Upper photo: Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) Cley November 2020
Lower photo: Pallas's Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) Thornham October 2020
Birdline East Anglia report October 2020-January 2021 for 'Tern' published by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust by Robin Chittenden
The bird that caused the most fuss last Autumn was a very charismatic looking bird, which not that long ago was called a Rufous Bushchat. It spent a few days at Stiffkey in October. Flicking through a bird book, as a child, this species stands out from the crowd, with its long brick orange tail with white spots. It is now known as the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin. Quite a mouthful. The nearest breeders are in Greece. But despite that, one has not hung around long enough, in the UK, for more than just a lucky few birders to see it, since one was found at Butlin’s holiday camp at Skegness in 1963. Hence any birdwatcher passionate about their British list (that is the number of different bird species they have seen in the UK) would be desperate to see this one and add it to their list. Hence the fuss.
There was an unprecedented arrival of Red-flanked Bluetails. This is a Robin like bird, with a blue tail, but without a red breast and breeds in northern Scandinavia. There were up to five, yes five, at NWT Holme Dunes in October. At the same time there was a healthy influx of Pallas’s Warblers. This tiny striped Warbler from the Far East is one of the most popular birdwatchers’ birds. Just the same size of a Goldcrest, it manages to fly thousands of miles to get here. The one at Thornham proved to be the most popular as it showed unusually well in the short Shrubby Seablight vegetation by the harbour. In the UK they are more usually found in woody habitats by the coast and are continually on the move as they flit around the leaves searching for tiny insect morsels, so the more usual experience is one of fleeting glimpses.
The Lesser Yellowlegs is a wader that breeds in North America, but despite that it is a regular vagrant to the UK, and several have turned up in Norfolk over the years. Many waders and especially those from North America are fairly tame. The one that turned up at NWT Cley Marshes in October took the biscuit. It was completely unperturbed by the bovine groups of birders gawping at it just feet away. In fact it may never have seen a human before, having been born in the high arctic, a few months earlier. Maybe it just assumed we were herbivores and of no threat to it. And as it happens we all fitted the latter category and some, no doubt, fitted the former. The bird was a delight to watch as it fed on small insects in the rough grassland right by one of the paths on the reserve. The only downside for some photographers was that a wire fence interlaced with vegetation meant a lot of the photographs taken were looking down on the bird. I do love to get to the same level of thing I’m trying to photograph. This was possible in a few places where a hole could be made in the dead grass fronds. The wire meshes in the fence were just about wide enough for the camera to ‘see’ through.
Nearby and a little later in the Autumn a Desert Wheatear was found at Salthouse. The name even suggests it shouldn’t be here, but again despite that this species is an annual visitor to the UK, from dry habitats to the east or south of Europe. Several have been seen in Norfolk over the years. What was exceptional about this bird was that it was an adult, and not only that, an adult male in summer plumage to boot. It was a beautiful looking beast.
There were three Iceland Gulls wintering in Norfolk. The first two hung out at the Grey Sea colony at Winterton. Attracted there by the discarded Grey Seal placentas, on which they fed. Another Iceland Gull ranged between Cley to Weybourne and was attracted to the latter location by a dead Sperm Whale upon which it fed with Turnstones until the Whale was removed. Another dead Sperm Whale was located in December at Sheringham but was rapidly disposed of before any wildlife got the chance to get their ‘teeth’ into it. It is thought these standings occur when Sperm Whales swim into the north North Sea hunting Squid, which they catch at great depths. If they then continue heading south they would discover that the sea becomes shallower and the Squid rarer. Unless they correct quickly and head back to deeper water they will become dehydrated, as their thirst is quenched by the watery nature of their diet.
There are a devoted group of birdwatchers that like nothing better than staring out to sea to spot whatever happens to be passing. One supremely experienced and dedicated seawatcher at Cley had an exceptional amount of skill and luck in spotting a White-chinned Petrel mentioned in the last ‘Tern’. His continued persistence paid off when he locked on to a White-bellied Storm Petrel that flew east past Cley in November. This bird should really be in the Southern Oceans as one of its nearest breeding colonies is in the South Atlantic Ocean on Tristan da Cunha. Wow to think one made it here, but there again Arctic Terns migrate that distance annually.
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