8th Oct 2022 – Autumn Tour, Day 3

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Day 3 of a four day Autumn Migration Tour today. It was mostly bright and sunny, with the wind continuing to ease through the day.

To start the day, we headed down to the coast at Cley. We parked at Walsey Hills, but there was no sign initially of the Jack Snipe on Snipe’s Marsh where it had been yesterday – it was probably hiding in the vegetation. The sun was catching the reeds over the far side and we could see several small birds flitting in and out – a couple of late Reed Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a Robin and one or two Blue Tits.

We had a quick walk down along the footpath through the trees. A few birds were coming and going from the feeders, mainly Goldfinches and Chaffinches, plus a few Blue Tits and Great Tits. The Greenfinches were slightly less obliging, mostly flying round overhead and wouldn’t land where we could see them.

We continued on down to the far end. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler reported here earlier, just heard by someone, but there was no sign now, although we did find a Chiffchaff in the willows at the back. Out into the open beyond the trees, there were lots of Red-legged Partridges at the back of the first field and we could just see lots of Pink-footed Geese in the next field, through the base of the hedge. A Stock Dove flew over with a group of Woodpigeons and two Ruff flew round with some geese.

As we made our way back through the trees, a Greenfinch had now come onto the feeders, so everyone could finally get a look.

We stopped for another quick scan of Snipe’s Marsh, and noticed a Water Rail in the reeds in the corner now. It was hard to see over the reeds so we walked further down to where there was a gap and set the scope up on it. While we were watching it, someone found the Jack Snipe back along the near edge, skulking in the cut reeds, so we walked back and got that in the scopes next. It wasn’t feeding, so wasn’t bouncing, but we got a good look at it.

Jack Snipe – in the cut reeds

From there, we walked over to the East Bank. Several Cetti’s Warblers were singing in the ditch by the road and in the reedbed but remained typically well hidden. All the geese came up from the fields behind North Foreland wood and circled overhead – a few Greylags flew out onto Pope’s but the Pinkfeet headed back down to the fields from whence they had just come.

There was a Little Grebe on the pool by the Skirts path today. We stopped and set up the scopes on Pope’s Pool – there were a few Avocets roosting behind the near bank and lots of Black-tailed Godwits out in the water, along with more Greylags and Wigeon. A good number of Lapwings were hiding in the grass in front. As we walked on, a small group of Canada Geese flew in over the reedbed, a new one for the trip list.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling ahead of us, and looked over to see several perched in the top of the reeds. Before we could get the scopes on them, they flew across, and then dropped back into the reeds again. They were very vocal and very mobile this morning, then they started flying up higher, circling round above the reeds. Several times they erupted from the reeds, before changing their minds and plummeting back in. It was hard to tell if there were several different groups or just changing numbers in the same group, but there was a lot of activity.

Bearded Tits – erupting

It is a feature of Bearded Tits at this time of year – they are not really migrants, but do disperse, particularly after years with very successful breeding. This morning’s display was classic Bearded Tit dispersal restlessness, working up the courage to go. Fantastic to watch!

At one point we looked out across the reedbed, and noticed a pale shape in one of the bushes out in the middle. It was a Barn Owl! It had possibly just come out onto the edge to sun itself, as it didn’t stay long and disappeared deep in, presumably to roost. A nice surprise. There were a couple of male Stonechats in the reedbed too.

There were more ducks on the Serpentine and while we were scanning we noticed a Wheatear on the short grass in front of the water – nice to catch up with an autumn migrant passerine, as they are a bit thin on the ground at the moment.

Wheatear – on the Serpentine

We saw a message to say that the two juvenile Little Stints were still present, up on the brackish pools, so we walked on to see them. We quickly picked up one on the mud towards the back, then the second appeared in among some Shoveler along the north side, where we could really appreciate how small it was as it walked between their legs. It then flew in closer and started picking its way along one of the spits towards the front.

It hasn’t been a particularly big year for Little Stint this autumn, so it was good to be able to catch up with a couple still. There was a single Pintail on here too, and a Common Snipe roosting with a couple of Teal on a small island at the back.

Little Stint – on the brackish pools

The migrant wader theme continued on Arnold’s Marsh with one or two Curlew Sandpipers. One was feeding closer to, but disappeared from view behind the saltmarsh vegetation, and a little while later we picked up the same or another with the Dunlin at the back. A Grey Plover was on the shingle islands too.

Out at the beach, there was a steady movement of Teal today, several small groups coming in low over the sea, as well as a slow stream of Common Gulls past. With a fresh SW wind, the trickle of Gannets passing were rather distant, out towards the wind turbines, although one did come through a little closer. A few Razorbills and Red-throated Divers were out on the sea.

As we made our way back, a Marsh Harrier came in over the marshes, flushing everything. The Jack Snipe was still there, in much the same place as it had been, but it was now fast asleep, its bill tucked in. We made a quick visit to the Visitor Centre to use the facilities, then drove down to Kelling for a quick walk before lunch.

Blackcap – in the lane

It was sheltered in the lane, and warm now out of the wind in the sunshine. A male Blackcap appeared in the top of a hawthorn by the track and a little further on a smart male Chaffinch perched up on the other side, preening. A Chiffchaff flitted in and out of the hedge calling. There were several Ivy Bees still too, enjoying the sun.

There were lots of Rooks and Woodpigeons on the hillside behind the Water Meadow and a few Red-legged Partridges along the fenceline at the bottom. The field opposite the Water Meadow has just been cultivated and more Rooks were feeding in here, looking very smart, there plumage glowing purple in the sunshine.

Rook – in the sunshine

There were a few ducks on the Water Meadow, but nothing out of the ordinary. We stopped to watch a group of at least six Stonechats at the crosstracks, perching on the dead dock heads and dropping down into the grass. Several Linnets flew in and out of the brambles. Then it was time to head back for lunch. A Peacock butterfly perched up in the lane as we passed.

We drove back to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch on the picnic tables. There were lots of Lapwings and a few Ruff on Pat’s Pool and when everything erupted we looked over to see a young Peregrine flying over, and watched it disappear off west.

After lunch, we drove down to the Brecks for the remainder of the afternoon. Our main target here was to try to see one of the autumn gatherings of Stone Curlews and we were in luck straight away. We pulled up opposite a field and walked carefully over to the gate overlooking it. We could immediately see several Stone Curlews out in the middle, so got them in the scopes. We could see their large yellow eyes staring back at us.

Stone Curlews – staring back

Some Stone Curlews were standing up and were more obvious, others were sitting down in the furrows and much harder to see. The more we looked the more we saw. We eventually got to a count of at least 60 in the field, and there were almost certainly quite a few more as there is a large dip in the middle of this field. Either way, it was an impressive sight and well worth the drive down to see it.

Stone Curlew – one of at least 60

There were several Tree Sparrows in the hedge nearby too, occasionally dropping down into the field margin. Three Swallows flew over, one stopping just long enough for a drink in a puddle, before heading on south.

The pig fields in the Brecks can be good for gulls and we had a quick look through a large gathering of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in one. They were rather distant, but we could see just a couple of paler mantled gulls in with them. When one stood up, we could see it was an adult Caspian Gull – distinctively shaped, with a long beaky nose and long, parallel sided bill, full breast and long wings.

We still had about half an hour before we had to head back, so we decided to have a quick look to see if any Goshawks were up. But just when we would have wanted it to be windy, the wind seemed to have dropped completely! Consequently, there was no sign of any Goshawks, but we did see a couple of Common Buzzards up. A Sparrowhawk flew past and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the field in front, and later a male came past closer and stopped to have a go at some birds in a cover strip in the middle. A Mistle Thrush flew over the trees at the back, and landed in the top of a lone pine. A large flock of Skylarks flew in.

Then it was time to head back.

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