15th May 2022 – Spring 4-day Tour, #4

Day 4 of a four day Spring Tour in Norfolk. It was drizzling first thing, but thankfully stopped just as we arrived on the coast, brightening up nicely through the day before rain spread in again just as we were finishing. Perfect timing! We spent the day on the North Norfolk coast.

We started the day at Holkham. As we got out of the minibus a Red Kite drifted over the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. We could see a Spoonbill out on one of the pools on the grazing marsh so we got the scope on it. A second Spoonbill flew in and joined it, before the two of them walked back out of view. Two Mistle Thrushes were feeding on the short grass the other side.

A Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff were singing in the trees as we set off along the path to the west, and we could hear a Goldcrest somewhere high in the pines. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling and flew out of the pines, landing in the top of a dead tree.

Great Spotted Woodpecker – flew out

We stopped at Salts Hole and could hear a Cuckoo now, deep in the trees back the way we had just come. Looking out over the grazing marsh beyond, there were not as many hirundines today – just a few Swallows and Swifts. With the low cloud we thought there might be more.

Continuing west, we saw our first Long-tailed Tits of the trip and a couple of Coal Tits. Two Jays flew across the track ahead of us. From up on the Washington Hide boardwalk, we could hear Sedge and Reed Warblers singing and a couple of Marsh Harriers floated over the reeds. A Blackcap was singing in the bushes in front of the hide and a single Chiffchaff above our heads in the sycamores. With south/east winds and drizzle overnight, we thought there might be some migrants today, but there was no sign of any here.

We followed the boardwalk through to the dunes and stopped to have a quick look out to sea. Two Gannets were plunge diving just offshore – not from much height, presumably due to the shallow water. A few Little Terns and Sandwich Terns were fishing just off the beach too. Two Common Scoters, a Fulmar and a line of Razorbills flew past. Several Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were in and out of the dunes. A Red Kite hung in the updraft on the front edge of the pines above us.

Red Kite – hung above us

Crossing back through the pines to the track, we walked on west. A Swallow was singing from the cowl on the chimney atop Meals House. Another couple of Swallows swept in and out of the cart shed opposite, and up to try to unseat the king of the castle on the prize perch on the cowl.

There were more warblers singing along the path and when we stopped to look at a Blackcap, we noticed a Scorched Carpet moth on the ivy. A Cuckoo was calling beyond the crosstracks now so we walked on. We were thinking we might catch up with it between there and the dunes, but the next thing we knew it was calling back behind us, before the crosstracks. They were taunting us today – we had heard lots of Cuckoos over the last few days and seen a couple in flight but one of the group was very keen to see one perched!

We stopped briefly to listen to the Willow Warbler with the identity crisis in the sallows, occasionally weaving bits of Chiffchaff into the start of its song. A couple of Bullfinches were calling further on. As we got to the west end of the pines, we met one of the wardens who had been out surveying the Natterjack pools. He hadn’t seen any sign of migrants which might have arrived, which confirmed the impression we had gained on the way out.

Out into the start of the dunes, a Common Whitethroat perched on the fence and we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the bushes. We flushed a few of the resident Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits from the short grass, but didn’t find anything else. It was starting to brighten up now and lots of tiny Plain Fanner moths were fluttering around the dunes. Rather than continue on, we decided to cut back round and back along the path to Joe Jordan Hide.

As we arrived at the hide, a Spoonbill dropped down onto the main pool and was joined by two others for a bathe and preen. We had a good view of them in the scope. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees, and a succession of Spoonbills and Little Egrets in and out of the trees.

Spoonbills – from the hide

After a short rest in the hide, we walked back. Several Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered around the path now in the sunshine. It was time for lunch when we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, so we made good use of one of the picnic tables outside the Lookout.

After lunch, we drove round to Burnham Norton. There were lots of House Martins and Swifts over the houses as we parked. Another Cuckoo was calling, in the pines in the garden behind the parking area. Surely we could get a look at this one? But despite trying several different angles we just couldn’t see it. It sounded like it had a bit of a sore throat too! Eventually it flew out from the back of the pines and resumed calling further off. We walked quickly along the path and found it perched up in the willows. At last!

Cuckoo – finally perched

As we walked on towards the seawall, a male Marsh Harrier flew off over the reeds. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing all along here and out along the seawall. Always obligingly perched up, they demanded to be photographed!

Sedge Warbler – singing

We heard a commotion and looked out on the grazing marsh to see two Redshanks fighting. Another Redshank was standing nearby watching and then we noticed it had three very fluffy small chicks down in the grass. Cute! The Lapwings were displaying too, zooming back and forth, twisting and tumbling, and singing.

Lapwing – on the grazing marsh

As well as Cuckoo, we were hoping we might catch up with some Yellow Wagtails here. Unfortunately the cows were mostly lying down, and only four were standing up. We walked up along the seawall until we were standing opposite and just as we stopped to scan with the scope a single Yellow Wagtail flew up calling and disappeared off west.

A Spoonbill flew over the saltmarsh and disappeared off towards Holkham. We stopped to scan the saltmarsh channel which held a couple of super smart Grey Plovers in full breeding plumage and a lone Curlew.

At the pools out at the far corner, there were lots more Redshanks but no other waders today. As we cut back down along the footpath another Redshank chick, older than the others, scuttled into the long grass as its parents alarm called. Nice to see a few young have hatched here.

Redshank – guarding its young

We walked back to the village through the middle of the grazing marsh. Several Wall butterflies basked on the track and we saw a couple of Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies. When we got back to the car park, a Hobby was hawking high over the grazing marsh in front. It was drifted off further away, then turned and powered towards us – it had seen a dragonfly from miles away and we watched as it caught and ate it.

Hobby – vs dragonfly

We called in at the pools at Wells to finish the day. A single Wood Sandpiper was feeding over in the far corner of the pools in front of the parking area, much smaller than the Redshank nearby. Two Common Sandpipers were right over the back of the pool the other side of the track.

We walked a short distance down the track to scan the pools. There was quite a commotion out on the water to one side, as a pair of Avocets seemed to be picking an argument with a pair of Shelducks which were standing on a slightly higher mound of mud which the Avocets obviously wanted!

Shelduck vs Avocet

Two Spoonbills dropped down into the deeper water over at the back. One of the Common Sandpipers then flew in and landed a little closer. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on the mud on the edge of the rushes on this side too.

Little Ringed Plover – on the mud

Another Cuckoo started calling in the distance away to the east. When we next heard it, it seemed to be closer so we looked over to see it flying high over towards the road and off west towards Wells. It could taunt us all it liked now we had finally seen one perched in a tree at Burnham Norton earlier!

It was already time to think about heading back, when it started to spit with rain, so we decided to call it a day. It had been a memorable four days of spring birding with some good birds.

14th May 2022 – Spring 4-day Tour, #3

Day 3 of a four day Spring Tour in Norfolk. The wind had dropped today and it was a gloriously bright and sunny day, with just enough high hazy cloud at times and light breeze to stop it getting too hot. We spent the day down in the Broads.

It was a long drive down to Hickling Broad, but as we got out of the minibus in the car park the bushes were alive with birds singing. Walking out from the car park, a Blackcap was singing above our heads and then we stopped to admire a Willow Warbler singing in the top of a tree. We could hear a Cuckoo but way off in the distance.

Willow Warbler – singing in the top of a tree

We turned onto Whiteslea track and walked up towards the viewing mound. As we passed the wood, a couple of Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies were hawking for insects around the trees and one perched nicely on the reeds in the ditch by the path.

Four-spotted Chaser – hawking around the trees

Scanning Brendan’s Marsh from up on the viewing mound, the first bird we saw was a very smart summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit, very rusty underneath with the colour extending from the head right down to underneath the tail. There were really good numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin here too, though mostly asleep, and a Greenshank just behind the line of reeds in the next pool.

A Common Crane came up out of the reeds, and circled round in front of the dead trees. It never gained much height though, and quickly dropped down again out of view.

Common Crane – came up out of the reeds

One of the wardens stopped to catch up and told us where the Temminck’s Stints had been earlier, viewed from over the other side of the marsh. So we walked back to the corner and turned down along the track towards Stubb Mill.

From up on the platform we could see the two Temminck’s Stints. They were close in, on the nearest sandy spit, but partly obscured behind the reeds. Still we had a good view of them in the scope. One of the scarcer spring passage waders here, this is the peak time so it was good to catch up with a couple.

Temminck’s Stint – one of two

A Common Sandpiper was nearby too. There is only space for two people on the platform, so we took it in turns. But there were more people waiting to come up now, so we descended and scanned the marsh from the path below. We could see a Greenshank now in front of the reeds at the back and a very smart Spotted Redshank dropped in, looking its absolute best now in its jet black breeding plumage with silvery spotting.

Walking on, we scanned the next field on the other side of the track and quickly located the male Ring Ouzel on top of a straw bale on the corner of the hedge. We had a look at it in the scope and then it dropped down to feed in and out of the long grass around the base of the trees. Most of the Ring Ouzels which pass through in the spring have gone north already but there are often one or two stragglers, so another nice bird to catch up with here.

We carried on to the far end and up onto the bank. The Black-winged Stilts had been here but there was no sign of them now. Scanning around the marsh we did see another Greenshank and a single Common Snipe feeding in the vegetation. The Spotted Redshank flew past us calling and disappeared off east towards the coast.

Eventually a couple of Black-winged Stilts came up out of the reeds, circled round calling and dropped back in out of view again. A good start, but we really wanted to see one on the ground. While we waited to see if they would come out, we walked up a little further to look at a Wood Sandpiper on another smaller pool. We had a nice view in the scope, but we were distracted then.

First a Bittern came up in the distance, back towards the Whiteslea track. It flew up high and towards us, but rather than dropping in quickly it flew high all the way across the reeds and over the dead trees, before turning and heading out towards Horsey Mere. It brought up another Bittern from the reeds below it and the first turned back, back past the dead trees before finally dropping down. An unusually long flight for a Bittern here at this time of year, but speaking to the warden it seems to be a bird which is wandering widely around the Broad (it has a distinctive feather missing in its left wing).

Bittern – on its long flight

While we were watching the Bittern, the first Hobby of the day appeared, and flew low across over the reeds the other way. And the Stilts came up again at the same time and dropped down towards the scrape. We didn’t know which way to look! Unfortunately the Stilts flew straight back into the reeds again.

We stood for a while and watched, hoping the Stilts would come back again. Another Crane came up over the reeds behind us. There were a couple of Hobbys up now up, and one drifted high overhead. Two Common Buzzards circled up over the trees. The second Bittern was booming from the reeds now, presumably stirred into action by the interloper flying over.

By the time we turned our attention back to the Wood Sandpiper, it had disappeared in all the excitement earlier, before everyone had seen it. We walked back to the viewing platform, where there were meant to be a couple of others. A male Marsh Harrier circled over the path ahead of us. The Ring Ouzel was now out in the middle of the field, next to a Stock Dove, but there was more heat haze now.

Marsh Harrier – circled over

Before we got back to the platform, we spotted a Black-winged Stilt now sat down on a sandy spit out on the marsh. We got it in the scope, a female with a mostly white head and browner back. It was spooked by a Dunlin, and stood up, showing off its extremely long pink legs. It stood and preened for a second or two, then flew over and landed much closer, right behind bank. There was no one on the platform now, so we had a great view of it from up there.

A Wood Sandpiper emerged from the dense clump of rushes in the middle of the marsh now and while we were watching it a second Wood Sandpiper appeared nearby. Everyone managed a nice view in the scope this time, without any distractions!

As we made our way back, there were several Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies around the bushes and more Four-spotted Chasers. A Grey-patched Mining Bee landed on the path and several Flavous Nomad Bees buzzed around the gorse.

Blue-tailed Damselfly – on the way back

We had planned to walk back round to the mound on the Whiteslea track, as we had been told there was a Black-winged Stilt there, but we had already had good views of one now. However, one of the group had left a camera there earlier, so we went back round to look for it. We were glad we did!

There was a male Black-winged Stilt now further back, blacker and with a black patch on its head, where the female had been earlier in front of the viewing platform. Then we heard calling and looked over to see the female on a spit much closer. It took off and flew straight towards us, landing down on the edge of the water right in front of us and then proceeded to pick its way even closer. Great views!

Black-winged Stilt – great views eventually

Six Common Cranes came up in the distance and flew round. A couple of Little Grebes swam across behind the line of reeds. Then it was time to head back for lunch. We cut back along the path through the wood. There were more Four-spotted Chasers here and a Small Copper butterfly landed on the path. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of a dead tree.

Almost back to the Visitor Centre, something flicked out of the oaks up in the canopy. A Spotted Flycatcher! It flew again and disappeared back deeper into the trees. A scarce bird here and presumably just a migrant stopping off. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it before it disappeared so we waited to see if it would come out again. There was no further sign, but we had nice views of a Treecreeper on the tree trunks.

We had lunch on the picnic tables in the sunshine, listening to Willow Warblers singing and with Cranes bugling in the distance. We had been thinking about going somewhere else this afternoon, but while we were eating someone walking back told us that there were several Swallowtails out by the Broad, showing very well. We decided to try for those next.

As we made our way round, we had a quick look at the Broad. A single Great Crested Grebe was out on the water, as well as lots of Mute Swans. A Hobby raced in over the Broad, and disappeared back the way we had come. Another circled high over the wood behind us. Along the path towards the Observatory, a couple of Green Tiger Beetles flew up from the path ahead of us.

We hadn’t gone too far before we saw a Swallowtail flying out over the reeds. It landed on a reed head, wings open, basking in the sunshine, but we were looking at it from behind and it was hard to get an angle to see it front on. A good start, but we knew they had been showing better than this earlier. We carried on to the Observatory and looked out over the Broad. There were a couple of Common Terns out over the water. We sat down in the cool for a rest and another Swallowtail flew past over the reeds.

We walked back the way we had come, hoping for a Swallowtail on the path and found some people watching one basking high on a sallow on the other side of the track from the reeds. It was a much better view now, with the sun behind us. Having only just emerged, the Swallowtails are absolutely fresh and pristine.

The Swallowtail then fluttered round and landed on a hawthorn bush right in front of us, only a metre or so off the ground, where it nectared on the flowers. Stunning! It kept flying up and round between us, gliding back in to the flowers, or up onto the sallow in the sunshine. It almost landed on someone’s head at one point! We stood and watched in awe.

Swallowtail – stunning views

The Swallowtails are out early this year and there are not many flowers out yet. The hawthorns are about the only things in flower, which is why they are nectaring on the bushes. Lucky for us, as it meant we were treated to such an amazing display. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and walked back round towards the Visitor Centre. The first Swallowtail was still basking on the reeds as we passed.

We stopped to watch one of the Hobbys again, high over the scrapes, when it suddenly turned, folded its wings back and plummeted vertically, disappearing behind some trees. When it came up again it was eating a dragonfly. From a little further round, we could see the Hobby zooming back and forth repeatedly low over the scrape. It seemed to be doing well, catching a dragonfly on every pass. Great to watch.

Hobby – catching dragonflies

We had another quick look in the wood, but there was still no further sign of the Spotted Flycatcher. We had heard one calling earlier and we did now see a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the dead trees. Then it was back to the Visitor Centre for an ice cream before the long drive home.

Nightjar Evening

We met again in the evening. We hadn’t prearranged a Nightjar Evening for this tour, but the first Nightjars are back so by popular demand we headed out to see whether we might be able to find one.

As we drove out of the village, we noticed a shape on the roof of an old barn. Little Owl! We stopped and manoeuvred the minibus so everyone could get a look without disturbing it. It stared down at us disapprovingly, the went back to staring out at the fields across the road. These barns are in the process of being developed into houses – some of them are already being converted now – so it may only be a few more months before this Little Owl loses its home.

Little Owl – stared at us

We drove over to one of the local heaths with a beautiful sunset in the sky to the west. As we walked out onto the heath, a couple of Roe Deer were feeding in the field next door and we flushed a Muntjac from the path which ran out past them.

We stopped to look at a female Stonechat, perched on the gorse alarm calling in the gathering gloom. We caught the back end of a Woodcock, unusually silent, disappearing off away from us.

We had only just got ourselves into position when the first Nightjar churred from the trees right behind us. It was obviously churring from where it was roosting, and there was no sign of it. It churred again and then called and we saw it fly up over the treetops hawking for insects. It came past us again, a male with white flashes in the wingtips, and then disappeared out over the heath.

Another Nightjar started churring further away, with possibly a third further off still. The first Nightjar then started up again, this time out in the middle of the heath. We were hoping it might come back in towards us but it stayed out in the middle of the heath for some time before it eventually did so – it came in low over the gorse, flashing its white wing flashes and up into the trees behind us. Unfortunately, it was too dark to see where it landed and it didn’t stay too long before it was off again.

It was lovely standing here on the heath listening to the Nightjars. The Woodcock reappeared a couple of times, flying over roding. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees. It was getting dark now and we decided to call it a night. We had another day’s birding to look forward to tomorrow.

13th May 2022 – Spring 4-day Tour, #2

Day 2 of a four day Spring Tour in Norfolk. It was a bright day with lots of sunshine, but with a nagging blustery WSW wind, warm out of the wind but distinctly cooler in it.

Our first stop this morning was in Blakeney. As we got out of the minibus, a Lesser Black-backed Gull flew round over the quay and landed on the roof of a nearby house. We walked round to the side of the quay and up onto the bank overlooking the saltmarsh just beyond. It was already very breezy here and at first we couldn’t see anything with the small group of Brent Geese out in the middle, but after a while the Red-breasted Goose appeared out of the vegetation.

Red-breasted Goose – still with the Brents

The Red-breasted Goose has been here for over three months now, with the wintering Brent Geese. The Brents should be leaving us soon, to head back up to Siberia for the breeding season and presumably the Red-breasted Goose with head back with them too. It was good that we were able to catch it again before it leaves – very helpful of it to linger!

There were several Redshanks out on the saltmarsh too, and a single Curlew. A Lapwing was displaying, flying backwards and forwards low over the ground singing, occasionally swooping up higher and twisting and tumbling.

Lapwing – displaying

A Red Kite drifted out over the saltmarsh, hanging in the air and stooping down at one point after something. The Lapwing broke off from displaying to mob at it, swooping at the Red Kite repeatedly from above.

Red Kite – mobbed by the Lapwing

Having all had a really good look at the Red-breasted Goose, we walked back to the minibus. As we were packing up the scopes, two Mediterranean Gulls flew over us calling and disappeared off west. We made our way round to Cley next.

A couple of Greenfinches flew over the car park as we got out. We had just crossed over the road and turned to walk west along the Skirts when we received a message that a Golden Oriole had been seen flying west over Muckleburgh Hill, heading in our direction. We were not in the best place to scan from, but we stopped and looked for a few minutes. Unfortunately there was no sign, and presumably it headed inland along the ridge.

While we were looking, we did see two different Spoonbills which dropped out of North Foreland wood and down onto Pat’s Pool behind us. As we set off west again, another Spoonbill came right over our heads.

Spoonbill – came over our heads

A Cetti’s Warbler started singing across the road and we looked over to see it perched up in the open in full view. Several times it disappeared in before coming out again to sing. Unusually good views of this normally very secretive species. Further on, a Common Whitethroat was singing its scratchy song from an elder bush on the edge of the reeds. A Cuckoo called from the edge of the wood somewhere out of view.

Common Whitethroat – singing

Up on the East Bank, we stopped to scan again. A Kestrel was hovering over the grazing marshes away to the east. There were lots of Swifts and hirundines, mainly Swallows and House Martins, moving again today. The Cuckoo flew back to North Foreland wood from further east over Snipe’s Marsh.

As we walked up the bank, we were just thinking how it wasn’t really a day for Bearded Tits given the wind, when we heard one call and looked over to see it fly off up the ditch below the bank. One called again, but still from the reeds just across the ditch from where we were and we looked down to see two juveniles creeping around in the vegetation. on far side of ditch.

It was sheltered down there, in the lee of the wind and the two young Bearded Tits eventually emerged out onto the edge of the reeds where they perched preening for several minutes. There was a Reed Warbler on the edge of the reeds too.

Bearded Tits – two juveniles

Looking out over the grazing marsh the other side, we found two Wigeon asleep in the grass on the edge of Pope’s Pool. Most have left already, back to Russia for the breeding season, but one or two often linger here for the summer. A Yellow Wagtail called as it flew over but we didn’t see it. Then a second Yellow Wagtail called and we looked up to see it as it came over our heads, but it continued on west without stopping too.

Two Ringed Plover down on the Serpentine looked like they might be northern passage birds, of the tundrae race, which pass through on their way north at this time of year. There were two Little Ringed Plovers as well – one was displaying back and forth over the water and then chased after the second. Two Turnstone were picking round the water’s edge.

Another Turnstone was feeding on the back of the Brackish Pools. There were two Little Terns and a single Sandwich Tern out here too, tucked down on the edge of the saltmarsh out of the wind.

We went into the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh to get out of the wind – there were several Redshanks, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and more Turnstones over towards the back. A group of about five Grey Plover included a couple of birds in smart breeding plumage, and two Golden Plover were roosting further over back in the saltmarsh vegetation. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the water. A Whimbrel flew in from the east, but turned and dropped down towards the Serpentine. Then another Whimbrel came out from the vegetation on the edge of the water along with a Curlew.

Having come this far, we couldn’t not have a quick look at the sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past close inshore but three Kittiwakes were much more. A small flock of Sanderling flew west too.

As we started to walk back, a message came through that a Honey Buzzard had been seen flying west past West Runton. We stopped to scan, just in case and then received another message that it was now over the sea off Salthouse. As we turned round to head back to the beach, an update told us it was now heading inland and away from us, back over Kelling village. It seemed like it may have gone the wrong way!

We stopped again and scanned the ridge inland, and it wasn’t long before we picked up the Honey Buzzard now high up just south of Walsey Hills. We got it in the scopes and all had a look at it before it dropped down and back over the ridge. Presumably it had just seen a thermal, because a minute later it reappeared over North Foreland Wood. It circled up and was mobbed by a Common Buzzard, before gliding quickly off west behind Cley.

As we set off back again, two Red Kites flew in over the fields and across the reedbed. Two Common Sandpipers had appeared now on the Serpentine, and what was presumably the Whimbrel we had seen flying in earlier was now in the grass beyond. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds as we passed, showing off its bright orange gape.

Sedge Warbler – singing

As we made our way back along the Skirts path, one of the group noticed a large Drinker Moth caterpillar on the reeds by the path. Then it was back to the Visitor Centre for an early lunch. It was just sheltered enough from the wind to sit in the picnic area, from where we could look out over the marshes. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds in front and a Little Ringed Plover flew round over the car park, presumably looking to see if the gravel was a suitable nesting site again.

As we were finishing up, two Yellow Wagtails flew in and landed briefly on one of the islands on Pat’s Pool. We could just see one of them in the scope through the tops of the reeds before they took off again. They circled round, went to look at the cows on the neighbouring grazing marsh, then flew back and landed out of view behind the reeds.

Two Yellow Wagtails flew in, landed briefly on island on Pat’s. Could just see in scope through tops of reeds. Flew, circled round, went to look at cows, then flew back and landed behidn reeds possibly on Simmond’s.

There didn’t seem to be much on the scrapes today but there had apparently been some Wheatears out on the beach earlier, so we headed round to the beach car park now. Walking out along the edge of the Eye Field, we scanned the fence posts and the grass. We couldn’t see any Wheatears but we did find a Golden Plover out in the field, possibly one of the two from Arnold’s earlier.

We stopped to scan Billys Wash from the top of the Eye Field. There wasn’t anything on the mud there but we did spot a large flock of small waders which landed beyond, on Simmond’s Scrape. It was too far away to see what they were, but when they took off again they flew round over the Eye Field. A mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, then they headed off west up the Point. There didn’t look to be anything on North Scrape either, so we turned to head back. A Redshank was calling from one of the fence posts back by the car park.

Redshank – on the Eye Field fence

Our next destination was Kelling Water Meadow, where we figured it might be a little more sheltered. It was sheltered in the lane and there was a nice selection of butterflies around the flowers, Small & Green-veined Whites, Orange Tip, Wall, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. A male Blackcap was singing and a female showed briefly on the edge of one of the hollies. We could hear a Chiffchaff in the hedge a little further along.

Wall – on the path

Continuing on down to the Water Meadow, we couldn’t see any cows from the gate. We heard a Yellow Wagtail call as it flew off west and when we got down to the crosstrack and looked back we could see why it hadn’t lingered – the cows were lying down behind the hedge! We had hoped we might get some wagtails on the ground with the cows here, but not with the cows lazing around.

There were lots of Gadwall and a pair of Shoveler on the pool and an Egyptian Goose on the bank. We heard a Cuckoo calling and turned to see it flying east over the Quags, continuing on and away over the Camp. As we walked down towards the Hard, several Linnets flew over and a male Stonehcat perched up briefly.

Up towards the gun emplacements, we once again lamented the dumping of building rubble on Weybourne Camp, where the orchids used to grow. There were three or four Linnets and a pair of Red-legged Partridges which at least seemed to appreciate the rubble. There were a few Brown-tail Moth tents on the remaining blackthorn bushes which haven’t been grubbed out. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past over the sea.

There were no signs of any migrants here, so we headed back. When we got back to the village, a Goldcrest was singing in he fir tree by the school and dropped down to bathe in the beck before flying up into the hedge right beside us.

Goldcrest – still slightly damp

We called in at Stiffkey Fen to finish the day. A Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge beside the road as we crossed over, but tucked down somewhere out of the wind. As two Common Buzzards hung in the air over the copse a male Marsh Harrier circled up from below calling and had a go at one of them. A female Marsh Harrier came up too.

From the path alongside the river, we looked over to the Fen. A Common Sandpiper was out on the mud and a Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds before landing in a bush. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows.

From up on the seawall, we could see there were actually two Common Sandpipers on the Fen. But there was just one Black-tailed Godwit, admittedly very smart in breeding plumage. There had clearly been a clearout of waders in recent days, as they headed off north to breed, and there were fewer birds here than of late. A Great White Egret was standing on the mud in the corner preening, and helpfully had a Little Egret nearby to provide a nice size comparison.

Great White Egret – with Little Egret

Looking out towards the harbour, there were still good numbers of Brent Geese on the saltmarsh, and just a couple of seals on the end of the Point, along with a big flock of Sandwich Terns which flew up and circled round. A steady succession of Swifts and hirundines were still flying past, as they had been pretty much all day, migration in action.

We walked round to look out across the harbour channel. As we did, two more Common Sandpipers flew out from the edge and across the water ahead of us. A Brown Hare was basking on the private track beyond the gate.

There were lots of gulls on the mud in the harbour, moving up ahead of the rapidly rising tide. As well as lots of Great & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, there were several Common Gulls, mostly 1st summers but with one smart adult, and a single 1st summer Mediterranean Gull.

There were still a few waders beyond, gathering to roost over high tide. A smart rusty summer Bar-tailed Godwit was fast asleep. Nearby, there were a few Grey Plover, Dunlin, a Curlew and a small group of Oystercatchers. There were more small waders on the shingle spits out in front of us – lots of Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a few more Turnstones.

It was a lovely spot to stand and stare out over the harbour, but it was time to head back now. Another Cuckoo was calling in the poplars beyond the Fen and back along the path by the river we could see the Willow Warbler singing now. Further along, beyond the kissing gate, a Chiffchaff was singing in the trees above our heads. We stopped to admire a couple of Small Eggar moth caterpillar webs in the hedge.

Small Eggar moth – caterpillars in their nest

It had been another interesting day of Spring migration on the coast – wonder what tomorrow will bring?

12th May 2022 – Spring 4-day Tour, #1

Day 1 of a four day Spring Tour in Norfolk. It was a bright and mostly sunny day, with a brisk SW wind. Some dark clouds in off the Wash in the morning threatened briefly but came to nothing. We spent the day in NW Norfolk.

Our destination for the morning was Snettisham. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing from the trees. A super smart male Bullfinch flew across in front of us and landed in a nearby hedge, its deep raspberry pink underparts glowing in the sunshine. A small flock of Swallows and Sand Martins were roosting on the wires out over the grazing marsh and hawking for insects above. A Chiffchaff landed on the wires above us.

Lesser Whitethroat – feeding in the sea buckthorn

As we made our way into the Coastal Park, a small group of Common Swifts came overhead, the first of many we would see today. There were Blackcaps and Sedge Warblers singing from the bushes and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted as we passed. A Lesser Whitethroat flicked up ahead of us, and we had a nice view of it as it fed in the brambles and buckthorn.

A Turtle Dove started purring ahead of us, so we walked round to scan its favoured bushes, but there was no sign of it at first. We walked round the back and it started up again, so we came round again to the sheltered side and found a male and female Turtle Dove perched in the sunshine right in front of us. The male was perched above on a bramble stem and kept turning round, fidgeting. The female was lower and tucked down catching the sun. They were very relaxed about our presence, so we stopped to watch them for a while, enjoying some incredible views.

Turtle Dove – the male

The male Turtle Dove fluttered round the back of the bush at one point, but the female stayed put and after a minute the male came back out again to the same perch. Eventually the male flew a short distance and landed in some more bushes further down and this time the female followed. We decided to leave them in peace.

We made our way up onto the outer seawall now and looked out across the Wash. A Wall butterfly fluttered off ahead of us. A Mediterranean Gull few across out over the water. There were lots of waders out on the edge of the water, but the tide was some way out now so they were all rather distant. We could see lots of Grey Plover, many in stunning breeding plumage, plus a lot of Dunlin, a few Bar-tailed Godwits, and a couple of Curlew.

As we turned to head back into the Coastal Park, a Cuckoo flew across over the other side, just in front of the inner seawall. It dropped down behind some bushes and disappeared – we didn’t see it come out the other side – so we walked over to see if we could find it. There was no further sign, but we did find our first Common Whitethroat of the tour and a Reed Warbler perched up in the reeds singing.

Continuing on up through the Coastal Park, we had great views of several Sedge Warblers, perched up in the bushes singing. A couple of the pairs of Stonechats already had a few streaky juveniles in tow. There were lots of Linnets, including some smart pink-breasted males and more Common Whitethroats. We could hear another Turtle Dove purring and eventually found it further up, perched in the top of a large hawthorn. Another Turtle Dove flew past us.

Sedge Warbler – perched up singing

Up at the crossbank, we had another look out at the Wash. There were two Ringed Plovers on the mud here, a bit closer this time, and another Bar-tailed Godwit with them. The latter had a bad limp, which might explain why it wasn’t way out on the mud with the others.

Three Tufted Ducks were on the pool beyond the crossbank, as we walked across to inner seawall. From the top, we looked out over the marshes the other side. There were lots of geese, Shelduck, ducks and Avocets. Some of the Canada Geese and Greylags had small goslings with them. Lots of Swifts and hirundines were hawking out over the marshes, others continuing on south – migration in progress.

A grey male Marsh Harrier was hunting out over the grazing marshes. We watched a Kestrel hovering over the grass, then drop down sharply, coming back up with something small in its talons.

We had been told that there were some Whinchats and Wheatears further north, at Heacham this morning, but we couldn’t walk all the way up there today. So we kept scanning the grazing marshes to the north of the crossbank, in case there were any here. We found just a few more Stonechats at first, and then a Whinchat appeared on the top of a clump of brambles. We had a look through the scope first, then walked up for a slightly closer view, but by the time we got there it had disappeared. A female Wheatear appeared on the bush instead, and we found another Wheatear out on the grass further over, a male this time.

We walked back down along the inner seawall, scanning the marshes as we went. All we could add to the list were two Black-tailed Godwits. Small flocks of Common Swifts shot past us, making their way south and round the Wash.

Common Swift – on migration

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we stopped to look and found it perched in a tall tree in the middle of the Coastal Park. It took off and fluttered up in display flight, gliding down in circles before landing again in the same tree. It was joined by a second Turtle Dove on the same branch and we thought initially it must be a female, but the first first one flew straight at it and chased it off. Presumably a rival male, it flew off and landed on the fence by the marshes, then back and off north. It was pursued by the first Turtle Dove in display flight again.

There were lots of freshly emerged dark damselfies fluttering around in the vegetation on the bank. The ones we looked at more closely were Azure Damselflies, and we did see one older blue male. There were several butterflies out too, mostly whites including a number of Green-veined White, but almost back to the road a Small Heath fluttered up from the grass, our first of the year.

It had been a very fruitful morning, and we made our way round to Titchwell now for lunch. Afterwards, we headed out onto the reserve. A flock of Common Pochard came up off the new pool in the reeds as we passed and a Great White Egret flew up out of the reedbed and landed again in the reeds further back. A single Great Crested Grebe was out on the reedbed pool. A Marsh Harrier was perched on one of the dead trees at the back.

As it was sunny, we scanned the Freshmarsh from the bank. There are lots of Avocets here, with good numbers on nests, they seem to appreciate the new islands which were created in the works last year. Speaking to the warden who happened to be passing, it is a very good year for them, possibly the third best ever and the best for some time.

There was a little huddle of Dunlin and Turnstones on the edge of the new bund, further back. Several of the Turnstones were in their striking breeding plumage, with lots of white on the head and rich chestnut bands in the upperparts. One helpfully picked its way along the edge of the water straight towards us, so we could get a closer look.

Turnstone – in breeding plumage

There were a couple of Common Sandpipers around the muddy edges of the island. Several Ringed Plovers probably included a mixture of passage northern tundrae and local nominate birds which breed here. A Little Ringed Plover was picking around on the mud right below the bank, so close we could see its golden yellow eye ring with the naked eye.

Little Ringed Plover – close to the path

Scanning the Freshmarsh, we picked up a lone Whimbrel further back on the edge of Avocet Island. We had a look at it through the scope before it took off and flew past us over the bank and off west calling. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits was right over in the far corner. A Spoonbill flew in over the bank, circled the Freshmarsh, and carried on east without stopping.

There were two pair of Common Terns on the new islands, in with the Black-headed Gulls. One of the Common Terns took off and started fishing, hovering right in front of us over the shallow water. When it plunged down into the water, it came back up with a fish in its bill. It flew back to the island and gave it to the female. When it flew back to have another go, a second Common Tern was on the mud below calling and flapping its wings. We weren’t sure what was going on at first, but the second tern took off and the two started fighting, locked together, tumbling down into the water!

Common Tern – fishing on the Freshmarsh

Four Little Terns appeared, and chased each other round and round, landing briefly on the new bund. A Sandwich Tern dropped in with the gulls, long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, before it flew off towards Scolt. There was a Little Gull here too, a 1st summer. It was swimming on the water out towards the Parrinder bank at first, then flew round showing off the distinctive ‘w’ upperwing pattern, before it landed again on the mud and went to sleep.

Four Little Terns appeared, and chased each other round and round, landing briefly on the new bund. A Sandwich Tern dropped in with the gulls, long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, before it flew off towards Scolt. There was a Little Gull here too, a 1st summer. It was swimming on the water out towards the Parrinder bank at first, then flew round showing off the distinctive ‘w’ upperwing pattern, before it landed again on the mud and went to sleep.

There were lots of Swifts and hirundines hawking out over the Freshmarsh and the reedbed, but despite looking through carefully, we couldn’t find anything unusual in with them. As we had seen this morning, they are on the move at the moment and stopping off here to feed.

We made our way on, out towards the beach. The tide was in, and the Volunteer Marsh channel was full of water. A group of Oystercatchers was roosting on the island on the Tidal Pools, and another Common Tern and a Little Tern were hunting close to the bank. We stopped to watch two Spoonbills feeding on a saltmarsh pool opposite, sweeping their bills side to side through the shallow water. They seemed to be finding lots of food.

Little Tern – on Tidal Pools

Out at the beach, there were some little groups of Sanderlings still on the shoreline. We had a quick look at the sea which produced six Common Scoter out on the water, and five distant Gannets flying past. Then we headed back.

Back at the Freshmarsh, the Little Gull was awake again and much closer now than it had been earlier, so we stopped for another look before heading back to the car park. A very dainty small gull, we had a great view as it picked for insects on the water’s surface.

Little Gull – a first summer

Before we headed for home, we decided to have a very quick look at Ringstead. There had been no reports of the Dotterel yesterday in the rain, and as we had driven past earlier we could see there was no one looking today. Whilst there had been a big clear out of waders along the coast on Tuesday night, the Dotterel often stay later than this, so we figured we should at least have a go.

As we walk up the lane, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing behind us, and looked back to see a smart yellow male perched in the top of a hawthorn. A Wheatear was out in the middle of the field opposite. There were lots of Brown Hares here too – we stopped to watch three chasing each other in circles and even boxing briefly, before they lost interest.

Brown Hares – chasing

Perhaps unsurprisingly there was no sign of any Dotterel now in the field they had been frequenting – nothing ventured. There were several Stock Doves and a few Red-legged Partridges. A Skylark at the back of the bare field opposite looked like it might be something more interesting in the heat haze until we got a closer look.

It was time to head back. As we walked back along the lane, three Whimbrel flew over calling and disappeared off north, a reminder that wader migration continues. It had been a good start to the tour – we were looking forward to more tomorrow.

3rd May 2022 – Spring Day in NW Norfolk

A Private Tour today, up in NW Norfolk. It was rather grey and cloudy in the morning, but we had some unexpected bright and sunny weather in the afternoon, although a light NE wind meant it was still a little fresh on the coast.

With a bit of cloud cover this morning, we figured that there wouldn’t be too much heat haze first thing, so we headed up to Ringstead to try to see the Dotterel. As we got out of the minibus, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and it flew across and landed on the outside edge of a hawthorn so we could get a good look at it.

As we walked down the track, a female Wheatear flicked up ahead of us into an oak tree. It dropped down again into the neighbouring field and was joined by a bright male. A smart male Yellowhammer sang from the blackthorn ahead of us and several Common Whitethroats song flighted up out of the verges as we walked along. A Grey Partridge was standing proud in some spring barley, with a couple of Red-legged Partridges nearby for comparison.

One of the locals was already watching the Dotterel and when we walked over and asked where they were, he pointed right in front of us! Not what we were expecting, they are often very distant, but they had apparently just flown in from the back of the field and landed quite close to the track. Even better, they then proceeded to come closer still, climbing in and out of the furrows straight towards us.

Dotterel – a bright female

Over the course of the next half an hour or so, we were treated to some amazing close views of the Dotterel. There are six of them now, three brighter females and three duller males. They turned and made their way down the field parallel with the track, so we followed. They were moving very quickly, running over the field and then stopping for a few seconds before running on. Eventually they cut further back into the field and we could actually get the scopes on them – they were too close before!

Dotterel – stunning close views

We had already enjoyed great views and were about to pack up when the Dotterel started running straight towards us again, so we stopped and watched a bit longer. They were probably trying to get back to the field they had been in about ten days ago, because suddenly they took off and flew low across the track behind us, landing further out in the crop the other side. We did move on now.

Our next destination for the morning was Snettisham. As we made our way through the gate into the Coastal Park, a Cuckoo was singing from the wires. We got it in the scope and had a good look, before it dropped down and we lost sight of it.

Cuckoo – singing from the wires

A little further in, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes and showed well again briefly. There were several Common Whitethroats song flighting, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing. The first of many Sedge Warblers perched up nicely on the top of a bramble and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the reeds.

It was rather grey and cool and there were quite a few hirundines hawking for insects overhead and out over the marshes beyond, mostly Swallows and a few House Martins with them. A Common Swift appeared with them briefly, our first of the year. They have been very slow arriving this year, presumably due to the cool north and east winds we have been enjoying, so this was a nice bonus.

We climbed up onto the seawall for a look at the Wash. The tide was going out but had not cleared the beach yet, and just a small huddle of Turnstones and a single Ringed Plover were roosting on the shingle. Continuing on up through the bushes, there were lots more warblers singing, plenty of Linnets, and at least three pairs of Stonechats. As well as the numerous Sedge Warblers, we heard a couple of Reed Warblers too, and had a couple of glimpses as one was chased through the reeds by a Sedge Warbler.

Stonechat – typically obliging

When we got up to the crossbank, we had another look out at the Wash. There was a nice wide strip of exposed mud now and the waders were coming back to feed. There was a nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits out on the mud, several in smart breeding plumage, bright rusty all the way from head to undertail. In amongst them were five Knot, one just starting to get some orange below.

Two people came along the beach walking six dogs. One was clearly much more lively than the others and running around off the lead. After they had all gone past, it slipped back round behind its walkers and once out of sight ran out across the mud and flushed all the waders. The birds landed a short distance out in the shallow water and the dog lost interest. But once again it just shows how these birds struggle with constant disturbance now.

Dog vs waders

We cut across to the inner seawall and looked out over Ken Hill Marshes. There was a huge flock of Oystercatchers roosting on one of the scrapes and while we stood and watched they started to filter back out to the Wash in lines. There were three more Bar-tailed Godwits here too, including two more looking stunning in their rusty breeding plumage.

What was possibly the same Cuckoo we had seen earlier was now singing from somewhere in the trees at the back of the marshes. A Yellow Wagtail called and flew low overhead, disappearing off south without stopping.

We made our way back along the inner seawall, stopping from time to time to scan the marshes. The first Turtle Dove of the year here had been reported yesterday, but we hadn’t seen or heard anything on our walk. We were almost back to the road, when we looked across and saw a Turtle Dove perched on the wires. We got it in the scope for a closer look. Then it stretched and dropped off into the bushes below. Perfect timing!

Turtle Dove – on the wires

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way round to Titchwell. The sun was out and we sat in the picnic area eating and watching the damselflies basking on the bushes. After lunch, we headed out for a quick look on the reserve.

We hadn’t heard any Grasshopper Warblers this morning (they mostly sing very early in the morning now), so we asked in the Visitor Centre and they confirmed that the ones which have been on the reserve had only been heard early. So we were pleasantly surprised as we walked out along the main path and heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling. Even better, it was the Grasshopper Warbler which had been reeling previously in a sallow right by the path and it was back. One of the volunteers had already located it in the bush and now we watched it singing from a tangle of branches.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in a sallow

We heard one or two Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed, but they were fairly quiet today and remained stubbornly out of view. A Marsh Harrier appeared briefly over the back and a Great White Egret flew over the path and out towards Thornham. A Cuckoo was singing distantly in the bushes.

There were lots of Avocets on the Freshmarsh with many on nests on the new islands now. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers were feeding along the water’s edge, one either side of the new bund. A single Black-tailed Godwit was wading in the deeper water further up. A single drake Wigeon was an addition to the day’s list, a still lingering winter visitor.

There were plenty of Black-headed Gulls but the only Mediterranean Gull we could find today was an immature (2nd calendar year) bird dozing on the bank. We did have good views of a Sandwich Tern which flew in overhead calling and landed on one of the islands. Through the scope we could see its shaggy crest and the yellow-tip to its black bill.

Sandwich Tern – flew in to the Freshmarsh

We walked straight on and out towards the beach. A nice close Curlew was probing in the muddy banks in the bottom of the channel on Volunteer Marsh. There were a few Brent Geese still on the saltmarsh opposite the Tidal Pools. A couple of Grey Plover flew off from the pools towards the beach calling and a Spoonbill flew over heading east.

The tide was out now. There were a few Oystercatchers on the mussel beds but most of the waders were out on the sand distantly up towards Thornham Point. There had apparently been a few Little Terns offshore earlier, but we couldn’t see any now, just some distant Sandwich Terns. A large flock of Common Scoter flew across way out in the haze, towards the wind turbines.

We called in briefly to scan the back of the Freshmarsh from the terrace above Parrinder Hide. There was a single Ruff close in front of the hide, but nothing else we hadn’t seen already, so we decided to head back. On our way back, there seemed to be more hirundines over the reedbed now, lots of Swallows and at least three House Martins. Another Swift was hawking back and forth with them, our second of the day (like buses!).

Jack Snipe had been mentioned as something we might have a look for today, so we thought we might try somewhere nearby to round off the day. There have been a couple still along the coast the last few days, including one at Thornham, but that had only been seen on one day and hadn’t been reported since. Still, we figured there had been lots of other waders there recently, so it was worth a look anyway.

As we walked up onto the seawall at Thornham Harbour, we spotted a small group of Whimbrel on the grazing marshes nearby, so we stopped and got them in the scope. A Wheatear flew up and landed on a post by the path, before flying over to the old sluice where it joined a second Wheatear, both males and both quite richly coloured birds, so presumably heading further north.

Wheatear – one of two males

We walked on up to the flash in the next field. We had a quick look in the harbour on our way – there were several Grey Plover, mostly in stunning breeding plumage now, and another rusty Bar-tailed Godwit. Another Whimbrel flew up from the saltmarsh calling as we walked on.

There were at least seven Ruff on the flash today, in a variety of colours no two alike. One in particular was starting to get its ornate ruff, with shaggy feathers on the front of its neck. The testosterone was rising and they were getting very aggressive, chasing after each other constantly. They will soon be off to Scandinavia to lek, but it was great to watch their antics here.

Three Little Ringed Plovers were on the muddy edges and they were chasing each other round too. A single Ringed Plover dropped in with a smart breeding plumage Dunlin, rich brown edged above and sporting a crisp black belly patch.

Jack Snipe – still here

We had seen a Common Snipe as we were walking out, but there was no sign of it now. We didn’t hold out much hope of the Jack Snipe still being here but as we scanned around the margins of the pool suddenly there it was, half-hidden in the emerging docks, preening. We turned the scope on it and watched it, stopping preening and bobbing briefly a couple of times. Then it started to feed and stalked away into the vegetation. It was our lucky day! We then found the Common Snipe again, asleep behind a clump of rushes on the grass at the back.

That was a great way to end the day, so we set off back well satisfied after a very fruitful day’s birding.

1st May 2022 – May Day

A Spring 1-day Tour up on the North Norfolk coast today. It was forecast to rain, but it didn’t (no surprise there!). It was cloudy in the morning, but bright and warm, and progressively brightened up with some sunny spells in the afternoon.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. As we set off down the track across the grazing marshes, we could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing in the hedge. A Goldfinch in the trees ahead of us was joined by a male Yellowhammer which flew in. There were several Shelducks out on the grass from the first gate and we could hear a Cuckoo calling off in the distance over towards the village.

Over the stile and out into the open, we scanned the grazing marshes beyond. A male Marsh Harrier was preening on the top of a bush on the edge of the reeds and another was flying round behind. Out on the grass, we picked up four Whimbrel and while we were watching them a single Bar-tailed Godwit appeared with them. We could see the rusty colouration of the godwits underparts extending right down under its tail. With the improvement in the weather and change in wind direction, birds are on the move now and we watched as they all flew off east.

Whimbrel – on the move today

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing all the way along the track now and we had great views of one perched up in a hawthorn, which stayed in the same place long enough for us to even get the scope on it. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes.

Sedge Warbler – singing from a hawthorn

The smaller pools on the grazing marsh are drying up fast now, but the larger pools still have quite a bit of water. We could see several Lapwings, Redshanks, Avocets and Oystercatchers here. We put the scope on a smart male Lapwing. A pair of Egyptian Geese were picking around on the mud, a Canada Goose was an addition to the list down in the grass at the back, and there were a few Teal, Shoveler and Coot too.

Talking to one of the wardens who was on his way back from an off-duty visit to the dunes, a Spoonbill flew over and disappeared off towards the colony. We could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling high overhead on the way out and one flew past now at eye level, a smart adult with jet black hood and clean white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull – flew past

By the far gate, below the seawall, our first Reed Warbler of the day was singing in the reeds. It’s more rhythmic song was noticeably different from the Sedge Warbler singing nearby (which seemed to have included an impression of a squeaky toy into its varied repertoire!). We could actually see the Reed Warbler perched up in the reeds, noticeably plainer than the Sedge Warblers.

Reed Warbler – singing in the reeds

Up onto the seawall, the tide was out now. There were a couple of Grey Plover on the mud below, one getting into its smart breeding plumage, and several Black-tailed Godwits, plus lots more Avocets and Redshank. Further up, we could see lots of lingering Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh.

A Bittern boomed from the reeds behind us. We turned to scan the reedbed pool, which held a lone Great Crested Grebe. A Great White Egret flew past, showing off its long legs and black feet, and another Great White Egret was distantly out on the grazing marsh beyond. Several Common Pochard were swimming round in a small pool in the reeds further up.

Great White Egret – flew past

There had apparently been lots of Yellow Wagtails on the move along the coast this morning, so we stopped to look at the cows out on the grazing marsh beyond the reedbed. Most of the cows were lying down, but we could see at least one bright Yellow Wagtail around the feet of one which was standing. They were hard to see here though, as the cows were in the longer grass on the edge of the reeds..

Further out, we stopped to scan the harbour from the seawall. Two Little Terns were out fishing over the water in the distance, and one landed on one of the shingle spits. Our first Little Terns of the year, just returned for the breeding season.

Continuing on to the dunes, we bumped into one of the locals who told us he had just seen two Ring Ouzels to the west, so we walked out towards Gun Hill. We couldn’t find any sign of the Ring Ouzels now, although they can be very mobile out here. There were a few hirundines trickling through all morning, migrating west, mostly Swallows, but we saw a couple of House Martins and one Sand Martin with them.

A male Wheatear was perched on the rope fence down by the houseboats, but there was no further sign of the Little Terns in the harbour now. As we cut back round through the middle of the dunes, we came across a pair of Stonechats, the first of several, a big flock of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits

Stonechat – several in the dunes

We had a message now to say the Ring Ouzels had just been flushed by dogwalkers in the dunes further east, so we made our way back past the boardwalk. Another Wheatear flushed ahead of us flashing its white rump and tail base.

As we came over a crest in the dunes, we could see a female Ring Ouzel distantly in the top of a bush beyond the fence. We had a good view of it through the scope, its pale crescent noticeably off white. It seemed to be catching insects in the top of the bush, hopping round through the branches. A brighter male Ring Ouzel appeared briefly in another bush beyond, so we decided to walk down for a closer look.

Two Red Kites chased each other over the dunes and hung in the air, one a very tatty young bird, moulting its wings. A Kestrel was circling low nearby and scanning the sky we picked up a more distant Hobby hawking for insects over the grazing marshes by the west end of the pines. A male Marsh Harrier was displaying miles up into the sky, little more than a dot unless viewed through the scope.

Ring Ouzel – the male landed in a bush

The male Ring Ouzel flew in and landed in a bush in front of us now, and we had a good look at it through the scopes, blacker than the female with a whiter crescent on its breast. The female dropped in with it, then they both flew off over the dunes.

There was no news of anything else interesting turning up further down towards the pines, so we turned round to head back. As we walked back through the dunes, there were two Wheatears now which flicked along the line of fence posts ahead of us and then out into the dunes – a smart male with black face mask and a browner female without.

Wheatear – a male

There were a few butterflies out in the dunes too, now that it was a bit warmer. In particular, we saw several Wall, our first of the year today.

Back along the seawall, there were more cows and calves now, and even better they were standing up and feeding. There were more Yellow Wagtails too, and the more we looked the more we counted. By the end, we had seen at least 15 at the same time and there could have been more. There were some very smart bright yellow males, and we watched as they fed in and out of the cows feet and round their noses. Amazing they don’t get trodden on!

Yellow Wagtail – and cows tail

Back along the track over the grazing marshes, another Spoonbill flew over, heading off west this time. Then it was time for lunch, and we drove round to Holkham to The Lookout. It was nice there, sitting out in the sunshine on the picnic tables, even if a bit too busy. Over lunch, we counted at least twelve Pink-footed Geese still on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive. Several Whimbrel flew back and forth and a few raptors of various shapes and sizes drifted over. A Mistle Thrush was out on the grass at the back.

After lunch, we headed on through Stiffkey. There were several Roe Deer feeding in the field next to where we parked. As we made our way down through the copse, we could hear Blackcaps singing. Down by the river, there were a couple of people looking for the Dusky Warbler, but there had been no sign all day. It was the middle of the day now though, and perhaps a bit busy along the path. We did have nice views of a Chiffchaff above us and we heard a Lesser Whitethroat singing along the path ahead of us.

The tide was out now in the harbour. We could see a large mob of Sandwich Terns distantly out on Blakeney Point which flushed and swirled round in the sunshine. A single Whimbrel was feeding in the harbour channel.

Turning our attention to the Fen, there were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits and two Ruff. A single Little Ringed Plover was hiding behind the reeds and not easy to see. A White Wagtail was feeding around the edges of the islands with several Pied Wagtails. There were a few ducks, most notably a lingering drake Wigeon out on the water.

A Spoonbill flew in over the seawall and dropped down onto the Fen. It started feeding briefly, walking around and sweeping its bill side to side through the shallow water. Then it decided to have a bath, splashing and whipping up showers of water, its bushy nuchal crest flapping around as it did so. We could see the yellow tip to its bill too, and the mustard wash on its breast, an adult in breeding condition.

Spoonbill – bathing

A male Marsh Harrier was feeding on something in the reeds at the back. It was flushed by a female, but didn’t want to give up its prey, landing back down on the ground. It was then the turn of a Grey Heron to see if it could get a free lunch, but the harrier took off and took its lunch with it.

We had a slow walk back along the permissive path, but there was still no sound of the Dusky Warbler. So we decided to move on and made our way back to Wells. There were a couple of Grey Partridges in the field opposite where we parked. It was definitely a day for Yellow Wagtails, and we could hear more calling now. We looked across the other side to see another four with the cows out on the grazing marsh.

Scanning the pools, there were lots of Common Snipe, but we couldn’t find the Jack Snipe today – it was presumably hiding somewhere in the dense rushes. One Lapwing had a couple of small chicks. As we walked down the track, a Spoonbill appeared on the far edge feeding. A few Swallows came over, birds still on the move this afternoon. A Marsh Harrier was displaying overhead and another circled low above us.

Marsh Harrier – circled over

A Little Ringed Plover was out on the mud – much better views here compared to the one at Stiffkey, we could even see its golden-yellow eye ring. It was lovely here in the afternoon sunshine, we could have stayed for hours, but unfortunately we had to be heading back. Home time.

30th April 2022 – Nightingales & Fens

A single day tour for Nightingales & Spring in the Fens. It was a frosty start, but with sunshine and blue skies it was a lovely warm spring day to be out.

We headed into the Fens for the morning. As we got out of the minibus, a quick scan of the field opposite revealed just Rooks and Jackdaws today, but we could hear a Nightingale singing further down the road, That was our main target here, so we walked over to see if we could find it. One Nightingale was still singing ahead of us, when we heard another croak and fly out of the tree on the verge right above our heads. It dropped into the brambles below, but disappeared deeper in. We stood and listened to it singing here. What a glorious sound!

Further down, another Nightingale was singing, but from beyond the fence. While we were listening to it, the first started up again back behind us, close to the road. We were going to walk back to see if we could see it, but just at that moment, two dog walkers appeared. As they walked past where the Nightingale was singing, they thought it was funny to make loud ‘cuckooing’ noises. It wasn’t at all funny, and they were completely oblivious to one of the most beautiful songs coming from the bushes next to them. Unfortunately the Nightingale responded by disappearing again.

Now we could hear yet another Nightingale further down on the other side of the road. As we walked on, it flicked up into the bushes next to us briefly, but dropped again. Three people with binoculars were coming the other way, and stopped and looked out. We thought at first the Nightingale had landed in front of them, but it was actually a Stone Curlew in the field further back! Unfortunately there was only a narrow gap in the bushes through which we could see it and it disappeared from view before everyone could get onto it.

The first Nightingale had started up again back in the bush up the road. This time, as we walked up slowly to try to get a look, the other birders walked up past us and the bird dropped deeper in. It was beautiful just listening to them all here, but we were really hoping to get a good look at one. We were not having much luck getting one to perch out in view this morning!

Yellowhammer – perched in the sunshine

We decided to try our luck up a footpath which winds up through the bushes. Yet another Nightingale was singing in a hawthorn right by the path but was well hidden and went quiet as we approached. We walked out into a more open area at the top and stopped to see if we could see it looking back from the other side. A smart Yellowhammer perched up in the top of a large hawthorn in the sunshine behind us.

Now a Nightingale flew across the path ahead of us and started singing in a small thicket out of view. We stood and listened to it for a minute or so and then it flew back across the path and landed in the top of one of the hawthorns. It started singing and even better it stayed there – great views now out in the open, through the scopes. Just reward for all our efforts!

Nightingale – perched in a hawthorn singing

We had lost count of how many Nightingales we could hear, but now we could relax a little and take it all in, having finally got onto one. We walked back down through the bushes to see if we could find the Stone Curlew again. We scanned the field, but there was still no further sign, just several Brown Hares. There were lots of warblers back in the bushes – Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps.

Blackcap – a male

Back up the road, one of the Nightingales was still singing beyond the fence on one side but another flicked up out of the bracken ahead of us, with a flash of its bright orange-red tail. It disappeared into a bush but we stopped and waited. A Wren kept coming in and out instead at first.

Then the Nightingale dropped back down into the bracken close by. It disappeared in but then came back out right into the open with a large leaf in its bill. It perched on the bracken, flicking its wing and fanning its tail. Wow! We stopped to watch, fascinated. Several times, it disappeared down into the bracken and came back out with its leaf. Presumably we were witnessing it selecting a nest site – what a privilege to see.

Nightingale – with its leaf

Our perseverance had paid off and we had been treated to some stunning view of Nightingales now. We walked back round and up the footpath again. The Nightingale we had seen earlier, perched up on the hawthorn, was singing from dense cover again now, but we stopped to listen to it again. At one point it built itself up with a lovely series of rising whistles.

We walked on further. A Garden Warbler started singing now. We could just see it flicking around in the edge of a hawthorn, before it flew further back. We stopped to listen to a mixed singing Willow Warbler, starting with bits of Chiffchaff song, before breaking into the familiar sweet descending scale. It was mid-morning already, and the Nightingales were going a bit quieter now, so we made our way back to the minibus.

Our next destination was the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen. After checking in at the visitor centre and using the facilities, we had time for a look over the river at Hockwold Washes before lunch. As we walked out along the path, a Reed Warbler was singing from the ditch and we could just see it flitting around low in the reeds in the bottom. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed.

From up on the riverbank, we scanned through the ducks out on the Washes first. There were lots of Teal, but we quickly located three Garganey in with them, including two smart drakes. They were all asleep at first, but we could still see the bright white stripes on their heads in the sunshine. One of the drake Garganey did then wake up and swam round, so we could get a better look at it. It has been a very good spring for Garganey here this year. There were a few Shoveler, Gadwall and Mallard too.

Garganey – one of the drakes woke up

Three Wood Sandpipers were feeding in the shallow water in front of the mud over the far side. They were rather distant and we had planned to walk up the riverbank for a closer look, but then two of them flew in and landed on the near edge of the Washes in front of us, so we could see their bright supercilia and spangled upperparts.

An elegant Greenshank was feeding in the water here too and there was a nice selection of other waders – lots of Avocets, Lapwings, a pair of Oystercatchers, four Black-tailed Godwits, and Redshanks. One of the group found a tiny Common Sandpiper right at the back, which was a challenge to see in the heathaze!

A Cuckoo was calling way off in the distance when we arrived, but seemed to gradually make its way closer. We could hear it much better now and figured it must be in East Wood, but with lots of leaves on the poplars now it was impossible to see. While we were scanning the trees, hoping we might get lucky, someone noticed two Common Cranes appear above the trees, circling. They were a long way off, but we had a good look through the scopes. A very nice bonus!

Reed Bunting – in the reeds

Several Reed Buntings flicked in and out of the reeds in front of us and swung precariously on the seedheads. Having arrived a couple of weeks earlier, the Sedge Warblers were less vocal today than the Reed Warblers but we did have nice views of a pair in the reeds right below viewpoint. A Stonechat appeared briefly by the river further down.

It was a very productive hour at the Washland Viewpoint, and now we made our way back to the Visitor Centre for lunch. There were lots of St Mark’s Flies out, swarming around the bushes in the picnic area, but thankfully they left us alone on the tables. A Hobby appeared just behind us, hawking back and forth for flies up in the blue sky. Someone was enjoying the St Mark’s Flies!

After lunch, we walked out onto the track to the main part of the reserve. It was warm in the lee of the trees, and quieter now. When we got to New Fen viewpoint, we could hear a Bittern booming from the reeds. A single drake Gadwall and a couple of Coot were on the pool. Several Kestrels were hovering out over the river bank beyond. A Cuckoo was calling in Trial Wood.

Gadwall – a smart drake

A male Bearded Tit appeared low down in the reeds along the edge of the pool. It disappeared in, then flew out and across the water to the island of reeds in the middle. A few seconds later, it was off again and landed in the reeds at the back where it spent a couple of seconds flycatching.

As we walked on along the main path, a couple of Hobbys appeared over the reeds. One Hobby was very high in the sky, but the other came much lower overhead, giving us lovely views, zooming back and forth catching and eating flies on the wing.

Hobby – catching flies over the reeds

We had a quick look over the reedbed from the bank just before West Wood. There were a few Tufted Ducks on the water and a Little Egret flew up and away over the reeds. Then we took the path on alongside West Wood. There were lots of freshly emerged Azure Damselflies here in the vegetation by the path and a single Large Red Damselfly. Another Cuckoo was calling from deep in the trees in West Wood.

A little further on, we noticed some movement in the reeds right by the path ahead of us. We stopped and could hear louder rustling now, and see the reeds moving – something large was obviously trying to walk away from us through the thick vegetation. We stopped and watched as a Bittern climbed up out of the reeds, just a few metres in front of us. It stood for a second watching us, then flew off over the reeds, giving us a nice longer view as it circled round before dropping in again further up.

Bittern – better views not through the camera!

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were lots more Hobbys up here, at least 10, but they were all rather distant so we were pleased we had seen the one over New Fen earlier. There were several Marsh Harriers up too. A Bittern made a brief couple of flights over the reeds further back, and we could hear another booming from somewhere behind us.

Two Yellow Wagtails dropped in, and disappeared in the cut reeds out in the middle. Scanning where they had landed, we picked up several Common Snipe and Redshanks feeding in the mud. Eventually the Yellow Wagtails reappeared briefly, but they still hard to see. The Greylags here had several broods of goslings.

As we walked back, several Hairy Dragonflies flew over the path now, our first dragonflies of the year. The Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood, taunting us tantalisingly out of view and another was now back in East Wood, but still too far in to stand a chance of seeing it. A Stonechat was perched on the fence by the railway as we passed.

After a stop to get a welcome cold drink in the Visitor Centre, we made our way back to Weeting. We made our way straight down to West Hide, where the position of the nest camera focused on it immediately gave away where the Stone Curlew was sitting, in the cultivated plot not too far out from the hide. We had a good view of the sitting bird in the scopes. The eggs were due to hatch any day (postscript – they hatched the following day!).

Stone Curlew – sitting tight

There were several Lapwings and a Skylark in the cultivated plot too. One of the group picked up a small bird on the grass much further back. It was hard to see, almost over the ridge and in the heat haze, but we could just about make out it was a Wheatear. Thankfully, it did eventually come out a little bit more into the open.

Back at the Visitor Centre, the warden had a nice surprise for us, a rare moth or more correctly a moth larva. He had found a tiny Shining Bagworm (Bacotia claustrella) larva in its larval case, constructed from lichen fragments, feeding on a lichen encrusted twig and looking just like a bit of the twig! A slightly bizarre bit of wildlife to end on – but we had enjoyed a wonderful day filled with birds and it was time to head for home now and let them close up the reserve.

24th April 2022 – Three Spring Days, #3

Day 3 of a three day Spring Tour, our last day. It was a lovely sunny day with wall to wall blue skies. It was still cool though, in the nagging blustery NE wind, but warm out of it – hard to know how many layers to wear! We spent the day again along the North Norfolk coast.

Our first stop was at Wells Harbour. As we walked up onto the seawall, we could see all the gulls on the outer harbour sandbank, lots of Herring Gulls and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We walked down to the top of the old slipway. Looking out across the sands, we couldn’t see very much – a few Oystercatchers, one or two Curlew. Two Great Crested Grebes were diving in the channel. Three Common Gulls were on the mud over by the beach.

Looking into the sun, we noticed a roost of waders further round, low down along the water’s edge, presumably out of the wind. We walked down to the old lifeboat station to look through them. They were mainly Oystercatchers, with one much paler aberrant bird in amongst them, probably leucistic.

Oystercatchers – including one aberrant bird

One Bar-tailed Godwit was asleep on the front edge of the Oystercatchers and a small flock of Dunlin jostled up through the group and settled down in the seaweed behind. Three Greenshank flew in and landed on a pool up on the mud behind. Then three more Bar-tailed Godwits appeared. We could see a shape out in the haze over the dunes which looked like a bird perched on an old fishing crate – could it be the regular Peregrine? It was too far and too hazy to say unfortunately.

We were just about to go, when we noticed a single Eider asleep on the far side of the channel, with a smaller group of Oystercatchers further down the harbour. A 1st summer drake, we got it in the scope and could see its distinctive bill before it went back to sleep.

Eider – a 1st summer drake

We were about to go again, but as we moved round the corner we saw more waders had been hidden from view up the harbour channel behind us. There were lots more Bar-tailed Godwits here and a few Knot roosting in with them on a sandbar. We could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling over the harbour too.

Eventually, we managed to get away without further distractions and drove round to Holkham. With no rain here for a while now, the grazing marsh is starting to dry out in places. There aren’t as many waders here now, but scanning across we did find one or two lingering Pink-footed Geese. We compared them with some nearby Greylag. Two Barnacle Geese flew over calling.

As we set off west along the track on the edge of the pines, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We heard the song of a Willow Warbler and stopped to listen to the sweet descending scale, the true sound of spring. A couple of times, it started off with a couple of chiffs and chaffs, a little bit of mixed singing, not uncommon sometimes in Willow Warblers, particularly along here.

There were a few tits in the trees too, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits and one or two Coal Tits. We stopped to watch a Treecreeper climbing up the trunks of some pines by the path, and a Goldcrest was singing overhead.

It was fairly sheltered from the wind here, and warm now with the sun out. There was a nice selection of butterflies out – lots of Speckled Wood, several Orange Tip and Holly Blue, and a selection of whites. A Chocolate Mining Bee landed on the path ahead of us before it was flushed by a couple of dogwalkers who walked across right in front of us.

Speckled Wood – enjoying the sunshine

We stopped at Salts Hole. A pair of Tufted Ducks was out on the water, along with more Greylags and a couple of Mallard. We could hear a Marsh Harrier calling high over the trees, and more Marsh Harriers further back over the reedbed. A Sparrowhawk flew off over the grazing marsh.

Continuing on, there were more Chiffchaffs singing, and one in the trees over the path flew into a nearby holm oak where we watched it gleaning insects from the underside of the leaves. There were more Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds in front of Washington Hide and a Reed Warbler too, which remained stubbornly down out of view.

Chiffchaff – in a hold oak

We walked up the Washington Hide boardwalk for a better view over the grazing marshes. There were lots of Marsh Harriers up, with some chasing, talon-grappling. One male was displaying way up in the sun, calling – possibly the same one we had heard a couple of minutes earlier.

Scanning over the grass, we found a distinctly odd-looking goose on the grazing marsh. It was with three Barnacle Geese and was a hybrid, possibly Ross’s Goose x Barnacle Goose. These Barnacle Geese are feral birds which breed in Holkham Park. A Great White Egret flew out of the back of the reeds, and landed further back before walking down into a nearby ditch. A Raven appeared briefly in front of the trees at the back.

Long-tailed Tits, Wren. Raven briefly over trees at back, but dropped down.

Continuing on west, we stopped next at Joe Jordan Hide. Six Spoonbills were out on the big pool, bathing and preening. One flew in and landed in the closer pool, then started feeding, sweeping its bill back and forth in the shallows. There was a steady change over of Spoonbills, with birds flying up into the trees, some taking nest material with them, and more dropping down to the pools.

Spoonbill – feeding from the hide

A big herd of cows was out on the grazing marsh away to the west and we could see two white birds walking around between them – Cattle Egrets. Two Great White Egrets came up briefly further back, but dropped down behind the reeds. There were a few Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marsh too.

As we walked back, a Cetti’s Warbler perched up briefly in the brambles just beyond Meals House. We were just past Washington Hide when we heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling behind us. It sounded like it was close to path, so we scanned the bushes and walked back up the boardwalk to scan the reeds, but we couldn’t see it and then it went quiet.

It was time for lunch when we got back to the Lookout. After lunch, we drove back round to the pools at Wells. A large flock of Brent Geese was in the field opposite where we parked, feeding on the spring barley, ignoring the nearby scarecrow. A male Marsh Harrier was feeding on something on the ground at the back. A Spoonbill flew over, heading west, probably back towards the colony. A Sedge Warbler singing perched up nicely in a nearby elder. There were chipping House Sparrows in the brambles.

In the field the other side of the car park, we could see a shape hunched down in the tramlines looking a bit like a stone. It was a Grey Partridge. We had a good look at it through the scope, before it crept into the crop and worked its way slowly back away from us.

Grey Partridge – opposite the car park

A Brown Hare was hunkered down behind a rush tussock, and several Common Snipe were feeding around the shallow pools beyond. Two Red Kites and a Marsh Harrier were now hanging in the air over the pig fields inland.

There were several Lapwings displaying. We could hear their unique song as soon as we got out of the minibus – what a sound. We watched them flying back and forth, twisting and tumbling, turning upside down. Stunning!

Lapwing – displaying

Looking down along the fenceline to the east, a male Wheatear appeared on a fence post. It kept dropping down to the edge of the field below, before flying back up, and then it flew to the gate by the cattle pens in front of us.

Wheatear – on the cattle pen

We walked down the track, and continued scanning the pools either side. There was a nice selection of ducks – Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. There were more Avocets and gulls further back.

There are lots of Common Snipe here still, but having seen a Jack Snipe too here a few days ago, we kept scanning round the edges of the rushes. As if by magic, a Jack Snipe appeared. It was only out for a couple of seconds, then ran back in, but at least we knew where it was now. We continued to watch and after a minute or so it came out again. We watched as it worked its way along the edge, in and out of the rushes. At one point, it was in the same view as a Common Snipe, giving a good size comparison.

Jack Snipe – on the edge of the rushes

When the Jack Snipe disappeared back into the rushes, we decided to move on. We drove along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked in along the permissive path, there were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing in the copse by the road. Down by the river, a Kestrel flew off the telegraph post as we emerged from the trees. When we got to the point where we could see over the brambles to the Fen, a Kingfisher shot off from the reeds by the sluice.

There has been a Dusky Warbler along here, but we had cautioned that we were unlikely to see it – it is very skulking, it was not a good time of day for it, and people have spent 5 hours here waiting to see it. But as we walked along the narrow path by the sallows, we heard it call and watched as it flew out of the hedge ahead of us. It disappeared into the thickest sallows the other side, but we could still see it moving through the tangled branches above the river. We tried to follow it, but after a while it disappeared.

We continued on, up onto the seawall. The tide was going out, and there were lots of gulls on the Fen. There weren’t many waders here now, but we did find a Green Sandpiper on the edge of the reeds. A couple of Ruff were chasing each other round the edge of the islands. From a little further up along the seawall, we could see a single Spoonbill on the Fen, feeding in the shallow water behind the reeds.

Blakeney Harbour

It is a great view from here, looking across Blakeney Harbour to the Point beyond. We could see Sandwich Terns in the distance. Several groups of Brent Geese were feeding on the saltmarsh and we found a Whimbrel here too. It was hard to see at first, disappearing into the tall vegetation, but eventually everyone got a good look through the scope.

It was more exposed to the wind here and cooler up on the seawall, and it was time to head back too, so we decided against walking further round. As we walked back along the footpath by the river, the Dusky Warbler flew out of the hedge ahead of us, calling, and disappeared through the sallows.

A nice bird, and a nice location, to wrap up the trip.

23rd April 2022 – Three Spring Days, #2

Day 2 of a three day Spring Tour. It was bright and sunny to start, with some mist or hazy cloud coming in off the sea late morning, before it burnt back and there were blue skies again in the afternoon. It was cool in the blustery ENE wind, but at least it wasn’t as strong as the forecast had suggested and we could still enjoy an uninterrupted day out.

Blackbird – a leucistic individual in the village

As we loaded up the minibus outside the B&B, the regular leucistic Blackbird was feeding along the driveway in front of us. It even came closer today, for a photo!

Once we got away, we headed down to the coast and stopped in Blakeney first. From up on the bank overlooking the harbour, we could see several small flocks of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh. It didn’t take long to find the lingering Red-breasted Goose in with them, just the other side of the harbour channel. It was half hidden behind some thick grass at first, and harder to pick out with its head down feeding, but then it came out into full view. Stunning.

Red-breasted Goose – still lingering with the Brents

The Brent Geese are never in any great hurry to leave in the spring, so the Red-breasted Goose may stay with us for a few weeks yet. It will presumably then head back up to Siberia with them, where hopefully it will meet up with more Red-breasted Geese again. At one point, the Red-breasted Goose stopped feeding and started calling – we could hear it all the way over where we were standing. Presumably it is keen to find more of its own kind already.

A Curlew was feeding in the mud in the harbour channel. There were several Oystercatchers and Lapwings out on the saltmarsh beyond. We decided to move on. As we drove off through the village, we could see one of the Red-breasted Geese in the Blakeney wildfowl collection – unfortunately captive wildfowl doesn’t count!

Our next destination was Cley – we figured if it was going to be really windy today, we would at least be able to find shelter in the hides. We parked at the visitor centre, and walked over the road to the Skirts path. Several Sedge Warblers were singing in the reeds and song flighting. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted unseen from deep in the vegetation.

We turned in on the path to Bishop Hide, and first a Water Rail squealed from the reeds across the small pool, then we heard pinging and looked across to see a male Bearded Tit perched up in the reeds the other side. It remained there for a minute or so, then flew a bit nearer and landed up in the tops of the reeds again – great views. Eventually it flew across, over the path in front of us, and disappeared into the reeds the other side.

Bearded Tit – perched up in the reeds

It can be very hard to find Bearded Tits when it is windy, as they stay low down in the reeds, but it was fairly sheltered along the path here and they have been very active here recently. Our main target for the morning here achieved already!

Into the hide, we opened the shutters very carefully and found various things on the bank right in front – a pair of Shelducks preening, an Oystercatcher probing in the grass, looking stunning close up, and a Lapwing briefly too – showing off its great irridescent colours as it turned in the morning sunshine.

Oystercatcher – right in front of the hide

A little flock of Dunlin was feeding on the shallow mud further out on the scrape. They were very jumpy in the wind today, continually flying round and landing again. More kept flying in – by the end we couted at least 42. Most were still rather plain and grey, but several were already getting into breeding plumage, sporting black belly patches and richer brown fringed backs.

There were several Ruff feeding with the Dunlin in variety of sizes and colours. The females are much smaller than the males, so it was good to see them alongside each other now. The males are all moulting into breeding plumage, although not getting their ornate ruffs yet, and no two look alike. One male Ruff was quite advanced with bright brown and black summer body plumage.

Ruff – a moulting male

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, mostly loafing around on the islands. In the water in front, were two Bar-tailed Godwits. They were almost in full summer plumage, bright rusty with the colour extending right down onto the belly and under the tail. There has been a big passage of Bar-tailed Godwits moving through the south of the UK, this week, and there birds were probably dropping in to feed out of the wind.

Bar-tailed Godwit – one of two

Various things flew over – a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew round over the back of the scrape and dropped down behind the reeds beyond, a Swallow came over and we picked up a Common Snipe over the far hides which seemed to drop down on the scrapes there. Another Bearded Tit, a female this time, appeared briefly, low in the reeds on the edge of the ditch out to the right.

We made our way back out and round to the East Bank. We could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing in the hedge over the road and several more Sedge Warblers in the reeds. Up on the bank, a Kestrel was ahead of us hovering and a smart male Marsh Harrier was circling over reeds. A quick scan of the grazing marsh revealed a pair of Wigeon on Pope’s Pool – they are very common here in the winter, but most of left now and there are just a few stragglers.

A Reed Warbler was singing quietly from the reeds on the edge of Don’s Pool, not really getting going yet either because it was fresh in or because of the wind or both. We could still hear the very rhythmical nature of its song, very different from the Sedge Warblers. A Little Grebe surfaced briefly. Some movement low down in the reeds across the water caught our eye – another pair of Bearded Tits working their way round the edge of the pool – who said they were going to be hard to see in the wind!

There were more waders on the Serpentine – more Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets, Ruff and several Redshanks. A couple of Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud with two Dunlin. A Whimbrel was feeding in the long grass further back, but was very hard to see. There was another Bar-tailed Godwit nearby too, this one not yet in breeding plumage.

It was windy up on the East Bank, so when we got to Arnold’s Marsh, we stopped first in the lee of the shelter looking the other way and scanned the brackish pools. There were several Pintail on the water, busy upending, the smart drakes showing off their pin-shaped tails.

Then we braved the front of the shelter, facing straight into wind, and scanned the marsh itself. There were lots of Dunlin, Redshank, and a couple of Ringed Plover on here today. Six more Bar-tailed Godwits too – it was certainly a theme of the morning. A single Greenshank was feeding in the water right in the far corner. Two Sandwich Terns were preening in front of the shingle island in the middle at the back.

Having come this far, we couldn’t not go out to see the sea, particularly as it was obviously quite rough – we could see the tops of the waves breaking from here. There were some impressive waves breaking on the shingle. Looking out to sea, we picked up two Gannets and a Fulmar flying past in the distance. Then we decided to get out of the wind and head back.

Bar-tailed Godwit – two more flew in

Two more Bar-tailed Godwits flew in over the brackish pools as we passed, and dropped down onto Arnold’s. A male Redshank was displaying to a female on the pools just below the bank, but she obviously wasn’t impressed and flew off. The Whimbrel was now in a slightly more open area of grass out on Pope’s, so we got the scope on it again.

We made our way back to the Visitor Centre, where it wasn’t as windy as we thought it might be now and we stopped for lunch on the picnic tables. While we ate, we were treated to a nice display from a male Marsh Harrier the other side of the road.

After lunch, we made our way out to the main hides. We went in to Dauke’s Hide first and as we looked out a Spoonbill flew past right in front. There were more Black-tailed Godwits and a breeding plumage Bar-tailed Godwit with them again here, and several more Ruff. Five Greenshank came low over the scrape calling, and dropped down behind the reeds. A flock of Dunlin flew in. A Redshank right in front of the hide gave us some nice close views.

Redshank – in front of the hide

All the waders came up off Pat’s Pool, and as they flew over brought everything up off Simmond’s too. We couldn’t see what had caused them to spook, but they whirled round and most disappeared off over the reeds. We decided to have a look in Avocet Hide, and there was not much left here either. A pair of Teal were close in feeding, and we admired the smart male. A Marsh Harrier dropped into the grass over the back. Two Sand Martins came over – our first of the tour.

We walked back to visitor centre and drove round to Kelling. We thought it might be a bit more sheltered from the wind here. As we walked down the lane, we could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing in the hedge. A female Tawny Mining Bee landed on the sandy track in front of us. A Brown Hare stopped and looked out from the furrows in the potato field next door. We stopped at the double gate to scan the south end of the Water Meadow. There were lots more Brown Hares out on the grassy slope beyond, and a couple of Red-legged Partridges.

Continuing on down to the pool, three more Sand Martins and a male Swallow were hawking low over the field by the track and over our heads. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing the other side. There were a few ducks on the pool, but not much else, and the teenage gang of Mute Swans on the Quags the other side.

Sand Martin – three over the Water Meadow

This is normally a great place for Common Whitethroat but the only one we heard today was sub-singing in the brambles on the way down to the beach, and wouldn’t show itself. Hopefully there are more still to return. A smart male Stonechat perched up on the brambles and a few Linnets flew back and forth.

Two Wheatears were feeding out on the short grass on the Quags, and a couple of young Great Black-backed Gulls were loafing on the pool behind. A Grey Plover and a couple of Ringed Plovers were down on one of the pools at the base of the shingle, but were flushed by walkers and disappeared over the ridge.

Sign – welcome to Weybourne Camp!

We walked up the permissive path up the hillside along the edge of Weybourne Camp. The old sandpit behind the beach, which used to be full of orchids and a favoured place for exhausted migrant birds to stop and feed, is now being used as a dump for builders’ waste. None of the group was very impressed with the signs which have been put up all along the fence on the Camp. Not a very welcoming impression to the county for visitors. We wondered what they might be conserving, certainly not the orchids!

Past the gun emplacements, two Skylarks landed on the grass airfield but there was nothing on the bushes around the old radar station. As we walked back down, a Swallow was resting on one of the concrete bunkers. Five Common Scoter were on the sea beyond, just over the shingle. Through the scope, we could see there were four males, black with yellow on their bills, and a browner pale-cheeked female.

Swallow – resting on the bunker

Then we made our way slowly back up the lane to the minibus. It was time to call it a day. Another day tomorrow!

22nd April 2022 – Three Spring Days, #1

Day 1 of a three day Spring Tour. It was bright and mostly sunny, but the strong and blustery ENE wind meant it was rather cooler than it would have been otherwise. We spent the day on the coast in NW Norfolk.

Our destination for the morning was Snettisham Coastal Park. As we got out of the minibus, a Greenfinch was wheezing in the trees nearby. Making our way in through the bushes, we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat. It was very mobile in the wind, and we had some brief flight views as it zipped across the path and back the other way. Two Bullfinches flew past calling and disappeared into the bushes. Three Swallows came over above us.

A little further up, we stopped to watch a Song Thrush on the path ahead of us, gathering food. There were more warblers along here – Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from somewhere deep in the bushes. We could hear our first Common Whitethroat of the trip singing too, and eventually it perched up nicely so we could see its rusty wings and white throat.

When we got to the more open area of short grass, there were several Linnets feeding on the ground and they were joined by several Goldfinches and a lone Greenfinch. A single male Wheatear was down on the grass too, so we got the scopes on it for a closer look. A spring migrant, probably on its way to Scandinavia and stopping here to feed up.

Wheatear – a smart male

From up on the seawall, the tide was already in. We picked up a Great Crested Grebe on the water and three Avocets flew past, heading north. A drake Common Pochard flew in off the Wash, disappeared inland behind us, then back out again a couple of seconds later.

As we turned round to head on, a male Stonechat was now on the grass with the Linnets and finches. We dropped down off the seawall out of the wind, and we could just hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling now, over the other side of the reeds, but when we walked over to listen it went quiet. We had already heard a couple on our way in, but a Sedge Warbler singing its mad scratchy song here perched up nicely for us in the sunshine in a large elder. Another Lesser Whitethroat was rattling from deep in the brambles but then flew up into the top of a large hawthorn where it showed very well – nice to see the differences from the Common Whtiethroat we had seen earlier.

Linnet – lots in the park

At the cleared area, lots of Linnets were feeding on the seed put out and a Reed Bunting dropped into the gorse nearby. A Stock Dove flew past but there seems to be no sign of any Turtle Doves here yet – hopefully, they are yet to arrive. Another Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly in the bushes, but again the sound seemed to be coming from over the far side. A pair of Stonechats flicked between the low bushes ahead of us.

Stonechat – the male

We climbed up onto the seawall again before the crossbank. A large flock of Oystercatchers came up off the beach further up towards Heacham and swirled round over the water. The beach was cordoned off ahead of us up to where the Oystercatchers were roosting. We scanned the stones from where we were standing and couldn’t see anything, but then realised two Ringed Plovers were hiding on the tide line right below us.

Ringed Plover – roosting on the tide line

While we were looking out over the Wash, we heard a third Grasshopper Warbler reeling behind us and it sounded a bit closer. But by the time we walked down and over to the bushes, it had gone quiet. We waited a short time, but it didn’t reel again.

Up onto the inner seawall, we could see lots of gulls on Ken Hill Marshes, lots of Greylags and a few Egyptian Geese, and a few ducks. A couple of Grey Herons were in the trees at the back, and a couple of Little Egrets on the pools below.

We tried walking back along the seawall but it was exposed and very windy up here, so we cut back down, across the middle and back down the way we had come. The other Grasshopper Warblers had gone quiet too now – it was probably just a bit too windy here today.

Back to the minibus, we drove inland. We saw lots of Red-legged Partridges in the fields, but despite stopping to scan a couple of likely spots, we couldn’t find anything else of note. We dropped down to Titchwell for lunch.

A couple of Blackcaps flitted around in the sallows by the picnic area while we ate, a pair of Long-tailed Tits appeared above us in the trees, and the Blue Tits came in and out of one of the nest boxes. It was a bit more sheltered in here and one or two Holly Blue butterflies fluttered around the bushes. After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we walked out along the main path, several Sedge Warblers were singing loudly in the reeds and song flighting, but a Reed Warbler was a bit half-hearted, just giving us short, quiet bursts of its more rhythmic song. A Great White Egret flew in over the back of the reedbed and dropped down out of view. A Marsh Harrier drifted over the path.

There were small groups of Brent Geese and a few Curlew out on Thornham saltmarsh. A Chinese Water Deer feeding on the edge of one of the channels looked rather tatty, as it seemed to be shedding its winter coat. A small group of Common Pochard were diving in the reedbed channel and a Great Crested Grebe was right at the back of the reedbed pool.

The wind was whistling in as we opened the viewing windows in Island Hide and there didn’t seem to be so many birds on the Freshmarsh from here today, possibly due to the wind. There were a lot fewer gulls and no Mediterranean Gulls at all at first. Then we heard their distinctive calls and a pair dropped in, so we could get a good look at them.

Mediterranean Gull – a pair dropped in

There were still lots of Avocets here, and a couple feeding close to the hide where we could watch their distinctive feeding action. A single Ruff was picking round one of the new islands. There was a nice selection of wildfowl as usual – some very smart Teal, a few Gadwall and Shoveler, and several Shelduck.

We made our way on round to Parrinder Hide, which was more sheltered from the wind. There was no sign of the Temminck’s Stint at first, but two pairs of Little Ringed Plover were trying to settle on the mud right in front of the hide. They kept getting chased off by a Ringed Plover, but when it eventually gave up one of the pairs of Little Ringed Plovers started displaying, the male fanning its tail and tilting it and the female walking round beneath it. Great to watch.

Little Ringed Plovers – one pair displaying

Many of the waders were clearly trying to find places sheltered from the wind. There were several Turnstones hiding in among the clods of mud on the new bund and the edge of one of the nearby islands. Ten Spotted Redshanks were feeding right along the back edge of the scrape, in the lee of the bank. All were in their stunning black breeding plumage. It is very unusual to see so many together here at this time of year, so they had presumably paused on their way north to Scandinavia and dropped in here to get out of the wind.

The Temminck’s Stint was feeding out of the wind too, behind one of the bunds, but someone in the hide spotted it when it walked out from the corner and was just visible looking over the bank from the hide. Eventually it came over the bund onto our side, and after hiding behind one of the water pipes at first, was chased out by a couple of Turnstones and worked its way along the edge of the water towards us, giving us some much better views. Through the scopes, we could see its yellowish legs.

Temminck’s Stint – eventually showed well

There were several Pied Wagtails around the islands, and at least one White Wagtail with them, which landed on the mud right in front of the hide so we could see its paler grey mantle. Another migrant stopping off on its way north. There were a few Meadow Pipits feeding on the islands too.

White Wagtail – in front of the hide

We decided to brave the wind again and head out to the sea. There was not much on Volunteer Marsh this afternoon, and the water was still very high on the Tidal Pools despite the tide being out now. It was very windy out on the beach, so we knew we wouldn’t have long here. All we could see on the museel beds were Oystercatchers, but there were several Sanderling running around on the sand a bit further up. Most of the waders were much further up towards Thornham Point – and it was definitely not the day to walk up there today!

We could see lots of Sandwich Terns over Scolt Head and two flew past out to sea. We had a brief scan of the water – its was rather choppy, but we did find a very distant raft of Common Scoter riding the waves. Then we decided to make our way back.

A Grey Plover had appeared on the grassy island on the Tidal Pools new and through the scope we picked up a single Golden Plover roosting behind a small bush next to it. A Little Egret was hiding out of the wind in one of the muddy creeks on Volunteer Marsh – in breeding condition with bright pink and purple lores! A couple of Swallows swept over our heads as we passed back past the Freshmarsh.

There had been a Dotterel yesterday, in fields just inland from Thornham, but there had apparently been no sign of it this morning. Now we got a message through to say that there were two Dotterel in the same field this afternoon, so we decided to drive round there for a look. A Wheatear was hunkered down in the spring barley in a field by the track as we walked in down the track.

The walk was a bit further than the 300 yards given in the directions, but it wasn’t too far until we found ourselves looking out at lots of clods of earth in a rather bare field. Scanning across, we found a single Golden Plover first and then the two Dotterel appeared with it. There was quite a bit of heat haze – not that it was hot, rather the reflection of UV off the bare stony earth – but we had a good view of them through the scopes. The brighter female Dotterel had a striking white supercilium and deep orange-red belly, the duller male very washed out by comparison.

Dotterel – we had better views through the scopes!

This is a very traditional site for Dotterel stopping off on their way north, from their wintering grounds in North Africa to breed in Scandinavia. We get very variable numbers each year though, depending on the conditions, so it is always worth taking the opportunity to see them while they are here.

It was a great way to finish the day and time to head back. More tomorrow.