Sunday 4 October 2020

A day to remember

Yesterday was possibly one of the finest day's birding I ever enjoyed. To try and summarise it all in one single blog post is not doing it enough justice but I'll try. To create some context, the wind had been blowing from the east for the previous 24 hours. It had been raining overnight and was still wet and grey when I pulled into the car park at Happisburgh Cricket Club at 7.30am on Saturday morning. I had tempered my expectations, too often its easy to get over-excited with conditions like this and then walk away later in the day, empty handed and despondent. But small groups of Redwing and Song Thrush going over already plus several Robins squabbling in the hedgerow by the bowling green were good signs. 

Nick and I walked to the Coast Watch whereupon we met with Richard Moores who'd already had a Common Redstart and several Brambling en route there. A Dunlin flew in off the sea and joined the Wheatear already present on the muddy patch in front of the Coast Watch building.

                                                    Dunlin - Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020


                                                Wheatear, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

 Soon after Nick picked up a smart Shorelark in the same patch of mud.

                                                   Shorelark, Happisburgh - 3rd October 2020

Nick and I headed south along the cliff walk whilst Richard headed back to the Cricket Club. However, we didn't get too far before Richard called us back as he'd found a Wryneck at the Paddocks.

                                            Wryneck - Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

It was still early doors but already shaping up to be one of our better days at Happisburgh. 

Meanwhile out at sea, stuff was on the move. Every time I looked out there was a small of flock of something, Teal, Common Scoter, Brent Geese and this small band of Eider.

                                        Eider - Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

We walked the cliffs, through the old caravan park and as far as the Lighthouse where we flushed a tired Woodcock. Heading back towards the village we flushed a second Woodcock and watched as it flew up along Beach Road. Arriving back at the Cricket Club we thought it was probably a good time to draw breathe and make a pit stop. We drove up towards Walcott for a full English in the Kingfisher Cafe.

As we munched through our healthy breakfast it was clear from scanning WhatsApp, Twitter and various Bird News Services, that stuff was continuing to arrive and whats more Happisburgh was faring as well as anywhere else along the east coast. With that in mind, we decided after breakfast to head back to the Coast Watch and see if anything else had dropped in. 

It was now close to 1pm, and numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings streaming in off the sea over our heads were building. In fact, it was constant and continuous, every time I looked up I could see them and hear them. The gardens along the path to the Coast Watch were hopping with tired and bedraggled thrushes feeding up after making the sea crossing. Robins were everywhere plus it seemed a lot more Dunnocks too. I wondered had these birds left the coast of Belgium or Holland that morning and were now hitting the east coast in a wave, or maybe they left the coast of Norway the previous night and were now reaching landfall after over 12 hours on the wing. I don't obviously know but one thing for sure there were lots of them, they were tired and soggy and no dount relieved to reach 'dry' land.

At the Coast Watch, the Shorelark, Dunlin and Wheatear were still present but they were joined by Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Robins, Meadow Pipits, two more Wheatears and several Song Thrushes. All fresh arrivals since we were there a few hours ago. 

                                        Goldcrest - Happisburgh Coast Watch - 3rd October 2020

We walked north along the cliff path towards Ostend. Flushing several Mipits as we went plus Lapland, Snow, Reed Bunting and more Wheatears.

                                   Lapland Bunting, Happisburgh / Ostend - 3rd October 2020

We checked several sheltered spots around Ostend and found a Common Redstart and another Woodcock plus many more Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Robins and of course Song Thrushes and Redwings. At the allotments, I picked up two flyover Hawfinches which briefly alighted on a tree before setting off again - the hours listening to nocmig calls clearly paying off. I was pretty chuffed with myself for recognising the call.



                                                 Hawfinch, Ostend, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

Arriving back at Happisburgh we had another flyover Hawfinch as we walked past the horse paddocks. We could have called it a day at that stage but there was still a little gas left in the tank (although I was flagging as we must've been heading for 9 hours in the field by then). We drove over to Cart Gap and walked Doggett's Lane. Still the Song Thrushes and Redwings were arrriving plus this tired and soggy looking Short-eared Owl that just look like it wanted to sit down and rest but kept getting mobbed by the local Corvids.

                                                    Short-eared Owl - Cart Gap, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

At the end of Doggett's Lane, we chanced upon a juvenile type chat that immediately had the alarm bells ringing. At first it was fly-catching from a distant Hawthorn bush so a little difficult to make out what it was. Then it dropped down and came closer, it sat up facing me on a dead Umbellifer where I thought it looked like a funny Whinchat - but not a Whinchat if you know what I mean and not a European Stonechat either. Pale and 'apricoty' looking with a 'gentle' expression. It flew away from us where it revealed a unstreaked apricot rump. And that was the last we saw of it. It just vanished. We searched in the rain and gathering gloom but couldn't relocate it. Nick checked the next day and no sign - pity! 

I arrived back at the car at about 5.30pm. I got home about 6.20pm, ate and then went to bed. I was shattered. Its taken until now to gather my thoughts and run through the day in my head. Apart from the interesting chat at Doggett's Lane, there were no major rares, but just birds, birds and more birds all day long. There was something at every turn and never a dull moment. To see migration in action like that, as masses of thrushes streamed overhead, no doubt relieved make landfall, tired, wet and hungry. How many didn't make the journey, nature is cruel. And to the Wrynecks, Chiffs, Redstarts and Blackcaps, that's only part of it. They still need to cross the channel, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara before they can rest for the winter. Good luck to them all!


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