Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk Coast (0600-1445) with Richard Farrow

At 0500 I was picked up by my good friend Richard Farrow for a days birding at Burnham Overy Dunes on the North Norfolk Coast.  A fairly thick blanket of fog covered the county.
Upon our arrival at a parking area on the A149 coast road, low cloud, fog, drizzle, and an easterly wind combined to give an air of real the expectation of finding a good variety of grounded migrant birds.
The route today would take us from the A149 north along the track to the sea wall and then east through the superb dunes systems to the western end of Holkham Pines.  By the time we made our way back by early afternoon, warm sunshine had dispersed the fog, however, as we headed back along the track to our starting point, misty conditions returned.

The following is a list of migrant species seen today.

2 Greenshank east
40+ Wheatears
10+ Whinchat
20+ Redstart
Several Song Thrush
4+ Willow Warbler
1 Blackcap (male)
1 Barred Warbler
4+ Garden Warblers
1 Yellow-browed Warbler
Meadow Pipits - very numerous

The start of the day along the track north of the A149 presented us with a good sized flock of Long-tailed Tits, clearly, given the conditions, careful scrutiny was needed to see what was with this flock, and indeed, a singing Chiffchaff was within.  Also breaking cover was a number of Starlings,  recent arrivals from Russia perhaps.
Continuing north I heard the familiar "tew-tew-tew" call of Greenshank, then 2 of these birds were seen passing through in an easterly heading.
The first migrant passerine species of the day were seen when at least 4 Whinchats and a Wheatear were seen close to the path.
It became quite evident as we continued along the path and into the dunes that a large fall of migrants had occured.  Wheatears appeared on many fence posts and short turf in the dunes along with large numbers of Meadow Pipits.
We met another birder and briefly chatted about the high expectations for the day, he headed off only to get our attention and pointing out that a Barred Warbler was in a dense patch of Elder and Bramble habitat.  We watched this area for some time and the bird appeared all to briefly, however, from the same small area a Redstart flew out later followed by a Garden Warbler.  After some time waiting, Richard and I headed off through the dunes with the plan to re-visit this area on our return walk.
Continuing east along the dunes, further evidence of a 'fall' was seen with several Redstarts and more Wheatears being seen, however, the dominant species was Meadow Pipit.
Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes 16/09/14
As we approached the east end of the dunes system, where it meets the west end of Holkham Pines, the sun was beginning to burn the mist away, eventually giving quite warm temperatures.  We had also arrived at this time at a deep depression with very dense scrub habitat.  Watching from a high vantage point looking down into the depression, it was clear that there was much activity there.  Garden Warblers fed in Elder, 2 or 3 Willow Warblers were moving around, and Redstart were present.
Interestingly, several 'ticking' Song Thrushes were both seen and heard, thus indicating the presence of the first arrivals from Northern Europe.  Walking back later I heard a number of further 'tick' calls which confirmed these early autumn arrivals.
Redstart (female) Burnham Overy Dunes 16/09/14
Immediately south of the boundary fence between the dunes and the marsh, Blackcap (male), Chiffchaff, and more Redstarts were seen in Bramble/Hawthorn scrub.
More distantly over the marsh, a single Marsh Harrier hunted and Little Egret was seen.  Without doubt, one of the most familiar sights and sounds of North Norfolk in autumn and winter, is the magnificent sight of vast skeins of Pink-footed Geese, such a sight was seen today with many hundreds arriving from the south to settle for the day on the marsh.

By early afternoon, Richard and I decided to head back east through the dunes with the intention of spending some time looking for the Barred Warbler which eluded us earlier.  Having arrived at the site we settled down and watched.  I noticed a bird fly out and into a single patch of Bramble on a slope.  With the sun behind us, good light persisted and eventually the Barred Warbler appeared, always very briefly, before returning to cover
Barred Warbler at Burnham Overy Dunes 16/09/14
This large Warbler species appeared very pale with whitish underparts and blue-grey upperparts.  This was clearly a heavily built Warbler.
Also within this small patch of Bramble habitat was Redstart, Garden Warbler, and a Dunnock.
Time was marching on and Richard and myself made for the path south back to the A149, just as we reached the turning point, a single Yellow-browed Warbler literally dropped out of the sky into a dense area of scrub.  Occasionally, this Siberian species, which should be making for south-east Asia, gave a beautiful, thin, and sweet "seweeee" call.  Richard was able to take an excellent picture of this Sibe.
Continuing south along the track further Wheatears were seen on fence-posts, and in the hedgerows, Goldfinches were seen.  A few Swallows and House Martins passed over.
Although todays focus was on the recent arrivals of migrants, probably from the previous night, species considered resident to the area included Kingfisher in one of the channels (found by Richard), Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and Linnets.  A Water Rail was heard giving its pig-like squeal from within the cover of reeds.

Also of particular interest today was the finding of a beautiful Natterjack Toad in the dunes.

My visits to the North Norfolk Coast are not that frequent as I usually cover my Breckland patch, however, it was evident from the outset that the weather conditions were right for the arrivals of migrant birds.  This was a great days birding and I thank my good friend Richard Farrow for taking me to this special location, on this special day.


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