Playing catch-up

Common Sandpiper at Felbrigg on Wednesday

Despite the continuing changeable weather – mostly cold, with winds from the north – some migrants have still managed to make it through. Sea-watching over the past few days has produced reasonable numbers of regular stuff like Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver and Gannet. More interesting – a couple of late Brent Geese, a single Kittiwake, Little Egret and a spate of Little Tern – 50, in three groups, on Wednesday morning. On land, a quick catch-up trip to Beeston Bump produced three Ring Ouzel – my first for the year – and a brief but spanking Whinchat. Later at Felbrigg, my first Common Sandpiper of 2021 – two in the same tree as three Grey Wagtail. The resident Mute Swan have produced an early brood of young cygnets – originally eight – I saw seven, including two very good candidates for ‘Polish’ Swans. This morning, a walk along the cliffs produced a fly-over Yellow Wagtail, Whimbrel off-shore and, courtesy of Dave the finder and Graham the re-finder, Ring Ouzel on the under-cliff. An elusive female and a second, probably young male, were playing hide and seek amongst the cliff-side vegetation. A bright but silent Willow Warbler in the same vicinity completed a pretty productive session. With the bad weather returning tomorrow we’ve taken the decision to delay the NENBC Big Sit until Sunday. Fingers crossed for a good day – weather and bird-wise!

A family of Mute Swan at Felbrigg – including two good candidates for ‘Polish’ Swans
Grab-shot of Ring Ouzel on the under-cliff below Cromer golf course

Cley and sea-watching

Record shot of the the visiting Iceland Gull on Serpentine – Cley – yesterday

Cley produced a few nice birds yesterday. The super-obliging singing Grasshopper Warbler was in it’s usual bush, across the road from the car park. Singing Lesser Whitethroat at several spots on the reserve were my first for the year – as were the Swift over North Scrape. There was a very smart male Stonechat near Babcock hide – possibly of the continental rubicola race. Best bird was the Iceland Gull – loafing around Pope’s Pool at lunchtime. Presumed to be the 2cy bird from Weybourne. I can’t remember ever seeing Iceland on the reserve before. This morning’s sea-watch produced a few waders – mostly Whimbrel & Dunlin, a single Red-throated Diver, a couple of Little Egret and 200+ Sandwich Tern with a couple of Common Tern amongst them. One of the egrets made it to Weybourne Camp, with an average flying speed of 14 mph.

Weekend round-up

Red Kite, interacting with Buzzard over Felbrigg yesterday

Son Jake and his growing family having been staying at an excellent holiday let in Northrepps over the weekend. As a consequence any birding has had to fit around family activities. A short sea-watch yesterday morning produced most of the usual suspects – Common Scoter, Eider, Gannet, Red-throated Diver and terns. The highlights were a group of seven late migrating Brent Geese and a small movement of Oystercatcher – 30 in three groups. There was also some evidence of raptor movement over lunch, with eleven Buzzard drifting north east and several Sparrowhawk. An afternoon walk in a very busy Felbrigg produced my first Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and House Martin for the site this year – an encouraging sign perhaps for the NENBC Big Sit event this coming Saturday. Unfortunately, both stand-out wildlife moments of the weekend went un-photographed – a circling Spoonbill, high over Christopher’s Close on Saturday afternoon, seen from the garden, drifted slowly away to the east, and a brief visit from an early Humming-bird Hawk-moth to the aubretia in the Cliff Avenue garden. Cley NWT might produce something interesting today, in advance of the strong southerlies which are due to arrive late afternoon.

Record shot of my first House Martin this year – over Felbrigg
Distant Brent Geese – east at Cromer NLP yesterday – record shot

TD recce

First record of Reed Warbler this year – Felbrigg

Yesterday I did a recce of my RSPB Operation Turtle Dove survey square. I was up at 04.30 to be on site just after dawn, where I was joined by John. We spent two hours familiarising ourselves with the square. There is some suitable breeding habitat – which fortuitously is reasonably close to West Beckham Old Allotments – but most of the area has succumbed to modern agricultural practices, with narrow field margins, trimmed hedges and no ponds. As it happens the first Turtle Dove in the NENBC area was recorded yesterday – so we have reason to remain optimistic. On my way home I called in at Felbrigg. The first returning Reed Warbler was singing intermittently in the reed-bed, a Willow Warbler was in better voice near the viewing screen (thanks to Phil for the shout), but the ‘bonus bird’ was a couple of Lesser Redpoll feeding briefly in the Alder near the top sluice. I thought I’d missed out on them this winter.

Willow Warbler at Felbrigg yesterday – a scarce migrant in the park nowadays

Gripping Gropper

Grasshopper Warbler at Cley NWT this morning

It’s not been a great week for me bird-wise. One average sea-watch and a walk along the coast is all I’ve managed in between conservation work and more DIY. Still our shift at Cley NWT today made up for it. A very obliging Grasshopper Warbler, across the road from the Centre, was the high-light, with Grey Partridge and multiple Great Egret providing excellent supporting cast. ‘Groppers’ are scarce annual migrants and occasional breeders along the North Norfolk coast and it’s always a delight to get good views of this otherwise skulking species. Also, breaking news of a ‘first for Norfolk’ at West Beckham Old Allotments – details in due course!

Grey Partridge on Keepers Marsh
Great Egret – one of possibly three at Cley NWT this morning

Whitethroats arrive

My first Whitethroat of the year – first heard singing then later seen nest-building

I was intending to sea-watch this morning, but you couldn’t see the beach let alone the sea at 6.00! So I went for a walk along the coast to Overstrand and back instead. Very quiet until the mist cleared around the turf slope, when a couple of Whitethroat were in full song. Later I watched them collecting nesting material – they don’t hang around! Also a nice male Wheatear in the vicinity and a couple of Swallow. I missed the Ring Ouzel unfortunately, found by Dave at the east end of the course.

Nice male Wheatear near the turf slope

Snake Bird

Record shot on my phone of the Wryneck in a Cley garden this morning

We were on duty today at Cley NWT. During the morning briefing reports were circulating of a Wryneck, in the gardens along Coast Road. As it happened our route took us in that direction! The bird was sitting in an old Walnut tree when we arrived, later flying down to a low bush in an adjacent garden, giving brief but outstanding views. The cryptic plumage and head-bending manoeuvres reflecting it’s colloquial name of ‘Snake Bird’. Great Egret, Yellow Wagtail and hundreds of waders on Arnold’s Marsh making up an excellent supporting cast. Yesterday’s NENBC Sky Watch was reasonably well attended at our three sites but unfortunately the northerly winds and cloudy skies meant that there was little, if any, evident raptor migration. From our vantage-point on the A148, just above Cromer – looking north to the coast and south down the dry valley of Jacket de Hole – we did manage to see five raptor species: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Red Kite & Goshawk.

One of a dozen Buzzard seen on the NENBC Sky Watch event yesterday – this one was noticeably pale

Sea-watching and Felbrigg

Very little visible sea-bird migration recently – a few Gannets close inshore on Thursday were of note

A couple of sessions sea-watching and a bird walk in Felbrigg has been the sum total of my birding week. Sea-watching has produced nothing out of the ordinary – on Thursday the high-lights were a nice group of Eider, Sandwich Tern, and possible flock of Arctic Tern but too distant to confirm id. This morning’s offering included two distant flocks of geese heading east – considered to be Pink-feet rather than Brent, good numbers of Common Scoter, a handful of Red-throated Diver and a steady stream of Common Gull east. The high-lights of Felbrigg on Wednesday – part of the NENBC Walks Week – included a singing Brambling and a female Peregrine which had obviously been in a pretty ferocious tussle.

Cley slowly re-opening

Small Tortoiseshell braving the elements at Cley yesterday

Yesterday was our first ‘duty day’ at Cley NWT in nearly four months. The reserve is slowly moving towards a full re-opening but that may still be months away – at least for the hides that is. We did a walk around the perimeter before lunch. It was nice to see the returning waders – plenty of Avocet, Black-wits, Dunlin etc. Highlights were my first Sedge Warbler of the year, a splendid Spoonbill on Billy’s Wash and a lone female Wheatear on the Eye Field. Despite the cold northerly wind and air temperature only a little above freezing I did see a brave Small Tortoiseshell.

Oystercatcher – coast and country

A pair of prospecting Oystercatcher at Felbrigg during this morning’s Duck Count

It was the monthly duck count at Felbrigg today. Wildfowl numbers have been steadily dropping as Spring gets going. There was a small selection of species this morning – a handful of Teal, Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck (including the pair of hybrid Tufted x Ferruginous Duck. The highlight however was either the four Coot or the pair of Oystercatcher – showing their usually pre-breeding interest in the water meadows, before either they dry up or get trampled by the cattle. A squealing Water Rail was the only other notable species. Despite the bitter north wind and occasional hail storm there were a couple of migrants in evidence – a Swallow was feeding over the cattle in front of the hall and half a dozen Sand Martin were doing the same over the lake. Chiffchaff were present and singing throughout my walk. On my way back, the Carnival Field held a pair of lingering winter Oystercatcher – coast and country.

These distinctive hybrids never lose their appeal
Finally two shots of the same species – Chiffchaff – in different light / surroundings this morning