Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk (with Richard Farrow)

At 0700 I met my very good friend Richard Farrow on the small car park just off the A 149 coast Road west of the Holkham Estate on the North Norfolk Coast. Following an early coffee and chat, Richard and myself then walked north along the path which leads to Burnham Overy Dunes.  We were initially greeted by many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese making their way inland to feed.
As light improved it was clear that lots of Robins were present in the hedgerows, an indication of overnight arrivals.  Further along the path, a relation of Robin, a male Stonechat, was seen in a Hawthorn.   A singing Cetti's Warbler gave its explosive song.
From first light, Starlings were on a westerly passage, some flocks numbering several hundred, however, by the end of the day, several thousand Starlings were involved in this spectacular passage.
Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk, 20/10/15
At sunrise, Richard and myself reached the end of the path where it meets the beginning of the massive dunes system.  At this point, the first area of patchy scrub was to prove very interesting.  Initially, Linnets and Reed Buntings were present in the Bramble/Hawthorn scrub along with recently arrived Redwings and Song Thrushes.  Things got even better when a good number of 30+ Goldcrests arrived and immediately started to forage in the scrub as well as weedy growth between the path and the tidal creek.  This was the start of what was to be an excellent day for Goldcrests with birds being seen in very good numbers wherever habitat occured within the dunes.

Goldcrest in Sycamore at Holkham 20/10/15 (Possibly a migrant from Russia)
A check of the nearby creek produced Redshanks and a single feeding Grey Plover.  A small gathering of Godwits were seen as well as a few Dunlin.
Following this productive start in the dunes we then walked east, heading towards the Pines at Holkham Wood.  Productivity continued with further Goldcrests being encountered wherever scrub habitat occured, whilst overhead, continuing waves of Starlings continued their westerly passage.  These Starlings were often accompanied by Bramblings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Redpoll, and on one occasion 4 Crossbills, all of which were heading west.
An overview of Holkham Marshes produced a single Great White Egret flying east, this stately bird was later relocated within the marsh, and appearing very Heron like compared to the more hunched up Little Egret, of which several were seen.  Also on the marsh was Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and at least 3 Kestrels.
A check of a deep scrub-filled depression in the dunes produced a number of Redwings, Song Thrushes, and RobinsGoldcrests continued to dominate, also a smart looking female Blackcap was seen in thick scrub on the side of the depression.

Redwing at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15
As we entered Holkham Pines we first checked an area of Sycamores, here once again, Goldcrests were very numerous. Our aim was then to walk the full length of Holkham Pines to as far as Lady Anne's Drive.  On route, Goldcrests presented as being very abundant, but also a couple of Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, and Long-tailed Tits were seen.
Having almost reached the eastern end of Holkham Pines, we stopped for coffee and a sandwich when Richard took an excellent shot of an overhead Buzzard.
A brief stop at the northern end of Lady Anne's Drive and then Richard and myself started the long walk back through the pines and dunes.There were quiet times on the walk back, however, Goldcrests always emerged to remind us of their presence and overhead Starling passage continued.
Winter Thrushes continued to be seen in scrub within the dunes and Goldcrests were moving between trees, sometimes in a continuous stream.

Robin at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15. Good numbers indicated a 'fall'
A particular thick scrubby area within the dunes was to be a stopping point for us, given that in previous years we have seen Garden and Barred Warbler there.  After a short while a very elusive Redstart made the briefest of appearances as it darted between cover. It was whilst searching for the Redstart that a Tree Pipit was heard passing overhead.  Another Stonechat was seen on the marsh, albeit rather distantly.
The walk back north along the path saw an arrival of Golden Plover, whilst the single Grey Plover was seen almost in the same spot where seen some hours earlier.
Walking between the hedgerows leading up to the coast road produced Robins, Dunnock, and another Goldcrest.
Back at our cars Richard and I reflected upon what was an excellent day for migrant activity.  Earlier, whilst in the Holkham Pines we met another birder who stated there was nothing exciting to see.  This annoyed me somewhat given the sheer numbers of birds present.

Sheringham, NorfolkHaving had our productive day at Burnham Overy Dunes, I then followed Richard back to his home town of Sheringham in the hope if seeing an Isabelline Shrike which was on common land. Unfortunately, this rarity, a bird I have yet to see, had moved on. A very special thanks to my very good friend Richard Farrow for making this a superb visit to the North Norfolk coast.

Birds seen/heard at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Great White Egret (1), Marsh Harrier (1 female), Buzzard, Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (3+), Grey Plover (1), Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit (one, possibly 2 overhead on passage), Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail (1), Dunnock, Robin, Redstart (1), Stonechat (3), Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Blackcap (1 female), Cetti's Warbler (3+), Chiffchaff (3), Goldcrests (hundreds), Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Starling (thousands on westerly passage), Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Brambling (westerly passage), Linnet, Redpoll, Siskin, Crossbill (4 westerly passage). 60 Species. 



  1. So glad for you that you decided on a trip up to the coast...
    GWE..."appearing very Heron like"...
    Like a White Heron with a badly-healed, broken neck...
    when you see them side by side, they are actually larger...
    and in flight, with those huge, deep wings, considerably so...
    lovely creature... we get winter visits in our meadow...
    and every time, it is drop everything...
    and watch it!

    Great count... and surely you are not counting that sad "nothing exciting" sod as a Birder....
    they were a "ticker"... nothing more...
    no understanding of migration or "falls"...
    I would have counted that 59 as a very good day out!!
    Hundreds of Goldcrests is a wonderful...
    and interesting...
    sight anyday!!

    And I hope you avoided treading on any of the Natterjacks in the dunes!!

  2. Thank you very much Tim, it certainly was a good day to go coast bound.
    Once again Tim, as you so often have done when commneting on my posts, it would seem that we have similar mindsets given our appreciation of common species. I cannot understand how that other birder we met felt that there was nothing exciting about. The sheer numbers of Goldcrests kept me and Richard entertained as much as any rarity and we frequently discussed their origins.....a 6 gram bird potentially making it to us from Russia. I was reading yesterday Tim in one of my reports that Goldcrests have been ringed in Norfolk and have been recovered back in Russia...that is just incredible.
    And Tim, I wonder how many birders looked up to see the masses of Starlings passing west, as well as those other species within their numbers. I expect 'Mr Exciting' just thought just another Starling without considering their origins, again, possibly as far away as Russia.....that is the phenomena that it migration, a miracle.
    Once again Tim, many thanks for your lovely comments.(No Natterjacks seen on this visit by the way).