern Blue Headed Wagtail

Showing the logn hind claw very well

He called every time he flew – a loud and long buzzy dzeeeep and soon returned to his favoured roadside poo mountain.

Five Red Kites played around the trees and a dapper male Grey Partridge showed far better than they did here in the gloom of yesterday.

Red Kite

Elated at this sunshiny success I headed back the way I had come to the Coast Road and then to the BOD lay by where we had lunch where I set about sloshing my way down through the mud to the river wall for an hour of productive scanning around.

Geese and wildfowl were all around with about 400 each of Pink-feet and Brent (inc a Pale Bellied) and I picked up 24 Russian White-fronts just before they landed out of view which is exactly what then happened with about 25 Barnacles


Ten Ruff were dotted amongst the Lapwings and Curlews along with a smattering of Dunlin, swirling wisps of Snipe and about 50 Golden Plover. Marsh Harriers were quite literally everywhere with at least 25 seen along with ten perching Buzzards and a minimum of five Barn Owls that were already out and about and cruising the hedgelines. A female Hen Harrier circled off towards the heronry. 

Marsh Harrier
Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer quietly grazed and Brown Hares lolloped around the earthy fields and eventually I found the eight Cattle Egrets way off in the distance in the horse paddocks of Marsh House but they looked great even at that range!

Cattle Egrets on full zoom with the RX10 IV - seven in view

They even crop down and look more like Cattle Egrets!

The light and temperature began to drop so I headed back with the Barn Owls for company with the intention of heading back but at the last minute I diverted down the Stiffkey Campsite track for a dusk look at the saltmarsh.  I had just missed a silver male Hen Harrier but was quite content with a perched female Merlin, two ring-tailed Hens and nine Marsh Harriers in the dwindling gloom while 31 Little Egrets massed on the marsh and a Song Thrush started up to sing the night in and ended another long day.

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