The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Norfolk-ing Way - Part 1 (Days 1 + 2)

I've just come back from 5 days in Norfolk with the RSPB Guildford Group (though I largely did my own thing, as I slept in my campervan).  The place never ceases to amaze, and it always produces the goods.

Day 1 (13/10)

The group were scheduled to meet at Welney at midday, so I thought it logical to leave Surrey early, and go for the Two-barred Crossbills that have been delighting all-comers at Lynford Arboretum, which is only 20 miles from Welney.

The weather was pretty much awful all the way there, and as I arrived, it didn't look like it was going to change.  No Crossbills at all were encountered in my first hour or so by the main entrance, and that's hardly surprising in these conditions.

A couple of Common Crossbill did eventually appear, but merely as fly-overs.  I got bored eventually, so I took a little walk round.  It was clear that a load of Redwing had arrived, with birds everywhere.  I soon found some Marsh Tit near the car park, and I was entertained by a pair of Coal Tit chasing around, before grappling with each other on the floor.  I wish I was quicker with my camera setup!  Also Nuthatch and Sparrowhawk around.  A nice spot.
Onto Welney, and luckily the weather had improved markedly.  On the way to the main observatory, I noticed an outside light with a few moths around it.  There was a Sallow, plus lots of Large Wainscot.
The best though was only my second Green-brindled Crescent.
Now with the rest of the group, the observatory itself had all the expected suspects in view, and I was also able to find a rather out-of-place Rock Pipit which made a brief visit to one of the islands.  A large flock of c60 waders flying around had me confused at first, till I realised they were all Ruff!  Never seen so many together before.  The ID was clinched by seeing a particularly pale white-headed male amongst them.  A couple of Marsh Harrier showed well, and a distant flock of Golden Plover flew by. 
I went off to look from the other hides, but there wasn't a great deal new.  Though it was great to see the herd of Whooper Swan coming in off the fields for a wash, right over my head!

In the group of 70 odd birds, there were only 4 juveniles (though not all the flock had returned yet).


On arrival at the last hide, I was greeted by the site of 2 Crane flying off and over the far bank (thanks Christine).  We had earlier been told that they have been present for a while, though had not been seen today!  They were obviously keeping their necks down.
The evening meeting at the group's hotel wasn't until dark, so I wound my way north, stopping at Dersingham Bog.  With all the Great Grey Shrikes on the coast recently, surely one would filter through to this site?  Well, a bird could have done, but the weather was in no state for me to see it!  The only highlight here was seeing my first Pink-footed Goose flock of the trip pass over.
I'd never had a proper look round the site before, and have to say it feels extremely like Thursley Common (and it was equally as bleak as Thursley can be too!).
I got to the hotel car park at Old Hunstaton still with plenty of light left, but with the weather still grim.  I took advantage of my van, and used it like a hide to look out onto the beach.  Plenty of waders down there including Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, and Sanderling.  I was looking further out to sea when a Tern flew through my scope view, over the beach.  It was clearly an immature 'Commic' Tern, and the lack of black in the wing, buoyant flight, and short bill, all pointed to it being an Arctic Tern.  My latest ever, and a great end to the day.

Day 2 (14/10)
The day before, an Arctic Redpoll had been reported from Wells Woods, which is a lifer.  So, I decided that this should be my morning expedition. 
As I opened my van door, I could hear a Brambling calling.  Then I walked round the back, and flushed a Crossbill from the hedge!  I knew I was in for a good morning!
There were indeed birds everywhere.  Loads of Redwing, Brambling, Crossbill, Chaffinch, Siskin, plus a few Fieldfare and Redpoll.  Sadly the latter were almost all fly-overs, and I only got decent views of two birds feeding in a Birch tree, which were definitely Lessers.
I wandered along the main path, and found the newly arrived and clearly exhausted birds to be extremely approachable.  Look at this Brambling for instance (using my phone camera hand held, with no zoom).
Most of my previous sightings of rarer leaf-warblers have been in tit flocks, so when I came across one near the Dell, I made sure I gave them careful attention.  Lo and behold, I had no trouble finding a Pallas's Warbler.  The 'Eastern Sprite' showed brilliantly, though my video (later on in the post, included with Yellow-browed Warbler) doesn't do it justice.  Whilst I was watching the bird, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call in the distance!  That's Norfolk for you.
The first group visit of the day was to the fantastic area of Holme Dunes.  The plan was to look from the hides on the NWT reserve, but when we heard there was a Great Grey Shrike in the dunes to the east of the pines, we headed there.
The pines themselves were absolutely heaving with Robin and Goldcrest, which had clearly arrived overnight.  I was surprised there weren't any Firecrest with them.  On arrival at the dunes, the Great Grey Shrike was immediately in view, sitting on a Rose twig on the saltmarsh, and went on to perform pretty well.  Although it was a shame that we apparently missed the moment it caught a small bird in the bushes!
A small flock of Eider were on the sea, and the ever present Marsh Harrier showed well as usual.

I had heard that a Bluethroat had been around the Bird Observatory yesterday and this morning, but it was apparently very elusive, so I didn't have much enthusiasm for checking it out.  However, we bumped into a few people who told us it was showing more frequently, so that's where we headed next. 

We hadn't been long there, when someone picked out the Bluethroat sitting on a Bramble bush the other side of the Serpentine, and I eventually got on it, though rather distant!  A Robin and a Blackcap came and sat alongside it at one point.  It then flew off out of view.

Later, I was able to see it again much closer as it fed in some Willow carr, but it was badly obscured by braches!  It was a young male, as was confirmed by the trapping of the bird just after I left!

On the way back along the approach road, I stopped at an area of Sycamores that had held a Yellow-browed Warbler earlier in the morning.  There were a lot of Goldcrest in the area once again, plus a few Chiffchaff.  Eventually, I was able to find the Yellow-browed Warbler on the edge of the trees, and as the sun came and went, it showed well.  Sorry, the footage is really quite appalling (first half is the Wells Pallas's Warbler)!

The final stop of the day was to Snettisham.  Just as with the last two times I've been here at this time of year, the high tide was too low to force the waders off into the lagoons, which was a shame.   I even took my bike along so I could effortlessly get down to the far hide, only to be greeted with Greylag Goose, and not a lot else!
However, this was more than made up by watching one of two Peregrine, chasing a Dunlin about relentlessly in Merlin-like fashion for some minutes, before eventually dispatching it with great agility and determination.  Great to watch!
The other top sightings were a Great Skua which lumbered it's way along the shoreline looking for opportunities, several Avocet, my only Wheatear of the week, and a very distant Arctic Skua chasing a Sandwich Tern.
Finally, I rushed east to try and see the Wells Siberian Stonechat before dusk, only to find no sign of it.  It was believed to have already gone to roost.
More from the rest of the trip to come.

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