Friday, 26 December 2014

Norfolk! Steppe Grey Shrike! (3-5/10/14)

It was with great kindness that I was offered a weekend away in Norfolk by a local birding family and recent birding partners in the start of October, and it was eagerly anticipated!
Following the long drive across over to mid Norfolk, we first stopped at Sculthorpe Moor NR, where a Purple Heron had been residing. However, it was clear very quickly that the bird had not been seen, with gloomy faces all around, and unfortunately, there was very little to make anyone too exited.
A Golden Plover flew over, as did a Fieldfare, but after what felt like a painfully long time on the reserve we decided to leave, knowing our luck would be better tried elsewhere.
So we moved quickly onto Cley Marshes, which improved the day somewhat very quickly. Even from just our first glances at the sea, it was clear that there was significant amounts of Geese moving, with hundreds of Brent Geese flying offshore, flock after flock!
Similarly, Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter were all moving, proving very easily that winter was on its way. 2 drake Eider flew past offshore. which was a long awaited year tick after missing them on every coastal visit this year!
Small numbers of Red-throated Diver had started to appear, with some feeding relatively close in as the tide rose. Also on the upcoming tide, 2 Guillemot drifted past.
Good numbers of ducks and waders kept us entertained as they flew around the marshes, constantly harassed by 4 hunting Marsh Harriers.
One of the spectacles of North Norfolk I had always wanted to experience though was that of the Pink-footed Goose roost. With a few small to medium sized flocks seen flying over during the day, we fancied our luck at Burnham Ovary Marshes, and we were not disappointed.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare, and we quickly located the Black-necked Grebe on the pool next to the seawall, as well as good numbers of waders, which were commuting between the pool and the estuary behind us. A few Snipe probed the reeded edges of the pool, and a Water Rail sauntered across the gap as the sun began to set, and the real show began!

With the light fading, we very quickly noticed large numbers of Little Egret, Grey Heron and particularly Cormorant flying towards Holkham. Eventually, we spotted another of our targets for the weekend, 3 very distant Spoonbill as they dropped into roost with the other birds in the trees. While these birds were flying east, the Marsh Harriers were going the opposite way, and 8 flew west as we stood vigil on this high point.
The Starlings started to murmerate in front of us, and then it began.
And more Geese...
And more..

By nightfall, and estimated 15,000 Pink-footed Geese had dropped in to roost at Holkham, a simply breathtaking spectacle!
Add to this the superb flight views of two Barn Owls, this is why we love Norfolk right?
We were up bright and early the next morning, and our first destination of the day was the superb site of Holme Dunes NNR. The tide was out, but on the turn, so the attention turned to scanning the beach and the sea. Again, large numbers of Brent Geese were moving, as were Wigeon and Teal, but we were treated to a nice range of other species, 3 Eider powered past, as did a female Red-breasted Merganser. It was also a pleasure to see 3 each of Arctic and Sandwich Tern, both moving east along the shoreline, but unfortunately the real targets eluded us. On the water, Red-throated Divers, Great crested Grebes and a good count of 7 Guillemot were bobbing about like corks.
The lack of our targets however was more than made up for by the huge numbers of birds on the beach. Hundreds upon hundreds of waders. Huge spiralling flocks of Knot, with smaller numbers of all the regular seashore species. More than enough to keep us midlanders happy!
We did have a Spotted Redshank and a Whimbrel fly over calling though, and 2 Greenshanks were feeding on the pools. Among the extensive Gull flocks feeding on the wet sand, a single adult Mediterranean Gull added some variety.
Moving away from the sea, our attention turned to migrants, and it was obvious (as we had predicted), with the winds in the wrong direction, and clear conditions, we were not going to be in for a 'migrant fest' this weekend. However a rather dapper Whinchat did its best to keep us entertained, with little bit ands bobs vismigging over.

Following a drive around Choesley, where at least 5 Grey Partridge, 2 Golden Plover and 2 Yellowhammer were found we headed to the mecca that is Titchwell RSPB.
We covered both the pools and the sea, with good numbers of wildfowl being present. The reeds adjacent to the benches was 'alive' with 'Pings', and it didn't take long for its source to appear, and we were treated to some good flight views of at least 5 Bearded Tits. A single Common Tern flew past offshore, as well as the now expected Red-throated Divers. With a rather daunting weather system developing though, we hot footed it back to the car.
As planned, after dumping a lot of rain on Norfolk, and as we had lunch back at the Hostel in Burnham Norton, the clouds broke, and it was a beautiful day once more!
Being just down the road, we moved back to Titchwell RSPB for the high tide and Harrier roost.
As you come to expect with Titchwell, a number of the birds are very habituated to humans.
A Little Egret shown well..

As did a rather smart Bar-tailed Godwit.

Scanning the muddy shorelines led us onto the two Little Stints which we had missed earlier in the day, but as expected, much was repeated from earlier in the day. 3 Common Scoter were seen from the beach, as was 2 Guillemot, but Skuas were still managing to avoid us.
We moved back to the reedbeds, where Bearded Tits were pinging, Cetti's Warblers singing, with both Marsh Harriers and Starlings pursuing in aerial acrobatics as they jostled for roosting spots.
It was a rather stunning sunset also!

With a slight change in wind direction forecast for our final day, we planned our attack strategy, and were again out by dawn....
Sunrise over Burnham Ovary was rather spectacular, with thousands of Geese, Wildfowl and wading birds flying out of their roosts. Pink-feet were calling as we got out the car in still near darkness and a single Barn Owl took its last flight of the night as we walked down the track.
Over 100 Little Egrets flew past us as we stood scanning from the raised viewpoint. 70 Egyptian Geese flew off the pool, where the Black-necked Grebe was still present. The same great variety of waders was present as our last visit as we slowly made our way along the embankment.
A few birds flicked up onto the fencelines as we walked, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats, and eventually we found our first 'migrants' of the day, 2 Wheatear.
A large covey of Grey Partridge were flushed from behind a ridge, which then flew out into the fields opposite where they dropped in and became invisible once more.

We moved out into the dunes to check Gun Hill and the sea. A quick scan along the shoreline revealed the expected waders, and the sea was again rather quiet, other than a passing flock of Sandwich Tern.
Unfortunately, our migrant search came a blank, and the scrub held very little. Moving back towards the car, a party of Bearded Tits was pinging in the still conditions.
Wanting to be that little closer to home, we decided to move onto Titchwell RSPB, where we had heard there had been a bit of movement on the sea with some Whooper Swans and Little Gulls. Moving up the track, we managed to log all the species we did the previous day, including the 2 Little Stint again as we moved up towards the beach. Perched distantly atop the Sueada on Thornham marsh, a Whinchat and a Stonechat perched side by side.
With a large crowd overlooking the sea, I jokingly made a comment about them no doubt having seen multiple Skua's fly past this morning as we walked past, to which a lady replied to her friend "Did you see the Skua's (insert the friends name)".
As you would expect, I took this as somewhat of a joke, but the look on the old couples faces proved otherwise.
They had had a passage of Skuas that morning!!
Having recounted my woeful story about dipping them all weekend, I quickly got a reply saying that someone was watching one on the water now!
Scope set up, and then it flew....
Directly into my scope view! A juvenile Arctic Skua! Ok, not a Pom or a Great as I had hoped, or even a Long tailed as I have dreamt, but it was a Skua!
With a Black Redstart having been reported out at Thornham point, we bode farewell to the large crowd (no doubt missing a bucketload of Skuas going by our luck) and headed out there. Unfortunately I didn't see anything of it, however a couple of the group did. I rejoined the group, but before we went looking for it again, Liz shouted out some rather unexpected news. A possible Steppe Grey Shrike had just been reported near where we had been this morning!
Mega eek!
Decisions were made. At worst it would be a Great Grey, so we went for it, wading through mud, across dunes, jumping down a 15ft cliff where the dunes had been washed away and the long 2km trek back to the car! Some real paramilitary action!
Nobody knew about the Shrike as we walked back to the car, so we mentioned it as we walked briskly past. It was rather fun watching people spinning on their heals and changing course for the car park!
A drive later, and another brisk walk and there it was!
Perched distantly on a hawthorn in the middle of a field, a STEPPE GREY SHRIKE!!
Even from this distance, it was rather obvious. The colour hues to its plumage were off in every respect. It was almost a peachy/ sandy colour! It obviously had more white in the wings, but I just couldn't see the lores due to the distance.
But that didn't matter, as after being ousted from its perch by a Kestrel, the bird repeatedly moved closer to the ever increasing crowd. Until eventually, you were getting simply stunning views!
No denying those pale lores!! 

What a perfect way to end the weekend!
Again, a huge thanks to Rob, Liz and Luke for a great weekend! Some great birding was had! I'm sure one day I'll get to pay you back.
Same time next year?

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