21st August 2016 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular tour today. We were lucky with the weather, with rain overnight clearing through, the odd shower – and rainbow – still while we were on our way to Snettisham, but then dry during the whole day. The sun even came out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather blustery.

6O0A9140Rainbow over Snettisham

The tide was already coming in fast when we arrived. We stopped on the seawall to scan through the smaller waders on the mud along the near shore. There were lots of Ringed Plovers gathered and a single Grey Plover already in winter plumage with them. A moulting Sanderling was turning silvery grey above but still with lots of much darker blackish feathers mixed in, and little groups of Dunlin were running around taking advantage of the last chance to feed before high tide.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to two Curlew Sandpipers flying in along the shoreline. Unfortunately they didn’t land, but whipped up and over the bank towards the pits. We would look for them later, once all the waders were off the Wash.

We walked quickly along the path, following the tide in. The flocks of waders were getting pushed further and further up on the mud, the groups seeming to flow away from the rising water. More birds were flying in all the time, having been pushed off the beach further up along the coast. The Oystercatchers were gathering on the mud closest to us, shining bright in the morning sunlight. A great sight.

6O0A9148Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud nearest to us

A little further over, we could see lots of Bar-tailed Godwits too. The mass of Knot were further over, towards the back of the bay. In amongst them all, we could see smaller numbers of other species, including Dunlin and Curlew. As the tide rose, they were all getting increasingly concentrated into a smaller and smaller area of remaining mud.

6O0A9161Waders – the flocks are concentrated into a small area of remaining mud

After a while, the birds had no option but to start to come off the mud. The Oystercatchers gave up the fight first, peeling away in smaller flocks, lines of birds making for the safety of the pits behind us.

Eventually the Knot took flight too, bringing most of the other waders up too. The sight of such an enormous number of birds whirling around in the sky is what the Wader Spectacular is all about and today was a good one. There were vast numbers of birds in the sky – perhaps 40,000 Knot alone. They wheeled around overhead, nervous, uncertain over whether to try to remain out on the Wash for a bit longer or try to find safety on the pits or fields beyond. When they flew higher, they looked just like huge grey clouds; when they came lower overhead, we could hear the whirring of thousands of wings above the wind. Stunning!

6O0A9162

6O0A9172

6O0A9176

6O0A9190-001

6O0A9194Waders – 10,000s of birds coming off the Wash

We stood and watched in awe as the flocks whirled overhead. Eventually, with the mud disappearing, the Wash was mostly cleared of birds and we set off to the hides to look through the hordes. As we did so, a Wheatear flicked up from the path and landed on a fence post just behind us.

6O0A9200Wheatear – on the way to the hide

Round at South Hide, there were loads of Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers gathered on the islands, but not so many smaller waders as in recent weeks. What was lacking in numbers here was more than made up for in variety and made the task of searching through the smaller ones much easier.

The first to appear was a Little Stint, running along the gravel shore just in front of the hide. By the end of our search, we found at least four of them here. It was great to see them side by side with Dunlin, noting their smaller size, shorter bill and brighter white face and belly.

IMG_5915Little Stint – one of at least four here today

The Curlew Sandpipers appeared next, probably the same two we had seen coming off the mud earlier. Smart juveniles, with peachy orange breasts and neatly scaled upperparts. Notably larger than the Dunlin, with a longer more evenly downcurved bill. We were treated to great views as they fed along the edge of the water down below the hide. At one point we even had Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and Dunlin all in the same view – a great opportunity for comparison.

IMG_5933Curlew Sandpiper – two smart juveniles

There are a good number of Greenshank here at the moment too, and we were treated to great close up views of several of them from the hide. A Spotted Redshank appeared with them, in winter plumage now, silvery grey above and white below but still with that distinctive long, needle-fine bill. A little further out, in the deeper water, we found some more Spotted Redshanks, include one much duskier grey-brown juvenile.

IMG_5858Greenshank – great views from the hide

Once we had exhausted the possibilities here, we walked back round to Shore Hide. The bigger numbers of waders were roosting up this end of the pit today, with the vast flocks of Knot packed tightly onto the islands, spilling over into the water. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits here and lurking down in amongst the throng were several Dunlin and a few Turnstone.

IMG_5995Knot – many still sporting the remnants of orange summer plumage

The waders are always nervous when they are roosting on the pit, perhaps more vulnerable to a rapidly approaching predator here compared to the vast open mud out on the Wash. When the flocks of Knot on the islands to our left suddenly burst into the air, we noticed why a couple of seconds later as a juvenile Peregrine through shot across the water in front of the hide, leaving bedlam in its wake.

As the tide started to go back out, and the mud reappeared, we made our way out to the shore of the Wash again. The Oystercatchers started to appear quite quickly, drifting back out in lines and gathering on the wet mud, but the other waders were slower to return today. A couple of large flocks of Knot came off the pit, streaming low over the bank and out across the mud. A Little Stint appeared on the edge of the mud in front of us.

We made our way back to the car, then drove round to Titchwell. After a very welcome break for an early lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. The grazing meadow ‘pool’ was flooded with shallow puddles today, but still not as much water as there should be here. There were several Lapwing dozing on the drier ground and a single juvenile Ruff asleep next to one of the pools. We stopped to admire a Stock Dove which was walking around on the mud.

As we walked on along the path, we could hear Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ behind us. We turned to look, but it seemed too windy for them to be perching up today. We got as far as the reedbed pool, and stopped to scan through the ducks. A Great Crested Grebe was swimming across the back with its fully grown but still stripey faced juvenile. We could hear more pinging behind us and turned just in time to see one fly across the reeds on the corner of the saltmarsh. Then a pair of Bearded Tits appeared and perched up in the top of the reeds for a few seconds, before dropping down out of view. More pinging followed and all three flew across the main path behind us and dropped down into the main reedbed.

There didn’t seem to be as many waders on the Freshmarsh as in recent weeks, fewer Avocets and Black-tailed Godwit, but still a good variety. We stopped to scan from Island Hide and found the two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers over in the corner. A Lapwing on the mud in front of the hide looked irridescent in the afternoon sunshine.

6O0A9243Lapwing – looking irridescent in the sunshine

There are still good numbers of Ruff here too, lots of pale winter plumage adults, grey brown above and white below, plus a few much browner juveniles. We had better views of these and the Curlew Sandpipers from up on the main path.

6O0A9253  Ruff – a mostly winter plumaged male

There were plenty of gulls and terns roosting on the islands. From Island Hide, we had picked out a couple of Sandwich Terns among the Common Terns, one of which woke up long enough to flash its yellow-tipped black bill. From up on the bank, we found a Mediterranean Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls, an adult in winter plumage with white wing tips and black bandit mask. Round at Parrinder Hide, we could see a Yellow-legged Gull asleep with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

6O0A9260Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into winter plumage

A scan around the islands from Parrinder Hide located the Little Stint, on its own along the muddy shore of one of them, our fifth of the day. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits here, but fewer than recently roosting on the island in front of the hide. A quick look at Volunteer Marsh produced a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover, with black face and belly.

After an early start and spending most of the morning at Snettisham, it was just a brief visit to Titchwell this afternoon. Having failed to find any Spoonbills on the freshmarsh, we decided to head back quickly to the Autumn Trail. Patsy’s Reedbed was rather quiet, apart from a selection of moulting ducks and a few Sand Martins and House Martins hawking over the water. Out on the saltmarsh from the Autumn Trail extension we found what we had been looking for – three Spoonbills doing what they like to do best, sleeping!

Then it was time to make our way back. There was a good selection of insects out today, and several dragonflies in the more sheltered areas – Migrant and Brown Hawkers, and lots of Common Darters. We had to be careful not to tread on any of the Bloody-nosed Beetles, several of which were walking across the paths and boardwalks oblivious of the feet passing overhead.

6O0A9271Bloody-nosed Beetle – we had to avoid lots on the paths today

The walk back along Fen Trail to the Visitor Centre produced a couple of Reed Warblers sheltering from the wind in the sallows. A passing tit flock had a couple of Chiffchaffs in with the Long-tailed Tits. Then it was a welcome opportunity to put our feet up when we got back to the car for the drive home.

14th August 2016 – Spoonbills & Waders

A Late Summer and Wader Tour today. It was good birding weather – not too hot, some nice high cloud this morning but getting sunnier this afternoon. August is a great time of year for seeing waders, so that was one of our main targets today. We managed 20 different species today, and saw a very good selection of other birds as well.

Our first stop was at Titchwell. As we arrived early today, before it got too busy, we had a quick look around the overflow car park. The berries and apples are all developing nicely, and we found several Blackcaps already taking advantage of the growing bounty. There were a few Goldfinches and Greenfinches in the bushes too.

The former grazing meadow ‘pool’ is baked very dry now. There is not much to see there as a consequence, a couple of Lapwings today, but it is always worth a quick look. As we arrived, three Collared Doves flew over heading west, and then a Stock Dove dropped down with the Woodpigeons, giving a nice comparison through the scope.

A scan of the saltmarsh revealed four distant Spoonbills.  We could just make out their heads as they came up out of the long grass from time to time, before they decided to fly off towards Thornham. We watched a dark chocolate juvenile Marsh Harrier circling over the reeds and as it drifted out over the saltmarsh it started to flush everything hiding out there. Lots of waders, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlews, appeared. Then the Spoonbills flew back in towards the reserve, giving us great views as they came over the path in front of us.

6O0A8421Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh

There was a nice selection of wildfowl out on the reedbed pool – Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. The ducks are not at their prettiest right now, with the drakes all in dull eclipse plumage. A single Little Grebe was busy diving right at the back.

A couple of Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds as we walked up to Island Hide. We stopped to scan and had some quick flight views at first, as they zipped across the reebed. Then we managed to find a single juvenile Bearded Tit climbing through some bulrushes. It dropped down into the reeds below to preen, where we could just see it through the scope as the breeze moved the vegetation in front. Then it disappeared down out of view.

There were lots of waders out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. There is still a very good number of Avocets on here and we watched a couple feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills side to side through the shallows. They are aggressive parents and a couple were still chasing off any other waders from the best bits of mud. Including a couple of very obliging Ruff.

6O0A8487Avocet – this one a young bird with some brown feathers above

There are plenty of Black-tailed Godwits here too. Most of them were roosting on one of the low islands over by Parrinder Hide today, with a few more feeding over towards the back. A small group of Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in, probably flushed from the beach. One of them was still mostly in summer plumage, bright rusty underparts extending right down under the tail.

A Common Sandpiper was picking around furtively on the mud over by the reeds. A single winter plumage Spotted Redshank was unhelpfully asleep. Five Golden Plover were running around on one of the grassy islands further over, also still sporting the smart black faces and bellies of summer plumage. The highlight from here was the Little Stint, which we picked up in with a group of Dunlin, white faced and much smaller than its companions.

There was no shortage of Common Terns on the freshmarsh again, a mixture of adults and juveniles. There were fewer gulls than of late, but a scan through revealed a single adult Yellow-legged Gull, conveniently close to a Lesser Black-backed Gull for comparison, the former with a much paler, greyer back.

IMG_5747Common Tern – an adult just starting to moult its black cap

We could hear Bearded Tits calling all the time we were in Island Hide, but they wouldn’t show themselves today. From up on the main path, as we walked further along, there were more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds just below us. We stopped to see if they might appear but they were tucked down on the edge out of view. Very frustrating! We did see several Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler and a few Reed Buntings fly in and out. A bright Willow Warbler which dropped into the vegetation by the reeds briefly was more of a surprise here.

6O0A8506  Ruff – a male mostly moulted to winter plumage

While we were standing here, we were treated to some closer views of some of the waders. Several Ruff included a couple of browner juveniles and a smaller adult female (a Reeve) still with unmoulted darker summer upperparts. The variety of plumage in different Ruff can be bewildering at times! A few streaky-bellied juvenile Dunlin were picking around on the mud below us and in with them we were treated to lovely close views of the juvenile Little Stint.

6O0A8528 Little Stint – this juvenile showed really well from the main path

Scanning the freshmarsh from here, we realised there was a second Little Stint further over. We could hear the distinctive call of a Spotted Redshank and a dusky juvenile dropped in briefly before flying off west, calling all the way. Round at the Parrinder Hide, we could see the large flock of Black-tailed Godwit and a good number of Oystercatcher roosting here too now. A party of Turnstones dropped in, disappearing quickly in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits.

We had seen one Spoonbill well from Island Hide, a lone bird out on the freshmarsh. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do at first, sleeping! However, it woke up for a preen, showing off the yellow tip to its long, black, spoon-shaped bill, which identified it as an adult. From Parrinder Hide we could see that there were actually lots of Spoonbills on here today, and the rest of them were all hiding round the back of the islands. We counted at least 19 that we could see, including the one out in full view.

IMG_5740Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

We heard a couple of Yellow Wagtails flying over while we were up on the main path, and we had a request to see one. Parrinder Hide is normally a good place to see them, but we had to content ourselves with a few Meadow Pipits and a flock of Linnets at first, including a very smart male which flew in for a drink. Eventually the Yellow Wagtails gave themselves up, and three perched up on the fence for us to see.

The Volunteer Marsh is rather dry at the moment, but a very showy Little Egret was fishing just below the path. There were lots of Common Redshank in the tidal channel. Two Grey Plover were right down towards the back, with one starting to moult out of summer plumage, with black belly but brown and white spotted face, but the other already in winter plumage lacking any black below.

6O0A8519 Little Egret – flashing its yellow feet

Out at the beach, we had a quick scan of the sea. A raft of Common Scoter were swimming and diving offshore. A distant Gannet flew east and a few terns were fishing. Then it was time to make our way back. A Whimbrel called out over the saltmarsh and we could see it circle round in the distance. Fortunately, when we got back to the freshmarsh, another Whimbrel had dropped in and was standing out on the mud so we could get a much better look at it.

The Bearded Tits by the main path were still calling and still hiding, but we had a bit more luck back near Island Hide. We stood and waited a while and one flew in, landing in the tops of the reeds briefly before dropping down to the mud below. A second Bearded Tit flew in to join it, but even here they were hard to see, with tall reeds in front and the birds creeping around in among the reed bases. With a bit of patience, everyone got to see them and then it was back for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Snettisham. The tide was not going to be high enough to get all the waders in close today, but as we arrived we could see the huge flocks of birds swirling out over the edge of the water. Quite a spectacle, even if they were not going to be forced off the Wash. We spent a while admiring the different shapes of the flocks. Stunning stuff!

6O0A8564

6O0A8554Wader flocks – mostly Knot, out over the Wash

There are probably around 60,000 birds here at the moment, of which the largest number are Knot. We could see some huge flocks of Curlew and Oystercatcher, standing around on the drier mud . Most of the other birds were rather distant, with added heat hazee now the sun was out, though we did find a number of Ringed Plovers closer to us, an addition to the day’s list.

We made our way down to Shore Hide. There were a few butterflies out in the sun in the short grass, including several Common Blues and a smart Wall. A Six-spot Burnet moth posed nicely on some Viper’s Bugloss.

6O0A8572  Wall Brown – enjoying the afternoon sun

From the hide, there were lots of Cormorants on the islands, panting in the afternoon sun. There is no shortage of geese here, with lots of noisy Greylags, a good number of Egyptian Geese and even three feral Barnacle Geese today.

Despite the fact that the tide was not high enough to force all the waders off the Wash today, there were still a few birds roosting on the pit. Hiding in amongst the geese, we found a party of eight Spotted Redshanks. We got a better view of them here than at Titchwell – most were already in winter plumage, but two of them were still heavily speckled with black below. There were also a good number of Greenshank sleeping on the gravel islands.

IMG_5770Spotted Redshanks – at least 8 here today

The wader we had really come to see took a bit more searching. We eventually found the Red-necked Phalarope at the back of the pit, tucked in below the shingle on the far side opposite the hide. It was a juvenile, with dark back, white underneath and sporting a distinctive black mask. However the most distinctive thing about the phalaropes is how they like to feed, swimming on the water, picking at the surface for insects. We watched as they Red-necked Phalarope swam up and down below the bank.

IMG_5837Red-necked Phalarope – this juvenile was still at Snettisham today

It was not all about the waders. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared briefly in the bushes in front of the hide, before flying back along the bank. Later we found at least two Lesser Whitethroats in the bushes close to Rotary Hide. One was feeding on berries in the elder bushes right in front of the hide. It chased off another bird that came near, which turned out to be a Common Whitethroat and the two birds perched side by side at one point, giving us a nice comparison.

6O0A8576Lesser Whitethroat – lurking in an elder bush

The largest number of waders on the pit today were Black-tailed Godwits, a massive flock roosting on one of the islands towards the north end of the pit. Viewing from Rotary Hide, we got a better view of the small number of Knot which were roosting in with them.

From the other side of the hide, we could still see the vast flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. They seemed to be a bit more settled now, with the tide going slack over high tide and not pushing them any further up towards us. Still, it was great to watch them as we walked back, a great way to finish the day.

7th August 2016 – From Fields to Fen

A Private Tour today. We had planned a combination of a farmland walk for raptors in the morning and then down to the coast for the afternoon. It was a lovely sunny day, but with a gusty wind which kept the temperature down to a pleasant 20C.

To start the day, we drove inland and stopped by a footpath, which we made our way down. There were not so many butterflies out this morning, with the wind keeping most of them down, but in the shelter of the trees and hedges we found a few Gatekeepers, a selection of whites (Large White, Small White and Green-veined White) and a single Speckled Wood. We stopped to admire the intricate papery wall of a wasp nest. It appeared to have been excavated overnight, presumably by a badger, but thankfully the wasps were still rather sluggish this morning.

6O0A7655Wasp nest – presumably excavated by a badger overnight

A sunny clearing sheltered by trees and full of brambles and wildflowers looked promising for butterflies, but it was perhaps a bit early still. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around at the back and a Green Woodpecker called. We could hear the plaintive call of a Bullfinch too from deep in cover. As we walked out into the open farmland again, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across the field in front of us. A Yellowhammer was singing from a nearby hedgerow.

It was perhaps a bit windy for raptors too today, certainly for any number of them to be soaring up into the sky. We spent a while scanning the fields – amongst the things we did manage to see, a Kestrel hovered over the field in front of us, battling to hold itself in place in the wind. We could hear Common Buzzards mewing from the trees, but they were obviously reluctant to venture out above the trees.

As we made our way back to the car, we stopped to admire a group of Swallows coming and going from the wires above the path. They were mostly juveniles, short-tailed and with light brown-orange faces, but a couple of longer-tailed adults flew in and joined them. At one point, there were fifteen Swallows gathered on the wires altogether – reminding us that the breeding season is coming to and end and it is not long now before our summer visitors will start to leave us.

6O0A7675Swallows – juveniles gathered on the wires

Titchwell was our next destination. We decided to have a quick walk out to Patsy’s Reedbed and beyond before lunch. It was nice and sheltered in the trees. We could hear a Greenfinch wheezing overhead and when we got to the feeders in front of the visitor centre, we could see a couple there and a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches too. A variety of Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits were all feeding out of the wind in the sallows.

We stopped to look at Patsy’s Reedbed for a while. All the ducks are in eclipse plumage now, so various shades of brown, although some of them looking quite richly coloured in the sunshine – a mixed selection of Gadwall, Mallard and Teal. The family of Common Pochard are fully grown now, but still diving in front of the screen. There are still several juvenile Avocets on here, at various stages of development, with their noisy parents still chasing off anything that gets too close. A single Ruff was on one of the islands, in and out of the mob of Canada Geese. A Common Tern hovered over the water in front of us.

6O0A7712Sedge Warbler – a pair were feeding in front of the screen

There was a lot of activity around the reeds in front of the hide. A Reed Warbler flew from the tall grass by the screen down to the water’s edge, where a fully grown youngster appeared to be fed. Then a couple of small birds appeared in the short grass just in front of us and a closer look revealed a pair of Sedge Warblers, a great view of them out in the open. We could hear the young calling from the reeds nearby, and they kept flying back an forth to feed them. Then over the back of the water, a couple of Bearded Tits appeared at the back of the pool, low down in the reeds. We got a great look at them through the scope, a couple of tawny brown juveniles. A Yellow Wagtail landed briefly with the Pied Wagtails, before flying past us calling.

Over beyond the main reedbed, something spooked all the birds on the freshmarsh and we looked across to see a group of large white shapes circling, Spoonbills. A few seemed to drop back towards the freshmarsh, but most appeared to drop over the bank towards Brancaster. The Autumn Trail is open now (from 1st August to 31st October), so we made our way round there to see how many we could still find. With a bit of careful positioning, we could count fifteen Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh, doing what they like to do best and sleeping!

IMG_5681Spoonbills – fifteen mostly asleep on the saltmarsh from Autumn Trail

From round at the viewpoint at the end of the Autumn Trail, we could only see a single distant Spoonbill still on the freshmarsh. However, we did manage to pick up a few waders here. Eight Spotted Redshanks were tucked in down by the fence. Seven were in silvery grey and white winter plumage already but one was still stunning in pretty much full, jet-black summer plumage. On the mud in front of us, a Common Sandpiper was not much bigger than the Pied Wagtail beside it.

IMG_5685Common Sandpiper – feeding on the mud at the end of the Autumn Trail

The East Trail is often good for dragonflies, and there were plenty of Common Darters trying to bask along the path despite the wind. We had watched an Emperor Dragonfly hawking around the edge of Patsy’s Reedbed, but we had a better view of a female which was ovipositing on a small, recently cleared reedbed pool by the boardwalk on the way back.

6O0A7716Emperor Dragonfly – ovipositing on a reedbed pool

After lunch, we made our way back out onto the reserve along the main path. There were quite a few ducks on the reedbed pool as usual, with Shoveler an addition to the day’s list. Over towards the back, we could see an adult Great Crested Grebe with its now almost fully grown but still stripy-faced juvenile. A Little Grebe was lurking by the reeds too. A couple of Curlew flew round over the saltmarsh behind us, calling.

We stopped off in Island Hide to have a good look at the freshmarsh. Most of the adult Shelduck have departed, gone over to the Continent to moult. The juveniles are left behind, so most of the Shelduck left here are youngsters at this time of year.

6O0A7719Shelduck – the juveniles are left behind when the adults leave to moult

There are lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets on the freshmarsh at the moment, the two commonest waders here now. A tight-packed line of godwits out in the middle were Bar-tailed Godwits, presumably roosting here away from the wind whistling over the beach.

There are not so many small waders on here at the moment. We found a scattering of Dunlin around the muddy margins of the islands, mostly streaky-bellied juveniles but with the odd black-bellied adult still. In with a couple of them, we found a single Little Stint, much smaller than the Dunlin next to it, with white underparts and short bill.

From back up on the main footpath, we got a closer look at the Ruff. Most of the males are already in winter plumage, grey-brown above and very pale below, but a couple of the smaller females (Reeves) were still mostly in much darker summer plumage still. The first brown juvenile Ruff have also started to arrive now – making a set of what is probably one of the most confusing of waders! We also got a better look at a couple of Little Ringed Plovers down on the mud below the main path.

6O0A7745Ruff – the females (Reeves) are still moulting from summer plumage

There were a few closer Black-tailed Godwits in front of Parrinder Hide when we arrived. We had two – one moulting out of its rusty orange summer plumage and the other already in grey winter plumage – close to us.

6O0A7758Black-tailed Godwit – moulting out of summer plumage

Then all the waders scattered and we looked across to see a Hobby hurtling in from the direction of the Volunteer Marsh. It made a low pass over the freshmarsh, putting everything up, then circled back round, making another dive down over the Volunteer Marsh, before flying back across in front of us again. Despite its best efforts, the Hobby didn’t come away with anything to show for it. It was a great display for us, though!

6O0A7776Hobby – made a couple of low passes over the Freshmarsh

There were lots of gulls and terns sheltering from the wind here today, roosting on the islands and in the shallow water. Along with good numbers of Common Terns, we found a larger, black-billed Sandwich Tern or two. Despite a claimed lack of interest in gulls, we managed to sneak quite a few in to the day’s viewing. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls included a bright red-billed adult, in winter plumage now sporting a black bandit mask, and a scallop-backed juvenile moulting into 1st winter. A much paler grey backed Yellow-legged Gull was in with the also yellow-legged Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

IMG_5698Mediterranean Gull – a scaly juvenile moulting to 1st winter

IMG_5692Yellow-legged Gull – an adult

We had one more site we wanted to visit today, on our way back. So rather than exhaust ourselves too much at Titchwell with a walk out to the beach, we headed back to the car. We drove east along the coast to Stiffkey. The hedges along the path out to Stiffkey Fen are getting very overgrown now, so we had to push our way through at first, before the path opened out a bit. A Common Buzzard appeared briefly above the trees.

There were several Gatekeepers in the sunshine along the sheltered edge of the hedge. Several little skippers were fluttering around the thistles by the path and one stopped long enough to identify it as a Small Skipper. A smart male Banded Demoiselle was fluttering in the sunlight by the river, flashing irridescent blue-green. When we stopped for a closer look, we found a couple of bright green female Banded Demoiselles basking on the overhanging foliage too.

6O0A7785Gatekeeper – enjoying the sun in the shelter of the hedge

It is hard to see the Fen from the footpath at the moment, but much better from out in the open on the top of the seawall. From up here, we could see lots of birds out on the islands. We counted fourteen Spoonbills here and, even better, several of them were awake. A small group of four juveniles were feeding in the shallows, showing off their still rather smaller dark fleshy-coloured spoon-bills. Then a smart adult Spoonbill decided to have a bathe and, between splashes, we could see its longer black spoon-shaped bill with a distinctive yellow tip.

IMG_5721Spoonbill – three of the fourteen at Stiffkey Fen, these being juveniles

Amongst all the sleeping geese and ducks, we could see a good number of waders here too – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, a few Ruff, lots of Lapwing. Several Avocets were feeding in the deeper water. In with the mob of local Greylags were a couple of feral white farmyard geese and two Bar-headed Geese, presumably escaped from a local wildfowl collection – a motley assortment!

Out on the other side of the seawall, the tide was out. A single Whimbrel was preening on the edge of one of the muddy channels. Through the scope, we could see its striped head pattern. In the middle of the mud in the harbour, a mass of white shapes were Sandwich Terns – one flew overhead from the Fen carrying a fish and headed out towards them. We could see all the seals hauled out in the sun on a sandbank beyond.

It was lovely up here in the afternoon sunshine, but unfortunately we had to drag ourselves away – it was time to head for home. As we turned to go, a Kingfisher flashed across the reeds and disappeared into the river channel beyond – a lovely way to end.

30th July 2016 – Day Birds & Night Birds

A Summer Tour today, followed by a Nightjar Evening. We were lucky with the weather – mostly bright & sunny and we avoided any showers. We spent the morning inland looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon looking for waders at Titchwell, and the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We saw our first raptors already from the car, as we made our way inland away from the coast. A Common Buzzard flew low over the road and disappeared over the hedge the other side. A couple of Kestrels were perched on the wires as we drove along. Some large flocks of corvids, Rooks and Jackdaws, were gathered in the stubble fields making the most of whatever the harvesters had left behind.

We parked by a farm track and started to walk up it. As we passed a gateway, a Sparrowhawk flushed from a telegraph post on the edge of a field and flew away in a typical burst of flapping followed by a long glide. A Yellowhammer sang from the wires and let us get quite close today, a bright yellow-headed male. A Common Whitethroat darted in and out of the hedge as we walked along and a Song Thrush flew along ahead of us. A flock of tits making their way through the bushes had a Blackcap or two to accompany them.

6O0A7021Yellowhammer – singing from the wires

The overgrown verges and hedges either side of the track were alive with butterflies. There were lots of newly emerged Red Admirals, really fresh at the moment and looking very smart. Several Painted Ladys included one which posed nicely for the cameras. The Ringlets are looking a bit tatty and faded now, but there was no shortage of Gatekeepers and a few Commas too. The only skipper which stopped long enough to be formally identified was a Small Skipper.

6O0A7041Painted Lady – looking very smart in the sunshine

Up on slightly higher ground, we stopped at a convenient place with a good vista over the surrounding countryside. As usual, there was a nice selection of birds of prey on show from here. We could hear Common Buzzards calling from the trees behind us and as it warmed up they started to circle up. A Kestrel hovered over the field in front of us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered slowly over but was quickly seen off by the resident raptors.

After a while watching from here, we had a walk on down the back and then followed a footpath round the fields. A couple of Skylarks came up from the weedy margin of a field. We could hear the begging call of a juvenile Kestrel and turned to see the youngster chasing its parent across in front of a line of trees, presumably asking for food. A Stock Dove perched on the top of a barn roof. Swallows and House Martins hawked for insects overhead and a Greenfinch wheezed from the trees. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over calling.

6O0A7083Long-tailed Tit – calling overhead as we ate our lunch

Our next stop today was Titchwell. We arrived just in time for an early lunch, so made our way over to the picnic area. A couple of Speckled Wood butterflies chased each other in the dappled sunshine. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way through the trees overhead as we ate.

After lunch, we walked out along main path. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is now very dry and largely birdless (1 Lapwing, 1 Black-headed Gull, 1 Woodpigeon!) – a sorry sight. There was a lot more action on the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out in the middle, we could see her dark cap, pale cheeks and pale-tipped black bill. There was a nice selection of other ducks too – Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Common Pochard and a couple of juvenile Tufted Ducks.

As we were walking up towards Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them from here. We could see a dozen Spoonbills out on the edge of one of the islands and, as usual, they were mostly asleep. Occasionally one would lift its head and flash its spoon-shaped bill. Lurking down on the mud at the front, we could see two very well camouflaged Little Ringed Plovers with alone Dunlin.

IMG_5512Spoonbills – twelve today, mostly asleep as usual

From the comfort of Island Hide, we scanned the freshmarsh for waders.There are no shortage of them at Titchwell at the moment – vast throngs of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, around 400 of each in recent counts. In amongst them are a fair number of moulting Ruff. A line of godwits out in the middle were Bar-tailed Godwits, some males still mostly in summer plumage with bright rusty underparts right down onto the belly. They had come to roost here over high tide out on the beach, along with a couple of Turnstones.

6O0A7099Avocet – almost 400 are at Titchwell at the moment

As well as the larger waders, there were several flocks of Dunlin scattered round the edges of the islands. Most are adults still with their summer black belly patches, but numbers of streaky-bellied juveniles are steadily increasing now. In on of the groups of feeding Dunlin, we found the Little Stint, noticeably smaller, short billed, and clean white below.

There appeared to be no sign of any Curlew Sandpipers at first, but a careful look though a large flock of roosting Dunlin over with the Bar-tailed Godwits revealed a little patch of deep rusty colour in the middle of the throng. As the flock of Dunlin shuffled, the birds either side eventually parted to reveal two moulting adult Curlew Sandpipers, their orange underparts now liberally specked with white. One then woke up, flew over to the mud and started feeding so we could get a better look at it.

IMG_5532Curlew Sandpiper – one of two moulting adults today

The Bearded Tits were proving frustrating. The reeds are now too tall at one end of the hide to see their favoured edge of the reedbed and they didn’t seem to keen to work their way along and into view today. Another two Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds right in front of the other end of the hide, also out of view, and then flew right across in front of the hide and disappeared deep into the main reedbed. A very tatty adult Marsh Harrier, worn out after the rigours of the breeding season, drifted across the reeds.

Another birder arriving in the hide let us know that the Bearded Tits were showing from the main path just outside, so we walked up the slope and immediately spotted a juvenile Bearded Tit on the edge of the reeds below us. This time we got a good view of it, as it hopped around on the mud.

Round at Parrinder Hide, it didn’t take long to find the Spotted Redshanks, hiding in the far corner as usual. We could only see five from here, but they kept disappearing from view behind the islands. A single Golden Plover, still in black-bellied summer plumage, was hiding behind the fence on the island. A gaggle of noisy Greylags were hanging around right in front of the hide, but a smart Black-tailed Godwit was lurking in with them, very close where we could get a great look at it.

6O0A7155Black-tailed Godwit – in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a quick look in at the Volunteer Marsh and the tidal pools, but there was very little on either, mainly a few roosting Curlews. Out at the beach, the tide was in. The sea was more productive, with a raft raft of about 30 Common Scoter offshore and a couple of other lone ones closer in. A Great Crested Grebe was also out on the water and a distant Gannet flew slowly east.

6O0A7184Whimbrel – these six flew off west at the end of the day

As we made our way way back past the Volunteer Marsh, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked over to see two come up from the marsh. As they circled over calling, more Whimbrel flew up, one at a time until we could see six of them circling over together. They appeared to go down towards the freshmarsh, but later on as we were walking back past they reedbed they flew overhead in a tight flock, disappearing away to the west.

As we passed the freshmarsh, a moulting Ruff was feeding close by the main path.

6O0A7180Ruff – still with some rusty & black summer feathers

We took a detour round via Meadow Trail on the way back and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. A couple of Little Grebes on the pool were an addition to the day’s list, and there were still some small juvenile Avocets on the islands, but nothing else out of the ordinary today.

The Autumn Trail has only recently opened this year, so we walked round to take a look at the back of the freshmarsh. Now we could see the Spotted Redshanks properly and found there were actually ten of them lurking mostly out of view from the other hides. The majority of them are now mostly in silvery grey/white winter plumage, but one was still liberally blotched with black underneath.

IMG_5541Spotted Redshank – mostly in winter plumage now

Then, with a busy evening ahead of us, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a break for a rest and to get something to eat, we met again later on for the Nightjar Evening. With a bit of time before sunset, we went looking for owls first. At our first stop, the Little Owls performed well again. One was perched up rather distantly when we arrived, a good start, but it flew away out of sight fairly quickly.

We waited for a few minutes and then a second Little Owl appeared much closer to us on the roof of an old barn. It sat in full view looking around for a minute or so, then disappeared inside. Shortly after, it reappeared and gave great views, first on the roof and then flying up and perching in the evening sunshine. Another Little Owl was calling further over behind it.

IMG_5576Little Owl – appeared on the barn roof at dusk

With the evenings already drawing in, we did not have so much time to look for Barn Owls. They have been coming out very late this year anyway, perhaps reflective of a poor breeding season and a distinct lack of voles. We drove round some regular hunting areas and had a quick walk out to the place we normally see them.

There was a beautiful sunset away to the west. A couple of tight flocks of Swifts came screaming overhead, chasing each other in circles. But there was no sign of any Barn Owls out yet. We didn’t want to be late for the main event, so decided to head up to the Heath in good time rather than hang around any longer.

6O0A7195Swifts – screaming overhead late this evening

Up at the heath, we did not have to wait long before the first Nightjar started churring. It churred and called intermittently at first, from the safety of its roost site. The as the light started to fade, they started to fly around. The first Nightjar we saw flew up high against the sky, silhouetted above the trees. Another then flew in towards us and right past, possibly a female as it appeared to lack the white in the wings shown by the male. The resident (where we were standing) male Nightjar then flew across along the edge of the trees, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Another male circled low around an oak tree further over.

All the time, we could hear the males churring, at least three separate males within immediate earshot, not least because we had positioned ourselves along the boundary for two territories. As the Nightjars flew round we could hear their loud ‘koo-wick’ calls and even the wing clapping of the males. Just as it was getting dark, one of the male Nightjars flew up and landed on a dead branch sticking out of the very top of an oak tree. It was a really evocative sight to see it perched there, silhouetted against the deep blue night sky, churrring into the gathering gloom.

As the dark descended, we made our way back to the car, serenaded by the churring of Nightjars.

27th July 2016 – Waders & Warblers

A Private Tour today. One request was to see Dartford Warblers, but the forecast was for rain early morning and brighter conditions later. So, after a slightly later than usual start to let the rain clear, we popped along to Cley to see what else was about first.

Our first stop was in Teal Hide. There is a lot of mud now on Pat’s Pool and a nice selection of waders to take advantage. One of the first birds we saw was a very smart summer plumage Spotted Redshank – still largely jet black with silver spangling on the upperparts. Clearly a new arrival, as they quickly moult into silvery grey winter plumage here. Unfortunately, another request for today was photography and the Spotted Redshank remained a little distant for the cameras, in the deeper water area of the scrape. A cracking bird nonetheless and good views through the scope.

IMG_5509Spotted Redshank – still in almost full summer plumage

A nervous flock of Dunlin kept wheeling round and landing back in the shallows on the far side of the island. Numbers of Dunlin are steadily increasing now and we counted over 120 in this group. Most were adult birds still sporting their summer black bellies but a small number of juveniles were in with them. A single Golden Plover, still in summer plumage too, was preening at the back of the main island. A couple of Lapwings were feeding on the mud close by.

6O0A6797Lapwing – also taking advantage of the mud

From Dauke’s Hide, we got better views of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, roosting on the first island. Otherwise the water level here is a little high for waders now. The Ruff are still in various states of moult but most are already in winter plumage. In contrast, there are still some very smart orange Black-tailed Godwits here.

6O0A6799Black-tailed Godwits & Ruff – roosting on Simmond’s Scrape

Tipped off about a Green Sandpiper, we had a quick look at the normally quiet Whitwell Scrape. As well as the Green Sandpiper, we found a single Snipe on here today, but both were a little too far off for photography today.

We walked back towards the visitor centre and round to Bishop Hide next. As the water level on Pat’s Pool has dropped, the mud right in front of the hide here has started to dry out so again the birds were not as close as they can sometimes be. Still there were more waders to see here. A single Common Sandpiper was working its way unobtrusively round the edge of one of the islands. Several Little Ringed Plovers were running round on the drier mud and hiding among the lumps – two adults with black-striped faces and a browner-headed juvenile. A large number of Avocets were sleeping on one of the islands out in the middle, mostly out of view, but two adults were chasing a fully grown juvenile around in front of the hide.

6O0A6801Avocets – more argy bargy today

After a drive round to the beach car park, we walked out towards North Hide. Three adult Gannets flew past over the sea in the fresh northerly wind an several Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. On the small pool by the fence, we stopped to admire a Little Ringed Plover. At that point a Yellow Wagtail called and we looked up to see it flying towards us over the Eye Field. Unfortunately it dropped into the long grass out of view and when we looked back the Little Ringed Plover had disappeared too.

Looking out over North Scrape, we could see a couple of flocks of Dunlin here too, at least 50 although many more were possibly out of view behind the grass at the front. It is possible these were the same birds from Pat’s Pool we had seen earlier, just having switched scrapes. As well as another Little Ringed Plover, a single Ringed Plover was a nice bonus here. A Greenshank was running around at the very back of the scrape, but there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper while we were there. With nothing particularly close for the cameras, we didn’t wait for it to appear.

There were several Skylarks and Meadow Pipits in the Eye Field as we passed. A large post-breeding flock of Starlings has gathered here too, with a lot of young birds in it. One moulting juvenile Starling posed on the fence for us, a mixture of brown juvenile and fresh patterned black adult feathers.

6O0A6812Starling – a moulting juvenile

With a nice selection of waders in the bag for the morning, we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch. With the weather having brightened up now, we headed up to the heath in the afternoon to look for Dartford Warblers. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and little skippers dancing through the grass (only one stopped still long enough as we passed to identify it as a Small Skipper).

6O0A6825Gatekeeper – one of the commoner butterflies on the wing now

One of the specialities of the Heath is Silver-studded Blue. We are reaching the end of the flight season now, so many are looking a little tatty, but we did manage to find one slightly smarter male.

6O0A6856Silver-studded Blue – the best we could find, they are getting rather worn now

We came across several Yellowhammers and plenty of Linnets as we walked. Rounding a corner, we could just hear a Dartford Warbler calling from somewhere on the other side of a large mound of gorse. We walked quietly round and stood listening, and after a few seconds the Dartford Warbler shot out from the gorse in front of us and disappeared out of view. We followed in the direction it had gone, and came across a family of Stonechats, a pair with at least three streaky juveniles. We could hear the rather wren-like begging calls of the youngsters as we approached, followed by the alarm calls of the adults.

6O0A6877Stonechat – one of the streaky juveniles

The family of Stonechats are very mobile now, so we tried to follow them as they moved about the heath. As they did so, it became clear that a small, dark, long-tailed bird was following after them – a Dartford Warbler. It was keeping down low in the heather or flying across between patches of vegetation, but we couldn’t get close to it as it followed the Stonechats just out of range or disappeared into the tall gorse or trees out of view.

6O0A6880Dartford Warbler – can you see me?

A second Dartford Warbler appeared, and it too was keeping with the Stonechats. By quietly following them, we eventually saw a Dartford Warbler fly up into an isolated patch of gorse next to a path. We crept round the back of it, and suddenly the Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a branch – unfortunately it did not result in the hoped for photo!

We decided to continue on round the heath to see what else we could find. It was getting hot now, quite a contrast to the weather this morning. On the more open stony paths we found several Graylings basking in the sun. Almost impossible to see against the ground, they flew up ahead of us as we walked and one landed right next to us again.

6O0A6853Grayling – well camouflaged against the stony ground

As well as being hot, it was getting quite disturbed now, with lots of people out enjoying the improvement in the weather, dog walkers and cyclists. We walked over to another area favoured by the Dartford Warblers, but there was no sign of any birds here today, although we didn’t linger very long. We decided to head back to the family of Stonechats to try our luck back their again.

6O0A6892Stonechat – the male standing guard over the family

We found the Stonechats close to where we had left them and this time there appeared to be three Dartford Warblers with them. They all appeared to be juveniles – various shades of grey, lacking the vinous-red underparts of the adults. Once again, they were frustratingly difficult to see, low in the heather, apart from when they flew.

6O0A6900Dartford Warbler – a typical view, darting between clumps of heather

We had managed to get some distant images of a Dartford Warbler perched in a more open small oak tree, and decided to call it a day. As we turned to go, one of the Dartford Warblers flew up from the heather close to us and landed in a large clump of gorse nearby. As if to taunt us for its previous unhelpfulness, it then perched in the top for a few seconds!

6O0A6931Dartford Warbler – finally one perched up for a few seconds

That seemed an appropriate way to end, so we headed back to the car.

25th July 2016 – Spectacular Waders

While they can be seen throughout the winter, late Summer and early Autumn is the best time of year to witness the huge flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. Only on a few days each month on the highest tides are the waders forced off the mudflats and onto the neighbouring RSPB reserve, when the spectacle reached its peak

Today, the tide was not quite at its highest, which meant that not all the waders came off the Wash. But still we were treated to quite a spectacle, with at least two Peregrines stirring up the waders as they gathered in huge flocks, tens of thousands strong, ahead of the rising tide. Stunning!

6O0A6771

6O0A6776

6O0A6778

6O0A6785Huge flocks of waders swirl over the Wash

While the largest numbers of waders are Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, a wide variety of different species use the Wash, big flocks of Oystercatcher and smaller number of Avocets, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey, Golden and Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone. At this time of the year, many of the waders are still in smart summer plumage, as they gather on the Wash to moult at the end of the breeding season.

It is possible to see other things on the rising tide too. Lots of gulls and terns gather on the edge of the Wash and we saw two different Black Terns today in with them, a moulting adult and a juvenile. A Woodlark flying along the shoreline was even more of a surprise!

IMG_5422Black Tern – this one a moulting adult

When the waders gather on the pits, there is a good opportunity to see them up close. They can be packed tight in flocks of hundred and thousands around the small islands.

6O0A6790

IMG_5435The waders pack tight onto islands on the pits over high tide

Searching through them, it is possible to find other species here which can be trickier to pick out among the vast throngs out on the Wash. Today, we had 10 Spotted Redshanks on the pits and two Greenshank flew in too. A Little Stint on the shoreline was dwarfed by the neighbouring Dunlin, and a careful scan through the vast masses of the latter revealed at least 6 Curlew Sandpipers, all adults still sporting the remains of their rusty summer plumage, on their way south from Siberia.

IMG_5430Curlew Sandpipers – two moulting adults hiding in the roost

The real bird of the day managed to conceal itself in with the Dunlin for over an hour, sitting down hidden in the throng. Eventually it gave itself away – a White-rumped Sandpiper from North America.

IMG_5458White-rumped Sandpiper – in with the Dunlin

When the White-rumped Sandpiper finally woke up, it was possible to see its white belly, lacking the black patch shown by the summer plumaged Dunlin all around it. It also had a shorter, finer bill, only slightly downcurved. Its flanks were finely streaked with a couple of black chevrons and its upperparts were a little greyer, with brighter rusty edges to the upper scapulars. When it preened, you could see the distinctive white rump, lacking the broad black stripe through the middle shown by most other small waders – you can see it best in the video below. A smart bird and a nice way to round off another exciting morning.

If you would like to join us to enjoy the Snettisham Wader Spectacular this year, current dates for the diary when the tide is at its highest are:

  • Sunday 21st August
  • Wednesday 21st September

More dates may be possible, subject to tides and demand. Please contact us for more information. We look forward to seeing you here.

24th July 2016 – Heath & Marsh

The third and final Summer Tour of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious summer’s day, with just enough of a breeze to stop us overheating.

We made our way inland and up to the Heath to start, before it got too hot. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring, but it was some distance away. As we walked up from the car park, we could hear a Linnet singing and a couple more flew past. A Common Whitethroat flew out from the trees, perched in the bracken for a few seconds and then disappeared into the long grass. A Yellowhammer was singing too.

As we turned a corner, we could hear the begging calls of juvenile Stonechats and spotted the male Stonechat in the top of a young birch tree. A little further along, we found the whole family – male, female and 3-4 streaky fledged juveniles. They were quite mobile, but the juvenile Stonechats were still sitting around on the bushes begging for food. The female was working hard to feed them, while the male seemed to keep disappearing off – perhaps he wasn’t enjoying being bugged by his unruly teenage offspring!

6O0A6593Stonechat – the female was working hard to feed the juveniles

While we were watching the Stonechats, a Dartford Warbler appeared low in the heather nearby. This is not unusual – Dartford Warblers will often follow Stonechats around, possibly for the protection afforded by their extra vigilence. This Dartford Warbler was a juvenile, rather greyish overall, but was hard to get onto, as it was keeping low and moving constantly. We repositioned ourselves and got a slightly better view, but still not everyone had managed to see it.

We watched the Stonechats coming and going for some time. Suddenly an adult Dartford Warbler flew in from behind us and dropped into the gorse among the Stonechats. Again it was quite difficult to see and we only got a couple of glimpses as it fed. Then it flew back out again in the direction it had come.

6O0A6606Juvenile Stonechat & Linnet – happened to perch in the same bush

Quiet purring behind us alerted us to the presence of another Turtle Dove, such a treat to hear these days, given rapidly how the species is disappearing. We walked round on the path to the other side of the gorse, and we quickly worked out where the noise was coming from but we couldn’t see the Turtle Dove in the thick birch trees. Then suddenly it flew up and started its display flight, flapping higher and then descending in a long glide. It flew out across the heath and landed right in the top of a tall birch, where we could get it in the scope. When it flew again, the Turtle Dove seemed to disappear off over the ridge, but a short while later it was back purring there again. Great views.

IMG_5363Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a birch

As we walked back round, we came across the Stonechat family again and the juvenile Dartford Warbler had reappeared with them. We watched as it flew back and forth across a clearing and then perched briefly in the very top of a young birch tree. This time, everyone got on it.

We carried on across the Heath and at first there seemed to be a surprising lack of butterflies. Then, as we walked down along a sandy path with short heather either side, we came across our first Silver-studded Blues. Several of them were a bit worn now, but we got a good look at the underside of the wings and the distinctive silver studded spots. There were also a few Graylings along the path. They are next to impossible to see unless they move, and we had to really keep our eyes on them after they landed.

6O0A6607Silver-studded Blue – this one with rather poorly marked silver studs

A little further still, as we were following the path round, another juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up beside us. It perched very briefly, but having been surprised by our approach it very quickly disappeared off across the Heath. Not far beyond this, we found a female Dartford Warbler skulking in the gorse. We had several glimpses of her before she flew out and disappeared back across the heather.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the female Dartford Warbler, we heard a male singing back the way we had just come. We raced round there, just in time to see him fly. We followed him round and after a couple of minutes he hopped up briefly into the top of a gorse bush and started singing. After a second or two, he was off again. He flew a bit further away and perched in the top of a large gorse bush to sing. This time he stayed still for a while and we could get him in the scope. When he finally dropped back into the dense gorse, he went quiet.

6O0A6614Dartford Warbler – the male perched up briefly, singing

As we started to walk back to see if we could find the female Dartford Warbler again, we heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying past. It dropped down some distance from us, but knowing the site well it appeared to go towards another path. We hurried round and found it quietly feeding along the path, giving us very good scope views.

That was a great way to start the day, with all the heathland specialities. We decided to move on so started to walk back to the car. On the way , we flushed another two Woodlarks from the grass beside the path. They flew up before we could see them, but circled round and one perched up in the top of a gorse bush – even nicer views through scope this time.

It was getting on towards lunchtime by now, so we headed down to Cley for lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Whimbrel calling over the car park. After lunch, we walked out to the hides.

Teal Hide was our first port of call. There were quite a few waders on there and the longer we scanned, the more we found. Two Common Sandpipers were feeding close in front of the hide, bobbing constantly. Further over we could see a single Green Sandpiper and a  Common Sandpiper together, a nice comparison. A lone Greenshank, slim and elegant, was walking quickly across the scrape feeding, out in middle. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of Ruff in a confusing mix of stages of moult.

It was round into Simmond’s Hide next. There were even more Black-tailed Godwits on here, mostly Icelandic birds, but again a careful look through them and we discovered a bird which looked good for a Continental Black-tailed Godwit (subspecies limosa). In  amongst the godwits, were three Red Knot, this time living up to their name and sporting their summer plumage orange-red underparts. A single Turnstone was asleep on one of the islands, but when it woke up we finally got a chance to admire its summer plumage

6O0A6693Black-tailed Godwit – a moulting adult islandica

Another Common Sandpiper was hiding in the grass on the edge of one of the islands at the front of the scrape. Several Dunlin were hiding in amongst the godwits legs, including a single juvenile. There are always Avocets on here and today they were particularly argumentative. Two adults and three almost full-grown juveniles seemed to be having some sort of family argument – though it was hard to tell who was who.

6O0A6666

6O0A6668

6O0A6670Avocets – arguing

The ducks are all currently in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best. However, a careful scan through revealed a single eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn (though it could perhaps be a bird which has over-summered somewhere). A family of juvenile Shoveler were in the grass on the edge of the ditch right in front of the hide. Their largish bills, not yet fully grown but still noticeably big, immediately gave away their identity. There were also lots of Shelduck, and a few Teal.

6O0A6639Shoveler – a part-grown juvenile, with a small but already outsized bill

When a Little Egret flew in and walked right to the corner in front of the hide, it surprised a female Gadwall who had just brought her three small ducklings in there. She appeared out of the grass and quickly shooed the egret away.

6O0A6655Little Egret – scared off by a female Gadwall

There were several dark chocolate-brown juvenile Marsh Harriers in the reedbed and they would occasionally fly round to exercise their wings. Every time they drifted over the scrape, pandemonium ensued. This happened repeatedly while we were there. However, te panic seemed to be even more intense when a Hobby whisked through, putting everything up from North Scrape first, before we spotted it hurtling over Simmond’s and then disappearing off inland.

On the way back, we carried on past the visitor centre and paid a very brief visit to Bishop Hide. There were lots of gulls on Pat’s Pool which were better viewed from this side. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, plus four Common Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped-for Mediterranean Gull today. A nice close Common Sandpiper was a bonus.

6O0A6715Common Sandpiper – our fifth of the day, from Bishop Hide

Our next destination was the East Bank. Two fully-grown juvenile Little Grebes were on the new pool. We could hear and see lots of Reed Warblers in reeds. Out on Pope’s Marsh, there were plenty of adult Redshank, with several juveniles still around the Serpentine. A good number of Curlew were hiding out in the long grass.

6O0A6732Little Grebe – a juvenile, still with a rather stripey face

Arnold’s Marsh looked relatively quiet. There are not so many Sandwich Terns on here this year, possibly because the number breeding on Blakeney Point is well down on previous years. Three or four Ringed Plovers were lurking on the shingle islands. A lone Greenshank was walking back and forth. The single Red Knot promptly flew off just after we arrived.

Returning back to the car, we headed round to the beach car park next. As we walked out towards North Hide (or at least where it used to be!), we stopped by the little pool next to the fence. This was very productive, with at least 3 juvenile Yellow Wagtails, along with a lot of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and two Little Ringed Plover.

Even though the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days, had not been reported today, it still seemed worth a look. The first bird we saw when we sat down was the Wood Sandpiper, conveniently standing with two Redshank for comparison. We watched it picking around on the mud as it walked directly towards the hide, and eventually we lost it to view behind the vegetation in front of the hide. Still, it was well worth coming out here for that alone. There was not much else out here – a small party of Dunlin at the back and several Redshank.

IMG_5411Wood Sandpiper – on North Scrake

Time was getting on, so we decided to head back – it had been a nice way to round of the day with a smart Wood Sandpiper.