Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk

0600 I arrived at the off-road parking area on the A149 south of Burnham Overy.  I was the first birder to arrive, but I was soon joined by a visiting birder, Dave from Leicester.  We readily began to discuss recent arrivals in the area and it was obvious that the previous nights conditions would not have benefitted any migrants which have been waiting to continue their passage.
The previous evening saw at least a 3 hour period of heavy, violent thunderstorms over my home area of Watton, however, other reasonably local areas missed these altogether.  Despite this grey and misty conditions were met with at the coast and it remained dry with a light northerly wind.
Dave and myself then walked the path north for about a mile and a half until we reached the dunes.  On route we saw a splendid Barn Owl on one of the fence posts beside the path.  A little further along a Grey Wagtail was heard to be followed shortly after by the first migrant, a Wheatear.
Having arrived at dunes it was clear that the first small patch of dense Bramble/Hawthorn scrub was playing host to a calling Yellow-browed Warbler.
My intention this morning was to sit and wait at this fantastic area of scrub to watch what it had on offer, especially as this sheltered area appeared to have all the right qualities for tired, hungry migrant birds.  It transpired that I had actually been sitting on a slight slope, overlooking the area for some 3 hours or so, but it was worth it.

The following is a list of the bird species seen within this small area of Bramble, Hawthorn, Dog Rose, and Elder habitat:

1 Sparrowhawk over east
Meadow Pipits over
6+ Swallows over east
1 Redstart (male)
1 Whinchat
2 Yellow-browed Warblers
4+ Garden Warblers
3+ Blackcaps
1 Willow Warbler
1 Lesser Whitethroat
1 Red-breasted Flycatcher
Blue Tit
Reed Bunting

Yellow-browed Warbler at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/09/14
A calling Yellow-browed Warbler was the first bird heard at this scrub habitat.  The call for me is not too unlike that of Coal Tit, however, it is thinner, higher pitched, and a sweet "seweeest".  As the morning progressed it was apparent that 2 Yellow-browed Warblers were present.  The small size of this bird does not present problems with finding it at range as the bright yellow supercillium, yellow wing-bars are conspicuous in cover, and the fast actions and behaviour i.e. hovering under leaves, make this a bird a distinctive character.

Red-breasted Flycatcher at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/09/14
I didn't have to wait too long before this Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared.  This beautiful, small Flycatcher species flew from bush to bush in typical, fast Flycatcher behaviour, occasionally to alight against a bush and revealing its pale, and what I thought appeared to be a very pale peachy breast.  The eye appeared large on a plain facial area.  In good light when perched, and when in flight, the distinctive white pattern on the tail was visible.  As shown in this picture, the tail was often cocked.  Ususally, the Red-breasted Flycatcher was seen perched on the edges of bushes from where fast 'sallies' were launched from.  A call was often heard from the bird, it sounded similar to that of a Wren, a "trrrrr", however, this was usualy barely audible.  
Garden Warbler (one of 4) Burnham Overy Dunes 20/09/14

 At least 4 Garden Warblers were seen in this small area, often seen in Hawthorn and Bramble, they also were frequently seen hanging on tall weeds jus above ground level, to feed.  This behaviour and habitat choice is somewhat different from it very arboreal needs during the breeding season. Often described if field guides as somewhat non-descript, a tell-tale feature which is useful when comparing to other similarly marked Warblers is the pale grey patch on the neck-sides.

Also seen in close association with the Garden Warblers was at least 3 Blackcaps, a stunning Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, and on the periphery, a single male Redstart. A single Whinchat made a brief appearance on a bush top before moving off again.
Although the Yellow-browed Warblers and Red-breasted Flycatchers were the highlights at this patch of habitat, these and the commoner species here, all more or less sociable and with one aim, all provided a very memorable event, an event which is what bird migration is all about.

I had to drag myself away at some point to make my way back to the parking area, although hard to do, the memory of this morning will stay with me.
On the walk back the highlight was 3 Spoonbills which flew together west.
At the time of my arrival at the parking area first thing at 0600, I was the only car there, however, when I got back, the parking area was full and cars lined the lane leading north to Burnham Thorpe.


  1. Hi Paul,
    I was at Burnham Overy today and what a difference a day makes. I had read during the week that the bushes in the dunes were ‘dripping’ with birds. So with that in mind I set of from London at 03:30 and arrived just after six. There was a strong northerly wind with frequent heavy showers, I set of down the track, the Barn Owl was hunting over the fields and couple of Wheatears were on the fence. A Tree Pipit went over and several flocks of Meadow Pipits. A Black-necked Grebe was on the pool east of the sea wall and a Redstart near the board walk. And that was it, 5 hours later and all I had added was 2 Chiffchaff, 2 more Redstarts a Blackcap and Peregrine over.
    Not sure if it was the wind keeping the birds down or they packed up and shipped out over night, but the wind did produce a good passage of sea birds with 13 Manx and 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 10+ Red Throated Divers, many Gannets, Great and Arctic Skua’s, Little Gulls, Kittiwakes, Brent Geese and small numbers of Auks moving through.
    I also popped into Wells Woods for the Olive-backed Pipit which showed well and then onto Gramborough Hill for a Barred Warbler which gave great views and Yellow-browed Warbler that done its best not to be seen with only the briefest of views.
    I was at Thompson Watering last week were I had Marsh Harrier and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers. I think the Marsh Harrier is roosting as its best seen early morning. There is hardly any open areas of water there at the moment as the weed has really taken over but on the flip side the Norfolk Hawker dragonfly relies on this weed and several were seen there this summer and it is also good for Great-crested Newts. There is also a Hornets nest in the hide, an amazing piece of engineering well worth checking out.
    Keep up the good work and happy birding

  2. Hi Chris
    Great to get your message, I hope that you and your family are all well.
    I noticed in the early hours of yesterday that there was a clear, starlit night and was wondering if birds had taken advantage of this and moved on.
    Your sea-watching Chris certainly was rewarding...well done.
    I remember the first ever Olive-backed Pipit I saw was when one turned up at Lynford Arboretum in 2002 (I think) your dad and myself went over there together to see it.
    I am glad you had good views of the Barred Warbler at Gramborough Hill, the one at Burnham Overy Dunes was elusive, in fact I have never seen really good views of one.
    Well done also with the Marsh Harrier at Thompson Water. I am wondering if they bred locally as this species has been seen on and off throughout the summer months.
    I certainly will check out the Hornets nest...I have never seen one...thank you for this Chris.
    One observation I had yesterday has kept me puzzled Chris. Yesterday, from the garden at 0925, I saw 4 Jays at height passing over from the north....migrants perhaps. I have seen them before over Watton, and on one occasion at great height.
    Chris, thank you very much for your post...really good to read. Would love to catch up sometime. Love to all the family.

  3. Hi Paul
    I had a group of 15 Jays in off the sea on Sunday and they carried on inland, last week I had 5 flying over high to the east over my local patch in London and today I read that many were moving along the coast with 120 seen over Snettisham in a couple of hours.
    Mind you, not sure if this Jay movement will compare to the one that happened in October 2012 when over 1200 went over Hunstanton in 2 days!
    I know contenintal Jays migrate most years but not sure what causes the larger movements, lack of food in thier breeding areas, maybe they had a very productive breeding year and the dispersal is more noticeable.