Songbirds in the dunes

This afternoon I did one of my favourite walks from a lay-by near Burnham Overy Staithe, heading north through fields to the coast path and then on to the dune system and toward the start of the Holkham pinewoods.

It turned out to be an interesting walk: There had been a lot of bird migration along the coast (I discovered later that more than 50 short-eared owls had flown in off the sea at Holme in the course of the day! Amazing.). The dunes were alive with small songbirds: long-tailed tits, meadow pipits, linnets, goldfinchs, stonechats and goldcrests.

meadow pipit

There were redshank galore on the mudflats along with curlew and dunlin. Greylag, pink-footed and Egyptian geese were in the fields or flying in formation overhead, and there were hunting marsh harriers, buzzards and a kestrel (though I didn’t see any of those fifty short-eared owls!). On the sea I saw two red-throated divers.


I had initially gone specifically to the dunes because a great grey shrike (sometimes known as a butcher bird due to their habit of impaling bees and other insects on thorns to provide a larder) had been reported. There were several people there, some of whom had seen the bird earlier in the day. But at this point it wasn’t showing itself and by about 5pm there was only myself and one other birder in the area where the shrike had been hanging out.

It was again one of those situations where I thought “I’m not going to see this particular bird”. But then a bird caught my eye some distance off at the top of a bush: As shrikes have a habit of perching in quite prominent places I got the telescope on it and it was indeed the great grey shrike. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in finding a bird even if you know already that it’s around somewhere! But good as it was to see the shrike – another first for 2023 – I think the bird I enjoyed most today was the tiny goldcrest (officially the UK’s smallest bird, at about 9cm in length**) feeding busily in the lovely late afternoon sunshine which I tried to photograph, with – I’m pleased to say – some success.

A female goldcrest

Brenda writes: “After a warm, still, misty night the moth trap was better populated today. The large yellow underwing count was up to 15 and there were 4 Clancy’s rustics, 3 merveille du jour and a couple of large wainscots. The drive over to Burnham Overy in the morning mist was amazing. By the time I got to Wighton it was burning off and we were set for another incredibly warm October day.”

New species for October 8th:
Birds: great grey shrike

Birds = 222
Moths = 246
Wildflowers = 289

**The very similarly sized firecrest is, on average, about 5mm bigger!