20th Oct 2023 – 4 Days of Autumn, Day 4

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Day 4 of a 4-day Autumn Tour. Wet and very windy today due to Storm Babet, though perhaps not quite as bad as forecast, it was still not a good day to be out birding. We gamely made a half day of it, before the vote was to abandon play just after 1pm and head for the warm and dry.

With the wind gusting 45-46mph this morning, we headed down to Sheringham where we could find some shelter along the prom and see what was passing out to sea. The visibility was poor, with all the cloud and spray it was impossible to see out past the flags which mark where the crab pots are. Still, we quickly picked up a small group of three Little Gulls offshore – their dark underwings flashing alternately with their pale silvery grey upperparts as they fluttered into the wind, dipping down to the water’s surface. It was hard to tell how many Little Gulls we saw this morning, as we couldn’t tell whether the same birds lingered offshore throughout or they were passing through (lots of Little Gulls were displaced by the weather today though and there would be big numbers moving tomorrow).

Rough Sea – and poor visibility today

There was a trickle of wildfowl passing offshore too, despite the wind. Several small groups of Wigeon and Teal arriving from the Continent for the winter and a small number of Common Scoter past too. More surprising was the White-fronted Goose which appeared in front of our shelter, battling into the wind. It was possibly trying to come in but put off by the cliffs, eventually turning into the wind and disappearing off to the west. Shortly after, a Greylag Goose flew past offshore too. A few small lines of Brent Geese were more expected, arriving for the winter.

There seemed to be fewer passerines making it in over the sea today, although we did pick up a flock of Starlings coming in over the waves at some point. Ideally, we would have wanted N winds to bring in some more seabirds this morning, but the wind was due E today which seemed to limit the possibilities somewhat.

After a while, we decided to head along the coast to Cley to see if we could get into the hides. When we got to the Visitor Centre, we decided a coffee break was in order first, to warm up. A Marsh Harrier circled up a couple of times out of the reeds opposite. It was raining steadily but not too hard so after wrapping up we headed across the road and the short distance along the Skirts path to Bishop Hide. The path out to the hide was very wet – hopefully it is finally going to be sorted out next month – but we made it out and settled in out of the weather.

Common Snipe – looking wet

We had been told that a Common Snipe had been showing very well right in front of the hide earlier. It was up on the top of the bank off to the left when we arrived, facing into the rain. It fed for a while, probing into the wet grass, before something spooked it and it dropped down over the far side of the bank, to the edge of the scrape out of view. What was presumably the same Snipe came back up a little later and flushed another from where it was hiding in a tussock of grass. The latter flew off and landed in the reeds in the middle of the island in front of the hide, while the first dropped back over the bank out of view.

There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the water in front of the hide too and more further back. Several Dunlin were feeding around the various grassy islands along with a couple of Avocets.

There were plenty of ducks here too – they didn’t seem particularly worried about the weather, the water flowing off their backs. Three female Shoveler were feeding in the channel in front of the hide and were joined by a male still in partial eclipse plumage which started to display to one of them at one point, bobbing its head up and down. There were more Shoveler on the scrape itself, the drakes in a variety of different plumage stages, some almost back into full breeding plumage now.

There were various Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck scattered around too and a smart drake Teal which was also almost back in full breeding plumage swam across in front of the island out from the hide at one point. A lone Pink-footed Goose dropped in briefly at the back.

A Kingfisher flashed across right in front of the hide in a streak of electric blue. It landed in a sheltered corner of the ditch on the edge of the reeds, out of the wind, and from the far end of the hide, we realised we could see it perched on a curled-over bulrush stem. We had some lovely views of it before it flashed back across in front of us and disappeared round the reeds out to the left of the hide. A very nice bird to enjoy on such a dull day as this.

Kingfisher – brightened up a very dull day

It was lunchtime now, so we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre. Heads down we made our way back along the path. The rain was heavier again now and when we got back to shelter we had another look at the forecast. There had been an outside suggestion on the breakfast news that the rain band might clear through during the afternoon today, but looking at the rainfall radar now it was very slow moving and that looked increasingly unlikely. We had managed to make a morning of it, and had enjoyed three much better days beforehand, so after putting it to a vote we all decided to call it a day and head for home.

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