Sunday, 17 February 2019

Cley: Glaucous Gulls, Snow Buntings and Scoters

Yesterday was an "Escape to the Coast" day with friends, spending most of our time at Cley Marshes on the north Norfolk Coast after an early morning (sadly, unsuccessful) attempt to find a Rough-legged Buzzard at Holme Fen near Peterborough.

Cley more than made up for this early disappointment with a superb selection of birds giving great views as we slowly made our way around the circular walk.  Our main objective was to see Snow Buntings along the beach so we walked down the famous East Bank, but made slow progress as there was so much to see - a juvenile Peregrine was sat on an island in the middle of the main marshland pool, with nervous wildfowl keeping their distance.   A juvenile Glaucous Gull, which we'd been told was feeding on a seal carcass along the beach, flew past us and on towards the centre of the reserve.

Further on we hear the distinctive chattering call of the Snow Bunting and looked up to see the wintering flock of about sixty birds fly past us and down towards the beach car park, settling in amongst some tall dock plants.
A Curlew delighted us, feeding in a small pool very close to the path, a nice opportunity to watch this often quite wary bird at close quarters.
Reaching the beach, we were ready for lunch by now and were able to spend some time watching Red-throated Divers fishing quite close to the shoreline.  A couple of Black-headed Gulls were on the lookout for scraps and gave a nice opportunity to capture a portrait of one just starting to gain more black feathers on it's head: a sure sign that the breeding season is fast approaching.
Black-headed Gull
We continued to see the juvenile Glaucous Gull flying around and then it landed on an island in the largest pool behind the beach.  As we walked towards to get a better view we realised there were actually two juvenile Glaucous Gulls sitting on the island, with a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull in between.  Birders at the viewing screen overlooking the pool and islands had just seen the second bird fly in, possibly a new arrival.  Both gulls were intent on preening and gave some great prolonged views - are rare opportunity to study these scarce visitors from the arctic in a relatively natural setting.  They were normally encountered feeding at rubbish tips or roosting with thousands of other gulls at our larger reservoirs.
Spot the Glaucous Gulls
Two juvenile Glaucous Gulls, with Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Lapwings
juvenile Glaucous Gull with sleeping juvenile Great Black-backed Gull and Lapwings
Just behind the viewing screen, back towards the beach, the Snow Bunting flock was not far away.  Somewhat fortuitously, the whole flock flew up and landed much closer to us and started feeding busily amongst the plants scattered across the top of the beach.  They are used to people walking quite close and were fairly tolerant of their small crowd of admirers.

Looking back towards the sea my eyes were drawn to what looked vaguely like a large black oil slick out to sea.  However, closer inspection with binoculars revealed a large and very dense flock of Common Scoter feeding intensively in a tightly-knit group.  We tried to estimate the flock size, gradually increasing our count towards 500 birds.  Then, the whole flock decided to move and flew a few hundred metres across the sea, enabling us to increase the estimate further - to 600 birds - plus a single Velvet Scoter.

 As we completed our loop around the marshes we were rewarded with more waders - flocks of Ruff, Dunlin, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and a few Golden Plover.  Pairs of Gadwall and Shelduck were displaying and Lapwings flocks were scattered across the lagoons.   Some great views too of four male Stonechats gathered together along a short stretch of fence, we checked them for colour rings as there is a study going on locally, but all were ring-free. 

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