A Blue Eyed Birder weekend away:
The drive up from Wymondham to Holkham in the half light produced no Owls but we did see a swirling ball of Jackdaws leaving their roost, a road crossing Muntjac and a couple of early rising Buzzards and Red Kites. The visibility was somewhat better than on Wednesday and we were once again greeted by Pinkfeet, Wigeon and hunting Marsh Harriers and Red Kites. The Grey Partridges were even still in the same field corner.
We went straight down to the beach and as other birders were going East I went West to where Pat and I saw the larger flock. But there was not a passerine to be seen and I suspect the early dog walkers had moved anything on. A deceased Sanderling had been taken out by a Merlin I suspect with just the breast removed but amazingly it was ringed and I shall report back on that in due course.
|ex-Sanderling - ring retrieved LNHM BT91750 - Roger Ward|
|A lovely trio of shots by Antony|
|A showdowy Enid (EB)|
No one had seen the Shorelarks out East either and we were joined by three other birders to scan the sea. A few minutes later ten Shorelarks flew in from the West and landed on the strand line where we were standing and afforded all of us wonderful views as they scurried around across the sand. It was nice to watch them fully in the open rather than tucked in and out of the Salicornia marsh.
|Sand ripples, ridges and gullies like a dune system from the air or a crinkly brain|
From here we cut through to the Washington Hide leaving Antony to investigate Carline Thistle heads for moth larva! The Ectoedemia heringella infestation on the Holm Oaks is truly mind boggling. You could barely hear yourself think by the hide as two pair of Egyptian Geese were in vocal contest over who would take over the remains of an old Crow nest high in the Pine canopy and the cacophony only ceased once the intruding pair departed. It will be a bit of a rough tumble for any chicks born at that height amongst the branches!
|Antony checking out Carline Thistle heads|
|Egyptian Geese (there are two if you look closely!)|
A Great White Egret briefly appeared from a ditch and the usual trio of big raptors were dotted across the marsh but unlike on Wednesday I was actually able to find the Russian White-fronted Geese as at least 60 were feeding on the two green ‘hills’ out beyond the heronry and were easily identifiable even at that range.
|Russian White-fronted Geese|
The walk back on the inside produced the usual small birds again and we could hear Pinkfeet returning for a mid-morning wash and brush up. There was no news on the Brancaster Cackling Goose at that stage so we checked all that we could see.
|Antony was suffering from Tripod Trauma but found a suitable naturalistic fix|
Back at the visitors centre the Grey Partridges were still grovelling in their chosen corner and Snipe were dotted around the rills with the odd Redshank while Black-tailed Godwits and Green Sandpiper were also seen in the meadows. A flock of Woodpigeons were actually sunbathing on the grass while Mallard and a drake Pintail dozed behind them.
|Muntjac and Wigeon|
|Lounging Woodpigeons soaking up some rays|
The Firecrest put on a good show in the biggest Holm Oak and drew a crowd although a seriously arboreal Robin kept people on their toes with its sudden appearances at height!
|Essence of Firecrest - Richard Hanman|
Time for an early lunch with Red Kites overhead and stunning Wigeon grazing just a few metres away and then off through Wells to the North Point Pools.
|Red Kite - Antony Wren|
Only Richard had been here before out of the party so it was good to visit somewhere new. The two lagoons were full of wildfowl and Brent Geese were flighting in for a wash and drink before heading back out towards the saltmarsh once again.
|North Point Pools|
|Dark-bellied Brent Geese|
|Dark-bellied Brent Geese|
Calling Pipits felt like they should have been Water but all seen well were Rocks while Skylarks were warming up for a sing and Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting were also seen along the dividing track. A Barn Owl was hunting the reed bed closer to the edges of Wells but soon came closer to hunt the Hawthorn scrub around us. Always a joy to see one in daylight. Marsh Harriers were very active and included a green tagged bird and a female Sparrowhawk flushed Thrushes from the hedge line.
|Curlews returning from the inland fields|
The lack and footpath signs and three potential paths led us straight on and through a fallow field that, as Enid pointed out, was chock full of arable ‘weeds’ with Fumitory, Marsh Cudweed, Groundsel, Speedwells and Mayweeds. We wondered if it was part of a Turtle Dove plot? The field was alive with small birds with several hundred Linnet and best part of a hundred Skylark creating a magical spectacle. The well-worn path petered out at the crest of the field and we stopped to survey the stunning views of the saltmarsh and its snaky channels off towards the pines of East Hill and Wells Wood.
|and out to East Hills|
|Linnets and a Skylark - Antony Wren|
It would appear that everyone turns round at this point and retraces their steps and after watching hunting Red Kites, Marsh Harriers and a male Sparrowhawk, checking Brent Geese for Black Brants and finding yet another Great White Egret, we too headed back the way we had come.
Cloud had started to build in the west and I had a feeling that the concrete pad at the nearby Garden Drove would fill up early given the numbers of birders on the coast and so we moved the short distance down the road and parked up for the evening session.
|Piglets on the drive in - Richard Hanman|
While everyone put on as many remaining layers of clothing and wellies and drank hot drinks we were surrounded by a vast flock of Linnets that were feeding on some Sunflower set aside. More parties arrived and I reckon that at least 600 were present along with a good number of Chaffinches that sought refuge in the adjacent hedge. The sound was glorious and backdropped by 500 grumbling Brent Geese that were quite happily feeding in a winter wheat field around the gas gun designed to scare them off.
|you could hear the Brents from miles away|
|It was a little muddy at the top - Antony Wren|
Thankfully only the top section of the path was a muddy mess but even here we found signs of the local wildlife with Black-headed Gull and many Brown Rat prints. A Mistle Thrush was seen on the walk down to marsh and there were already handful of people set up to wait for the Pallid Harrier to appear.
It was likely that we would be waiting for over two hours but as it happened they were very well spent and we all enjoyed encounters with at least 25 Marsh Harriers, Red Kite, Buzzard, a female Merlin, male Peregrine, four Kestrels, at least one ring-tailed Hen Harrier and best of all a grey ghost of a male.
|The Grey Ghost - Richard Hanman|
|Antony once again getting distracted - this time for moth mines in Suada...|
|A very smart, very dark, white throated female Blackbird|
|Enid and Julie with prime raptoring perches. It was a bit chilly!|
The latter was my first for some years and steadily quartered the marshes for some time. The crowd grew to about 40 strong and it was a wise move to get parked early but the Pallid Harrier did not oblige until its allotted time of 4.30 when I picked it up coming in low from the east. I shouted out directions and most of those with scopes managed to get onto it in the fading light as its delicate shape jinked in towards the roost area. Those with only bins unfortunately struggled to pick it up in the low light. There were plenty of familiar faces to catch up while watching the raptors, silent hunting Barn Owls and throngs of noisy Brent Geese. I asked Jim Lawrence about the Cackling Goose and he said ‘Look above the orange bag to the field behind – seems to like that spot’ but more of that tomorrow morning.
|Brent Geese - Richard Hanman|
With the Pallid safely tucked away for the evening it was time to walk back up in the fast fading light and hastily decamp into our cars to try and bring some feeling back into our extremities after a wondrous day out. North Norfolk at its best.
Back at Wymondham it was fish 'n' chips for dinner followed by the inspirational combination of hot buttered fruit loaf with salted caramel ice-cream.
|Basically ice cream on toast...|